Sam Zeff

Education Reporter

Sam covers education for KCUR. Before joining the station in August 2014 he covered health and education for KCPT.

Sam began his career at KANU in Lawrence. He hosted Morning Edition at WHYY in Philadelphia where he also covered organized crime, politics and government corruption.

The Overland Park, Kansas native has won a National News and Documentary Emmy for investigative reporting, four Edward R. Murrow awards and four National Headliner Awards.  Sam was assistant news director at the ABC station in the Twin Cities, executive producer at the NBC station in St. Louis and executive producer of special projects at the CBS stations in Minneapolis and Kansas City.

Sam was educated at the University of Kansas.

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Education
1:24 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

St. Joseph School Board Fires Another Administrator, Demotes HR Director

St. Joseph COO Rick Hartigan was fired Thursday night by the board of education.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

In a move long anticipated by many in St. Joseph, Mo., the Board of Education voted in closed session Thursday night to fire its chief operating officer and demote its human resources director.

The vote was announced in a statement issued early Friday afternoon.

Gone is COO Rick Hartigan who's been on paid administrative leave for about five weeks. Hartigan has been with the district for 26 years, first as communications director. He was promoted to COO ten years ago. He's a former newspaper reporter in St. Joseph.

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Statehouse Blend
11:07 am
Thu February 26, 2015

Statehouse Blend: Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher

Republican Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood, Ks. joins Statehouse Blend to talk policy, politics, and his personal life.

This is an excerpt from an episode of Statehouse Blend. You can hear the full version here.

Guests:

  • Jeff Melcher, Senator for the 11th District, Kansas Legislature
  • Carson Tappan, Citizen voice and documentary film maker
  • Steve Vockrodt, Reporter, The Pitch
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Statehouse Blend
9:33 am
Tue February 24, 2015

Statehouse Blend: Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher

Credit Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

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Education
2:55 pm
Mon February 23, 2015

Missouri Leads Nation In Suspension Rates For Black Elementary School Students

Missouri suspends black elementary school students at a higher rate than any other state in the nation.
Credit The Civil Rights Project / UCLA

Missouri suspends black elementary school students at a higher rate than any other state in the nation, according to a new report out Monday from the Civil Right Project at the UCLA.

The Kansas City, Mo., public school district is one of four Missouri districts singled out.

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St. Joseph School District
12:22 pm
Sat February 21, 2015

St. Joseph School Board Ousts Superintendent

St. Joseph Superintdent Fred Czerwonka was fired by the board of education Saturday.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Almost two years to the day that he signed his contract with the St. Joseph School District, Superintendent Fred Czerwonka has been fired.

The action was announced in a statement Saturday morning from the district. The board voted 6-0 to fire Czerwonka. Former district superintendent and board president Dan Colgan was absent.

No other personnel actions were taken, according to the statement.

Sources say the district has already created a list of potential interim superintendents if or when Czerwonka exits.

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St. Joseph School District
1:29 pm
Thu February 19, 2015

Missouri State Senator Calls For Prosecutions After Audit Of St. Joseph School District

Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from St. Joseph, has called for state prosecutions following the release of an audit report on the St. Joseph schools.
Credit Missour Senate

The fallout following a scathing report on the St. Joseph, Mo., School District from the state auditor has been swift and severe.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from St. Joseph, called for the state attorney general to prosecute those responsible for mishandling district funds.

The audit uncovered up to $40 million in stipends for administrators over the past 14 years that were unknown and unapproved by the St. Joseph Board of Education.

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St. Joseph School District
5:00 pm
Tue February 17, 2015

Missouri State Auditor Rates St. Joseph School District Performance 'Poor'

Hundreds of people showed up to hear the report from the Missouri State Auditor into the St. Joseph School District.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The long anticipated state audit of the St.

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Statehouse Blend
1:25 pm
Tue February 17, 2015

Statehouse Blend: Kansas Sen. Pat Pettey

Credit Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democratic Kansas Sen. Pat Pettey from Kansas City, Kan., provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

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St. Joseph School District
5:34 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

St. Joseph School District Administrator Claims He Is Not An FBI Target

St. Joseph School District COO Rick Hartigan is on paid administrative leave.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The No. 2 person in the St. Joseph School District, who is now on administrative leave, claims he is not the target of an ongoing FBI investigation of the district.

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St. Joseph School District
2:38 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

St. Joseph School District Braces For State Audit Report

The St. Joseph School District expects a 'scathing' report from the Missouri State Auditor.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The beleaguered St. Joseph, Mo., School Board met behind closed doors for three hours Monday night to hear from a host of lawyers. None of what members heard was good news.

The board received a report from one lawyer on the process that lead to district CFO Beau Musser being placed on administrative leave last year. At the time, the district accused Musser of sexual misconduct and creating a hostile work environment. A different investigation cleared Musser of any wrongdoing and after seven months of paid leave he returned to work last November.

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Education
2:02 pm
Mon February 9, 2015

UMKC Chancellor Apologizes For False Online Ranking

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton.
Credit UMKC

For the first time, UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton apologized on Monday for the untruthful information the university supplied to online reviewers of its Bloch Business School entrepreneurship program.

Morton made the apology on KCUR’s Up to Date with Steve Kraske.

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Education
10:54 am
Wed February 4, 2015

Audit Report On St. Joseph School District To Be Released February 17

The Missouri Auditor will release its report on the St. Joseph School District on Feb. 17
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The long anticipated report from the Missouri State Auditor on the scandal-plagued St. Joseph, Mo., School District will be released on Feb. 17.

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich made the announcement Wednesday. The audit will be released during a public forum at Oak Grove Elementary School. While most audits are simply released online or at a news conference some high profile audits are released at public events.

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Kansas Legislature
5:25 am
Wed February 4, 2015

How Educators Took Back An Education Reform Plan From Politicians In Kansas

Davonte Scott, Keenan Adams and Clentel Perry are robotics students at Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kan. Their teacher took a non-traditional route to education.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

When they’re not talking about how to fund education in the Kansas Statehouse, they’re talking about how to change it. How to improve it. How to get better results with the same money.

Six school districts across the state are now rolling out something that may do all of that.

The school districts in Concordia, Marysville, McPherson, Blue Valley, Hugoton and Kansas City, Kan., are all part of something called the Coalition of Innovative School Districts and they all want, among other things, to license teachers differently. In a way, they say, that works best for them.

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Kansas Legislature
3:25 pm
Tue February 3, 2015

Kansas School Districts Fight Plan To Cut Their Current Budgets

The Kansas Senate Ways and Means committee hears testimony on Senate Bill 71.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

School districts in Johnson County are waging a desperate fight to defeat a bill that would force them to cut millions of dollars from their budgets.

The measure had its first hearing Tuesday in the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Educators from across the state lined up to oppose the bill, which would change the way the state distributes state aid around local option budgets.

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Statehouse Blend
1:41 pm
Tue February 3, 2015

Statehouse Blend: Kansas Rep. Linda Gallagher

Credit CJ Janovy / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Linda Gallagher from Lenexa provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

  • Linda Gallagher, Representative for the 23rd District, Kansas Legislature
  • Bruce Smith, citizen voice
  • CJ Janovy​, Arts Reporter, KCUR
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Kansas Legislature
3:45 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Kansas Senate Bill Has Educators Worried

A bill filed Tuesday would cut state aid to Kansas school districts in the current fiscal year.
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A bill in the Kansas Senate would reduce the amount of state aid to most school districts in Kansas in the current fiscal year.

The measure is what educators in Kansas feared the most — a bill that would force districts to cut their budgets before the current fiscal year ends in July.

The measure would cut state aid for Local Option Budgets, that portion of school budgets raised through local property tax.

The state provides money to help equalize those taxes between wealthy and low-income districts.

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Statehouse Blend
10:14 am
Tue January 27, 2015

Statehouse Blend: Kansas Rep. Melissa Rooker

Credit Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Melissa Rooker provides an insider perspective on the historic legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

  • Melissa Rooker, Representative for the 25th District, Kansas Legislature
  • Brian Schmid​, citizen voice
  • Matthew Long-Middleton, producer, Central Standard
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St. Joseph School District
10:04 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

St. Joseph School Superintendent, COO Placed On Administrative Leave

St. Joseph School District Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka has been placed on administrative leave.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update: Jan. 22, 2:25 pm

The St. Joseph School District has confirmed that Superintendent Fred Czerwonka and Chief Operating Officer Rick Hartigan are now on administrative leave.

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Education
3:52 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Cuts To K-12 Education In Kansas Revised Upwards

Cuts to K-12 education in Kansas could be $127 million next fiscal year.
Credit alamosbasement / Flickr--CC

Funding cuts to public schools in Kansas may be more severe than education observers first thought.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed that the legislature rewrite the state's school funding formula. While that happens, he has proposed funding K-12 education in fiscal 2016 with block grants.

But a new analysis just released Wednesday by the Kansas Department of Education says money from the state for classroom instruction will be reduced by $127 million next year.

Initially, the department’s analysis had pegged the loss at $107 million.

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Education
7:41 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

St. Joseph School Board Meets In Tense, Day-Long Session

The St. Joseph School Board meets in executive session to discuss a scathing audit and personnel issues.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The St. Joseph School Board spent a tense eight hours behind closed doors Tuesday.

Board members spent more than five hours with investigators from the Missouri State Auditors office, going through the 49-page draft report page-by-page.

Those who’ve seen the report won’t discuss specific recommendations but describe it as "scathing."

After the meeting, board president Brad Haggard refused to discuss the audit's findings or recommendations. The district will write a response that will become part of the report.

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St. Joseph School District
1:03 pm
Mon January 19, 2015

St. Joseph School Board To Review 'Scathing' Audit

The St. Joseph School Board will review a state audit report in executive session Tuesday.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Officials in the St. Joseph School District have been nervously waiting for months for a report from the Missouri State Auditor.

KCUR has learned that the report is back and the board will discuss it Tuesday in executive session.

The Missouri State Auditor moved a five-member team into district headquarters last Spring after it was revealed that the new St. Joseph school superintendent, Dr. Fred Cerwonka, handed out $5,000 stipends to 54 administrators without seeking board approval.

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Education
10:18 am
Sat January 17, 2015

Kansas Educators Confused About Governor's Budget Proposal

Kansas educators are confused over Gov. Brownback's proposed budget.
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The watch word for school funding in Kansas is now block grants. But how that will work remains a mystery to educators.

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to scrap the current per pupil funding formula which, he says, is complicated and inefficient.

While lawmakers try to write a new formula, Brownback proposes to give school districts lump sum payments over the next two fiscal years equal to about what they receive now.

Across the state, that’s $3 billion in aid to local school districts.

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Education
9:47 am
Fri January 16, 2015

Hickman Mills School District Closer To Full Accreditation

The Hickman Mills School District is getting closer to full state accreditation.
Credit Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

The Hickman Mills School District in south Kansas City, Mo., appears to be inching closer to full accreditation.

Hickman Mills lost its full accreditation after several years of dismal test scores.

At the State Board of Education meeting Thursday Hickman Mills and two other districts updated their improvement plans.

Between the 2012-13 school year and 2013-2014 Hickman Mills made huge improvements on test scores and college and career readiness.

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Education
5:40 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Tensions Ease Between Charter Schools And Kansas City Public Schools

Fourth grade students at Gordon Parks Elementary School listen while Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James reads.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Last week a group of parents in Midtown Kansas City realized a dream: they raised enough money to get two new charter schools off the ground.

There was a time when such an announcement would be met with suspicion and perhaps even hostility from the Kansas City Public Schools.

Superintendent Steve Green says the district saw itself as a target.

"We isolated ourselves. It’s sometimes a typical response when you’re wounded or in some way hurting you isolate yourself. But it’s probably the last thing you should do," he says.

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Kansas Budget
9:39 am
Sat January 10, 2015

Kansas Budget May Be Stressed Says Bond Rating Agency

A major bond-rating agency says the budget problems in Kansas are getting worse and indicates budget stress.

Standard and Poor's issued its latest report on the Kansas budget Friday and says much of the concern comes from a court ruling on school funding.

S&P says a ruling from a three-judge Shawnee County Court panel could cost the state another $500 million a year in school funding.

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Education
1:55 pm
Fri January 9, 2015

St. Joseph School District Property Tax Levy In Peril

A new poll shows part of a property tax levy in the St. Joseph School District in trouble with patrons.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Taxpayers in the St. Joseph, Mo., school district are opposed to renewing part of property tax levy that would cost the district $6.5 million.

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Education
4:15 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

New Charter Schools For Midtown Kansas City Closer To Reality

Two new charter elementary schools are planned for Midtown Kansas City.
Credit Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

An idea born around a kitchen table a year-and-a-half ago to create charter schools in midtown Kansas City for parents who want to live in the city got a huge boost Thursday.

The Midtown Community Schools Initiative says it will open two charter elementary schools in the 2016 school year.

To get off the ground, the group will draw on $2.6 million in grants from the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Midtown co-founder Kristin Littrell says these schools will keep families in the city.

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Education
2:39 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

Kansas Attorney General Sues Over Alleged School Book Scam

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sues a New Jersey firm over an alleged text book scam.
Credit Kansas Attorney General's Office

The Kansas Attorney General is suing a New Jersey company for allegedly scamming more than 300 schools in the state.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed a civil suit in Shawnee County District Court against Robert Armstrong who runs Scholastic School Supply out of Franklinville, N.J.

The scam, according to the lawsuit, was simple and worked liked this: The company would send an invoice to a school for text books that the school never ordered.

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Kansas Legislature
5:38 am
Thu January 8, 2015

Battle Over School Funding Looms Over Kansas Legislature

The K-12 School Efficiency Commission was a preview of the budget battle to come in the Kansas Legislature.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Kansas Legislature gets back to work Monday, and when lawmakers arrive in Topeka they will be consumed by two things: budget deficits and education.

Where those two intersect may prove to be the hot spot of the legislative session.

A preview of the coming budget battle was clear at the final meeting of the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission Monday at the statehouse.

The commission was supposed to figure out ways for Kansas school districts to save money that could be plowed back into the classroom.

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Education
4:00 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Commission Recommends Yearly Compliance Audits For Kansas School Districts

The final meeting of the Kansas K-12 Efficiency Commission meets in the statehouse in Topeka
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

A commission set up to make Kansas school districts more efficient released its final report to the Legislature Tuesday.

The commission was created as part of a political compromise last session that put a court ordered $179 million more into Kansas schools.

The commission, which has been meeting since July, recommended two pieces of legislation. Neither would show any short-term savings.

One would establish a semi-permanent efficiency task force that would require yearly compliance audits for all school districts.

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