Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Superintendent Critchlow to Retire in October 2015!

At the November 19, 2013 Fox C-6 School Board Meeting, Mr. Todd Scott announced that Superintendent Dianne Critchlow would be retiring in October 2015.

Mr. Scott stated that the information was in the late materials presented at the school board meeting that evening.

At the November 19, 2013 board meeting, I made a public comment expressing my concerns to the school board regarding the recent November 5th board workshop in which our school board violated Missouri Sunshine Law by taking an open meeting agenda item that was being discussed into Closed Session.

At the beginning of my public comment, I gave an apology to the board stating that my Tuesday November 19th email was not intended to be a personal attack against anyone. However, Superintendent Critchlow interpreted my email as a personal attack against her and the district. My email presented some areas of concern to the board. Apparently, Superintendent Critchlow does not respond well to anyone who points out areas of concern or provides non-glowing comments about the district.

It's human nature to want to point out the positive. However, at some point in time we must all weigh our obligation to provide a complete disclosure of the facts, imperfect as those facts may be, especially when our employer is the public. Public entities are held to a higher standard of accountability for a reason. Missouri DESE sets that standard and our teachers and administrators work hard to achieve that standard. However, there are areas of concern that deserve attention.

For example, Superintendent Critchlow told the board at the September school board meeting that Fox C-6 had the highest MSIP 5 score out all of those in attendance at meeting of Jefferson County schools. That is as long as you don't count the Festus school district which had a higher score than Fox. Was Festus not in attendance?

Fox's Percentage of Graduates Taking the ACT
Another area of concern which I pointed out in my email is the fact that the Percentage of Graduates taking the ACT test at Fox is only 56% which is relatively low compared to the state average of 75% and to Rockwood and Parkway which each have 96%.

When I point out concerns to our school board, our Superintendent responds with claims that I am making personal attacks against her and the school district. My pointing out of facts are not intended to be a personal attack. Shouldn't these areas of concern be a concern for everyone?

Is it misleading by not providing information to the public or to the school board?

Or is it merely accentuating the positive?

Should our Superintendent provide the public and the board with a complete and accurate picture of our District regarding college admissions testing?

Wouldn't it be more productive if we, as a community, would be given information about our relatively low number of students taking the ACT and simply say, “this is an area in which we need to improve”?

It’s a shame that our Superintendent does not seem to trust the public with all the facts, and only highlights those facts that are positive. Only by recognizing the negative and owning it are we actually able to truly eliminate the concerns.

Superintendent Critchlow responded to my concerns regarding the ACT data with the following statement which she copied to myself and the school board:

Project Lead the way is a goal of the districts and is currently being researched in depth by our career readiness director. We would love for you to come in and discuss this issue. In addition, come in and talk to Dr. Rizzi about your thoughts on ACT. He will provide you with accurate data on the ACT and the Fox school district.
Rather than being concerned with the low number of students taking the ACT, our Superintendent appears to try and discredit my information. If Superintendent salary is based upon school district performance against other districts, one would hope that our school board looks at the complete picture.

You can see a comparison of some of the "facts" and statistics of the Top 25 School Districts in the state ranked by Superintendent Salary to see how Fox compares to those other districts in my previous article here:

School Board Approval of Audit Report for June 30, 2013
A representative from the Daniel Jones and Associates accounting firm presented the annual audit report to the school district for approval. The annual audit done by the Daniel Jones and Associates firm is nowhere near as in depth as when the state auditor reviews a school district like the one recently done for the Rockwood school district.

It should be noted that the audit report was not posted on the district website and it was not included in the school board meeting packets for the public to review.

Not posting the information for the public doesn't give the appearance of being openly transparent. This should raise some red flags for the public. It has been more than 10 years since Fox has had a state audit done. It takes a petition to get a state audit done. So, it's time for Fox C-6 to have a state audit done. It's definitely needed given the lack of oversight from our board over the last 8 or 9 years and given some of the decisions that they have made since that time.

It's also odd that only our superintendent responds to requests to have the school budget and other financial information published on the district website. And, she has refused to publish the school budget and has refused to publish prior years of board meeting packets even though they already exist. Superintendent Critchlow has only given excuses as to why these documents can't be published on the website. Perhaps if more people requested them, the district would realize that it would be much more efficient to publish them on the website rather than individually having to respond to each and every request.

After the representative from the accounting firm presented the report, board president Dan Smith asked if there were any questions. Steve Holloway spoke up and asked that the board be given more time to review the report. Mr. Holloway commented that the audit report was 60 pages long and that they had just received it a week ago and so he would like to defer approving the report to have more time to review it. It was good to see a board member wanting to review an item more in depth. John Laughlin seconded the motion to defer the report instead of just rubber stamping it.

Here is a transcript from this portion of the meeting after the representative said a few words about the report from the Daniel Jones and Associates company:

Dan Smith - Board President 
"Anyone have any questions or comments for the report?"
Cheryl Herman 
"I appreciate you coming. It makes me feel better that someone else on the outside look at the books and look at everything to make sure that it's going like it's supposed to. Thank you." 
Dan Smith  
"Anyone else?" 
Finance Director 
"I would just like to add one thing. He's really summarizing the process. We spend up to 2 or 3 weeks getting information. He's here for about 7 days and um, it just makes it a nice neat document but there's a lot of work that goes into this. We really do appreciate their help on this." 
Dan Smith 
"Anyone else?" 
Steve Holloway 
"So and, hold on. Sorry. So, so we're actually voting to receive this? Like. So, with it being, I mean we've had it for about a week. Is there anyway that we can defer this to vote on it until, uh, next month and maybe talk about this at one of our workshops? Go over what the audit means and some of the details in it and things like that?" 
Superintendent Dianne Critchlow 
"I think it has to. Does it have to be approved by December 31st?" 
Finance Director 
Finance Director 
"We also have to do a federal clearing house submission which is dated at the time. Our time starts once it's approved."
Superintendent Dianne Critchlow 
"So, if they approved it on December 17th, is that enough time?"
Finance Director 
Superintendent Dianne Critchlow 
"We could do this. I know we don't have a workshop planned for December." 
Steve Holloway 
"Oh that's right we don't. I guess we could go. Has, has anybody else had a chance to read this? I mean it's like 60 plus pages. Have you guys read through this?"
At this point Dave Palmer asked a question about the items on Page 14 concerning the fund balances and was responded to to by the district's director of finance filling in for Mark McCutchen.

After Mr. Palmer's question, Board President Dan Smith made the following comment telling the board that they should just go ahead and approve the audit because he looked over the report and it looked fine to him and because the audit company as been doing it for years and years.
Dan Smith - Board President 
"I have had the chance to look over this and, you know, Daniel Jones and Associates have, have done this for us for a number of, number of years. And uh, I mean if the board decides they want to defer this until the next meeting that's fine but. and I said, I've looked over it and it looks, it looks good to me. And, you know that if the numbers look good and like I said, these guys have looked at our district. It's not that their first time in the uh ball game here, with us. So, I mean they have audited us year after year after year. Know our numbers. Know where the numbers are coming from. So, I would, just as soon go ahead and do it tonight but if the, if the board decides they want to defer this till the next meeting."
Steve Holloway 
"I'll make a motion to defer if we want to."
Dan Smith 
"We have a motion to defer until the next meeting. Do we have a second?"
John Laughlin 
"I'll second that."
Dan Smith 
"OK we have a motion and a second. Any comments? Other comments?"
John Laughlin 
"Yeah, I have a comment, there's no specific reason you can't wait till the 17th. I just don't understand why we can't have 30 days to look at it. It just seems pretty easy. No sorts of specific reason for having a (inaudible)."
Linda Nash 
"I would agree with that. I also think that, um, we could even though we don't have a workshop. Uh, if, if as long as we don't find anything obviously we can vote on it on the 17th. But. we can still have it as a topic in a workshop even after it's approved."
Steve Holloway 
"That's true."
Dan Smith 
"Anyone else? OK. We have a motion and a second on the floor. All in favor? (yes) Any opposed? (none) OK. Motion carries."

Jamie Critchlow Is Not A Principal
Another note of interest from the meeting was the introduction of Mr. Jamie Critchlow as the principal of the Bridges program by assistant superintendent Tim Crutchley. According to Missouri DESE records and in speaking with Missouri DESE certification in the past, Mr. Jamie Critchlow has NOT earned an Administrative Certificate to have bestowed upon him the title of school principal. This has been looked into before by Missouri DESE Area Supervisor Dr. Tim Ricker when Jamie Critchlow's email address had the title of Principal of Bridges which was subsequently corrected to the title of Director.

According to Missouri DESE records as of November 20, 2013, Mr. Jamie Critchlow only possesses an INITIAL PC which was issued on January 13, 2011 and expires on January 13, 2015.

Mr. Critchlow took the Praxis tests in 2010 for the following courses to obtain his Initial Professional Certificate in the following two areas of study:

  • Principles of Learning & Teaching (7 - 12)
  • Social Studies: Content Knowledge

This concern was brought to the attention of the Fox C-6 School Board at the December 2010 school board meeting when I asked the school board how an individual had been hired into a director's position without proper certification. Mr. Critchlow was hired as a teacher in September of 2009 and promoted to the Director of Bridges in November 2009. That original promotion after only working for the district for two months raised is salary from in the $30,000 range to $98,569. That was quite a promotion considering he didn't obtain his Initial Professional Certification until January 2011.

Teacher Certification information can be found on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE) website here where you can personally verify the information:

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Fox C-6 School Board Fails The Public Again!

On Friday November 15, 2013, I emailed Superintendent Dianne Critchlow and Fox C-6 school board to ask if the school board was still planning on hosting the open discussion session with the public prior to the November 19, 2013 board meeting like they do in the Rockwood school district.

I sent my email as a reply to Superintendent Critchlow's October 4, 2013 email in which she told me that the Fox C-6 school board would begin hosting listening sessions beginning in November before each board meeting (see email below).
Mr. Simpson. 
I did take your suggestions to the board on the workshop Tuesday evening.  I copied and pasted the info from Rockwood’s website that you provided. The board is going to host listening sessions beginning in November before each board meeting. 
Have a great day! 
I sent my November 15th email to the board after reading the November 5th board workshop / meeting minutes that were included on page 38 of the November 19th board meeting packet. The board meeting packet was posted on the district's website on Tuesday November 12th. From the workshop minutes, it appeared as if the district was no longer planning on hosting listening sessions with the community. 

So, I sent the following email to the Fox C-6 school board and Superintendent Critchlow on Friday November 15th:
Does the school board still plan on hosting a listening session at the November 19th board meeting like you stated they would in your email below?

If not, then when was it decided that they would not be hosting one?

Thank you,

Rich Simpson

Here is the response I received within a couple of hours from Superintendent Critchlow regarding the school district's decision on hosting public discussions with the school board:
Mr. Simpson, 
I believe that you were at the workshop on Tuesday, Nov. 5th when this was discussed.

After further discussion and advice from the attorney, the district will not be hosting listening posts.

You are welcome to continue making your public comments as explained in the last email you sent.

Have a wonderful weekend.  Enjoy this great weather with your family before winter strikes.


So, the Fox C-6 school board is now unwilling to provide the same type of open communication with the public as they are now providing the public in the Rockwood school district.

The Fox C-6 community should be extremely concerned with the fact that our school board doesn't respond to emails and that they don't respond to Public Comments at board meetings contrary to what Superintendent Critchlow stated at the board workshop. The public is currently allowed 3 minutes to speak to the board at a school board meeting. Superintendent Critchlow told the board at the November 5th workshop that "every single person that's made a comment has received feedback" is NOT a true statement.

Furthermore, the community should be even more concerned with the fact that our school board violated Missouri Sunshine Law by taking the public discussion about Board Meetings into Closed Session at the November 5th board workshop at the suggestion of school district attorney Ernie Trakas as documented by Superintendent Critchlow's email to me on November 15th. Mr. Trakas did so after board president Dan Smith suggested that maybe the school board could respond to the public at the next school board meeting. Mr. Smith made this suggestion shortly after Superintendent Critchlow had just finished telling the school board that she has always provided feedback to every single person who has made Public Comments within a week as documented in our board policies. Mr. Smith's statements were a direct contradiction of what Superintendent Critchlow just stated otherwise there would be no reason to respond to the public at the next meeting.

The two newest board members may not know that Superintendent Critchlow's statement wasn't true regarding always responding to the public within a week. However, the other board members know that it's not true as they've received numerous emails from me over the past several years requesting responses from them after I've spoken at school board meetings. I never received a response from them. Even recently, I had to send another email asking that if Mr. Smith would not respond to my emails if another board member could and Cheryl Herman responded to let me know she received it. Mr. Smith has never replied to my emails.

I have emailed the board sometimes weeks and months after asking questions of the board and still no one on the board responded. Occasionally, Superintendent Critchlow would respond to some of the questions. However, she was very selective on what she responded to. The questions that I asked were directed to our school board and not our superintendent. The school board is elected to represent the public, not the superintendent.

This is the very reason that it is time for our community to speak up and start asking our school board questions and demand that they start looking for a new superintendent who can tell the truth and is willing to be transparent and open with the community. Right now Superintendent Critchlow is running our school district and our school board. The school board is supposed to hold our superintendent accountable for her actions and they are not doing their job.

I certainly hope that everyone in our community contacts our school board members and asks them why they violated Missouri Sunshine Law and why they are unwilling as a whole to host open discussions with the community.

Mr. John Laughlin, Mr. Steve Holloway and Ms. Cheryl Herman appear to be willing to speak with the community openly after listening to them speak at the November 5th board workshop. However, I don't believe that Mr. Dave Palmer, Mr. Dan Smith, Ms. Linda Nash or Mr. Dan Kroupa share the same sentiment based upon their comments at the workshop.

Below is an excerpt of the transcript from my audio recording of the November 5th workshop from when Mr. Dave Palmer spoke at the board workshop. These were his comments right after school district attorney Ernie Trakas told the board that he felt that community listening times were a bad idea.
Dave Palmer - Board Vice President
"I can tell you going to the MSBA meeting. They uh, when we were up there and we were doing the votes. They only allow 3 minutes. That's what they uh, recommend. They don't. They don't change it. Uh, I can tell you that there was plenty of times when the people that were trying to articulate their thoughts across appropriately stated and it worked. Uh, I agree with Ernie. I just think for (inaudible) purposes, it's not to the board's and the school district's benefit. If somebody wants to talk to you, let them talk to you. But, even then you need to be careful, I believe what you're talking about because you never know what subject you're broaching and I'm not sayin people will do this but there's always gonna be somebody out there that might possibly be upset enough to take somebody personally to court over something they stated. 
Uh. And I don't think, you, or me, or us as a board should put the district in that position. That's just my candid thoughts. It's not that I don't want to hear people. I'll listen to em. I'm probably not going to respond to em. I'm thinking about what they say. But I'm not gonna to take the chance on them saying "He said this" and it gettin twisted. I'm not doin it. I grew up with a brother that's a judge. I'm not doin it."
Dan Smith - Board President"OK. So, I would take it, uh, Dave, uh, that you were leaning towards not doing this at this time."
Dave Palmer - Board Vice President 
"Yeah I mean, I just. If they want to talk to me personally, I'll listen to em. I think we should. I think we owe that to them. I'm just sayin if you listen to somebody be careful what you say to em. How you respond. I pretty much when I listen to somebody on certain subjects, I'm pretty much closed lip. Not because I'm afraid, cause I don't want anything to get misconstrued, even accidentally. Not that somebody's going to do it on purpose. Maybe I misstated. You know misstate something that I've, it's possible, you know. If I'm not answerin, I didn't say it. You know and then I can take everything they said; all the information I can get from you guys and administration and I can come to a better decision at that point."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did Fox C-6 Violate Sunshine Law at Board Workshop?

The Fox C-6 school board held a board workshop on Tuesday November 5, 2013. There were only 3 people in attendance at the meeting besides the board members and school administrators. It was an interesting meeting as Superintendent Critchlow used the opportunity to "go on record" stating all of the things that she says she does that she doesn't really do with regards to responding to people that speak during Public Comments. I should know as I've spoken at several board meetings over the past 3 years and it has been extremely rare that I have received feedback and that feedback was not from the board.

Why won't the school board respond to questions that can only be answered by the board?

Below is one of the statements Superintendent Critchlow made at the board workshop which simply isn't true with regards to her stating that she has gotten back to "every single person that's made a comment has received feedback". Maybe she considers a glaring look "feedback".

Numerous times over the past 3 years I had to email the board weeks after speaking at board meetings asking for a response from the board. My emails quoted board Policy #0403 which states that the board will respond to all public comments within a week. On occasion I received an email response from Superintendent Critchlow with a reply to some of my questions while other questions were simply ignored. The short of it being that her statement below about getting back to every single person is False. However, her statement that she probably failed to tell the board is True. Cheryl Herman spoke about not knowing if the district ever responded to people during the workshop.

"I can go on record saying that every single person that's made a comment has received feedback. It may not always be the feedback they want to hear. ... But, never is there a public comment, unless they're really just not asking anything and just stating a comment. But, if they ever want answers, they get them! We have a policy that says we'll get back to them within a week. The only thing that we probably fail to do all the time is to tell you."
The most important thing you need to know right now about the board workshop meeting is that in my opinion, our school board violated Missouri Sunshine Law by taking an open meeting agenda item discussion on "Board Meetings" into closed session.

School district attorney Ernie Trakas was one of the 3 people in attendance at the meeting. Early in the meeting he spoke to the board about why they shouldn't have open discussion sessions with the public prior to board meetings like I suggested they do a couple of months ago. They do this now at Rockwood. You can hear Superintendent Critchlow mention that I suggested this idea to the board in the audio below.

Mr. Trakas's main concern on that topic was that there would be no contemporaneous record of the open discussion and that "it could lead to very interesting publicity". There would be a "contemporaneous record" if our school board meetings were video or audio recorded. This is why I record all meetings that I attend so there is an accurate record of what was said at the meeting since Mr. Trakas alluded to the problem of accuracy. This is why Fox should record all meetings like they do in other districts and Fox used to do in the past. I believe meetings aren't recorded anymore to allow our administrators the freedom to deny what was said in the board meeting as Superintendent Critchlow did in March 2012 about posting the board policies on the district website. Once I emailed her what she said at the meeting, she posted the updated board policies on the district website as she said she would at the board meeting.

So, did Mr. Trakas help our school board violate Missouri Sunshine Law?

He told Superintendent Critchlow and the board that "If we're going to discuss this, it needs to be discussed in Closed Session." after Superintendent Critchlow asked Mr. Trakas to respond to board president Dan Smith's idea about responding to the public at the next board meeting with answers from questions from the previous board meeting. NOTE: The board doesn't respond to Public Comments at board meetings.

Dan Smith tossed out this idea right after Superintendent Critchlow had just finished telling the board and those in attendance, that she's always responded to all public comments with feedback. She said that maybe the public just didn't like the feedback that they were given as to why the public asked the questions again and again. Critchlow even mentioned the board Policy 0403 that I have quoted many times in my emails to the board asking for answers weeks after making public comments. Board Policy 0403 states that the board will respond to all public comments within a week. That doesn't happen. I've brought this to their attention many times because I've never received a response from the board. I've only received responses from Superintendent Critchlow or one of the other administrators even though my questions were directed to the board.

Below is the audio recording and transcription from my audio recording of the November 5th board workshop when district attorney Ernie Trakas tells Superintendent Critchlow and the board that if they are going to discuss responding to the public at a board meeting that they need to discuss that in Closed Session.

According to Missouri Sunshine Law, Closed Meetings are only used to discuss issues such as Litigation, Personnel matters and Real Estate transactions. According to Missouri Sunshine law Section 610.022.3 requires that the meeting be closed only to the extent necessary to discuss the specific announced exception. No other business should be discussed during the closed meeting. The discussion of board meetings which includes the topic of responding to the public was listed under the board workshop agenda as part of the Open Meeting.

The only items listed on the board workshop agenda for Closed Sessions were 610.021.1 Litigation, 610.021.3 Personnel, 610.021.9 Negotiations and 610.021.13 Personnel Records. Therefore, I believe that Fox violated Missouri Sunshine Law by taking what was being discussed in the public into Closed Session.

Public Discussion Taken To Closed Session
Here is a transcribed portion of the audio leading up to board president Dan Smith adjourning the meeting to closed session after he suggested giving responses to the public at the next board meeting:

Board President Dan Smith 
"Here's an idea, I'm just gonna throw this out. What if at the next board meeting we give a response after one of the administrators has had some time to research the question, gotten the information, gotten the answers maybe it's been run through, then we can give the public some answers."
Superintendent Critchlow 
"From the previous one?"
Board President Dan Smith 
"From the previous meeting."
Superintendent Critchlow 
"Oh! (surprised response followed by a long pause) Ernie?" (nervous laughter)
Ernie Trakas (School district attorney)
"You're now, um, in my opinion anyway, if we're going to discuss this, it needs to be discussed in Closed Session."
Board President Dan Smith 
"Alright. Alright. Then I make a motion to adjourn."
At this point the board adjourned to Closed Session after Mr. Smith was told by the board secretary to read the agenda items for Closed Session. Discussing board meetings was not on the list of items to be discussed in Closed Session.

So, what reason did the attorney have for taking the Open Meeting discussion about Board Meetings into closed session?

It seems very clear from Mr. Trakas's statement, that he felt that the topic that Mr. Smith just brought up, needed "to be discussed in Closed Session" and that would violate Missouri Sunshine Law. The district attorney was responding to Superintendent Critchlow's request for counsel on Mr. Smith's statement on responding to the public at the next board meeting.

At the beginning of the board workshop, the district attorney expressed his concerns to the board about having open discussions with the public prior to board meetings. I want to commend board members Steve Holloway, John Laughlin and Cheryl Herman who all expressed their desire for wanting to speak and meet with the public prior to board meetings which I will cover in more detail in another article. It's important for the public to know what the school district attorney's opinion is on having listening sessions for the public with the board.

Early in the meeting, board president Dan Smith asked the Fox C-6 legal counsel Ernie Trakas for his input about the open session discussions prior to board meetings. Here is what Mr. Trakas had to say on that subject.

"And I'm going to speak candidly. That is what I would hope you expect. In my opinion, there's no upside to this. For perhaps 3 or 4 reasons. 
Your policy already provides an ample and sufficiently comprehensive and coordinated method for Public Comment. 
This board listening period, inevitably is going to be monopolized by a handful of people, almost every time. So that means that your goal, which is admirable, will never be accomplished. One, two, three people will constantly buttonhole board members and will turn it into what I believe ultimately will be a gripe session. 
Most important! 
Third and most important to me, the absence of a contemporaneous record poses significant problems. Not so much what you relate but what the person you spoke with relates to others in the media what you said. I guarantee you as I'm standing here tonight. It will never be accurate. So, for those reasons, I just don't see an upside to it. Um. Whatever another school district may do, good for them. But, um, for my money, the downside risk far outweighs any upside gain. 
Look, if nothing else, it's certainly going to um, it certainly has the potential for interesting publicity. Um. If not flat out inaccurate because there's an absence of a contemporaneous record. There's also no opportunity for you as a board member for any type of input from the administration for background or other information that may be important for you to understand what it is this person's talking about. So for all those reasons I just don't see it as a good idea."