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Former Board Members and Fire Board Chairman Apply for Open School Board Seat

One of the following people will be joining the Mehlville school board.

Ten residents have applied for the open Mehlville school board position, vacated by Michael Ocello in May.

The board will meet Saturday at 10 a.m. to read through the applications and select candidates to interview at a later date.  The candidate selected will serve until the April 2012 election.

Among the applicants are former board members, district activists and the board chairman of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

Gary “Brit” Rose was the first candidate to submit his application, but has since told Patch he will be withdrawing his application at Saturday’s meeting.

“After seeing who all was applying for the position to fill the vacant seat, I have decided to withdraw my application,” Rose said in a message.

Rose said the application would “be a waste of my time” after hearing “through the grapevine that a few of the names were persuaded by board members.”

“It is sad that this is a political stunt and should never be,” he said.

Rose has two children in the district, twins going into 11th grade at Mehlville High School and another at Bierbaum Elementary School. He will be the president of the Bierbaum PTO next year and continue volunteer in the district.

Rose previously ran for the school board in 2009, losing to current members Michael Ocello and Tom Diehl. Rose works in general maintenance and building repair at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Ken Leach, 53, is a graduate of Oakville High School who works as a regional sales manager for Follett, a company that creates and sells online education products.

Leach previously served on the board from 2005 to 2008 and was elected board president in 2006. He did not seek reelection after his term.

Like his first term on the board, Leach said he applied because he was asked.

“Venki (Palamand) called and said there was a spot open,” he said. “My interest is simply to serve as an interim to bridge for the next member. I look at it like a community service.”

“I think Venki’s take on it is that it’d be nice to have someone that had experience because there’s only nine months and it would take a lot of time to learn the ropes and terms of the board,” he said.

Leach has two children in the district, one at Oakville High School and another at Oakville Middle School.

Leach said he will not seek re-election in April if selected.

“There are a lot of people who are qualified for the position, I think I would really be trying to serve as an interim and voice of reason,” he said.

David Wessel ran for the school board in April, missing a board seat by 145 votes. As a hiring manager in the information technology field, he said today’s youth aren’t prepared enough for the work force.

“My goals still remain,” he said. “I came close, but I ultimately lost the election. I still want to make sure the district works toward the future and the students successfully become the next generation work force.

With two kids, one at John Cary Early Childhood Center and a toddler, Wessel said he has a vested interest in the district.

“As long as I feel that I can do service to the district and add value to the district, I will try to help out as best I can,” he said.

Michael Gindler, 40, also had a hand in the April election as the husband of candidate Franchesca Gindler.  He has two girls in the district and is the assistant accounting manager for the Metropolitan Sewer District.

“I decided to apply because No. 1, I feel that my background in my career and on the finance committee in the school district has given me some insight into the financial conditions and the challenges facing the district,” Gindler said. “No. 2, with my daughters having a combined 20 years of school left within the system, I wanted to make sure I made it the best place to get their education.”

“I really believe in public education and it’s one of the reasons that we moved into the district,” he said.

Greg Frigerio, 53, said he applied for the open position to help the board get back in touch with reality.  

Frigerio is a member of the Mehlville Community Taxpayers Association, a group formed in September to oppose the school district’s Prop C tax increase and now “is a group of concerned citizens dedicated to liberating our local governments from the control of greedy public-sector unions and returning control to the taxpayers,” according to their website.

“As far as what’s going on in the community as a whole, in order to do something about that, you have to put your name in the pot to get things done,” he said.

The father of two children who graduated from parochial high schools—one currently at the University of Missouri-Columbia and one recently graduated from the same school—Frigerio believes his experience with private schools will help Mehlville’s financial struggles.

“Private schools have to raise money and keep their facilities; Mehlville could learn from this instead of going with the status quo,” he said.

A district resident for 27 years and an estimator with Fenix construction company, Frigerio said his professional experience could help the district with future capital improvements.

“I’m a publically-educated person and have been in construction for 30 years,” he said. “I’ve worked with budgets with different values from $500,000 to $100 million and with labor and people problems. I don’t think there’s much expertise as far as how much things cost.”

“The interworkings of those things should allow me to work with the current board, administrators, teachers and students,” he said.

Timothy Champion, 57, has one son at Bernard Middle School and has been the women’s soccer head coach at Saint Louis University for the last 15 years.

Champion has spent a lifetime in education, teaching in the Ritenour and Affton school districts and earning a doctorate in higher education administration from SLU.

“We’ve lived (in the district) for 30 years,” he said. “I just think public education is incredibly important and since my son is going through it, I want him to have the same opportunities going into college as other districts do.”

“I have the background that gives me perspective from inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom,” he wrote in his application. “I also have an understanding of the higher education system and what it takes for our high school graduates to succeed in that system.”

Marea Kluth-Hoppe, 58, previously served on the board from 2002-2005 and failed to get elected again in 2005, 2008 and 2011. She is applying with the hope of staying active in the district.

“Because I have been on the board, I will be a good choice,” she said. “I have experience in making decisions.”

With one daughter who graduated from Mehlville High School, Kluth-Hoppe said she wants to continue serving the district.

“This is just another opportunity to serve,” she said. “People suggested I put my name in since I did not win in April. I’m an advocate for the education system.”

Kluth-Hoppe has bee a volunteer in the district for the last 22 years and runs a booth at the South County Antique Mall.

Fred Padberg, 69, is an illustrator and designer and owns Padberg Graphic Design Studio. He is also the president of Padberg Properties of St. Louis.

After serving in the military, Padberg attended Washington University for architectural engineering.

He has four children and seven grandchildren, but none have attended Mehlville schools. His experience with education stems from serving as president of the home and school organization at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.

Padberg’s interest in serving is rooted in property taxes.

“I complain a lot about property taxes and figured if you aren’t willing to do something about it and get active, you don’t have room to complain,” he said. “I’m not sure how much influence the school board has on these things, but what’s taught in the school, the discipline and authority of the individual teachers, it’s the little things that are important.”

“I’m just a grandfather who’s raised four kids and am definitely interested in where our education system is going,” he said.

Aaron Hilmer, 36, is the current Mehlville Fire Protection District Board chairman. He was elected to the position in 2005 and re-elected for another six-year term in April.

“I’d like to see replicated at the Mehlville School District what we’ve done at Mehlville Fire—that is to have superior facilities and service,” he said. “Also, I think that by me being on the board, it would help bring a lot of credibility to the board, and it is in desperate need of credibility.”

In his application, Hilmer listed credibility along with two other problems facing the school district. He stated the decision to put a tax increase on the ballot and an inconsistency with superintendents as other problems.

“Since 2006, the BOE (Board of Education) is on its fourth superintendent,” he wrote in his application. “As a director, I would work with the BOE and Mr. Knost to clearly articulate what is expected of him as we work together to regain the public’s trust and make Mehlville THE destination district in St. Louis County. I have more experience and have more proven results in the area of public government reform and public labor law than any other applicant for this position.”

Hilmer advocated against the district’s two failed tax increases—Props A and C—which he thinks fueled the public’s distrust of the board.

If selected for the position, and after making all fiscal reforms possible, Hilmer said he would support “small, measured tax increases (preferably with a sunset clause) on the ballot for voters to decide,” for necessary items.

When asked how he would balance the two boards if selected, Hilmer said, “The fire district doesn’t take much of my time anymore, I’d be able to devote a lot of time to the school district. I just maintain with the fire district.”

Hilmer works for various contractors in the St. Louis metropolitan area on sewer lines with a Master Drainlayers license. He has no children. 

Ronald Fedorchak, 44, is a sales account manager with three kids in district schools.

“I saw the position and it was a good time for me to do something to help serve,” he said. “We always like to talk about issues and if you want to make a change you have to get involved. I was concerned about cuts in the string program.”

Fedorchak has served in the district on a committee for the strings program, discussing curriculum, funding and long-range planning.

“I liked working with people from all over the district and learned a few things about the way school districts operate,” he said.

The son of a principal and teacher, Fedorchak feels he has a good handle on education issues.

Jennifer AuBuchon June 08, 2011 at 12:48 PM
I certainly appreciate those who have prior experience in serving on the board being willing to serve in an interim capacity, as they are clearly aware of what the job entails. Furthermore, I appreciate those with children or grandchildren who are currently or have been students in the district being willing to step up and give their time and energy to help the Mehlville School district through these difficult financial times. I am still saddened to see that there are many interested in the position solely based on how they might be able to influence future efforts at tax rate increases. In my opinion, if the good of the students and teachers of the Mehlville school district is not your number one priority, then you need not apply! My children deserve better.
Liz June 08, 2011 at 05:14 PM
I totally agree, Jennifer.
Christine Stewart Mehigh June 08, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Since we already fund much of our technology and many of our supplies with a multitude of fund-raisers and grants, I am interested that anyone would think that we chould find more alternate methods of funding than we already have. Parents in our district are sick of the fundraisers. We are already on a very lean budget, teacher pay is the second last in the entire county area, and the taxes in this district are low compared to others in St. Louis county, so I wonder at why anyone would be complaining. Someone paid for the education of these people, and as good citizens they should be willing to fund the education of the children of the community in which they live. Schools are not businesses, and cannot be run as such.
Liz June 08, 2011 at 09:55 PM
Again, I agree. Did you know that in many of our classroons, teachers are writing on chalkboards still? In Ladue, Lindbergh, Parkway, Rockwood, etc, teachers and students are using SMART board technology or Promethean boards. Our students will be competing against those kids for jobs. When we have 1 computer for every 10 middle school students, how are these kids going to compete in a global economy?
Brit Rose June 22, 2011 at 06:01 AM
You hit it right on the nose Jennifer. I totally agree on the last sentence 100%.

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