South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Hiring new Mehlville superintendent one of Leach’s top priorities

Hiring a new superintendent to lead the Mehlville School District ranks as one of the top priorities of Board of Education President Ken Leach.

Leach, elected to the school board in April 2005, was selected board president earlier this month after the election of two new board members — Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello. Diehl and Ocello were the top vote-getters for two seats on the board in the April 4 election, defeating four other challengers, including incumbents Mike Heins and Bill Schornheuser, who were seeking their second three-year terms.

Other board officers elected April 10 were Vice President Karl Frank Jr., Secretary Tom Correnti and Treasurer Stephen Keyser, the district’s chief financial officer.

Asked to identify his top priority as board president, Leach told the Call Friday, “To secure an excellent superintendent because let’s face it, they’re the captain of the ship. That probably would be our No. 1 priority.”

Superintendent Tim Ricker will retire June 30. He has served as Mehlville superintendent since July 1, 2003. Ricker was selected by the Board of Education on Jan. 6, 2003, to replace retiring Superintendent John Cary.

Ricker’s resignation was accepted by the Board of Education during a Feb. 9 closed session. In a letter to the board, Ricker emphasized that his decision was not related to the voter’s Feb. 7 rejection of Proposition A, a 97-cent tax-rate increase.

On Feb. 15, the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Ricker as superintendent. Ricker will take over for interim Superintendent Art Jones, according to a Feb. 16 news release issued by the Lemont-Bromberek School District, an elementary district with four schools in Lemont, Ill.

The Mehlville Board of Education voted in early March to hire the Missouri School Boards Association to conduct a search for a new superintendent. The cost will be $14,500, plus expenses not to exceed an additional $1,500.

The new board president didn’t discount the possibility of hiring an interim superintendent for the 2006-2007 school year.

“When we first started, I thought for sure we definitely would hire one because the people we spoke to had a number of candidates checking out these other jobs, so you knew there were a number of them that were still available that wanted to make the move,” Leach said. “But it seems like it’s just getting later and later and not only that, but we’ve got to be realistic with our situation. Some of the gridlock we’ve had and some of the difference of opinion will probably go against us a little bit because in one sense, someone’s not going to want to just step into that. It’s not going to look as inviting.”

Another factor, he noted, is the district’s financial situation. The board has been considering a target of $4 million in budget reductions for the 2006-2007 school year and so far has cut more than $3 million.

Cuts made March 10 include eliminating 10 high school teaching positions, reducing 19 custodial positions and cutting 7.3 administrative positions. The reduction in administrative posts includes a custodial supervisor post and the district registrar. Cuts made March 23 include eliminating 20 teaching positions — 10 middle school posts and 10 elementary school posts — and trimming four elementary physical education/music positions.

That’s on top of cuts of $7 million over the past three years, including the elimination of nearly 50 teaching positions and two administrative positions.

“It’s going to be really challenging,” the board president said.

But Leach said some of the challenges Mehlville is facing also could work to the district’s advantage.

“Now here’s the thing I think we got going for us: If I was making a move, I wouldn’t want to go into a firm that was running like a well-oiled machine. You want to have value and you want to show your value and so you normally go into an area where you think that you can contribute and you can fix something. So the challenge is there, and I think that’s the type of person we need anyway,” he said.

Furthermore, despite the obvious problems facing Mehlville, he said the school district has much to offer — high academic achievement by students, dedicated employees, first-rate facilities and a supportive community.

“I think there’s a lot of things that we can tout, but realistically we’re going to have some challenges, too,” Leach said.

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