Two Mehlville school board members balk at renewing service pact with state group

Agreement will be considered March 14 by board members

By Kari Williams

The Mehlville Board of Education last week postponed a decision to renew a service agreement some board members said was a duplication of services.

The board was set to take action last week on a Missouri School Boards’ Association, or MSBA, full maintenance service agreement, but two board members expressed concern about the quality of services the district receives.

However, board Vice President Larry Felton contended the agreement saves the district thousands of dollars each year.

For $2,850 per year, the MSBA monitors and reviews legislative policy on behalf of the district and notifies district officials about policy changes.

Board member Ron Fedorchak said Feb. 28 the district has modified only eight policies within the last year, Mehlville attorneys still reviewed some of those policies and only minor changes were made.

“Most of these policies were date changes or (Chief Financial Officer) Noel (Knobloch) did the work and we had our attorneys re-view the other larger policies anyway to see if we were in compliance …,” he said.

The MSBA agreement, according to Fedorchak, “seems like a duplicate cost” since local attorneys also review policy.

But, according to Superintendent Eric Knost, the MSBA vets information from legislative policy and determines what needs to be addressed by school districts, and then local attorneys give advice for how items specifically relate to Mehlville.

Additionally, Fedorchak questioned if the district is getting its money’s worth out of the service and said he would like to know actual costs for lawyers to review policy. Felton said the MSBA contract equates to roughly 16 hours per year for a lawyer’s time.

“We have 243 policies,” Felton said. “If they spend one hour looking at each policy just to do an assessment, that’s $42,000. That’s just to look at them once.”

Board member Rich Franz said he would rather have the district’s attorneys ensure that Mehlville policy meets state and federal law because he believes the MSBA “has no vested interest” in the Mehlville School District’s actions.

“Other than $2,850, these people could care less about the Mehlville School Dis-trict,” Franz said.

Felton, who also serves as governmental relations chair for MSBA’s Region 7, maintains that is not the case.

While not defending MSBA, Knost said he does not believe MSBA’s legal side has anything to do with its advocacy for public schools.

“I don’t see where there’s any evidence of that …,” Knost said. “This is an economy-of-scale opportunity that the district and countless districts participate in that saves districts a lot of money. It sounds like because we have anti-MSBA sentiments we’re willing to say, ‘I don’t care if it’s $2,800, I’d rather spend a whole lot more and take that insurance policy away.'”

Franz, however, said the board’s concern is the school district’s interests be-ing served and based on Fedorchak’s ex-amples, “there’s clear evidence that the MSBA has not done that.”

But Knost said he knows of no issue that, when asked, the MSBA has not addressed.

“All of those things that are listed in (the agreement) are things that we have at our access,” he said. “And in any time we’ve ever needed any of them, we receive them. We don’t do all of those things automatically.”

Assistant Superintendent-Supervision of Schools Lisa Counts said the key aspect of the agreement is the MSBA notifies Mehlville of state or federal guidelines that change “as they pertain to our policies.”

“They help us stay in compliance with those things and give us notification when we need to revise … a policy,” Counts said.

Recommendations typically are brought to district officials’ attention twice per year. The number of policies could range from five to 20 or 30, Counts said.

“When I first came here, which was six years ago, there were a lot of policies that needed updating that had not been reviewed in a couple of years …,” Counts said. “They just had not been reviewed internally. So we’ve been revising, we’re caught up, so to speak. So I think the number of policies will decrease a little bit as we continue to revise on an ongoing basis.”

While policies from MSBA go through the district’s human relations department, Knost said he does not have someone on staff to monitor legislative changes.

The agreement will be brought back to the board when it meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.