Disgraced Former Fox Superintendent Hired by Pearson Education

20 May

One would think that allegations of defamatory online comments directed at parents, misuse of district credit cards, securing overpaid, unsupervised jobs and scholarships for one’s own children, hiring cronies, misuse of district property, and more would disqualify someone from employment at most reputable businesses. However, such actions apparently do not matter to international education conglomerate Pearson, which hired disgraced former Fox C-6 superintendent Dianne Critchlow for a short-term assignment to do Quality Assurance site visits during last month’s Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) testing as part of a contract with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), according to information from DESE and the Mehlville School District.

I received a tip that Critchlow was spotted at Oakville Elementary during MAP testing in April. I was able to determine through Sunshine Law requests that Critchlow is working for Pearson, which was contracted by DESE to do MAP site visits. During these visits, assessors interview district personnel who administer the tests, document training, review documents, and visit classrooms. Here is a form that Critchlow would have filled out after her visit to Oakville Elementary. It is interesting that Critchlow, who ignored and flouted policies as Fox superintendent, is now charged with assessing schools’ adherence to testing policies.

DESE was unable to identify at what other schools Critchlow performed site visits.

In Pearson’s contract with DESE, the company states that it asks the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) for recommendations for retired teachers to hire to do these site visits. However, the JeffCo MSTA representative tells me that they did not recommend Critchlow.

Pearson Education is a British company known for its involvement in Common Core and standardized testing. This is from a Politico profile of the company:

A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards. And in the higher ed realm, the contracts give Pearson extensive access to personal student data, with few constraints on how it is used.

Pearson also gained notoriety for a perplexing pineapple question on a New York standardized test.

I wondered if Critchlow inked any deals with Pearson while she was superintendent? I couldn’t find any evidence that this occurred.

Action Items

Does this revelation about Critchow’s new gig bother you? If so, here are some actions you can take:

– Contact the Commissioner of DESE, Dr. Margie Vandeven, at commissioner@dese.mo.gov. Ask her if she approves of DESE contractors hiring disgraced former superintendents to work in Missouri schools performing contracted DESE duties.

– Contact Pearson’s DESE point of contact at nancy.foerstel@pearson.com and ask if Pearson makes a habit of hiring disgraced former superintendents.

– Forward this to your friends in the Mehlville district. If you live in the Mehlville, e-mail your superintendent at riddern@mehlvilleschooldistrict.net and ask him to tell DESE to stop sending Dianne Critchlow into your schools. [Update: the district tells me that they have no say in this matter.]

Right to Work and End of Session Report

17 May

The legislative session came to an end this week, and the major news (besides the speaker’s text messages) was the passage of right to work by both the House and the Senate. As expected, the JeffCo delegation was opposed to this measure (which first passed the House in February), with one exception.

In the Senate, Paul Wieland and Gary Romine, who both represent parts of Jefferson County, were two of only four GOP senators to vote no.

A couple of local representatives made statements on the bill. Rep. John McCaherty was quoted in the New York Times and the Post-Dispatch:

The opponents included Republican Rep. John McCaherty, of High Ridge, who said the legislation amounts to government intrusion in the private sector and interferes with the rights of business owners to reach contracts with unions.

“When you knock on their door next time, don’t tell them that you kept government out of their life,” McCaherty told colleagues.

And:

“We’re not talking about people … who gets checks from the government, we’re not talking about people who take advantage of the system or people who are illegals — we’re talking about people who just want to get up and go to work and be left alone,” said Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge. “Now somehow we believe in this body that they know better than what that person has chosen.”

Rep. Shane Roden said the following in his weekly newsletter:

Despite my best efforts HB 116, Right to Work passed the Missouri House. The bill will now move on to the Governor’s desk. The Governor is expected to veto it, and I can assure everyone that if he does I plan to uphold his veto and continue to fight against to Right to Work and other union killing legislation. Right to Work is wrong for Missouri!

Rep. Rob Vescovo voted for right to work, perhaps the first JeffCo representative ever to do so. This prompted Democrat Robert Butler to announce his candidacy for Vescovo’s House seat.

I am announcing today my intention to run for State Representative in the 112th District. The current Representative’s…

Posted by Robert Butler on Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vescovo defeated Butler in 2014 with 60% of the vote.

Other Bills

Here’s how a few other bills by local representatives fared this session:

  • Vescovo’s “Critchlow Law” limiting the use of paid administrative lead for government employees passed the House 118-35 but died in a Senate committee.
  • Rep. Dan Shaul’s bill outlawing local plastic bag bans was amended by the Senate to also include a provision preventing cities from raising their minimum wage higher than that set by the state. It has passed both houses and awaits action from the governor.
  • McCaherty’s bill to stop the state from considering how much money a bidder would return to Missouri if awarded a contract to run a licensing office passed both houses and awaits action from the governor.

Mahn Files Another Suit Against Wagner

15 May

As I mentioned in a recent post, former Jefferson County (23rd) Circuit Court employee Jamie Mahn has filed a second lawsuit against former circuit clerk Howard Wagner and the circuit itself. The suit, filed in early April, claims employment discrimination based on disability, alleging that the stated reason for Mahn’s firing from the clerk’s office in September was “abuse of sick leave” (apparently a quote from her dismissal letter) after Mahn took a total of about two months of leave for two separate specified medical issues in 2014.

This suit was filed in the 23rd circuit (a state court), but a motion has been filed to transfer it to the Missouri Supreme Court for reassignment, given the obvious potential conflicts of interest.

This “abuse of sick leave” quote gives us the first clue about Wagner’s official reason for firing Mahn. In a Leader article from November, Wagner said “I can’t really comment on work performance and that sort of thing.” This seems like a backhanded insinuation that Mahn was fired for poor performance, clearly violating the spirit of his “can’t comment on personnel issues” stance.

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Mahn filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) on November 6. MCHR invites parties in a complaint to mediate or settle the complaint. According to their website, a complainant can let the investigation proceed or request a Right to Sue letter, which terminates the MCHR proceedings and allows the complainant to file a lawsuit. Mahn chose this route, receiving the Right to Sue letter on January 7.

Mahn filed a federal lawsuit against Wagner, the county, the circuit, county clerk Wes Wagner, and circuit chief deputy Jeanette McKee (who was defeated by current clerk Mike Reuter in the November election) in October, alleging that the real reason she was fired was because she voted in the GOP primary in August rather than voting Democrat (McKee and both Wagners are Democrats). I discussed that suit here.

Mahn is seeking upwards of $500,000 in the federal suit and $100,000 in the state suit.

Critchlow DWI Denouement

5 May

In February, I wrote about two separate incidents in which Jamie Critchlow, former Fox C-6 administrator and husband of disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow, was charged with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated (DWI) (shortly afterwards, the Leader wrote a similar article). Critchlow plead guilty to both offenses, and lenient punishment has recently been meted out.

In Iron County, Critchlow was sentenced on April 30 to two years probation with suspended imposition of sentence (that means that if he violates probation, he can be sentenced for the DWI). This was for an offense that occurred in July 2014.

Jamie Critchlow sentencing information for his Iron County DWI.

Sentencing information for Jamie Critchlow’s Iron County DWI, from Casenet.

Last night, Critchlow was sentenced for a January DWI incident in Arnold in which he was also charged with failure to keep proper lookout and leaving the scene of an accident. He was present at the courtroom, but did not appear in front of the judge during the court session, so he must have made his appearance at the court window. With another guilty plea, he was sentenced to…2 years probation (along with going through SATOP and VIP).

So if you put the two sentences together, it looks like Critchlow got two punishments for the price of one. Not a bad deal at all.

According to the Leader:

If a person has two or more previous DWI convictions, then a felony charge would have to be sought through the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, but since Critchlow has just one conviction, Arnold Police are allowed to seek charges through the Municipal Court, Jefferson County Prosecuting Forrest Wegge said.

So Critchlow was lucky that Iron County took so long to deal with his case (a total of 10 months, which I guess isn’t that long, though it took 4 months to charge him). I wonder if the fact that he had two convictions at the time of the Arnold court hearing means that they could have transferred it to the county, or if you have to have two DWIs at the time the charge was made.

Critchlow’s License

I do not know the status of Critchlow’s drivers license, but in theory he should not have one. He refused breathalyzer tests during both incidents. This should have resulted in a one-year revocation of his license each time.The Arnold incident took place about 6 months after the Iron County one, so he should not have had a license at the time. This is from the Arnold police report:

Due to Critchlow not having his Missouri Driver’s License at the time of arrest, it was not seized, however he was issued a 15-Day Driver’s Permit, which he refused to sign.

I’m not sure if that means he did not possess a license, or if it was not on him at the time. If the former, he should have been ticketed for driving without a license.

Furthermore, Critchlow is still driving now. Here he is driving himself home from court in Arnold:

Jamie Critchlow heads home from Arnold court, 5/4/2015

Jamie Critchlow heads home from Arnold court, 5/4/2015

On top of the “chemical revocation” Critchlow should lose his license for the guilty pleas:

If you are convicted of a second alcohol- or drug-related traffic offense, regardless of the length of time between convictions, you will normally receive a 1-year revocation for accumulation of points. If you are convicted a second time for an alcohol- or drug-related offense within a five-year period, you may also receive a 5-year license denial.

Will this happen? I don’t know. Meanwhile, Arnold drivers and Arnold police should keep their eyes peeled.

JeffCo Senators Split on Gas Tax Hike

3 May

The Missouri Senate passed a bill Tuesday to raise the tax on diesel by 3.5 cents per gallon and the tax on other fuels (including good old unleaded) by 1.5 cents per gallon. This is after an earlier Senate push to raise the tax by 2 cents per gallon died for lack of support. The vote on this bill was 18-13, with 11 GOPers voting yes and 13 voting no. The JeffCo delegation was split. Paul Wieland, who represents district 22 in northern and central JeffCo, voted no, while Gary Romine, who represents the southern part of the county (along with five other counties) in district 3, voted yes.

Romine, who is in my view does the best job of all JeffCo legislators of communicating online with the public (including a robust Facebook presence and individualized weekly updates), discussed this issue three weeks ago in a column. While he did not state how he would vote, he insinuated how he felt:

A combination of factors has led to MoDOT facing a mere $325 million budget for Fiscal Year 2017—millions shy of the minimum the department needs to draw down all available federal funds and maintain our state’s transportation infrastructure in its current condition. So how did we get here and what are the options?

Rather than a single problem, a perfect storm of circumstances has led to MoDOT’s funding situation, including: a diminishing fuel tax revenue stream as vehicles have become more fuel-efficient; a fuel tax rate that has remained stagnant for nearly 20 years; decreased purchasing power due to inflation; and rising costs of industry staples like asphalt, concrete and steel.

And this:

This week, the Senate began debating SB 540, legislation that would raise the motor fuel tax by two cents a gallon (from the current 17 cents to 19 cents), effective January 2016. If passed, the increase is expected to bring in $55 million for MoDOT. While the measure doesn’t provide a long-term solution, it would allow the state to match all of its anticipated federal funds for 2017. In addition, the extra revenue would provide support for our river ports, something that would certainly benefit the 3rd District.

I haven’t heard any recent specifics from Wieland on this. He discussed the Senate’s general thinking on the issue with KJFF two weeks ago. During the campaign last year, he told the Leader that “I would never support a gas tax unless it was brought up to the people to vote on.”

Opponents of a gas tax hike cite a recent audit that found that MoDOT spent $7 million from the road fund for expenses unrelated to road maintenance as a reason to oppose a hike. They also point out that voters rejected a sales tax hike for roads last August. In addition, some prefer toll roads as a transportation solution.

I am personally not opposed to a small gas tax hike such as this. As Romine points out, the gas tax (5th lowest in the nation) has not been raised in 20 years. There’s also matching federal funding to be obtained. In addition, road funding is a government service we can all agree is legitimate, and a gas tax means the roads are funded by those who use them. I opposed the sales tax hike because it would not have impacted big road users such as truckers, and because some of the proceeds would have gone to mass transit. I think the gas tax is the proper way to fund roads.

Keeping Up With the Circuit Clerk’s Office

1 May

A few news items from the Jefferson County Circuit Clerk’s office:

    • The inevitable awkward arrangement between new clerk Mike Reuter (Republican) and the woman he defeated in November to win the seat, Jeanette McKee, a clerk’s office employee, is over. McKee is no longer employed by the clerk’s office. I am hearing that she was fired in early April.
    • McKee’s husband Randell was charged with 3rd degree assault in November 2013. The issue of his alleged criminality was raised by a website during the 2014 campaign. That case was settled in a plea deal on April 27; he plead guilty to disturbance of the peace and was given a $500 fine. A judge from Franklin County was brought in for this case, given the potential conflict.
    • Jamie Mahn, a clerk’s office employee, was fired in September 2014 and claimed in a federal lawsuit that it was because she voted Republican in the August primary election. On April 4, Mahn filed a lawsuit in the 23rd Circuit Court (JeffCo) for employment discrimination. I do not yet have a copy of the suit; when I do, I will break it down for you.

Pevely Sunshine Situtations

28 Apr

A number of allegations related to the Missouri Sunshine Law (which regulates the openness of government records) have been made against the Pevely Board of Aldermen in the past year. One of these allegations was recently closed with no action taken by the state attorney general:

I think this allegation (made by Alderman Ed Walters), along with a subsequent one I will discuss, were made with a too-broad interpretation of the Sunshine Law. The business license fee allegation was based on a statement by alderman Dave Young that he knew how others would vote on an issue. It was assumed that an illegal meeting had occurred. As the AG web site explains:

Under the Sunshine Law, a meeting takes place when a majority or quorum of a public governmental body gathers to discuss or vote on public business (§ 610.010(5), RSMo, and Colombo v. Buford, 935 S.W.2d 690 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996)). Therefore, if less than a quorum of the public body meets to discuss public business, it is not a “meeting” as defined under the Sunshine Law.

So individual board members are free to meet and discuss issues, as long as there is no quorum. I think governing would be rather unwieldy if the only time representatives talked to each other was at meetings. I also think one could probably have guessed how each board member would vote on this without even talking to them. Now, the AG web site does say “However, the Sunshine Law will apply to meetings of groups with less than a quorum when the entity is deliberately attempting to evade the Sunshine Law,” but I don’t really see that here.

In the next incident, the board called a special meeting for April 9. Such a meeting requires 24 hours advance notice, which apparently was given, if just barely. Four members of the board turned in letters to the city clerk requesting a meeting. As I understand it, alderman Dave Bewig placed a letter in the mailboxes of the other three aldermen and informed them of such, and they came in to sign and submit their letters.

Pevely city code saysSpecial meetings may be called by the Mayor or by any four (4) members of the Board by written request filed with the City Clerk.” That sounds like what happened here. As above, there is no Sunshine violation if one alderman calls the others and suggests a special meeting. You can’t really say they were circumventing the Sunshine Law, since all they were trying to do was have a meeting.

Incoming mayor Stephanie Haas claimed that the meeting was called illegally, because it was not “conducted with” the city clerk, city administrator, or the mayor. She seems to suggest that it is illegitimate for an alderman to distribute the meeting requests to be signed, and states that a municipal attorney she consulted concurs with this assessment. She also said that she will send the submitted meeting request forms to the attorney general. After her statement that the meeting was illegal, the board voted to adjourn. Video here.

As I showed above, though, I see no variance between the process spelled out in city code for calling a special meeting and what happened in this instance. I believe the meeting was properly called.

The other Sunshine incident occurred last April, when after a meeting, board members stopped in the parking lot to discuss the need to close a portion of the next meeting. They then filed the appropriate paperwork. This encounter, which constituted a quorum of the board and was captured on security camera. The private gathering of a majority of the board does violate the Sunshine Law. According to Pevely Press, the AG has not made a determination on this complaint (Which was made by Haas). Note that “penalties are assessed [by a court] only if the violation is found to be knowing or purposeful,” according to the AG web site.

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