Thursday, August 30, 2007

Please Explain the CCSD Bus Fleet!

I'm so confused!

As I drive to work, I see buses marked "Durham School Services," "Charleston County School District," AND "South Carolina State Schools."

The P & C in its expose of South Carolina's aging school bus fleet made the point that all buses are owned by the state; therefore, it's the state legislature's responsibility to provide funds to buy new ones. So, WHAT is going on in CCSD?
  • Is the state not providing enough buses to Charleston County?

  • Has the district bought buses of its own?

  • Do the buses that say "Durham School Services" belong to the State of South Carolina?

Furthermore, one of my commenters had some rather disturbing information to pass along regarding CCSD and CARTA:

"CCSD had a program to give CARTA passes to high school and middle school kids which would have been usable 24/7 for an entire semester. They were also renewable for each subsequent semester and only cost the student/parent $5 each. CCSD paid the difference ($35, I think). Trouble is they only offered the program at two low income, low performing, high minority schools. Even so they didn't promote the program and as many as half of the 400 pre purchased passes were never distributed [italics mine]. It looked like they didn't want to do anything to undermine the private bus service they had under contract. Never mind that CARTA is begging for customers and provides a much more flexible, cheaper and cleaner service."

Assuming the $35 figure is correct, that would be times 200 = $7000 of wasted taxpayers' money. While we're at it, would someone please explain why CARTA isn't used by the school district?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Singing the Blues over the SAT

Yes, I'm going to be negative. There's plenty to be negative about! Despite CCSD's boast regarding the hike in its overall SAT scores for 2007, the picture remains gloomy. We aren't keeping up with the Joneses.

Should we cheer because CCSD is approaching the South Carolina state average?

  • Should we be happy that CCSD's two magnet high schools (School of the Arts and Academic Magnet) made it into the top 15 in a state ranked 49th?
  • Can we reassure ourselves that the problem suggested by the P & C, "Revised SAT stumps students for second year," has caused South Carolina to lag?
  • Maybe we should be happy that only four of the lowest performing high schools in the state are in Charleston County, even if CCSD does have more low performers than any other school district in the state.
  • Best of all, we can be happy that the Writing section isn't counted in the rankings since that would have put us DEAD LAST.
  • I know, we can revel in beating the District of Columbia, that notoriously corrupt district that has just been taken over by its mayor!
  • And, furthermore, we've slammed the great State of Maine, which did come in dead last--because ALL of its high school seniors (100%) were required to take the SAT.

Courrege and Hagen quote Jim Rex as saying, "The state is headed in the right direction, but it needs to have greater improvement at a faster rate." In the right direction? Didn't the overall scores just DROP?

While pointing to a nine-point gain in CCSD's composite score, McGinley also acknowledges that about half of the district's high schools saw their scores drop. That's with only 60 percent taking the test overall in the district, and those are from the 50% left in the schools by senior year, thanks to CCSD's massive dropout rate.

Does anyone besides Jim Rex think that a "new funding system for the state's schools" and "pay increases and a public relations campaign" improving the morale of teachers is the answer to this problem?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Told You So: $15,250 Per Hire

By my calculations eight months ago, even if all parameters had fallen into place with Teach Charleston, each hire would have cost about $5500.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007: Non-Profit Does Not Mean Non-Profitable
Thursday, July 12, 2007: P & C Discovers the Broad Foundation!
Thursday, August 09, 2007: CCSD: You Mean We Can Do It Ourselves?

Now today's P & C: "District to scrap teacher recruiter: Company hired to find teachers will get $305,000." by Diette Courrege.

"The New Teacher Project was supposed to recruit at least 90 teachers for eight of Charleston County's hardest-to-staff schools, but the nonprofit only found 20 teachers for the district by the first day of school. The school board responded on Monday night by unanimously agreeing to end the district's two-year contract now, one year early."

"'If we had continued the contract [italics added], we would've wasted money,' said board Chairwoman Nancy Cook. 'We've done a better job of recruiting. They didn't follow through on what they said they could do.'" Maybe because there was no great incentive to do so, as I proved previously?

And where is the half funded by the community (as promised last January)? According to Don Kennedy, "the district has raised $27,500 in private donations to help cover that expense. . . . The state also has promised the district a $100,000 grant that could be used toward the contract cost, but the district has not yet received that money." That falls short of half, Don, and what "state" agency has promised this grant?

"Superintendent Nancy McGinley said the project didn't have a clear understanding of the state's teacher certification laws, which meant some of the recruits didn't meet state requirements." Well, whose idea was it to hire them? If they're such experts, why wouldn't they understand the certification laws?

"Charleston also is an expensive airport destination, and prospective teachers often had to pay their way, which was a deterrent to interviewing for a job here, she said." And we didn't know that last January?

"Officials initially sought the services of the New Teacher Project because they were looking for innovative ways to solve the teacher vacancy problem, McGinley said." Those would be nameless officials, right? Ones who had no clue about air expenses and state teacher certification? The school board voted to approve this boondoggle--they bear responsibility here also.

Okay, here's the best part, a McGinley quote: "larger cities are different than Charleston." Good. I hope she remembers that in the future and stops thinking in the Broad-Fellow mode.

Monday, August 27, 2007

What Ever Happened to--LaRon Dendy?

What happens to talented athletes who get caught up in diploma mills? Last year the NCAA investigated a "school" in Pickens that was attended by several top basketball prospects. In Monday's P & C, we have a further installment of the story.

"Former Clemson commitment 6'10" LaRon Dendy of Greer will try to resurrect his career at Indian Hills JC, Iowa. 'We're hoping in two years he'll be ready for major college,' said Dendy's former AAU coach Frank Ballenger. Dendy played last season at Hope Christian Academy in Kings Mountain, NC, where he averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds per game, but did not have the grades to be able to accept a major college offer. Clemson and South Carolina will monitor his progress while Dendy has also heard from Kansas State, Texas and LSU according to Ballenger."

For background on this academic situation, see my posts of last year in June and December, Forward to Pickens! and Updating the Old as the New Year Approaches, Part 1 . When last heard of, Dendy was back at Greer High School. Apparently by basketball season he had enrolled in yet another school for academically struggling athletes (as noted above). What the P & C reporter doesn't clarify is that his ineligibility for a "major" college was caused by a combination of grades and SAT scores. Also not clarified is where the tuition money comes from for these private schools.

Maybe in Iowa he'll get the academic background he needs to succeed. As I've said before, too many LaRon Dendys are out there, prepping for athletics instead of getting a decent education. What happens to them when they get injured and can't play? Not every talented athlete makes it to the NBA.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thank NCLB, No Paper Tiger

Suddenly, SUDDENLY, even though with the district for the previous three or so years, CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley discovers that thousands of students cut school for the first couple of weeks in the fall.

Personally, I'm also shocked, shocked, that there's gambling going on in here.

Oops. Sorry. Did it again. It's just that for the last 40 years, since South Carolina's compulsory school law was passed in 1967, districts have not enforced the truancy laws. No one has ever paid the $50 fine for not sending his or her child to school. Now we discover that, when a law is not enforced, many people do not to obey it! Remember the wide-open bars when Charleston was a dry county?

Let's not forget that the legislature of the great State of South Carolina in 1955 abolished compulsory schooling so that the races would not be forced to go to school together. (I'm not making this up, for those of you who are transplants!) And, once school was compulsory again, why should the legislature or the individual school districts worry if the children of the poor and the transient, those largely under discussion here, attend school or not? Aren't they likely to be troublemakers anyway?

Gee, I wonder if South Carolina's abysmally low graduation rates have any relationship to enforcement of truancy laws? Duh.

What has changed? Why this sudden interest in a phenomenon ignored for decades?

Truancy laws were a paper tiger, and now a real tiger has appeared--No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law that teachers' unions and the entrenched educational bureaucracy love to hate. NOW if those children aren't in school, everybody knows it, and, furthermore, they get penalized for it.

NCLB statistics reveal the depths of our failing, and failed, schools. They force school districts like CCSD to study the underside of the beast to figure out how to raise the level of the lowest achievers. Clearly, that includes attending school.

Those who care about children stuck in failing schools should thank God for NCLB, and pray that Congress doesn't gut the law before the mess is cleaned up.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Butter Wouldn't Melt in Their Mouths

One by one the CCSD school board proponents of charging high rent to the Charter School for Math and Science, a public school desiring to use a vacant public school building, sweetly assure the audience that they favor charter schools--and then prove it by adding an illegal quota system to the rent issue passed on a 5 to 4 vote.

If you were not at the school board meeting of August 13th but have had the time to view the two programs broadcast of the events, you are probably as annoyed as I am by the sanctimonious and hypocritical statements of members Jordan, Douglas, and Hampton-Green as well as by the Keystone-Kops aspects of the so-called participation and voting by cell phone of Meyers and Cook. These five treat their constituents as if they fell off the turnip truck yesterday!

In his successful campaign State Superintendent Jim Rex made much of what he calls "public school choice," suggesting it as a way to get successful, appealing, competing choices to parents and students without going the school-voucher route that would send public funds into private schools. He and the majority voting on CCSD's board need to take heed. Throwing up too many roadblocks to new charter schools will backfire. If the public gets tired of waiting for those choices, it will decide to support vouchers instead.

Not that the tactics being used are unexpected. Nor were they invented here in Charleston. They're being used in various forms all over the United States to halt, slow down, and cripple the growth of public charter schools. As former New York Daily News reporter Joe Williams writes in a recent issue of Education Next, apart from the more obvious legal barriers to successful charter schools being considered in state legislatures, the "'air war,'"

". . . there is also evidence of a perhaps more damaging 'ground war.' Interviews with more than 400 charter school operators from coast to coast have revealed widespread localized combat—what one administrator called 'bureaucratic sand' that is often hurled in the faces of charter schools. Indeed, as a 2005 editorial in the Washington Post described charter school obstruction in Maryland, 'It’s guerilla turf war, with children caught in the middle. Attempts to establish public charter schools in Maryland have been thwarted at almost every turn by entrenched school boards, teachers unions and principals resistant to any competition.'
The goal appears to be to stop charter schools any way possible."

For the rest of these interesting parallels to CCSD's latest tactics and tales of the turf wars, see .
To quote Hamlet on his murdering uncle, "One may smile and smile, and be a villain."
"Bureaucratic sand," indeed.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

Why would Superintendent McGinley and a representative of the charter high school committee meet in the office of the mayor of Charleston four days before McGinley announced her commitment to charging a high rent on the Rivers building that insisted on an illegal quota system and sharing of the building with a phantom "Lowcountry High Tech" school?

According to a well-placed source,

" Mayor Riley and Dr. McGinley called a meeting in the mayor's office with a representative of the charter school group in order to dictate terms for the occupancy of the Rivers building. The lone charter school representative who was allowed to attend the meeting was essentially ambushed. This meeting was four days before the county school board's vote (last Monday) and several days after Mayor Riley had assured representatives of the NAACP and the Ministerial Alliance that he would 'take care of the matter.' Mayor Riley and Dr. McGinley agreed in advance that they would make the environment so objectionable at Rivers that the Charter School would be unable to attract the numbers that it would need. The rent discussion was just a distraction for what would really KILL the charter school outright which is what both officials appear to want."

The only person with the authority to "call a meeting in the mayor's office" IS the mayor. The last time I looked, Mayor Riley had no legal standing in CCSD. In fact, although once the Charleston city schools functioned under the aegis of the mayor and council, as a result of the Act of Consolidation that is no longer true. Not "legally." That never stopped Joe Riley apparently. It's unlikely that he called this meeting in his role as a board member of the Charleston Education Network.

It's not difficult to understand that, although McGinley gives lip service to the concept of charter schools, she really hates them. After all, public charter schools COMPETE with the other public schools run by the district and its school board. As with James Island Charter High School, the probability exists that sooner or later authorities in charge of the other public schools will look like bad managers (for obvious reasons). What is not so clear is why Mayor Joe Riley wants to kill the downtown charter high school.

What do the NAACP and Ministerial Alliance hold against integrated high schools? Does Joe Riley really believe that his opposition to the charter high school will guarantee the support of African-American voters? Why? How can he even look them in the eye after what has happened to downtown schools on his 32-year watch?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rivers Building Renovation: Why $24 Million Sinkhole?

Indignation continues to mount over CCSD's bare-knuckled attempt to knock out the new Charter High School for Math and Science by charging unreasonable rent to a public school desiring to use a public school building. However, lost in the heat of battle is a proper focus on the escalating estimation of the cost of renovating the Rivers building for its use.

Renovation costs pegged at $10 million only months ago are now estimated at $24 million! Why this sinkhole??? No use proposed by charter high school proponents has brought about this unconscionable increase.

Is it a case of Bill Lewis's inability to add and subtract, the contractor's being given a blank check, or CCSD's attempt to show that the charter high will be too expensive?

The Post and Courier routinely treats outrageously high building costs in CCSD as ordinary. Now we even have relatively new buildings, such as the "Taj Mahal" and West Ashley High School, requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.
No wonder residents complain about school taxes: they suspect that money is going down the sinkhole. Meanwhile, schools like Charleston Progressive suffer and beg for library books.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Crush the Infamous Thing"--McGinley on Charter High

Oops! Sorry, that was Voltaire on the ancien regime, not McGinley on the new Charter High School for Math and Science. Silly me to get them confused!

Seriously, is anyone left who thinks CCSD isn't playing hardball? If the board had no choice but to approve the school, and if not allowing it to use Rivers would fly in the face of major public support, what could CCSD's fallback position be but to gut the school financially to the best of its ability? Voila! That's $300,000 per year for rent.

Nancy McGinley needs to get out more, out of 75 Calhoun Street, that is. This is not Philadelphia. We have a diverse, publicly-supported group of parents trying to create an integrated school on the penninsula, trying to undo the neglect and studied abandonment by previous ancien regimes that have left downtown schools in shambles and segregated.

No one doubts that this plan was hotly negotiated prior to Monday's meeting and was never in danger of failing, as long as voting by cell phone was allowed.

But who allowed it? And was it legal? Surely charter school supporters are now pursuing the answer.

Me? I can hardly wait to see the results of Buist address verification. I wonder if they'll differ from last year's.

Monday, August 13, 2007

CCSD's Plans for Rivers

Superintendent McGinley presented her ideas in regard to the use of the Rivers Middle School building at tonight's CCSD school board meeting. I will update this post when I have more information.

Meanwhile, your comments and analysis are welcome.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Once-A-Year Madness Not the Answer to Financing College Education

Playing into parental fears about the rising cost of a college education, the P & C has again published this week the educational establishment's fictitous "scholarship money earned" press releases. According to reporters Courrege and Hagen (who as usual report without analyzing), "Charleston students earned more this past year than each of the four previous years, and more than half of the district's 2007 graduates will have scholarship money as they head to post-secondary education this fall."

This "news" is a tactic of the educational establishment to make itself look good. It has virtually nothing to do with "scholarship" and precious little to do with parental worries over how to pay for college. For an analysis of how these "funny" numbers work, see my posting of last August: Oh, No! Not in South Carolina Too!

The good news that can be gleaned from this year's obfuscations is that Burke High School (whose numbers have risen) finally has a guidance counselor attuned to the college applications game "as she is played." No school deserves it more!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

2001 Cold Case Blown Open by Victim's Mother

Parrish Reeves's mother KNEW he wasn't simply "missing" in 2001. After all, his dog remained in the house in Cordesville; blood was spattered around, and a comforter had disappeared. Not so the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, which treated the case as a missing person without further investigation.

According to today's P & C, "The case dried up until late 2006, when [his mother] presented the Sheriff's Office with new information regarding his disappearance." We don't know where she got it, but obviously the case lay dormant until that point.

Now it turns out that the authorities needn't have looked far--in fact, Reeves's stepchildren, ages 18 and 21 at the time of the murder, have been charged, along with two others; items belonging to the victim in a Monck's Corner pawnshop database [for how long, we ask?] were traced to his stepdaughter.

If Reeves's mother had given up, this cold case would still be unsolved, and the body still undiscovered.

Six years of wondering and trying to get the right people to pay attention. No thanks to the Sheriff's Office except for following through when the answers became obvious. Not encouraging.

CCSD: You Mean We Can Do It Ourselves?

For the edification of those just finding this blog I have reprinted below my posting of last January. This is in response to the Post and Courier's article today on CCSD's success this year in filling teacher slots. The success is truly a turn=around from previous years, with only 37 vacancies remaining at a time when usually 100 or more remain.

No doubt this success is linked to district efforts on many fronts, as Supt. McGinley states.

HOWEVER, the hiring of the New Teacher Project (known as Teach Charleston) is NOT one of them. McGinley acknowledges such. Apparently the number actually signed up by Teach Charleston is unmentionable, but it clearly does not approach the 90 in the contract with this nonprofit.

Is anyone going to admit a mistake here? Teach Charleston has a two-year contract that will be quite profitable even if it never signs another teacher!
See below:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Non-Profit Does Not Mean Non-Profitable

Today's Newsless Courier announces that CCSD has signed a contract with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) [ see their website ] to recruit "enough good teachers" for school years 2007-08 and 2008-09. Admirable goal, that.Who cannot sympathize with Stall High School's principal (and students) as they limp through this school year minus three math teachers? Who cannot help but notice that the schools listed to benefit from this recruiting are the "usual suspects."Noticing the numbers, however, forces the reader to contemplate this: for every teacher short of 90 each year that is not recruited, TNTP will pay back the district $1500; however, each teacher being successfully recruited (assuming 200 over two years) will cost the district $5500.DO THE MATH: that's $4000 NOT paid back to the district per recruiting shortfall.Of course, TNTP is a non-profit. What would be profit is paid out in salaries, expenses, and bonuses. Let's not assume that it is not a money-making venture! And exactly what WAS Nancy McGinley's connection to them? The article says "[she] worked with TNTP in Philadelphia." As an administrator? As an employee of TNTP? As a teacher? Not clear, Diette.According to the article, "half of the money [that's $550,000 by my count] will come from the district, and officials want to collect the other half from the community." [italics mine] So far the district seems to have collected $40,000 of that other half, meaning another half-a-million dollars will either be raised from the community OR be paid by the district, since the contract was signed before even 10 percent was raised from the community. Good luck. I hope someone, or several someones, has deep pockets!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Taj Mahal Falls Apart: No, Not THAT One! CCSD's

Patched up cracked garage support beams, crumbling stucco, mold---

Just as Charlestonians have a fond nickname for the Post and Courier [that would be the Newsless Courier], they also have an apt name for the Charleston County School District's administrative offices found at 75 Calhoun Street--yes, the Taj Mahal.

Thanks to an intrepid reader of this blog, we all can see that this expensive building project less than 20 years old is falling apart. Makes you wonder who cut corners in construction and whether the architectural firm of LS3P Associates knew what it was doing. You say all 20-year-old buildings fall apart like this? Show me. Did Bill Lewis oversee this project?

The present budget for repairs is over half a million dollars of TM (that's Taxpayers' Money) but rising because, of course, construction costs always rise. How much expenditure the original contract covers is unclear.
Given what just transpired in Minnesota, you may not want to park in the parking garage.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Mortgage Story: Who Would Become a Teacher?

Application: in stable marriage; has two children and two more on the way; employed as high school teacher and track coach at $27,000; works part-time in supermarket to make additional $3,000; has relatively low student loans of $20,000 after graduating from a state university; finds suitable house near relative (presumably potential babysitter) for $143,000 in Hunley Park, Alice Birney, & Stall High School districts. MORTGAGE DENIED.

This phenomenon comes at the same time that the media report local brides' trashing wedding dresses probably costing more to wear for one day than what Maurice Grant makes all year in his part-time job. If you check out the comments section in the P & C's story of today, you will find mean-spirited remarks on how he should have postponed children, found a cheaper house out in the country, spent more time commuting, etc. For those of you who haven't searched for housing lately, $143,000 IS a cheap house. Not one comment appears on how low this college graduate's salary is! Why do I believe that none of these derogatory comments come from TEACHERS?

I suspect these comments arose because Grant's story is part of a campaign by State Senator Robert Ford publicizing the poor mortgage market for the Lowcountry's black community. After all, Grant was ENCOURAGED by the Bank of America to apply. He could have gone the route that is producing so many foreclosures, but he sensibly chose not to.

Good teachers are not a dime a dozen. Here we have a professional making a "working-class" salary. At the very least South Carolina should forgive student loans on a percentage basis for each year worked as a teacher in its public schools.

Those wishing to teach should not be required to take vows of poverty or have independent means.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

CCSD's Interesting Summer

Taking shape in the "lazy, hazy days of summer" are developments in the Charleston County School District.
  1. After a stint of 10 years, respected and effective Burke High School teacher Andrew HaLevi joins the district office as a disciplinary hearings officer. No comment in today's P & C from HaLevi, founder of the Charleston Teacher Alliance and Charleston Futures, who just returned from a year's sabbatical in Israel. Soul-searching led him away from the classroom? The district chose to keep last year's replacement in place? He thinks he can make more of a difference in the new position? Or was this move involuntary?
  2. Clearly voluntary is Michael Tolley's joining Maria Goodloe-Johnson in the position of director of instruction in Seattle. Tolley was principal at Burke prior to becoming principal of Academic Magnet three years ago. G-J appointed Tolley as interim associate superintendent for more than one constituent district prior to appointing him principal of AMHS. According to the P & C, the school will have an interim for only "two or three months."
  3. Three school board members--Hillery Douglas, Gregg Meyers, and Toya Hampton-Green--show where their true interests lie by skipping the CCSD meeting of July 23rd in order to see and be seen at the Democratic debate. In a roundabout way their absence leads to postponement of a decision on the size of the new Stall High School building project, which hardly seems likely to be finished in time for its proposed opening at this rate. And they say politics has nothing to do with education!
  4. Unhappy neighbors of St. Andrews Magnet for Math & Science are placated somewhat by McGinley's semi-promise to remove two mobile classrooms of the three that suddenly appeared next to the school last year. The land, owned by the district, had been used as a park for 50 years, and the surrounding neighbors woke up one morning to trailers. Inexplicable is how the school's carefully controlled population could burgeon about 75 students over the limit while no one noticed. Hmm. No one seems to know why or even how many out-of-the-neighborhood students attend, but parents' cars are a serious traffic problem. Will the promised address-check of all magnets resolve this mystery?