No major changes made to Mehlville nepotism policy

By Alyson E. Raletz

Despite the Board of Education president’s request to review Mehlville School District’s nepotism policy because of the “stringent” nature of current restrictions, very few changes were made to the district’s hiring or conflict-of-interest policies when they were up for board consideration last week.

“When you research what other school districts do … some districts are somewhat less stringent than we are,” AD McClain, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, told board members April 27. “There aren’t quite as many who choose to be as stringent on this procedure as we do.”

Adopted in 1993, the district’s existing nepotism policy was based upon the recommendation of a citizens’ committee comprised of professionals from personnel departments at some of the area’s leading businesses. The nepotism policy, which was adopted with a unanimous vote, stipulates that the Board of Education cannot contract with nor employ any board member, immediate relative of a board member or immediate relative of an administrative official of the district.

Under the policy, an immediate relative is: husband or wife; father or father-in-law; mother or mother-in-law; brother or brother-in-law; sister or sister-in-law; son or son-in-law; daughter or daughter-in-law; niece or nephew; grandchild; and “anyone listed above of a step or half relationship.”

During an August Board of Education meeting, board President Cindy Christopher requested that the review of the district’s hiring policies be placed on a future agenda.

“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.”

In his research of how other area school districts address nepotism, McClain said other districts sometimes allow relatives of building principals to be hired under certain circumstances if they are supervised by a non-relative.

With some exceptions regarding making individual hiring policies consistent with one another, McClain said, “We’re not making any other recommendations for any other changes in any of these policies.”

Board members unanimously approved revisions to policies GCD and GDA, the district’s professional staff hiring and support staff positions policies. The revisions essentially clean up policy wording by consolidating individually named director positions to now read “directors” and by updating the policies to reflect current administrative positions, such as the recent additions of the deputy superintendent and area superintendent positions.

Board Vice President Matt Chellis asked McClain that, with the minor changes, “This wouldn’t be perceived as us dropping our policy against nepotism?”

McClain answered, “It would not … Most places now are making it simply, the less said the better, but still being specific enough to know that they don’t want nepotism to occur … We feel the language we have does what you want done, and so we’ve not recommended a change in it.”

Board member Mike Heins questioned the consequences of the current nepotism policies.

“What if someone would be elected to the board and their spouse was already working for the district?” Heins asked. “I know nothing has changed here. I’m just curious.”

Superintendent Tim Ricker said that situation would pose a conflict of interest, according to district policy.

“That candidate would have to consider that prior to running,” Ricker told Heins, noting that board members, at any time, could vote to modify or change existing policies.

However, “by the true sense” of the district’s conflict of interest policies, he said, an employee of the district no longer could continue employment if his or her spouse was elected to the board, according to district policy.

Heins said, “My guess is that you can’t override state statute in making criteria for running for the school board … So, by making that policy, you essentially would be asking somebody to leave because their spouse is elected to the board. And I kind of doubt …”

State statute does not prohibit board members from being related to district employees, McClain interrupted.

“But it can be argued that the board policy is an extension of state statute, which in turn can be enforced by the Board of Education,” Ricker said. “So, it would be a point of legal question — one. And it would be a point of what the board would like to do … I have worked at districts where people have relinquished their positions so that their spouse or themselves can run for the Board of Education. Now, in other districts that don’t have as stringent policies as you, board members and their spouses worked very well together …”

In rural districts, board member Rita Diekemper said, it sometimes is impossible for board members to not be related to anyone in their districts. She added hiring policies often reflect the needs of individual districts.

“Since our policy has been working fine and we’re not changing any of that, I’m all for it” Heins added. “I’m just more curious than anything.”

In other business, board members awarded bids for Proposition P work to two companies that will provide cabling, smart boards and LCD projectors to Mehlville schools.

Board members selected NetCom to provide cabling services for their lowest bid, $266,400, for the installation of video cabling and overhead paging. NetCom submitted the lowest of six bids, ranging up to $522,482.11.

According to district documents, $390,000 was budgeted for the project.

Board members selected World Wide Technology’s bid of $53,411.48 for the purchase of 16 Smartboards, 16 LCD Projectors and four replacement projector bulbs.

Also during the April 27 meeting, board members:

• Unanimously voted to change meeting dates to Thursday instead of Tuesday. Thursday meetings will begin July 22.

• Unanimously approved curriculum changes in math, social studies and foreign languages as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. For a complete listing of curriculum changes, contact the district at 467-5000.

• Selected Mueller, Walla and Albertson to serve as the district’s audit firm for three more years. Board members approved a $11,852 contract for the district’s 2003-2004 audit. For a three-year period, Mueller, Walla & Albertson submitted the second-lowest of four bids for the district’s auditing services. Assistant Superintendent of Finance Randy Charles recommended that the board not select the lowest bidder, Daniel Jones & Associates, which submitted a bid $1 less than the Mueller, Walla and Albertson three-year estimate of $36,076, since the latter firm included about 76 more hours of work in its bid.

He also noted the district’s prior relationship with Mueller, Walla and Albertson, which has performed Mehlville’s annual audits since the 1997-1998 school year.