Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cheerleader Butzon Butts-in to CCSD Again

Thanks to Saturday's op-ed in the P & C [see Help McGinley with Hard Work of Improving Education], we are now informed that those opposing Superintendent McGinley's plans were people who think the poor and black can't learn.

Gee, I wonder what the parents at Brentwood, Schroder, McClellanville Middle, Fraser, and Charlestowne Academy would say about that! Not. Not to mention the other "stakeholders" who worked so hard to put together counter-proposals that McGinley and the CCSD School Board ignored.

Jon Butzon--the executive director of the Charleston Education Network--sounds impressive, doesn't it? I'm impressed with how much he takes home (must be up to $80,000 per year by now) for attending CCSD School Board meetings and writing two or three op-ed pieces per year. And his qualifications for that are what? And what is the Charleston Education Network (apart from being part of the edublob)? [See entries for CEN and Butzon on this blog.] Who pays his salary? Who calls the shots?

Here's what a commenter wrote back in July of 2007 (just a sample of a heated conversation):

"The waste and inequities that CCSD has forced on Dist. 20 are common issues that unite both white & black downtown public school advocates. Butzon & CEN have been noticeably absent on all fronts. A united downtown is a scary prospect to some. It would seem that all the special interest groups that live off the crumbs that CCSD throws them, from Dot Scott to Jon Butzon, the NAACP to the Chamber of Commerce (what a strange mix), none can afford to have a bunch of loose cannons downtown calling for public school reforms."

My nominee for controller is Joe Riley.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Think Outside the Box, Superintendent McGinley

So CCSD is in such financial trouble that it can't afford to pay short-term substitutes to cover classes the rest of the year? Gee, that will be really helpful to educational excellence. [See District Won't Use Subs for Rest of Year]

Well, how's this? First, rescind Superintendent McGinley's $300-a-month travel raise that was meant to cover $4.00-a-gallon-gasoline, since it's less than half that now. Then, take one of McGinley's top "vice-superintendents"--one of those who makes over $130,000 per year--lay off that person and spread that job among the ones who remain, including McGinley herself.

We really could pay for quite a few $60 to $75 per day subs that way.

Tell It Like It Is, Ray: CCSD's "Ruse"

Gasp! Shock! Get the smelling salts! After deciding to close five CCSD schools, the Charleston County School Board doesn't want to sell the "Taj Mahal" after all. [See Board Cool to Sale of 75 Calhoun]

"Board member Ray Toler said he thought it was a ruse that anyone suggested selling 75 Calhoun because no one had any intention of doing that.

"'It doesn't make sense to sell it, but I'd still rather see the school district (headquarters) in another location," he said. "I think there would be less politics.'"

Hmm. Less access by Mayor Riley, that's for sure.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Put the Edublob on a Diet in CCSD!

The Post and Courier finally caught up with this blog on Wednesday regarding CCSD's payments to outside consultants, i.e., the edublob. [See District Paid $25K to Consulting Firm] The discovery concerns money paid to the hapless consultant who bore the brunt of McClellanville's fury--over its inability to be heard at one of Superintendent McGinley's so-called public input meetings. Not that I'm sorry for the consultant. Or McGinley either.

A commenter on the on-line version of the article sums up the situation quite nicely:

Nearly every "public hearing" I attend these days is being run by some group of hired consultants. They pay some people to talk. They hand out forms, which we fill out. We almost never see the tabulated results. We sit down at little tables in "focus groups" to fill out more forms. We don't see the other group's forms. The one thing that never happens is that we get to stand up and say what we think and our neighbors get to hear it. There isn't going to be a "Give me liberty or give me death" oratorical moment where a leader emerges from the community. They don't want new leaders, they want to stay in control.

The entire purpose of all of this is to keep representative democracy, free speech and republican government from working. It insulates the decision makers and eventually wears the public down. It is a corrosive attack on the First Amendment, free speech, peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government, the core function of our public process.

I'm all for lectures, discussions, focus groups and surveys, but in the end the rubber needs to hit the road where the public is heard. Those people in McClellanville were right to rebel. We owe them a lot for derailing the process. We should rebel more often.

Being Broad-trained urban superintendents, McGinley and her predecessor Goodloe-Johnson learned this process well. In fact, in Seattle right now, the process is mucking up Seattle's problems in much the same way, closing schools without a clear plan for quality in sight.

Oh, I know: "Excellence is our standard." Explain how that dovetails to the seventh-and-eighth graders at Charlestowne Academy who are forced into failing schools from a successful one or to seventh-and-eighth graders at Charleston Progressive Academy who must proceed from a building (Courtenay) that accommodates middle-schoolers to one that doesn't or, again, to a failing school, or both.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Questions Continue to Dog Murky CCSD Process

No matter how many times Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley tells the public that she's given them all the information that they need to see why her School Redesign recommendations are best, only the most gullible and obsequious will believe her. In truth, the tried-and-true venue for getting actual numbers out of CCSD is the FIOA route.

When the process answers the following nagging questions, perhaps critics will be stilled.
  • In the enrollment numbers for each school (a major issue), how many are counted who do not reside in its attendance zone? How many students reside in the attendance zone for each school in total? What percentage attend the school for which they are zoned?
  • District officials did not offer needed data on the savings expectations of different options they presented to the public. As a result, the public must take their word for claims or assumptions being made without specific numbers. Why?
  • Has the district made cuts to services, departments, and programs not directly related to classroom instruction? What about revisiting the more effective use of CARTA for student transportation? How do the Superintendent's proposals affect costs of student transportation?
  • How will the recommended closures affect Title I fund totals?
  • What is the legal justification for using the proceeds of the sale of capital assets for the operating budget? How can the district justify income from one-time sales being spent to pay recurring expenses?
  • Is the point of building new schools so that the old ones can be sold to finance the operating budget?
Is this any way to run an airline?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

CCSD School Board Trustees Frog-Marched

Despite the misgivings of the minority of the Charleston County School Board's Trustees, at the January 26th meeting, the majority (thanks to November's election results) will frog-march them into a vote to close five schools and mete out convoluted district changes in the name of saving the school budget.

According to William Safire, "J. K. Rowling, who used the colorful verb in one of her books for children, gave her understanding of the compound to a questioner: 'That's when two people stand [on] either side of a third person and they force them to walk along. It's like you're under arrest.''' Right. That's exactly what the rush to judgment feels like to the rest of us.

Tough questions remain that Superintendent McGinley and her minions have chosen to ignore.
Here are a few of them:
  • Why are two schools on the closure list that do not conform to the Superintendent's four criteria (Applying these criteria to the district as a whole, when enrollment increases in magnet and charter schools can explain this year's small increase in county-wide enrollment, it appears that CCSD itself should be marked for closure. What does this plan do to reverse the downward trend in the district as a whole in addition to the individual schools that remain?
  • Where is the Superintendent's (or Bobby's) analysis of the projected savings over the current expenditures with each change proposed? What are the one-time costs for implementing the Superintendent’s plan? What would the costs be without the Superintendent’s proposed changes? What are the cost differences between the Superintendent’s plan and those offered by the various constituent districts?

I know. We'll see these answers when hell freezes over.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Remaining Questions for CCSD's McGinley

Dear Superintendent McGinley,

Hundreds of Charleston County parents and taxpayers came together over the last month to develop alternatives to the original School Redesign proposals explored at five district community meetings called by you. Three districts prepared alternative plans, and the two other affected districts made uniform comments in response to your plans.

With your revised redesign plan announced on Wednesday, you offered no evidence to the public that you gave any of these plans or comments the attention and consideration that they deserved. You also have not responded to the individuals who submitted these comments and plans to you in good faith.

If "stakeholders'" comments and outcomes of the community meetings are to be summarily dismissed, why did the Charleston County School District, in the middle of its budget crunch, spend so much money on them?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CCSD Board Chair Green Satisfied with Five Closures

Spokesperson for Gregg Meyers, Toya Hampton-Green, allowed as how CCSD Superintendent McGinley's five school closures are okay with her [see Five Schools Recommended for Closing]:

School board Chairwoman Toya Green wanted to wait until the board meeting to discuss specific recommendations, but she said the superintendent did what the board asked, that the proposal was well thought out and that she felt comfortable with the recommendations.

"We have some tough decisions to make, and unfortunately there's nothing feel good about figuring out how to save money and cut positions," she said.

The schools recommended for closure share four characteristics: declining enrollment, excess building capacity, persistently struggling academic achievement and high per-pupil costs.

I can think of a fifth shared characteristic.

According to CCSD Chief Financial Officer Mike Bobby, the projected shortfall of $28 million will be well served by a savings of $5.3 million from these closures. Does that saving include the costs involved from the closures themselves? Where's the other $22 million coming from?

Show us how you arrived at these figures--or is that too much transparency?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Other Shoe Drops on Five CCSD Schools

Anticlimactic. That's when the final result doesn't match up to the sturm und drang that preceded it. Was Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley's aim "to frighten the audience or imbue them with extremes of emotion," as the the nineteenth-century literature of sturm und drang attempted? If so, she has succeeded.

Now in the calmer aftermath, what have the Superintendent and School Board accomplished?
  • They've convinced rural schools that their days are numbered;
  • They've temporarily taken the focus from "seismic upgrades";
  • They've convinced many taxpayers of their plan to continue to sell land and buildings strategically to pay for operating expenses;
  • They've spent tens of thousands on facilitators for meetings;
  • They've proved that "transparency" is not in their dictionary.
I'm not going to shed any crocodile tears over the closure of the middle schools--McClellanville, Brentwood, and Schroder Middle. Middle schools are a form of educational torture that rates right down there with water-boarding.

CCSD has also telegraphed the merger of Fraser and Sanders-Clyde so many times in the last few years (does anyone dare to bring forward the name of the former "joint" principal?) that its being closed comes as no surprise--it's been set up for it. Let's do keep an eye on what happens to that piece of land where it sits, folks.

And Charlestown Academy seems to have had the least vocal support from residents of North Charleston, even as its seventh and eighth grades have excelled. Squeaky wheels, etc.

Maybe one of you can shed light on the murky process of how these closures will solve the school budget's shortfalls.

Monday, January 19, 2009

P & C Editorial Sees Flaws in McGinley's Options

It's not my imagination. Ever since the P & C got a new editorial-page editor, its tone toward the machinations of the Charleston County School Board and its superintendent has changed. See Monday's editorial, School Plan Can't Wait Forever, for the evidence: most of the cheerleading has stopped.

Monday's editorial actually questioned the wisdom of putting a charter school for math and science into a building without science labs. The writer even implied that perhaps, despite her protestations, Superintendent McGinley doesn't really support charter schools. Imagine that!

The writer also suggests that perhaps huge capital outlays for "seismic upgrades" are not the most necessary expenditures in the present economic climate. Of course, some of us would say that they are not the most necessary expenditures in the present geographic location, never mind the timing!

We wait with bated breath the Superintendent's revised proposals, reportedly to be announced on Wednesday. As Mark Twain once wrote,
“Every eye fixed itself upon [her]; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon [her] words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale.”
Let's hope some of the more "ghastly fascinations" have disappeared.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lawsuits Over Stupid Decisions Plague CCSD

Can you blame them? Drayton Hall Elementary has requested the same process of becoming a charter school that was afforded by the Charleston County School Board to Orange Grove Elementary several years ago. [See Drayton Appeals Denial for Charter in Saturday's P & C.]

It's all about power, not money, despite what the CCSD School Board says. The Board has not made its case legally to reject Drayton Hall's request. Merely stating that other students will be hurt does not meet the requirements to reject the charter.

You'll see.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Letter Highlights McGinley's Heartlessness

Do you have a child in K-5? Did you ever? Try to imagine the effects on that child of riding a school bus for one hour in the morning, going to school for a full day in a large, unfamiliar environment, and then riding an hour home at night. Horrendous, isn't it? Top that off with the idea that your job requirements or lack of transportation will prevent you from being involved with that far-away school in any way.

Nevertheless, that is the option proposed by Superintendent McGinley of the Charleston County Schools for children living on Edisto or Wadmalaw Islands. Why aren't you angrier about it? These are rural schools, not part of some suburban sprawl outside of Philadelphia!

Gwen Siegrist in her Letter to the Editor in Thursday's P & C points out the obvious: " the comfort of familiar surroundings to students and parental involvement do more for improving learning than other changes."

The writer also suggests that moving Calhoun Street staff into "more productive positions" and even (The Horror! The Horror!) having those qualified teach for a few years in the classroom "would do more for the education of students and the district employees than having the staff sitting in an office planning another change in curriculum."

Siegrist's letter highlights the reality that, for McGinley, it's not about the students.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Scott's Suggesting "Stealth" NAACP Fails the Test

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott has responded with a full op-ed piece in response to the Reverend Mack's Letter to the Editor commenting that perhaps her organization truly was irrelevant to the black community. [See NAACP Often Works Behind the Scenes on School Issues] in Tuesday's issue of the P & C as well as Charleston NAACP Irrelevant to Schools? earlier on this blog.]

Scott doesn't make her case! Nowhere in her rambling defense of the effectiveness of the NAACP regarding the Charleston County Schools does she state one hard fact regarding what so-called "working behind the scenes" has accomplished.

Now, if she were writing for an English class, the comments would be:
  • Where's your evidence?
  • Support your conclusions!
  • Provide details and examples!
At best this effort is a C-. Let's have a rewrite with good support for your thesis, Dot!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chickens Roosting in Sales Tax for Schools

"It is no wonder that this was not properly forecast; apparently the economists that did the work up on the numbers attended South Carolina public schools."--from the comments section of the P & C [S.C. Paying Piper for Act 388 Tax Cuts ]

The outrage perpetrated on the taxpayers of South Carolina continues to resonate. That outrage is the substitution of state sales tax for property tax revenues to support local schools. Wednesday's article in the P & C says it all: those owning homes worth more than half a million dollars have made out like bandits, while the rest suffer. Emerson Read, hero to Marie-Antoinette!

To riff on Santayana (the philosopher, not the musician), Those who of us who predicted this financial disaster at the time are condemned to live through it.

It's hard to know what to make of some aspects of Act 388, however. Take the following provision:

"The property tax law requires the state to give school districts at least the amount of money they would have collected in property tax from exempted homes, with annual adjustments for population and inflation. However, the state can, and has, reduced other sources of funding to schools."

"The Department of Education budget was cut by $253 million in the current state budget."

What "other sources of funding to schools" amount to $253 million?

"Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D- Orangeburg, said she had asked what would happen to school funding in an economic downtown, under Act 388, and was told the money would come from general fund revenues."
Well, pony up!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Questions from Downtown for CCSD's McGinley

Recent meetings of downtown constituents (District 20) of the Charleston County School District have yielded a tentative Option 4 (reported in Tuesday's P & C--see A New Plan for Schools). More about that later.

But downtown community members have also raised some unanswered troubling questions concerning Superintendent McGinley's recommended three options. Following are some of them:
Questions about Superintendent McGinley's Three options for D20
1. According to the CCSD School Redesign Criteria on which options are based, Charleston Progressive has the best ranking of any other neighborhood school in District 20. Why is it slated for closure?

2. According to CCSD's Redesign proposal, the K-8 grade configuration is associated with "improved student outcomes" and is one of the Redesign's target configurations. Yet the proposal splits up the best performing school on the peninsula, Buist Academy, into a K-5 and a 6-8, and terminates the second best performing one, Charleston Progressive.

3. Charleston Montessori requested the Berry campus. None of the options assign any particular school to Berry. Why wasn't its request to go to Berry honored? Why is the only option for Charleston Montessori to go to the Courtenay Building, where Charleston Progressive now resides?

4. All three options send the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science (CCSMS) a middle high to an elementary school campus (Archer) whose building has room for 283 smaller children, no science labs and no gymnasium. By 2012 CCSMS will have 480 teenagers. Does anything about this idea make sense?

5. The 2009 budget was balanced by a $7 million loan from the fund balance, with the understanding that the loan will be paid back with proceeds from the sale of property. Later, CCSD learned that its operations in Fiscal Year 2008 had yielded an $18 million surplus. Why doesn't CCSD pay off the $7 million loan with some of that surplus, apply the remaining $11 million to the 2009 deficit and forget about selling schools into the jaws of a real estate recession?

6. The Redesign calls for destruction and replacement of three buildings: Buist, Memminger and Rivers. At the big meeting before Christmas, the executive director of the Preservation Society raised many questions as to the viability of that plan. On December 18th, Historic Charleston followed suit with a letter to the same effect (attached,) to Dr. McGinley. Until questions on this major component of the plan are resolved, how can CCSD make final recommendations? Will that happen before January 26?

7. What would destroying and replacing three buildings cost? $100 million? Is this a fiscally prudent plan in the current economic environment? Wouldn't it make more sense to limit the capital expenditures at this time to work that is absolutely necessary?
None of us are foolish enough to hold our breath waiting for answers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not as CCSD Issue

A Buist Academy student's Letter to the Editor that appeared in Sunday's P & C raised some good points regarding waste in the Charleston County School District. [See Letters to the Editor.]

Unused textbooks will continue as a problem as long as their purchase is centrally mandated.

Paper waste involves another matter. Many schools probably still struggle with trusting announcements to electronic transmissions, either through habit or equipment problems. The student mentions "large amounts of paper waste from assignments." Now, some schools have already used up their "paper" budgets. A recent commenter on this blog, obviously a CCSD teacher, stated, "Hey paper shortage already, we can't order pencils or paper." Was that waste, poor planning, poor administration, or inadequate funds?

Somehow I suspect that's not the result of waste, but the student certainly hits the jackpot on the district's management of resources.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Burger Proves Talent Hides in Sports

It's an old adage among English teachers: need examples of good writing from a newspaper to show to students? Turn to the sports columns. Since most English teachers are female and sports-challenged, the mere existence of this truism reveals its strength!

So does January's emergence of the P & C's Ken Burger from the sports section. [See Saturday's paean to an old car, Recalling the Clunker I Used to Drive] While my husband's college friend could tell you about his car that wouldn't make left turns without stalling and my son could wax poetic over a 1983 Cadillac DeVille with disintegrating bumpers, former or present possession of a disadvantaged automobile is not required for recognizing Burger's talent with words.

Let's hope one day as he searches for topics he settles on the Charleston County School District. Now that would be entertaining!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Idea for CCSD's"Taj Mahal": Buy High, Sell Low

The inmates are running amuck again. At least that's what anyone with a finger on the pulse of the present real estate market in Charleston must be thinking after reading Friday's paper.

The idea that the present CCSD inmates of 75 Calhoun, the "Taj Mahal" of school district buildings, would vacate the premises (let them enjoy the ambiance of their own portable classrooms) truly appeals to the sense of justice and the sensible [see Sell 'Taj Mahal'? It's Possible in the P & C]. Watchers of the Charleston County School District and Mayor Joe Riley know, however, that Superintendent McGinley just threw out a red herring, Riley caught it, and friends at the P & C reported the catch.

McGinley is as serious about this possibility to stem CCSD's economic problems as she would be about foregoing her entire salary for the next three years. In tandem, Riley is making the proper noises to calm the natives, who are indeed restless over proposed School Redesign Plans. Why not look conciliatory? It doesn't cost anything.

Lease the entire building to the city or downsize district staff and office space and lease one of the floors CCSD now occupies to a new tenant. There's some income.

How would the bargain-basement sale of the building benefit the taxpayers who paid for it? And how would the district evade the law that prevents using capital gained from land or buildings for ongoing operating expenses?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Charleston NAACP Irrelevant to Schools?

Finally someone else has commented on the deafening silence emanating from the Charleston branch of the NAACP. If its influence in the area isn't dying, it's gasping on its deathbed.

See Thursday's Letters to the Editor for one from the Reverend Michael Mack titled, "Where Is NAACP?" In it the Rev. Mack points out that

". . . The local NAACP has not made a sound about how devastating these closings would be for black children. For example, the proposed closing of E.L. Frierson Elementary School would mean that 4- and 5-year-old children would have to get up at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. in order to be bused to schools on James Island and Johns Island."

They would probably not return home until 4 p.m. at the earliest. That is a tremendous amount of stress to put on a young child.

Mack goes on to say, "Is the local NAACP in the vest pocket of the Charleston County School Board and those who control it?"

You noticed! Now the question is, what do Dot Scott and Joe Darby get out of this cozy arrangement?

Monday, January 05, 2009

CCSD Community Groups Do McGinley's Job

Was that the plan all along? Superintendent Nancy McGinley would propose such shockingly destructive School Redesign in Charleston County that local residents would take matters into their own hands?

Of course not. She and her henchmen aren't that bright! Nevertheless, community groups are trying to counter her hare-brained schemes for economizing. [See Groups Tackle School Revamp in Monday's P & C.] Still, questions remain concerning closures under temporary circumstances. Come an economic turn-around and/or new formulas for school funding emanating from Columbia, we will be asked to provide new schools in their places. Surely someone has reminded McGinley and the CCSD School Board that monies gained from selling capital (land and schools) cannot be used for operating expenses!
  • If community members could satisfactorily reconfigure schools in District 9 (Johns Island and Wadmalaw Island) in one hour, why couldn't McGinley do so in the months she took to create three unsatisfactory options? Easy. CCSD deliberately avoids getting unfiltered opinions from its constituent districts. In their agreement the residents of District 9 put one piece of advice to good use: the perfect is the enemy of the good.
  • Members in Hollywood have more trouble agreeing but with good reason: why should half of their schools be closed? As one PTA president complained, "the economy will recover, . . . and . . . the district [must] justify closing and selling school buildings in a bad real estate market while the community is positioned for growth."
  • District 20 (the peninsula) has the biggest fight on its hands but also the most seasoned fighters in Park Dougherty and Arthur Lawrence. More will come from that quarter.
And where is the NAACP? Dot Scott and Joseph Darby sure have been quiet since the plans for closing schools were announced! Do they really believe the black community isn't being injured?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Half-full or Half-Empty? P & C Headline Misleading

Should we blame the P & C's bias in favor of CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley's Controlled Destruction (aka School Redesign) plan on the reporter, the editors, or the headline writers--or on all three? How else to explain the slanted coverage of the Charleston Teacher Alliance's survey of its members' opinions? [See Some Teachers Support Overhaul]

Here's a more appropriate headline: "Only Half of Teachers Support Plan." Or how about "Nearly Half of Teachers Oppose Plan."

See what I mean?

Superintendent McGinley would never dare to survey teachers herself. The results would be too embarrassing. Well, they would be if teachers could be sure of no repercussions. This one was done by what passes for an independent teacher's organization, the Charleston Teachers Alliance started by Andrew Ha-Levi.

Look what those not happy about McGinley's plans suggested as a savings:

Many suggested looking at district support staff such as specialists, lead teachers, administrative staff and instructional resource teachers, and moving them back to classrooms. If the district is to a point where schools need to be closed or combined, officials should evaluate the necessity of those positions, said Kent Riddle, chair of the Charleston Teacher Alliance.

Apparently they don't believe that, as McGinley countered, cutting those positions would bring irrevocable harm to instructional leadership.

In other words, there's too much pork at the top. Who's in a better position to know?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sea Islands YouthBuild Hemoraging CCSD Funds

If Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley really wants public support for closing Sea Islands YouthBuild charter school (the charter that she encouraged to form), she would do well to publicize the per pupil cost of each semester that it has been in business. Is that really too much for taxpayers to ask? [See Thursday's P & C for YouthBuild Charter School Loses Appeal.]

See previous postings on this blog for the long, sad history of bunglings by CCSD's Keystone-Kops School Board.