First Impressions of the New Fox Superintendent

22 Nov

Jim Wipke, executive director of secondary education at Rockwood School District, has been named the new superintendent of the Fox C-6 School District, to begin in July of next year (too bad he can’t start in January). He spoke at the November 18 board meeting. Here is the video of his talk, which I think everyone with an interest in the Fox district should watch:

Off the bat, I’ll say that I wish he would have directly addressed the current scandals at Fox, and pledged to help clean house. However, he said several things that contained oblique, perhaps not coincidental, references to the previous regime. For example, he mentioned “integrity” more than once, along with “fairness” and “doing things the right way.” All of these characteristics have been missing from Fox.

He mentioned the book “Leaders East Last” by Simon Sinek as one that has inspired him. The book title refers to military officers allowing the servicemen they are leading go first in the lunch line. Treating your employees this way leads to an engaged, higher-performing team. Fox employees (at least those who were not one of superintendent Critchlow’s cronies) were treated instead to a culture of intimidation. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not that the title of the book Wipke cited had to do with food, considering that one of Critchlow’s scandals was the rampant use of credit cards by senior administrators for sometimes extravagant dining. Leaders should not only eat last, but they should also pay for their own food.

Wipke listed two requests he had for Fox residents: hold him accountable (I note that Critchlow worked to avoid accountability), and believe in him (he contrasted belief with fear, which it is said is the emotion Critchlow cultivated). He plans to attend many school functions during the rest of this school year, and to visit every classroom. He cited the military mantra that to fail a mission is catastrophic, and citing Fox’s mission statement, said that failure is not an option.

I wish Dr. Wipke the best, and I am optimistic that he will bring positive change. But we should take him up on his request for us to hold him accountable.

Arbeitman Gets the Golden Parachute

The other highly anticipated part of the November 18 meeting was the request by assistant superintendent Andy Arbeitman, who started at Fox 16 months ago, to take a $66,000 early departure bonus. In between the time this was announced and the meeting occurred, some information came out of the district. It was revealed that in February 2014 an email when out to district staff that eliminated by omission the previous 10-year in-district service requirement to be eligible for the payout. The district had to change the program that month to eliminate a requirement that an employee have no more than 31 years of service (courts have found that discriminatory) and to no longer call it an “early retirement” incentive. It appears that when those changes were made, the 10-year provision was quietly taken out as well. District CFO John Brazeal suggests that, as Critchlow was nearing retirement, she was fighting to keep the incentive program alive and to expand it for her own personal benefit and perhaps that of her husband. Did she also have her boy Arbeitman in mind at this time? I am told that she fought pretty hard to hire him, over the objections of others on the interview panel. I hope Andy bought her a nice steak dinner this week.

Brazeal also stated that district lawyers determined no vote was needed to approve incentive payouts. For an employee to accept the district’s standing offer of a buyout made it official. So the board made no action to approve or stop the payout at the meeting. Board president John Laughlin claimed to be unhappy with what was happening, and said the board is “taking a serious look” at its options. This is the last year of the incentive program, and the offer is open until mid-January (recently changed from mid-December), so there is fear that other senior administrators, whose hands are less than clean in the Critchlow affair, will attempt to cash in as well.

Pat Martin Calls Us All Racists

16 Nov

We knew Leader editorial page editor Pat Martin – longtime Democrat supporter and peddler of weakly-supported endorsements – would not be happy with the results of last week’s election. But did he have to resort to this?

Pat Martin column from 11/13/14 Leader.

Pat Martin column from 11/13/14 Leader.

So let’s break this down. I guess the national GOP is racist for “guiding their candidates” to oppose the President’s agenda (although I doubt the party bigwigs were that concerned with Dan Shaul, Shane Roden, etc. in Jefferson County, Missouri). And I guess it would follow that the local GOP candidates are also racist for pursuing this strategy. I reckon that would also make you and I racist for voting for these candidates. That’s a pretty broad brush that Martin paints us with. And it makes as much sense as, well, most of his political columns. He drops that bomb without any elaboration, failing to even consider that it is Obama’s policies, actions, and statements that make him unpopular.

But as I said, he must have been much displeased with the results of the election:

Hat tip to Ken Horton

Hat tip to Ken Horton

A Look at Local Pensions

15 Nov

On September 30, the state auditor (note: this blog likes Schweich) published a report on Missouri Public Employee Retirement Systems (defined benefit plans, aka pension plans). News article here. It focused on 15 large plans, but also gave information on all 89 of the state’s plans. This included several plans of Jefferson County entities, so I thought I would discuss those a bit.

First, a few definitions:

  • Funded ratio – percentage of plan liabilities covered by plan assets. Generally, plans with funded ratios below 80 percent are considered to be at risk of default, though that is a loose guideline that has detractors. The overall funded ratio of Missouri plans in 2012 was 78%. The national average funded ratio is about 74%, according to the auditor’s report.
  • ARC – annual required contribution, calculated by the plan actuary to achieve funding goals. This can be paid by the employer alone or combined with employee contributions.
  • Assumed rate of return – when calculating the amount of money needed to cover future pension payments, plan administrators have to estimate future returns on invested funds. A more aggressive assumed rate of return means less money needs to be contributed to the plan (if you are earning 8% on your investments, you need to contribute less than if you only get 6%). The Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System board recently lowered its assumed rate from 8.5% to 8%, and other plans around the country are making similar moves as it is forecast that future economic growth will be less than in the past. The Show-Me Institute suggests that a safe rate of 4% would be more appropriate. Such a number would lead to much higher calculations of unfunded liabilities.
Here is a spreadsheet of local pension plans covered in the report (click to enlarge):
JeffCo pension plan data from 2014 state audit

JeffCo pension plan data from 2014 state audit

Now of course, there are many other entities in Jefferson County. Many of those not listed here participate in LAGERS, the state-run program for local government employees. One could ask if it makes sense for some of these entities to have their own plan – Antonia Fire got out of the pension business in 2012.

The Arnold police pension plan seems to be in quite good shape. It is almost totally funded, has a more reasonable assumed rate of return, and more than 100% of the ARC is being paid into the plan. The ARC as a percentage of payroll has dropped from 22% in 2006 to 18% in 2012. This percentage seems a bit high still, but the fact that it is dropping suggests that the contributions are becoming a smaller burden on the police budget. However, the plan seems to be slipping a bit in that it was fully funded in 2007 but is starting to develop some unfunded liabilities.

Another item is that police employees are required to contribute to the plan. This question is not covered in the state auditor’s report, but it seems to me that employees should have to pay something into their retirement plan. You can see, though, that none of the fire districts require employees to contribute (see note on Cedar Hill below). This is what happens when firefighter unions are allowed to control the election of board members through voter apathy or a misguided sense of thinking one should vote for who the union endorses. A board member endorsed by the union is unlikely to require firefighters to pay into their retirement plan.

The High Ridge Fire District’s pension is in the best shape among JeffCo fire districts on the list, with a funded ratio of 87% with an upward trend and recent ARC payments over 100%. ARC as a percentage of payroll has dropped and was 12% in 2012. High Ridge also has a defined contribution (401k-style) plan (p. 67), but contributions to it ceased in 2008. Rock Fire is in decent shape, and Saline Valley Fire is improving (Saline Valley also has a 401k-style plan, but it has not been contributed to since 2009 (p. 74 of previous link). But all three have assumed rates of return of 7% or more, so that may be responsible in part for these entities’ good numbers. One would have to compare these plans’ actual return to their assumed return, and that data is not provided in state reporting.

Antonia Fire District’s pension plan funded ratio plummeted from 95% in 2005 to 60% in 2007, and climbed back up to 67% after that. The plan also has unfunded liabilities equal to 88% of payroll, the highest percentage among JeffCo plans. In 2012, the district joined the LAGERS plan (page 17), but the district’s plan would still have workers to support.

Cedar Hill Fire’s numbers look pretty bad in the above table, with a lowest-in-the-state funded ratio of 10%. But the district informs me that this number is the result of an error by the insurance company administering the fund, which has been corrected. Cedar Hill’s funded ratio is now 56%, and the district expects it to be 78% next year. The Cedar Hill plan covers volunteer firefighters only (it is a small incentive – benefits max out at $450 per month). There is a 401k-style plan for paid employees, who are required to make their own contributions.

Arbeitman Wants Last Ticket out of Fox

13 Nov

Last-minute pre-posting update:

Wow! This change was made at the November 3 meeting, according to Fox C-6 Watchdogs – just in time for Arbeitman to cash in. The new policy includes a release from all potential lawsuits by the person taking the payout. Is that what this is about??


Original Post:

Fox School District administrator Andy Arbeitman – hired only 18 months ago after a sketchy exit from the De Soto district – plans to leave the district after this school year and walk away with a $66,747.50 voluntary early retirement incentive program payment (half his salary), even though it may be against district policy.

At the November 18 school board meeting – when a new superintendent is to be hired – the board will vote (p. 329) on whether to award this payment to Arbeitman. However, here is what school policy says about the early retirement incentive (p. 127):

Full-time staff members who meet all of the following conditions are eligible for early retirement pay upon leaving the employ of the Fox C-6 School District:
1. Have completed a minimum of ten years of full-time service as an employee in the Fox C-6 School District.

That seems pretty cut-and-dry to me. With that policy in place, how is this happening? I welcome your explanation. The only one I could think of is that he perhaps worked at Fox in the past, but somebody would have mentioned that somewhere. He was superintendent at Twin Rivers School District in Broseley, Missouri before De Soto, although his LinkedIn resume lists neither job. Arbeitman is attempting to take advantage of the early retirement program before it is eliminated at the end of the school year.

You may recall that Arbeitman walked away from De Soto, where he became superintendent in 2007, with a $208,000 settlement after earning $74,000 while on administrative leave for five months. We don’t know the official reason why he was ushered out of the district, but an anonymous letter to the board said that:

He disregarded school policy by changing the sick leave policy for staff and did not discipline a student who brought a knife to school, had no regard for confidentiality, took credit for all successes within the district, asked staff members to spy on other staff, and looked at his phone every few seconds instead of giving people his full attention.
Despite this episode, disgraced former Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow gushed about Fox’s decision (by unanimous board decision) to hire him as an assistant superintendent (one of six at Fox – Rockwood has two for twice as many students) only four months later:
“Their loss is our gain,” she said.
She told the Leader:
  • “We always look for the best person for the position and by far it was Andy Arbeitman.”
  • “He is a wealth of information.”
  • “He will be a welcomed addition to our district.”

I also recall her talking about him in an old Leader “what superintendents are paid” edition when he was at De Soto. I suspected that maybe she hired him to give her tips on how to get free money from the district (although she got plenty of that on her own). She commented on how she relied on him for advice. So one has to wonder if Arbeitman, who is about 50 years old, is leaving because his pal and champion Critchlow is no longer his boss?

Hopefully, school policy and public outrage can block this money from being paid out. And whether that fails or not, Arbeitman should not be replaced. The district has plenty of assistant superintendents already (although many of the current ones also need to depart).

Arnold Sewer Sale Notes

7 Nov

Proposition S, the Arnold ballot measure to authorize the sale of the sewer system to Missouri American Water (MAW), passed on Tuesday by a 70-30 margin. Here are some notes on the vote:

  1. Missouri American Water’s political action committee, Clean Water Healthy Communities, spent approximately $244,000 of MAW’s money on the campaign (final numbers are not in yet, though). That comes out to $69 for each of the 3,536 votes the measure received.
  2. Since the $4 million reserve fund was built on the payments of residents, that money should be refunded to residents rather than being spent by the city on pet projects. The system has about 7,100 customers, according to the Leader. You could factor years of service into the equation, but an equal allocation would result in payments of about $560 to each family that has sewer service. That would be a nice chunk of change.
  3. The Show-Me Institute, a think tank focused on free markets and individual liberty that was founded by Rex Sinquefield, wrote a couple of articles in favor of the sale. The Institute generally favors privatization of government services. But they had this caveat: “Arnold residents must ensure that the money from the sale is spent or saved in a wise manner. They also must ensure that city officials hold the private company, Missouri American Water, responsible for providing safe and efficient services.” Pretty big ifs, especially that first one.
  4. Download the following chart and save it to your hard drive. Then, in a few years, we can look back on it and see if Arnold’s actual sewer rates are close to what MAW promised: about $30 per month in 2016 and $33.58 per month in 2020.

sewer rate increase prop s

GOP Wave in JeffCo

5 Nov

Republican candidates won in a big way in the election yesterday. The party won:

  • Four county offices (two new, two re-elected)
  • Six state House seats (out of 7)
  • The state senate seat
  • Three county council seats (out of 4)
  • All three contested judgeships
  • Re-election in all three congressional districts that include parts of the county

In addition to the re-election of county executive Ken Waller and recorder Debbie Dunnegan, Richard Carter III won as county auditor and Mike Reuter claimed the circuit clerk office (setting up the potentially awkward role of having his election opponent be his chief deputy). County councilmen Don Bickowski and Bob Boyer won new terms, and Jim Terry will join the council in place of the retiring Kelly Waymon. The only Democratic candidates who won contested races were county clerk Wes Wagner, District 5 councilman-elect Jim Kasten, and collector Beth Mahn. With Kasten’s win, Democrats actually increase their council representation from one to two of the seven seats, as Kasten takes over for the retiring Terri Kreitler. Mahn was facing her first opponent in her 28 years in office, according to KJFF radio. But they also state she won’t run for the seat next time:

Despite the big GOP night, Mahn pulled in 55.5% of the vote. Wagner, on the other hand, got precisely 50.01% in his race. He got 4 more than half of the votes cast in that race. In House races, two Democratic incumbents, TJ McKenna from the 114th and Michael Frame from the 111th, were defeated. Republicans Dan Shaul and Rob Vescovo claimed open seats, and John McCaherty (97th) and Elaine Gannon (115th) were re-elected. Ben Harris was the lone Democrat to win a House race, as he was re-elected in the 118th. His district is split between Jefferson and Washington counties, and here’s how the vote turned out by county:

Jefferson -       Harris 3,238, McGirl 2,603 (Harris +635, 55.4% of the vote)

Washington -  McGirl 1,540, Harris 1,313   (Harris -227, 46.0% of the vote)

Harris was listed by the Missouri Times as one of its winners of 2014 today:

Reps. Ben Harris and Linda Black – It won’t take renting a hall to have a meeting of the rural democratic caucus Ben and Linda can just have a seat on a park bench they are the only ones left. Maybe they will have a bit larger role going forward in teaching other democrats how to survive in the Obama era.

After this was written, however, Black switched parties, so now Harris is alone.

In the marquee race on the ballot, Republican Paul Wieland defeated Jeff Roorda in the expensive race for the open seat in state senate district 22 by a 54%-46% vote, much to the delight of this blogger and Twitter in general:

And this:

In all, the GOP in Jefferson County has gone from being a footnote prior to 2010 to a majority position. There are currently six Democrats in county office (sheriff, treasurer, assessor, collector, clerk, prosecutor) compared to five Republicans (executive, recorder, auditor, administrator, circuit clerk), but the GOP dominates the council and the legislative delegation. The days of Democrats running numerous uncontested races might have ended yesterday.

2010 Results as a Preview of 2014

3 Nov

I thought it would be interesting to look back to 2010 to the last midterm election here in JeffCo. That was a big year for national and local Republicans, as this election looks to be, so perhaps it will provide some clues for 2014. After we get this year’s results, we can compare to 2010 to see how things have changed. About 65,000 people showed up to vote in Jefferson County in 2010. I will not focus on the House races, since the districts have changed since 2010.

State Senate

This was a quite different race. Incumbent Democrat Ryan McKenna spent only $200,000, compared to $300 by his opponent, Greg Zotta (it’s like the Arnold Prop S campaign). But McKenna only won by 2,600 votes out of 52,000 cast in this race.

County Executive

GOP candidate Ken Waller won by 1,5oo votes to become the first county executive. He beat Democrat Randy Holman and Libertarian Dan McCarthy.

County Council District 1

In the first round of a race that is being run again as a rematch, Republican Don Bickowski beat Danny Tuggle by 1,300 votes.

County Council District 3

Republican Bob Boyer, who is running for re-election this year, won this race over current Arnold city councilman and Democrat Phil Amato by 1,000 votes.

Other Council Races

The Republican candidates in districts 5 and 7, neither of whom are running for re-election, won by 350 and 1,600 votes, respectively.

Recorder of Deeds

GOP challenger Debbie Dunnegan knocked off incumbent Marlene Castle, who was recorder since 1987, by 6,700 votes.

Unopposed Incumbents

A number of elected officials who face challengers this year did not have opponents in 201o. They include:

  • County Clerk Wes Wagner
  • Auditor Dorothy Stafford
  • Collector Beth Mahn
  • Circuit Clerk Howard Wagner, who is retiring this year, was unchallenged.
  • Seven judges, six of them Democrats, were all unopposed. Four judges (three Dems) are unopposed this time around.

A Little Prediction

In 2012, three county races (excluding sheriff) were all decided by 4,000 votes or less, with one Republican (Steve Farmer) unseating an incumbent Democrat (Bruce King for Public Administrator) who had held the job since 1999. To continue the trend started by Dunnegan and furthered by Farmer, I think that one (maybe two) county offices will flip to the Republicans this election (along with the party keeping the county executive and recorder offices). The best bets, I think, are the county collector and circuit clerk races, with challengers Leslie Hanson and Mike Reuter, respectively. But we will see.




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