“When people make a contract with the devil and give him an air-conditioned office to work in, he doesn’t go back home easily.”
It took almost 24 hours longer than I predicted, but Saturday morning brought news that former Vice-President Joe Biden had secured the necessary votes to win Pennsylvania. With that win, he secured the Presidency via the electoral college.
A Biden presidency is a reason to cheer on many levels, not the least is that it means the imminent departure of current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. There is bipartisan recognition of her reign as an unmitigated failure. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a Biden presidency will be a vast improvement. After all, the Obama years were nearly as misguided as the DeVos years.
There is a reason for hope though. As president, Biden promises a much larger investment in education. He’s promising to triple funding for Title 1 schools, as well as double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, and social workers in schools. Increased spending on school infrastructure is on his radar, as is a dramatic increase in special education funding. All very needed investments.
However, I hope we don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s just money schools need. In order to see improved outcomes, it’s imperative that teachers be given more freedom in addressing student needs and that some of the additional responsibilities that have fallen on their plates are alleviated. Fully fund our schools, has become such a familiar meme, yet nobody ever defines what that means. Keep in mind, MNPS just spent a million dollars on a curriculum that is currently not being used with fidelity district-wide. Is that kind of spending what we consider fully funding schools?
As someone whose children spent their recently completed elementary school years in a Title 1 school, I can attest that money matters but it’s not the only thing. Student experiences matter. Putting too much emphasis on students scoring well on standardized testing matters. Discipline policies that treat students with equity, but also ensure the safety of teachers and students matters. Teacher workforce stability matters, we can’t keep bleeding people from the profession at the current high rates. Just adding $30 billion to the budget ain’t going to be the elixir. We need a deep reassessment of what matters and how to bring the needed improvements to fruition.
Unfortunately, many of the same names are being bandied around for the job of Secretary of Education. Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, is overseeing the transition team for the Department of Education and is considered a leading candidate for the permanent position, though she says she doesn’t want it. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association, are also considered in the mix, along with several favorites being pushed by Democrats for Education Reform – Sonja Brookins Santelises of Baltimore City Public Schools, Janice K. Jackson of Chicago Public Schools and William Hite of the School District of Philadelphia. None of these names fill me with confidence.
A few other names are floating around, Tony Thurmond, the California state superintendent of public instruction; Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), a former national teacher of the year; Betty A. Rosa, interim commissioner of education in New York state; and Denise Juneau, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Of these candidates, Juneau might be the most interesting. Having arrived in Seattle from Montana where she was the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. As an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes, a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe, and the Tlingit and Haida Tribes, she is the first American Indian woman in the country ever elected to an executive statewide office.
While Juneau has for the most part done an admirable job in Seatle, she is currently embroiled in controversy. The Seattle chapter of the NAACP is accusing her of eradicating Black males from positions of leadership within SPS. Being as this is a contract renewal year for her, it’s a little difficult to discern what is fact and what is politics.
Today we celebrate, but we’ll keep watching and praying for better people and policy.
On the national level, Betsy DeVos may be on the way out, but Tennessee’s version in the form of Penny Schwinn is still firmly entrenched at the TDOE. This past week I received another batch of information from out west that continues to paint a very confusing picture of the Commissioner’s career over the last decade. Let me see if I can’t tune the resolution on those years, but I’m warning, you might want to keep a pen and paper handy to take notes. This is going to get hairy.
In May of 2014, Commissioner Schwinn accepts a position as “Founder”, later changed to “Executive Director”, for Capitol Collegiate Academy at a rate of pay of $125K a year(Schwinn Employment Agreements_Capitol Collegiate). One month later her family moves to Delaware and she accepts the job of Chief Accountability/Performance Officer for the Delaware Department of Education. Despite both of these positions being considered “Executive level” jobs, Schwinn is apparently confident that she is capable of doing both.
The ED job at CCA comes with some apparently extensive responsibilities unless you pay attention to this caveat,
The specific breakdown of responsibilities will be outlined in full within individual job descriptions, but the day-to-day functionality of related operational roles of other operational staff will be at the discretion of the School Principal. Further, many of the responsibilities herein will require a strong collaboration and coordination with the School Principal and Board Chair. All hiring decisions, staff management, salary decisions, etc. will be made solely by the School Principal, and all evaluations will be conducted by the School Principal (with consultation by the Executive Director – Operations for related work).
In other words, the brunt of the work is likely falling on the shoulders of the principal, Cristin Fiorelli, and the operations staff. Which makes sense, since they live in California, where the school is located, and Schwinn had moved to Delaware. This caveat also explains why, according to CCA’s 990s, the principal is compensated more than the Executive Director.
So 2014 unfurls with Schwinn doing both jobs, at least according to the school’s 990. Sometime in the early Fall of 2015, Schwinn submits a renewal notice to CCA. In it, she makes a vague reference to a “transition our replacement Executive Director” – perhaps, they had a replacement lined up who fell through. She does confirm that she will resume “full-time duties on a temporary basis” and she commits to locating a replacement by 8/31/2016 at the latest. Unfortunately for Schwinn, she loses her gig with the DOE in early January and she needs the paycheck from CCA, thus a replacement is not secured.
I’m a little confused here over the supposed difficulty in locating a permanent ED. Keep in mind, at this juncture, CCA only holds students at the k-4 levels and is made up of less than 300 students. They pay $125k a year and the new candidate would benefit from having an operations staff and a principal that has already assumed the brunt of the work. Both UC – Davis and the west coast campus of Drexel University – two top education schools that have alumni on the CCA board – are nearby. Maybe somebody should have made one of those pull-tab fliers and staked it to the campus bulletin boards. Just a suggestion. But what do I know?
At the very least one would expect to find evidence of a director search in the minutes of the CCA board meetings, but none is evident. It raises the question of how serious were they in pursuing a permanent director?
Time now to break out some pen and paper. Per Ms. Schwinn’s contract, she was slated to make $140k for 2015/2016. But, according to the renewal notice, without acknowledging that she currently resided on the other side of the country, she recognized the increased travel cost burden for the school and requested a reduction of $5k to help offset that increased expense. I must say, I find it appalling that Schwinn feels it is ok to use money from California taxpayers, targeted to provide educational services for underprivileged children, to transport herself back and forth between coasts. Worth noting, Schwinn still has family residing in the Sacramento area.
So we’ll start the math by surmising that she’s getting a raise of 15K, but only taking 10K. Interestingly, she employs a similar strategy in punishing her friend Katie Houghtlin after Houghtlin is found guilty of creating a hostile workplace. But that’s another story for another day. Just keep in mind, that all of the actions of the commissioner today have been predicted by her actions in the past.
The question that arises here is, was Schwinn’s offer accepted? CCA’s 990 shows that Schwinn was only paid 93,333 for the year. If we work from the assumption that there was a replacement Executive Director in place from July 1 to the renewal date of 11/1, the assumption would be that Schwinn received no compensation during that time. Take out your calculators now, 135k divided by 12 equals a monthly rate of 11,250. So take the monthly rate and times it by the four missed months, 45,000. Subtract that number from 135K and you get 90K.
Now take 140k and divide by 12. That equals 11,666. Multiply that by 4 and it equals 46,666. Subtract that number from $140,000 and you get…yea, draw your own conclusions.
So what about this travel cost thing. How much was being spent? It had to have been at least $5k for the commissioner to offer back that amount. Looking at the audits for CCA over the years and we see the following figures, the first number relates to programming and the second managerial,
2015 – 26252/14136
2016 – 54759/23905
2017 – 54846/28559
2018 – 13986/0
2019 – 8383/6422
Those are American dollars, not pesos. To my untrained eye, those figures seem especially high for a school that is k-8 and is attended by less than 400 kids. But, if you have an executive director that lives clear across the country, maybe not. The numbers seem to drop upon Schwinn’s arrival in Tennessee, but hold consistent throughout her tenure in Texas.
By all indications, despite the word “temporary” being included in the title, Schwinn served as CCA’s Executive Director until February 1 of 2019. To her credit, she did ask for another reduction in salary for the 2016/2017 school year. The 70K in salary mentioned here jibes with what is reported on the school’s 990. Curiously though, the 990 has her working 40 hour weeks, and not the 23 Schwinn proposed. As a refresher, during the 2016/2017 school year, Schwinn was also being paid just shy of 200k annually by Texas taxpayers to serve as their Deputy Commissioner of Academics.
It is also worth noting, since Schwinn is a self-avowed conservative, that by collecting a salary in California and residing in Delaware, and Texas, she was transferring California taxpayer money to another state economy. While the other states are probably grateful, I can’t help but think of all the grief I gotten in the past for spending my Davidson County generated paycheck in Williamson County.
Upon accepting the position of Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Schwinn promptly offered her resignation as CCA’s Executive Director but transitioned into that of a board member. Due to living in Tennessee, she is forced to attend board meetings via telephone, something she does from her taxpayer-financed office in downtown Nashville.
The resignation letter from Schwinn is filled with her usual level of hubris and based on a look at the meta-data, suspiciously appears to be of a recent construct. In it, she claims that the 30-40 hours a week she’s been working during nights and weekends are no longer sustainable. She claims these hours despite the aforementioned renewal notice’s claim of only working 23 hours a week.
This would be a good place to break out the calculator again. Schwinn claims to have been devoting 40 hours a week to Capitol Collegiate Academy, but a look at her resume also shows that during her ED tenure she, held multiple executive-level positions in multiple states, she worked on obtaining multiple doctorates degrees, she attended the Broad Center, she interviewed for multiple other high-level positions – Ohio Commissioner of Education, Massachusets Commissioner of Education, Superintendent in Osceola, Florida – while adopting a child and raising her children. Add up the required hours, and then let know if that is even feasible, let alone if anyone is capable of filling those duties at a high level. And obviously, her past demonstrates a lack of the latter, as she has been repeatedly dogged by lawsuits and terminations throughout the decade.
I don’t lay all of this at the feet of Penny Schwinn though. She is just the product of a series of enablers and exploiters, the latest being Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee. Lee has shown a propensity to overlook Schwinn’s shortcoming presumptively because she serves in a vital role for him.
Before becoming Governor, he worked extensively with the Men of Valor program. A program that attempts to address the needs of men who have been incarcerated. Through this work, I believe he saw first hand the correlation between not being able to read and incarceration. As an off shoot, he decided that prior efforts by past administrations to increase literacy rates were failures. As a go-to kind of guy, he decided it was up to him to find the solution. To do so would require a disruptor, someone who wasn’t afraid of coloring a little out of the lines. Penny Schwinn fills that role.
The governor’s commitment to literacy is admirable and should provide ample ground for collaboration with the General Assembly. Using Schwinn to circumvent the elected body and as a means to subvert the state to his views, and his alone, is not so admirable. Improving literacy rates across the state of Tennessee is vital, but to do it in an echo chamber will doom the initiative to failure. With different leadership at the TDOE, I think the Governor would find a plethora of people willing to get behind him. Continually supporting the current leadership will only serve to further distract from what should be our sole focus.
Remember earlier when I said that all of Schwinn’s actions were predicated on her past? As such, it’s easy to see how this movie ends. Maya Angelou said it best when she said, “When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.” Penny Schwinn has shown us who she is on multiple occasions. The only question that remains is, will we believe her?
BAD COVID DECISIONS FOR A HUNDRED JIM
Last week I told you about, Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, and a collection of state and district officials visiting Julia Green Elementary School. Keep in mind, that due to the ongoing pandemic this a privilege that parents don’t enjoy. But apparently, COVID-19 recognizes the importance of these administers, so they pose no threat to students and teachers at the school. and they to them. Not so fast.
On Saturday, some Julia Green parents received a letter that their children had exposed and might need to quarantine. The letter did say that the exposure took place on November 2, but was the virus not present in the building on November 5th?
Commissioner Schwinn per usual made things even more interesting because, on November 6th, she and her children got on a plane and went back to Cali for the weekend. Hope one of those letters didn’t show up at the Schwinn household on Saturday, but with 243 people from Julia Green currently quarantined, the odds don’t favor it.
Meanwhile, I’m left asking, how did anybody benefit from a bunch of adults showing up in a school building against health department advice? Is this really an example of putting kids first? Did anyone of those in attendance question the propriety of participating in the photo op? Or were they more concerned with looking good on social media? The bad decisions seemly continue unabated.
If the Governor and the Commissioner continue to insist on entering schools, as their social media posts indicate, they need to exercise a higher level of caution. School nurses are trying to instill in teachers the importance of curtailing their out of school actions, Lee and Schwinn need to heed the same. It’s one thing to imperil children by forcing them back into under-resourced schools, it’s quite another to do it through placing PR needs ahead of their safety.
On a side note, before we leave the Covid convo, I just found out today that MNPS’s weekly report only includes new cases. So that makes the reports even less informative. Transparency, it’s not just a word in the dictionary.
LOOK WHO”S GOT A NEW GIG.
Former Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn will always hold a special place in my heart. He was a chief architect for a voucher bill that failed to pass in 2017, despite his confidence in its success. I’ll never forget that look of contempt he gave me as he left chambers after the vote failed at the last minute.
Well, he’s got a new gig now. This afternoon it was announced on a Superintendent call that he has been named a special advisor for the TDOE. So much for a hiring freeze. Wonder where the cash is coming from. You know Dunn ain’t doing volunteer work.
In addition to vouchers, Dunn pushed for multiple years to end VPK, he supported school choice, so there is room to question his overall support for public ed. However, he is respectful. He also studies and does his homework. He always asked strong questions. So he is not devoid of positives.
I suspect his major role will be in corralling legislators who may entertain ideas other than those promoted by Governor Lee. In that way, his current position is not too different from past responsibilities. Nobody carries water like Bill Dunn. Should be interesting to observe him advise the commissioner.
Let’s take a look at this week’s poll questions. responses were down but still presented interesting results.
The first question asked if you voted in-person or absentee. Apparently, the DGW crowd is a hearty one. 77% of you voted in person with only 7% choosing to cast an absentee ballot. No write-ins on this one.
Over the last 8 years, every time I attempted to gauge the faith in MNPS school board members, Amy Frogge always came out ahead by a large margin. I was curious who, in her absence, would assume the mantel. While there were no runaways, Emily Masters finished first, with Abigail Tylor and Christianne Buggs close behind. Despite not even being sworn in yet, newly elected board member John Little received more votes than Fran Bush, Sharon Gentry, or Gini Pupo-Walker. Here are those write-Ins,
- All are too far removed from what running a school looks like.
- The one who resigns in favor of someone who can deliver on the promise.
- Not Gini, a snake
- Not sure yet
The last question asked, what grade would you give MNPS’s new Chief of Schools Dr. Bellamy. 31% of you answered, “I don’t currently know the answer to that question”. Which is ironically is the same answer he routinely offers principals when they seek answers. 42% of you don’t award him a passing grade, while 13% offer a “C”. Color y’all unimpressed. Here are the write-in votes,
- Worst we ever had. 0 leadership
- What’s he do? Who is he?
- Total and complete waste of money
That’s it for today.
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