Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Bright Futures plan: The only thing missing is magic beans
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.