Longer school year among topics for Mehlville board

Will review composition of district’s insurance panel

By Gloria Lloyd

The Mehlville Board of Education is scheduled to discuss a trio of topics that have been contentious in the past when it meets tonight — Thursday, Nov. 21.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

At the meeting, Board of Education members will discuss a longer school year, and the makeup and role of the district’s Insurance Committee. Members also will discuss their philosophy on merit pay during a work session.

First, the board will continue a discussion from last year on lengthening the school year, as it receives a report from the instructional-time committee.

Currently, students meet for 174 days a year, which board member Ron Fedorchak noted is fewer than the 180 days that neighboring school districts meet. In urging his fellow board members to vote against the proposed school calendar for 2013-2014 last April, Fedorchak said student achievement requires a longer school year.

The board will look at the composition and role of its Insurance Committee, which is primarily comprised of teachers and administrators and recommends changes in the district’s insurance coverage.

In September, the board approved the recommendation from its insurance committee on how to handle a $1.5 million increase in health insurance costs for the district next year. The vote followed a proposal by board President Mark Stoner that the district look at dropping its health insurance and instead provide a stipend for employees, who could buy their own insurance from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

To address the insurance shortfall the district faced for next year, the district switched insurance companies from Coventry to CIGNA and agreed to split the increased costs, with the district paying 40 percent of employees’ premiums and employees now paying 60 percent — an additional $800,000 expense to the district and an additional $1.2 million paid by employees and retirees.

The vote was 4-2, with one “present.”

Stoner and board Secretary Rich Franz were opposed, while Fedorchak voted “present.”

One board member, Elaine Powers, sits on the Insurance Committee, and Stoner is an alternate member.

The 17 employee, retiree and union representatives who comprise most of the Insurance Committee have a “strong conflict” when proposing solutions, Stoner said, and the board has delegated its responsibility to fix its insurance issues to that panel.

The district’s compensation review, or merit pay, committee must submit a report with a proposal for merit pay by March 1, according to the board’s agreement with district teachers.

However, Stoner and Powers, who serve on the committee, reported that the committee sees little agreement on what the definition of merit pay even is, as well as what the outcomes from merit should be.

To complicate matters further, legal advice offered this year by the district’s attorney, Charles Elbert, indicates that bonuses for public employees are illegal in Missouri.

Powers voted against accepting the agenda of the Nov. 7 Board of Education meeting because it did not include her requested discussion on the composition of the compensation review, or merit pay, committee, to which she and Stoner were appointed last year.

“If I’m representing the board on that committee, I feel I should have some direction from the board,” Powers told the Call. “We are at a little bit of a crossroads where we had gone down one path, investigated one option, and it was problematic for legal reasons.

“So we need to decide as a committee, and with direction from the board, how much more effort we want to put into that to take it down some different paths perhaps. So there’s been some discussion, and I can’t predict where it’s going to land.”