The message sent to the Harrisonville school board last week was clear: parents and teachers aren’t seeing the transparency that they expect from their elected leaders.
“This board has a serious credibility problem,” said Chris Bell, a parent and former school board member.
The outrage was sparked by the school board’s decision this spring to send lengthy surveys to classroom teachers. Critics said the surveys asked vague, leading questions that seemed designed to gather negative feedback about certain staff members — an allegation the district leadership has denied.
“I am so angry at what you’re doing to this school,” said Jason Beavers, a Harrisonville High School assistant principal who submitted his resignation before the June 24 meeting.
The board approved the resignations of Beavers and six teachers, including four from the high school.
Beavers was one of 10 community members to comment publicly at the meeting, which was moved to the high school Performing Arts Center to accommodate the expected crowd.
“Our best and brightest are leaving,” he said. “I’m getting more and more requests from teachers that they want letters of recommendation and it’s infuriating.”
Beavers, who has two children in the district, was shaking in frustration during his three-minute turn at the microphone.
“I’m getting calls from people who tell me that this district is a joke and that no one is going to come here to educate my son,” Beavers said. “This is a wonderful place, with wonderful people.”
Beavers made a stern call to the board to halt personal agendas.
“You’re killing this school district, and it’s heartbreaking,” said Beavers, who received a standing ovation.
Critics say the survey, formulated by board members, put teachers in a difficult position. One question asked, “If you were writing a negative political ad about the Harrisonville School District, what aspect would you focus on?”
Community members are further irritated that the survey results have not been fully disclosed, and Bell said the board’s image worsened further when talk of destroying the original surveys came to light.
According to the minutes from the May 30 school board meeting, board secretary Susan Brooker noted that she was informed by board President Marie Vallee and member Susie Yoder that they intended to shred the original completed surveys.
Brooker warned board members against shredding the documents. And on June 24, Bell made the same point.
“Any board member who has bothered to give a cursory glance to the Sunshine Law should know that surveys are a public record, and that the destruction of a public record is a criminal act,” he said.
Vallee denied that the board was using the survey as ammunition to clean house or fulfill personal vendettas. She also said board members didn’t intend to act in secret, either, but were following advice from the Missouri School Boards’ Association and the district’s attorney.
“We believe this controversy has resulted from misleading information,” she said.
Teachers recently received a letter signed by Vallee and Superintendent Bryan McDonald about the intent of the questionnaire.
“The survey was intended to be an information-gathering tool,” the letter read. “Specifically, the board felt that, in order to formulate future goals for the district and to make informed decisions concerning the district’s programs, it needed to gather information from the certified classroom teachers. The survey was not intended to gather information about any specific employees nor was it intended to be used as the basis for any personnel decisions.”
The survey’s multiple choice and yes/no questions were tallied and released June 24, but the results of short answer questions, where most of the criticism has been directed, were not distributed.
“I agree that communication was the big issue, and I think that is something that we’ll be working toward improving,” Yoder said.