Open Letter to the Ozark School Board and Patrons of the Ozark School District

The Ozark School District Board of Education’s recent public reprimand of one its own members for making herself available to the public greatly undermines public hope that our new school board will be much better than the old one.  The basic problem, it seems, is that the board members are all conditioned, by formal training and by organizational culture, to see their role from a distorted perspective.  Rather than simply complain about the school board’s behavior, we community members who have rallied under the banner of the “Ozark Schools Support Team” offer our perspective on fundamental governance dynamics we have observed within the district and propose specific changes for the board adopt to improve the functioning of our beloved Ozark School District.

The school board is not fulfilling its appointed role to govern the school district.  It has relinquished that role to district administrators and has instead adopted a role as champion of the district administration.  This implies that board members don’t adequately understand their role and how critical their role is.  Or perhaps they are intimidated at the prospect of directing a large, full-time staff of administrators with PhDs and extensive experience in education.  They seem to feel that, as a general rule, they should simply defer to administrator expertise.  Even worse than this prospect, however, is that the Missouri School Board Association and the school district’s own attorney deliberately seek to elevate superintendents above the boards that are supposed to be directing them.

Once elected, each school board member is required to complete 18.5 hours of training on his/her new office.  As a member of the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA), the Ozark School District has chosen the MSBA to sponsor this training.  Unfortunately, as a state-level organization, deeply enmeshed with other state interests (as well as, until very recently, the parent-wary National School Boards Association), the MSBA has a very different agenda than does our local community.  If it can persuade school board members to adopt a passive role in their districts, then it strengthens the influence state interests have over local school districts across the state.  And that is precisely the content of the MSBA’s training to new board members.  Instead of preparing them for the challenge of directing administrators who have greater education, experience, and availability than they, it is geared at convincing them that their real job is to work alongside their enlightened administrators as part of a team.  In a school board appreciation video promoted via District newsletter to Ozark families last year (, one long-standing board member (and multi-time board president) advocated for the belief that there are actually eight members on the board: the seven elected members – and the superintendent.  This member has a long history of involvement with the MSBA, so it's no surprise to hear her view that the superintendent is elevated to become another member of the board, of the governance team.  However, this is not at all appropriate.  It implies that the board’s role is to represent their school district to the community (rather than represent their community to the school district).  This arrangement is a win for both the superintendent (who is emancipated from the control of an attentive school board) and the MSBA (who thereby gains influence with the superintendent and the school board).  The school board and the administration are on the same team only the way a coach and his/her athletes are on the same team.  When that relationship is obscured, the team suffers.  It is a loss for the community.

With the MSBA’s assistance, the superintendent has gradually usurped governance from the school board.  The board’s main tool for governing the school district is the policy it sets for administrators to follow.  And yet our school board does not even write its own policies.  It has contracted that job out to the MSBA.  At first glance, this would seem a good idea.  The MSBA monitors the state legislature and education-law cases across the country to see where problem areas might arise that our policies need to anticipate and adapt to.  They then regularly propose policy revisions to their various member school districts.  Unfortunately, when those proposals reach the school board, they are not accompanied by explanation of the complexities and tradeoffs involved.  They are not accompanied by explanation of the alternatives available.  They do not contain explanation of the political agendas of those proposing the policy changes.  So board members habitually accept those proposed changes verbatim with very little discussion or understanding.  When the board’s main tool for directing the school district is via the policies they set for the district, allowing those policies to be dictated by outsiders – such that they become nearly identical with every other MSBA-member school district across the state – is an abdication of their responsibility.  It is anathema to the very concept of local control of the school district.

The superintendent’s dominance over the school board is reinforced by the school district’s attorney.  To determine whom an attorney really represents, just ask whose interests are being served by the advice he/she provides.  The school’s current attorney reinforces the superintendent’s control over the board and the board’s distance from the community by providing specious legal advice to the school board and suggesting overly manipulative actions against the district's own school board members, city aldermen, and state representatives.  She has convinced the board they cannot hear from teachers being abused by hostile administrators, even when board policy requires it.  She has persuaded the board they are not obligated to provide a hearing to suspended teachers, even when state law clearly requires it.  She has advised the board that they cannot talk to their constituents, the ones who elected them to office, even though appellate court opinion approves it.  It is one thing to simply provide bad legal advice.  It is another thing entirely to deliberately manipulate the board to elevate the superintendent above themselves and to alienate the board from its responsibilities to the community and to the teachers.

The fundamental purpose of a school board is to direct and supervise the school district to ensure that it operates consistent with the local community’s values.  The school district is a public institution.  An essential feature of representative government is that our public institutions are accountable to the public.  School boards, whose members are elected by their communities for this purpose, are the mechanism through which the public controls their schools.  School boards exist for the benefit of the community, not the district administrators.  The natural tendency for most people and institutions is to begrudge supervision and direction.  We don’t feel we need it.  We can do just fine, better even, on our own . . . or so we think.  Consequently, district administrators don’t (think they) need the school board.  But district administrators, like the rest of us, are blind to their own shortcomings.  They are blind to problems they don't want to fix.  District administrators already attend to the things that they see.  There is no value to a board of directors acting as cheerleaders for whatever the administration chooses on its own to do.  They need to see from a different perspective than the administration.  They need to see from the community’s perspective.  And they need to compel the administration to do things it doesn’t already choose to do.

Accountability agents are good for us.  They are precisely how good people remain good people.  Unrestricted power is a corrupting influence on even the most noble soul.  The superintendent doesn’t have this.  He/she instead has a chorus of “yes men” reflecting back whatever perspective he/she adopts.  As Lord Acton famously explained, “Power corrupts.  And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Checks on power are for OUR OWN good.  They keep US honest.  They preserve OUR integrity.  Knowing that we must justify our conduct to a neutral (and perhaps even skeptical) third party is how we ensure we don’t go awry.  If we don’t have to do this, we ensure distorted thinking.

The more power an institution or individual has, the greater the need for effective supervision.  The power to do good also entails the power to do harm.  Power also distorts (or, as the familiar saying goes, even “corrupts”) perspective.  Our Founding Fathers were adamant about this danger.  James Madison warned, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”  When one is working on a noble cause (such as educating our children), it is especially easy to justify violating traditional norms of justice and integrity.

In small communities like ours, the superintendent is commonly the most powerful person in the community.  He/she controls the largest corporation, with the largest budget and the largest number of employees.  He/she likely controls the greatest amount of real estate as well.  He/she has unopposed influence over the largest bloc of voters.  He/she has a large staff of highly educated and acquiescent deputies and minions to facilitate his/her agenda.   He/she even has his/her own unopposed propaganda channel.  He/she does not answer directly to any higher headquarters.  He/she has unlimited access to attorney guidance to skirt the law even.  He/she does not have to answer to stakeholders.  He/she is unelected, unopposed, and unrestrained.

While district administrators will always be the school board’s primary source of information on the performance of the school district and its employees, they should never be the exclusive source.  Board members need access to as many independent channels of information and as many perspectives as possible.  Given the school board’s tradition of refusing audience with aggrieved teachers (at the insistence of the school’s attorney, to protect the reputation of the superintendent) and of discouraging board members from engaging with the public, the superintendent effectively controls the narrative the school board hears about the performance of the school district and its employees.  The superintendent’s perspective becomes their perspective.  The absurdity of this arrangement should be obvious.  The board cannot properly supervise the district and its administrators when the board’s sole source of information about both comes from the district administrators themselves.

As an illustration of this practice, consider how thoroughly the previous superintendent manipulated the school board’s beliefs.  He lied numerous times to the board about various employees.  He fabricated “evidence” to makes his lies more compelling.  He even lied to the board about one of the new board members prior to her election to the board.  He brazenly intercepted emails to the school board that were critical of his conduct.  The board accepted unquestioningly both his stories and his attorney’s counsel not to entertain any counter-evidence against him.  (Members of the public unfamiliar with these charges will find evidence of them at  The board thus became derelict in its duty to supervise him, hold him accountable, learn the truth, and act accordingly.

Truth is more clearly discerned after hearing multiple sides of an issue.  We all benefit from having other perspectives available to us.  The value of free speech is not found principally in the benefit to the individual speaker (as a form of self-expression, etc.) but to the community who are recipients of the ideas free speech enables.  This is what Jon Stuart Mill termed the “marketplace of ideas.”  We ought not to suppose that consulting “experts,” such as our highly educated and experienced district administrators settles the issue.  After all, “for every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert” (Sir Arthur C. Clarke).  This is why in courts of law, we appoint two attorneys to argue zealously against one another.  Understanding this lies at the heart of our concept of “devil’s advocate.”

Having been indoctrinated by a top-down educational system, board members may harbor false beliefs and attitudes about their governing authority.  It is hard to shake certain ideas once they have been deeply planted in us by someone we presumed trustworthy.  Additionally, some narratives have circulated so long and so often, without dispute, that they assume the status of truth, even though they don’t stand up to scrutiny.  As examples:

  • Board members still appear to believe they are legally prohibited from hearing from aggrieved teachers when they are actually obligated by board policy to do so.
  • They still seem to believe it imprudent for them to engage with the public when it is actually essential to their performance.
  • They continue to allege they have only one employee, despite the fact that they are the approval authority for EVERY hiring action. They invoke this falsehood as a defense against criticisms relating to the district’s performance, suggesting that if they only have one employee then they really have very little influence over the performance of the school district.  They have not accepted that as the board of directors for the school district, everything that happens in the school district is their responsibility.

These are not trivial matters the board is misled about.  Board members are being led to believe the exact opposite of the truth on matters essential to their responsibility as board members.

The school board is a REPRESENTATIVE body.  As such, engaging with the public is essential to their proper function.  Even if listening to independent voices is occasionally burdensome, it remains an essential feature of representative government that our public institutions be accessible and accountable to the public.  Listening exclusively to district administrators is a guaranteed way to ensure board member views are all biased in favor of the administration, instead of the community.  What voices we allow ourselves to hear has everything to do with what we beliefs we ultimately adopt.

The board would like to believe that recent incidents of administrator abuse of authority are in the past.  We have a new board now.  “We have a new administration now,” they suppose.  “Past problems were the product of a bad superintendent.”  While it may well be true that the old superintendent was a proverbial “bad apple,” his departure doesn’t remove the rot.  If he was a “bad apple,” it was most likely the result of his being in a bad barrel.  Whether he introduced the rot or inherited it, it has surely spread in the form of attitudes and practices that now infect the whole of district administration.  Additionally, the school board has yet to condemn – or even investigate – the misconduct of the old superintendent.  It does no good to say “we have a new team now, so things will be better” if you don’t also acknowledge that the old team and old way of doing business was corrupt.  Furthermore, the team captain was the only person who departed that old team.  And the new board is looking disappointingly indistinguishable from the old one, as manifest by their reprimand to a fellow board member for doing precisely what they all should have been doing all along.

Perhaps the reason new board members act so much like old board members is that the behavior of board members is driven by the structure of the system they operate in. New board members presumed that the behavior of old board members was a function of their character, rather than their position in a system. They presumed if they themselves had good character, that would insulate them against playing a perverse role in what they assumed was a legitimate system. They were wrong. The system is structured to empower superintendents and their staffs while marginalizing local school boards. It is set up to minimize School Board member responsiveness to the public that elected them.  We are supposed to run our own School District locally, but it is being top driven by non-elected authorities in agencies that operate at the state level. District administrators have more autonomy and control with the structure then they would if our board was truly overseeing them.

The above should not be seen as an indictment of the character or sincerity of our school board members.  It is merely a characterization of the ORGANIZATIONAL RELATIONSHIP that has developed.  Our behavior is always a function of what makes sense to us from where we sit.  And “from where we sit” is a function of the organizational structures, relationships, systems, policies, procedures, etc. we operate within.  Even when some of those are distorted, dysfunctional, or even corrupt, our position within those systems can easily prevent our seeing this.  It commonly takes someone on the outside to point out things we on the inside cannot see.  Countless people have readily become complicit in perpetrating illicit schemes simply because they could not see clearly the gross deficiencies of the systems they were operating within.  Additionally, we develop relationships of trust within these systems.  We are affirmed in our attitude towards these systems by the fact that everyone else in the system sees things the same way.  To object to anything would be to break faith with others in the system who haven’t found fault with the system.

As an aside now to district patrons who have been invited audience to this letter:  It is tempting to presume that the dynamics referenced above and the specific proposals detailed below are oriented at one or more levels above your child’s classroom experience.  It is tempting to presume this doesn’t really have much impact on your family.  Underestimating the problem this way is extremely dangerous.  There is presently no bigger impact on the future of our community than what is being taught (formally and informally) in our public schools.  Our children and families are likewise highly vulnerable to what takes place at school. What happens at the level of administration ALWAYS impacts the classroom.  (Why else have administrators at all?).  When district administrators are not accountable to their community, their attitudes and values stray far from those of their community.

 If you are uncomfortable with any of the social agendas that have been creeping into our school district over the past decade, know that they largely come from OUTSIDE of the district.  They come from administrators who are more attentive to state-level interest than local values.  Reclaiming our school district for our LOCAL community is key to resisting these agendas.  When a superintendent becomes insulated from public accountability, we experience such problems as:

  • Discounting parents’ interest in their own children’s treatment as the district feels they adequately represent the parents’ interests in their own children (e.g., not allowing parents to speak on behalf of their children when their children are under investigation and later answering parents’ concerns about that point with “well, we represent you while your children are at school”).
  • Falsely characterizing to the community that new bond initiatives entail “no tax increase,” when they very clearly do. They are an increase in tax duration instead of tax amount.  But that is most definitely still an increase.  How else would the bond be funded if no additional revenues were being collected? 
  • Obtaining the community’s backing for new construction projects and then completely changing the plan without again consulting the community for approval (classic “bait and switch”).


  1. Obtain all future orientation training for new board members from a different organization than the MSBA. Monitor it to ensure that it is promoting the COMMUNITY’s interests, not the ADMINISTRATION’s interests.
  2. Withdraw from membership in the MSBA. Their interests are at odds with our community’s interests.  Whatever benefit we obtain from membership in the MSBA comes at the expense of our board members’ beliefs, attitudes, and agenda drifting further from those of our community.  Leaving the MSBA will impose more hard work on our school board members.  But doing this hard work themselves is precisely how board members gain the insight needed to make important decisions.  The hard work is precisely where governance of the school district takes place.
  3. Replace the school attorney with one from a different law firm. Make that attorney responsive to the school board, not the district administration.  If it is ever suspected that the attorney’s guidance might be favoring the administration’s agenda over the public’s, then consult with a new attorney for a conflicting perspective.
  4. Reject all work product district administrators submit for approval that arrives too late to give it meaningful consideration. If products are submitted too late for review, then defer consideration of those products until a subsequent board meetingTo vote in support of something which hasn’t been duly considered is not to approve it at all.  It is simply to allow the administration to use the school board as a “rubber stamp.”  Genuinely approving of something requires that it have been considered and judged appropriate.
  5. Take charge of the board meetings. Do not allow the superintendent to run the meetings.  Whoever runs the meeting controls the narrative.  Seat all district administrators at a separate table from the board.  Reinforce (politely, yet firmly) the boss-vs-employee dynamic at each board meeting.  Administrators should not have a speaking role at the board meeting until called upon.
  6. Create a “Board-Admin Liaison” (BAL) position within the school district that answers directly and exclusively to the school board, not the superintendent. This position should work full time in the district office, with responsibility to ensure the board has an independent perspective on what is going on within the school district.  This individual’s role should include consistently playing “devil’s advocate” against district administrators.  He/she should be constantly alert to the potential downside of any action district administrators are considering.  This BAL could also be the key to implementing numerous other recommendations in this section.

  7. Commission an independent investigator to review senior administrator conduct and to recommend board policy changes to improve the board’s oversight of senior administrator behavior.
  8. Reduce the superintendent’s unrestricted control over teacher discipline. Recent widespread administrator abuse of authority has made it apparent that, at least temporarily, there needs to be greater supervision.
    1. Require district administrators immediately to provide to the school board (or perhaps the BAL) a copy of any response a district employee writes to a Professional Improvement Plan. Reach out to those employees to see if any of them would like to speak with the Board about their case.  Invite at least one employee per quarter to give testimony to the board about their case.  Sincerely investigate any report he/she offers about administrator dishonesty, harassment, intimidation, etc.
    2. Require that the district immediately provide notification to the board of any employee who receives a Notice of Deficiency. Invite every such employee to meet with one or more members of the board to share their perspective on the situation.  If sufficient concerns are surfaced thereby, then invite him/her to address the entire Board.
    3. Revise policy GBL to allow board members to see employee personnel files. If the board is to be superior, not subordinate, to the superintendent, then it needs as much access as he/she has.  If there are concerns about a single employee pursuing an inappropriate agenda, then the policy could be revised to permit such access either 1) upon request of the employee, or 2) at the request of two or more board members.  As the policy presently stands, it insulates district administrators from accountability for dishonest reports in employee files.
  9. Listen to aggrieved teachers. They are the board’s best source of insight into the recent misconduct of numerous administrators, at both the district level and individual school level.  Listen to them BEFORE they are forced to resign.  Given that the school attorney has successfully duped board members into believing they cannot hear from aggrieved teachers until they appeal their firing, board members NEVER hear from the teachers whose experiences are most relevant to uncovering administrator misconduct.  Those teachers are compelled to resign out of desperation, given the board’s tradition of ignoring their cases.  When administrators threaten a teacher with firing, that teacher is compelled to resign as waiting to be fired effectively means he/she will never teach again.  This practice of pressuring teachers into resignation, coupled with the board’s indifference to teachers experiencing this situation, effectively robs teachers of the due process guaranteed them by the Constitution.
  10. Conduct exit interviews with all willing departing employees to determine why they are leaving.
  11. End the practice of overly broad gag orders. They are contrary to district policy and state law.  Require that district administrators provide a copy of every gag order they impose and a justification for it.  Invite a devil’s advocate to argue against the need for the gag order.
  12. Post public notice, as required by RSMO 105.055, informing employees of their rights against being silenced: “Each public employer shall prominently post a copy of this section in locations where it can reasonably be expected to come to the attention of all employees of the public employer.” Including it in beginning-of-year online training falls FAR short of the legal expectation.
  13. Create a forum for getting independent, critical feedback on the district directly from district employees. Sadly, many of those most qualified to provide it have already been dismissed.  And yet, there will always be a need for insider perspective.  It will rarely arise spontaneously, especially in an environment of distrust.  It will have to be deliberately and carefully cultivated.  And it may have to be anonymous, given the District’s history of hostility against those who speak out.
  14. Host a quarterly town hall with the community wherein the public can ask serious questions about the school district and receive honest answers. Structure the format to allow genuine back-and-forth communication with community members (rather than just allowing them to ask a question and then remain passive while the district responds).  A meaningful town hall starts with the board members honestly being interested in community concerns and to discovering the truth about them.  At the last town hall meeting the board held, a member of the board emphatically, and falsely, proclaimed to the community that aggrieved teachers had multiple levels of protection and recourse available to them to insulate them against alleged administrator abuse of authority.  After the town hall meeting, he refused to name a single one.  A forum in which administrators are not held accountable for their comments is political theater.  Similarly, when time didn’t permit all interested audience members to ask their questions, they were invited to submit questions which the board would answer later.  The board’s answers were all authored by district administrators.  This is somewhat inevitable, given that the board is largely ignorant of how things work within the school district on a daily basis.  But this also gave the superintendent the opportunity to simply repudiate any challenging questions.  This is further argument for how valuable it could be to have a board representative (such as the “Board-Admin Liaison” described in #6 above) working within the District on a daily basis whose sole duty would be to provide objective information to the board.
  15. Initiate a comprehensive audit of the school district’s finances. The district’s last Chief Financial Officer left under suspicious circumstances.  There are reports that she confided in others that she wanted to ensure she was long gone before the district’s financial practices came to light.  Regardless of the veracity of that rumor, the district advertised that her departure was merely a one-year leave of absence, despite her reportedly insisting she was not returning.  The district then hired as her replacement someone who was serving as superintendent of another school district.  It defies plausibility that a superintendent would step down from such a senior, permanent position to take a lower, temporary, short-term position.  (See Springfield NewsLeader article, "West Plains Superintendent Takes Interim Leadership Job in Ozark".)  It should be no surprise to anyone now that that individual has now become our school district’s new interim superintendent.  She now fills the position both of superintendent and also of CFO.  This leaves no one looking over the shoulder of the person handling district finances.  This is a recklessly irresponsible position for the school district to be in.

Implementing these changes should significantly improve our beloved Ozark School District's governance by returning it to the hands of elected, accountable representatives.  This will, in turn, realign its direction and values with those of our local community, ensuring that our children are receiving the education parents intend for them to receive rather than that which outside, state-wide interests intend them to receive.  Children are their parents' greatest treasures and their community's greatest hope, and, as such, certainly deserve the support and investment of our greatest efforts to ensure the best environment for them to obtain an inspiring, stimulating education to help them develop to their fullest potential.


The Ozark School Support Team