Saturday, March 19, 2016

Sorry, Joplin Globe, Bright Futures is no longer a major issue in Joplin

Contrary to what the Joplin Globe editors seem to think, Bright Futures USA is not the biggest issue facing the Joplin R-8 School District.

Anyone who doesn't live in Joplin might think that is the case based on the Globe's page one coverage of the Candidate Connection forum Thursday night in Corley Auditorium on the Missouri Southern State University campus.

The top of page one headline read in bold black letters "District Vision," yet the only district vision that was discussed through most of the article was how the candidates felt about Bright Futures.

The story was 24 paragraphs long, but Bright Futures was the only topic that was written about until the 22nd paragraph, far into the jump on page 10A.

The 22nd paragraph mentioned other topics that were brought up during the forum, but offered no details. The next-to-last paragraph mentioned who was sponsoring the forum, including the Globe, then the story ended by saying a forum will be held Monday, March 28, for Joplin City Council candidates.

The Globe did provide space in its Saturday edition, in a bottom of page one story, about other topics that were addressed during the forum, including school safety, desired qualities for the new superintendent.

To be fair, perhaps the reason for the overemphasis on Bright Futures was the fact that there were differences between the candidates. Unfortunately, the failure of our area newspaper of record to ever fully address the Bright Futures/Bright Futures USA issue is one of the reasons why there is so much misunderstanding.

Bright Futures USA is essentially a C. J. Huff vanity project, which has existed mostly through funding by Missouri taxpayers and by sizable contributions during its first year from organizations and businesses that thought they were contributing to something that was connected with tornado relief. Once Huff parted ways with Joplin R-8 and returned to the BFUSA mix as a paid recruiter, at a $30,000 a year clip, Webb City, East Newton, and McDonald County severed ties with the organization. Joplin did not, but seeing the way the winds were blowing, the members of the Bright Futures Advisory Board pushed successfully to pull Bright Futures Joplin's funding out of the school district and place it with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

The district, at this point, is still paying a portion of the salaries of two people. Whether that continues beyond this year or not is something time will tell. One thing that definitely will continue is that students' needs will be met. That does not require Joplin R-8 to be connected with Bright Futures, Bright Futures USA, or any other organization. The districts that have dropped Bright Futures USA and stopped using the name are still providing just as many services as they did before. They don't have to spend money to attend the annual Bright Futures USA Conference.

Candidates Lori Musser and Jennifer Martucci noted something of which all of us who worked in the school district before Bright Futures began are fully aware- The schools have always worked to provide for students who needed supplies, food, or clothing. Two things made Bright Futures different. It was the first time that a concerted effort took place to form an organization bringing faith-based organizations into the school district and it was the first time that the things that had been done quietly in the past were trumpeted endlessly as being innovative and as the structure that saved Joplin after the tornado.

What seldom gets mentioned in discussions of Bright Futures is that the lion's share of fundraising efforts that have taken place over the past few years in the Joplin school district (and I am not talking about the annual fundraisers for different school activities) have been funneled through Bright Futures. When this money has been used to provide clothing and food for students, no one questions it, but the program expanded into other areas, including paying rent and utilities and for items that seemingly do not fit into the Bright Futures umbrella, such as the Operation College Bound.

You can repeat the organization's "Time, Talent, and Treasure" mantra until you are blue in the face and keep proclaiming that it is "for the kids," but from all appearances, the fixation on bringing in money for anything connected with Bright Futures has been diverting money that could have been used for educational purposes.

Whether Joplin remains with Bright Futures or opts to go in another direction to provide for students' needs, really only matters to C. J. Huff and those who persist in believing he received  a raw deal when he was given a boost into "retirement."

It would be embarrassing to Huff for Joplin to drop the Bright Futures designation. After all, his months as a paid consultant to BFUSA do not appear to have resulted in many school districts joining the organization.

If Joplin drops out, it is going to make it an ever harder sell.

Bright Futures, as an organization, appears to be on the way to being phased out of Joplin R-8, but the basic idea, the needs that were being met long before Bright Futures existed, will continue to be met. That leaves only the remaining C. J. Huff loyalists and those who were connected with the Joplin Progress Committee to fight the battle.

(In a few minutes, I will publish a post addressing some important things the Globe left out of its coverage of the candidate forum, as well as some topics that were left unaddressed.)

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