The last thing Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff wanted to see was former Irving Elementary Principal Debbie Fort on the board of education and he told that to anyone who was still listening to him.
She was out to ruin him, to destroy everything he had built in the school district and she did not like him. How could anyone not like C. J. Huff? After all, it was his vision that increased the graduation rates (the community never cared about students graduating until he arrived), helped provide clothes and food for the poor through his Bright Futures initiative (before he arrived, children were allowed to remain naked and starving) and he had his picture taken with every kindergarten student.
What was there not to love?
Right before the election, .C. J. Huff paid a visit to the Jasper County Collector's office where he checked on any records having to do with Debbie Fort. She had to be hiding something.
She received more votes than any other candidate.
"I can't work with that woman," C. J. told a board member, who has been a solid supporter of the superintendent since he arrived six years ago.
"You are going to have to work with her, C. J. You need to man up."
As he heard those words coming from an unexpected source, C. J. Huff's face turned beet red. This was not how things were supposed to work out. The days when he was the hero of the Joplin Tornado seemed like they took place in another lifetime.
What was supposed to be the crowning achievement for C. J. Huff- the opening of his 21st Century Joplin High School has turned out to be a nightmare.
Several weeks ago, during a planning session for the unveiling of Joplin High School, the biggest worry among the group, which consisted mostly of upper administration and the school's ever-growing public relations team, was what they could do to draw national attention back to the school district for the first time since President Barack Obama spoke at the 2012 JHS graduation.
Could they possibly bring the president back here for the opening of the new high school- America's high school as C. J. Huff had called it?
The biggest concern among a few of the Huff team attending the meeting was that the president would probably opt to go to Moore, Oklahoma, instead, for the opening of that tornado-stricken community's elementary school to replace the one that was destroyed, along with the lives of seven schoolchildren. Moore was going to be stiff competition.
Now, the idea of Barack Obama returning to Joplin for the opening of the high school is about the furthest thing from anyone's mind. Even if the president could be convinced to come, no one can give him an exact date. The opening of school has already been pushed back a couple of weeks and new problems continue to crop up on a regular basis at the construction site.
And the cost of the building. Though in his dealings with the media, C. J. Huff confidently proclaims that the cost of the project will be covered through a combination of FEMA money,donations, and of course, the $62 million bond issue, the largest in school district history, he has already confided to a small number that he does not know how the district is going to pay for the total cost.
It's just a temporary thing, he insists. After all, there are always more matching government grants available and there's always the FEMA money- it will arrive some time soon.
The only problem for C. J. Huff has been that the spending spree the district has been on, one that started even before the tornado, has finally come to the public's attention. The public has been made aware of the extravagant and frequent out-of-state trips, the added layers of costly administrators and people whose jobs are to promote the Joplin Schools and C. J. Huff.
The awareness has increased that many jobs, started originally with grants, have remained long after the grants are gone, supported by money which was originally intended for the classroom.
How in the world, people are wondering, could the Huff Administration ask for more than $10 million in the federal Race to the Top application, get rejected, and still add nearly everything that was on its wish list? How in the world could that application have included a notation that less than six months after passing a $62 million bond issue by only 45 votes, the administration was already readying a tax levy increase proposal?
The donations have dwindled and the spending problem, one noted by successful school board candidates Randy Steele and Debbie Fort during the recent campaign, is becoming more and more pronounced. It is taking longer and longer for local companies to get paid by the school district and some are refusing to give the district credit.
The Huff Administration has already been cutting corners on the construction projects and is preparing to jettison employees to make money. The casualties are not going to include the teaching/learning coaches or the additional administrators and public relations staff, or those associated with Bright Futures. Janitorial and secretarial jobs are on the chopping block.
More money is being saved by the decision to start all schools late and trim 10 days off the 2014-2015 school calendar, even though there is no reason to delay the start of school for elementary or middle school students. By cutting 10 days off the schedule for everyone, the district will not have to pay janitorial staff, bus drivers, clerical workers, or cooks.
More money will be saved with the departure of a number of experienced veteran teachers who will be numbered among the more than 100 expected to leave the school district at the end of the year- the third consecutive year that the number leaving has been at the triple-digit level. For the most part, the teachers will replaced by first or second-year teachers, who do not make nearly as much money.
At this point, Huff has not decided whether this year's departures are due to delayed reaction from the tornado, spouses taking jobs in other communities, or if they are simply teachers who cannot live up to his lofty expectations.
More money will be saved by not replacing some of the teachers and increasing class size.
In one of her first acts as the new president of the Joplin R-8 Board of Education Annie Sharp put newcomer Debbie Fort in charge of school finances. Closer scrutiny will be paid to the high-spending ways of the Huff Administration, ways that had previously been rubber-stamped by a never-ending series of 7-0 board votes.
Debbie Fort looking over his shoulder is just one of the problems C. J. Huff faces. His 7-0 lock on votes is likely gone forever. Not only has Mrs. Fort been skeptical of many of Huff's initiatives, but other board members are starting to question him and are also beginning to doubt his word.
They have been made aware over the past few months of information that the superintendent deliberately kept from them
-They were not told about lawsuits against the school district until they were revealed by KOAM or the Turner Report.
-They were never told that former tech employee Ronny Justin Myers has pornographic photos of 10 Joplin High School girls on his laptop, pictures he obtained through his job supervising the student computers.
-They have not been told about the full extent of the financial situation facing the school district.
And now they are beginning to question some of the directions in which Huff has guided them in the past.
Looking for another job?
C. J. Huff denies it. "I didn't apply for the Springfield job," he says.
He says it, but no one believes him and they have good reason for it. Sources in Springfield tell the Turner Report that while Huff's resume looks impressive, it was negative information about him from some of those who were questioned in Joplin that cost him a higher-paying job in a bigger school district.
And while his name and resume are circulating, he not the hot property he was in the year following the tornado.
Time is running out for a man who seemed to be on top of the world only 12 months ago.
When he arrives at the fortress at 32nd and Duquesne each day, C. J. Huff finds himself surrounded by people who were put into place by departed Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer who still holds their loyalty. Some of her people have already left what they see as a sinking ship. Others have indicated they will not be there much longer.
The principals have little or no connection to Huff, who left all of the hiring decisions to Besendorfer while he concentrated on Bright Futures, the graduation rate, his speeches about his role in saving Joplin before and after the tornado, and his nearly $100,000 thank-you tour.
When Huff has made a decision concerning the principals, his reasoning is questionable. Administration sources tell the Turner Report that Huff practically put his own job on the line to stop the board from firing East Middle School Principal Bud Sexson.
His main reason for going to bat for Sexson?
Multiple sources tell the Turner Report Sexson would already be gone, except Huff blew his top when he read in the Turner Report that Sexson might possibly be fired.
Because of Huff's support, which was questioned, but ultimately supported by board members, the district stuck with a principal who has no support in his building, has driven off many of the veteran teachers, and has been the subject of formal and informal complaints.
Administration sources have indicated that Huff blames all of his problems on other people, with the people at the top of the list being Debbie Fort and the person who is writing this post.
Huff, always the martyr, has told multiple people he cannot understand what Debbie Fort has against him and has said, "I don't know why Randy Turner is after me."
He has spent considerable taxpayer money trying to find out who the sources are for Turner Report posts, most of which he can quote verbatim, including the headlines and what days they were posted.
The people surrounding him do not know which C. J. Huff they will see when he comes to work, but the frequency of his shouting at visitors, especially those he feels are against him, has been increasing.
Administration sources say the most welcome sight at the Administration Building is the arrival of a television reporter.
Publicity always brings a smile to C. J. Huff.