The Most Powerful Man in Town

Reprinted with permission from the Christian County Trumpet article published on June 7, 2023.


Who is the most powerful person in your community?


The mayor?


The police chief?


The CEO of a major corporation?


Here are several possibilities:

a) The guy who runs the corporation with the largest budget

b) The guy who runs the corporation with the most employees

c) The guy who controls the most real estate

d) The guy who has uncontested influence over the largest voting bloc in the community


Of those intriguing possibilities, whom do you think has the most power, the most control, the greatest influence?

Allow me to introduce to you exactly who each of those above-listed four persons is in Ozark:

a) The Ozark School District superintendent

b) The Ozark School District superintendent

c) The Ozark School District superintendent

d) The Ozark School District superintendent

But this isn’t all. His power and influence emanate from a number of additional sources as well.

He has the largest staff of highly educated professionals at his beck and call.

And he has the largest propaganda channel (at no cost to himself!), with nearly the entire community as captive audience. Given that most of his propaganda is embedded in school newsletters, there is no way for parents and students to escape it if they are also determined to access the other information being put out which is relevant to them.

Despite all this power and influence, he is unelected, unopposed, uncontested, and unsupervised.

Instead of his being elected by the public, he is selected by a school board that is itself too insulated from the public.

You can communicate directly to your school board members anytime you want. But they are repeatedly reminded by the superintendent’s attorney that if they respond to you, they put the whole board or even themselves at risk of lawsuit (absurd, I know, but that is what she tells them).

No single board member is licensed to speak on behalf of the board. So better that your communiques just get ignored than that one of them respond to you.

You can try signing up to speak to the board at one of their monthly meetings.

You will be limited to 3 minutes time and restricted to speaking only about topics ALREADY ON THE AGENDA. Oh, and even though the board is all assembled there, they still won’t respond to you. They’ll just invite the next speaker up to speak at them, too.

The Superintendent is Entirely Unopposed

The superintendent is entirely unopposed. Or rather, whenever an employee resists him on anything – EVEN WHEN THE EMPLOYEE’S RESISTANCE IS PROTECTED BY BOTH LAW AND BOARD POLICY – the superintendent suddenly discovers what a bad employee that individual has been all along, how many egregious acts he has committed, how many students he has violated, etc. Goodbye employee.

No due process.

No legal recourse.

Just goodbye.

As I said, he is entirely unopposed. Any public sentiment expressed against his power is overwhelmed by the volume and breadth of his propaganda channel.

And Uncontested

He is virtually uncontested as well. You see, Ozark promotes in-house. If you want to be superintendent, get in the queue and await your turn. It will come in time. That is the Ozark good-old’ boy system Ozark loyalty for you. Clearly not EVERYONE can be superintendent. But given that we promote in-house, the number of candidates you are competing against isn’t that big. All you have to do to qualify is go get your night-school PhD. Then just await your turn. That’s what promoting in-house means.

To be fair, he is not technically unsupervised. After all, he does have a board of directors. And boy does he have them! They work for him. Of course, they don't know they work for him. They think he works for them. And that makes his arrangement secure. When you can get people to do what you want and make them think it was their idea, you are all set.

Before explaining further why it is that our school board doesn’t really supervise, allow one further illustration of the extent to which the superintendent is independent and autonomous:

  1. He has precious little oversight from any board of directors.
  2. He has the least accountability to the public. (This sounds counter-intuitive, I know. But try getting him to respond to public outcry when it runs contrary to his planned agenda. It won’t happen. Then you’ll understand.)
  3. He doesn’t answer directly to any higher headquarters. Sure, DESE establishes some guidance or perhaps even parameters for his job. But he still has extremely wide latitude. And since he
    isn’t responsive to the public, he has virtually free reign to do whatever he wants.
  4. He has unlimited access to a team of expert attorneys to facilitate whatever agenda he sets for himself. With this power, he is highly adept at avoiding even the explicit demands of law.

Again, to be clear, he isn’t OFFICIALLY unsupervised. He is just PRACTICALLY unsupervised.

A Structural Problem

This is a function of the organizational structure of our (and surely just about all other) school district(s). He has three assistant superintendents (all with PhDs) and four executive directors (three quarters of whom also have PhDs). Excluding the additional executive assistants assigned to each superintendent, this is still eight highly educated individuals working approximately (or at least?) 200 hours per month, for a total of 1600+ hours. Our school board meets once per month . . . for 3-4 hours. And everything they do is by consensus, acting as a single entity. They are practically forbidden to work together on school board stuff outside of school board meetings, lest their efforts violate the Missouri Sunshine Law’s Open Meetings requirements. They also have much else to do during these occasional meetings. So there is little time left to supervise the school district.

Supervision requires observation. It also assumes a degree of insight or expertise. Bosses can effectively supervise when they know how a process is supposed to run. They can effectively supervise when they are able to observe a process in action.

School board members without experience in education have limited insight into how our educational institutions should function. Board members who meet together infrequently have limited insight into how our educational institutions actually do operate.

That kind of supervisory structure guarantees that he will ALWAYS know more than his/her board of directors. But that’s okay. The superintendent makes sure to explain to them how things should work. He even makes sure to tell them how he’s doing. He helps them to understand why he is always right. Then they all sit back and applaud. “Well done, superintendent! We are so lucky to have you! Let us know when you are ready for a pay raise.”

It is natural for board members to simply defer to the superintendent in all things. After all, he is so much more experienced than they. He is so much more educated than they. He is so much more in tune to the operational context than they. He works at this full time – and with a robust staff – while they are mere volunteers who meet only sporadically. What is left more than for them to simply cheer on his success?

Can you see the problem here? I am not suggesting that we need board members to all be previous professional educators. That solution invites a host of different problems. We really do want community supervision of our schools. But unless school board members see the problem clearly, they are unprepared to supervise adequately. They won’t realize just how often/long they need to meet. They won’t know what to demand independent evidence of (beyond just what the superintendent reports to them). They won’t feel compelled to actually set direction for the district (or even know when the minimal direction they have set is being disregarded).

Speaking of setting direction, that is surely the principal responsibility of the school board. They should be setting direction, establishing priorities, and creating policy to govern the school. But how can they, when they work only 3-4 hours per month. Observe an upcoming school board meeting and you’ll see the dysfunctional arrangement firsthand. Board members will start the meeting by voting on a “consent agenda,” a list of items it was proposed they simply approve without discussion.


Any guesses when the last time was that a single board member dissented on his vote on the consent agenda? One should wonder why this consent agenda process even exists, if whatever is placed on it is simply rubber stamped by the board.

When issues do sometimes come up for discussion, any guesses how much of the read-ahead packet (when one is even provided) the board members have even skimmed (let alone digested and contemplated) before the board meeting?  Can you see in the attitudes and comments of board members their contempt for having to talk about issues instead of just approving them?

Our board policy, like that of nearly every other school district, is set by the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA). Or rather, they craft policies for every member school district which they then send out to each school district for consideration. There are HUNDREDS of them, probably THOUSANDS even. It is WAY more than anyone can grasp.

The MSBA to the Rescue!

But that’s okay. Because the MSBA also sends out proposed updates periodically for school boards to adopt.

And so we do. MSBA said this is good for us, so we adopt it.

Given this arrangement, who is really directing our superintendent?

Clearly the MSBA is setting policy (and therefore direction) for him. But he isn’t accountable to the MSBA. They don’t govern him. They don’t supervise him.

Things don’t have to be this way. There are prospects for improvement. But it all starts with convincing our local school board that there is a problem.

I am not saying the superintendent is a problem. I am saying that there is a problem of organizational structure that gives WAY too much power to one position without supervision or accountability.

We need our school board to take notice.

We need our public to take notice.

We need everyone to take this seriously.

We need to right the ship before it drifts too far and cannot be set aright.

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