People ask me all the time why I don’t respond to some of the nonsense printed by other media outlets. They ask me why I don’t call out those folks who get their kicks off of distorting, twisting, ridiculing, name-calling and tearing things down. The answer to both questions is pretty simple. Any time that I give those folks time in this fine publication, there are some people out there reading who have never heard of said individuals. If you grease those squeaky wheels, then they just turn faster. Plus, I firmly believe that the vast majority of you folks out there are smart enough to see through the BS and realize that while our elected officials are certainly far from perfect, by and large they do right by the people. That said, a line or two was crossed last week by a few outspoken critics of the Platte County R-3 School District and I simply can’t let their actions stand. Their actions were classless, inappropriate and just flat-out uncalled for. The first involves the guy who has been running around telling anybody who will listen the past few years that the R-3 administration — specifically Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik — and Board of Education has been misleading its patrons about a variety of topics, most notably growth management and the need for a tax levy increase to pay for new classroom space and R-3 student academic achievement. In case you haven’t read this column recently, several months ago I vowed not to mention his name in The Citizen again because he has in the past questioned my honor, ethics and integrity as well as associating my name with a quote from Adolf Hitler. But those of you who have been paying attention know who I’m talking about. Anyway, this guy blogs online and thinks that because he can Google up a few websites that organize, categorize and rank statewide public school district performances and information and then cherry-pick a few issues, that he is qualified to comment on how to run a school district and educate thousands of students. That in and of itself is insulting, not only to the hundreds of R-3 teachers and administrators who have invested untold amounts of time and money on their undergraduate and graduate degrees and have dedicated their lives to public education, but to patrons who appreciate and respect that commitment to our children. And please note that I’m not saying that R-3 patrons shouldn’t ask questions or disagree with the actions of a school district their tax dollars are funding. Of course, that can and should be done. And at times, this critic has done that and brought up issues worthy of discussion and consideration. Mostly, though, a lot of the information he professes to be fact is anything but at worst and marginally relative and only faintly based in fact at best. To his credit, he put his money where his mouth is and filed for one of three open positions on the R-3 Board of Education that voters filled in the April 8 election. And let me emphasize the money part because if you R-3 patrons out there are like yours truly, you were bombarded with direct mail pieces and robo-calls in the days prior to the election. Those campaign tools aren’t cheap and I’m anxious to see the final campaign donation/expenditure report the man is required to file in early May. At any rate, I have often said that I am obligated to respect anyone who puts their name on the dotted line and I have said as much in this space about the man. Of course, he lost any kind of credit he had accrued when he responded to his loss to the three incumbents who beat him by accusing two of them of essentially trying to buy votes from R-3 teachers and staff. You heard me right. This man has publicly stated that he believes that R-3 Board President Sharon Sherwood and Board member Julie Vanover inferred in e-mails they sent out that they would give teachers raises if they voted for them. Following are the emails in question:
Dear teachers, I am contacting you to ask for your support in the upcoming School Board election April 8. I have been on the board for the last 3 years, here is just a quick synopsis of why you should vote for me: I believe in fiscal responsibility so money can go towards our biggest district expense…teachers’ salaries. I advocate for keeping small class sizes as we grow so you have a manageable workload. I support you in your efforts of Quality Continuous Improvement to prepare our students for success. Thank you for all you do for our students! Julie Vanover, PCR-III School Board Member
Platte County R-3 Staff,
As you likely know, I am running for re-election to the Platte County R-3 School Board. This will be my third three-year term on the board. I am a graduate of our school district, and my oldest grandson is a 2013 graduate. Other grandchildren in the district are a granddaughter in the sixth grade, a grandson in third grade, and a grandson who will begin kindergarten in the fall.
I am extremely proud of our district, and of all that you do to ensure the success of our students. I knew that when I retired from a career in education I wanted to be a part of supporting the staff and students of this district by serving on the school board. While we face our challenges, I can say without hesitation that we have the best schools in the area, and thanks to your efforts we continue to become even better at being us, making this a great place for our Pirates!
As a board member, I am dedicated to the success and care of our students, and to the teachers and support staff who work with them. We must provide to our students the resources necessary to guarantee optimal learning experiences, and our teachers must have the teaching resources to meet the needs of each student. Teacher recognition and compensation are issues that we are addressing, but more progress is needed to care for our teachers and support staff appropriately. I will make every effort to see that we continue to strive to provide fair and reasonable compensation.
I am committed to maintaining high quality staff, and to providing opportunities for relevant and timely professional development for teachers. I believe that we reach high academic performance and extra-curricular accomplishments through appropriate, rigorous learning experiences that meet all students’ needs. I will endeavor to support my belief, while honoring a commitment to stewardship with district funds. As a former principal and current board member, I have extensive working knowledge of school finance and federal funding programs.
A significant challenge we face is the growth of our district. Such growth has become somewhat unpredictable, thus causing our projections to be uncertain. As we maintain keen awareness of the variations in growth, we must also consider the options these variances create, and how our decisions affect the future. I am committed to maintaining the facilities we have, and to ensure that students have appropriate space and facilities now and in years to come.
I am a highly qualified and experienced candidate for the position of board member. I genuinely care about the students we serve. I want to see that we “prepare individual learners for success in life…in a safe and caring environment,” and I will continue to step up to this challenge as your board member. I strongly believe that “if it is right for students, then we must see that it happens.”
I am asking for your vote on April 8th! Also, if you agree that I am a good choice, please encourage others to vote for me.
Qualifications: While on the board I have attained Board Certification, Advanced Member Certification, and Master Member Certification through the Missouri School Board Association. I am a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with a B.S. in Music Education, a graduate of NWMSU with an M.S. in Education, and a Specialist Degree in School Administration. I have been the recipient of the Northland Chamber of Commerce Award for Excellence in Service to Education, and the Missouri Distinguished Principal Award. I served for twenty-three years as an educator, with eleven of those years as a school principal. Now, I’m not one of those folks who think that all public officials are liars, crooks and thieves and police officers are out to get me… but even if you are, it seems to me a stretch to read that and determine that Vanover and Sherwood were trying to buy votes. Of course, the lovable R-3 critic we’ve been talking about thinks otherwise and he said so to my face at the R-3 Board of Education meeting last week. He also has filed a formal complaint with the school district alleging that the e-mails violated school district policies concerning technology usage, staff conduct and political campaigns. Reik told me this week that he has received the complaint, is investigating it and will respond — as dictated by district policy — within five days of receipt of the complaint. He also said that he has received zero complaints from any R-3 employee concerning the e-mails. Now, I have looked at those policies and while — unlike our critic — I’m no expert, my takeaway from them is that they were written for and apply to employees of the school district. You know, folks who sign contracts with the school to perform their jobs while abiding by district policies. School board members are not district employees. The e-mail addresses of every one of Platte County’s 350 teachers and most of their 560 overall employees are available to anyone on the District’s website. The only comment I have with the e-mails is they were a waste of time. Sherwood and Vanover didn’t need to worry about that voting bloc — our critic has said on more than one occasion that he believes R-3 teachers are overpaid. Ya think that alienated most of the teachers? In light of all this nonsense, about the only thing a reasonable person can conclude about our R-3 critic is that he’s a sore loser. How can we top that, you say? Well... Andy Stanton, whose name has appeared on these pages more than I wish it had but probably not nearly as much as it should, given some of the preposterous and mean-spirited garbage he has said over the years, was also at the R-3 BOE meeting last week. Prior to the beginning of the meeting, when Board members are settling into their seats, Stanton suddenly approached Vanover, questioned her about the afore-mentioned e-mail and asked her when he could expect to see those teachers’ raises. Just so we are clear on protocol, it is generally inappropriate for members of the public audience to approach these elected officials unsolicited at meetings they are required to be at, though folks have certainly done so. Count me guilty in that regard — I often ask folks how their kids are doing, etc. Stanton did not ask Vanover about her children or the weather or indulge in any of the day-to-day pleasantries that respectful people say to each other. He was trying to intimidate Vanover and judging by the look on her face and the fact that she immediately left the Board meeting room and was reluctant to return (though she did), I would say that Stanton succeeded. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mike Brown saw the exchange and reported it to Reik; both of them immediately approached Stanton, who by then was standing just outside the meeting room. I was not privy to their conversation, but I assume they did not engage in any of the afore-mentioned pleasantries, either. After the meeting, I asked Stanton what he had said to Vanover and he told me and then he said he thought she had overreacted “by sic’ing Dr. Reik on me.” He then said that as an elected official she should expect “heat” from the public. I just shook my head, because Stanton just doesn’t get it. Criticizing or disagreeing with an elected official is one thing — invading their space in a threatening manner and questioning their ethics and integrity is quite another. I would need a calculator to tabulate how many times I have seen the guy do just that in my time as editor of this newspaper. When I spoke to Reik about it later, he agreed, albeit more vehemently. “We welcome criticism and if a patron wants to talk about something that is not on the agenda, there is a process to follow to speak to the Board,” he said. “However, this is not the Wild West. That type of confrontational verbal attack is not welcome and will not be tolerated.” It bears repeating that I am in no way endorsing muzzling or censoring the public whose hard-earned tax dollars fund our public schools and municipal entities. Questions prompt meaningful discussion. Passion means you care. It also should be noted that I have for the most part stood back and let some folks say what they want without holding them accountable, even though I knew that it wasn’t right or true or constructive. Not anymore. Objective journalism is one thing and doing what is right is another, but those two beliefs can and should co-exist. I say this as not only a newspaper editor, but as a taxpayer, business owner, community member, school district patron, neighbor, friend and the guy you see at the store trying to decide between brats or chops on the grill. Thanks for reading.
Lee Stubbs is owner/publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 858-5154. Follow him on Twitter @leejstubbs.