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?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Little Digital Archaeology Documents Fox's Spending Spree!

How would you like to become a Digital Archaeologist and peer into the past of the Fox C-6 School District from the comfort of your home? It might not be ancient history. But, it's a historical record that allows you to look back into what's been happening in the Fox C-6 School District over the past 16 years. It's a window into our district's past that not too many people know about and it's an interesting one at that.

For example, you can go back in time and read articles that were published on Fox's website or view pictures of past administrators or school board members or old board meeting minutes as far back as 2001 simply by using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is a digital archive or snapshot of websites at the time the snapshot was taken. It's your portal to the past. It allows you to see a snapshot in time. You can find information that would have been difficult or maybe impossible to find or too expensive to obtain using Sunshine Law requests. Some of the information might even shock you. Wait till you find out how much our district our district was spending each year when Superintendent Critchlow became Superintendent compared to what we are spending now.

The Wayback Machine gives you the ability to travel back in time just like Google Earth gives you the ability to view older satellite imagery allowing you to see how things have changed over time in your neighborhood or just about anywhere on the planet.

I've already posted quite a few interesting links to older Fox C-6 website pages on the Fox C-6 Watchdog Twitter page which you can find here:

Traveling Back In Time
The Wayback Machine is a website much like Google's search engine that allows you to look up and review snapshots of websites by typing in the domain name for the website into the Wayback Machine. In order to see previous snapshots of Fox's website you'll need to go to the Internet Archive's website (http://web.archive.org) and type in Fox's web address or URL which is: www.fox.k12.mo.us. Or you can click on the link below to be taken directly to the Wayback Machine's historical record of the Fox C-6 website.


Once you arrive at the Wayback Machine, you'll see a timeline at the top of the page which shows vertical lines on the timeline for each of the snapshots taken of Fox's website. The very first snapshot was taken in 1998 and the most recent one in 2014. In order to view one of the snapshots simply click on one of the vertical lines on the timeline and the Wayback Machine will transport you back in time to an archived version of the district's website. Not all of the links, images or documents may have been captured from that time. However, there's a lot of information that has. It allows you to review what happened back then and compare it to what's happening now in our district. It gives you an easy way to see if the district's been doing what it said it would do. Has Fox been a good steward of our taxpayer dollars? Or, have they been able to find ways to increase spending without anyone really noticing that the district has nearly doubled the amount of money being spent each year over the last 8 years?

2005 - Fox Approves $88 Million Budget
2013 - Fox Approves $137 Million Budget
Using the Wayback Machine to pull up snapshots of Fox's website from 2005, you will find an article written by Kim Robertson for The Leader titled "Fox Approves $88 Million budget" which talks about the board approving the 2005-2006 budget for $88 Million dollars. The budget that was just approved last year for the 2013-2014 school was approved for $137 Million dollars. That's quite an increase in just 8 years given the fact that the school district's student count has remained roughly the same over the past 8 years. The district's student count for this year was in the 11,000's as it was back in 2005. It's scary to think that the cost of education has increased that much over the last 8 years. 

So, how has Fox been able to increase it's amount of spending so much in 8 years?

According to records obtained from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's website (MO DESE), Fox had the 2nd Highest Average Administrator Salary for the entire state of Missouri last year. Fox also had the 4th Highest Paid Superintendent Salary in the entire state of Missouri. But at the same time, Fox's average teacher salary was the 2nd Lowest Amount of the 9 District's of Distinction that Superintendent Critchlow compared our district to in her annual State of the District address to the board last fall. There are a lot more teachers than there are administrators in the school district, but over time Fox has increased the number of administrators in the district significantly while the number of students remained nearly the same.

Board Members Are Elected Officials and Don't Get Paid
School board members are elected officials and they don't get paid for their work in overseeing the district. This could also be one of the reasons why so many things have been getting the "rubber stamp" of approval from our school board over the years. It takes a lot of time to review board packets and look at the thousands of checks that the district writes each year. That is a lot of work and over time I believe the board has just come to trust that Superintendent Critchlow and her assistants are doing what they are supposed to do without question. That can lead to problems like we have now.

It also helps the superintendent to have happy school board members. It makes them much more willing to go along with her decisions. One great way to help influence board member decisions is to make sure that the board members feel like they are doing a great job for our district and for our kids. She tells the community repeatedly that they are doing a great job and thanks them at all of the board meetings. There's no better way to say thank you to a school board member than the promotion of their spouse or the hiring of their daughter in law to a high paying position in the school district. School board members aren't allowed to vote on decisions where there might be a conflict of interest. So, they step out of the room when votes are taken that involve their spouses or family members. This way everyone in the community knows that the decision made by the board does not give even the slightest hint that there was any possible conflict of interest.

Board Members With Benefits
In 2006 while Mr. Dave Palmer was the president of the Fox C-6 School Board, his wife was promoted to the district head nurse position. She received a 75% pay increase for that promotion. However, her new promotion required her to work more hours. In the past, head nurses only worked on a 9 month contract. Gee Palmer's new contract was a 12 month contract instead of a 9 month contract which made up for that 75% pay increase. The 25% increase in contract length was able to justify the 75% increase in pay.

Also, let's not forget that back in 2012 while Linda Nash was the president of the Fox C-6 School Board, her daughter in law was hired to be the new Food Nutrition Director. That position paid $65,000 per year and was able to be filled by a person with a high school diploma because she had worked at McDonald's for 17 years and had become an assistant manager. Since she didn't have the degree or the certifications that the district was looking for at the time, Superintendent Critchlow and Assistant Superintendent Todd Scott were willing to give her 2 years to obtain her degree and certification because Linda Nash's daughter in law was very enthusiastic about the job. However, in order to help her out with her new job duties the district had to promote to more people in the district to cover what was used to handled by one assistant in the past. So, there was a little more expenditure than expected due to the lack of experience in running a public school district's food nutrition program.

More interesting things to see on the Wayback Machine for Fox?

In Praise of the Board of Education
It was interesting to read former Fox C-6 Superintendent Jim Chellew's 2004 article titled "In Praise of the Board of Eduction". In his article, he mentioned that "Board members are some of the most accessible elected officials." Really? I'll have to disagree with Mr. Chellew on this point. Superintendent Critchlow tends to control access to our school board. A person isn't allowed to mention names during Public Comments at school board meetings. She's told the board not to speak with people. She's sent out Cease and Desist letters to individuals who try to bring things to the school board's attention. I have spoken at many school board meetings over the past several years and have sent emails and letters to our board and hardly if ever receive a reply. It doesn't appear to me that our school board is very accessible. 

So, I find Mr. Chellew's article quite humorous after trying to work with our school board over the years. I know it's the school superintendent's job to promote their school district and tell the public what a great job the district is doing in educating our kids. But, telling the public that the board is accessible when the public knows otherwise is sad.

Brown Hired as New Fox Super
Another very interesting article is the November 2004 announcement of Dianne Brown being chosen as the next Fox C-6 School Superintendent. The 2004 article titled "Brown hired as new Fox super" was written by Kim Robertson for The Leader newspaper. The article states that "The school board advertised the position only within the district, and Brown was the only candidate. The school board interviewed her Monday and voted unanimously to hire her. Chellew said he had hoped Brown would get the job."

Superintendent Salaries Then and Now
The above article also mentions that Superintendent Brown (now Critchlow) would be paid at least $135,217 for the 2005-2006 school year. Her salary as superintendent back then pales in comparison to the $256,131 that she is now being paid for the 2013-2014 school year.

Some More Interesting Links from the Wayback Machine

2007 Photo of Fox C-6 Central Office Administrators

July 2001 Fox C-6 School Board Meeting Minutes - No Tax Increase Bond Issue and Dianne Brown appointed as Section 504 Coordinator
So check out the Wayback Machine and see what else has gone on in our school district over the years. You might be surprised at what you can find. It might even make for a good research paper for some of our students. It's similar to digging up the time capsule that was buried under the flag pole next to the administration office back in 1976. It can reveal a lot about our district's past. Hopefully the information can help steer our district down a better path in the future.