Mehlville board needs to hold Gaines accountable, Fedorchak says

To the editor:

Having attended training and continuing education classes offered by the Missouri School Boards’ Association, or MSBA, I was told over and over again that my role as a school board director was one of governance.

We learned that our single employee, the superintendent, manages district operations. We were told to use five tools to govern: the budget, the calendar, the agenda, policy and the superintendent’s contract. Lastly, governance is the job of all seven directors. We were not to act alone or outside of the consensus of the board.

While serving on the Mehlville school board, I was in the minority at times. My colleague and outgoing MSBA president, Larry Felton, counseled me to debate vigorously in open meetings, but once a vote was taken, act “as if” you had voted for the issue.

His reasoning was solid — we had to serve in the best interest of the district, and I used his counsel when I stood alone on an issue that I believed violated state law.

Therefore, I was surprised to read in Gloria Lloyd’s June 1 story, “Mehlville NEA seeks mediator after negotiations break down,” that the current board has chosen to ignore the changes adopted in 2014 to remove board members and administrators from negotiations with district teachers. Most board members are not professional negotiators and were often targeted by the Mehlville National Education Association, or MNEA, in working sessions.

The administrators involved often wanted to reward teachers in their buildings and did not want to be seen blocking pay increases.

Some on the team were married to certified staff and were negotiating for increases to boost their household income.

The board changed district policy to allow a single negotiator to represent it. District attorney Charles Elbert did that job well in 2015. He was instructed by the board and administration, finishing the pact in three meetings.

Why wasn’t this model used this year? Board President Samantha Stormer, who voted for the policy change, remains on the board with Felton and Jean Pretto. Why have they not acted “as if”?

Mark Catalana, executive director of human resources then and now, is clearly aware of the policy, as he opposed the change in November 2014. Why was he negotiating with the MNEA?

Superintendent Chris Gaines apparently does not care about policy and thus the role of the board. He continues to act unilaterally on this issue, the leave policy and I suspect in many other areas.

This was the fear I had when hiring a small-town superintendent — boards that failed to govern.

It is time that he be held accountable by this board. If not, the board members mentioned above should resign immediately and allow governance to return.