If I had a nickle for every time rookie superintendent Rhonda Corr said “It’s about the kids” we’d have enough money to fix Longfellow school, with some left over.
Of course, we don’t really know how much it would cost to fix Longfellow, all we have is hearsay, because fixing a historic building was never the goal of this Board of Education, because, well, Dr. Baguirov apparently isn’t in the construction industry on the side. Things that relate to his private businesses get done (helping CareSource- the largest Medicare provider in the state- helps pay Dr. B’s home health businesses, and the bus deal- he’s the guy with a trucking company that does business with the company that got the gold plated warranty deal).
This board that meets more times than any other public board, and gets less done, is criminal in its actions. They conduct business at “review “and “strategy” sessions- which seem just like board meetings- only they hold them in the room outside the board room- and don’t allow citizens to speak. This, is intentional- and wrong.
And when they do meet to conduct business- they allow Dr. Sheila Burton to present a one slide plan for revamping busing in the district- in JULY! With zero questions. They praise the cutting off of private day care providers and make speeches- only to reverse course after they learn what they are doing- because, frankly, they have no clue what they are doing- and neither does Corr, Burton, Treasurer Hiwot Abraha.
It’s this kind of lack of intellectual horsepower that has our district permanently checked in to the ICU as a major trauma victim. Switching bell times, this late in the season doesn’t work for all parents. Can you imagine if you have multiple kids at different bell times? Or, you have your daughter at Charity Early- which used to start at 9am and now is 7:15- meaning an earlier dismissal time- and now you have to figure out after school care? Or if your daughter will even be transported still- since the bus ride is over 30 minutes from your East Dayton home?
As we approach the last two days of negotiations on a contract with the DEA, not a single board member has stepped in to observer the “negotiating team” in action. They are depending on the word of Rhonda Corr to tell them what is going on in negotiations- the woman who showed up after a two month break without a proposal for the DEA. Read that last line again. She showed up, no proposal, and, is quoted in the media that she’s surprised that the DEA was going to vote to strike. She came out of the day long negotiation saying 5 things had been cleared off the table- according to DEA president David Romick the DEA didn’t sign anything- or agree to clear any item and he has no idea of what she’s talking about.
It was pretty clear yesterday that the DEA is tired of the incompetent leadership at Ludlow HQ. I walked among the teachers, as they gathered in solidarity at Triangle park, and told me story after story of what this failed negotiation process has cost the district. Half of the 5 star pre-school certified staff- has left. Not because they wanted to – but because the administration doesn’t seem to understand the program and what being a 5 star program entails. The latest news is that HQ is telling people who call- that DPS preschool is now a 5 day a week program instead of 4. Meaning that the things required to be a 5 star program- that are done on Fridays- can’t be done anymore. There are required meetings, training, reports, and lesson planning that is done on these days- and apparently, Corr doesn’t understand this. These teachers are truly teachers- with masters degrees and additional licenses, that’s what a 5 star rating entails.
On Friday, I spoke to a former DPS math teacher, male, younger. He’s now working at Trotwood. I’ve known him for around 8 years, as he used to teach my x-girlfriends daughters. He left, not because of pay, he didn’t even know how much he’d make more at Trotwood- but did say they honored all of his years, and step increases, but because he’s in the middle of a medical situation that he can’t afford to be without health insurance. If you know anything about HR in schools- male, math teachers, in pk-8 grades- are unicorns. One of ours, just flew away.
No board members attended the union picnic. Not even Sheila Taylor, supposedly the mouthpiece of local labor. John McManus blamed his job in Columbus for stopping him from going, but the rest, steered clear. How a board that works for the community, can be so out of touch with their staff is mind-blowing. However, many of the candidates appearing on the ballot in November to replace Ron Lee, Dr. Hazel Rountree, Joe Lacey and Dr. Adil Baguirov were there. 8 have already filed petitions (sadly, Joe Lacey is one of the 8) and the turn-in deadline is Wednesday Aug 9th. Many DEA members asked me to run, something that’s just not possible right now due to my responsibilities with my 89 year old mother with dementia.
The real question, with two negotiating days to go, is when will someone from the board step in to the negotiations to observe and see how their team is working?
The board has already spent $150K on Huffmaster to prepare for the strike- and has agreed to pay $200 a day per substitute strike breaker- and Corr has claimed they will have “Certified teachers in the classrooms” yet Huffmaster’s ad clearly doesn’t require it. There aren’t 600 unemployed certified teachers in this region, never mind Dayton.
This is why, the only sane move the board can make is to tell Corr if an agreement isn’t reached on Monday, she’s fired, and Dr. Burton takes over. If Burton, can’t negotiate a settlement on Wednesday, she’s fired and it’s up to Dr. Lolli to lead the district.
We’ve already lost enough students to charter schools, and when the strike hits- 5 days before school starts, and parents rush to enroll their kids in Charters, and funding drops again, we’ll be left in shambles. The only logical thing to do if an agreement isn’t made on Wednesday is to re-set the school year to begin in September, pending a settlement. Pushing forward with schools staffed with temps isn’t a viable solution anymore than maintaining Corr as superintendent. The damage she’s already done to the district can’t even be enumerated.
Because, at this point, it’s not about the kids- it’s about her competence.
Dr. Baguirov dallies along while the Schools fail.
When there’s been a protest, a rally, a whole bunch of pissed off people at a public meeting in the last 30 years in Dayton, I’ve generally been there. I’ve watched, time after time, when the person running the meeting makes it worse.
Tonight, 300 or so people at the Dayton Board of Education meeting were loaded for Baguirov, and after they went into executive session for an hour and forty five minutes, after the chants of “Come On Out” were started, out came John McManus to soothe the angry mob.
And when the whole board appeared a few minutes later as McManus promised, he was in the center seat as “President Pro Tem.” That normally means temporary, but, in this case, it should be permanent. And the board should be taking applications for a new member.
It seems Dr. Adil Baguirov, stormed out of executive like a spoiled child who didn’t get his way. Photos were taken by district employees of him leaving. The arrogant smirk still hadn’t been wiped off his face. Some joked he had to go home to find his calculator, since he’s been spouting numbers from the center seat just last week- that were as factual as a Donald Trump campaign statement.
With Baguirov gone, the swamp draining began. McManus announced that there would be no action on any layoffs tonight. That the board needed to hear from the public, to work with real data instead of the random facts that have been used as justification for rookie Superintendent Rhonda Corr’s personal personnel plan. The people who’ve already been laid off or RIF’d are still RIF’d- but no more action will be taken until the Dec. 8th meeting.
First came the labor leaders. They weren’t kind. This kind of disruption mid-school year and pre-holidays was unheard of. One even got up with her promotional sunglasses that were passed out by Corr at the beginning of the year convocation- because “Our future’s so bright we have to wear shades” when in fact, the shades were better used to hide the tears that were generated as some of the 50 speakers got up to share their stories- from kids to people who’ve been in the district for 30 years. One even pointed out that the “We are DPS” didn’t include Corr, Baguirov or even the rest of the board- who didn’t seem to understand exactly how things work in the district.
Veteran teachers who were getting moved mid-year tried to explain the impact of having to learn an entire classroom worth of kids mid year- and trying to adjust for individual learning types. How this just puts us back on track for failure.
Corr, sat there, showing every emotion on her face, except the one that should have been there- embarrassment. The meeting was 5.5 hours long. This was her mess. She still won’t own it.
Limiting speakers to 3 minutes each isn’t easy without ruffling feathers. There was a board meeting about a year ago where Racial Justice Now showed up in force. Baguirov tried to cut the times to a minute each. It ended up with DPS security hauling people away from the podium. Not so under McManus who managed each person deftly and left everyone feeling that they were appreciated, respected and heard. The boy’s a natural.
During the long executive session, where the district was probably trying to avert a lawsuit or two from wrongly terminated employees, the district ran video on their screens. Probably to stop people from organizing more in the room. Probably wouldn’t have happened anyway- it was standing room only and getting hotter by the minute. I talked to many principals, paras, union chiefs, and parents- who had all read the 8000 word post from last night. Already fired Challenger Learning Center leader MariJane Recob thanked me and told me she had a pair of Speedos in her back pocket. They never made an appearance in her highly emotional speech later, unfortunately. They all thanked me profusely. All day long, it was making the rounds. One high level person suggested my name should be Bernstein- as in Watergate reporters Woodward and…
I wrote a speech early in the day. As I got up to give it- someone yelled “I want your autograph.” That, is a new one. Usually it’s me, the candidate asking for their autographs to get on the ballot.
After I gave it, Darryl Fairchild said to me it was my best speech ever. Darryl doesn’t compliment me often. Here it is:
Last night I wrote an 8000 plus word post on my blog about this, and I’m glad to hear so many of you read it. Thank you for coming.
I’m going to start out with quoting someone famous.
We all know that quoting famous people makes you look smarter.
And, I’m told that citations are essential if you want to have a PhD – which of late, seems to be all that counts in this district.
So I’m going to quote the queen of soul, because right now- I think this district needs to rediscover its collective soul.
Find out what it means to me
Take care, TCB
TCB stands for Taking care of business.
Something that apparently has been lost on this board and superintendent
I need a little audience participation on this next part. Your line “Just a little bit”
I get tired- (AUDIENCE cue: “Just a little bit”)
Keep on tryin’ (AUDIENCE cue: “Just a little bit”)
You’re runnin’ out of fools (AUDIENCE cue: “Just a little bit”)
And I ain’t lyin’ (AUDIENCE cue: “Just a little bit”)
But someone sure has been. Lying. (someone called out “just a little bit”)
First it’s enrollment drops and money loss.
We need to cut para’s- because we don’t have money.
Then we need to hire 30 teachers- because, well, we do have money.
The people of the city trusted you with their school district.
And now, while you sat idly by- because someone thinks they can do a backroom deal where they get a “seat at the table” – there will be a private organization getting paid a whole lot more than our school board, to administer a program targeted at a tiny sliver of your responsibility.
Seriously- how’d that happen?
Our taxes are going up to fund the “pre-school promise” while, you were busy firing and then having a change of heart on the person who delivered the Top Pre School PERFORMANCE.
Aretha said it best:
I’m about to give you all of my money
And all I’m askin’ in return, honey
Is to give me my propers
It’s time to end this charade. Ms. Corr, Ms Abraha, and this boards leader can’t be trusted to tell the truth. Or do the right thing.
You got your single A that saved you from takeover because in part, of the work done by the lowest paid direct educators in the district.
You passed over the local superstar who helped get you there for an untested rookie.
It’s not too late to end this charade.
Time to quote Ray Charles- “You’ve got the right one baby” right here in Dayton. Home grown. A Dayton Public School Grad. Who doesn’t need a GPS to find his way to the schools, or a name tag to know who does the real work here.
He may not be perfect. None of us are. But, at least he is worthy of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
When McManus gave his closing remarks (he had a speech too that was 10 minutes long, that he didn’t feel needed to be shared once they delayed the RIF) one of his last words was RESPECT. He should have spelled it out… R-E-S-P-E-C-T
People came up to me after and thanked me. Others asked what the URL of the blog was. All day I’ve seen people sign up for email notifications to the blog, often with those long .k12.oh.us endings. Others said they’d vote for me.
Right now, the board needs to take a vote of no confidence in Dr. Adil Baguirov. They need to remove him as President, and ask for his resignation.
They also need to reconsider the employment of Superintendent Rhonda Corr, Treasurer Hiwot Abraha, Associate Superintendent Sheila Burton who is in charge of enrollment management and legal counsel Jyllian Bradshaw.
They should be asking the consultant Deborah Heater, who helped them with this RIF, for their money back. How any consultant could claim this would help the district, mid-school year, and without checking the enrollment numbers carefully, is gross professional negligence.
And an investigation should be conducted into how the fourth grade at Horace Mann elementary school was closed in June. It’s not a school you can enroll in and get a transfer voucher. In fact, it usually has a waiting list. I know it well, my x-girlfriends kids went there- we had to fight to get them in. This point came up over and over from parent, teacher, para in comments.
Lastly, there are still questions about property deals that haven’t come out. There may be reason to have the State Attorney General investigate the sale of real estate by the district. There are also questions on why this district sat idly by as Issue 9 subverted their responsibility for pre-school. Was a board member given promises of future money? Employment? Help with running for future office for letting this levy run without opposition?
Warning, this post will be long. There will be a lot of pieces and parts of stories of incompetence, coming from many sources. It’s easy to say To Long/Didn’t Read. But this is for the people who care about our schools, our city, and our kids. It’s a compilation of antics that I’ve observed and heard and been asked to deal with over the last 6 months, but, because I wanted to step up and be a part of the solution, I stayed quiet. That’s not my style. It’s also not fair to the people of the city who’ve come to depend on me to speak the truth. I apologize.
This post will probably preclude me from ever doing what needs done for the district. It’s not the first time bringing the truth to light has cost me and my business work. I’m not known as the ninja for nothing.
If you want the short answer: The Dayton Board of Education made a mistake of epic proportions when passing over a qualified internal candidate with known flaws to bring in an untested rookie superintendent with a mottled past to be a “turnaround specialist.” There are questions of racial discrimination, a propensity to hire women (the entire “cabinet” of DPS is now female) and there have been so many public relations disasters that morale within the district, confidence in the administration and the community is at an all time low. There are multiple lawsuits either pending or coming.
full disclosure: I’ve done work for the district over the last half-dozen years. I’ve talked to Superintendents since Percy Mack about restructuring marketing, schools and the message to the community. I’ve served on the Technology Steering Committee off and on since 2012. I was an early advocate of 1 to 1 computing. I was asked by the new superintendent, Rhonda Corr to tackle two projects, weeks after her arrival. There was no P.O. or RFP or even an arranged price. What I turned in included a proposed payment of $1000 for the work to date, an estimate of approximately $12K for the work as specified and about $50K to produce it, or, hire my firm for a complete outsourcing of all PR for the year for $250K.
The district issued an RFP with a short time line. I offered my assistance in how to frame the RFP to the treasurer- I was rebuffed. I worked through my fathers death to turn in what was a comprehensive plan to a poorly constructed open ended RFP with no budget, goals, or the normal briefing that comes with an agency selection. They published the request for bid, but the only agencies that submitted were The Ohlmann Group, Hafenbrack/Upward, Nova Creative, Noir Marketing and my firm, The Next Wave. I know this because they mistakenly sent an email with everyone CC’d- plus this community is pretty small. The contract was to be awarded Sept. 20 with work to commence Sept. 21. The purchasing department missed all deadlines they set. When I asked why it wasn’t on the Sept. agenda- I got an answer from Corr that they weren’t done with evaluations- and that she was one of the guilty parties. I kept pushing for the award, and asking why there were zero communications from purchasing. I spoke at a board meeting. I’ve heard board members blame the drop in enrollment on everything from stabbing at schools to bad marketing. When the purchasing department did finally do their interviews, it was the most unprofessional selection committee I’ve ever seen. They handed us a two page form as we headed up the elevator on what they wanted. There were to be no questions specific to our proposal. Finally, the board pushed and on Nov 1, the superintendent presented the recommendation that they hire Ohlmann- the highest and largest bidder. The board refused the recommendation. The superintendent’s suggestion was to ask other school systems how to run a selection process for a creative services firm. This is like asking me to do advanced calculus. School systems aren’t marketing driven organizations, nor do they have people that understand marketing and have experience working with these types of firms. Out of frustration, I wrote a guide to government agencies on how to run an agency selection process and forwarded it to the board. They still haven’t acted, even tough their Public Information Officer retires at the end of the year and their Telecommunications director leaves for UD after 31 years at the district at the same time.
end of disclosure.
Out with the old…
The reason Lori Ward and the board parted ways will never fully be known, I even called for her to go. Both my reasoning and the boards reasoning are probably in alignment on her inability to cut deadwood from the bloated organization. If you wanted to see the Peter Principle in action, you could swing a dead cat around the administrative palace on Ludlow and hit several people who had far out climbed their bandwidth.
Sitting on the Tech Steering committee I was facing at least two of them, maybe three. It was hard to say, because the committee often had 20 people in attendance, but very few actually participate. Being silent is an acceptable job role in DPS.
I also believed that their PIO, although a very nice lady, didn’t know good marketing from bad. Several examples of failure have made it to this blog– but “enroll, commit, succeed” is still one of the worst taglines I’ve ever seen.
Lori Ward didn’t fire people. She is also black, a well respected member of the community and knows the district inside and out. It wasn’t long before she left with a large buyout of contract, sick time, vacation pay and headed to Cleveland Public Schools to head HR. Kind of an odd position for a person that doesn’t fire people.
The board also parted ways with Craig Jones, the Treasurer. Craig was a very conservative guy. He was also, as one board member put it, “insubordinate.” This might be because he was vehemently against giving tax abatement to companies like GE, Emerson, CareSource, and whatever other private pied piper that had become part of Nan Whaley’s plan to raise more money than god to stay in power and to subvert the schools.
The board picked Hiwot Abraha to take over. She was the person who under the pre-Craig treasurer Stan Lucas, ran the show while he was out ill. Hiwot stepped into Craig’s shoes with a solid balance sheet- and a $30 million dollar reserve. All the computers had been paid for and software money allocated before the school year started. The schools had even refinanced bonds under Craig to put us in a stronger position.
The board screwed up the process and procedure for firing Craig. He’s now suing them. He is the first of what will be many.
Normally, a district the size of Dayton would have 20+ applicants for Superintendent. With Dayton facing takeover by the state of Ohio for failing performance grades, the applicant pool was less than half that. Indecision by the board let their first round first choice candidate slip away. She was an assistant superintendent in Beavercreek with a penchant for finding grant funding. Passed over in this round was internal candidate David Lawrence, so when round 2 came, and he was excluded, a lot of people, including most of the building principals who were under him were confused. Board members said the reason was they wanted an outside perspective- someone who wasn’t part of the problem they thought they had. Another barrier to attracting talent was that they were only offering a one-year contract. That’s not really a vote of confidence, but since the job might disappear in a State takeover in 2 years- why have to pay more to buy them out.
Round 2 was covered on this blog. Even though they didn’t want an insider, this time Dr. Roberson who hadn’t been with the district long enough to learn the names of the principals was a finalist. Lawrence sat in the back of the room. Next to Dr. Tom Lasley of “Learn to Earn.”
With time to hire already at a premium, the passed on their token internal black male candidate, ruled our Dan Schroer (who was quickly hired by Springboro) because of his pro-police in schools answer which had the Racial Justice Now people ready to lynch him, and left them with Rhonda Corr.
I met with Corr early on, at the Third Perk coffee house, catty corner from HQ. She brought Colleen Wells as her scribe. I showed previous work my firm had done for the district, talked about ideas that were rejected including a “day in the life” type project, curated by 2x Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Larry Price– who even offered to shoot for 2 days in the District for free- and was rejected.
The meeting went an hour and a half in late afternoon on July 7. She seemed receptive and we got along fine. A few weeks later, on Tuesday the 26th at the Tech Steering committee she asked me to take on two challenges: graphics for the windows around the board meeting room because there is no district branding on that end of the building, and a way to increase attendance because “we know for a fact that if kids don’t miss more than 10 days of school our scores go up.” I responded, so you watched Dr. Roberson’s presentation on my blog? She denied it. His simplistic solution as presented at the 3 ring circus came down to a catch phrase that he had the audience chanting: “success begins with less than 10” as in absences.
To me, this assignment was like the captain of the Titanic handing an ice pick to a deck hand and saying- go take care of that iceberg for me. The district has serious communications deficits and window dressing and a marketing solution to attendance issues are the first challenge. Typically, we start with a comprehensive strategy for repositioning and then work tactically to get there.
There was no request for proposal, no PO, just go ahead and do the work. A week later I met with her to give her a plan. It solved the window dressing problem with a much bigger idea- complete with a strategy to begin to reposition the district honestly, and a strategy for incentivizing/gamification of attendance along with a playbook. We threw in reference to other critically needed components and addressed the payment for services as outlined in the above disclaimer.
Other things were happening in the district around the same time. The annual week long principals institute, a program that had been run by Chief of School Innovation David Lawrence was scheduled to meet at Charity Early. Part of the reason, was as a celebration of the principal’s 50th year in education. Charity Early is almost like a retreat- because it was built in collaboration with the Girl Scouts who have their facility there. None of this was known by our new Superintendent who cancelled it- and instead decided to spend money to rent the Crowne Plaza for a day – to make it feel more like a conference. So much for paying for a facility- the A/C was out the entire day. This was the beginning of the undermining of Lawrence by Corr.
In fact, their first meeting, was a fraction of my first meeting a week before. She had district lawyer Jyllian Guerriero with her, as she met with him for 15 minutes at which time there was no listening- just orders. You are to have no further contact with principals in the district. You are going to be over special projects: Athletics, Males of Color, Dayton Biz Tech and Longfellow Alternative School. There was also a fracas around this time over the hiring of the new district Athletic Director. Mark Baker, a Dunbar grad, had been offered the job by David Lawrence, and in a power play- someone wanted to rescind it and give it to another candidate out of D.C. This may have been Corr’s first wake up call that there people in this town with more juice that she’ll ever have. After a few days of confusion, the Baker appointment went through.
I had a conversation with Corr about demoting Lawrence. She said it wasn’t a demotion, it was putting him in charge of the things that needed the most help. She wanted to make sure the Males of Color initiative was a success, and she didn’t want him overloaded with other things.
Several people seem to be in the good graces of the new superintendent. Bob Bucheim, a recent hire to the district, who gets promoted to Executive Director Curriculum and takes over a number of schools that had previously reported to David Lawrence. I’d worked with Bucheim on the Technology Steering Committee and found him to be enthusiastic, positive and a lot like my golden retriever when she was a puppy. When asking a former supervisor of his about him, the response was “I had 12 principals under me, if asked to rank them 1-12, Bob would be 15.” His claim to fame was as a scheduling wizard. Scheduling is a critical part of high school enrollment- so critical that when Lawrence was over Thurgood, they used to have a schedule preview day about a week before school started to give them a chance to dry-run the classes to iron out any mistakes.
When school started, Meadowdale High School still didn’t have a master schedule. The process had begun with Lawrence before his demotion, but when he was told not to talk to anyone- he obeyed. It’s a complex process, including input from the DEA reps in the building, the principals, the guidance counselors. Eleven days in, Corr asked Lawrence to step in to intervene and clean up the mess left by Bucheim and Dr. Sheila Burton who didn’t put a master schedule in place. He outlined clearly what he had done to start the process, when he was told to stop and wanted to make sure this wasn’t another attempt to find fault with him. Soon after he wasn’t in charge of Athletics anymore. And then Males of Color was stripped as well.
Speaking of the Males of Color Initiative, David Lawrence had taken my Websitetology course over the summer. He thought it was incredibly insightful and useful- so much in fact, that he wanted the team from Males of Color to take it. Five sharp young men showed up on the morning of Aug 24 to take the class. I get a call, the PO for $495 wasn’t approved and I may not get paid by the district. At 8:47 am I send a text to Corr:
David Esrati:I hear the po for my training of the men of color wasn’t approved yet. I made a command decision- to allow them to stay at my risk. Teaching the rest of the day.
Rhonda Corr:What training?
David Esrati:Websitetology seminar. How to use the web effectively. You are welcome to stop by
Lawrence is dumbfounded. He’d never had to get a PO for less than 10K approved before, and, esp, by this one being held up by the Superintendent, who is playing dumb. Internal secretaries, the ones who run most organizations confirm with me as I’m trying to get paid a month later that Corr was the only hang up.
The Males of Color all told me they thought the training was outstanding. It tool the district until 9/29/16 to pay the bill.
Meanwhile, at the Tech Steering Committee, it’s come out that one of the pieces of software the district bought, Imagination Learning, requires headsets to work. No one bought headsets. Bucheim does his best puppy imitation- and no solid answers are given. I’ve been asking for a report of what we bought- basic computer/configuration/software packages and what the cost per seat per year is for software. I’m still waiting for that report, and it’s been promised for the November meeting. I’d been asking since May. The Imagination Learning software was $330K for a year, as days are dwindling and it can’t be used. I’m wondering who gets fired for this? Or do we negotiate with the vendor for a discount- since obviously, their sales team didn’t bother to stress what equipment is necessary. No one seems to care.
The problems at Meadowdale continue. Taylor Porter was a young black male scholar who was in the Bright Fellow program– sponsored by Ohio State and the Ohio Business Roundtable. On Friday, September 16th, word is he was handed a pink slip by Ms. Corr. Monday, veteran principal Jacquelyn Pope PhD resigns abruptly, sending out a robocall to parents. It makes the news. She blames Corr and lack of support. Corr all of a sudden wants to promote young Mr. Porter to Principal, but, unfortunately, his principals license won’t be ready till January. She’s forgotten that she fired him- and now makes him “dean of students.” The firing on a Friday, rehire on Tuesday seems to be a patented Corr move.
The funny thing is, in the last three years, Meadowdale has had two other principals quit mid-year. Both times Lawrence stepped in, took care of things and there was no brew-ha-ha. In the Army, they call Special Forces, the elite military unit I had the honor of serving with, “the silent professionals”- that’s what Mr. Lawrence provided to the district. Elite intervention in sticky situations.
The Meadowdale saga is still continuing. I was at the board meeting where the audience set up their kumbaya circle to try to bring peace back to the district in the wake of Ms. Slash and Burn Corr’s actions. I looked carefully at Board Docs and the list of employment moves. Sometime after the meeting a new sheet went up- and all of a sudden, we’re hiring a new principal for Meadowdale, at $95k a year. That makes him the second highest paid principal in the district. When David White, the well respected principal who turned around Belmont, left Ponitz for Trotwood, as did Tracy Mallory, Lisa Minor, and a host of other former DPS “superstars” we couldn’t find money to pay any of them more. And, of course, with Corr comes controversy. The hire, Donetrus Hill PhD. had resigned from his last position in Dallas in May of 2015 after it was exposed that he was offering students academic make up credit for floor mopping. By the time you throw in relocation expenses, this is a very expensive solution to the problems at Meadowdale. In the meantime, she’s stripped Lawrence of responsibility over anything and has him in a closet in the far corner of the first floor next to some IT equipment with a schedule saying that he has to be at his desk from 8:30 to 4:30 with no more than a half hour for lunch. He’s still making $102.5 K a year. He’s a proven principal.
There isn’t a single DPS employee that won’t vouch for Mr. Lawrences pre-Corr work ethic. Not only was he known to be in the office earlier and later than most, he’d work weekends as well. And, if there was a sporting event, he was there too. In fact, when you used to drive by the district parking lot at 8:30 at night most nights pre-Rhonda Corr, and you knew who drove what, you’d usually have seen Ward’s Volvo SUV and Lawrences’ car in the lot. Now, it’s empty.
Resetting the doomsday clock
It’s September 14th, my birthday. At 3:25 in the afternoon I get a call from Rhonda asking me to look over the press release that the district is preparing to send about the single “A” they received for the 2016 report card. It’s in Annual Yearly Progress- and it’s the only A that mattered. It meant the 2 year countdown to state takeover was now reset. Jill Moberley had written her version- and Corr didn’t feel comfortable with it. Could I take a crack at it.
I don’t have any of the actual data to work with- just what Jill included. Her headline: “Dayton Public Schools receives an A for student growth” and then a meandering mess of stats that no one cares about and fake quotes. I get to work. In 30 minutes, I’ve rewritten it, added some Cleveland flavor to it to make it sound like Corr actually has a heart, and send it back. My headline: “Dayton Public Schools resets takeover countdown”- what appears in the Dayton Business Journal is my release. People compliment Jill on her release, she says “I decided to try something a little different this time.”
No payment arrangements made, no bills issued.
This news barely hits the streets and next thing in the news, a new DPS teacher with an incredible vitae- gets arrested in Edwin Joel Brown school- for allegedly raping a child. DPS can’t buy a break, but, they think the best thing to do is keep stressing it wasn’t one of our students, we barely know the guy. The problem is, this isn’t the first sex offender news of the year, a Ponitz employee, who didn’t have a valid teaching certificate had been caught up in a prostitution case. Help is offered, but not accepted on this one.
One last thought: the A that saved the district had nothing to do with the new administration or leadership. The academic plan that got the district an A was written mostly by Lisa Minor who is now in Trotwood, and David Lawrence who is in purgatory.
The Marketing Bid Status
At this point, we’re a week from the award for the “comprehensive marketing services” contract which was supposed to be awarded on September 20th with work to start on the 21st.
I’m feeling pretty confident. Here I am, being asked to do emergency PR help. But, I’d also seen the email of who my competition was. Corr had told me that there were 5 bidders when I’d asked. But, here’s the part I’m struggling with, before the bid was turned in, after my father had died, I was taking my mom to Ben & Jerry’s on Brown Street to help fatten her up. I ran into Rhonda coming out of the Pine Club with friends of hers. I’d introduced my mother to her- and she’d asked how I was doing. I’d responded, I’m stressed out, working on this RFP from hell- her response to me, was “don’t worry, I want to work with you- this process is just a formality.”
I had come into the office the next day and told my staff. I wasn’t happy about it- because I don’t think things should work that way. I believed in the strength of our proposal. Others who have looked at it who work in the district, in the field, all thought it was outstanding. But, after years of trying to get federal contracts, it had become clear- RFP’s are usually issued AFTER the buyer has the vendor picked. For once, I was going to shut up and let it ride. Dad had died, I’m struggling with taking care of mom who is slipping into dementia, it’s about time something came my way. And, I know I’d do a good job.
Come the weekend before the award, I spend Saturday night writing the press release for the district to issue when they post the contract to Board Docs on Sunday- 48 hours before the board meeting Tuesday. I send it off- it mentions Jill’s retirement. It talks about why they picked The Next Wave and the expectations. I send it to Corr. When Board Docs comes out on Sunday- with no mention of the contract- I immediately write Corr asking WTF? You can’t slide this on at the last minute- it looks shady, and if there is one thing I don’t want to start out with is some sort of idea that this was snuck in. She has no answers to why. I research and find the State doesn’t have any requirements about 48 hours notice on contracts, but apparently DPS does. Doesn’t matter, it’s not happening now. In fact, Corr admits she hasn’t finished her review and rating of the 5 submissions.
The problem with an RFP, especially one with timelines and implementation schedules- is that the dates matter. Your request, my offer, make up a contract. If the dates aren’t right- it just doesn’t free flow into the next quarter. Especially with schools that run on a half a year schedule.
November comes. School has already been going along for two months. Teachers and students have formed bonds, expectations set. Rhonda tells me that she’s got a plan to fire everyone downtown and make them all re-apply for their jobs. She doesn’t know what half of them do. This is in central office- well away from the classroom. I’m pretty sure I can name a few people that need to go.
After me pushing at the October business meeting for them to award the contract to someone, and that it was disrespectful to small business and to the community and to the leadership including the board that tasked purchasing with hiring someone, they finally act on Nov 1. I’m at the meeting. The board is asked to waive the 48 hour rule to award the contract to the Ohlmann group. Ron Lee makes the motion, Dr. Baguirov complains about how the numbers don’t add up, how does a firm (mine) with a 2x Pulitzer Prize winner and is Veteran Owned not score higher. Why are we always giving contracts to the big company and in this case with the highest bid. The motion doesn’t get a second. Ohlmann had the contract in it’s grasp for a few hours- and gone. I get the notification from purchasing about this epic fail 20 hours later. The first communication at all from them.
But, now, the district has to make cuts. It seems they’ve lost 500 some students, which means somewhere between 3.5 and 5 million dollars won’t be there. We hear reasons that just help the district dig a deeper hole- “the stabbing at World of Wonder” caused it was the worst- straight out of Dr. Baguirov’s mouth. And while that story made headlines because it was on the school security cameras and in broad daylight, there was also a gun brought to Wright Brothers within a week and fights and other stuff that goes on all the time. You don’t need to bring any of that up.
Corr says if every principal just went out and recruited 15 students we’d be fine…. in November…. with what materials? With what story- “we got a single A and a bunch of F’s.” The community half buys this line of malarkey. Corr promises once again, cuts will be kept as far away from the classroom as possible.
Until the list comes out and a ton of para-professionals are all getting pink slips.
Para pro- what? You mean they went to jump school and are Airborne qualified? No- paraprofessionals are teachers aides, they come in many varieties, from bus aides, to handicapped student aides, to one-on-one coaches in the classroom. We have some that have been doing that hand holding for as long as 30 years. They don’t do it for the money- the most they could make is about $25k a year. Most of them have at least 2 year degrees and have passed their PRAXIS exams. The best part- is they aren’t paid out of general fund money- they get their money from the feds- Title 1- money for urban disadvantaged kid interventions. And, if you ask the instructional leaders of the district, the principals, the para-professionals are the ones who helped the district get the A in annual yearly progress. Without the chrome books.
Board Member Joe Lacey was at Kiser PK-6 the day the cuts came out- and he said “well where do you think the money came from to pay for the computers?” Never mind it takes a para in the room working with a teacher in order for those computers to be up and running- and in Kindergarten- where kids have never used a mouse- it can take as many as 5 para professionals to get the whole class online and working.
But it doesn’t stop there. The same day the para’s get cut, Karen Lombard gets her pink slip. She’s in tears. She’s been working in the district for 26 years, she’s known as an expert in her field, not just locally but nationally. She’s the one who made DPS preschools, all 14 of them, top notch and worthy of the vaunted 5 Star rating. In 2016 the Dayton Association for Young Children named her the “Administrator of the Year.” Principals who count on her to manage all the compliance issues and keep the pre-k thing on track are devastated. Tuesday comes, and Corr has been told she’s made a mistake. Someone calls and tells Ms. Lombard “we had a change of heart, would you come back?” She agrees. She’s not supposed to speak about the Friday firing- but, just like the internet, once something happens in a Dayton Public School the grapevine doesn’t forget or just stop.
Joe Lacey has no problem with firing MariJane Recob, director of the Challenger center at Kiser. He calls her a “museum curator” and says that he thinks that certified teachers are what make a difference. Even though he’s the longest serving member of the board, he seems clueless that not only was MariJane teaching before he put on his first speedo, she was doing STEM before anyone knew what STEM was. Board Members McManus and Taylor try to save her from the axe that week. Of course, they had very little time to prepare, because as usual, Corr can’t get her act together- the list was posted about an hour before the meeting. Also gone were Toni Perry Gillespie and Richard Melson- two people I never thought were good fits for the district. Melson likes to be called Dr. Melson, a salutation that leads people to believe he’s a PhD or EdD- but, no- it’s a divinity degree. He was a director of IT who never heard of open source software, and was responsible for directing the district into a very expensive proprietary piece of software called SunGard which is an expensive enterprise solution for running a district. Gillespie is part of the Monarchy of Montgomery County- and was hired as a coordinator of Community and Family Engagement, yet didn’t do much of either.
It was her office that set up the “Coffee with the Superintendent” last Saturday at Ruskin Elementary School. I attended for a part of it. If they had competent PR it would have been considerably different. I’m not going to spell out how to do one of these events, but ideally you have a presentation that knocks peoples socks off with your vision of the future to begin, and everyone leaves with a happy handout recapping the plan and gives them something to share with their friends and neighbors. None of that happened. Jill Moberley and Ken Kreitzer were both there. No, they weren’t filming, no they weren’t taking notes- just standing on the sidelines, playing with their phones.
The Superintendent is asked for an actual attendance figure. This is something Lori Ward could recite in her sleep. Corr’s answer was “thirteen thousand something.”
When asked about classroom size limits, she had to refer it to the principals in the room for the answer.
Learning to count
Remember, all these cuts and disruptions a few months into the school year are being driven by a “drop in dollars due to decreased enrollment.” There is one problem, every student that leaves the district has to be accounted for. It’s an exit interview. You have to track it to the state. We’re saying we lost about 450 or so, but no one has the report. A report that says “this many 7th and 8th graders went to the STEM school from Horace Mann and Wright brothers” when the school reconfiguration for middle schools happened. Or, we had lost a bunch to the middle school that DECA just opened downtown. Nope- no reports. No facts, no figures- but, remember, Corr said cuts would be far away from the classroom and if we just recruited students, and if we had better marketing…
This drop in enrollment and dollars is driving a RIF- reduction in force. It is the excuse you have to use to cut people who’ve signed contracts or are covered by union contracts. You also have to eliminate the position as part of a RIF- for instance you can’t RIF David Lawrence who has a contract through 2018 if you gave his job to three different people- two of which you hired in (Dr. Libby Lolli and Dr. Markay Winston).
And if it isn’t already bad, Dr. Baguirov is proud of himself for hiring an internal auditor to cut out waste. As the sole Republican on the Board- it’s his job to always go on about cutting government waste. The board lets the auditor go up on November 1, and present a whole list of things he identified as waste- just handing negative publicity and generating the easiest “DPS is incompetent” story Dayton Daily news reporter Jeremy Kelley ever had to write. So, not only can’t we hire enough bus drivers or get your kids to school, we also can’t stop them from taking lunches or using the bus for personal trips.
Then, this morning, the whole thing turns into a joke. Now, we’re still going to fire 30 paraprofessionals, but we’re going to hire 30 certified teachers with Title 1 money. We’re not really broke after all.
On Tuesday, DPS school board president Adil Baguirov added a new wrinkle to the process, saying the district plans to hire more teachers that will make up for the cuts of classroom aides, also called paraprofessionals.
“Instead of paraprofessionals, who are not certified and often don’t have college degrees in education or related fields, DPS now plans to have 28 new teachers, one for each building, to augment data-driven, modern, research-based education,” Baguirov said.
It was not immediately clear how the staff moves — layoffs of 20 administrators last week, an estimated 40 total cuts to be voted on Thursday, and the 28 hires that Baguirov mentioned for the first time Tuesday — fit together financially.
District officials have said millions of dollars in cuts per year are necessary because of an unexpected drop in enrollment that will lead to less state funding.
Classroom aides generally max out around $25,000 per year, while certified teachers in Dayton make between $38,000 and $71,000. Baguirov said those new teachers would be paid with the same Title 1 funding stream for low-income students that paid the 32 or 33 laid-off aides.
DPS Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said the Title 1 money from the laid-off aides would also be used for professional development on blended learning, literacy and teacher leadership.While state money is expected to decrease midyear for DPS because of a drop in enrollment, federal Title 1 funding is basically constant until next school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Newsflash- somehow, the count of missing students is off. Not a little, but hundreds. Somewhere we went from having solid numbers and accounting, to flying by the seat of our pants. Here DDn confirms the numbers weren’t legit.
The people directly responsible for these numbers: Treasurer Hiwot Abraha and Dr. Sheila Burton. Two of Corr’s trusted confidants. One other person to look as part of the inner cabal is the district attorney, Jyllian Bradshaw (nee. Guerriero) who worked with the hired firing hands.
Superintendent Rhonda Corr said last month that she brought in two outside consultants to do a review of district staffing levels and efficiency, helping shape the job cuts and realignment. Corr said the consultants were Deborah Heater, who spent years leading human resources efforts for Cincinnati Public Schools, and attorney David Lampe of Bricker & Eckler.
Heater’s company was paid $19,800 for its work on the “rightsizing” initiative. The contract was technically with the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, with Lolli as a signatory.
The funny thing is outside of school or government jobs Heater can’t stay put anywhere much over a year and she has her own consulting firm and apparently works at another consultant as well. Reading her Linkedin Profile is a laugh a minute with “I” being the focus of everything.
Was there an RFP for the henchman? Nope. And why the sneak around through the MCESC? Maybe because the new Sheriff in town needs someone to blame when it all goes seriously south? Deniability is always the fallback for weak leaders.
The Dunbar fiasco
While much of the focus of the sixth floor is on educational achievement, one thing Dayton Public is known for is strong football and basketball teams. This year was no different with Dunbar’s football team going to State. Only one thing went wrong, the last two games the coach played an ineligible player. At the November 1 board meeting, this was a topic of discussion. The head of the district security, former Dayton cop, Jamie Bullens was there after conducting an extensive investigation. The discussion turned interesting when Board VP Sheila Taylor wanted to know how we prevent things like this. When study tables were mentioned, a staple of college programs, this was news to Taylor and she was asking why it wasn’t standard practice? This brought venom from Lacey who called her and the rest of the board out for even suggesting athletes deserve any kind of special treatment or extra help.
Corr got on her pedestal talking about how this “hurt children” and she was demanding resignations from two people. She had one in hand and was waiting on the other.
We’re not sure what she was asking for- the football coach or the athletic director, who is also the head basketball coach and a Dayton Legend, Pete Pullen who has now resigned as AD for Dunbar, but she was asking for his complete resignation on the first day of basketball practice. Had she pushed it, she would have been hanging from a rim, and not because she just dunked the ball.
Let’s see, play an ineligible player and you have to resign. Don’t follow board direction to hire a marketing firm- keep your job. Buy $330K of software that your students can’t use- keep your job? Don’t properly get the master schedule done at a high school and the principal quits- and keep your promotion. The list goes on.
The big money questions?
The district took a strange stance on Issue 9. The end of the happy loving relationship between the board and the Dayton City Commission happened in early August when both the city and the school board were headed to the ballot to float a levy. DPS backed down, even though the city was now going to encroach on education by funding the quasi-public organization “Learn To Earn” with unfettered money for 8 years to go to pre-school. The pre-school promise will get about $4.5 million every year- of which they get to keep 20% or $900K for their salaries and overhead. Not a bad deal. Poor school board members are capped at $5K a year. DPS board, which meets more, longer and seems less effective than any other board in the county according to Dayton Daily News reporter is effectively working for free.
Not fully understanding why the district wasn’t making a peep against Issue 9, on my own I dug into it and found where the money was coming from, and decided to make a few videos to try to steer people away from voting for it. It didn’t make sense to be throwing so much money at a private org with no legitimate oversight that can dole out money to private schools, charters, and even home schoolers. No income restriction. Flat out discretionary money. I thought with that kind of cash we could do something to really make a difference, roll out city wide wi-fi so that the kids could go home with their chromebooks and continue their learning. The short video had 15,000 views on Facebook in 4 days. Some board members appreciated the work – and saw what real marketing looked like.
One board member thought that by working with the City we’d have a seat at the table. Little did they realize, the table isn’t in the same room as the big boys. Another board member, may have financial connections to a pre-school, and could benefit from Issue 9 money floating their way. None of this made sense- and most importantly, this was an ideal time to be talking about the districts own 5 star free preschools that aren’t at capacity- not a peep. Was their a written guarantee of support from the people backing Issue 9 to throw money toward the DPS levy next spring? Or was it more like the kind of deal Dayton did with Kroger for the new Wayne Avenue store that never materialized?
Remember one of the big donors to the Issue 9 campaign was CareSource? $25K, in the pre-election report. They bought the old Patterson Co-Op land for a cool million from the board recently and immediately turned it over to the Port Authority so they wouldn’t have to pay taxes. Had this board had any competent legal help, or just a modicum of common sense, they would have put a deed restriction on the real estate that it couldn’t ever have it’s property tax abated. But, we only tax the poor people in Dayton anymore- and the ones who can’t vote.
Morale and the moral of the story
In my business, long ago, an agency defined advertising as “Truth Well Told” – a slogan that is probably even more important today than it was back in 1912 when McCann Erikson trademarked it as their credo. We seem to be missing a whole lot of truth in Dayton Public Schools since the arrival of Rhonda Corr. And while there are always two sides to a story, I put my faith in my long standing connections in the community. There are people all over this city who in front of the powerful- say, “that Esrati is crazy”- because in Dayton, you need a herd to be heard (a quote I heard early on from former Dayton Planning Director Paul Woodie) but in private, they call me, tell me the dirt, and ask me to do their dirty work.
It’s a thankless job. The strangest thing happened tonight as I was writing this. At 8:31 pm, Rhonda Corr called me. She can’t figure me out. She wasn’t happy that she saw me comment on Facebook that she had been fired in Chicago in the wake of the BBB debacle. She calls it laid off. We had a long talk, where she reiterated that she wants to work with me and my firm. That she sees something special there, but, I seem to turn on people. She said she had been warned, extend me an olive branch and you’ll get hit with it. I told her it was odd timing- I was 6,700 words in on an post about her and the district. Trying to set the record straight. As to her being fired or laid off, I wonder if it makes a difference what she calls it when she does the same thing to people here- proven people? Long time employees?
She talks about the building principals as CEO’s of their buildings. They are the true instructional leaders in the district, the master teachers. The ones who are held responsible for what learning goes on in school. When you have a 17 year district veteran saying this in the paper, you know something is seriously wrong with the changes:
Kiser Principal James Fowler understands the need. “We’re going to rethink how we deliver services based on them not being here,” Fowler said. “They make our 1-to-1 technology work. … It’ll be a big loss. They’re just so valued.”
That is from a former Air Force Major, a guy who toes the company line. The board may think they are brilliant, but if they opened up an anonymous chat room and asked the 30 building principals to give honest feedback about the Superintendent and where the district was going, they’d leave enlightened, and would reconsider keeping her here.
That the district’s doomsday clock isn’t ticking down the final two years of their rule has given them a false sense of security. Without major changes in the way the district delivers education, without absolute community buy in, without the full support of the unions who are all ready to stage a walk out or sit across the table and say “really? are you dreaming?” this district will be right back in the same situation in another year.
And Corr still thinks I’m the problem. I’m too abrasive or something. People said the same thing about someone people think I look like- Steve Jobs. I didn’t make this mess. I’m just the observer. The real test will come in approximately 17 hours when the board has its business meeting and parents, paras and teachers and community activists and political types converge on 4th and Ludlow.
I can see the signs now- “I’m not Fond’a Rhonda” “Show Corr the Door” “RESIGN” or “Rotten to the Corr” and they’ll want answers.
How did you go from controlled mediocrity for so many years to this tornado of turmoil? There are only 9 people who can be held accountable, the 7 board members, the treasurer and the Superintendent. In Ohio, you can’t recall a school board. The board hires and fires both the Treasurer and the Superintendent. Both have failed to give us honest answers causing the district to turn into a circus.
As I was leaving the Coffee with the Superintendent om Saturday, I heard one girl say to her friend “no wonder this district can’t keep teachers.” And here we are mid-school year, firing 30 classroom aides, based on bad data, saying we are going to hire 30 new reading intervention specialists mid-year, and put them in place. Even in spring, finding 30 qualified reading specialists is incredibly difficult.
You know what’s even more difficult? For this board to put their big boy pants on and realize they made a huge mistake. They could cut Corr, reduce the number of pending lawsuits immediately, start re-assessing the layoffs under a competent superintendent who knows the district, the players and who would have the support of a large majority of the current principals: David Lawrence.
But, that would never happen, right? They said that about Brexit and Trump. 3 for 3 anyone?
Contract renewal time for the Superintendent, Lori Ward and the Treasurer, Craig Jones. There may be others, but these are two key contracts. Last contracts were three years.
Considering we’re probably two years away from a state takeover of the district, it doesn’t make sense to offer anything more than a two-year contract.
There is no time for an outside search at this point- the Board of Education waited too long. Even if an outsider were brought in, it would be too little time to assess, manage and implement strategy as well as earn the trust of the community, the staff and the students.
Before any contract is offered to Ms. Ward, who has little to show for her last 6 years at the helm, the board should consider the existing staff with superintendent’s licenses and ask them each to come in and give a 20-minute presentation on what their vision would be, what changes they would make, and what they think they could achieve in the next two years.
The possible candidates (if I missed anyone- let me know)
Robert Buchheim- the newest guy on the list, he’s the “Executive Director Curriculum.” Probably doesn’t know the district well enough.
Sheila Burton- the current “Associate Superintendent”
Erin Dooley- Principal of Stivers- the only school in the district with an A grade.
David White- left the district for Trotwood after being offered a raise, he was the turnaround guy at Belmont and then Ponitz. Knows the district.
The board is scared of the “optics” of a white lead board firing a very well liked African American superintendent. Burton and Lawrence qualify for minority status. Lawrence is a Dunbar grad. Sadly, it’s 2016 and we’re still talking about the color of people’s skin.
Either way, the board could use the ideas that are presented to sharpen their direction of the district, which still seems to struggle with getting focused on what is really important.
It’s not police in schools, it’s not suspension rates, it’s not computers, it’s about providing an excellent education and learning environment in every building.