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."


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:


North Charleston Creative Arts--169



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"?