Newly elected Mehlville Board of Education members Lisa Messmer, left, and Tori Behlke celebrate their election victories in Oakville April 3. Two seats were up for election on the school board, and Messmer and Behlke ran as a slate.
By Gloria Lloyd
Newcomers Tori Behlke and Lisa Messmer defeated former board President Ron Fedorchak in the three-way race for two open seats on the Mehlville Board of Education last week.
The newly elected board members will take office at 6:30 p.m. today, Thursday, April 12, replacing outgoing board members Lisa Dorsey and Jamey Murphy.
Behlke was the top vote-getter with 3,206 votes, or 39.15 percent. Messmer was a close second with 3,165 votes and 38.65 percent of the vote across 43 precincts.
The two ran as a slate, backed by most of the current board and, although they took issue with some aspects of how the district is run, also said they were committed to keeping things running about the same as they have been in Mehlville.
Fedorchak was a distant third with 1,776 votes, or 21.69 percent. He was previously defeated for re-election as a sitting board president three years ago when Dorsey and Murphy were elected.
The election continued a long winning streak for Mehlville National Education Association-backed candidates, dating back to 2013, when the MNEA did not endorse enough candidates to fill a slate.
South County Labor endorsed Fedorchak and Messmer in the race.
Endorsements aside, voters seemed to be seeking the more positive mindset that the slate of Behlke and Messmer brought, Behlke noted.
“I think staying positive and focusing on moving forward is really what the community is looking for,” she said.
Behlke is a wellness coach and Jazzercise fitness instructor. She and her husband, Harold, have three children, including a 2015 Oakville High School graduate and two who currently attend Mehlville schools.
She is excited to get to work for the community, she said.
“It feels great,” Behlke said. “It’s taken some time to actually set in, just because I’ve been so busy. But it has, and it feels wonderful.”
Messmer is a registered nurse at Nazareth Living Center. She and her husband, Craig, have two adult children who graduated from Oakville High School.
Messmer posted on her Facebook page, “A huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone that supported and voted for me. I am excited to move on to the next phase and get to work for our kids and our community.”
Together the pair toured PTOs across the district, presenting a united candidacy that eventually only separated them by roughly 50 votes.
Since Behlke first toured John Cary Early Childhood Center on Valentine’s Day, the pair attended more than 42 events in the next 41 days leading up to spring break, she said.
The two didn’t know each other before they campaigned together, but Behlke had high praise for Messmer after spending so much time with her.
“I respect her background and what she brings,” Behlke said. “I knew she was the other person that was going to make the right impact on the board.”
Fedorchak took a different approach to his campaign, criticizing the current board’s governance of the district and, while saying that Superintendent Chris Gaines is “brilliant,” criticizing some of his actions, which Fedorchak said could lead the district a decade from now down the path of the past problems at the Fox School District.
Behlke and Messmer focused their criticism of the district not on the current board or Gaines, but on a few tactics that have been used such as in the discussion over block scheduling. They both vowed to make better communication a focus of their time on the board.
“We have a community that craves communication and has made a point of sometimes stating when they don’t feel communicated to,” Behlke said.
Behlke was able to use her reach across the district as a former PTO president and member of the Parents as Teachers Advisory Board and Character Education Committee, along with her experience running a child-care center to encourage people who know her to vote.
Some of the children who attended Behlke’s child-care center when they were in preschool turned 18 this year and could vote for someone they knew their first time at the polls, she said.
“I’ve kept connections with their families all this time,” Behlke said.
As a board member, Behlke promised at the Call’s March 29 candidate forum to “keep her ear to the ground” with people across the district.
That’s also what she believes pushed her up to top vote-getter.