Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Joplin Globe has no mention of Joplin R-8 financial news

During Tuesday night's meeting of the Joplin R-8 Board of Education, it was revealed that the district needs another four years of indebtedness to cover the cost of building the new Joplin High School.

By the time we reach that point, CFO Paul Barr said, district reserves will dwindle to 10 to 12 percent.

Questions from board members Lori Musser and Jennifer Martucci elicited the information that by the time the district has paid off its loans (if it pays them off by 2021), taxpayers will have paid approximately $2 million in interest.

If for some reason the Bank of America loan cannot be paid back in four years, the documents provided in the board packet note that the deal runs through 2027, meaning even more interest may be at stake.

All of this because of a "might-as-well spending" spree, infamously named by Barr at a 2014 board meeting and engineered by former Superintendent C. J. Huff, in which the district spent far more than what its original plans specified and set a goal of building an educational Taj Mahal.

Meanwhile, Barr continued to hold out the hope that much of the money will be reimbursed by FEMA and SEMA, and in fact, much of it will. As Barr noted, the federal and state agencies have already obligated to pay certain costs and those will be paid.

The district, however, as revealed in documents obtained by the Turner Report through a Sunshine Law request, has asked for considerably more than the amounts that were obligated, including millions in so-called "errors and omissions."

The Joplin Globe covered the board meeting in a page one story this morning and revealed new superintendent Melinda Moss' goals for 2017-2018 and a planned shift of students from Irving to West Central, newsworthy information.

Not one word was written about the district's finances.

The $2 million in interest was left unmentioned.

Not one word was written about the four years of continued debt or the impending drastic reduction in district reserves.

What could be the reason for such an omission?

Reporters are generally uncomfortable with stories involving numbers, but that would not appear to be the reason in this instance.

Perhaps news about difficulties in school district finances might not play well with the unelected elite and Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce types who hold so much sway with Globe Editor Carol Stark. (And let's not forget that Publisher Michael Beatty serves on the Chamber Board.)

Consider the following examples of Joplin R-8 finance stories that the Globe has either totally neglected or failed to report on until it had no other choice.

-In the three years since he spoke the words, the Globe has yet to report on Barr's mention of "might-as-well spending." At the meeting where the CFO uttered those words, he noted a long list of frills, including artificial turf for all practice fields, extra tennis courts, a new track so students wouldn't have to travel to Junge Field and lighting for all practice fields that necessitated the first $8 million loan.

-The Globe might never have reported on the $100,000 it cost to replace wrong-colored bleachers in the JHS gymnasium, if it had not appeared in the Turner Report and on KZRG and became one of the most talked about topics in town. The item had been placed on the board's consent agenda, meaning that Huff planned to push it through without ever discussing it in a public meeting.

-The Globe was slow in reporting on the P1 lawsuit, an action brought about because of Huff's ultimately unsuccessful push to have the high school open on time in August 2014. Eventually, the district paid its lawyers more than $1 million and was forced to fork over a $2.5 million settlement to the electrical contractors to cover the hundreds of hours of overtime the push necessitated.

-Thanks to the Turner Report Sunshine Law request, we now have evidence from FEMA that the Huff Administration made almost no effort to reduce costs from the outset, starting the tornado recovery by awarding a $3 million no-bid long-term contract to a Texas firm. District officials also made it clear in their correspondence with FEMA that their intention all along was to surpass their original cost estimates and the amounts FEMA obligated with the idea that they would be reimbursed anyway.

Some will read this and ask why these things are so important. We have paid all of the contractors. The buildings are finished and filled with students.

It is important to know what happened to keep from repeating the same mistakes and to understand how much damage this financial recklessness has caused the district.

At the same time, the Huff Administration was overspending on the building projects, it was also spending hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, on educational consultants, new initiatives, technology that could have waited until it could be afforded, travel to attend all kinds of conferences and seminars, and on several new programs begun under the umbrella of Bright Futures.

The cost taxpayers and students have paid because of these decisions has been a great one.

During the Huff years, no money was put into faculty and more than 50 percent of the faculty Huff inherited when he followed Jim Simpson was gone by the time Huff "retired" in 2015.

The district has been left with a faculty in which more than half of its members have less than five years of experience.

That may be the only area in which the Huff Administration saved money since teachers with less experience make less money, but at what cost?

At one point, the Joplin Globe featured an article that allowed Huff to explain how the turnover was normal and was not a bad thing for the district. And in all of the time since that article ran, as it became more and more apparent how much damage had been done by Huff's cavalier treatment of the people who are the heart and soul of the educational community, the Globe has yet to address the problem a second time.

Probably because there is no Huff to call Carol Stark any more and suggest a story that would help him deal with a thorny issue.

And also because those pesky unelected and Joplin Chamber types would prefer that word not get out about the lack of experienced teachers in the Joplin R-8 School District.

Fortunately, Turner Report/Inside Joplin readers have a news outlet that has been willing to publish news stories that, while they do not always reflect positively on Joplin, help the taxpayers know how their money is being spent.

And that is always a positive.

Those whose news offerings are limited to what the Joplin Globe offers still believe that the tornado is responsible for all of the financial problems the Joplin R-8 School District has had and still believe that Wallace Bajjali was totally responsible for the city's problems with tornado recovery and that city officials (and the same unelected elite) played no role.

In today's language, that is known as alternative facts.

Some of us call it fiction.


Anonymous said...

They needed the space for another worthless Pound column.

Anonymous said...

We need to always have School Board members who realize their first responsibility is to the public. Open,honest government depends on elected representatives being on No Ego trips,same said for Superintendents like Ridder and Huff...for the children is nice but the R8 patrons need better governance than your report describes.

Anonymous said...

The high school has all kinds of issues like leaks and an elevator that doesn't work consistenly. We haven't heard about those either.

Before the tornado, Besendorfer and Huff explained to the board that they needed to agree to show a united front and doing that would be good for the district. They told the teachers, principals and other district personnel that disagreeing would show that you weren't a positive team player. To be fair, Dr. Doerr and Dr. Simpson did some of the same but they didn't clean out the district's pool of experience in the name of solidarity or to save money.

Huff and Besendorfer left a legacy of mistrust, debt and a "good-old-boy-system" worse than any ever before. I hope they're haunted by their lies. Too bad we can't sue them for misuse and abuse of our money, facilities and people.

Anonymous said...

There may be nothing nefarious on the part of the Joplin Globe for failing to provide financial coverage of Joplin R-8. It may simply be that the reporting staff is incapable of providing adequate coverage. They might not understand all the numbers. It's often just easier to report on what you do comprehend than to tackle a difficult subject.

Harvey Hutchinson said...

Every community needs at least one+ competing news outlets in order to consider all points of view, and both sides of the story!

Thank Almighty God for Rush Limbaugh and Fo. News!!!
Harvey Hutchinson 303-522-6622 voice&text 24/7

Anonymous said...

The Globe had a news brief in Thursday's paper about the loan negotiation. It mentioned a $29 million lease-purchase agreement that was approved by the board in March 2015, and concluded: "Principal payments over the next three years would come from the district's operating reserves, with that fund to be reduced from about 18 percent to 10 percent or 12 percent after three years." The $2 million in interest was left unmentioned.

Harvey Hutchinson said...

Anonymous 1:03, I believe you are spot-on in many ways-- great line!!

Harvey Hutchinson 303-522-6622 voice&text 24/7

Harvey Hutchinson said...

Randy, I noticed your graphics was a fistful of dollars; but a loose from the fist!

Some symbolism there? If so it's pretty accurate!

Harvey Hutchinson 303-522-6622 voice&text 24:7

Steve Holmes said...

My hunch is it's not a failing of the Globe reporters. I don't know the lady in charge of the education beat, but in video clips, she sounds sharp enough to have noted the comments which didn't appear in her articles. I'm guessing the problem is higher on the food chain, with an editor who deletes those comments (or self-editing by the reporter, not even putting the comments in the article because she knows they'll be cut out).

Have KZRG radio and KOAM-TV done anything on this?

Harvey Hutchinson said...

You are correct.
The editor's daughter heads up the area Democratic Party; that should tell you something about the balance and fairness.

Harvey Hutchinson 303-522-6622 voice&text 24/7