Five candidates running for three seats on the Mehlville school board in June 2 races

Students+at+Oakville+Elementary+participate+in+%27Kids+Voting%27+for+the+November+2018+election.+

Students at Oakville Elementary participate in 'Kids Voting' for the November 2018 election.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

Five candidates are seeking three seats on the Mehlville Board of Education in the June 2 election, which is rescheduled from April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Incumbents Peggy Hassler and Jean Pretto, both of Oakville, are running for re-election. Pretto was first elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2017, and Hassler was first elected in 2017.

Peggy Hassler

Newcomers Stacey Kenner, Richard Vagen and Jeff Wolman are all elementary parents in the district who are seeking office for the first time.

Hassler, 54, 5411 Milburn Road, Oakville, is an operations/office manager/paralegal at a law firm. She and her husband, William, have three children who all graduated from Oakville High School.

She said she is running for re-election to “ensure the district is effectively using district resources for continuous improvement and delivering a top-level education while maintaining fiscal discipline that allows our tax rates to be one of the lowest in the St. Louis area.”

Kenner, 54, 5439 Hagemann Pointe Drive, Concord, is a social worker at Innovare Health Advocates who has never held elective office. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have a daughter and son who attend Hagemann Elementary.

He said he is running for office because his father had a first-grade education and his mother had an eighth-grade education, and he understands the importance of education: “I have a very diverse background. I grew up in NC. I’ve lived in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York City. I think that that diverse background allows me to perhaps add a new perspective to help the district continue to grow.”

Pretto, 69, 114 W. Pottle Ave., Oakville, is retired. She and her husband, Giosue “Joe,” have two grown children.

Referencing Mehlville’s 2015 49-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition R, Pretto said she is seeking re-election because “I would very much like to see many of the projects started with Prop R through.”

Vagen, 37, 1 Lone Elm Circle, 63125, works in continuing education at St. Louis Community College. He and his wife, Ariane, are the parents of Hadley, 7, who attends Mosaic Elementary.

“I want to ensure that every student continues to have every resource available necessary for success,” Vagen said of his reason for running.

Wolman, 50, 3217 Sunrise Lane, Oakville, is a system engineer at Connectria Hosting. He and his wife, Natascha, have two daughters who attend Mosaic Elementary.

Asked why he is running, Wolman said, “I wish to add my technology background into the school board’s leadership for the future.”

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why? (For full responses, see below in the questionnaire)

Hassler: “I consider student success the most important issue in this race and the most important constant goal…”

Kenner: “At the top of my list is school safety…”

Pretto: “It is imperative that the board continues to keep moving the district forward…”

Vagen: “Addressing our students’ social and emotional well being needs to be a priority. Helping students with any mental health issues will have an impact that is felt far beyond those individuals. Providing students with the resources needed to recognize and address their mental health will help them achieve their own academic success, reduce behavior issues, and create an environment for learning that benefits all students… ”

Wolman: “Continuing to enhance student improvement across the district….”

How did you vote in the November 2015 election on the school district’s tax-rate increase measure, Prop R?

Hassler: “I voted yes on Prop R because the district was struggling financially and there were cuts of over $4 million being made with the possibility of another $4 million… Our per-pupil expenditure was the second lowest in the area, yet our academic achievement was in the middle of the pack, demonstrating that our district was giving an excellent education for the money being spent, but left you to wonder what could be done with more resources. Simply, I supported Prop R because I was tired of being the underdog and wanted more for our children and our community. I moved to the district to escape a failing district and I did not (do not) want to see Mehlville fail.”

Stacey Kenner

Kenner: “I can’t remember if I voted. If I did, I voted yes because I’m always in favor of tax increases aimed at improving public schools. I voted that way even before I had children because I understand how a good education can change a person’s life.”

Pretto: “A big yes!! Because the district needed it! The school district was struggling. Our kids deserved it! To protect the schools from future cutbacks and reducing property values in the district.”

Vagen: “Yes. Prop R provided much needed financial capital to help the district thrive in a number of necessary areas from providing innovative resources for students, support for teachers and continued financial stability for the district to continue to improve.”

Wolman: “I voted to approve the Prop R/Restore measure in the November 2015 election. It was an imperative infusion of funds into the district in desperate need to turn itself around, with investments in staff, technology upgrades and capital improvements for district building and facilities.”

Should the district go to the voters to extend Proposition P in 2020-2021?  (Background here.)

Hassler: The Mehlville School District is exploring the possibility of placing a (ZERO) no-tax-rate-increase ballot measure on the ballot in 2020 for investment in the district’s facilities and operations, in what would be an extension of the 49-cent Proposition P tax from 2000 scheduled to sunset in 2022, which I support. The district created a Facilities Steering Committee of parents, teachers and community members to look at every facility to see what improvements are needed and rank them in order of importance. In recent years, an attorney gave the district his legal opinion that the Prop P tax originally scheduled to sunset in 2021 was set in stone when voters approved (2008’s no-tax-rate-increase tax transfer) Prop T. However, despite that legal opinion, the district does not plan to continue to levy the Prop P tax without asking voters first. Because the two elections removed the sunset that was set for Proposition P, when the debt is paid off these funds would go to the general fund.  We have the opportunity to address these facility needs with a zero-tax-increase ballot measure which is possible due to prudent financial management resulting in paying off debt early.”

Kenner: “Yes in 2020-2021. Present the positive outcomes to the community and a plan to provide transparency and let the community decide.”

Pretto: “That is a decision we, as a community, will have to reach together.”

Vagen: “Proposition P has provided the district with necessary funds to provide a critical investment in our district’s facilities and operations and a no-tax-increase extension would continue to help us provide for our community.”

Wolman: “There is significant evidence that extending Prop P in 2020-2021 would be a prudent move to continue to increase capital improvement in the district, which is always needed. The work done with Prop P was done with voter support and it would be a very wise move to secure voter support for a tax increase that directly affects them.”

Are you satisfied with the leadership of Superintendent Chris Gaines?   

Hassler: Yes, Dr. Gaines is an intelligent, thoughtful, strategic and tactical thinker who is effectively leading our district through the Strategic Plan, Prop R and Prop A commitments, innovative teaching techniques and a waste identification and reduction program. He has a strong nationwide network of people that he continues to learn from, and he brings new and

Jean Pretto

trending ideas to our district so we can be visionary leaders in the academic arena. Dr. Gaines is very data driven, and his techniques for tracking information regarding student success have been instrumental in making decisions on curriculum and teaching practices.”

Kenner: “I’m satisfied with all of his work except how the district communicated and handled an issue of race in the fall of 2019.”

Pretto: “Yes. Very much so.”

Vagen: “Yes.”

Wolman: “Superintendent Gaines has been doing an excellent job in bringing the district around since he was hired back in 2015. At that time, the district was in a budgetary crisis as well as a staff retention crisis, both of which have been turned around under Dr. Gaines’ leadership, with progress towards the future while making the district a place where staff, students and the community all work together for student excellence.”

What political party do you identify yourself with?

Hassler: “Nonpartisan.”  

Kenner did not answer.

Pretto: “As a board member, neither.”

Vagen: “I generally support progressive ideas, but the nonpartisan nature of the Board of Education is what makes it successful.”    

Wolman: “School board elections are a nonpartisan race and should always remain as such, since the school serves the entire community, not just the members of a specific political party.”

Do you have any family members employed by the Mehlville School District?    

Hassler: “N/A”

Kenner: “No family members employed by the board.”

Pretto: “No.”

Vagen: “Yes.” His wife, Ariane Vagen, is an art teacher at Mehlville High School.

Wolman: “I do not have any family members employed by the Mehlville School District. Policy BBFA of the Mehlville School District has a specific clause against contracting or employing family members within the 4th Degree of Consanguinity and Affinity of an active school board member or within a year of no longer serving on the school board.”

Should Oakville High School have an auditorium like Mehlville High does?   

Hassler: “Yes. Unfortunately it is difficult for the drama students to travel to Nottelmann (Auditorium at Mehlville High School) from Oakville to practice — there is a lack of storage space for them to keep their props at Nottelmann.  The current performance areas at Oakville are not sufficient spaces for performing. Nottelmann is often booked since every school in the district is using it for their choral, band, orchestra and drama performances.”

Richard Vagen

Kenner: “If it is something the parents and students think it is necessary, then it should be considered.”

Pretto: “It would be nice if it could happen (logistically).”

Vagen:Nottelmann Auditorium has provided a terrific space for the district to highlight its outstanding performing arts and music programs. Currently I would recommend continuing to use that space.”

Wolman: “Usage data on the MHS auditorium should be reviewed to determine if there is an over-demand and under-supply of usage time, both for internal district usage as well as community usage. If the data supports the proposal for an OHS version of the MHS auditorium, with financial justification being made and proven on a long-term basis of the benefits and consistent use of an OHS auditorium, then it should be something the district could consider.”

Should the district deficit spend for recurring expenses such as salary increases?

Hassler:

We should avoid deficit spending. Although deficit spending is part of the natural cycle of school finance, because it allows school districts to delay making significant budget reductions or asking their community to approve a tax levy increase, it is not a permanent solution. Deficit spending erodes a school district’s fund balance. Without an adequate fund balance, a school district would need to engage in short-term borrowing to fund day-to-day operations. School districts like Mehlville which are funded primarily by local property taxes receive most of their tax revenue in December and January of each year. As a result, Mehlville must keep enough of its budget in reserve to ensure it will have adequate cash flow to fund operations without borrowing money throughout the course of the year. Each year of deficit spending erodes the district’s fund balance which could lead to requiring short-term borrowing to fund district operations.”

Kenner:Depends on issue. For example, I would say yes to teacher salaries.”

Pretto:No. I think deficit spending is dangerous for our financial well-being.”

Vagen:We should look at recommendations from the Finance Committee and consider multiple approaches before making a decision.”

Wolman: “No, deficit spending for recurring expenses is not a financially responsible manner for spending tax dollars.  Other methods should be used for recurring expenses.”

Read on for the web-exclusive answers candidates gave to their candidate questionnaires:

Reason for seeking office:

Jeff Wolman

Hassler:I am running for Mehlville School Board of Education to ensure the district is effectively using district resources for continuous improvement and delivering a top-level education while maintaining fiscal discipline that allows our tax rates to be one of the lowest in the St. Louis area; To oversee continuous facility upgrades to ensure security and safety of all children and staff; to continue to set vision and goals to measure the success of the district and the Superintendent and set policies to ensure the success of ALL students and staff; To guarantee transparency to our community;  I will strive to retain and give ALL of our employees a competitive compensation package.”

Kenner: “My father had a first-grade education and my mother an eight-grade education. I am one of 11 children. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I know and understand the positive affect a good education can have on a person’s life. I have a very diverse background. I grew up in NC. I’ve lived in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York City. I think that that diverse back ground allows me to perhaps add a new perspective to help the district continue to grow.”

Pretto: “I would very much like to see many of the projects started with Prop R through.”

Vagen:I want to ensure that every student continues to have every resource available necessary for success.”

Wolman:The MSD school board is doing a great job in governing through the current strategic plan and is working to plan out the next strategic plan.  I wish to add my technology background into the school board’s leadership for the future.”

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why? (Full answers)

Hassler:I consider student success the most important issue in this race and the most important constant goal. The district has brought in new curriculum and professional development, and they are actively monitoring data and drilling down that data to get to the root cause of any problems and putting changes into place to ensure excellence and making sure we are seeing positive results and goals being met.  They have a systematic process for identifying problems and an approach for responding to them.  I want to guarantee that we continue to effectively govern so that we are not ‘putting out fires’ for problems that develop, but rather finding ways to prevent them which inevitably will result in student success.”

Kenner: “I don’t believe there is a single most important issue. An issue at the top of my list is school safety. The board is currently reviewing the issue. I’m particularly interested in what changes can be made to building structure that can help keep our children safe.”

Pretto: “Not really an ‘issue’ but it is imperative that the board continues to keep moving the district forward for our students and the entire community.”

Vagen: “Addressing our students’ social and emotional well being needs to be a priority. Helping students with any mental health issues will have an impact that is felt far beyond those individuals. Providing students with the resources needed to recognize and address their mental health will help them achieve their own academic success, reduce behavior issues, and create an environment for learning that benefits all students. Any single challenge can have a domino effect having an impact felt across the educational atmosphere. Also, it is worth noting that the challenges facing Mehlville are not unique to us, they are felt across the state and country.”

Wolman: “The single most important issue in this race is continuing to enhance student improvement across the district, as students need to be prepared for their life beyond school with success in their professional and personal lives, as detailed by the Portrait of A Graduate.”

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Hassler:I feel these should always be issues of the district and my position is that they should always be supported:  Continuous improvement; Building trust between the community, school board and administration with clear communication and continued transparency; Fiscal responsibility and making sure that funds are spent carefully and responsibly; Following the strategic plan; Make sure Prop R and Prop A funds are spent as promised; Diversity in our administration, staff and students, bearing in mind diversity comes in many forms.”

Kenner: “Student achievement – continue to monitor and review student achievement to determine areas for improvement. For example, keeping track of nationwide curriculum programs to determine if those programs can help improve student achievement.

“Other issue: Teacher satisfaction: Continue to work on improving teacher salaries to maintain and attract the most talented group of educators.

“Other issues: Mental health – work on programs geared towards evaluating and treating students in need.

“Other issues: Diversity — work on attracting a diverse staff and programs/curriculum aimed at making our children prepared for an ever-changing society.”

Pretto: “I don’t perceive any other issues in this race.”

Vagen:Ensuring that discipline is applied in a meaningful way that addresses behavioral causes, improving diversity within the teacher and administrative population, and providing all students a safe place to receive personalized learning is a priority.”

Wolman: “Other issues important in this election are school safety/security, proper financial management, planning for the future, as well as growing and enhancing the teaching staff currently as well as the future.  Social and emotional well-being is also very important.”

How did you vote in the April 2016 election on the district’s 4-cent no-tax-rate-increase tax transfer, Proposition A for AC? Why?

Hassler:I voted yes on Prop A because it was a no-tax-rate-increase tax transfer and the district has/had many AC and roofing problems, along with other facility issues that need (needed) to be repaired and replaced.  Transferring the 4 cents helped to start on these projects.  The district laid out a very concise plan for which projects would be paid for and when, and I felt like they would be responsible with the expenditures based on the needs of the district.

“If you don’t repair things when they need to be repaired, eventually it will cost you more in the long run to let them deteriorate further and have emergency repairs. Since Prop A is a pay-as-you-go process, the district is able to spend all of the money on capital improvements. If we had to use bonds for these capital repairs, we would have to pay interest, thus wasting tax money. Prop A gave an opportunity to avoid the interest costs.”

Kenner: “I can’t remember if I voted. If I did, I voted yes because I’m always in favor of tax increases aimed at improving public schools. I voted that way even before I had children because I understand how a good education can change a person’s life.”

Pretto: “A big yes!! A no brainer. We were in need of these improvements.”

Vagen:Yes, I supported Prop A as it is vitally important that our district has the infrastructure necessary to provide a safe and comfortable learning environment for our students.”

Wolman: “I voted to approve the Prop A for AC measure as making sure the school district would have sufficient funding for the needed capital improvements for all of the school district buildings.”

Do you support the Mehlville Strategic Plan? How is the district doing in following the plan? Should the district follow the strategic plan in the future?

Hassler:Yes — I support the strategic plan.  The district is doing well following the plan, which includes improving student performance with early intervention, training teachers (professional development); creating innovative schools; facility upgrades and finding waste and reducing costs.  The district has made vast improvements of keeping everyone informed whether it is by an email, a video or a download from the district’s website.  The strategic plan gives us direction for student academic performance, support for teachers to ensure quality learning environments and using our district resources in a responsible manner. I believe these goals are the right focus areas for our school district to be successful so I do believe the district should continue to follow the strategic plan. As to the future, we are currently working with the community to get input to see how they want the district to proceed and will build the next strategic plan based on this collaborative information.”

Kenner: “Yes, I support Mehlville strategic plan. I think the district is following the plan. Yes, the plan should be followed.”

Pretto: “I very much support the plan. The district is thriving following the implementations of the plan.”

Vagen:I do. The district has been focused on moving into the future with a focus on data and community involvement. You can see the results of that focus in how we are applying resources to improve student performance. Continuing that plan and incorporating the thoughts and concerns of the students, staff and community is part of the plan moving forward and I support the direction the district is heading.

Wolman:I do support the Mehlville Strategic Plan as currently exists.  The district is doing well with the current strategic plan, as it has enhanced student preparation, increased teacher support and worked to make the school district function both effectively and efficiently. For the future, the district should continue to follow the strategic plan, though a new one for the upcoming 2022–2027 school years is in the initial planning stages.”

Mehlville residents showed historic levels of support for the district in Prop R. What will you do as a board member to maintain that goodwill between the district and the community?

Hassler:Keep the community informed, make fiscally responsible decisions, be approachable and available to talk to, always keep kids first in all decisions made, continued use of data driven and transparent communication in all ways possible. We will also continue to have our Finance Committee, made up of community members that are accountants and CPAs (certified public accountants), audit district books to compare the funds spent to the promises we made during the Prop R campaign in comparison to the funds received as a result of Prop R.”

Kenner:I would continue to provide transparency and look at different ways to continue to keep the community informed and solicit feedback from the community.”

Pretto:Continue to be as transparent as possible.”

Vagen:Continuing to improve communication between the district and the community is paramount to maintaining trust and a strong relationship.”

Wolman: “As a board member, I will continue to follow the Prop R promise and only spend those funds on what was committed by the existing school board at the time to the community.”

If additional revenue is needed for the school district, how do you propose obtaining that revenue?

Hassler:I would assess the true need for additional revenue and the cause for the need. If we truly need the revenue, first we must look at all of the expenditures and budgets and see if there is any way we can make cuts without any adverse effects on academic achievement, or figure ways to squeeze the funds from the money we already have without robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“We must make sure there is no waste we could eliminate and if, and only if we have examined all options and there simply is not enough money, then we would have to take some community polls to see if we felt the community would support another tax levy or bond and decide from there if it is something we would put on the ballot for the voters to decide.”

Kenner: “Bonds, tax revenue and attracting more families capable of supporting/increasing tax base.”

Pretto: “This would be a decision based upon options given to the board by the superintendent. And CFO.”

Vagen:Primarily by first looking at how money is being spent, how debt can be structured, and how changing tax rates will affect current levies.”

Wolman: “A complete review of all programs to determine current expenses would be a required first step. The next step would be to review options for additional community enrichment programs and summer school expansion, which has continued to improve and provide funds to the district. If it became necessary to ask the community for additional funding, that would only occur with a full plan in place as was present for Prop R.”

Do you support the district’s decision to offer 1:1 technology/laptops?  

Hassler: “Yes.”

Kenner: “I support 1:1 technology. Important for our children to understand and be able to use technology. We all know technology is only going to continue to grow. We have to be able to compete with other countries.”

Pretto: “Of course. This is imperative to remain competitive!”

Vagen: “Yes.”

Wolman:The district’s decision to offer 1:1 technology through the Chromebook initiative is an excellent initiative for multiple reasons. It allows the district to have much better data collection on student performance through systems like iReady, as well as allows for a diverse educational model with the ability for non-paper classwork as well as providing students an exposure to technology they may not have at home due to household income. Technology advancement within the district is an important means to keep our students up to date with the need for technology in future work and home life.”

Do you support the school district’s innovative elementary, Mosaic? How should the district fund it?   

Hassler: “Yes, I support Mosaic.  The school is funded out of the general operating account.”

Kenner: “I support Mosaic because it appears to be working and has a lot of parent support. It should be funded according to need with district guidelines.”

Pretto: “Not clear about the question. This is one of our 17 schools so it is funded in the same way as all of our schools.”

Vagen:I do. It’s an example of the district embracing new ideas, being willing to adapt, and has provided tools and lessons that can be brought into other schools throughout the district. It should be funded like any other elementary school in the district.”

Wolman: “I support MOSAIC, as it is an impressive, innovative model for a new way to teach elementary school through project-based learning. The school manages this new way to teach while adhering to state standards set by DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).  They have been one of the pilot schools for numerous tools such as iReady. The district should fund MOSAIC the same way as any other school in the district.”

How would you work to keep politics out of the board’s decision-making process?   

Hassler: “A school board should always be nonpartisan and should remain so at all times; I do not believe in political games or political agendas and I really do not believe there is any room for these games on a school board. In my opinion, the school board is charged with the responsibility to establish and maintain a basic organizational structure for the Mehlville school system, and to set policy and oversee the superintendent of the district to implement the established policy. In order to set the policy and govern the district,  I will focus on data, process, the Strategic Plan and the board goals.”

Kenner: “Not identifying my party affiliation and only making decisions based on needs of children, parents and staff.”

Pretto: “The decisions we make as board members will always be determined by one thing: ‘Is this the best thing for our students?’”

Vagen:Decisions should be made based around what is best for the students and if you start with that, politics should not enter the conversation.”

Wolman: “Any decision-making process must be done only with fiscal responsibility review as its focus, as the board is a nonpartisan entity that is not part of the political process at the local or state level.”

Should the Board of Education record its closed sessions? Such recordings would be a closed record and not available to the public. (Background here.)

Hassler:Yes, I believe that they should be recorded by transcript so that there are no questions in the future about decisions that were made in the closed meetings. However, because they are declared closed, no outside party should have access to them under any circumstances.”

Kenner:A difficult question to answer since I have not been privy to a closed meeting. In general, I think parents should have access to any information. We work for the community.”

Pretto:Closed sessions are intended to discuss things that are better not known to others. First of all, it could be a citation of an accusation or a real estate consideration that, if exposed, could harm the district’s ability to make a good transaction. So, basically, closed meetings are held for the good of the district.”

Vagen:That is something that we should continue to evaluate. We should look at how schools and districts across the country have enacted that policy and how it can work for our district. Transparency with the community is of utmost importance and where feasible should always be available.”

Wolman:From information available about closed board meetings, it appears there haven’t been any issues in the past few years that would warrant recording closed session meetings.  I would have no issue with the situation either way.”

How do you feel about charter schools?  

Hassler:Charter schools are a bad idea because they take away funds from the schools in their district yet they are not monitored by any entity in terms of academics, fiduciary responsibility, et cetera. They are not accountable to their community, like a public school and a public school BOE is. They are privately owned and are for profit. They do not have to accept all children and when a child becomes difficult to teach, they can kick them out, sometimes right before testing so their test scores don’t bring the averages of that school down. Charter schools increase segregation. School choice takes away attention from the real problems in our public schools – poverty and funding equity. I believe charter schools are bad for society.”

Kenner: “There is no evidence that charter schools serve children better than public schools. I do not support charter schools based on current evidence.”

Pretto: “Well, I know that so far, charter schools funded by Missouri taxpayers that have failed and closed have cost us $785 million!! I am against.”

Vagen: “They may be good for some families but the lack of oversight and accountability means they should not be utilizing public funds.”

Wolman:Charter schools are a bad decision for the public school system, as they have no accountability, take away state and local resources from the public school level and if they go bankrupt, the taxpayer is left on the hook for the loss to the education system.”

How do you feel about the voucher system being promoted as an alternative to the current system?  

Hassler:My feelings about the voucher system mirror those of the charter schools stated above. Properly funding parallel school systems would be incredibly wasteful and expensive.”

Kenner: “I’m not sure the voucher system is the answer. I think there are ways of improving failing districts. I think parents would prefer that measures be taken to improve neighborhood schools.”

Pretto: “This too will take valuable dollars away from our public school system. If you want to send your child to a school that collects tuition — you pay!”

Vagen: “It should not be.”

Wolman: “The voucher system is not an alternative to the current system.  It will do nothing more than increase a social divide between students of different financial backgrounds, as well as taking away already limited public school resources into private schools. Money diverted into vouchers usually comes with a larger disproportionate amount of money diverted from public school education.”

What is your plan to oversee the district’s increased revenue from Prop R? How will you as a board member ensure that the money is spent as the board promised?

Hassler:I will follow the plan as written and make sure that the superintendent is reaching the goals promised by Prop R. These promises can be found on the district’s website under the Prop R tab. I will vote for things that fall within the original plan, and will ask for detailed clarification for anything that does not appear to be following the plan, understanding that some things need to be flexible when you are dealing with as many moving parts as a school district as large as Mehlville.  “During the Prop R campaign, (the district) charged the Finance Committee with overseeing the funds, and they have set expected budgets against which to measure spending that is consistent with the promises communicated during the Prop R campaign. The Finance Committee audits the district books once a year to guarantee transparency and confirm funds are being spent as promised.”  

Kenner: “I think the board has a good plan for tracking, spending and communicating to the public how the money is being used. I don’t know if any changes needed to be made to the current plan.”

Pretto: “This board has requested an audit by a highly skilled team of CPAs and others from the community every year, strictly around Prop R funds.”

Vagen:The current board was wise to hold the district accountable by requiring regular financial evaluations. That should be continued.”

Wolman: “The current plan with the Finance Committee’s yearly audits ensure that the school board is operating within the definitions of Prop R’a agreement with the community, as well as providing evidence if there is spending in non-approved ways.”

The district had a record number of teachers leave five years ago for other jobs and districts. What do you propose to retain teachers?

Hassler:Passing Prop R has helped in teacher attitudes and job contentment. I would like to see continuous effort made to bring their compensation package up to the average in St. Louis County. We have made some progress in that area in the last few years, but retaining our teachers will help our academic achievement so it is important to hang on to the teachers after we invest in their professional development.

“I believe we need to compensate our teachers at a reasonable comparative market rate and create a culture and environment that draws and retains great teachers. We also need to make sure they have the resources needed to educate the children and that they do not have to use their own money for things in their classrooms that should be provided by the district.”

Kenner: “Higher pay, better benefits and good working conditions.”

Pretto:To continue to strive to make their salaries competitive. And, no more pay freezes!”

Vagen: “Keeping quality teachers is one of the most important things the district can do to provide a stable environment for our students to succeed in. Increasing teacher pay to be competitive is absolutely part of that. Continuing to evaluate where funds are being spent and how the community can help is a major part in accomplishing that. Additionally, providing an environment where teachers feel they have autonomy — where they know that they have a say in the way they can best teach their students will also play a key role in retaining our teachers. Part of that autonomy is providing them quality and meaningful professional development. They, the highly educated professionals, know what areas they want to improve on, where they can grow, and what would be helpful to them. And, if they don’t, they want to be — and deserve to be — involved in that process. If they are not then any professional development would not be meaningful and therefore do as much harm as it does good.”

Wolman:Five years ago, the district was in a far more dire financial situation than currently. The first step taken would be to make sure comparisons to other school districts properly reflected all compensation, both monetary and non-monetary, so that a proper valuation of a school district position can be properly compared with other districts. Working to follow up the success of Prop R with another similar property tax increase would help to keep the district competitive with other school districts.

Are you satisfied with the district’s security efforts?  

Hassler:I am satisfied that the district is striving to make continuous improvements to the safety and security of all students and staff. Changes need to be made to the configuration of our front doors and their proximity to our front offices but these doors remain locked at all times during the school day, and we have an ID system that all visitors must use; visitors must be buzzed into the school. and doors and windows are reviewed on a cyclical basis by our administrators, and the fire and police department.  Security must remain in the forefront of everyone’s mind and we must never let our guard down and become too lax when it comes to the enhancing safety and security of our kids and staff.”

Kenner: “I think the district can make changes to the building entrances that can improve student/staff safety.”

Pretto: “Yes! And even more satisfied with the continual improvement of the same. We must protect our students and faculty the very best that we can.”

Vagen: “Generally, yes. However, I think there are areas — both physical and environmental — that can be improved to ensure that our students are learning in a safe environment.”

Wolman:The efforts put forth by the district for security are reasonable without having the funding needed to make major structural changes to the school facilities that would need them. Newer schools would need less financial expense to help increase security versus older properties. The recently approved plan to replace and improve the monitoring cameras across district buildings is certainly a good step forward to increase security efforts.”

Are changes needed to the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri? 

Hassler:No — I don’t believe the current system is causing financial distress to the district and it does not place any unfunded mandates on the district. Because of this, I would not initiate any changes. The current system has teachers putting 14.5 percent of their salary into the retirement system, which is their own money. The district matches with another 14.5 percent.  This match sounds high but we need to keep in mind that teachers and the district do not pay Social Security tax (6.2 percent apiece) and teachers will not draw from the Social Security system when they retire.  There is also not a teacher 401(k) plan or 401(k) matching funds.  Teachers and the district put away a good amount for retirement but when looking at the numbers and comparisons with Social Security and 401(k) plans, the district only pays a couple percent more than the cost of Social Security taxes and a 401(k) match.”

Kenner: I don’t know enough about to the retirement system to answer with confidence.”

Pretto:No.”

Vagen: “No.”

Wolman: “From my limited involvement with the PSRS/PEERS of Missouri, it appears that it is working well without any needed changes.  Obviously as a board member, this would be something that would have much more direct visibility and inspection.”

Should the school year be extended? If so, what would you propose?  

Hassler: “No — N/A”

Kenner: “I don’t have any reason to believe that extending the school year would benefit the students academically, socially or emotionally.”

Pretto: “I feel our summer program really helps to full that gap. Unfortunately, the state is now telling districts when the school year should begin and how many hours are required.”

Vagen: “No.”

Wolman: “At this time, the school year should not be extended. There have been studies that would show both benefits and detriments to extend the school year or working into all-year school. Unless there are multiple studies showing strong benefits to making this change, the school year should remain at its current length.”

Are any changes needed to the district’s current nepotism policy?  

Hassler:Yes — the current policy does not align with Missouri law, so it would be appropriate to change it to do so.”

Kenner: “I do not know enough about the policy to answer with confidence. I have worked in education in NC, VA, MO and NYC. The only district that I am aware that it created issues that affected the students was in SLPS (Saint Louis City Schools).”

Pretto: “I don’t believe so.”

Vagen: “Policies should be continuously reviewed and updated.”

Wolman: The school district’s nepotism policy is fine as it is.

Have you been endorsed by any groups, organizations, unions, et cetera? If so, please list them.  

Hassler: Mehlville NEA, South County Labor

Kenner:All candidates were endorsed by NEA.”

Pretto: MNEA (2020)

Vagen: Mehlville NEA

Wolman: “All five candidates for the Mehlville School board have Missouri NEA endorsements.”

Should the board rely on the advice and recommendations of the financial professionals of the district’s Finance Committee to make major financial decisions, including whether to approve salary increases and budgets? 

Hassler:The board should consult with the Finance Committee on major financial decisions.  This group is comprised of our district CFO and financial professionals who have a deep understanding of the district finances. The final decision needs to rest with the board because it is the elected body that is given this responsibility, but I am happy that someone with a financial background is there for guidance and advice as I would not want these decisions to rest solely on board members that might not have a financial background.  As a board member, it is important to do your homework and educate yourself on the finances, but it is still good to have a support committee for financial advice.”

Kenner: “Yes. The district should rely on advice from financial professionals. Financial professionals are best equipped to help understand budgets and can be a valuable asset to the board.”

Pretto: “We should rely on their expertise to, first of all, let us know if the district has adequate funds to not only increase but maintain increases.”

Vagen:The board should consider advice and recommendations from the Finance Committee and all relevant sources in making decisions.”

Wolman: “The school board should utilize the Finance Committee’s professional opinion when making major financial decisions, including approving salary increases and budgets.”

One of the goals of the Mehlville Strategic Plan is to increase the level of academics in the district. What would you as a board member do to ensure this? How would you measure it?

Hassler:If children are at grade level in elementary school, the probability of keeping them at grade level through high school is higher. Therefore, early childhood education is very important. Early childhood education is where we set the base for a successful academic career. If kids are struggling we need to provide early intervention to these students. In addition, college preparedness and career readiness is of ultimate importance and I will work with the administration to ensure we continue to have the programs and classes that best meet these goals. Goals and measures are necessary to understand how we are doing and where we need to improve. We need to compare our performance to peer and aspiration districts. Measures of key leading indicators are necessary to understand how our children are doing with the expected standards in each grade. I would work and support the administration to give them the resources necessary to understand the most effective leading indicators, determine how we can collect these and utilize them to improve academic performance.”

Kenner:Evaluate nationwide curriculum programs comparable to Mehlville that are producing the best outcomes. Student test scores, student/parent satisfaction, and college admission rates.”

Pretto:We measure progress frequently through benchmark testing, frequent data checks are essential.”

Vagen: “I would direct necessary resources to areas and schools where students are not performing to their potential. Math and reading interventionists have proven successful and that should be expanded. With the amount of data being collected it should be measured a number of ways — comparing the students’ growth against themselves, against grade level metrics and against state averages.”

Wolman: “Implementing individual student achievement tools such as iReady, doing regular detailed analysis of the test scores and other student metrics, as well as working further to diversify the educational options available to students such as Middle School Academy, MyPath, College Academy would be the best ways to ensure students can learn at the best pace and manner that works best for them.”

If future budget cuts are needed, what do you propose eliminating from the budget? Would you support reducing busing and/or charging for it?  

Hassler: “Before any budget cuts are made, I would charge administration with researching if there was any wasteful spending and try to make cuts only to things that do not affect academics. I would engage the community in the process and get their input on how they would like to handle the shortfalls. I would try to best understand areas where they see waste that can be eliminated and what budget items they believe would have the least detrimental effects on the kids and the district. I would not support reducing busing but I would entertain charging for it if there were no other options.  When the community gets involved, we can get their input on how to move forward, and see what kind of support we would have for a tax bond or levy, if absolutely needed.”

Kenner:Depends on what programs were being offered at the time it was necessary to discuss budget cuts. For example, if social workers were reduced, I would compensate by creating an agreement with universities to have social workers complete their practicums with the Mehlville School District to compensate for reduction in social workers.”

Pretto:Non-essentials would go first. Busing is supposed to be 75-percent subsidized by state funding. However, this is not happening. It is very difficult to make cuts. Clubs, after schools, et cetera.”

Vagen:The district has a solid financial foundation that should not require budget cuts.”

Wolman: “Future budget cuts, if needed, would have to come from extracurricular programs and athletic programs first. At this time, it seems unlikely future budget cuts would be needed from the strong financial founding the district is in currently. Reducing busing and/or charging for it would not be something that would be easy to support, as it appears strongly as a disservice to the students.”

Do you believe sex education should be taught in school, including the various types of birth-control methods? Why or why not?

Hassler:State law says this has to be offered and that parents can opt their children out. Teaching kids about everything that can go wrong and negatively impact a young person’s life is beneficial especially if there is a lack of guidance in the child’s home. Personally, I believe that knowing these consequences helps children make better decisions. I think abstinence should be taught first and foremost, but I also think the various types of birth-control methods should be taught with the inclusion of what can go wrong and what they do not protect against.”

Kenner: “Best decided by parents of the community.”

Pretto: “Absolutely. It should be age appropriate and parents given the option to opt out. But if we can help our students in this way, we should.”

Vagen:Yes. Sex education is an important aspect of overall health education.”

Wolman: “Sex education should be taught in school, including the various types of birth control methods, as it is a needed piece of education that may not be offered at home. It should be a mandatory class, though there should be an option for opting out of the class based on religious or parental objection. Offering sex education in school is not an endorsement of those items, as it should be something offered to students for making informed decisions for something that can be a life-changing event in their lives.”

If you are a current board member, what are your biggest accomplishments on the board? How is the district better because you were elected?

Hassler: “I do not believe there is any one ‘biggest’ accomplishment, but rather a unity of accomplishments that have produced continuous and consistent improvement of the district. I am a strong advocate of adhering to the strategic plan, overseeing Prop R promises and incorporating the Portrait of a Graduate which has helped us stay focused on student engagement, continuous improvement and innovation. During my tenure we have incorporated 1:1 technology in all schools, have added math and reading interventionists, have added various programs to improve academics, added much needed professional development, and have concentrated on fact based data to make changes as we see necessary to continue our improvement goals which lead to student success.

“Also I (we) have done a good job of engaging the community to seek their input on what they want to see moving forward and taking their suggestions for areas they think need improving. We have accomplished a lot of things in the last three years, all while implementing prudent financial management which resulted in paying off debt early.”

Pretto: “I always try to use common sense on issues. And always ask what is best for our kids. I established ‘Students on Board.’”

If you are not a board member, what is your biggest accomplishment for the district? How is the district better because of your involvement?  

Kenner: “I have been a room parent and I make myself available to Hagemann Elementary to help address teacher needs. For example, when a teacher needs dry erase markers, I purchase or get together with a group of parents to address the issue.”

Vagen:My involvement has typically been more personal — from giving art lessons when my daughter was in preschool, to now helping the kids in the classroom, to encouraging older kids and instilling a belief that they can accomplish their goals and more.”

Wolman: “My biggest accomplishment for the district is to be involved with the PTO at Oakville Elementary School for one year and MOSAIC for three years. I have been on the MOSAIC PTO board for the past two years, one year as parliamentarian and one year as secretary.”

Do you believe the district should build a third high school?  

Hassler:No — enrollment is actually down in our two current high schools so there is no current need for a third school.”

Kenner: “I am not familiar enough with district numbers to answer with confidence.”

Pretto: “No, our enrollment is in constant flux and that is a huge investment.”

Vagen:No.”

Wolman: “The expense of building a third high school is a massive undertaking that would take multiple years to complete. There would have to be quantifiable numbers to show a massive growth in the number of students to justify such an expense and at this time, there is no data to support that decision. Due to an expense of that magnitude, it would need to be properly justified, as a wrong decision for that level of expense could severely damage the district’s finances.”

Do you support the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp., or VICC, voluntary transfer program? Should the district end its participation in this program? If so, how would you fund the loss of revenue to the district?  

Hassler: “I support VICC as it often helps kids get a better chance at a quality education which is the basis for people to work their way out of poverty and do not believe we should end it. A program like VICC has the potential for multiple generational changes when kids educate themselves and gives them a better opportunity to be successful upon graduation and beyond.

The St. Louis student transfer program was established to increase racial integration in metropolitan area public schools under a settlement agreement reached in the St. Louis desegregation case and approved by the federal court in 1983. In 1999, a revised settlement agreement was reached amongst the various parties which transformed the federally supervised program into a voluntary program under the jurisdiction of the Voluntary Inter District Choice Corporation (VICC). Since that time the program has been extended three times and, as a result, new students may continue to be enrolled through the 2023-2024 school year. Once enrolled, students are allowed to continue their education in their chosen suburban district through graduation.

“VICC has a long track record of increasing the graduation rate, attendance rate, and achievement levels of students involved in the program. Other key factors that have led to the success of the program include a fair reimbursement rate to participating school districts (currently $7,000 per pupil), and the effective management of the transportation of the students by the VICC. Since the state aid payments simply follow the students from their district of residence to the VICC program there are no additional costs to Missouri taxpayers.  On the flip side, the problem I have with the program is that the district the kids are coming from are paying much needed money from their struggling district to our suburban district so the question comes down to are we hurting the other kids at the struggling districts by taking their funding away from them to educate the transfer students.

“Due to certain legal limitations on the indefinite continuation of a race-based school integration program, VICC has been gradually reducing the total number of students participating, so there is probably no avoiding ending it.  As to the loss of revenue in the district, because we will also lose the student, it will roughly even itself out from a financial basis.  We don’t have any direct way of funding the loss of the VICC revenue.”

Kenner: “I support VICC with limits. I do not think the district should end its involvement. It’s important for our children to have experiences with other children who are different for purposes of personal and social growth. Loss of revenue would be examined and discuss bonds and tax increases.”

Pretto: “No, I believe this is a positive program for all parties. The enrollment in this program has been dwindling, so the revenue loss would be minimal.”

Vagen:I do support it.”

Wolman: “The VICC program is a program that I would support since it does bring additional revenue into the district as well as help with issues with racial integration in the St Louis area. The district should not end its participation in this program for the benefits to the district previously stated.  If the program was to end, it would be preferable to look at property tax measures to compensate of the loss of revenue over budget cuts.”

How should board members make decisions on issues? Do you believe that they should always follow the recommendations of the administration or that they should always go against the recommendations of the administration?

Hassler: “I do not believe that board members should always follow OR go against the recommendations of the administration. Decisions should be made after considering all factors involved and consideration must be made as to how it fulfills the Strategic Plan, does it align with board and school district goals, how does the decision affect academic performance, how does it affect ALL children in the district and the community as a whole and how does it affect the budget and is it being fiscally responsible to the taxpayer.

Board members have to collaborate with each other and with the administration, but board members have an additional oversight responsibility beyond rubber stamping any and all ideas brought to them.  Again, they have to take into consideration all of the above goals while working as a team and remaining unified, but at the same time being able to agree to disagree.”

Kenner: “I think it is important to listen to the administration and make decisions that include their professional opinion within the guidelines of financial restraints.”

Pretto: “Neither — they should consider all the possibilities and hear all sides. Then after careful consideration try to reach a consensus as to what is best for our kids.”

Vagen:Board members should take all the available information, including recommendations, and make a decision that is best for the students and district. If the recommendations need to be denied or amended then that should be a decision the board makes.”

Wolman: “The board members should make decisions on issues with informed discussion of the issue, with a clear statement of pros and cons on all possible outcomes of the decision.  The board should preferably follow the recommendation of the administration on issues, as the district administration would likely be offering the recommendation that works for the best needs of the district.”

Do you believe the Mehlville School District and school board have faithfully adhered to the letter of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law? What would you do as a board member to ensure the board’s compliance with this law?

Hassler: Yes, I believe the MSD BOE has faithfully adhered to the Sunshine Law.  I would make sure that any closed sessions followed the agenda as published, and that any and all open meetings are posted according to law.  I would also welcome any requests for records under the law and would advise the district to comply with the record’s request.  I would make sure I was never any part of breaking the law from an ethical and moral standpoint.”

Kenner: “Yes, it should be adhered to because we work for the community. Therefore, the community is entitled to know about the decision the board makes that affect the lives of their children.”

Pretto:Absolutely. Our meetings are livestreamed, available on YouTube and as a board member, I can say that every request for information under the Sunshine Law would be fulfilled. We are a board that proudly remains very transparent.”

Vagen:The board has done a good job providing access to meeting information. Continuing to evaluate how we can be as transparent as possible ensures that there is trust from the community.”

Wolman: “The Mehlville School District and the school board have faithfully adhered to the letter of the Sunshine Law.”

Do you believe that school libraries should have information about gay and lesbian lifestyles? Why or why not?  

Hassler: “After the Supreme Court made their historic decision regarding gay marriage it may be time for LGBT issues and curriculum to be spoken about in schools. I am confident that there would be strong arguments from some parents and community, so there should be rules about the location of the information and the process for checking out any of the information from the library.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       “Perhaps that policy would be that for any child under the age of 18, a parent must sign giving permission for their child to check out such material. I read a study and based on qualitative interviews with 31 school librarians, this project found generally strong support for collecting LGBT materials. School librarians discussed serving their communities, having resources for all students, and meeting the needs of diverse students. In addition, they shared several ways that school libraries can counter bullying by educating and creating a bully-free zone in the library, collecting LGBT and anti-bullying materials, collaborating with guidance counselors and teachers, suggesting particular books for certain students, being a supporter of students, and positioning the school library as a safe space for any LGBT students.”

Kenner: “A decision best left to the vote of the community.”

Pretto: “Yes. Age appropriately. Libraries should have information on everything known to man.”

Vagen:Yes. The library should have material that is representative of the community it serves.”

Wolman:School libraries should have information about gay and lesbian lifestyles, as it is a lifestyle that some students may be part of. Having the information available in the library is only making it available, not an endorsement of those lifestyles. This is the same situation as making religious information available in the library without making an endorsement of religion.”

Do you believe creationism should be taught in school? Why or why not?   

Hassler: “We are subject to state law on this topic and I know there have been legislative attempts to include creationism in public school science classes. At this point, creationism is not part of the science curriculum. I believe creationism could be taught as part of a theology class on general religion as an elective and I would support this approach in the schools since the classes would be voluntary classes and not requirements.”

Kenner: “A decision best left to the vote of the community.”

Pretto: “In a course that studies various religions, this would be among that information.”

Vagen: “Perhaps, but not in science.”

Wolman: “Creationism should not be taught in school as part of the science curriculum, as is it not science. It could be discussed in a non-science portion of the curriculum, such as social studies.”

Should the district allow transgender students to use the same locker rooms as the gender they self-identify as or the physical gender they were born with?

Hassler: “This issue is regulated by federal and state law. Under Title IX federal law schools are required to treat transgender students according to their gender identity, including by making sure that transgender students have access to restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.”

Kenner: “A decision best left to the vote of the community.”

Pretto: “I realize this may seem old fashioned, but until a transgender individual has completed gender reassignment surgery I believe they should go with the gender they were born with.”

Vagen:Students — any students — should use the facilities associated with the gender they identify with or a neutral facility if they are more comfortable with that option.”

Wolman: “Currently, the school district is serving the needs of the students in an acceptable way in regard to this issue.”

Have you ever applied for a job with the Mehlville School District? If yes, what position and how many times?   

Hassler: “N/A”

Kenner: “I have never applied for a job with Mehlville School District.”

Pretto: “Yes. Interim principal – but withdrew the application in order to remain in compliance with policy.”

Vagen: “No.”

Wolman:I have never previously applied for a position in the Mehlville School District.”

How much of a fund balance do you believe the Mehlville School District should maintain? Do you support the board’s decision to increase its recommended reserve target of 13 percent to 18 percent to a level of 17 percent to 25 percent?  

Hassler: “I believe we should maintain about a 17.5-percent to 20-percent fund balance. I do support the decisions to increase the reserve target because it should be set to ensure we do not dip into deficit spending near the end of the year. This needs to be regularly monitored and discussed to ensure we are not reserving more than we really need so that funds are spent on the year intended on the continuous improvement of the district.”

Kenner: “There should be enough in the fund balance to compensate for foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. I support the current plan.”

Pretto: “Yes. These reserves are necessary to complete all financial obligations through the end of year, thus, avoiding borrowing.”

Vagen: “When a district is in a position to have increased reserves it is a positive sign.”

Wolman: “The school board decided to increase the fund balance to ensure that it has an acceptable cash reserve on hand to deal with issues that may require a larger draw on those reserves than planned previously in the strategic plan.”

What is your position on block scheduling at the high schools? Are changes needed?

Hassler: “I believe block scheduling is beneficial to the kids in high school.  It helps struggling kids because they can get intervention during ANP and TAP time and for some classes it is very worthwhile to have 90-minute blocks for labs, metals and wood working classes, computer lab classes, chemistry, biology, et cetera. This type of schedule benefits kids at all levels especially as we become more and more innovative in the way we teach. On the other hand, some classes are better served on the traditional schedule time of about 50 minutes and some students benefit from seeing their teachers on more consecutive days for shorter periods of time.

“With that being said, the goal of the Block Scheduling Committee formed a few years ago was to roll out a full schedule for the year 2018-2019 that had a flex of all classes built into it. Unfortunately, that was not able to be implemented, but I believe it should still be considered if we can find the proper software to assist in scheduling.  For the teachers and kids that are better served by a shorter block period and seeing the teacher on more consistent days of the week, they would be channeled into those classes and for the kids that need the longer block time they will be channeled into those blocked classes.

“I recognize that it comes at a cost of $2 million, however, I believe after many discussions with people that hold their doctorate degree in education this is the best way to serve ALL children.  It is true that some districts do just fine on a straight traditional schedule but I also believe that they spend an equivalent of funds on interventionists and other programs that help the kids in their studies.  It would be nice to have additional resources for both the flex schedule and the one-on-one interventionists, but for now it is important that we are creative with our funding and budget and are as fiscally conservative as possible with an eye towards providing the best possible education we can for ALL of our children.  If we went to a classic traditional schedule, I believe the extra funds would be needed to spend on extra intervention teachers to help the struggling students and to pay teachers to stay beyond their contract hours to tutor and help the kids.”

Kenner: “A decision best left to the vote of the community.”

Pretto: “I will leave that up to those committees selected to do what’s best for our students.”

Vagen:Block scheduling gives students and teachers the time needed to ensure that personalized learning takes place and provides the most opportunities for student success. No changes are needed.”

Wolman: “Block scheduling at the high-school level may provide some benefits to students with more class time spent per class and more time spent on the material in-class. However, studies have proven that block scheduling doesn’t always work. There’s also the potential issue with more make-up work needed per missed day and that it can average out both sides of the performance extremes within a group.  Student data should be studied to determine if this would benefit the high schools in the district.”

Should the district use interest-based bargaining for negotiations, as proposed by the National Education Association?

Hassler:Yes, I believe we should use interest-based bargaining in negotiations and work as joint problem solvers instead of adversaries.  Together we should identify the issues that each party wants to discuss and how we can improve the contract, and then come together and reach agreeable terms that will make the contract a win win for both parties.”

Kenner: “I am not familiar enough with the issue to speak with confidence.”

Pretto: “We should do whatever it takes to reach a mutual agreement.”

Vagen:The district should always be evaluating the best practices to ensure that we can retain the highest caliber teachers possible.”

Wolman: “Interest-based bargaining for negotiation may be a better manner used for negotiations, as it may help both sides start with a closer point of agreement when both sides’ interests are available.  It will start from a much less adversarial position on both sides working towards a common wise decision instead of having it be a ‘victory’ over the other side.”

What would you propose to improve the district’s communication?

Hassler:I believe we have made great strides in the last two years with our communication efforts.  We need to stay on path of being open and transparent, sending emails with newsworthy information, continuous social media posts that inform and promote, continue to build relationships with the local media and be proactive in providing information so we don’t find ourselves on the defending ourselves to the community.”

Kenner:TV, radio or newspaper ads.”

Vagen:The district’s communication has been greatly improved and continuing to explore data and analytics to see how the community is receiving information will keep that trend going.”

Wolman: “With the hiring of (Communications Director) Jessica Pupillo in June 2018, communications from the school district have improved significantly. Upon reviewing the planned upcoming communication growth detailed in the last school board meeting, the district’s communication plan is in good hands.”

What would you propose to improve the district’s state test scores?

Hassler:We continue to look at programs, professional development and data to drill down on how we believe daily curriculum, student success and state test scores can improve.  We have a team of administrators and teachers whose only goal is to help to make these improvements and I believe with the right drivers behind the wheel, we will continue to make improvements, bearing in mind that each time the state changes the test, we cannot keep accurate data to compare to prior years, making it that much more difficult to assess and the results and comparison data are skewed.  “Also we need to bear in mind that we have over 50 languages spoken in the district so we have daily changing hurdles to jump as we accommodate our very diverse population. Mehlville is blessed with outstanding administrators and teachers that are doing a fantastic job of leading our district to academic success.”

Kenner:Examine nationwide curriculum programs comparable to Mehlville producing the best outcomes.”

Pretto:Exactly what we are doing. We did score 99.6 percent this year.”

Vagen: “Continuing to evaluate the data from a variety of sources, including our rollout of iReady, will help our educators pinpoint exactly where and when students are struggling and enable them to focus on where the problem is.”

Wolman: “Use of tools to measure individual student performance, such as iReady, currently being rolled out, would help to far closely measure individual student performance.  With fine, granular tracking tools on student performance, a much more directed and effective effort can be given to help all students improve their academic achievement, both for test scores and for general academic performance.”

What kind of relationship should a board member have with district teachers?  

Hassler: “A board member should have a professional relationship with the teachers and should be willing to listen and help them if a need should arise.”

Kenner: “I consider teachers a customer of the board so I think a good relationship is necessary for teacher satisfaction.”

Pretto: “Cordial, concerned, caring, willingness to do whatever is necessary to give our kids their best chance in life.”

Vagen:A professional and respectful relationship that recognizes that decisions that are made to benefit students benefit everyone.”

Wolman: “A board member should have a professional relationship with district teachers, working in collaborative benefit towards maximum student achievement.”

Do you agree with the board’s decision to hire math interventionists in elementary schools? Should that initiative be continued? 

Hassler:Yes, hiring math interventionists has been very helpful to our struggling learners and it should be continued, and expanded if financially viable, so that we can meet the needs of ALL of our struggling learners across the entire district.”

Kenner:Yes. My daughter has benefited from a math interventionist.”

Pretto:By all means, wherever we need to place help, if possible, we should.”

Vagen:Yes. The math interventionists are providing our students the resources they need to be successful early and ensure that they do not fall further behind.”

Wolman: “The decision to hire math interventionists in the elementary schools is a good decision as it helps to provide additional math resources to the students that need it. That initiative should be continued and should remain a priority.”