Tuesday, January 26, 2016
More change for Joplin Schools- what a little transparency can do
Tonight's Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting did not include a presentation or performance designed to give the televised session more the appearance of a variety show than a public meeting.
No one's face reddened when questions were asked and we did not have any speeches toward the end of the meeting designed to push a particular agenda.
It was not must see TV.
It was a breath of fresh air.
For months, the Joplin R-8 Board of Education meetings were the stuff of soap operas. Who could forget C. J. Huff;s redfaced attacks on board member Debbie Fort or the unsuccessful efforts to appoint new board members that led to the decision being handed to the Jasper County Commission?
That type of meeting is a thing of the past, gone, but hopefully not forgotten, lest we allow it to happen again at some point.
In the January 24 Turner Report, I pointed out the changes that have taken place as a result of the Board of Education, changes that included the "retirement" of Superintendent C. J. Huff, the removal and impending departures of Director of Curriculum and Instruction Sarah Stevens and East Middle School Principal Bud Sexson, and the elimination of the expensive outside consultants of the Core Collaborative.
The change that has taken place in the R-8 School District is most evident in an item on tonight's agenda that will never be mentioned in the Joplin Globe and yet was probably the most important signal that a new day has arrived.
In the past, the Huff Administration used the consent agenda as a place to bury items that the superintendent did not want to discuss in open session. The consent agenda is supposed to be the place for mundane items that need to be done, but should not take up the board's valuable time. With C. J. Huff at the helm, some of the most important and controversial items were placed on the consent agenda and were voted on without the public ever finding about them.
That practice was slowed down after Debbie Fort was elected to the board in the April 2014 election. Fort questioned the placement of the items on the consent agenda and had many of them moved to the regular agenda for public discussion. Fellow board member Jim Kimbrough also began questioning the consent agenda items and after the April 2015 election, questions were also asked by board members Jennifer Martucci and Jeff Koch.
Items that Huff placed on the consent agenda included the proposal to pay $100,000 to get the right color for the bleachers in the Joplin High School gymnasium and paying $100,000 to hire the Core Collaborative.
At times, more than a dozen items were listed on the consent agenda, including far-reaching changes in district policy and items that cost more than a half million dollars.
Tonight's consent agenda was different- it only had two items on it.
One of the items was the approval of the minutes of the last meeting. The other were personnel recommendations by Chief Operating Officer Tina Smith.
Three policy changes were listed on the regular agenda, as was a purchase of 25 laptops for Stapleton Elementary and change orders for masonry at East Middle School and Soaring Heights Elementary.
Despite all of these items being moved from the consent agenda to the regular agenda, the meeting lasted less than two hours.
It is amazing what a little transparency can do.