There will be no similar Globe editorial praising the contributions of Debbie Fort, who left the Joplin R-8 Board of Education, head standing high, after serving the patrons of the district in a far more substantial and positive way than Huff.
Fort was the one who led the battle to clean up the mess created by Huff and those "good people" the Globe had praised.
As Fort took a seat in the audience Tuesday night, only one member of the Huff top administrative team was still in place, CFO Paul Barr, the only one who had been there when Huff arrived.
Fort, the former principal at Irving Elementary, had already contributed enough to the school district when she retired from that position after an eventful final few years that included having to move to the old Washington building after Irving was destroyed in the May 22, 2011 tornado.
From the inside, Fort had seen the disease that the C. J. Huff/Angie Besendorfer regime had spread throughout a district that before Huff's arrival had achieved Accreditation with Distinction four years in a row.
Her teachers were having one new initiative after another thrown at them by upper administration. Teachers, including teachers in tested areas, were being pulled out of class dozens of times during the school year to attend seminars and conferences. Weeks were being set aside to take practice standardized tests to prepare for the package of practice standardized tests the district had purchased to practice for the state standardized tests at the end of the school year.
A school district that had been building a reputation for educational excellence had, in the course of a few short years, turned into a playground for oversized egos and endless busywork meetings with no discernible results.
And while all of this was going on, Debbie Fort noted alarming trends that were being kept from the public- teachers were leaving the district in droves and money was being spent like it was going out of style.
The R-8 Board of Education had become a rubber stamp in the C. J. Huff cult of personality, basking in the reflected glory of the self-proclaimed hero of the Joplin Tornado. Fort decided to do something about it and there was nothing she could do about it as long as she was on the inside. She retired as a building administrator and began preparing a campaign for Board of Education.
Fort's first step into the spotlight came at the October 22, 2013 board meeting during the public comment period when she asked that professional and support staff employees who retire be allowed to donate unused sick pay to a pool to be used for employees with catastrophic illnesses.
"It would be better if (the retiring employees) could be paid for those days, but with our budget constraints, with our reserves being down to 14 percent and I have heard somewhere they are going down to eight to 11 percent, that may not be possible."
It was the first time anyone had spoken at an R-8 board meeting about the district's dangerously low reserves brought on by a combination of tornado recovery costs and massive overspending.
Fort launched a successful grass roots campaign for school board and was one of two newcomers, along with Lynda Banwart, elected to bring change. While Banwart quickly fell into lock step with the board holdovers including Mike Landis, Anne Sharp, and Randy Steele, Fort began asking questions at board meetings and pushing for answers, something that clearly irritated Huff and some of her fellow board members.
When Paul Barr made his infamous explanation on "might-as-well spending," Fort cast the lone vote against that $8 million in frills for the new high school.
A board which had historically only recorded 7-0 votes found itself having more that went 6-1 and as board member Jim Kimbrough began voting with Fort, it was often 5-2.
R-8 taxpayers were supportive of Fort's efforts and as the next two elections took place, the last remnants of Huff's rubber stamp board were gone as was Huff. Changes took place in the district. No longer were hundreds of thousands being spent on outside consultants and steps were taken to return decisions on teachers' professional development to the building level.
Bright Futures became a component of the district rather than the focal point upon which everything in the district operated and connections with Bright Futures USA were severed.
Norm Ridder, an interim superintendent with considerable experience, was brought in to serve as a bridge until the right person could be brought in to take over.
Not all problems were solved, of course, and there were hurdles and defeats along the way.
While Huff "retired," Fort's vote against gifting him with an exorbitant severance package that paid him full salary for another year and a half, gave him an extra $50,000 in "consulting fees" to help prepare for lawsuits he caused, and paid for him to attend a National School Public Relations Association event where he was a speaker, was unsuccessful.
Teachers have continued to flee the district and despite the removal of the top layer of the Huff Administration, many building level administrators who were steeped in the Huff-Besendorfer philosophy are still in place and there is still a culture of fear in some areas of the district.
There are always problems in any school district.
Fort started a successful movement to take back the schools and was joined in her battle by others who ran for board seats and by the public, which supported her battle, voted for her and for other reform candidates and then attended board meetings or watched them on television or online to make sure the board members were doing what they had been elected to do.
That movement requires active participation by voters and board candidates who are willing to devote their time to service,
Debbie Fort has provided that service and deserves the gratitude of every taxpayer in Joplin R-8 for causing a seismic shift for the better in the school district. Thanks to Debbie and those who supported her, though the road back is a long one, the journey is well underway.
Thank you, Debbie Fort!