But already a fresh breeze is beginning to blow.
"Even before his official start date last Sunday, Schlomann endeared himself to reporters by actually answering his phone and returning calls – something that ought to be done, but soon-to-depart Superintendent Barbara Erwin did sparingly, even before controversy circled her..."Managing Editor Kristin Turner said the public has been cheated by the stonewalling of Erwin and other officials.
Cheryl Bast reminded the Daily Herald of her expressions of "distrust in Barbara Erwin and the school board numerous times over the past year." She complained about the appalling arrogance, breach of trust and disregard shown the public in the Erwin contract situation, the negative message it sent to the students - and the time now needed to mend.
"The notion that people have a right to know how their money is being spent is not radical. It’s essential.It’s one of those beautiful, genius things about America that schools teach children...This is a place where you have a right to know what your government is doing... That a school board, of all things, is hiding its actions from the public is just plain sad."
...If everything about [Barbara Erwin's] contract was legal, if the lawyers had signed off on it, then why was everyone...so eager to keep it under wraps?Because somewhere inside, they knew it was not right, or at least it was not going to be attractive to the public.So why did they do it? Because as a group they lacked accountability to the public."
She won't admit it - in fact her application for Kentucky's Education Commissioner denies it - but Barbara Erwin left Allen Texas under pressure.
In 1999, Erwin drew national attention when she announced the Allen schools were canceling the final 10 days of classes, after numerous bomb threats, following the Columbine High School shootings. When Allen parents reacted angrily, officials "clarified" their remarks and said their plans to curtail the class schedule had been misinterpreted. Erwin told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram they were only trying to fool persons responsible for the numerous bomb threats. So, the cancellation confusion was made on purpose - to outwit the suspects?! - and public trust was the price.
Erwin's response was to spend $13,000 on a PR firm.
The turnover rate in the Allen district was a major worry for parents who formed the nonprofit Parents for Better Judgment to monitor the school board, disseminate information and lobby administrators to change the way the district relates to parents and teachers. The public was sufficiently thankful that one of the group's co-founders, Victoria Sublette, was later elected to the board and presently serves as president of the tustees. Sublette still conducts annual training sessions for her fellow trustees on preventing Open Meetings Law violations - left over from the Barbara Erwin days.
Even earlier John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, raised alarm over the number of teachers who wanted out of Allen. He said of the district's turnover rate,
Allen's turnover rate for 1997-98 was more than 60 percent higher than the state average, according to Texas Education Agency data.Based on information supplied by the district, Allen High School lost a fourth of its professional staff in one year.
"Twenty percent is way too high; you have something else happening there...One of the first things you suspect is that people are not being treated very well."
Erwin's justification was that "Cutting-edge is bleeding-edge in any business..."
The Arizona Republic referred to the Erwin tenure as "dark days" when Erwin hired expensive consultants and tried to raise taxes for a school she later admitted the district didn't need.
In January 2004, the Arizona Republic asked,
"What's the body count now in the Scottsdale Unified School District? How many educators and administrators has Barbara Erwin forced out in the past threeIn 2005, 571 students -- 2 percent of the district's enrollment -- also jumped ship, taking $2.4 million in state funds with them; while Erwin spent $650,000 in various attorney's fees.
years? ...Poor communication with teachers and constituents, high teacher
turnover rates and arrogance of administration... The superintendent has no
concept of a 28-year commitment to a community and its students."
Once again, Erwin was under pressure to move on - which again she later denied to the Kentucky Board of Education - and this time she was being sued. Erwin was a name defendant in Schild v. Erwin in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix when she took the job in St Charles.
The Arizona Republic later reminesced,
“To appreciate how far Scottsdale Unified School District has come with [new] Superintendent John Baracy, you've got to remember how bad things were [under Erwin]."
The recent resignations of three top state administrators were said to be unrelated to Dr. Erwin's impending arrival. Maybe they are. But these are savvy individuals. I suspect each of them can read a newspaper - possibly even between the lines - and each can do the math.
The nearly 2-month old quandry still rests with the Kentucky Board of Education.
If board members have remained circumspect - waiting for Erwin's arrival and another closed session before acting on the flood of criticisms - then they should be forgiven for the poor job the search firm dumped in their laps. If the board is truly concerned that Kentucky students will be served by an ethical commissioner, then the public needs to know it.
The board should do the hard work; fix the problem and move on.
But if after their July 11th meeting, the Kentucky board continues to stonewall the public, it will mark a dark day for public schooling in the Commonwealth. Since the commissioner serves at the pleasure of the governor, who appointed the entire board - failure to fix the problem ought to become a significant campaign issue.
Excuses, like 'strong leadership will naturally produce unhappy people' may be true to a point. But resume indescretions, Open Meetings Law violations, expensive consultants, astronomical legal fees, taxation for unnecesary construction projects, double-dealing and arrogance have not been business-as-usual in Kentucky's education operation.
Where were all the investigations of Thomas Boysen, Wilmer Cody, Gene Wilhoit and Kevin Nolan?
Photo by Travis Houghton/Kane county Chronicle.