DISD Parents and Taxpayers: You Deserve to Know

disd-keep-calm-cupDISD parents deserve to know what teachers see and hear on every campus in DISD.

Teacher voices must not be threatened or silenced by any principal or administrator in the district because that would be a direct violation of the First Amendment right to Free Speech. The right to Free Speech is a right all Americans enjoy, especially employees of a government entity like a public school district.

(Bloggers also enjoy protections under the Freedom of the Press part of the First Amendment. Founding Fathers established Freedom of the Press so that citizens could and would monitor, investigate and report the truth about what goes on in government entities in order to prevent corruption).  Based on the reasoning behind the First Amendment, it looks like the Founding Fathers would consider blogging about a public school district the patriotic thing to do!

No one likes it when the facts cast them in an unfavorable light, but it is legal to tell the truth and it is illegal to retaliate against truth-tellers in any way.

This brings us to the Fall Climate Survey results and the failure to report those results. It could be interpreted that the results are not being published in order to silence teachers about what they witness on their individual campuses. Some teachers are now fearful that because their responses may not have been positive, they will endure retaliation (even though they were promised anonymity) and the public will never know what prompted the retaliation.

Bottom line: teachers completed the surveys, taxpayers paid for the surveys and it is past time to share the results.

For example, one of the survey statements is: Unruly students are not permitted to disrupt the learning environment. Teachers may choose responses that include Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree or Strongly Disagree.

Certainly, every DISD parent has the right to know what percentage of teachers on their child’s campus answered positively (either Strongly Agree or Agree) about whether or not unruly students are permitted to be disruptive. No parent wants their child to attend a school where “unruly” students rule the roost and parents should not be forced to rely on a principal’s say-so to determine if that happens.

Another statement is: Discipline is enforced consistently and effectively at my campus. Again, parents deserve to know what percentage of teachers answered Strongly Agree/Agree. If you had children in any school, wouldn’t knowing if teachers agreed with this statement be important to you?

A third statement is: My campus leadership helps me improve the quality of my instruction. If the majority of teachers at a campus do not either strongly agree or agree with that statement, this could indicate a problem at that campus. Think about it: if the majority of teachers answer Neutral or Disagree, isn’t that a red flag? Isn’t it the principal’s job (and the APs’ and especially the Instructional Coaches’) to help teachers improve to the point that teachers can either strongly agree or agree with that statement?

Parents also deserve to know the percentage of teachers who strongly agree/agree with the statement: I have the support I need from campus leadership to do my job well.

Other than blogs and the climate survey, teachers have no way to anonymously report campus conditions. The taxpayers paid for the survey because taxpayers understand the need to hear from teachers. So where are the results?

DISD parents and taxpayers should request the results from their child’s campus or any campus. If a campus refuses to provide the results, Dallas needs to know.

I hope the Dallas Morning News (as the city’s only traditional newspaper) and all of the other media outlets will join us in calling for the results to be published so parents can have the information they need to be fully engaged and aware when it comes to their child’s education.

Who is denying the release of the survey results so that they can be published?

Posted in Teachers Rule

Why Effective Teachers Quit DISD–and Why None are Standing in the Wings

voltaireEvery single week in DISD, another teacher quits. Or 20, depending on whose numbers you’re reading.

As an effective (rated as such by student test scores and administrator evaluations) DISD teacher, it would be my pleasure to fill the public in on precisely why good teachers quit in DISD.

First of all, let’s make one thing clear: It’s NOT the poverty of the kids that drives teachers away; in fact, many DISD teachers work in DISD because of the level of need. To help a child facing so many challenging obstacles and circumstances is rewarding in a way that cushy conditions and the amount of money your average 1%-er makes just isn’t. Crazy, I know, but not everyone has aspirations to be a 1%-er.

Teachers also aren’t quitting in in droves due to the fact that administrators in DISD rake in obscene amounts of money while teachers have to beg strangers on Donors Choose for COPY PAPER. It is sort of demeaning to beg for copy paper while the superintendent pays 5-figure severances to people who QUIT, but teachers have learned to put their students first.

TEI? Not a concern. Similar schemes have failed all over the nation and TEI will fail here. It is unsustainable and will not withstand the onslaught of lawsuits headed its way. It’s not going to last. Every teacher knows that DISD is going to have raise pay across the board to attract and retain staff whether they like it or not, regardless of TEI.  No one is quitting because they don’t think they’ll ever get another raise.

Neither are teachers resigning en masse because of the rampant corruption down at 3700, corruption that’s so bad it makes Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street look like a Sunday School class. While immoral and illegal, teachers can work around it.

So what’s the real reason effective teachers quit DISD? Three things: Mike Miles, his principal selections and his imposed teaching “methods.”

I’m sure the guy is really nice while he’s taking a “reporter” on a tour of an elementary school, but he doesn’t know sheep sh*t from cotton seed when it comes to picking great principals, motivating teachers and looking out for vulnerable students.

The truth is that conditions for most teachers at most campuses would make Carmen Darville blush.

For starters, principals are hired without serving at least 3 years as assistants in DISD. So they barge in, barking out orders, blaming teachers, changing everything but the brick exterior and they promptly fall flat on their faces while discipline problems soar out of control.

Almost immediately, a vicious cycle of teacher churn, unsafe conditions and falling scores takes hold; in response, the unprepared Fellows do the only thing they know to do: they double-down on the micromanaging, the anger, the belittling, the blaming, the demands and the constraints on teachers.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the results from the Fall Climate Survey.
Oh wait…you can’t! The district won’t release them. Isn’t that strange.

Sadly, once a school loses a few of its effective teachers, it’s a Festival of Failure from there on out and teachers cannot risk going down with the ship. Without a change in leadership, a mass exodus begins that can’t be stopped. Turnover begets turnover, which begets discipline problems and unsafe conditions.

Then there’s what some call the Miles’ Method of Teaching that drives teachers away. HOURS are spent worshipping every aspect of this format and discussing it like it’s an Eternal Truth handed down by L. Ron Hubbard. The Fellows, fresh out of their indoctrination sessions, are determined to enforce it regardless of what it does to kids and any measurement of student achievement. The beatings will continue until morale improves! Teachers are forced to spend excessive amounts of time and energy crafting and defending their LOs and DOLs (and now SLOs) while Rome burns. And by “Rome” I mean campus discipline.

But who gets the blame when all of the LO/DOL navel-gazing results in dropping test scores and dangerous discipline problems? The principals who practically fetishize LO/DOL/MRS in their desperation to please Miles? Of course not; the teachers get all of the blame.

Not surprisingly, word about all of this gets out and few new teachers want to work in DISD. This certainly isn’t because colleges aren’t graduating enough people certified to teach. There are plenty of certified teachers waiting in the wings…of other school districts. They simply won’t work where the conditions are deplorable.

(Not that I’m an economist or anything, but I remember reading about this thing called “capitalism” and “the markets.” Basically, the theory is that people won’t work where they’re treated like sheep sh*t unless they are paid very well–like a Mike-Miles-cabinet-hire level of well).

So there you have it: DISD is bleeding effective teachers and no one is waiting in DISD’s wings to replace them because the working conditions in DISD are abysmal. Effective teachers don’t have to stick around and increasing numbers refuse to do so.

The solution—the only solution—is to find a new superintendent before the suburbs start hiring in April.

Posted in Teachers Rule

Who’s on First? the Dallas ISD Reality Show

disd-keyhole-rawlingsThose of you who have been in the Dallas Morning News building may be able to answer this question: When you get in the elevator, are all the floors marked with numbers or are there gaps or maybe symbols for certain floors?

I’m thinking the News Department surely has a numbered button, but apparently the Editorial Department has some secret entrance known only to a chosen few.

This secret keyhole surely must be how Mayor Rawlings (maybe extra work for Sam Merten at one point?) sneaks in his talking points and certainly is how Superintendent Mike Miles delivers his latest spin on the urgent need to support his reform measures, because there’s a total disconnect between the factual reporting going on at the News level and the endless drumbeat of Miles’ support by the Editorial board.

On the one hand, reporters Matt Haag and Tawnell Hobbs continue their slog through 4,000 pages of instant messages from the HR department at DISD and link them to an almost comical video from the October 22, 2014 Board meeting, detailing what they politely call contradictions in how the administration justified a request for $6.4 million to pay for extra staff.

What the messages reveal is a $10 million plus “whoopsie” on the part of the personnel department, and the board meeting video documents Miles’ and his cabinet chiefs’ attempt to explain the budget request without admitting the screw-up.

Meanwhile, the Editorial Board is praising Miles’ plan for the future, a plan which entails asking voters for the maximum allowable tax increase coupled with a Public Facility Corporation issuing $1.5 billion of lease revenue bonds, non-taxpayer approved and, at least initially, repaid with interest only payments from General Operating Funds.

Who would trust these guys with over a billion dollars? When Miles was asked at a DMN editorial board meeting how much of a tax rate increase would be lost to “Robin Hood”, he declined to answer, basically saying that was CFO Jim Terry’s area of expertise, not his. When Jim Terry was asked at the October Board meeting what the current enrollment figures were, he gave a way-off number then corrected with “I’ll get back to you.”

Does anybody know anything? And if they do, who do they tell? Miles has already admitted he shares with some board members more than others, why would we not expect that from everyone at 3700?

I guess, as Miles and Terry tried to explain in their nonsensical explanations of the leveling process and teacher placement, there are apples and then there are APPLES, and we shouldn’t attempt to understand the difference and compare them to oranges, or something like that.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Smisko did her part to add to the confusion, and in the process showed her willingness to join the crowd under the bus, when she wrote trustees a letter explaining that the district cannot be accused of over-hiring last fall when there were vacancies, despite the fact that, as DMN reporter Matt Haag points out, both too many teachers and vacancies can exist at the same time if the wrong hires are made.

That kind of thinking might explain the confusing reporting of the district’s current fund balance. While the Hub district news service reported in November 2014 that there was $324 million in reserves that number apparently included $143 million the district is required to set aside for payment of a federal loan due in 2033. The DMN reported only $150 million in reserves in an article this month, probably a more accurate reflection of current funds if we include $10 million in unbudgeted transportation costs and the $6.4 million in unbudgeted staffing costs requested in October. Hopefully the $143 million is still there but unreported. Add a few new administrators, a couple of severance packages, and it’s no wonder the district is selling excess toilet paper for cash.

Imagine having to pay back over a billion dollars in bonds from General Operating Funds this way, relying on an administration that, at any given point, can’t explain basic school finance and has no idea how many kids are enrolled, and varies the fund balance numbers according to the target audience.

A recent Moody’s report cautioned that DISD’s bond rating could be affected by:

-Economic contractions measured by taxable value declines
-Trend of imbalanced operations resulting in draws on reserves
-Inability to build reserves sufficient to meet bullet payment due in 2033 will affect limited tax debt

Gee, can’t you see every one of those scenarios happening? An economic downturn and a decline in appraisal values resulting in decline in tax revenue? Imbalanced operations due to inexperienced hires in personnel resulting in millions of dollars in staffing overruns; that certainly sounds familiar. And that $143 million payment due in 2033? Well surely the district will not run into problems by burdening the district with even more debt that draws from the same well as salaries and utility payments.

So we have an administration that can’t accurately count current teachers or students, tells different stories to different people depending on the phase of the moon, can’t explain how they plan to finance future building without the cheat sheet they left at the office, and has a plausible explanation for the use of the word “spin” as used by a personnel coordinator desperately “making a mess look like it was all part of the plan.”

There is one conclusion that becomes obvious when listening to the October Board meeting video. We can all save ourselves time and trouble and just watch this clip next Thursday instead of the regularly scheduled Board Meeting.

It just kind of says it all.

Abbott & Costello Who's On First

Posted in Rotten in Denmark Tagged with: , , ,

Dallas ISD Board, Foxes and Toilet Paper: Nothing New Here

disd-toilet-paper-roll-foxOne could just roll the last few posts into one article that would describe perfectly last night’s Called Board Meeting. The agenda covered the Internal Audit investigation into Human Capital Management, the superintendents’ response, and the release of the Coggin’s report clearing Bernadette Nutall of any wrongdoing in her relations with district employees.

Foxes in the henhouse
, mind your own business and, of course, toilet paper.

The Board came out of closed session and proceeded to publicly grill chief Internal Auditor Mike Singleton on the first agenda item for public discussion, his handling of the serious allegations one of his investigators had raised concerning the Human Capital Management (HCM) department.

It became apparent pretty quickly that a public spanking was all that would come of this tortuous process. Singleton went round and round; he had never hidden anything from trustees, the trustees were informed of the investigation in their Friday packet, when the scope of the investigation changed he decided to maybe seek outside counsel and delayed the report until the investigation could be completed.

By golly, he was going to “build that case and make one report.”

But of course he did make a report, to Superintendent Mike Miles, on January 7, even though the investigation was not completed. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure it even officially started. Which raises the question of how you can complete an investigation which hasn’t even been initiated.

Apparently, when investigator Vickie Blair resigned, citing a lack of support for an investigation into top administrators, Internal Audit didn’t know what to do with her report. I guess Singleton was looking for direction from Miles when he presented it to him.

Miles claimed to be taking his time, making a deliberate decision with due respect for a hard working employee, until the Dallas Morning News published the infamous derogatory messages.

Even though Miles says he’s “not good at making tough decisions” he made his mind up pretty quickly at that point and the HCM chief and another employee were out the door. Funny how a little publicity can speed up the decision making process.

So, Mike Singleton has been properly chastised but he has crawled out from under the bus and been given another chance.

“People make errors” trustee Nancy Bingham said, “Look at Brian Williams.”

Let’s hope Singleton’s error was not the same as Williams’. Not sure that’s a comparison I would appreciate.

The discussion ended with Miles giving us a laundry list of new evaluation procedures for staff, new training and new professional development.

So, nothing here to look at, move along and mind your own business!

The next discussion concerned Miles’ handling of the whole affair, what he knew when and who he told.

Miles admitted to discussing the resignations of HCM Chief Carmen Darville and Director Tony Munoz, and/or their settlements, with all trustees except Nutall, Foreman, and Jones. And he said so with no apology or regret.

That’s the toxic situation these three trustees have repeatedly found themselves in with Miles, yet they are chastised by the media for not playing nice, and the “dysfunctional” board was one of the Home Rule supporters’ main complaints.

Best quote during this discussion was from Trustee Jones who, after Miles identified Tonya Sadler-Grayson, whose failure to disclose a conviction on her application triggered the investigation that led to the present situation, as being currently in charge of the Office of Professional Standards, asked “And the wisdom of that is what?”

Kind of like putting the fox in charge of the chicken farm menu.

The third agenda item was the Coggin’s report Miles said Jack Elrod initiated into trustee Bernadette Nutall alleged violations of policy. Read it for yourself, there are no surprises. Clearly Miles went on a witch hunt against Trustee Nutall, reminiscent of his efforts to smear Trustee Jones in the summer of 2013 with the Kevin Smelker resignation letter.

So it just goes on and on.

We listened to justifiable outrage from at least five of the trustees as they expressed, with strong language and even stronger emotion at times, their displeasure with the Superintendent and his actions.

But, in the end, after all the words had been used: reprehensible, appalled, outraged, hypocritical, intolerable, not acceptable, poor judgment, failed judgment, after a litany of sins had been spelled out and detailed, the Board walked away with no action taken.

Trustee Blackburn pleaded with all present to “work together.” “We do not have to be enemies.”

Again, what is the definition of insanity?

Auctioning off toilet paper when campuses ration its use fits the definition. So does expecting different behavior from a superintendent and his administration when they have clearly demonstrated they have absolutely no intention of working with the Board.

Apparently the Superintendent, the bully that he is, has enough support from Mayor Rawlings and the cadre of puppet masters who brought him to Dallas, that he is untouchable no matter what his behavior or policies, no matter what disgrace and embarrassment he brings to Dallas.

Trustees should remember that behavior that is tolerated today is behavior that can be expected tomorrow.

Posted in Giving Grades Tagged with: , , , , ,

Dallas ISD: The Case of the Missing Toilet Paper

toilet-paper-auction-disdTeachers have posted on blogs and raised the issue at meetings. Basic supplies including copy paper and toilet paper are at a premium in the district. PTA’s are asked to buy copy paper for their schools, and students are asked to bring Kleenex and hand sanitizer.

Toilet paper seems to be on the Short Supply List at many schools.

One teacher buys toilet paper for her class; when a student takes a trip to the necessary, she rations out a number of sheets and places them in a plastic baggy, since there is no guarantee the students will find what they need in the school restroom.

Well, looky here, it seems we have found the answer to the question of where all that taxpayer bought toilet paper is going, since obviously it’s not finding its way to BOYS or GIRLS!

An online auction house that specializes in surplus equipment currently lists 9 lots of Dallas ISD owned toilet tissue for sale to the highest bidder. It figures to be 11,880 rolls of the good stuff, enough to give each DISD school about 50 rolls each.

Now that we have discovered where the missing TP is, maybe we can unwind a roll or two and see if we can follow the paper trail to its source, and figure out why the heck the district thinks it has surplus toilet paper.

In the meantime, kids, go prepared with your own!

Posted in Rotten in Denmark Tagged with:

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Foundation for Empowerment (FCE) released 3 papers:

1. Disruptive Change: Mike Miles and the Crisis In Dallas ISD, which has been prepared with consultation by education academics, extensive research, review of data and education literature, and meetings and interviews with people of Dallas holding varying and sometimes conflicting points of view;

2. Digging Into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-Down Education Report, by Dr. Julian Vasquez Helig, Lindsay Redd, M.A. and Dr. Ruth Vail; and

3. The Challenge of Disruptive Leadership in Dallas ISD, by Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D. and Matthew Birkhold, M.A.

"You will see from these papers that, after much research and discussion, we believe the current Superintendent lacks the pedagogical, leadership and integrity qualities necessary to lead Dallas ISD and recommend the Board terminate his contract."

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Contact the Superintendent and Trustees:
3700 Ross Avenue, Box 1
Dallas, TX 75204

Superintendent Mike Miles

Lew Blackburn, 1st Vice President
District 5
Term Expires 2016
(972) 925-3718
Oak Lawn, West Dallas, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of East Oak Cliff

Miguel Solis, Board President
District 8
Term Expires 2017
(972) 925-3721
Love Field, Northwest Dallas, and Central Dallas

Eric Cowan
District 7
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North Central Oak Cliff and parts of West Dallas

Nancy Bingham
District 4
Term Expires 2016
(972) 925-3722
Southeast Dallas, Seagoville, Balch Springs

Elizabeth Jones, 2nd Vice President
District 1
Term Expires May 2015
(972) 925-3722
Northwest Dallas, including North Dallas, Addison, parts of Carrollton and Farmers Branch

Mike Morath
District 2
Term Expires 2017
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North and Near East Dallas

Dan Micciche, Board Secretary
District 3
Term Expires May 2015
(972) 925-3722
Northeast Dallas

Joyce Foreman
District 6
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Southwest Dallas

Bernadette Nutall
District 9
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South Dallas and parts of Downtown Dallas, Pleasant Grove, Deep Ellum, Uptown, and East Dallas

"Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils because they dare to be honest and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them." --Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833