Behind School-Board Spin
Voters claim the most important thing to them is community schools. Then they vote for people they don’t know and turn their attention to other matters.
Given the quality of the county school board and administration, the community’s taking its eyes off them is not a good idea.
If you want to know what goes on in the Hillsborough school board and administration that you thought were guarding the integrity of children’s education, go to the public affairs office in ROSSAC and ask for the Erwin files. They come in several big boxes. You have a Herculean reading chore in front of you.
But if you have the stamina to plow your way through them, you discover what the ethos of the top people who run the schools is.
Mr. Erwin was the former principal assigned as administrator of the buildings department in t h.0e late eighties who found when he took the job that theft of school property ran .0rampant, that bids were rigged, that time sheets were forged, and that new schools that cost tax payers the price of first-class schools displayed water damage, leaking roofs, and shoddy equipment that included big-money ACs that should last 20 years pooping out in five.
Mr. Erwin believed the administration was ignorant of this situation and would be eager to learn about it. So he rushed to his chief bosses Mr. Davis, Dr. Hamilton, and even all the way up to Dr. Lennard, superintendent, to reveal the debacle.
The three were not hospitable to Erwin’s revelations. In fact, they all put him off and set him on serial wild-goose chases and busy work recording what he observed. In fact, the whole administrative phalanx gave him the runaround. It wanted to ignore these problems. The top people evidently knew about them and considered them the price of doing business. They didn’t want to rock the luxurious boat they had crafted for themselves in the administration redoubt replete with their big salaries and community éclat.
Mr. Erwin didn’t give up, though. He began these serial complaints in the late ‘80’s and continued them for four years while the administration put him off. He even appealed to board chair Ms. Bricklemeyer, who took him to board attorney Tom Gonzalez, who told him he had nothing to worry about because the Whistleblower law protected him. Then Ms. Bricklemeyer and Counselor Gonzalez pushed Erwin back out into the milieu of the Davis-Hamilton-Lennard campaign to run him crazy. He hadn’t got any help from the two authorities. The reason is that they were part of the ubiquitous choreograph of protecting the status quo, including its quotient of crime.
The administration cogs did what all such folks do when they want to discredit a person’s word: they set up a campaign to prove Mr. Erwin crazy. They almost succeeded in driving him berserk, but before they triumphed, he went to an attorney and sued under the Whistleblower law.
Mr. Erwin won. The summary of the case in the court files is an eye opener to the routine skullduggery that the entire administrative and board and phalanx of collaborators condone if directions come from the top—the superintendent. And they did in this case.
Mr. Erwin got a settlement. He fled to Georgia, where he now lives, glad to be free from the ghouls at the School Board and administration who tortured him for so long. He left behind a school board and administration that cling to the same behavior that caused the Erwin debacle. Ms. Elia, her cohorts. and the board are mimics of the gang that tried to run Erwin crazy.
The primary villain in this obscene choreograph is the school board. The citizens elect people to the board to control such evil doings as the Erwin case represents, but board members are light weights who go with the flow. They subside to being ceremonial figures who gorge on an unsupervised travel budget and sashay around town acting like Benefactors of Education instead of running the schools. They leave that entirely to the superintendent.
In the Erwin case, the board all knew what was going on with both the ripping off the schools and also the administration’s hushing it up. But they clung to their ceremonial positions and pretended they didn’t know diddly. Three of the then-board members still sit on the board: Olson, Kurdell, and Lamb. As they did with Lennard, they rubberstamp anything Elia puts under their noses.
The whole board allowed to continue on their watch the theft, the bid rigging, the water- soaked, leaking buildings—all subsidized with tax dollars. They did nothing to stop the campaign of Lennard, Hamilton, and Black to prove whistleblower Erwin crazed and hence liable to being kicked out of his job without a pension. These three villains preying on Erwin had the cooperation of everybody in ROSSAC right down to the janitor because people in the schools understood that anybody who doesn’t cooperate is out of a job.
Insuring that everybody mimes the party line is the job of the Professional Standards office, the schools’ version of Abu Ghraib. Home-ec savant Linda Kipley enforces the administration’s dictates from this cell block. Linda Kipley’s home-ec training has left her with a particularly sadistic personality-probably from all that onion dicing.
I became interested in the way the schools ran when I was professor of English at HCC and students entered my freshman classes from local schools with little training in language. I had to teach 9th –grade grammar and punctuation before I could teach Hamlet. Shortly after retirement, I got involved in helping a middle-school media specialist friend fight a case cooked up against him by Elia and Kipley.
He complained to the county library head Stines from his home computer about gays’ library rights being quelled by Ronda Storms’s anti-gay ukase. Both Stines and Bart are gay. Instead of responding to Bart, Stines routed the emails to new superintendent Elia probably via his boss, the county supervisor and, Elia’s buddy. Per Elia’s instructions, Kipley revved up into retaliation mode and had the computer department do a fishing expedition on Bart’s school emails and discovered that he had posted a notice on the media people’s library bulletin board about the protests against the county. This innocent act of advertising on the community email board whose purpose is supposed to be advertising festered into a session in Kipley’s office with mind games about how Bart’s job was in jeopardy. Bart kept his job but had to go to therapy to get over the terror of these Gestapo tactics.
Such choreographs explain why school people are terrified to cross the administration by letting drop even the mildest rebuke about how it runs things.
I thought this kind of abuse of the government-paid employee of a school system deserved my attention so began attending school-board meetings.
There are three major areas of mismanagement that the board ignores and the administration exploits: hiring, salaries, and mistreatment of teachers and students. There is also a recent Peyton Place incident that the administration applied a double standard to that is worth mention.
Hiring: The school board condones a crony jobs program. It gives the superintendent patronage privilege of appointing people to jobs—especially the high-level ones to which she attaches bloated salaries---without advertising them. The $130,000-to 140,000 ROSSAC administrative jobs go to Elia’s buddies as they went to Lennard’s buddies before her.
The result of the practice is that the administration features a mediocre, ill-equipped cadre of buddy hires—C students or ones who majored in academic-light areas.
Ms. Elia just replaced Dr. Gregor, who left for a superintendency in the Panhandle, with another master’s-degree buddy. So the administration now has no Ph.D. in its ranks. One speculates that Ms. Elia wants all the administrators down at her level of degree possession. When Elia got the job, the board lowered the terminal degree to a master’s because that’s what Ms. Elia has. The board wanted an insider that likely wouldn’t disturb its incumbency so advertised the job nation-wide for $35,000 of tax money to cover up its flimflam of having already decided that Elia would get the job. The board has no more compunction about frittering tax money away in cover-up nation-wide advertising than it does in buying airline tickets to Las Vegas and Alaska. As far as the board is concerned, whether its travel profligacy or its ad cover-up chicanery, monies coming from the tax kitty is play money to throw around without a second thought.
As example of people’s holding jobs in the administration without appropriate credentials, Mr. Davis occupies the job of head of the technology department without one technology credit to his name. His is a typical situation, alas, not an extraordinary one. Davis, of course, was one of the three who tortured Erwin.
Neither Davis nor any of the culprits in the Erwin case got fired. They just got reassigned to continue the game in the same mode into Elia’s hegemony. Dr. Lennard retired and now is a revered member of the community. People speak of him in reverential hushed tones.
The head of Professional Standards, Linda Kipley, has a home ec degree. Those went out in the Pre-Cambrian period I believe. No respected university has home ec degrees any more. They smack of sexist backwardness. The board just hired Ms. Kipley’s husband for a slot that required a bachelor’s in accounting even though he had no college degree at all, and there were applicants who did have the requisite degree and experience. Ms. Elia owes Ms. Kipley big-time for all the dirty work of terrorizing the teachers into silence that Ms. Kipley has effected. That fact explains her husband’s hire to me. He would probably have got the job were her a high-school dropout.
The important slot of Chief Facilities head belongs to Ms. Cathy Valdes, not for her credentials of an early childhood degree but for her being Ms. Elia’s girlfriend. She should have a business degree, of course. A section of a recently constructed school caved in for which there was no insurance thanks to Ms. Valdez’s lack of oversight, so the schools had to pay several million dollars for this lack of vigilance to rebuild it. She and Ms. Elia teamed up later to destroy a historic school building because both were too dumb to see its cultural value and too obtuse to take the steps to preserve it.
A former bus driver headed up the transportation division when that section had a meltdown from incompetence. A flossy consulting firm zoomed in. I reviewed its report. It said (a) to get scheduling software and (b) to park the buses in a more convenient place: simple common sense. For this unsophisticated information that a competent head of the transportation division would have known to invoke, the board paid $350,000.
April Griffin roused herself from her usual torpor to urge Ms. Elia to hire an outside head of the transportation department. Ms. Elia resisted at first but then decided to oblige Griffin. Subsequently Elia made a big to-do over how she never hesitated to hire outside talent. Ms. Elia is a practiced liar, a major bona fide occupational occupation for the job as she conducts it. She kept the two transportation people who messed up on the payroll, however, at no diminished salary. As the faculty always says of the administration and board, “If you mess up, you move up.”
But the most egregious case of sustained misuse of employment is that of Dr. James Hamilton, who has siphoned off sky-high salaries from the taxpayers for a lifetime career of bossing cowering school employees around without his knowing the difference between the homophones “your” and “you’re.”
Dr. Hamilton revealed how ill was his grasp of the English language when he, given a year to perform the task, wrote an essay for the new board members in ’06 about how they should comport themselves on the board. Writing errors that would disgrace a remedial English student filled a clumsy product featuring ridiculous advice about such things as board-member appropriate attire, although Dr. Hamilton’s couture was routinely so rumpled and woebegone that he looked like an unmade bed. If I can lay hands on a facsimile, I am going to send it to the president of the University of Florida and ask him how dare the university inflict such a specimen on the school system of the state when the thesis committee that slept through Dr. Hamilton’s charade of thesis production must have known he couldn’t and didn’t write it. I once asked Dr. Hamilton what his thesis was about. He said he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember because he didn’t write it is my conclusion.
Dr. Hamilton was one of the triumvirates of savages—Lennard and Davis being the other two—who mauled Irvin until a jury rescued the poor man. Hamilton held one of the highest-level jobs in the administration and reveled in being known as “a bastard” to work for. He, in fact, cultivated the reputation is my information.
When his retirement rolled around in ’07, he dithered about quitting the field of his glories and wouldn’t leave. You could see on the Web page his name penciled in above that of his replacement. To tide him over, Ms. Elia created him a boutique job with a grand title and put his name on it before it even went on the books a clerk told me. The pay was $140,000. He held it for almost a year before he finally quit the field. It wasn’t continued.
Now one learns he is up in Tallahassee as a consultant for $65,000 a year, which with his bloated pension means he is siphoning a double-dipping $200,000 from the tax kitty yearly.
Another intriguing aspect to this lobbyist sinecure is that he rejoins the schools’ kindergarten-trained government officer, Connie Mileto, whom Dr. Hamilton slipped past all the qualified candidates for the $130,000 job while his heartbroken wife, a principal, retired and divorced him.
Did the board ask for this Hamilton appointment as lobbyist for the schools be pulled off the consent agenda for discussion?
Did board members vigilant for the schools’ equal-opportunity affirmation ask about whether it were advertised and other people given a chance to apply? Or did they ask whether somebody who didn’t know the difference between “you’re” and “your” should represent the schools?
Is the Pope hard-shelled Baptist?
But perhaps the worst flaw of the school board is its cooperation with the administration in marginalizing and mistreating the teachers and students.
I have begged the board to give the students and teachers a slot on the regular board agenda so that they will feel that the board wants their input on the way the schools operate. They remained stony faced, looking at me as if I had just landed from Dr. Spock’s hometown planet. I even asked two of the board members whose elections I had supported—April Griffin and Susan Valdes—to work openly for this slot for teachers and students. They didn’t even condescend to answer my plea. These two illustrate that the minute people elected to the board step through the ROSSAC door, they become drones of the system and suffer delusions of grandeur.
It’s as if the board and administration want the teachers and students to serve as a bunch of field hands producing the pile of state revenue for the bosses at the ROSSAC plantation Big House to dabble with. It appears there exists an invidious jealousy that the ROSSAC overlords experience in regard to this truth: the legitimate center of the schools is teachers and student no matter the pretensions of the administration and board. Teachers and students are the real heart and soul of education; board members and administrators are peripheral support staff to back up and serve these two primary groups. The Hillsborough County board and administration have turned the proper morphology of schools topsy turvy. Education suffers thereby.
The board sits silent and complicit when Ms. Elia imposes yet another burden on teachers that makes their jobs harder:
The board remained mute when Ms. Elia imposed an extra class on teachers without prewarning teachers or asking for their input;
Without warning, Ms. Elia also imposed a grade-inflation scheme on teachers that offended against their professionalism and downgraded the students’ marks in those classes that would impede them from getting into good universities.
Most recently and without consulting the teachers, Ms. Elia purchased a multimillion-dollar gimcrack commercial program the Spring that has performed poorly in other schools. The teachers will have to implement this program but were left in the dark about its purchase. One doesn’t know what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books this machine-learning approach will replace. Not to worry: it’s only tax money being frittered away.
Ms. Elia apparently didn’t brief the board members on these moves either. But they don’t care it seems. She got no rebukes from them about her hoarding such vital information. Board members appear to be scared to death of Ms. Elia. They fear to ask her a question much less challenge her.
Part of Ms. Elia’s reasons for the grade inflation and Spring schemes seems monetary. Ms. Elia is greedy. Her salary can never be high enough, although I cannot find on the Internet any higher for other superintendents than the $300,000 she now makes despite her meager credentials. The grade-inflation scheme and the Spring program will both give Elia opportunity to earn more in “bonus” money. Her new salary negotiations arise soon. The board never says no to anything she proposes in the salary area. She will probably surpass the president’s salary this cycle.
A final aspect of the unseemly running of the schools is the Faliera adultery saga. School Board member Jennifer Falliero stalked Public Affairs head Marc Hart until she became almost a fixture in his office. This situation went on a long time. It dates from Dr. Lennard’s tenure. Dr. Lennard told Ms. Faliera to leave Hart alone. She ignored him, and an affair blossomed between the inflamed married pair. ROSSAC sexual sophisticates don’t mind affairs in their midst. They just don’t want the information to get out to the strait-laced public. Everybody in the school system apparently had gotten a whiff of this illicit romance—even the outlying satellite schools.
When the time came that Elia and her Star Chamber suck-ups feared the affair might get out to the public and the gutless press might even publish it, they decided that Marc Hart must go to protect La Belle Dame sans Merci school board member’s reputation. So the personnel guy told Mr. Hart to resign or “things would get ugly.” Hart resigned.
This poor chump had divorced his wife, leaving her with his two young children. The children both suffered badly. The little boy, previously a star performer in school, had his grades plummet; the daughter’s physical ailment worsened.
Hart went out to New Mexico; Faliera followed him and stayed for a while. Then she returned to Tampa to engage in the “under the radar” move from her Brandon district to the Riviera of South Tampa. The press caught her. She lied. Then she came clean. She had, I inferred dumped Hart for some other guy by this time.
How do I know this Peyton Place saga? Marc Hart, when he came back to Tampa after his divorce, called me at my condo on the beach and asked to visit me. I said yes.
The man is a wreck. He told me he still loved Faliera. He said he was struggling to get a job locally but that the city had just been rejected him for a job he was highly qualified for. My interpretation is that the city blackballed him. News about government firings gets around fast in the incestuous world of government employment. Mr. Hart showed me the divorce deposition that included confirmation his and Falliera’s affair. He gave me a page of the deposiiton. I haven’t heard from him since.
The school board, which members knew all about the affair conducted on school property, appointed Ms. Faliera as board chair soon after Mr. Hart’s firing. This gesture of cooperation with adultery says something about the board’s moral status. Its members never thought to ask whether the schools’ parents want as chair of the board that oversees their children’s welfare a homewrecker who made miserable the lives of two little children by destroying their parents’ marriage. My belief is that Hillsborough County parents would not have tolerated Faliera as board chair had they known.
Voters’ romantic notions about the uprightness of board members does not coincide with reality. If voters want to know how the board conducts its duty to keep the school honest and upright, they must be more vigilant.
Lee Drury De Cesare
15316 Gulf Boulevard 802
Madeira Beach, FL 33708
URLs of Interest:
Leedrurydecesarescasting-roomcouch.blogspot.com Running commentary on the monkey biz enacted by the school board and its administration
http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=2585644163159085593 Florida Bar Ethics Complaint Against School Board Attorney Tom Gonzalez that I filed after he hinted he could sue me for extortion for my saying if the school board didn’t start practicing equal-employment opportunity, I would write the Department of Labor to do a compliance check of its employment practices.
http://wilcoxilliteratethesis.blogspot.com/ The recent Pinellas County’s superintendent Dr. Wilcox’s thesis from NOVA with my corrections. This is a pitiful example of the kind of brains that those who lead our schools have. It also confirms that NOVA has earned its reputation as a diploma mill.