Tuesday, December 3, 2013

C. J. Huff to Board: Relax, we're not in trouble

(From Oct. 6, 2013)
One day after the Turner Report revealed that DESE is looking into problems in the Joplin R-8 School District, Superintendent C. J. Huff and top administrators at 32nd and Duquesne circled the wagons and began a spin offensive.

In an e-mail to Joplin R-8 board members obtained by the Turner Report, Huff said there was nothing to the report:

Checked it out with Ron Lankford and Ron Wilken, DESE area supervisor. I know you will find it a shock that there was nothing to it. No complaints...no investigation.

Lankford, of course, is the former superintendent of the Webb City School District and is now a top official at DESE.

In that Sept. 19 post, I wrote the following:

The Joplin R-8 School District has spent more than $2 million over the past four years for teaching/learning coaches.

The use of Title I and IDEA funds to pay for the salaries of people who have been serving more as administrators-in-training and as the eyes and ears of upper administration in the district schools, appears to be coming under state scrutiny.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is reportedly taking a close examination of how the Joplin R-8 School District is operating.

Jefferson City sources told the Turner Report that DESE is investigating the district after receiving complaints, from patrons, from legislative sources...and from within administration.

While the specifics of the investigation are still being kept hush-hush, people who have taken their concerns to the state department say state officials have examined documents that raise questions about the administration's use of Title I and IDEA funds, both federal programs, but both of which also operate under strict state guidelines.

One concern, a source close to administration told the Turner Report, was the use of Title I funds to pay for the teaching and learning coaches. State department officials say there would be no problem with the coaches if they were helping teachers who were working directly with students. The problem has been that the coaches have been told their job is to work with principals, not teachers, and the coaching positions, which have become a training ground for open principal positions in the district, have all of the appearances of an additional layer of administration. Coaches have also been told that their job is to be the eyes and ears of administration in their buildings.

The payments for coaches from the Title I program also led to the elimination of reading teachers... who were working directly with the students.

If the state is examining the payment of coaches from Title I and IDEA funds, it will also be looking at the question of whether coaches who work at non Title I schools have been receiving funds, a violation of both state and federal laws.

Joplin High School, for instance, is not a Title 1 school.

During fiscal year 2013, $182,495 in Title I funds have been spent on teaching and learning coaches, while local taxpayers are paying $415,649 for a total of $598,145.

Fiscal year 2012 is also being scrutinized since $187,480 of the coaches' salaries comes from Title I and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funds. IDEA funds are strictly designated only for use with those working directly with students who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans). Local taxpayers paid $355,224, while another $45,547 came from Title II A, a program that is designed for use in improving teacher quality. The total for 2012 was $589.251.

The transferring of hundreds of thousands to local taxpayers to pay for the extra layer of administration came only during the last two years, according to district documents. During fiscal year 2011, $314,885 came from Title I and IDEA, while Title II A funds covered the remaining $142,941 in salaries. The total for the year was $457,806.

Fiscal year 2010 documents show $38,372 in local funds, with $236,655 from Title I and IDEA (the district documents that I have do not separate how much funding came from either) and $248,421 from Title II A, for a total of $521,448.

As Huff was reassuring the R-8 Board of Education that everything was all right, his top lieutenant, Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer was already telling those teaching/learning coaches how they were to respond if anyone questioned them about the items that were mentioned on The Turner Report.

In an e-mail sent out the same day to the teaching/learning coaches, Besendorfer wrote the following:

I wanted to provide you with a few talking points just in case you are asked about the facts in the article posted in a blog regarding Joplin Schools coaches. I've copied the article below. I want to be sure that if you are approached you have factual information.

*Joplin Schools have not been notified of any complaints or concerns shared with DESE. We have reached out to our state supervisor to confirm nothing exits (sic).

*The financial information is likely to be factual regarding numbers but it misrepresents many things and implies wrong information.

*We originally had ARRA (Stimulus funds) to pay for the TLCs; however, we didn't have that when the original decision to use a coaching model was adopted. At that time we planned to use Title I funds and some local funds that were repurposed from secondary dept. specialists. We were able to use ARRA funds instead.

*Elementary coaches can be paid from Title I since ALL elementary schools are Title schools. In fact, Title I requires a specific amount of money to be allocated to PD. We choose to use this model for daily job-embedded PD.

*Secondary coaches have been appropriately paid from other sources, including local dollars. Title 2 is also an acceptable source because it is exclusively designated for PD in order to improve teachers.

*The numbers reflect an increase in coaches which was due to the addition of 21st Century coaches paid from local dollars.

*Bottom line is that Joplin Schools follows federal guidelines. We have annual audits and federal funds is a big part of those. We always get clean reports including the 5 previous years.

*There is no need to address to this group that our coaches support teacher AND principals. You are not administrators or spies, etc.

I hope you won't worry about this. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

The information that I used in my initial story about the source of funding for the teaching/learning coaches came from a Sunshine Law request made by someone else that was later sent to me. When that request was initially made, though the information is public, Huff took the unusual step of letting all of the teaching/learning coaches know that someone was looking into the funding and was seeking personal information about how much these people were making. The request, though there is nothing in the Sunshine Law that requires this, was held up while Huff told the employees that someone was looking into their salaries (which is information the public has every right to know).

The teaching/learning coaches also received an e-mail that day from Sarah Stevens, the district's director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment (and a former teaching/learning coach):

Hello everyone,

I just wanted you to be made aware that the sunshine law request that was made this summer has gone public.

The article that was sent to me did not have our names or individual salaries, but rather an article on how the district paid for our salaries and the total amount of money spent over the years.

There are several misrepresentations and accusations that are not true.

Angie will be sending out an email later tonight with the facts and some talking points to help you if you are asked or confronted about it.

Thank you!

Sarah

Certainly C. J. Huff, Angie Besendorfer, and Sarah Stevens must be happy that they are under the belief that no one is investigating the Joplin R-8 School District. Otherwise, the word obstruction would certainly come to mind.

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