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Mehlville informs 68 that contracts won't be renewed

Sixty-eight Mehlville School District employees were notified last week that their contracts were not being renewed.

Seven of those employees currently serve as department directors and will be re-assigned to full-time teaching positions for the 2004-2005 school year.

William Maxfield, a Margaret Buerkle Middle School language arts teacher whose contract is not being renewed, addressed Board of Education members last week, asking what criteria were used to determine which teachers would not be rehired.

Other cuts at Margaret Buerkle included two other language arts instructors, a social studies teacher, a guidance counselor and an industrial education instructor.

"I understand that the district is in financial trouble and that cuts need to be made," Maxfield said March 30 during an open period for public comment. "I also understand that none of the eight cuts at Buerkle were made on the basis of performance.

"My first question is ... if these cuts were not made on the basis of performance, I was wondering what criteria were used. Apparently, seniority was not one of them ... Two teachers, including myself, are in our fifth or tenure years ... In both cases, there are teachers with fewer years of experience in the same departments who are being rehired,'' Maxfield said.

He said he was "disappointed" that he has worked 900 classroom days, including long nights and weekends, and now will not be rehired. Maxfield posed a second question concerning a budget-reduction memo circulated within district personnel distributed March 4.

"The last criteria on that memo listed reads reduce administration first, then quasi-administration and then finally the classroom last," he said. "With programs, such as remedial reading being cut and the communication arts department being slashed, I am very concerned how it will be possible to meet the No Child Left Behind Act and provide essential reading and writing skills to our students. So, my second question will be, what administration and quasi-administration cuts were made prior to these classroom cuts?"

Maxfield's final words were followed by applause from those attending the meeting, but no board member or administrator answered his questions during the open session.

"While we will not address this right now because it is not on our agenda, I will tell you this," board President Cindy Christopher said to Maxfield, "all the cuts that are in this district are not a result of this board."

The non-renewals are a result of cuts made by the state, according to Christopher, who added, "So, I would appreciate anyone in this room who feels that strongly, and I am also one of those people, spend a few moments and write your legislator and let them know how passionate you are about this.''

If district employees are not notified by April 15 that their contracts are not being renewed, then they automatically are rehired.

Board members unanimously approved seven non-renewals for director positions during their meeting last week. Non-renewals were approved for certificated employees who currently serve as directors in the areas of communication arts, music, art, health/physical education, social studies, activities/athletics at Oakville Senior High School and activities/athletics at Mehlville Senior High School. They will be assigned to full-time teaching positions for the 2004-2005 year.

Board members also unanimously approved the issuance of 61 non-renewal notices to full- and part-time non-administrative employees of the Mehlville School District during their March 30 board meeting.

Those non-renewal notices included:

• 10 language arts instructors.

• Four elementary reading specialists.

• One guidance counselor.

• Three physical education instructors.

• Two music teachers.

• Three math teachers.

• Two long-term substitutes.

• Two teacher assistants and one teacher assistant/interpreter.

• Six daily assigned substitutes.

• Three social workers.

• Nine elementary school teachers.

• One drama teacher.

• Four art teachers.

• Two science teachers.

• One yearbook/journalism teacher.

• One librarian.

• Two Family and Consumer Science teachers.

• Three social studies instructors.

• One industrial education instructor.

Employees whose contracts are not being renewed formally have been informed by their buildings' principals and through letters sent in the mail last week.

Employees who had questions or specific concerns related to the non-renewals were asked to see their buildings' principals, Superintendent Tim Ricker later told the Call, and then discuss the matter with A.D. McClain, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Building principals, who decided which teachers would receive non-renewals, were given no criteria to influence their decisions, Ricker said.

Staffing of the buildings in the Mehlville School District is done on a "best-fit model,'' he explained.

"And what a best-fit model is, is based on what the openings are, or based on what the positions are or based upon the staffing levels that are given to them, the building principals decide which is the best fit for the staffing for that building," Ricker told the Call. "So, when there are less positions one year than the previous year, we always look at non-renewing some non-tenure individuals until such time that people either resign or retire and then we can back load and fill those positions with the people who were non-renewed or with people who are qualified from people outside the district ..."

When considering non-renewals, Ricker said, the district has implemented a transfer policy instead of a reduction-in-force policy. A reduction-in-force policy, which is a "strict statute-directed and policy-directed" process, he said, weighs seniority heavily in staff cuts, while a transfer policy does not include a provision of seniority.

"We truly think that we can take care of a vast majority of the situation through attrition. If it was such that we didn't think we could do a vast majority of it through attrition then an agreement with the (teachers') association(s) would have to be struck about whether it was reduction-in-force or whether it wasn't. At this point in time, we feel it's better to staff the building based on what's best for kids. And a RIF policy doesn't do that. The RIF policy staffs the buildings based on who signed what contract on what date and time, and those are the people who are kept first. So, we think it's best to do the best-fit model,'' Ricker said.

Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed told board members March 30 that enrollment decreases and attempting to get staffing levels closer to Missouri School Improvement Program minimums resulted in most of the identified areas for staff reductions during her 2004-2005 proposed staffing plan presentation. She also noted that in the preparations of the opening of a new middle school this year, the district's middle school staffing levels, which could see a hit of about 20 positions after attrition, are much higher than MSIP minimums.

The district's potential staffing plan will not formally be proposed until later this year accompanying a 2004-2005 budget recommendation, however it guided district officials in the non-renewal process.

"These people are bona fide, qualified teachers in our district now," Ricker said of the employees who have received non-renewal notices. "They are people who had a job with us and worked with us. But through the loss of positions and through enrollment, their positions were eliminated.

"And so, it's our hope as retirements come through ... it will be a domino effect through the remainder of the summer," he said, noting that as each retirement or resignation becomes known, the district will post a job opening and those non-renewed teachers will have an opportunity to regain employment with the district. "We do this every year, just not to this number. Do we want to do this? No, but we also know that this is the only way, to begin with, to get our budgetary situation where it needs to be.''

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