Homeschool Today Magazine

Visit McDonald’s to discuss employment

James and Stacey McDonald gave us a hero’s welcome. They introduced us to the Tea Shop, one leg of their operation. In the evening, they invited us to dine in a very fine Mexican restaurant. We left them in the best standing. It was agreed that I would initially work for James in more of a sales capacity because his last sales representative had left. On September 9, he emailed that “this could turn into a great partnership.”

Here in Houston, he offered that ours would work into a partnership in short order. My initial title in the beginning was yet to be determined. He did tell me that in the beginning I would be working on a commission basis and that he would need to do some research to be able to tell me what the sales volume is at present to be able to calculate my pay even before I made any sales.

Back in Germany, James emailed that my title would be Director of Operations (Operations meaning Homeschooling Today magazine, Tea Shop, Books on the Path). He also wrote: “I would basically turn over the wheel to you. Contracts closed (meaning prior to my employment because then he says “as well as new ones you bring in”) would be yours, as well as new ones you bring in. Thus your commission would start right away. I’m not sure if this all makes sense, but I believe you would be able to see at least $4,000 your first month as a minimum.”

He was happy and excited and bragged to others that Mr. Smith would be working for him. He asked me for a bio so that he could introduce me and my family in the next issue of Homeschooling Today (this would have been the January/February issue).

Strangely, this bio never appeared. In its place and an issue or two after our arrival was a mere mention of a German family who he now employed. I was puzzled by this, especially since he also listed me as an ad sales manager instead of the agreed upon Director of Operations. I continued to reach out to present and perspective advertisers as the Director of Operations.

Later, after we discovered what had happened, we noticed that James had removed me from the website in early January where I was listed as Director of Operations.

Arrive in Houston to begin employment

When we arrived in Houston, James did not come to the airport to meet us. We assumed that it was because he was exhausted from his busy schedule. When we began our trip from Germany to Houston on the 8th of December, 2005 the emails between us were very amiable with James offering that he was concerned because we would have no house and furniture upon our arrival. We had very little money, only a few thousand that HSLDA and some personal friends provided us for relocating to America. Our children had to leave their keepsakes behind.

We believed that if everything went well, we would be able to salvage our house in Germany by making the several back payments we owed and then either rent it out or put it on the market to sell. We therefore left everything in the house, taking only the absolute essentials along with us, mostly clothing.

Something we were glad about was that James had offered that when we arrived to help us with a car and home. We had made him aware that it would be difficult because we had been outside of the US for over three years. After three years, you have no record of credit. To buy a car you normally would therefore need to pay cash. Also, you needed credit to lease a house. James had offered to help so we were not concerned.

However, now he seemed to pull out of his offer. He coldly and bluntly said that it was not his obligation to help us (When we began to look for a car and since we had no credit record the car dealer asked to see my employment contract). Since James had promised to have a contract ready for me to sign upon my arrival in Houston, I asked him for this contract so that I could present it to the car dealer. He never produced a contract and would not tell me why.

(You may wonder why I began to work for James without a contractual agreement. I came across the ocean with my wife and five children and had very little money left after arranging this relocation. I was dependant on James and the employment he offered to me. I had no choice but to begin work even without a contract. And besides, James was a Christian, even a pastor and involved in and committed to the homeschool movement like I was so why should I not trust him? I was unaware of what was going on behind my back between James and HSLDA.)

The shortest lease agreement I could find in the Katy, Texas (a suburb of Houston) vicinity, where my job would be located, was for eighteen months. We had to make a deal with a house owner, offering to replace an outdated kitchen appliance, the kitchen sink, and painting the inside walls that were terribly scuffed and the ceilings blacked with candle soot.

The owner allowed us to move in and begin to make payments one month later in exchange for our offer. It really was not such a good deal because I needed to concentrate on my new job instead of having to work on the house. But since James did not make a move to help us we felt we had no other choice.

Fortunately for us, the house was furnished. Also, a very fine family who was a member of James’ church offered to help us to tidy up the house. Two of the older boys spent several days painting. We were thankful and felt blessed.

HSLDA slanders the Smiths

Interfers with job and ownership of Homeschooling Today Magazine

I was first made aware that something was amiss on March 3, 2006, when I accidentally overheard a portion of a telephone conversation between an elder of James’ church, and Chris Klicka. Until then, I was unaware that anything was going on behind my back. This is a very painful story to recollect.

Before we arrived in Houston where I was to begin a new livelihood as Director of Operations, without my knowledge Chris Klicka of HSLDA called my prospective employer James McDonald, owner of Homeschooling Today magazine, Books on the Path, and The Tea Shop, to tell James that I had an unstable character and was untrustworthy because I had taken money that HSLDA had sent to Schuzh for attorneys and instead used it for the personal needs of my own family (Embezzling donated funds is a very serious charge! Who would trust anyone who would do something so low? Who wouldn’t be angry with such a character? No worse charge could be leveled against someone like me).

To back himself up, Chris told James to call Gregg Harris, a Board member of Home Schooling Foundation, an affiliate of HSLDA, to confirm that this was true. James called Gregg and Gregg confirmed it. I was completely unaware that these phone calls had been made before my arrival in Houston or of the charges being leveled against me. It did seem peculiar to me that James was not as friendly toward me upon my arrival in Houston to begin my employment with him as he was when we had met with the McDonalds earlier in October to discuss James employing me.

I spoke about this with my wife. We had expected him to be excited and friendly but instead his demeanor had changed. We decided it must be because of the stress he was under being under staffed. I believe these calls were what caused James to be unfriendly toward us when we arrived. We were puzzled because the McDonald’s were now somewhat distant toward us. There was no warmth that we felt when we met them in early October.

I had made an agreement with James that I would take a few weeks rest after leaving Germany and before beginning my employment with him. A week after we arrived, still being without a car or home, James called to inform me that he wanted me to begin work immediately.

I reminded him of our agreement and told him that in my situation I could not do that. My family and I had lived under great pressure in Germany and needed first of all a home. We were busy looking for a car and a home. He became short with me, which I assumed was because of the burden he had been under being understaffed.

Later, he would accuse me to others of not beginning work until the middle of January. I began January 2nd and had emails to prove it. I made my first sale on January 9th.

Smiths meet James to discuss employment of Smith children

James asked for a meeting with our family sometime near the end of December. We met in the Teashop. James offered a job for Minka in the Teashop, and Hans was hired by Books on the Path’s shipping and receiving. James told them that he could not pay more than minimum wage since he called his operations “ministries” (They were businesses in the market to make money!).

He asked Klaus to redesign Homeschooling Today web site and construct a new user-friendly program for me to use in selling magazine advertisements. He told Klaus that he would be adequately reimbursed for his work.

On the webs front page Klaus listed me as Director of Operations, the position James was hiring me to fill. I am not sure when, but James took me off as Director and instead listed me as a marketing manager and then again later as an ad sales manager. I did not pay too much attention to the website because I was too busy attending to other and more pressing matters. I only discovered this sometime in March when trying to understand what had happened between my employer and I.

A few days later James paid me a surprise visit (my office was in my home). He came into my office and closed the door behind him and told me he wanted to speak with me privately. He told me that he would pay me but that he didn’t want to pay my children. He asked me to pay them from my own check.

I told him that I would talk this over with my family after he was gone. This did not settle with either me or my children. (Later I learned that this was a pattern of James when he would employ families). But as I told James, and I can imagine this made him angry, his “ministries” were actually businesses and in the market to make money. He had an obligation to pay his employees a fair wage. James had to pay my children. They insisted on it.

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