South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Three-way race in Mehlville for two open seats on Board of Education

All three Mehlville Board of Education candidates are new to public office
Ben Droney, Scott Huegerich and Sarah Grace Wright

Editor’s note: This is a developing article. Continue to check back to for more.

Three candidates are seeking two open seats on the Mehlville Board of Education in the April 5 election. 

Board President Kevin Schartner and Director Larry Felton are not seeking another term, leaving two open seats. Newcomers Ben Droney, Scott Huegerich and Sarah Grace Wright are seeking office for the first time on the board.

Droney is an information technology program manager at Charter Spectrum, and serves as a warrant officer in the Army Reserve. He is married to Julie Droney and has two students who attend Oakville High School.  

Huegerich is the co-founder and managing partner of Aligned Media, a communications company that “produces work for Fortune 500 companies.” He and his wife Kelly both graduated from the district and have had three children do the same. 

Wright is a senior project manager at Great Rivers Greenway and is a member of the Engineer’s Club of St. Louis. She is married to Brian Wright and has children who attend Oakville High School. 

The candidates gave the following responses to The Call’s candidate questionnaire: 

Reason for seeking office: 

Huegerich: As a graduate of Mehlville High School and lifelong resident of South County I care deeply about the district and the students it serves. Because of this, I will make certain the district focuses on academic excellence and operational efficiency. These items will ensure our children receive the highest quality education possible.

Droney: I am a parent, not a politician. I believe that parents and taxpayers in our district have lost their voice in the education process. I am running to restore excellence in academics in our district, improved transparency and increased parent collaboration in Mehlville Schools.

Wright: I am passionate about child advocacy, and I would love to give back to the community who has done so much for my family over the last nine years. 

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?

Huegerich: The need to unify people around the idea of focusing our attention on the academic performance of the district. The pandemic has caused an increase in the divide that exists in America, and unfortunately this has had a negative effect on the governance and operations of public school districts. 

Droney: I believe Mehlville’s primary function is to academically prepare our students for the future. Unfortunately, Mehlville’s test scores have declined significantly over the past five years. … The district schools’ main purpose is to prepare students academically and where students are struggling, I believe we need to make changes. 

Wright: Keeping students safe. It is heartbreaking that in recent survey results from the fall of 2021, only 45 percent of grade 6-12 students reported that they felt a sense of belonging.

How did you vote in the April 2021 election on the no-tax-rate-increase bond, Proposition S for Safe Schools, Safe Kids? Why?

Huegerich: I was not able to vote in April 2021. 

Droney: Unfortunately, due to last minute changes to my work schedule I was not able to vote in that election. However, if I had been able to, I would have voted Yes for Proposition S. I believe Proposition S has and will continue to provide several improvements that are needed in our district. 

Wright: I voted along with over 80 percent of the community in favor. … Prop S is intended to fund projects to ensure the safety of all of our students, through security entrances and accessibility for people with disabilities. …. I know my 20 years of experience as an engineer … will be an asset as we work through … the projects prioritized.

Do you support the Mehlville Strategic Plan? How is the district doing in following the plan? 

Huegerich: I am in support of the strategic plan but believe it is too early to properly assess our progress since we are only one year into it. During this time, we have had to modify our approach because of the pandemic. We should continue with this plan and adjust accordingly. 

Droney: I support the district working together on a multi-year plan that is designed to meet the goals of the district. Strategic plan updates are provided regularly and the district is following the plan as written. I believe the district needs to have a carefully considered strategic plan developed to support specific stated goals. When the plan has been considered and carefully designed the district should follow that plan. 

Wright: I do support the Mehlville Strategic Plan. It is a thorough plan addressing the needs of every part that makes up a school district. … The best part of the strategic plan is that it was created with feedback from students, staff, parents and community members. … Because the strategic plan is a dynamic document, it continues to guide the district and should be a model for future plans and continuous improvement models.

Are you satisfied with the leadership of Superintendent Chris Gaines?

Huegerich: In general, I am pleased with the leadership of Dr. Gaines.

Droney: I have not had the opportunity to work with Dr. Gaines to be able to evaluate his performance. I feel the district can do better in academic performance and my goal will be to evaluate all the factors that affect that should I be elected. 

Wright: Dr. Gaines is a well respected educational leader both locally and nationally. Mehlville is fortunate to have him as our leader.  He is accountable to the Board of Education and I trust that the directors will continue to evaluate his leadership on an ongoing basis. 

Do you agree with the decisions the district and board made about COVID mitigation strategies, such as masking or quarantine guidelines?

Huegerich: I believe the district did a good job ensuring we were able to maintain in person learning throughout a good portion of the pandemic. 

Droney: Initial decisions regarding COVID responses were enacted with little background research or history but with student and staff safety in mind. As the pandemic continued, I feel the board could have added additional research outside of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines to make some of the decisions regarding long term masking and quarantines. 

Wright: Mehlville’s Board of Education and the district adhered to health and safety standards set by the St. Louis County Board of Health and the CDC. As our understanding of COVID-19 has evolved … so have the district’s … guidelines. Our schools remained in-person, that is the biggest marker of a successful strategy.

How would you work to keep politics out of the board’s decision-making process?

Huegerich: My only focus will be on the operations of the district and the quality of education and care we are able to provide the students of the district, not politics.

Droney: The current environment in our country has become very divisive politically. Individual board members will have differing views on subjects and issues the board must resolve. There will be times when those positions may or may not align with political positions … that does not always mean that a board member has a political agenda. Board members will need to work together to achieve decisions that benefit the district and are not part of one political viewpoint. 

Wright: The board focus should be on the operation and mission of the district, and not outside interests, so that the board can make effective decisions. I think you can determine how much a board candidate might be motivated by outside political influence by the amount of money their campaign has received from outside the district.

Have you been endorsed by any groups, organizations, unions, et cetera? If so, please list them. 

Huegerich: I have been endorsed by the Mehlville teachers’ association and South County Labor. 

Droney: No, I am not endorsed nor backed by any organization or supported in my campaign by any political action committee. 

Wright: Mehlville NEA (teachers’ association), and COPE (South County Labor)

Issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Huegerich: The pandemic has caused two other issues the district needs to work through. We will need to be very efficient with Proposition S expenditures due to inflation. We also need to work diligently to retain and recruit qualified teachers.

Droney: I believe as a district we can improve the transparency in our actions to avoid parents feeling as if they are not aware of what is happening with their students. 

Wright: Prop S funds are not sufficient to complete the projects we budgeted for – I have the professional expertise to make the best decisions regarding prioritizing and budgeting the remaining Prop S funds after community input is gathered. 

Educator retention and pay – I evaluated Mehlville salaries … compared … in other neighboring districts and found that on average, they would need a $1200 salary increase. 

Transparency – We need to have a way to communicate why decisions are being made, by whom, and how they’re being made to everyone in the community. 

How did you vote in the November 2015 election on the school district’s tax rate increase measure, Proposition R for Restore? Why?

Huegerich: I voted in favor of Prop R because the district desperately needed the additional revenue. 

Droney: I did not live in the district in 2015. 

Wright: I supported Proposition R.  When my family was looking to move to St. Louis in 2013, we chose Mehlville because of the schools.  Mehlville was and, with Prop R, continues to be a destination district.

What issues do you believe the district needs to address in its academic programs and offerings?

Huegerich: The district needs to maintain a data-centric approach to vetting academic programs. I also believe the district needs to focus on educational offerings that will best equip our students to become self-sufficient. … This includes maintaining and enhancing all the Student Choice Programs the district is currently offering. 

Droney: I support all middle schools and all high schools having the same course offerings. Currently some middle schools do not offer certain courses while others have those classes. 

Wright: The district continually addresses needs in its academic programs and offerings. … I would like to see the district survey parents and students to hear their vision for academic programs and offerings. This survey could be used to guide discussions about expansion of programs and development of new ones.  

Are you satisfied with the district’s security efforts?

Huegerich: The district’s security efforts are tied to the work being proposed with the Prop S funds. I will be satisfied with the security efforts of the district if we are able to prioritize this work in a way that puts the safety of our students first. 

Droney: The strategic plan and Proposition S update has a solid plan to improve security in the district, which demonstrates that they place student and staff security as a priority. 

Wright: The district has done a great job assessing the security needs at each building. … The district is continuing to review the plans in place and prioritize with the input of professionals, students, staff, parents and the community. 

What do you see as major issues facing the school district and public education?

Huegerich: The biggest issue related to public education as a whole is legislation and/or other movements that may decrease funding for public schools.

Droney: I believe the mission of the district is to academically prepare our students for the future. I feel our biggest challenge is to work together to determine the best path to ensure our students are proficient in English and math. 

Wright: The focus of education has been shifted from the students to micromanaging teachers. The unity of the community is showing (in) the lives of the students where only 45 percent of kids feel a sense of belonging. … Social and emotional development is crucial for these students.

Do you believe sex education should be taught in school, including various types of birth-control methods?

Huegerich: I do not have a problem with this being taught as long as the curriculum is age appropriate. 

Droney: I believe basic sex education as defined by Missouri State standards can be taught in the school. 

Wright: I believe that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education standards should guide what is offered in terms of sex education in schools.

Mehlville residents showed historic levels of support for the district in Proposition S in 2021. What will you do to maintain that goodwill?

Huegerich: I believe the best way to ensure goodwill between the district and residents is for the district to perform well from an academic and fiscal standpoint. These will be the items I focus on if I am elected to the board. 

Droney: When I say that I want to represent and listen to taxpayers and parents in the Mehlville School District, I mean it. During the course of my campaign, I’ve talked to many voters about what they want from their school district. If I am elected, I will continue to do all that … to build and maintain community support. 

Wright: I believe in this community. Our community showed that we value public education when overwhelming support was demonstrated during Prop S.  … I will continue to be a good steward of taxpayer goodwill and dollars by being transparent of district needs and finances.

If additional revenue is needed, how do you propose obtaining that revenue?

Huegerich: I would first consider ways to meet these needs without asking taxpayers for a tax increase. Additional revenue needs could be met by utilizing programs offering sponsorships for our athletic programs, renting out district facilities for events, or even subleasing district property for structures.

Droney: When I decided to run for school board, I started attending Finance Committee meetings on a regular basis, so over the last few months I’ve gained a lot of insight into the issues our district faces in terms of funding and revenue. If I am elected, I look forward to working with that committee … to figure out the best way to fund and support our district. 

Wright: Additional revenue is needed for the Mehlville School District and every other district in the state. One way to make that change is to advocate for increased funding at a state level. I am up to date on current bills in the Missouri legislature and will continue to review all bills related to education. 

Do you support the district’s decision to offer 1:1 technology/laptops?

Huegerich: I support this decision. 

Droney: I support the decision … I also believe that students should be able to accomplish basic concepts … independent of technology as well. 

Wright: I do support the district’s decision to offer 1:1 technology/laptops. In order for Mehlville students to be competitive with the rest of the country, they need the best technology we can afford. 

How should board members make decisions on issues? Do you believe that they should always follow the administration?

Huegerich: Board members should always make their decisions based on what they believe will provide the best outcomes for the students in the district. Sometimes these decisions will be against what the administration recommends.

Droney: I believe each board member should be performing the research and diligence required to become knowledgeable enough on the decisions they are required to make. I support the board having an open dialogue with the administration and where there are disagreements allowing both the board and the administration to present their viewpoint and collaborate to reach agreement. 

Wright: I will make my own decisions, balancing recommendations from all the impacted parties, and most definitely including the administration.

What is the best way to address differences in opinion on the board or between the board and the administration?

Huegerich: Communications on all matters should always be conducted with the utmost respect for other people’s opinions.

Droney: I support transparent and proactive communication between the board and district administration.

Wright: I think it is critical to presume good intentions and develop functional relationships between the board and administration. 

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