In Search of Reliable News

Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.” 

  Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Nathaniel Macon, January 12, 1819

For the third time in less than a month I discovered news relevant to Sanford, NC from media sources outside of Lee County.   I couldn’t help but wonder what it might take for our own hometown newspaper to find and report the news many of us yearn to read.

The latest incident revolves around a Carolina Journal report, dated June 29, 2011, in which author David Bass discloses information he discovered on Lee County School Superintendent Jeff Moss.  Much of Mr. Bass’ comparative analysis and several of the statements he acquired have not been reported in the Sanford Herald.  This is information Lee County citizens have a right to know.  Rumor has it that the Herald Publisher is aware of the Carolina Journal article, refuses to acknowledge its validity, and has declined to publish it in the Herald.   This author hopes those rumors are erroneous.  (No one wants to think our almost daily newspaper is willfully witholding information of interest to our citizens.  Doing so would cast it among the other bird cage liners we already have in abundance.)

For the benefit of Lee County readers, Mr. Bass’ article is at this URL:  http://www.carolinajournal.com/articles/display_story.html?id=7955

In the article Bass cites the salary and benefits of Dr. Jeff Moss in Lee County, Tony Tata in the Wake County School District, and Peter Gorman from the Charlotte-Mecklenberg School District.  Bass illustrates just how close Moss is in salary and benefits to these other two superintendents despite the fact they manage budgets, schools, staff, and students of up to 15 times the size of Lee County’s. 

Mr. Bass’ original online posting, now pared down, showed Moss’ salary and compensation amounting to over $200K per year.  Total compensation, excluding some of Moss’ benefits, was a staggering cost of $21.42 per enrolled student in the county.  By comparison, Bass reported the cost of Mr. Tata for Wake County was $1.78 per student; while Dr. Gorman costs Mecklenberg County about $2.00 a student.  This fact is inescapable: Moss manages a school system that is just 8-10% of the size of these two systems; yet he is compensated at a rate 1000% higher than his counterparts as measured by per capita enrollment (also known as ADM). 

Although he prepared a fine article overall, there were a few things Mr. Bass failed to disclose, though this certainly should not be taken as a criticism of his investigative journalism which our local beat reporters would do well to emulate.  Dr. Moss receives even more compensation than Bass reported.  According to Moss’ most recent contract extension, which Bass conveniently links to from his article, Dr. Moss receives $1200 a year in term insurance payments, $4800 a year in dependent healthcare benefits, and up to $4450 in unused vacation payments.  Therefore, his total compensation (excluding normal benefits all school employees receive) is somewhere in the neighborhood of $217,262 per annum.  By my calculations, Dr. Moss actually is compensated at a rate of $22.50 per student per year.

Another item outside the scope of Mr. Bass’ article, but still worthy of evaluation by an intrepid reporter, is the performance of Lee County schools in proportion to the superintendent’s pay.  In many industries executives are paid, in part, based on their measured performance.  Not so with Dr. Moss.  In most measured and reported categories, Lee County schools lag behind state averages.  Contrast that performance with the Wake and Mecklenberg County school superintendents who are achieving well above state averages among their many schools.  Since Dr. Moss’ arrival in Lee County our schools consistently have failed to meet the state average in SAT scores, have consistently exceeded the state’s high school drop-out rate, and have regularly scored below state averages in math and english end-of-grade testing.  Even those of us outside the educational bureaucracy can see that Moss’ compensation does not derive from superior performance or scope of responsibility.

Truly, the one category in which Lee County leads the state is in the arena of legal entanglements and external reporting on such matters.  Dr. Moss has been a lightning rod for legal issues all of his career.  His short tenure in Lee County certainly follows his pattern of lawsuits and hearings in previous school systems.  As one example, his recent persecution of the Smithwick student from Southern Lee high School left the county vulnerable to a tort lawsuit and could easily have escalated to another NC Supreme Court case like King v. Beaufort County, a case Dr. Moss mishandled during his earlier stint as superintendent there.  Fortunately for Lee County taxpayers, Dr. Moss’ contract does not (yet) contain a provision to reward him for the number of lawsuits he attracts.

One day I hope our elected school officials will find an affordable, even-tempered superintendent who truly cares about students and teachers, and who earns his keep.  In the mean time, our citizens remain in search of reliable news reporting on Dr. Moss’ compensation and performance.

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About Thomas Jefferson

3rd President and Founding Father of the U.S. I conceived and promoted the country's system of public education in the early 19th Century. I am often misunderstood about my the "wall of separation" term and letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, which unfortunately has come to be interpreted as my suggesting separation of God and the Holy Trinity from all matters of state. I am a Christian, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and I owe Him my salvation. I pray for this great country, that it remain strong, independent and Christian!
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19 Responses to In Search of Reliable News

  1. Goose says:

    Thomas truly a great bit of reporting! The added comment were good too. I was taught that if you couldn’t say something good say nothing so my comment on the posts below is….honk.

  2. Patrick Henry says:

    Lucky for the taxpayers, but personally Ms. Smithwick is deserving of some type of recompense. After all, she was acquitted of being such a danger to our school system.

    I would really say lucky for Southern Lee’s Bonnie Almond, Mr. Moss and the board of education. Had that been my kid, I would to this day be their worst nightmare.

    • Goose says:

      Smithwick was acquitted of the criminal charge, unfortunately this has nothing to do with Lee County School System rules that lets the system do pretty much as they want with anybody on school grounds except take sexual liberties with a minor. A law enforcement officer would not be allowed to do such a search unless someone charged that drugs were in her purse/lunch bag but under school rules she could be punished for even protesting the search. If you have an hour to kill read through King v. Beaufort County. When all the lawyers quit it boils down to the conclusion that the courts cannot do anything about rules passed (rubber stamped) by the BOE and the superintendent is king unless over ruled by the BOE. That is why we must trim the dead wood (and dead heads) from the BOE the ballot is the only recourse allowed!.
      Does anyone know if Miss Smithwick “walked the stage” at graduation or did she boycott the affair?

      • I am told that Smithwick proudly walked the stage. I couldn’t be there, as I had to be at a convention in Wilmington that night. I’ll bet she got a lot of cheers!

      • letLibertyPrevail says:

        Goose is right on this one. Seems there is nowhere you can go to complain about inmates running the asylum but to the inmates themselves! Ok I mean you can’t complain or get anyone who is suppose to help the citizens to listen to a complaint about any school bureaucrats. They all point you to the local BOE.

        The boys look out for each other.

  3. The Sheepdog says:

    Great article, Mr. Jefferson but as usual, you were too kind. We are held captive in Lee County by the evil god of the press since the only “news”paper available on a regular basis is the Sanford (we can prove we are as credible as all the big name fishwraps because we can filter the news as well as they can) Herald. The only thing we have on the big name “news”papers is that their editors are avowed leftists and ours are really good stealth leftists – that reads hypocrite phonies.

    • Goose says:

      Sheepdog since there is no clear division between liberal and conservative views (shades of grey vs. Black and White) it is perfectly possible that the staff of the Herald could believe that they are middle of the roaders, neither liberal nor conservative, so the charge that they are hypocrite phonies just doesn’t fly with this Goose.
      Have they ever stated where they think they stand, if so I missed it?
      Have you noticed that Billy Liggett is writing opinion articles which are not called editorials? My opinion is that he is much more liberal than the editorial board. Face it the Herald cannot afford to take positions that might reduce their already small readership. Also I have no idea of how the business owners (out of towners) might lean. They seem to view themselves as cheerleaders for Sanford and Lee County, put a positive spin on every story and hope that the ugly facts are soon forgotten.

  4. billyliggett says:

    You say “several statements” in the CJ article weren’t reported by The Herald, yet you only go on to name one — Moss’ contract compared to Tata and Gorman.
    You’re right — we did not compare them in the article. We DID, however, compare Moss’ supplements to those of surrounding counties, showing that his $40K yearly supplements were well ahead of our neighbors.
    [Darn] liberal media.

    You say “rumor has it” our publisher knows about the CJ article and yada, yada, yada … I saw the emails you’re referring to (and I’m guessing you were one of the five or six people on this email list) and Bill never “refused to acknowledge its validity,” … he questioned some of the validity. Big difference.
    As for The Herald refusing to publish the article … may I direct your attention, Mr. President, to something called the “copyright?”
    From the CJ website: Material published on JLF website, including articles, photos, graphics, bulletin board postings, audio and video clips, and other content, is copyrighted by the JLF. … You cannot reproduce, republish or redistribute material from any JLF website in any way without the express written consent of the JLF.

    As a sidenote, I like how you point out his mistakes in the article “should not be taken as a criticism of his investigative journalism …” .. Actually, that’s exactly what a mistake in an investigative article does — it discredits it. Then again, we Herald hicks aren’t not good at the letter drawings and storybooks.
    Then you make note that he doesn’t report on Lee County Schools’ grades, dropout rates, etc. …. in other words, I don’t get what you’re trying to say here.

    Look, T.J., Teej, if I may, I know it’s fun to bash the local paper. I get it. We’re easy targets. We report on negative things, and suddenly we don’t like the community. We report on successful students, and suddenly we’re trying to make Moss look good. We report on the EOG preliminary tests and don’t mention that Moss got a raise, we’re left-leaning abortion lovers.
    I get it.

    The truth is, if our citizens are “searching for reliable information” on Moss’ salary and performance, they get it from us.

    Moss’ Salary: http://sanfordherald.com/view/full_story/14367267/article-Some-question-superintendent-s-salary-supplements?
    AFP calls for his job: http://sanfordherald.com/view/full_story/13955937/article-Conservative-group-calls-for-superintendent-s-job?
    Job cuts — impact on local teachers: http://sanfordherald.com/view/full_story/12600294/article-LCS-budget–Part-2–Already-thin-educators-await-more-cuts?
    Story on controversial Moss suspension in Beaufort: http://sanfordherald.com/view/full_story/10844835/article-Another-suspension-involving-superintendent-hit-spotlight-in-2008-?

    And our online archives don’t go that far back, but we reported on his Beaufort lawsuit more than a few times when he was hired.

    I know we’re not perfect.
    But please, next time you want to anonymously point this out to your readers, come with better material. Don’t say his article had tons of [stuff] we didn’t have then point out one thing and then another thing neither article had.

    I love you.

  5. Thomas Jefferson says:

    Billy– thanks for the interesting response. Among the other things in Mr. Bass’ article the Herald has not reported are the statements that Mrs. Shook, Mr. Williams, and Mr. Cameron made (which certainly are newsworthy).

    I agree with you that it would be unusual for the Herald to re-publish a copyrighted article; that is, unless the Herald first sought permission to re-print the article like it does for dozens of other op. ed. pieces that routinely are published by our almost daily paper. Mr Bass is a fine fellow and he had no problem with the Founding Fathers’ request to publish all or part of his online article so long as we credited his work adequately. He even followed up with another “Locker Room” article on Lee County, providing even more information on Dr. Moss’ antics that harmed a Sysco employee–

    http://lockerroom.johnlocke.org/2011/06/30/worker-fired-after-questioning-lee-county-superintendent/

    Since I was not an orignal addressee of the emails you referenced, I can only refer to them second hand. I do not know for sure how many emails were circulated or to whom they were all sent. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see all of them. Regardless, I think I fairly caveated their contents in my article as being “rumors.” My apology for receiving, reading then circulating them as “rumors.” Perhaps I should have omitted that paragraph of my article. Then again, unconfirmed reports are not uncommon in today’s electronic media.

    In my original article, I did not say Bass disclosed “tons of stuff” the Herald didn’t have. I also didn’t claim Bass discovered or disclosed everything he should have. I merely pointed out that the Herald sometimes knows things they choose not to report (for whatever reasons), and sometimes those things are dutifully reported by other newsmen from outside Lee County. Given this reality, some of us conservatives are “searching for reliable news,” looking beyond the pages of the Herald for all the information our public might want or need to know.

    Pardon us if we expect our local news reporters to exert a high level of energy in gathering then reporting relevant information; especially on the topics of our school system, our local political debates, and everything the public might wish to know on our county taxes and budget. These are important matters and Lee County citizens shouldn’t have to go to the Fayetteville Observer or the Carolina Journal online to learn more about them.

    I won’t belabor this response any further. Let us simply do our best to serve our readers the best way we know how.

    TJ

  6. billyliggett says:

    Just a few comments:

    • We often “seek permission” to republish articles. We pay for Associated Press and McClatchy-Tribune content. Most of what we have that isn’t locally produced comes from this.

    • The Herald hasn’t reported comments made by Shook, Williams and Cameron???

    I’m going to take EVERY quote from this story, and show you where it EARLIER appeared in a Herald article.

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “It’s smelly all the way around.” Linda Shook
    SANFORD HERALD — “There’s something a little different going on. To me, it does not seem like the best practice.” Linda Shook

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “It was totally inappropriate for an 8-year old to be used as a lobbyist in Raleigh.” Mike Stone
    SANFORD HERALD — “I’m very disturbed that it would get to that level in our education system. We all agree we send our children to school to be educated, but I don’t think we should ask third graders to get political. Especially when they don’t understand what they’re writing. Especially when it’s my daughter.” Mike Stone

    Tatum and Moss’ quotes about how wonderful he is … we had that, too, and I’ll find it if you need me to.

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “It’s totally ridiculous. It’s obligating future school boards and future taxpayers for this clown.” — Cameron Sharpe
    SANFORD HERALD — “Any central office staff contracts or principals should be out there for our viewing … So that it cannot be done behind our backs, not to say that it had been done like that.” — Cameron Sharpe
    SANFORD HERALD — “I just think under the current economic conditions, I will not vote to extend an employment contract that will obligate taxpayers and the school board that far into the future.”

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “The thing that bothers a lot of us is that next year the board of education has four seats up for re-election, and I think there will be a change there. That new board coming in, if they decide that they have a different vision than what Dr. Moss has for the county, they’re tied into him for another three years unless they buy him out, and buying him out is going to be very, very costly.”
    SANFORD HERALD — (from our story) “Board of Commissioners Chairman Linda Shook, a sharp critic of school leaders for months, said county leaders were surprised to learn of a clause setting aside $18,000 in annual deferred compensation in an interest-collecting account, money that the superintendent would receive at the end of the contract or if he was terminated by school board members. “That’s just an extra benefit, over and above his supplement,” Shook said, adding that Moss is also the recipient of “Cadillac” health and life insurance.
    — granted, this isn’t the exact quote, but it’s a quote from Shook about her concern over deferred compensation … money that would be “very, very costly” for the county

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “Students’ names were not mentioned in the emails. The actual student letters were never mailed or sent electronically to anyone.” Shawn Williams
    SANFORD HERALD — “Dr. Moss hasn’t violated anything in his contract, or board policy … The letters were not sent home and, in fact, the lesson would continue the next day on June 1.” Shawn Williams

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “He’s done an outstanding job.” Shawn Williams
    SANFORD HERALD — ““He has done everything we asked him as a school board to do to get us pointed in the right direction.” Shawn Williams

    CAROLINA JOURNAL — “It seems clear that Dr. Moss fails to recognize that his is not a political position and that he, by engaging in political posturing, has violated the trust of [the] school board, the constituents, and the children of this district,” Cameron Sharpe
    SANFORD HERALD — Ahhhh, this one is an EXACT quote we PREVIOUSLY reported … HELL, we even added the WHOLE quote.
    “It seems clear that Dr. Moss fails to recognize that his is not a political position and that he, by engaging in political posturing, has violated the trust of the school board, the constituents and the children of this district. Unfortunately, many of our well-intentioned school level teachers and staff have been encouraged by administrators to engage in activities that are in violation of Lee County Schools policies.” Cameron Sharpe.

    Try again, Teej. Try again.

  7. billyliggett says:

    Let me add one more thing … why would we republish an article that has quotes we’d already published?

  8. Mr. Editor; I appreciate your thorough rebuttal of Mr. Jefferson’s column. I’m not sure I agree that all of your citations from previous Herald reporting constitute close parallels to what the Carolina Journal published. For example, Mr. Sharpe’s referral of Dr. Moss as a “clown” certainly was new. Rep. Stone’s metaphor that his daughter was used as a “lobbyist in Raleigh” was also new. And BOC Chair Shook’s comments about how costly it would be to buy out Moss is absolutely a new statement with serious consequences for county taxpayers. The fact that Moss’ contract is now publicly viewable in its entirety is also brand new. (That alone was newsworthy, IMHO.)

    Clearly, there is new content in the Journal article. I don’t think anyone challenges the Herald’s absolute authority and discretion in determining how and what it publishes. But I hasten to remind you that all citizens are entitled to their opinions about whether the Herald is adequately and reliably conveying all that it worthy of print. Looks like Mr. Jefferson doesn’t share your opinions in that regard.

    Publius

  9. Randall Lee Yow says:

    “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody,
    there would be very little printed.”
    -Ben Franklin

    “The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a
    rational, moral and social being.”
    -Thomas Jefferson (The Real One)

    “To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs
    which have been obtained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”
    -James Madison (The Real One)

    “It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news, and raise hell.”
    -Wilbur Storey, Statement of the aims of the Chicago Times

    Billy,

    If I may humbly request that the Sanford Herald do a story on Mr Sharpe’s childish name calling. Since Mr Sharpe is clearly positioning himself for a run at the County Commission perhaps you could also do a story on how many times he has flip flopped on issues. Like sex education, the quarter cent sales tax, the public input committee, and now his feelings on Dr Moss. Oh, and by the way you should post the picture of you and Tom Delay for this fine fellows to chew on.

    -Randall Lee Yow

  10. billyliggett says:

    Not that it’s been mentioned on here, but we’ve chosen not to do a story on Sharpe calling him a clown, despite pleas from others that we do so.

    Wait, THAT must mean ….

    Madison: Of course the quotes are different … they were said to the CJ. People aren’t robots.

    • Randall Lee Yow says:

      Clearly you and the Sanford Herald are radical reactionaries who don’t want the real truth about a chosen Republican candidate getting out!

      -Randall Lee Yow

    • Randall Lee Yow says:

      Clearly you and Tom Delay are both secret leftist with out of control liberal agendas!

      -Randall Lee Yow

  11. billyliggett says:

    Another note to Madison, I’m fine with people’s “opinions” … but in his opinionated rant, he made comments that were untrue. Lies, in fact.

    I felt the need to call him out.

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