I attended the February 21, 2023 School of the Osage Board of Education meeting at 6:00 p.m. I write about these meetings because so many people can’t attend in person and the Board of Education rarely records them.
In fact, they haven’t posted videos or minutes for any meetings in 2023.
For the sake of your sanity and mine, I don’t write about every tiny detail that is discussed in the meetings. I just hope that if you trust me to write about it, then I’ll trust you to read about it. The agendas for the meetings and the supporting documents are available here.
This meeting was held in the Osage High School Fieldhouse and it was pretty crowded. I saw Kelly Frisella and Joyce Bush there. They are regular attendees and also currently running for School Board positions. Ethan Shackelford, another candidate, was also in the audience. Nice to see him at a meeting.
All of the current Board members were present. One seat is vacant so the current Board of Education consists of:
BJ Page (the President),
Darrick Steen (the Vice President),
Alison Schneider (currently up for re-election on April 4, 2023),
Todd Miller (currently up for re-election on April 4, 2023),
and Stacy Neal.
The first five members listed above were part of the “Panorama Seven”, the original school board members who were asleep at the wheel and allowed the Superintendent to pay for and use the Panorama survey engine to survey our children in the School of the Osage school district back in the fall of 2021. The Superintendent also signed on behalf of all of the parents in the district to give the data from those surveys to Panorama and allow Panorama to provide (sell) that data to third parties.
The Panorama Seven sound like a superhero team and they are kind of like superheroes, except that their superpower is failing to act as a check and balance to the executive power of the district’s administration.
Parents eventually found out about Panorama because it was published in a newsletter and posted in the Strategic Plan for the district. A handful of parents (including Stacy Neal, the newest Board member) complained to the Board. Once the Panorama Seven woke up and learned what Panorama was really about, sheer panic ensued and the entire Panorama survey program was immediately scrapped.
But not before our kids were surveyed.
If you haven’t been to a SOTO School Board meeting before, you’ll quickly learn that it is very hard to hear what the Board is saying. While it has improved since some of them have started to use their microphones, it can be very difficult to follow what’s happening. The board members also face the audience now, so you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that the audio quality is much better than it used to be.
At least until the HVAC kicks in.
None of this has helped Vice President Darrick Steen. He is is so soft-spoken that when he speaks, I find myself straining to hear him like a priest trying to comprehend the dying confessions of an inveterate whisperer.
If you’re new to Board meetings with the current Board, I’ll summarize for you how a typical meeting goes. I’ve written about and attended many of these meetings.
The newest member, Stacy Neal, will ask a lot of questions about various items. Some members of the Board will act annoyed that she is questioning the Administration and staff. Other members of the Board will say and do nothing. Just like in the classroom, the level of participation gives you an idea of who is prepared for the meetings.
So let’s get started.
This particular meeting led off with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Mission Statement.
This was followed by the Consent Agenda. Consent agendas are used to streamline meetings by combining a number of non-controversial items together as a single item that can be passed by one vote.
To the dismay of the Panorama Seven, Stacy Neal asked to pull two items from this consent agenda.
The first item was Item E (Budget Amendment).
Neal questioned the numbers for additional costs in the amendment. Amy St. John (Executive Director of Business and Student Services) explained that it involved social security withholdings and differences regarding how certain staff classifications are paid. Neal wasn’t happy with how that data was presented in the amendment.
The next item was Item I (Assessment Plan Revision).
On this topic, Neal had questions about the revisions to the Assessment Plan and specifically the use of Mastery Connect. Neal was concerned that all of the time spent pre-testing the students for their assessment tests was using up valuable classroom time that could have been spent teaching the students the topics they need to know for the assessments.
Stacy Neal then mentioned that the student handbook states that students have to take the AP Test in order to get weighted credit for their GPA. She felt that if the school district was going to put this type of requirement on the students, the district should pay for the AP test.
Item E was passed by the Board.
Item I was passed by the Board, but Neal opposed it. The issue Neal raised regarding the AP test was tabled by the Board.
The next portion of the meeting was Public Comment.
(In 2021, you could only speak in Public Comment about items on the Board of Education’s agenda. After the uproar about Panorama, the Panorama Seven decided to allow three minutes of public comment for anyone who has some connection to the district as long as they submit their name before the meeting.)
Both public commenters wanted to discuss the recent destruction of historic cartoon Indian depictions of the Osage mascot at Heritage Gym. At the time of their removal, District Director of Communications Corey Toenjes stated that these painting were removed to further “branding consistency and facility upkeep.”
The first public speaker was an alumna who wanted to read a statement about the art that was authored by Dan Gier. It was well-written and described the history and traditions behind the painted images.
The next public speaker wanted to know who was responsible for the removal of the art? She hoped for transparency from the district and wanted to find out how this happened?
The School Board stared at them.
And that was Public Comment. Do you think we’ll hear anything back anytime soon?
The next major item was the COMC (Central Ozark Medical Center) update.
Ashley McDonnell was present from COMC to talk to the Board. COMC currently has a clinic on campus at Osage High School. Over the past four months, they had 120 student visits at the clinic. Board Member Neal clarified with McDonnell that this partnership costs the school district nothing. The clinic provides treatment for students, teachers, and staff.
Board Member Alison Schneider then inquired if COMC could expand their services to offering care to parents of students?
McDonnell explained that this was possible, but it would require a change in the agreement.
(I’m not sure where this was going at this point. Should the school district be providing medical services to parents or family members of students? That’s a pretty big leap from the school nurse that I remember. Maybe Mom and Dad should see their own physicians.)
It sounded like the current arrangement was working just fine.
The next item was Web-based Communication Proposals. Corey Toenjes recommended Apptegy. He said 175 Missouri schools use the service and it would allow the district’s website to be quickly updated. This vendor seemed to be popular with many other schools.
Board Member Todd Miller asked if this system would include Mass Notification? Toenjes said it would not.
Apptegy was approved unanimously by the Board.
The next major item was Contracts. I’ll hit the highlights.
Corey Toenjes wanted to train 20 employees to be trainers in ALICE (school safety training). It would cost $17,000 for district employees to get a 3 year certification.
This was approved.
There were a bunch of IT purchases that were approved.
Summer School will be from June 6 through June 30 with Mondays off.
Parent Survey data was received by the district. They reduced the number of questions in the survey which appeared to have increased the level of parent participation.
The district is selling off two really old buses.
A request was approved to use the high school and middle school gyms for a volleyball tournament.
And that was that. I couldn’t stand to sit through the Missouri School Board Association monthly message video, so I left early. A man can only stomach so much.
Having written all of the above, I fully realize that once again, I’m exposing myself to the “stain” that Darrick Steen told me would mark me for opposing the status quo during last year’s School Board election. I can live with that. I’t’s simply my nature.
One thought on “February 21, 2023 School of the Osage Board of Education meeting at 6:00 p.m.”
Thank you for these good reports on the SOTO school board plus Camden County Commission meetings. Your sacrifice and thorough but easy to understand coverage is a true community service.