Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Who says Diamond R-4 school officials don't have a sense of humor?
After asking earlier this month for extra time, and receiving until May 31 to designate expert witnesses for their lawsuit against Edison Schools, attorney Paul Rechenberg of the Chesterfield firm of Doster, Mickes, James, Ullom, Benson & Guest, LLC, filed the district's expert witness list with the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
Rechenberg must have needed the extra two weeks to look high and low for one lone expert witness...Diamond R-4 Superintendent Mark Mayo.
"Mr. Mayo will provide opinion testimony as to the calculation of the funds received by the district for the 2002 summer school program, what was owed by the district to defendant, and that all sums due and owing to defendant have been paid in full."
For some reason, Rechenberg informed the judge that Mayo is "not an employee of the district whose duties regularly involve giving expert testimony."
The school district brought suit against Edison Schools in 2004, claiming it charged too much when it operated Diamond's summer school in 2002. Other area school districts, including East Newton, Sarcoxie and McDonald County, have used Edison Schools for years and have made money with the district. Diamond is the only one that has had problems with it concerning the financial end of the deal.
In the lawsuit, which was initially filed in Newton County Circuit Court and then transferred to federal court, district officials claim they only owe Edison the $210,000 they had already paid the company, while Edison claims the district owes closer to $300,000.
The company contracted with Diamond on Feb. 15, 2002, to run the summer school. Edison used Diamond teachers, but paid their salaries and benefits. The company also supplied the curriculum, based on Missouri requirements, books, and materials. The district was allowed to keep all of the materials. Edison also paid for a number of incentives to encourage students to attend the summer session.
According to a Joplin Globe story following a Diamond R-4 Board of Education meeting, board members agreed with the position of Otto Shroyer, an Edison representative attending the meeting that "contracting with Edison was a good deal for the district because it generated about $284,000 beyond the $210,000 it paid Newton. That profit would be more than $200,000 even if the district paid Edison the disputed amount.
The dispute was featured on the editorial page of The Globe with letters from Larrie Reynolds, president of Newton Learning, the summer school division of Edison, and Diamond R-4 Superintendent Mark Mayo.
Reynolds responded to an earlier Globe article, in which Mayo had criticized Edison., claiming "There's no reason we should send them (Newton Learning) this kind of money."
Reynolds wrote, "Your readers should understand that Newton Learning's summer school actually brought more funding to the district because the program's popularity among children and families increased student enrollment dramatically." The state's reimbursement to school districts which provide summer school is based on enrollment.
Reynolds continued, "The increased enrollment provided the district with approximately $415,000 in extra funding to pay for the summer program."
He finished his letter by writing, "Your readers should be advised that Newton Learning was not, and would not be, a financial burden to Diamond. It is a high quality academic program that is a 'win' for the district, a 'win' for Newton Learning, and most importantly, a 'win' for the students of Diamond."
Not long afterward, Mayo responded, giving a completely different picture of the district's financial dealings with Edison than what board members admitted to at a later meeting. While the Globe article indicates board members agreed with Edison's figures that showed the school district making more than $200,000 from summer school, Mayo's figures indicated the district had not made any money, and in fact, had lost $4,805. Mayo's figures were apparently not addressed during the later board meeting.
Mayo concluded his response by saying, "We have maintained that the Edison program, as operated, was too expensive for this district. We are not alone in this evaluation of the Edison summer program," he said, though he never mentioned one school district whose officials agreed with him.
"Edison uses the local district facilities (and does not pay for custodial services), uses local district teachers and uses of the students of the local district to generate a profit for stockholders for the Edison business entity. Unless we see a change in the Edison billing structure, we see no need to send those revenues outside our district."
It would be interesting to know how much Diamond R-4 tax money is being used to pursue this lawsuit.

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