Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hickman Mills School Board Embroiled in Controversy

By Paul Thompson

Already mired in a desperate struggle for statewide accreditation, the Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Education slipped further into chaos during a bizarre, specially organized Board of Education meeting last Thursday, April 18.
Board president Breman Anderson engineered the firing of district general counsel Chris Gahagan during the closed portion of the meeting, before bringing a number of controversial votes to the board in open session in a move that seemed to undermine the power of the incoming superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter, who was in attendance to view the entire ordeal.
The actions marked a defiant display by Anderson, who board members Eric Lowe and Dan Osman accused of committing several violations of the Sunshine Law during the wild and emotional open session.

Despite those objections, the board voted 4-3 to pass an item to hire Husch Blackwell as the district’s new interim legal counsel in what Osman and Lowe deemed to be a clear sign of premeditated designs to remove Gahagan. Darrell Curls, Byron Townsend, Shawn Kirkwood, and Breman Anderson voted in favor of the decision, while Bonnaye Mims, Eric Lowe, and Dan Osman were opposed.
The open agenda item regarding the interim appointment of Husch Blackwell was listed before the board had even scheduled a closed agenda item about the subject of general counsel. In Osman’s eyes, that indicates that a violation almost assuredly took place.

“To put it on the open agenda basically declares that, number one, you know that the agenda item is going to be to remove our attorney, and that it is going to be approved,” explained Osman of his concerns. “You already know the vote ahead of time will be to remove our attorney, thus necessitating a need for a new general counsel search. The only way that can occur, is if there has been previous discussion on that item.”
Under the Sunshine Law, private meetings of two or more board members outside of open or closed sessions are deemed impermissible. But Lowe and Osman felt that a private conversation of that nature would have been necessary in order to know there would be a need to find new general counsel at the open meeting. At one point during the tense exchange, Osman asked Anderson point blank if there had been prior discussion before adding the general counsel item to the closed agenda at the 11th hour, although Anderson declined to respond to the question.

According to the attorney general of Missouri’s website, the board or members of it can be fined up to $5,000 and any decisions that violate the Sunshine Law can be voided if county courts determine the board or its members purposely violated Sunshine Law.
Lowe maintained his own concerns about how the decision was railroaded through the board, despite members having very little information about the new firm. According to Lowe, the board never discussed what fees the district would pay Husch Blackwell, what matters the firm would represent the district on, or why they were chosen as interim legal counsel over any other firm in the city. Lowe also noted that contracts that may exceed $5,000 are required to go through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process, which had not taken place at the time of the meeting.

“I don’t think it’s proper, I think what’s going on is in violation of the Sunshine Law, and it just shows that this board, that members on this board, continue to not be here to serve the children of this district,” lamented Lowe during the meeting. “They are here for their own personal gain, and personal reasons, and it’s deplorable.”
There were other items brought before the board that failed to pass: a tight 3-3 tie on a vote to censure board member Bonnaye Mims for conduct unbecoming of a board member, and an item to create a new community outreach administration position that didn’t even make it to a formal vote.

Mims was accused by Anderson of hiring the district’s general counsel, Gahagan, for personal use while she was president of the board. He claimed that it was improper of Mims to sign bills and checks to Gahagan while also utilizing him for personal business.

“We don’t know if the attorney was paid, we don’t what took place,” said Anderson. “But we do know that Ms. Mims voted frequently to approve the bills of the said attorney, and did not disclose contact or the contractual relationship, or whatever it is, to the board.”
For her part, Mims never denied the claims, although she was defiant about the acceptability of her actions, and insisted she would do everything in her power to fight any punishment for hiring private legal counsel.

“I take this very serious, and I do intend to have legal counsel representing me,” said Mims. “So I’m trying to find out at this point and juncture, do I bring it back here or do I take it into a courtroom? Where would you like me to go with it?”
Lowe also questioned the sincerity of Anderson’s claims against Mims, stating the he knew of no Board of Education policy restricting access to paid private counsel. Furthermore, Lowe questioned whether Anderson hadn’t committed similar acts during his own time as board president.

“Considering you’ve retained people as legal counsel who sue this district on a regular basis and vote on those settlements regarding said counsel,” Lowe questioned Anderson, “are you going to censure yourself tonight?”
Anderson declined to acknowledge Lowe’s question about censuring himself, even after Lowe repeated himself later in the discussion.

When the item came to vote, Darrell Curls, Byron Townsend, and Breman Anderson voted to censure Mims. Shawn Kirkwood, Eric Lowe, and Dan Osman voted against censuring Mims. When Anderson came to Mims during the voting, he took apparent pleasure in informing her that she wouldn’t be allowed to vote on the issue.
“Ms. Mims?” asked Anderson as the voting order reached the former board president. “Oh yeah, that’s right, you can’t vote on yourself. I’m sorry. Mr. Lowe?”

When the vote ultimately reached a tie, it was tabled for a later session, and Mims narrowly avoided being censured by her colleagues.
The last discussion of the evening regarded the potential creation, at the behest of board president Anderson, of a new Community Outreach administrative position. The discussion about the position proceeded against the advice of incoming superintendent Carpenter. At one point during the open session, Carpenter raised his hand to make an audience comment and stated that the board’s interest in creating a community outreach position was “concerning” to him.

“I will tell you that it is perplexing to me to see the Board of Education recommend employment for a position,” Carpenter said to the board. “I’ve never seen that before, and I’ve never seen that be best practice. And it is somewhat concerning to me as your incoming superintendent.”
Although a motion was made regarding the possible community outreach position by board member Byron Townsend, it wasn’t seconded and never made it to vote. Instead, board member Darrell Curls suggested conferring more with Carpenter before bringing the issue to vote at a later date. Townsend withdrew his motion, and the issue was tabled until a future meeting.

At one point during discussion, Osman turned and asked a direct question of acting superintendent Barbara Tate. Osman questioned whether the creation of a new administrative position concentrating on community outreach was a recommendation that originated from her administration. While the email notifying the board of the inclusion of the community outreach agenda item did come from Tate, she stated that its inclusion came at the behest of Anderson.
“Let me just speak to this piece. As all of you know, all of you got an email from me, yesterday I believe,” began Tate in a diplomatic tone. “Mr. Anderson requested the agenda to be changed for this evening. I sent that email to you, okay? So that’s how the items are there. So that is not a piece that I put on the agenda, no.”

Anderson displayed a stony resilience to pointed inquiries throughout the open meeting, ignoring direct questions and pushing for quick votes on the various agenda items. Anderson interrupted meeting attendee Teresa Edens during her audience comments, and implored her to sit down despite the objections of board members.
Edens had begun criticizing Anderson during her comment.

“I just find it very amusing the way you ask for comments, and people ask questions, and then they’re totally ignored,” Edens started, before being interrupted by Anderson.

“Thank you for coming out,” replied a terse Anderson. “You do not attack the board, you know better than that. Have a seat.”
After that fiery exchange with Edens, Anderson later discussed the need for the board “to look at how we interact with the community” during his introduction to the agenda item labeled simply as ‘Community Outreach’.

Mims couldn’t help herself from speaking up as she pointed out the irony in Anderson’s words.

“Isn’t that the community?” wondered an incredulous Mims, gesturing to the recently shouted-down Edens.
Lowe said after the meeting that he found Anderson’s treatment of Edens, as well as of the rest of the Board of Education, to be offensive in nature.

“I felt offended in the way I was addressed by the president on numerous occasions, and I also felt offended by the way the members of the community were treated,” said Lowe. “We serve them, and we serve their children. If we’re not respecting them, we’re not respecting their children.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stewart's Resignation Leaves Vacancy on C-4 School Board

By Mary Wilson
Before the reorganization meeting and the swearing in of the newly-elected members, the Grandview School Board honored outgoing members Ann Fisher and Bob Stewart.
Fisher, after not filing for reelection, served a total of twelve years on the Grandview Board of Education. Stewart, leaving the board after two years of service, submitted his letter of resignation due to moving out of district.
Cindy Bastian was reelected to the board, and new member Michelle Shackelford was elected. After being officially sworn in, the two took their seats and the board then votednon the lead roles.
 Stepping down as Board President, Rachel Casey nominated Bastian as President. Grandview C-4 School Board
leadership includes Bastian as President, Leonard Greene as Vice President and Paul Alexander as Treasurer.
Due to Stewart’s resignation, and only two incoming board members, there is now a vacancy. The district is accepting letters of intent from those who live in the district through April 26. In order to be considered for the
position, these letters must include information regarding the candidate’s experience and background.
More information on the application process can be found in the legal notice posted on page 2 of this week’s Advocate.
After the board reorganization, Bastian accepted her role as President and continued on with the regular meeting. Superintendent Ralph Teran, along with administration, recognizednGrandview High School National Honor
Society members for their achievements at conferences in March.
The Grandview chapter of NHS attends the convention every year, and remains active in the state organization.
Linda Whitford, who is retiring at the end of the year, has been elected to serve for a three-year period as the Executive Director of Missouri’s National Honor Society.
“That’s a great accomplishment, and a great statement about Ms. Whitford,” said Assistant Superintendent Lisa Walker. “It shows her dedication to this organization.”
Last month, the board approved the hiring of a new Director of Instructional Technology, Scott Sizemore. After a brief introduction indicating Sizemore was the standout candidate for the position, he met with the board to discuss his experiences and plans for the future of the district.
“I’ve spent the last ten years in Belton, and the last two of which I spent helping to integrate technology into the classrooms,” said Sizemore. “The bottom line is: I want to support teachers in the classrooms and students in the classrooms. My approach is to try and bring the resources to the teachers and make it easier for them to find the things that they need to effectively integrate the technology that the district provides them into the classroom.”
Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) testing began on Tuesday this week. According to Teran, the teachers in the district have been going to extreme measures (Harlem Shake at Martin City Middle School) to get the students excited and ready for MAP testing.
“Teachers were doing everything possible to pump the kids up and get them ready,” said Teran, “even if they had to make a little fun of themselves.”
The district as a whole is looking forward to verification of the steps they have taken to ensure they continue to meet Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) standards.
“So much is judged on what happens with the assessments,” said Teran. “In my opinion, it’s unfair because so much more of what our team does can’t be measured. I think the whole area of assessments, in some ways, has gotten out of control. My opinion, mine only, but nevertheless, it is what we’ve signed up for and we have to figure out a way to meet the accountability standards and also make a compelling case for how we can do that in a variety of ways.”
An evaluation was given for the district’s gifted education program. District programs are evaluated annually to determine progress toward meeting goals and to make recommendations for improvement. The gifted program, or Focus, serves students in grades K-12. The program for exceptionally gifted children (PEGS) serves children  in grades 2-8.
The strengths of the program found in the evaluation included student recognition and receipt of scholarships, grants and awards, as well as increasing awareness across the district. A concern was the availability of funding to support the program, along with increasing teacher-to student ratios for the program.
The district technology committee provided a summary of the District Technology Plan for the next three years. The current District Technology Plan on file will expire on June 30.The State requires districts to have a Board and State approved technology plan in order to access e-rate and technology grant funds. According to the overview, the plan developed includes expansive technology initiatives that will place Grandview C-4 students, staff and parents at the forefront of today’s educational information and technology reform innovations.
The board voted to approve a five-cent increase in school breakfast and lunch prices for the 2013- 2014 school year. Due to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, legislation mandates that school nutrition programs move towards charging paid meal category students at a price that is on average equal to the difference between free meal reimbursement and paid meal reimbursement. Schools that charge less than this amount are required to gradually increase their prices over time in order to remain in compliance with the mandate.
The board also approved meeting dates for the 2013- 2014 school year. The next regular meeting for the
Grandview School Board will be Thursday, May 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hickman Mills School Board Election Sullied by Dirty Campaign Literature

By Paul Thompson
An unregistered group headed by a nonexistent president made waves in the days before the April 2 Kansas City elections when it launched potentially libelous campaign material aimed at Hickman Mills C-1 school board candidates Debbie Aiman and George Flesher.
The group, called Parents United to Save Our Children, does not appear to have a paper trail, and their purported president, Charlotte Messer Birney, is not a registered voter in the city of Kansas City.
The literature in question supported candidates Shawn Kirkwood and Byron Townsend with an A+ grade, while grading Aiman and Flesher as “F” candidates.
On April 2, Hickman Mills’ voters elected Kirkwood and Townsend as their new C-1 school board members with 30.02% and 27.87% of the vote, respectively. In a tight race, Aiman placed third with 24.53% of the vote, and George Flesher finished fourth with 16.38%.
The controversy didn’t deter voting in the election. According to the Kansas City Election Board’s website, 4,187 votes were tallied in total, more than twice the 1,597 counted in the C-1 Board of Education election from April of 2012.
The mailer, sent to the mailboxes of many Hickman Mills voters the weekend before the Tuesday vote, calls former C-1 board member Aiman a “cookie decorator” who was fired from a teaching position for incompetence, does not live within the Hickman Mills school district, and owes delinquent taxes in Jackson County.
In a conversation with the Advocate, Aiman notes that the claims were largely untrue. She lives in the Hickman Mills district, and she has never been fired from a teaching position. Aiman is also a business
owner who has run her own business, A Sweet Decoration, since 1999.
The mailer did contain at least one truth, though. Aiman found that she did have overdue taxes in Jackson County from 2003, to the tune of about $60. She was previously unaware of the overdue fee and promptly paid the balance upon learning of it.
“I was very upset, because it wasn’t true,” said Aiman of the mailer’s most derisive claims. “I know it’s been reported to the Ethics Commission.”
George Flesher received similar treatment from the mailer. In it, Flesher was described as a “night club bouncer” who charged thousands of dollars to district credit cards, and who did not return district property upon being voted off the school board last spring. Flesher took issue with the claims contained
in the mailer.
“Everything they said there was basically untrue,” said Flesher. He said that his listed job title on the campaign literature was disingenuous in nature. “That’s one aspect of what I do,” he explained.
“I do process serving, fugitive recovery, bail bonds, and personal security.”
Although both Aiman and Flesher were upset with the dirty campaign strategy, both clearly stated that they didn’t feel their opponents, Shawn Kirkwood and Byron Townsend, had anything to do with the stunts. Kirkwood even went as far as to call Aiman and Flesher to personally apologize. Aiman also spoke with Townsend about it at a polling location.
“Shawn Kirkwood called me the night the thing went out,” said Flesher. “He apologized and said that he had nothing to do with putting that out.”
Aiman echoed the sentiment.
“Shawn was the very first person I had heard from,” she said. “As soon as he got it in the mail he called me. He’s a good guy.”
When contacted, Kirkwood and Townsend showed strong distaste for the tactics employed by Parents United to Save Our Children.
“I was shocked like anybody else. I didn’t think there was a place for that in a school board election,”
Kirkwood told the Advocate. “I was kind of appalled. It had personal information about Mr. Flesher
and Debbie Aiman, and there’s no place for that.”
Townsend had a similar message for those behind the campaign literature.
“I have no idea where this came from and who these people are,” said Townsend. “There really was no need for that to come out. I don’t know what the objective was. I think it kind of hurt me more than it helped me.”
Kirkwood had strong words for those behind the mailer.
"I hope whoever put this thing out doesn’t think that they are helping me. We wanted to win or lose on our
own merit, like we did before,” he said, referring to a previous run at a position on the C-1 Board of Education. “We lost, but I was proud of that.”
Aiman says that she’s still picking up the pieces even after the election has come to its conclusion.
“I’m just trying to do damage control, because people are thinking I’m this terrible person, and I’m just not.”