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School district news

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This page includes current and past news about school districts and board elections throughout the United States.

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Another firing, more fallout in St. Joseph School District

On the same day, the board demoted Human Resources Director Doug Flowers. He has been offered a teaching contract for the upcoming school year.

Missouri-Stipend Scandal.jpg
Learn more about the scandal in
the St. Joseph School District...
The story so far
The stipend scandal
The FBI probe
The rescinded suspension
The $2 million shortfall
The secret tapes
The ousted administrators
The state audit
The fallout begins
The superintendent axed
The firings continue
Key figures
Superintendent Fred Czerwonka
CFO Beau Musser
COO Rick Hartigan
HR Director Doug Flowers
Trustee Chris Danford
Trustee Dan Colgan
State Auditor Thomas Schweich
State Sen. Robert Schaaf
St. Joseph School District
2014 school board election
2015 tax levy renewal
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Missouri State Auditor

These three top administrators were roundly criticized in a report from the Missouri State Auditor. All have been interviewed multiple times by the FBI, according to sources.

They all also played a role in the botched attempt to silence Chief Financial Officer Beau Musser by falsely accusing him of sexual harassment. Musser helped blow the whistle on the secret stipends paid to administrators, 4,000 gallons of missing gasoline and other irregularities.

The state audit uncovered nearly $40 million in secret payments, mostly to administrators, going back to 2000.

First openly gay official elected to Burbank school board, two candidates advance to April election

By Abbey Smith

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Burbank voters chose their youngest and first openly gay elected official in the primary election for the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education on February 24, 2015. Newcomer Steve Ferguson was elected to his first term on the board after running unsuccessfully for a seat in 2013. Incumbent Roberta Grande Reynolds was also re-elected to her seat. Both received at least 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast, allowing them to win outright in the primary without first advancing to the general election.[1][2]

The winner of the third seat up for election will be determined in the general election on April 14, 2015. Candidates Armond Aghakhanian and Gregory Sousa will face each other in that election, as they received the third and fourth most votes, respectively, in the primary election, according to unofficial results from the Burbank City Clerk's Office. Candidates Vahe Hovanessian and Jesse Tangkhpanya were eliminated from the race, as they received the fewest votes.[1][2]

Board votes to fire St. Joseph School District superintendent

Former St. Joseph Superintendent Fred Czerwonka

The district said in a statement that the executive session vote was 6-0 to fire Czerwonka. Dan Colgan, the former board president and district superintendent, was absent.

The 6-0 vote is significant because the school board has been bitterly divided for the past year over Czerwonka’s controversial tenure.

Czerwonka’s firing also came just four days after Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich released a scathing report on the district’s finances, policies and procedures.

The report criticized the district for no-bid contracts, lack of control of overtime and numerous violations of the Missouri Sunshine Act.

But the most damaging finding concerned the district’s now-infamous stipend program.

The audit discovered $25 million in secret payments, mostly to administrators, in the past eight years. It suggested that up to $40 million in stipends were handed out going back to 2000.

Criminal investigation called for in wake of St. Joseph School District audit

State Sen. Robert Schaaf (R) is demanding a criminal investigation following the audit.

Schaaf also filed legislation that would drastically change St. Joseph Board of Education elections.

It would shorten school board terms from six years to three years. Schaaf says the longer terms foster a cozy relationship between the board and administrators and that leads to the lack of oversight uncovered by the state audit.

The bill would also allow St. Joseph voters to recall school board members.

"I think that it's pretty obvious that our school board is dysfunctional," says Schaaf.

Also, the St. Joseph News-Press called on the district to remove Human Resources Director Doug Flowers.

Flowers' administration of the district’s HR office was harshly criticized in the audit, including the fact that he had direct involvement in his wife's employment with the district.

The News-Press pointed out that Flowers was a major beneficiary of the district’s stipends. Last year, he received $39,700 in addition to his base salary of $96,500 for a total package of $136,210.

An editorial in the paper opined: "For that money, we should expect more than a divisive figure who has failed in many of the basic requirements of his position. The district needs competence and professionalism, now more than ever, in the critical role of fairly administering salary, benefits and policies in behalf of taxpayers and nearly 2,200 employees."

Journalist Sam Zeff

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. He's won a National News Emmy for investigative reporting, four National Headliner Awards and four Edward R. Murrow awards. Zeff has managed newsrooms in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City. He was educated at the University of Kansas.

St. Joseph School District rated "poor" in financial audit

Approximately 250 parents and community members attended the release of the audit report.

Schweich, who’s running for the Republican nomination for governor in 2016, drew gasps from the audience of about 250 people gathered in a new elementary school that opened just this school year. He was talking about stipends unapproved and unknown to the school board.

"But also the total number of dollars involved in that stipend system," says Schweich. "$25 million over eight years. Maybe $40 million over 14 years. That’s a staggering amount of money."

The gasps grew louder when Schweich suggested the practice of secret stipends was traced back 14 years to 2000. Just last year, according to the audit, the district handed out $3.8 million in stipends.

Schweich rated the district’s performance as "poor." St. Joseph is the only Missouri school district to be rated that low by the state auditor’s office.

"I was shocked," says Tom Pankiewicz, who taught in the district for 30 years. "It was so devastating the amount of money that’s been wasted over the years. It’s sad."

Last year, the district cut $3 million from its budget. Some staff was laid off. Schweich suggested the district’s financial health would be better if the stipends didn’t exist. He called them a district slush fund.

All of the district’s current problems, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe and subpoenas from a federal grand jury in Kansas City, can be traced back to last spring when it was revealed that Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka handed out $5,000 stipends to 54 top administrators without board approval.

Czerwonka quickly picked up a nickname: The Candy Man.

Those secret payments were uncovered by school board member Chris Danford, who called for Czerwonka to step down last year. Over the past year, she has said, she’s lost long-time friends because of her outspoken opposition to the stipends and other district procedures. She says the state audit report is a vindication.

"I have felt like I was the crazy red-head board member who was making a big deal about things because I’ve been treated that way," says Danford, after the audit was released.

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