ARNOLD • Accusations of nepotism have festered for the last several months at the Fox School District.
The board came under fire after one member’s daughter-in-law was hired to head the district’s food program. She landed the $65,000-a-year job with only a high school degree and without the certifications and education required by other districts. Her previous food experience: assistant manager at a McDonald’s.
Tonight, more than six months after the controversy erupted in the Jefferson County district, the board is scheduled to vote on a new anti-nepotism policy, which would prohibit board members from hiring relatives to supervisor positions, such as principals, assistant principals and department directors.
“I don’t think we, as school board members, should be hiring relatives into high-paying supervisory positions,” said Dan Kroupa, who was elected to the board in April, when voters ousted two longtime members.
Ruth Ann Newman, a board member since 2001, and Pete Nicholas, who was first elected in 1998, lost their seats to Steve Holloway and Kroupa, who is also Arnold’s city treasurer. Holloway and Kroupa campaigned on anti-nepotism platforms.
They ran after the hiring of Kelly Nash, the daughter-in-law of then-board president Linda Nash, as food services director. Kelly Nash started her job in December.
Current district policy does not go beyond a state law that requires board members to step out of the room when the hiring of a relative is being considered, which Linda Nash did.
The proposed new policy would still allow the seven board members to hire relatives for non-supervisory positions, such as teachers, custodians, nurses, coaches and secretaries.
Holloway said the new policy was a carefully crafted compromise by the board based on research by Superintendent Dianne Critchlow of other district’s policies. He also said the board believed barring the hiring of all relatives would be too restrictive.
The controversy after Nash’s hiring drew a spotlight to other family hires at the district. For example, Critchlow’s husband, Jamie Critchlow, heads the district’s at-risk program. And Gee Palmer, wife of school board member David Palmer, is the district’s director of nursing. Dianne Critchlow and David Palmer could not be reached for comment.
The new policy would not force current supervisors related to board members to resign.
“Some folks will have some conversations about the way we grandfathered things, but we don’t believe it’s fair to hurt somebody already in place,” Holloway said.
The new policy also would tighten the hiring process for a relative applying for a district job. The hiring of a board member’s relative, as well as the relative of a superintendent or assistant superintendent, would need to be approved by a “special hiring committee” of between four and eight members, including two school board members.
The school board could then hire the applicant only with the approval of five of its seven members.
Outrage at the board, focused largely on the hiring of Nash, prompted lawyers for the district at one point to send letters to four vocal critics, warning them to tone down their statements and behavior or face legal action.
At least one of those critics isn’t satisfied with the proposed new policy.
“It doesn’t go far enough,” said Dennis Mueller, a Fox graduate who has two grandchildren in the district.
He said the policy was too watered down, and he’s unhappy that relatives can still be hired. He wants an anti-nepotism policy similar to that of the Mehlville school district. That district, in south St. Louis County, is similar in size to Fox, which serves Arnold and parts of northeastern and north-central Jefferson County and has about 12,000 students.
In Mehlville, relatives of board members and administrative officials cannot be employed by the district.
But in Wentzville, also comparable in size, the board is free to employ relatives and can even hire a board member’s spouse, as long as the superintendent recommends the spouse in writing.
“Those are difficult calls to make, and they vary widely by the size of the district,” Susan Goldammer, an attorney with the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said of crafting nepotism policies.
She said that it was not uncommon to see relatives of board members employed in districts across the state and that anti-nepotism policies were unique to each school district.
The Lindbergh School District “will not employ or continue to employ” any relative of a school board member, according to the district’s policy. The only exception is tenured teachers. And if a board member is elected or appointed while the relative is employed there, that employee will be terminated at the school year’s end or after his or her contract expires.
But the Ferguson-Florissant district‘s policy mirrors state law, mandating only that if a relative of a board member is recommended to be hired, the board member must abstain from voting and leave the room.
“It really is a decision each district has to make,” Goldammer said. “Boards want to assure the community and their own staff that they are only acting for the best interest of the district.”