Wednesday, September 09, 2015
It's time to shut down Bright Futures USA
It works in Carthage, Webb City, Neosho, East Newton, Carl Junction and in the other area communities that have started Bright Futures programs.
The only place it has not worked has been in the school district where it started.
In Joplin, it served as a tool to promote the ambition and quest for personal glory of C. J. Huff. Instead of a tool to promote children, it became a bloated bureaucracy, continually increasing its hold on the school system.
We have been told it is not taking a penny from the taxpayers because the money all comes from donors. Perhaps those donors would be better off looking at how other school districts are operating Bright Futures.
For the most part, neighboring school districts are not hiring full-time employees for Bright Futures and then hiring help for those full-time employees. They are definitely not paying rent or utilities for families. They did not pay for teachers at certain schools to receive massages at a spa prior to the April 2012 bond issue election so those teachers would be more inclined to parrot the administration's message and support what many believed were overpriced buildings designed more to promote top administrators and board of education members than to promote education.
The Beginnings of Bright Futures USA
The problems with Bright Futures Joplin were compounded by the creation of Bright Futures USA. From the beginning to this very moment, there is much confusion in the Joplin R-8 School District about what difference, if any, there is between the local and the national Bright Futures organizations.
Until recently, Bright Futures USA operated out of the R-8 Administration Building. Though it was supposedly a separate entity from Bright Futures Joplin, it did not pay a cent for rent or utilities and its employees were used almost interchangeably with those of the local Bright Futures.
At least one employee was hired to work at Bright Futures USA, was told that the paycheck would come from the R-8 School District, and then ended up doing tasks for both the local and national organizations.
That employee, as well as others, was also directed to perform duties that come nowhere close to the mission of meeting the needs of children. Bright Futures employees were assigned to prepare entry forms promoting C. J. Huff for various awards, some of which he received, including being Missouri's Superintendent of the Year. The awards he received, many of which came from entry forms filled out on the taxpayers' dime, are prominently listed on Huff's Washington Speakers Bureau biography page. Bright Futures employees also spent time seeking Joplin area business and political leaders to write letters promoting Huff for those honors. In cases where the leaders did not have the time nor the inclination to write the letters, some were provided templates for letters to which they could sign their names.
The plan to take Bright Futures national began only a few months after the April 2010 creation of the local program. Documents were filed with the Missouri Secretary of State's office in November 2010 and BFUSA began the next year, with a board of directors that included Chairman Jerrod Hogan, later the head of Rebuild Joplin, which started as a Bright Futures USA project, and also a leader in the Joplin Progress Committee.
Also on the board were Nancy Good, Troy Hill, Bo Lee, Dan Mitchell, Gary Burton, R-8 Board member Mike Landis, C. J. Huff, John Joines, MSSU President Bruce Speck, Bryan Vowels, Julia Skidmore, and the woman who was named executive director of BFUSA, Huff's director of community relations Kim Vann.
The choice of Vann to head the national organization was a curious one.
Only six years earlier, Vann had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and less than three weeks before the Joplin Tornado, she was served with papers at the administration building on 15th Street for a lawsuit claiming non-payment on an account.Her court date was initially set for May 23, but the court was closed that day due to the tornado. A settlement was eventually reached and the case was dismissed June 6, 2011, according to online court records.
The bankruptcy was filed April 21, 2005, by Mrs. Vann and her husband, Joel, in U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri. Court records indicate the couple had $14,553 in assets and $41,750 in debts.
Most of that debt was of the credit card variety, according to the court documents, with the Vanns owing $41,750 on nine credit card accounts and their car payment:
-$12,742 to Capital One Auto Finance
-$7,040 to Bank of America credit card debt
-$1,043 to Capital One, credit card debt
-$6,668 to Chase, credit card debt
-$8,950 to Citibank, credit card debt
-$1,241 to Commerce Bank, credit card debt
-$9,823 to Discover, credit card debt
-$2,085 to J. C. Penney, credit card debt
-$3,736 to Providian, credit card debt
-$364 to Wal-Mart, credit card debt
Court records show that the bankruptcy was declared despite the Vanns making close to $60,000 in 2004, including Mrs. Vann's $50,000+ Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce salary.
In retrospect, the choice of Vann makes much more sense. She was one of the few employees whose primary loyalty was to Huff rather than Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer. Bright Futures employees of that era have told the Turner Report that Vann paid little attention to the day-to-day operation of Bright Futures USA and Bright Futures Joplin, as most of her time was spent serving as Huff's trusty right hand, including accompanying the superintendent on the speeches he gave at schools that were considering joining Bright Futures and at many of the speeches he gave on his "hero" tour, across the U. S.
After the creation of Bright Futures USA, Vann received $20,000 annually from the not-for-profit in addition to her R-8 salary, but despite her lofty title, the decisions on the direction of BFUSA were made by C. J. Huff.
BFUSA had other projects at its inception besides spreading the gospel of Bright Futures to other school districts. Though its involvement was questioned, the organization took charge of selling bricks from the destroyed Joplin High School to raise money for Operation Rising Eagle, the push toward rebuilding the district after the tornado.
BFUSA also was initially in charge of the Rebuild Joplin project. Since it also started the Rebuild Joplin website to direct those wanting to help Joplin to places where they could donate or be of service, the confusion started with people not sure exactly where their money was going. After paying out more than $60,000 to conclude the brick project and to turn over Rebuild Joplin to the St. Bernard Project, BFUSA began devoting all of its efforts to convincing districts in the area and surrounding states to form Bright Futures chapters.
What Purpose Does Bright Futures USA Serve?
When Dr. Norm Ridder took the reins of the Joplin R-8 School District following C. J. Huff's resignation, he presented a plan to gather information about what Joplin wanted for its school district. After December 1, he said, he will produce a one-page plan that can be followed to lead the district where taxpayers, parents, students, and teachers want it to go.
A one-page plan.
Though it was not intended that way, what Ridder is doing shows the folly of continuing to support Bright Futures USA. The Missouri Legislature has appropriated $400,000 over the past three years to keep BFUSA afloat.
You have to give them credit. C. J. Huff and Kim Vann convinced our elected representatives to pay $400,000 to spread a plan which could have easily been put on one piece of paper- with plenty of room left over.
The basic ideas of Bright Futures are as follows:
1. Combining the "time, talent, and treasure" of the community to help the children.
2. Combining schools, with the business, civic, and faith-based communities.
3. Answering the needs of children within 24 hours
4. Using social media to bring the community together.
If it had not been for the Joplin Tornado, this idea would have drawn attention, but would never have received the publicity it has received. Schools would not be clamoring to pay $1,200 to form their own chapters and then following the Bright Futures format far more successfully than it has been followed in Joplin.
Why couldn't this information have been placed in a book,with the proceeds going to support Bright Futures Joplin?
Wouldn't it have been better to create a website with frequent updates?
Instead, Huff and Vann frequently used workdays to visit school districts and help them form Bright Futures organizations. Huff used more than four weeks of workdays in the 2014 calendar year to make speeches either for the Bright Futures USA organization, or as part of his hero tour, with his speeches always including a lengthy soliloquy to the role Bright Futures had played in saving Joplin.
The fig leaf was snatched away this week with KOAM's coverage of C. J. Huff being hired to work for Bright Futures USA. Webb City R-7 Superintendent Tony Rossetti resigned from the BFUSA Board to object to using money to give Huff a full-time job. Jesse DeGonia of Webb City Bright Futures noted that many of the things Bright Futures does were being done in the district before the organization was created (something that is also true in Joplin).
Even more potent in the KOAM report were the quotes from BFUSA Board Member Mark Quinn:
"This is about money. We can’t survive. This organization is not gonna grow if we don't have the funds to do so.” And he emphasized,
“What a shame those people of Webb City who have spent so much time building Bright Futures organization up and it's going to be hijacked by somebody who doesn't understand that that's the kind of thing you have to do to grow an organization.”
Quinn is right about one thing. It is about the money. It has always been about the money. Bright Futures USA can't survive without money.
Quinn does not realize what it is becoming more and more apparent to the people of the Joplin area.
Bright Futures USA does not need to grow. It does not need to exist.
(More to come, including what should be done with Bright Futures Joplin)
(Photo: C. J. Huff and Kim Vann spend a workday in Hazelwood, helping that school district form a Bright Futures chapter.)