St. Joesph

Kyle Palmer / KCUR

Hazzan Tahl Ben-Yehuda, a clergy person at Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park, likes to be amazed at the natural world, what she calls "God's creation." So, she is expecting Monday's much-anticipated total solar eclipse to be an emotional event. 

"I'm going to have to have a box of tissues. I'm pretty sure I'm going to cry because I'm the person who cries at a rainbow or at tremendous lightning," she says. 

John Tretbar / St. Joseph Post

St. Joseph Police and investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sifted through wreckage Wednesday, trying to determine the cause of an explosion that leveled a house and injured three people. 

According to Jon Ham, public information officer for the ATF's Kansas City division, investigators expect to know the cause later Wednesday. 

"What we'll have to do is use heavy equipment to move some of the pieces of the house so that we can begin to piece together what happened,"  Ham said. 

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).

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Everyone knew what the judge was going to do Thursday in an 8th floor federal courtroom in downtown Kansas City when former St. Joseph School District superintendent Dan Colgan appeared for sentencing.

Still, there were a couple of surprises.

Courtesy Glore Psychiatric Museum

When Missouri’s second mental hospital opened in the late 19th century, State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 in St. Joseph was designed to provide lots of natural light and fresh air.

Yet as war and economic calamity frayed the nation’s psyche, over-crowding swamped the hospital’s lofty goals. The census of the St. Joseph facility peaked at around 3,000 patients in the 1950s — more than 10 times its intended capacity.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The man who spent 14 years in the top job in the St. Joseph School District pleaded guilty Monday morning in federal court to one count of wire fraud. Under a deal with the U.S. Attorney, Dan Colgan will spend a year and a day in federal prison.

Colgan will also have to repay $660,000 in a lump sum to the Missouri Public School Retirement System (PSRS). Colgan improperly padded the last three years of his salary using stipends, car allowances and other means. The school board knew about some of the payments but often they did not.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Two more former high-ranking members of the St. Joseph School District have repaid tens of thousands of dollars to the Missouri state retirement system after it was discovered they inflated their incomes.

The Public School Retirement System (PSRS) has confirmed that Mark Hargens has repaid $90,000 and former superintendent Melody Smith has repaid $23,000.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It's been relatively quiet recently in the scandal plagued St. Joseph School District. But that changed Thursday when the district got word from the state that many of its federal grants will be audited.

The district says it received the notice from the Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE).

"Your district has been identified due to possible fiscal compliance issues with federal grants," according to the letter from DESE sent to Superintendent Robert Newhart.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Over the last year, the embattled St. Joseph School District has had very little good news when it comes to audits and investigations. But Monday it received a report from the IRS that wasn't too bad at all.

The district says after an audit that started in June it will be fined just $27,249. The fine, according to IRS documents, is for failure to pay Medicare taxes for several employees in 2013 and 2014 and for improper documentation for about 30 staff take-home cars in the same years.

St. Joesph School District

The St. Joseph School District, wrapped up in scandals and criminal investigations, has put at least one legal headache behind it.

The district has settled a slander lawsuit with CFO Beau Musser for $450,000. Far less than many expected.

The lawsuit named former superintendent Fred Czerwonka, former HR director Doug Flowers and current school board member Dennis Snethen. Czerwonka has been fired and Flowers demoted. Snethen remains on the board.

In the eight page agreement, nobody admits any wrongdoing.

The federal investigation into the St. Joseph School District has widened to include another district in the state.

The West Plains School District in south-central Missouri has been served with a subpoena from a federal grand jury sitting in Kansas City.

The subpoena in West Plains came at the same time that the grand jury issued a fourth subpoena for documents from the St. Joseph district.

Sources say the latest subpoena in St. Joseph demands expense reports and time sheets for some top administrators and contracts from certain district vendors.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It was a year ago that the first crack appeared in what many in the St. Joseph School District called the "friends and family plan."

If you were connected, you cashed in.

On March 24 of last year a routine school board meeting took a sudden and drastic twist.

School board member Chris Danford, to the surprise of everyone in the room, blew the whistle on a stipend program that would open up the district to investigations by the FBI, a grand jury and the Missouri State Auditor.

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.

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.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The long anticipated state audit of the St.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The St. Joseph, Mo., school district is heading into perhaps the most difficult and trying few months in its history.

As the district’s legal troubles get both deeper and broader, much of the time and effort of the Board of Education and the administration is consumed by remediation and litigation.

Here's just one example.

At a regular board meeting earlier this month all seemed normal. First the Pledge of Allegiance followed by recognition of district Special Olympians.  

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update, Dec. 18:

The St. Joseph School District filed an action plan Monday with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In the letter to St. Joseph superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwona outlining the summer school programs the state disallowed, DESE required a plan from the district to make sure these mistakes don't happen again.

Czerwonka sent a one page letter to DESE saying, among other things, the district will review the summer school handbook every year and any changes will be reviewed by DESE.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It was a brutal legal week for the embattled St. Joseph, Mo., School District.

It was served with a third federal grand jury subpoena for documents, as staff welcomed back CFO Beau Musser after seven months on paid administrative leave after accusing him of sexual misconduct.

An outside investigation showed Musser did not act improperly. Musser sued the district and that lawsuit is still pending.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

If you wandered into the St. Joseph, Missouri School District convocation a couple of weeks ago you would probably think everything in the district is just fine.

The 2,000 faculty and staff jammed into the Civic Center downtown were loud and seemed primed for the start of the 2014-2015 school year. But everyone in the arena that morning knew the district was in serious trouble.

Since April the FBI, a federal grand jury in Kansas City and the Missouri State Auditor have all been investigating the district of 11,000 students.