Friday, March 21, 2014

Response to Assistant Superintendent Andy Arbeitman's Response to My February 2014 Public Comments

It's pretty easy to see that your school board isn't being allowed to answer questions from patrons of the district. I asked Assistant Superintendent Andy Arbeitman at Tuesday night's school board meeting if he had received my email response to his email. He said he had. However, he seemed quite offended by my response. He told me that I misunderstood his email and that he was only trying to be proactive in asking me to contact him if I knew what I wanted to ask the school board by getting me information prior to the school board meeting.

I told Mr. Arbeitman that his email made it pretty clear that the school board was not going to respond to my questions with anything other than a "Thank You" unless I first called him with my questions. He told me that's not what it said. He said that it said "If". I again told him that his email sad IF I didn't contact him first that the board wasn't going to answer my questions. It was quite clear. He again tried to explain that I was taking his email the wrong way and that I just needed to give him a chance.

I recommend that you read Mr. Arbeitman's email that he sent me last month below and read my response to him. I'm fully aware of how the Mickes Goldman O'Toole law firm and the Missouri School Board Association trains school boards to basically remain silent. There is the belief that the board doesn't have the knowledge needed to respond to patrons on their own. They encourage the boards to have the superintendent or another school district designee respond for them. It's best for the school district to respond to patrons so the board doesn't say something that they shouldn't.

Mr. Arbeitman told me Tuesday night that the school board asked him to respond to my questions. I don't recall seeing anything documented in Fox's school board minutes stating that the school board has asked Mr. Arbeitman to speak for them.

How can Mr. Arbeitman answer questions for the board? He does not approve the Bill Payments. The school board does.

How does the school board approve the Bill Payments without knowing what the payments are for?

Does the district expect school board members to call the Central Office and ask about every check that seems questionable such as The Bridal Shoppe or the numerous monthly payments to restaurants, etc?

It appears that our school board isn't representing our community very well since they won't respond themselves. So, I ask again, why does Fox C-6 have a school board?

I recommend reading this article on the Missouri Education Watchdog's website:


According to Assistant Superintendent Arbeitman's email last month, there is only one person requesting information from the school district. Therefore, the district has no reason to publish public records such as school district budgets, bill payment descriptions or credit card statements like they do in other school districts.

The residents and taxpayers of the Fox C-6 School District can continue to call the Central Office if you want to know why the district spent another $24,000 this month at The Bridal Shoppe. Or perhaps you might want to ask the Central Office why the district paid all of the following restaurants this past month in the area as documented in the March 18, 2014 school board packet.

Without credit card statements, there's no way of knowing what was purchased on the credit cards by the card holders in the district. It's odd that the total credit limit of the 25 VISA card holders as documented by the board packets is only $44,000. However the district continues to have bills nearly double that amount. Review the 2013-2014 Bill Payments which lists the 25 VISA Credit Card Holders on page 2 of the report.

RESTAURANT PAYMENTS
Pomodoro's - $362.70
Panda Express - $350.00
The Dough Depot - $264.00
Detour Grill and Bar - $350.00
Bandana's Barbecue - $470.00
Gator South Beer & Wine Garden - $750.00
The Dough Depot - $456.00
Little Ceasars Pizza - $275.00
Panda Express - $358.00
The Dough Depot - $319.00
Waffle House #1324 - $392.00

CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS
American Express - $29,260.06
VISA Card Services - $79,186.67 (The total credit limit of card holders is: $44,000)
Sam's Club Discover - $20,501.19


My Response to Mr. Arbeitman and the Fox C-6 School Board
I responded to Andy Arbeitman's email regarding my Public Comments at the February 19, 2014 Fox C-6 School Board meeting. I wrote about his email last month. I also copied all of the school board members which makes my response a Public Records document.

My responses are in RED. Mr. Arbeitman's email was very clear in which he stated“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.”

However, it is possible that Mr. Arbeitman may have not fully understood what he wrote to me. There is a high probability that the Mickes Goldman O'Toole law firm wrote the email for him. Therefore, he may not have fully understood what he sent me. The law firm has been writing emails for the district for years since federal agencies have been investigating the school district. Even more so since the USDA found the District Non-Compliant with federal laws and was caught trying to subvert the complaint process last fall.

The law firm wants to make sure the district doesn't get into any further trouble. A few years ago, Assistant Superintendent Dan Baker, who is the District's Section 504 coordinator, accidentally sent us an email that he meant to send to the district attorney. He was asking the attorney to respond to one of our emails when he had time "Ha Ha". I forwarded the email back to Mr. Baker and told him that I think he intended to send it to the school district attorney Mike Hodge since he addressed it to Mike.

The Mickes Goldman O'Toole law firm handles emails for districts across the state like down in the Camdenton school district. It's a win for the law firm as they continue to bill month after month. Fox pays nearly as much per year in legal fees to the Mickes Goldman O'Toole law firm as it costs to add another Central Office Administrator to the payroll less their retirement benefits. Training school boards that they don't have the knowledge necessary to speak with the public, the law firm has a good chance that they'll be able to bill quite a few hours to school districts across the state helping them stay out of trouble.

It's time that we have some parents and taxpayers go to the Central Office and start scanning invoices and credit card statements to see where all the money is going. We've been told the district doesn't have enough money and that's why they really needed to pass the bond issue. I'd also recommend making copies of invoices from the law firm just to see how much they've been billing the district for the last 6 years. In the past, I've been told that our law firm doesn't provide the district with detailed billing. It's hard to believe that our district doesn't get detailed billing. You just never know what kind of excuse you will hear when you ask questions as our administrators hope to keep you from knowing the truth!

I believe that it's time for a State Audit of the Fox C-6 School District prior to Superintendent Dianne Critchlow's retirement!



Here is my email response to Mr. Arbeitman that I sent Tuesday March 18, 2014:


From: Rich Simpson
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 7:24 AM
To: Arbeitman, Andy - Assistant Superintendent
Cc: Davis, Debby - CO Secretary; Critchlow, Dr. Dianne; Dan E. Smith; David Palmer; Steve Holloway; John Laughlin; Cheryl Hermann; Linda S. Nash; Dan Kroupa
Subject: RE: Response to public comment at the February 18, 2014 board of education meeting

===================================================================== 
From: Arbeitman, Andy - Assistant Superintendent
Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 1:09 PM
To: Rich Simpson
Cc: Davis, Debby - CO Secretary; Critchlow, Dr. Dianne; Arbeitman, Andy - Assistant Superintendent
Subject: Response to public comment at the February 18, 2014 board of education meeting

Mr. Simpson,

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
Yes, my request to the Fox C6 School Board on 2/18/14 included that all the credit card statements (full originals less account numbers) be included in board packets.

-more detailed credit card bills
Actually, this statement is not completely accurate.  My request to the Board of Education on 2/18/14 was that the Board make available to the public the actual original credit card invoices/statements.  I asked the Board to provide the original statements from the credit card company to the public by including them, in their entirety, in the board packets that are then made available to the public on the District's website. By copying this correspondence to Dan Smith, I renew my request to the Board and ask that a member of the Board respond to my request. 

-the district budget online
My request to the Board of Education on 2/18/14 was that the Board publish the district’s budget(s) on the District’s website. The district recently provided the Board with the 2014-2015 district budget. Please publish the 2014-2015 budget on the district website like they do in other districts such as Rockwood.

-more descriptions of payments
Again, this is not completely accurate.  My request to the Board of Education on 2/18/14 was that the Board include a description for each line item payment/disbursement.  Currently there is no description at all, so it’s not accurate to state that I am requesting "more descriptions" when none currently exist. The only information that the Board currently makes available to the public is the name of the Payee to whom payment is made.  No information regarding what the payment is for is included and, therefore, the information is not useful to the average citizen.  My request to the Board on 2/18/14 was that the Board provide information about the intended purpose for each payment.  The example I provided was the recent payment of $24,000 to "The Bridal Shop" which may seem unusual to the average resident but would be immediately clarified if accompanied with a simple description statement indicating that this payment was for  "choir robes". This was practice in our District previously and it currently is the standard in other area school districts. Since the Board that approves spending based on this information, my request is directed to the Board. Board policy 3150 states that list of bills for approval, “will be supported by invoices, approved purchase orders, properly submitted vouchers, or in accordance with salaries and salary schedules approved by the Board.” Therefore I renew my request to the Board

-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.

Thank you for this information; however, to clarify, my concern was and is not that the District utilizes a credit card(s).  My concern is that the Board provides no descriptive information about credit card purchases to the public and does not include credit card statements like they do in other districts in their board packets.

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.

This is where we disagree, and where I seek your further very specific clarification.   Please provide me with a copy of the Fox C6 school board policy to which you refer above.

Perhaps you may be referring to school board Policy 1480 regarding “School/Community Relations - Public Complaints”. It states:

Although no member of the community shall be denied the right to petition the Board of Education for redress of a grievance, the complaints will be referred through the proper administrative channels for solution before investigation or action by the Board. Exceptions are complaints that concern Board actions or Board operations only.”

Obviously, Policy 1480 is not applicable here since my concerns meet the stated exception, i.e. the concerns I addressed at the 2/18/14 school board meeting are about “Board actions” and “Board operations” and I am therefore not subject to any “chain of command”.  My concerns/questions were not about student or personnel issues, instruction, discipline, or learning materials.  But perhaps there is another policy that applies of which I am unaware?  

Furthermore, I find it shocking that you have made a threat to me on behalf of the school Board-- “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.” 

Therefore, at your earliest convenience, please provide me with any school Board policy, documentation, or correspondence that supports your claims that:
  • the School Board may refuse to respond to a public question/concern about Board actions unless the resident “first” submits their concern to you
  • you, Andy Arbeitman, an employee of the school district, hold the authority to prescreen questions and concerns from members of the public to determine if, in your assessment, the concern is “valid” or not “valid” for consideration by the Board
  • the Board has made the decision to abdicate its responsibility and has expressly delegated its authority to you to determine if questions/concerns from the public are “valid” or not “valid” and deserving of a reply from them  
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.

Your request seems silly since my only availability for phone calls is outside of regular business hours when you would not normally be in your office.  My question, as asked to the School Board on 2/18/14 is that the School Board of Education include the administrative salary schedule on the district website. It should also be included in the board packets with actual salaries and not just “X”’s for the salary amounts. It doesn’t provide the public with any information to only place an “X” for a salary amount. Generally, I can be reached by phone at home between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m. or between 8 and 10 p.m.  Or, if it's more convenient, please simply include this information, along with your responses to my other questions contained in this email, in your response.

I also request that the Board of Education delay approving the Board’s updated Policies, Regulations and Forms until the April 2014 Board meeting. The District and the Board should have properly notified the public that they were available for review and recommendations. No announcements or notifications were posted on the district website or in the local paper notifying the public that the updated Policies and Regulations had been posted for the public to review.

Prior to approving the updated Polices, Regulations and Forms, please remove Vickie Hanson as a point of contact. She retired from the district in 2008.


Thank you,

Rich Simpson



Mr. Arbeitman's Response to My March 18, 2014 Public Comments:

Below is the response I received from Mr. Arbeitman. It appears that our school district doesn't acknowledge the fact that we have elected school board members to represent the community. It would also seem as if he didn't hear Linda Nash's parting message in which she told the few people in attendance at the March school board meeting that it is the school board's job to hire (or fire) the Superintendent.

Perhaps we should provide an Organizational Chart like they have in other school districts to Superintendent Critchlow and Assistant Superintendent Arbeitman which when properly drawn shows the Board of Education above the Superintendent and not the other way around.

========================================================================

From: Arbeitman, Andy - Assistant Superintendent
Date: 03/19/2014 11:23 AM (GMT-06:00) 
To: Rich Simpson 
Cc: Davis, Debby - CO Secretary ,Crutchley, Tim - CO Admin., Arbeitman, Andy - Assistant Superintendent
Subject: Response to Public Comments at the March 18, 2014 board meeting 

The district has their revised board policies on the website for review; however, we will add a public notice so that the patrons can be more informed.


The board of education continues to be in consideration of Mr. Simpson’s comments and suggestions.  In the meantime, upon request via email or phone, hard copies of the budget and such will be made available to Mr. Simpson.  Please contact Andy Arbeitman at 636-296-8000 or arbeitmana@fox.k12.mo.us.