In rare move, board rejects contract proposal

Aug. 28—A majority of St. Joseph Board of Education members voted no on a contract with a Massachusetts company to provide software that measures how well students are doing in school.

The panel divided 3 in favor and 4 against. Board President LaTonya Williams was in favor, along with members Rick Gehring and Whitney Lanning; opposed was Board Vice President Kenneth Reeder, joined by members David Foster, Isaura Garcia and Kim Miller. The $42,500 contract with Panorama Education would have, over 12 months, provided the software designed to help monitor student behavior and academic progress. It is also designed to help track of how effective staff interventions have been with struggling pupils.

"I think a majority of it was a case of just misinformation, more than anything," Williams said. "Two, three days ago, it came out online about some complaints about the origin of the owners of the company of the contract (Panorama), and there was a bit of uproar about that. It could have colored a couple of their views."

Posts on Facebook groups popular in St. Joseph appeared to complain about Panorama being co-founded by Xan Tanner, who is the son-in-law of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Panorama, based in Boston, does not affiliate with any public official or political party. Founded in 2012, Panorama has contracted with about 23,000 public schools nationwide as of 2021, according to

The contract also would have paid for professional development training sessions. According to Kendra Lau, director of school improvement, the software is in use by 10% of all Missouri school districts, including the Park Hill School District and Kansas City Public Schools, for two relatively nearby examples.

Reeder elaborated on his opposition during the meeting, saying that the software's deployment to seven schools would have privileged those schools above the rest. District staff said they intended to eventually deploy the program across the district, had it proved successful.

"Wouldn't it have been beneficial to have at least one high school have the opportunity to be a part of the pilot program?" Reeder asked during the meeting. "We need total equity."

Lanning denounced the vote at the end of the meeting, saying partisan politics had played a role, in violation of board norms, in that, she said, board members appeared to rely on their own opinions to make a decision, and not objective facts about whether or not the contract had merit.

"I just want it to be noted in open record that I'm deeply disappointed by that," Lanning said. "We are a nonpartisan board and partisan politics have now set a precedent to negate any vendor we don't like, based on who they are involved with. It's incredibly disappointing to me that we added more work for the staff."

Garcia said she voted no on the basis of community feedback.

"I received significant feedback from families in our district concerning this agenda item," she said. "I believe it would be beneficial to explore alternative software companies that offer similar services."

Foster was unavailable for comment on Monday night. Miller declined to comment.

Marcus Clem can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem