Academic Distress Committee

I was interviewed for the Academic Distress Committee for Lorain City Schools.  If I had been selected I would not have been able to run for school board as it’s a commitment of three years.  The interview process was little like an interview.  I asked most of the questions and talked mainly to Superintendent Tucker.  As a former educator I discussed my feeling that we need to return to the basics.  That we need to make sure teachers are teaching for all learning modalities.   I discussed the cultural disconnect our teachers have with our black population of students.  And suggested sensitivity training for teachers.  I was given documents provided by the state in regards to the purpose of the distress committee.

I found Tom Tucker to be passionate, intelligent and likable.   He mentioned at one point in the interview he had been told about me prior to the meeting and said he actually agreed with me on a lot of issues.   He also asked me if I wanted to be involved with the school district in another capacity should I not be selected for the committee.

I was not selected for the committee.  I knew before I  interviewed I had no chance of being selected.  Instead the school district attorney’s (Giardini) partner was selected, Henry Patterson and former school board member Raul Ramos.  This has been with much public scrutiny as the attorney for the district is supposed to be the city law director.  Giardini is an unneeded expense the district really cant afford.  This assures Giardini will be part of the process.

Ramos has been criticized as being a retread that may have contributed to the shape the district is in.  Make sure you read the comments.

Ironically the Patterson Gairdini connection has been around for a while.  In the Chronicle Telegram “Giardini said the central committee endorsed his challenge of Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern. Giardini, an attorney who represents the Lorain Board of Education, said if he were to defeat Redfern, he’d consider having attorney Henry Patterson, a colleague at Giardini, Cook & Nicol, assume his school board responsibilities.”

In June of 2012, Lorain mayor Chase Ritenauer apparently wanted to appoint Giardini as superintendent of schools.

Patterson ran for Lorain city council in 2005 and 2003 and he served as a Legislative Aide for two State Representatives as part of the Legislative Service Commission in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1997-1998.  He is a political character to say the least.

Raul Ramos extended Cheryl Atkinson’s contract and gave her a raise twice and a $5,000 bonus when were were on Academic Watch. When a surprise vote to hire Giardini as the Districts counsel, Ramos voted no because he felt the board should have been given a written recommendation.   He also thought it might be a conflict of interest since at the time Giardini was the superintendent’s landlord.  Ramos was endorsed by the Morning Journal for school board.  He continually voted to lay off teachers during his tenure and not administrators.  

This tainted committee has not passed the smell test.

2011-2012 Report Card Analysis

The state report card was finally released by the Ohio Department of Education.  The Lorain School District hit one state benchmark (yellow) and of six available designations, Lorain received the lowest “Academic Emergency”.   Please feel free to download a copy of my data analysis of this years scores compared to last year and the last year of the former school superintendent Dee Morgan click here.  I have also provided a link to the state report card as well.  I plugged in another year of the data from this year’s most recent report.  It doesn’t look good.  We scored lower in 19 (lavender) subject areas and showed improvement in only 8 (bold).  The most glaring negative for me on the report was the huge drop in graduation rate.  It went from 80.7% to 64% in just one year.  That’s an 11% drop from the previous year.

Also shocking was the drop in black student graduation rate from 65.6% in 2010 dropping to 54.6% in 2011.  This is appalling.  I have always felt there was a cultural disconnect between teachers and students when it comes to race.  These teachers aren’t reaching these kids.

One positive on the report was the “value added measure” (Pg 4 report card) that saw adequate yearly growth in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade reading achievement.  The subject of Math was not so lucky.

The Lorain Schools are failing our kids miserably there just isn’t any other way to say it.

Crash and burn

I was not a fan of superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and I was no stranger to voicing my opinion of her. I was contacted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer when she was considered for Cleveland School’s position and I was also contacted by the PBS station in Dekalb when she was considered for a position there.  I was interviewed by phone and was honest about how she left the district.

I have to bring up this fact because when I ran for school board in the last election cycle right after these interviews occurred, both of my local papers didn’t bother to contact me for their election publication even though I have a web presence on at least 6 websites.   My competitors had almost no web presence but they all were in the election preview.  Atlanta could find me but local papers could not.  I know I was purposely ignored because if elected, I would represent real change.

In addition,  an article was written in the Chronicle calling me a Republican in a non partisan race just days before the election in a heavily Democrat city and misquoted me in saying a  land study cost $600,000.  When in fact I said the whole debacle cost $600K and it was actually over $600K to be exact.   I voted Republican for one candidate and since he is no longer in office I am now a Libertarian.  Clever strategizing by the local paper to paint me out of the race.  They ignored me in their election preview and wrote a totally false article just days before the election.  But this is professional journalism.  You want change don’t look to your local paper to put it out there for you!

Back to Atkinson.  I think you could say the proof is in the pudding.  She was a train wreck here and I have researched this is past posts and she’s done it again in Dekalb.  She didn’t last two years and already they have run her out on a rail.  She was connected here in Lorain by the unpopular former board president Jeanine Donaldson who did not seek re-election due to her unpopularity.  Donaldson and Atkinson were sorority sisters.  Atkinson is the poster child for ineptitude and she also shines light into the mistakes we made as a school board.  Former school board president and recent DUI arrested Tony Dimacchia who is also a current school board member actually gave a raving review to Dekalb at her exit from Lorain.

Atlanta isn’t that far off from Lorain.  Both have terribly corrupt city governments, both have dysfunctional school boards and both waste taxpayer money like it’s water.   We can see Lorain the same way as Atlanta only on a grander scale.  More money and more kids but the same corrupt element running things.  For our Anthony Giardini they have their Michael Thurmond (Google his name).   We will not see change when we keep electing the same people who would find Cheryl Atkinson a viable choice based on her connections.  It’s about skills and qualifications not the good ole’ boy network.

We continue to elect  corrupt individuals with a dog in the race and we’ll continue to see our schools decline.  These people are corrupt and evil and don’t care about kids they care about job security.

Cleveland Magazine Analysis

Cleveland Magazine did a nice piece on “Rate Your Suburb”.  I pulled Lorain County Data out of the report and created a spreadsheet to compare the data.  Seven districts in Lorain County were included in the article.  The comparison was a snapshot of what ails us in Lorain.  Category after category we don’t even come close to our neighboring districts.

In the data analysis for total expenditures per student, Lorain was at the highest at $12,340.00 per student, the next lowest being Elyria at $10,329.00.  The lowest was  Avon at $7,181.00.

Cleveland Magazine rated Lorain lowest of the seven Lorain County school districts.

Administrative expenditures in Lorain was not highest but second highest at 12.40%, Sheffield Lake was the only district that spent more on administrator expenditures at 12.50%.

The Performance Index was quite telling.

102.8-Amherst

106.8-Avon

108.2-Avon Lake

91.4-Elyria

80.0-Lorain

102.2-North Ridgeville

96.6-Sheffield.

We are so low!

As an educator this looks like the district just isn’t educating kids to the standard they should be.

State Standards didn’t look much different:

26/26-Amherst

26/26-Avon

26/26-Avon Lake

15/26-Elyria

5/26-Lorain

25/26-North Ridgeville

22/26-Sheffield

We have to ask are our seniors graduating with all the tools they need to make it in the work world? Make your own decision-Ohio Graduation Test out of 500:

453.8-Amherst

472.1-Avon

469.7-Avon Lake

403.4-Elyria

338.4-Lorain

456.4-North Ridgeville

423.1-Sheffield

Finally Graduation Rate 2009-10

97.50%-Amherst

100%-Avon

97.60-Avon Lake

92.40%-Elyria

80.70%-Lorain

99.60%-North Ridgeville

98.30%-Sheffield

As a community we have to stop pretending our school district is making the grade.  We need an intervention.  I hope Tucker addresses this head on!

Clarification

Back when I was running for school board, I was put in an odd predicament in that I was the only candidate who was not contacted to be in both papers in their election coverage.  I was totally ignored.   They barely mentioned my name while publishing bios and pictures of all the other candidates.  The Morning Journal claimed I could not be contacted and the Chronicle claimed they couldn’t find me.  I’m literally on every social media available have several of my personal websites and more than any candidate out there in my race.  In addition, the Chronicle Telegram ran an article that misquoted me and told their audience I was a Republican although I was running in a non-partisan race.   The relevancy of my party would only matter to influence voters in a negative way in a heavy Democrat city.  They did not do this to any other candidate.  I would never ask for special treatment; just equal treatment, and I didn’t get it.

In the last few days I’ve been bombarded by calls and facebook emails from both papers.  Hmmm. Now when you have a garbage non-story suddenly you can find me?  Well guess what, until you issue a formal apology for purposely ignoring me unfairly and being unprofessional while I was a candidate, you can lose my number!  I will not speak to you on any subject!  What comes to mind is “pound salt”!

You didn’t give me a fair shot at getting in front the voters like you did every other candidate so guess what, I don’t need you!  I can do it on my own steam.

Some issues are just too petty and ridiculous to even respond to!

 

 

They want opinions…

The district is madly trying to find ways to get the community to buy into the district.  Their current scheme to get the buy in that gives voters the illusion they are part of the process is in the form of meetings to get the opinions of the public on how to find the next superintendent.

Finding applicants for jobs is a pretty straight forward process.  The fact that they need the public’s opinion on a very simple process suggests it’s a scheme and not a real invitation for voters to participate.  My prediction is they will go with someone the public doesn’t like and the voters will again be infuriated.

The biggest thing they need to change in this process is the compensation they are willing to pay this person.  The going rate for superintendents in Ohio is $140,000.  The district decided to pay the last person a quarter of a million dollars annually.  This was a huge mistake.  In addition, they paid her a $5,000.00 bonus while achieving one state parameter and being in academic watch.  This board has proven without a doubt they have no clue how to get a superintendent to achieve.  They dangled a big fat pay check and they got a money driven superintendent not a goal driven one.

The solution is simple. Pay the next superintendent the going rate of $140,000, but build into the contract an incentive to meet realistic goals like improving the state report card and improving the graduation rate.  Allow the income progression to grow each year with success being rewarded.  If the person doesn’t perform, they get paid rock bottom and we haven’t invested over a million dollars to be worse off, like we did with Atkinson.

Offering a big paycheck invites greed to apply.  Greed will say anything to get paid.  Case in point:  Cheryl Atkinson.    Offer a fair wage with the potential to earn more with hard work and you’ll find candidates who will be goal oriented and not just in it for the paycheck.

We need candidates who will take the job knowing if they perform they’ll be rewarded.  I don’t trust this committee to be up to the task.  You have a majority of the votes  politically connected to the most corrupt politicians in the city.  It’s about power and control not about improving the district and the education kids receive.  I hope you’ll go to the meeting and share your thoughts.  They need to hear it.  I hope they will be receptive of the opinions they receive I just don’t anticipate that happening.

Link

Here we go again…

Did you happen to write a check to the city of Lorain this year on or before April 15th?  Was it a tough check to write?  Did you notice they are taxing your pre-tax money, the larger amount?  Does that seem fair?  Aren’t your 401K and Medicaid payments  supposed to be tax free?   Guess what, when you pull your money out of your 40lK, you’ll get taxed again as income.  It’s a double hit.  When they do it that way they are actually taxing you at a higher percentage.  Nobody taxes your pre-tax amount, not even the IRS.    Only in Lorain.   Did you happen to notice your obligation was lower than last year if you worked outside the city?  That’s because myself and several hard working volunteers went door-to-door and collected signatures to allow you to vote on getting a credit for the income tax you pay to the city you work in.  We didn’t think it was fair you got double taxed.

We worked hard collecting those signatures and we were blasted in the newspapers for doing it.  But did you notice that you had to pay less?  The city promised it would be devastating if it passed.  Problem is the city never collected that money before, it was new money so it wasn’t taking anything away, they didn’t have it in the first place.  You voted to get your full credit back up to 2%.

Do you remember why you are paying it?  It hasn’t always been there.  Remember when Ford left and the city lost a lot of income tax.  They proposed a temporary five year income  tax to regroup and create replacement revenue streams, they just needed five years to do it.

Five years came and went, no regrouping no new revenue streams.  Two years ago they came to the voters again and asked for another five years of income tax to do the same thing.  And when they ask again because they have no intention of doing anything different, will you say yes or hold them to their promise?

If you’ll just remember how you felt when you wrote that check each year.  Going forward make a mental note:  I’ve paid one more year toward the five year tax, I can’t forget to say no when they ask again.  Remember the emotion of it.  How much it jacked up your finances that month.  Remember the bills that didn’t get paid so you could pay it.  Mostly remember they never intended to replace that money, they will just keep asking for yours.  Next time it will probably be a forever tax.

I’ve got bad news.  The new mayor of Lorain is intending to add to your current 2% burden.  Don’t be surprised if it’s double what you pay today.    There haven’t been any cuts and we still have three assistant mayors.  Even the mayor in Elyria, Holly Brinda made cuts.  She cut her pay and refused transportation reimbursement.  She also reviewed all the contracts to see if there was anywhere to save.  Our mayor didn’t do any of that.    She’s a Democrat.  If she can do it, he can do it.  But with all that education, the best he can come up with is to increase your taxes.  Nothing’s changed but the suit.

The school district was going to add an income tax, but the mayor  stepped in and made sure they didn’t because that was his big plan to fix the city.  He’s hoping his boyish charm and impish smile make the citizens open their wallets once again.  And the school plans on raising taxes too.  Here we go again…

 

The Levy Strategy

Update: In today’s Chronicle, the District has now changed its mind on what they are doing in November.  Apparently, the city also wants to add an income tax so the district backed off.  They are tentatively asking for a $5.5 mill real estate levy.  This piece was written based on an article in the  Journal a few days ago.  I had no idea they were going to change it…

–The Lorain School District recently announced they would do a blended levy in November giving a 2 mill giveback on real estate taxes to homeowners while adding an earned income tax.  Translated, homeowners would get a small reduction in property taxes but a large increase in income taxes.  Lorain workers currently pay 2% income tax to the city of Lorain.  Cleverly, the school district isn’t saying what percentage of increase each citizen would get, but carefully paint it with a broad brush and estimate it at a $5 mill levy.  If citizens knew the actual percentage of  increase, they would surely be more informed at the polls.  Sadly the numbers won’t be released until after the levy passes/fails at which point it’s too late to do anything about it.   In addition, because it’s a set dollar amount it will fluctuate based on those employed.  The lower the employment rate, the more  each person will have to pay to satisfy the 5 mill levy.  If times get tougher and more people lose their jobs those still employed will have to pay even more.    It could be as high as double the current income tax or higher.  Based on this fact alone I don’t support this type of levy.  They will be punishing the working for a bad economy.  On a voter earning $30,000, their current obligation is $600.00 annually, this could rise to $1,200.00 if this earned income levy passes.  Voters can get up to a 2% credit they paid to another municipality but that is based on the rate they pay to that other municipality.  Most cities don’t take Lorain taxes out of employee checks, so Lorain citizens are writing a rather large check each year to the city.  That check is going to get a whole lot larger!  If it passes there will be some angry tax payers come April 15th.

Voters may want to know why the district took this route. The district is hoping homeowners on retirement income and disability will vote for the income tax levy because it will reduce their property taxes, although minimally and they won’t be subject to the income tax increase because only the working will be obligated to pay the new earned income levy.

The levy is pitting one demographic of the community against another and they hope it resonates well with elderly voters.  About 74% of properties in the district are owned.  Anyone working and living in the city will be subject to this additional tax including renters.  They will be dipping into the home owner pool of money in addition to the working pool.

Lorain has about 14% of our community over 65, according to the census, the district is hoping these baby boomers will vote to lower their taxes as homeowners, while increasing the taxes of their fellow community members who are employed.  That represents about 9,800 potential votes for this levy.  They are counting on these folks to tip the scale.   Homeowners who work will get an additional tax with this plan.  Anyone on public assistance is not obligated to pay anything to the district for their children to attend school.  With a high population of poor in the community, the district reports 85% economically disadvantaged.  The district is counting on retirees and those on disability who are homeowners to adopt the mentality “let those working take on this burden”.   Let somebody else pay for it.

Board member Mitch Fallis proves this by his statement in Journal saying its “the burden on the working man and woman” sounding more like a socialist politician rather than a school board member.  It’s agreed someone needs to pay for it but the disproportional amount of productive members of the community compared to the massive amount of non productive members creates a very unfair funding situation.  The burden falls on the productive members entirely.  This blended levy will bring that home.  It seems unfair that people who aren’t obligated to pay anything are allowed to vote to force others to pay.  Taxpayers are getting it coming and going.

I did research in the past and compared the number of low income  housing units in the county.  Lorain had about 70% of all available low income housing units.  The poor flock to Lorain because it’s the only city with an abundant supply of low income housing.  As a result, the working in our community are in the minority.  They end up assuming the tax burden for the entire city.  But they have been taxed beyond their means and are tired of getting more and more taxes added to them.  The city and school district have been notorious tax and spenders being wasteful with tax dollars but always having a hand out for more.

The real need in the district is to make cuts and live within their means rather than continuing to raise taxes on the working community.  We’ve lost about 25% of our students so the district’s financial obligations should also be decreasing with this loss but instead they are going up. In addition, the district has lost students by the state issuing vouchers whenever the district has performed poorly.  Our citizens can then take those vouchers to charters schools or neighboring districts.  About five grand goes with them when they leave.   We have an incredibly top heavy district with administration cost at about $12 million.  If you look at the chart below you can see the trend is very alarming.  With a drop in enrollment the administration should at least trend similarly.

The strategy behind this levy is simple, pass it by any means necessary.  It looks more like they are trying to trick one group of people into voting on it to force another group of people to pay it.  It’s really an ugly strategy.

Link  

What’s a superintendent worth?

The Lorain district is again at a place where they need to find a permanent superintendent.  The last super was a dismal failure with the district scoring lower in 18 academics areas and being equal or better in 8.  In one of the years she was here, the state report card was so poor the district met only 3 state benchmarks out of 30, landing the district with only one school in the entire state scoring worse.  Atkinson took the District in Continuous Watch, and was in Academic Watch almost the entire 4 years she was employed.  The unwise school board members at the time thought it wise to pay the super a quarter of a million dollars a year to deal with our districts troubled finances and academic woes.  After it was all said and done and over $1 million dollars spent we were no better off.

The current school board is again thinking we need to pay the next super MORE than the last one.  The last one left us in a jam so they need to pay the next one more to clean it up.  They have not learned by their last mistake and will repeat it again.  After researching what the state pays the average superintendent, I found that in Ohio the average pay for a superintendent is just $140,000.  Our school board paid $225,000,   $85,000 more than the going rate.

Paying more than the norm is only attracting people who are doing it for the money and not people who truly want to make a difference.  We have proof positive after four years of Atkinson that more doesn’t mean better.

A strap cashed district cannot afford to attract a money grubbing failure again and needs a professional with proven success in turning a district around.  I would suggest a tiered pay schedule based on results.  I would also expect the committee looking to hire the next superintendent that the candidate submit a viable plan to fix the district and be evaluated and hired based on that plan.

We can’t keep flying by the seat of our pants.  We need a superintendent willing to make serious cuts at the Administration level.  A superintendent with a lean efficient staff is our only hope.  We need a proven leader not a social politician just looking to collect a very lucrative pay check.