Friday, May 30, 2014

FCPS Bd of Ed: Compromise amid Disparagement

Fayette school board approves tentative budget 
despite parents' requests to wait for audit

Compromise found

A subdued Vice Chair Melissa Bacon called the Fayette County Board of Education to order Wednesday evening to deal with disputes over the Fayette County public schools proposed budget. Despite a dry and generally incomprehensible initial presentation by Financial Director Rodney Jackson the meeting was a well-choreographed refutation of the blistering charges leveled by Budget and Staffing Director Julane Mullins a day earlier.

Notably, Ms. Mullins was not present.

The upshot of Jackson's explanation was that there were no irregularities involving $20 million and  that the GASB 54 standards (required of all government financial accounting entities) are difficult to understand. This was backed up by Bill Meyer a partner with Strothman & Company, the district's hired auditor. Audit reports that I have seen in the past always had a disclaimer that states the audit is based solely on the numbers given to the auditors by the school district. Trash in? Trash out. If the numbers are bad, an audit can come back clean despite hidden problems. But two board members cited previous clean audits as assurance that nothing could be wrong.

In the end, the general consensus seemed to be that everyone was just going to have to wait for State Auditor Adam Edelen to make a ruling on the issue.

One issue of concern to special education parents has been the deployment of special education staff and services. A generalized fear that has been expressed by many parents in recent years was recently exacerbated by the district's association with the District Management Council, a group that advocates raising class sizes and reducing supports for special needs students. CAO Lu Young addressed the district's position.

Parents and business leaders spoke to various concerns and committed support for the district leadership. For example, Sandy Jones spoke emotionally about the needs of special needs students in the district and the plan to reduce paraprofessionals.

Perhaps the most cogent presentation of the evening came from former legislator (and Cassidy Dad) Bill Lear. While I think Bill overstated the avenues available to employees to call out problems - particularly wrongdoings - and survive within the organization, his presentation was eloquent, supported the proposed amendments to the budget, and provided a wider view of the issues.

Following Lear was former Lexington Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon who chose a bare knuckles religiously and politically-conscious approach; one laced with innuendo and character assassination. He apologized repeatedly to our public board because members were forced to endure questioning despite the fine job three of them were doing. He described imagined enemies who had the temerity to challenge district leadership - and went on to demonstrate the craft of character assassination in the hands of a master.

His personal attacks were allowed by acting Chair Melissa Bacon, one assumes because Scanlon did not call out anyone by name, which seems to be the limit of Bacon's scrutiny. However, the individuals he referred to were personally identifiable and he left no mystery about Ms. Mullins and her attorney. The same acting Chair who lambasted Sharon Mosfiled-Boswell for using a person's name to identify that individual's contract with the district, sat passively as Scanlon did his work. She apparently failed to realize that Scanlon's remarks disparaged individuals and violated the board's own policy. One is left to assume the application of the rule is dependent upon whom one disparages.

Then Scanlon went after Brenda Allen, attacking the lawyer "who was let go by the school system for reasons well-known to everybody."

Everybody knows? That's a dubious assertion.
Does everyone remember that the Fayette County Board of Education paid Allen $200,000 in exchange for her promise to forgo suing former FCPS Superintendent Stu Silberman? Allen had threatened to file suit against the board alleging that her position was eliminated as "a reprisal and/or unlawful retaliation" in breach of her contract and in violation of state law.
Allen had been tasked by Stu Silberman to draft the report that was used to push Peggy Petrilli out of her principalship at Booker T. Washington  Elementary School. But somewhere along the way Allen's objections to Silberman's tactics wore thin. Sources within the district office told KSN&C that Allen let it be known that a pivotal meeting in the Petrilli case should have been conducted differently, and might not have resulted in legal action at all, if it had been handled more competently by an attorney.

Eventually the superintendent went out and bought himself a flimsy report, from a management firm that promotes outsourcing, advising the board that it would be cheaper and better to outsource district legal services, leaving district principals in the lurch. Silberman realized that the district's effort to portray Allen's dismissal as a reduction-in-force wasn't going to stand up and the district settled. Allen took the $200 K and opened a restaurant and law firm in Frankfort. The decision to outsource all legal services was reversed by Shelton fairly early in his tenure with the district.

Since the former Vice Mayor got me thinking about it, here's the backstory on former FCPS legal counsel Brenda Allen.
Anyway, Scanlon's barbs drew a snappy response from Board member Doug Barnett.

Rounding out the evening, a somber Amanda Ferguson praised the courage of Julane Mullins and lamented her absence at the meeting.

Ferguson reminded the Board of it's anti-fraud policy which requires due diligence on the part of board members, and said that she could not in good conscience support the budget despite the adoption of changes she advocated.

This from the Herald-Leader:
The Fayette County school board restored some controversial cuts to the 2014-15 tentative budget before approving it 4-1 Wednesday night.

The tentative budget, now about $428.4 million, has been the subject of debate for months among parents, students and teachers. The board approved the budget even though some parents asked members to wait until Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen completes an examination of allegations made this week by the district's budget director that an irregularity in accounting led to a budget crisis.

The cuts to the budget now total about $17.5 million instead of the $19.1 million Superintendent Tom Shelton proposed in April. The adjustments the board made at Wednesday's meeting included:
■ Restoring cuts to band and orchestra programs.
■ Limiting reductions to the district's special schools and programs to 3 percent
■ Changing the staffing reduction for classified employees — such as bus drivers and maintenance workers — from 5 percent to 3 percent.
■ Restoring $56,000 for trips and activities for students who receive free and reduced-price lunches and otherwise could not afford to participate.
■ Increasing the reserves for the district's special education program from $1 million to $2 million. A proposal to cut 97 aides and add seven special education teachers remained.
■ Limiting the number of paid days that could be cut for an individual employee to five.
Wednesday's meeting was necessary because the board did not approve the budget May 19 after members Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson objected to cuts, including those to orchestra and band programs. Barnett changed his vote Wednesday, joining Melissa Bacon, Daryl Love and board Chairman John Price in voting yes. Price voted via videoconferencing from his hospital room at the Markey Cancer Center, where he is recovering from a bone marrow transplant.
Ferguson voted no. She said she was pleased about the restoration of budget cuts. But she said that District Budget Director Julane Mullins' allegations raised serious issues.

"I cannot completely disregard Ms. Mullins' 16 years of experience in the district budget and staffing office, particularly since she has absolutely no reason to fabricate these claims," Ferguson said. "In fact, she makes them at particular risk to her own professional reputation and likely with extreme personal discomfort."

By approving the budget, the board met a May 30 deadline to submit a tentative budget to the Kentucky Department of Education. The board must approve a final budget by Sept. 30, and Shelton said there could be more changes depending upon revenues the district received.

The process that the district went through to get an approved budget was good, Shelton said, though it was challenging, creating "some emotional discussions" and "difficult conversations."

Earlier Wednesday, the presidents of two Fayette County Public Schools employee groups said they could not support the passage of the district's tentative budget until Edelen finished "special examination" into allegations of a $20 million irregularity in the Fayette Schools' budget. Edelen spokeswoman Stephenie Hoelscher said Wednesday that "this week we will send in auditors and begin gathering documentation, and we'll begin putting together the scope."

Fayette County Education Association President Jessica Hiler and Fayette County Education Support Professionals Association President Doug Botkin issued a joint statement Wednesday, saying "we cannot support the passage of any budget until this audit is complete." FCEA is a voluntary association that represents teachers. FCESPA is a voluntary association representing other school employees.

"Our members believe it is important that the community fully understand the reasons for the $20 million shortfall, so that we can be sure it does not happen again," the statement said.

Mullins said the district's current $20 million shortfall was caused by irregular accounting but worsened with "numerous acts of mismanagement," according to an email sent to school board members, as well as Edelen.

Mullins' email said a $20 million journal entry in 2011 was "irregular" because Rodney Jackson, the district's director of finance, made the entry on Dec. 6, 2011, six months after it should have been included.

Mullins said the late entry caused the working budget for 2012-13 to be approved by the board with numbers that were inflated by $20 million.

Shelton denied the allegations, as did Jackson in a presentation to the board at the meeting. Jackson told the board that $20 million was never missing. Jackson and Shelton, whose spending was also questioned in the email, said Mullins' accusations stemmed from misunderstandings of routine budgeting procedures.

Shelton reiterated after that the board meeting that the $20 million journal entry that Mullins mentioned had nothing to do with the $20 million budget reduction, which was due to the district overspending its revenue. Jackson said the journal entry did not affect the fund balance of Fayette County Public Schools either before or after the transaction. The district's outside auditor told the board that he had reviewed the allegations and Jackson's documentation and that there were no improprieties.

Jackson provided documents which he said showed that there was no erroneous or abnormal transaction. Mullins' attorney, Brenda Allen, has said Mullins was willing to share 1,000 pages of documents with investigators.

Attorney and former state lawmaker Bill Lear and business leader Mike Scanlon were among those asking the board to approve the budget despite the allegations.

In addition to Edelen's office, both Mullins and Shelton have asked the state Office of Education Accountability to investigate. Karen Timmel-Hatzell, OEA's acting director, said her office, which looks at violations of laws affecting schools, will wait until Edelen finishes his investigation "because we don't want to duplicate effort when we are all going to be looking at the exact same thing."
I would say that this was the most contentious issue a superintendent could be called upon to handle if it weren't for the looming redistricting effort that recently got underway. That'll bring angry displaced parents out of the woodwork.

Read more here:


Anonymous said...

After watching these videos and reading the coverage here and in the paper several things are crystal clear.

Budget Director Mullins doesn't have a clue about accounting and should seek employment elsewhere.

Mullins was foolish to be duped and manipulated by Ferguson and Allen.

Ferguson is the worst kind of board member and public servant as she is manipulative, dishonest and will stoop to any depth to carry out personal vendettas at the expense of the entire system.

Barnett has turned into a disappointing politician wannabe who will sell-out his integrity for votes.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Rodney Jackson or Mike Scanlon reads this blog and left an anonymous response on May 30, 2014 @ 2:34 pm. Go back to your document shredding party, Rod!

Anonymous said...

How exactly did Doug Barnett "sell-out his integrity?" From what I can tell from the news coverage, he preserved band/orchestra, fought for special education and fought for the classified workers against the whims of the overpaid administrators and chiefs. He also said he had no idea what to believe in all of this mess.

How is not supporting DMC and inflating administrative salaries and questioning some fishy accounting practices selling-out?

Anonymous said...

A wise professor of Education once put this quote on his website, "Education is run by those who show up." Don't believe it for a minute! It should read, "Education is run by the plutocrats who show up." At least that was my take of the last FCPS Board Meeting.

As a parent of a special needs child, I knew who would win that evening, and it was not me. Who won that evening? Two well-to-do white men. Mr. Sacanlon and Mr. Lear.

I have never been more disgusted by the so-called democracy in FCPS. It's not about kids. Never has been. Never will be. It's about those wealthy businessmen who were allowed to cast aspersions about Brenda Allen, Amanda Ferguson, and Doug Barnett.

Anonymous said...

I genuinely believe that Tom Shelton's days are numbered. And Lu Young is waiting for the opportuunity to assume the helm.

But Shelton's supporters will not let him go down so easily because of the economic and psychological damage a resignation could cause.

My interpretation of the debacle is as follows:

It's no longer about children. It's not even about the budget. Right now, what is at stake is Lexington's label as one of "those cities where it's a good place to raise a child." Every businessperson in Lexington, every member of the Mayor's office of Economic Development, and every realtor understands what Tom Shelton's exit in the wake of an ethics charge could mean --- not just for the reputation of the city's schools....

This is exactly why Lexington's business leaders --- Scanlon and Lear --- realize that FCPS Board Members Barnett and Ferguson must go and voices like that of Mrs. Mullins must be silenced.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't require much accounting skill to know that timely recording of transactions is necessary...any delay can be financially disabling...period!

It does, however, take extreme moral regard to admit a mistake and take responsibility for it without sacrificing others who are blameless. Sacrificing the well being of children for the sake of pride or personal gain is reprehensible. I do not know how that type of person sleeps at night.

What a shameful example being modeled for our kids. Truly sad.

Anonymous said...

To May 30, 2014 @2:34. Actually Mullins is the smart one in all of this. She is a whistleblower and blew the whistle so loudly and clearly she has no need to look for employment elsewhere. Let them touch a hair on her honest head and the $19 million dollar deficit will grow exponentially! As for Shelton, Bacon, and Jackson their careers in public education are quickly coming to an end. Love is riding the fence, but his constituents are becoming disgruntled with his lack of courage and leadership. The Board of education and Shelton are ensuring the re-elections of Ferguson and Barnett despite their work to get candidates to oppose them. Gheez! At what point will Shelton, Bacon, Price and Love and the highly paid administrators in Fayette really make it about the kids and operating in transparency?

Anonymous said...

I stand behind Doug Barnett.

I stand behind Amanda Ferguson.

I stand behind by Ms. Mullins.

I'm also a voter and a teacher, and I will not be supporting Darrel Love as my school board member.

School board members must represent the people they serve.

Mr. Love no longer does these things.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece in the newspaper today about Mrs. Mullins.

Underneath, at 7:50 am, a lone commenter had written "Worst superintendent ever."

When will people understand this?

Anonymous said...

I have no faith in the appointed superintendent Dr Shelton I have no faith in Melisa Bacon or Darrel Love

We need change now

Anonymous said...

Melissa Bacon and Darryl Love are just puppets in Shelton's show! They do not care about kids or about being the voice of their constituents! They don't even bother returning emails...just forward to Shelton. It's going to be a long time until 2016 when their tenure will surely come to an end! That time can't come soon enough...good riddance!

Anonymous said...

A compromise that hurts children? A compromise that results in fewer para-professionals in our schools, but a bloated Central Office? I don't understand it.

Most baffling is the belief that because special education students are not doing well on national tests paras should be removed and other ways examined to make student growth a priority.

If financial austerity is the name of the game, it must come to Central Office.

Parents, please speak up!