(From Joplin resident and former Joplin R-8 Board of Education candidate Hal Robertson)
The Joplin School Board race is an interesting thing to watch these days. Having entered and exited the race, I’m still very interested in the outcome and, as in any election, there will be winners and losers. My largest fear is that the real losers could be Joplin voters, taxpayers and students.
The race is complicated this year for several reasons. First, there are three available seats, but they’re not equal. Two of the seats are for full, three-year terms but the third seat is for just one year. Voters will choose one of the three candidates vying for the one-year seat. The remaining three-year seats have some issues.
In the beginning, there were a total of four candidates for the three-year seats - I was one and had to drop out of the race. That left incumbent Anne Sharp, newcomer Jeff Koch and former Joplin Chief-of-Police, Lane Roberts. However, Roberts was recently appointed as the head of the Department of Public Safety for the State of Missouri and will be unable to serve on the Joplin Board of Education. To complicate matters further, his name will still appear on the ballot, since the candidates were finalized and certified at the end of January. This may cause some confusion, but it also provides a unique opportunity. More on that in a minute.
Another complication is the current state of affairs with our existing Board of Education. After spending millions upon millions of dollars they didn’t have (and then borrowing millions to pay back millions, with millions still owed), the district’s bank account is fading fast. When asked about this issue, the administration and a majority of the current Board start singing the theme song to the Lego Movie: Everything is Awesome!
Further complicating things is the recent State Audit Report on the Joplin Board of Education. A thorough read shows embarrassing mismanagement of funds and a general carelessness about the handling of resources and the law. In a very real sense, they got a “D” on their report card. When asked about this issue, the administration and the majority of the current Board continue singing the theme song to the Lego Movie: Everything is Awesome!
In addition, and contrary to popular spin, our overall academic scores are falling. While we can argue about the metrics of standardized tests and graduation, the simple fact is that Joplin Schools were ranked 373 out of 504 in Missouri last year. When asked why, the administration and the majority of the current Board keep singing Everything is Awesome!
Finally, there is the question of whether our current administration is doing the job they were hired to do and whether we can continue down the road we find ourselves on. When confronted with this question, you guessed it, Everything is Awesome!
For me, the worst part is that our incumbent candidate and two of the other candidates know the song by heart and sing it every chance they get. Just the tiniest bit of research tells me that everything is not awesome in Joplin schools and I believe, if we elect the singers, we lose.
That makes two candidates a clear choice for me: Jeff Koch and Jennifer Martucci. In the recent candidate forum held at MSSU, both Koch and Martucci displayed a working knowledge of our school system and a clear view of our current circumstances while the others waffled. These two have students in our schools and have jumped through all the parental hoops. They know what they’re talking about.
That brings us to the final three-year seat. If you believe, as I do, that we can’t afford to continue with the policies of the past and that 15 years is more than enough time for any person to sit on the board, we need an alternative. Believe it or not, that means we have to vote for - and elect - Lane Roberts. Yes, I just said he can’t serve, but electing Lane Roberts for the final three-year seat triggers a special provision in the election law. If an elected official cannot serve, the Board is required to name a replacement for a one-year term.
This one-year appointment accomplishes several things. First, the new board - if it includes Koch and Martucci - will look and vote very differently that our current board. Second, there is at least a chance that the appointee won’t know the words to Everything is Awesome. Finally, regardless of who is chosen, they are only guaranteed one year in office, limiting their long-term impact and influence.
Is it a loophole? Yes. Is it a political maneuver? Yes. Is it the only way to break the current cycle? While there are no guarantees, this looks like our last window of opportunity in 2015. Koch, Martucci and Roberts. It’s a way forward and the ticket I’ll be voting for on April 7.