More Atrocities At The School Board Level
The following are comments from Bill Baird. It seems that our school board president continues to work behind the scenes and is still trying to hide things from the public.
Dear Citizens of the Lee's Summit School District,
I cannot believe that I am once again forced to shed light on more atrocities at the school board level. Dr. McGehee signed a new contract indicating his intentions to stay with the school district. He also asked that the board discuss a transition for him meaning a transition in the very near future not three years from now. First, Dr. McGehee signed a new contract, but he does not appear to even be leading our school district right now. To be honest I do not know who is currently making decisions for our district. Secondly, the contract Dr. McGehee signed is not valid. Once again, we have an attorney and a board president taking liberties to act on behalf of the board without our approval. The board did not approve all of the numbers in the contract Dr. McGehee signed. Those numbers changed sometime between April 7th when the board approved the contract to April 27th when Dr. McGehee signed it.
Dr. McGehee’s signing of the contract indicates that he accepted the continued responsibility of running our school district for 3 more years. If this is the case, he needs to start coming to closed sessions and communicating with the board members. I have only seen Dr. McGehee a few times in the 6 weeks and once was at the public meeting. Is he performing his duties as superintendent if he is not meeting nor even communicating with the board of education nor coming to our committees? Is he communicating with other entities in the community during our current educational crisis and attending those meetings? Is he running central office and making decisions for the district? Will he be attending all of the educational celebration events this week and the following weeks? After all, he is currently under contract.
Dr. McGehee’s compensation costs the district over over $33,000 per month, $7,615 per week, or $1,622 per work day (244 days). Currently, I have no idea if Dr. McGehee is even running our school district since he and Ms. Harmon have basically stopped corresponding with the entire board the last 6 weeks other than regarding when the next closed sessions will be. Our district is in limbo with a new fiscal school year beginning in 55 days. Dr. McGehee needs to decide what he wants to do: run the district or resign. He doesn’t get to hold the district hostage by hunkering down, doing as little as possible, and collecting a huge paycheck.
In closed sessions we are getting a lot of advice from legal counsel as to what we can and cannot say as board members. I am dumbfounded by the absolute lack of representation that I continue to have as a board member. The board is still using an attorney that Dr. McGehee chose. His name is Steve Sparks of the Bryan Cave Law Firm. Mr. Spark’s firm did 34% of the legal work for the district while Shellie Guin’s firm did 56%. That’s 90% of the districts legal work. Mr. Sparks is responsible for putting together a contract for Dr. McGehee to sign with different numbers than what the board approved, but first let me give some background on Mr. Sparks.
Dr. McGehee signed a contract for legal services with Mr. Sparks 3 years ago without board approval. I have claimed Dr. McGehee violated laws and policies when he contracted with this firm and 7 others without board approval. After I first went public Mr. Sparks was brought in by Board President Terri Harmon to refute my claims that the superintendent needs to bid legal services. Mr. Sparks provided a legal memorandum concluding that the superintendent has sole authority in choosing legal service providers. At $490 an hour, Mr. Sparks charges nearly double what other firms charge the district. It’s ludicrous for him to say the superintendent has sole authority in choosing our board attorney. Mr. Sparks should not have been used to make these recommendations because he was in a position of conflict of interest. He wrote a report with a recommendation that benefitted him directly.
Mr. Sparks also reviewed Dr. McGehee’s first contract proposal and claimed it was legal. I disagreed because it violated Article III, Section 39(3) of the Missouri Constitution. It also disgracefully abused the Public Schools Retirement System (PSRS). Mr. Sparks was not concerned with PSRS and Dr. McGehee’s 33% jump in salary. Mr. Sparks and Ms. Harmon then restructured the contract in an effort to bring it within legal parameters, but it still reallocated substantial money to Dr. McGehee’s salary in order to increase his PSRS benefits. Based on the contract Dr. McGehee is currently under he would have ended up retiring with approximately $216,000 every year in retirement. His new contract that the “board” approved has him retiring with $245,000 every year. That is an extra $29,000 per year for the rest of his life for no increase in duties. While PSRS has a 10% salary cap to prevent spiking of salaries, I think they will have issue with the fact that Dr. McGehee’s overall compensation went up 2.4%, but his salary went up 10%. This mischaracterization of his salary is the unethical behavior that breaks the system. Some board members relied heavily on Mr. Spark’s recommendations and approved the contract. I question Mr. Spark’s allegiance to Dr. McGehee over the board’s best interests with these actions, but the story continues with Mr. Sparks.
The board approved the new contract for Dr. McGehee on April 7th. However, the executed contract released to the public on May 3rd did not have the same numbers that the board approved. No disclosure was made to the board as to why these changes were made nor did the board approve the changes. When I questioned Ms. Harmon, she explained that Mr. Sparks stated it was done to stay compliant with PSRS salary growth guidelines. This was the first I had heard Mr. Sparks even acknowledge salary growth guidelines from PSRS even though we have had many closed sessions with him, and I have brought the PSRS up many, many times.
It’s possible the change in the contract was actually made in an effort to remain compliant with board policy GCPF and Article III, Section 39(3) of the Missouri Constitution, a law that Dr. McGehee has violated numerous times over the years when he renegotiated his contracts for more money. The pertinent fact in this situation is that Mr. Sparks and Ms. Harmon made these changes without board disclosure and without board approval. They may insinutate that these changes saved the district a little money ($976), but they did not use the board process nor did they ever disclose the changes to the board even after it was released to the public. Once again another contract has been signed without board approval, and Ms. Harmon continues to act alone. No matter their reason, it is quite evident that they did not want the board to know of the significant changes to the contract. It is my opinion that the contract Dr. McGehee signed is not valid and needs to come back to the board for approval.
Mr. Sparks is also one of the attorneys that wrote a legal memorandum claiming that there is not a conflict of interest for the superintendent to date our board attorney Shellie Guin of the Guin Mundorf law firm. In my opinion, the rationale he gave the board was erroneous and not acceptable. Even by his own firm’s policies they would never allow such a conflict of interest. However, I do question why his firm has allowed Mr. Sparks to continue in his role as our board representative given that he is making recommendations that benefit him directly.
This brings us to the present. After weeks with the new contract sitting on his desk, Dr. McGehee finally signed the contract indicating he wants to continue his role as our superintendent. However, he also recommended that the board discuss a transition for him. This means that the board needs an attorney that can protect the interests of the school district as we enter negotiations with Dr. McGehee. Who did Terri Harmon choose to represent the board in these negotiations with Dr. McGehee? Yes, Mr. Sparks. This is the same Mr. Sparks that was hired by Dr. McGehee without board approval, defended Dr. McGehee’s violations of polices and laws, defended Dr. McGehee’s relationship with Shellie Guin, approved of the initial illegal proposed contract by Dr. McGehee, and approved of a restructured unethical contract for Dr. McGehee, but Ms. Harmon feels he can put his partiality aside and now represent the board in our negotiations. The issue of conflict of interest with our legal service providers still plagues us today.
I am gravely concerned with our current status at the school board level because time is of the essence, and we must move forward decisively and quickly to get our district on a path to greatness. The board can’t focus on decision making for our students and their welfare when we are entangled in deception and waiting for our superintendent to decide if he wants to stay or go. We can’t function as a school board when our board attorney Mr. Sparks is making recommendations that are not in the district’s best interest and when our Board President Terri Harmon is making executive decisions without board approval or disclosure.
My Fellow Board Members, I am sorry I used social media again, but I felt it was better than going directly to the news stations as these behaviors by our superintendent, board president, and attorney are most certainly newsworthy given the microscope we are under. We made some progress in our last closed session, but we have much more to do. We have to break out of this cycle to move forward together.
We need some very obvious changes. We need these changes to be able to become a healthy board, a viable central office, an empowered district, an enriched student environment, and a school district the community will be proud of.