Scandal Plagued St. Joseph School District Picks Interim Superintendent

Jun 4, 2015

Dr. Robert Newhart has been named interim superintendent in the St. Joseph School District.
Credit St. Joseph School District

With its former superintendent on his way to the Missouri bootheel, the St. Joseph School Board has picked an interim superintendent it hopes can lead the district out of scandal.

Dr. Robert Newhart, a veteran administrator, was picked by the board of education in a closed session Thursday night.

Newhart is currently the superintendent in the Princeton School District. Princeton is about 60 miles Northeast of St. Joseph in Mercer County.

"I believe he's the right person to lead us as we continue to clean things up," school board member Chris Danford says.

Before becoming superintendent in Princeton, Newhart held the top job in the Lexington, Missouri and Polo, Missouri school districts.

"Dr. Newhart has all the qualities we are looking for in an interim superintendent," board President Brad Haggard said in a statement. "We will lean on his leadership and experience as we continue to focus on making key changes in the district."

St. Joseph will be Newhart's biggest job by far. Of the three districts he's lead, none have had more than a thousand students with very little diversity.

St. Joseph is Missouri's 16th biggest district with 11,000 students, about 16 percent are non-white.

But Newhart's toughest challenge will be regaining the trust of tax payers, teachers and staff after a year of scandal.

Since a state audit was released in February the district has fired its superintendent and COO, demoted its HR director, and forced one member off the school board.

There is an ongoing FBI and federal grand jury investigation, and the district will start the new fiscal year in July with a $14 million deficit.

It's also settled a slander lawsuit filed by the district's CFO for $450,000.

"I am here to listen, begin the healing journey and help rebuild a foundation of excellence," Newhart said in a statement.

This week it was learned that former St. Joseph superintendent Fred Czerwonka was hired as Director of School Services in Caruthersville, Missouri. Czerwonka opened up the district to the criminal investigations when he secretly handed out $5,000 stipends to 54 administrators.

Newhart, according to the district, was offered a one-year contract for $174,500. Czerwonka was making $190,000 a year.

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