Monday, August 30, 2004

I swear I didn't laugh when I read that the Diamond R-4 Board of Education had voted on a code of ethics at its August meeting.
That information was featured on the propaganda site for the R-4 School District. School boards are required to submit such codes to the State Ethics Commission, showing how they deal with conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, there are no laws to prevent the out rages that have been inflicted upon the Diamond community by the present board of education.
As usual, I will mention my own bias in this instance. As readers of this website and know, I was rehired as a teacher in the Diamond district for the 2003-2004 school year, then just a scant few weeks before the school year started (and shortly after I rebuffed an attempt by Superintendent Mark Mayo to control the content of my website, I was put on an unpaid leave of absence. The only other who received such treatment was a counselor who Mayo had unsuccessfully tried to fire earlier in the school year. Then this past April, even though there was no doubt that I was not planning to return to Diamond, the board uselessly and unnecessarily voted not to rehire me for the 2004-2005 school year, then wasted taxpayer money by having both Mayo and Board President Dr. Wayne Webb send me letters (the one sent by Mayo was a more expensive registered letter) letting me know the board's decision. Mayo has also attempted to silence me by talking to my bosses in the Joplin R-8 School District telling them I have been shortchanging my students by continuing to write items about the Diamond schools.
All right. Now that my disclaimer is through, let's talk about ethics. In an earlier post, I mentioned the policy put into place by the Webb City R-7 School District last year, prohibiting board members' relatives from working for the school district.
It is obvious there is no such policy in Diamond. I received an e-mail message recently pointing out how deep and wide the connections with the board are. The board president's sister and brother-in-law are employed by the district, with the brother-in-law recently promoted to full-time status to replace a teacher who was let go, allegedly due to budget considerations.
Another board member has a wife who was recently promoted from library aide to middle school secretary. Another board member's wife serves as the school's librarian. It was only a few months ago that five of the seven board members had family members working for the school district.
Add to that the hiring of the superintendent's secretary's husband, who is purportedly making $40,000 a year, with duties that include mowing the grass, while there are veteran teachers who have not even cracked the $30,000 barrier.
Sadly,none of this is illegal. But don't talk to me about the ethics involved. Of course, they don't vote on measures that directly affect their relatives, but they vote on many things that indirectly affect them. And with so many conflicts of interest, how is a board member going to vote against another board member's relative when: 1. He or she has a relative to protect or 2. They still have to work with the other board member until at least the next election.
The question here is not whether these people are qualified for the positions they hold. I have no doubt they are. It doesn't matter. What matters is the perception that it's who you know and not your ability is going to land you a job. This is a stigma that attaches itself to both the board members and the relatives and it dramatically lessens the community's faith in the school system.
This is the kind of conflict of interest story the Joplin Globe or The Neosho Daily News needs to be working on. What is happening in the Diamond R-4 School District is nepotism at its worst.
Natural Disaster, the 50s and 60s rock group I perform with, was back in action tonight with our first practice in the past couple of months. We are scheduled to be the final act to perform at the annual Newtonia Fall Festival Saturday, Sept. 18. I'll write more about that later.
Since I recently criticized The Lamar Democrat for its failure to do a local story on the O'Sullivan situation, I feel obliged to mention that Editor Rayma Bekebrock Davis conducted an interview with an O'Sullivan official in last Wednesday's paper.
Unfortunately, the article still read like a press release and never went into some of the substantial matters raised here and in The Joplin Globe about the company's move of its corporate headquarters from Lamar to Atlanta. Nowhere it was mentioned that the three top O'Sullivan officials, including million-dollar CEO Bob Parker, were all hired in the past few months and all came from Newell Rubbermaid, which has its corporate headquarters in Atlanta.
Nowhere was it mentioned that O'Sullivan was taking advantage of Georgia tax breaks, which could pay big bucks to land the corporate headquarters. Nor was it mentioned that the tax breaks for moving 50 employees were approved by the state legislature two years ago to convince Newell Rubbermaid to move its quarters to Atlanta.
Nowhere was it mentioned the sweetheart deal Parker and his two Atlanta confederates received to take over O'Sullivan Industries.
A comprehensive news article does not have to be confrontational, but it should dig deep and at least ask, if not answer the questions readers want to know.
The Saturday Democrat featured a page one story about the operation of the city swimming pool and little coverage, except for some uncaptioned photos, about the Lamar Fair. Where are the features? There are a lot of stories to tell about the Lamar Free Fair.
A Saturday article in the New York Times on the new concept of cyberbullying was discussed in my communication arts classes Monday and will be the subject of the students' papers today.
It seems that students have been bullying each other through use of e-mail and instant messaging and most of the time parents are completely unaware that this is happening.
The Internet is a wonderful tool and serves many useful purposes, but it can also be a danger to young and old alike if misused. Apparently, this is one more thing parents need to be on the lookout for.

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