St. Joseph | KCUR

St. Joseph

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.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It was the worst audit report ever issued about a Missouri school district.

But in a follow up report issued Monday, the state auditor says the St. Joseph School District is making progress.

The auditor report released in February — the only time the state auditor has ever given a school district a "poor" rating — was scathing.

The St. Joseph district, the report said, had a confusing and inconsistent payroll system that resulted in up to $40 million in unapproved stipend payments going back to 2000.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Providing free, lifetime health coverage to a school district employee was so unusual that the Missouri State Auditor called it "questionable and unnecessary". But that's exactly what the St. Joseph School District agreed to in its final contract with former Superintendent Dan Colgan.

On Monday, that benefit ended.

St. Joseph School District

One of the whistleblowers who brought to light secret stipends in the St. Joseph School District has resigned.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The embattled St. Joseph School District remains in the FBI’s cross hairs.  The district says it received another grand jury subpoena this week, the fifth in a little more than a year.

While the district wouldn’t say what the government specifically demanded in the subpoena, interim Superintendent Robert Newhart did say it included information from district employees.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The IRS audit of the scandal ridden St. Joseph School District will take an entire year to complete.

When the district announced the audit it said the IRS would be at district headquarters for only four days this month looking at contracts, termination agreements and board minutes from 2013.

But at the very end of this week’s board of education meeting, administrators told the school board the IRS will spend the next year combing through documents from 2012 through 2014. Many board members were stunned to hear the news.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It's taken six months since a report from the Missouri State Auditor severely criticized the St. Joseph, Missouri School District and three of its top administrators, but Thursday the district finally pushed out its scandal-tainted former HR director.

The district says it reached a severance deal with Doug Flowers. It will pay Flowers $32,000 to leave the district.

Just when things were starting to look a little brighter in the St. Joseph School District, the IRS has stepped into the picture.

On Monday afternoon, the district received notice from the agency saying IRS auditors will be in district headquarters for three days next month examining a wide variety of information.

According to a news release from the district, the IRS will audit documents ranging from board minutes and organizational charts to employment contracts and termination agreements.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

There’s probably no tougher job in education in Missouri right now than leading the scandal plagued St. Joseph School District.

So the board of education has called on a hometown hero of sorts.

Dr. Robert Newhart started his career in St. Joe, his mother is a legendary high school government teacher there and Newhart is a hall of fame football player from Missouri Western University in St. Joseph.

Even though Newhart only has a one year contract and the title of "interim superintendent" the board expects him to start cleaning up the mess.

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.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The former superintendent whose actions created the current scandals dogging the St. Joseph, Missouri, School District has landed a new job in education.

Fred Czerwonka, who was fired following a scathing state audit report, has been hired by the tiny Caruthersville School District tucked into the Bootheel of Missouri, according to Superintendent J.J. Bullington. Czerwonka's wife, Wendy, has also been hired and will teach business at the high school.

Czerwonka will be director of school services. The Czerwonkas will start their new jobs on July 1.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Dr. Fred Czerwonka, on paid administrative leave for the past 90 days as superintendent of the St. Joseph School District, abruptly resigned late Friday night.

But in one final twist to his rocky tenure, Czerwonka's letter of resignation was not sent to school board members but to the St. Joseph News Press.

"I hope my resignation can allow the District to move forward with the hiring of my successor. I look forward to continuing the good work I have been put here by God to do," Czerwonka wrote in a letter address to board president Brad Haggard.

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.

St. Joseph School District

The embattled St. Joseph Board of Education Thursday night appears to have put one of its many legal problems behind it.

The board voted 5-0 to settle a lawsuit filed by CFO Beau Musser after he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct.

"We are relieved that we are at this point," said board member Chris Danford.

The amount of the settlement was not released. But it appears there are still a few details to work out.

Musser was one of the whistle-blowers on $270,000 in stipends secretly given to 54 top administrations last spring by former superintendent Fred Czerwonka.

According to his lawsuit, Musser was worried that the board was kept in the dark about the stipends and concerned it may violate Missouri law.

When he brought those concerns to Czerwonka and HR director Doug Flowers he was accused of misconduct. According to the lawsuit, Czerwonka and Flowers offered to buy out Musser's contract in return for his silence on the stipends.

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

The legal woes of the St. Joseph School District continue after a fourth federal grand jury subpoena was issued to the district.

This latest subpoena, according to sources, demands documents ranging from expense reports and time sheets of some top district administrators to contracts with district vendors.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney in Kansas City have been investigating the district for almost a year.

Previous subpoenas have sought records of district maintenance workers after allegations that some employees were doing work for administrators at their homes during school hours.

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 surprise move, a St. Joseph School District board member resigned Thursday morning.

Dr. Dan Colgan is a former board president and was superintendent for 14 years in the district before retiring in 2006 and getting elected to the school board.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.  

Pages