Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bright Futures plan: The only thing missing is magic beans

One thing became crystal clear after watching the Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.

C. J. Huff's loyalists on the Bright Futures Advisory Board will do anything they can to keep Bright Futures from being accountable to our elected officials (and therefore to the taxpayers).

As far as the operation of Bright Futures is concerned, the Advisory Board has never been anything but window dressing receiving reports during its infrequent meetings about the success stories of the organization and statistics about how many student needs had been met.

That is not to say that board members have not been personally involved with Bright Futures. In many cases they have. But the direction of the organization had always been under the control of C. J. Huff.

And perhaps it still is.

The Advisory Board's sudden prominence coincides with Huff's departure as superintendent. Now that he is gone, the board has decided it is time to turn over control of the organization and the taxpayers' money to an outside entity, while leaving the day-to-day operation of Bright Futures  under the control of Huff's handpicked Advisory Board and the coordinator and assistant coordinator who are currently in place.

The only thing missing is magic beans.

The R-8 Board should reject any plan that allows Bright Futures to continue operating the way it has been. Consider what the board learned Tuesday night:

-561 students meet the requirement of being "food insecure kiddos" (Coordinator Melissa Winston's phrase, not mine) but the decision was made to provide snack packs for only 277 of those, the ones considered most "food insecure." Those who were "moderate food insecure" or who had "low food insecurity" had to do without.

-At the same time that 284 students were being rejected for snack packs, Bright Futures was paying rent and utilities for selected families.

-As of June 30, Bright Futures Joplin had $446,365 in its account, plenty of money to take care of its basic mission, but also enough, apparently, to cover the $35,000 salary of an assistant director once the grant for that position ran out. Thirty five thousand dollars will buy a lot of snack packs and/or meet a lot of student needs.

-The budget shown by CFO Paul Barr indicated Bright Futures spent $20,867 on student needs during 2014-2015. When you throw in benefits for Winston and her assistant, it appears the taxpayers are paying four times in salaries what Bright Futures is providing for student needs. And that does not include $8,890 that was listed for "operational expenses."

-Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder noted that Bright Futures needed to narrow its focus. While board member Gary Nodler seemed to indicate in a diplomatic fashion that the organization needed to get out of the business of paying for rent and utilities, the organization's impact has also been diffused by such feel good programs as Operation College Bound and the recent reading initiative. The idea of Bright Futures selling caramel apples so that elementary students can be taken on a visit to college campuses is an unnecessary distraction. Many of the people who I have seen praising Operation College Bound the most are those who already know the value of a college education and have every intention of making sure their children go. The trips, however, do not do a single thing to remove the poverty barriers that keep families from even considering sending their children to college. As for the reading initiative, it should be remembered that this was started after the Huff Administration eliminated the jobs of all part-time reading instructors.

During last night's meeting, R-8 board members appeared to be staunchly opposed to the idea of removing the hundreds of thousands of dollars from the district treasury and turning it over to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. This has nothing to do with any lack of trust in the foundation. The foundation has a long and honorable record and it provided millions to Joplin after the tornado.

The board was clearly opposed to that idea and its attorney, Norman Rouse, also noted that the money had been given to the school district and should remain under the school district's control. "Abdicating that responsibility is not something I would advise," Rouse said.

Nor should the board turn over the operation of Bright Futures to an advisory board that is unaccountable to anyone. While those on the board are certainly well meaning, allowing Bright Futures to continue its rogue operation would be a disservice to the taxpayers, and more importantly, to the children of the Joplin R-8 School District.

Without school board approval, Bright Futures has already sent applications to parents asking them for private information about their family lives and incomes.

Nor did the board ever approve maintaining an assistant coordinator at a cost to the taxpayers of $35,000 after the grant money ran out.

Bright Futures does not answer to anyone.

For the past five years, Bright Futures has been operated as an untouchable fiefdom within the R-8 School District. It is time to turn the page on this reminder of the excesses of the C. J. Huff years. The Board of Education should maintain control, follow the example set by Webb City, East Newton, and McDonald County and sever ties with Bright Futures USA, and move toward a laser-like focus on meeting student needs, If an advisory board is needed, it should be one that is chosen by the elected Board of Education and not one that was handpicked by the former superintendent.


Anonymous said...

Back pack program has been cut down year after year. I'm not sure how Melissa sleeps at night denying possible needy children food while drawing a decent salary out of same pot. Her and her husband tho have really fat mouths that need to be fed.

Anonymous said...

Here is a question.

If BF took the salary (and benefits?) paid to Melissa Fort and bought snack packs, how many snack packs could have been bought?

Anonymous said...

There were several comments made during that part of the meeting that gave me hope for the district. The first was Dr. Fort's question about why we have hungry children if we have $400,000 in the bank. The second was the commentary by Nodler about the legality of the transfer of funds. For way too long we have seen R8 officials just do as they please and figure out how to cover it up later. The BoE was way too happy to turn a blind eye. The third was Dr. Ridder's assertion that Bright Futures does too much, and that rent and stipends should not be the focus but that health and hygiene should be. I couldn't agree more. One has to wonder why feeding 200+ students would be a bragging point for Ms. Winston in the face of such need. I would hang my head in shame.

As for the caramel apples, it has been pointed out lately that pre-made caramel apples can be a source for listeria and parents have been discouraged from buying them or letting children eat them after trick-or-treating. They also are just unhealthy as most children stop eating when the coating runs out and throw the apple away. So Joplin has kids selling them? I guess Bright Futures isn't too well informed about current issues impacting the health of children. Having the children do fundraisers for a school activity they did not volunteer to take on seems rather strange, also. If CJ Huff has so many sources, let him come up with the money. There are too many unethical and wasteful practices at Bright Futures to turn them loose with hundreds of thousands of dollars without direct supervision of the Board of Education.

Anonymous said...

Caramel apples + BF = follow the money?

Is there a connection or two that could explain why BF loves the caramel apples? Who is who when it comes to cousins and inlaws and fellow church pew sitters? Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

All great points Randy.
The parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, teachers and small businesses stop being involved in these kinds of organizations when they become a 'business'. When they become about generating money for overhead and making people look good. The apathetic masses (as we've been called) can smell that from a mile away. I want that $20 I gave going toward food and shoes that need replaced and gloves for kids who stand and wait for busses on cold mornings.
Yes, someone has to lead. And? perhaps not? for free? (but, perhaps yes for free) .... If your organizational goals look more like those of the Red Cross than they do of the Salvation Army? You're going to struggle in SW-MO. We're a common sense group of people.

Anonymous said...

If the district was serious about the implementation and success of a reading initiative, you'd think the first thing they would do is take their elementary librarians out of the computer labs, where they have been unsuccessfully teaching keyboarding skills (for the last six years), and put them back in their libraries where they can teach much-needed library and research skills, as well as THE LOVE OF READING. Novel idea.

Anonymous said...

Amen, 11:47 and 2:49--you both said exactly what I was thinking.

Anonymous said...

So BF Joplin, according to the figures they provided have spent 189,000 over a period were they only raised 98,000 - umm can say unsustainable?? This is without the new bloated salary of Melissa's assistant's new pay. The Joplin BOE has a responsibility to the donors to all dollars donated to the school district and should not transfer these funds out of the district. If they want more transparency, then just do it themselves. Handing it over to the CF of the Ozarks will not solve this problem. Melissa just wants the money out of Joplin School's so she can better secure her position.... I say Feed the kids that you are neglecting. That is what those dollars were donated for! Not for you and an assistant to have large salaries and travel everywhere and have tons of expenses. Shame on you BF Joplin and Melissa Winston!

Anonymous said...

561 students meet the requirement of being "food insecure kiddos" (Coordinator Melissa Winston's phrase, not mine) but the decision was made to provide snack packs for only 277 of those, the ones considered most "food insecure." Those who were "moderate food insecure" or who had "low food insecurity" had to do without.

This is the most sickening thing I have read about BF. What is wrong with these people? Cut all connections immediately. Maybe then the moderate and low level HUNGRY kids can have a flipping snack. Disgusting...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if you had listened to the rest of the conversation you would have heard that they have made changes to the program to create capacity so that all of the children will be taken care of. It might also be wise to consider that Snack Packs are not the only solution to hunger in Joplin.

Anonymous said...

Donors did not send money for high salaries and gimmicks to grab more cash. The money was given to meet the needs of children in the wake of the storm. Donors' generosity shouldn't be abused or misused.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Wow, she does bring up a good point. I wonder what Webb City, McDonald County, or any other district handle the jobs? Or would that be out of Randy's line of fire?

Sometimes Turner's hatred of Joplin Schools blinds him.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... Folks are unreasonable because they want the money used for what it was intended: student needs?

Anonymous said...

10:24 AM: Her point is entirely irrelevant to the discussion, which is about who Bright Futures Joplin is spending much, much more money on overhead than benefits to the people it is in theory helping. We don't question so much the pay Winston's assistant is getting (although "as "Dusty Roads" notes it's a pittance for someone with the claimed level of education and experience, then again, as the following commentator notes, when you add benefits it's going to be a lot more), we question the need for the assistant in the first place.

If this Anonymous commentator is correct about a slide presented at the last school board meeting, 51% of the money is spent on overhead (obscene for a charity), 38% for "School programs and services", and a miserly 11% for "Student needs", including snack packs for less than half of the "food insecure kiddos", a telling phrase from Winston.

The level of moral depravity displayed here makes one think of how Rita Hunter profited on the county's most vulnerable; this example is not quite as bad, but still downright evil.

Anonymous said...

I for one don't think $26,000 plus benefits is too much for someone with a Master's and 20 years experience--let's keep that person and fire the inexperienced and financially incompetent Melissa Winston, instead.

Anonymous said...

The generally incompetent Winston, as we've seen in her ridiculous social media campaign for Bright Futures Joplin.

Which actually makes sense, the Huff pattern was to hire or promote a person solely on the basis of loyalty to him, and hire an assistant to do most of the work.

In awe. said...

Absolutely right!
Your level of responsibility and amount of work are definitely not commensurate with your reported take home pay. You deserve way more of my donations than those filthy urchins.