St. Joseph School District Whistle Blower Resigns From School Board

Feb 16, 2017

St. Joseph School Board member Chris Danford has resigned. She helped blow the whistle on a stipend scandal two years ago.
Credit St. Joseph School District

The St. Joseph School Board member at the center of a stipend scandal, which rocked the district and eventually led to a former superintendent going to federal prison, has resigned. 

"It was an agonizing decision to make," Chris Danford says. "I don't want to be a quitter, but it's better to split ways (with the district).

Danford blew the whistle on $270,000 in improper stipends handed out to 54 administrators in 2014. Since that time, she's called for more transparency from the district, but in announcing her resignation, she said transparency has not happened. "I no longer trust information provided, nor do I believe the community expects that without ongoing verifications," Danford said in a statement.

Danford has also called for the release of two internal investigations. One investigation looked into the "retaliation" against former CFO Beau Musser. He also got wind of the improper stipends, and when he confronted the superintendent at the time, he was accused of sexual harassment. Musser sued the district and eventually settled for $450,000.

The district has said the investigations are not subject to the Missouri Sunshine Law, citing lawyer-client privilege. Danford doesn't believe that.  "I believe the reports have not been released primarily because they would be embarrassing and infuriating," her statement said.

Danford's whistle-blowing would open the door to years of problems and scandals that have not completely died down.

The FBI investigated the district for more than two years. During that time, agents attended every St. Joseph School Board meeting. At the end of the probe, former superintendent and school board president Dan Colgan was charged with wire fraud for illegally inflating his salary to boost his pension. Colgan is spending a year in the federal prison at Pekin, Illinois.

But the Colgan conviction was just the worst of it. Along the way, the district was severely criticized in a report by the Missouri State Auditor, ran afoul of Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for improper summer school classes, was audited by the IRS and has been dealing with budget deficits.

Danford's term would have ended next April. The board has the option to appointment someone to fill her seat until the next election.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas New Service. He is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.