Roorda Leads on Ferguson – The Wrong Way

15 Sep

This laughable column appeared in the Rock newspaper – a free local rag that exists to bring in campaign ad revenue and shill for politicians like state Rep. Jeff Roorda (D – 113th):

Rock newspaper column

It is true that Roorda has led on the subject of Ferguson; but I’d say he led in the wrong direction. Let’s look at some of his moves, before and after the shooting of Michael Brown:

- First, he has sponsored a bill in the Legislature that would have kept secret the names of officers involved in shootings. This would ensure that these names never are made public, unless the officer is charged with a crime, which is highly unlikely in most cases, since the officer’s department normally does the investigation.

- Second, Roorda has opposed the use of dash and body cameras by police officers. Either of these would have given us a much better picture of the events surrounding Brown’s death. Video that existed but was not allowed in court would have put this officer in jail for striking a handcuffed person in custody, but Roorda was glad the video was thrown out (nobody would testify about it). The Rock article mentions a cop, cleared of excessive force, who had a gun pointed at him. Neither the person I just mentioned, nor this person who was also beaten by a cop who was cleared (and supported by Roorda) had a gun. I don’t know what incident the Rock refers to (if such an incident exists). I also do not know if his accusations against Roorda’s opponent in the November Senate election, Paul Wieland, have any merit, but I have my doubts.

- Third, Roorda defended the Ferguson chief of police when everyone else in America can see he did a poor job handling the situation.

- In the interview with Anderson Cooper featured in the photo above, Roorda defended the military equipment and riot tactics the police used against protestors that many feel only inflamed the situation.

- He has also defended St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, and bragged that this defense of the man helps him in his Senate race.

- Roorda has been tangentially involved in efforts to raise money for Officer Darren Wilson via an organization called Shield of Hope. Roorda claimed to know something about the anonymous, supposed teen girl who started one of the fundraising pages, but the page administrator denied ever talking to Roorda. The fundraising pages have been shut down because of tax questions.

- He opposes the creation of civilian review boards to oversee allegations of police misconduct.

There will be a fundraiser Tuesday for Roorda featuring Governor Jay Nixon, who has also been criticized for his actions in Ferguson. I’d love to see state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal make an appearance there.

As for Wieland’s alleged silence, I don’t see where a JeffCo representative would really need to say a lot about something that happened in north St. Louis County.

JeffCo School Numbers Part II

11 Sep

I commented previously on the performance of local schools in the recent release of school Annual Performance Report (APR) rankings by the state, pointing out that Festus was once again tops in the county, while Fox fell to 4th. Let’s take a look at some data:

Here are the percentage of students that passed each of the subject assessments in each JeffCo district. For example, 66.2% of Festus test-takers passed the reading test. Numbers in red are the best in each subject in the county, green numbers are second best.

2014 JeffCo MAP Table

2014 JeffCo MAP Table

Fox did pretty well on the tests, relatively, but its ranking still dropped. Looking at the state’s APR data table, Fox’s scores went down in the reading and math categories. Test scores are averaged over a three-year period to calculate these scores; Fox’s passing percentages dropped in reading, math, and science (its science APR score did not fall, however). Fox also dropped in college and career readiness, specifically for percentage of graduates that are in college, the military, or career training within 6 months of graduation. Fox’s scores went up in social studies, attendance, and a measure related to results and participation in ACT-type tests.

Festus’ test scores also went down in the first three subjects above, but their APR scores on those subjects did not fall. Festus had big increases in percent passing from 2012 to 2013, while Fox’s scores have been fairly flat over the past three years.

Windsor, which passed Fox in the APR standings, saw increased scores in social studies, ACT testing and a measure related to advanced placement/dual credit. Grandview went up in reading, social studies, attendance, and ACT testing.

The calculation of these scores is rather involved, and there are many factors that are included. You can read about them here. This is a good, data-based opportunity to see how your district is doing. Use it to hold your administrators accountable.

Time for Hermann to Resign From Fox Board

6 Sep

Recent revelations about the awarding of a scholarship to the daughter of Fox C-6 school board member Cheryl Hermann by disgraced superintendent Dianne Critchlow serve as a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment for me. I believe Hermann needs to resign from the board.

The board has an important decision to make in the coming months as it selects a new superintendent to replace Critchlow. This person will need to clean up procedures, restore public trust, and improve the education Fox provides to students. I do not trust Hermann to make this decision. For all we know, she would vote to elevate an insider like assistant superintendent Todd Scott to the top job. The board also has to reform the way it has done business in order to provide the oversight that is required, to communicate with residents, and safeguard tax dollars.

As I have mentioned before, Hermann has been on the board since 2000. She has been there as Critchlow’s salary surged from $137,589 in 2006 to $267,468 right now. The number of senior administrators (and their salaries) also increased irresponsibly. During this time, a plethora of Critchlow relatives have been hired, and credit card abuse occurred among a number of top administrators. It was during this time that the administration basically ran the school board. Administrators, not board members, would respond to resident questions. Critchlow would spoon-feed the board the information she wanted them to have, while withholding that which she didn’t want to share. In short, Hermann was derelict in her duties to the parents and taxpayers of the Fox district.

The chances of Hermann being re-elected in April, when her term expires, are zero, but we can’t wait until then. This is an important time for the Fox district, and Hermann is not up to the task of leading the housecleaning. It is time for her to go.

Critchlow’s Scholarship Slush Fund

2 Sep

It appears that disgraced Fox C-6 superintendent Dianne Critchlow, on top of her other scandals, has been controlling certain scholarships that the district awards and giving them to her children and to the children of a relative, a school board member, and other Fox administrators, according to information from the district that was acquired by Sunshine Law request or published online.

At the end of the 2012-13 school year, Critchlow’s son (from a previous marriage) was one of 12 recipients of a Fox C-6 Golf Tournament Scholarship (funded by an annual golf tournament), one of nine recipients of a Fox/Seckman High School Showcase Scholarship (he got both the Basketball and Football scholarships), and one of three recipients of a Jim Salsman Scholarship (he was Dianne’s father). His total “earnings” from these scholarships was $4,935.25. The golf tournament scholarship account was liquidated in 2013 with extra payments to the 12 winners, and no golf tournament was held in 2014.

In 2010, another son of Critchlow was awarded the Golf and Showcase scholarships. I do not have the amounts for these awards.

When asked how these scholarships were awarded, an official in the guidance office said merely that both are “awarded through our central office.” While I know that the Golf Scholarship required a transcript and two letters of recommendation to apply, I’ve seen nothing about the Showcase Scholarship, but despite its name it does not appear to be awarded based on athletic performance. Fox C-6 CFO John Brazeal stated that, while winners of these two scholarships were once selected by a committee, Critchlow “appears” to have taken over sole responsibility a few years ago. The use of the word “appears” would suggest that Critchlow did not keep good records of her activities in this capacity (perhaps intentionally?).

Here are some other recipients of the Golf and Showcase Scholarships:

2013 – A Golf Scholarship went to the daughter of assistant superintendent Todd Scott (2012-13 salary $147,994). District scholarship winners for 2013 can be found here (page 6).

2012 – Golf Scholarships went to the son of Fox High assistant principal (since at least 2012) Gina Buehner (2011-12 salary $107,813) and the daughter of William Steis (2011-12 salary $96,776), assistant principal of Ridgewood Middle School (since at least 2012). District scholarship winners for 2012 can be found here (page 6).

2011 – I have no information on scholarships awarded in this year.

2010 – Golf scholarships went to Critchlow’s niece, the daughter of school board member (since 2000) Cheryl Hermann, and the son of Seckman Middle School principal (since 2009) Tammy Cardona (2009-10 salary $106,173), who also got a Showcase Scholarship. District scholarship winners for 2010 can be found here (page 6).

2009 – A Golf Scholarship went to the daughter of William Brengle, who was assistant principal at Fox High (2008-09 salary $113,609). You may recall that Brengle, now retired, was implicated in the online posting scandal. The Post-Dispatch reports that he said he was very careful in his posts not to be libelous, and that “I was only defending the district. I wasn’t bashing anyone.” District scholarship winners for 2009 can be found here (page 6).

Let me state that I don’t know anything about the academic abilities of any of these recipients. They could very well be qualified for these scholarships, and many of them won other scholarships from the colleges they enrolled in or from other sources. I also don’t know about the relationship between Critchlow and some of these administrators. We do know Scott is a crony, and Brengle must be close to her, given his internet comments. But it should be noted that Cardona was passed over in 2013 for an assistant superintendent position that went to Andy Arbeitman. Finally, I am not suggesting that other recipients of these two scholarships (those without connections that aren’t named here) are not legitimate.

But think about what you are told when you enter any kind of contest or promotion: “Employees of [entity holding contest] or their relatives are not eligible to participate.” Shouldn’t that be the case with Fox district scholarships, too? Even if the award process is legitimate, which it clearly was not in recent years, how can applicants be fairly evaluated when their parents are co-workers of members of the award committee? And no matter what steps such a committee may take to eliminate bias, who in the public is going to believe that the process was indeed unbiased? It is just like the nepotism hiring that has been rampant at Fox. Does anybody believe that all the relatives that work at Fox were really the best people for the job in every situation? No. Just like nepotism hiring has been restricted at Fox (somewhat), children of district administrators and school board members and their relatives should not be eligible for scholarships that the district hands out.

Besides, look at the salaries they make (included above). Critchlow herself makes enough money (about $260,000) to pay tuition for five kids at Harvard (at $39,000 per year) and still have the median income in Arnold (about $62,000) left over for her own use. And she has to funnel $5,000 to her kid for college!?!? There are middle- and lower-class students that will have to take out loans and end up in debt to get a degree, and meanwhile Critchlow is taking money that could go to lighten their burdens and giving it to her own kids, who both got football scholarships from their colleges? It’s bad enough that she can’t buy her own lunch, but she can’t write tuition checks either?

And the appearance of Cheryl Hermann’s name on this list raises questions. Hermann is the longest-serving current board member, and she’s been there all along as Critchlow’s salary has skyrocketed, her relatives have filled the district’s employee rolls, and she has used the district’s credit card like a teenager at the mall. Is this how Hermann gets rewarded for her loyalty/blindness? Same question with Todd Scott, who, to be fair, could only afford to put two kids through Harvard if he wants to keep Arnold’s median income to support himself.

When will we get to the bottom of this cesspool that was the Critchlow administration? There’s a lot of digging left to do.

Update: School board member Vern Sullivan was director of the scholarship golf tourney for many years. I wonder what his insight into/response to this news would be.

Update on Crystal City Police Body Cameras

30 Aug

I discussed back in February the news that the Crystal City Police Department was considering purchasing body cameras for officers. At the time, Chief Jeff McCreary said, “It will be a funding issue. Budgets are tight.”

In the wake of the events in Ferguson, the issue of body and dash cameras has received much attention. The Post-Dispatch published an article last week on local departments considering the purchase of body cameras. The article revealed that:

Jeff McCreary, police chief in Crystal City, said his department in Jefferson County experimented with the cameras but “budgetary issues brought on by the economy of the area prevents their immediate purchase.”

I asked the Crystal City PD for more information on this decision on the department Facebook page and got this response from McCreary:

Sure…I think people would want to know since the news puts down snippets of information. The operational budget of the police department is barely over 50k this year and has declined every year I’ve been the Chief. All budget numbers associated with purchase data storage etc. Would have to be figured into aquisition. Aside from the budgetary issue, all of our patrol vehicles are equipped with in-car video systems. While they are not perfect, neither are body cams. The perception is that body cameras will capture everything. They will not and neither will dash cams. The use and implementation of body cameras is multi faceted and it would be very hard to get into every detail. However, I support their use and will explore avenues to aquire them.

I salute McCreary for working to acquire body cameras, and I hope he succeeds and that he inspires other JeffCo law enforcement agencies (or elected representatives) to do the same.

JeffCo School APR 2014; Festus Still on Top, Fox Falls

29 Aug

It is once again time to review the state of Missouri’s rankings for school districts in our area. The Annual Performance Report is based on “state standardized tests, attendance, graduation rates and whether students leave high school ready for college or careers,” as the Post-Dispatch explains it. Here are the scores for Jefferson County districts, highest to lowest (schools with scores that declined in italics).

District                   2014            2013

Festus                      97.5             96.4

Grandview              93.9             85.4

Windsor                  92.9             85.7

Fox                           89.6             92.1

Crystal City             89.6             88.2

Sunrise (no HS)     88.8             87.5

Hillsboro                 88.6             88.2

Jefferson Co.           86.3            85.6

De Soto                     85.0            81.1

Northwest                83.9            87.5

Dunklin                    80.0            84.6

I note that Jefferson Co’s score last year was listed as 90.4, but this database says last year’s score was 85.6. I don’t know if there was some sort of adjustment or what.

“Over half of Missouri school districts did increase their score,” said Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro. That includes all but three Jeffco schools, as you see above. Fox C-6, which was 2nd in the county last year, plummeted into a tie for 4th as its score dropped and other schools’ scores rose. It should be noted that school was out for the year before the twin scandals surrounding disgraced superintendent Dianne Critchlow erupted. Festus remains in the top position in the county, having the 8th-best score out of 55 schools in the St. Louis metro area. Dunklin (serving Pevely and Herculaneum) was 9th from the bottom.

I hope to go into greater detail about these scores in a later post. Here is my analysis from last year. This is the second year of this particular ratings system. These scores were called MSIP5 scores last year.

Dining with Dianne – Fox Credit Cards Part III

23 Aug

Disgraced Fox C-6 Superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s credit card charges have aroused outrage in the community (as have the charges of other top administrators, most of whom still work at the district). Critchlow used her card at many area restaurants. Here is a list of her favorite eating establishments, based on charges from July 2012 through May 2014:

1. Panera – 15 visits
2. Chick-Fil-A – 13 visits
3. Weber’s Front Row – 8 visits
3. (tie) Terrazza Grill – 8 visits
5. Drunken Noodles – 7 visits

Critchlow spread our money around, though. By my count, she patronized 33 local establishments over this time. From July 2013 through May 2014, she made purchases at restaurants 59 times (I am excluding obvious out-of-town dining from this review) [Update: this is about 1.5 times per week). This does not include any food she may have purchased at grocery stores, gas stations, Wal-mart, or DiGregorio’s Italian Market (where she spent $116 in December 2013). It also does not include charges she made on Discover cards issued to other district employees, so these numbers are likely higher. Her average expenditure was about $60, with charges as high as $351.86 (at Bandana’s BBQ). So it is clear she was treating others to lunch on our dimes. But she ate alone on occasion; there were seven charges of $15 or less. Some of the large, $100+ charges suggest she was buying food for a group. But it’s hard to see why the superintendent would be the one to be picking up and paying for food. A similar question is being asked for all the grocery store and Sam’s Club purchases: why are senior administrators going on shopping trips? Is that in their job description? Or are they giving their cards to other people?

As for her justification, we see on the board packet for the August 19 school board meeting (bottom of page 152) that three of Critchlow’s restaurant charges were explained as “professional development.” Of course, two of these three charges were made on the day after Critchlow went on medical leave (just as her internet posting scandal exploded). So it sounds like professional development is a convenient, generic label under which to attempt to justify her dining. Furthermore, as pointed out by Fox C-6 Watchdogs, district credit cards are only to be used for “the purchase of instructional materials, items related to the improvement of instruction or materials related to capital improvements or supplies” (policy 3125). Critchlow claims that she has receipts and written explanations for each charge. I look forward to seeing these.

Another thought that occurs to me is this: there is a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school right near the central office. Each of these schools has a cafeteria. Why not use them for your professional development lunches? You guys hired the board president’s daughter-in-law to run the food services; put taxpayer money where your mouth is and sample the food. If it’s good enough for the kids, isn’t it good enough for the administrators? It’s a lot cheaper, too.

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