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Stephens has corkscrewed himself into controversy where another only recently receded. The Park Hill School District's long-standing superintendent, Dennis Fisher, is retiring. He won the Missouri Association of School Administrators' Superintendent of the Year award in 2011, and the ensuing search for a new candidate was heavily criticized by parents for its lack of community involvement.
The Park Hill Board of Education interviewed several superintendent candidates who requested that their names be withheld from the public, and then presented only one finalist at the end of its search: Scott Springston. He seems likable, many involved with the district say. But he comes from the much smaller Valley Center School District, near Wichita, and many parents wanted input into the hire.
Disgruntled parents blame the seven-member Board of Education, which spearheaded the process. So Stephens has made it a linchpin of his campaign to define the concepts of confidentiality and transparency as he runs to fill one of the two seats up for grabs April 3.
"Confidentiality means we are going to take a piece of information that the public wants, and we are not going to provide it to them," Stephens said of the hiring process in a forceful presentation at a recent candidate forum. "Think about what that means. Does that make you feel comfortable as a taxpayer, as a voter?"
Speaking of confidentiality discomfort, Stephens says he won't answer questions about the racial innuendoes that fleck his personal social-media presence. When asked what he means on his Twitter profile, @eestephens, that "Race is the matter," he dodges like a pro: "I'm not going to comment on that. The interview I'm doing with you is based on my run for school board. ... I'm not going to answer personal questions like that."
What about that public photo on his personal Facebook page, in which he's posing with a photo of Hitler at the Liberty Memorial? (The image appeared with a story about him on KCTV Channel 5.)
"I was simply standing there and had my picture taken next to it," Stephens responds. "I believe some people wanted to make more out of it than there was to make. By using the picture in conjunction with my political views, they [Channel 5] were able to paint a picture that was false."
But, uh ... Hitler?
"I'm not going to comment on that because it is not relevant to my run for school board," he says. What about just a yes or a no regarding whether Hitler was bad — which would have the added benefit of perhaps alleviating voter concerns? Stephens isn't having it. "There might be some people out there who are wondering that," he says. "But that's not why I'm running for school board ... . Just because a certain picture is generated just doesn't make it any more OK to talk about."
Whether he comments on it or keeps silent, the photo is out there on the Web, where any Park Hill student might find it. He still hasn't taken it down. His online footprint also includes a profile on vanilla-love.com, a Russian matchmaking service. "If you are single and dream to meet a beautiful wife from Russia," the site claims, "Vanilla-Love.com will provide you all the services needed, including special features."
Stephens, who is not married, minored in Russian at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla and recently traveled to Moscow. According to his KC Education Enterprise questionnaire, he doesn't have children who attend public school; according to the vanilla-love.com profile, he wants children someday. (Asked to confirm that the profile is his, he says, "No comment.")