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St. Joseph School Board Ousts Superintendent

Sam Zeff

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.

Czerwonka has been on paid administrative for almost a month following the board's review of a draft of a scathing report from the Missouri State Auditor.

District COO Rick Hartigan was also placed on paid administrative leave.

The state audit uncovered $25 million in secret stipends paid mostly to administrators in the past eight years. The audit suggested that the St. Joseph district may have paid up to $40 million in stipends, unapproved by the board, since 2000.

Czerwonka's contract, signed Feb. 28, 2013, says that if he's fired for cause "the Superintendent shall be given written notice of charges and an opportunity for a hearing before the Board as required by law." His contract also says he must be given written notice of causes that could result in his firing 90 days before the board begins termination procedures.

“It’s just been one hit after another," says St. Joseph NEA President Todd Brockett and a 23-year veteran of the district.  "You just can’t do that as superintendent. That’s why they pay you the big money, to make good decisions. And honestly, in my opinion, I can’t think of one good decision he made as superintendent.”

Czerwonka's tenure began to unravel last spring when it was revealed he secretly gave $5,000 stipends to 54 administrators without board approval.

Czerwonka quickly picked up a nickname: The Candyman.

It was the uncovering of The Candyman stipends that lead to the state audit andinvestigations by the FBI and a federal grand jury.

Controversy has dogged Czerwonka almost from the beginning. After district CFO Beau Musserapproached Czerwonka with concerns about the legality of the stipends, Musser was placed on administrative leave, falsely accused of sexual misconduct. According to a slander lawsuit filed by Musser against the district, Czerwonka and HR Director Doug Flowers offered to buy out Musser's contract and drop the sexual misconduct charge if he resigned.

In December, the district lost $1.9 million in summer school reimbursement payments from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. DESE said half of the district's summer school classes were ineligible for state aid because they were band camps, sports camps or daycare.

Czerwonka was also singled out in the auditor's report for a $6,000 stipend for a graduate degree. That payment was never approved by the board and does not appear in his contract. His contract calls for a base salary of $190,000 a year plus a $12,000 annual tax free annuity.

The audit also criticized Czerwonka's $500 monthly car allowance and why the district paid for his wife Wendy, who also works for the district, to go to a superintendent's conference last year in Florida.

Czerwonka came to St. Joseph from the West Plains, Mo. school district where he was superintendent.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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