Criteria for Mehlville award tweaked by school board

School board reaffirms limit of one DSA winner per year.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Mehlville Board of Education last week tweaked the criteria for the school district’s highest honor, including the eligibility requirements for former school board members.

Board members voted unanimously Feb. 18 to increase the amount of time that must pass between an individual’s service on the Board of Education and the point which he or she can be nominated for the Distinguished Service Award from one year to three years.

Also under the revised criteria, nominees must “within the past year” have been “involved in a variety of activities and services in one or more schools or throughout the district.”

The previous language implied only those whose service was ongoing during the nomination period were eligible.

The Distinguished Service Award was approved by the Board of Education in January 1990, and is awarded annually to recognize excellence of performance, service, character and contribution to the Mehlville School District and its community. It is awarded at the district’s Recognition Night every spring.

Last week’s revisions came one year after a more extensive overhaul of the DSA selection process.

The school board in 2008 suspended the award’s presentation after Superintendent Terry Noble expressed concerns over the integrity of the voting process that year, including the destruction of ballots and votes being taken over the phone.

No true record existed, Noble said at the time, to validate the selection process.

Asked who was responsible for the situation that occurred, the superintendent said in April 2008, “Well, the person in charge of the School/Community Relations Department has been assigned that responsibility in past years, including this year.”

Shortly after Noble shared his concerns, the school board voted during an April 22, 2008, closed session “to non-renew the contract for director of school/community relations under classified/support staff for 2008-2009 school year.”

Patrick Wallace had served as director of school/community relations since November 2000. He was placed on administrative leave April 22, 2008, and paid through June 30, 2008, when the 2007-2008 school year ended.

The school board subsequently voted in February 2009 to form a 13-member committee to review award nominations. That group is comprised of three community members, two staff employees, two administrators, two former honorees, two Board of Education members and two high-school students.

But after the new selection committee voted in April 2009 to give that year’s DSA to three former Board of Education members, board President Tom Diehl sought to call an emergency meeting to review possible violations of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law connected to the committee.

That meeting never took place.

“We had a situation where the criteria we had … gave an undue advantage to any former board member versus any other volunteer in the district when you look at the way it was worded and how it was scored,” Diehl said at last week’s board meeting about the 2009 DSA process. “I think we expressed the opinion last year that we didn’t want it to be an award for board membership. We want it to be an award to people who are volunteers, who do things in the district …”

Board member Drew Frauenhoffer said, “What I would like this to be is for people who are serving now, and if we want to come up with a hall-of-fame sort of award for somebody who might have served 10 years ago, so be it. But I think this should really focus on people who are now in the trenches, those parents, those residents who are going above and beyond the call of duty to really help our district.”

But Board Secretary Larry Felton, who was on last year’s selection committee, said board service usually was only one part of past DSA winners’ qualifications.

“I think if you look back over the last five or 10 years, the people who’ve gotten this award may have served on the board but I think if you look at the body of work … this was just one line on a pretty good resume,” Felton said. “I think the point is the fact that someone served three years, six weeks, whatever the case may be, as a board member, should not be the sole criterion for which you’re selected.”

The selection committee judges candidates on an anonymous basis on a five-point scale in the areas of service to the district, schools, staff, students, involvement in a variety of activities, ongoing commitment and service to the district and other areas of dedication.

While DSA guidelines state the committee selects “a winner,” Noble said last week “we didn’t follow our own rules” by selecting three DSA recipients in 2009.

Committee members last year received a packet of all nominations and voted on them before meeting. When they did meet, it was to determine how many awards to distribute as all votes already were counted, said Communications Director Emily McFarland, who replaced Wallace in June 2008.

“We didn’t realize there was a designation for just one winner,” she told the Call. “So when we looked at the scores we decided, OK, these are the top scores.”

Noble told the Call on Friday that the DSA winners “all happened to be former board members.”

“There was a natural gap between their votes and everybody else’s, so they selected those three,” he said. “And they were very close in the voting, too, but it wasn’t a tie.”

This year, however, committee members won’t cast their votes until they meet, and the results will be tabulated at the meeting, McFarland said.

The school board last week reaffirmed the limit of one DSA winner per year, and board members said that recipient should be the highest-scoring nominee.

“My preference would be to just have one (winner), and make it the elite award that it really is, and have minimum criteria that says: If there’s 35 possible points, you have to score at least 32 and be the highest-scoring person. It really should be an award that’s not just given out to everybody who’s nominated …,” board member Karl Frank Jr. said.

Frauenhoffer said the board should trust the selection committee’s judgment.

“If we pick the right committee, they should do the right job, as long as we’ve set the right parameters in place to ensure an even playing field,” he said.