Since the mudslinging of last year’s election,efforts have been made to control the chaos in Hickman Mills. The state audit has been released. This took 21 months in the making. The Hickman Mills School District is 25th in size out of 500 in the state of Missouri with over 6000 students. The budget averages $70 million a year. Our test score of 51 last year placed us below the Kansas City Missouri district, which scored a 63. Recently the findings of the audit were accepted by Dr. Carpenter, who has been superintendent for less than a year, and the school board. The number of problems can’t be ignored.
While I was on the board 2007-2010, there were concerns regarding the excessive amount of travel by the previous superintendent. Questions were raised then, but answers were not forthcoming. There were often disputes regarding the Sunshine Law, but concerns were resolved. Questions were asked about the use of Title I funds, yet we were reassured that the monies were being used correctly. District audits never looked that far into practices to alert the board of improprieties, but concerns were there. Even the purchase of furniture for the business office was debated, but there was little we could do. The furniture had been purchased and was being installed before the board was aware of it. Raising to many questions placed me in an unpopular position. People don’t like people who ask questions.
Fortunately, the state auditors had the authority to ask the questions and get the answers needed even if subpoenas had to be written to get them. I am personally grateful for their efforts. Awarding contracts without going through the proper bidding process was disputed at times, but in the end, policy was followed.
The last election is long gone but not forgotten. It is true that Breman Anderson, Jr was the first person to ask me to run for the 2013 board race. It is true that he and Clinton Adams are both members of Freedom, Inc. It is also true that at a meeting with both gentlemen, I was asked if I could support the agenda of the board president without question, to which I said no. Both were aware of my stand on openness. I believe that board members should make an informed choice when voting on district issues. This was and still is a commitment I live by today. The community has a right to be aware of information regarding decisions made by the board. I was told that a decision would be made by their group in the near future.
Later, President Anderson became publicly supportive of two other candidates. One known to have ties to Freedom, Inc and one without. A large advertisement in the Jackson County Advocate showed a large picture of Anderson endorsing these two candidates. This has always been considered bad practice for existing board members. The ad was paid for by the committees of two politicians supported by Freedom. He would go into public meetings accompanied by his candidates and introduced them to attendees as future board members. He was the only board president to create an office in the administration building. At one meeting with local ministers, he fostered support for his candidates. Anderson arranged a meeting for poll workers, to be held at Baptiste using his authority as president. However, the location was changed to McDonald’s at 87th and Blue Ridge after media was contacted.
The seriousness of the situation didn’t hit home until a week before the election when a member of the community verbally assaulted me in a store parking lot. He accused me of many things that were untrue. It wasn’t until the following weekend when the mailer came out that I knew this person was connected to it. On this mailer the two candidates backed by Anderson were presented in a highly favorable way and given an A+ grade, while George Flesher and I were accused of actions that bordered on criminal. The accusations were false. Robo calls also began to people in the district. The first call repeated the mailer verbatim. A second phone call praised the two candidates supported by Freedom, Inc.
The day of the election, Freedom’s bright yellow handout again strongly supported these two candidates. Over the years, the public has become familiar with the bold yellow and black handouts supporting area democrats in local and national elections. The results,Byron Townsend and Shawn Kirkwood were elected. A press conference was held the next day to discount the dirty tactics, but it was over. Though efforts were made to identify those responsible for the mailer and the robo calls to district parents, there was never a concrete answer as to their origin. Even the organization that paid for it was a lie.
The first phone call I received was from Shawn Kirkwood. We had been in previous elections together and talked of various pitfalls to avoid when on the school board. My advice to him was to always follow his convictions. Always remember who he represents and vote accordingly. I knew he wasn’t responsible.
Following the election, Anderson retained his position as president of the board. With full control of the board, he pushed to fire the district’s long time attorney in closed session. This action alone violated the Sunshine Law. Once open session began, he attempted to censure Bonnaye Mimms. Shawn Kirkwood broke rank and voted against it. He knew it was a bad decision. The behavior of the board president toward members of the board and the community brought his downfall.
Weeks later the board voted to remove him from his position, close his office and get to work with the new superintendent to save our district.
I believe the board and administration will grow from this audit A new road map is being designed that will keep us on the right path and bring us back to full accreditation. Hopefully Anderson will be dealt with regarding the failure to bid contracts and sunshine infractions in a manner comperable to the damage done the district.
Today, the strength of political groups are being questioned. They should support improvement of the community. It should not be used as a power grab. If they represent what is good for the community then that’s as it should be. The Hickman Mills School District must be allowed to run without political interference, no matter how good the intentions may be. The interference must be controlled if we are to move our school district forward.
Yes I am once again running for the Hickman Mills School Board. I am willing to take on the responsibilty.