Monday, April 27, 2015

If elections matter, Randy Steele should not be Joplin R-8 Board president

 Elections don't matter.

Joplin R-8 Board of Education member Mike Landis uttered this contemptuous comment last year when the board opted to select Shawn McGrew to replace Dawn Sticklen, though Jeff Koch had hundreds more votes than McGrew in the April 2014 election.

It has been that kind of attitude, the public be damned, this board is going to do what it wants no matter what the public thinks, that has resulted in the election of five new members in the past two years, and with the announcement earlier today that former Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts plans to withdraw his resignation, it appears that only two members remain from the board that was in place before April 2014.

The number that was replaced should have been six.

Randy Steele opened his 2014 campaign telling KZRG that the district had a spending problem. It sounded like Steele had finally seen the light and he realized C. J. Huff was leading the district on a downward spiral.

Steele's voting record had never shown any such concern about spending, but nonetheless the words had an impact.

A bigger impact probably came from the inexplicable decision of the Joplin NEA chapter to endorse Steele. Not only did it have years of Steele's votes supporting C. J. Huff's decisions without question, but it also had a candidate, David Guilford, who had been a member and leader of the NEA chapter for classified workers.

Elections do matter, though they do not always turn out the way you want.

Steele, it should be remembered, was the third top vote-getter among seven candidates. At the top was Debbie Fort, with Lynda Banwart placing second.

Board President Jeff Flowers finished a weak fifth and C. J .Huff clone Shawn McGrew sixth. The voters clearly wanted change even in April 2014.

Think about the things that have happened in the past year. Here are just a few:

-The district spent millions in a frantic effort to get Joplin High School open by August. That has resulted in a lawsuit and the P1 company filed plenty of documents in its countersuit showing that it was full speed ahead, no matter what it cost, during the last few months before the high school opened.

-The district has had to borrow $74 million to stay afloat as it awaits FEMA and SEMA payments that are not guaranteed. Yet during that same time, it was adding millions in overtime and extra costs to get the new building ready, adding the infamous $8 million in "might-as-well' spending for frills, and continuing to spend unnecessary money on big and small items alike, ranging from the more than $115,000 that has been spent on a Common Core consultant, the trips to Las Vegas and Atlanta that are included in the board bills for Tuesday night, and the couple of hundred that was spent on a party for the former technology director when she left.

-As C. J. Huff pushed for the high school to open on time, he told the public that the building had not failed a city inspection until he was confronted with a copy of the inspection which clearly had the word "failed" stamped on it. After that, he said he didn't know that they graded those inspections. This was not the first time C. J. Huff had gone through this process. He just wasn't used to people checking to see if he what he was saying was the truth.

-C. J. Huff mounted a vicious smear campaign against candidate Jennifer Martucci during the last days of this April's campaign. One of those who liked Huff's Facebook attack was Randy least until he had second thoughts and removed his "like," apparently not realizing there are things called screenshots.

-C. J. Huff allowed a teachers' professional development meeting to be used for a campaign video, an act which appears to be a clear violation of board policy. Among the bills to be submitted to the board Tuesday night are bills amounting to $32,674.38 for "contracted services" for "adult program advertising" to Storm Stanley, the same ;public relations and advertising firm that did that controversial Anne Sharp video.

-In the haste to open the high school building on time, the Huff Administration installed gymnasium seats that were the wrong color. These were replaced at an expense to the taxpayers of $100,000.

-Teachers continue to leave and every few months C. J. Huff has another implausible explanation as to why this is happening. First, it was the tornado, then it was the sexist concept that the little women were having to leave because their husbands found jobs in other communities, and finally, Huff insisted that some teaches just weren't cut out to teach in Joplin.

-A state audit ripped the district for its low reserves, its reckless spending in the rush toward completing the high school, its symbiotic relationship with Bright Futures USA, one in which the not-for-profit was not charged a cent for rent or utilities, and for hiring unqualified people for top level positions.

- The Joplin School District has had three lawsuits filed against it this year and settled another one with a former employee who accused Buildings Program Director Mike Johnson of sexual harassment and Huff of firing him after he reported that harassment.

During Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, some important, normally just symbolic votes, will take place. A board president will be elected. For those who watch the meetings on Jet 14, this position appears to be ceremonial.

In fact, it is much, much more. The board president works with the superintendent to create the agenda for the meetings. In the past, the board presidents have buried costly spending and controversial proposals on the consent agenda, items that are not discussed by the board for public consumption, but simply voted on as one item.

Control of the agenda is also critical because of the people who have been left out. Current board rules require those who wish to speak to the board to register in advance, a reasonable request, but to limit their remarks to items that are on the agenda, something that is not so reasonable. The public needs to have access to its elected board. The Board of Education would be wise to adopt the practice of the Joplin City Council, which allows people to be added to the agenda with the vote of the council if they are not able to register in time, or if something of importance arises.It also does not limit their topics as the Joplin R-8 Board does.

Under the current system, which was put into place during the first year Randy Steele was on the board (the same time C. J. Huff arrived), all information that is provided to the board comes through C. J. Huff or his administrative team, board members are discouraged from addressing the concerns of the public. Instead of being accessible to the people, the board tells those people to go through a series of hoops, a process that is frustrating and usually does not achieve the results the people are wanting. Steele has served as president under these rules for one year.

The people have shown that they want a change from business as usual. They elected Debbie Fort, Lynda Banwart, Jeff Koch, Jennifer Martucci, and Lane Roberts to provide that change.

Two board members,  Randy Steele and Debbie Fort, have submitted their names for board president. Tomorrow, we will find out which one will set the board agenda for the next 12 months. If Steele is selected, that would certainly be an indication that at least four board members are not concerned about what their constituents want.

The public will find out tomorrow which board members think elections do matter.


Anonymous said...

Turner is correct on all points of this powerfully written post. Steele took over after Micklethwaite left. He did nothing to stop the spending, traveling, firing, teacher flight, and excesses of power. We have no reason to believe that he will do a better job this time. He has become firmly entrenched in Cj Huff's camp, and apparently he is willing to risk what is left of his reputation to stay there. We don't need Steele for president of the Board. We need a change, which as Turner pointed out, is why we have voted as we have the last two elections. We will hope Roberts keeps that in mind as he casts his vote. I've given up on Banwart. She just can't do the right thing, bless her little soul.

Anonymous said...

Why should a board member, who has little regard to public interest , be President?
Why should a board member, who can't find 5 minutes of his time to reply to community member letters, be President?
Why should anyone trust this board member after repeated failings to get this district back on track ....

This debacle needs to stop

Anonymous said...

After reading several posts, I am somewhat confused. The often quoted "elections don't matter" would be accurate if Mr. Landis was referring to whom the BOE could vote as its president. The members have every right to select any member, regardless of that member's vote total in an election. Otherwise, the top vote getter would simply be installed on that basis: no election necessary.
Having said that, if one infers a message from the electorate, as demonstrated by Mr. Turner, then Mr. Landis would be ill advised to ignore that message, If his comment was intended to express his right to vote for any presidential candidate he prefers, he is correct. If he believes voters' wishes are insignificant, next April will determine if that view is also correct.

Anonymous said...

if you don't have kids enrolled in this district or your kids are no longer in school you should not be on the board

Anonymous said...

Mr. Steele, Mr. Landis and Mrs. Banwart,

Your elected position requires that you honor the wishes of the voters, raise the integrity of the community, foster academic success among our students, and protect our schools from financial instability. During your time on the school board you have lost site of this solemn obligation. Instead, you have placed the interests of the superintendent above those of our students, teachers, parents and community. Can you honestly in your hearts say that our school district has been heading in the right direction these past 8 years? The community has told you that it has not. The State Auditor has told you it has not. The departure of so many teachers to neighboring school districts has told you that it has not.

Yet, for some reason, you continue to show your primary allegiance to the superintendent. Anne Sharp did the same. While Anne is well liked in the community, the community also sent a message that she had lost her way and it was time for a new direction. A direction where students, teachers and parents come first, and the superintendent a distant fourth. If you continue on your current path, your reputation and status in the community will meet the same fate. Is your loyalty to the superintendent worth that? Would the superintendent return your loyalty in kind? If past experience is any indicator, the answer is clearly NO.

Your tenure on the board has harmed this community. It has harmed our schools. It has harmed our students' performance. It has harmed our teachers. And it has harmed the reputation of the board and its individual members in the eyes of the public. Now is a critical time. The public wants change. Our schools need change. You have one opportunity to show this community why we put you on the board. That opportunity is to allow Debbie Fort to serve as president of the board. We will all be watching. Please do not let us down -- again. Please do not harm this community further.

Anonymous said...

Lynda Banwart appears to have the swing vote and, therefore, all the power when it comes to deciding who will be the new BoE president. She has shown a glimmer of independent thinking recently so one can only hope she will continue to do so with her vote.

Anonymous said...

You simply don't understand what the BOE is all about do you? If you have an educators background, it doesn't matter whether or not your children are still in school. If they have school age children, yes, those children should be enrolled in this district.