Jefferson City school board gets another earful

Many problems blamed on administration

Whether speaking from the podium or buttonholing board members in the hallway afterward, about 30 school patrons attended the Board of Education’s monthly meeting to lay bare their deep dismay about concerns they harbor about the management of the Jefferson City Public Schools.

The group — mostly former teachers, parents, board members and other interested citizens — raised questions about everything from a lack of respect for teachers to complaints about deplorably unkempt conditions at one of the elementary schools.

Lonnie Schneider, former social studies chair at the high school, said nothing had changed in the five years since he tendered a documented list of incidents alleging the bullying, intimidation and harassment of teachers by administrators.

“I can no longer remain silent as a few administrators wreak havoc on the school system I hold so dear,” Schneider said.

Schneider told the board that, from what he’s heard, the toxic culture that he felt poisoned the high school a few years ago has spread throughout the district — kindergarten through 12th grade.

He exhorted the board to act.

“I don’t think we tolerate bullying, harassment or intimidation by students, so why then do we tolerate it by administrators to staff?” Schneider asked.

Pam Murray, who serves on the district’s Long Range Facilities Planning Committee, said the school district has been gathering data, but unless the information is used, the activity becomes just another busy-work task added to an all-too-busy day, she said.

“There’s been an outpouring of complaints from parents, retired teachers and former students lately. This makes it more important than ever that the school board uses all tools available to closely scrutinize opportunities for improvement,” she said.

She added: “The community has lost confidence in the administration and school board. Until that confidence is earned back through tangible changes, there is little to no hope of enacting anything — no matter how needed — that comes out of the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee.

“This community just doesn’t have the confidence in the district that is needed to trust you all with enacting a plan of such anticipated financial magnitude. For most, money is too hard to come by to take chances.”

Eric Mercer explained why he and his wife moved their daughter from Moreau Heights Elementary School to a private school.

“The message from our family is we remain a member of the neighborhood and the school continues to be extremely important to us,” Mercer said.

But he noted incidents at the school — libraries and classrooms being shut down because of behavioral disruptions — “were just not meeting our education requirements.”

“Through our observation of the various meetings, we’ve yet to hear what concise, decisive, short-term corrections actions can be put in place so that kids, and families like ourselves, can feel like tomorrow is going to offer the education … we expect,” he said.

Another former teacher, Hugh Flowers faulted the school district for failing to hire enough African-American teachers to meet the needs of the student population. Only 4 percent of the district’s teachers are black, but the city’s population is 10 percent black, he said.

He said not only do African-American teachers serve as positive role models, they also may be able to more successfully address discipline and behavior issues.

Former school board member Jackie Coleman noted the negativity surrounding the district is “hurting the community.”

Families “are leaving our schools. They are leaving this town,” she said. “This is a leadership issue.”

Although board members didn’t take any prescriptive measures to address the concerns raised, they agree to take the faculty’s temperature — inquiring about the quality of life in the various buildings — more frequently.

Following a concept proposed by board member Alan Mudd, the group agreed to try and discover if teachers feel like: they are treated with respect; they are supported by their administrators; they are listened to; their morale is improving or getting worse; and if their opinions are appreciated.

The first baseline survey is expected to be done in September. The board was less clear if they wanted that survey to be guided by work the board is doing as it pursues other continuous improvement and strategic planning initiatives.

Board member John Ruth said he’s heard from some teachers a plea to “please don’t send us 10 more surveys that you’re not going to do something about.”

Also on Monday, the board:

• Approved a new tax rate for the 2014 fiscal year. The change is a minimal decrease from $3.6934 to $3.6928 per $100 of assessed valuation for both operating and debt service levies.

• Heard a presentation about the exit-interview survey data that some faculty and staff provide when they leave district employment.

• Approved a new plan to drug test not only high school athletes, but also other students who participate in events sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

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