Sunday, December 13, 2015

Early Christmas Present from CCSD's Todd Garrett



Sunday's op-ed by the Charleston County School Board's Chairman of Audit and Finance promises change, big-time change.

For starters, as Garrett puts it, "as we went into this budget season, staff didn't have a clue as to what a bad situation we were in." He promises, "We are cleaning house." In the course of making this year's cuts, he also promises that the board will not raise taxes nor "harm teachers in the classroom."

But, wait--it gets better!

Garrett promises a "zero-based budgeting process" in the future that will cut both fat and bureaucracy.

Finally, Garrett promises that those who blithely overspent their budgets year after year--district employees--will be gone if not gone already. Some departures have slowed so that the "district is not liable for future lawsuits."

Garrett talks a good game and promises that Superintendent Postlewait is on board. Wish them good luck and pressure the other Board members to get with the program.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

CCSD's Forensic Audit over "Lack of Accountability, Ownership, and Discipline"

What many Charleston County School District taxpayers have been saying for years was pretty well summed up by new superintendent Gerrita Postlewait: the initial report of two former SC chief financial officers showed "evidence of a lack of accountability, ownership and discipline for staying within budget."

The board wisely selected an accounting firm--Elliott, Davis & Decosimo--with no prior ties to the district. In fact, Cindy Brams, its specialist in educational accounting, can take a two-block stroll down Calhoun from her office to the Taj Mahal on any find day.

Still, some of us wonder why former chief financial officer, Michael Bobby, resigned with no censure and all benefits. Less painful that way? Or perhaps the board recognizes its complicity in the district's on-going problems.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Raise SC Dropout Age Only If Present Age Enforced



The proposal sounds good. Why not raise the high school dropout age to 18? Then these now-designated adults (who can vote and have other legal rights) can make their own decisions regarding finishing high school. Mark Epstein, former CCSD guidance counselor and basketball coach, is leading a statewide push to do just that.

But wait. 

Does the Charleston County School District actually enforce the present dropout age of 17? Shouldn't we know if that age is enforceable? Does the district have the resources to track down 16-year-old truants and get them back to school? What does the record show?

Let's not put the cart before the horse. We need facts, not just good feelings.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

McGinley Led Charleston County School Board's 2014 Raid on Rainy Day Fund


When was a time when the Charleston County School Board did not follow ex-Superintendent McGinley's recommendations like sheep?

June 2014: 

What is a "rainy day"? Well, really, it's an emergency fund, so why not call it that?

Because the emergency in the case of the Charleston County School District came about through a consultant's study of administrative salaries that the CCSD Board of Trustees approved on Superintendent Nancy McGinley's recommendation.

The emergency? the bloated bureaucracy at the Taj Mahal needs to be paid more.

McGinley and Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby have cloaked this raid on the emergency fund by allowing the ordinary step increase in teacher pay! Imagine that! What an innovation!

Still, 75 percent of the pay increases will accrue to administrative staff in the Taj.

You can't make this stuff up. In fact, the $7.4 million taken from the emergency fund (It's an emergency! These bureacrats might leave!) doesn't fully cover the $8.5 million for denizens of the Taj. And these are ongoing salary increases that only partially meet the recommendations of the consultant's study for salary increases.


Instead, dollars for low-income middle schools get the ax.

To complete the farce that purports to be a responsible school budget, the Board, again at McGinley's recommendation, voted to forgo taxes from two TIF districts, no doubt in order to please Mayor Riley. Certainly it is not in the best interest of CCSD to forgo tax dollars when it must raid emergency funds for ongoing salaries.

You can see where this is headed. Time for an outside audit.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

2012 Danger Signs in Audits Ignored by CCSD Board Majority


A 2012 example of ignoring warning signs about Charleston County School District overspending:

No doubt the average taxpayer in the county will be surprised to learn that the Charleston County School District has never had a comprehensive audit. The state requires audits of the procurment departments only. That may have worked in the days when procurment was where the money was, but today's multi-million dollar capital programs and general operations deserve to see the light of day.

For two years a minority of members of the Board of Trustees have pushed for a performance audit strongly opposed by the administration and the Board Chairman, Chris Fraser. The struggle continues this summer as four trustees attempt to get the item on the meeting agenda.  Fraser has reneged more than once on his promise to put it on the "next" agenda.

Also, no system exists to review responses to even the minor audit taking place now. For example, the auditors selected and tested 40 credit card purchases to determine if they were being managed in compliance with the District's own stated policy; nearly half were not in compliance. Over 23,000 transactions were made. Has the District corrected this sinkhole or not? Who knows?

Fraser and Superintendent McGinley will continue to delay, linger, and wait because they know they have a five-member majority to push through any idiocy they wish and defeat any attempt at more transparency. After, it's OPM.

Ask your school board candidates where they stand on this issue.

2012: CCSD School Board Sells Capital Assets to Meet Operating Costs


A no-bid sale of valuable downtown property to cover the year's operating budget shortage? What a great idea! In 2012, the Charleston County School Board voted to begin devouring itself.

Selling capital assets to meet operating expenses is a great idea, at least according to Cindy Bohn Coats, vice-chair of the CCSD Board of Trustees. But she probably doesn't even understand what's going on.

That's the gist of her reaction to selling part of the Memminger school property to the College of Charleston in a no-bid sale. Evidently the reporter also either doesn't understand the finances or thinks it a great idea.

Such is the case in Saturday's article on the sale. CCSD provides no reason for the sale except the cash received. The school board that approved the negotiations doesn't even know how large a parcel of the original property is under consideration. Nor does it have an appraisal (well, I guess those two go together).

The reporter doesn't question the lack of space around Memminger or the necessity of splitting the property because CCSD's administration doesn't want her to. Is she even aware that the deed of the property to the district stipulates that the land be used for public education?

With great ideas such as this, the district could gradually devour itself and disappear like the Cheshire Cat.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

2011 Outrage as CCSD Board Members Question Operating Budget


Have you wondered why the present Charleston County School Board hasn't looked too carefully at previously proposed operating budgets? Here's one example from April 2011.

No wonder Superintendent Nancy McGinley has brought out the big guns--letters solicited from the Mayor; scolding emails solicited from the Board chair; outraged op-eds from the NAACP. 

Now this: Four unruly Board members want to investigate what benefits the district gets for its contributions to sacred-cow nonprofits, contributions from an operating budget projecting a $26 million shortfall next year.
  • In their first swing at a cow, members Moffly and Kandrac refused to vote for $50,000 awarded to the Charleston Promise Neighborhood. Not to put too fine a point on it, Board member Toya Hampton-Green's husband heads that particular non-profit, and the Superintendent sits on its Board of Directors. Can you say, "conflict of interest"?

  • Although that particular sacred cow escaped with the cash, Board members Coats and Taylor now want to scrutinize the benefits gained from other nonprofits receiving funds from the district. Can you say, "edublob"?

  • Surely they can't be serious? Why, they might need to scrutinize the funds paid to the nonprofit headed by the Mayor's sister!

  • Long-time readers of this blog will remember the point made some time ago: nonprofit does not mean it's not profitable for someone. A good look at salaries paid to those in charge should be in order.

  • Let's not forget: the money for these nonprofits comes from the operating budget, the same one whose shortage of funds has created furlough days for teachers and staff layoffs. Now's a good time to focus on the primary mission of the district.

CCSD's Math Standards Burning, Burning Tax Dollars for Years

Wondering how Charleston County School District administration and principals managed to outspend their budgets over past years? Here's an example from 2010:

Kent Riddle of the Charleston Teachers Alliance revealed a telling example of mismanagement in the Charleston County School District in Wednesday's P&C. [See Charleston County District Puts Teachers in Financial Bind ]. You might say it is CCSD's mini-version of math wars.

To quote:
About three years ago the district put together a team to create a large Math Coherent Curriculum Manual the year before the state math standards were going to change.
The next year a completely new, and equally large, Math Coherent Curriculum Manual had to be created and distributed with the new standards.
Last year, the district spent millions adopting a new math series that has to be taught page by page in order to be effective. Thus, teachers could no longer follow the scope and sequence of the one-year-old Math Coherent Curriculum Manual, making it obsolete.
To top it off, the "new" math series is the same math series the CCSD got rid of five years ago.
Wanna bet this flip-flopping required the purchase of all new books and materials? Wouldn't you love to see an estimate of the actual cost of the duplicate manuals that are now useless?
Riddle has some other cogent points about why the district should not lay its financial burdens on the backs of its teachers. Too bad most of them cannot speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

And all of this happened before the Common Core math standards were adopted--those that are now being revised. 

Beach Company Suckers CCSD School Board in 2009 Tax Deal

From December 2009:

When will the national media pick up on the idiocies perpetrated by the Charleston County School Board? Surely not all school boards can be this dumb, or should I say self-serving?

Such was my reaction to Sunday's article on the potential creation of a special tax zone for the Beach Company to develop a large portion of Johns Island. See the blithely-headlined School District Would See Immediate Gain.

For $350,000 (probably the yearly cost of Superintendent McGinley's transportation) economically-challenged Board members such as Ruth Jordan are willing to forgo forever millions of future tax dollars from property taxes on this major development by one of Charleston's most well-connected development companies. On the other hand, Board member Chris Fraser's remarks are simply disingenuous: he's looking out for his own term on the Board, not the interests of taxpayers.

You can't make this stuff up fast enough to keep pace with its escalating stupidity.

Never mind that such tax zones are supposed to provide incentives to redevelop blighted areas instead of providing an easy way for developers to pay back loans to develop pristine land. Such a zone presupposes that, without tax breaks, a large portion of Johns Island would never be developed. Yeah, right.
It's a sweet deal for the Beach Company. As the reporter explains, "Imagine you're building a house, and the government agrees not only to loan you funding for construction, but allows you to pay it back with money you would have otherwise paid in property taxes." Apparently, Jordan and Fraser find the county's schools to be so well-funded that increased property tax totals are unnecessary.


We can understand why the City Council might be interested in seeing the Beach Company pay for infrastructure, but the position of members of the CCSD hierarchy is untenable.

The rest of the taxpayers of Charleston County should rise up in revolt before the School Board sells its soul for a mere $350,000.

Monday, December 07, 2015

2009 CCSD School Board Picks on Member Concerned About District Costs

Now that Michael Miller has the grit to admit that perhaps the school boards themselves are partly responsible for the financial mess in the Charleston County School District, it's time to remember a school board member who attempted to cut through the obfuscation of administration at the Taj Mahal.

In a pathetic display of thinly-veiled spite, at the behest of Gregg MeyersToya Hampton-Green dragged the CCSD School Board's rules into the public forum of its open meeting Monday night. [See Board's Behavior Discussed in Tuesday's P&C.] You know, just in case anybody [not to be named] needs reminders.

Evidently, Board member Elizabeth Kandrac has become the elephant in the room--she who cannot be named--but who every last bootlicker for Superintendent Nancy McGinley is determined to silence, one way or another. It's the let's-try-to-embarrass-her-in-the-open-meeting ploy. What Meyers et al do not comprehend is that a seasoned middle-school teacher has endured tougher battles than these dilettantes can throw at her.

Let's look at the lead on Courrege's article: "Some Charleston County School Board members have been breaking the board's rules by giving orders to school staff, being disrespectful to employees and visiting schools unannounced." Serious stuff, right? But where are the specifics? Let's hear names, dates, and places instead of innuendos.

What is ripe, though, is that Meyers asked McGinley "to evaluate the board's behavior." Who's the employee here? The Board is made up of elected officials; the superintendent serves at their pleasure, not the opposite.

Then we learn that--holy cow!--Board members actually visited schools without giving the Superintendent advance notice! It's a rule, is it? Let's ask ourselves, what real purpose does it serve?

Meanwhile, the public is probably surprised to find that its elected representatives don't have the same rights as any other resident of the county when it comes to visiting a school!

The message from Meyers, Green, and McGinley to their favorite Board member: Don't ask too many questions. Don't visit schools to see what we are doing. Don't interfere with the good thing we've got going here. Don't rock the boat. And, for pete's sake, when the Superintendent speaks, smile and just say, "Yes, m'am. You are so right."

2009 Rewards for CCSD Administrators--In 2015, Obviously Not Worth the Raises


From July 2009, as teachers' salaries were reduced:

These people--Eliot Smalley and Audrey Lane--are so central to the Charleston County School District's success that they deserve raises to the six-figure bracket when teachers are being let go and class sizes are rising. That's how educrats like Superintendent Nancy McGinley think.

What ever happened to "victory begins in the classroom"? Just a slogan.

So points out Carol M. Peecksen, a retired CCSD English teacher, in a Letter to the Editor published Wednesday and titled "Raises Wrong." [See Letters to the Editor.] Peecksen was responding to an earlier editorial in the P & C that pointed out that CCSD now has 20 members in its "six-figure club." Not one of those is "in the classroom." Instead, those "in the classroom" have their salaries reduced with "furlough days."

As the prior editorial pointed out, "The raises should make those two employees happy. The district's other 5,374 employees are probably wondering what happened to theirs." Right. Especially since they too have been asked to perform additional duties.
Who on the School Board looks out for the little guy? Not Green, Jordan, Oplinger, Collins, Meyers, or FraserThose members were only too happy to go along with this idiocy. I wonder if those teachers and staff who voted for them are happy now?


And with their now administratively-caused $18 million deficit.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

More "Perfect Storm" Questions on CCSD's 2009 Operating Budget


" The Perfect Storm." The 2009 CCSD school budget has mandated obligations--such as increments in teacher salaries--and other expected operating increases, along with decreased revenues.

Those of you who have followed the progress of CCSD Superintendent McGinley's series of budget forums, attended one or more of them, and/or viewed the pertinent videos on the CCSD website know that those presentations have been long on promises and short on details. McGinley has been promising the impossible (an excellent education for every child next year! We wish!) while preparing the public for serious cuts to programs.

Does the School Board get a copy of a line-item budget for discussion? Does CCSD's Board of Trustees have any more details of the budget than the general outline doled out to the public?

Well, if they don't, they are operating in the dark, apparently the atmosphere that has been preferred by 75 Calhoun.

How about some questions to clarify the elements of the "storm":
  • What was the total budgeted expenditure for each of the last 5 years?
  • What was the total number of students served for each of the last five years?
  • What were the total revenues from "local" sources for each of the last 5 years?
  • What were the lump sums for these from all other sources, including "state," "federal," and "all others" for each of those years?
  • Show all the estimates for the same figures for the coming year, taking care to reflect or explain any "adjustments" for things like non-typical "losses," "gains," or changes in the law such as "property tax relief."
Is that really too much to ask, especially for elected board members who vote on the budget?

Unheeded Call for CCSD Forensic Audit: April 2008


"Perfect Storm" of a budget process this year for the Charleston County School District, at least according to its superintendent? How about a Perfect Opportunity?

In coming weeks we will begin to hear about what must be cut from CCSD's operating budget. No one will like it. Superintendent McGinley has already prepared the way with her budget "forums" in various parts of the district. 


Needless to say, this process has been long on promising an "excellent" education for every child in the district, and short on details of how this miracle will be accomplished next year for the 
first time ever! The video of McGinley and the Power Point presentation on the CCSD website have little detail beyond stating that we will have less to spend and more bills to pay in 2009. These public "forums" appear to have been designed to be as nonspecific as possible while meeting the minimum requirements for public hearings. Why hasn't the School Board pointed out to McGinley how misleading and ultimately undermining of public confidence such a process is?


No one in the community will trust the budget process until CCSD's expenditures are transparent. Here is CCSD's opportunity to begin regaining trust by starting, as a reader has suggested, with a truly independent forensic audit of the entire financial operation. Not only does the District have the need, it's the perfect time with a new Chief Financial Officer just come on board.

Several years ago the last one, limited just to cell-phone usage, saved about a million dollars in the first year by plugging the holes in the system allowing expensive and duplicate contracts while being unable to prevent abuse of the equipment by some CCSD employees.

Here's the opportunity to take the same approach with the bus system, food services, concessions, facilities management, copy equipment, etc. CCSD could save many times annually what it recovered on the cell-phone system.

A good forensic auditor wouldn't cost CCSD a dime. The auditor's work can be paid for by a reasonable and relatively small percentage of whatever money it actually recovers for CCSD and whatever is documented as saving the district in the first year after it identifies measurable waste and how to stop it.

Okay, so that won't solve this year's problems. It's a start.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

CCSD's Financial Misadventures with YouthBuild, 2008

Posted in March 2008:

Is Renee Chewning of Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School calling Randy Bynum, Chief Academic Officer of CCSD, a liar?

How else to interpret her remarks in response to the findings of CCSD's team visit to her hapless charter school. [See School board votes 8-1 to keep YouthBuild open.]

This failed attempt at assisting those overage students who were not allowed back to Murray Hill Academy is like a nightmare that won't go away. See my analysis

Another Sea Islands YouthBuild Update?

Space for YouthBuild? That's Easy  

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: CCSD & First Baptist Johns Island

CCSD has failed in its oversight of tax dollars and students. According to Tuesday's article, "the school district has given the school $347,000 this year and will give $73,000 more." Talk about throwing good money after bad! A sum that approaching half a million dollars is going for a school where maybe 10 students will show up on any given day.

It's March. The school still does not have a state-approved building, and yet the board went against its own previous requirements for one, voting to continue funding this charade of a school.

Of course, given the P & C's tender feelings towards the CCSD school board, the announcement was hidden on page 6 of the local section of the paper. Even the reporter stated, "School officials' accusations about the lack of learning, supervision and safety at Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School were so serious that school board members debated Monday whether they should close the school." Debated, yes. Did nothing.

Are we to assume that the school board doesn't trust Mr. Bynum? That his statements that he did give a report to Chewning, saw an unsupervised table saw being used, and could not find attendance records are all lies, lies, lies? Why have an Academic Officer, then? We could save the money.

Idiocies of CCSD Spending, Part 6

Also August 2007:

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

See:

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.

CCSD's Financial Adventures, Part 5

From August 2007:

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.

CCSD's Long-Needed Audit, Part 4

From this blog, May 31, 2007:

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!

We can now add, why pay any attention to the budget? No one else does.

Finally a CCSD Audit, Part 3

From May 2007:

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.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Finally a CCSD Audit, Part 2

From this blog, March 2007:

Since June of 2006 CCSD has known that school funding would change and that those changes would not favor Charleston County. That's when the SC Legislature voted to swap "pots" from property taxes to sales taxes for a new state funding system for its school districts. Perhaps the magnitude of the shortfall is a surprise, but no one paying attention could have believed that funds directed to CCSD from the state would not fall as a result of the reform.

Charleston County (and other coastal counties such as Beaufort) has high property values, higher than those represented, for example, in the Corridor of Shame. As a result, it has spent more per pupil than the state average. Clearly the formula now in place redistributes state funds so that those districts spending less per pupil in the past will get more from the state.

Now it gets interesting. Beginning in 2008 sales tax money will be divided up based on school districts' 2007-08 baseline budgets plus allowances for growth, poverty, inflation, etc. Thus, CCSD naturally wants that budget to be as high as possible. In fact, it is taking the issue directly to McConnell & Harrell in hopes of an exemption or one-time relief or a miracle.

Why didn't they take it to them before now? McConnell and Harrell had to have known this situation would develop. I'm curious--what were they thinking?

Finally--A Forensic Audit in CCSD

Just a small reminder from this blog in January of 2007:

Two articles in today's Newsless Courier are reminders that CCSD is one of a few school boards in the state that does not have some financial oversight. Sigh.

In the Local and State section, we learn of the escalation of construction costs--more than 10 percent over the last two years--of the new Academic Magnet HS and of the new School of the Arts as well as Stall HS--because the district proposed to delay--if it ever would build--a promised North Charleston middle school.
Sorry, I can't imagine its proposing to do that to Mount Pleasant!

Still, the overruns of costs are disturbing.
See "Board Rejects Delay for Middle School" "http://www.charleston.net/assets/webPages/departmental/news/Stories.aspx?section=localnews&tableId=128680&pubDate=1/30/2007

Then, the Business section reports on CCSD's suing local tech firms regarding software development, one of them identified as "one of the area's most promising high-tech firms." The squabble, over who owns or is entitled to income from software developed in conjunction with CCSD, also partakes of the shell-game of a start-up company that went out of business and its sister company that never had a contract with the district but went on to engage in similar games with the state Department of Education.
See "2 Companies, Founder Sued by School District,"
http://www.charleston.net/assets/webPages/departmental/news/Stories.aspx?section=business&tableId=128637&pubDate=1/30/2007

Question for Kyle Stock: the contract with the company was for $110 per hour to for software development. SO, HOW MUCH WAS PAID TO THE COMPANY??? Isn't that important?

The best quote comes from Ernest Andrade of the Digital Corridor Foundation, which was also taken for a ride: because of these events, "the foundation has pledged to only invest in companies that have an advisory board."

Now, if the CCSD would only pledge to sign contracts with the same, we might get somewhere and not be required to pay for costly lawsuits.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Palmetto Scholars Academy Lauded; US Education Department Sends $30 Million to Support SC Charter Schools

Palmetto Scholars Academy, a Charleston County charter school, is leading the way in how to develop programs outside the Charleston County School District. Despite its location in an old building on the Navy Yard, it has built up its tri-county student body from 183 to 430 in the last five years. PSA specializes in gifted and talented programs. This year 300 students entered a lottery for 100 slots for next year. According to Stacey Lindbergh, chairwoman of its board of directors, "We have parents who drive right by beautiful schools to a run-down area of the old Navy Yard to go to school, and they go because of choice."

CCSD has no role in PSA's governance or support, as it was approved by the statewide Public Charter School District. Now the US Department of Education has plans to give $30 million to South Carolina to support development of more charter schools for the state.

Needless to say, Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott believes that it's all a plot to keep "separate and unequal schools."


Monday, November 23, 2015

Financial Misdeeds in Charleston County Schools Worse Than You Think


Financial mismanagement in the Charleston County School District is endemic and has been for years.

That's the take-away from Sunday's article on CCSD employees' long-standing contempt for school budgets planned by Michael Bobby, now ex-financial officer of the district, and variously-composed elected school boards over at least the entire administration of ex-superintendent Nancy McGinley, and probably farther. Perhaps we'll know the full extent when auditors fulfill the task of a forensic audit. And they're not even looking at the capital expenses of the district!

Exclaims Board chair Cindy Bohn Coats, "We had the exact same problems in our external audits year after year."

Huh?

Says Board member Chris Collins, "We had red flags all along, but the chair didn't want to do anything."

Says former superintendent McGinley, "No one told me"--or words to that effect. Remember Sergeant Schultz of  "Hogan's Heroes" fame?
Seemingly, many of the associate superintendents who reported to McGinley and principals they supervised saw the budget as a suggestion. Where did they get that idea, and who was running the show?

It turns out that the outside auditors used by the district for the last seven years were not even vetted by the State Financial Accountability Authority, as required by law, a "misunderstanding" suddenly occurring in 2008.

Some serious questions remain. Why did the Board, knowing of "financial discipline and reporting problems" continue to support Bobby with a contract extension and a raise? Why was it satisfied with appointing Bobby as interim superintendent? 

These are some serious questions that need answers. And Coats by her own words has shown herself not qualified to chair the Board.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CCSD's Lawsuits Piling Up Over Discrimination



Let's not rehash.

Everyone who's paid attention over the last few months has made up his or her mind about whether football players at the Academic Magnet High School knowingly behaved as racists when they smashed watermelons. Yet the fallout continues.

Now another lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court against the Charleston County School District. This time AMHS's football coach "claims he was a victim of racial discrimination." The suit alleges that Associate Superintendent Lou Martin and former Superintendent Nancy McGinley "treated him 'in a racially disparate manner as a white male.'" Bud Walpole was "reprimanded, fired, subsequently rehired and forced to take sensitivity training as a condition of his reemployment."

The suit correctly points out two previous cases where "non-white principals were accused of creating 'racially-hostile environments' for white teachers and students." In the 2006 Brentwood case, the principal was found guilty and former teacher and CCSD Board member Elizabeth Kandrac received compensation; however, the principal "was never publicly fired, forbidden from entering the school, or required to undergo sensitivity training."

Double standard?





Tuesday, November 17, 2015

CCSD's Financial Officer Resigns Under a Cloud

Put the best face on it and say that Michael Bobby, Chief Financial Officer of the Charleston County School District, had too many responsibilities when he also stepped in as Interim Superintendent of the district in October 2014. Those months could account for the sloppy bookkeeping that produced an unexpected deficit of $18 million. 

That's being generous.

However, a preliminary survey of the last five years in CCSD has revealed that dipping into the reserve fund has proceeded much longer, or, as Board member Todd Garrett puts it, "There was no discipline in spending" for the past five years, now causing the district's reserve fund to fall towards a downgraded credit rating--and we know how much the district borrows every year.

The endemic overspending was not the policy of one person. Let's hope the Board and interim chief financial officer Glenn Stiegman can mop up the mess properly.

Surprisingly, former superintendent McGinley could not be reached for comment on CCSD's budget woes. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

CCSD Lawsuit Reveals Silencing of Whistle-Blower

Valerie Paquette, a former teacher at North Charleston High School, couldn't remain silent regarding what she saw as fraud--fraud in the handling of diplomas to enhance NCHS's graduation rate, so she filed a lawsuit last May against the Charleston County School District.
"Valerie Paquette, a computer and business teacher at North Charleston High, filed the lawsuit May 27 in the Court of Common Pleas, claiming that school administrators retaliated after she went to the superintendent with concerns about questionable advantages the school gave some failing seniors, allowing them to graduate.
"One example Ms. Paquette gives involves a student who was given back a final exam to complete questions that had been left blank, which resulted in the grade being changed from failing to passing after the test deadline was up. In another case, she cites the example of a failing student who was allowed to pass an “entire year course” with a computer course that “allegedly took place entirely in the weekend before graduation.”
Paquette’s lawsuit also alleges that North Charleston High School Principal Robert Grimm “instructed her to give no student a grade below 61.” 
"The lawsuit says that Mr. Grimm’s contract contains provisions for goal-based bonuses, one of which includes an award for improving the school’s graduation rate.  According to The Post and Courier, “the school’s graduation rate has [increased) from 45 percent in 2012 to 53.9 percent in 2014,”and the school’s pass rate on end-of-course exams rose from 42 percent in 2012 to 65.6 percent in 2014. 
"The plaintiff says that after she expressed her concerns to the superintendent, she received letters of “formal reprimand” from Mr. Grimm and the Associate Superintendent and was labeled as “insubordinate” in another written notice.
Ms. Paquette says she was then reassigned to a Charleston middle school for the 2014-2015 academic year.
As a teacher, she saw sloth rewarded, students graduating at any cost. If a credit can be earned in a weekend, why stop there? Paquette, who has an MBA and more than 10 years of teaching experience, spoke up. Look what happened. Her career in teaching was now tainted with reprimands virtually guaranteeing that she could not get a job in another district. 

The associate superintendent didn't care; the principal didn't care; and the superintendent and school board didn't care. Why should she?

Amazingly, some idealists believe that a high school diploma should mean a person has attained a certain level of education, not merely a piece of paper. Look what precedent has been set by CCSD for any other teacher who has concerns. Teachers have no right to freedom of speech, or do they?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

CCSD School Board Faces Lack of Effective Leadership

Remember the "gang who couldn't shoot straight" when selecting a new superintendent for the Charleston County Schools? 

Well, they're back.

Or, at least, that same leadership was re-elected this month: Cindy Bohn Coats, well-meaning but ineffective chairwoman, and Chris Staubes, vice chairman. At least three board members--Miller, Ducker, and Collins--thought Coats's continued leadership ill-advised, but the majority ruled.

The truth is, Coats is probably the only member who is willing to spend enough time on the job. Let's hope the coming year shows improvement over the last.

Monday, November 09, 2015

End-of-Course Scores Reveal Good and Bad in CCSD

First, the good news.

The scores made in the Charleston County School District last year on end-of-course tests in Biology, Algebra 1, English 1, and U.S. History were higher than those of the state of South Carolina as a whole. Given South Carolina's poor educational attainment in general, this phenomenon does not make CCSD the Harvard of the South, but still. Kudos to teachers and students who worked so hard.

And now, the bad news.

Disparities between black and white students' scores in Charleston County are among the widest in the state. How does that happen? Just maybe it's associated with having among the most segregated public schools in the state?

Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait has her work cut out for her.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Despite Liberals' Belief, "State-of-the-Art" Schools Do Not "Fix" Public Education


Much has been made of the poor state of many rural school buildings. Google "Corridor of Shame" if you don't believe me. Now Joe Nocera's latest New York Times opinion piece suggests that, instead of funding the charter school movement, philanthropists should look to creating state-of-the-art educational infrastructure.

Actually, Nocera credits his future daughter-in-law with this brainstorm. She's the "program director for the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin--Madison." What she's recommending means that she believes the governance of a public school matters less than the building in promoting student learning. 

Or, to put it simply, "It's the building, stupid."

Of course, a ceiling that leaks and cockroaches on the floor do not promote learning; however, no study exists that shows that students learn more in a state-of-the-art building. Just a well-kept building will do. Students do not reason, "Gee, they've spent all this money on us, so let's pay attention and learn!" We wish!

Look at the schools around you. Achievement has little to do with the buildings and much to do with the affluence of students who attend.  

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Millions for CCSD School Construction, & North Charleston Suffers

Monday's article on overcrowded schools should leave some North Charleston parents shaking their heads. The most overcrowded elementary schools in the Charleston County School District are in North Charleston. No one noticed that North Charleston was growing.

Funny how that happened.

This phenomenon reveals why those school board members elected to represent a particular area (North Charleston) should not only live there but also be elected solely by those who also reside there. The last school board election revealed how a candidate who represents North Charleston can be elected with a majority of votes from Mt. Pleasant. 

How does that represent North Charleston, again?

Of course, the CCSD School Board can point out how the county's best schools, such as Academic Magnet, are located in North Charleston. They're not going to tell you what percentage of these student bodies are composed of North Charleston residents. Not much.

Is the district so lame-brained that it can't figure out years in advance that a school such as Dunston Elementary will become overcrowded? Sounds as though it needs better demographic studies.

Or is the answer that more affluent parents who know how to work the system get their students' needs met first?

Percent of capacity:

Dunston--173

North Charleston Creative Arts--169

Pinehurst--165

Ladson--151

CCSD "Can't Get There Yet" on Purchasing Bus Fleet


What is this love affair that the Charleston County School District has with busing? 

One overriding policy for the last dozen years has been to encourage students to leave neighborhood schools--and be bused to others. Thanks to the vagaries of state legislatures, now CCSD wishes to purchase its own fleet of 275. Even assuming that the district will receive "state money to offset the costs," the taxpayers will be socked with a $10.5 million bill. [Why do I suspect that figure would rise?]

Fortunately some CCSD Board members see the impossibility of this expenditure at the moment. After all, this is a district with a present $18 million deficit.

The question remains, is it wise for CCSD to get into the bus business? Why do I suspect the answer is "no"?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Talking Turkey on SC's NEAP Results Among the Poor and Black

"South Carolina's fourth- and eighth graders produced a mixed bag of results on federal math and reading exams this year. ranking in the bottom third nationwide based on their performance," write the P & C's reporters. While they also showed that SC's ranking among states teetered from 38th to 39th to 40th on various parts of the National  Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), perhaps they might have pointed out that SC usually ranks third from the bottom on many measures--thank you Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

What is more troubling about the results is that the gap in scores between white and black students stubbornly remains stable. Yes, as one researcher proclaims, such rankings should take into account "differences in demographics and other student characteristics." Any state approaching the poverty rate and percentage of minority students evinced in South Carolina appears on the same track.

And that precisely is the problem.

Schools whose students score well also correlate well with white and reasonably well-off neighborhoods; for schools that score poorly, the opposite is true. What ever happened to the idea that a child from a poor and undereducated background could hope to compete with those unhampered with such drawbacks? 

The schools we have do not level the playing field. Too long educrats have relied on the students' backgrounds to make their schools look good. It's time to figure out how to create a learning environment that will fulfill the American Dream.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

CCSD's Forensic Audit--Too Good to Be True?


How much of an audit is necessary?

That's the question, according to Charleston County School Board member Todd Garrett.  After proposing a forensic audit for the district, Garrett seems to be getting cold feet over its cost. Maybe the "scope selected" will include an abbreviated look at previous years in the district.

What, he thought it would be low cost? 

After receiving an initial report from two consultants called in to assess the $18 million shortfall, the district will now put into effect best practices recommended by the professionals: "meeting quarterly with the county finance department, auditor, and treasurer, and reviewing payroll expenses monthly."  Perhaps if CCSD had a more professionally-qualified financial officer, these procedures would not be new.

The person most responsible for CCSD finances, Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby has said, "A forensic audit would indicate someone stole, embezzled, defrauded. That's not what this is about." Well, he would be the authority on such problems, wouldn't he?

Heaven forbid we should discover fraud, embezzling, stealing, or (gosh) bribes in the district! 


Friday, October 23, 2015

ACT's Figures Clash with P&C Reports on Abysmal SC Results


Image result for act images


I want an explanation.

Friday's article on state ACT results clearly states that in the spring of 2015 "all high school juniors statewide were required to take the ACT college entrance exam." According to the reporters, less than half of SC's seniors scored high enough to be considered ready for college courses as defined by the ACT. 

If that weren't bad enough, the results for black students were horrendously worse. 

The article assumes that all SC juniors took the ACT. How then do the reporters explain the ACT's statistics here that show that only 62 percent of juniors did, up from 58 percent the previous year?

Well?

Schooled by Anonymous!
Thanks to an astute reader I have that explanation I desired. The ACT percentage I quoted is for 2015 graduates; the new statistics are for 2016 seniors. Muchas gracias, even if you did insult me gratuitously.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CCSD Audit? Who Would Have Thunk It?



May we have a rousing round of the "Hallelujah Chorus"? It's finally happened!

Thanks to the clarion call of an $18-million budget shortfall, the Charleston County School Board voted unanimously to authorize an outside auditor. 

The mistakes not caught by last year's trusting school board members included "anticipating $5.75 million in new revenue from Boeing" and assuming "expiration of the King Street Gateway TIF." How dumb is that? Someone hasn't been watching the store.

Dare I say that someone responsible must be Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby? He needs to go.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Harlem West: A Public School That Works for Those Potentially "Left Behind"


Nicholas Simmons, a seventh-grade math teacher at Harlem West Success Academy has an excellent article here. Students doing badly at North Charleston high and other schools in Charleston County couldn't possibly be more disadvantaged than his, whose achievements are making the rest of New York City's schools look pathetic. He explains his motivation:
My final point is much less easily quantified, but no less important. It's what drives my colleagues and me to work long hours and make ourselves available by phone or in-person to parents and students well after school hours and on the weekends.
In our view, teachers are tasked with arguably the most important public service in the country. We look upon our work as every bit as urgent as that of doctors or firefighters. The lives we attend to are just as dear, just as precious, and failure to help our students live up to their potential is just as tragic as a lost life. 
In neighborhoods like Harlem, the power of a high-quality education can be transformative. It can literally save lives and build futures. It is the one true ticket to pursuing and realizing the American Dream. Three out of four of my students are poor or "low-income". They have none of the advantages my friends and I had growing up, yet they are every bit as deserving. A world-class education is their lifeline to opportunity and a better life.
Idealistic? Yes. The question is how to replicate such success in CCSD schools, charter or not. It starts with the will to do so.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Is Sex Ed Broke in CCSD? Why Fix It?


MakingProudChoices


I don't know about you, but I've not seen a huge public outcry or complaints over the sex ed curriculum used by the Charleston County School District. What percentage of parents actually opt out of the present program? 10 percent? 25 percent? 50 percent? It does make a difference! If parents were given more choices, would that percentage increase or decrease?

Superintendent Postlewait has been circumspect in stalling adoption of the controversial curriculum, Making Proud Choices (MPC), for a reason. She doesn't need further controversy after the swirl that accompanied her selection. Amy Fribbs, a professor of nursing at Trident Tech, has presented the health advisory committtee's recommendation that MPC, a sex-ed program developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with Planned Parenthood, be adopted in place of the current abstinence-centered curriculum. The program is funded in part by Obamacare.

Perhaps the question should be, does the district get more federal money by adopting MPC?  Surely that kind of incentive (otherwise known as a BRIBE) is a valid issue to raise. According to one source, in a North Carolina school district, "Reports indicate that students received $100 incentives to participate and that the district received $4 million in federal funding to participate."  If the program's so good, why the need?

When first proposed to the Charleston County School District's committee in 2014, the program was tabled when an opponent read the actual curriculum to its members, calling it "sexual foreplay curriculum." She was referring to a chapter called "How to Make Condoms Fun and Pleasurable."

I'm not making this up.

Once we were told that having sex-ed in schools was necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies and diseases. Since unwanted pregnancies have sky-rocketed since its introduction, it doesn't seem to have had the desired effect. Now its about having fun, whether male-female or male-male, activities the curriculum presents as of equal importance.

Does the new superintendent really want to get enmeshed in another controversy?

Really?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Readers Shake Heads Over CCSD's "Word-class" Literacy Plan




Prioritizing goals is a must when you set 40 goals at one fell swoop, so it should come as no surprise that the Charleston County School Board has, after considerable input, set a list of its top five goals for emphasis. All are admirable, but as described by the reporter, some are mysterious, especially #2: "Develop word-class, intensely focused literacy plan for grades PK-12. . ."

We all can agree that literacy demands classes that focus on words, but somehow I suspect the goal is "world-class." After all, that's one of educrats' favorite adjectives.

The list also suggests that by December 2015 (two months away) #4, the plan to organize the district efficiently will be ready. Maybe that should read 2016? You never can be sure about the editing of this paper.

In fact, let's add goal #41: find an editor who is literate to proofread the Post and Courier. Evidently it doesn't have one at the moment.

CCSD Won't Make Parent Deadbeats Cry Over Unpaid Lunches

In the past four years, the Charleston County School District has accrued half a million dollars in unpaid student lunches. These parents, despite CCSD's best efforts, have ignored its attempts to get them to sign up for free or reduced fee lunches or to pay their debts.

If only the truly needy students benefitted from federal programs that help the poor, those programs would have more resources to help the truly needy. Duh.

In a list of ongoing taxpayer ripoffs, free and reduced fee school meals rank right up there. We know parents self-report their income and students' need for free or reduced meals, the school district does not check, and federal auditing is minimal. The chance of  parents' being challenged on their income is neglible.

Who would contest that some children are truly needy and would go hungry if not fed by their schools? On the other hand, why should parents who can pay their bills get away with sponging off the taxpayers? 

In CCSD, "parents know there are no repercussions and students know the same thing," according to Walter Campbell, who heads CCSD's Nutrition Services Department. So only the truly honest or naive pay their bills. Campbell proposed hiring a collections agency and other measures which were shot down by the school board last July. Chris Staubes said he didn't want "to ruin [the parents'] credit ratings." Apparently, Dorchester District 2 has different ideas.

But, never fear, the federal government is stepping in with a partial solution to the Nutrition Services' budget problems. No, it's not going after unpaid bills, silly. A new program named the Community Eligibility Provision will provide all students, needy or not, with free meals in 42 CCSD schools. Here are the requirements to participate:

Any school with 40 percent or more “identified students” can participate in CEP. Identified students include children who are directly certified (through data matching) for free meals because they live in households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), as well as children who are certified for free school meals without submitting a school meal application because of their status as being in foster care, enrolled in Head Start, homeless, runaway, or migrant students.

Typically, schools with 75 percent or more free and reduced‐price certified students will meet the 40 percent identified student requirement. School districts with 40 percent or more identified students may participate district‐wide or may group schools together to reach the 40 percent identified student threshold.
Isn't that great?  CCSD's getting free money! We can all relax now that we know our tax dollars are hard at work.


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

$18 Million Just a "Blip" in CCSD's Budget


Can anyone say, "forensic audit"?

"A payroll miscalculation" left the district with $14 million in expenses that exceeded the budget of the Charleston County School District. And somehow $4 million more was a shortfall in property taxes. 

Is it too rude of me to ask who miscalculated and what was the miscalculation? Please don't suggest that the "computer" did it. Last time I looked CCSD's Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby was in charge of such calculations. He's had too many duties? Well, how did that happen? He didn't assign them to himself!

According to CCSD Board member Todd Garrett "as chairman of the board’s audit and finance committee, he accepts some of the blame for the budget error. The committee reviews the annual budget and recommends action to the full board." Yes, and it presumably counts on figures presented by the Chief Financial Officer.

Here's a thought: CCSD needs a new and more qualified financial officer. Bobby does not have the financial background and education to be in charge of a budget of over $800 million.

Here's another thought: how could there be a better time for a forensic audit of the district?


Friday, October 02, 2015

CCSD and Stoney Field: Poster Child for Neglect


Dear Charleston County School Board,

Is it so difficult for Burke High School to have a decent football field to play upon? While Mt. Pleasant schools are rolling in extras, Burke watches and waits. Someone might just think you are prejudiced.

Sincerely. 
Babbie