Tuesday, July 04, 2006

TEACHER TESTIMONY ON ADMINISTRATION HIRING FIRE DRILL



I got the information I allude to below in comparing the Hillsborough County school administration's hiring practice to those of City Hall in Chicago, which just got a jury guilty verdict for a number of the culprits in the trial against the illegal jobs program run out of City Hall.



A teacher writes below and gives us some insight into what kind of administration taxpayers pony up a quarter of a million dollars a year in superintendent pay and over $100,000-plus a pop for his or now her incompetent, go-along-to-get-along administrative subordinates.



The taxpayers think they are buying competent administration with this Keystone Cops hierarchy. It gets instead the academic weaklings that flock to adminstration, bloat their salaries, and mismanage the school administration to a faretheewell.



Where, you ask, is the Board in these bizarre administrative hijinks? Out to lunch, as usual, potted plants as usual, playing the ceremonial role as usual, merely rubberstamping the hiring decisions that determine the quality of people who lead the school system for the community's children.
The teacher writes:




I remember the story.




I believe that Name removed at person's request because the education network used this incident to deny her a job. was up for the position, and they did not award it to her despite better credentials and qualifications.


Instead, they gave it to Renalia Dubose.


Then, Renalia Dubose left the district to work for some district (maybe Citrus County).

Name removed at person's request applied again for the job, and they gave it to Brenda Kearse, who was a principal who was angering all the parents at her school.


They had to get Brenda Kearse out of the school she was in and move her downtown supposedly so that the problem was solved, so they moved her into that slot and bypassed Removed name at person's request despite a committee pretty much deciding that was the best candidate.


When this happened, [an outraged teacher] put her foot down and called during the school board meeting and said she would call the press immediately, if she didn't hear from Dr. Lennard immediately after the school board meeting.


Dr. Lennard called her back, and she said it wasn't right b/c the committee had decided on Name removed at person's request and she was the best qualified, and if he didn't do something about this, she was calling the newsstations and spilling the beans.


Dr. Lennard ended up making sure Name removed got an equal type position that paid the same but wasn't the position she applied for. That satisfied Brenda, I believe.

Meanwhile, Renalia Dubose who held the position in question earlier returned to Hillsborough County, and they rehired her and put her above Brenda Kearse (now that Brenda Kearse had Renalia's job).

I am not sure, but I think they simply created an extra position so that Renalia Dubose could have her old job back but Brenda Kearse did not have to step down.


(Such duplicating of jobs would explain why Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Otero hold the same job for which the taxpayers pay a double salary because the supeintendent lacks the leadership to fire one of the men.)


The whole thing boggles the mind.


By the way, a deep throat says Renalia Dubose left Citrus County (or whatever county she left Hillsborough for) in bad shape, b/c she didn't do the job well. Well, she was rehired by Hillsborough and put above the Brenda Kearse (who had replaced her).


Boggles the mind.
**************************************************************************************
Mr. Neal: The Board must approve the hiring decisions of the school administration. So it is responsible for them. And what about the Board's approving the ad for Ms. Elia's job having the Ph.D. reduced to a master's degree to fit her lack of it?

I don't know where the Civil Service Board fits in here, but I am convinced that the School Board participates in school hiring violating Title VII. But thank you for the courtesy of your reply.
Lee Drury De Cesare
-----Original Message-----

From: Tom Neal [mailto:NealT@HillsboroughCounty.ORG]
Sent: Friday, July 07, 2006 1:12 PM
To: tdecesar@tampabay.rr.com
Subject: Monkey Biz

Mr. De Cesare: Reference your e-mail wherein you state the School Board routinely violates Title VII in hiring.
Please be aware the Hillsborough County School Board is not a part of the Hillsborough County Civil Service System. Suggest to direct you concern to that agency for resolution.
**************************************************************************************
July 7
School Hiring Sounds Like Chicago's City Hall Patronage


When my husband and I went to Chicago last year for me to attend another Wagner Ring Cycle, the hiring corruption scandal at City Hall was just beginning to boil. The verdict is in, and the prosecution headed by Patrick Fitzgerald, the Plame-leak prosecutor, has convictions.


It’s hard not to compare the Chicago City Hall hiring practices to those that infect the administration of Hillsborough County schools.

If a prosecutor reviewed the hiring practices in the administration of the Hillsborough County school system, I believe she or he could make a case for its awarding jobs and promotions—especially of the top administrative jobs--on the political recommendations of the internal power pod, not on the ability of the candidates.

Here are some excerpts from the NYTimes account of the prosecution’s success:

After a six-week trial and three and a half days of deliberations, the jury of 10 men and 2 women agreed with the federal government's argument that the city's longtime practice of awarding jobs and promotions to politically connected candidates and campaign workers was a crime.


"I think what we saw in this case was the revealing of the Chicago machine, the inner workings of the Chicago machine," said S. Jay Olshansky, the jury foreman. "There clearly is one. It has been in existence for quite some time."

Mr. Olshansky said he had been appalled to learn how city hiring worked.
Prosecutors said Mr. Sorich and Mr. McCarthy had concocted "blessed lists" of preselected winners for certain jobs and promotions based on political work or union sponsorship. The scheme involved sham interviews, falsified ratings forms and the destruction of files to cover it up, they said.

Over at least 13 years, prosecutors said "the fix was in" for non-policymaking employees, including plumbers, tree trimmers, aviation security officers and carpenters.

The favored candidates included one who had been in Iraq when his interview supposedly took place, one who died before interviews were conducted and another who was known to have a drinking problem.


"It was not about the qualifications of the men and women who applied for these jobs," Julie B. Ruder, an assistant United States attorney, said in closing arguments last month. "It was about politics. It was about clout. It was about who you knew and whose palm you greased."

I don’t know whether there are political forces that work to promote hiring below the administration level, but I believe they work especially at the upper level of administration. I heard that no matter the recommendations of a review committee for a job, Dr. Earl Lennard overrode its recommendations to hire his pick. That I would call political hiring.

When I wrote for La Gaceta, I recall a woman’s telling me about one particular case in which Lennard overrode the recommendation of the hiring committee.


I had the woman who knew about this situation call Patrick Manteiga, La Gaceta publisher, to confirm what she told me so that I could write about the situation.

I have a call into this woman to tell me the names involved again so that I can cite them on this blog.

Of what I have observed and inferred from reading files in the Public Affairs Office, I believe patronage hiring explains Ms. Elia’s appointment to superintendent, Connie Mileto’s appointment to lobbyist, Linda Kipley’s appointment to Professional Standards director, and Steve Hegarty’s appointment to the head of the Public Affairs office.

What makes this situation so repulsive is that these are the people whose bloated salaries taxpayers subsidize. They are supposed to preside over our children's educations in a way that mirrors the height of Western ethics: fairness being a pivotal ingrediant of that tradition. They tell our children that the best person wins. And then they fix their own hiring game in backstairs deals that mock that ideal.

I am trying to extract information about Le Jack Davis, who got the head of computers without having credentials in computers some Deep Throat told me. I have emailed him for his credentials. No answer. That means he doesn’t have them is my inference.

I believe that after his taking over, the computer system bogged down and didn’t deliver the teachers’ paychecks on time. Mainframe breakdown suggests incompetence at the top.






Tuesday, July 04, 2006

http://www.psichi.org/pubs/articles/article_121.asp

Ms. Stein:

Your article shows bias favoring Elia. It selectively leaves out things the public should know about her history and emphasizes the faux heroic stature the press seems hell bent on portraying of any pygmy who occupies a public position.

The above URL catalogues the ’61 study by Harvard’s Dr. Rosenthal that touched off a widespread and continuing academic investigation of objectivity. The results show time and again that objectivity is a myth. It’s an epistemological impossibility.

We bring to everything we encounter our own mindset and filter what we see through the alembic of our individual personality structure. That’s why eye-witnesses’ accounts often differ on the stand in court. Freud’s theory of transference outlines how we project onto almost everyone we meet the people from our very early childhood.


Moreover, the elements that a reporter chooses to write about and those she chooses not to write about constitute bias. The way she writes about selected data shows bias in the how she writes it: diction, structure, tone.

I interpolate comments on your piece on MaryEllen Elia from my bias. Your view of her comes from a different world than the one in which I see this woman.

She got her job in an unfair back-stairs arrangement. The Board even did away with the Ph.D. requirement to coincide with her lack of it. The Board knowingly wasted $35,000 of taxpayer money on a scam of "nation-wide" advertising.

This action shows the Board's contempt for voters and fairness with its complicity in routine set-up hiring, the pattern that extrapolates to other administrative jobs with their bloated salaries to continue the inside power-pod cabal of which Elia is the latest reification.

Linda Kipley of Professional Standards got her $120,000 job with a home-ec degree and no advertising in violation of Title VII. The Board stamps "Equal Opportunity Employer" on all its official documents and then ignores equal opportunity. Connie Mileto got her Tallahassee $120,000 lobbying job with kindergarten credentials and influential administrative support, chiefly Dr. Hamilton according to ROSSAC gossip. The "nation-wide" searches end up in this cynical scamming of the public that wants the most qualified people in those tax-paid jobs, not buddies or buddies of buddies of the pod cabal.


Moreover, if the administration hears one peep from the employees, it gears up to fire them or to terrorize them into thinking they will get fired unless they roll over and shut up. I saw how this worked with Bart Birdsall when Elia's buddy Pat Bean, I infer, kicked gay Joe Stines's complaint against Birdsall over to Elia for government-sponsored punishment.

The administration also did not like the publicity Birdsall caused on the gay issue. The administration wants to spin all data coming from its bunker to make it look like masters of the universe.

At the time of Birdsal's inquisition, the computer system was messing up, and teachers weren't getting their checks on time. But Elia diverted attention from that vital problem to have the computer people strain Birdsall's emails to find something to charge him with on a mainframe fishing expedition. The charge against Birdsall would have been misuse of the school emails had this fishing expedition strained any shred of evidence.

I heard that the top computer guy--Jack Davis, I think--had no computer training when he got that job. It was another buddy bump up. No wonder the computer system was having trouble processing teacher pay checks. The head guy had no computer credentials.

If the administration could have found a kindergarten or home ec teacher, Jack would have been out of luck. The administration and Board are keen on promoting to top jobs any stray kindergarten or home ec teacher strolling about the ROSSAC corridors looking for taxpayer riches. Dr. Jack Lamb defends this scam protocol as "working one's way up through the system." He doesn't define "system."

On the gay issue, School Board conduct has been despicable. Candy Olson told Bart Birdsall that getting anti-bullying training in the schools to diminish the mistreatment of gay children would "have to wait for another election cycle," presumably hers. She had also emailed me that a teacher enjoyed free speech when I complained about a his proslytyzing a gay student with a Bible on the teacher's desk. The teacher told the boy that he would go to hell for his sexual orientation She didn't think Birdsall had free speech, however, when he wanted to use his citizen's right to protest the County library exclusion of gays.

I have literally chased Dr. Earl the Pearl Lennard down a hall to extract his promise to do something about the savaging of gay children in the system. He promised and then reneged, of course. Dr. Lennard reigns the most profoundly mediocre man in Hillsborouh County, yet the Board crafted the ad for his superintendent job to include vo-tech credentials because Dr. Lennard emerged from the bowels of the vo-tech hotbed of academic activity in the Hillsborough County school system.

This was probably the only time a nation-wide-search ad encompassed knowlege of the lore of shop and other vo tech arts as a superintendent vital credential.

Meanwhile, Hamilton had launched on the school-wide mail two vulgar emails filled with solecisms that would shame an illiterate and vulgarity that offended against academic decency. I filed charges for Hamilton's misusing the school emails with Kipley but didn't get even a courtesy response from Ms. Home Ec. I thought thank-you notes would be in the home-ec curriculum. The double standard says teachers and other low-level staff must toe the line, but administrataors can romp around the rules at will.

Dr. Hamilton likes to swashbuckle about what a tough SOB he is. I asked the SOB at Tiger Bay what his thesis was about. He said he didn't remember. That probably means he didn't write it. Anybody sentient who labors over a thesis recalls the painful experience. A disproportionate number of the academic weaklings who go into administration have ghosted theses.


Kipley tortures teachers in her role as seneschal of Administration Cell Block Abu Gharib. The School Board knows this fact; the administration knows it; so does the sychophantic CTA, in bed with the adminsitration while milking $500 a years in dues from ill-paid teachers. But all look the other way and don't even give the charged teacher a summary of what his or her rights are going into these obscene torture and dignity-destroying hell-holes that Kipley presides over with her bosses' complicity. This is ugly stuff, and Ms. Elia is in charge of it.

Elia lied to me and Birdsall after she spoke at Tiger Bay, saying she didn't know how the to-and-from lines of email messages worked when she routed the private-from-home emails of Birdsall to Kipley. She didn't tell Birdsall then when he asked her about filing a grievance for his treatment by Kipley that there was a grievance time limit, but she triumphantly announced it when he did file the grievance so that she could dismiss his grievance against Kipley.

This is the superintendent that the Board pronounces strong, intelligent, and forceful. They see what they want to see and avoid what they don't want to see. If
Elia were Daffy Duck, this Board would find the same excellencies in Superintendent Daffy.Ms. Elia is not intellectually up to this job. Her academic background is second rate. She's even ignorant of basic comma rules. She doesn’t write her own stuff. Your quotes of her speech at the end of your article show she lacks enough dignity of public expression to be a superintendent that oversees education. You can judge her writing ability by the blowsy piece she was arrogant enough to put out defending her cave-in on the holidays.

When she discovered she couldn’t write, she started to use Steve Heggarty, who also doesn’t know how to use commas and writes poorly. He was a long-time reporter at your paper to its discredit and is a thorough-going twit, suck-up, and sychophant who got his job by backstairs ass-kissing.Most mainstream reporters are power groupies, timid, conventional, and insecure like their bosses, who were once reporters. During WWII, The NY Times avoided covering the horrific treatment of Jews by the Nazis because of the social insecurity of the Sulzbergers and had reporters with Jewish-sounding names alter their bylines so that the names didn't look so Jewish.

Look at the coverage of the war run-up and more recently the press's collective horror when the comedian reamed Bush out on the podium at the Press Club dinner. I've had that experience in the Women's Movement: you speak to a group of conventional women, and when you tell them the truth about discrimination, they recoil and murmur behind their hands to each other that you are unladylike. The press clones hadn't spoken truth to power and said they were appalled at the truth the comic spoke on the podium about the emperor's having no clothes. The collective press said that the truth-telling comedian wasn't funny instead of admitting its horror at hearing the truth that the Washington press corps was too gutless to utter.

The only reporter who liked the comic's truth was good old Helen Thomas.


Traditional power holders—even if they are not admirable in any way and are, in fact, scoundrels—mesmerize reporters’ tribal awe and allegiance. Fawning press minions write template puff pieces about them to a faretheewell. Any reader without information that the public wrongly relies on the press to possess and report would infer at the end of your piece that Cato the Elder in a skirt headed the school system. One disgusted teacher sent your article to me with the comment, "This makes me sick."

Friends, foes agree on EliaThe county school chief isn't afraid to make decisions. Some people like that, but others think she should pull back a bit.Where was this decision-making ability when Elia headed the building department and let the real-estate scam prosper under her nose? Your newspaper catalogued the scandal before she would acknowledge it. Rumor says she didn’t get to make decisions in that job until Dr. Hamilton gave his go-ahead. He is supposed to have hung over her shoulder and not let her make a move until he approved it.

Heeding Hamilton is not strong behavior on her part. Strong behavior would have been for her to tell him to get lost. Hamilton is both Lennard’s and Elia’s Rasputin--his chosen role. Now there’s an interesting pathology hunkering in ROSSAC: a fellow who lusts for power, doesn’t have the nerve to seize it himself, but manipulates whoever holds formal power to exercise power vicariously.

I have a Dr. Stein as an email buddy. He has a daughter who is a reporter. Are you she?

LETITIA STEIN Published June 25, 2006TAMPA -

Fans and foes of MaryEllen Elia agree on this much: The Hillsborough schools chief makes things happen.There is less consensus on whether that's been good for the district. Pronoun reference: What is the antecedent of “that”?

Student achievement rose significantly during her first year as superintendent.





Why does Elia get credit for this? The teachers raised the scores. No wonder teacher morale is low. They don’t get credit for what they do and get threatened with firing if they complain.



Elia steals the success of teachers' hard work but refuses to take blame for the real-estate scam that happened on her watch. I recall the Board's putting a clause in Lennard’s contract that gave him a percentage of some variable when school scores went up. The teachers who raised the scores didn’t get the bonus: Lennard did. I bet Elia gets the same sham bonus with the teachers’ getting nothing. Such misplaced rewards keep teachers’ morale low.

But Elia ticked off numerous parents with the abrupt way she redrew school boundaries.

The gossip says that Elia as buildings chief added classrooms where they weren’t needed, so one motive for her redrawing boundaries was to cover up this situation. She backpedaled on a plan to remove some religious holidays from the school calendar, pleasing conservatives but disappointing others.

She put out some ill-written bluster saying she was tough and that people who didn’t think she was didn’t know her. It sounded like the loser post-fight rhetoric at Madison Square Garden. Did you, Ms. Letitia, ask how this backing down when bigots called Muslims “towel heads” who didn’t deserve equality with Christians showed Elia not tough but cowardly?

Her push for higher impact fees to pay for school construction has divided the County Commission.

Why didn’t you ask School Board members why citizens should approve this impact-fee since the Board has managed the budget so ineptly? Are taxpayers supposed to subsidize incompetence?

Her bosses on the School Board say they are pleased with Elia's performance - for the most part. They like her direct style, intelligence and strong will.Her “direct” style?

Tell that to Patrick Manteiga. Elia squeezed La Gaceta's publisher in camera with insidious hints that she would cut off his school advertising revenue and sic two of her casting-room-couch minions to sue him and shut down La Gaceta if the paper did not quit criticizing her. This style is sneaky, not direct. If Elia had been direct in this threat, she would have shown up in Ybor City and announced it in the middle of 7th Avenue and expected to be boiled in a pot of black-bean soup by irate Hispanic chauvinists.

Not one Board member, all of whom took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, expressed a murmur of public concern or rebuked Elia for this First Amendment trashing. I think Elia is crafty, not intelligent, sneaky, not astute.

I am a teacher. I know dumb, and I know smart. I don’t count Elia smart. “Strong will”: where was that strong will when the bigots backed her down on the holiday schedule to include Muslims?"


She makes the tough decisions," said board member Carol Kurdell. "Sometimes, you just have to have the courage of your convictions."

Carol Kurdell is one of the dumbest Board members since the beginning of time. I saw her at a government conference I attended with my then-mayor husband at which she pooh-poohed my challenge about Lennard’s illiteracy in a question-and-answer session at which she extolled the wonders of the Hillborough County school system and launched into a saccharine encomium on how adorable Dr. Lennard was.

There is a ridiculous tradition that at least one of the female School Board members must be in love with the male superintendent. Kurdell must have been that besotted Board member when Lennard ruled ROSSAC. A woman would have to possess whacked-out endocrine glands to consider Earl the Pearl Lennard a sex object.


Even so, some board members think it's time for her to pull back on the throttle. Controversies have roiled the district all year, including embarrassing disclosures about land acquisition practices that may have wasted millions in tax dollars.



You use conditional "May have wasted"? Your paper’s series on this real-estate scam said it did indeed waste tax dollars. The Board didn’t do its homework--won't read, won't ask questions--and rein Elia in when she headed the buildings department responsible for the real-estate scam. Why don’t you mention that fact? Leaving it out makes it appear that mysterious, unknown forces caused the problem, not Elia. That scandal sits squarely in Elia's resume and didn't prevent her getting the top job. So the Board fosters incompetence and does not consider it barrier to the top job.

What issues does the Board want her to “pull back on the throttle” (hideous cliché) on? Why didn’t you cite some?"


Sometimes, she needs to slow down a bit," said School Board chairwoman Carolyn Bricklemyer, in a critique echoed by several of her colleagues.


Why didn’t you have the presence of mind to ask, “What is it she needs to slow down about, pray?” Why did you let the Board quidnuncs get away with this bromide with no particulars?

Others think Elia can do a better job of communicating her goals for the nation's ninth-largest school district.

She could start by learning to use commas and construct a potent essay. Present evidence says she can’t write her way out of a paper bag.

"She might have had a vision in her mind of what she needed to do," board member Jennifer Faliero said. "But the board and superintendent must work together."

I wish La Faliero was as smart as she is pretty. This fuzzy statement represents her weakness of dingbat illogic. Why on earth didn’t you ask for a concrete example of what she meant by this gaseous piffle? Why didn't you ask La Jennifer what specific projects Elia and the Board need to work together on?

Elia, 57, sailed into her $215,000-a-year job July 1 last year despite a national search for a replacement for Earl Lennard.

Why is there no comment from you on how she "sailed past" much better candidates from distinguished schools and distinguished backgrounds? Have you reviewed that finalist file over whom credentials-lite Elia triumphed? You should unless you are as lazy as the usual reporter who covers schools.

And this "sailed past" is exactly the kind of biased diction I refer to above. My verb would be "sneaked past." Besides, I heard that there was some committee flimflam that I think La Jennifer expedited--the lass is incorrigible--to hire Elia before the committee had a chance to review thoroughly all the candidates so that Elia squeaked in on a procedural snag. You might ask a Board member to take a lie detector test on what really happened in that committee.

Rumors had swirled for months that an insider would get the job. The district had not picked an outsider to be superintendent since 1967.

Did it occur to you, Ms. Stein, to ask Board members why they bothered to spend tax money to advertise a job nationally for which they had already picked the winner? Did you ask what was the source of the malignant tradition that has stuck the Hillsborough County schools with the inside cabal candidate, no matter credentials and deeply mediocre? Did you ask why they did not insist that the winning candidate could punctuate because students have to learn to do so?

Elia was a "comfortable fit," having been with the district for 19 years, most recently as head of its construction and maintenance operations.

Now there is an instance of biased diction. “Comfortable” to whom and why? Comfortable because she continued sleazy business as usual, kept the administrative parasites in place, and mastered the art of pretending to suck up to the Board while using these ninnies as potted-plant pawns in her continuing push for power over tax money?

The New York native now heads one of the nation's fastest-growing school districts, This comma is redundant: it cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. with 6,000 new students expected every year. She says of her start: "It certainly has been an exciting year. Close your quotation marks.

"Sometimes in hindsight, you say, 'Jeez, I could have done this; I could have done that,' “Elia said. "It's always really healthy to reflect on the good and the bad."

"Jeez"? Now that’s an elegant expletive from the superintendent. If this represents the intelligence cited by the Board, God help the district. One does not expect a classics scholar, but can't there be a superintendent capable of a more eloquent expression than "Jeez"? She sounds like a Tampa-docks rhetorician.

She sounds a triumphant tone when it comes to her top priority: raising student achievement.

ONE WISHES SHE WOULD RAISE HER OWN ACHIEVMENT : MASTER COMMAS; THEN LEARN TO WRITE A COHERENT, LITERATE PARAGRAPH.

Elia doesn't raise student achievement, although she appropriates credit for it. Ill-paid, ill-treated teachers do if it's done at all. Elia doesn't have enough management sense to give the teachers even a little credit. She hogs it all.

She inherited three F schools, all of which improved during her first year.


The teachers improved the schools, not La Comma-impaired Elia.

Schools earned A's and B's this year, and fewer received C's and D's.

Thanks to the teachers, not Elia.

Elia organizes much of her efforts around goals. When her high-profile job put her in front of television cameras, she decided to lose weight.

Thank God. She looked like a Mac truck: poor role model for the obesity epidemic in schools. Notice that she does not lose weight to model good health habits for the children; she does it to look better in front of the TV camera in her characterisitic me, me, me focus.

Now if Dr. Lamb and Kurdell could lose about two tons, that would be an even better role model for the students. I understand Valdez is slimming down, but Olson still looks like a sack of potatoes with all the lumps in the wrong places. She is a terrible role model for the children. Both her opponents are in much better shape.

She has lost 40 pounds in six months. She won't reveal her target weight, No comma: you shouldn't split a compound verb. but aims to look like she did in her 20s.

That’ll be the day. As a registered nurse, I observe that this fast loss sounds like the formula for lose it fast, gain it back. She needs to get on an exercise program and stay away from public-trough pig outs.

Her energy level has never flagged. She arrives at work most days between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. She's lucky if she makes it home by 8 p.m.

I count this PR hype fed to a naïve reporter. I doubt Elia spends sixteen hours a day on the job. If her day is this long, it includes time to learn comma protocol and to read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations so that her rhetorical resources rise above the level of "Jeez."

Elia says it helps to have grown children. Albert IV, 32, graduated from Berkeley Preparatory, a private school, and Harvard University. He lives in Boston. Tara, 27, went to Plant High in South Tampa. A graduate of Florida State University, she works with her father, an insurance agent.

One wonders how a Yankee mother named a daughter Tara, a sacred totem of Southerners--especially us Georgians-- besotted with Gone with the Wind.

The family expects long hours from Elia, who has always worked more than her share. But the intensity of this job has surprised even her husband."MaryEllen doesn't slough things off," said Albert Elia III. "When there's a problem, she will just wrestle it and wrestle it and wrestle it until it gets solved."

She relishes the work. Elia gets a charge out of charting the direction of one of the nation's largest school systems."It's a high," she said. "You figure out effective ways to support your goals. That for the most part is to move people to see what you see."


She has not articulated those goals. The reporter was not astute enough to ask for the goals and ask La Elia for the “vision” that she sees. I believe she sees bloating her salary even more and that of her cabal buddies. She also has as a goal keeping the Board bamboozled and in the rubberstamping mood it has acceded to so far so that she can continue her ill-gotten power romp.

The only problem: Sometimes they won't. Count me in the “won’t’ group.

Three months into the job, Elia and the School Board approved a school calendar that eliminated vacation days coinciding with Yom Kippur, Good Friday and the Monday after Easter.

Hundreds of angry e-mails flooded the district. County Commissioner Brian Blair railed on Fox News Channel against what he called a move to abandon the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage. A majority of county commissioners rallied behind him.Within a week, Elia backed down. She asked the School Board to reverse itself, saying the fuss was distracting from the education of children.


"Fuss" is what she calls justice? This is behavior the Board labels “strong”? Only two Board members stayed strong on this vote: Edgecomb and Bricklemeyer.

Board member Candy Olson was among those who changed her vote. But she's not sure Elia made the best decision, saying it kept elected officials from an open debate.

How in the world did you let flip-flop Candy get away with her usual fence straddling? Why didn’t you ask her if she demanded that the Board have an “open debate” before Elia made her pusillanimous volte face? She's supposed to be Elia's boss, not vice versa. Apparently, Candy does not know this fact. No wonder Elia runs all over the Board with its members dumb enough and feeble enough to call this role reversal "strength."

"Sometimes she's a little too quick to respond," she said. "But that's an awfully good problem to have in a large, bureaucratic district."

Did you ask La Candy for an explication of this sibylline horse merd? This woman is incapable of uttering one sensible sentence.

Looking back, Elia faults miscommunication. She says school officials needed to better explain the move to the new school calendar, which is similar to the one in Pinellas County.

If Elia knew her ass from her elbow in public relations, she would have had the public-affairs office get on this early and often. Such gaffes show her lack of corporate sophistication and just plain brains.

Board member Jack Lamb agrees. "I think we have to share the blame in getting the message across," he said.

Good old obtuse Dr. Lamb has been on the Board since Pluto was a pup. Now the old duffer sits sole Y chromosome amongs all those women. It’s hard to be mad at a fellow who looks like a sumo wrestler. I am going to needlepoint Dr. Lamb one of those sumo diapers. He will look swell in it at Board meetings, waddling about the podium in his beyond-plump glory.

Stephanie Georgiades says she has decided to run for the School Board this year because of one issue: Elia's decision to redraw school boundaries in northwest Hillsborough.

Hurrah for Stephanie. She knows how to hit the comfy incumbents where it hurts. I wish I didn’t live on the Gulf of Mexico but in Stephanie’s district so that I could vote for her--except I think my buddy April is running there. This is a dilemma but also an embarrassment of riches.

This spring, Elia presented an ambitious plan to shuffle children from crowded schools to ones with empty seats. The proposal affected 1,500 students and 20 elementary schools.

Nothing models Elia’s clumsy contempt for parents and children like this arrogant move. It was obscene to watch.

Parents were told about the changes one month before the final decision.

I was at the Board meeting at which the agonized parents pleaded for reconsideration of their children's wellbeing. They said Elia had not listened to them in the sham community meetings and had even rescheduled meetings at the last minute so that they couldn’t attend.


I believe the parents.



"I don't know that she can actually put herself in the position of these students and their parents," Georgiades said. "You can't just push these decisions through, especially when they are affecting so many homes."

That’s exactly what Elia did with the Board’s complicity: bulled them through. Faliero tried to object but lacked the skill and poise to do so effectively. Valdez opposed the changes in her district but lacked the force of intellect and courage of conviction to speak up firmly in the meeting for Valdez's families and children whose lives Elia was tearing up.

The public needs courageous, outspoken Board members who will confront the administration in the heat of the argument and set it to do what the Board wants it to do, not vice versa.

Community opposition was fierce. The heat came especially from Dickenson Elementary, a high-performing school slated to be shuttered, and Westchase Elementary, where nearly 150 students were moved to Lowry Elementary.School Board members balked at closing Dickenson, where many poor students had beaten the odds to earn an A school grade. But they approved most of Elia's proposed changes.

This circumstance shows the teachers made the difference that helped the children earn an A grade, not Elia."

Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you haven't listened," said board member Doretha Edgecomb, who praises Elia's listening skills.

Edgecomb is a disappointment. I expected more verve and imagination from a Black woman. But I suppose if a Black woman has tread the mine fields of Whitey’s world to make it to principal, that she has innured herself to falling in with the majority and not staking out an outsider position, however ethical.

Ethridge, in short, is not Eldrige Cleaver, not Flo Kennedy, not Shirley Chisholm, more’s the pity. I understand Ethridge's self-serving complicity, but I can't admire it.

Why oh why are there no courageous people on the Board who will speak up for the students and the taxpayers? They all buy in to the administration racket. Taxpayers must target the culprits on the hustings and vote them out of Board office so that some new Board members can have a chance to show they are concerned with well-run schools, not with sitting on the Board as ceremonial potted plants.


But Westchase parents are still smarting.

They should do more than smart. They should raise sustained hell with the Board. Give it no peace is the winning strategy. The only way to win in politics is to make the office holder pay a price for betrayal of voters: being kicked out of office.

"You get the sense her mind's made up. It's done. This is the decision," said Linda Archer, a market researcher whose fourth-grade daughter was moved from Westchase to Lowry. "I just don't think that's the way to build community involvement."

This mother’s talking about Elia. She doesn't want community involvement. Elia wants community obeisance. The superintendent had made up her mind long before she conducted the faux community-input meetings with the parents. Parents and even students provide the background of Elia's apotheosis. Only as ego backdrop do they matter to her. She’s in the Jimmy Cagney, “Look-at-me, - ma!-I’m-on-top-of-the-world! mode.

La Elia lusts for what the French call la gloire. She is as interested in the schools as she would be in pencils if she were running a pencil factory. It's all background for her exaltation.

Two School Board members - Faliero and Susan Valdes - voted against the sweeping set of school boundary changes. "We need to listen to the community a little better," said Valdes, who represents the affected communities in northwest Hillsborough. "We can't be hard-nosed all the time."

I wish Susan had risen to the occasion, stood her ground, spoken from the podium, and defended the innocents in her district. There are times for a public official to be modest and retiring. This was not one of those for Susan. It was a time to be bold and outspoken for her voters and their children. If Ms. Valdez were ever going to rise to the occasion, this was it, and she missed her chance. Woe betide.

People run for the Board, promise to do great things when they get there, and then wilt into submission once on the job. The adminstration runs the show. The Board is an echo chamber of potted plants for the incompetent, power-hungry administration.

In the coming year, Elia wants school leaders to look at changing boundaries across the county. To address the tensions that flared in the northwest, a task force of stakeholders will oversee the effort.

Expect the “stakeholders” to be pawns ignored as the holiday committee and Westchase parents were. Elia does not possess sympathy or antenna for public accommodation. She possesses the instinct to bull her way through. Let’s see how the Board reacts. Supine acquiescence is my prediction.

"I would have communicated better to all the different groups," Elia said, "but I'm not sure in any true controversy you can get everyone to agree."

What in the hell is a "true controversy" as opposed to an untrue one? This is babble speak. Expect another show consultation with the community with Elia’s ignoring its members.


Elia had a pressing reason to demand full use of classroom space. In her first year, the district faced a $420-million shortfall in money needed for construction over the next five years.

She had to find it somewhere.School officials wanted the county to raise the $196 impact fee assessed on new homes for school construction. It was set in 1989.

Several county commissioners listened skeptically to the case for higher fees. Commissioner Mark Sharpe spent hours in Elia's office going over the numbers.


Sharpe does not strike me as the sharpest crayon in the box. He probably needed six months to learn the alphabet.

"I was really impressed by how she got her hands dirty, so to speak, in getting involved with the data in trying to solve a problem," said Sharpe, who says her effort helped sway his vote to raise impact fees.

Roundheels. The boy is a roundheels.

Last month, county commissioners voted 4-2 to boost the fee to $4,000. The hike won't be formalized until a public hearing in July.The debate highlighted ongoing divisions. Commissioner Blair blasted school officials for how they spend money. He remains openly critical of Elia's leadership.

This punch-drunk wrestler who lies that he is taller than he is has his good days.

"I haven't seen her demonstrate that she's putting a tough emphasis on efficiency and accountability within the school system," he said. "She's a very nice lady, but I still question whether she's fit for the quarter-of-a-million-dollar job she's in."

Although Le Blair may express gladiator sexism here from his chest-beating persona, I don’t disagree with our local elected Samson on Elia's not being up to the job. But I would say the same thing if she were a guy.

Elia says she can't change everyone's mind, but the people who hired her knew her style when they gave her the job. "Slowing down doesn't always get things done in the time frame that's best for students," she said. "I will take on things that might be difficult."Students are last on Elia’s priority list.

Her ego is number one. Commas are only moderately difficult. Let’s challenge her to take them on.

Letitia Stein can be reached at 813 226-3400 or © Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.

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