Next week’s election on April 8th features several municipal elections. Around the Lake area, aldermen races, a fire district levy and school board races are heating up as election Tuesday approaches. American Spring and Guerrilla Radio will be looking at these local races, what they represent for the community of the Lake of the Ozarks and the importance of ‘local control’ of these different government agencies.
In the case of area schools, for a growing consensus of parents, Common Core implementation is a crucial issue this election cycle. At the heart of opposition to Common Core is the blatant, gross overreach by state and federal government into our local schools. Common Core supporters assert that implementing the standards do not interfere with local control of our districts. They claim that teachers will still be allowed to teach as they see fit, that school districts and boards will retain ultimate control with regards to our children’s education. This is absolutely false. It strips taxpayers, voters and parents of the control guaranteed them by the US and Missouri Constitutions.
This is not the only issue to face our local school districts. Currently, in Camdenton, major construction is underway on two satellite elementary school buildings. While it is difficult to argue against the need for such renovations, the project is already experiencing overruns in cost. Financial responsibility and transparency is a key component to the Camdenton race.
Across the state, ‘no tax increase’ levy extensions and other funding increases are being sought by schools in record numbers. The floodgates to these ballot initiatives were opened recently in Jefferson City, as state lawmakers allowed schools to increase their debt load.
CAMDENTON SCHOOL BOARD
Last spring, a ballot initiative was proposed by Camdenton’s school district administration and the board of education. It regarded a ‘no tax-increase levy’ for the district. The initiative was pitched by superintendent of the Camdenton school district, Tim Hadfield. Hadfield famously repeated an example to the voters of the district, that sought to explain how such a ‘no tax increase levy’ would be used to ‘shift a few cents from one pocket to another’. This, he said, would allow the district to complete the necessary construction to these schools without asking for a tax increase to fund them.
What Hadfield did not tell the public during his slight of hand public relations campaign is that the ‘no tax levy’ granted the school board the ability, without a vote of the people, to raise the levy by up to eleven cents.
A similar ballot initiative is on the books for the Eldon school district next week. It joins a flurry of such measures on ballots across the state. For a network of parents and taxpayers across the state, the epidemic of school levy proposals can be directly related to future costs associated with Common Core and rising school district ‘legal fees’. As scandals in the Hickman Mills school district clearly demonstrate, financial transparency is critical to prevent abuses.
There is reason, at least in Camdenton’s school district, to be concerned about similar abuses. Questions about an abandoned audit, cost overruns at a ball field and concerns about the role of an architecture firm in school business have swirled in the community.
In the case of an approximately $1.5 million dollar overrun during the construction of a ball field, an investigation revealed that the Camdenton school maintenance supervisor, Kerry Dickeman, had ties to multiple LLC’s and awarded those businesses contracts for work on this ball field.
After the results from this investigation were presented to the Camdenton police department, they suggested the information be forwarded to Jefferson City for review. The CPD believed there was reason to pursue the questions raised by this citizen-led investigation, but cited their own conflict of interest as reason for being unable to investigate themselves. This conflict is the relationship between the department and the school, through the CPD’s role in providing resource officers for the district.
Additional concerns have been raised regarding the role of architecture firm, ACI/Boland. The architecture firm seems to have a never-ending ATM with the Camdenton school district. The firm, after designing the new high school and other buildings, was intimately involved with the passing of Camdenton’s ‘no tax increase’ levy measure last spring. Certainly, the construction and renovation projects attracted the attention of the firm. Their level of participation in the sham of the ‘no tax increase’ initiative is unclear at this time. What is clear however, is that ACI/Boland certainly has the inside track with regards to the Camdenton school district.
Selynn Barbour, current member of and candidate for the Camdenton school board, is forced to recuse herself from each and every vote that involves the architects. This is because she is related to members of the firm. ACI/Boland, with their sponsorship of the half-truths presented by Hadfield’s presentation of a ‘no tax increase’ levy, seems to have ensured that their parasitic relationship with the district will continue. Should Barbour be re-elected, the likelihood of this increases.
In a recent Q and A with candidates for Camdenton school board, four out of the five candidates expressed a willingness to restrict the public’s ability to provide oversight and accountability in the district. This logic and the willingness of these candidates to hand control of our district over to unelected administrators and lawyers represents a troubling trend that has presented itself in districts across the state of Missouri.
The lone dissenter to this, in the Camdenton school board race, was candidate Mindi Sales.
Three seats are up during this year’s election, ensuring that two positions will be filled by those who endorse turning our district over to unelected administrators and lawyers. It is with this thought in mind that a strategy has emerged in this race that has gained traction with the voters. It is an idea plainly expressed by candidate for Mid-County Fire Protection District board, Jeremy Rugen.
MID-COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT BOARD AND TAX HIKE
Rugen, who entered the race in the wake of recent public opposition to the closure of satellite stations in Camden County, has put this slogan on his signs:
“One name. One vote.”
Rugen, who was opposed to the idea of closing the satellite stations, represents a departure from the ‘status quo’. He recognized that the district should look at alternatives that did not include closing these stations. On paper, their closures would save some money, but Rugen, like many other county residents, believes that there are alternatives that should be taken before shuddering area stations. These closures, while saving the district, will cost the taxpayers more. Closing satellite stations, such as the one in the Roach area, will cause immediate hikes in home owner insurance rates for some Camden County residents. Earlier this year, during a packed meeting of the Mid County Fire Protection Board, the public protested these cost cutting measures.
The board and administration of the fire protection district used this as reason to ask for yet another increase in taxes. They launched another campaign, to little fan fare and less support, to raise the district’s levy. Mid-Missouri Fire Protection District Chief Scott Frandsen and the board, including Charlie McElyea, attempted to turn the public’s resistance to closing stations into support for the levy increase the district has been seeking. This has not materialized however, as residents do not believe raising taxes is the answer. They believe other steps should be taken first, such as not filling vacant administrator positions. They believe that by taking measures to reduce administrative costs, enough money would be saved that the district could improve wage conditions for the front line firefighters. They believe these goals can be achieved without costing taxpayers of the district a single dime in new taxes.
These three ballot issues on April 8th will determine the direction these districts, both school and fire. They represent local control of our government and restoring accountability, transparency and honesty from the institutions we fund. We will continue to watch them closely.
Monday night at the Camdenton High School auditorium, a forum will be held for the school board candidates. This forum, at 6:00 PM, is sponsored by the district’s teachers and the public is welcome to attend. We would encourage you to do so.
Stay tuned to http://www.americanspring2011.com for the very latest in news from Camdenton to the Congo. Follow on Twitter @AmericanSpring or on the Facebook page Guerrilla Radio with American Spring. Guerrilla Radio is on Monday through Friday from noon until two in the afternoon. Tuesday’s Prime Time edition of Guerrilla Radio is live at 8. All shows are archived on line for easy access.