Photo credtit: The St. Louis American
Mike Jones, Senior Policy Advisor to County Executive Charlie Dooley. Photo by Wiley Price

Meet State Board of Education member Mike Jones.

Appointed to the Board by Governor Nixon in 2011, Mr. Jones was no newcomer to politics. His former role was senior advisor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley who recently was ousted from office by fellow Democrat Steve Stenger. Dooley’s term in office was mired by complaints of mismanagement, patronage and lack of transparency. At this time Jones was also the Chairman of the Midwest China Hub project which sought state tax money for a single private developer for warehouse space for Chinese goods in the St Louis area. The project spent $4 million of taxpayer money over five years and produced nothing. Jones called the lack of a deal a failure by “cheap” government which cost the state money. To date, no city has successfully landed a China hub which raises the question, was it really destined to be a boon for any city?

His wife is former Senator Robin Wright Jones. Like Dooley, her campaign suffered from complaints of lack of transparency and financial mismanagement. In 2011, the same year Mike Jones was appointed to the SBE via a nomination by his wife, Wright-Jones was facing an inquiry as to where $95k in her campaign account disappeared to between two Missouri Ethics Commission reporting periods. Wright-Jones blamed the discrepancies on oversight and the fact that her treasurer, Rochelle Tilghman, an assistant vice president for business and financial affairs at Harris-Stowe State University, fell ill during the reporting period in question. When documentation was finally filed it contained questionable expenses for clothing, food, and phone charges that had already been reimbursed by the state. The fall out was that Wright-Jones replaced Tilghman with Angelia Elgin who had resigned from the north St. Louis County fire district after its books were placed under court supervision due to a string of questionable financial decisions.

Financial management and transparency seem to constantly be circling Wright-Jones who was also sued by the Four Seasons Hotel for failure to pay almost $6,000 for a 60th birthday party she threw for herself there.

In an interview with NPR reporter Dale Singer, Board member Jones gave readers a glimpse into his perspective of transparency which was perhaps influenced by his wife’s struggles. He was responding to Singer’s questions about his thoughts on then Commissioner Nicastro’s involvement in the CEE Trust decision in Kansas City. His quote remains perhaps one of the most politically damaging ever.

“I think public officials need to be accountable,” he said. “I don’t think there is a decision you make as a public official that you don’t have to account for your rationale and how you got there.

“But the process of making the sausage is a different issue. I’m big on accountability. I think transparency is fairly overrated. Transparency is a liberal fetish. It’s way overemphasized. [emphasis added]”

I think the translation of this statement is, “I believe in Saul Alinsky’s principles. The ends justifies the means. Let’s not worry about HOW we got here. Let just be glad that we got where we wanted to go.”

And where does Mr. Jones want to go with education? That we learn from a St Louis American interview he gave in June 2014. Policial EYE asked Jones what he envisioned for the potential state appointed school board who might take over Normandy school district if it remained unaccredited.

“[The Normandy School Board] must be a majority African-American board, including the chairman. This cannot be a neo-colonial takeover like the U.S. in Iraq, and we know how that turned out. The black community needs to see itself as in charge and responsible. Black children need to see black adults taking responsibility for their welfare and their future. Black children cannot and will not be rescued by white people. They will be saved by black adults with the help of progressive white people. So the white response should be, “What can I do to help?”

All the discussion among principally white interest groups, on all sides of this issue, is what to do about black children. There is a noticeable absence of black voices in this discussion, or at least black voices speaking from a black perspective. I think the strategies have failed because their premises are wrong. They assume that the American reality for black children is the same as the American reality for white children. Now America is changing, but it has not changed!

White children and black children will need to acquire the same educational skills, but the how and why of that process is totally different. The America that a low-income black child will have to overcome is totally different than the America that will nurture an upper-middle-class white child.”

The riots in Baltimore might just be the perfect test of  Mr. Jones’ claims. A city with almost 80 years of liberal Democratic rule, with a black mayor and police force who is 40% black, provides an opportunity for the black community to begin educating their own on what it takes to succeed in America.

There are blacks speaking out in Baltimore, most notably Pastor Jamal Bryant who strenuously objected to the decision to close Baltimore schools during the civil unrest. As an alternative  he opened his church for high school students so they could learn about the civil rights movement, and about effective and appropriate civil disobedience.  When they were done that day he took the students to the streets to clean up the mess from the night before so they would learn about their responsibility to take care of their community.

Toya Grayam  is another black leader (though she may not have thought of herself that way a week ago) who is enjoying her Warhol 15 minutes for dragging her 16 year old son away from the riots.  Many have praised her efforts to provide discipline for her child instead of relying on “the village” to do so.

In contrast to Mr. Jones’ view of the challenges of the black community is the voice of Vietnam veteran Robert Valentine, who spoke to a CNN reporter during the Anderson Cooper show.  When asked what he thought about the young rioters, Mr. Valentine said, “They need to have their butts at home. They need to be with their families studying and doing something with their life. Not out here protesting about something that’s not really about nothing. They do not respect this young man’s death.”  That sounds like good advice for any American child, white or black.

Why is the poverty of blacks different from the poverty of other ethnic groups? Osvaldo Gomez’s story is a familiar one of many immigrants to the United States. His family came here in 1983 and eventually settled in San Jose California. He struggled in school because, unlike black children, he had a language issue to overcome in addition to poverty. Though he received A’s in honors English courses he realized his writing skills were not up to snuff and he rejected the offers from several 4 year colleges who were only too happy to recruit this “illegal alien, Mexican, bi-lingual, and poor student,” and instead enrolled in community college writing lab where he improved his writing skills tremendously.

Gomez writes, “When you’re poor, your choices are limited.  But you still have choices”

He chose to get off the sugary drinks that were a staple of his poverty and saved himself from type 2 diabetes. He chose to read everything he could get his hands on, the classics,  philosophy, treatises on governments and ruling, American literature from the 1800’s to the present. Ultimately his self education through reading led him to investments that now make his personal net worth over a million dollars at age 38.

“[A]lthough being poor is a financial condition of your place on the planet, it is not a condition of your heart or mind, unless you live in a country without freedoms.  America is such a great country because you can learn to read and write without reprisal.”

At the April 20 Board of Education meeting Jones asked witness John Becket how he would envision devising a program of standards that every child in America should be taught. Becket rejected Jones’ suggestion that such a program should even be pursued. Education, he pointed out correctly, is not a federal issue. It belongs to the states. Jones’ response shows that he believes we live in a very different America.

“I would argue that the war of northern aggression settled the issue about whether you are 50 different states or one national government. The fact that we have got a federalized system of government is totally different than the issue of 50 sovereign states. So, that got resolved in 1864.”

Will the riots of  Ferguson and Baltimore lead to more or less freedoms in America? In Jones’ America where the federal government is supreme and controls us with NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act and the new FCC regulation of the internet under the Telecommunications Act, will we still have the freedom to write without reprisal? What does he envision teaching our children about America in our public school system and would these lessons lead to more or less freedom?

In summary, Jones sees America very differently from most Americans. According to his comments, we live in a federal system where states have few rights and certainly no right to control education. Is it any wonder that he did not object to Common Core Standards or federal mandates for testing that demonstrate nothing other than the socio-economic status of the test takers? In his America this is perfectly acceptable because it has promised the results that he wants (even though as you can hear in the video he could not describe the purpose of public education). The transparency of the details of how we get there are unimportant so the state board is wasting its time trying to provide transparency to their decision making process. Unfortunatley for the public, even though accountability does matter to Jones, there is virtually none for the appointed members of the state board of education. If schools continue to struggle or fail financially because of the unfunded mandates that the board passes on to them, there is nothing they or the public can do about it except wait for a new Governor to replace the Board members.

The America that black children live in, according to Jones, is different even from the one just described. They need segregated schools, segregated leaders and a completely different educational delivery system from everyone else (including other minorities.) For all non-black public schools a  uniform set of rules, standards, delivery and evaluation systems, handed down from DC, is acceptable. Only the black students can call for an education system that meets them where they are developmentally and culturally. At least that is what his comments seem to indicate.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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