Saturday, May 31, 2014

Student says JHS teacher followed him home for sex

A report from KSN News

C. J. Huff's statement on arrest of JHS teacher on sex charges

The following statement was released Friday by Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff concerning the arrest of Joplin High School communication arts teacher Jessica Low on charges of statutory rape, statutory sodomy, and furnishing pornography to minors:

This afternoon, the Board of Education of Joplin Schools met to address the recent arrest of Ms. Jessica Low, a teacher in the school district. The Board of Education has directed me to formally notify the State Board of Education and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education of the arrest and possible criminal charges.

Joplin Schools will fully cooperate in any revocation proceedings involving Ms. Low’s teaching certificate and will work with the prosecutor’s office in the criminal matter to request that the surrender of Ms. Low’s teaching certificate be a condition of any plea agreement resulting from any charges filed that involve inappropriate sexual conduct with or toward a minor.

According to Missouri law, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must revoke a teaching certificate if a teacher pleads guilty to or is found guilty of criminal offenses involving inappropriate sexual conduct with a student and/or minor.

Ms. Low resigned from her teaching position on March 25, 2014, and will not be returning to Joplin Schools.


New study: Black drivers more likely to be pulled over in Missouri

Friday, May 30, 2014

Video- Nixon rips legislators for $776 million special interest giveaway

"Might as well" spending costs R-8 School District $8 million

The spending philosophy of the C. J. Huff Administration was spelled out by Chief Financial Officer Paul Barr during  the May 27 Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting.

From about the 1 hour, 13 minute mark of the accompanying Jet 14 video to the 1 hour, 20 minute mark, Barr explains why the district needs to hire the financial management company, George K. Baum and Associates, to borrow money to get the school district past its current financial crisis.

A total of $5.4 million is needed on a short-term basis, Barr said, as the district awaits payment from FEMA and SEMA.

Another $7 million to $8 million comes from the district's "might as well" approach, Barr said.

When Administration officials saw something they wanted, instead of waiting until they had the money, which Barr said they might get by selling naming rights, they decided they "might as well" go ahead and do it.

Barr gave examples of items Administration officials decided they "might as well" add including the following:

-Lights at multiple athletic fields
-Artificial turf at multiple athletic fields
-Expanded tennis courts from four "before the storm" to eight
-A track at the high school, so the athletes would not have to go to Junge Stadium and practice with middle school students

"This is just a sampling of the items," Barr said.

To handle all of their "might as well" items, the board approved the hiring of the Baum company at a probable cost of approximately $45,000 to finance the approximately $13 million worth of debt that has been incurred.

Not mentioned on this video, but approved as part of an audio-visual package Tuesday night for Franklin Tech was a jumbotron-type (main gym video board) expense for the gymnasium (the well-known Franklin Tech gymnasium) and video walls for the high school commons area.

Active shooter training held at Jewish Community Center

Globe columnist: If Huff hadn't fired Turner, we might have two sex scandals

I have been told it would be better to ignore the blog written by frequent Joplin Globe guest columnist Anson Burlingame. I have seen no evidence that it reaches many readers, except when I bring attention to it.

However, there are two reasons why Burlingame cannot be ignored. The first, and this seems to be occurring less often lately, Burlingame has been a frequent "guest columnist"  in the Globe, and when he writes in that capacity, he has a much wider readership.

Recently, the second reason has become equally, if not more, important. Burlingame has acknowledged having many one-to-one conversations with Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff and it has become obvious that Huff has used Burlingame's writing, both in the Globe and on Burlingame's blog, to float trial balloons.

It has been in Burlingame's blog, that the idea that I am a pornographer who has no place in the classroom has been pushed numerous times.. He has also echoed C. J. Huff's testimony at my hearing May 23, 2013, that I had to be removed from the classroom because who knows what I might do if I was allowed to remain. At least Burlingame doesn't cry when he says it as.C. J. Huff did.

JHS teacher facing rape, sodomy, pornography charges had already resigned

Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff confirmed to media this afternoon that Joplin High School communications arts teacher Jessica Low, who faces three felony sex charges, submitted her resignation two months and was not returning for the 2014-2015 school year.

Huff's statements were made following a special closed session of the board held this afternoon at the Administration Building at 32nd and Duquesne.

Earlier this afternoon, the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney's office filed statutory rape, statutory sodomy, and furnishing pornography to a minor charges against Ms. Low, 32, who was completing her second year as a teacher at the Joplin High School 9-10 campus and her third year in the school district.

Prosecutor files rape, sodomy, pornography charges against Joplin High School teacher

This afternoon, the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney filed statutory rape, statutory sodomy, and furnishing pornographic materials to a minor charges against Joplin High School communication arts teacher Jessica Low.

Bond was set at $7,500.

Ms. Low, 32, was arrested after school Wednesday at the 9-10 Center (formerly Memorial Middle School) following after Joplin R-8 officials informed the Joplin Police Department of a tip they had received.

Official DOJ news release on sentencing of former South MIddle School teacher

(From the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri)

Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a former Joplin, Mo., middle school teacher was sentenced in federal court today for sexually exploiting a child victim to produce child pornography.

Charles D. Gastel, 40, of Carterville, Mo., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips to 28 years in federal prison without parole. Following his prison term, Gastel must spend the rest of his life under supervised release.

Gastel was formerly a science teacher at South Middle School in Joplin. On Dec. 17, 2013, Gastel admitted that he sexually assaulted a teenage victim, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, over a period of approximately nine years. Gastel also admitted that he video-recorded some of the sexual assaults.

On July 13, 2013, a Carterville, Mo., police officer interviewed the 19-year-old victim at her home in Lamar, Mo. She reported that she had been sexually victimized by Gastel repeatedly, beginning when she was 10 years old. Jane Doe reported that during some of the assaults, Gastel used a digital video recorder to record them engaging in sexual acts.

On July 17, 2013, Gastel was interviewed at his residence by the investigators. He initially told the investigators that he did not have videos on his computer. When asked for consent to search his computer, Gastel replied that he wanted to talk to a lawyer because he had files on his computer that would end his teaching career. Gastel was then placed under arrest and officers obtained a search warrant for his residence. A forensic preview of the digital media seized by officers yielded the discovery of several video files that depicted Gaston sexually assaulting Jane Doe when she was 16 years old.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James J. Kelleher. It was investigated by the Carterville, Mo., Police Department, the Southwest Missouri Cybercrime Task Force and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Billy Long: American people deserve full account of what went wrong in Benghazi

In a portion of his latest newsletter, Seventh District Congressman Billy Long addresses the Benghazi issue:

This administration has not been truthful with the American people about the deadly attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Our nation’s credibility is in jeopardy. A nation which cannot tell itself the truth about the death of its own brave citizens is not a nation which can be relied upon to vindicate its alliances, fight for its principles, or safeguard its interests abroad. We have an obligation to honor those four men who died in service to their fellow citizens half a world away from their home.

Preliminary hearing set for Frazier Glenn Miller

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Anonymous comment: Morale was low before Huff arrived; Tina Smith working to improve it

(The latest post from our anonymous Joplin R-8 Administration source. The first half was originally left off because I read my comments from the most recent backward.)

The first half of this post did not make it's way onto this blog post it seems. It said:

Perhaps Dr. Huff doesn't address Mr. Turner because it is widely known that Mr. Turner isn't interested in the truth. Rather, he is interested in a headline that results in a paycheck for him. I can't speak for Dr. Huff, but that would be my guess.

But to address your questions, I would say that I did discuss the DESE scores in a previous post. Nobody is blindly unaware that there is growth to be had. Someone ought to interview the curriculum department to see what has been done to address those issues. Does anyone know? Or are we just being critical? Because I know that Read 180 has brought TREMENDOUS results with elementary and middle school kids. I know that the Reading Matters initiative is designed to educate parents about the importance of early literacy from birth to age 5 (when 90% of brain connections form) is critical to long term success in school. The hope is that if kids come to school ready (which over half do not), we won't have to spend the first several years of elementary school playing catch up. I know that the TLC's that Mr. Turner likes to bash are designed to help teachers implement peer reviewed, proven educational best practices to improve instruction (and thus scores) in our district. They work one on one with teachers - something that no administrator can possibly take time to do each day. They are NOT spies, and in fact no teacher has ever been reported to Dr. Huff by a TLC for not conforming. The role of the TLCs is to come alongside teachers, supporting, encouraging, investing in and helping develop educators. They're not administrators - they're excellent teachers who are highly trained to support other teachers. Or what about the near doubling of the mentoring programs in the district this last year, increasing community involvement in helping kids with reading by utilizing volunteers? Nobody's ignoring the reading issue.

And do you know, sir, that the issues that prevented Joplin from receiving the Race to the Top grant are NOT being addressed? Because they are (another issue the TLCs are addressing). 

I do understand the point that was being made regarding the social media employee, etc. IE: if we spend money on "extra" people, we don't spend money on educators. But what if the educational problems are not all instructional in nature? Much of the problem is that parents and the community have been checked out and/or feel ill-informed and thus can't duly support their kids' education. Quality consistent communication coming out of the district helps with that. If we help solve those problems, it will in turn improve educational outcomes.

I also know that the district went through an extensive process involving the community to develop the Standards of Excellence that are being rolled out over a 5 year period (they're on the district website) - improving not only educational arenas, but communication, facilities, employee morale, parent experiences, community partnerships, etc. The district is well ahead of schedule on most of the benchmarks - but there is work to do.

I know that HR just sent out an employee survey administered by a third party agency so as to ensure the confidentiality of employees so that they can be completely forthright without fear of consequence (ie. attempting to fully listen to hear the concerns of employees). The results will enable them to identify problems and work with teams to develop strategies to improve them. Prior to a couple of years ago, there wasn't an HR department. Morale was low because nobody was specifically tasked with working to keep it up (aside from the already over-worked principals). That is changing. It's not perfect, but they're working.

Morale has been low for YEARS. And our district has experienced a GREAT amount of trauma…people are tired. Everyone realizes there's much work to do, but the district is on it. Again…big ships turn around slowly.

This commenter is not here to selectively rebuke, but perhaps to shed some light on what has been an incredibly dark place that has caused unbelievable division in our community. What if we came together around the school district in support? Ask the questions - it is truly your right and responsibility as a citizen of this community. But to defame and destroy hard working people who love kids and are doing everything in their power to make Joplin Schools better than they have ever been is just flat wrong. And today was apparently the day that I decided to say something. 

Blunt: No reason for Shinseki to resign at Veterans Administration

Blunt: Give veterans access to urgent mental health care

Blast from the past: Top secret video recorded in Joplin R-8 Admin Building

Sorry about the typos I made on the translation on the video. Obviously, $800 should have been $8,000.

Anonymous Joplin R-8 administration defense post draws rebuke

It is a shame that our educational issues have to be discussed through the back and forth of anonymous comments, but until our Board of Education meetings actually discuss business and issues instead of being a two-hour infomercial for Administration, this may be the best we can do. This was posted about a half hour ago:

So Huff would rather allow the divisiveness to continue instead of addressing it? That divisiveness is a reality, lest the commenter would not be here to selectively rebuke other comments. Too bad it is too much trouble for Huff to address criticisms, because he could have kept Flowers on his lap if he had been willing to find the time. Too bad our friend is stoking the fire instead of reaching out. Offering a boot instead of a hand.

Nor does this pro-Huff response do much to counter the idea that money for administrative and non-educational amenities is being prioritized. If the money being pursued is earmarked specifically for administration and nothing else, all that does is reinforce the point that they are more interested in expanding administration than education. If the funding stream is only applicable to those administrative positions, and the positions are only there to justify the funding stream, then that suggests those positions are superfluous.

Report: JHS teacher took pornographic photo with student

A report from KSN News

Forfeiture proceedings completed for former Joplin R-8 tech employee's computer

On the same day that the announcement was made that Joplin High School teacher Jessica Low had been arrested on statutory sodomy and child pornography charges and a judge sentenced former South Middle School teacher Charles Dominic Gastel to 28 years in prison for child sex crimes, forfeiture proceedings were completed on the laptop former Joplin R-8 tech employee Ronny Justin Myers used to store pornographic photos of 10 Joplin High School girls.

The Toshiba/Satell laptop, an E Machine tower computer, and a hand-held video camera were among the items confiscated by authorities after Myers' arrest and will be sold at auction.

According to court records, an eight-channel digital video recorder was returned to Myers' wife.

Former South Middle School teacher sentenced to 28 years on child sex charge

A federal judge today sentenced former South Middle School eighth grade science teacher Charles Dominic Gastel to 28 years in prison on a child sex charge.
According to the indictment, which was filed August 28, 2013,, in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, between January 1, 2009, and January 1, 2011, Gastel “engaged in sexually explicit conduct” with an underaged girl and made videos of the acts.

Gastel, who resigned his position with the Joplin R-8 School District at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, was initially charged with the crime on July 26.

An affidavit signed by Detective Tim Williams of the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force indicates Gastel was arrested following an investigation that started with a sexual assault complaint July 15 in Carterville.

From the affidavit:

Anonymous R-8 official: If you don't trust us, hit us with some Sunshine Law requests

It appears that someone from within the Joplin R-8 Administration office is fighting back against the claims of financial mismanagement that have been featured frequently (and accurately) in the Turner Report.

Never let it be said that I don't allow equal time to my critics and, in this particular case to a critic of many of the people who have also been posting anonymously on this blog.

I will say that it is pretty easy to tear holes in this person's arguments, but I will leave that to my readers.

It starts with a response to a comment that noted that Dr. Huff has not responded to any of the accusations that have been printed here.

Because he would spend all of his time responding to the never-ending accusations of Mr. Turner, who finds every reason to create a sensational headline. Dr. Huff has a district to run.

What if positions were cut due to the loss of revenue from the state because of the decreased amount of revenue from Casinos this year? Truth. Or if those positions were temporary to begin with? Truth.

All the "upper level administrators" do not take one red cent from lower level positions, as they are funded by designated funding streams that cover only those positions - funding streams that we would not have at all if those positions didn't exist.

Positions to do jobs like Facebook? No. A Media specialist who handles ALL of the district media - website, social media, communication, e-newsletters, print publications, etc. She works nearly 80 hours a week trying to keep up with it all and took a pay cut to come here because she believes in our schools.

Bright Futures Joplin? Funded by donors - not the district. Bright Futures USA? A separate 501C3 that is funded by donors as well. Doesn't take a cent from Joplin Schools.

One graphic designer for the ENTIRE district.

Seriously…is it excessive for an organizations with 1,200 employees to have ONE graphic designer and and a communication specialist? As Freeman or Tamko if they have those things! Joplin has simply been one of the few educational systems that has learned from great business and brought in people who really know their craft to handle pieces with excellence, rather than stressing out educators to take these tasks on in addition to what they already do. It's good business because they 1) do better quality work, and 2) are more efficient. 

Anyone who is so concerned about the district not being above reproach on finances, there is this thing called the Sunshine Law. March on down to the finance department and request your copy. PLEASE. We welcome it.

And decisions on the building expenses…the community and kids and teachers and principals worked together to design those buildings with the architects. The goal was to build state of the art so they'd be innovative for the next 100 years. Dr. Huff had very little to do with it. And those dollars are also designated - they can't be used on teachers or salaries. Nothing is being taken away from instruction to build buildings. That's just plain senseless. 

C. J. Huff about arrested teacher: It angers me to know those people are out there

Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff says that if the charges against Joplin High School communication arts teacher Jessica Low are confirmed, he will go after her teaching license.

"It angers me, it frustrates me to no end, to know those people are out there," Huff said.

The Joplin Police Department arrested Ms. Low, 32, shortly after school ended Wednesday at the 9-10 Center (the former Memorial Middle School) on charges of statutory sodomy and furnishing pornography to a minor.

Ms. Low allegedly sent inappropriate photos of herself to students, according to the police.

Ms. Low has been teaching at Joplin High School since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.

Hartzler meets with VA officials

(From Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler)

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo. released the following statement after she met with officials at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia. 
“I came to the Truman VA Hospital today to visit with the administrators to make sure that our veterans are being provided the highest quality care possible because that is certainly what they deserve,” Hartzler said.  “Considering what has occurred in Phoenix, I wanted to make sure that our veterans here locally are receiving access to the care they need in a timely manner – that is what they deserve.  In visiting with the administrators here, I was pleased to see that they are providing timely, quality care.  In areas where they need to make improvements, they have either taken measures or put plans in place to alleviate the problem.”
“I also came to follow up on the incident that occurred here last year that unfortunately resulted in the death of one of our veterans.  I wanted to see what steps are being and have been taken,” Hartzler continued, “to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.  The hospital administrators have assured me that steps are being taken to make sure the incident is not repeated; to include education and training for staff, renovation of facilities, and hiring of more staff.”

KOAM coverage of Joplin teacher's arrest on sodomy, pornography charges


Joplin Police: JHS teacher sent inappropriate photos of herself to students

Joplin High School communication arts teacher Jessica Low, a candidate for the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce's Golden Apple Award in 2013, is behind bars after sending inappropriate photos of herself to male students, according to Joplin Police Lt. Matt Stewart.

Stewart told KSN that students are being interviewed today at the Children's Center. Ms. Low, who is completing her second year in the district, has been charged with statutory sodomy for an alleged relationship with one student. Police said other students are being interviewed to determine if there are additional victims.

The Joplin Police Department arrested Ms. Low at the 9-10 center (the former Memorial Middle School) shortly after school ended Wednesday.

The investigation began after school officials received a tip and relayed it to the police.

Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff is scheduled to make a statement to media at 3:30 p.m.

C. J. Huff to issue statement on teacher's arrest

Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff will issue a statement at 3:30 p.m. today about the arrest of Joplin High School sophomore communication arts teacher Jessica Low on sodomy and pornography charges.

The school district's public relations official Kelli Price said the district is cooperating with the police investigation.

Joplin High School teacher arrested on sodomy, pornography charges

(From the Joplin Police Department)

Officers with the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crime Task Force received a tip that a Joplin school teacher was sending inappropriate photographs to students.

The Cyber Crimes Task Force began an investigation which lead to the arrest of Jessica Low, 32 years of age from Joplin. Ms. Low was arrested yesterday, May 28, 2014, at 3:50 PM at the Joplin High School 9-10 center which is located at 310 W. 8th.

At this time Low is being held in the Joplin Municipal Jail on probable cause charges of Statutory Sodomy 2nd Degree and Furnishing Pornography to a Minor. Charges have been forwarded to the Jasper County Prosecutor for review.

The investigation is ongoing and two male juvenile victims are being interviewed today at the Children’s Center.

Further information will be released as it becomes available.

Reader- Joplin R-8 Administration is good, noble, knows much more than we do

A reader reveals the "truth" about what is going on in the Joplin R-8 School District, and to this reader it is nothing like what has been written for the past few months in the Turner Report. This was a comment in response to coverage of Tuesday night's R-8 Board of Education meeting. The reader pushes the idea that the things that are happening in the school district are far too much for our minds to grasp.:

Maybe the three new board members found what everyone on the inside of admin knows…everything is above reproach and makes complete sense when you have all the information. That things are much more complex than they seem to the general public. That there are good people doing good things for the right reasons. 

They know that this is ridiculous sensationalism in an effort for a guy who can't keep a real job because he gets fired everywhere he goes to make money. That's all it's about. It's not truth, people. Do your homework. 

Any comments?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Video- Playground dedicated to murder victim Hailey Owens

A report from KOLR's Lindsey Day

Kaufman Center refunding Maya Angelou tickets following death


Tim Jones: Gov. Nixon not telling the truth about tax cut legislation

(From Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka)
Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said the governor has again resorted to half-truths and hyperbole to attack the tax relief efforts of the Missouri General Assembly. Jones said it was especially disingenuous for the governor to refer to the tax law clarifications passed by the legislature for Missouri job creators as a “special-interest spending spree.”

“These are much-needed clarifications to our tax laws that will prevent the governor from exceeding his authority by unfairly collecting more taxes from our employers who create the family-supporting jobs that drive our economic engine. Business leaders around our state have made it clear they are greatly displeased with the way the chief executive has chosen to narrowly interpret many of our existing tax exemptions so that he can collect more of our tax dollars to further grow the size of government,” said Jones, R-Eureka, who noted the executive branch had made changes to existing tax policy without vetting the changes with the legislature.

Jones added, “As a legislative body we came together to stand in defense of the taxpayers and to provide a shield against the glaring overreaches made by the executive branch. The governor fails to understand that these dollars do not belong to him, they were earned by Missouri businesses of all sizes that are the lifeblood of our economy and the providers of jobs.”

Jones also took issue with the governor’s estimates of the impact some of the tax relief provisions would have on state revenues. “The governor fails to understand the positive impact substantive tax relief will have on our economy when businesses can re-invest earnings into infrastructure development and more jobs with higher pay instead of using tax dollars to expand government and increase spending.”

Reading teachers fired, but Bright Futures assistant job must be filled

There is not enough money in the Joplin R-8 coffers to pay for reading teachers, janitors, cooks, secretaries, and a Joplin High School police officer, but heaven forbid that a Bright Futures position go unfilled.

This ad for an assistant Bright Futures coordinator was posted today on the district website:

The Bright Futures Assistant Coordinator is responsible for assisting the Bright Futures Coordinator with any and all duties necessary to coordinate the Bright Futures program in the Joplin School district. Duties include but are not limited to:
• Coordinating volunteer services and resources
• Supporting the Bright Futures Joplin Advisory Board and all of its committees, programs and initiatives
• Organizing meetings, events and fundraisers
• Surveying community for resources
• Maintaining the Bright Futures Joplin website and all Bright Futures Joplin social media accounts
• Supporting Bright Futures Site Councils at all buildings
• Promoting the program to involve all stakeholders (faith-based community, human services agencies, business community, parent community)
• Communicating in a positive manner that promotes the program
• Cooperating with all educational staff to meet the needs of the students
• Coordination of events as needed
• Fundraising
• Recruiting and supervising volunteers, including Americorps VISTA members

Position open until filled.

New Joplin R-8 Board, same 7-0 votes

The message we were waiting to hear last night never came.

All it would have taken was one word- No.

A 6-1 vote would have sent the message that the days of Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff getting his way with a never ending series of 7-0 votes was over.

That vote never happened during Tuesday night's meeting.

The board did table Huff's plans for a health center inside the new Joplin High School, but what difference does that make? The board tabled the same proposal a few months ago, but Huff went right ahead and kept pursuing it.

If not a "no" vote, then some pointed questioning about some of the things that were mentioned during last night's meeting was certainly in order.

When CFO Paul Barr read a laundry list of expensive sports-related items that have helped put the district millions of dollars behind, that certainly deserved a question or two.

Think about it.

-Astroturf for the football fields
-Expansion from four to eight tennis courts
-Lighting for the tennis courts
-A press box for the practice field

These items were not on the initial plans, but they were added, we were told, so "we wouldn't have to add them later."

Not one board member asked why these items were necessary.

Instead, permission was given to hire someone to borrow money- at a cost of approximately $45,000, but don't worry, that will be added to the loan package.

Just as troubling was the 7-0 vote to approve the audio/visual package for Joplin High School/Franklin Tech. It included a jumbotron, described in the bid specifications as a "main gym video board." It included video walls for the high school and digital signage for the high school and Franklin Tech, at a cost of $2.4 million with most of that coming from an Economic Development Administration grant that was designed to help the school district prepare workers for the future after the Joplin Tornado.

Most of the money is going to the video production class, which is suddenly being labeled as a Franklin Tech class, even though at this point it is only open to Joplin High School students.

Where were the hard-hitting questions?

Board member Dawn Sticklen had one. She wanted to know if the equipment would improve the quality of Jet 14's videos.

No one asked a single question about the "main gym video board." No one asked about the commons area video walls.

No one asked what kind of message is this to send the school district when we are adding expensive frills at the same time that we are cutting reading teachers, secretaries, custodians, tech employees, and even a police officer for the new high school.

As long as we are able to build what C. J. Huff has termed "America's high school" we won't ask questions.

As long as our YouTube videos are high definition, we will spare no cost.

The greed, the excess, and the gross fiscal mismanagement that have surrounded the Joplin R-8 buildings are in total contrast to the message that Joplin sent around the world following May 22, 2011.

In those days, the community pitched in, with the world lending a hand, to lift a battered city out of the depths of despair on a mission to rebuild even better than before. We were all neighbors and our chief objective was to regain the lives that we lived before May 22. Certainly, no one can argue with building better lives. That should always be the objective.

Unfortunately, it did not stop at that. Some of our leaders, C. J. Huff chief among them, have pushed a philosophy that we "deserve" all of these shiny dangling baubles because of what we suffered from the tornado. C. J. Huff has done more to perpetuate the image of Joplin as victim than any other person at the same time that he has fostered the image of being this city's savior in his speeches across the United States.

We have to remain victims in order for C. J. Huff to continue to rake in money and to spend more money than he rakes in.

When voters elected Lynda Banwart, Debbie Fort, and Randy Steele to the Board of Education in April, they expected more than a continuation of the past few years. It was a message that the days of the Joplin School District using the tornado as leverage for all kinds of excesses were over.

Steele talked about how the district had overspent. Banwart and Fort offered new perspectives.

No one was looking for a continued rubber stamping of the vulgarity that has surrounded C. J. Huff's stewardship of the Joplin R-8 School District.

Perhaps things will change during coming meetings. It is far to early to condemn the new board of education. Maybe someday, one of them will vote no.

Still, it seems that C. J. Huff may have been right when he characterized Joplin as America's school. After all, he is the highly paid administrator who has guided this school district down a path of financial ruin and he now has millions more to spend. Meanwhile, he has cut the jobs of those who can least afford it.

If that is not a microcosm of today's American, I don't know what is.

Anyone who buys a voluntary subscription to the Turner Report/Inside Joplin will receive a free paperback copy of either Scars from the Tornado: A Year at Joplin East Middle School, or Let Teachers Teach. Those who have already subscribed, will be contacted and also given their choice of the two books.

C. J. Huff: I want those Salvation Army millions

A recent KSDK St. Louis report said that the Salvation Army has $5 million that was contributed following the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado that has not been spent and C. J. Huff wants it.

Huff told the Joplin R-8 Board of Education during its afternoon work session Tuesday that the Salvation Army millions could be used to keep his Project Hope afloat.

Project Hope was funded through a grant and like so many other R-8 initiatives that begin with grant money, no plans are being made to shut it down now that the grant money is gone.

Project Hope brought counselors into the schools to help students and teachers who were still suffering from the after-effects of the tornado. Talk in recent months has been about transitioning the initiative to keep students from dropping out.

Huff claims that Project Hope has helped more than 1,300 students and 50 teachers.

Huff asked that anyone who has connections with the Salvation Army put in a good word for Project Hope.

Additional charges filed against Frazier Glenn Miller

A report from KOLR News

Attorney General: Change user ID, passward on eBay accounts

(From Attorney General Chris Koster)

Attorney General Chris Koster advised Missourians to change user ID and password information on eBay accounts after the company's announcement last week acknowledging a breach of user data. According to the company, the breach included loss of full names of customers, their email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and user IDs and passwords.

"Anyone who has an eBay account should immediately change their login information rather than wait for notice from the company," said Koster. "This is the most immediate step Missouri consumers can take to minimize the impact on the security of personally identifiable information."

Koster also warned Missourians to be on the lookout for phishing emails from scammers seeking to exploit the breach to commit additional data theft. While emails asking for financial or other personal information may appear to be from eBay, the company will only send email stating that the user should change their login information. EBay will not email or telephone customers seeking private information.

Koster encouraged consumers to be vigilant in monitoring their eBay and PayPal accounts for signs of unauthorized activity. Missouri consumers who suspect unauthorized activity should contact the Missouri Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or file a complaint online. Consumers who experience fraud on their accounts are encouraged to immediately contact the Hotline or complete an online form.

Nixon: I'm going to veto school transfer bill

(From Gov. Jay Nixon)

Gov. Jay Nixon announced that he will veto legislation that would have diverted public, taxpayer dollars away from Missouri’s public schools and given that money to private schools without any accountability to voters. In addition, the Governor said that this failed attempt to fix the current school transfer law would, in fact, result in further disruption for students in struggling school districts by eliminating the requirement that unaccredited school districts pay for transportation costs.

“Every child in Missouri deserves a quality public education, and that is why I am vetoing Senate Bill 493,” Gov. Nixon said. “Senate Bill 493 fails to address the challenges resulting from the existing school transfer law and instead, would create even more problems by allowing public funds to be used for private schools and pulling the rug out from under students who have transferred.”

Senate Bill 493 includes a provision that would allow public taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for private school tuition, a dangerous voucher scheme that would undermine the core principles and protections enshrined in Missouri’s constitution.

“Throughout the legislative session I repeatedly made it clear that any effort to send public dollars to private schools through a voucher program would be met by my veto pen,” Gov. Nixon said. “The General Assembly ignored my warnings, and this veto will be the result.”

Senate Bill 493 would eliminate the requirement that unaccredited districts pay for the transportation costs of students. This provision would negatively impact the hundreds of students and families who have already transferred to another school district with an understanding that their transportation costs would be paid.

Senate Bill 493 would also have allowed districts that receive students from unaccredited districts to discount the tuition paid for transfers in exchange for not having to include those students’ performance data for accountability purposes for up to five years. The result of this provision would be to allow schools to not be held accountable for the education of these transfer students.

Jewish Community Center staff undergoes safety training after murders

Hanrahan returning to Joplin area, signs on with Baxter Springs newspaper

T. R. Hanrahan, whose Chart staff made life miserable for former Missouri Southern State University Prsident Bruce Speck, is returning to the Joplin area.

Hanrahan, who has been editing a newspaper in Texas, has taken a job as a reporter for the Baxter Springs News-Advocate newspaper.

"I'm returning home," Hanrahan said.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Artificial turf, extra tennis courts, old mining operations put R-8 millions in the hole on building project

You can blame the rising costs of Joplin R-8 School District construction on the little things.

You know, those pesky little things that drive up the costs of all government projects.

Chief Financial Officer Paul Barr explained those things to the R-8 Board of Education earlier tonight.

Part of it was problems stemming from old mining operations at the Joplin High School site. The unforeseen problems have put that project $5.4 million behind, Barr said. Of course, more money will be coming from FEMA and SEMA later on, he added.

And then there were the other little things, odds and ends that R-8 Administration decided to spend money on and Barr explained the reasoning. "We did them because we might get more money from naming rights," and he noted "these were things we would have to add later."

Things every school needs- "lighting and artificial turf at multiple athletic facilities. We will save money over time," Barr said. "And expanding from four to eight tennis courts. We can qualify for conference matches now," Barr said, allaying the fears of those who felt Joplin might never be the host site for a conference tennis tournament.

On the long term stuff, Barr said, "we're still short seven to eight million dollars.

The solution, he said, was to hire financial adviser George K. Baum and Associates, who will guide the district through this financial stumble, charging only $20,000 to find short-term financing and a percentage of the financing, probably around $25,000 for the long-term, probably 20-year-financing.

But don't worry, Barr said. "We might be able to pay it off early.

That should happen after the naming rights are sold to middle school science fair projects.

(The Board approved hiring the adviser by a 7-0 vote.) ***

Anyone who buys a voluntary subscription to the Turner Report/Inside Joplin will receive a free paperback copy of either Scars from the Tornado: A Year at Joplin East Middle School, or Let Teachers Teach. Those who have already subscribed, will be contacted and also given their choice of the two books.

We're getting a Jumbotron! 7-0 vote by Joplin R-8 Board

 Welcome to 21st Century Learning.

Thanks to a 7-0 vote moments ago by the Joplin R-8 Board of Education, 21st Century learning will include a Jumbotron (main gym video board), video walls in the commons area, and digital signage across both the new Joplin High School and Franklin Technical Center.

The package will be primarily paid for through a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, which R-8 officials told the board had just approved the package earlier today.

Much of the more than $2 million (plus a $750,000 local match) will go toward all kinds of state-of-the-art audio and video that will be used by the Joplin High School television production class, or as board members and those watching at home found out tonight, it is not really a Joplin High School class; it has always been a Franklin Technical Center class.

That's a good thing since the EDA grant was specifically targeted for Franklin Tech.

The audio-visual package did not take up all of the money from the EDA grant and apparently not everyone got the message that the video production classes are and always have been Franklin Tech and not Joplin High School classes.

Where will the rest of the grant money go?

"The balance will go to Franklin Tech programs,"  the Franklin Tech rep, who had previously dutifully allowed technology director Klista Rader, who drew up the bid package, to do most of the talking.

Questions were asked by board members, something that has been infrequent during the C. J. Huff era.
Newly elected Debbie Fort questioned whether the package that was to be approved moments later by the board followed the original intent of the grant. She noted that there was nothing in this package for the adults who attend Franklin Tech and that she had thought that training for EMTs and nursing would be included.

"Some of it was taken out," Rader said. "Some of the things we wanted to do, they said no."

Fortunately, EDA had the foresight and vision not to say no to a Jumbotron (main gym video board).


Anyone who buys a voluntary subscription to the Turner Report/Inside Joplin will receive a free paperback copy of either Scars from the Tornado: A Year at Joplin East Middle School, or Let Teachers Teach. Those who have already subscribed, will be contacted and also given their choice of the two books.

Bid documents show Jumbotron-type Video Board included in Joplin High School audio-visual package

A request for sealed bids issued in January by the Joplin R-8 School District includes a Jumbotron type "main gym video board."

The Joplin R-8 Board of Education will be asked tonight to approve an audio-visual package for Joplin High School/Franklin Technical Center, which will be mostly paid for through a $3 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration.

The school district will have to pay $750,000, according to the report that Superintendent C. J. Huff has included in the board's documentation package.

The decision to pursue the grant was was made by the Board of Education at its October 17, 2012, meeting, by a 6-0 vote, with board member Phil Willcoxon absent. The grant was described to the board in this fashion:

The grant will primarily assist in Joplin Schools' recovery with implementation of the new workforce development programs and 21st Century Career Pathways offered at Franklin Technical Center. Franklin Technical Center has developed a listing of equipment, some that require building finishes for the new and expanding programs that coincide with 21st Century Career Pathways being developed. EDA funds $3 million out of $3,750,632.

The report was submitted to the board by Dave Rockers of Franklin Tech and Chief Financial Officer Paul Barr and signed off on by C. J. Huff.

The grant application was successful and was awarded by the EDA in early 2013, and was mentioned in an EDA news release dated May 22, 2013, the two-year anniversary of the Joplin Tornado:

Earlier this year, Economic Development Administration also invested $3 million in Joplin to support the rebuilding and equipping of the Franklin Technical Center. Operated by the Joplin School District, the Franklin Technical Center will provide skills training to students in the school system, as well as specialized training to adults already in the workforce, allowing for the the enhancement of the career training program focused on manufacturing and technology.

At some point, the money that was intended to enhance manufacturing and technology training for both Joplin High School students and community members became a source of revenue for the Huff Administration to cover some of the frills that the district no longer can cover through the sources that were supposed to cover the building of the high school.

The following is the report placed by C. J. Huff in the board's documentation package for tonight's meeting:

The Audio/Visual system design for Joplin High School and Franklin Technical Center includes items such as scoreboard and sound equipment for gymnasiums, projectors, microphones, audio and light equipment for the auditorium, audio enhancement for Franklin Technical Center shop areas, hardware for audio and video production classes, as well as integrated intercom and digital signage throughout the facility.


Anyone who buys a voluntary subscription to the Turner Report/Inside Joplin will receive a free paperback copy of either Scars from the Tornado: A Year at Joplin East Middle School, or Let Teachers Teach. Those who have already subscribed, will be contacted and also given their choice of the two books.

Tim Jones outlines "biggest legislative accomplishments" of 2014

In his latest newsletter, Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka,

Over the course of the session I have detailed many of the key pieces of legislation we worked on this year. Now that the session is over and the dust is cleared I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of the major items that made it across the legislative finish line. Many of our biggest legislative accomplishments are listed below.

Broad-Based Tax Relief (SB 509) – SB 509 will provide tax relief to Missouri families and businesses by reducing the state’s personal income tax for the first time in nearly a century. Beginning in 2017, the legislation will phase in a half-percent cut to the income tax over a period of five years and increase the personal income tax exemption amount for low-income Missourians by $500. The bill also allows Missouri businesses, especially small businesses, to keep more of their income by gradually phasing in a 25 percent deduction for income tax over a period of five years. The bill contains safeguards that require revenues to increase by at least $150 million each year for five years in order for the tax cut to be fully implemented. In addition, the bill requires Missouri’s income tax brackets to be adjusted for inflation.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Audio blast from the past- C. J. Huff: I don't want to go to jail

C. J. Huff fires reading teachers, recommends purchase of Jumbotron

One week after telling all part-time reading teachers that their jobs are history, Superintendent C. J. Huff will recommend to the Joplin R-8 Board of Education that it buy a Jumbotron for the new Joplin High School gymnasium.

Of course, reading teachers are not the only ones who have been given the ax recently by Huff as he scrambles to salvage an ever-worsening financial situation and seems to be the brink of asking the voters to bail him out.

One of Joplin High School's two police officers has been told he will not return for the 2014-2015 school year and cuts have also been made from the secretarial and janitorial staffs.

The Jumbotron is part of a nearly $3 million audio-visual comprehensive system that Huff has recommended that the board approve when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Administration Building at 32nd and Duquesne.

It is described by only one word, "scoreboard" on the documentation that has been provided to the board and which is available to R-8 patrons on the district website and it is lumped in with sound equipment, projectors, microphones, audio and light equipment for the auditorium, and audio enhancement for Franklin Technical Center shop areas, as well as hardware for audio and video production classes, and integrated intercom and digital signage across the building.

The money, according to the proposal, will come from an EDA grant, which is supposed to be used for the benefit of Franklin Tech students.. Reportedly, Administration has been able to get this approved by the Economic Development Administration by emphasizing the parts having to do with Franklin Tech and treating the Joplin High School audio and video production classes as if they were Franklin Tech classes, though the ones who are allowed to take those courses are JHS students.

Open forum: What can be done to rescue Joplin R-8 from financial disaster?

All right, readers! It is becoming obvious where C. J. Huff is heading in his efforts to lift the Joplin R-8 School District out of its current financial woes.

I want to hear your suggestions on how you would do it if you were put in charge.

C. J. Huff to Board: Give me $5 million plus, then let's ask the voters for more

The same group that put together the successful 2012 Joplin R-8 bond issue appears to be getting ready for a second round.

Administration is asking the newly reconstituted board, at its first meeting, to hire the same financial adviser, George K. Baum and Company, who put together the 2012 issue and it is has already been working with the survey company, Patron Insight, which specializes in talking to school district patrons, sizing up what they might be willing to vote for, and then recommending that approach to school boards.

George K. Baum and Patron Insight worked together to put together the unsuccessful Neosho bond issue proposal recently and has worked on numerous other issues across the state.

Voters have to approve before a school district can borrow money.

As the Joplin R-8 Board of Education decides Tuesday whether to hire Baum, it also will have to deal with more than $2 million worth of change orders for the new Joplin High School/Franklin Tech, and decide on a recommendation by Superintendent C. J. Huff to pay an additional $2,489,675 for a comprehensive audio-visual system for Joplin High School/Franklin Tech.

According to the proposal, much of that will come from a $3 million EDA grant, but "our local match is an additional $750,000."

For the money, the district will receive scoreboard, sound equipment, projectors, microphones, audio and light equipment for auditorium, audio enhancement for Franklin Tech shop areas, hardware for audio and video production classes and an integrated intercom and digital signage throughout the buildings.

Afternoon, evening thundershowers this week for Joplin area

(From the National Weather Service)

315 PM CDT MON MAY 26 2014










Crowds gather for Memorial Day services in the Ozarks

A report from KOLR News

Vietnam veterans focus of KC Memorial Day ceremony

Video: President Obama delivers remarks at Arlington National Cemetery

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Driver who killed Granby woman cited for "defective equipment" twice in past six months

The woman who was driving on the wrong side of the road when she struck and killed 72-year-old Ranae Powell of Granby Monday morning has pleaded guilty to two "defective equipment" charges in the past five months in Diamond Municipal Court.

Granby Police are still investigating the accident and at this point have issued no citations to the driver, Danielle Hill, 22, Granby. Mrs. Powell and a friend were walking south along the edge of the northbound lane near the intersection of Main and Cherry streets, according to the police report, when a southbound Hyundai Tiburon driven by Hill, crossed into the northbound lane and hit Mrs. Powell from behind. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Court records indicate Hill has a long record of traffic violations with the most serious ones happening in just the past few months.

The Diamond Police arrested Hill December 10 and she pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence January 28 to "defective equipment" a catch-all term that is often used for more serious violations. She was placed on probation for six months.

And, in fact, Hill's next violation, which also resulted in her arrest by the Diamond Police Department only four days after she received the suspended sentence, ended up in a fine for an unspecified amount for "defective equipment." That violation ,however, is listed as "municipal, alcohol/drug related" on the case header.

Hill has a lengthy list of violations, beginning in 2010, according to online court records.

-November 28, 2010- Hill was stopped by the Missouri Highway Patrol for speeding, at least 20 miles over the limit and for not wearing a seat belt. She was fined $150.

-The Neosho Police stopped her for what is described as a "miscellaneous driver's license violation" on October 24, 2011, She received a suspended sentence, but whatever the violation was, it was serious enough for the judge to fine her $531.50 and to place her on probation for two years beginning January 23, 2012. Court records show she "successfully completed" the probation on January 23, 2014.

Hill has at least a half-dozen other violations, mostly for failure to register her vehicle, but the Missouri Highway Patrol has stopped her twice this year.

On February 6, she was cited for operating a motor vehicle on the highway without a valid driver's license and on March 6, she was charged with not wearing a seatbelt.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Springfield coach bound over on charge of raping, murdering 10-year-old girl

This report from KOLR's Lindsey Clein includes video, but no audio from former Pleasant Hill Middle School Coach Craig Michael Wood's since the judge would not allow it. Ms. Clein does an excellent job of describing the emotional and graphic testimony from the hearing. Wood is charged with first degree murder, kidnapping, armed criminal action, rape, and sodomy in connection with the February 18 death of 10-year-old Hailey Owens of Springfield. Wood will be arraigned 8:30 a.m. June 20, in Greene County Circuit Court.

C. J. Huff eliminates all part-time elementary literacy teachers

The major initiative this year for Joplin Bright Futures has been the "Reading Matters" program, in which parents are encouraged to build vital reading skills in children aged birth to five years old.

The following is posted on the Bright Futures website:


Have books in your home and read to your children 30 minutes a day (1,000 hours) from birth to age 5.

Build their vocabulary, help their written expression, expand their imagination, and motivate them to read more. Their school success will dramatically increase.
The road to success starts on day one!

Based on one of his most recent actions, you have to wonder if Joplin R-8 Superintendent C.J. Huff thinks the road to success ends the day children enter kindergarten.

Huff, in one of his steps to manage the district' financial crisis has reportedly eliminated the part-time reading teachers in all of the district's elementary schools for the 2014-2015 school year.

The news of the elimination of these positions comes on the heels of the elimination of clerical workers, custodians, and other classified workers at all district schools, as well as one of the police officers at Joplin High School.

At this point, no mention has been made of eliminating any of the extra layers of administration that have been added since C. J. Huff arrived in the Joplin R-8 School District in 2008, or the layers of administrators-in-training teaching/learning coaches.

The cuts have all come from those on the lower end of the pay scale.

Sources: C. J. Huff keeping second set of books

Joplin R-8 Administration sources have confirmed that Superintendent C. J. Huff has been keeping two calendars, one for the media and one that shows his actual itinerary, since July 2013 when two Joplin High School students, writing on an independent blog, revealed that Huff was receiving $8,000 per speech, plus travel expenses, for Washington Speakers Bureau appearances.

Huff went ballistic when the report first came out, one source said, and immediately set up an interview with a sympathetic media source, the Joplin Globe, which would explain all of his speaking appearances.

Most of them, according to the story by Emily Younker, were a result of a  thank-you tour as Huff went from place to place, state to state, thanking different groups for their support of Joplin following the May 22, 2011 tornado. That tour cost R-8 taxpayers $89,000, according to the article.

The Washington Speakers Bureau was dealt with in one small paragraph in which Huff said the Bureau had approached him, he had done one speech for them and that was it.

That version of events conflicted, not only with what the high school students had written on their blog, but also a recorded conversation between one of the students and a representative from the Speakers Bureau, who said Huff had spoken frequently for the Bureau.

The issue was never raised again in the Joplin Globe, nor were any speaking fees mentioned in the financial disclosure forms C. J. Huff filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission for 2011, 2012, and 2013, with the most recent one being filed earlier this month. Those forms, which Huff signed under penalty of perjury, indicate that he had no outside income during 2011 and that his only outside income during 2012 and 2013 came from a family house rental business.

After the Joplin Schools Watch blog post, administration sources indicate,Huff instructed Bright Futures Executive Director and Joplin R-8 executive director of communications and community development Kim Vann to keep a second calendar, one which was not available to the media, for his outside speaking engagements.

Not long after that, I received an e-mail from C. J. Huff asking that I not write about his speaking engagements because he had received threats and he was worried about his family's safety.

It is appearing more and more likely that R-8 Board of Education members will be asking C. J. Huff for a breakdown of how many speeches, if any, he has made for pay over the past three years, how much he was paid for those speeches, how much time he has spent away from the school district, and for good measure, they need to ask whether he received any taxpayer reimbursement for any speech that he was paid for.

And good heavens- can you imagine the taxes someone would have to pay for a series of $8,000 speeches (plus travel expenses).

It would probably be a good idea if C. J. Huff simply provided his income tax forms so all questions to be put to rest and his name could be cleared.

C. J. Huff's report to R-8 Board: We're broke; we need loans to keep going

Earlier this week, C. J. Huff, using district time and money, presented a video annual report to the school district.

Nowhere in that report did Huff mention that the Joplin R-8 School District is in serious financial trouble.

The reason, Huff will tell the Board of Education Tuesday night is that he has not yet received money from FEMA, SEMA, or from grants the district has applied for and received.

The document that accompanies this post is a screenshot of Huff's request to pursue outside financing, both short-term and long-term loans, to keep the district afloat.

Huff and Chief Financial Officer Paul Barr have signed off on a request to hire a municipal adviser, recommending George K. Baum and Company, to seek bids from financial institutions for these loans.

How much money will the district need?

Huff doesn't know, according to the document. "The amounts needed to finalize are being analyzed and developed," the report says. "They relate to expanded project scope, items we did not have before or unforeseen site conditions."

As has been noted earlier this week in the Turner Report, Huff has already began slicing jobs, including those of secretaries, custodians, technology department workers, and even a high school police officer. None of the cuts, as of yet, have come from the teaching/learning coaches, or the layers of upper and middle administration employees that have been added since C. J. Huff became superintendent in 2008.

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Nixon vows to veto student transfer bill

Claire McCaskill's Memorial Day message

(From Sen. Claire McCaskill)

My dad was a World War II veteran. When I was growing up, he made sure we understood the sacrifices of those who served, and how that service affects a family, and a community, for a lifetime.

Amid continued backlogs and troubling allegations about secret wait times and veterans who may have died awaiting care, getting this right for our veterans - more and more of whom are returning after a decade of war - is critical.

I've learned the best way to figure out whether veterans are receiving the quality of care they deserve is simply by talking to them directly. 

I'm proud that's what we've been doing in Missouri. In 2011, I launched the Veterans' Customer Satisfaction Program - a confidential secret shopper survey that gives thousands of Missouri veterans an opportunity to offer direct, meaningful feedback on the quality of service they receive.

This week, I'm announcing a new round of results from the program. The surveys - over the course of 9 reports in 3 regions - have so far found that 61 percent of veterans rated their overall experience with the VA Medical Centers as Excellent or Above Average, with another 17.4 percent rating their experience as average. When asked if they would recommend their VA facility to other veterans, an average of 78 percent have said "Yes."

These results, among others, show we've made real progress, but there is much more work to do.

I'm troubled by recent reports of alleged mistreatment and misconduct at the VA facility in Phoenix and at others around the country. Appropriately, the VA's independent inspector general is now investigating this matter. It is critical that we understand what happened and why so we can address the root cause of any problems that are uncovered. And once the investigation is done, if anyone is found to have mistreated our veterans, they should lose their jobs.

My father's service had an enormous influence on my career in public service - and in my time in the Senate, I've worked to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families. 

This Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have bravely served this country. We owe them an unknowable debt of gratitude, beginning with swift access to the quality of care they deserve. And that's a goal I won't stop fighting for.