March 26, 2014 - The five candidates seeking three seats on the Mehlville Board of Education in the Tuesday, April 8, election differ on the No. 1 issue facing the school district.
The five are current board Secretary Rich Franz, Randy L. Howard, Venki Palamand, Jean Pretto and Samantha Stormer.
Incumbent board President Mark Stoner and board member Elaine Powers, both elected in 2011, are not seeking re-election.
Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:
• "The most important issue in this election is the need to continue to restore the school board's focus on success for our kids in the classroom. The world outside of school is a highly competitive place. We have an obligation to prepare our students to compete and be successful," Franz said.
• Howard did not identify the most important issue in the race.
• "Lack of progress over the past year. Previously, from 2011 to early 2013, the district approved and began constructing its first-ever auditorium — now complete — built state-of-the-art tennis courts at Bernard, started and completed an innovative solar energy project, and most importantly, gave 5-year-olds 'The Gift of Time' by implementing tuition-free, full-day kindergarten. There has been nothing noteworthy over the past 12 months that remotely compares to what was previously accomplished," Palamand said.
• "Performance pay — good teachers should be paid accordingly in order to keep them," Pretto said.
• "We need to work to maintain and improve the educational excellence of Mehlville, while staying within a tight budget," Stormer said.
The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:
Should the school year be extended?
Franz said, "The question should be: 'Should teachers be required to spend more time teaching in the classroom?' The answer is yes."
Howard said, "To what end?"
Palamand said, "Increased instructional time, either with a few more days per year or by adding a few minutes per day, would benefit kids. We have great, dedicated teachers at Mehlville, and students would benefit from spending more time in their classroom."
Pretto said, "Possibly. If data would support that a longer school year would positively provide an educational benefit and staff was compensated accordingly."
Stormer said, "Mehlville is only at the state minimum. (Students) in our area are attending additional days and hours that our children do not. Increasing instructional time for our students would benefit them by graduation. Education is cumulative."
How did you vote in the November 2010 election on the school district's tax-rate increase measure Proposition C? Why?
Franz said, "I voted 'no' on Prop C. The tax-rate increase in Prop C was 'the wrong amount at the wrong time.' In fact, any tax increase in the near future would be an insult to the district's owners/taxpayers who are still struggling with record unemployment, underemployment, foreclosures and all other issues related to an anemic-performing economy."
Howard said, "No."
Palamand said, "Disagreed with the idea of a large tax increase. A much smaller, more measured proposal may have passed, and benefited ... students and staff of the district."
Pretto said, "I was in favor. I believe we need to continually strive to keep our school district among the best. This cannot be achieved without the financial support of residents."
Stormer said, "The tax increase was too large to approve. Had it been a reasonable increase, I feel more would have been willing to approve it."
Are changes needed to the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri?
Franz said, "Yes, changes are needed to the PSRS system. I have publicly fought for those changes and supported efforts in the state Legislature to do so. As currently set up, the pension system is an unfair burden on taxpayers, and if required to do so tomorrow, could not meet all its financial obligations."
Howard did not respond to the question.
Palamand said, "In my opinion, PSRS places an excessive burden (on) young teachers with less than 10 years' experience. Having 14.5 percent deducted from their salary makes their net take-home pay much lower than a similar-paying private sector job. Experienced, dedicated, passionate educators are financially encouraged to retire in their mid-50s. Both are bad for public education in Missouri. Yes, reform (is) needed."
Pretto said, "No."
Stormer said, "Teachers lose 14.5 percent of the salary to fund their retirement due to state law. For young teachers with a low salary, it makes it even harder when their take-home pay is reduced by such a large amount. I would support changes to PSRS that would help young teachers."
Should the Board of Education record its closed sessions? Such recordings would be a closed record and not available to the public.
Franz said, "... The school board should adopt a policy of recording all meetings, including closed sessions. I have proposed this policy in the past year, and though it was rejected by the board, I will propose it again if re-elected because it is the right thing to do."
Howard said, "Yes."
Palamand said, "Recording of some closed session topics, such as real-estate discussions, would be acceptable."
Pretto said, "No, I don't believe so. Topics discussed during closed session must remain ethical and law-abiding, and I will strive to ensure that is the case."
Stormer said, "Open to recording some topics, as long as confidentiality is maintained."