Fox Board Candidate Surveys – Dr. Robin Hanson

4 Mar

I have sent surveys to each of the candidates for Fox C-6 School Board, and I will publish the responses I receive. The first survey is from Dr. Robin Hanson (Facebook page here).

Connection to district: I have a son who attends Hodge Elementary and a daughter who attends Fox High School.  I am not connected to anyone in the district, employed by the city, nor do I have any connections to any current school board members.  I moved to Arnold because I had heard that the Fox C-6 School District was a great district and I still believe that is true.  I adopted my son from foster care and at the age of 8 he still could not recite his ABCs.  The staff and teachers at Hodge have been absolutely amazing in their interaction with my son and within two years he was caught up with his peers.

What is your reaction to the scandals that have rocked the Fox district over the past year?

It’s a shame, but you always hear the bad things that happen and seldom the good.  I still believe in the Fox District because we all want the best for your children and our community.  The school board is in a position to oversee and hold our administrators to task for their actions.  This is their responsibility and we as a community must insist that they fulfill their duty or step aside so that others might.

How would you rate the performance of the Fox School Board over the past 5 years?  Over the past year?

The problems that have come to attention in the Fox School District did not start overnight, but have been building for years.  I believe that the board finally sees that their actions have allowed the mismanagement of the district and that has come out this last year.  Adopting a policy of no longer hiring family members is a start, but long overdue and there are many other areas that need to be addressed in a manner clearly visible to the community.

What does the leadership of the Fox district have to do to regain the public’s trust?

First – admit they should have provided a more hands-on management style that would have stopped many of the financial issues the district now faces.

Second – transparency is a must.  The recent Fox School Board Meetings that only take 22 minutes for business are unbelievable.  For a district that has nearly 16,000 students, major financial and ethical issues, and a new superintendent, the meeting should take much longer because of all the business being conducted.  The Board must start providing more information to the community.

Third – Be accessible to the community, the teachers, parents, and students.  Be visible, be approachable, and be pro-active.  Be the change.  I practice what I preach – I have a Facebook page (Dr. Robin A. Hanson) that provides an opportunity for the community to comment and ask questions as well as learn more about who I am.

What changes will you push for if elected?

  1. Opportunities for more interaction with the public, school staff, and students. It’s going to be easier to provide proper oversight if board members understand what’s going on.
  2. More information provided by the board in their board meetings.  The board needs to bring business issues up for discussion in front of the public.  I understand there are privacy issues that must be observed, but there are many other issues that should be accessible for open discussion.  I would also want the board to provide some time for the public, in attendance at the board meeting, to comment on the business at hand.   I believe this will lead to more community involvement in the district.
  3. Shift of financial focus on providing necessary books and technology for our students.  My daughter came home one day with her A&P Anatomy and Physiology lab book held together with a rubber band.  The fact that college-bound students have to put up with less than acceptable textbooks is disgraceful.  I bought six copies of the lab book and sent them to school with my daughter to share with the other students.
  4. Increase the pride we have in the Fox C-6 School District.  We’ve taken a bit of blow to our integrity as a district, but that’s only a momentary setback.  I want to see the board members at the front of the push to bring integrity and pride back into our district and we can do this by making sure students have what they need to succeed academically, that teachers have the tools to do what they do best – teach, and that our administrators remain on task with support from the board.

Jamie Critchlow Charged with Double DWIs

21 Feb

Jamie Critchlow, husband of disgraced former Fox C-6 superintendent Dianne Critchlow and former director of the district’s Bridges program, who was fired in June 2014 for his role in the Topix defamation scandal, has been charged in two separate driving while intoxicated (DWI) incidents, according to court and police documents.

The first occurred on July 3, 2014 in Iron County and can be found on Casenet. According to a deputy, Critchlow was allegedly involved in a one-car accident, was given field sobriety tests, refused a breath test, and had his blood drawn after a warrant was obtained. The result of the blood test was a 0.28 blood alcohol content level (note that the blood was drawn at least 2.5 hours after the crash). This would suggest that Critchlow consumed a large number of drinks that night (see BAC chart here). A trial is currently scheduled for March 10.

The second incident took place January 31st in Arnold and began with Critchlow allegedly rear-ending another vehicle (causing slight damage to both cars), checking on the driver of the other vehicle, then driving away. He was tracked to his home, interviewed (giving false statements), and arrested. At the station he was given field sobriety tests, on which he performed poorly, and refused a BAC test. He was charged with DWI, failure to keep proper lookout, and leaving the scene of an accident. A municipal court appearance is scheduled for April 27.

Note that refusing a blood alcohol test in these situations should lead to a one year revocation of one’s drivers license, and subsequent offenses also require the installation of an ignition interlock device. So in theory, Critchlow had no license when the Arnold incident happened, because he refused BAC tests in Iron County seven months previously. This appears to be the case (see the end of the last page above), so I don’t know why there was no charge for driving without a license.

Note also that Critchlow was fired from a coaching and teaching position at Tyler (TX) Junior College in 2007 after a DWI arrest.

Luckily, nobody was hurt in any of these incidents.

MO House Votes – RTW and Voter ID

19 Feb

Last week the Missouri House passed a “right to work” (RTW) bill by a 91-64 vote. The bill prevents labor unions from charging any fees to non-union members. Rob Vescovo (GOP, 112th district) was the only Jefferson County representative to vote for it. Twenty-three Republican legislators voted against it, including five from JeffCo. Republicans from this county have traditionally been friendly to unions; now that Vescovo is on record for RTW it will be interesting to see how this affects his re-election campaign (assuming he chooses to run again). If he succeeds, it could open the door for other local Republicans to support RTW and similar bills.

Another RTW bill, focused specifically on the construction industry and sponsored by a Democrat from St. Louis County, passed a preliminary voice vote. We will see if any JeffCo Republicans bite on this bill when and if it comes up for a final vote.

The 91 votes is not enough to override a veto from the governor, and the state Senate probably won’t pass it, so this is likely as far as RTW will get this session.

Today, the House passed a bill that would put voter ID on the statewide ballot (along with a companion bill to implement it). All JeffCo Republicans voted yes, while our lone Democrat, Ben Harris (118th), voted no. Overall, the bills passed on party lines with veto-proof majorities. But again, it is not clear if the Senate will pass these bills.

Need for Remediation Among JeffCo High School Grads

13 Feb

The Post-Dispatch ran a story Sunday revealing that over 1/3 of Missouri high school graduates that attend in-state public colleges are deemed unprepared, and thus required to enroll in remedial courses to get caught up. This is quite the indictment of Missouri schools. This calculation excludes kids that go on to private or out-of-state colleges, which would suggest that the best students are removed, but it also excludes graduates who don’t go to college at all, which means the lowest-performing students are also not part of the formula.

Here was an interesting and locally relevant part of the story:

Among 2013 high school graduates

Among 2013 high school graduates

As you see, Windsor is the second-best high school in the area at preparing its students for college (I think this is a fair interpretation of this data). Let’s take a look at all of our county high schools (data here):

2013 stats from Missouri Dept. of Higher Ed, via the Post-Dispatch

2013 stats from Missouri Dept. of Higher Ed, via the Post-Dispatch (sorted by last column)

I find the Windsor data to be quite striking. A full 80% of the class of 2013 went to college, and only 8% went to public, in-state colleges. Again, I presume that it is generally your better students that choose the private and/or out-of-state route. Festus High, which is in the district that gets the county’s best APR scores (Windsor was 3rd last year), had the 2nd-highest percent attending college, but only the 5th-best percent needing remediation (though 3-5 were pretty close). Northwest and De Soto had the lowest percentages attending college, while Crystal City and Grandview had the highest percentages needing remediation. The latter were nowhere near the regional top ten in that regard, though; the tenth-worst school in the region is at 78% needing remediation.

Countywide, exactly 2/3 of JeffCo public high school graduates from 2013 headed to college. The countywide percentage of students in Missouri public colleges who needed remediation was 36%, which is equal to the statewide average.

Judges Reimburses Byrnes Mill for Travel

12 Feb

As I reported in November, Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro are the two cities in Jefferson County with the most active municipal courts. They are 1st and 2nd in both fines per person and cases per person. Both cities share the same municipal judge, Colby Smith-Hynes.

When Smith-Hynes travels to the Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judges Association (MMACJA) conference at Lake of the Ozarks each year, the two cities share the travel expenses. This blog has learned, via Sunshine requests to both cities, that, upon attending the 2012-2014 Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judges Association (MMACJA) conferences at Lake of the Ozarks, Smith-Hynes submitted mileage expenses to both cities. By agreement, Hillsboro is supposed to pay this particular expense, and the city did so for each of these years. The improper mileage requests submitted to Byrnes Mill were as follows:

  • 2012: $106.93 (289 miles x $0.37/mile)
  • 2013: $142.82 (386 miles x $0.37/mile)
  • 2014: $137.50 (327.4 miles x $0.42/mile)
  • Total: $387.25

A Google Maps search indicates that it is 296 miles round-trip from Byrnes Mill to Lake Ozark. I can’t explain the varying distances shown above.

According to Byrnes Mill, Smith-Hynes will be reimbursing the city. Conference expenses for hotel, per diem, and registration were all paid properly (not double paid), according to records from the cities.

According to Smith-Hynes, who was reached via email, “This should not have happened and I am to blame for not catching it.” He calls it a “clear oversight” on his part. Personally, I have some trouble seeing how one can inadvertently file two separate mileage reimbursement requests, since that would mean calculating two different mileages and submitting two separate forms at roughly the same time. But that’s the explanation. I also note that this improper reimbursement did not occur in the five years prior to 2012 that Smith-Hynes attended the conference as judge of the two cities.

This act of double-dipping, inadvertent or not, comes from a man who has faced financial problems, according to state and federal court records (found on Casenet and Pacer, respectively). Smith-Hynes is paid $20,000 per year by Byrnes Mill, and I don’t know how much Hillsboro pays him. He also has a law firm.

While I recognize that this is not a great amount of money, I hope this episode will serve as a lesson for local governments to keep a closer eye on reimbursements, especially when sharing an employee with another jurisdiction. This also adds further evidence that a state audit of Byrnes Mill is in order.

NIMBY Madness over Paintball Park

3 Feb

The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment is one you commonly see in local government. If someone wants to build something that requires a permit, there’s often someone who lives nearby who thinks it is going to ruin their life. Sometimes, the complaints are simply ludicrous.

Case in point: the January 25 Jefferson County Council meeting at which the council considered a rezoning request for a planned paintball facility. Here are some of the public comments, according to the Leader:

  • “There are a lot of elderly people in our neighborhood,” Kristie Wicks said. “A shot in the right place could kill someone.”
  • We have horses and other livestock and chickens,” Jackie Greene said. “They’ll be so spooked (by the noise). They’ll be going crazy.”
  • “It’s a sure thing they’ll [youths] shoot paint at the road signs, stop signs and speed limit signs,” said Greene.
  • “We’ll have people coming across our property carrying something that looks like an assault rifle. You could have a civil war out here,” said Wicks.

Watch out, chickens, old ladies, and stop signs.

Keep in mind as you read the above comments that the county would have required a 100-foot buffer around the facility, which would have been located on a wooded 20-acre lot. But alas, the council gave in to the complaints and nixed the request by a 6-1 vote, killing the paintball proposal, even though the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval. I salute Bob Boyer, the only council member to vote against denying the request. He said:

“To me, it made sense what the petitioners were asking for,” he said. “I understand the questions about traffic and noise, but I think those questions were answered. I didn’t hear any reasons to deny this. These guys own their property, and I think they should be allowed to do what they want on it, within reasonable standards.”

The council will hear another paintball proposal on February 23. What kind of NIMBY madness will we hear then?

Roorda – The Cops’ Sharpton

1 Feb

The Wednesday night brouhaha at a St. Louis aldermanic committee hearing over a proposed civilian oversight board for city police provides further evidence that police union business manager (and former JeffCo politician) Jeff Roorda is not interested in fixing racial relations or improving the public perception of police. In fact, he seems to thrive on police-community division, much like Al Sharpton benefits personally from racial discord (see the Rams’ “Hands Up” gesture incident). This is despite Roorda’s laughable claim in August that “I’d like us to think about building bridges between law enforcement officers and the communities they protect. I think I could help with that process.”

Whether or not Roorda shoved a woman at the meeting is up for interpretation, as video of the incident is not clear. I think this CNN interview (halfway down the page) with Bishop Derrick Robinson is interesting, and is perhaps the most reliable eyewitness account of the incident that you will get. But we do know that he did not go to the meeting with peace and understanding on his mind:

Roorda says that free speech gives him the right to wear the bracelet, and he compares it to others wearing “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” shirts, but he should know that this gesture is inflammatory, and he probably does, but he doesn’t care. As the Post-Dispatch‘s Bill McClellan writes, “He takes great pride in being tactless.” McClellan compares Roorda to prominent protestor Anthony Shahid, who has been called a “local professional agitator.”

Roorda refers to anyone who thinks police reform is needed as a “violent protestor” – though one could argue he was the only violent protestor Wednesday night. But as the Post-Dispatch editorial board writes:

So let us postulate that it’s possible to be “pro-police,” and still believe that police officers must be civil to the communities they serve and be held responsible for their actions.

The flip side of that is:

Let us posit further that it’s possible to have street cred and still thank cops who honorably do a dangerous and necessary job and that people who endanger the lives of police officers do so at their own peril.

But Roorda does not appear to be interested in “honorably doing the job.” He is threatening a bout of “blue flu” if the civilian review board comes to pass:

Jeff Roorda, a police union official, said on Thursday that St. Louis police officers will quit the department or do only the bare minimum on patrol if the city creates the kind of civilian oversight board currently being proposed.

“They’d answer their calls when they got them, but as far as interrupting criminal behavior on their own, why in the world would they do that when their employers aren’t even supporting them?” Roorda said.

So much for wanting to protect and serve. Civilian review boards can be found in most major cities, and the P-D ed board calls the proposed St. Louis version “inadequate, but a start.” But still, Roorda, whose main duty appears to be defending bad cops, continues to fight angrily against any kind of police oversight, including body cameras.

Bad police officers give the whole profession a bad name. But when the system refuses to punish these offenders (I don’t include Darren Wilson here, but there are many other examples), and people like Roorda continue to back them up, the whole justice system loses the confidence of the public. The first step towards reconciliation is to hold police accountable, and it is clear that that won’t happen in the St. Louis region without body cameras, civilian review, dismantling of North St. Louis County micro-departments that act as revenue generators, and the removal of bad officers. On that last point, how about the St. Louis police union starts with Roorda?

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