Sunday, June 26, 2016

Idiotic School Tax System Helps Rich, Hurts Poor in Charleston County

As you read about the Charleston County School District's financial problems,  please put the responsibility for failures where it belongs.

Can we start with politicians? They caved to complaints (probably from big donors) about high property taxes as Charleston County homes rose exponentially in value. As Sunday's article on CCSD's new budget points out, "Perhaps the biggest school-finance stumbling block is Act 388, a property tax break for owner-occupied homes that started in 2007. A new penny sales tax was supposed to make up the difference in the state budget, but has fallen short by tens of millions of dollars every year." The more expensive your home, the greater your tax break. If you didn't own a home, you really got soaked. Duh. 

Only the most gullible thought that the following scenario did not loom on the horizon: "The Statehouse’s budget woes get passed down to the Charleston County School District, which, as one of the wealthier districts in the state, receives relatively less per-pupil funding from the state compared to poorer districts." Duh.

Now we're stuck with the not-a-penny sales tax. Return to the old system? Good luck with that. Did you ever see a tax go away? We now have many new and practically new school buildings without the funds to operate them without cutting teachers and keeping their pay low.

Let's continue with ex-Superintendent she-who-cannot-be-named (or blamed). Paul Bowers hasn't been on the school district beat for long, so he'll probably be forgiven for mentioning her name in conjunction with the BRIDGE program fiasco that put about $10 million in the edublob's pockets and only half a million in those of the teachers it was supposed to reward--and also didn't work. Tip of the iceberg. The time has come for zero-based budgeting to root these suckers out.

Finally, let's turn attention to the often-maligned School Board. Most (but not all!) of the past and present members should take the blame for lackluster oversight and understanding of the district's finances. She-who-cannot-be-named and the Chamber of Commerce saw to it that those elected would follow whatever the superintendent and her associates desired. Compliant and ill-qualified citizens received their support; those who tried to educate themselves about their responsibilities or rock the boat, the local paper vilified as crackpots. 

The bottom line is poor management of resources. Everyone can now recite the cost in financial failure--$18 million dollars in shortfall--but what about the cost of educational failure?

I'll state it again: only 15 percent of black third-graders can read at grade level; further, 40 percent of white third-graders cannot! These failures result from years of focus on literacy? 

Something is very wrong in the elementary schools. Teachers? Curriculum? Parents? Discipline?

Whatever it is, this aspect of deficit is much more troubling than finances will ever be.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bill Lewis Pontificates on Abolishing CCSD's Constituent Boards

People move to Charleston and its surrounding area every day. In fact, so many arrive that it's getting a bit crowded on our roads (that was understatement, for those of you who don't commute during the rush hours). Presumably, they move here because they like the way it is, so why are so many determined to change it to reflect the places they left?

In the last week or so, we've been treated to an Ohioan who wants his property taxes (and everyone else's) to rise to give more money to operating expenses of the Charleston County School District, never mind that operating expenses are supposed to be financed by the sales tax. Now we have a Letter to the Editor from one of the local rag's favorite people, Bill Lewis, who financed his three-story mansion on the marsh in Mt. Pleasant with his post-retirement jobs for CCSD. [I will never understand why people think being on the marsh is so great, but that's another story.]

Lewis puts himself forward as a thinker who sees that the elections of CCSD's Board of Trustees and now CCSD's constituent boards are obstacles to Lewis-style progress. He's from San Francisco. He wants the mayors of Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, and North Charleston to appoint the members of the CCSD School Board.  He believes these political appointments will improve the district over democratic elections, political appointees being so knowledgeable and all. I kid you not.

This is the same character who brought us a crazy timetable of seismic revolution in school buildings. After all, why would anyone start rebuilding with the ones most at risk? 

Lewis complains that constituent boards represent the needs of their constituents! A novel concept, I agree, especially in San Francisco. Actually, he just wants to quell any rumors that students no longer at Lincoln High in McClellanville will be worse off at Wando. 

Did he suggest that the mayor of Awendaw appoint a school board member along with the big three? Of course not. Lewis seems to still view Charleston County as one tidy whole with no outliers. Maybe someone should introduce him to the part of Edisto Island that lies in Charleston County.

For sure, Lewis thinks that Lincoln's closing will have negligible impact on its rural community. Those of us who actually know something about community know he's wrong.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Staggering Statistics on CCSD's Literacy Failures Under McGinley

Remember Nancy McGinley? She who gripped reins of power in the Charleston County School District for the longest tenure ever as Superintendent, also in charge as Academic Officer prior to that? Yes, that McGinley.

Just thought I'd remind you because present Board members such as Cindy Bohn Coats and the local media have forgotten her name. It's marvelous to see a long op-ed from Coats regarding the last decade's literacy failures without mentioning she-whose-name-cannot-be-linked-with-failures. Vitriol aimed at the Board of Trusteesunderstandably annoys Coats when she knows that the Board merely carried out McGinley's wishes. 

What a dilemma: how to defend cuts to McGinley's failed pet literacy programs without mentioning who's responsible. Clearly the Board should have made cuts before now, given the inefficacy of the efforts. The $18 million budget shortfall has given the Board the perfect excuse to save face. 

Under attack for curtailing literacy efforts, Coats reveals several shocking statistics, the kind of numbers unheard when she-who-cannot-be-named was around. Her points?

  • At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, only 15 percent of the African American students in our third grade classes could read on or above grade level. 
  • Only 59 percent of Caucasian students in our third grade classes could read on grade level.
  • After three consecutive years of First Grade Academy, Primary Grades Academy and a host of one-to-one literacy interventions, I do not believe these results are indicative of a program that works.
  • At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, 400 Charleston County School District graduates entered Trident Tech; 68 of those students were college ready. 
  • Three hundred and thirty-two Charleston County School District graduates enrolled in Trident Tech had to complete at least one remedial development course prior to enrolling in college credit bearing courses.
  • The literacy programs that have been in place in CCSD for the past decade have not ensured all our elementary students are proficient readers, have not ensured all students entering high school are able to read and comprehend high school level courses, and have not prepared all of our students to graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to move onto college or careers. 
  • This is the outrage.

Fifteen percent of black public school third-graders can read on grade level; for a third grader that means he or she is able to read. 

Don't you wonder if this is greater or less than five years ago? If we had had a control group of like students not attending school at all, how much lower would the percentage be? 

Mind boggling.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

CCSD's Martin, Not SOA's Cook, Has Some 'Splaining to Do

In the Charleston County School District, is communication so poor that the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing? We seem to have that question answered.

Despite the district's denials of cover up regarding its knowledge of any shenanigans by an infamous School of the Arts algebra teacher, Principal Cook is in the clear. Put the blame squarely on Lou Martin, one of ex-Superintendent McGinley's favorites. See education-officials-charleston-county-school-of-arts-principal-did-alert-bosses-about-teacher-student-relationship .

No doubt Principal Cook is thanking her lucky stars for the permanence of emails; otherwise, she might be out of a job. While the district can claim it received no telephone call, it can't explain away her missive to Martin. Those pesky emails again!
[CCSD] Officials backtracked . . . , saying [CCSD attorney] Emerson didn’t know at the time that an email existed showing that Cook contacted her then-boss, former Associate Superintendent Louis Martin, about the matter in April 2015. Cook also reported the allegations to Martin by phone the previous fall, but the district had no record of the call, district spokeswoman Erica Taylor said.
So Lou Martin dropped the proverbial ball. Don't you wonder what else he ignored? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Nearly 600 Students to Fill CCSD's Old McClellanville Middle School

The Charleston County School District shuttered McClellanville's Lincoln High/Middle School at the end of the school year because its low enrollment made per-student costs too high to justify its continuation under the current budget crisis. Yet a statewide public charter school will begin classes in McClellanville only three months later with a plethora of students. 

Kinda like Alice in Wonderland, isn't it?

The use of CCSD's building is a stop-gap measure while the Oceanside Collegiate Academy builds its own facility in Carolina Park, two miles northwest of Wando, where CCSD plans to bus former Lincoln students. This charter school, accredited through the statewide district, is not affiliated with CCSD. Is it any wonder that many Lincoln parents might jump to a school with 600 students versus overcrowded Wando's 4000?

Where did these 600 students appear from? The number suggests some live outside Charleston County, pointing out the artificiality of school district boundaries. The programs offered show the flexibility that CCSD cannot offer in a traditional school:
As a dual-enrollment high school, students at Oceanside will have the opportunity to earn up to two years’ worth of college credits. Oceanside will use a split schedule, meaning students can choose to take classes in the morning (between 8 a.m.-noon) or afternoon (12:30-4:30 p.m.), in addition to two hours of online electives each day.
This model allows students to take advantage of Oceanside’s complimentary tutoring, to go to work, do internships or community service and to participate in sports. The school plans to field teams in football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, lacrosse, cross country, swimming, competitive cheer, girls volleyball and softball. For some sports, practice already has begun.
As a statewide public charter school, Oceanside can accept students from any county in South Carolina and is funded through a combination of state and federal dollars instead of local taxes. Public charter schools also have greater autonomy and more flexibility compared with traditional public schools in making staffing, budget and curricula decisions.
“We get to do our own thing — whatever’s is best for the kids, we get to do that. When it comes to red tape, I don’t have any red tape. It’s just a beautiful thing,” said Corely, a former administrator at Wando. “I’ve never been given that kind of empowerment and freedom.”
So far, Oceanside has accepted 582 students from 16 cities in the tri-county region, including several from McClellanville and Awendaw in the wake of Lincoln Middle-High School’s recent closure.
Carolyn Simmons, president of the Lincoln Middle-High School PTSA, said she plans to send her 16-year-old twins to Oceanside next fall instead of Wando. Her sons played basketball and football at Lincoln, and Simmons hopes they’ll go to college on athletic scholarships. “Wando is such a big school... I’m just afraid they won’t get that playing time and stuff,” Simmons said. “I know a bunch of people who play sports there and in 11th grade, I wouldn’t want them sitting on the benches.”
 Do you have the same feeling that CCSD has been doing something all wrong?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why Not a Community Effort to Guarantee Parents' Reading to Babies?

The Letter to the Editor about the importance of reading to babies to ensure their readiness for school points out how parents should read to their children practically from birth.

See  letter-begin-with-books .

Begin With Books, the organization behind the letter, looks for donations from those who read Letters to the Editor. While this work is commendable, the urgency of the situation demands a more comprehensive approach to have a major impact on the Charleston County School District. Certainly, the parents who do not read to their children do not read Letters to the Editor!

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library performs a great service for parents who sign up. Yet, the parents whose children need books the most are unlikely to do so. Imagine what could be done if Charleston County's myriad organizations worked together to reach those at-risk children from birth.

Charleston County hospitals clearly can play a major role in reaching these parents. Surely they could develop protocols to identify newborns for this purpose.

With such a list, the Charleston County Public Library could enter the picture. Community organizations that work with families in need could reinforce the idea of obtaining and reading books to children. Community volunteers could provide transportation of loaned books to and from those who need them. Bring back the bookmobile! Local media could promote reading to children to the entire community. Churches could get into the act.

No one can force a parent to read to a child. A parent whose own parents never read to him or her may not think it important. However, a widespread, coordinated campaign could change minds.

No doubt many layers of bureaucracy and red tape lie in the way of coordinating such an effort, but what are politicians for?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

P&C Again Provides Space for NAACP's Darby's Racist Views

"How long, oh Lord, how long?"

The Reverend Joseph Darby, who uses his pastoral position to pursue politics, has an open slot any time he wishes to post his racist vitriol on the Op Ed page of our local paper. His world view is quite simple: all white people are racists, every decision a white person makes is racist, and every organization not controlled by the NAACP is racist. These views took their root in events of sixty or seventy years ago. Darby doesn't understand that the world has changed since the 1960s.

The success of the quite diverse Charter School for Math and Science grates on Darby's nerves every day. How could both black and white parents and teachers organize a successful school without Darby's authorization? There must be a racist plot somewhere, if he could just find it. Now he feels the need to uncover racist plots against teachers let go by CSMS's principal.

His attitude reminds me of the jingle used by John Birchers against the use of fluoride in our drinking water decades ago: 

"It's all a Commie plot, you see, / To get us internally." 

Envision little old ladies in tennis shoes finding a "Red under every bed."

Sour grapes.

Friday, June 17, 2016

P&C Allows Saenger Embarrassment Over Letter

The P&C Letters to the Editor hit a new low Friday morning. 

The editors allowed one of their favorite letter writers to embarrass himself. In his latest missive, Fritz Saenger of Mt. Pleasant, whom the editors awarded the Golden Pen Award last year for his advocacy of light-rail development (one of their hobby horses), shared his horror over how little he pays in property taxes since he moved here from Ohio. That's nothing to be embarrassed about, of course, although it might be an unpopular stance.

No, what's embarrassing is the mistake the editors allowed in print: Saenger points out that senior citizens are exempt from paying property taxes to the school district for operating expenses.

Duh. Where has he been for the last few years? Oh, wait. That would be Ohio.

No home owner in South Carolina pays taxes for operating expenses of schools because the sales tax supposedly raises enough to cover them. School taxes go strictly to capital expenses. The editors know that perfectly well.

Remember? You would if paying attention to some of the dumber moves of the state legislature in the last few years. Only businesses get soaked double for operating expenses, as the Charleston County School District knows to its sorrow.

Saenger also assumes the CCSD literacy program was working well, but that's another story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

P&C's Letter-to-Editor Choices Deteriorating in Quality

We all understand that our local paper cannot publish every letter it receives. Also, we acknowledge that whoever selects those for inclusion follows the biases and prejudices of its editors. 

Fair enough. Even ridiculously partisan or self-serving missives are often educational (perhaps not in the ways intended). However, standards seem to be slipping.

Pat Chapman's letter in Thursday's paper plumbs a new low:
Letter: School board members acting out
Jun 16 2016 12:01 am
The three board members who walked out on a school board meeting remind me of children who didn’t get their way so they have to act out. They have to throw a temper tantrum and tell Mom they don’t love her anymore. If the board is to be taken seriously, its members need to at least act like adults.
I think these men would have been the first to demand integration of schools, but they don’t want to close two schools because they are predominately black. Never mind the savings to the Charleston County School District and the students’ opportunity to attend more racially diverse schools that perform better academically.
When will common sense prevail in our government officials?
Pat Chapman,
Raoul Wallenberg Boulevard
Is this person really that ignorant of CCSD's complexities or just related to one of the editors?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

CCSD Literacy Article Buries Bombshell on Audits

No matter how you whitewash it, money for literacy improvement in the Charleston County School District has been slashed in the budget the School Board recently adopted. As I suggested previously, a new approach may be good, not bad. Even new Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait intimated that "there were some inefficiencies" in the McGinley-initiated program. How many overseers does it take to teach a child to read? Cutting "reading intervention specialists" may not be all bad.

For those hardy few who persevered to the article's end, a surprise awaited.  Upon the insistence of Board member Todd Garrett, Audit and Finance Committee Chairman, a possible forensic audit of the Capital Projects Program is in the works. Garrett believes that "one single deep dive" s. warrented after "the events of the last nine months." Um, yeah.

The board will vote on whether to go forward at its next meeting, June 27. 

Go for it! Who knows what lies beneath.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reading the Tea Leaves in CCSD's Literacy Cuts

No skill matters more than literacy. 

Several years ago awakened by the P&C to the need to teach all students to read (!) , the Charleston County School District initiated a literacy program to prevent entering high schoolers from reading at the third-grade level or below. Former superintendent McGinley vowed to affect the abysmal reading scores of these unfortunates.

What happened? Did the horrendous budget shortfall cause the announced cut-backs in CCSD's literacy programs, or was the former superintendent's program both ineffective and too expensive for its meager results? Since our local paper seems determined to protect McGinley's reputation at all costs, we'll probably never know the full story. See charleston-county-school-district-slashes-literacy-program for some details.
Promising that literacy will improve, the new superintendent has revamped the program to cut costs, but will it also be more effective? Only time will tell, of course, but the cuts fall hardest on the poor and black, those who constitute the majority of students unable to read their own textbooks. 
Where are the cuts that fall on the most privileged students in the district?

Friday, June 10, 2016

SOA's Cook Has Some 'Splaining to Do to CCSD

On the face of it, the Charleston County School District should fire School of the Arts Principal Shannon Cook for covering up a teacher's exploitation of a student. The real question is, why did she protect algebra teacher Patrick Ratigan for over a year.

Good algebra teachers are hard to come by, but still!

In March of 2015, Cook had hard evidence of a relationship between Ratigan and a senior girl at the school whom he had made his "teaching assistant." Even so, she chose not to document her actions and, most importantly, did not follow CCSD protocol to notify the district. She wasn't new at her job, and neither was Ratigan. Is this the first student that Ratigan had approached? Had she covered for him before? We'll probably never know unless other former students come forward.

Meanwhile, Ratigan must have known that he was risking his future as a high school teacher.This personable-looking young man not only damaged a teenager at least a decade younger but also completely insulted and embarrassed his wife, a fellow teacher at the school, whom he had married in the fall of 2012. 

It now appears that CCSD was the last to know. Only when approached with a Freedom of Information Act request did its bureaucrats discover what parents and teachers had complained about for a year or more. How could that happen? Did no one ever contact the district headquarters, or did those at the Taj Mahal ignore the situation? 

As the saying goes, heads should roll.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Auto Mile to Tackle Racism in Charleston's School District?

Even Brian Hicks is shaking his head over this stupidity.


Monday, June 06, 2016

NAN Boycotts Car Dealerships to Combat CCSD's Racism

Demanding the impossible of the Charleston County School District (closing the achievement gap between black and white students immediately), James Johnson of the National Action Network has announced a boycott of area car dealerships.

The somnolent curiosity of the reporter perked up. Why? "Johnson said it was 'easy to do' since people buy cars so infrequently." 

I don't know about the reporter, but I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that one. The boycott will be easy to achieve because people don't buy many cars. Maybe those who buy cars run CCSD?

Okay, then.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Mishandling FOIA Requests Hurts New CCSD Superintendent

The hiking-the-Appalachian-Trail excuse again! 

Okay, I'll repeat myself: the attorney for the Charleston County School District--John Emerson--needs to be fired. What's stopping CCSD from doing so? Does he know where the bodies are buried or something? His latest foot-dragging excuse? "The remaining paperwork won’t be released until an outside attorney who handled the case for the district returns from hiking the Appalachian Trail next week."

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

The new superintendent and the Board of Trustees should pay special attention to the opacity surrounding the termination of School-of-the-Arts algebra teacher Patrick Ratigan. Despite Emerson's claims to the contrary, the situation appears SNAFU from its inception. Excuses after the fact do not compute. The district's current behavior only reminds people of the lack of transparency that was a hallmark of the last superintendent. Wait--Emerson contacts outside help whenever a legal problem arises? Hey, I could do that.

What happened here? CCSD stalled until school was out, then punted. Dare we suggest that the SOA's principal mishandled the situation? Is it common for SOA's teachers to miss more than 20 days of school? Most teachers don't miss that many days in 20 years. Parents must be sick and tired of not knowing what goes on in classrooms. From all reports, his "inappropriate" relationship was merely the last straw in a sorry record. Why wasn't the matter handled with more dispatch? Who was being protected here? Not the students.

Too many unanswered questions remain in this pathetic saga, but the most important is this one:

What will CCSD do differently next time?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Blog Commenter Raises Concerns About Burns Takeover

While it is not my practice to repost comments made on this blog, the following deserves further airing. Perhaps someone will clear up some points made. Remembering the Sanders-Clyde fiasco does give pause.
Clisby Williams said...
One downside is that it would be illegal under cdoeurrent state law. That's why the state Education Dept. staff recommended against it - the state law allows a district only one School of Choice. 
Another is the lack of transparency. Where is the documentation of the testing gains? Remember the miracle worker of Sanders-Clyde? We should all be a little skeptical of this.  
Also - the whole point of setting up a state-approved School of Choice ought to be to try out something different with the idea that, if it succeeds, CCSD itself could replicate the program. So, what do we know about Brentwood? We know CCSD is spending about $13,000 per student. How much is MSA (or Sherman Financial Group, or other private donors) contributing? Unless we know that, we don't know how much it costs, so we have no frame of reference to decide how financially feasible that model is. 
If CCSD were acting with due diligence, the Memorandum of Agreement would specify at least 2 things: Everything to do with Brentwood is subject to the FOIA; and CCSD is either administering or monitoring all relevant testing.
Any further thoughts?

Troubles from McGinley's CCSD Administration--Money and Food

New Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait must be wondering what problem will pop up next in the Charleston County School District. It's bad enough to follow an administration that left a $18 million shortfall to deal with--now it's food service. Lack of accountability in previous years produced this week's Charleston Schools Balanced Budget Act, which 
"would require the county auditor to verify the district’s projections for property tax revenues. After the school district’s $18 million budget shortfall in 2014-2015, initial reports placed part of the blame on a $9.36 million overestimation of revenues.
   The bill also would require the Charleston County School Board to revise its budget after the passage of the state budget every year, if necessary, to reflect the funds sent to the district by the state. In January every year, the school board would be required to review its expenditures and amend the budget to fix any deficits within 60 days."
Needless to say, the bill, which is likely to become law, merely checks that the district is doing its job. Sad, but true, that hasn't been the case in the last few years.

Then there's food service, a growing part of educational expense. One field supervisor, Cassaundra Tucker, who served for a decade, 
"said she noticed a disparity between the meals offered at majority-white schools like Wando High and the meals offered at other large high schools with bigger minority populations. Tucker said the district was also slower to make kitchen equipment repairs and to remediate mold and mildew in food preparation areas at predominantly black schools. 'They paid more attention to the white schools than the black schools,' Tucker said."
Other food service employees have complained of "withheld wages, miscalculated overtime pay and the use of racial slurs, among other issues," according to National Action Network State Coordinator Elder James Johnson. In case you are wondering who Johnson is, here are the activist credentials of this businessman and former Marine as published online by the League of Women Voters:

  • Pastor of New Creations - The Church of the Now
  • President / Vice President The Rainbow Push Coalition
  • Chairman of the Board, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Member of the NAACP
  • President /CEO of Minority United Trading and Consulting, LLC
  • President of Minority Concrete Company 
You have to be asking yourself if the Charleston Area NAACP has atrophied to the point of uselessness. Clearly, NAN is positioning itself to take over as spokesman for black interests in the community. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

CCSD Board of Trustees' "Open" Meetings?

Few outsiders attend when the Charleston County School Board makes its most controversial decisions.

It's not coincidental. 

As Wednesday's paper points out, "The board has voted in special called meetings this year to close Lincoln Middle-High School, review an audit of last year’s $18 million budget shortfall, approve teacher employment contracts before a state deadline passed, appoint principals to schools and add $5 million to the district’s fund balance. The meetings are often during weekday work hours and scarcely attended by the public."

Let's get this straight. Regular school board meetings now are once a month on a Monday night when the fully-employed can attend, yet since the beginning of this calendar year, the whole board has met in twice as many "special called" meetings held during the 9-to-5 workday. 

CCSD Board chair Cindy Bohn Coats assures us this ratio is merely temporary because of "unexpected issues."  Time will tell.

Perhaps we should call this procedure "following the letter of the law but not its spirit."