Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ten things C. J. Huff and Anne Sharp don't want you to know

It wasn't supposed to happen that way.

The Joplin Globe did not report about it.

KZRG did not mention a word of it.

You didn't hear it on any of the local television stations.

In order for the Joplin R-8 Board of Education to even be able to discuss the $95,000 expenditure to replace wrong-colored seats in the new JHS gymnasium, the item had to be removed from the consent agenda.

In preparing the agenda, Superintendent C. J. Huff and Board President Anne Sharp, the two individuals who create the agenda each month, made a conscious decision to put this expenditure in a place where it normally would simply not be mentioned during the televised public board meeting. The consent agenda is designed for routine items for which there is no need for discussion.

However, when the public discovered that the C. J. Huff Administration's error (And make no mistake about it, he can talk about the creative team all he wants, but in the land of Harry S Truman, we do not accept mealy-mouthed leaders who will never admit they are wrong. The buck stopped with C. J. Huff.) was going to cost the taxpayers nearly $100,000, the anger began to build.

Whether it was that anger, or whether it was another one of the cases which have been occurring frequently the past few months when board member Debbie Fort notices something that should not be simply passed without discussion, I do not know.

What is painfully obvious is that C. J. Huff and Anne Sharp planned on this item slipping through with the public being none the wiser.

Unfortunately for them, the system that they have twisted nearly beyond recognition for the past six and a half years is finally beginning to work. Board members, at least one, Debbie Fort, and sometimes more than one, are questioning the way tax money is being spent. The public is starting to get involved, and for the second straight year, we will have choices when we go to the polls in April.

Nearly all of the attention was focused on the gymnasium seat issue, but there were other problems that slipped past the media, which should be questioned.

-No Bids for School Attorney Board Attorney John Nicholas was at his last meeting. Nicholas, who will be a circuit court judge, will be replaced by Norman Rouse, who was introduced at the meeting. I don't recall the position being put out for bid. In fact, the board has had the same attorney for the past 19 years. Nothing against Rouse, but how do we know the taxpayers couldn't have received professional representation at a lower cost?

-Do We Ever Put Annual Audit Up for Bid? The board listened to the annual audit presented by a representative of Mense, Churchwell, and Mense. When was the last time, the audit was put up for bid? It is recommended generally that the job be put up for bid every three years.

-IPads Have Cost Half a Million- Another item on the consent agenda was briefly discussed. The board, by a 7-0 vote when it approved the consent agenda, agreed to pay $103,000 to keyboards for the eighth grade iPads. A few days ago, I wrote about how those iPads, which were presented to the board as costing $174,000, have ended up costing the district more than half a million at this point. No bids were ever taken on the iPads and that has cost us money ever since.

-$103,000 So They Can Take One Test- One problem with buying iPads for eighth graders without keyboards is that you cannot do writing assignments on them (no matter what East Middle School Principal Bud Sexson says). We found out last night that writing assignments have nothing to do with the $103,000 expenditure. We have to do it, we were told, because we have to have the keyboards in order to take the standardized tests next spring, and even though the words were only mentioned once during last night's meeting, this is all about Common Core. Common Core tests have to be done online, which means districts across the state are spending money. It seems strange that we are spending this kind of money, when the legislature passed a bill that requires Missouri to create new learning standards. Are we paying $103,000 so our students can be tested one time?

-Time to Practice, Less for Learning Another worrisome comment was made at last night's meeting. The board was told that the keyboards would arrive in time for the students to get plenty of practice on them. In other words, plenty of time that will be taken away from learning.

-Manipulating the Media One of the hallmarks of the C. J. Huff era has been a steady force feeding of propaganda during the meeting. Last night, the practice was not only continued, but one of the speakers actually bragged about it. Kim Vann is no longer with the R-8 School District, but the woman who primarily served as C. J. Huff's executive secretary, wasted time promoting Huff, though not by name. She praised Bright Futures and she talked about all of the favorable publicity the school district has received, bragging about, though she did not use the words, how the media has been manipulated.

-A Plaque for Kim Vann In honor of her four years in the school district, she was presented with a plaque and received hugs from C. J. Huff and Anne Sharp. In other words, she received far more attention for four years, which are being heavily scrutinized by state auditors, than teachers and staff members who gave more than three decades of their lives to the district.

-Interesting Expenditures- Among the items the board approved in the monthly bills- $4,710 for the Core Collaborative professional development, $85.59 to Charlie's Chicken, listed as "miscellaneous supplies," $103 to Chick-Fil-A for an "MSBA board meeting," $11,676.25 for "Visible Learning Workbooks" listed under "convention and travel," and $850 to the Victory Ministry and Sports Complex for "Use of Victory Gym for Choir Practice."

-Any Mention of Common Core Except, memorably, by McKinley Elementary Principal Terri Hart during her presentation and she quickly corrected herself and said "the new learning standards." C. J. Huff seems to think we are too stupid to know that they are pushing full speed ahead with Common Core Standards.

(Photo: A touching moment between Kim Vann and R-8 Board President Anne Sharp)

Carl Junction High School adds online bullying reporting system

After taking a hit for the past several days following a Turner Report post that revealed Superintendent Phil Cook of the Carl Junction R-1 School District had eliminated some anti-bullying efforts due to the lawsuit filed against the district by the family of 13-year-old Luke Nugent, the district has announced a new anti-bullying program.

The following letter was sent today to Carl Junction High School parents:


We recognize that creating a safe learning environment is a critical part of helping each child achieve academic success. Students now have a new online system to report bullying incidents and school safety threats.

 Sprigeo will give your child another medium for communicating with our school administration when bullying or school safety incidents occur. All information sent through the Sprigeo system goes directly to school administrators through a secure online connection.

How does the Sprigeo system work?

Students can access the reporting form directly through a link on our school web site or they may go to the web site. After completing the reporting form and clicking the “submit” button, the report details are sent in a secure email to our school administrators. Over 90% of students include their name when using the Sprigeo system.

Does the school receive false reports?

Over 95% of reports sent through the Sprigeo system have been confirmed as authentic requests for help with a bullying incident or school safety threat. Unlike text messages or Facebook posts that can be shared among students, all Sprigeo reports are viewable only by school administrators. This minimizes the impact one student has in falsely accusing another student or abusing the reporting system.

Why is there a need for an online reporting system?

The Sprigeo reporting form can be accessed from the privacy of a home computer or other internet equipped device and provides yet one more way in which a student can seek help or notify school officials of possible threats. Press the Ctrl key and click on the Sprigeo link below to visit the reporting system’s home page.

David Pyle

Superintendent Phil Cook acknowledged in an April deposition for the Nugent lawsuit that he had ended anti-bullying initiatives for fear they would damage the district's position in the lawsuit.

Cook eliminated an anti-bullying task force after it had held only three meetings:

 "Well, we already knew we had a lawsuit when we started the task force. But as we got into it, we didn't want to do something that came back and said, 'Well, you guys were reactionary and did this or that.'
'"We feel like as a district we've done quite a bit to address bullying and train people in bullying."

Cook also acknowledged that he had stopped a questionnaire being given through another program because it was asking "bad questions." The questions were designed to help in creating an anti-bullying culture.

Former Joplin Mayor: Who is responsible for Joplin R-8 seat screwup?

The following comments were posted on my Facebook page by former Joplin Mayor Jon Tupper, concerning the Joplin R-8 Board of Education's 6-1 decision to pay $95,000 to replace JHS gymnasium seats that were installed, even though they were not school colors.

The real questions that need to be asked are:

1. Who is responsible for the screw up? (and it is a screw up because we all know what the school colors are and that the seats should be the school colors).

2. Are they still employed and if so why?

3. Who do they answer to and why are they still employed?

This isn't hard folks, ask the right questions, hold fast for the answers and demand results.

And make three big changes in April!

MODOT issues winter weather travel advisory

(From MODOT)

MoDOT/Southwest Winter Travel Advisory:
Wednesday Afternoon through Thursday Morning, Dec. 17-18
Rain, sleet and snow expected to impact southwest Missouri beginning Wednesday afternoon/evening and lasting through the overnight hours into Thursday morning, December 17 and 18.  The winter storm will impact travel through Thursday morning rush hour.  Drivers urged to use caution and be prepared for slick roads.
Weather Forecast: Rain, snow and sleet are likely beginning Wednesday afternoon/evening into the overnight hours.  Up to three inches of snow is possible near Clinton with up to an inch of sleet and snow in the Springfield/Joplin areas.  The Branson area could see up to a half inch of winter precipitation.   Temperatures will be at or below freezing overnight.  The storm is expected to move out of the area by mid-day on Thursday. 
Road Clearing: MoDOT crews will be on the road ahead of the storm Wednesday afternoon.  Crews will treat roads with a mixture of salt and abrasives to help with traction. Crews will remain on the road ‘round the clock treating and clearing as necessary until major routes are in clear condition. 
Crews will treat hills, curves and intersections on lesser-traveled roads with a mixture of salt and abrasives where necessary.  However, lesser-traveled roads will not be in clear condition.                
Travel Conditions: Road conditions will not improve drastically until the storm moves out of the area.  Crews will do their best to keep major roads in passable condition during the storm.  However, lesser-traveled roads will remain mostly covered. 
Drivers can regularly check MoDOT's Traveler Information Map for updated road conditions. 
Thursday morning rush hour will be especially challenging, depending on temperatures and when the storm system moves out of the area. Drivers are urged to take it slow and allow plenty of extra travel time to reach their destinations. 
Traveler Information Map: To find the most up-to-date road conditions in southwest Missouri and statewide, check MoDOT's Traveler Information Map.  MoDOT also has a Traveler Information Map mobile app for smart phones.
Winter Weather Driving Tips:
  • Buckle up.  
  • Slow down.
  • Stay at least 100 feet behind a truck plowing/treating the road. 
  • Be alert for changing road conditions. 
  • Make sure fuel tanks are full before traveling.
  • Don't drive across downed utility lines or tree debris
  • Focus on driving and avoid distractions.
  • Allow for extra travel time.
  • Carry an emergency kit equipped with snacks, water and blankets.

Letter to Joplin R-8 Board: What were you thinking?

The following letter to the members of the Joplin R-8 Board of Education was submitted to the Turner Report by Ryan Jackson of Joplin.

Dear Board Members,

Since I pretty much know all of you, I will just be blunt and ask the question.

At a time when our school district is going out to borrow money to finish projects that a bond issue and donations were supposed to handle, we hear about the low reserves due to all the spending our district had to do after the tornado, and we hear about teachers leaving for better paying positions in other districts; why in the world would we waste $90,000+ to buy new seats in a gymnasium due to an issue with the color?

Someone had to sign off on the blue seats, I'm sure someone saw at least one in there before they were all installed and could of called to stop the problem, but apparently not. Instead our district opts to install seats, take them out and reinstall new ones because of the color? You all must realize how absurd this sounds.

I have often bit my tongue on many issues with all of you, so let's call this the straw to break the camels back. The only one of you who seemed to think this was problematic is Dr. Fort, and I applaud her for being willing to put a foot down and say enough is enough.

I would sincerely appreciate an answer from each of you explaining your position and reason for your vote on this ridiculous spending. If you don't care to answer me, that's your prerogative, but please know the next time I see you this will come up, as it will each time I see you until you can muster a response. 

You are elected officials who should answer to the constitutes you represent, many of you are people I have voted for, and many of you have posted signs on my family's property for at least one of your elections. When do you say enough with these additional spending frills you choose, and start showing some accountability? What lesson does this teach to the students of our district about financial responsibility? I anxiously await each of your responses to these questions.

Ryan Jackson

State audit of Department of Agriculture released

(From State Auditor Thomas Schweich)

State Auditor Tom Schweich released the audit of the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) today.

In the areas audited, the overall performance of this entity was Good.

The MDA provided significant salary increases to six employees during fiscal year 2013 and four employees during fiscal year 2014, representing an annual total increase in salaries of $51,864 (ranging from six to 20 percent for these employees).

As noted in our prior audit report, various program fees of the MDA do not cover the related costs of the program, forcing the programs to be more dependent upon funding appropriated from the General Revenue Fund. For example, expenditures for the Agriculture Business Development Division exceeded revenues by $1,490,000 and $1,450,000 during the 2014 and 2013 fiscal years, respectively, and the division did not perform and document an analysis of some fees charged. Some program fees have not been adjusted in more than a decade.

To read the full report, visit:

McCaskill: Why I voted against the $1 trillion spending bill

(From Sen. Claire McCaskill)

This past weekend, the Senate brought a controversial $1 trillion spending bill up for a vote, and like all legislation that comes across my desk, I strongly considered the impact this bill would have on Missouri's families.

It was with that concern in mind that I voted against this spending package and the secretive, last-minute provisions it included.

For me, this kind of bill just isn't the way to govern.

While the funding did include important provisions for causes I support - like a boost to the E/A-18 Growler production line, critical for airborne electronic attack, and certainty for our military and veterans - it lacked the very basic transparency you deserve from your government.

Added to this spending bill - with little-to-no public debate - was a provision that will further open the floodgates for big money in our elections, by allowing for a huge increase in the amount of political contributions that wealthy individuals can make toward political parties. We should be working to limit money in politics, not giving millionaires and billionaires even more influence over our politics.

The bill also included a secretive provision that could allow for a process by which the pensions of millions of retirees across the country could be dramatically reduced - and one that could once again find taxpayers bailing out Wall Street's bad bets - as we were forced to do when the financial crisis hit in 2008. That's not a gamble I was willing to make, especially at the expense of hardworking Missourians.

I remain firmly committed to a transparent and accountable government, and what I saw last weekend didn't represent those values you sent me here to uphold.

We're stuck with C. J. Huff; State Board picks Vandeven

(From the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education)

Following interviews with five finalists, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to select Dr. Margaret Vandeven as the next Commissioner of Education, effective January 1, 2015.

“We believe in the positive impact of the Top 10 by 20 plan on Missouri’s children,” said State Board President Peter Herschend. “We strongly believe that Dr. Margie Vandeven is the right person to accomplish the goals of the plan.”

Board members cited Dr. Vandeven’s strong background in education and extensive knowledge of education policy at the state and federal level as preparing her for the position. Her proven leadership in multiple capacities in the Department shows she is ready for the challenge. They also cited her drive and determination to make the Top 10 by 20 plan a reality.

“I am honored to serve as Missouri’s Commissioner of Education, and I am committed to and focused on doing what’s right for the children of Missouri,” said Dr. Vandeven. “I stand ready to support our school districts and charter schools, working together to move Missouri into the top 10 in student performance.”

Dr. Vandeven brings 24 years of education experience to the role, including the last nine years at the Department. She served most recently as the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Learning Services coordinating the work of the seven assistant commissioners. Dr. Vandeven’s previous experience consists of 13 years as an English language arts teacher and administrator in private schools in Missouri and Maryland. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Education at Missouri State University, Master of Education at Loyola College in Maryland and Doctor of Philosophy at St. Louis University.

A primary focus for Dr. Vandeven will be Missouri’s Top 10 by 20 initiative, a major improvement effort that aims for student achievement in Missouri to rank among the top 10 states by 2020. The plan’s four goals include graduating all Missouri children ready for college and career; preparing all children for success in kindergarten; and preparing, developing and supporting effective educators.

Dr. Vandeven takes over the Commissioner’s office from Dr. Chris L. Nicastro, who retires effective Dec. 31, 2014. She will serve the state as the sixth commissioner of education.

KZRG host rips Joplin Board decision to pay $95,000 to replace seats

The Joplin R-8 Board of Education's 6-1 decision to spend $95,000 to get the right colored seats into the new Joplin High School gymnasium did not sit right with KZRG Morning Newswatch host Chad Elliot or with his listeners).

Elliot just referred to the decision as "mismanagement of money," and "a travesty."

"How can the school board look at themselves?"

Elliottpointed out the apparent hypocrisy of some of the things that are said about district officials when compared to their actions. "We keep talking about Bright Futures and kids in poverty and we're going to spend $100,000 on seats?

"This is stupid. We should live with the colors."

Elliot's wrath was not directed at the entire Board of Education. "We're going to blow $100,000 in taxpayer money and Debbie Fort is the only one who voted no?"

National Weather Service video- Hazardous weather heading this way