Putting students and teachers first...

HOT TOPIC:  MSBA (Missouri School Boards Association) Conference
Posted October 7, 2016 

From Friday morning, September 30, 2016 at 8:00 a.m. through Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 10:30 a.m., I attended the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) fall meeting.   Here is a report from sessions I attended.  For more information about any topic or session, please contact me (see Contact page on this site.)

BREAKOUT SESSIONS (50 minutes each):

The Curriculum Process Reimagined, Park Hill School District
Park Hill, with eleven elementary and two high schools is similar to JCPS.  Park Hill had been on a seven year cycle of reviewing and updating curriculum, however surveys of their teachers showed it wasn’t working well.  Curriculum was hard to access online; the pieces did not fit together; both the process and professional development lacked focus.  In response, Park Hill set about making curriculum a yearly process with each class on a four year cycle.  The multi-step process is summarized as:

     1.  Learning best practices, defining the desired outcome and experts to listen to
     2.  Creating a vision
     3.  Asking if the current curriculum needs to be changed.  If so,
     4.  Define the What and How of what is to be done; build a framework
     5.  Define what will get us where need to go.  Decide whether to create the           curriculum or purchase a ready-made product (math and science are usually purchased products)
      6.  When the curriculum is ready, bring it to the Board of Education
      7.  Professional Development tools are developed
      8.  Resulting changes needed are defined and addressed.  Examples: change the course catalog; report cards, etc.
      9.  Continue the basic model of Plan; Do; Study; Act; repeat

Now that Park Hill is entering the third year of the four year plan they are already seeing positive results from teachers completing the annual surveys.  Every teacher leaving for the summer knows what curriculum they will be teaching in August and some professional development has already taken place.  New teachers will have additional supports.

Which Path to Take? A Community’s Choice, Mehlville School District
The Mehlville School District with 10,300 students was in trouble.  Since 1970 voters had only approved 3 of 20 tax levy issues.  Facing an $8 million deficit, they decided to change things.  An interim Superintendent was hired (see
Can You Hear Us Now presentation information that is really a companion to this).  Instead of relying on the same group of District supporters (partners) who liked everything proposed, a consultant firm was hired to determine what the community really wanted.  From that group’s work with targeted focus groups of teachers, parents, and students, a new plan emerged.  All the focus groups wanted a long range plan and additional teacher supports.  From there comparison data to local schools (neighboring districts) was gathered and shared.  A group of interested stakeholders, not the usual bond passage groups, was formed.   A true effort at rebuilding trust began.  As community concerns were addressed and all information shared, the ballot issue gained steam and was passed by a large majority (72.5% in favor).   Said a Committee member, “We didn’t just win the issue, we changed a culture.”
A newspaper article link about the presentation:

Can You Hear Us Now? Joplin School District & Marc Maness Opinion Research Specialists
(See also
Which Path to Take? A Community’s Choice)
When the Joplin tornado hit it presented the District with unique challenges and opportunities for innovation.  Working with Interim Superintendent Norm Ritter, Mr. Maness developed a customer focus to rethink how the district engaged the community.  These are steps they took to understand the community:

     1.  Human Centered Design:  listening to customer voices including unique experiences, you will come up with something that works for everyone.  Open ended questions about their day will lead to a commonality of their stories.
     2.  Targeted focus groups of select groups such as teachers, parents, seniors, and other stakeholders were gathered and asked open ended questions.  For example, for the teacher group of 4, 1 was a first year teacher, 1 was a veteran teacher, 1 was a struggling teacher, and 1 was a “star” teacher.  This phase was listening intensive.  What we usually miss is actually spending time with our customers.  An example of a teacher question is:  How might we create a classroom that best supports the teacher in providing a highly engaging learning experience for the students at ______ School?
      3.  Surveys of 400+ people.  The survey can validate findings from your analysis of listening activities.  Those listening activities help formulate the survey questions.  (If you start with the survey, how do you know what to ask?  How do you know the language – preferred terms -- of your customers?  )
Out of the community engagement came the realization that a collaborative (instead of top down) culture was needed; and that a shift from viewing teachers as worker to teachers as professionals would be a positive step.  Joplin decided to cut 31 central office positions and use those funds for teacher supports.  The objective data from all the groups helped support a bond issue once the district got to know their community.

Effective School Board Meetings in 90 Minutes, Marceline R-V School District
Marceline has 583 students in a community of 2,200 people.  When they began having marathon meetings, the Board looked inward to see what they could change.  They adopted new policies and established a set of norms governing Board issues.  Marceline faced different issues, in my opinion, than JCPS does, but here are some things we could consider:

  *   The Superintendent sends weekly updates to all Board members. 
  *  After a monthly meeting agenda has been developed by the Board President and Superintendent, any Board member may add an agenda item. 
  *  At every meeting every Board member may have a brief comment period; however, no action will be taken as it is not on the agenda.
  *  Emotional or high attendance meetings are anticipated and moved to a larger venue.
  *  Members of the public are asked to fill out a short form including contact information prior to speaking.  The Board President calls speakers in turn.  Issues raised that require some “looking into” will result in the member of the public being contacted at a later time.  Concerns noted on the form are also tracked for trends.
  *   When a Board member is contacted by a member of the public outside of a meeting, a form is completed briefly summarizing the concern and providing contact information.  The form is then routed to the appropriate staff member for resolution including following up with the Board member.  Concerns are tracked for trends.

Negotiating Superintendent Contracts, Celynda Brasher, Attorney in private practice
The contract information and suggestions are applicable to all contracts, especially those in administrative positions.  The mostly technical presentation included handouts and specific areas to include or avoid.  Use of electronic signatures, having the Board secretary attest to contracts and a discussion of when federal and state law are not completely in sync were highlights.  The contract as a foundation for a defined relationship that is fair to all the parties was the premise of the presenter.

oard –Superintendent Relationships, Duane Martin, Attorney, Doug Hayter, MASA (Missouri Association of School Administrators)
For the Governing Team (Superintendent and Board members) to be effective, each person must understand and adhere to their individual and collective roles and responsibilities.  Effective communication patterns are at the heart of this.  A parting quote from the presenters:  “Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso.

School Law Update, MSBA
A brief update of new legislation and changes in law was provided.    Some topics addressed were bidding; employment discrimination; disability; retaliation; Title IX; drug testing; and election law.  This session was of limited value as there was too much material to cover in the available time.

Walking the Ethical Line, Duane Martin & Rachel Englund, Attorneys in private practice
The focus was on ethic law (what is legal) as opposed to ethical behavior (right versus wrong).   The overall advice was, if you have to ask if it is legal or right, perhaps there is something else that provides a clearer path.   

 Teletherapy – The Way of the Present (IEP’s), MSBA
The Missouri School Boards Association through a Medicaid Consortium has developed an entire unit to assist school district in providing student services; transportation; billing; and software that integrates required documentation with billing.  Additional options include the ability for professionals and/or parents to participate in meetings electronically.  The services and systems are compliant with all privacy laws (HIPAA and FERPA).  This could help capture revenue for services.

When laws were enacted in the 1970’s it was estimated it would cost 40% more to educate students with disabilities.  A 2011 study showed it actually costs 200 – 300% more.  Originally only speech, occupational and physical therapy was covered.  Now included are also private duty nursing; personal care attendants; audiology and behavioral services. 

SPED Due Process Hearings before the AHC, Jim Thomeczek, Attorney in private practice
Special education (Sped) is governed by federal and state law.  Prior to the enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, children with disabilities were often prevented from attending school.  Sometimes disputes arise regarding the appropriate level of educational services.  Those disputes, if not resolved, are taken to the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission or the courts.  This session dealt with hearings.  As case law has changed (and may change again when the US Supreme Court takes up cases next spring) it has become more expensive and complicated for school districts to litigate.  The presenting attorney specializes in these types of cases and provided handouts outlining the process.  His advice was to attempt local resolution between the parents and the school districts; even if a district feels too much is asked, it should weigh the cost of litigation against the cost of providing services.   

GENERAL SESSIONS (1.5 – 2.0 Hours each):

Community and Family Engagement, Karen Mapp, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Dr. Mapp’s Keynote speech set a community and family engagement (as opposed to involvement) theme for the conference.   Involvement surrounds, engagement is a partnership; and words matter.  Too often our ideas of family and community interaction are one sided, perhaps because this has not been a part of educating educators.  The five essential ingredients of sustainable improvement are:

      1.  Distributive leadership, the sharing of power
      2.  The professional capacity to do what is needed or asked
      3.  Institutional guidance
      4.  A student centered learning environment
     5.  Family and community ties.
Dr. Mapp stated teacher retention improves when engagement of families is taken seriously.  Often teachers feel isolated, but by learning about students and their interests it changes everyone’s behavior and outlook. 

The Whole Child, Literacy Solutions, Scholastic Education
Building on Dr. Mapp’s presentation, Becky Bone who is the Scholastic Education Vice President of Professional Learning presented information about Houston, Texas and their Literacy by 3 program.  A 4.5 minute video can be accessed here: 
The program recognizes family is the first educators; teachers are educators who are professional decision makers.  The basic premise is learning flows through language and oral language is the foundation of literacy.  Reading and writing should be purposeful and meaning driven.   Her advice here was, “You have to bait the hook with what the fish likes, not what the fisherman likes.”  Other premises are minutes reading should be tracked and increased to build stamina and learning as well as for testing.   Considering Ms. Bone works for Scholastic, it was no surprise she advocated classroom libraries at all grade levels.  

Polarization of Politics and Society, Dr. Norman Orstein, American Enterprise Institute
Focusing on national politics and the breakdown of cooperation, Dr. Orstein presented a humorous description of just how we got to where we are in 2016:  Associating only with those with whom we agree and discounting all other ideas.  His latest book is titles, “Its Worse than You Think.” 

Achievement Awards and a Thank You from Governor Jay Nixon
Awards to the Superintendent of the Year and Outstanding volunteers were presented.  Governor Nixon spoke at length to thank School Board members and Administrators for their work in education. 

At-Risk Students, Darbie Valenti, 2016 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Savannah R-III Schools
The very last session of the meeting was to hear the story of a young child who acted out, made her teachers lives miserable and was also the victim of horrific abuse at home.  One teacher never gave up on the child with behavior issues and she went on to become a success:  Teacher of the Year.  Ms. Valenti spoke of the need for adequate training to recognize and respond to youth with problems they have been taught to hide.  Ms. Valenti uses a portion of her story to help with teaching at risk students by letting them know there is hope.  The trust and rapport she builds has saved other children, her “little Darbies.”  If you get a chance to hear her speak, please don’t pass it up.  Her message of saving lives, one at a time, is what teaching is about.

How will I use what I learned?   Knowledge gained will guide some of my questions prior to voting on issues.  As a board member it is my job to question; to pose possibilities in general discussion; and to use my voice and vote to assist with the oversight board members as a body must exercise.  The Board is part of the checks and balances that are built into all levels of American government.  I will also provide more information, including contacts, for those seeking more detail. 

 Time Spent:  I left my home Friday morning at 6:15 a.m. and returned home noon on Sunday.  Friday I was in sessions from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  All meals were on my own.  Saturday, I was in sessions from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., meals were part of registration.  Sunday, I was in session from 8:00 a.m. through 10:30 a.m., breakfast was included in the fee.

 Costs:  Registration with the Missouri School Boards Association was $325.  Hotel stay at Tan Tar A Resort was $220.36 for Friday and Saturday nights.  I will not seek reimbursement for meals I paid for on Friday or for mileage to and from Lake of the Ozarks in my vehicle.


HOT TOPIC:  City Council Hears Truman TIF
Posted September 7, 2016

On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, the City Council in Jefferson City heard the Truman Hotel Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proposal by the Puri Group of Enterprises.   The proposal calls for future property, sales and other taxes to be funneled back to the Puri Group to offset some of the costs associated with redeveloping the Truman Hotel property.  The main building would be refurbished and the other buildings demolished.  In two phases, two new hotels and a restaurant would be constructed.  The tax abatements would continue for up to 23 years for each hotel project until allowable costs were recouped by the Puri Group. In a complicated set of deals, the Puri Group would agree to have their hotels in Apache Flats annexed into the City and city sales and lodging taxes would then be collected on those hotels as well.  This would allow a portion of new taxes generated from the Truman project to continue to be received by the Jefferson City Public School District, the library and other jurisdictions relying on property taxes. 

In June the TIF Commission, a body of 11 appointees made up as follows:  from the City (6 votes); the County (2 votes); the school district (2 votes); and another representative from any of the other taxing authorities, in this case the library (1 vote) met and heard the TIF proposal in a Public Hearing.  After hearing from supporters, opponents, consultants and the Puri Group the TIF Commission, with only 8 members present made their recommendation.  First they voted 1 to 7 NOT to support the proposal; then they voted 8 to 0 to oppose the proposal.  This recommendation is not binding on the City Council, but it does mean that the Council must now have a 2/3 majority (7 votes) instead of a simple majority (6 votes) to form a TIF district.

After months of negotiations, last Thursday (September 2, 2016) the latest version of the Staff and Consultant report was made available.  In it were two sets of contracts:  one prepared by City attorneys covering all details of the TIF contract and annexation agreement; and two contracts prepared by the Puri Group.  The Puri Group proposed one contract for the TIF details and one for the annexation agreement.   These contracts come into play only if the Council approves the TIF.  The City’s outside attorney for land use matters, Joe Laubber, stated at the September 6 Council meeting that the area the City and Puri Group could not agree on related to the “timing and methods of assurance of annexation.”  Mr. Laubber explained this hold up led to the recommendation to deny the TIF.  However, after the recommendation was published, the Puri Group presented alternative language.  The City Council went into a Closed Session for 40 minutes to receive legal advice relative to contract negotiations. 

Public comment at the September 6 Council meeting was divided into two parts with 4 people (myself included) speaking before the Closed Session and 2 people and the Puri Group speaking after the Closed Session.  Members of the public had a 5 minute time limit. 

Edie Vogel, a former Council member, spoke in favor of the TIF, citing the negative effect of the boarded up property.

Glover Brown also spoke in favor of the TIF after getting to know the Puri family.  He did not complete his remarks in the time period and submitted a copy to the Council.

Charles Gaskin spoke against the TIF and presented an in depth analysis of the proposal contrasting proposal information against other sources such as the Convention and visitors Bureau.

I spoke against the TIF.  I also did not finish within the 5 minute deadline and submitted my written remarks and supporting information to the Council.  My complete remarks are below (
in purple ink) along with links to cited articles.

After the Closed Session, these people spoke:

Joe Laubber, attorney for the City, presented the summary of new events described earlier.

Vivek Puri responded to remarks by stating education is a priority to his family and reiterated the school district will receive more tax dollars if the development proceeds than it does now as a shuttered business. He also said all taxing districts will see $109 million in revenue over 23 years.  (Note:  It is not clear what percentage of hotel occupancy that is based on.)

Robert Hollis, an attorney for the Puri Group stated the submission of new contract language today would salvage the project and “hopes there is a meeting of the minds”.  

Tim Sigmund, attorney for other hotel developers and operators in the City then made these points:

  • The description by Mr. Puri that the TIF is a win/win for the City and the Puri Group is predicated on a big assumption.
  • The TIF, with an $8.9 million dollar tax subsidy does give an unfair advantage to the Puri Group over other hotels; the main opposition is that the costs are too high; his clients build hotels in this area and know costs.
  • Lodging tax according to state law and the ballot language that created the local lodging tax prohibits its use to offset TIF abatements.  The tax was created to generate tourism.  A hotel does not create tourists, it accomodates tourists.

 Ted Stewart, who was in the hotel business in Jefferson City from 1967 to 2006, a time when 5 hotels were built, spoke in opposition to the TIF.  He stated the number one problem of the City is finding revenue.  “Every dollar you spend foolishly is a dollar you don’t have for someone who needs it.”  When a City spends money, it must then find replacement funds.  He suggested the nearly $9 million tax dollars would be better spent on truly blighted areas.  He then reminded the Council that the Truman Hotel was an operating business when the Puri Group bought it and they created the “blight” by closing the business and boarding it up.

After comments were closed, Councilman Mihalevich asked for legal counsel to provide clarification regarding the use of lodging tax.  The Councilman’s understanding had been that the lodging tax would only offset costs equal in amount to the convention/meeting space portion of the project.  (The TIF will not increase meeting space square footage above what has been in place on the Truman property.)  The attorneys for the City stated the lodging tax money would not go directly to pay the Puri Group, rather it would be collected and held by the City and then that pot of money would be doled out in accordance with the contract as a reimbursement of allowable costs.  Mr. Laubber’s words were:  “The TIF is not capturing the lodging tax. The Council would use lodging tax revenues as tourism dollars.  The City is the gatekeeper through the contract.”

The Council will hold its second reading on the TIF proposal and take action at the September 19, 2016 Council meeting.

My submitted comments were as follows:

Mayor Tergin and Council Members:

My name is Pam Murray; I reside at 1052 Choctaw Ridge, Holts Summit; that is part of the Jefferson City Public School District.  I am also an individually elected member of the Board of Education and an interested party to the creation of a tax increment financing district that, if established, will negatively impact school district revenue for the next two and one half decades.  As fellow elected officials we are all aware of the importance of increased property value as a means to increase salaries and number of employees and finance some projects without raising property tax levies. 

As you consider the appropriate use of TIF for this community, please consider these issues:

What opportunities will this community forego by pursuing this development opportunity?
While TIF’s are a legal way of offering inducements to developers, once started, they seem to mushroom.   Perhaps an alternative to TIF’s and abatements is to promote quality of life issues, such as the availability of housing, a well-educated workforce, quality health services, good public education, a variety of cultural and entertainment opportunities, as better, and more sustainable incentives.
For the most appropriate use of incentives, they should be used judiciously and targeted to achieve the objectives of the local community.  Does this TIF meet those objectives?
What will be the short- and long-term impacts on the property tax base and other local tax revenues?   At the school district, our buildings are overcrowded; more than half our buildings are over 50 years old; classes above recommended size; we cannot keep up with technology needs; and for the second year we are using reserve funds for operational needs.   48% of school revenue is from property taxes; the district does not have a sales tax revenue stream. 
The TIF proposal touts new jobs, the vast majority of them low paying.  At the same time the school district is limited in hiring additional teachers as there is no place to put additional classrooms.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently published two articles regarding the use, or over use, of TIF’s in St. Louis.  The St. Louis Development Corporation is looking to better control tax incentives.  They found that between 2000 and 2014 a total of $709 million in local tax revenue was not collected due to tax abatements and TIF’s.  This is revenue that did not go to schools, libraries, and other local entities.  During that same time, several school districts in St. Louis have declined and been taken over by the State.   While a direct connect between the TIFs and declining schools has not been proven, educating more students with less future income does not bode well for providing updated texts and fair pay for classroom educators.  The article also notes the TIF’s were cited as a reason for the city’s credit rating being downgraded earlier this year. 

The second Post-Dispatch article, an editorial, noted the effect of “spot-blighting”, the practice of declaring a single parcel as blight for the purpose of abating taxes as a new, and questionable use of tax abatements as a major reason for lack of investment in truly blighted areas.
(3)  For our community and surrounding area to flourish, every step must be taken to encourage investment.

An article in the May 2011 edition of the publication State Tax Notes details a proposal to do away with TIFs by Governor Jerry Brown of California as they are no longer sustainable. 
(4)  California, it should be noted, is where TIF’s were first used in 1952 and that state has the longest history of TIF use.  Perhaps we have something to learn from their experience.  Although TIF’s remain legal in California, multiple lawsuits have curtailed the use.

As reported by the Kansas City Star, in Kansas City, a coalition of community activists has formed and is leading a move to place TIF reform on the ballot in a stricter form than a previous attempt by Mayor Sly James in 2014.  The movement has led to Kansas City education and political leaders discussing incentive reform. 

This year the Missouri Legislature passed TIF reform in St. Louis and St. Charles counties, limiting tax abatements to the cost of demolition and clearing of land only.  Redevelopment or development is no longer eligible for tax abatements. 
(6)   Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there.

Regarding the Puri Group of Enterprises proposal, I respectfully disagree with the Staff and Consultant reports in these required areas:

BLIGHT:  The area is not blighted as evidenced by three recent projects:   The Southwest Animal Hospital moved to Jefferson Street from its former location and constructed a larger modern facility, all without tax abatements.  Big O Tires purchased the Truman Theater adjacent to the Truman Hotel, demolished the theater and is constructing a large brick store, all without tax abatements.  Sunbelt Rentals, a business new to the area, just located on Jefferson Street despite a major intersection project in the area.  The property was listed by Bowman Commercial realty at $2,100,000.00

Additionally properties are for sale in the area, none at “blighted” prices:  1650 Jefferson Street, the old Country Kitchen, is listed by Kolb properties for $852,000.00; 1511 Christy Drive is listed by Kolb Properties for $1,950,000.00; and, 1445 Christy Drive is listed for $990,000.00.  These properties are not boarded up or otherwise made to appear “blighted”.   And I doubt that any of these or other area properties had their tax assessments lowered.  

“BUT FOR”:   The determination that “but for” tax abatements, the redevelopment of the Truman Hotel will not take place is, in my opinion, in error.  The location, easily accessible from US Highway 54 by multiple exits, and clearly visible to all from US 54, Jefferson Street and Christy Drive is too good to sit idle for an extensive period of time.   

Developers seeking a TIF have shown a willingness let their property decline long enough to benefit from a lower property assessment, but I doubt they will let it sit idle any longer than necessary.  Without a TIF they will either find another way to develop – perhaps by allowing more time between project phases; or they will find another buyer. 

In closing, I ask you to consider not just if the project with a TIF is good for the City, but also consider if the TIF will be good for your residents who are also taxpayers to the Jefferson City Public Schools.  I fear a loss of their support for a future bond issue for education, especially when they see tax abatements awarded to wealthy developers.

You have two sets of contracts before you: one from the City’s attorney and a set from the Puri Group.  I urge you to reject them all and support the opinion of the TIF Commission, a Commission dominated by City appointees.  However, if you do move forward with the TIF, let me share my experience with the Puri Group:   At a public school board meeting Dr. Raman Puri stated he would respond to a list of my questions in writing to me.  He never did, not in writing, not verbally, not even to say he didn’t like the questions.   Nothing. 

Thank you for your time.  I request this copy of my remarks and the attachments be made part of the Public Hearing record.

 REFERENCES:   copies of (2) through (7) attached

(1) State Sales Tax collected due to Proposition C is collected ion a statewide basis and doled out on a per-student basis.  Local collections may be more or less than local distribution.






(7) Email from local Realtor D. Gordon


HOT TOPIC:  TIF and Different Ways of Thinking
Posted July 18, 2016

There have been several letters printed in the News Tribune regarding the request from the Puri Group of Enterprises for millions of dollars in tax abatements to help finance their hotel and restaurant projects on Jefferson Street Truman Hotel property. Below is a letter written by Mr. Jeff Robnett and published on July 8, 2016:

Dear Editor:

I have been following the TIF proposal by the Puri Group in Jefferson City. It was voted down by the school board and the TIF commission. Now it can still be voted in by the City Council.

I guess I don't understand why the city is so anxious to give away money on a private project that will more than likely happen without help. This group didn't buy a franchise and land without the intent to build. It seems Puri has the city right where he wants them.

According to his comments, "Give me TIF or I will leave this building sitting for a long time" — a building he purchased and operated then decided to shut down. And "Give me the TIF and I will annex two hotels in Apache Flats" ­— something he has promised to do two other times in the past to get what he wanted from the city.

How many times can someone dangle the same carrots? It seems like we would all be better off, including the city, if we let the developer pay his fair share of taxes.

The land he purchased at a very discounted rate has a development happening on the south side of the property without city help and new animal hospital on the north side of the property without city help.

I say, call his bluff! I urge all residents of Jefferson City to talk to your City Council. A decision that affects the city for 23 years is not one to be taken lightly.

Mr. Robnett’s letter led to this response from Vivek Puri, printed in the News Tribune on Sunday, July 17, 2016:

This is in response to the opinion letter published July 8 containing false allegations leveled against us by the author of that particular opinion. The language of the letter reveals that he seems to be the same person who spoke in opposition against our group in the TIF Commission hearing.

I humbly submit the following for those who want to know the truth:

First of all the city is not giving away money on this project. What the author of this opinion and others that have been speaking with the same voice are ignoring is that this is a pay-as-you-go TIF. In other words, there is no money that comes from the city, it comes from the developer.

The only thing the developer is getting from the city upon approval of the TIF is a promise. A promise to the developer to let it reimburse itself, if the project generates enough money.

All of the money, every single penny, is injected by the developer on the purposed project . If, and only if, the project generates enough revenues to actually pay all costs including the increase in property taxes, will the developer be allowed to be reimbursed for expenses that qualify from funds it deposits into the Special Allocation Fund.

So, only if money is actually made will costs be reimbursed, and only those costs that are approved under statue for reimbursement that too after they are submitted and approved by the city.

Another fallacy that is being propagated by this author is that "the hotels that are located in Apache Flats are being dangled as a carrot as done before." There has never been any time within which the properties were ever offered in return from anything from the city. Moreover, there has never been a so called verbal or written agreement between our group and the city wherein we offered those properties in the form of an annexation for something in return. This was clearly confirmed by the city attorney, Drew Hilpert at the TIF Commission hearing.

The decision to annex these two properties was taken mutually with the city during the second phase of negotiations after the initial opposition so the Jefferson City Public School District could have an immediate benefit from this project. Part of the money from the annexation would be used to divert monies to the school district and CVB. The benefit to the school district went from $1.8 million to $6.8 million. If the annexation benefit to the city and CVB is accounted for, the amount of the TIF to our group is negligible.

Lastly, it is of note that the author and the others that join in chorus to these false statements had the exact same opportunity to purchase the Truman property.

These individuals also had the exact same opportunity to apply for and spend tens of thousands of dollars to seek a tax increment financing district. None of them took the risk. None of them swung at the pitch, yet here they are criticizing another for doing what they lacked the fortitude to do.

In essence, they are telling the people of Jefferson City that if they are not the ones doing the development then no one else should do it. How long will the citizens of Jefferson let these individuals prevent our city from growing? It is time to look to the future. The future can be diverse and magnificent, or it can be a repeat of the last 20 years; a reduction in our overall population and retraction in our economy.

Harry S. Truman wrote, "the only thing we do not know about the future is the history we have not read." The writing is on the wall, we can repeat the known mistakes of the past, and be lead astray by those who see their influence being challenged, or we can embrace the new and the unknown and seize the opportunity for a chance at something better.

 Do we want the status quo or do we want change and growth?

Vivek Puri, JD, CHA, is vice president and general counsel of Puri Group of Enterprises, Inc.

There are several items in Mr. Puri’s Perspective column I would like to address:

*      “The City is not giving money away on this project.”  Yes, the public assistance in the form of a TIF, if granted by the City, will most definitely give away future tax revenue of the City, County, School District, Library and any other taxing entity that relies on property taxes.  That is the very definition of a TIF.  The Cole County Assessor will continue to assess property, the TIF property will pay taxes, BUT, any increase in value of the property that results in higher taxes goes to a special fund.  Money in that fund, all of it or part of it, goes back to the developer to “reimburse” him for the costs of development.  Is that not giving away money?  Wouldn’t it be nice if, when ordinary people pay their taxes, their tax increases could go into a special fund to offset the cost of a new roof, a new furnace or an extension on their home so an aging relative can move in?
 *    “Only if money is made will costs be reimbursed, and only those costs that are approved…”  These points have been the subject of much controversy as the costs in the Puri proposal have been felt to be quite high compared to other hotel projects completed in the area; and, as managers of the project “soft costs” such as legal and developer management costs are under the control of the Puri Group.  The City financial consultant, Springsted, compared costs and anticipated revenue to hotel projects in St. Louis and Kansas City.  Some think comparisons to Columbia and the Lake of the Ozarks would have made more sense.  Springsted recommended removal of $5.2 million in costs from the Puri proposal after their analysis.  Part of the disallowed cost was for the purchase price of the Truman Hotel when one Puri owned corporation sold it to another Puri owned corporation for nearly four times what the Puri Group paid the pre-2013 owners for the Truman complex.  The City consultant made a point during his presentation to the TIF Commission of explaining that if costs are less than anticipated then the profits made by the developer are more than anticipated.   Part of the TIF process call for the City to approve by contract what costs will be allowable before the project starts.
*      “The benefit to the school district went from $1.8 million to $6.8 million” (in the revised proposal.)   While the revised proposal is less devastating to the school district, the numbers are speculative and spread out over 25 years.  In the original proposal 61% of the diverted (to the Puri Group) tax dollars would have come from the school district, the number changes to 42.21%  in the revised  proposal.  JCPS Chief Financial Officer Jason Hoffman calculated the schools would lose $11.6 million under the original proposal.  The Diversion of tax dollars continues for up to 23 years per hotel proposal, for a total of 25 or 26 years.  Springsted, the City consultant, notably does not mention how many School tax dollars are lost over the course of the development.  City consultant Springsted stated at the TIF Commission Public Hearing the schools district would receive $3.34 million (not $6.8 million) net benefit over these same 25 to 26 years.   What Springsted does make clear is that if there were no TIF, the Puri Group would have an 8.61% rate of return (profit).  With tax abatement (avoidance) the rate of return rises to 10.60%.  That is after they pay themselves for project management and legal fees.  Meanwhile, those of us lucky enough to have a savings account are not seeing a 1% rate of return. 
*     Mr. Puri states, “…it is of note that the author (of the July 8 letter) and others that join in chorus to these false statements had the exact same opportunity to purchase the Truman property.”  This baffles me.  His point seems to be that only people who also own the property he owns have the right to voice concerns about his proposed diversion of tax dollars away from schools, libraries, and other public entities.  Perhaps he does not understand that the public in public institutions and public assistance are the same public/people who pay to support those institutions through taxes that are not abated; the same public/people who face tax increases to continue services provided by these institutions. 
*     Mr. Puri concludes his Perspective column with, “Do we want the status quo or do we want change and growth?”  That is a very good question.  Do we want change and growth based on a free market model?  Do we want change from the granting of tax abatements (tax avoidance) to the wealthy as has been done repeatedly – look to the Puri DoubleTree Hotel project that has millions of dollars in taxable value abated; the Mall now in its first year of abatement; and Modern Litho who has had taxes abated on large equipment.  Or, do we want to see a return to old fashioned capitalism where the business plan includes the costs being paid by those who will reap the profits; where the public is not the true bearer of risk with the promise of a reward that may never materialize; where the public is not a silenced partner?   Do we want to see businesses succeed because they provide goods or services in a cost efficient way and in response to consumer needs and desires?  If so, then we do not need TIFs for the Truman Hotel or other such projects. 

In the Sunday July 17, 2016 News Tribune there was another news article of note titled, “Traffic Concerns Delay Mission Drive Development.”   In the story these two paragraphs standout:

So far, The Harvard Group has confirmed two restaurants that will be located in the development, Kersten said, and it's in negotiations with three large box retailers that could include a grocery store/pharmacy and sporting goods store.

The hotel slated for the development's second phase likely will be smaller than the 200 units and 111,300 square feet originally planned, he added, noting demand could decrease with the Puri Group of Enterprises' planned Courtyard by Marriott and Holiday Inn & Suites hotels to replace the existing Truman Hotel and with the eventual construction of a downtown convention center and hotel.

In other words, the Truman Hotel TIF may actually be hindering natural growth in our community.  The Harvard Group LLC, the developer of the 179 property, has not (at this time) requested a TIF; they will be part of an existing TDD (Transportation Development District).  A TDD pays for transportation improvements through a sales tax paid by consumers within their development.  The TDD is paid by customers; a TIF affects taxpayer to the schools, county, library and other district that is partially or fully in the City. 

What is obvious is that there are very different opinions about who tax dollars belong to: the taxing entity empowered by the voters and the State of Missouri to provide for specific societal needs, or to the person/corporation who paid the tax money.  This latter train of thought may well lead to a loss or diminished quality of services. 

In 2011 Governor Jerry Brown sought to do away with TIFs in the state of California as they had become unsustainable.  TIF advocates claim the new development pays for itself through increased property values.  TIF opponents counter that increases in property value may be due to inflation or growth in general.   What can result is a strain on services through increased demand for police, emergency medical services, fire, schooling, more public employees, etc., resulting in increased taxes for all or cutbacks.  The link below to an article by Joan M. Youngman in State Tax Notes explores these ideas in depth and provides a brief history of TIF origins and use:

TIFs were created post World War II to encourage urban renewal and were intended to be administered by local governments with funds coming from the federal government.  More than 60 years have passed and the mindset of some has changed from building communities for all to one of using every available “tool” to take while avoiding contributing their fair share.   And some tout this as “good business.” 

The Puri’s, who have a track record of success in the hotel business, voluntarily purchased the Truman Hotel in 2013 and then closed the hotel, boarded the windows and doors, sought to reduce the property taxes because the property was generating income.  Now, two years later they have paid a consultant to declare the property as “blighted” and eligible for tax abatement.  During this same time period, the Southwest Animal Hospital built an expanded facility on Jefferson Street, without taxpayer support; the Big O Tire chain purchased the old Truman Theater and is building a new store next to the Truman hotel, also without taxpayer support.  Everyone I have spoken to has expressed a desire for the Truman Hotel project to succeed, but without public money. 

The City Council will introduce the Truman Hotel TIF request by the Puri Group of Enterprises at the August 1 6:00 p.m. Council Meeting.  Jefferson City’s City Hall is located at 320 East McCarty Street.  The City Council will hold a Public Hearing on August 15 at 6:00 p.m., also at City Hall.  The Council is expected to act on August 15.  Seven of ten Council persons must vote YES t6o approve the TIF.  In that event, the City will enter into a binding contract with the Puri Group regarding allowable costs for reimbursement and other TIF details


​HOT TOPIC:  Truman Hotel TIF Proposal Update  posted May 15, 2016

The TIF (Tax Increment Financing) District will be the subject of a Public Hearing conducted by the TIF Commission on May 31, 2016 at City Hall (320 east McCarty Street) at 5:30 p.m.  Because of publicity about the project and the lopsided impact of the proposal on JCPS revenue ($11.6 million of property taxes will go back to the developer instead of going to JCPS to fund education over the life of the project) the School District is unable to support the project.  Dr. Raman Puri, Vice President and CFO of the Puri Group of Enterprises (the developer) came to the school board meeting and presented his project. 

The News Tribune covered his presentation in detail.  Here is a link to their story:

ABC17 News also covered the story and had an interesting interview with Dr. Puri.  Here is a link to their coverage:

As a result of the news coverage of the school districts meeting of May 9, 2016, I have received more than a few emails and phone calls inquiring about the "three pages of questions" I gave to the Puri group about their TIF proposal. For those of you who are interested, I have included my three page hand out below. I might add I have received many other interesting questions and comments about the TIF from readers of this site; the majority havemore to do with specifics of the TIF or TIF's in general rather than the TIFs impact on our school district. I think many of these questions and comments need to be directed to the TIF commission and the Puri Group before they make their decision and encourage everyone to do so. 

Here is the list of questions and unmet JCPS needs I handed to Dr. Puri at the meeting:

My Questions as an individual School Board Member for Dr. Raman Puri
                 Regarding his TIF proposal – May 9, 2016

The first duty of an elected official is a fiduciary duty; to first and foremost protect the assets, financial and otherwise, of this school district.  I take this very seriously.  By making a TIF application to avoid property taxes, you are asking all the taxpayers in the district to be your partner.  As one of the elected representatives of those taxpayers, I must be diligent and ask some questions. 

In 2012 the News Tribune reported the appraised value of the Truman Hotel property as $4 million.  The 2015 appraised value is now $1.75 million.

If the TIF is approved, the School District will be shouldering the bulk of lost taxes redirected to you, the Developer – about 69%. 

Although the proposal is billed as being a request for $8.9 million total in abated taxes, the loss to the school district will be $11,693,992.00.  These figures were calculated from the TIF proposal information sent over by the City of Jefferson.

An essential part of a TIF is the “but for…”component; in order for any TIF to be approved there must be a reasonable assumption that “but for” the approval of the TIF the property would not be developed.  However, in just the past year or so, to the north of the Truman Hotel the Southwest Animal Hospital project was completed; at no cost to taxpayers Southwest moved from Ellis Boulevard to Jefferson Street and built an expanded animal hospital, boarding and grooming facility.  Immediately to the south of the Truman Hotel, the old theater was purchased, demolished and a Big O Tire store will be constructed, also at no cost to the taxpayer.  The Truman property on Jefferson Street has US Highway 54 visibility to all the Lake of the Ozarks traffic, in other words a prime location for business.  I doubt that the property would remain vacant for the next 23 years if the TIF is denied.
*    The finance numbers in the TIF documents do not contain the raw numbers that allow for verification.  I shared the TIF packet with a certified financial analyst who reviews, analyzes and makes recommendations about private corporations’ data for a living.  The analyst was unable to render an opinion about the TIF data because he was unable to see the underlying assumptions.  Without knowing those assumptions, the numbers may or may not reflect reasonable assumptions.  City Attorney Drew Hilpert stated the numbers had been reviewed by City consultant Springstead. 
*     The numbers indicate that you are willing to accept a lower rate of return with the TIF for the second phase of the project than without the TIF for the first phase of the project.  Perhaps knowing more about the numbers and underlying assumptions would explain this.
*     The TIF information included two tables showing the number of jobs to be generated by the projects.  The school district decided to hold off on renovation of Moreau Heights Elementary School this summer because the money for that project ($1.5 million) is needed in the classrooms of JCPS.  Last summer the school district generated many jobs through construction projects at most of our schools.  When the last elementary school was built in 2007, construction jobs were created.  When the school opened, over 50 teaching and other good paying jobs were created.   How many jobs would be generated if the District could afford to go ahead with its construction of a new elementary school and a second high school? 
*     And, speaking of new schools that cannot be paid for without a bond issue passed by the voters, who will pay for that new construction (at some point in the future)?  The largest employer in the area is State government.  Missouri State employees are the lowest paid in the entire nation, yet they are being asked to shoulder the deficits being created by those who seek to avoid paying their taxes. 
*     The Missouri Legislature is currently considering a bill to limit TIFS to reimburse developers only for costs of demolition and debris removal in approved project areas.  Do you see that as a potential compromise if the City and County outvote the School District on the TIF Commission? 
*     With other tax entities having the ability to pass the TIF over school district objections, it is important to also consider mitigating damage.  To that end, another compromise would be to have you tack on a fee to the basic room rate and send it to the school district for the life of the TIF, thus mitigating the impact to the schools.  What are your thoughts about that?
*     What are your plans should the TIF request be denied?  Will you let the property sit vacant?  Sell it?

In conclusion, I would like to see the property improved.  However, I am an old fashioned capitalist – I believe in using your own money, whether from savings or a loan, to finance your projects.  I do not believe in using school taxes to build hotel rooms – especially at a time when we have a need for classrooms, teachers and other student supports.

Pam Murray, JCPS Board member

                 Issues Affecting JCPS and Unmet Needs

#      JCPS deficit spending is likely to bring reserves below 20% (20% is the level established by previous Boards as necessary to assure adequate cash flow and allow for emergencies)
#      Scheduled renovation of Moreau Heights Elementary School (built in 1954) has been delayed indefinitely in order to direct funds towards classroom needs.  Note that 7 of 12 buildings used for Pre-Kindergarten through grade 5 are over 50 years old.  Two of six buildings used for grades 6 through 12 are over 50 years old; one is 90 years old and another 100 years old.)
#      The State report card for school districts, the APR, has rated JCPS at 70.7%.  If the score drops below 70% the district will become “provisionally accredited.”   (This is in part why building renovations have been put on hold.) 
It would take an additional 49 teachers at an annual cost of $2.7 million in order to have all classes within the DESE recommended size.  (There are not 49 empty classrooms in the district.)
#      In 2014 a Long Range Facility Planning Committee charged with making a 20 year facility plan recommended the immediate building of an elementary school at a then projected cost of $13, 786,800; adding 10 classrooms to Callaway Hills Elementary School at a cost of $5,508,100; renovating the current high school at a cost of $40,035,200; and building a second high school at a cost of $76,405,800.  The elementary school needs would increase operating costs by $2,050,000; the high school operating costs would increase by $2,514,822.   Voters would need to approve both the facility and operating costs.  A new Superintendent was hired as of July 1, 2016; he is currently weighing the LRFPC recommendations.
#      State funding has become unreliable.  A newly passed bill would lower the amount of state funding but purports to make the funding reliable.
#      About 2002 the voters approved an operating levy to make teacher salaries the highest in the region.  JCPS salaries have slipped from the #1 position.
#      There are already three TIF districts within Jefferson City and several other districts that allow for property owners to avoid paying taxes.
#      Ameren Missouri has paid property taxes for their transmission lines under protest, thus tying up hundreds of thousands of dollars while their tax avoidance is in litigation.  The legal wrangling may continue for years.

I believe with these issues and needs facing JCPS we can ill afford to contribute $11,693,992 of school district property tax revenue to this TIF proposal for private development.  How can we ask voters for more money if we support tax avoidance for some?

/murray  05/09/16

At the Monday evening meeting Dr. Puri stated he would respond to me in writing.  As of the close of business Friday, neither I nor the Board Secretary received his response.  When he does respond I will post his response on this site.

Dr. Puri’s information raised additional questions, here are two:

1.     Dr. Puri indicated and challenged the assertion that the Truman Hotel only pays $486,312 in taxes.  According to the 2015 Real Estate Tax Receipt from Cole County, the Truman Hotel (1510 Jefferson Street) has an assessed valuation of $560,000 and $20,679.68 was paid in school taxes.   I do not understand his numbers.
2.     Dr. Puri told ABC17News, “That doesn’t include all the surrounding property taxes that would go up if this development occurred. And if this development does not occur and this area stays like it is, blighted, the surrounding properties would go down.”  If I follow his reasoning, we should urge Jefferson City to let him avoid paying taxes so his neighbors will pay more. 

His presentation was full of numbers that do not seem to add up or align with other documents from official sources.  This may be a good time to note that the Puri Group redeveloped the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Jefferson City and have made it a premier property.  Their tax avoidance for that parcel is almost up; they will be paying taxes on the full assessed value beginning in 2019.

If you have questions that I can answer, please call or email.

If you want to pose your questions to the TIF Commission, you may do so at the TIF Hearing on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 5:30, 320 East McCarty Street (City Hall). 

After the TIF Commission Hearing, the City Council will set a date to take up the proposal.  If the TIF Commission votes in favor of the proposal, six (6) City Council members must agree in order for the proposal to go forward creating the TIF.  If the TIF Commission votes ‘no”, then seven (7) City Council members must vote “yes” to approve the project.  Taxes would be abated for up to 23 years.  (Please see the post below for more details.) 

HOT TOPIC:  Special Taxing Districts     posted March 26, 2016

See also Week in Review, March 19 to 26, 2016

This past week it came to light that there is a request pending for the Truman Hotel (the old Ramada) property to become a TIF district.  So what is a TIF?  And how does it affect taxpayers and patrons of JCPS?

My summary is intended to serve as a starting point in information gathering.  I used these main sources in preparing this HOT TOPIC.

*     A presentation by Special Counsel hired by Jefferson City
*     A review of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, sections 99.800 through 98.865
*     A summary prepared by the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale

What is a TIF?  A TIF, or Tax Increment Financing district, is a tool used to have costs of a development paid by shifting the property owner’s new taxes into paying the development costs.   The property to be redeveloped must be defined, approved and what costs of development are to be “allowable” for reimbursement are defined.  If all this happens, property taxes are “frozen” until development and allowable costs are paid off or 23 years passes, whichever comes first.  However, before the 23 years starts, the developer has up to 10 years to start one or more projects within the TIF area.  Each project must have its own approval process.

Are there elements a TIF district must meet?  Yes these defined elements must be met and are outlined in full in RSMo 99.810:

*      Be in a blighted or conservation area
*     Meet the “but for” test; but for a TIF, the project would not proceed
*     The redevelopment plan conforms to the City Comprehensive Plan
*     Estimated completion dates fall within the 23 year limitation
*     (Not Applicable in this case) there is a relocation plan for affected residents
*     A cost benefit analysis is prepared for each affected taxing entity (In this case, the            City will hire an independent analyst)
*     There can be no gambling/gaming as part of the project

How are taxes abated?  For complete information, see RSMo section 99.845.1.  In essence, it happens this way:

*     The TIF process may only look at the year immediately prior to the year in which the TIF ordinance will be approved.
*     Based on the assessed valuation for that year, property taxes are “frozen” – that is what the taxing entities will receive until the TIF is paid off or 23 years passes, whichever comes first.
*      The property assessor will continue to assess the property as if there is no TIF.  The amount of taxes payable based on each year’s assessment MINUS the baseline assessment will be collected and rolled into repaying the developer for allowable costs.
*      Sales Tax:  50% of collected sales tax goes to taxing authorities, 50% goes towards repaying the Developer for allowable costs  (EXCEPTION:  The state portion of sales tax – just over 4% continues going to the state Unabated)  Lodging tax, if applicable, will continue unabated.
*      The developer may be encouraged to get a TDD (transportation development district); a CID (community Improvement District); or NID (Neighborhood improvement district) designation in order to generate more revenue, all of it going towards repayment of costs.

What is the process for getting a TIF approved?  In the case of projects like the Truman Hotel project, the developer approaches the City, presents information that it meets the required elements, and provides proof of feasibility of the project IF a TIF is approved.  The City then prepares an in-depth analysis (due to be ready April 1 or 4.)  While not required to do so, Jefferson City has retained outside counsel specializing in TIF’s and an independent financial analyst who will prepare impact reports for each affected taxing entity.  A public evidentiary hearing is scheduled before the TIF Commission in 45 days.  If the TIF Commission votes for approval, the measure goes before the City Council who may approve the measure with a simple majority.  If the TIF Commission votes not to recommend approval, the City Council may still approve the project but must have a super majority of the council or 2/3 of the council vote for approval. 

Who is the TIF Commission?  The TIF Commission consists of 11 people:

*     Two members “shall be appointed by the school boards whose districts are included within the redevelopment plan … such members shall be appointed in any manner agreed upon by the affected districts”  (Note:  the school board has held no discussions pertaining to TIFs or Commission membership since I have been on the Board)
*      One member representing other districts levying taxes (The library board has a member)
*      Six members are appointed by the municipality
*      Two members are appointed by the County

What is known about the Truman Hotel project?   My main source of information about the project comes from a News Tribune article published on March 20, 2016:   The Puri Group is seeking to build two hotels and a restaurant both connected to a 24,000 square foot meeting space.  The development would be built in two or more phases.

How, exactly, will this affect schools?   JCPS relies on property taxes for most of its funding.  With state aid unpredictable and unreliable, property tax is vital to the district.  The Truman property tax level will be frozen at its current assessment, believed to be quite low (compared to previous years) as the hotel closed its doors not that long after being purchased by the Puri group.  If the TIF goes through and the project is successful, the assessed value would increase but none of the tax dollars (above the frozen base) would go to schools until the project is fully paid for or 23 years lapses.  Based on a similar development done in Columbia, I have seen an estimate that JCPS could lose $1.8 million in property taxes.   JCPS revenues fall into the bottom third of revenues among all school districts in Missouri.

The project has been estimated to produce up to 300 jobs, mostly service jobs with low wages.  The number of associated students generated is unknown.  JCPS already has more than 50% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches. 

What comes next?  The TIF Commission Public Evidentiary Hearing will take place on Monday, April 11, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 320 East McCarty Street.  “At the Public Hearing any interested person or affected taxing district may file with the Commission written objections to, or comments on, and may be heard orally in respect to, any issues embodied within the notice.”  (RSMO section 99.825.1)


HOT TOPIC:  Streaming of Board Meetings Voted Down – Reasons or Excuses?
Posted March 15, 2016

At the March 14 School Board meeting, after many months of delay and “research” the Board finally took a stand on whether or not meetings should be videotaped and streamed, either live or with a delay.  The measure was defeated by a vote of 5 to 2.  Voting against streaming was:  Board President John Ruth, Board Vice President Doug Whitehead, Board Treasurer Steve Bruce, Board Members Dr. Dennis Nickelson and Ken Theroff.  Voting to stream meetings were Michael Couty and me.

To briefly summarize the history of the streaming discussion:  While running for School Board Michael Couty proposed streaming of meetings as a way to regain public trust.  I supported the measure.  It was discussed with Board President John Ruth in April 2015 and with the Board at nearly every meeting from April 2015 to March 2016.  Research from JCPS staff was requested by John Ruth.  Staff first came back with a cost of $70,000.  After visiting with the Cole County Commission, who began streaming with a start-up cost of less than $3,000, staff came back in February 2016 with a revised cost estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. 

At Monday night’s meeting, the streaming discussion was last on the Open Session agenda and that discussion started well into the third hour of the meeting.  Three members of the public spoke to the issue or submitted written remarks to the Board:

*      A gentleman spoke of the trust and transparency issues the District has grappled with in recent years.  He stated streaming meetings would help resolve that concern.  He presented information regarding 13 school districts from all over Missouri that stream their school board meetings, some doing so for over 20 years.  The districts included Columbia, a few large districts, but mostly small rural districts.

*      Another gentleman supported the issue indicating that, “It is my belief that being open and informative will play a significant part of gaining the citizens’ confidence, trusting and backing a tax and levy issue” (for facilities.)   He could not attend the meeting due to health concerns.

*       A third gentleman, a former elected official experienced in streamed meetings stated, “I have concluded that televising public meetings is one of the most positive steps that can be taken by a governmental agency to gain public trust.”  And, “...when voters are able to readily access public deliberation and get good information unfiltered by the media, their confidence and trust in elected officials increases.”

All three gentlemen made other additional points in favor of providing video access to meetings.

When the topic was introduced, Superintendent Larry Linthicum presented his recommendation to NOT stream the meetings.  He further presented a cost of $45,000 “to do it right” and later conceded that would be a “Cadillac” proposal.  He went onto express concerns about violating student confidentiality, concern that a member of the public might make a remark about an identifiable student or staff member; that the public might hesitate to speak if a camera were rolling; and the process had not been vetted enough.

Among the points made at the meeting by Michael Couty and/or me were these:

*     An informed public is often an engaged public and an engaged public generally leads to support for our public schools.

*     Since Larry Linthacum has become Superintendent, he and the Central office staff have made presentations to the Board each month.  That information covers many of the questions I get from community members.  If they had access to the reports and questions/answers/discussion in meetings, they would be better informed than through my summaries.

*     Some of the school districts that stream their meetings have had great success in passing bond issues for new school construction.

*      The majority of the district is in Cole County and Jefferson City, both City and County government video their meetings; it has become a community expectation.

*      A $2,000 to $3,000 cost is minimal in the context of a $98 million dollar budget when that money can buy community confidence by providing an unfiltered look into how the District conducts business.

*      In 2014/2015 there were two Board meetings when the public attending did not fit into the Board room.  The meeting went ahead anyway.  Some of those attending might have watched on TV or the internet had that been an option.

*      During the past year (and the 8 months prior to me being a board member) there was not a single time a student name was spoken during a meeting, unless that student was speaking to the Board or being honored by the Board. 

*      Student and staff matters are discussed in Closed Session (as permitted by law) and would not be streamed.

*     The topic of streaming meetings had been under discussion for a year and had been vetted. 

Those in opposition to streaming made these points:

*      There is no trust issue with the community and we should stop feeding into the perception that there is.

*    Confidentiality of student and staff data is a greater concern than Michael Couty or I stated.

*     We should not vote against a Superintendent’s recommendation.

*      The cost is too great.

*      If a camera is purchased, the Board cannot hold meetings anywhere else.

I was happy to see the Board engage in discussion even if it took almost a full year to have that discussion.  However, I was rather disappointed that despite all that discussion the actual cost figures are not reliable.  It is a verified fact that the Cole County Commission had start-up costs of around $3,000.  Seeing how quickly Staff and the Board discounted their own report was troubling and a bit concerning.  We rely on Staff to present data to us and we act on their reports.  Part of their disavowing their reports was verbally stated to be the condition of the Board room; the same Board room that was part of a $1.1 million renovation just a few years ago.  What came to mind was the old political adage about lies, damned lies and statistics.

Even the vote itself was mired in obscure points of Robert’s Rules of Order and one member needing to re-vote when he inadvertently voted the wrong way.  Fortunately, the Board President was suddenly amenable to a roll call vote after the re-reading of the motion, thus giving the errant member a mulligan and preventing a 4 to 3 vote.   Maybe that in and of itself explains why the Board majority is reluctant, possibly even fearful of having meetings filmed.

On the Tuesday following the meeting I received an email from a community member reminding me that the Legislature is again discussing the need to mandate civic curriculum and wouldn’t it be nice if students could learn about government from watching the School Board meetings as part of their curriculum?   What could be better than learning through studying the governmental body that most directly affects them?

I am glad there was finally discussion although I am disappointed with the outcome.  I leave it to you to determine what reasons (pro and con) were valid or just excuses.  I made my determination at the meeting.


HOT TOPIC: Budget and MSBA Questions     posted February 14, 2016

Several questions came in as a result of my last two Week in Review postings (February 13 and 5, 2016).  Below is my (slightly modified to remove personal identifiers) response to the questions:

QUESTION:  After reading about the Board meetings, it feels like the budget is your only job. I’m not sure that should be the primary focus.  Certainly it is a priority but not the only one.

ANSWER:   As for the budget, I assure you it is not a single area of focus on my part.  As with any budget, be it household or a $98 million JCPS budget, it is vital to get a handle on where the money is coming from, how steady the income is, how it is being spent and what I can do to influence that.   It also is the major policy document the Board must act on.  There is pressure (from some Board members) to accept what our finance people put forth and to not challenge their assumptions.  They, those at JCPS with spending authority, take this very abbreviated document and use it as authorization to spend according to their best judgement.  Missouri law only requires school districts to seek competitive bids for construction projects.  That leaves a wide open field for spending on consultants to do jobs that are being done by employees in other districts.  Budget discussions are about a great deal more than dollars and cents.  The budget process is a microcosm of how the district does business.   Is it open?  Is the taxpayer thought of as the major partner during the process?  What are the priorities for the District?

Another reason I focus on the budget is that there are specific areas where I would like to see us spend money.  For example, our students taking AP courses typically do not take the AP test at the end.  How many opt out because of cost is unknown to me.  The tests can cost $250.  However, if the student passes, they walk away with college credit for that course, typically 3 credit hours.  In Waynesville, they pay for all those tests for students and through a partnership with a community college, some students are able to walk away from high school with two years of college credit and no college debt.  That can be a motivator to go on and complete a college education and leaves them with 50% less debt than their counterparts.   For JCPS to do this would cost about $27,000 per year – roughly the cost of sending one student to MU for one year.

QUESTION:   Why the last minute appointment to the MSBA (of one of the other Board members)? Is it to push an appointment through for more personal interests (resume building) than for JCPS interests?

ANSWER:  I have no answers because there was no discussion either before, during or after and I do not want to speculate about motivations.  Certainly the request came late in the MSBA nominating process.  The manner in which the request came put the question above the JCPS Board as a body because the required public meeting process was abandoned.  That I find very troubling. 

CLOSING NOTE:  Your feedback is vital to me – the sharing of ideas gives me a greater perspective of issues and opens dialogue to allow me to learn as well as explain myself.  As there is no formal venue to hear from you, please email me, phone, or stop me in the street and share what’s on your mind.  I do want to hear it all.


HOT TOPIC:  Closed Sessions             posted January 12, 2016

At last night’s school board meeting I cast the lone vote to NOT enter into a closed session for the discussion of leasing, purchasing or selling of land.  Today’s News Tribune quotes me as saying I cannot say why I voted as I did.  While accurate, it begs further explanation.

Missouri law, the Sunshine Law, governs when a public body may enter into a closed session and engage in deliberations away from the public and press.  The law is narrow in setting out over 20 specific reasons dealing with personnel and student records, specific security measures, and so on.  One of the allowed reasons is also to discuss and/or negotiate sale, lease or purchase of property.  The property provision is included because often when a governmental body wants a specific piece of land it may or may not be on the market; the price may or may not be already set; and, it is in the best interests of all taxpayers for public bodies to pay the lowest price when purchasing or leasing and to receive the highest price when selling.  It may be good strategy to keep the discussions private until details are final.  Closed land deals must be reported to the public with the caveat that the financial aspects become public information but the discussion does not become public although some explanations may. 

The Sunshine Law is not the only set of laws that governs how public bodies do business.  Other laws, both state and federal, also dictate best practices for government and the officials who act in the name of the public. 

At the December closed session on this same matter I expressed reservations to my fellow board members and I had hoped any future discussions, if there were to be any, would take place in a public setting.  It was a combination of very unique elements that came together that led to my decision not to go along with another closed session on this particular land related matter last evening.  I am not an attorney and it was presented that attorneys were consulted and it was OK to proceed so I understand why my fellow board members voted as they did.  I do not challenge the legal opinions.  What my vote came down to was a comfort level and I was not comfortable proceeding. 

Was the school board wrong to hold a closed session on the land issue?  Not according to the legal opinion presented.  None the less, I did not gain the personal comfort level necessary to support the majority vote, so I did not. 

It is my expectation that some details of the land matter will ultimately become public although the discussion germane to my vote last night will likely not.  Closed session discussions remain closed.  Making closed session discussion public can lead to censure or removal of a public official depending on the circumstances; it can also create or expose a public body and its members to liability.  However, all motions and votes made in a closed session are public record.


HOT TOPIC:  School Visit report #4    posted November 11, 2015.

In HOT TOPIC: School Visit reports 1, 2 and 3 I discussed my findings from visits to the 18 JCPS buildings used for student learning.  Below is the report I made to the entire School Board during the November 9,2015 meeting:

Facility Visit Report   By  Facility Committee Member Pam Murray

 Background:  It is my belief that each school has its own condition, space, personality, needs and character.  All this serves to create a student, teacher, staff, patron and community atmosphere that has in impact on learning that lasts a life time.   I am sure each of you, like me, has a vivid recollection about every school building you spent part of your youth in as a student.  If you were, or are, a teacher, what is your view of your workplace?  When I hear about Pioneer Trail or Simonsen, I want an image to go along with whatever story follows.  I want a first-hand observation of the bricks, mortar, and individual touches unique to each building.  I wanted to walk through the door and see the building as a child, a parent, an employee or taxpayer might view it. 

In May 2013 I was asked to serve on a Long Range Facility Planning Committee and work on a 20 year recommendation for facilities.  Work began September 2013.  During that Committee’s work many of us requested to see current JCPS facilities, either during the day, evening or on a weekend.  That request, while never denied, was not granted.  A report was made to the Board during the November 2014 meeting.  Following my election to the JCPS Board of Education in April 2015, visiting schools was again a stated priority made all the more urgent as up to $140 million in bonding was under consideration for facilities.  Again, the request was never denied, it just took great pains to accomplish.  After much delay, I finally received a schedule to visit schools; from Monday, October 12 through Monday, October 26, 2015, all 18 JCPS student education buildings were visited by two to four Board members and from three to six staff escorts at each school.  This is my report to the School Board.

Reactions:  At every school visited, I was greeted by the building principal and staff.  School personnel were enthusiastic about showing off points of pride in their building and their programs, although the scope of these visits was limited to facilities.   No one seemed intimidated by BOE presence, in fact, it was just the opposite.  In the words of one principal:  “It is just like home, I love showing it off.”  Our visits did not seem to upset or circumvent the chain of command; as mature adults the staff reaction seemed to cement the family and team atmosphere our Superintendent is working hard to build. 

Outside reaction would likely have been non-existent had it not been for the extended delay and prolonged discouragement to these visits from the Board.  Rather than summarize, attached are News Tribune editorials from October 11 and 14, 2015, and an email sent to KLIK on October 25, 2015, sender name redacted.  All three list positive aspects to these visits: building trust; giving students, staff, patrons, and parents time and attention; demonstrating that we are all moving in the same direction; and showing JCPS leadership cares.

Observations:  Our buildings range in age from 6 to 100 years.  I got to see the condition, the utilization of available space, and in some buildings, results of our summer renovation programs.  In other buildings I saw what space needs will hopefully be addressed in future renovations.  I was very impressed with how our JCPS staff has made do in our very old buildings.  Building administrators have put their stamp on buildings wherever they can; from the “trees” in the South Elementary lobby, to the homey upstairs work spaces at Lewis and Clark, personality shines through. 

Our district has over 900 students with IEP’s.  Until I made these site visits, I really had no idea how that impacted space within our buildings, or the number of small learning areas that were needed. 

Recommendations:    Several of our schools were constructed when the “open classroom” concept was in vogue.  Those buildings subsequently underwent renovations to build walls.  My recommendation is to avoid fads in future construction while assuring buildings align with teaching methods. 

We need to foster an atmosphere that encourages the free flow of ideas, treating each other with respect.  We know our roles and working within those roles we can continue to build the team by listening to our students, staff, parents and community members.  We can create a culture of optimism and openness by making visits a routine. 

I come from a background where employees and directors feel free to be part of the team, to sit down to lunch together, to get to know each other, to show we care.   When done in a professional manner, this reinforces rather than undermines the chain of command.

In conclusion, these visits were time well spent on my part.  I am greatly appreciative to all the staff members who assisted in making the visits possible. 


1.   News Tribune Editorial, October 11, 2015, “Our Opinion:  School district’s challenge to rebuild trust”
2.   News Tribune Editorial, October 14, 2015, “Our Opinion:  Tours reflect leadership by school board members”
3.   Email to Sunday Morning Round Table (KLIK 1240), October 25, 2015, “School Board Member Visits to School”


Our Opinion: School district’s challenge to rebuild trust

News Tribune editorial
By News Tribune

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Time is a crucial factor for the Jefferson City Public Schools, both at the institutional and interpersonal levels.

Consider these two statements by Larry Linthacum, who recently marked his first 90 days as district superintendent.

Referring to voters’ attitudes toward a facilities plan to address overcrowding, he said, “trust takes time.” And with regard to learning, he observed, “student achievement goes up 27 percent when teachers greet students at the door.”

The district is trying to rebuild trust with district voters, who have raised concerns about a lack of student discipline, demoralized teachers and disengaged administrators.

The rebuilding process is responsibility shared by teachers, administrators and Board of Education members.

Linthacum welcomed the challenge when, as one of his early actions, he created an ambitious timetable to develop recommendations to address the district’s space needs.

Overcrowding is a priority for the local public schools. After a 2013 bond issue for facilities was rejected by voters, the school board created a facilities task force, delayed its recommendations and replaced key administrators, including the superintendent.

Although Linthacum’s timetable is expeditious, time is not on his side. Building costs invariably will climb, and interest rates are likely to rise.

His agenda includes meeting with educators at each building, conferring with members of the facilities task force and hosting town hall meetings for district patrons before presenting his recommendation to the board in late January.

“It’s going to take time,” Linthacum said. “If there’s any doubt in the school system, (people) are going to vote no.”

How can educators expedite removing doubt and building trust?

The superintendent provided an answer to that question in referencing the rise in student achievement when teachers take time to greet them.

Psychologists generally agree children’s four primary emotional needs are time, attention, affection and direction.

When teachers greet students at the door, they demonstrate — in actions as well as words — that students not only are welcome, they are the focal point of education.

Making time for students, parents and patrons are actions that must be modeled throughout the district, up to and including the Board of Education. Board members have been, and continue to be, criticized for not being responsive to patrons and insulating themselves in an “Ivory Tower.”

At a recent school board meeting, president John Ruth said: “It’s not typically the role of the board to go through the schools.”

These are not, however, typical times or circumstances for the Jefferson City School District.

Rebuilding trust not only will take time, it will take listening, responding and interacting.

Board members must join administrators and teachers in giving students, parents and patrons the time and attention they deserve.


Our Opinion: Tours reflect leadership by school board members

By News Tribune        
Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Members of the Jefferson City School Board deserve to be commended for beginning to tour district facilities.

Five of the seven members reported Monday on their recent visit to Jefferson City High School, the first of 18 district facilities on the schedule.

The tours have both a practical and symbolic purpose.

First, as the school district lays the groundwork for a facilities plan, the tours provide them a first-hand look at each building’s assets and deficiencies.

In addition, the district is working to rebuild trust among patrons, who will be asked to support a future ballot issue.

Trust — as Superintendent Larry Linthacum has said — will take time.

It also will take — as we wrote in this forum Sunday — a unified effort among faculty, administrators and board members.

School Board President John Ruth has expressed the sentiment that touring facilities is not a “typical” role for board members.

We agree. Board members are elected to establish policies to be carried out by administrators. Micromanagement by board members can do more harm than good.

But touring district buildings must not be equated with micromanagement.

Instead, the tours demonstrate the district’s elected officials are devoting time and effort to engage building administrators, teachers and students in the classrooms where learning take place.

In addition, the tours show educators all are moving in the same direction and working toward the same goal — to improve education for students.

In doing so, board members are leading the effort to establish the trust and momentum needed to attract patrons, parents and students to get on board.

We wrote Sunday that these are not typical times for the Jefferson City School District.

Similarly, leadership doesn’t always follow typical patterns. 

10/25/2015 Print Message

re:  school board member visits to school

Sent:      Sun 10/25/15  9:55 AM

TO:            Sunday Morning RoundTable (

I am proud to be a 30 yr veteran and a recently retired elementary teacher from the JCPS district. During my first 20 years of teaching, school board members were often seen wandering throughout the buildings checking in with classroom teachers and all school staff. They were welcomed unannounced and often stayed for lunch visiting with teachers throughout all the lunch shifts. Discussion topics ran the gamut from school-based positives as well as concerns, to just personal and friendly chit-chat.  As teachers, we loved it, as it showed someone really cared about what we were doing and what was happening in our buildings.  It didn't take long for the board members to build a positive rapport and knew the staff by name and visa versa. It was a very positive era.

Sometime during the last 10 years of my career, the only time one ever saw a school board member or even a Dunklin St. administrator was when a staff member was "in trouble". Teacher morale took a huge dip.  Tens of talented, creative and effective 25-30+ yr teachers saw "the light" and knew it was time to go.

I believe every recent retire(d) JCPS teacher hopes Dr. Linthicum can lead this district back to that positive era of administration, board member and staff relations.

Thanks for a great show!

(Please omit my name)  


HOT TOPIC:  School Visits Report #3               posted November 1, 2015

On October 26, 2015 the last two schools were visited.  Here is an overview:

South Elementary School:  Monday, October 26, 2015.  Board Members present:  Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, John Moon and Carey Drehle.   Built in 1954 with additions in 1967, 2009 and renovations in 2013, South is home to 313 students in grades K though 5 on two floors.  ACI Boland determined the capacity to be 340 students.   South, while close to US Highway 54 is rather secluded.   The Greenway Trail runs between the highway and the school, a fence provides separation.   The school entry is decorated with floor to ceiling wood trees and several smaller rooms in the building are decorated in leaf or beach motif. 

The property is large enough for expansion if needed.  There are small learning spaces throughout the building.  The cafeteria, while not large, appears to be about the same size as other elementary schools.  The heating and air unit was replaced in 2013 and is now on the roof.  The lighting, floors and paint was updated in 2013 providing a bright atmosphere.  Like many of the older buildings, there are not common areas other than the gym/stage area and cafeteria.  There are benches throughout the building.


Southwest Early Childhood Center:  Monday, October 26, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, John Moon, Nicole Langston and Sarah Wilding.  Southwest was built in 1954 and had an addition in 2010 and security upgrades in 2015.  Southwest has three floors and serves multiple special programs for children from infancy to age 5.  It also serves students from grades 3 through 5 in a gifted program.  Those students are at Southwest one day per week.  With a multitude of programs, each with different funding, requirements and population served, not all of the 325 students/children served are in the building or grounds at any given time.  ACI Boland determined the student capacity to be 416. 

Southwest is home base for the Parents as Teachers Program and also provides community education to parents and day care providers.  Southwest through some of its programs partners with Lincoln University and the Jefferson City Academic Center.  Almost all the rooms could qualify as being specialty areas.  There is an observation room for Lincoln students to observe either 3 or 4 year olds before partnering with teachers. 

The cafeteria is in the basement and a wall of windows faces out to a concrete wall a few feet away from the glass.  Staff members have painted a mural with an underwater scene to make the view appealing.  There are plans to continue this into the cafeteria.

On the third floor there is a very large unfinished area that could be turned into three classrooms.  The area is being used for storage including some new furniture purchased with stimulus money.  All that is needed is funding for teaching staff.  It should be noted that there is a waiting list for some programs. 

The grounds are secluded at night leading to problems with drug paraphernalia and alcohol containers on the grounds some mornings.  Police have increased patrols as their demands allow.  A staff member is stationed at a gate for safety at dismissal time; speeding in the area was stated to be a concern.  The grounds have multiple gates with locks. 

NOTE:  During the November 9, 2015 Board Meeting (6 pm at the Dunklin Street Offices) time has been set aside for a report about the facility visits.  My report to the Board will be posted here following the meeting.  As always, the public is invited to attend the meeting and observe first hand.


HOT TOPIC:  School Visit Report #2               posted October 24, 2015

Monday, October 19 through Thursday, October 22, ten more schools were visited.   The two remaining schools are scheduled to be visited on Monday, October 26.  Here is an overview of the ten visits made this past week:

Thomas Jefferson Middle School:  Monday, October 19, 2015.  Board members present were Michael Couty and me; Staff present: Tammy Ridgeway, David Bray and John Moon.  Thomas Jefferson was built in 1993 and is a “twin” to Lewis and Clark Middle School as both were constructed at the same time, are both for grades 6 through 8, and have the same floor plan.  Individual rooms and areas are unique in set up, not a clone of the other middle school.   There are two floors of classrooms and a basement for District furniture and miscellaneous storage.  With a capacity of 972 and an actual student population of 980, the school is over capacity, per the 2013 ACI Boland architectural report.   A few common areas are now used for instruction. 

There are 5 lunch periods, staggered by 10 minutes, so groups overlap.  This middle school is divided into 3.5 teams (Lewis and Clark had 3 teams).  Each team is in its own area of the building and has the same teachers per subject during their time at middle school.  This results in a “school within a school” smaller learning environment. 

The heating and air conditioning system is about ten years old.  The water heater may be original.  The grounds are large, the property hilly.  Athletic fields sit well below the building level, in the back and appear to be in good condition.  (Further behind the athletic fields and at a still lower level is a wooded area, part of the Thomas Jefferson property.) 

East Elementary School:  Monday October 19, 2015.  Board members present: Michael Couty, Ken Theroff, John Ruth and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, John Moon, Julie Martin.   Originally built in 1938, East had classrooms added in 2009 when JCPS began full-day kindergarten.  East underwent renovations this past summer.  It is a two story building.  While no square footage was added, spaces were redefined; a small teaching area was carved out of the music room, the Reading Recovery trailer was turned into two classrooms and the Reading program was shifted into a smaller space in the building.  There were two instruction areas in the hall.  East has a student capacity of 387 and an actual enrollment of 377.  (Note: the capacity reflects the double trailer. Further note:  classrooms in East are generally smaller than in newer elementary schools.)

Throughout the building there were colorful bulletin boards giving information about attendance and learning indicators for corresponding classrooms.  The library/media center, part of the 2009 addition, had some changes as well, notably several computers. 

The 2015 renovation removed the original boiler and now has a system on the roof.   The main entrance was moved back to East McCarty Street as part of security enhancements.  The Office and nurse’s area were reconfigured.  The playground has two areas with soft surface pads and now sits back from the street, due in part to the addition of a parking area between it and the East McCarty Street sidewalk.  Notably, the teacher lounge/work area has been restored.   With new ceilings, flooring, and lighting, the building is now inviting.   In the kitchen a wall was knocked out to add on food storage area.   Lunch is still served in 6 shifts, by grade (K – 5.)

Pioneer Trail Elementary School:  Tuesday, October 20, 2015.  Board Members present:  Michael Couty, Ken Theroff and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Suzy Wilson, John Moon.  Pioneer Trail opened in 2009.  It is a one story building.  Student capacity is 538, with actual enrollment of 577; Pioneer Trail is over capacity, per the 2013 ACI Boland architectural report.   Despite this, because of larger classrooms and a modern design, the building did not feel crowded.  However, class sizes exceed what is ideal (per the Department of Elementary and Secondary education) for K – 5 grade levels. 

From the building entrance there are four areas leading out in four directions.  One direction houses the Gym, cafeteria, art and music rooms.  The other three directions lead to classrooms.  One “pod” has grades K and 1; the second has grades 2 and 3, the last houses grades 4 and 5.  Each of the three areas has its own storage and work area.   At the end of each of these is an exit to the large playground.  In the core is a common area used for meetings or groups of several classes, small rooms for special education, occupational and physical therapy, speech, individual testing, etc.   The building design reflects current practices in teaching and providing education for all populations.  

There are separate drop off/pick up areas for busses and cars.  The heating and cooling is provided through a ground source heat pump.   There are bulletin boards in the hallways to showcase student work and absorb sound.  Lunch is served by grade in 6 shifts with 10 minute overlap.  The building is in good condition as expected given its age. 

West Elementary School:  Tuesday, October 20, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Brandi Fatherley.   West was built in 1938 and had additions added in 1952 and 2009.  It had a renovation in 2013.  It is a two story building.  Although this building was built as the same time and with the same general floor plan as East, the buildings have different exterior finishes and other small differences.   Like East, there is not much room for further expansions.   Prior to the 2013 renovation, the building had a student capacity of 409 students.  Actual enrollment is 389. 

The building is bright, colorful, and had lighting, floor and ceiling upgrades in 2013.  The heating and air were also upgraded to an energy efficient roof unit.   The library/media center is bright and large.  Lunch is served by grade, six shifts.  

Belair Elementary School:  Tuesday, October 20, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty, me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Scott Salmons and John Moon.  Built in 1967, Belair had additions in 2009 and 2011.  The 2001 addition was in the kitchen, there were also extensive renovations to the heat and air and doorways in the lower level were widened.  Ceilings have a unique shape, similar to a mini cathedral ceiling.  Belair is slated for an upstairs renovation in the next few years.  With a student capacity of 431, Belair is over capacity, per the 2013 ACI Boland architectural report, with 438 students.  Lunch is served by grade, staggered every 5 minutes. 

Belair has one playground area for kindergarten and another area for grades 1 through 5.  There is no fence along the side street, but there is a parking area separating the play area from that street.  Unique to Belair is a courtyard in the center of the building.  When the HVAC was changed in 2011, the area became more inviting.  There are trees, grass, a pathway and seating areas.  The courtyard can be accessed from several points in the lower of two levels.

Finishes in the building differ as Belair was one of several schools built as an “open concept” school.  When that concept was abandoned, dividers were used to separate the areas into rooms.  Later walls were built.

Moreau Heights Elementary School:  Wednesday, October 21, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty, Ken Theroff and me.  Staff present: Kathy Foster, Sue Haugen and John Moon.  Built in 1955, with additions added in 1961, 1991, and 2009, Moreau Heights is slated for a major renovation in summer 2016.  The office and nurse area were redone this past summer as part of security upgrades at the building entrance.  Currently the architects are working with Staff to identify needs.   The age of the building shows, however, areas were bright.

Student capacity has been set at 437, actual student enrollment is 380.  Moreau Heights is a designated center for special education and this skews capacity somewhat as there is need for multiple areas smaller than a traditional classroom to serve particular needs of student populations.  This two story building has multiple staircases, one is not routinely used.  The space under the stairs has been turned into a small learning area. 

Lunch is served in 6 shifts, by grade.  The grounds around Moreau Heights are beautiful.  

North Elementary School:  Thursday, October 22, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty, Ken Theroff and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Barb Martin and John Moon.   North is unique as it was built before it became part of the Jefferson City Public Schools in 1968.  It started as a one room school at the turn of the 20th century.  In 1954 a new 3 room school was built and called the Halifax School.  In 1956 it was annexed into the Summit C-2 District, 3 rooms were added in 1958 and 1965.  In 1968 when it became part of JCPS, it was renamed North Elementary School.  There were more additions in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1992, and 2009.  In 2012 there major renovations to the sections built in 1973 and 1976.  This past summer, the nurse’s office, main office, and counselor’s office were renovated in conjunction with entrance security upgrades.  (Thanks to Barb Martin for maintaining and sharing this history.)

The one story building has a capacity of 451 (per the 2013 assessment) but has since lost a classroom.  Actual student population is 400 students in 20 classrooms, all on one level.  There is one empty classroom currently used for storage.  The building is maze-like due to the many additions and renovations.  The kitchen is one of the smaller in the District, a galley kitchen.  There is no dishwasher so meals are served on Styrofoam.  (Note: in a previous addition, plans for anther bathroom were abandoned due to a water/plumbing issue.  No one was readily able to provide details.)  In the 2012 renovation the heat and air unit was replaced, but the major work was to secure a wall beginning to separate from the rest of the building.

The playground is large and easily accessible from several points in the building.  Additional, the Holts Summit City Park (Hibernia Station) is located adjacent to the school and its playground and walking trail are available for use by the school.

Callaway Hills Elementary School:  Thursday, October 22, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty, Ken Theroff and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, John Elliston and John Moon.  This one story building was opened in 1980 and added on in 2009 for full day kindergarten.  This past summer it had security upgrades at the main entrance which resulted in changes to the office and adjacent areas.  Callaway Hills has a student capacity of 298 and actual enrollment of 281 students.   As a relatively new building (35 years old) it is bright and has a very large kitchen and cafeteria (compared to older buildings.)  If needed, a common area by the cafeteria could be walled in to accommodate the Reading Recovery program, per principal Elliston.  The building was bright.  Callaway Hills is essentially two corridors with classrooms on either side with the library in the center, accessible from either hall.

The heating and air unit is on the roof.  There was a recent burst pipe just outside the building, it has been repaired.   The ACI Boland architectural report notes that there is “slippage” in the floor that will need repair in the future. 

The grounds are very large, over 30 acres.  The fenced area behind the school is home to a butterfly garden, one of several garden projects the school maintains with the help of local Master Gardeners. 

Behind the fence is a lagoon, this is the only school not connected to a sewer system (there is none in the immediate area.)

Thorpe Gordon Elementary School:  Thursday, October 22, 2015.  Board members present:  Ken Theroff, Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Chris Schmitz and John Moon.  This 3 story building was built in 1956 and added on in 2009.  Most of the building has only two stories.  The school is land locked, with houses on two sides, Nichols Career Center on one side and the High School on the fourth side.  The playground swings sit above and behind a fence separating it from Nichols outside storage.  Student capacity is 340; actual enrollment is 280, divided into 16 classrooms. 

The District has some storage in the lower level of the school.  The Heating system (boiler) appears to be quite old, possibly original.  Air conditioning is from window units.  Classroom doors were all shut in order to maintain the cool. 

Lunch is served in six shifts, by grade level.  The kitchen is relatively small, although similar to other buildings of the same general age.  Although quite clean, the school is ripe for a renovation.

Cedar Hill Elementary School:  Thursday, October 22, 2015.  Board members present:  Ken Theroff, Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Lori Rost and John Moon.  This two story building was opened in 1969.  It had an addition in 1990 and 2009.  This summer the office was reconfigured in conjunction with security upgrades at the main entrance; a portion of the roof was replaced.  Cedar Hill has a student capacity of 429, actual enrollment is 403. 

Cedar Hill is one of the schools built in the “open concept” era; hence not all walls are block.  There is carpet in the 4th and 5th grade wing; other floors are linoleum tile like most of the other schools.   When we arrived, there was a problem with the air conditioning in the original part of the building and it was warm.  (Repair was scheduled for Tuesday, 10/27.)   The 2009 addition was noticeably cooler.  Cedar Hill has three wings, each with its own storage area.   The kitchen and cafeteria are similar in size to other buildings its age, small.  Lunch is served in 6 sessions, by grade. 

The playground is good sized.  Behind it, still on school property is a nature trail.

Parking is at a premium with many staff members parking around the corner.

NOTE:  Building capacity information is from ACI Boland architects who performed an assessment of all buildings in 2013 as part of the Long Range Facility Planning Committee work.   Most previous renovation dates (except as noted for North Elementary School)are from the same comprehensive report


HOT TOPIC:  School Visits Report                 posted October 17, 2015

On Monday October 12, School Visits by Board members began.  The 18 visits are set to conclude on Monday, October 26, 2015.  Here is an overview:

Nichols Career Center and Jefferson City High School:  October 12, 2015.  Board Members John Ruth, Ken Theroff, Michael Couty and me.  Staff in attendance:  Tammy Ridgeway, Bob James, Jacob Adams, Jason Hoffman, John Moon and Nathan Buschman.

Nichols was constructed in 1976 and is a two story building.  New this year are two trailers with four classrooms outside the building taking the place of 18 staff parking spaces .  Under construction is the new Culinary Arts lab and classrooms.  Many of the Career programs have waiting lists.  Space is at a premium, with outdoor storage of some materials.  There is little available space to expand.   The boiler is original, 39 years old.  The neatness of the building is noteworthy. 

Jefferson City High School was opened in 1964 and is a four story building serving grades 10 through 12.  Recent renovations consisted of removing some walls to accommodate Academy programming where two classes are taught together, such as biology and English.  Special Education space is now larger and more accessible.  In the High School cafeteria, lunch is served in 5 24 minute shifts. 

The High School boiler is original with a manufacture date of 1962, making it 53 years old.   Previously an estimate of $10 million was received just to upgrade the heating and cooling system.   

Lewis and Clark Middle School, October 13, 2015:  Board members present:  Ken Theroff, Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Tammy Ridgeway, Sherri Thomas, John Moon, and Matt McGrail.

Constructed in 1993, Lewis and Clark has two stories of classrooms and a basement for District storage.  It serves grades 6, 7, and 8 for about half the District.  The contrast to the older buildings is striking.  Principal Thomas has staggered class changes by team so that all 924 students are not in halls at the same time.  (ACI Boland determined capacity to be 972 students.)  There are 5.5 lunch periods lasting about 25 minutes each.  (Two classes make up their own lunch time, hence the half.)    

In the basement, there is district wide office supply storage of items bought by the truckload and then transferred to other buildings as needed.  Lewis and Clark is also the food storage area.  Each month the District gets a truckload of food commodities from the federal government.   (Kudos to the Food Service staff who creates breakfast lunch menus to align with the surprise supplies after the truck is unloaded.)  The District also buys in bulk from our vendors.   The area (and school) was spotless.   Also in the basement was the HVAC system, approximately 10 years old although it is run on the original computer system. 

Upcoming needs at Lewis and Clark is repair of a spot in the cafeteria floor where the ground beneath has started to heave.  (That part of the building sits on a slab.)  Our facilities department has been told this will require replacing the entire floor.  Outside, the track heaved this summer.  Although it has sunk back down in part, it needs work.  Even from a distance, it was obvious that 5 of the 8 running lanes are damaged.  The Board was informed about the track several months ago.

Jefferson City Academic Center, October 13, 2015.  Board members present: Ken Theroff, Michael Couty and me.  Staff present: Tammy Ridgeway, Deanne Fisher, John Moon.

The Academic Center is housed in the same building as the Miller Performing Arts Center and was built in 1926 as a community college building.  There are two floors and a basement.  Grades 9 through 12 are served, with 140 students in this alternative learning environment.   ACI Boland determined capacity to be 229 students.

As might be expected with a building 89 years old, there are some physical issues:  there is some moisture in the basement; the boiler of unknown age looks like the 1962 one in the high school; the gymnasium floor is no longer usable as one side has heaved along the outside wall; the showers do not work; and so on. 

Clarence Lawson Elementary School, October 14, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Kathy Foster, Bob Webber, and Patricia Tavenner.   Built in 1980 and serving grades K through 5, Lawson has a population of 454 students.  ACI Boland determined capacity to be 471 students.   It is also the designated school for elementary students with autism.  The school has had several additions over the years.   The building has two main corridors with the library/media center in the center of the building.  The classrooms were brightly decorated.  Mechanical equipment was not seen; it is on the roof. 

Simonsen 9th Grade Center, October 16, 2015.  Board members present:  Michael Couty and me.  Staff present:  Tammy Ridgeway, Bob Webber, Ben Meldrum and Chalene Wood. 

This 100 year old building serves 674 9th graders, there are 4 floors.  This building is above capacity and scored mostly “borderline” ratings from architectural firm ACI Boland in 2013.  Capacity was determined to be 632 students.

Simonsen has won the “Cleanest Building” award several years in a row. 

The HVAC system consists of 3 boilers approximately 10 years old.  There is also a chiller.  Like the other older buildings, converting from heat to air (and back again) is a multi-day process making for uncomfortable days each fall and spring.

 A final observation:  at each building it was evident that our students and staff are making the best of whatever physical situation they have.  Although not the intent of these visits, principals were anxious to show us unique programs and services in their areas.  Principals and teachers wanted to “show off” good things and not just point out what they needed – the needs spoke for themselves.  It is obvious we must upgrade facilities around the district.  Next week there are 10 more school visits scheduled with the final two on the following week.

Building capacities are from Architects ACI Boland based on actual inspections performed in 2013 for the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee.


HOT TOPIC:  School Visits; the Media and Board React   

posted October 17, 2015

I have been trying to visit schools since first taking office in April.   I have encountered a six month long series of delays.  At long last, the first visits took place on October 12.  This is how events unfolded :       (see also HOT TOPIC: School Visits Report). 

On October 1 and 6, I was contacted by KMIZ TV requesting a “sound bite” regarding the school facility visits.  (Late on October 6th, I received the visit schedule.)  On the 7th I provided the requested sound bite for a report to air on October 8th. 

                (Back in July 2015 when I was interviewed by KMIZ to recap my first 90 days on the School Board, other Board members and the Superintendent objected to my being part of an interview.  I stated that if I gave another interview, I would provide a heads up.)  Nearly 24 hours in advance of this current October news report airing I provided an email “heads up” to the Board and Superintendent:

-------- Original message --------
From: Pamela Murray  
Date: 10/08/2015 12:43 AM (GMT-06:00) 
To: Larry Linthacum, John Ruth , Doug Whitehead , Steve Bruce, Dennis Nickelson , Ken Theroff , Mail mdcouty@,
Cc: Claudia Borgmeyer  
Subject: Heads up 

Just a heads up to let you know one of our media partners contacted me several times for a sound bite, and I finally provided it for a report to be broadcast on KMIZ Thursday.  The topic was school visits, and I was VERY glad to have a schedule. 
I made sure to start by saying that John would need to provide any Board statement, and anything I said was reflective of just my opinion.

I received replies from two Board Members; John Ruth and Steve Bruce:

RE: Heads up

October 8, 2015 8:31 AM

 From:  Steve Bruce   

To:  John Ruth 

Cc:  mdcouty@       Amy Berendzen  Dennis Nickelson  Claudia Borgmeyer  Doug Whitehead  Ken Theroff  Larry Linthacum  Pamela Murray 

Concur with John's statements. As individual directors we need to make sure we are taking every opportunity to work collaboratively throygh (sic) our policies. 

On Oct 8, 2015 6:10 AM, "John Ruth" < > wrote:


I get no pleasure in stating this, but per our policy you should have declined comment. There is no exemption for stating that you speak only as an individual. I believe we covered this when we last visited the topic.

In the future, please direct media to our communications director, Superintendent, or whomever is board president.

There are times when one of those persons will request another member's participation. In those cases, we've usually gone through the officers; V.P., Treasurer.


Here is a link to the KMIZ news report:


The Jefferson City News Tribune wrote an editorial about the school visits on October 11, 2015:

Our Opinion: School district’s challenge to rebuild trust

News Tribune editorial

By News Tribune

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Time is a crucial factor for the Jefferson City Public Schools, both at the institutional and interpersonal levels.

Consider these two statements by Larry Linthacum, who recently marked his first 90 days as district superintendent.

Referring to voters’ attitudes toward a facilities plan to address overcrowding, he said, “trust takes time.” And with regard to learning, he observed, “student achievement goes up 27 percent when teachers greet students at the door.”

The district is trying to rebuild trust with district voters, who have raised concerns about a lack of student discipline, demoralized teachers and disengaged administrators.

The rebuilding process is responsibility shared by teachers, administrators and Board of Education members.

Linthacum welcomed the challenge when, as one of his early actions, he created an ambitious timetable to develop recommendations to address the district’s space needs.

Overcrowding is a priority for the local public schools. After a 2013 bond issue for facilities was rejected by voters, the school board created a facilities task force, delayed its recommendations and replaced key administrators, including the superintendent.

Although Linthacum’s timetable is expeditious, time is not on his side. Building costs invariably will climb, and interest rates are likely to rise.

His agenda includes meeting with educators at each building, conferring with members of the facilities task force and hosting town hall meetings for district patrons before presenting his recommendation to the board in late January.

“It’s going to take time,” Linthacum said. “If there’s any doubt in the school system, (people) are going to vote no.”

How can educators expedite removing doubt and building trust?

The superintendent provided an answer to that question in referencing the rise in student achievement when teachers take time to greet them.

Psychologists generally agree children’s four primary emotional needs are time, attention, affection and direction.

When teachers greet students at the door, they demonstrate — in actions as well as words — that students not only are welcome, they are the focal point of education.

Making time for students, parents and patrons are actions that must be modeled throughout the district, up to and including the Board of Education. Board members have been, and continue to be, criticized for not being responsive to patrons and insulating themselves in an “Ivory Tower.”

At a recent school board meeting, president John Ruth said: “It’s not typically the role of the board to go through the schools.”

These are not, however, typical times or circumstances for the Jefferson City School District.

Rebuilding trust not only will take time, it will take listening, responding and interacting.

Board members must join administrators and teachers in giving students, parents and patrons the time and attention they deserve.


At the October 12, 2015 School Board meeting, those board members who participated in the first school visits (John Ruth, Ken Theroff, Michael Couty and I) gave a brief report . 

On Wednesday, October 14, the News Tribune wrote another editorial:

Our Opinion: Tours reflect leadership by school board members

By News Tribune

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Members of the Jefferson City School Board deserve to be commended for beginning to tour district facilities.

Five of the seven members reported Monday on their recent visit to Jefferson City High School, the first of 18 district facilities on the schedule.

The tours have both a practical and symbolic purpose.

First, as the school district lays the groundwork for a facilities plan, the tours provide them a first-hand look at each building’s assets and deficiencies.

In addition, the district is working to rebuild trust among patrons, who will be asked to support a future ballot issue.

Trust — as Superintendent Larry Linthacum has said — will take time.

It also will take — as we wrote in this forum Sunday — a unified effort among faculty, administrators and board members.

School Board President John Ruth has expressed the sentiment that touring facilities is not a “typical” role for board members.

We agree. Board members are elected to establish policies to be carried out by administrators. Micromanagement by board members can do more harm than good.

But touring district buildings must not be equated with micromanagement.

Instead, the tours demonstrate the district’s elected officials are devoting time and effort to engage building administrators, teachers and students in the classrooms where learning take place.

In addition, the tours show educators all are moving in the same direction and working toward the same goal — to improve education for students.

In doing so, board members are leading the effort to establish the trust and momentum needed to attract patrons, parents and students to get on board.

We wrote Sunday that these are not typical times for the Jefferson City School District.

Similarly, leadership doesn’t always follow typical patterns. 


Please see HOT TOPIC: School Visits Report for my impressions of the visits completed, schedule of future visits, and list of Board attendees at visits.


​HOT TOPIC: Facility Visits by School Board Members                              posted October 8, 2015.

The memorandum and schedule below was sent to all JCPS School Board Members and four senior Administrative Staff members Tuesday afternoon, October 6, 2015.  I have re-arranged my schedule in order to make all visits.


A Committee of the Board of Education has been established to conduct facility visits.  It is hoped that the Committee’s work will assist the Board in its evaluation of the District’s space needs and familiarity with the District buildings in general as a supplement to the District’s school facilities appraisal from Architects ACI Boland. 

It is important to the Committee that space be evaluated during hours of occupancy as the space looks and works differently after school hours.  As such, staff has worked with building leaders to determine suitable dates for Committee visits.  These dates are referenced below.

Preference for visits will be given to Committee members.  However, other Board Members are welcome to attend the facility visits.  The dates referenced below have been set aside for building visits by the committee.

Building visits will be posted pursuant to the Missouri Sunshine Law. However, it is necessary for the school district to impose time, manner and place restrictions to ensure student safety, facility security, student confidentiality, and to ensure that the educational environment remains conducive to learning and is not interrupted by the visits. The school district has several compelling interests that necessitate such action.  The school district must ensure that students and staff are safe and secure in the school building during the school day and cannot adequately monitor or conduct background checks on an unforeseeable number of individuals who may wish to participate in such visits.  Likewise, given that the committee members will be looking at facility layout, egress, ingress, security measures, and other areas of the building that may compromise the safety and security of the facility if publicly known, the school district must also restrict access to the facility to ensure long-term safety and security of the facility, staff and students.  Thirdly, the school district is charged with protecting the confidentiality of student information which further necessitates the need for time, manner and placed restrictions on general public access to the school building during the school day.  And, finally, the school district is obligated to ensure that the learning environment is protected from interruption during the school day.

Due to the foregoing compelling interests, members of the general public will not be allowed to participate in the site visits.  To ensure a full opportunity for public awareness of the Committee’s work, Committee members will not discuss public business or make recommendations regarding public business during the site visits. 

Discussion of observations, findings and recommendations will be presented at regular meetings of the Board until the Committee’s work has concluded.  The public will be invited to attend the meeting or meetings which will be open unless provisions of the sunshine law authorize closing for a specific purpose.

Committee members will be escorted by an administrator throughout each site visit and will be allowed to enter unoccupied spaces to conduct assessments. Committee members will not enter classrooms where students are present unless specifically invited to enter and will not engage in any activities that may disrupt the learning environment. 



Monday, October 12                               10:00 -12:00          JCHS and NCC

Tuesday, October 13                                 1:00 – 3:00         Lewis and Clark

Wednesday, October 14                            1:30 – 2:30         Lawson

Friday, October 16                               12:30 – 3:00              JCAC and Simonsen

Monday, October 19                            10:30 -12:00             Thomas Jefferson

                                                               1:30 – 2:30         East

Tuesday, October 20                               9:30 – 10:30       Pioneer Trail

                                                                  1:00 – 2:00         West

                                                                  2:30 – 3:30         Belair

Wednesday, October 21                            9:30 -10:30         Moreau Heights

Thursday, October 22                                  8:30 – 9:30         North

                                                                  9:45 – 10:45       Callaway Hills

                                                                  1:00 – 2:00         Thorpe Gordon

                                                                  2:15 – 3:15         Cedar Hill

Monday, October 26                                 10:00 – 11:00         South

                                                               11:15 – 12:15         Southwest


HOT TOPIC:  Progress Report on Promises Made                                     posted September 2, 2015

During my campaign, I made promises in letters, advertising and in responses to questions as to what I would do if elected.  I was sworn in and took office the evening of April 13, 2015, and here is a progress report on those promises:

Keeping constituents informed:   I thought the best way to keep you informed is through this website; it was established immediately after being elected and I have posted every weekend.

Meeting with the Community Regularly:  I have attended meetings with community members on a regular basis, usually two to three meetings per month.  My email address and phone number are posted on this website as well as the JCPS official school website ( )  If you would like me to attend or speak with your group (either a formal or informal group) please contact me, I am happy to share thoughts and perspectives.  I do not speak for the JCPS School Board or the District; I was elected individually and will speak as an individual.  More importantly, I want to hear your thoughts and perspectives.

Rebuild trust through transparency, or, Bringing forth policy changes to make School Board Meetings more open:  Policies have not been implemented to date.   On April 21, 2015 I sent School Board President John Ruth an email outlining proposed changes to seven (7) different Policies regarding Board Operations.  These changes included allowing members of the public to speak to any issue of concern to JCPS, not just agenda items; requiring agendas to be posted on the JCPS website; and some clean-up items such as recognizing portions Callaway County are in the District (and home to 15% of the student body).  Those changes were discussed in May and July at the Board Policy Committee meetings.  Opening up Board meetings to allow for more meaningful public participation is not a goal shared by the entire Committee (or Board).   The other Policy changes are due to come before the entire Board September 28 for the first reading.  I have not given up on more open meetings, however, that is not likely to happen with the present Board. 

Visit every building within 60 days:   Within a week of taking office, I met with John Ruth, Board President and indicated that my visiting school buildings was a priority.  I was asked to hold off so visits could be coordinated.  Then the standardized tests were being administered and I agreed that was not a good time to visit.  At a Board Ad Hoc Facility Committee meeting during the summer I again stated the need to visit.  I was told visits for the Board members would be arranged.  During the summer many of our buildings were either empty or under construction.  On August 23 I sent an email to the entire Board and Superintendent asking if I should make my own arrangements with the buildings or if visits would be coordinated.  On August 24 I met with Board President John Ruth who stated he would begin making arrangements for me and other interested Board Members to visit buildings.  On August 28 I met with Superintendent Larry Linthicum who indicated the visits would not be a problem (I do not plan to visit individual classrooms unless invited in) and arrangements would be made the following week.  If arrangements are not made shortly, I will take it upon myself to coordinate with buildings so as not to disrupt learning.  It is frustrating that as a grandparent of JCPS students it was easier to enter buildings than as an elected representative on the School Board.   This must change.

Fiscal Management:  Mixed results.  Prior to approving the 2015 – 2016 budget, I was one of two Board members who requested a work session to discuss the budget and review through discussion the funding priorities.  This request was not granted.  In fact the budget was transmitted electronically to me less than 5 days before its scheduled adoption.  At the meeting where it was adopted, I was able to ask questions.  However, there was no support for making changes in discretionary items.  Each month the Board is asked to approve expenditures.  I have voted against discretionary expenditures not tied to educating our students.  Last month during meetings with the Board President and Superintendent I indicated a need to change the budget process in the coming year, well before major decisions are made.  (Salaries are determined in early Spring in order to meet a state deadline of sending out teaching contracts before April 15.  JCPS ties all salary increases to teacher salaries.  Traditionally, this has been used to grant across the board percentage increases to ALL employees.  There are other ways to look at raises.  In fact, based on numbers provided by our chief financial officer, if the money used for the salary increased had been divided equally, teacher would have made more money and administrators less.  That is only one of several alternative salary options.)

Accountability:  Some success.  Shortly after taking office construction contracts were to be awarded.  Rather than just get a contract, I requested a bid sheet for all contracts.  The bid sheet lists the required elements of the contract and what each bidder proposed in their bid.  This allows for comparison of all bids.  When contracts for services appeared on the agenda but no information was forthcoming, I made a motion to table the contracts and the motion passed.  Additionally, when there are contract questions, JCPS staff has supplied the additional information and/or changed contracts as appropriate.   This is an example of my promise to ask questions and begin discussions.

Retain experienced teachers:  too early to evaluate.  Teacher contracts are required to go out prior to April 15 for the following year and teachers must return those contracts in one month.  About 10% of 2015-2016 teachers are either new or new to the District.  This is a higher number than ideal.  While new teachers bring the benefit of recent education and new trends, there is no substitute for having predominantly experienced teachers who can mentor new teachers and manage their own workload.  JCPS can do better than 10% turnover.


HOT TOPIC:  Advocacy     posted August 8, 2015

     Each year JCPS co-sponsors  A Taste of Jefferson City, a Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce event for legislators who are in town.  Over dinner and drinks the area is promoted.  While the cost to the JCPS district is small, $1,000.00, it is tax money collected for the education of our community’s children.   That should be reason enough to question the expenditure. 

    Perhaps it is time to try another, more targeted approach to advocating for our public schools.  My suggestion is this:  Have the JCPS Leadership Team (the School Board and Superintendent) invite our area representatives to actually visit one of our schools over lunch and hear about the good things going on and how more good things could be going on, if only the State Legislature would fully fund the formula created to divide education dollars among the 500+ districts in Missouri.

    In Cole and southern Callaway County, there are five Missouri Representatives and two State Senators serving JCPS residents.  Why not give them a first-hand look at the largest school district within their districts?  

   Another alternative is to send these State Senators and Representatives an open invitation to visit the school of their choice for lunch, at my expense, provided they eat with either the students or teachers.  Wouldn’t it be great for a Student Council representative to share some time with their counterpart from the Capitol?  Or for teachers to be able to advocate directly elected officials about the needs in our schools?

What are your thoughts?  Do you think either idea has enough merit for me to propose it to my fellow school board members?   Please send your thoughts through the CONACT ME tab or directly to  Thank you.​


HOT TOPIC:  Teachers Targeted by Scammers   ​posted July 26, 2015

The following information was sent along by David Ganey, Jefferson City, MNEA:
Dear MNEA Members, Student Loan Borrowers, Educators, Friends, Family, and Community,

I’m writing you today to warn you of a scam targeting educators that many in our MNEA family have already fallen victim to. I learned through NEA’s Degrees Not Debt that if you are asked to pay a fee to a company promising lower payments and loan forgiveness that it is a scam! These companies are targeting educators through district emails, Face Book, twitter, and by phone; promising to reduce their monthly payments and get their loans forgiven. In May, I received an e-mail on my North Kansas City School District email account from one of these companies. I called to inquire about the email and was told that if I paid them $639, I could have my monthly student loan payment reduced and my loans eventually forgiven. I asked why I should pay them for this service when I just did this for free with a 10 minute phone call. His response was, "Well, it's like paying a tax preparer to do your taxes for you". Signing up for these programs is much easier than doing your taxes, I promise! 

Immediate action is needed to stop companies from scamming our MNEA members and community. As a concerned MNEA member I ask you to please warn your colleagues, friends, family and community about these scams and tell them about NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign which may be able to help them lower their monthly payments and receive loan forgiveness for FREE. To learn more about Degrees Not Debt go to .

If you think you have been scammed by one of these companies you can report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by going to .

Dana Alvarez,  NKC-NEA Executive Committee


HOT TOPIC:  Facilities                      posted July 19, 2015

While the discussion about adding new schools to the District continues with no real change since previous posts, the JCPS Facilities Department continues on an ambitious track with renovations and improvements to existing buildings.  At the July 13, 2015 School Board meeting, Facilities Director Bob Weber, presented the following list of current projects and their cost:

East Elementary
renovation                                                    $3,150,000

High School & Nichols Career Center,
limited renovations                                                                                                                              $1,225,000

Belair, Callaway Hills, Cedar Hill, Lawson, Moreau Heights,

North, Thorpe Gordon & Southwest ECC,
secure vestibules          $1,756,170

High School Stadium,
refurbish track                                              $91,000

High School,
replace hot water storage tanks                                $26,410

Cedar Hill,
partial roof replacement                                              $132,000

High School, North, Lawson, Moreau Heights

& Board Office,
asphalt repairs                                                        $91,724

mobile classrooms (2 doubles)                                            $85,000

High School,
refinish gym floor                                                         $20,415

High School/Nichols,
culinary kitchen  (1)                                 being bid now

Simonsen & High School,
cooling towers                                          $41,855

Lewis & Clark,
repair track(2)                                           to be determined

(1)  Culinary kitchen as part of career and technical education is eligible for 50% reimbursement through Perkins funding.  Completion in October is anticipated.
(2)  Lewis & Clark track heaved due to weather or tree roots, cause is being determined.  Insurance carrier has been contacted to determine if this is covered.  Completion date has not been determined.

These 2015 capital projects will total more than $7 million when completed.  Funds are coming from revenue and through planned use of reserve funds.  No debt will be incurred as a result of these projects.   Except as noted, all projects are expected to be completed by the start of the school year, as are other smaller projects such as painting.


Hot Topic:  Facilities                                  posted June 6, 2015

​As noted in Week in review, the Board is continuing its discussions about the dire need for facilities.  Many of our elementary schools are overcrowded, few have room at all.  The need for a second high school has been well documented.  Our middle schools are near capacity as well.  Something has to be done.  The Board is in the process of determining if all the needs should be addressed at once, or one at a time over the next year.  The voting public will have the final say, the Board can only advocate for the space needed to educate the students of JCPS.

Today I would like to discuss comments sent my way:

Q:  Why only build an elementary school for 400 students?  Why do we need one now?

A:   The Long Range Facility Planning Committee (LRFPC) did some research and felt 400 students presented an optimal learning environment for grades K through 5.  The Board is looking at perhaps a tiny bit larger.   Pioneer Trail was built as a result of a 2007 no tax increase bond issue.  At the time, overall enrollment was down.  Pioneer Trail has over 550 students, more than replacing the Southwest Early Childhood Learning Center.  That same year, the entire District started full day kindergarten.  No one (to my knowledge) expected the population to start growing rapidly as it has for the past 5 years. 

Q:  Tell me about East and the Science proposal.

A:   There has been a documented need on the East end of Jefferson City.  East Elementary School is very overcrowded.  Teachers gave up their faculty lounge for classroom use.  This summer the school is being renovated, but no new space is being added.  The Long Range Facility Planning Committee recommended adding a new 400 student school on the east side of Jefferson City.  The District owns land for this adjacent to Lewis and Clark Middle School.  One proposal on the table (but not decided on) is making the current East school an elementary school for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.  Students could come from anywhere in the District and apply to get in.  The space would still be elementary space.

Q:  What about the second high school?  Will it be based on an academy model?

A:  The Long Range Facility Planning Committee recommended renovating the current high school to make it modern and able to support technology AND building a new high school.  Both schools would ideally house 1,500 students each, grades 9 – 12 and be capable of expanding to 1,800 students.  The Committee also recommended no longer using Simonsen 9th grade center once construction was done.  That building is over 100 years old.  The LRFPC was not permitted to make recommendations or explore curriculum (academies).  Architectural cost estimates were for a traditional one building high school for the new construction.  It will be up to the Board whether or not it will discuss academies again.  I would welcome that discussion, whether based on curriculum, finances, or both.  BUT, the space needs at the high school level are not because of academies.  There just isn’t enough room for our students. 

Q:  What about needs north of the river?

A:  The LRFPC recommended as an immediate need, adding 10 classrooms to the existing Callaway Hills Elementary School, making it capable of serving over 400 students.  The LRFPC also recommended that is growth continues, adding a small middle school on the 30+ acre grounds of Callaway Hills to serve Holts Summit middle schoolers.  There are 1,343 JCPS students who live in Callaway County.  About 650 are in the two elementary schools.  Certainly taking Callaway County (Holts Summit) middle schoolers out of Lewis and Clark Middle School would free up space there and with redistricting, free up space at Thomas Jefferson Middle School also.   

Q:  Some people on Facebook are talking about Holts Summit leaving the District.  Where would they go and what are the implications?

A:  First, changing a school district is no easy task – voters must approve leaving one district and if joining another district, they must vote to accept the newcomers.  If a new district is to be established, it must meet all the state and federal regulatory requirements.  Then there will be quite a discussion about where to draw the line – each side will want choice high taxed properties like ABB on their side, the river while a logical dividing line will not be quickly agreed upon.                If Holts Summit were to be its own school district, like it once was many decades ago, there would be an immediate need for middle and high school space – with 1,343 students, you can’t squeeze them into the existing elementary schools.  A new District’s ability to seek a bond would depend upon its financial fitness and the amount it could finance initially might not be enough to pay for a building.                  I have also heard people say they want to join New Bloomfield.  They currently have less than 1,000 students so adding 1,343 to their district would likely overwhelm them, not to mention change their voting dynamic, and they would have no place to put those in middle and high school students right away.  Their taxes are also higher than JCPS.     

For Jefferson City, having the Callaway County students leave the district would free up space at the 6-12 levels, but not at the elementary levels because sour youngest students only cross the river for special services or reasons.   

I would urge all concerned people in the JCPS District to come to a meeting, email or phone your school board members, and take a lead in discussions.  It will help us all.


Hot Topic:  Budget                  posted June 6, 2015

  • Each year every school district in Missouri must adopt a budget for the coming year by June 30th.  The new budget year starts July 1.  (Please Week in Review also)
    The budget document, although a plan, is the outline for how the District will spend funds.  It very much shows the priorities of the District.  While many things are pre-set; such as the salary schedule for teachers, retirement contributions based on those salaries, utilities, etc., there many things in the budget that are optional.

    Some optional items bearing further discussion, in my opinion, are these:

                Underwriting legislative “lobbying” events led by the Chamber of Commerce.  Last year the District contributed over $3,400 to this along with other local government entities who also co-sponsored. 

                Memberships in organizations; dues add up and everything should be on the table, particularly organizations not in the education business.

                Continuing to engage the company that is working on the strategic plan; thus far, the company has been paid $54,000 this fiscal year and $73,690 last year.  NOTE: this also included doing a culture and climate survey of staff.  At what point will the plan be fully functional?  How much will it cost?  Can any further work be done utilizing our own staff instead?

                Travel:  Board member travel is over budget this year and does not include attending a school board conference at the Lake next week or attending a conference in Atlanta at the end of the month.  When the budgeted amount is reached, should all elected officials stop travelling? 

                The Character Plus program costs about $6,000 in dues each year.  This past year five buildings were recognized for their positive work.  The District allowed two people from each of these buildings to attend the national meeting and pick up awards in Washington D.C.  That cost $10,000.  I wonder if the building participants would rather have had $2,000 per honored building put back into something special for class rooms.  And perhaps a local luncheon catered by our Food Service would allow for more people to partake in the celebration of their efforts? 

    There are other items in the budget worthy of discussion.  Thus far, only Michael Couty has indicated he too would like a Board budget discussion.  The entire Board is not scheduled to meet again until June 22, the same date it must approve a budget.  This leaves no real time for adjustments as a result of discussion. 

    Wouldn’t it be nice to carve out $200,000 from the $93,000,000 budget as a show of good stewardship and put that money towards our facility needs?


Emerging Hot Topic:  2015-2016 JCPS Budget              posted May 25, 2015

School Districts are required to adopt a budget for the coming school year by the last day of the current budget year, June 30.  This is not a new requirement for school districts.

Budgets serve as a reflection of the priorities of the School Board and are a plan for the coming years – the way top Administrators carry out the direction given to them by the elected officials.  In business (at least the ones I have worked for) this is a time laden project involving all management staff presenting their wish list (the wants, needs and legally mandated requirements) for the coming year.  Management then takes this information and works within the bounds of the Board of Directors (School Board) to reflect policy and directions.

There are many aspects of a budget that the Board has little or no control over.  For example federal funds for school breakfasts and lunches cannot be used for another purpose.  Additionally, once a salary schedule has been adopted, it comes down to doing the math.  The same for contracts with outside vendors like trash removal, lawn services, etc.  This takes up the majority of the budget.  Additionally complicating the situation is that where the revenue came from may dictate what category of expenses it can be used for.

The real discussion about a budget is in the discretionary funds – what is left over.  That is where Board policy has a real affect.  For example, with the remaining funds, should professional development for teachers be a priority?  If so, should the funds be used for all teachers at all grade levels?  Or should funds go towards a relatively new program, like academies?  Should money go towards in-classroom resources like electronics, or for travel and attending conferences?

In many institutions, these budget discussions at the Board level take place months in advance so that priorities and direction are fully explored and decided upon before staff goes to work on creating the budget that reflects the values and direction decided on, whether unanimously or by majority vote. 

I have been attending School Board meetings since August 2014.  I cannot say I have heard such a budget priority setting discussion take place.  After I was sworn in in April 2015, the budget was one of the first things I asked about.

Between now (May 25, 2015) and June 30 there two Board meetings scheduled to take place: the May 26 work session to discuss facilities; and the June 22, 2015 regular meeting and work session.  (The June 8th regular board meeting was cancelled because of the JC Area Chamber Golf Tournament.)  This means that the budget presented on June 22 is likely a take it or leave it item on the agenda with no scheduled time for revisions, should they be requested.


Hot Topic:  School Board Policy Committee       posted May 24, 2015

The JCPS School Board Policy Committee met May 20; Committee members are John Ruth, Doug Whitehead and me, all from the School Board, and Jason Hoffman CFO, and Penney Rector, Human Resources/Legal Counsel.   At the meeting we moved forward with a policy for epi pens and albuterol to be kept in the nurse’s office for life threatening emergencies.  This policy will go before the entire School Board for adoption on June 22.  

The major discussion at the meeting related to how the School Board conducts its meeting.  Specifically, how much public comment is to be allowed, by whom, and how the Board will respond.  I am an advocate for more public comment and interaction.  Another Policy Committee member feels that current policy of allowing comment on only agenda items and only by District patrons is sufficient.  Last month I sent proposed policy changes to the Board President, John Ruth to allow for public comment on any issue of concern by anyone.  Also in the policy changes I recommended were some cleanup issues to address JCPS serving patrons in both Cole and Callaway counties.  Callaway County had been left out when policies sent from the Missouri School Boards Association were adopted by JCPS in the past.

Discussion will continue at the next meeting scheduled to take place July 16 at 8:30 am in the Board Room at 315 East Dunklin Street.

Three days after the Policy Committee meeting, the Jefferson City News Tribune ran this editorial:

Our Opinion: The local school board’s policy dilemma

News Tribune editorial

By News Tribune

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Jefferson City Public Schools Board of Education’s Policy Review Committee faces a communications dilemma largely condensed in these questions: Does greater openness invite chaos? Does continued control imply detachment and aloofness?

Communications are critical. Members of the Jefferson City School Board and district patrons all are aware that facilities expansion is necessary. But for the district to win voter approval of a bond issue or levy increase, a rift between some disgruntled patrons and district officials must be healed.

Board President John Ruth, who assumed the leadership role in April, has taken action. He has charged the Policy Review Committee — which includes him, veteran board member Doug Whitehead and new board member Pam Murray — with reviewing nearly 300 pages of proposed policy changes.

Among them is a policy some patrons have challenged. During open forums at board meetings, the existing policy limits patron comments to agenda items.

Whitehead and Murray voice differing viewpoints.

Whitehead argues proper channels and a hierarchy within the district are designed to hear and respond to patron concerns. He said the process is not intended to stifle complaints and he fears an unrestricted forum could devolve into airing unsubstantiated and personal allegations.

“It does not bode well in today’s age of social media and twisting information to allow people to air dirty laundry without us being prepared,” Whitehead said.

Murray contends patrons want to be and have a right to be heard by their elected board members. “I think, especially at the local level,” she said, “there really needs to be an opportunity for the public to participate.”

We understand the reasoning behind both views.

But we believe the board can, and should, satisfy patrons by listening to what they have to say — on any subject.

If a patron complaint or concern is best handled at the class or building level, the board can direct it to the appropriate venue.


Hot Topic: Behavior Audit          posted May 17, 2015

On Tuesday, May 12th the School Board voted to waive attorney-client privilege in a LIMITED way to allow for release of the Behavioral Audit Executive Summary.   This summary differs from the complete report (where attorney-client privilege was NOT waived) in that personally identifiable information about students and staff was removed.  A press conference with report author, attorney Shellie Guin and School Board President John Ruth was held as the report was publicly released.  Ms. Guin and Mr. Ruth answered all questions posed to them by media present.

To read the publicly released report click on this link!


Facility Needs on April 28, 2015

JCPS Long Range Facility Planning Committee (LRFPC) Information and Documents

Last November (2014) the Long Range Facility Planning Committee presented a 20 year plan to meet facility needs to the School Board.  Just last week the School Board moved forward with securing the school entryways.  However, nothing has been decided about the urgent needs at our elementary and high school levels.  None of the school renovation plans address the need for more classrooms, those renovation projects address much needed updating only.

Beginning on April 27, 2015 the School Board has restarted the conversation about meeting needs for additional classrooms by reviewing actual enrollment data from the last decade.  Discussion about financing options was also reviewed.  At some point voters will be asked to approve financing for new facilities either through a traditional general obligation bond or a lease-purchase type of financing.

Also to be decided is whether to move forward with elementary or secondary needs first.  The LRFP identified these current needs:

A new 400 student elementary school on the east side of Jefferson City (possibly on the Lewis and Clark Middle School property).  This would result in some redistricting to alleviate overcrowding at several elementary schools, particularly East. 
Adding 10 classrooms to Callaway Hills Elementary School and redistricting within the Callaway County portion of the district to balance enrollment at North and Callaway Hills Elementary Schools.
Building a new High School (possibly on the 179 land) for 1,500 students, completely renovating the current High School to serve 1,500 students and shuttering Simonsen 9th Grade Center.  The Union Street athletic facilities would be District facilities to be shared by both grade 9 – 12 high schools.

I urge you to share your thoughts by coming to a School Board meeting, sending us an email, or writing a letter.  Specifically, what do you support and why?  Or, let us know what stands in the way of your supporting these much needed facilities?

The link at the top of the page will take you to the LRFPC documents including cost estimates, demographic data, and even minutes of meetings.  This is your District and these are the students of our community – how do you think we can best provide classrooms for their education?  The students are here, the room for them is not.


Patron’s Reports of Being Surveyed by Telephone on April 24, 2015

I was contacted by two JCPS District residents asking if the School Board had authorized a survey of patrons about high schools.  During email back and forth with Patron 1, I also emailed Board President John Ruth for further information.  Both patrons were told by me that the Board had not authorized a survey.  Both Patrons reported the automated survey sounded like a District survey.


Patron 1 emailed the following questions he reported being asked:

  • Did you vote on the ballot issue for the new high school on 179?  Y/N
  • Did you support the ballot issue?  Y/N
  • Do you support renovation of the present high school or building a second high school?  Press “1” or “2”
  • What is your age group?
  • Are you Male or Female?

Patron 1 reported the phone number that came up on his caller ID: (573)452-8726.


Patron 2 telephoned me and reported being asked the following questions:

  • Did you vote in the one high school election?  Y/N
  • Were you in favor of the ballot issue?  Y/N
  • Are you in favor of:  1 new high school?  Renovation of the current high school?  Not sure?  (press “1” “2” or “3”)
  • If you are in favor of renovation, do you think kids would get a real good, good, or not so good education?  Or are you not sure?  (press “1”, “2”, “3” or “4”)
  • Would you approve the renovation option if it would cost less?  Y/N
  • Would a renovated high school retain its place as the State’s best in football and other sports? Y/N/not sure
  • Age by group
  • Gender

Patron 2 reported he felt the questions had a bias, the survey was fast paced.  He reported answering the questions so as to solicit further questions.  Patron 2 does not have caller ID.  He was a member of the Long Range Facility Planning Committee.  He further reported an oddity about the survey:  He was called twice; during the first call he accidentally hung up by pressing the wrong button on question two.  A short time later he was called again and the survey started over.  The call began with the recording referencing the ATL Company.


I telephoned the number Patron 1 supplied and reached a recording stating, “You were contacted randomly for a political survey.  If you would like to be taken off the list please leave your information and we will gladly take you off the list.  Thank you for your participation.”

 My questions are these:

  • What is the survey purpose and why wasn’t the purpose stated at the beginning of the survey?  (This is a transparency issue – I am concerned because it could cause confusion and make it difficult to pass bond issues.)
  • Who is behind the survey and who is paying for it?
  • What are the sampling methods and what validity testing was done on the questions?
  • Why didn’t those behind the survey want to work with, or at least inform the school district about the survey?

Due to how this survey was conducted, I wonder if other school board members think the public will think this was a JCPS conducted survey?  And how will this reflect on JCPS?

 Monday evening, April 27, the School Board is holding a work session at East Elementary School in the gym at 6 pm.  We are scheduled to talk about facilities and I intend to bring this information up for discussion. 

As a member of the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee I am keenly aware of just how dire needs are for additional classroom space at both the elementary and high school levels.   We also have buildings over 100 years old – there comes a time when patching just will no longer work.  It is essential to have community discussions about the needs and how to address them.  Unfortunately, we have to clear away the clutter of confusion and distraction first.  But let’s not let that stand in the way for more than a minute or two.  There is work to be done.

I was happy to read last Sunday that Helias Catholic High School is moving forward with a major renovation and investment in the education of the youth of this community.  We have gone through difficult economic times and many of our residents have still not recovered.  However, we cannot delay much longer in investing in all our youth if they are to continue to get a quality education. 

 Public funding for infrastructure like roads and schools has taken an especially hard hit in recent years.  Yet, when it comes to keeping an NFL Team in the state of Missouri, funds seem to become available.  Can’t we do the same for our children?  Let’s work together and find a way.

Pam Murray, April 25, 2015