Monday, August 30, 2010

Mysterious Surge to S.C. Charter District

A burgeoning mystery is mushrooming right now in South Carolina.

More and more parents are trying to sign up their children for charter schools approved by the South Carolina Charter District, or, as the P&C phrases it, "Parents are virtually beating the doors down to get their kids into the poorest school district in America."

See Poorest District Fights to Survive in Monday's paper.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Improving Stats, Not Student Achievement

Now that the first results are in for the hundreds of students displaced by CCSD's closing of five schools, Superintendent Nancy McGinley urges patience. [See Little Progress for Students in Sunday's P&C.]

McGinley, who promised improvements when the schools were closed now says, "'I think any conclusions that are being drawn after one year are premature because children did not fall behind in one year, and they're not going to leapfrog ahead in one year,' she said." Holy cow! She even suggests that "The trauma of moving to a new school may have affected some students."

Maybe moving to another school also rated worse that average was a factor, Dr. McGinley? Maybe getting up earlier and arriving home later because of busing was a factor? Maybe lack of parental involvement because children were scattered away from their home neighborhoods was a factor?

Nevertheless, as she bragged earlier this summer, the Superintendent can now state truthfully that there are fewer failing schools in the district under her administration.

Too bad she can't say that there are fewer failing students.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

SC: Last in Eduspeak as Well

Poor South Carolina State Department of Education. Twice rejected for federal education grants. [See Education Officials Perplexed in Saturday's P&C.]

But wait! It appears that the writers of the grant proposals neglected to stuff a quorum of educational jargon into their text:

". . .The Hechinger Report, a New York-based education news organization, reported that winning applications hit on key education buzzwords more frequently than losers did.

"The words mentioned more often were professional development, data-driven, charter, evaluation, rigor or standards, assessment, accountability and online or e-learning.

"[Deputy Superintendent ]Poda said the department didn't make a concerted effort to include particular words in its application.
We must really be out of the loop.

I wonder why Jim Rex wasn't the spokesman for this report. Not.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CCSD Should Welcome Independent Audit

If the administration at 75 Calhoun and the Charleston County School Board wish votes for a sales tax increase, then . . .

Audit. Show us some transparency about where the money has gone. [See Kandrac Calls for School District Audit.] And don't get the usual suspects involved in doing it.

According to the P&C, "Board member Chris Fraser said the discussion about transparency is a good one, but he said he didn't want to burden district staff with more work, and he wasn't sure how the audit would fit in with existing audits."

Translation: A new forensic audit might uncover hanky panky with the old ones.

Monday, August 23, 2010

McGinley the Spin Doctor

Tenure or no tenure, many punishments can be imposed on teachers who disagree with administration in CCSD--banishment to a "failing" school coming at the top of the list or, worse yet, days of in-services to fix the "problem."

Even so, as Many Teachers Don't Feel Valued in Monday's P&C reveals, Superintendent McGinley's district survey of teachers that was supposed to show that the Charleston Teacher Alliance, which took its own survey, is composed of a bunch of complainers and whiners revealed
Of the 2,041 respondents, only 53 percent said they strongly or somewhat agree with the statement: "As a teacher, I feel valued by Charleston County School District." The district employs roughly 3,500 teachers.
District administration took the results so seriously, in fact, that it had sat on them since last May, despite many queries from outsiders. (Oh, how familiar it all sounds!)

Another finding:
One such area involved the support staff for schools, such as learning specialists and instructional coordinators, and whether they contributed to improving classroom instruction. Only 59 percent of teachers thought so, while only one-third of those surveyed by the alliance said those positions benefit the classroom.
So will McGinley finally rethink some of her bureaucracy from this additional result? Not going to happen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Riley's Lapdog Attacks Kandrac

With permission from his master, Jon Butzon of the Charleston Education Network (CEN) (the what? you ask), has joined the attack against CCSD Board member Elizabeth Kandrac. [See Thursday's tirade : Letters to the Editor]

Readers of this blog may recall several postings on Butzon and his curious privileged position vis a vis the School Board. You may want to try for yourself to get any specific information on the organization at this web address: See any references to how it is funded? Learn who its members are? Of course not.

Here's what I wrote back in January of 2009:
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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hicks: Focus on Source of Funding Problems!

Quote from Brian Hicks: "So there's the first lesson of the 2010-11 school year: They're going to make you pay, one way or another." [See Remember When 'Public' Meant 'Free?' in Wednesday's P&C]

Well, I couldn't agree more, Brian, but the headline above your column is just plain wrong. Let's hope you didn't suggest it.

Public schools in South Carolina, and particularly here in Charleston County, have never been free. You're living in a poor state; this isn't New Jersey or Massachusetts where the population as a whole is much more affluent. And SC had a much poorer tax base in the past.

We rented our schoolbooks--yes, we did. And if we didn't have the lunch money, we brought what we could scavenge from home. Not to rain on your parade, but CCSD does not verify that students need the free breakfasts and lunches that we pay for, apparently with the excuse that, if the parents say they need them, they won't provide proper food or lunch money even if the parents have it.

Fees have been charged since the beginning of public schools in South Carolina. And they fall most heavily on the poor, but maybe in ways you haven't considered.

Take the case of the cheerleading fees that you complain about ($250). That doesn't include the cost of the previous gymnastics classes and training that parents have financed for years out of their own pockets. That phenomenon means that girls (and boys) whose parents couldn't afford those classes never made the squad. Not fair, but surely you're not suggesting CCSD foot that bill?

Schools in the better-heeled communities that have vibrant and energetic parent organizations have always raised money on their own to put into non-academic activities. Again, nothing new there.

So what has changed, Brian?

Simple: our stupid, stupid, stupid change to funding operating expenses based on sales tax revenue! Anyone with half a brain (including yours truly) predicted when the change was made, this day would come. Now, thanks to the tax structure, districts like CCSD can spend multi-millions on new buildings in which they can't put a proper supply of paper.

And CCSD is getting ready to do it again.

The ordinary taxpayer doesn't understand the funding split between capital and operating expenses. All he or she sees is that the district appears to be unable to manage its money. What else but incompetence would explain brand-new buildings equipped with the latest technology and no paper for their copiers?

Catch-22: the district can't raise taxes for operating costs, but it can for capital costs. And it will.

A forensic audit of CCSD will show that sleight-of-hand deals have shifted capital monies into operating costs for years, not merely during the present economic climate.

Brian, you would be more helpful to the public by explaining how the broken tax system doesn't work instead of complaining about fees and shortfalls from the state.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Flash! Literacy Efforts Work in CCSD

Focusing on reading helps more students to read better! Who would've thunk it?

[See Tuesday's article for the full story, Reading Initiatives Post Strong Results.]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

CCSD Board Member Training Expenses

Regarding the yearly training expenses for the Charleston County School Board [See District Critic Is Board's Top Travel Spender]:
  • Kudos to those who are so wealthy that they need not be reimbursed;
  • If the reporter had taken the trouble to provide a table showing each of the Board members' total expenses for the past three years, the public would have a clearer picture.
  • In that case, the article would have displeased the Superintendent, who wishes to discredit her most vocal critic.
In fact, since the district didn't provide them, that would have meant that the reporter needed to find the reports for the previous two years by herself.

How hard could that be?

Wouldn't you like to see the training expenses for all of our associate superintendents year by year?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why the CCSD School Board Is a Joke

More amusing tales from the Charleston County School Board's meeting: [See Board to Seek 6-year Sales Tax Hike for the full effect.]
  • Nancy McGinley's staff increased its estimate of how much money the sales tax would bring per year; the Board then decided on the basis of the estimate that six would be better than eight years. Maybe we could come up with a higher estimate and have the tax for two.

  • The School Board is grateful to the Chamber of Commerce for volunteering to manage the campaign for a sales tax. 'Nuff said.

  • The Board entertained the results of "a survey by the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Institute for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston that attempted to gauge voter support for a tax increase. Results showed voters preferred a sales tax hike to a property tax increase. It didn't ask whether voters preferred a five- or eight-year plan." And I'll bet there was no category for "none of the above" either.
They're determined to ram a tax through while they still have a majority of turkeys on the Board. I say, vote down the sales tax because you know it will last at least six years. The turkeys will then hit you with a property tax increase.

Vote them out. It won't take six years.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Good News; Questions Linger for CCSD

Have all boats risen on this higher tide? [See Student Test Scores Improve in Saturday's P&C.]

Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley touts the good news that the district as a whole surpassed its performance on the PASS last year, the first year the new test was taken. Finally, we can compare apples to apples, and the news is good:
"Charleston's strongest scores were in English language arts and writing. The district outscored the state average for its percentage of students scoring 'met' or 'exemplary' at every grade in those subjects. And for the second consecutive year, the district overall did better than the state at every grade and in every subject for its percentage of students scoring 'exemplary.'"
The question that lingers: does that performance indicate that schools (and individual students) across the system have improved, or is it a result of the "good" schools getting better while the "failing" schools are not?

Only data for individual schools will tell that tale!

Meanwhile, aren't you curious about the results of the Sixth Grade Academy in North Charleston, especially since the district is now replicating its structure in the rest of the county?

The proof is in the pudding.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tomfoolery in CCSD, Part II

Thursday's headline:

Board to consider two tax options

McGinley supports 6-year option for building projects

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Tomfoolery Behind CCSD's Scenes

At its last meeting the Charleston County School Board voted to place on November's ballot a sales tax for the next eight years. It changed the number of years from five to eight, at the suggestion of member Arthur Ravenel, Jr., so that the replacement or super-outfitting of every structure in the district could be completed during Bill Lewis's tenure.

Now it appears that the Board is backtracking because the Chamber of Commerce and its ilk have objected to the lengthening of the five-year tax they agreed to prior to the official vote. [See Little Enthusiasm for 8-year Tax in Tuesday's edition.]

"The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Charleston Trident Association of Realtors had given the district their endorsement for putting a five-year, one-penny sales tax increase on the November ballot, but neither group has decided what it thinks about the longer-term sales- tax increase.

"'I don't know what the chamber leadership will decide on this issue,' said Mary Graham, the chamber's senior vice president of public policy. 'We had sound reasons for supporting the five-year over the eight.'"

Really? What were they? They're probably planning at the end of the period to support some other tax to replace it--and now that tax must wait an additional three years.

Who's running CCSD--the School Board or the Chamber of Commerce, the Realtors' Association, and the Trident CEO Council? All of these organizations hope to sock you with at least a five-year sales tax.

But if we vote it down, doesn't the Board have to vote to raise property taxes every year? And run for re-election?


Monday, August 02, 2010

Start the Day with a Laugh from CCSD

Turn first in your morning copy of the P&C to any article touching on the Charleston County School District; otherwise, you may miss a good laugh. Monday morning's meets that expectation. [See Bar Rises Higher for Schools.]

Wait for it.

"Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley said she's pleased with the district's overall results, particularly in terms of the decreasing number of schools that must give students the option of transferring elsewhere. That number has been cut in half in the past three years, and she said that's a positive for those schools and the receiving schools that might have been overcrowded. Taxpayers' money also won't have to go to transportation costs for those students, she said.

"'The investments we've been making in some of our highest-poverty schools are starting to pay off,' she said. 'And we think our focus on literacy is paying off.'"

As you can see, McGinley's goal (and that of the new PASS) is to cut transportation costs for busing students and avoid sending them to schools that don't want them. [horse laugh here] Of course, those savings can be used for transporting others from "seismically deficient" schools, or at least mask the true costs of that decision made last spring.

Now, how has the number of failing schools required to offer busing to others "been cut in half"? [horse laugh #2]

Could it be that a number of schools have been closed in order to make this claim? Nahh. We all know every decision is made "for the children." Not.

Include as well the schools that made the grade because the categories in the new PASS were changed and you see the reason for laughing.

We can count on CCSD to provide entertainment at the expense of its residents.