Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What the Joplin R-8 Administration is not telling you, part one

(From Oct. 13, 2013) C. J. Huff was frustrated.

The Joplin R-8 superintendent was not getting what he wanted and it was such a simple request. He was days away from the deadline to submit the school district's proposal for 2012 Race to the Top funding from the federal government and he could not get the head of the Joplin NEA chapter to sign off on the request.

At stake was more than $10 million in possible funding for the school district. Huff dashed off an angry e-mail to the local NEA chapter president:

 I'd like an explanation as to why you are refusing to sign off on our application for much needed Race to the Top funding to support the work with our kids in a time of limited resources. Is this your position, a JNEA position, or is this a NEA position that is being taken state/nation-wide. Without your signature we cannot apply. CJ

The JNEA president sent Huff this response:

I was not even given an opportunity to read the aforementioned document. The one page of the application that I was allowed to see states that:

        *To the best of my knowledge and belief, all of the information and data in this application are true and correct.
        *I further certify that I have read the application, am fully committed to it, and will support its implementation.
        *I am aware that any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or claims may subject me to criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

I have not been included in any of the planning, even though it is my understanding that this grant application has been in the district since August, and I have not been given a full copy of the application or budget to review. I have not said I would not sign it. What I have said is that I am not comfortable signing something I have not read and could be held liable for. I'm sorry for the confusion.

The Joplin NEA chapter never signed off on the Race to the Top application, nor did any other representatives of the local faculty.

The JNEA president sent the following message to chapter members:

I have been asked to sign Joplin Schools RTTT Grant. I was only given one page of the grant, the one I was asked to sign, and asked to return it today. The full grant application should be around 130 pages and include a budget. I cannot in good faith sign something I have not read and that I know includes things we do not agree with. 

When R-8 Administration sent no further information, the JNEA president sent the following e-mail to C. J. Huff:

In response to the request that I sign the Race To The Top Application Assurances as President of the Joplin NEA, I am respectfully declining.  The application states that my signature verifies that to my best information and belief all statements in the application are true and correct, that I have read the application, that I am fully committed to it and that I will support its implementation.  I cannot sign because I have not been given the opportunity to read the complete application and therefore have no idea whether the statements are true and correct. Even if I did receive the complete application, my lack of involvement in the development of the proposal prevents me from attesting to the accuracy of statements in the application. Further, I cannot state that I am fully committed to it and will support its implementation when I have not been given the opportunity to engage my members and include their input into the proposal.  I am sure you will understand why I cannot subject myself to the civil, criminal and/or administrative penalties that could occur by my making a false, fraudulent or fictitious statement or claim, as detailed in the application assurance.

The district's Race to the Top application was eventually rejected by the U. S. Department of Education and much of what is included in that application can be found in its critique on the department's website.

Much criticism was based on the district's lack of openness with the public and the lack of support shown by faculty for the initiatives outlined in the grant request.

In the August 18 Turner Report, I noted a part of the grant application that would have drawn questions from teachers and from patrons had it been revealed before the application was submitted:

Less than six months after Joplin R-8 patrons, by a 45-vote margin, passed a $62 million bond issue to rebuild Joplin High School, Franklin Tech, East Middle School, and two elementary schools, the largest bond issue in the district’s history, administrators were already back at the drawing board working on plans to ask voters for a tax levy increase.
The increase, according to the district’s federal Race to the Top application submitted to the U. S. Department of Education, would have been used to pay “academic advisers,” teachers who would work an additional hour at the end of each school day.
Initially, the advisers would have been paid as part of the Race to the Top grant, according to the application, which was submitted in October 2012, but was rejected by the Department of Education.
The district proposal, included a budget of $9.988,737, which would have paid for the following:
-Project manager $313,080 (for four-year period)
-Seven 21st Century learning coaches $2.2 million
-Five Career Pathway counselors to manage development and implementation of new pathway $1.6 million
-Stipends for academic advisers, one hour a day for 170 days for 200 teachers, $312,000
Data manager- $312,000
Data management system- $425,000
I-Pads for middle school students $1 million
Additional tech support personnel $414,000
The items that would have been paid for through the grant, had it been successful, would have bolstered administration’s current path, including the career pathways and 1 to 1 technology for students.
Interestingly, though the extra pay for teachers would have only continued via a tax levy increase under the plan submitted by R-8 administrators, the rest of the programs would have continued with the costs being absorbed by the district, according to the grant proposal.
The district's application was rejected, but somehow R-8 Administration has been able to fund much of what it was asking the federal government to pay. Eighth graders have IPads, the 21st Century learning coaches were added, the academic advisers (the ones that a tax levy would have been needed to fund on a permanent basis) are being added, the pathway counselors are on board, and much of the rest of the plan has been put into effect.
Where did the money come from?
The deadline for submitting an application for the 2013 Race to the Top was October 3. I do not know if a plan was submitted, but district officials were working on one. A parent, Melissa Braun, wanted to know what was included in that application and filed a Freedom of Information request for the document. Since it was not ready at that point. C. J. Huff sent Mrs. Braun the following response (in the accompanying letter), saying it would cost her at least $150.
Why the information would cost $150 when an application would be complete and not require any extra time for clerical help to put together, he did not explain.
He also did not offer her the option of having the document delivered to her electronically and considering the emphasis that district officials have placed on 21st Century learning, it seems hard to believe that these public documents would not be available in an electronic format.
The government critique indicated that community support was important in the Race to the Top selection process, so why was the application never discussed at the televised board of education meetings where the application would have been submitted to more district patrons. Or better yet, put it on the district website where everyone can take a look at the district's vision for the future.
In upcoming reports, I will examine the 2012 Race to the Top application to try to reach a better understanding of why the R-8 administration has kept these applications under wraps.

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