The fall of Wright State

Warning, this is a TL/DR (Too Long/Didn’t Read) post. It’s not meant as quick hitter, but as a serious starting point for changing the worst school board into the best. I’m personally vested in this as a graduate of Wright State. Even though I know I could have gone to a “better school” and been challenged more, at the time, Wright State was probably the right place for me. I’m sure that Stakeholders in the Wright State community will appreciate this post and what is coming. For $100 million to vanish, and the board of trustees basically given a hall pass, is unconscionable. Where did a $100 million reserve, $150 million in new research/workforce development contracts and a supposed $150 million capital campaign fund go?


Wright State University Board of Trustees president shared his favorite quote early on in the 3+ hour board meeting on Aug 17, 2018 “you know a camel is a thoroughbred designed by committee” and then proceeded to lead a committee to design WSU camel version 51.8.17

That version number stands for 51 years and the meetings date in case you are wondering.

Wright State is now 51 years old and going through a second self-induced midlife crisis. The first came when the university, under many of the very same trustees, started a process of “reinvention” by committee around 2010 give or take 2 years.

Wright State budget showing $100M loss in five years

Where did $100M go in 5 years?

thumbnail of FY19 Budget Presentation_final_boardmaterials

Wright State FY 2019 Entire PDF budget presentation. Click to download PDF

According to a slide presented at the earlier, well attended, June 8th 2018  Board of Trustees meeting, Wright State had a healthy balance sheet in 2011- $98M in Departmental and others, and $72M in “General University” accounts. By FY 2017 they were $11 M in the hole on the general university fund and down to $52M in the departmental and other. The outlook wasn’t good.

A president had stepped down, an interim hatchet man stepped in to stabilize things. The same board that was asleep at the wheel hired a new president. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs, others fled the sinking ship, but none of the trustees were held accountable, despite investigations into missing funds, H1B visa violations, ethics issues, voting to hire the Chairman Michael Bridges’ son, many lawsuits and some very questionable real estate deals. They did however, manage to cut the swim team, while “upgrading” the men’s basketball coach and paying him half a million a year, double what his predecessor made. That’s even more than the new president.

How did we get here?

Back in 2008 a new mission and vision statement were rolled out with great fanfare. A 2-year process led by Dr. Robert Sweeney who some say was the man behind the curtain of Dr. Hopkins regime. It was also around the same time that Dr. Hopkins started drinking what I call the Dayton Development Coalition Kool-Aide and believing that Wright State had to tie its pony up to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Since so many major corporations had left, downsized, or been bought in Dayton- the only reliable teat left to suck on was Uncle Sam’s and they went for it in a big way.

Even as far as to hire the former DDC chief Jim “Lefty” Leftwich and founding DDC Chief Ron Wine to consulting contracts (full disclosure, my firm, The Next Wave, is working with Wine to build his consulting business and website), neither of which ended well in the eyes of the public. However, the work Wine was involved in; creating the ARC (Wright State Applied Research Corporation) and growing WSRI (Wright State Research Institute) are now put on pedestals as pillars of Wright State’s future.

The problem is that Wright Patterson Air Force Base was here before Wright State, and if this current board continues on their committee driven path, the base may be there long after Wright State as we know it. Consider the following two articles:

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, but Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says that half are bound for bankruptcy in the next few decades.

Source: HBS prof says 50% of US colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years

Wright State University’s financial woes are so deep the school may not fully recover for two decades, according to a report obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

The report was created by the WSU administration and filed with a fact-finder as part of ongoing contract negotiations with the faculty union. It paints a vivid picture of Wright State’s budget trouble and shares certain details publicly for the first time.

“It will take WSU more than 20 years to get back to the financial position it was in just six years ago,” the report states.

The report comes even as Wright State administrators and trustees have said in recent months that the university has “turned a corner” financially.

The report was submitted by the university to make a case for its stance on contract

Source: Wright State won’t recover from financial crisis for 20 years

Wright State, landslide winner of the “Esrati.com worst school board in Dayton” contest,  just like the Trotwood Schools and the Dayton Public Schools, Wright State is teetering on the brink of “State Takeover” which is an untested, unproven, unrealistic threat from a State that’s done plenty to allow these organizations to get in trouble- without providing the oversight and guidance to stop them from heading down the wrong path in the first place.

One has to wonder what the Ohio State Auditor does when a University manages to lose over $100 Million in the span of 5 years- and a redacted $300K forensic audit by Plante Moran Report reduced size, can’t tell anyone where the money went. Even board member Bruce Langos, who ostensibly gets to see the un-redacted version, can’t tell you where the money went, and he used to be the Chief Operating Officer of Teradata. The board chair, Douglas Fecher, is a banker (calling him a Credit Unionist just doesn’t sound right) and he can’t tell you where the money went either. [We won’t delve into Fecher’s issues – the university graciously bought his old HQ at what insiders say was an artificially inflated price just before he was anointed to the Board by the Trustees. Oops, and then he took WSU’s money and bought out a WSU major donor to move into a bright, shiny new headquarters building next door.]

Nothing forces change faster than being broke. Yet, some who go through the agony of bankruptcy, of business failing, of falling down, actually learn from it- and spring back in a big way. America loves come-back stories. Think Apple, even if it’s a wild stretch.

Part of the “if” Wright State will spring back was what was covered in the board meeting on August 17th, and interestingly enough, the starting point for that discussion was from a suggestion from the Student Trustee on the board- not from one of the “high-powered” business brains appointed by the Governor.

Austin Rains is the kind of student that Wright State wishes it had 18,000 of. An over-achiever, a guy who is headed toward a bright future in our community.

From his LinkedIn profile “My goal is to become a recognized servant leader in health care industry. I am a hyper-focused, people person committed to innovating health care and improving my community. What excites me? Mission-driven work, leading change, breaking down barriers for people and empowering people to pay it forward.”

It was his suggestion to view an archived webinar from The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) which bills itself as “the premier organization centered on governance in higher education.” And although it’s in the video, here’s the link: https://www.agb.org/events/2018/complimentary-webinar-business-model-transformation-for-organizational-change

It was a case study of a university going through a financial crisis and trying to reposition the remains to be competitive, in an environment where most universities are battling to even be considered relevant. Wright State isn’t by any means alone in its quest to prove the value proposition of a bachelors degree in a day when you can teach yourself to code online. I spend about 30 minutes a day watching YouTube to learn new skills. I spend at least 90 minutes a day reading online, and pre-internet, when I was a student at Wright State, I spent time reading business books in addition to my text books, unlike any of my classmates and even some of my professors (anecdote- a management professor had assigned reading that included a sidebar about management guru Tom Peters– who had written what was considered the first business best seller- creating a whole new genre. When I asked about Peters- the professor, despite having assigned the reading, had no clue of who Peters was. His book- “In Search of Excellence” now reads more like an academic text than all that he’s published since, but it was still a hot topic around 1985, 3 years after its publication).

The webinar was watched by the board members in attendance, Fecher, Michael Bridges, Sean Fitzpatrick, Dr. Anuj Goyal, General C.D. Moore, Langos, Rains and first-time attendee, second student trustee, Shaun Wenrick. Grace Ramos showed up later, Stephanie Green and William Montgomery were absent.

The webinar was about 45 minutes- with all the typical academic style charts and graphs to make things legit. Nothing presented was rocket surgery. Basically change is hard, establishing unique positioning is difficult, competition is challenging, change or die. And stuff that shouldn’t have been a surprise to Wright State people in particular- 75% of your student body will probably be a transfer student.

The irony of them watching online education to solve their bricks and mortar problems was lost on them- but not on me.

Yep, schools, just like careers, are now in the gig economy. And most of them do their damnedest to “protect the value” of their degree by requiring you to meet their curricula standards and doing at least your last 30 credit hours with them. It’s an obsolete policy that’s part of a no longer relevant model- especially when competing with online education which isn’t saddled with legacy buildings and infrastructure and moves with you. The consultants called this kind of a policy a “self-inflicted wound.”

Reminder to WSU, all those military people and their spouses, may not be here for a full 4 years, or long enough for just 30 credit hours, and they have always been a significant part of your enrollment.

A good friend and former client, Sally Hogshead, wrote a best-selling handbook- “Radical Careering” where she talked about investing in “portable equity” – it’s “Radical Truth 44- “portable equity is the only form of job security today” and she goes on to define it as “Portable equity: The reputation you earn. People you meet. Skills you learn. Accomplishments you acquire.” Unfortunately, it’s out of print, good news is you can download a free copy here. If it takes you more than an hour to read, you flunked the third-grade reading standard- if you don’t spend countless hours thinking about it after reading it, you are insanely out of touch.

“Radical Careering” probably has more answers in it for helping train tomorrows workforce than hiring high priced consultants from out of town to tell them how to attract and engage the future workforce that Wright State wants to prepare. But since it’s written by an advertising superstar, not a PhD. It couldn’t possibly be relevant. And that’s the problem with higher ed as we know it today- they still take themselves way too seriously and spend too much time creating silos of “education” instead of fertilizing the fields.

My 27 year-old web wizard is a perfect example of the new workforce. He taught himself to code at age 12- because he wanted to build a website to put his band online. He went to Bowling Green to get a liberal arts degree, B.A. in English language and literature, theory. Never paid a dime to learn coding, yet that’s how he puts his bacon on the table. I’d put his practical knowledge and ability to think against any WSU computer science student any day. In fact, I had a guy with a Masters in Computer Science from WSU – who was able to do the same job, but wasn’t nearly as proficient or ingenious- and ingenuity is today’s currency.

The board discussion that ensued after the online learning session that they just embraced without acknowledging the irony, was where you’d expect to hear the nitty gritty of operational plans and projects, or have marketing strategies with budgets and projections. Instead, Dr. Schrader (who might have gotten an edge in her hiring because her last name sounds like Sch-raider) brought in a professor and a political strap-hanger to go over their accelerated process to rebuild the mission/vision statement and help her develop her 35 word or less “strategy” statement. She had tapped Dr. David Bright, a tenured Professor of Organizational Behavior and Organization Development and Michael Wiehe, who has both an undergraduate degree from WSU as well as an MPA. Wiehe’s background is straight from Congressman Turners office and before that, the Dayton Development Coalition. He’s now the director of Wright State’s applied policy research institute.

I’d look up his salary, but State Treasurer Josh Mandel only has Miami and Bowling Green in his employee database.

Up came their deck, all the little boxes and arrows, and an explanation of how they got from there to here.

Bright had talked about his “comprehensive process” with 320 people, 20 themes, and Schrader said they’d spent over 6100 person hours in events talking about what they called “The Wright Path to 2025.” Absolutely nothing wrong with any of it- except this is the academics deathtrap- process trumps palatable for lack of a better word. It may sound good on paper, but, you don’t want to eat the paper.

Operational plans were non-existant. They checked all the proper boxes, but what came out was again, a camel. The board, with their “street smart” business sense behind them- immediately proceeded to dissect it thinking they were helping the process. “You can swap this out for any university”- which is absolutely true. We have the same problem in advertising- almost every agency can sell you on their process by promising the moon and the stars, but only a few actually deliver. Schrader left her wounded on the battlefield as the bullets kept coming.

“Radical Careering” wasn’t written by just anyone in advertising btw, Sally had won almost every industry award known to man or woman by the time she was 27. A superstar copywriter, she had worked under the best, another friend, Luke Sullivan, who also wrote a textbook on advertising called “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” which is in its fifth edition (I’m quoted in it- and also built and host the site www.heywhipple.com). The difference between most writers and creative copy gods is that they can take the mundane checklists of features, advantages and benefits of anything and turn it into something people want to buy.

Sending a professor out to write a mission/vision statement/strategy is kind of like sending a teenage mutant ninja turtle to take on Bruce Lee. One sounds like he has superpowers based on the ideas and leading research of what a superhero is supposed to be- and the other- is an actual super human who has trained his whole life to kick your ass.

Radical Truth number 6 Break out the nunchucks and let the street fighting begin

Radical Truth number 6

We’ll detour to another radical truth from Sally’s book- Number 6- “Break out the nunchucks and let the streetfighting begin.” The graphic that goes with this “truth” is epic- what she continues with – is a good description of what was missing in the discussion.

“Victories are no longer civilized affairs won by following the rules. Not in the boardroom, and not on the squash court. Today, success is won in the streets with your cunning and instinct. You have to roll up your sleeves. You have to figure out how to get to the sales meeting to present the work, even if all flights out of O’Hare are delayed because of a blizzard. Are you willing to push harder, work faster, and think smarter no matter what obstacles arise?”

And that’s what the board started to do. Street fight. Only without the enemy in sight, no general in the room and most importantly, no one skilled at crafting a sales pitch.

There was no actual work done to increase enrollment, cut costs, improve public perception, make students feel good again about their university. They just postured and pronounced.

Marketing was never mentioned in the room, even though their biggest problem is attracting students.

There is a fundamental problem with board and organizations. Unlike the “Mastermind group” of 5 advisors that Henry Ford relied on according to the classic management book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill, boards and leaders aren’t really picked to be a team. Boards are picked to more to serve as a check and balance, and in this case, it’s 9-1, but the 9 picked the 1- and they think they are the smartest folks in the room.

If Dr. Schrader was picking a team to work with, this is another one that looks good on paper but you wouldn’t want to eat. A retired general, a doctor, a pair of bankers, a few business C types, all sounds good- except not a one has any experience actually running an institution of higher ed.

So we hear things that sound like they came out of the Jack Welch playbook “be number 1 or 2 in a market.” (Welch is sometimes referred to as the world’s greatest CEO, as if there is a world series of corporate meritocracy) A discussion ensues about what we should specialize in- including health care, logistics, computer science- and damn those people in the liberal arts, until Bridges pipes in “I believe the college of liberal arts is our largest in terms of enrollment.” Boom.

It’s also one of the lowest cost centers. It’s cheap to teach the classics, all the important texts are already in the public domain.

Of course, I’m just a spectator at the bullfight- and can’t say anything, but all I keep thinking is wake up folks, the guy who took a broke and bankrupt company to become the most valuable corporation in the world was not only a college drop-out, but a liberal-arts major.

Yep, I’m invoking the ghost of Steve Jobs. Something people in silicon-valley like to do in discussions of everything from immigration to privacy. Unfortunately, he’s not here anymore to weigh in, but, like Jesus on the cross, he has followers, and I count myself as one.

My favorite quote attributed to Steve Jobs is “A people hire A people, B people hire C people.”He also hated committees and focus groups, because “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Proof in point- up until the iPhone, no one needed either a touch screen or the internet in your pocket. Now, we can’t live without it.

Jobs had a reputation for berating his employees and being a shitty human being, but still managing to create unmatched value through differentiation. The Mac wasn’t the first personal computer, nor was the iPhone the first “smart phone” but both changed the competitive landscape via design that put the user first. Something that universities talk about but fail.

Wright State was never designed to be the things that the board talked about, or the professors presented. It wasn’t supposed to be world leading anything, or known around the globe, it was one step up from a community college- a place for folks to go who weren’t black, to get an affordable education in a 16-county area. Before you jump on the racist bandwagon, just be aware that Greene County is the only county in the state to have 2 state universities, Central State- and White State as it’s known in Wilberforce Ohio- home of our two Historically Black Colleges/Universities.

Yep, Wright State is an invention of separate but equal, that was founded just as that wall was being taken down by the civil rights movement. However, once a state institution starts, momentum keeps it going and now, we have Wright State with around 17,000 students and Central State with about 1,700. Note, African American population of the US- about 10% – case closed.

Wright State, for the most part is open enrollment, meaning anyone with a high school diploma or a GED can attend. It’s not selective like Miami or Ohio University, it takes anyone. It’s Sinclair 2.0, it’s BeaverTech, a place for those who are looking for an affordable option close to home to get a degree which is supposed to lead them, and often does, to the promised land of better employment opportunity upon graduation.

All the discussion of how to attract students by improving programs or making them better won’t matter, because as Langos kept reminding people- Wright State is almost universally peoples second choice. Not quite the school of last resort, but, the one that fits best situationally. Professors don’t like that, and neither do board members who want to think that they are part of a Garrison Keeler story “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Wright State is struggling for average right now, and sometimes just being the best at being average is perfectly fine. Henry Ford sold a lot of cars that were just black and affordable.

Under Hopkins, they just thought if they find their secret sauce all will be ok. Then went wild with corporate strategies of reinvention. They spent a ton of money on a rebrand with some consultants from Florida, only to find out that their “new and improved logo” looked more like the local rubbish disposal companies brand mark.

WSU paid Florida-based YorkBranding $250,000 over the past year — with the majority going toward the design of the logo. In total, the university has spent around $850,000 on its branding effort, Gabbard said.

Despite opting to keep the logo it launched nearly two decades ago, university officials say funds paid to YorkBranding were worth the cost.

https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/wright-state-rejects-new-logo-keeps-wilbur/KPLqkgLRL3vt6kJA9V9bPI/

In one of Hopkins missives to the troops- he said “We captured the essence of our decade-long transformation by our intention to be the “Best University FOR the World.”=

This is yet another one of those pie in the sky, sounds great, but could be used by any University lines- and the real question is what world was he talking about- the real world or Fantasy Island where money buys secret dreams that may just turn into your worst nightmare. The world of higher ed was changing, and Wright State thought there was a silver bullet- a new brandmark, vision and mission and saddle up to Uncle Sam for those Government research contracts and *poof* we’re relevant again.

Once they realized the money was pouring out faster than it was coming in, they decided to do a capital campaign to try to hide the fact that they had a burn rate that would embarrass a silicon-valley startup. They announced it as a star-studded success, parading Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks as their front man, when in fact, no one can account for the money (They claimed $150M).

Unfortunately, just like in comedy, the best and most fundamental building block for turning something around, is honesty and this board can’t be honest.

While they start each meeting reading a conflict of interest statement, we’ve already seen evidence that some board members past and present have benefited from some funny business being run through Wright State. H1-B visa students working solely for board members companies, building sales, building purchases, naming rights on buildings, and a whole bunch of hocus pocus, much of it hidden behind wholly owned subsidiaries that operate as questionable stand-alone non-profits. All of these will be thoroughly detailed in future posts. The fact that this meeting was being held in the mostly vacant former HQ of WSU Board chair Doug Fecher’s Wright Patt Credit Union was almost laughable. Five and a half-million laughs.

Bruce Langos, the newest trustee is the only one suggesting that the school get back to basics as a low-cost value proposition to attract students and lead them to good jobs. They are already supposedly one of the most affordable institutions in the state, yet, somehow they haven’t figured out how to turn their loss-leading positioning into a strategy for competitive advantage. As Langos says, we’ve got the fixed cost of the campus, and holding out for a premium isn’t helping us cover the nut (I’m paraphrasing- but you get the point).

The challenge now is enrolling more students because that’s where the money comes from.

Yet, throughout the discussion, the brilliant business people in the room didn’t bring up marketing at all. Dr. Schrader had her dynamic duo with their scholarly solutions, yet the only ad guy was the one moving around the room with a camera, capturing the story of yet another local educational organization ship sinking, only with ostensibly smarter/wealthier people at the helm. He’s the one writing this story.

The fact that the student trustee found the seminar and had them watch it was probably the most salient takeaway from the 3-hour shitshow. He also made the most astute statements. When discussing focusing on certain majors- he said “you can’t solve all computer science problems with computer science” and while they were talking about school as a preparation for a career- he’s talking about focusing on student success, making the current customers feel good and empowered to do more. The more I think about this whole thing, he may be the smartest person in the room.

Another “Radical Truth” from Hogshead is my favorite- “Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.” Watching this meeting, there were no aspirations at all, other than to talk the most.

That Schrader had no control over the board or the meeting, and was minimally involved in guiding the discussion is indicative of a problem.

Can you imagine Steve Jobs sitting at a board meeting trotting out consultants to tell the board how to turn Apple around? Successful CEO/University Presidents/Leaders actually present the big ideas- and own it. Schrader, for the most part, never challenged the board, never suggested she had a plan. She sat on the sidelines while Bright and Wiehe took her bullets.

They planned to talk about this some more at the next meeting in September. They plan to roll this whole plan out for implementation in October. A very compressed time line, even for someone that actually had a plan.

When the September meeting came, she trotted out Bright again, and the mission statement might have been a bit shorter, but, whoop-de-doo.

What was more important to them, was making sure the media now had new rules for recording. “The media”, being me. See the last post for their new rules.

Unlike the big board meeting in July- where the university was running cameras, and the show was choreographed, this one was much more of a rough and tumble. There were a few other spectators, Max Filby from the Dayton Day-Old News- where you got to read a short 600 word article about the meeting five days later.

A few AAUP members in the audience asked who I was and were happy to confirm their suspicions. Dr. Doom (I just love writing that- Dr. Travis Doom is the faculty president and an outstanding teacher according to rate my professor etc.) was there and was asked for some off-the-cuff personal opinions on the matters at hand, but the small conference room setting was a lot like what Dayton Public does to avoid scrutiny- a place where there isn’t really a comfortable place for the public to observe.

I had one fixed camera running – and worked to get some good upclose and personal footage for the big picture expose of yet another school struggling to be relevant and avoid a takeover. I sent the link of the unlisted video to Doom, and within a week it had 100 views. That’s a lot for a 3 hour board meeting. It’s first publication is today, and the view count stands at 500.

I have been holding back a few things in this TL/DR story. Back around 2007 I approached Dr. Hopkins with a strategy for rebranding the university. He liked it, but as the new guy on the block, with no marketing chops at all, didn’t do anything with it. Instead of hiring me- or any of the other local talents at branding and marketing that might know the market well, he brought in a football guy, literally. George Heddleston was his answer to marketing higher ed. Heddleston had worked for the 49’rs and had a few superbowl rings.

Heddleston’s Linkedin profile  looks pretty much abandoned, but the last update had him as “Chief Communications Officer at Wright State Research Institute (WSRI)” probably because Hopkins could never fire anyone, but he could shuffle the deadwood off to his private slush fund.

Now Heddleston is the “Vice Chancellor, Communications and Marketing” at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga- with no online bio connecting him to Wright State or the 49’rs.

Although the local media caught on fast. He rolled into UTC with a bang-

“Speaking of head honchos, did your old colleagues from Wright State University who you’ve recently rejoined at UTC (Chancellor Steve Angle and fundraising whiz Bryan Rowland ) mention when you were being recruited from Dayton that you’d have to be the bag man for business dealings like this? Or was it sprung on you after you got here?”
https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/opinion/columns/story/2017/mar/31/martinwelcome-chattanooga-vice-chancellor-hed/420452/

Heddleston has a rather inflated vision of his abilities, before he got the title of bag man-

“Chancellor Angle was also previously employed at Wright State University.

“He was provost there when I was Vice President for Communications and Marketing,” said Heddleston. “We had a big job to do back then in ’09 and we succeeded at it, it took a while and he never forgot that. He feels that there are similar circumstances here at I could be helpful to.”

http://www.theutcecho.com/university-relations-instills-new-leadership-staff-members/

I’m not quite sure what job he thought he had, unless it was to begin the sinking of Wright State. I met with him once because Hopkins wanted me to, and left the meeting wondering to myself how do I get paid that well for knowing nothing?

The rebrand idea I gave to Hopkins is still viable, but what grew out of that was that Hopkins put me on a retainer, and never really assigned any projects. Maybe it was to buy favor, something Hopkins seemed very important, but, I did complete one assignment that I suggested to him and he gave a greenlight to. I rewrote the mission/vision strategy statement for the university in advertising language instead of professor-ese. He liked it, even said he’d use it in his speeches, but he could never dare to suggest that the two-year process of formulating their manifesto could be undone by a Wright State grad with a degree in marketing in a few hours (my total billings to WSU around that time were around $1400).

That document, which technically belongs to the university, made its way off my hard drive over to Bruce Langos, as had my rebrand proposition a few weeks ago. I called it the “strategic plan lite.”

Langos wrote back- “I think strategic plan lite has some excellent thoughts that you should share with the board. I can do without the bicycle shop piece but I like the rest and maybe the others on the board would as well.”

Nothing has come from that months later.

But, in doing background, there is so much more to uncover. The University still has a lot of answers to give on how $100M vaporized before they should be trusted again with any money. Where is the $150 million Tom Hanks Capital Campaign money? It was sold to donors as a means to boost student scholarships, faculty retention and recruitment and pay down debt service on new /purchased buildings. Schrader, apparently thinks she’s done a great job in her first year, enough to warrant a bonus, that “she turned down.” Although that whole meeting of a subcommittee of the board in executive session seems mighty suspicious and probably a violation of the Ohio Open Meetings act, since it was public business in which a decision was reached, yet, never voted on in public. Remember, a subcommittee can’t take an action without approval from the whole body- in public.

The Evaluations

Evaluations at WSU are something that seem to be overlooked as well. Although the very same organization that provided the webinar for the August meeting strongly believes in annual presidential assessments, the Wright State Board apparently does not. They were unable to provide a single presidential assessment for the last 5 years when asked via public records request.

thumbnail of WSU Response to PRR – Presidents Contracts

The last three contracts of university presidents at Wright State. David Hopkins, Curtis McCray, Cheryl Schrader. Click on image to download PDF

What they finally did provide was the contracts of the last three presidents.

In the Hopkins contract, this appeared:

“The Board of Trustees (or a group of Trustees designated by the Chair) shall conduct an annual performance evaluation (emphasis mine) in the fall, and in its-sole discretion, adjust your base salary upward (if at all) following its review of your performance.”

They also had this clause:

Additionally, the Board of Trustees, in its sole discretion, at the conclusion of each year, shall determine whether to pay you a performance bonus for specific achievements during that year. It shall base its consideration upon its review of your performance of specific goals previously approved by you and the Board of Trustees.

The next line is almost mob worthy- offering to pay a bonus in CASH.

The bonus, if any, shall not exceed a sum equal in value to twenty percent (25%) of your then annual base salary, and may be paid in cash in whole or in part or in another appropriate manner agreed upon by you.

They have a little handwritten fix to the “twenty percent”- because twenty ain’t 25- and these folks are very generous.

Another problem with the “contract” is that the University- which keeps claiming that the University Foundation is a separate entity- and not required to follow the rules of public records- is not a separate organization, by having the following clause in his contract:

(7) The University will work with the University Foundation and arrange for it to reimburse you for dues at a country club. The University will also work with the University Foundation to provide reasonable support for your spouse, Angelia, in her role as an ambassador for the University and particularly as she assumes a greater role in the university’s campaign activities.

In addition, the university actually has a “formal primary operating agreement” with the Foundation where funds are paid and exchanged and expenses are shared like the capital campaign. I have recently requested this document from the University through a public records request along with sources and uses of funds.

You can’t have it both ways. Either the Foundation is a totally separate entity, or it’s not.

Just because it’s interesting- the termination clause:

The Board of Trustees may choose to terminate your services as President for cause at any time. “Cause” shall be defined to mean actions or omissions by you which are undertaken or omitted knowingly and are criminal or fraudulent or involve dishonesty or moral turpitude. In the event of termination for cause, your appointment as President shall cease immediately and you will not be entitled to receive any further compensation or benefits as President. If a dispute arises as to the existence of cause for termination, it shall be settled by mediation, with the costs of mediation, except your attorney fees, paid by the University. No compensation or benefits will be paid during the time of dispute and mediation. Any termination of your appointment as a faculty member shall be governed by the provisions and procedures applicable to University faculty members at that time.

Since the board failed to comply with any of the evaluation terms of the contract, and they were the ones who failed to terminate him for the unexplained $100M+ burn rate from stability to turmoil, we have to question who oversees the overseers’? And when will they be held accountable?

This sweetheart deal of a contract was signed by Larry Klaben, Chair of the BOT on 1 March 2013. Klaben, owner of Morris Home Furnishings and several Ashley Furniture Home Stores- was replaced on the board after his 9 year run, by Sean Fitzpatrick who began on July 22nd of 2016.

On March 15, 2017 Hopkins signed an amendment to his contract, to accept the terms of his resignation as tendered by Michael Bridges, who was the board chair.

The termination clauses and pay of his contract were basically washed away, leaving Hopkins a mere pauper, being paid $200K a year salary, plus his deferred compensation and vacation time. He got to keep the company car until June 30, 2017- but after that, was on his own.

To most observers, this would look like a firing for cause:

The one (1) year of presidential base salary, car allowance and reimbursements for university related expenses that was to be paid in Dr. Hopkins first year following the conclusion of his term as President which is referenced in Section 8. of the CONTRACT AGREEMENT, shall not be paid to Dr. Hopkins and Dr. Hopkins specifically agrees to forego, release, waive and relinquish all right, title or claim to such components of compensation in the CONTRACT AGREEMENT.

~ibid contracts of last three presidents

How the board explains this is anyone’s guess, especially, since there are no performance evaluations from the previous years showing any concern for the financial stability of the university.

None of the financial guys running the show got in trouble either. Jeff Ulliman who signed off on the budgets with the giant sucking sounds, retired gracefully on June 30 this year.  Mark Polatajko who served as Wright State’s vice president for business and fiscal affairs beginning in 2012 and left just as the holes in the ship became obvious, fled to Kent State.

Considering the hatchet man, Dr. Curtis McCray,  the board had to bring in, to do the following, there would be probable cause for a firing- and zero compensation paid to Hopkins.

A) Stabilize the University’s financial situation, eliminate a budget deficit of $30 Million Dollars, and restore a budget that increases University unrestricted reserves to a $5 Million Dollar surplus while preserving the University’s core academic mission and services, and maintaining its core athletics programs at a NCAA Division I level. Present for approval to the Board of Trustees a 2017-2018 budget reflecting the deficit reduction and reserves surplus at the Budget Workshop in June, 2017.

To do this act of magic in a mere 108 days, the Board allocated $119,892.00 or $1,164 dollars a day plus per diem for expenses. This was signed 2 days after Hopkins agreed to bow out, and after the university had identified the University’s President-designate, Cheryl Schrader, to begin as University President on July I, 2017.

Schrader had been offered and accepted the job on March 1st. Her contract also called for an annual evaluation:

The Board of Trustees (or a group of Trustees designated by the Chair) shall conduct a performance evaluation annually, (emphasis mine) and in its sole discretion, may increase your base salary if merited following its review of your performance.

Once again, those evaluations have either not been done, or the University has committed a violation of the Ohio Sunshine Laws by not supplying them as required by law.

That maintaining athletic programs at a division 1 level was equal to “preserving the University’s core academic mission and services” tells you a lot about this board and their egos.

We’ve been gathering other documents, as best we can. Questions about the very property that this meeting was held in, were sidestepped by calling their wholly owned subsidiary, Double Bowler Properties Corp “a private, non-profit corporation that is separate from the University” as an excuse for not providing responses is criminal.

thumbnail of Double Bowler Guided self study

Double Bowler “self-study” by Greg Sample and overseen by Brickler and Eckler submitted on Feb 14, 2017 Click to read the PDF

The Double Bowler board according to a “self-study” by Sample and overseen by Brickler and Eckler submitted on Feb 14, 2017 is:

Michael Bridges, Vishal Soin, Robert Sweeney, Jeff Ulliman, and Larry Klaben. Michael Bridges is the Chair of the University Board of Trustees and the President and CEO of Peerless Technologies Corp. Robert Sweeney is the Secretary to the University Board of Trustees and the Vice President for Planning at the University. Jeff Ulliman is the Vice President for Business and Finance and Chief Financial Officer at the University. Vishal Soin is the CEO of Corbus LLC, the CEO of CTC Plastic, Inc., the Partner and Manager of Soin Capital LLC, the President of Soin LLC, the Chair of the Dayton Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees, and a former member of the University Board of Trustees. Larry Klaben is the immediate past chair of the University Board of Trustees and the CEO and President of Morris Furniture Company,Inc.

Michael Bridges, Vishal Soin, Robert Sweeney, Jeff Ulliman, and Larry Klaben, which is basically current and former Wright State board of Trustee members and WSU employees. It would be a conflict of interest for Bridges, Klaben and Soin to be involved in an entity that receives payment from Wright State and for school employees to also be involved, without university and board oversight.

Keep in mind, Dr. Sweeney, the architect of many of these University boondoggles like the failed 2016 Presidential Debate, remains as a highly paid faculty member. He also sits on the WSU Board Chair’s Doug Fecher’s company, Wright-Patt Credit Union. And Greg Sample, heads up the cloaked in secrecy Double Bowler while serving as WSU “President Administration”?

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”
? Walter Scott, Marmion

We will be digging deeper into these contracts, the Wright State Applied Research Corporation, Wright State Research Institute and the very questionable relationship with Wright Brothers Institute, Double Bowler and the Foundation and how one dead mystery man seemed to tie them all together.

We’ll also look for where the “Rise and Shine” campaign money went, the questionable shell companies surrounding so many of these entities and the Presidential Debate failure.

If you have information on any of these issues and the fall of Wright State, please feel free to contact me to share your information. All sources will be kept confidential.

It is my goal to continue to dig into this story until we’ve not only uncovered where the money went, but, how board members managed to enrich themselves, and escape prosecution throughout this debacle.

This community deserves more value, honesty and integrity from Wright State. Because, it belongs to us, not the Board of Trustees, Dr. Schrader or any of the other dilettantes who have crashed one of our great community assets.

Thank you for reading.


I’d like to thank the numerous people who contributed to this piece, but, most are doing so anonymously.

I reached out to numerous people mentioned in this story, including Dr. David Hopkins, Dr. Robert Sweeney, Sean Fitzpatrick, and some that weren’t, including Dr. Sundaram Narayanan, Gwen Mattison. All declined to talk to me.

There will be more stories coming.

Dangerous dilettantes

“I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Those words, published anonymously by the New York Times, may be the most dangerous words written in the history of our nation.

While so many had their panties in a twist about a Nike ad using former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, which read “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” could very well have been the impetus for the “like-minded colleagues” to come forward.

Colin Kaepernick Nike ad, sacrificeVery few people put the two events together. But we all should have.

When one enlists in the United States Military, as I did long ago, you raise your right hand and swear an oath:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

Those words are commonly referred to by basic training instructors, boot camp DI’s and the like as signing a check to the US Government payable with your life. It’s serious.

And here we have the problem the “like-minded colleagues” (LMC) face, they have apparently decided that the president, is a domestic enemy and it is their role to support and defend the constitution over obeying the orders of the President of the United States.

And for that, we should be thankful, except by doing it anonymously, they are not stepping up and signing that check. What they are doing is called treason, and the President is right to be incensed.

One of the ways we test a theory to see if it applies is to use Occam’s razor to present two scenarios and test for the simplest answer: If the same LMC had tried to insert themselves into President Obama’s presidency as he tried to unwind the financial meltdown by anonymously announcing their intervention there would have been screams of racism, of subverting the democratic process. I’m not saying people didn’t interject themselves into his presidency- the bankers got exactly the bail-out they wanted, and the public got the bill, but, it was all done in relatively plain sight, and of course, Obama had won not just the electoral college vote but the popular vote- and let’s not forget that he isn’t bat shit crazy.

On the other hand, we have people burning Nikes, and screaming about how Kaepernick hadn’t sacrificed anything really, in comparison to, well, you name it. First of all, those words were not Kaepernicks, they came out of the braintrust at Wieden + Kennedy of Portland Oregon. No, they are not a political thinktank, they are an ad agency. Nike’s ad agency, and they are insanely great at what they do. They are also one of the largest independent shops left in the industry (independent as in not owned by some huge conglomerate of ad agencies- not as in politics). This campaign was well thought out, measured and did exactly what it was supposed to do- generate free promotion, move Nike to the forefront of the consumers mind and boost sales- which it did and will win huge awards for.

Kaepernick is just the model. But a model with a brain, a voice and who is lucky enough to have a corporation ready to back him up. Because, just like in politics these days, the size of your soapbox is directly correlated by the size of your bank account (or your “supporters” bank account).

As I’ve said before, we have the best politicians money can buy. Still.

And that’s part of the problem with President Trump, he’s defied all odds, and continues to befuddle the betting money. All the “Never Trump” Republicans fear that his supporters which ruled over so many of their districts, will not tolerate disobedience to the new emperor, even though they are well aware that he has no clothes and is bat shit crazy. Not in that they truly believe that his policies will solve all America’s problems, but that he’s caused confusion as to who their true allegiance needs to be sworn to- the president and his “deplorable followers” or the money that has kept them in power for so long.

Elections are no longer as predictable as the gerrymandered maps used to guarantee. Some crazy ass socialists have already won over incumbents who used to be safe and solid establishment folks. We can’t love all of Trump- because some of his character faults are reprehensible even to us (take your pick from philandering, to Russian interference, to the good Nazi’s of Charllotesville).

And now, we have this gift- there is a resistance, an underground secret society, working to protect America from the dilettante dictator in the making. If I manage to squeak by in my election, and the Special Prosecutor finally does make his case for removal from office for Trumps defecation over the rules of decency that used to be in place for our political system, as flawed as it has become, to work, we can say “I was part of the resistance” – I now have “plausible deniability:”

Although plausible deniability has existed throughout history, that name for it was coined by the CIA in the early 1960s to describe the withholding of information from senior officials in order to protect them from repercussions in the event that illegal or unpopular activities by the CIA became public knowledge.

Source: Plausible deniability – Wikipedia

And that’s what Kaepernick doesn’t have. He has actually taken a stand by taking a knee in front of “God and Country” to protest what he sees as injustice. Of misappropriation of power, of the protection of those in blue who have lost their perspective on what “to serve and protect” means. Of the discount of human lives, especially of black ones, who seem to have a separate standard applied to their loss of life without judge or jury- just an executioner.

Just this week, a white female police officer in Dallas entered an apartment and shot a black man and wasn’t immediately arrested and charged with manslaughter. Yes, we have a problem. Kaepernick has clearly stated over and over why he kneels. Many choose to ignore it. And of course ignorance is bliss.

Ignorance is the enemy of democracy and trust is the bedrock. We may claim to be a secular country, but on our money, the currency of our political system, it’s there for all to see “In God We Trust” as if the power of the greenback really isn’t what props the whole thing up. In the end, it’s trust.

Those LMCs have a problem. They have broken our trust. If they are indeed senior officials, they have not done what the constitution requires which is to sign your name to your claim. They have cowardly tried to have their cake and eat it too. They have not sacrificed everything. They have endangered the very bedrock of our democracy, by thumbing their nose at the rules and saying “trust us” without question. That is unacceptable.

While the New York Times was right to publish the essay, they created a political football.

Our legislators swore an oath of office after all, and Kaepernick just played football.

We can’t afford a fumble on this one. To the LMC- sign your names or resign. To the rest in Congress, you’re in the game, it’s time to demand a President who plays by the rules again.

Trust is what makes civilization and democracy possible, and it can’t be bought and sold, it must be earned. And yes, there is a price that comes with it. Some are willing to pay the ultimate price and some, just want to pay lip service. Now is the time to separate the true patriots. My bet is still on Kap.

 

 

 

Let there be light. A video about Dayton’s misplaced priorities

First there was CityWide development- a quasi-government organization that sucked up tax dollars to fix up a house here or there. 30 years later, it’s a fricking bank, building spec buildings that it rents for sub-market rates and hurts local property owners who try to compete. This is the worst of governement.

We don’t vote on who runs CityWide, we barely pay attention to it. And we’ve never asked for our money back- because, well, it’s supposed to come back as the “vibrancy factor”- as in, if we fake looking successful, we’ll be successful. You know people like this- it’s called “fake it till you make it” and if you don’t “make it” – at least you look good doing it.

Then we added the Downtown Dayton Partnership. At first we paid a snake oil salesman a ton of money to “revitalize downtown”- until he ran out of town on a rail, and we started using it as a place to park people we liked and wanted to pay well with no real oversight. We even passed an extra tax levy to fund them. Their major contribution 15 years later- they hire a company from out of town (out of state really) to pay people minimum wage to be “ambassadors” (a fancy name for street sweepers) to keep downtown clean. Their big twice a year parties- Urban Nights, are done with- after mobs of kids of the wrong color decided to come en masse.

Next up, the Port Authority. What’s this? They build buildings for rich private companies, but don’t have to pay property taxes on them, because “we” own them. The idea is, we get income tax from them, so it’s all ok. Can’t give the money to the Dayton Public Schools, because they, well, suck, but- we can give money to city government, because, they do such a great job (at getting themselves and their friends re-elected).

Throw in the Dayton Development Coalition for good measure. They take care of our Congressman (and they used to take care of his now X-wife- remember “Get Midwest”)- because, well, he makes money come back to the companies we built the buildings for that don’t have to pay taxes. You shouldn’t pay attention to these people either- but if you’re wondering why Wright State is in a bunch of trouble, look to former Port Authority and Dayton Development Coalition “leaders” who are right in the middle of it.

So now, we’re supposed to raise the already high Dayton City Income tax to 2.5% because a bunch of the people who either get handouts from government, don’t pay taxes, or have been buying the people in power off for a long time, put a few hundred thousand into a campaign to tell you that you need ANOTHER quasi-government slush fund to pay for pre-school for all.

Let’s be clear. All of Dayton’s eligible four year olds is about 1,500 kids each year. That’s about 1 % of the population. But, Dayton Public Schools, a public system, with lots of oversight, already provides FREE pre-school that’s “5 star rated” to about 400 students and isn’t at capacity. If they had some more money, they could provide transportation which would boost their numbers.

But, no- along comes Dr. Tom Lasley, with his “Learn to Earn” program. He thinks that if he gets every kid into pre-schools, even if they are run by someone in a house, and are “three star” or more, he’ll dramatically change the educational outcomes of Dayton Public Schools.

This is hooey. No amount of pre-school preparation are going to solve the fundamental problems facing Dayton kids. Hunger, homelessness, drug addiction, parents incarcerated, pre-school doesn’t fix that. “Learn to Earn” is a phrase I personally find revolting. I learn because I love learning. To me knowledge and education are a form of worship. It’s how we evolve. It’s not how we earn. This phrase, when applied to our community that is disadvantaged in so many ways, reminds me of “Work sets you free” which was what the Nazi’s put on the gates of hell. I don’t make that comparison lightly.

The four to five million that we will donate to “Learn to Earn” may provide pre-school to another 500 students- but the real bonus is to the staff – including Dr. Lasley, who will spend 20% of it on paying themselves and for overhead. Next up is all the pre-schools that will now be able to get public money for day care- for anyone- not even poor kids, who are already covered by Title 20 money. That’s right, if you live in Dayton, and make $200,000 a year, you can have “Learn to Earn” pay for your child care while you work third shift at Miami Valley Hospital. They didn’t tell you that part.

Of course, Issue 9 is also going to pay for more cops. Let’s talk about “more cops.” Dayton used to have a force of over 500. We are at near our lowest staffing levels ever. But, there are probably 600 cops in Dayton now- the problem is they work for the people who are giving money to this campaign. The hospitals all have private police forces, the universities all have private police forces, MetroParks has a private police force. They don’t answer to anyone. Need a clue how this works Dayton? Ask Samuel Dubose. Any more questions?

And while a small business can’t get their parking lot access restored on North Main Street- because “there is no money available,” the City of Dayton has money for buying back the hole in the ground on Ludlow. And, we always have tax abatement plans for companies where the CEO’s annual salary has two commas in it. GE, CareSource, Emerson, Premier Health etc.

If we were going to raise taxes and wanted to improve our neighborhoods, and do something for all of Dayton- we could invest in free wifi city wide. All of the 15,000 Dayton Public School students will have their own computer next year- but many don’t have internet access anywhere but school. Bridge the digital divide with that money and you open the flood gates to online, self-guided learning for 15,000 kids- instead of preschool for 1500- and guess what, we can even let the taxpayers use it too.

Believe it or not, the United Nations Human Rights Commission declared internet access a fundamental human right back in 2011. No one declared preschool one.

Watch the video. Share the post. Vote no on issue 9.

We can raise taxes when it’s actually for the people, by the people, not another sell out to private enterprise.

The $20,000 house problem solution

Yes, you can buy a house for under $20,000 in Dayton. I bought three of them.

The problem is that our system isn’t set up for buying $20,000 homes. In fact, banks don’t want to give loans on them, insurance companies don’t want to insure them, and for the most part, people don’t want to live near them- for fear their “comps” will be brought down- devaluing their home.

And I’m talking about the homes that are habitable- not shells, waiting for demolition.

The city is backed up with a demolition list that will never get cleared. We’re spending an average of $11,000 to tear each one down- with no real return on that investment. It’s money down the drain.

In the meantime, we’re giving incentives to build new units to people like Sims Development, and Crawford Hoying, to build more housing. Desirable, “market rate” housing. The problem is- our population is stagnant and declining- not just Dayton proper, not just Montgomery County- but the entire state of Ohio. We’ve lost congressional seats because of it.

What happens when you add housing inventory when you have declining population? Simple rules of supply and demand apply- housing inventory loses value, market gets flooded. The other problem is that the inventory isn’t exactly lining up with the demand. Poverty isn’t decreasing- but the supply of low-income housing is decreasing as subsidies have been cut. Numbers of jobs that can afford to support a normal mortgage have decreased, young college-educated home buyers are already carrying significant college debt. If this sounds like the setup for another economic collapse based on a screwed up housing market, you’re paying attention.

A simple solution

Currently, one of the economic measurement tools that economists love to bandy about is “new home starts.” A strong construction market is considered a jobs stimulator, since the construction industry is still considered a low-tech, blue-collar employment engine- i.e., you don’t need a college degree or even a high school education in their minds to build homes. The reality is you don’t even have to be an American anymore to build homes- with immigrant labor owning the roofing, sheet rocking and masonry work forces for most building developments. That’s both illegal and legal immigrants by the way

What is missed is the effect on supply.

What Ohio should do is put a moratorium on new unit construction unless the state has an increase in population exceeding 2% annually. The only way to build new units, is to buy up and demolish old units with a ratio of one structure for every 2,500 square feet of new construction. The “structure” definition could be variable based on location- more on this later. While this would add approximately $10,000 to the cost of each normal sized new building, it decreases inventory and in the end helps drive up property values.

The worst homes would be demolished first, and the values of marginal homes would rise as new construction credits rise. This would help low-income people recapture some of the value sucked out of their neighborhoods by the foreclosure crisis. It would also stop government from diverting money for services to making empty lots.

Along with the demolition credits, the state could issue credits to rehabbers- for taking old buildings and renovating them- effectively incentivizing rehab. The credits for rehab- would be at double the rate of demolition- i.e., rehab 2,500 square feet, get to sell the equivalent credits of 5,000 square feet of new construction. Why this incentive? Because rehabbing old infrastructure and bringing it back online, doesn’t require government to run new water and sewer lines, nor does it require adding police patrol areas- or, even in the case of infill new construction that wouldn’t require these either- it doesn’t fill up a landfill with demolition debris. It also makes it more affordable for rehab which often has higher costs due to compliance with new construction code .

Incentives can be placed by changing the credit awards structure- with some neighborhoods getting double credits for demolition, and others, fractional credits. Same can go for rehab projects.

Even as population begins to grow- the credit system can be kept in place based on where you are building. Any place where new utilities or infrastructure is required- would continue to require trade credits- infill to existing developments, no. If your county isn’t growing in population, swaps will still be required.

This system is sort of in-place with Historic Tax Credits- but generally is only used on large-scale development. The idea of this new system is to force value back into the worst communities where developers haven’t gone because of the policies of banks and insurance companies.

Do you have a better idea?

A plan for the Dayton Public Schools

Saying that Dayton Public Schools are second worst in the state is similar to saying that all Muslims are terrorists. It’s great for headlines, it’s great for political speeches, and putting the district “under review” isn’t going to help. What will help is real change.

The first thing to realize is that Stivers doesn’t need help. It’s a Dayton Public School that’s working. Is it a model for the rest of the district- yes and no. Is there a single silver bullet like “mo money” or “better teachers” that will solve the problems- no. There is no Walmart of educational solutions where you can shop and buy 100 new reading specialists to improve your third grade reading scores- they just aren’t available.

And, a warning – this post is sure to piss off a lot of union teachers. Not because I don’t think you work hard, or aren’t paid enough, but that I think it’s time your profession owns up to the reality that your work schedule was designed around an agricultural economy that is so far back in the history books that if it had a copyright it would have been in the public domain before the Internet and project Gutenberg came along.

To briefly summarize why our schools aren’t competitive, we have to look at what began the great slide to the bottom. “Busing for integration” might have worked if it had a fixed ecosystem and the students didn’t have the option of opting out either by moving or going to private schools (now compounded by the option of just as mediocre publicly funded charter schools). Racial segregation was replaced by economic segregation- and in every study known to man, there is a direct, incontrovertible relationship between poverty and poor school performance. We’re not going to get more wealthy smart kids moving back into the district anytime soon- even if we stop letting outsiders buy their way into Stivers (which is a dirty little secret).

So the question becomes how to change the system to work better for poor kids than for better well off kids? How do you nurture children better on a part time basis? First step, you move to a full time basis. This is the heretical statement that is the key to making a real change. It’s the realization that you can’t half ass anything and expect different results.

Here are the three changes that must be made, and there isn’t anyone with the balls to say or do it, but anything less, will not change outcomes:

–End the 180-day school year.

For comparison: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/politics/educatio/barr2f.htm

Japan 243 New Zealand 190
West Germany 266-240 Nigeria 190
South Korea 220 British Columbia 185
Israel 216 France 185
Luxembourg 216 Ontario 185
Soviet Union 211 Ireland 184
Netherlands 200 New Brunswick 182
Scotland 200 Quebec 180
Thailand 200 Spain 180
Hong Kong 195 Sweden 180
England/Wales 192 United States 180
Hungary 192 French Belgium 175
Switzerland 191 Flemish Belgium 160
Finland 190

What have all these other countries done? Made school more like what a real job is like. Prepared kids for a world where you don’t get three months off in the summer. Note, most of these countries also afford their people more than the two weeks of paid vacation which is becoming a pipedream to many Americans.

More days in school isn’t the only part of the equation, it’s about what they do in school, how they approach the educational process. Common-core skills are more like real-life skills- being able to synthesize answers and solutions- through collaboration, research and analysis. These real-life skills often are best learned in what we’ve called extra-curricular or arts and sports programs. Unfortunately with transportation schedules currently ruling and limiting our time with students outside of the normal school day- many of these enrichment programs were cut. And let’s face it- teachers are the only ones who have a 6-hour designated work day with a 180-day year qualifying as a “full time job.”

It’s time to reexamine why our school day doesn’t equal the parents’ work day- not just for adding extra-curriculars- but for the fact that child care for impoverished homes isn’t a luxury- it’s a necessity. Along with the longer year- comes the longer day. It’s time for a 9-5 minimum school day.

The schedule is also critical- year-round schools show much less drop off, the dreaded summer slide goes away. Why a district in “academic emergency” isn’t on a full-year schedule as the first step is beyond comprehension. So, a longer school year (on a year-round schedule), with longer school days and and the reintroduction of the arts- sports, the extracurricular activities that made school worth going to, are key to making positive change happen.

All this costs money of course, but so do drop-outs who will be a burden to society for the rest of their lives by being unable to compete, to earn, to stay out of trouble. The costs of unprepared graduates also costs in the form of remedial courses at the college level, where costs are the responsibility of the student and their families- or, through more money in government grants and assistance.

We already know the effects of poverty on education, we pay for it by supplying meals to all Dayton Public School students “free of charge” (paid for by the taxpayers) because these are often the only meals these kids get. By extending the school day, and the school year- we may see better chances for poor parents to shift child care expenses to being able to cut food insecurity out even more.

We also have to look at how we’re educating kids. More and more, it’s become a matter of teaching to the tests requiring huge expenditures on new course materials driven by a mega business in educational materials that lobbies for “standards” that are ever changing. It’s time to get off this merry-go-round and realize that the world has changed, and that anything you want to learn about is available for free, on the internet. The text book is dead, and the fancy solutions that they are offering as rentals is another educational fad- driven by dollars that are there to be sucked out of government by the industiral-educational machine.

It’s absolutely critical that we learn to teach using the age-old Socratic method.

Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.

This is what the “common core” is- a branded and packaged version of education.

Give the kids access to a digital reader- and there are tens of thousands of free books available via Project Gutenberg and others, that are perfectly capable of being used as reading texts. Books were written before 1923 that were worth reading. We read The Scarlet Letter in High School and it’s just as appropriate today as it was then- but we had to buy our copy. That’s no longer necessary if you have the technology in place.

Part of the common-core skill set should include researching and writing your own textbooks. The skills of adding to Wikipedia, building websites and online communities is critical for future knowledge workers- but we’ve not incorporated these skills into the curriculum- because we’re too busy working on jumping though hoops- instead of creating our own challenges. In the extended school day, school year- part of it should include writing your own books, creating your own math tests, devising your own chemistry experiments, writing your own music- because these are the real world skills you were supposed to gain under ANY educational framework- and have been sorely missed by all industrialized educational systems.

There is one other realization that must be made- and that is that all of our kids aren’t in homes that are fit for living in. Either because of extreme poverty, violence, addiction, special needs, Dayton has a population that is under incredible duress, where school is the only sane place in their young lives. It’s time to have a residential/boarding school as one of the options in the educational process. Either for short-term, or long-term students, to remove them from toxic influences. I’d recommend converting the former Marine Reserve Station on Gettysburg into a campus for kids who need more love and protection than most. An attempt was made to open one in Cincinnati- and failed. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea or impossible. It just means we’d be innovators like the Wright Brothers- because everyone knew they were crazy and man couldn’t fly.

Because we’re still stuck with a charter school system that requires Dayton Public to breast feed- one of the things that makes all these things difficult is that kids aren’t connected to neighborhoods anymore. One option that should be investigated is to bus kids back to the closest neighborhood school for the extended after-school programming- the arts, sports, coding and homework time after the “conventional” school day is done. This also allows parents and community to get involved in their children’s programming for tutoring and coaching. something the random distributed system we have now isn’t allowing for. Research has proven that parental involvement is a critical step in improving schools- but with current distribution of kids randomly throughout the district- it’s hard to form hard community and neighborhood bonds. Ideally, we’d move away from spending so much on diesel fuel attempting to “balance” an unequal system- but, for now, we’re sort of stuck with the system we have. Emerson Academy in South Park, a charter school, has a high percentage of neighborhood kids- and still doesn’t have the community as involved in the programs as possible. I’m hoping to bridge that gap in the coming months by beginning a literacy and reading program at the school on Saturdays for all ages.

There are no easy silver bullets to turning around school districts- no number of consultants, no new dollars, no supply of super teachers exist using our current structures. Throw those constraints out and try a different systemic solution and see what happens. Because from where I’m observing- there is only one way for the district to go from second from the bottom- and that is up.