Saturday, January 15, 2005

It appears that former State Representative Roy Cagle is being investigated by the Missouri Attorney General's office.
According to the results of its Jan. 6 meeting posted on its website, the Missouri Ethics Commission passed along information about Cagle to the attorney general for further investigation. As usual, the Ethics Commission website provided no information of the nature of the complaint against Cagle, who now serves as a lobbyist for the Missouri Finance Association and in the past has been the Missouri lobbyist for Enron.
Cagle's last attempt at elected office came in 1996 when he lost a bid to unseat incumbent State Senator Marvin Singleton, despite endorsements from area state representatives Gary Burton, Mark Elliott, and Chuck Surface, and the powerful Missouri Right to Life organization.
The Ethics Commission passes along complaints to the attorney general's office when serious violations are alleged to have occurred.
A First Amendment controversy will continue at the Neosho R-5 Board of Education meeting Monday when a final decision is expected on whether to include a test for the Bible in the district's Accelerated Reader program.
The first thing the board should probably do is pray (sorry about that) that Superintendent Mark Mitchell will keep his mouth shut and not create any more problems.
An article which will be published Sunday morning in The Globe quotes the superintendent as saying, "We don't discourage kids from reading the Bible. We use it everywhere we can." That makes it appear as if school officials are doing their best to find ways to work the Bible into the curriculum. Mitchell already created a stir recently when he issued a statement to the Globe and to the Neosho Daily News saying that every kid should read the Bible. That's a nice sentiment and I don't have any problem with it. If Mark Mitchell had made the statement as a private citizen exercising his First Amendment rights, then there would be no problem. Unfortunately, the statement was clearly made in his capacity as superintendent of a public school system...a public school system that is smack in the middle of a budding dispute over the Bible and the First Amendment.
All school officials had to do to prevent this nonsense was to review the testing materials for the Bible, see if they had the same degree of difficulty as the normal Accelerated Reader tests. If not, then they should have revised them so they would work and avoid making Neosho the center of the latest freedom of religion controversy.
There has never been any doubt that the Bible has a place in public school systems. In this case, it was not a question of whether the Bible would remain in the library, but whether it could be included in a reading program. If Mitchell and the school officials had not panicked, this would not be dividing the community. Hopefully, when the R-5 Board of Education finishes its selection process for a superintendent to replace Mitchell, who is retiring at the end of the current school year, it will find someone who can do a better job of communicating with both the public and the media.
A reader pointed out that KOAM was first to report that former Webb City High School student Brad Mathewson dropped his lawsuit against the R-7 School District and High School Principal Stephen Gollhofer. KOAM ran the first story on its 5 p.m. newscast, while KODE and KSNF ran the item for the first time on their 6 p.m. newscast after the story had hit the wires.
While the Brad Mathewson lawsuit posed some interesting First Amendment issues, the more important issue to most R-7 patrons has been the availability of money for the schools. No one does a better job of reporting on school district operations than the Webb City Sentinel and its editor and education reporter Bob Foos.
In the Friday Sentinel, Foos's coverage of the Jan. 11 R-7 Board of Education meeting noted that the financial situation for the school is far better than it was one year ago. Interviews for open teaching positions are being held, something that was not done last year when district officials were unsure how much money they would have. Superintendent Ron Lankford said his goals included a reasonable pay increase for staff members and adding five positions, an elementary counselor, an elementary librarian, a junior high reading specialist, and teachers for second and fourth grades.
Lankford had his contract extended through the 2007-2008 school year during that meeting.

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