Tuesday, May 10, 2016

R-8 Board needs to sever last ties with Bright Futures Joplin

One of the enduring myths of the days after the Joplin Tornado is that the R-8 School District was able to survive and function effectively in the days, weeks, months, and years afterward because former Superintendent C. J. Huff had the vision to have the Bright Futures framework in place.

That story has been told all over the United States by Huff as he promotes Bright Futures USA (and himself)

Tonight, the R-8 Board of Education has the opportunity- and the duty- to finally put an end to the remnants of what has become a bloated bureaucracy, more concerned with perpetuating itself and its various programs, many of which fall outside the parameters that Huff originally outlined.

In December, the board signed a memorandum of understanding which essentially made Bright Futures Joplin a separate entity from the district, but the board agreed to continue paying the salaries of two staffers through the end of the current school year.

Tonight, the board is expected to act on a request from the Bright Futures Joplin Board of Directors  to extend the payments of those salaries for another year.

The answer has to be no.

The time has come for Joplin to eliminate the words "Bright Futures" from the vocabulary and continue to do the good that the organization has done while jettisoning the frills that have made it expendable.

The Bright Futures Joplin Board had done nothing to pare the organization to its essentials. Its letter to the board talks of the costs of running Operation College Bound, a program that arranges field trips for elementary students to regional colleges and universities. The idea is to get the students interested in furthering their education after their days in the Joplin schools are over.

While that is a lofty idea, it is not a practical use of dollars for either a school district that faces distinct financial challenges or for an organization that was begging for its independence, but now without showing any responsibility wants enough money and staff to continue to operate all of its programs.

If Joplin R-8 leaders wanted to inspire students to pursue higher education, a more prudent investment would have been a concerted effort to keep skilled veteran teachers, the kind whose inspiration will stay with students long after these heavily orchestrated field trips have vanished from their memories.

Bright Futures Joplin also showed a slavish devotion to doing everything the way that it was done when C. J. Huff was still running the district. Why else was there the need to spend thousands on the annual Bright Futures Volunteer Breakfast? While it is important to recognize the people whose efforts are the backbone of the organization, there are certainly other, more cost-effective ways to express gratitude.

The volunteer breakfast was also prominently mentioned in the Board of Directors' letter as one of the accomplishments of the past year.

Longtime Turner Report readers may remember that I have praised Bright Futures and even referred to it as innovative in the past, but it was the basic framework to which I was referring.

Most, but not all, of the Joplin schools were already doing many of the basics for which Bright Futures was created. Students who needed clothing, books, supplies, were being helped.

The creation of Bright Futures provided two things that had not existed before.

1. All schools were included.

2. Efforts were made to bring businesses, faith-based organizations, civic groups, etc. into the mix. In other words, the entire community became invested in the school district.

The basic mission of Bright Futures became corrupted following the tornado as Huff shoved everything into its framework whether it fit or not. Suddenly, Bright Futures included groups of high schoolers helping freshmen adjust, or working with middle school students. Aspects of volunteering in the community were incorporated, and as each of these pieces was shoehorned into the puzzle, more people had to be hired to oversee these operations.

In the district's 2012 Race to the Top application, the Huff Administration asked for nearly $10 million to continue the expansion of Bright Futures. The U. S. Department of Education was not impressed and rejected the plan outright.

But somehow the money for everything that Huff had envisioned miraculously turned up in the district budget. At the same time that raises for district teachers were few and far between, administrators and bureaucrats were being added to oversee Bright Futures and other Huff initiatives.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that Bright Futures became the be-all and end-all for the Joplin R-8 School District for so long. It was promoted from the beginning as a tool to increase graduation rates.

While graduation rates did increase, there has never been a shred of evidence provided, that Bright Futures played any part in that process.

What Bright Futures did at its best was to provide a meal, a coat, supplies, whatever children needed. That should have been enough, but it never was.

As the current school year began, it was obvious that change was in the air and the Bright Futures Joplin Board proactively filed papers with the Missouri Secretary of State's office to become an independent not-for-profit and asked for its freedom from the district- but keep the taxpayer money coming for the salaries.

At first, it was for the remainder of this year, but now, at a time when cuts are being made or considered across the district, Bright Futures Joplin wants the district to fund two positions.

A wiser decision would be to follow the path laid out by Webb City, East Newton, and McDonald County and cut all ties with Bright Futures. Create another name. Return the responsibilities to the individual schools. The people who truly want to help children do not care whether they are volunteering for Bright Futures; their main concern is whether the children are being helped.

Keep the basic premise of providing supplies, snack-packs, clothing, and meeting basic needs. If the volunteers, both from within and outside the school, want to do so, continue programs like Lunch Buddies or All-Pro Dads, but the focus should be on meeting needs within 24 hours if at all possible.

If the board follows that prescription, it will be amazed in a few months to find that teachers, parents, and other community members, will come up with ideas that will better serve the Joplin community than the public relations fiasco that Bright Futures Joplin has become.


Anonymous said...

Didn't the district cut them loose in January? What makes them think they can support all the salaries of the Bright Futures Joplin administrators? Aren't they just taking up funding that would have gone to the kids instead of their pockets? I don't want to see them fail but I also don't want to fundraise for their own jobs. How is that going to work in the long run??

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with your position on most things, but this post is spot-on.

Anonymous said...

I think we should commit to an annual investment of $250,000 to attract and keep a proven leader at the helm of Bright Futures. Imagine what a great man like Dr. Huff could accomplish.

Anonymous said...

why isn't the BOE meeting televised tonight?

Randy said...

The only meeting that have been televised on a regular basis are the ones on the fourth Tuesday of each month, though there have been a couple of exceptions for special meetings in recent months. Since special meetings have been regularly scheduled on the second Tuesday for months and much important business has been discussed, it would be an excellent idea to televise these meetings. I was hoping this one would be televised since I am still out of town and not allowed to travel. Normally, I would have been at tonight's meeting.

Anonymous said...

That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard anyone say. Huff is not a great man. He's a bully, a narcissist, and very egocentric. The best thing that happened to Joplin is his departure. It'll be even better when he gets a different job and leaves Joplin all together.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of whiners. At least give credit where credit is due. If it was up to Turner Reports and the faceless complainers the seats in the gymnasium would not be the right color and the district still would have paid for them! If the Huff administration hadn't stepped up who knows what could have happened to all the ugly seats. 20 years of shame and laughs from the visiting teams?

Anonymous said...

7:48. I was kidding. Please tell me no one took that post seriously.