Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Larry Masters lawsuit and why it was important

The dismissal of former Royal Heights Principal Larry Masters' lawsuit against Joplin R-8 administrators was a far more important story than the Joplin Globe would have its readers believe.

It took the area's newspaper of record a full week to get around to covering the story, it was buried on an inside page, and if readers did not read the Turner Report posts, they had no idea of what was going on.

Why was the lawsuit important?

The demotion of Larry Masters after he had already been offered a contract for the 2010-2011 school year offered a perfect example of the way business was conducted by the C. J. Huff/Angie Besendorfer administration.

When Huff or Besendorfer wanted someone gone, they left the dirty work to others. People on the administration team were usually the ones who leveled the initial complaint, often backed by the so-called teaching/learning coaches.

First, a plausible reason is created, then when that plausible reason does not hold up, another one is created.

When I read the petition when Masters filed his lawsuit the first time, I could see the same pattern that was used in my case and also used against others.

The initial lawsuit was dismissed after Judge David Dally ruled that nothing could be used that was brought up in a closed session. Masters' attorney, Raymond Lampert of Springfield, claimed that Besendorfer, who was the only defendant in the first action, lied about Masters' character in the closed session.

A deposition had been scheduled for Jim Kimbrough, who was on the Board of Education at the time. What Kimbrough would have said, we may never know. What we do know is that the Huff Administration was so concerned that it had former Board Attorney John Nicholas, now a Jasper County Circuit Court judge intervene and ask that he be allowed the attend the deposition, where presumably he could object any time he heard Kimbrough begin to talk about something that occurred in closed session.

Thanks to Dally, the deposition never took place. Dally offered no written opinion explaining why closed sessions were off limits. What the decision did was to hand the Huff Administration carte blanche to continue a process of misleading a board that from all appearances, had no problems with being misled. Huff, Besendorfer, or their administrative team could make any kind of aspersions they wished about anyone's character, but even if they were completely false, nothing could be done about it.

After Dally's decision and a subsequent denial of Masters' appeal, Masters dismissed the lawsuit, then refiled days later, adding Huff and former Assistant Superintendent Steve Doerr as defendants.

The depositions that were taken in the case, judging from the portions that were featured in court filings, gave every credence to Masters' belief that he had been shanghaied by Huff and Besendorfer.

And that is one area where the Joplin Globe has failed miserably in its coverage of the story. In today's article, reporter Emily Younker writes the following:

Masters had alleged that the defendants had "intentionally interfered in (Masters') expectancy by making false representations about (his) character to the Joplin Schools Board of Education," which had voted in March 2010 to renew his contract as principal for the 2010-2011 school year. The petition had not provided details on what those "false representations" were, although a separate lawsuit that had previously been filed by Masters alleged that he had been accused of violating the regulations governing the administration of state standardized tests.

Had Younker bothered to read the court filings, she would have seen that Doerr acknowledged that no evidence was found that any cheating had taken place on the MAP tests. The sworn depositions indicated that Masters was demoted because of claims that he had "bullied" and "intimidated" teachers, with the claims apparently, following the Huff-Besendorfer pattern, coming substantially from upper administration members and a teaching/learning coach who has since been promoted to a position as a building principal.

With Norm Ridder in charge of the Joplin R-8 School District, Huff and Besendorfer gone and no members of the Joplin R-8 Board who approved the decision to demote Masters still serving, it would be easy for us to follow the suggestions of those who say we should be looking forward and not dwelling in the past.

The problem with that is that at this point, there is no certainty this will remain in the past. The power structure that Huff and Besendorfer constructed, for the most part, is still there. The district is overrun with executive directors and teaching/learning coaches and others who would still like to do things the way have been done.

There is no doubt than when filings begin for four seats on the R-8 Board of Education, the Joplin Progress Committee (the group may have been disbanded as a legal committee, but its members are still meeting and planning) and the Bright Futures folks, many of whom are the same, are going to attempt to regain power and return things to the way they were when C. J. Huff was in charge. The positions currently held by Gary Nodler, Sally Beard, Ron Gatz, and Jennifer Martucci will be up for grabs and a sweep of those positions would swing the pendulum back in the direction of those who did incalculable damage to the school district and claimed it was "for the kids."

The only way to prevent these people from regaining control is to make sure that the truth continues to be told about the damage C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer did to the Joplin R-8 School District.


Anonymous said...

What are the accomplishments of the "new board" ?

Anonymous said...

The new board isnt underhanded or bully one another. This board doesn't sit idly by and allow a dictator call the shots.
This board has moved forward - without Cj Huff, Anne "Have a dandy day "Sharp, Mike "take one for the team" Landis, and Randy "Which way did he go?" Steele

I'm sorry this happened to Mr Masters. He was a good principal.

Anonymous said...

What are the accomplishments of the "new board" ?

How about show Paul Bloomberg's Core Collaborative group the door, saving quite a bit of money, and related, since Sarah Stevens was pushing them because according to our host she "said that while 'professional development is my passion,' she was 'too busy' to do it.", getting her to resign, undoubtedly only the first to go.

Anonymous said...

So, not renewing Core Collaborative and "doesn't sit idly by" are the accomplishments. Thats a lot of great change.

Anonymous said...

So, not renewing Core Collaborative and "doesn't sit idly by" are the accomplishments. Thats a lot of great change.

They hired and are supporting Ridder, he's the point man to make the necessary ugly changes that generate ill will, before a permanent Superintendent is hired to truly move forward. With the forced resignation of Stevens, we can see these changes extend way beyond merely saying the right things.