Do you think building and operating a really expensive mockup of a NASA space center and mission launch control in one of our schools is a great educational idea? Well, as the Courier-Journal reports today in “Challenger Learning Center ‘on hold’ by JCPS,” the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) did exactly that. Inevitably, this costly idea has now failed to successfully launch in what is a spectacular example of lousy bang-for-the-buck planning.
We’ve written a ton of articles over the years about the expensive, environmentally unfriendly, and largely ineffective busing-for-integration effort that is still going on in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) (just search our blog using “busing Jefferson County” in the search window).
But, it looks like citizens of Kentucky’s biggest city just love to bang their head against the busing wall.
So, a new WAVE3.COM article about continuing violence on the buses is no surprise to us.
What is a surprise is the low learning curve about things that just don’t work for schools in Jefferson County. The Supreme Court figured out that busing wasn’t getting the job done years ago and dropped the mandate to bus for integration in Louisville.
Louisvillians keep on doing it to themselves, anyway, never seeming to realize that moving a black child to a school with better test scores for whites provides no guarantee that the black child will get the same education. In fact, that black child might not even wind up in the same classroom with the whites.
The WAVE3 article says that fights on Louisville’s school buses are down from 269 two years ago to 172 last year.
But, the article also says that John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, the union that represents bus drivers, claims, “When some bus drivers report fights to the principal, who is the only one with the power to suspend a child from the bus, the incident is sometimes swept under the rug.” So, who knows what the real fight numbers are?
In any event, one fight is too many, but having something on the order of several hundred fights a year signals problems.
When you couple the bus violence with the evidence we assembled a couple of years ago that moving kids all over the map in Louisville didn’t result in better scores for the under-privileged kids who got sent to supposedly better schools on the East side of Louisville, it’s clearly past time for Louisville to fix its neighborhood schools, especially those in the West End. That way, students can thrive in a nearby school and parents can be close by for support, too. This would be a far better solution than burning huge amounts of diesel to operate what too often turn into rolling fight arenas.
JCPS doesn’t know how to fix those neighborhood schools you say. Then let’s – finally – try the charter school approach! We obviously need them in Louisville – and now in Lexington, too.
Louisville’s Robert Frost Middle School and Myers Middle School have been a major problem for years.
Frost was tagged as a Persistently Low-Achieving School (PLAs) in the very first “Cohort” named in the spring of 2010. Myers followed into Persistently Low-Achieving status about a year and a half later when Cohort 3 PLAs were identified in October of 2011. Since then, both schools have blazed a trail of continued mediocrity so bad that the Jefferson County Board of Education essentially closed them at the end of the past school term.
But, the fix adopted by the board already shows disconcerting evidence that failure to educate former students from Myers and Frost continues.
There has been a lot of discussion in the past few days about intentional lack of transparency with the development and enactment of the Affordable Care Act, but Kentuckians don’t have to look to Washington for examples of the public’s business being kept from the public and their elected officials.
In fact, a story WDRB is breaking in Louisville shows the elected officials at the Jefferson County Board of Education were kept in the dark regarding questionable employee actions and an expensive settlement negotiated behind closed doors.
The issue concerns a former employee who once held a six-figure salary job as Jefferson County’s public information officer. That job was cut and the employee moved to human resources, getting a lower-paying – but still six-figure – salary. The employee didn’t last long in human resources, getting fired “for misconduct and insubordination, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.”
All of this happened without the vast majority, perhaps all, of the Jefferson County Board of Education having even a clue about what was occurring.
The school district defended the secrecy surrounding a $200,000 settlement, saying:
“While we stand behind what we have done, you have to weigh a lot of things. Do we fight the fight that we think is the right fight and do so with an open-ended checkbook, which is the taxpayers’ checkbook, or do we try to settle a situation and make a good business decision?”
Well, here are just a few questions about management in Jefferson County Schools all the secrecy has left unanswered. In raising them, I want to stress that the secrecy in this situation does not allow the public to know if the employee actually was wronged or was in the wrong.
• If the six-figure salary job of public information officer was eliminated, who now performs those functions? Were there two very highly paid people nominally doing this at Jefferson County?
• Was the employee’s move from public information to a six-figure salary human resources position a good skills fit? Who determined that? Was this really just a make-work action?
• Was the firing actually justified? Does the district’s refusal to defend its action actually indicate the firing might not be justified? If the firing was actually questionable, who is being held accountable? How would a similar mistake be avoided in the future if everything is secret?
• If the firing was justified, what kind of precedent is set by the district’s failure to stand behind its actions? Doesn’t this open the taxpayer up to unending, expensive settlements that might not be justified?
• Should the elected board of education be involved with actions, especially job terminations, involving high level district personnel? Is there a legal requirement for such involvement? If so, is there a salary point or job description that would determine the need for board involvement?
• Most important of all, what is being done, if anything, to preclude another expensive action like this in the future? Are the best interests of the taxpayers served by just sweeping this under the rug?
Keep in mind that Jefferson County School’s management history is already under question for being far from stellar. A recent audit by Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen raised lots of questions about how the district was handling the public’s tax dollars. Right now, it looks like somewhere around $200,000 more of those tax dollars might have been poorly spent while the local board of education – again – was left without a clue.
BUT, the full ‘Term’ is far from over, and a lot still remains to be done
WDRB reports that Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen gave the Jefferson County Public Schools an ‘A’ a couple of days ago at a Louisville Forum luncheon for the way the district is moving out in response to a major and critical audit his office conducted about a half a year ago.
That is good news, because initially there was a lot of denial in Louisville when the audit was released.
Still, other comments in the WDRB report make it clear that Auditor Edelen’s grade is only a mid-term report, and a lot of work remains before any final scores can be assigned.
For example, the audit was very critical of Jefferson County’s bloated and overpaid staff. Instead of meeting this one head on by themselves, the district is going to spend $192,000 of taxpayer money to buy cover with an independent staffing study from Management Advisory Group International, Inc. So far, I don’t know if a single job has been cut, but this study contract would just about pay for two more of those high-priced Jefferson County staffers. Any performance grades for this important and expensive area are premature, at present.
Also, the district’s new fiscal transparency web site is behind schedule. The district promises it is coming, but this effort clearly gets an “Incomplete” grade, at best, right now.
However, it is encouraging that Jefferson County has apparently worked through its denial issues and is moving to make changes. Whether this traditionally rather ingrown school system can actually fill its audit response portfolio with all the required items conducted with acceptable levels of performance remains to be seen.
How will the new Jefferson County Schools of Innovation help students in Persistently Low-Achieving Schools?
Last night the Jefferson County Board of Education selected two models to be the district’s first “Schools of Innovation” under Kentucky’s “Districts of Innovation” law. Collectively, the choices were disappointing.
Jefferson County has the state’s largest concentration of “Persistently Low-Achieving” high schools – 10 of them. But, neither of the new schools of innovation models pays any attention to high school level activities. There are no high schools of innovation ideas in either choice.
Even the two ideas that were selected may prove problematic to actually implement. WDRB reports that board of education member Debbie Wesslund said at the meeting:
“We need more details – we don’t know how we will pay for this, we don’t have specifics as to where (they will be located).”
So, the good ship “Innovation” has launched in Louisville with the best of intentions, but it is sailing into uncharted waters and hasn’t even set a course towards the most troubled areas. In fact, Louisville’s good ship Innovation may not have enough fuel in its tank to complete any mission.
Bluntly put, this first effort in Jefferson County stands in sharp contrast to the good things that could happen for kids if Kentucky had adopted a real charter school law instead of the weak sister “Districts of Innovation” bill. With real charter schools, innovation comes to the ingrown and inward looking traditional public school system from outside sources including parents and others such as concerned colleges. Real charter schools tap new resources the traditional system never considers.
With Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation, whatever change happens can only come from teachers within the existing system. Even more limiting, in most cases 70 percent of the teachers in a school have to agree before a school can become an innovation school. So, the Districts/Schools of Innovation program mostly looks like a recipe for the status quo, which is exactly what Jefferson County will now get from its Schools of Innovation program in its numerous low-achieving high schools.
Early in July the Kentucky Department of Education released a “Kentucky Assessment Allegation Report” on the Male situation. The report indicated among many other things that staff members at Male were threatened with being “Overstaffed” if they didn’t comply. Overstaffing would mean the teachers would lose their highly desirable jobs at this competitive magnet high school. Overstaffed teachers in Jefferson County schools are put in a district-wide teacher hiring pool and can wind up almost anywhere in the system.
So, it looks like “overstaffing” was being used as a threat to force teacher compliance at Male.
Furthermore, a Courier-Journal education blog reported that the former Male High principal – who currently faces possible disciplinary action from the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board – did announce a number of teaching staff positions were “overstaffed.” Those teachers would be losing their teaching positions at the end of the 2013-14 school term.
Putting the Courier-Journal’s blog and the Assessment Allegation Report together, a question arises: “Was that former overstaffing declaration at Male a legitimate assessment of the school’s staffing needs or an attack against teachers who didn’t go along?”
New information now makes that question even more interesting.
A July 29, 2014 WDRB news release says that seven of the nine school staff members the former principal had declared as “overstaffed” in fact are still needed and will be back at Male in the coming school year! In addition, an eighth staff member apparently could also have returned but decided to stay with a new school assignment, instead.
So, in the vast majority of the overstaffing cases at Male, it looks like the teachers were not truly overages at all.
“The Kentucky Black Alliance for Educational Options Pastors Coalition…is saddened by this attempt to defraud our people and cheat our students out of a great education.”
The Louisville-based group’s response to the closing of Myer’s Middle School was published in an op-ed featured in the Monday edition of the Courier-Journal.
In their letter, the pastors recounted how the Kentucky Department of Education labeled 18 Jefferson County schools as “low-performing” and outlined the department’s subsequent efforts to promote academic achievement in the district. Unfortunately, progress was elusive in a number of those schools, particularly in Myers Middle School. As such, the school district voted on May 12 to close the school, “a decision that lacks community voice and parent insight.”
The seventh and eighth grade students of failing Myers Middle School will now be attending the failing Waggener High School where they will be taught separately. In other words, Jefferson County School officials are responding to failure by sending them to another low-performing school. Can progress really be expected out of the closure if this is the remedy?
According to report findings, Jefferson County Schools have over 360 administrators that are paid over $100,000 to make Jefferson County school decisions. While these bureaucrats are lining their pocketbooks, teachers all across the district are unable to get funding for necessary classroom supplies or better technology to help their students learn. Instead of empowering our students with the tools and education they need for a bright future, Jefferson County Schools are setting them up for failure. Unfortunately, that failure falls hardest on our low-income children, about half of which are minority children.
In the face of failing schools across the state, both the Bluegrass Institute and The Kentucky Black Alliance for Educational Options Pastors Coalition strongly support the legalization of school choice, including the adoption of charter schools to supplement our current education system. Charter schools (which are not, in fact, private schools) have proven to be hugely successful in neighboring states, such as Tennessee and Indiana. If implemented, charter schools would provide high-quality education options for our children, and we simply cannot continue to send our students to failing schools.
Elaina Waters, BIPPS Intern
Competition: the way a monopoly is dismantled
This week we offer a series of blogs looking at how the traditional public school system in Kentucky – which enjoys a virtual monopoly over deciding where your child can go to school – has been seduced by its own power in arrogant ways that adversely impact students and taxpayers alike. We will show how giving Kentucky parents the competition provided by badly needed school-choice options is the way to curb that monopoly power.
Other “monopoly education staffers” cheating on tests???
Yesterday we discussed cheating on the ACT college entrance test that occurred several years ago in Perry County. While the actual cheaters have never been revealed, several staff members who failed to maintain security over ACT test booklets had action taken against their professional certificates via the first successful use of new, forensic testing methods for such matters. It likely will not be the last example.
This is rather astounding because Male is a competitive magnet high school with some of the top test scores in Kentucky. Can it be that even high-performing monopolies never get enough?
The COMPASS test involved at Male also comes from the ACT, Inc. There seems to be a built-in inducement to inflate scores as COMPASS results are used by Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning school accountability program as a method of determining students’ college and career readiness.
Inflated COMPASS scores can also lead to students being admitted into regular, credit-bearing college courses when those students really need to first take remedial courses. That sets up a bad situation for these students that can accelerate their flunking out of college altogether.
While the Male story is still developing, various media outlets have interviewed a number of different students who point to problems. It appears that students, not staffers, blew the whistle on inappropriate test-administration activities, including providing answers. Students also allege that Male staff members encouraged students to lie to ACT and Kentucky Department of Education investigators.
Since this evolving story is still under investigation, we will wait for release of the final reports in order to fully understand what happened — or did not happen — at Male.
However, WDRB-TV already obtained evidence that at least some testing irregularities do exist, shown by this letter announcing to parents that Male High’s fall 2013 COMPASS scores were invalidated for use in the Kentucky Unbridled Learning school accountability system. Students were being asked to retest in March 2014.
I wrote earlier today about a new report that the Jefferson County Board of Education, which is currently embroiled in questions about their ability to manage that school district’s huge budget, has just approved a record-breaking, 10.2 percent increase in their budget for 2014.
Some of the information came from a very interesting article in the Courier-Journal.
I now have accessed some additional documents that the Courier posted from the school board’s meeting, which include this interesting graphic (to which I added some comments).
I am not a budget person, but it looks like the district’s financial people say they are planning for expenses in the new budget of $1,019,072,067 but only think incoming revenue will be $1,011,815,318, which is a shortfall of about $7.2 million. The district’s budgeters seem to think that shortfall can be made up with money coming in from the Erate program and by not filling some positions, and by eating into contingency money for another $1.7 million.
That’s somewhat speculative, obviously, but the real issue is the comment “Expense Budget does not include required contingency” found under the left bar in the graph.
Hmmm – something is missing. And, it might be expensive.
You see, the Courier-Journal says the full budget for 2014 approved by the board is $1,342,383,041. The difference between that and the Revenue Budget amount shown in the graph is $330,567,723.
Maybe there is an explanation (again, I am not a budget guy), but with a possible shortfall of hundreds of million dollars between projected revenue and planned total spending, I hope someone has a better explanation than this graph provided the Jefferson County Board of Education.
I hope the Kentucky Department of Education’s finance experts are listening. That goes double for the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts. We cannot afford to have Kentucky’s largest school system go insolvent.