Mehlville School District voters elect Dorsey, Murphy to Board of Education

Fedorchak praises teachers as he leaves Mehlville board

St. Louis University professor and new Mehlville Board of Education member Lisa Dorsey, left, is sworn into office by Superintendent Norm Ridder.

St. Louis University professor and new Mehlville Board of Education member Lisa Dorsey, left, is sworn into office by Superintendent Norm Ridder.

By Gloria Lloyd

Mehlville School District voters unseated the incumbent Board of Education president and elected two new members last week, including the brother of an outgoing board member.

Board President Ron Fedorchak came in third place in the four-way race, behind top vote-getter Lisa Dorsey, who received 6,593 votes, or 35.5 percent of the vote, and James “Jamey” Murphy, who received 5,227 votes, or 28 percent. Fedorchak received 3,667 votes, or 20 percent, and Kyle Haubrich received 2,998 votes, or 16 percent.

Superintendent Norm Ridder administered the oath of office to Dorsey, 46, and Murphy, 26, April 9 — just two days after the April 7 election, replacing Fedorchak and outgoing board member Katy Eardley, Murphy’s sister.

The new members’ arrival means that with the exception of board member Larry Felton, who has served since 2007, the entire Mehlville board has either been voted out or left office voluntarily in the last two years. Venki Palamand — who was

to succeed Fedorchak as president — was an incumbent board president in 2013 when Lori Trakas defeated him, but was re-elected last year.

Fedorchak faced an uphill battle for re-election from the start as the sitting board president. The district began to publicize its $5 million deficit this year and projected $8 million deficit next year, and the Mehlville National Education Association, or MNEA, that endorsed Fedorchak in 2012 fought hard against his re-election and instead endorsed newcomer Murphy.

Murphy received the endorsements of the MNEA and the Republican clubs — perhaps a first for a Mehlville candidate.

Although some teachers preferred Fedorchak, the MNEA leadership remained firmly against him.

Since Fedorchak

to fill a vacancy left by Micheal Ocello’s resignation, his primary goal was increasing student-teacher contact, and he achieved that last year through a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that expands next year’s calendar by two days. Mehlville has always run at the state minimum on school days, behind surrounding districts.

Although the majority of board members believe that the district already gave teachers a raise a year in advance in exchange for those two extra days, the MNEA leadership disagrees and largely blames Fedorchak.

Fedorchak is the son of a teacher and principal, and his wife, Micki, is a social worker for another district. With Fedorchak under fire on social media, Micki Fedorchak wrote a Facebook post in defense of her husband of 24 years the night before the election, noting that she is a member of the NEA and that her husband fully supports public education and teachers.

But the MNEA endorsement appeared to be the key to victory in this particular election, Fedorchak told the Call — Haubrich went door-to-door, made robocalls and positioned himself as the only conservative candidate in the race but came in last, while the MNEA-endorsed candidates came out on top.

“I think it gave (Murphy) a lot of credibility with a lot of people that I needed to vote for me,” Fedorchak noted.

Board member Lori Trakas sent an email to her supporters the weekend before the election urging them to vote only for Haubrich.

“At the time of our last election we had a balanced budget and approximately 20 percent in reserves,” she wrote. “One year later, after all three MNEA — teachers’ union — endorsed candidates were elected, the board approved a $4 million deficit budget. Mehlville cannot afford one more MNEA candidate.”

Murphy attributed his victory not to the MNEA or his conservative base but to old-fashioned campaigning, which he is skilled in from his roles working on the campaigns of several prominent GOP state legislators. Fedorchak did not run an active campaign or make the rounds of parent-teacher groups, instead choosing to run on his record.

“I think Ron took a lot of heat for the district being $8 million in the hole, and I think he took the teachers for granted a bit when he made the two days decision, and I think that hurt him,” Murphy told the Call. “The reality of the situation is I campaigned hard. I raised $5,200. I did direct mail to over 8,000 homes in the district. I knocked on 5,000 doors.”

Just before the new members took their seats, Fedorchak thanked voters and the past board members who appointed him for a “wonderful challenge in my life” and noted the unexpected highlights of his year spent serving as board president, including hiring two superintendents, creating the district’s first strategic plan and working to fix the district’s budget deficit.

After going down the line and thanking every Central Office administrator by name and noting the contributions of the principals and the district’s staff, a visibly emotional Fedorchak turned the topic to the group whose leadership worked to turn him out of office, the teachers.

“You guys are the talent, and I hate when teachers think that we’re vilifying or diminishing their importance, but it’s like a sports team: The owners make the decisions, the general managers trade players, but you come to watch the talent — and the teachers are the talent,” he said.

Ridder said that Fedorchak wears his heart on his sleeve, while Eardley wears her heart in her chest, and he will miss both.

“I think Ron really loves the district. Ron loves kids, he’s very passionate, very determined — when he gets on an issue, he stays on it till it’s done — and student-teacher contact time, that was his target,” Ridder said. “I think he was an advocate for kids, an advocate for teachers — even though the teachers didn’t feel that way, I think he was an advocate for teachers — and overall, he was an advocate for the community. He loves Mehlville.”

Palamand said it was a “pleasure and honor” serving with Fedorchak, whom he credited with convincing Ridder to come to Mehlville as interim superintendent when Ridder had other job offers.

Through tears, Samantha Stormer — one of the board members who endorsed Fedorchak for re-election — said she “absolutely loved” working with the person she called the “best trivia night partner ever.”

“You have been so much fun to work with … I’m obviously very upset at seeing you go,” she said. “You were a moving target this year, and you took a lot of heat for a lot of things that I feel were unfair and I’ll leave it at that, but you did a great job with everything that you’ve done and I appreciate everything you did for us.”

Murphy’s sister Katy Eardley, 29, is a stay-at-home mother who had three children when she was elected in 2012. She now has five, including a 6-week-old.

“It’s been a very interesting three years, and I’m ready to move on — and I hope to God that this board continues to keep our children in mind and make good decisions,” Eardley said.

During Eardley’s time on the board, she was a low-key board member who never held an office and rarely spoke during discussions. She campaigned as a conservative against the auditorium, voted against the tennis courts and, at first, helped comprise the conservative majority on the board when Lori Trakas was elected in 2013, joining Trakas, Mark Stoner and Rich Franz to elect Stoner president, Trakas vice president and Franz secretary.

However, Eardley rarely joined the board’s conservative wing when they dissented against the administration that year, a change noted by outgoing board member Elaine Powers when she left the board last year.

Although Eardley was dry-eyed this year when she left the board, she cried last year when Powers said, “Katy – I was wrong about you, and I wanted to say that publicly. I made assumptions about you before you joined this board, and I want you to know that you’re a strong, capable board member, you stick to your guns, and I just needed to say that out loud.”

Eardley was the quietest board member by choice: When the board was considering which superintendent-search firm to hire last year, Fedorchak sought out Eardley’s opinion and she replied, “I know how my microphone works.”

Board members Jean Pretto and Samantha Stormer noted how when Eardley spoke, the rest of the board would “sit up and listen” because she didn’t speak out on every subject.

“You’re kind of like E.F. Hutton, you know that when you speak everybody listens because you don’t speak just to hear yourself talk,” Pretto told Eardley.