Mehlville Superintendent Terry Noble last week gave up the contract he previously accepted that would’ve earned him an annual salary of $226,000, citing a need for the community to shift its attention toward the school district’s long-range improvement efforts.
Noble announced at last week’s regular Board of Education meeting that he would relinquish the three-year agreement the school board voted unanimously to offer him in March.
That pact would’ve increased his annual base salary by $44,088 from $181,912 to $226,000 — a roughly 24-percent raise — for the period of July 1 through June 30, 2013.
Instead, Noble recommended the board increase his pay by 3 percent, the same raise all Mehlville senior administrative staff received for the 2010-2011 school year.
The superintendent will work under a one-year contract for a base salary of $187,370 and will continue to receive a $500 per month car allowance that was removed as a benefit but added to the base salary to reach $226,000 under Noble’s now-void contract. Noble’s benefit package will revert to that of his previous agreement with the district.
“Few things have meant more to me professionally than the Board of Education’s efforts to postpone my retirement and keep me as superintendent of this district,” Noble said during the July 29 meeting. “I could never adequately express how much that vote of confidence meant to me. But it is deeply and personally troubling to have this issue now take precedence, in community discussions, over the compelling and critical needs of our district.”
Noble said talk of his pay increase in the community “is getting in the way of an honest and frank discussion” about the district’s long-range improvement plan, COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.
COMPASS II contains $107 million worth of recommendations to make Mehlville a high-performing school district, and the school board could seek as much as a 94-cent tax-rate increase this November to fund the entire plan.
“This is too big an issue. It’s too important,” Noble told the Call after the board meeting. “If we have an election, it is going to change the future of our district one way or the other. The future is we’re not going to stay where we are. We’re either going to progress or we’re going to go backward.
“And it’s just too important to have a single issue like my salary get in the way and distract us from what’s really important.”
Noble’s pay increase was the subject of one of the questions asked in a recent survey of the Mehlville community. The survey was designed to gauge district residents’ support for the COMPASS II recommendations — and the 94-cent tax-rate increase needed to fund all of them.
Asked how Noble’s “significant pay raise” would affect their support of a possible 94-cent tax-rate increase on the ballot this November, 82.4 percent of the 501 survey participants said they would be less likely to support the proposal, 11.1 percent said they would be more likely to support it and 6.5 percent said they didn’t know or gave another response.
“I welcomed that question. I wanted it in there. That’s something we all needed to see,” Noble told the Call, adding that the response “removed any doubt … in my mind” that he needed to relinquish the contract. “I think there should be some credit to the people who authorized the survey to make sure the question was there. They didn’t hide from it. They said: Here it is. Tell us what you think.”
Board President Tom Diehl has said the board had to make it worth Noble’s while to stay with the district, as the superintendent could’ve retired this year and drawn an annual pension of $177,000 based on the average of his three highest salaries and 38.5 years in the Missouri Public School Retirement System.
On July 1, the PSRS employee contribution rate increased to 14 percent from 13.5 percent. If Noble continued working for his previous salary of $181,912, he would have paid roughly $25,000 a year into the retirement system, Diehl has said. Under his new salary, that amount now is roughly $26,000.
Of the criticism leveled over the Board of Education’s decision last March, Diehl said he just wishes “people would judge Terry by what he does for our district.”
“He is an outstanding educational leader, and he’s an outstanding human being,” Diehl said during the July 29 board meeting. “That’s why this board worked so hard to make sure we could keep him, because it’s important that we have continuity in our school district leadership if we want to see progress in our schools. This district has benefited immensely over the past three years by having Terry at the helm.
“And we respect and honor his decision tonight. We understand his desire to remove himself from the center of attention, and we do have some rather vital issues that we want to move on to … I know that all my board members applaud Terry for his integrity and his commitment.”
But former school board member and former state Rep. Dick Roehl believes the current board doesn’t understand that “there are a lot of people hurting in these tough economic times.”
As a south county business owner, Roehl said he talks daily with residents who’ve lost their jobs or who are on Social Security and did not receive a cost-of-living increase this year. He addressed the board last week, representing the Oakville Township Republican Club, several of whose members were present.
“What you’ve just done, even though Terry Noble has given this money back … is you’ve soured a lot of taxpayers. You’ve soured a lot of taxpayers who say: ‘This is an irresponsible board. They aren’t considering us,'” Roehl said.
“You go back and look at what your responsibility is, your fiduciary responsibility, to not only the kids but the taxpayers. Look up the statutes that govern you … You obviously don’t know them, or you would be I think more conscious of how you’re spending money. Now you want to go out for this COMPASS tax increase, which may very well be needed, in November or very soon, and you’ve made the people mad out there with what you did.”
Roehl said he repeatedly tried to contact Diehl before last week’s meeting to privately voice his concerns, but contends the board president never responded.
“I find that offensive,” Roehl said. “I am offended by that. I never, as a state representative, school board member or any other capacity I served in, didn’t talk to a taxpayer.”
Roehl, who served one term on the school board, said he might run for a seat next year.
“You know, there were several of you that were elected this last election with nobody running against you. I would suggest that’s not going to happen again soon,” he said. “If I have to, and can’t find good people to run the next election, I’ll run myself again if we don’t have board members that understand the full scope of their responsibility.
“I hope this board takes my comments seriously,” Roehl added. “I want this district to succeed, but what you’ve done in the recent past has made it very difficult.”
Noble told the Call that he wasn’t sure how long he would stay in Mehlville. He stressed, however, that the new one-year agreement was not a “stunt.”
“We’re just going to take it a year at a time …,” he said. “When I say I’m working under a one-year contract, I don’t want that to imply that I’m only here for one year, but I don’t want it to imply that it’s one year now so we can win an election and reward me. That won’t happen. That will not.
“You have my word on that.”
He added, “I was sincere when I said a couple months ago that I really am here for the kids … But I can see that me accepting that contract damaged whatever we had going well with my relationship with the community and staff. So the only thing we can do is undo it and hope people honor that decision.
“I don’t want people to think that this was some great sacrifice on my part. I feel blessed to be here, and I’m looking forward to finishing what we started.”