Harrison Police claimed that the school district's superintendent, Melinda Moss, one of two finalists for the Joplin R-8 superintendent position, interfered with the investigation when she brought in a lawyer, who was conducting his own investigation before the police arrived.
The post also included information about a lawsuit filed by a fired teacher.
Those who have grown used to reading one horrific story after another about the C. J. Huff era in Joplin can't be blamed for thinking- how in the world did this woman become one of the two finalists after the board hired a firm to do a national search? And who can blame them?
Ever since the people of Joplin became fed up and elected a board of education to do what our president-elect refers to as "draining the swamp," there has been a small, but persistent, minority that has attempted to belittle Board President Jeff Koch and board members Debbie Fort and Jennifer Martucci at every turn.
Any time a problem has arisen, generally because of the machinery that C. J. Huff put in place, this vocal minority starts in again, obviously hoping to pave a pathway back to the type of board we had when people like Jeff Flowers, Anne Sharp, Randy Steele, and God help us, Mike Landis, rubber stamped decisions that decimated the district's morale and its finances.
How did the search firm end up with a candidate facing a crippling lawsuit? Quick answer- it didn't. The Harrison School Board's description of former teacher Andrea Pendarvis' lawsuit as "frivolous," was an accurate one, something I will address in a bit.
Even more importantly, that lawsuit is the only one I have been able to find while searching the records of both finalists.
In her seven years at Harrison, Mendy Moss had one lawsuit that I was able to find in a search of state and federal courts and a reporter for the Harrison Daily Times confirmed that he had never come across any other legal actions while checking the superintendent's record.
On the other hand, during the seven-year tenure of C. J. Huff in Joplin, the district has been involved in multiple lawsuits. It paid $2.5 million recently to the P1 Group for Huff's full speed ahead no matter what the cost decision to try to get Joplin High School open on time in August 2014. And the district has already incurred more than $1.1 million in legal bills for that lawsuit.
The district paid $276,000 to Urban Metropolitan in a lawsuit that included charges of racial harassment, and an undisclosed amount in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by an employee. Another sexual harassment case is pending in Jasper County Circuit Court.
The district also paid an undisclosed amount to settle another lawsuit brought by an employee who was fired for union activity.
A lawsuit currently in federal court alleges that the district violated First Amendment rights by permitting students to take a field trip to Victory Ministries. This lawsuit came after Huff ignored letters threatening such a lawsuit, in which he was shown that the permission slip students had to sign to attend the event included permission for Victory Ministries employees to talk to students about religion and invite them to religious activities.
I found no evidence of any such cavalier attitude about lawsuits in the research on Mendy Moss and Gary Quinn.
As for the lawsuit against Moss, it would be an upset if it ever gets anywhere near a trial and it may be headed for summary judgment.
The fired teacher never claims that she did not do what she was fired for doing. Her main argument is that other people have done bad things and were allowed to keep their jobs. She accuses Moss of sweeping teacher actions that could be harmful to students under the rug, but only refers to one such incident- the Kyle Smith sex case and in that one she has the facts wrong. She says Smith remained in the classroom until his arrest in February of this year, when he never returned to the classroom following the initial report on August 20 and, in fact, resigned effective September 1.
The teacher claims that people lied about her during her termination hearing, but there is no mention of what those lies were. She also claims she was not allowed to present her case because the district's lawyer, who was serving as judge, would not permit her to present evidence.
The evidence she wanted to present, however, was not designed to prove her innocence, but to show that others had done worse, and were still on the payroll.
In one portion of her petition, Pendarvis accuses Moss of hunting for more evidence against her because she did not have "a smoking gun." I am not sure where the smoking gun reference came from, but what would sure appear to be a smoking gun was included among the exhibits Pendarvis herself filed- an e-mail in which Pendarvis referred to a colleague using extremely vulgar language.
Both Quinn and Moss have strong, consistent records of improving education, including test scores. As a comparison, test scores in Joplin dropped each of the seven years that Huff was at the helm.
I came across no reports of more than half of the teachers leaving at either Harrison or Bartlesville. C. J. Huff lost more than 400 teachers over a four-year period and left the district with half of its teachers having five years or less of classroom experience.
Quinn had a strong record of getting approval for bond issues. Huff successfully passed a $62 million bond issue, the biggest in Joplin history, in 2012, but only by 45 votes, and as I noted in my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud, that margin came because of a decision by Jasper County Clerk Marjorie Bull to allow people who no longer lived in Joplin, those who had been displaced by the tornado, to vote. While some of those people returned to Joplin, many did not, and those people provided the cushion.
After all of that, Huff overspent by tens of millions, and the ledger has still not been closed on the costs from the construction projects.
None of the articles on Gary Quinn and Mendy Moss made any references to "might-as-well" spending and there were never any references to them attacking board members during board meetings or in the community.
Writing a vicious Facebook post about someone whose election to the board might pose problems for their agenda would never have occurred to either Quinn or Moss. On the contrary, they not only worked well with board members from every appearance, but even more importantly, learned how to behave like adults long before they became superintendents.
As for the accusation made by Harrison Police that Moss interfered with their investigation, there was never even the slightest appearance, despite the lawsuit claim, that anything was being swept under the rug. Thankfully, it appears the Kyle Smith case was the only time Moss ever had to face that kind of situation. There were never any accusations that she misled the public or the police.
Compare that to the case of Joplin tech employee Ronnie Justin Myers. When Myers was arrested on sex charges, Huff quickly issued a statement that Myers had no contact with students, never bothering to tell the public or the board of education that Myers was in charge of the high school students' laptops or that he had nude photos of 10 Joplin High School girls on his own laptop and a video, all of which he was able to obtain by using a different kind of access.
The only thing C. J. Huff has over Quinn and Moss is that neither of them can ever claim to being the hero of the Joplin Tornado and take weeks off to rake in extra money and promote Bright Futures USA on a never ending School Will Start on Time speaking tour.
When Quinn announced his retirement from Bartlesville he told the Tulsa World:
The reason for our success is that we have had great people with which to work,” he said.We have had tremendous school board members focused on students. Our teachers and staff are caring professionals, working hard every day for the success of our students. We have the best students in the state. Our parents and community members are truly supportive of our school district and help us succeed. It has been a privilege to have served the students and community of Bartlesville the past 17 years.
It is hard to imagine C. J. Huff saying something like that. Huff thought so much of Joplin that in order to get him to leave, the board approved a recommendation letter written by Huff that talked about how apathetic the Joplin community was when he arrived in 2007.
The search process initiated by the Joplin R-8 Board not only appears destined to bring us a better superintendent than the one who mercifully departed in 2015, but it is likely to bring us one who is far superior, whether the board elects to go with Mendy Moss or with Gary Quinn.
Ironically, the initial part of the process, the national search, was conducted by Ray and Associates, the same people whose search in 2007 landed a superintendent for the Lindbergh School District, which is widely considered to be the number one school district in the state of Missouri. That superintendent, Jim Simpson, was C. J. Huff's predecessor in Joplin, and the one whose leadership guided the R-8 School District to four consecutive years of being accredited with distinction.
The first time that feat was accomplished, Simpson referred to it as "climbing Mt. Joplin."
With C. J. Huff and nearly all of his leadership team gone, the time is right to begin climbing Mt. Joplin once more.
Two weeks from tonight, we will learn who will lead the district to that goal.