Felton, Schartner honored at last Board of Education meeting

Hassler named president of Mehlville school board

Students+from+Buerkle+Middle+Schools+woodworking+class+built+benches+to+present+in+appreciation+to+former+school+board+members+Larry+Felton+and+Kevin+Schartner+at+the+directors+last+meeting+April+14%2C+2022.+

Students from Buerkle Middle School’s woodworking class built benches to present in appreciation to former school board members Larry Felton and Kevin Schartner at the directors’ last meeting April 14, 2022.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Mehlville Board of Education said goodbye to one of its longest-serving directors, swore in two new members and named its president and vice president at a meeting last week. 

New members Scott Huegerich and Sarah Grace Wright were sworn in for three-year seats on the board at the reorganization meeting April 14. They take the seats of former three-time board President Kevin Schartner, who was elected to his first term in 2016, and Larry Felton, who served 15 years on the Board of Education since 2007. 

The new board unanimously elected Peggy Hassler as board president. Board members Tori Behlke and Jean Pretto will serve as vice president and secretary, respectively. 

Former board members, including Dan Fowler and Venki Palamand, came to Felton and Schartner’s last meeting to honor the departing board directors. 

“It’s actually been five years since I last attended a Mehlville Board of Education meeting but I very much wanted to be here today to recognize the accomplishments and to thank two outgoing board members for their service – two board members with a combined total of 21 years of public service,” Palamand said. “I suspect that every person that has ever sat in that chair has, at times, felt the weight of the entire district on their shoulders. These past two years navigating the pandemic, remote learning and controversy over masks and vaccines has been especially challenging to educators and board members.” 

Felton and Schartner served on the board during some of Mehlville’s biggest trials, including navigating the challenges brought forward by COVID-19 like masking and remote learning, as well as the passage of Proposition S, Mehlville’s first bond measure since the 1990s. 

“Larry, if anybody wants an example of what a board member should be, you’re it. And you did set a modern-day record … with 15 years on the board. Nobody in modern times has lasted that long. … Kevin … thank you for your service. … Nobody knows what it’s like to sit there until you actually do it,” Fowler said. “So here’s the best place to be and both of you are about to enter it. … The best position to have is that of a former board member.” 

Several of the remaining board members also paid their respects to Felton and Schartner. 

“I’m thankful to have been able to work alongside of you for the past four years,” Director Tori Behlke said, holding back tears. “Despite some difficulties over these past two years, there is so much to celebrate. So much good in this community and in our schools and I am very proud to have worked alongside of you.” 

Schartner first got involved with the district serving as treasurer for the Proposition R campaign — a 49-cent tax-rate increase — in 2015.

In his last remarks, Schartner thanked his wife and children for their support during his seven-year tenure on the board. 

“More than anyone, you have been with me through this entire journey. From the very first informational meeting … to tonight, you have encouraged me, supported me, offered your experience and advice, and provided different viewpoints. … You opened up my understanding about the world across a wide range of topics in a way that only younger generations can,” Schartner said. “As a family, you not only supported me, you helped me grow as a person. I cannot have done this job without you. Through the craziness of this past year, with the added stress and conflicts everpresent … I never doubted you were in the same corner. … We’ve come out of these challenges stronger.” 

Felton also thanked his family, in particular his father, a three-time school board member. 

“What a long, strange trip this has been. … I want to thank my dad. My dad’s a farmer and he served on a school board for three terms. … I think that was my greatest motivation,” Felton said. 

 The former director also cautioned against the politicization of the board. 

 “I think the school board is a team sport, it’s about relationships and trust. … I believe the school board serves as a calling. It’s not a political calling, and I don’t think you should ever confuse the two. … School boards can either succumb to conflict and adversity or be used as a vehicle for change and improvement,” Felton said. “It used to be that you could sit down with somebody and have a disagreement on an issue … and life would go on. Now if people disagree on one thing, it’s polarizing. … Our mission is to continue to do what’s right, not what’s popular.”