Thursday, May 31, 2007

CCSD: A MEGO and the Tip of the Iceberg

The appropriateness of William Safire's term--MEGO--struck me as I watched the tape of last Tuesday's meeting of the CCSD Board of Trustees. On the new school budget, MEGO--that's short for "my eyes glaze over"--truly applied as the millions of dollars flew in the air and on the Power Point and the millage fluctuated in Don Kennedy's presentation. Kennedy will not soon be named a reality-TV-show host.

It's hard to take any of it seriously (although I know the participants functioned as required by law) when on the Tuesday prior to the legislature's recess, no "hold harmless" legislation had been passed for a more-than-$10-million shortfall from the state. Yet the district mode was full- steam-ahead, counting on promises alone.

Then there's the not-so-small question raised by Ravenel regarding the accuracy of Kennedy's millage estimate. The estimate seemed to account for all the difference in other potential shortfalls and cuts. See, I did manage to stay focused for most of the presentation.

Yet the drone was punctuated, however briefly, by interesting questions and responses.

The previously-requested comparison of CCSD administrative costs in regard to other school districts was one such topic. Whether deliberately or not, the CCSD's accounting set-up for "leadership" contains ingredients not comparable to most other districts. Workers' compensation and insurance costs are included, whereas most other districts distribute those costs to individual schools. Moody made some silly remarks about allocating those costs to the schools so that the Board could claim that it had provided another $7 million to schools. I say, someone on the Board needs to request COMPARABLE percentages. Yes, that would require some research, but wasn't that the point of the Board's request in the first place? Obfuscation.

Second, did I hear correctly that the cost of Workers' Compensation had been reduced 83% in the last year???? What the heck was going on in previous years?

Also, the district's being forced to use an incorrect figure posted last Feb. 1st by the State Department of Education is yet another example of incompetence at the state level and belated response by CCSD. Since the correct number is known, and that correction adds money to CCSD, why has the Board not already pursued a legal opinion?

Last, but not least, Ravenel pointedly brought up the auditing process for the district. Frankly, I was at first relieved to hear that there WAS an audit. His point, however, was dead on: Kennedy sits on the committee that selects the auditing firm that audits. . . Kennedy.

Why do the Board members insist on creating conflicts of interest? For example, Nancy Cook makes a big deal of abstaining from voting on CCSD funds distributed to the shelter she directs, but she's still board chairman, isn't she? Surely we have progressed from the "we're-all-ladies-and-gentlemen-here-and-can-trust-our-pure-motives" mindset?

In fact, why have written contracts? Let's do everything on a handshake, like in the good old days.

Would that we could!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

CCSD: Goody Bags Full of Hope

Sunday's story in the P & C about goody bags given to about 22,000 elementary children in CCSD surely is cause for hope. Nancy McGinley took the initiative to follow through on a suggestion from a school volunteer!

"The bags contain a day-to-day calendar of suggested activities for children to do with the help of their parents, such as "think of all the words that describe your family and make a poster of family words" or "name a food that starts with each letter of the alphabet."
"The bags also include: a list of locations and phone numbers for the free summer meals programs, a brochure for the Charleston County Public Library summer program and library card application, summer journal writing ideas and educational Web sites. Individual schools are invited to add information to the bags such as media center hours and reading lists. . . . The district also plans to partner with the library to put together summer materials for middle and high school students."

The idea-person, "Willette Dennis-Wilkins, the North Charleston resident and school volunteer who gave McGinley the idea for the bags, said she's wanted the district to take on this project for nearly a decade."

That's right. Nearly 10 years. If she managed to get through the bureaucracy previously, I'm assuming she was told the funds weren't available.

This time McGinley found the money.

Maybe the logjam is about to break up. Now, if the powers-that-be would only pay attention to comments made on this blog [thanks to amc]:

"When was the last time county school board members and senior school district administrators allowed individual members of the public to ask them direct questions? Do they ever participate in open question and answer opportunities at public meetings? What about neighborhood meetings, civic clubs or even constituent board meetings?"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hillery: "What! There's Gambling in This Establishment?"

I just could not resist posting the quote from Hillery Douglas that appeared in today's P & C article exploring the disparities in resources at Buist and Charleston Progressive (an article that readers can thank the Office of Civil Rights for, I might add):

"... If we are to a point where if the folks who have kids (in the school [Charleston Progressive]) would like the board to take a look at it to see how we should treat it, I think that's a fair request. ... I don't think it's a matter of discrimination."

Translation: "Why, I'm running for mayor of North Charleston, and, furthermore, butter wouldn't melt in my mouth. I had NO IDEA that anyone was unhappy, but now that I do, I'll mention it to the board."

Reminds me of last summer's national coverage of Buist admissions policies and remarks made then by its principal, Sallie Ballard.

He should have quoted one of my favorite movie lines: "What! There's gambling in this establishment!"

What hypocrites!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Best Education Reporter? Diette Courrege!

Perhaps you missed the P & C's ad touting the award given to the reporter who covers CCSD for the paper. That's right. It was on page 8A of last Wednesday's edition.

To quote: "Courrege was awarded a second prize in small media or market for 'Beat Reporting' for her extensive work covering Charleston County schools."

"Among the stories reviewed by the judges were Courrege's coverage of the threat of state takeover of Burke High School, parents undertaking intense fundraising efforts for schools, turn-around efforts at failing North Charleston High School and parents lying about their addresses to get into Buist Academy."

To be fair to Diette, she usually gets her facts straight, such as they are, and her stories are well written from the standpoint of style. Furthermore, "beat" reporting is not "investigative" reporting, another category of award which obviously would have been inappropriate for her to enter.

I assume the purpose of such an award, given by the National Education Writers Association since the 1960s, is to promote excellent reporting about education. If you knew nothing about the situation "on the ground," so to speak, except what you had read in Courrege's articles in 2006, maybe you would believe she should get an award. Because she appears to have come to Charleston straight out of college (LSU) without prior knowledge of the Lowcountry, a place hardly the same as Baton Rouge, maybe we can excuse her willingness to accept at face value what CCSD tells her.

What IS annoying, however, is the P & C's ad for itself at the bottom:

"Award-winning journalism that makes

a difference

The Post and Courier

Because Knowing

Makes a Difference"

Knowing makes a difference, all right, as many of you have attested!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CCSD, NAACP, & Ministerial Alliance: Unholy Trio

Sunday's Post and Courier story on youth recruitment by Charleston's NAACP contains both interesting facts and revealing quotations. For example, the local branch has a membership of 625, only five percent of whom are white, as opposed to Columbia's branch (size not given) that has a membership that is 35 percent white. Why the great disparity?

Now, of course, statistics don't always tell the full story, as I recently noted regarding Academic Magnet's success in Newsweek's index; however, perhaps these percentages do give a clue to the orientation of local leadership--namely, their continued position that true integration of downtown schools is a BAD idea, not a good one. From everything I have heard and read since returning to the Charleston area six years ago, the NAACP has worked closely with Joe Riley for more than 30 years while supporting the positions of CCSD and its school board. The results are de facto segregation in District 20 and miserably failing schools.

But, of course, many of the youth affected by this sorry state of affairs are poor. In the same article William Jenkins, of the Father to Father Project in North Charleston (and an NAACP member), suggests that the poor he works with see "the NAACP as a middle-class organization out of touch with their needs." That certainly fits with the residence of its local leaders in West Ashley and the attitude of Toya Hampton-Green, the one Board member who resides in District 20 but claims to represent the interests of the whole district instead.

The Post and Courier has reported several times now that the NAACP and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, supposedly representing 10,000 downtown residents desirous of CCSD's opening a tech school in the Rivers building, "staunchly" oppose the creation of a downtown charter high school for math and science. Their reason? To prevent further segregation of downtown schools.
You mean the half-dozen white students who now attend District 20 schools (excluding Buist, of course) would have to leave?
What's the REAL agenda?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Academic Magnet Proves Disraeli Right Again

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," according to noted British statesman Benjamin Disraeli.

Newsweek's "challenge index," as touted for Academic Magnet High School in today's Post and Courier, is just such a statistic. It deserves to be included in that famous little book published several years ago, How to Lie with Statistics.

No doubt CCSD is saying to anyone who will listen, "Well, at least we have the Academic Magnet for our best students." Everyone needs to read the fine print, or at least the rules that govern this index. I'm sure the principals of other high schools in the area are grinding their teeth over the unfairness of this spotlight.

I don't mean to knock the Academic Magnet. It didn't create the index, and one would hardly expect its principal to denigrate an index that makes the school look good.

But here's the reality: what Academic Magnet has is the largest number of AP exams being taken per senior while still keeping an SAT index not significantly higher than 1300 (on the math/critical reading portions).

Contemplate those parameters, please.

  • The BEST magnet and charter high schools in the nation ARE NOT RANKED because their SAT scores are too high. Not so with AM.

  • The index does not consider if the test-takers PASSED (i.e., made a 3 or better) on the AP exams. Thus, even if none of the test-takers did qualify, AM would still make the list.

May I take this ridiculous statistic to its obvious conclusion? Let's have every student at every high school in CCSD take three or four AP exams. We could blow the list out of the water.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

District 20 "Stakeholder" Meetings: $77,000

In the midst of other hot topics from last Monday's CCSD Board meeting came the vote authorizing an expenditure of $77,000 for Harvey Gantt to facilitate meetings in District 20 on the future of the Rivers Middle School building.

That's the one empty right now after several million dollars' worth of renovations; the one that the proposed downtown charter high school organization has asked to use; the one that the district counter-proposed for use in vo-tech programs; the one requested by Hillery Douglas's sister for Youthbuild Charter (now in North Charleston).

In the midst of the daunting budget process this year, $10 million shortfall and all, does CCSD REALLY need to spend $77,000 for another series of meetings to determine what is to be done with a building?
Did anyone on the Board dare ask, as others have, what has happened to the previous plan facilitated by Gantt with District 20 meetings in 2004?

Oh, while we're at it, may we ask how much that series of meetings cost?
I'm convinced that the district is simply trying to find some cover to refuse use of the building to the proposed charter high school. It doesn't want an INTEGRATED high school downtown.
I know to sensible people that attitude doesn't make sense, but in District 20 it's an Alice-in-Wonderland world. If the reverse situation were true (that District 20 was all white), can you imagine the storm that would ensue with the refusal of a truly integrated high school? The mind boggles.
CCSD wants control. After all, look what a great job it's done with Burke Middle/High School.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Soooo Many Questions: CCSD Operations

What a plethora of problems (or should I say "challenges") for those of us who care about transparency in how CCSD is run and results in trying to fix it!
A few random ruminations:

  1. Annette Goodwin (of Youthbuild) is Hillery Douglas's sister? And now she wants to compete with the group hoping to start a new D20 charter high school--that actually would be integrated? Is that why the Board has been dragging its feet these many weeks? You know what I've said in previous posts on other topics--in the South knowing who's related to whom really sheds insight.

  2. Did the Board even vote on approval of dispersal of funds from the Derthick Fund? If so, that was not reported by the P&C. I'm still trying to figure out why the fund even exists. Why wasn't the money in the district teachers' retirement fund taken by the state when the state retirement fund was instituted? Isn't that money that was dedicated to retirement previously? And was it the retirement fund for D20 only?

  3. How do we get the Board (and the district) to create REAL magnet schools that measure up to magnet schools in every other part of the United States--that have resources and a stated purpose or focus?

  4. What's the way to make CCSD give Charleston Progressive a foreign language teacher so that its middle schoolers will not be at a disadvantage when entering 9th grade?

  5. What exactly is the "Reconfiguration Plan" and why is it sitting on the shelf?

  6. Why didn't Goodloe-Johnson or the P&C report that McGinley is on vacation? G-J sounded like she's meeting with her every day when interviewed on local TV.

  7. Where do I begin with the CCSD budget and shortfalls? Can of worms!

  8. What now can be done to move forward on the Fraser-Sanders-Clyde shared principal front?

  9. Has the US Attorney ever taken an interest in the shenanigans in District 20--where the powers-that-be are satisfied with segregated schools?

  10. I've got more . . . soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

McMaster to D20: Now, What Was the Question?

For the benefit of those who have not heard about or read the S.C. Attorney General's response to the District 20 constituent school board regarding the appointment of the principal of Sanders-Clyde as part-time principal at Fraser, the letter (thanks to Channel 2's website) is quoted here:

"If the appointment of Ms. Moore at Frasier [sic] constitutes an appointment of a new principal, the district's enabling legislation requires she be one of three qualified persons recommended by the constituent district's board of trustees and be chosen by the Board of Trustees."

Wasn't that the question? Either McMaster needs a dunce cap, or the opinion deliberately evades an answer so that CCSD and Goodloe-Johnson may interpret it as they wish.

And they have already begun.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Charleston Progressive: How to Progress

Commenters have left so many details on the gap between the two magnet schools in District 20 (Buist and CPA) that I'm trying to pin down what's going on.

The puzzle is what makes Charleston Progressive a magnet school?

Does it have a stated mission? What perceived need was it supposed to meet? What did CCSD promise when it was founded? How long has it existed? Why did CCSD move it to Courtenay?

Then, if the information posted over the last few weeks is correct, why does it get $1000 less per student than Buist? Why is no foreign language offered?

If Buist has a full-time assistant principal and full-time PE, art, and music teachers, what exactly does CPA have that makes it different from other non-magnet District 20 schools? Does it share its part-time teachers with any other school? Does it have any National Board Certified teachers?

If its library has been stocked using Title 1 funds, is that library appropriate for a magnet school and/or CPA's mission?

How has CCSD treated Charleston Progressive in regard to NCLB? What percentage of its students live outside of District 20? Are students who qualify for SAIL at CPA bussed to Mitchell along with other students from District 20, or does it have its own program?

And, as long as Mayor Riley is flogging the "circle" of businesses around Dist. 20 schools for their support, how about their setting up a Charleston Progressive Academy Foundation?

Three signals that will tell if McGinley seriously wishes to improve District 20 schools:
  1. The Buist lottery system will undergo renovations to make cheating impossible;
  2. Charleston Progressive will receive the resources it truly needs to be a magnet; and
  3. The planned District 20 charter high school will receive her support.

Gregg Meyers (and some others) won't like it. I'm still trying to reconcile the idea of Meyers as Civil Rights advocate with the one who sits on the CCSD school board.

UPDATE: This blog may also be reached through , a web newspaper covering the Lowcountry.