Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Does Fox C-6 Have a School Board?

Why do we elect school board members to watch over our school district and maintain the public trust if our Superintendent is going to undermine that public trust?

Is Superintendent Critchlow supposed to respond to the community or is the school board supposed to respond to the community?

I think it says a lot to the Fox C-6 community when Superintendent Critchlow informs you via an email from her Assistant Superintendent that the school district / school board won't respond to your questions posed during Public Comments anymore with anything other than a "thank you" unless you speak to a district employee first.

Below is a portion of the email that Mr. Arbeitman sent me the day after I spoke at the February 2014 board meeting. Mr. Arbeitman's email was only sent to me and copied to Superintendent Critchlow and board secretary Debby Davis (Critchlow's administrative assistant). None of the board members were included in the email unless they were blind copied even though Mr. Arbeitman appears to be speaking for the board.
In order to better meet your needs, thoughts, and questions, we would like to be more proactive with your monthly public comments rather than reactive. That said, I am requesting that if you know what your questions, opinions, thoughts, or desires are prior to our board meetings, that you to please call me in advance so that we can better serve you and your comments. This will in no way stop you or prevent you from making monthly public comments, but rather it will allow more validity and affirmation for our board of education that you are following the proper chain of command as per board policy. If you choose not to contact me in advance, all further responses from your public comments will be a “thank you” response and that we look forward to responding to you in the future when you are willing to communicate with district employees first. At this time, your request for more detailed credit card bill descriptions, the district budget posted online, and more detailed descriptions of monthly payments are being requested from only one individual and we can make those available to you upon request. The board appreciates your comments and they will continue to be taken under consideration.
So, it appears from Mr. Arbeitman's email that I am being treated differently than other people who come and speak at school board meetings and have their questions answered without first having to speak with Mr. Arbeitman. School board policy DOES NOT state that a person has to contact a district employee prior to making a Public Comment in order to get a response. If it is a student matter at a building, then a person is asked to go through the chain of command from the teacher to the principal to the Superintendent before speaking to the board. However, my questions can only be answered by the school board. I cannot be required to call Mr. Arbeitman in order to ask the school board a question. The school district doesn't want me asking the board questions that they should be asking the district.

Perhaps the board is asking questions about Bill Payments. If they are, they aren't asking these questions during the public portion of our board meetings. I've been to the board meetings. The board simply approves the payments and abstains when needed.

From the public's perspective during the open session, it doesn't appear that the board is asking any questions about bill payments. They shouldn't be discussing bill payments during Closed Session. Bill payments is not a matter for Closed Sessions. It is a public matter.

Apparently asking our elected school board members at a school board meeting as to how they are able to approve bill payments without knowing what the payments are for doesn't sit well with Superintendent Critchlow. At the February 18, 2014 school board meeting I asked the board how can they approve bill payments when they aren't provided descriptions for those payments in their board packets?

Descriptions for bill payments used to be provided to board members each month in their board packets prior to the district switching to the new school software this year. During my Public Comment, I also asked our board members how they have been able to approve paying nearly $2 Million dollars in credit card bills so far this year when they aren't provided the credit card statements to document where the money was spent? If they knew, they didn't answer my question. I waited for a response. All they said was "thank you". (See below as to how much money was paid to Credit Card companies in January and February 2014.)

Should the community expect our school board to follow district policy under the Code of Ethics section which states, "As a member of the school Board, I shall: Insist that school funds be spent prudently and effectively to provide maximum educational benefits."?

How can school board members insist that school funds are being spent prudently and effectively if they don't know what our tax dollars are being spent on?

Perhaps the community needs to request a state audit of the school district.

Paying out nearly $2 Million dollars in credit card bills without oversight by our school board should raise some "red flags" for the community or any auditor for that matter. It's an easy way for someone to abuse taxpayer dollars when there's very little oversight.

What's the purpose of having a school board if only the superintendent's office is going to respond to Public Comment? It defeats the purpose of having a school board and violates school board policy which states that As a member of the school Board, I shall: Maintain the public trust through full and open communication. Is only receiving responses from our Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent on board matters "full and open communication"?

The response from the school district regarding my Public Comments reads almost like a Cease and Desist letter. Perhaps Superintendent Critchlow doesn't want the public to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

According to the district's response letter, only one person in the district is concerned about having descriptions on bill payments or having credit card statements to document the nearly $2 Million dollars the district has spent so far this year on credit cards. Since no one else is concerned, there's no reason to provide the information to the public like they do in other school districts. The district says they will provide me the information upon request. We will have to see if the district is going to charge me to obtain that information when it is requested as a further deterrent to making the information available to the public.

Would you be concerned if you saw a bill payment to THE BRIDAL SHOPPE for $24,723 from your school district?
Apparently Superintendent Critchlow looked up the check in question after reading my Twitter post last week about the check to The Bridal Shoppe. She told me at the school board meeting that the check to The Bridal Shoppe was for choir robes. I told her that if there had been descriptions on the bill payments, then the check might not have been questioned. She told me that I could call the district anytime if I have a question about a payment. She also informed me at the board meeting that the check to her husband that I mentioned on Twitter was for Professional Development.

Perhaps school board members are calling the school each month asking them what each of the questionable payments are for since they don't have any description or account codes to explain what the payments are for in the board packets (see below). It seems like the district is making it more difficult for our school board to do their job by not providing the descriptions with the bill payments like they used to do in the past.

So you can see how the district is handling things, I've included the email that I received from Assistant Superintendent Andy Arbeitman the day after I spoke at the school board meeting below. Below the district's response, I've posted some sample check payments with amounts from the board meeting packets. Below the check payments, I have listed some of the items from our school board policies Code of Ethics that our board members are supposed to follow.

February 19, 2014 response email from Assistant Superintendent Andy Arbeitmen to my Public Comments at the February 18, 2014 board meeting:
Thank you again for your time and public comments at our board meeting last night. With regard to your requests to;

-include more information in our board packets online
-more detailed credit card bills
-the district budget online
-more descriptions of payments
-the statement according to your calculations the district has approximately $2,000,000 in credit card bills to date

The district actually has $1,993,799 in credit card bills to date and a lot of schools utilize credit cards/purchasing cards to pay bills for added cash back rebates. This allows for more value of the school district dollar. Most of the credit card bills during the current year are electric bills district-wide, monthly copier costs, and as much of our office/teacher types of supplies when the credit card was still allowed for those types of charges. We have received approximately $35,000 in rebates to date.

In order to better meet your needs, thoughts, and questions, we would like to be more proactive with your monthly public comments rather than reactive. That said, I am requesting that if you know what your questions, opinions, thoughts, or desires are prior to our board meetings, that you to please call me in advance so that we can better serve you and your comments. This will in no way stop you or prevent you from making monthly public comments, but rather it will allow more validity and affirmation for our board of education that you are following the proper chain of command as per board policy. If you choose not to contact me in advance, all further responses from your public comments will be a “thank you” response and that we look forward to responding to you in the future when you are willing to communicate with district employees first. At this time, your request for more detailed credit card bill descriptions, the district budget posted online, and more detailed descriptions of monthly payments are being requested from only one individual and we can make those available to you upon request. The board appreciates your comments and they will continue to be taken under consideration.

Finally, you added a comment about administrative salaries that was not on your public comment request sheet. I will be happy to look into this for you upon receiving a return phone call. My number is listed below. I look forward to your call.

Andy Arbeitman
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction

Sample Payments from Check Register
Below are some sample entries from the Check Register listings found in the January and February 2014 school board meeting packets from the district website that the board approved payments for. As you can see the Transaction Description only lists the PAYEE Name. It does not provide any type of description as to what the payment is for. The Check # and Check Date have been left off this list for readability. You can download the board meeting packets from the district website that contain these checks by clicking on the link below. The February 18th board packet was updated on February 20th to include another $1,747,606.45 in payments that was included in the board members late packet just prior to the board meeting for approval.

  • CARD SERVICES - $85,252.99
  • CARD SERVICES - $81,808.52
  • CARD SERVICES - $74,379.38
  • SAMS CLUB DISCOVER - $26,998.43
  • SAMS CLUB DISCOVER - $30,099.44
  • SAMS CLUB DISCOVER - $26,072.46
  • AMERICAN EXPRESS - $52,543.60
  • AMERICAN EXPRESS - $12,127.42
  • AMERICAN EXPRESS - $22,141.69
  • THE BRIDAL SHOPPE - $24,734.00
  • THE ELECTION AUTHORITY FUND - $78,555.00
  • MICKES GOLDMAN O'TOOLE, LLC - $4,802.00
  • MICKES GOLDMAN O'TOOLE, LLC - $3,494.50
  • MICKES GOLDMAN O'TOOLE, LLC - $7,953.50
  • PUBLIC SCHOOL RETIREMENT - $1,434,314.66
  • PUBLIC SCHOOL RETIREMENT - $1,441,290.46
  • LINDBERGH SCHOOL DISTRICT - $14,250.00
  • TYLER TECHNOLOGIES INC - $22,465.00
  • TYLER TECHNOLOGIES INC - $134,151.17
  • Critchlow, Dianne P. - $50.06
  • DUNCAN BRAD - $2,485.00
  • DUNCAN BRAD - $2,720.00
  • CC DILLON COMPANY - $33,203.29
  • K & K CAR REPAIR - $50,425.31
  • EXQUISITE CATERING - $3,977.50
  • DETOUR GRILL & BAR - $2,456.55
  • VIG SOLUTIONS - $82,560
  • JEFFCO TRAVEL SERVICES - $31,970.00
  • PONDEROSA STEAKHOUSE - $239.70
  • AMEREN UE - $140,855.64
  • SOUTHWEST AIRLINES - $9,562.80

School Board Code of Ethics

Below are a few of the important points from the School Board's Code of Ethics (Policy 0333 in the current version or Policy 0340 in the updated version) that are in Fox's school district policies.

As a member of the school Board, I shall:
  • Endeavor to understand the present and future educational needs of the community.
  • Maintain the public trust through full and open communication.
  • Insist that school funds be spent prudently and effectively to provide maximum educational benefits.
  • Recognize that the public schools are agencies of the state for betterment of the entire community.
  • Encourage citizens to participate through channels in shaping the purposes and policies of the local school system.
  • Accept my policy-making responsibilities and require the Superintendent to administer the school in accordance with those policies.
  • Delegate to the Superintendent of schools and other school employees authority in keeping with their responsibilities.
  • Demand that the schools be operated by the best trained technical and professional personnel it is possible to procure.
  • Employ only such qualified employees as are properly recommended by the Superintendent of schools.
  • Insist that the Superintendent be responsible for keeping the Board properly informed on school matters at all times.
  • Make my decisions only after judicious consideration of the evidence and viewpoints of competent and/or interested individuals.

How closely are our school board members following the Code of Ethics?