Friday, May 31, 2013

Transy crisis hurt by defensiveness

Board must exert impartial leadership

This from the Herald-Leader:
Transylvania University, one of Lexington and Kentucky's most valued longstanding institutions, is in crisis.
There are a lot of facts in dispute regarding the words and actions of R. Owen Williams in the three years since he took the helm.

This from Joel Pett
But one fact that is not disputed is that last Friday, the faculty voted 68 to 7 — a ratio of 10 to 1 — that it has no confidence in Williams' leadership.

No matter how you cut it, that's a crisis. It's a crisis that the board of trustees must address thoughtfully, without being defensive.

The board responded quickly with a vote of confidence in Williams, and on Tuesday, board chairman W.T. Young Jr. described the faculty vote as "an extreme and unwarranted position."

On Wednesday, Young was a bit more conciliatory, calling on everyone to work together and the faculty to give Williams another chance. He said two committees, one on academic affairs and one on employee concerns, will bring together trustees and faculty to work on the issues that have arisen.

They will need to work hard and transparently, presenting serious solutions to serious concerns.

Both the quick vote and the tough words suggest that the board feels it must join Williams behind the barricades. If the committees are, or are even seen as, ways to gloss over problems or buy time, the board will be doing a disservice to Transylvania.

In any business, when 90 percent of those who have contact with customers to deliver the product make public their lack of faith in management, there's a very serious problem.

This is particularly true at a small school, where the personal connection between teacher and student is fundamental. As Transy notes on its website, "Transylvania professors know their students by name and take a keen interest in their academic progress."

And those professors aren't wild-eyed rebels, according to one of their number, Rick Weber. He told Herald-Leader reporter Linda Blackford that the faculty has traditionally been "cautious, quiet, even docile." As problems multiplied, faculty attempted to address them first with Williams and then the board, but they saw few changes, he said.

The issue that brought the conflict into public view was a dispute over tenure for two faculty members. But Williams' behavior toward faculty, staff, students and alumni in multiple settings, as described in news stories and individual accounts, raises broader questions.

Faculty presented to the trustees accounts of intimidation, including shouting at people and calling them disloyal. They offered examples of denigrating faculty and students to their faces and to their peers. There are accounts of crude or inappropriate remarks, particularly aimed at female students, faculty and alumni.

These are grave charges that seem to indicate more than just cultural differences or the occasional remark taken out of context.

The Transylvania board must exert its leadership and study them dispassionately and thoroughly to find a productive way forward.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dykes Hid Conflict of Interest in Due Process Case

Fling with Hearing Officer Sets Back Children's Case

Improper Hiring of Rachel Baker Alleged

During the recent WLEX investigation of the Fayette County Public Schools Special Education Department the district credited Director Kathy Dykes for being forthright and honest; for admitting that she ditched one day [and then later amended her confession to one-half day] of a 2009 professional conference in Las Vegas. But her confession only came after WLEX was poised to expose the fact, which they did in a recent three-part series of stories titled: "Special Ed, Special Perks." Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton diminished the severity of the offenses," but also said he did not want to "defend a lapse in professional judgment demonstrated in these isolated incidents."

But were Dykes' lapses in professional judgement really isolated?

KSN&C has learned of two more instances where it appears that, instead of focusing on service to others, or protecting the professional integrity of the district by making the difficult choice, Dykes apparently chose to hold her breath, and cross her fingers, hoping that no one would further expose the shortcuts taken in her department. Unlike her Grand Canyon road trip, both of the other instances had potential repercussions for children (among them, some of Fayette County's most vulnerable students).

Fairness and Justice: The Heart of Due Process

About four years ago, a family with two special needs children moved to Kentucky. The children had already been progressing under an IEP from their former California school district. But upon arrival in Lexington, the parents learned that the Fayette County school district wanted to discontinue some of the children's services. The parents invoked the federal IDEA "stay put" provision. The "stay put" provision exists to maintain stability and continuity for the children. Under 20 USC § 1415(j) and 707 KAR 1:340 sec 12 (3), unless the local school district and parents agree, any student identified with a disability shall remain in his or her then-current educational placement.

But the district wanted to remove services. To resolve the matter, on June 15, 2010, the parents opted for a due process hearing under 707 KAR 1:340 sec 12. A Due Process Hearing is an adversarial administrative hearing used by KDE to resolve disputes in special education where a hearing officer (who is presumed to be impartial) hears matters of fact, and renders a decision. The dispute was styled XX v. Fayette County Board of Education, Agency Case 0910-[YY] (where XX is substituted for the child's initials, and YY for the case number). (Note: Although KSN&C is reporting this as though there was one case, there were actually two actions going on at the same time - one for each of two children.)

The parents claimed that the Fayette County Schools failed to provide their child with an IEP that included certain related services necessary for the child to receive a free and appropriate education as required under the law.

But on June 18, 2010, when Clinton "Dale" Kirk was named the Due Process Hearing Officer for the case, Dykes faced a moment of ethical conflict. She confided in Mike Muncy who served as a district special education administrator for elementary schools at the time.

"Kathy told me, she said, 'Well I don't know what I'm going to do. Dale Kirk is the hearing officer and I slept with him a few years ago,'" Muncy told KSN&C.

"She said, 'I don't know if I should let them know that or not. We're going to have a telephone conference, and I don't know if I should say that we need to get another hearing officer or not.' She said, 'I guess I'll just wait and see what Mr. Kirk says,'" Muncy said. "So they had their telephone conference. Ed Dove was their attorney. Bob Chenoweth was our attorney. The conference was over and she said, 'Well he never mentioned it, so I didn't bring it up.' And they started the hearing," Muncy said.

Kirk never mentioned it. Yet the rules of procedure in due process hearings specifically requires the parties to divulge any potential conflicts of interest during the initial telephone conference. According to Kirk's Order of Continuance, filed on August 17, 2010, "The purpose of the conference was for the hearing officer to divulge personal and professional information for the parties to determine if there was any reason Mr. Kirk should not hear the case."
Dykes and Kirk fail to divulge personal information

Dykes sat silently. Kirk never said, 'Oh, by the way, I had a very close personal relationship with the district's lead official a while back.' Their silence denied the parents a right that is fundamental to the process. Their silence denied them due process.

The motivating concern for any judicial proceeding is that all parties have confidence in the fairness of the process. Kirk and Dykes hid knowledge they were compelled to divulge, and the cost was that it denied the parents the opportunity to make a judgment about the hearing officer's fitness to hear the particular case, and ultimately, it cost the parents a fair hearing - not to mention whatever legal bills the family had amassed.

Over 22 months, the hearing plodded along with a formal resolution session, and further discussions of possible resolutions, to the deposing of out-of-state witnesses, to the filing of documents, and conference calls to the hearing officer informing him of the "progress or, more often, the lack of substantial progress" being made. The parents complained that the district was dragging their feet, while running up legal bills. KSN&C has been told that the case, which is not over, has already generated thousands of  pages of documentation. During this time Kirk issued numerous orders and continuances. Finally on Thursday, April 9, 2012, "several substantive decisions were made" during a conference call with the parties, and August 20th was set to begin the hearing. 

The Disaffection and Intervention of Mike Muncy

Mike Muncy would  later complain that there "were a lot of sexual innuendos going on in our office" and KSN&C has heard a few recordings that illustrate the very casual conversational tone that was generally accepted in Dykes' presence - and was even promoted by Dykes herself. The atmosphere in the special education department apparently became uncomfortable for some employees, other than Muncy, who began recording conversations. The samples KSN&C became privy to were mostly bawdy, sophomoric, exchanges one might expect from...well, a sophomore boy. Breasts as flotation devices; getting it up... Think Bevis and Butthead, in drag, planning a special ed meeting.

But some of the "jokes" were not simply unprofessional, but also had implications for more important matters. On one recording shared with KSN&C (6/18/10), Dykes can be heard relating a conversation she had had to a small group. "I said, well, I found out who the hearing officer is this time. He' said, 'Yeah? Who.' I said 'Dale Kirk.' And he said, 'I wondered about that.' I said at the head [of the table] is going to be Dale Kirk, and I'm going to have Ed [Dove] pressuring me. I mean, we're going to have to buy a very special outfit for them," Dykes told the group.

Muncy further illustrated saying, "She went [into her office] and made a phone call, and came back out into our middle room where we were having lunch. She says, 'Well, I called the hearing officer [Dale Kirk]. I had a question, and...he didn't answer, so I left a message. And I don't know if I should have said this or not, but I gave him my number and said, Give me a call over the weekend - if you're up to it.' And she winked at me, and smiled. She said, 'I probably shouldn't have said that,' and everybody started laughing."

Some KSN&C readers have asked how Dykes "could have been so stupid" as to post her unprofessional conference behavior on Facebook. One might also wonder how she could have been so unprofessional as to hide her conflict of interest, and then attempt to exploit it during a due process hearing.

By this point, it was clear to Muncy, as it was to others, that some rather inappropriate activities were becoming commonplace in the FCPS Special Education Department. And some would suggest that, although it might have been professional suicide, Muncy should have reported his concerns immediately. But he didn't. Neither did any of the other administrators who were well aware of how business was being conducted. To no one's surprise, everybody went along with the boss.

But that soon changed for Muncy when he started suffering from diabetes. Flare ups caused him to make trips to the emergency room, and he began missing work. A once-trusted lieutenant, his treatment at the hands of Dykes changed 180 degrees, and along with it, so did his attitude toward Dykes.

Muncy told KSN&C that he started getting angry emails from Dykes saying, 'I don't know where you're at, but you better get in here.'

Even before it turned sour for Muncy, Dykes had admitted to routinely targeting Muncy. In a recorded faculty meeting (1/20/11) that sounds more psychological than professional, Dykes said, "A lot of things don't bother me. When I feel it here, and Mike feels the lashing - [laughter] I target him for some reason. I go after our token male. [laughter] It must go back to something with male bashing a few years ago. [laughter] I've gotten over it, but anyway. [laughter]  He's a good sport, [laughter] but that's a big issue I know."

But on April, 12, 2012, three days after Kirk set the date for the hearing, "I filed a letter through [attorney] Brenda Allen's office to Dr. Shelton," Muncy said, "alleging everything I knew about the corruption, and things going on that were inappropriate...I did an open records request, made these allegations, and let them know that Kathy had slept with that hearing officer. So after that letter, [the superintendent] must have met with Miss Dykes and Bob Chenoweth the school's attorney. He called the family, or Ed Dove's office and said, 'Mr. Muncy's made an allegation that there was inappropriate activity with this guy, Do you want to start a new hearing? Or do you want to continue?' The [father] said, 'I absolutely want a new hearing'."


On June 5th, 2012, a Motion to Recuse was issued in the case, with the petitioner charging that "newly discovered evidence" was convincing, and that it was in everyone's best interest that Hearing Office Clinton Dale Kirk recuse himself.

After two years of delays and continuances in a case (two cases, actually) which Kirk admitted had already taken an "extremely long period of time," they were about to start over because every decision Kirk had made was now called into question.

Was Dykes successful in selecting just the right outfit? Was Kirk up for a weekend chat? How were the parents supposed to continue the process in good faith, when Kirk and Dykes had undermined that possibility?

By June 28, 2012, the process began again with a phone conference among the parties including Mike Wilson, the new hearing officer. In his first order, Wilson specifically confirmed that there were no longer any conflicts of interest.
Did Dyke's behavior constitute a breech of ethics? Apparently, the superintendent didn't think so. If he had determined that Kathy Dykes' conduct was dishonest, or her silence amounted to a willful disregard for the welfare of others (particularly the children whose Due Process hearings were set back), or that it constituted a neglect of her duty to report the conflict of interest, or if she violated any administrative regulations related to the children's Due Process hearing - then Superintendent Tom Shelton would have been required under KRS 161.120 to send a letter of notification to the Educational Professional Standards Board. KSN&C has been unable to confirm that any letter was sent regarding this incident.

Is the superintendent prepared to defend yet another lapse in Kathy Dykes' professional judgment? Or is it possible that the superintendent was unaware of some of the facts being revealed in our investigation? When KSN&C asked the superintendent to confirm that letters were sent, Shelton said, "these matters are still under investigation."


One might certainly argue that an even more serious obligation to report the conflict of interest lies with Kirk, as the hearing officer. If administrative judges cannot be trusted to act ethically, the administrative justice process is completely undermined. But Kirk was not a typical KDE employee. KDE Assistant General Counsel David Wickersham confirmed that "Mr. Kirk was a Personal Service Contractor." As such he would not be fired for any bad acts, but his contract could be terminated, or he could be denied any further work - and the latter is apparently the course KDE chose.
A KSN&C open records request produced evidence that KDE found the conflict of interest to be of sufficient concern that the department took action against Kirk. A letter from Amy Peabody of KDE's Office of Guiding Support Services to Kirk, referenced a conversation where he was told that he no longer met the requirements for employment. Still, during the next contract cycle, Kirk applied for more work as a hearing officer. On August 28, 2012 Peabody wrote to Kirk saying that "it was determined that you had an existing conflict with this work" and that he was therefore "ineligible for selection." Peabody cited the requirement that a hearing officer "not have a personal or professional interest that conflicts with your objectivity in any hearings" and that Kirk did not meet this mandatory requirement, as she had previously discussed with him. KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez told KSN&C that Dale Kirk no longer serves as a hearing officer for KDE.

Along the way, the parents' complaints about their treatment at the hands of the district mounted. "Every once in a while, Kathy Dykes pulls my son's aide away," the father told KSN&C. And apparently there is a new procedure, at least at one school, that forbids instructional aides from speaking to parents?! The parents believe this procedure was invoked because the aides were telling the parents whenever the children's IEP was not being followed.

After speaking to several parents of special needs students, it seems that the way the collective group of "parents" figure it - the district has boundless resources, including legal services on retainer, a big liability insurance policy, and some amount of sovereign immunity. If the district wanted to deny services to children (due to budget constraints, or other reasons), even if it was illegal, most parents would be hard pressed to do much about it. In cases where parents are pressing for services and no "stay put" provisions apply, the district could essentially run out the clock with delays if they wanted to.

Another issue?

Surprisingly, Muncy does not place all, or perhaps even most of the blame on Kathy Dykes. Muncy believes the problems actually began with the questionable hiring of the high school special education administrator, Rachel Baker. When former administrator Beverly Henderson went to KDE on a two-year MOA [Memorandum of Agreement], Baker was hired as an interim. "But when the two-years were up, they just kept Rachel without advertising the position, or interviewing any other applicants, and she was hired without the proper certification," Muncy and other former FCPS sources allege.

"Rachel started as an intern. The first year was real slow and smooth, but as time went on she became bolder and bolder, and just basically tried to run the department," Muncy said. Another source opined, "[Dykes] was a small town girl who came here with a big dream. She saw that she was ill-equipped for the job, so she latched onto [stronger individuals] to ride with them, and try to stay on the job."

Muncy [and two other FCPS Special Education Department employees who spoke to KSN&C on condition of anonymity] said there was an 18-month to two-year delay between the time Baker completed her course work [for a Director of Special Education certificate] and when she became certified [7/10/09]. But Dykes apparently wanted Baker in the position, and so she faced another decision that tested her ethics.

"[Baker] was having difficulty getting a transcript from the University of Kentucky. In the meantime, she was working in a job that required a certificate for Director of Special Ed, but she can't get a transcript, which means that she can't get a certificate," one source told KSN&C. "I said something to Kathy Dykes about that. How dare Rachel put the district in a position of working as a special ed administrator for high schools, without the certification to do the job?" Well, Miss Kathy went and told Rachel what I said, and that's when hell broke loose," the source said.

Muncy said she was "going to these ARC meetings with demanding parents, and telling them flat-out, 'No' on stuff, making decisions...but not having the qualifications." What if someone complained? Dykes allegedly responded to the concerns saying, 'Well I thought about that. I guess I would just tell them that she had completed her coursework, and just didn't have her certificate.'

Suddenly Dykes began placing restrictions on Muncy regarding who he could speak with, or have lunch with, and under what conditions. He was told to distance himself from the individual who had questioned Baker's certification. Childish retaliations began to occur, like no more invitations to eat lunch together as they had done for years. "During happy-hour at Sonic, they'd go out and get a 'Freezie'...for everybody but us. And this happened almost every day," Muncy said. Think Bevis and Butthead, in drag, at Sonic.

Muncy said it didn't help that Rachel bragged about being recruited to go to Nashville with the Scholastic Rep, which Muncy considered a kickback for all of the business FCPS had just done with the company. "The conference was about RtI (Response to Intervention)," Muncy said. "If anybody should have been going, it should have been Diane Shuffet," who was in charge of that concern.

Post Script

KSN&C met with Kathy Dykes during the time of the WLEX investigative reporting, to review some evidence that Dykes had hoped would prove she only ditched the conference for half of the day, instead of the whole day. A binder with a set of notes from the Las Vegas conference was presented. Nice, but, suffice it to say the "evidence" was not conclusive of anything related to her attendance because there is no way to confirm when such notes were made. 

But this grown up version of "skipping school" is a relatively minor offense. It is embarrassing that she posted her playtime on Facebook, and that it came to light while the superintendent was being entertained in Australia by the Gates Foundation. This will, no doubt, give rise to new inquiries from state auditors wanting to better understand the nature of funded travel and whether that can be considered a kickback. It may cause the board of education to begin adding up the number of days certain administrators are away from their posts. It might spawn significant headaches for the district. But blowing off some portion of a conference? Who hasn't done that? The last sessions of the last day of a conference are almost always poorly attended.

As a disciplinary matter, it seems the 'ethics' charges are far more damning. At least, they ought to be, because they are about services to kids. These are the moments when a district demonstrates it's commitments to children, or to adults. The public can tell by observing who is protected in the process?

During our meeting, KSN&C invited Dykes to comment for the record. She declined. After a few minutes, Dykes was called out of the office, and when she returned she informed KSN&C that she had been directed not to make any comments at all, and that if we had questions they should be directed to the superintendent.

KSN&C first began looking into issues related to the FCPS Special Education Department about ten weeks ago after being contacted by Mr. Muncy and some parents. In preparing this story KSN&C spoke to, or otherwise communicated with, about a dozen parents of special needs children, along with a handful of former and current FCPS special education department administrators and staff. Due process hearing documents have been examined and in some cases open records requests have been made. We communicated with Leigh Searcy, compared notes, and followed the WLEX reporting. 

And, of course, Mike Muncy decided to go "on the record" and we interviewed him and reviewed a number of documents, recordings, and even a funny photo of one special ed department employee asleep at his desk. (We didn't run it because it has nothing to do with this story.) 

Some will dismiss Muncy as being disgruntled. So be it. He was allowed to sit at the cool kids table as long as he went along with the boss and took her jabs. But when that changed, and the jabs were no longer in jest, Muncy no longer felt obliged to take Dykes' petty abuse and keep her secrets at the same time. So he spilled the beans. If that's all it was, I might be inclined to dismiss him too. But Muncy came with documents. That's why WLEX believed him. I would have been inclined to believe him anyway, having known him to be reliable from my time in FCPS. But it was the corroborating documentation that made this story possible.

I was in attendance during the last FCPS Sp Ed Advisory Committee meeting, which, despite the fact that Dr Shelton's recent letters about the WLEX investigation of Dykes were on the agenda, no one offered a word, or asked a single question about the issue. Of course, Ms. Dykes, who ran the meeting, only gave folks about 3 seconds to respond before moving on to the next item. But I got the sense that everyone in the room, parents and administrators alike, we're relieved that no one said anything. They quickly resumed their pleasantries. If there is to be public accountability for the misdeeds of FCPS special education administrators, it will come from somewhere else. 

If this is how this story ends, it will be a shame. If parents remain neutered, passive recipients of whatever help the district deins to provide their children; if the superintendent finds no fault in the behavior documented herein; if the servant leadership vision he is quick to espouse is in fact only a slogan; then it will be a shame for Fayette County special needs children and the district at large.

When Fayette County Special Education Director Kathy Dykes has faced decisions that test her professional ethics, she seems to consistently fall short of the ethical standard set for teachers and other educational professionals certified in the state of Kentucky. If the district fails to provide a strong response to these short-comings it will set a new, and lower, standard for leadership behavior in the entire district.

Especially now that Dr. Karen Frohoff has rejoined the district, it is abundantly clear that the wrong person is in charge.

Transylvania faculty take 'no confidence' vote in president; trustees stand behind him

This from the Herald-Leader:
The faculty of Transylvania University has taken a vote of no confidence in the leadership of President Owen Williams, the first such vote in the school's history.

But the university's trustees are standing behind the leader they chose in 2010, announcing Tuesday that they took a unanimous vote of confidence in Williams after the faculty vote.

Both sides, faculty and trustees, decided to keep their Friday votes quiet until after Saturday's graduation ceremonies.

The faculty voted 68 to 7 Friday morning, according to documents obtained Tuesday by the Lexington Herald-Leader. The resolution stated: "We have NO CONFIDENCE in the ability of R. Owen Williams to continue to serve as president of our institution." The vote centers around a recent tenure decision, as well as Williams' leadership and management styles for the past three years.
The past, current and future presiding officers of the faculty released a statement Tuesday afternoon about the situation.

"Over the last three years we have made measured judgments and taken careful steps to address the problems created by Dr. Williams' leadership," said the statement from professors Judy Jones, Melissa Fortner and Ben Hawkins. "We find ourselves very distressed to be in this situation; it is only because of the extreme nature of these failures of leadership that we find it necessary to take a vote of no confidence, an action unprecedented at Transylvania."

The faculty also voted to recommend that tenure be retroactively granted to two faculty members whose tenure was deferred by Williams.

That decision by Williams brought into the open the simmering conflict between the president and the faculty and students earlier this spring. The dispute led to a protest April 5 by students, who demanded better communication with the administration.

Faculty representatives have given some trustees a document outlining many of their complaints against Williams, including aggressive behavior toward faculty and students that "creates a community of fear rather than a community of engagement and creativity," the document said. "Numerous faculty and staff alike report feeling fearful for their job."

The document also cites Williams' perceived difficulties with women and a "chilly climate" on campus toward women.

"While the tenure decisions are indeed recent examples of unjustified and irresponsible decision-making, our concerns range widely, from an increasingly hostile campus environment for faculty, staff, and students to questionable and ineffective management," the faculty statement said. "Our vote was the culmination of three years of fruitless attempts to work with Dr. Williams to remedy these problems."

The tenure decision appeared to be the last straw for faculty because, the document said, Williams changed the rules midstream about what was required for tenure. Although the two professors had received recommendations from all the required committees, Williams said they now had to be published in peer-reviewed publications. That was not part of the tenure requirements at the time.
"In making his decision to defer tenure to two highly esteemed members of the faculty, President Williams ignored the overwhelming recommendations of the faculty, and the strong recommendations of the Personnel Committee, which were based on a wealth of evidence that both faculty members had earned tenure," the document said. The faculty was "dismayed that the President would then move so hastily and capriciously to apply new standards at this time, and in such a way that threaten both a fine colleague's career and the functioning of the university."

On Friday, the trustees decided not to intervene in the tenure decision. They did, however, appoint an ad hoc committee on employee concerns.

"The board of trustees has one overriding mission," board chairman W.T. Young Jr. said in a statement, "and that is to make Transylvania the best educational institution it can be. Doing so places demands on all of us — students, professors, administrators and trustees. I am disappointed, frankly, that the faculty has taken a no-confidence vote. In my view, this is an extreme and unwarranted position.

"At the same time, I respect the absolutely crucial role of the faculty. My intention is to support its efforts to make the university even better than it already is. My hope is that in the months to come we can work collegially toward the goals we all share."

The faculty representatives said they were "deeply disappointed" in Young's statement, "that despite the amount and the gravity of information we provided to him and other members of the Board of Trustees ... he chose to characterize our actions as 'extreme and unwarranted.'"

No-confidence votes in academia are symbolic rather than binding, but they usually serve as a wake-up call to severe tensions on a campus, said John Thelin, a higher-education historian at the University of Kentucky.

"It's very symbolic," Thelin said. "My impression is that it's often dangerous because it often backfires."

Thelin mentioned New York University, where there have been several no-confidence votes in President John Sexton in the past two years, although he has kept his job. "It brought into the open this really sad rift between trustees and the faculty."

The larger problem, Thelin and others have said, is the decline of shared governance — the concept of faculty, staff and the administration governing universities together. Most university governing boards — including Transy — are mostly filled with people from the corporate world, where shared governance is "very alien," Thelin said. Faculty find themselves shut out of many decisions made by upper administrators.

"I think shared governance is very fragile," he said.

The trustees clearly like Williams' vision of putting Transy among the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the nation by 2020. On Friday, they also voted to support Transy's strategic plan. It would increase the student body from 1,100 to 1,500 and the faculty from 100 to 125.

Williams came to Transylvania in 2010 after careers as a Wall Street banker and a Civil War scholar at Yale. He has launched ambitious plans for the 1,070-student school, including expanding and improving its student body, curriculum and physical plant.

Clark school board votes to move ahead with controversial facilities plan

This from the Herald-Leader:
The Clark County Board of Education voted to move ahead with a controversial district facilities plan Tuesday night, ceding to a state ultimatum to proceed or risk losing education funding.

Board members voted 3-2 to adopt a resolution pledging to move the facilities plan forward "with all possible haste," as the state had demanded.

They also gave the go-ahead to plan for renovations of Clark Middle School and the old George Rogers Clark High School in preparation for implementing the plan.

However, members agreed in a series of split votes to reduce the amount earmarked for the George Rogers Clark renovation from $16.5 million to $8.4 million. The amount planned for Clark Middle's renovation would remain at $2 million. The renovations are to prepare for a merger of county middle schools as called for in the facilities plan.

That move to reduce the amount allocated for the renovations came at the suggestion of board chairman Michael Kuduk, who questioned allocating $18.5 million to prepare for a middle school merger that is opposed by many county residents. If the plan ultimately goes through, it would be easy to increase the allocation later, Kuduk said.

It wasn't immediately clear, however, whether the reduced amount will satisfy state officials.

The facilities plan has been on the books since 2007, but has been opposed by some Clark County residents since the beginning.

Things came to a head earlier this year, after a new majority on the school board voted to delay part of the facilities plan for a year, and then declined to approved money for the renovations at Clark Middle and the George Rogers Clark building.

However, state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday wrote Clark board members last week, stating that they had to start moving ahead with the facilities plan at their Tuesday night meeting, or face possible forfeiture of monthly state funding to the school district.

Holliday noted in his letter that the approved facilities plan is legally binding, and that the state already has committed about $21.9 million toward implementing the plan.

Tuesday night's actions still leaves the school board facing several other deadlines mandated by Holliday, any one of which could trigger funding forfeiture if they are not met...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Higher Education: Separate and Unequal

This from College Bound:
Just as the K-12 system uses Title I money to provide extra educational support for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, a new report calls for innovative programs and big changes in the way higher education is funded to create a more level playing field for students from poor and minority families.

The report, Bridging the Higher Education Divide, released today at the nonprofit Century Foundation was the result of work by a community college task force led by Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, and Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College.

The group details the growing stratification in American higher education, with more low-income students attending two-year schools that have lower graduation rates, compared with four-year universities where students tend to be wealthier and more likely to complete. According to the report, financial support for community colleges has not kept up with the need, which the task force argues is greater because students generally do not enter as prepared academically as those at more selective four-year schools.

Students enroll in community colleges with high hopes, but often struggle. While about 81 percent of students entering community college for the first time say they eventually want to transfer and earn at least a bachelor's degree, just 12 percent actually do so within six years, the report found.

Among low-income students with high academic qualifications for college, 69 percent who went to a four-year institution earned a bachelor's degree compared with 19 percent who started at a community college.

Campus diversity varies widely by the type of institution. The report finds that high-socioeconomic students outnumber low-socioeconomic students 14 to 1 in the most competitive four-year institutions, while low-SES students outnumber high-SES students in community colleges nearly 2 to 1. The report calls for four-year colleges to do more to reach out to more low-income applicants and for community colleges to try to attract students from more affluent backgrounds in an effort to diversify campuses.

Adding to the problem of completion at two-year schools is the lack of funding.

The report notes that community colleges received $8,594 per student in 2009 from federal, state, and local government sources, while public research institutions received $16,966. The amount of money spent on instruction at community colleges was about $5,000 per student in 2009, compared with $10,000 at public research universities and $20,000 at private research universities, the report says.

"A central problem is that two-year colleges are asked to educate those students with the greatest needs, using the least funds, and in increasingly separate and unequal institutions," the report says.

"Our higher education system, like the larger society, is growing more and more unequal. We need radical innovations that redesign institutions and provide necessary funding tied to performance."

The report includes a number of proposed strategies to promote greater diversity across all higher education institutions and promote completion rates among disadvantaged students.

1. Adopt state and federal adequacy-based funding similar to that used in primary and secondary education, linking support with outcomes.

2. Establish greater transparency of public financial subsidies to higher education.

3. Encourage closer connections between community colleges and universities.

4. Take steps to improve transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions.

5. Encourage innovation in racially and economically inclusive community college honors programs.

6. Support more early-college programs that promote community college diversity.

7. Prioritize funding of new programs for economically and racially isolated community colleges.

8. Provide incentives for four-year institutions to engage in affirmative action for low-income students of all races.

"Efforts to make inequalities in higher education funding more transparent, coupled with legal and public-policy efforts to level-up public funding of community colleges, should make it possible to improve the quality of community colleges," the report concludes.

Sen. Mike Wilson: Science standards include troubling assumptions

I certainly agree that teaching critical thinking skills is vital to our future prosperity. Perhaps we should start with the Senate.

There may be a few climate change deniers who claim to be scientists, but there is actually little scientific debate. Humans have impacted the Earth's ecology greatly and our children need us to understand this impact sooner rather than later.

This from Sen Mike Wilson in the Courier-Journal:
Next Generation Science Standards were released April 9. They are based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education, developed by the National Research Council.

Sen. Mike Wilson
Sen. Mike Wilson
The standards place substantial emphasis on teaching climate change and there is considerable discussion describing human activities as major factors in global warming. There has been barely any mention in the local papers about this issue that will have long-lasting impact on the way our children are educated beyond a self-important swipe from the C-J Editorial Board.

The following are two statements from the NGSS:

• “Human activities, such as release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature.”

• “Outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend of the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year.”

The National Research Council appears to be carving out positions and expressing the beliefs of U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

There are those in the scientific field who question the beliefs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A statement signed by 16 scientists listed several stubborn scientific facts contradicting the Intergovernmental Panel’s beliefs. Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over a decade and the smaller-than-predicted amount of warming over the 22 years since the Intergovernmental Panel began issuing projections.

Another area of contention is evolution. The standards make it clear that evolution is fundamental to understanding the life sciences. Generally, the standards focus on changes in gene pools, genetic mutations and effects of the environment on changes within species. The controversy arises with the statement that “Students can evaluate evidence of the conditions that may result in new species and understand the role of genetic variation in natural selection.” This is supposition and implies that one species may evolve into a different species. There is no factual evidence that this has ever occurred and to suppose that it happens is counter to the beliefs of many Kentuckians.

Standards should encourage teachers to create and foster an environment that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of multiple theories.

As chairman of the Education Committee and someone who supported the goals of Senate Bill 1, I would ask that these requirements be thoroughly and impartially reviewed and vetted. Political correctness bears watching and should never be the arbiter of learning.

Rep. Derrick Graham named chairman of Kentucky House Education Committee

Derrick Graham
Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort
This from the Courier-Journal:
Kentucky House leaders on Friday appointed Frankfort Democrat Derrick Graham as the new chairman of the House Education Committee.

Graham, who recently retired as a social studies teacher at Frankfort High School, has served in the House since 2003. He has been a member of the Education Committee and has served as chairman of the budget subcommittee on primary and secondary education.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Graham “has dedicated his life to education and has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities Kentucky faces academically.”

Graham replaces Carl Rollins, a Midway Democrat, who recently resigned his House seat to take a job heading Kentucky’s student financial aid agencies.

Friday, May 24, 2013

EKU must open planning process

Secrecy at public college fuels distrust

 This from the Herald-Leader:
There is nothing wrong with the fact that Eastern Kentucky University is taking a long, careful look at how to best use its resources.

That's the responsible thing to do periodically, to re-examine programs and spending to be sure they reflect the university's goals and mission.

Like all change, though, this entails an element of uncertainty, and with it fear.

Everyone knows that public universities aren't magically going to see more tax dollars coming their way, so one program's growth could mean another's demise.

And that's one of the biggest problems with the secretive approach EKU has used to sort things out: it fuels fear and distrust.

A 22-member task force has been meeting behind closed doors for three months. The Board of Regents also met in private April 30 and will again next month when the task force presents its recommendations.

Regents chairman Craig Turner told Herald-Leader reporter Linda Blackford that the point of this exercise is to "get everybody going in one direction in a vision that says the key is for Eastern to get better."

However, that's going to be tough since the faculty and staff have largely been excluded from participating in building the vision or having any input into the direction.

It's also troubling that EKU, which has already gained a black eye in terms of openness by pursuing, unsuccessfully and at great expense, a long legal fight to keep information about the firing of the manager of its new performing arts center out of public view, is again trying to keep its public business private.

That skates too close to violating Kentucky's freedom of information statutes, as First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker told Blackford.

"I think the idea that a public university can treat itself like a private corporation when they're dealing with public dollars is inappropriate and it's against the law," Fleischaker said.

This is all doubly concerning because a new president, Michael Benson, will take over at EKU August 1 from retiring Doug Whitlock, who set this budget examination in motion in February.

Benson has been kept apprised of the task force's work and has approved the changes made so far.
It will be tough for Benson to get buy-in from a faculty and staff that have been shut out of the process. We hope Benson will make it a first order of business to change the administrative culture at EKU to one that respects both the campus community and the law, by sharing as much information as possible.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Education commissioner threatens to block funding of Clark schools

This from the Herald-Leader:
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has warned the Clark County Board of Education that it must start implementing the district's controversial facilities plan immediately or risk losing state education funding.
Ed Commish Terry Holliday

Clark County Board Chairman Michael Kuduk said Wednesday that he isn't happy with what he described as a "threat." But he said the school board probably will have to comply.

Board members previously had ordered a one-year delay in a one plan provision calling for merger of the county's two middle schools. Last month, they also rejected to two related projects: renovations at Clark Middle School and the old George Rogers Clark High School.

But a bluntly worded email message that Holliday sent to board members on Tuesday appeared to leave them no choice but to backtrack.

Holliday listed seven steps that he said members must take to move the facilities plan forward, starting at their May 28 meeting.

The board must adopt a resolution in support of the facilities plan at that meeting, Holiday said, and go ahead with the middle school and high school renovations. Five other deadlines would follow, continuing into next school year, according to the commissioner's letter.

Holliday warned that "if at any time any deadline ... is not met, this will be considered a violation of the legally approved (facilities plan) and the Clark County School District will forfeit receipt of its monthly SEEK payments from the state immediately."

It may be the first time the state has threatened to hold back a district's SEEK funding.

SEEK, the basic state program for supporting Kentucky public schools, provides between $17 and $19 million for the Clark Schools each year, according to Kuduk. That's over half the district budget.
"They've threatened to pull SEEK funding, and if they did we wouldn't be able to make payroll," Kuduk said Wednesday. "That's a pretty horrible thing to threaten.

"I've talked to some people here since Tuesday who are saying this is almost tatamount to state control of the district," Kuduk said. "It's pretty much a state mandate that I think goes against the wishes of the community."

Holliday said in his message that the facilities plan must proceed since it has been approved by both the Clark school board and the Kentucky Board of Education.

He also noted that the state has provided about $21.9 million toward implementing the plan, and has "relied upon the good faith of the local board to carry out this legally binding plan according to statutory and regulatory requirements."

But some county residents have opposed the plan since the Clark board first approved it in 2007 and reapproved it last year. Some residents filed a lawsuit attempting to block the plan several years ago, but lost.

The proposal calls for multiple steps: consolidation of Clark middle schools; closing several small elementary schools; and converting some other schools to fill new rolls. The old George Rogers Clark high school would become a middle school, for example, while existing middle schools would convert to be elementary schools. Some elementary schools scheduled to close have been listed among Kentucky's oldest and most decrepit schools.

Plan opponents counter, however, that many of the old schools have some of the state's high tests scores. Others maintain that converting the almost 50-year-old George Rogers Clark high school building into a middle school would be a waste. And many argue that merging Clark County's two middle school into one building inevitably would harm academics.

Kuduk said Wednesday that he's received a petition signed by more than 100 families who say they would leave the community if Clark middle schools are merged.

Leonard Shortridge, one of the Clark County residents who filed the unsuccessful lawsuit against the facilities plan several years ago, said Wednesday that members of the community simply don't want it.

"They (state officials) are trying to push things on us that we don't want, and they've been doing that for the last six years or so," he said. "The whole point is parents don't want this. Taxpayers really don't want it, the ones that know what's going on."

Meanwhile, Associate State Education Commissioner Hiren Desai said Clark County School Board members still could seek to amend the facilities plan if they choose.

However, state regulations allow for amendments only under specified conditions, such as a change in enrollment or curriculum, a natural disaster or other unforeseen circumstances.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Some faculty complain of secrecy as
EKU reallocates 10 percent of its budget

This from the Herald-Leader:

In February, Eastern Kentucky University President Doug Whitlock made a startling announcement: The Richmond university would set aside $23 million, or 10 percent of its budget, to fund new programs and raise salaries.

This "reallocation" meant cuts for many existing programs, raising plenty of concerns and questions among faculty and staff.

Whitlock appointed a Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force, made up of administrators and the chairwoman of the faculty senate, to recommend what should get cut. It has met behind closed doors for the past three months.

Blocking the press and public from listening to the group's debate has increased anxiety on campus, some faculty say.

"This has been a strange process from my point of view," said Matthew Winslow, a psychology professor who has been at EKU for 15 years. "It seems to me it was sort of thrust upon us without any of our input and without much of an explanation, and it was never explained to us why it had to be done."

The Board of Regents also met behind closed doors on April 30 to discuss possible layoffs due to the reallocation, Chairman Craig Turner said Wednesday in an interview. The closed-door session was allowed under the Open Meetings Act because they were talking about specific people who might lose their jobs, Turner said.

First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker disagrees with that interpretation of the law.

"You can't talk about general personnel matters under the guise of talking about individuals and that appears to be what they're doing," he said.

Secrecy is often a problem when publicly-funded universities must make painful financial decisions, he said.

"I think the idea that a public university can treat itself like a private corporation when they're dealing with public dollars is inappropriate and it's against the law," Fleischaker said. "When you're talking about a process and the need to cut dollars, that deals with all sorts of policy issues that deal with public education and that should be done publicly. Everything they're doing affects the public education process and to suggest it is a private matter simply to me suggest they don't understand their function."

Turner defended the university's process, saying "it's all about transparency."

"All we're trying to do is to figure out how we can be proactive in meeting the needs of the students as education changes," he said.

The 22-member task force is made up mostly of deans and at least two faculty members. They have gathered information from their units, Turner said, and together with the president, will make recommendations to the Board of Regents at its June 14 meeting. No public forums or other public discussions of the recommendations are planned.

Some faculty were able to communicate their individual or departmental concerns through colleagues on the committee, said Richard Day, a professor in the College of Education.

"It was the kind of situation where people had to comment without knowing what was on the radar screen, other than everything," Day said. "I think faculty and staff have not had the amount of information they desired."

Faculty Senate Chairwoman Sheila Pressley, a member of the task force, did not respond to requests for comment from the Herald-Leader.

A few of the group's early proposals were announced May 10, the night before First Lady Michelle Obama made a commencement speech at EKU, by incoming President Michael Benson. He will replace the retiring Whitlock on Aug. 1.

Benson has been kept aware of the committee's decisions, and signs off on them, said EKU Spokesman Marc Whitt.

Among other things, Benson said EKU was considering reorganizing its offerings at regional satellite campuses; increasing tuition at Model Laboratory School, the K-12 school on EKU's campus; cutting athletics spending by 10 percent; and instituting a parking fee for faculty and staff.

On Tuesday, officials announced that 127 people had been approved for voluntary buyouts, although officials would not say if the move would save enough money to avoid layoffs.

Many of the vacated positions will be filled, creating a net loss of fewer than 10 positions out of 3,800 employees, Turner said Wednesday.

When asked why that information had not previously been made public to assuage campus fears, Turner said the task force report was still in draft form.

"This is the first time we've done it," Turner said of the reallocation. "The first time probably creates more questions because it has not been done before."

Turner said the ultimate goal is to "get everybody going in one direction in a vision that says the key is for Eastern to get better." Improving, Turner said, would probably involve upgrading Eastern's core schools, such as nursing, education, and justice and safety.

Broadcasting professor John Taylor, a former faculty senate chairman who has worked on past strategic planning and budget committees at EKU, said it's not evident to him what if any new mission EKU will have moving forward.

"The mission has not been clearly communicated," he said.

Taylor called the university's slow, extended release of information about the reallocation "tortuous." He also said a rush to finalize all the changes before the new fiscal year on June 31 would preclude meaningful discussion on campus.

"You need time to vet it to faculty, students, staff, even alumni," he said.

Still, most faculty will probably judge the reallocation process and Benson based on the final outcome, said Richard Day.

"There is some anxiety about what will happen," Day said, but if Benson can boost salaries and start major fundraising, "I think all will be forgiven."

Read more here:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

EKU Task Force Announces Reorganization Timeline

This from the EKU Strategic Reallocation Task Force:

During the last few weeks, each Work Unit has been charged with reviewing Positions and structure as part of the strategic reallocation process at EKU.   The Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force members have been involved with the review and development of the Work Unit reorganization plans.   These plans have been approved by President Whitlock and President-elect Benson. 

The result of this review is a revised organizational chart for many Work Units reflecting the Positions that will exist in the Work Unit following the reorganization.   This chart lists Position titles and reporting relationships only, and not employee names, at this point in the process.  The Task Force anticipates that these reorganization plans will be ready for communication within the University on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, as part of the overall reorganization timeline shown below.   This timeline includes information about when and how Position vacancies will be announced within Work Units and to the campus as a whole.

Now, as always, Eastern Kentucky University is committed to and employs strategies for ensuring equal opportunity in the University’s workforce.  We are an Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action institution that values diversity in its faculty, staff, and student body.  In keeping with this commitment, the University welcomes applications for available Positions from diverse candidates and candidates who support diversity, upholds the right of individuals to treatment on a non-discriminatory basis, and ensures organizational processes that maximize the potential of all individuals by valuing inclusion of individual differences.  These are proactive concepts that imply aggressive, vigorous, and systematic activities to achieve equality and equity for all.   To uphold these commitments, the University will follow documented employment processes as the planned reorganizations are implemented.   

At this time, the plan is to complete internal moves within Work Units during the week of May 21 through a streamlined employment process.  Your supervisor will be providing you with information as to how to express interest in available Positions within the Work Unit.  You will need to provide a current copy of your résumé to your Work Unit supervisor.  Please update your résumé now to be sure that it contains all of your work history, education, and other qualifications.  

Following these internal moves, all remaining vacant Positions will be posted on May 29 through EKU’s Online Employment System (OES).  All presently employed regular full-time or part-time benefitted employees can apply for consideration for any of the Positions.  This process will work just like all regular job postings at EKU.  As part of this process, an internal Job Fair, attended by representatives of the Work Units that have Position vacancies, will be held on May 30; more details on this event will be provided. 

If you have questions regarding these processes, you should contact your Supervisor or a member of the Human Resource staff.

Reorganization Timeline

May 20
Last day to revoke application/acceptance into VBP
May 21
Announce Work Unit internal reorganization plan within Work Unit
May 22-24
Application,  Interview Period , and Selection
·         Employees within the Work Unit express interest and submit qualifications to managers via a letter of intent and résumé or application
·         Managers hold interviews with the most qualified applicants
·         Managers provide complete documentation regarding selections and placements to HR for review and approval using attached form
·         HR makes compensation recommendations as applicable and sends to managers
·         Mangers offer positions to employees
May 28
Employment Plans are due to HR
·         Internal selections & justification
·         Vacancy list & Position descriptions
May 29

May 30
·         All vacancies are posted campus-wide for Internal Candidates Only
·         E-mail sent to affected employees with vacant position list & application instructions
·         E-mail sent to entire campus community regarding open positions
·         Internal Job Fair held on campus; location and time TBD
June 2
All OES postings close
June 3-7
Hiring officials review applications for open Positions
Interviews take place, selections are made/reviewed/approved
Job offers are made
June 7
Staff RIF plans are due to HR

As always, the Task Force welcomes your comments, suggestions, and questions.  You can submit them by sending your email to or submit them anonymously to Budget Task Force.