Friday, April 09, 2010

What is Rigorous Scholarship in Fayette County Schools

KSN&C was slow picking up the story of how legal services came to be outsourced in Fayette County. But the board acted very quickly; like someone was in a hurry. We're working to catch up and thank KSN&C readers who have been sharing information and insights.

KSN&C has learned that board member Amanda Ferguson raised several questions about the study, but since there was only light coverage from the Herald-Leader on that particular board meeting, and it happened so quickly, few citizens were even aware of the dispute.

Ferguson complained out loud that the study was faulty, completed within two weeks, and that the board attorney and her staff were never contacted - or even given the basic respect of being informed there was an issue. Furthermore, Lyle Hanna of the Hanna Resource Group never spoke with any of the board members to assess their satisfaction or concerns with legal services in the district.

This has all of the trappings of a covert operation. Turns out, Board Attorney Brenda Allen was on double-secret probation and didn't even know it.

That explains the nearly complete lack of insight into Fayette County's particular legal needs as exhibited in the Hanna Report. The "researchers" did take the five minutes necessary to list the attorney's duties from her job description. And Hanna interviewed the superintendent and looked at Allen's calendar for the past thirteen months. But that was pretty much it.

Is anyone else bothered that a superintendent ordered up an expensive, quickie report, made himself the primary source of information for the report, and then (deliberately, it appears) kept the researcher away from the subject of the study?

Is this what passes for scholarly rigor in Fayette County?

Please tell me we aren't teaching our high schoolers that this is how research should be conducted.

According to meeting notes obtained from Ferguson, she questioned the Hanna report on several fronts asking,

  • Did you ever speak to the board attorney or her 2 staff members during your analysis?
  • Are you aware that the board alone employs the board attorney?
  • Did you have any discussions with board members about the board attorney’s job duties?
  • Did you ever consult the board on our satisfaction with our legal services?
  • Did you ever consult any of the 6,000 employees who are also the customers of the board attorney?
  • Do you know how many hours you spent on this analysis and over what period of time?
  • How much will you be paid? ($10,000/80hrs=$125/hr)
  • In calculating legal expenses, did you look at how many lawsuits were filed against each of the districts you contacted?
  • So there’s no way to know if your numbers for Fayette County are a result of a greater number of lawsuits filed against FCPS?

Then, Ferguson asked her zinger:

  • You praised this superintendent and credited him for current successes in Daviess County. Are you aware that the only trial the district went through last year was a direct result of the superintendent’s conduct?


In voting against the proposal to outsource legal services, Ferguson explained:

[Hanna's recommendation] was based on potential annual savings but I believe that the report is erroneous in its estimation of current annual expenses. One employee whose salary was listed as part of the board attorney’s office was actually performing most of her duties for another department in central office, so much so that she was eventually moved to that department during a restructuring last year.

The consultant did not once speak with the board attorney nor any of her staff concerning her, or their, job duties, nor, to my knowledge, did he speak with any board members about the services the board attorney provides. Again, the board itself is actually the employer of the board attorney. He cannot possibly know of all the services that are provided to the district through this analysis and I just don’t feel these numbers can be accurate.( The consultant only spoke with the superintendent, the person who approved the study but who didn’t even know whether the consultant had contacted the board. He didn’t seem to know what he was paying for.)

The board attorney is available to provide legal advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to all 6,000 employees of the district. I have heard from several administrators who are concerned about the outsourcing of legal services because they will no longer have that person available to call, someone who is already in the central office building, on the clock and on the payroll. It seems to me that people will be much less likely to seek legal guidance if outside counsel has to be consulted at an hourly rate. I believe this move will only result in greater legal expenses since more minor matters will not be addressed and may even result in more litigation against the district. In other words, the value to the school district of having a full-time attorney on staff can’t really be quantified.

Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that I don’t like to spend one penny more than I have to for anything. In this case, I feel we are already getting far more than we pay for with our current legal services and think this move to outsource them is a grave mistake for our district.

KSN&C reader TNT40 claims to have been at the meeting and offers this:

I attended the school board meeting that night because I was curious about this and the redistricting plans. Board Member Amanda Ferguson had some insightful comments about how bad of an idea the elimination of legal counsel was, how biased Hanna was and was angry that the Superintendent commissioned this study without the approval of the full board.

For a minute, Ferguson and Becky Sagan (who, in my opinion, appeared to be nothing more than a Stu Silberman bobblehead) were arguing with each other about how the study was conducted and commissioned. Sagan tried to say that the study was her idea and attempted to shift discussion to other members. (Kirk Tinsley's comment that, "Well, you know me. I'm all about the kids." was hilarious to me because he said something and nothing at the same time! How did that guy get on the board?)

While I can't remember her exact words, Ferguson implied that axing Allen was simply retaliation for the legal decisions made with respect to the BTWA situation. I agree with her -- it appears that Brenda Allen is simply the next person to be tossed under the bus.

Now, I'd have to say I have a lot of respect for FCPS board chair Becky Sagan, but I do understand TNT40's point. Board members sometimes are torn between their strong desire to present a unified front to the public (which is lovely, but overrated) and their role as the superintendent's boss.

If the board is mature and focused on the needs of children, members may disagree, but they will vote and move on. But if it's really about adult egoes and motivations of a more political nature, I suspect we will begin to witness the marginalization of Amanda Ferguson.

Most observers believe that Becky Sagan, who originally asked Silberman to look into the district's legal expenses, sincerely intented to save the district money. But these same observers believe Silberman saw an opportunity to settle some kind of score with Allen, and jumped at the opportunity. Sources within district leadership tell KSN&C that Allen was that rare Fayette County employee who gave the superintendent advice he didn't want to follow and who challenged him.

KSN&C also hears that several Fayette County school administrators are very upset about losing the support of legal counsel - which I can attest is extremely valuable to principals wishing to keep their schools and themselves out of trouble. But don't expect to hear a peep out of any of them.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant commentary....

My how the worm begins to turn!
When will Mr. Silberman ever learn?

Anonymous said...

Richard, what was your last point, "Don't expect to hear a peep out of them?" Are you saying that FCPS are fearful of Stu Siberman and retaliation?

Doug Barnett said...


I was at that meeting. For full disclosure, I was the person who spoke about the redistricting of the Georgetown Road area from Sandersville to BTWA because of its impact on my family. To continue my full disclosure, I heavily protested the redistricting proposal on the district's Facebook page and, should you desire, you can see all of my objections there. I write this now solely to express my opinions as a parent.

I stuck around for the board attorney discussion because I found it interesting, and I thought that this had more to do with the mess created by Central Office at BTWA (which was part of my objection to the redistricting), and its resulting aftermath, than anything else.

I'll say that TNT40 nailed it on his/her analysis. It appeared to me that Amanda Ferguson saw this for what it appears to be, and for how you perceive it. I was impressed with her stand on this issue. However, she was asleep at the switch on the redistricting matter.

The redistricting proposal and the elimination of the board attorney position were both pushed through that night. The most controversial aspects of both, directly and indirectly, involved BTWA to some extent. I found that to be highly circuspect and ironic.

I agree with TNT40 that I'm also disappointed with our board and disappointed with some other recent actions of the school system that make me wonder what their priorities and goals really are. A recent discussuion I have had with school system personnel on an issue I had discovered concerning the proper and accurate identification of representation on the school board left me shaking my head. I'd be willing to share my e-mails and provide some background with you if you would like to see them because I think this is a significant, and related issue, too.

TNT40s assessment of the board's demeanor at the meeting was correct. If you replaced Chairwoman Sagan and Board Members Bacon and Tinsley with my son's Tubby Smith and Rick Pitino bobblehead figures, the result would have been more or less the same all night.

Concerning Member Tinsley, I think TNT40s assessment was accurate. I was highly disappointed in him. As the elected member for both BTWA, Sandersville and the Georgetown Road area, he didn't appear at the public forum and from what I saw, failed to determine whether his consistuents were in favor of this move. (I do need to point out that Bacon and Sagan were both present at the redistricting public forum, but said nothing at all). Mr. Tinsley didn't advocate for the kids of his district, or bother to determine what the best interests of those kids were, and that is disappointing to me.

I applaud Amanda Ferguson for her stance. I was also impressed somewhat by John Price. I thought that he asked plenty of questions and genuinely seemed to desire to understand each issue. With respect to the board attorney issue, he supported it under a cost-benefit analysis. While cost-benefit can be a sound justification in most situations, it is flawed in this instance because only one position was affected and the budgetary impact is minimal given the size of the school system's budget. For cost-benefit to work as a justification, more central office positions should have been cut along with the board attorney. That would have saved the system a bunch of money and also elminated questions that the attorney was targeted. I have been going through the school district's central office salaries and have been amazed at the amount of money being spent down there.

I also was left with the impression that only one position was eliminate that night. That aspect of the discussion was confusing so I could be incorrect on that.

You should get a copy of the board meeting tape and watch it. You would find it interesting.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for contributing to the discussion and providing your insights.

April 9, 2010 10:51 PM: I am reminded, in situations like these, that the principal is the easiest person to make go away. There is no tenure for principals and they can easily be (and at least one has been) demoted on the spot if the superintendent is unhappy. You won't hear a peep for the same reason that other FCPS employees post here anonymously.

Doug: Thanks for your perspective. I, too, think I see connections between BTWA and the redistricting issue. Perhaps one day I will be able to substantiate what are now suspicions.

I am not sure what you mean by “proper and accurate identification of representation” but I appreciate documentation whenever I can get it. I'll check out the Facebook page, next chance I get.

I don't know Mr. Tinsley at all but share your respect for John Price. I have always known him to be sincere and professional.

I'll try to nail down the personnel information. Video: great suggestion.

Richard Day said...

I spiked a comment today. KSN&C commenters are encouraged to rise above the level of name-calling. Suffice it say that an anonymous commenter didn't think too much of Doug Barnett.

Anonymous said...

As a front office worker I have personally seen Mrs. Ferguson come into my school and demand personal "perks" for herself and her children and try to micromanage the school.  She is totally out of control and we need help to make sure she stops abusing her power as a school board member.

Anonymous said...

Also very interesting that you pick and choose the comments you post and spike those you don't agree with - what type of integrity is that? This is yellow journalism at it's worst but my guess is you will spike this too.

Doug Barnett said...


I'm not surprised that somebody didn't think too much of me. That happens all the time, and I've gotten quite a few negative comments in my time. Comes with the territory, I guess. My argument is with the board's policies and how those policies were developed, not with anyone personally. My argument is about academic performance and the quality of our representatives on the school board.

It really is sad that respectful debate is thrown out the window by some.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that you spiked my comment for name calling after you allowed Barnett to name call and did not spike his posting. I will try again: I am an African American staff member at BTW and after I read Barnett's racial innuendos on facebook about BTW I invited him to come and visit my school. Yes we have more black children than he is used to seeing at Sandersville but that is no reason for him to act the way he did. I won't call him a name: you decide.

Anonymous said...

The plain and simple truth:

We have a superintendent who is out of control. His powers seem to be unlimited.

I applaud Richard Day for mentioning that educators and principals are too scared to speak up. Indeed they are....

Richard Day said...

April 11, 2010 9:43 PM: I confess that I heard the same complaint early on in Ms. Ferguson's tenure but had no interest in following up on it for a number of reasons. In the case at hand, I believe Ferguson acted responsibly.

April 11, 2010 9:48 PM: For the record, yellow journalism is that which exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news in order to create sensations and attract readers. If my motivation was yellow journalism, I would promote as much name-calling as folks could muster. Also, with the exception of internet advertising posing as comments, very little gets spiked around here - and when it does, I typically say so. You'll have to show me where Barnett was name-calling, 'cause I don't see it.

April 12, 2010 7:28 AM: Thanks for finding a way to say what you had to say.

Doug Barnett said...

Anonymous, April 12, 2010 -- please let me know what "name-calling" I used that you found objectionable?

While I usually don't care what people think of me or what names they call me, I am going to defend myself here. I have never injected any racism into this discussion. Not once, not ever! Racism was interjected into this discussion by someone other than me.

I'm a strong believer in social justice and that education can play a role in social justice. I'm also a believer in what is fair, what is just, and in sound decision making. When the decision making is bad, I will object.

At this point, I have a question for you. What "racial innuendos" are you referring to? I reread the Facebook page a few minutes ago and I didn't see anything I said which disparaged anyone or injected anything racist. All of my comments were questioning the rationale of the decision to redistrict. While I'm not going to apologize to you for anything I have said, I'm sorry if you took it that way. That was never my intention.

I'm not going to apologize to anyone for asking questions, for wondering aloud why this change happened in the manner in which it did, and I'm definitely never going to apologize to you or anyone else for advocating for what I feel is in the best interests of my kids.

My issue is with the performance of the schools and not with the people in them. I've said that before, and I'll say it again. That is a very distinct difference. If BTWA's performance was equal to or greater than Sandersville's, I would not have objected to the redistricting proposal. Sadly, the academic performance has been lower there than it is at Sandersville. Mr. Silberman admitted that during the school board meeting. That's the issue. Nothing more, nothing less.

For the record, I spoke with Principal Brown at the Sandersville meeting and I am very impressed with her and what she is trying to do. I think she will be successful because she has a good understanding of what needs to be done. My hope is that Central Office gives her the time and tools to do so.

I think this incident displays why people are apathetic about becoming involved in their schools or in public affairs -- those that do usually end of getting personally attacked by those who see nothing wrong or have narrow agendas. That's fine when it happens to me, but it demonstrates why very few people vote in SBDM meetings, attend school board meetings, or become actively involved in their schools. Most people are simply too busy and concerned with their own lives to waste time on petty people. It is a turn-off and that simply needs to cease.

TNT40 said...

"I cannot believe that you spiked my comment for name calling after you allowed Barnett to name call and did not spike his posting. I will try again: I am an African American staff member at BTW and after I read Barnett's racial innuendos on facebook about BTW I invited him to come and visit my school. Yes we have more black children than he is used to seeing at Sandersville but that is no reason for him to act the way he did. I won't call him a name: you decide."

Wow! This thing has taken a life of its own.

I went and read Mr. Barnett's comments on Facebook and I saw no "racial innuendos" whatsoever and I saw no name calling. I thought his questions were justified, thoughtful and helped get information out that would not have gotten out otherwise. I believe he acted appropriately.

Anonymous at 7:28, if you are the same BTWA social worker who posted the invitation to him on Facebook, I would be fearful of the legal consequences of your post. Barnett responded to you on Facebook and was nothing but respectful to you. The comments posted here (which imply negative character traits) appear to be defamatory if you based them on what he put on Facebook.

More importantly, if staff and faculty at BTWA groundlessly prejudge people and label them without cause, I wouldn't want to send my kids there, either.

Just a suggestion, before you call people any names, you may want to look in the mirror first.

Anonymous said...

We need experienced teachers, we need Stu to LISTEN, and we need principals who will ensure that the teachers who are hired are doing the job they were hired to do.

I am so disappointed with the politics that go on in Central Office and in the schools themselves. Are employees afraid to voice their opinions? YES! Principals simply tell them to do their job and to let him/her do theirs. Case in point, an elementary principal passed over experienced teachers for the job of Special Education Resource Teacher...for a younger teacher with only a few years of experience. She has to be hounded by staff to DO her job. Ridiculous. But she has the principals support, as she says, "Just give her time". Give her time? She has a had a year! A wasted year. Why wouldn't she hire an experienced teacher that could TEACH these kids? Shouldn't a teacher know how to use the various switches in her room for kids who have this listed on their IEP? Shouldn't she have data sheets readily available to document progress...oh that's right, the para's did that, as she didn't have ANY sheets out for months. Lunch and recess...the kids ate in the room and no one had recess, until a parent found out and complained. What happens to the poor kids who don't have parents who pop in to see what's going on? The school system is a joke. Stu should hire principals that will DO their job. Principals should hire teachers that will DO their job...not just when one is getting observed, but every day. It's About Kids? I don't think so.

What about the parents who demand more and get more? Oh that's right, if they know what their child's rights are and they know their IEP isn't being implemented...then they get the ball rolling. However, the poor has to deal with the "luck of the draw" on whether they get a good teacher, one who actually teaches.

Sad, so sad to see that administration doesn't care enough about our kids. It matters more if they themselves "like" a teacher and not whether or not the teacher is qualified. Pitiful.

GOPguy said...

For your information, Kirk Tinsley was not elected to the school board. He and Melissa Bacon were both appointed.

Anonymous said...

GOPguy -- You are correct that Bacon and Tinsley were first appointed. Bacon, however, has been elected by her board district.

Nevertheless, whether appointed or elected, the board member has a duty to determine the feelings and beliefs that comprise the constituency of their district. Kirk Tinsley has, unfortunately, never done that.