Saturday, June 02, 2007

Front Page News! CCSD's Conflict of Interest

Wow! What a pleasant surprise this morning to see on the P & C's front page coverage of CCSD that wasn't a puff piece extolling district administration. I almost wondered if the editors had been reading my blog.

Friday night was Goodloe-Johnson's going-away-party at the Charleston Yacht Club, but going away wasn't the focus of the article. No, it focused on "three recipients of multimillion- dollar contracts with the Charleston County School District [who] collectively contributed $7,000 for" the party. Goodloe-Johnson was not amused. She must have been shocked to get probing questions from Courrege: in fact, she called such questions "'tacky'." That's as in "lacking good taste"?

Most people would call these contributions kickbacks; they have nothing to do with good taste but are, in some corrupt circles, considered a cost of doing business. The biggest contributor to the party's costs provides custodial services to three-fourths of the constituent districts. It has a multi-million dollar contract that could be extended, especially if it's nice to the administration. Two other companies are "construction management firms for the district's building program." Their "program management" fees total about $17 million over the next few years. What's a minor payment when so much is at stake?

And Don Kennedy's defense: "most of the district's major contractors make donations to the district. School officials who work with the companies asked them to give money for the event."

Well, that's clear, then. Those donations CERTAINLY couldn't be considered kickbacks!

And to cement the soundness of the practice, Kennedy pointed out that the district did the same for Ron McWhirt.

Oh, well then. If they did it in the past, it MUST be okay.

"Kennedy said the district doesn't solicit money from companies that could soon be submitting contract proposals to the district, and he didn't see the donations as a conflict."

Well, he wouldn't, would he? After all, he doesn't see it as a conflict of interest that he sits on the audit committee that selects the auditing firm that audits himself.

They must still be searching for the tattler who told Ravenel where the funds came from. Unfortunately, Ravenel, who chose not to attend as a result, was the only board member who did see the conflict, or as he said, "'It doesn't pass the smell test.' It's difficult for companies that do business with political entities to turn down requests for money for events."

Well, duh. I wonder what the other board members thought.


Anonymous said...

Does that country club have any black members? What about Asian, Hispanic or Jewish members? Seattle wants to know!

Anonymous said...

I doubt that any of the dozen or so yacht clubs in Charleston has any black members, but I also don't know any blacks here who sail for recreation. Come to think of it most yacht clubs here don't have any yachts, either. Jewish members, at least in this one, yes, but blacks, no. You asked, so I answered your question.

ex post carrier said...

...and the craziness out of the heads of CCSD officials just keeps coming. I just wish the P&C reporter would do more than skim the surface. Great news a charter school manages its money so well it has built up a large surplus that it now can use to improve its academic environment, but the occupants of this upside down world at 75 Calhoun would have us believe that frugal money management by a public charter school is somehow a sinister thing. (But county school officials receiving cash donations and perks from a contractor isn’t?)

Anonymous said...

Don Kennedy (CCSD's CFO) in today’s Palter & Chatter (to borrow a phrase) implies that it's bad to be careful with the public's money, as if there's something wrong with James Island Charter High School's growing surplus. This should be no surprise. JI has publicly been on the road to fiscal responsibility and success for several years now and this has been a reason for school supporters to be proud. This also is exactly why charter schools have become so attractive. Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Douglas appear to be worried that their management style is looking bad, particularly as it relates to the other non-charter county schools where their funding and academic oversight have not been particularly successful. I’m sure they would love to get their hands on James Island’s well managed surplus. Mr. Douglas would probably still insist on a tax increase, too. The fact that this high school’s county per student share of revenues was increased after they became a charter school only underscores that CCSD had been short changing them (and their students) for years.

Anonymous said...

Under the present system public schools that aren’t chartered are funded, staffed and directed at the mercy of the county administration. Before it converted to a charter school, Don Kennedy and the county board were funding the James Island’s only high school at levels far less than the county average. As a charter school they now have a school based parent-driven charter school board that works directly on the school’s behalf. To their credit they discovered the funding short fall. The school’s funding levels were brought back into line with other schools in the county only after the school’s leadership pointed it out to county officials. As a charter school with its own elected board, the parents and the school staff have gained the advantage of being able to correct the county’s mistakes and set their own priorities with less interference from CCSD.

JICHS supporter said...

As a charter school, JI actually has extra levels of oversight BECAUSE they are a public charter school. JI manages & accounts for its own expenditures with an added incentive to be frugal. The rewards are shared by the entire school. Kennedy and some county board members like Douglas would have us believe JI should be punished for being fiscally responsible. That’s crazy. As someone has already said, “And we pay Don Kennedy for this kind of advice?!?”

Anonymous said...

Someone should send this blog to James Island Charter School officials. Douglas and Meyers will surely try to get their hands on their surplus money. I hope Don Kennedy, Janet Rose and Sallie Ballard move to Seattle with Maria.

Anonymous said...

Can we have a going away party for them, too? Maybe we could get Bill Lewis to ask the out-sourced school bus contractor or Gantt-Huberman to pay for it.

JICHS supporter said...

So when Hillery Douglas can't ignore a law, he simply says it's bad and the legislature should change it.

State rules are correct to require that CCSD fund public charter schools according to a predictable plan. This and the school’s own internal good management have allowed JICHS to correct most of the inequities it experienced under CCSD’s direct control before it became a charter school in 2002. [You could say this arrangement appears to provide for a lot more public scrutiny than Don Kennedy receives.]

James Island's public charter school is now able to afford extra enrichments for its students & teachers under this charter school management plan. I'm sure CCSD would have denied them this opportunity if county board members Hillery Douglas and Gregg Meyers still held the purse strings [more like a noose around their neck].

If JI weren't a charter school, the county school board would very likely have made JI's requests a very humiliating process to watch. James Island supporters would have had to beg for needed improvements that CCSD might have only begrudgingly doled out to them.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if anyone at 75 Calhoun asked JICHS officials if they would kick in on Goodloe-Johnson's bye-bye whoop-te-do at the Charleston Yacht Club? Forgot! She wasn't a fan of charter schools. Probably wouldn't have invited them anyway. Might have ruined her big night by becoming "too tacky".

had enough said...

Where is Bill Lewis in all of this?
Remember, Bill Lewis belives the life-span of a school is 30 years. He has stated this several times in public meetings. in America, Bill, we work our behinds off to pay our mortgage off in 30 years. Meanwhile, we MAINTAIN our homes and hope to live in them until we die. Why can't we maintain our schools, Mr. Lewis? God help the taxpayer (and our public school system) under your philosophy...By the way, what's your salary?

Anonymous said...

Bill Lewis was given a 3 year extension to his contract last October. He's been with CCSD since the 1990's. The total package was for $450,000. That would be annualized at $150,000 per year. I'd also like to know what perks go with that contract and what he accepts as gifts and favors from contractors and service providers that he oversees.

Anonymous said...

Now THAT sounds like a great story!

Anonymous said...

David Engelman nor Ray Toler attended this event. In the first place Ron McWhirt retired, Goodloe QUIT. She got out of Dodge before all the rhetoric caught up with her. But, I am sure Ruth Jordon, Nancy Cook and Jon Butzon were there. The three of them have never missed a free meal. I am sure Ruthie was stuffing food in her purse for later

retired teacher said...

There's at least one CCSD employee who admits to being at the Goodloe send-off. After giving a detailed description as only someone on the closed invitation list could do, she finishes her Letter to the Editor with the following:

"Thanks to all of the multi-million-dollar corporations that made the evening possible. We appreciate the fact that they are willing to help honor all superintendents. - NANCY KENNEDY, 1789 Clark Hills Circle, Johns Island

She says all big corporations should be expected to "lobby" public officials...hey, not unless they're registered with the state as lobbyists. Otherwise, it's against the law, and for a lot of good reasons. How many people remember the phrase, "It's a business doing pleasure with you."?

And if Ms. Kennedy is a public employee, if she received a benifit or gift valued at more than $25, she will have to report it to the ethics commission or she is in violation of state ethics laws that apply to all public officials and public employees.

Anonymous said...

What made this event so dispicable was the fact that CCSD employees approached private contractors that they supervise while they do business with CCSC. They put the finger on them to do this...with the implied (if not specified) notion that it would "be good for business" if they did. Then the closed (private) invitation list further says that some public employees were favored while others were not. This is clearly a matter for the State Ethics Commission, if a complaint hasn't already been filed.

If this was a genuine public event open to all and voluntarily funded by businesses and/or individuals who were not approached by CCSD employees first AND who were not already such high profile parts of CCSD's annual budget, then it would have passed the "smell test". Arrogance breeds forgetfullness of both the law and common sense.