Mehlville’s nepotism policy should remain unchanged

By Dan Fowler

The Mehlville School District had a reputation for 40 years of giving preferential treatment to relatives of administrators and Board of Education members when hiring new district employees.

A community survey conducted in the early 1990s identified nepotism as residents’ No. 1 concern. Not only was nepotism a perception, it was a reality and the community was tired of it. It was clear that this problem needed to be corrected to regain the confidence of the community.

Then-Superintendent Bob Rogers established a citizens’ committee comprised of professionals from personnel departments at some of the area’s leading businesses to study the issue and make recommendations to the Board of Education to resolve this problem.

To Bob Rogers’ credit, he assembled some of our community’s brightest minds who had no employment ties to the district.

The recommendation the panel ultimately made was one of the toughest policies ever proposed to the Board of Education. The board voted unanimously to approve the new policy, ending decades of nepotism.

The policy, in part, states: “Hiring and promotion decisions within the Mehlville School District are made based upon the qualifications of each applicant and are not influenced through nepotism. The Board of Education shall not contract with or employ to any position any board member, any immediate relative of a board member or immediate relative of an administrative official of the district.”

It was a difficult vote for the board in 1993. In fact, it was one of the most difficult votes I ever cast as a board member.

But as the years passed, so did nepotism in the district, and all the negative overtones that went with it.

The Mehlville School District today no longer has the stigma of nepotism as it truly has become a thing of the past.

Board members oftentimes are too close to the action to be objective, particularly when administrators are patronizing you much of the time. It is very difficult for board members to separate their friendships with administrators and make independent decisions that sometimes go against the wishes of the administration. We see this every year when board members award their administrator friends exorbitant salary increases.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, President Cindy Christopher requested a review of the district’s hiring policies, particularly the existing nepotism policy.

“In particular, I’d like to potentially take a look at the nepotism policy,” she said Aug. 11, noting the existing nepotism policy is “extremely stringent … I’m not sure it needs to be at the level that it’s at.”

It’s obvious the district wants to hire someone who’s related to an administrator or board member.

In fact, the Call reported that Mrs. Christopher stated, “We actually had that very situation … it was a son or daughter and it was for one of those fields that we had difficulty finding people and we can’t even consider them …”

That’s too bad. Life is not always fair. I find it hard to believe that the district can’t find anyone except an administrator’s son or daughter to fill the position. I just don’t believe that.

The Mehlville Board of Education must continue to follow the recommendation of the citizens’ committee and leave this well-thought-out policy unchanged. Any move to relax this policy will be a step back for the school district and the community. It also will be a step toward the “good-old-boy” perception that gripped Mehlville for so long.

During an October 2002 meeting of the Middle School Redistricting Committee in response to one neighborhood’s concerns about new middle school boundaries, the Call reported Mrs. Christopher as stating: “… This is kind of my neck of the woods and so I know a lot of these people. I think the biggest emotional concern with them — and it’s definitely emotional, believe me, some of these people I know way too well …”

I heard from many parents who were upset with this inappropriate comment and rightfully so. However, this statement would be appropriate in the context of nepotism.

The board recently adopted a new Long-Range Planning Model that is based in large part on community input. Superintendent Tim Ricker says he is committed to seeking public input in helping guide the district in its quest to move forward.

I believe that changing a longstanding policy such as the existing nepotism policy that is based on community input would send a message that such guidance is welcome only if it coincides with the predetermined wishes of the administration and board.

I hope for the sake of our schools and community that the Board of Education leaves the existing nepotism policy unchanged. Though this call may be out of your hands, you can make it your call each April when at least two seats on the Board of Education are up for election.

Daniel S. Fowler served nine years on the Mehlville Board of Education, including two one-year terms as board president.