by Jon Schuessler
Dianne Critchlow, before her early retirement, was being paid a public salary of $260,000. Including perks, the Fox school district was paying her $337,000 overall. She was the 3rd-highest paid school official in Missouri.
Yet it wasn’t enough.
Four Arnold residents – Rich Simpson, Dan Mueller, Sam Ferry, and Michelle Tyler questioned nepotism in the district and a lack of financial transparency. They made numerous requests for public records, which were routinely denied. They also joined an online Topix discussion about nepotism in the Fox school district.
In early 2013, the district’s lawyers sent out threatening letters informing them that their behavior qualified as harassment.
During the same time, anonymous people posted false stories about three of the four critics (Mueller was not included), claiming that they kept child pornography and were sexually depraved. The three targeted citizens hired a lawyer and filed a libel suit. In 2014, under the power of a subpoena, the posts were traced back to their source.
The liars were traced to the home computers of Superintendent Dianne Critchlow, as well as her husband and director of the Bridges Alternative School, Jamie Critchlow. The traces also led back to Dan Baker, the Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education, and his wife, assistant principal and Federal Programs Manager Angela Baker.
This discovery lead to a media frenzy and a full-blown scandal for Fox schools. Soon, everyone was interested in the district’s finances. It didn’t take long for investigators to uncover that Critchlow had been abusing the school credit card. She had used it for personal meals, golf trips, and even to pay off a red-light ticket.
The corruption ran much deeper, however. Critchlow’s administration had somehow lost millions of dollars. Because of poor recordkeeping, the responsible parties were unknown. To top it off, Critchlow’s husband had been hired as director of an at-risk program for $124,000 a year.
When Critchlow had asked the Fox School Board for her quarter-million-dollar salary, she had explained that you must pay for quality.
Honesty, apparently, wasn’t one the qualities she was describing.(Click here for a news short about Critchlow's salary)
An internal audit by the new CFO, John Brazeal, revealed a $7 million shortfall for the next year’s budget, forcing the school to make cutbacks. The auditor explained that financial details were hard to find, because Critchlow’s administration had altered or destroyed many key documents.
Critchlow’s husband was fired in June of 2014.
Critchlow protests her innocence concerning the lies posted about the three critical taxpayers. Her attorney claims that she considered suing the district.
The Board paid incentives totaling just under $3.6 million for 128 employees to leave. They also bought out Critchlow’s contract one year early, paying her over $220,000 to leave, including unused sick time, vacation time, and an annuity. All of the replacement administrators were hired at a lower salary.
Dianne Critchlow is facing no criminal action.
The Critchlows petitioned to transfer the libel suit to a federal court, which has delayed the trial for a year and a half.
Meanwhile, Dianne Critchlow has been hired by Pearson, a multi-billion-dollar testing corporation, to oversee the integrity of its state MAP tests in Missouri schools. The state’s education department (DESE) approved her for the job.
Despite his role in the libel scandal, Dan Baker was retained by the district – although not in his former position. He was appointed the principal of Seckman Elementary School. His salary remains around $150,000.
Angela Baker was put on two weeks’ leave without pay, but otherwise remains with the district. Her annual salary is over $100,000.
CFO Brazeal urged the school board to request a state audit, which they did. The audit began late in 2014 and was scheduled to be released in September of 2015.
It is still in progress.(Click here for a summary of Brazeal's findings to the public)
Jon Schuessler is a Volunteer leader in Jefferson County, and the chairman for Missouri Volunteers for Government Reform, a Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Volunteer Movement. Click here to read his bio or contact him.