No significant changes recommended by administrators for nepotism policy

By Alyson E. Raletz

Administrators are recommending that no significant changes be made to the Mehlville School District’s current nepotism policy, according to Superintendent Tim Ricker.

A.D. McClain, assistant superintendent of human resources, was scheduled to deliver a report on the administration’s review of the district’s hiring policies to the Board of Education Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

“We don’t feel there’s a need to change it,” Ricker told the Call. “It was a request by a board member. It wasn’t an administrative request. We felt the way it’s being set up at this point in time is being administered according to policy and basically at this point in time, we don’t think any changes are needed.”

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 board agenda.

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

The district’s existing nepotism policy was adopted in 1993 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 Aug. 13 interview, Christopher told the Call, “We need to look at not handcuffing ourselves as far as supervisory people within the community that are in the district.

“There has to be a line there at which supervision cannot happen if somebody is related and I strongly believe that. However, I think the district is large enough that in certain situations you could conceivably have, for instance, an assistant principal or principal at Buerkle Middle School and related teacher that would maybe be at Oakville Elementary, which they would never necessarily co-exist in a supervisory capacity,” she said.

Board member Mike Heins later told the Call that he agreed with Christopher’s remarks and supported a review of the district’s hiring policies, including the existing nepotism or conflict of interest policy.

“Like all hiring policies, they should be reviewed more frequently than they are,” Heins told the Call in October. “I think Cindy (Christopher) said it best, we need to make sure we’re not being too restrictive. Mehlville is a fairly large employer in south county. We need to make sure we are making available the best people for our positions … When you look at the educational community, it’s not unusual for people to be related. In a small town it’s almost assumed … I’m not saying that that’s the best or ideal situation.

“If you look at the past superintendent (John Cary), his spouse was a teacher. It happens very often … When you’re talking about an employer as large as Mehlville, it’s not in our best interest to automatically not look at someone just because they are related to people.”

However, board member Rita Diekemper publicly has stated that she is opposed to any changes to the district’s nepotism policy.

Asked if any changes were needed to the nepotism policy during a March 8 candidate forum sponsored by the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, Diekemper told a crowd of 70 people that she strongly supported the current policy.

During the Aug. 13 interview with Christopher, Ricker noted that the district had to pass on hiring certain employees because of the hiring policies.

“The thing that’s come up in the past immediate two years, at least, that I think the board’s heard about is that we have administrative employees whose sons or daughters go into the field of education in hard-to-find areas like industrial arts, industrial tech, (and) we can’t even consider them when there’s only like six graduates for the whole state,” Ricker said last summer.

However, asked last week if the district had experienced any difficulties finding employees for positions this year as a result of the nepotism policy, Ricker told the Call, “Not really. There’s always a potential with those hard-to-fill positions for that to happen. But at this point in time, where we’re at in our hiring practices and in the economy, at this point in time the administration is not making a recommendation to change it.”

Administrators specifically have reviewed the board member conflict of interest and financial disclosure, staff conflict of interest, professional staff hiring and support staff position policies.

The only changes recommended, according to district documents, are revisions to the wording of the support staff position policy to read the same as the professional staff hiring policy. Instead of listing individual directors by department under the policy’s definition of “administrative official,” administrators recommend that the wording be replaced with “district directors” to be consistent.