Tag Archives: #CravenCountySchools

Wakeup 09-10-17

Lynn Taylor, known as “Common Core Diva,” was a special guest via Skype. Lynn lives in Mooresville (near Charlotte), North Carolina. She spent 23 years homeschooling her 3 children. Lynn is admired and respected by Kim Fink, and her CCTA Public Education Committee.

Rick asked Lynn if what’s going on in education here and what’s going on in the UN have any relationship. She said they are related, and the key to understanding it are the notions of “collectivism” and “sustainability,” and goals built around the idea of being “green.” The idea is that “technology saves trees,” and “we can’t be one big happy world if we’re not all connected digitally.” NC has been among the first to hook up to global efforts for education and data sharing. Lynn also says FERPA (the “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Right Act of 1974”) has been gutted by an Executive Order by President Obama. She pointed out that data can be collected (without permission) in students’ homes by their school provided devices.

This change was accomplished by a publication of the US. Department of Education which states in part: “High quality data and robust data systems will help us measure our progress towards President Obama’s goal for us to be first in the world in college completion by the year 2020 and better meet the needs of parents, teachers, and students. … the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has begun several initiatives to provide technical assistance to States, districts, and schools to protect the privacy rights of students, promote the responsible use of data to inform education policy and practices and empower parents, teachers and students to use this information to advocate for their rights and improve their educational outcomes.”

Wakeup Call
Wakeup 09-10-17

Craven County Schools is broke – Part 3

Once again, I write about Craven County Schools because two other articles on the recent announcement the district will be $3.5 million in the hole next year has not covered the amount of waste by the current board.

Following is a list of where some of your money has been spent in the past year.

Legal services
At the end of the past fiscal year, Craven County Schools spent $330,641 on legal services. That figure represents an extra $60,426 than what was budgeted, according to the financial audit presented to the board in December.
So, how did the district find itself spending so much on legal fees? Well, when you’re strapped with a civil action filed on behalf of a former student who suffered brain damage while nearly drowning on a school-sponsored field trip and have decided to fight the claims of “negligence,” it costs money.

Not only is Craven County Schools gearing up for a legal battle with the student as apparent during all their closed session meetings citing “attorney-client privilege,” but they’ve also been engrossed in a battle with a special needs mom who has asked for months for the disclosure of investigative materials related to an unauthorized therapeutic hold on her child which one doctor described as causing “excessive” bruises, according to court documents.

It was just this month that a judge reprimanded the school district for hiring an attorney to investigate the hold, which the N.C. Department of Public Instruction ruled unnecessary. The judge called into question the school’s integrity in hiring an attorney to investigate what should have been scrutinized by the district itself. He also seemed to allude to the fact it was a waste of taxpayers’ money for the school system to even contract with an attorney while staff could have investigated the hold.

Then, there’s the defense fund paid for by the school district regarding the bus driver who accidentally killed another person while navigating U.S. 70 in Goldsboro at 3:30 a.m. during the trip back from New Bern High School’s football championship game in December of 2014.

The driver was clearly in the wrong. She failed to yield while making a U-turn, according to the report from the State Trooper investigating the case. However, the school district wasted its money (or your money) on her legal defense.

Furthermore, according to the district’s own policies, they could have chosen not to pay the legal fees as breaking the law while fulfilling an employee’s duties gives the district a chance to opt out of footing the bill.

Public relations and marketing
Per the district’s audit report released in December, Craven County Schools overspent in public relations and marketing during the last fiscal year by more than $50,000. Now, while facing a budget shortfall of $3.5 million next year that may not seem like a lot of money, but it adds up quickly. In fact, when the public relations director herself makes around $80,000 a year, one has to question this overspending of funds. In a time where social media is readily available for public consumption, how can it cost that much to spread the word about important matters parents and stakeholders need to know about. The district has a Facebook account, a Twitter feed and a show on Channel 10 that actually donates a portion of time to the school. In addition, the local newspaper runs a free page each week highlighting the school system’s accomplishments. This writer would like to know where that money is spent.

GPS system on buses
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all about student safety if that is why you’re spending money. Nothing is more valuable than the little ones who venture on and off the buses each day. However, just like in your personal household, you must set a budget and work within its constraints.

Craven County Schools simply didn’t do this when it decided to contract with Synovia GPS at a cost of $6,156 per month to install GPS systems on each bus in the district. Originally, the School Board asked the Craven County Board of Commissioners to foot the $68,000 bill to contract with the company; however, commissioners focused on other capital needs that were more pressing.

After the Board of Commissioners denied the request, the Board of Education suddenly inherited transportation funds allowing the district to contract with the company.

Now, why did they install the systems on the buses? Was it simply for student safety? I wish I could say yes, but having attended a board meeting where it was discussed, this is not the case. The purpose of the GPS system was to save on fuel and track employees’ time.

Again, please tell me why we need a GPS tracker to find an employee of the school district? If my employer couldn’t find me while supposedly on the clock and I couldn’t produce an acceptable answer, my job would be gone. But not the employee mentioned by the Transportation Director to the board. That employee kept his or her job.

Suspension of employees without pay

Now, this one is a little tricky because according to a report in the Sun Journal, the district doesn’t actually track its expenses in this category. Highlights of the article include Craven County Schools spending thousands of dollars to teachers “suspended with pay.” The number could obviously be higher than thousands but one example highlighted an educator who was paid $1,023 in four days to sit at home.

Chairman Carr Ipock defended the policy stating each employee was innocent until proven guilty. So, not only do the employees enjoy a right only given to those on trial in criminal cases but the taxpayers must foot the bill until the employee is either reinstated or fired.

This writer inquired with other local government entities about their policies on “suspension with pay” and was actually laughed at. North Carolina is an at-will to work state – period. I doubt many other institutions run on the same stance Chairman Ipock does.

School redistricting
Again, I don’t have the figures for the consultants who were hired to delve into attendance trends, birth rates, etc. regarding school attendance but I am certain this money was wasted if the board actually considers a feasible alternative to saving funds to be closing a school.

Why move around 5,000 students one year when during the next you will have to move an entire school? Why waste the public’s time and the consultant’s? And, more importantly why do this to parents and teachers who have been bounced from school-to-school for a few years in a row now to deal with overcrowding.

Oh, and by the way, redistricting never dealt with overcrowding as all three high schools are currently over 100 percent capacity.

What I would like to know and what the public should demand is the amount wasted on the consultants to redistrict.

Check back for more as I follow the money.

Contact me at gisela@cctaxpayers.com.

Craven County Schools is broke – Part Two

Craven County Schools is now saying it is in the black this school year; however, the district anticipates a $3.5 million hole next year. This is their way of being proactive, I guess. Scare the masses and hopefully, the Board of Commissioners will cave based on public pressure and give the school system more money. Because it is, after all, the federal government, the state government and finally, the local government’s fault the district does not have enough money to operate efficiently and effectively.

In an earlier post, entitled, “Surprise! Craven County Schools is broke,” I outlined some of the options the district is considering in saving funds. The possibilities included closing a school and reducing hours of those who make the least amount of money including janitors, classroom assistants, clerical staff and bus assistants for the Exceptional Children’s Program.

Some other options in their pursuit for more carefree financial days include making student athletes pay to play. That’s right, your high-schooler may need to fork out an additional $100 to Craven County Schools just to have the opportunity to cheer for their school. Then, there’s a proposed fee for things like transportation. And let’s not forget the Board of Education’s current dilemma of whether or not to enforce school uniforms next year district-wide.

So, whether you like it or not, if it comes from the Board of Commissioners or out of your own pocket, all taxpayers in Craven County will be footing the bill of the possible mismanagement of funds from the local school system.

This isn’t the first time Craven County Schools decided to make the parents cough up money for the district’s needs nor will it be the last. Consider the new technology fee, which each student – from kindergarten on – must pay just to utilize technology in the classroom. Just last month, the district reported in its tiny financial report located in the School Board’s agenda that the district had raked in more than $45,000 in the past month from those student fees. At $20 per student with at least 13,000 students in the district, this money adds up. Notice I wrote at least 13,000 students. That’s because I am uncertain as to how many students have transferred out of the district.

In that same report, the district notes it lost funds due to enrollment in the state’s Virtual Charter School while also paying money to other local public charter schools, as well. Giving money to charter schools is a huge problem for this board. To listen to the members talk during meetings, you would think those schools are stealing money from Craven County Schools. But that can’t be so. If you don’t have a student to educate because they are attending another school, why then would you need the funds? Why not give it to the school that is actually doing the work? Ask a School Board member about this discrepancy and they will stutter as they try to give you a speech on how charter schools are not measured by the same standards as public schools. But that’s another argument for another day.

In the report, Craven County Schools also lists grants received. For 2015-16, the district procured $1.6 million in grants. Now, the grant funds are not broken down by what they can be used for because that would give the public too much information and we all know this district isn’t fond of transparency. Nevertheless, funds are coming in.

Finally, the school’s transportation budget increased by $530,005, according to the agenda packet. If this is the case, why is the school system even discussing the increased burden on parents of having to pay for transportation? Furthermore, where did the funds to place GPS systems on buses come from? Please note they did this per the Transportation Director’s own statements in order to find out where waste was occurring. Not necessarily just for the safety to each student but so that the district could figure out why some bus drivers were arriving to school late. The director actually reported on an employee who was found to be sitting in a parking lot talking on her phone for 30 minutes each day but was still clocked in. Now, why does it take a GPS system to track employee waste?

Again, this post is getting long, so I will end by assuring my readers I will follow the money. In the next installment you will see where the district is wasting its money.

Feel free to contact me at gisela@cctaxpayers.com.

Surprise! Craven County Schools is broke

Is anyone really surprised Craven County Schools is reportedly $3.5 million in the hole, according to the Board of Education and a recent article in the New Bern Sun Journal?

Their “critical concerns” as pointed out in a PowerPoint presentation obtained by this writer include having less than $500,000 in the Local Fund Balance with the largest portion of those funds allocated to staff.

Craven County Schools’ personnel should be a hot topic now but it’s not. The Board of Education came up with several suggestions for saving money including reducing the number of local teacher assistants and months worked by clerical employees to cutting back on janitorial staff – all to save around $500,000. There’s even discussion around reducing bus assistants in the Exceptional Children’s program. That option would save about $150,000, according to their documentation.

So what we have is a Board of Education willing to make cuts to those who make the least in Craven County Schools. We all know janitors aren’t pulling in six-figure salaries like the superintendent nor are they at the level of the Public Information Officer, who makes around $80,000 per year, according to documentation from the district.

Consider a huge “what if” scenario: Board of Education members step up to the plate and put their money where their mouths are. Each member receives mileage and is provided a salary for their service. What if they actually become public servants and volunteer? That would free up some funds, albeit not a lot, but it might save a few dollars for teacher assistants who wonder each year if they’ll have a job.

What if the board cut back on Superintendent Lane Mills’ monthly allowance for mileage, which totals more than most people’s car payments? Mills receives $750 a month for in-county travel, according to the district.

In a recent report published by the Sun Journal, Mills’ “current pay consists of a base salary of $131,688; a local supplement of $4,135 monthly to total $49,620 annually; $750 each month for in-county travel expenses; $200 per month for personal cell phone and home internet usage; and longevity pay totaling $6,263.01,” according to Finance Officer Denise Altman.

But board members don’t want to talk about their salaries nor do they want to discuss the top-heavy administration. Some of their other options for filling the gap include reducing services in the Exceptional Children’s program, which makes complete sense since the district is in a very public fight with a special needs mom and is also in the middle of an investigation initiated by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regarding special education services.

This brings me to another option for saving funds. What if the school district didn’t need to hire several law firms to represent itself because it did the right thing for once? According to the last audit, which has been called into question, the district overspent on legal fees by $60,000 during the past fiscal year.

In discussing the audit, I would be remiss if I did not include Chairman Carr Ipock’s assertion during the board’s last meeting that the auditor made some mistakes and no General Statutes were broken, as previously reported. So, I’m guessing the district might want to hire a more competent auditor.

Because this post is getting so long, I will end on one last note. The board hired a consulting firm to redistrict all of its schools this past year. While I don’t have the figures on the cost to the system, one of the solutions to the problem regarding the shortfall or “crisis” is to close a school. Now, why hire a firm, redistrict the entire county, then months later consider the closure of a school because you suddenly realized money’s tight?

Check back for the next article on the school district’s sudden realization they’re broke.

Contact Gisela at gisela@cctaxpayers.com. I look forward to your comments, concerns and questions.

Back to Basics Craven County already on the campaign trail

Thirty-year-old Craig Sheppard said he had a tough time keeping up with his 78-year-old partner on the campaign trail Saturday in Trent Woods.

Sheppard, who serves as a materials engineer at Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, spent the day with the Back to Basics Craven County candidates speaking to voters who are ready to see Craven County Schools change direction.

Saturday’s focus was District 3 and the group lived up to its grassroots’ background by knocking on more than 200 doors to find out first-hand what voters expect from their elected officials.

The candidates of the effort to transform Craven County Schools include Eddie McKeel for District 1, Rick Hopkins in District 3, Kim Fink for District 5 and Sarah Benischek for District 7.

This group of Constitutional Conservatives want to know what changes residents want to see in the school district. They have several tenants they’ll work for such as replacing Common Core standards, limiting high stake tests, having open discussion among board members and making documents readily available to the public via the school district’s Website, such as the recently released audit of Craven County Schools which was in the news recently.

My personal preference when it comes to this group’s beliefs – besides replacing tests with actual learning and boxes with real math – is their strict insistence upon compliance of Sunshine Laws.

So, why should voters care about this group? I could list all their accomplishments. Fink has been to Raleigh so many times State Superintendent June Atkinson knows her by name. She’s no stranger to the School Board meetings either. All the candidates are well versed in policies and current education issues. But that’s not necessarily all you need to know about the candidates.

This dynamic group of four simply cares. They care about the education of children in Craven County. They have real issues with the fact that not a month has passed in the past year in which the current board hasn’t huddled in closed session – doing the public’s business without the public’s input.

Hopkins simply wants the focus to be on the teachers and students not bureaucracy. I can guarantee that if elected, he would be appalled if the board decided to spend more than $100,000 on events hosted by itself, as reported in their controversial audit.

McKeel wants to keep educators by enforcing genuine open dialogue so that teachers feel comfortable reporting on their experiences. He’s ready, willing and able to work with educators, parents and classroom assistants toward a value-added curriculum.

Benischek remains focused on the fiscal responsibility of the board. What she wants is simple – transparency. She will follow the money to make sure no area of the county is forgotten. She also recognizes the revolving door that seems to exist with educators in Craven County, which can be seen each month if you can obtain a copy of the passed personnel report. She’ll advocate for the county to be more competitive with surrounding counties when it comes to teachers and teacher assistants.

This group is asking for one thing – your vote. And not only will they work for it but they will listen to your concerns. You may not agree with all their ideas but there’s one thing most people can agree on: the current direction of the Craven County Board of Education is not headed toward success. Just pick up a copy of last week’s New Bern Sun Journal and you’ll read about a mother fighting for her child’s rights and a judge reprimanding the administration for a job they didn’t do.

Then, there’s the closed sessions and the lawsuit pending against Craven County Schools by a former student who nearly drowned on a school-sponsored field trip. Guess what voters? These attorneys – these civil claims – cost the taxpayer.

So, what’s the difference in the current board and the candidates? Openness. Fairness. Ethical standards.

Any candidate who spends their Saturday going door-to-door just to listen to others has my vote of confidence. Obviously Sheppard thought it worthy of his time to chase after a 78-year-old volunteer to campaign for this group. To me, that speaks volumes.


Want to meet the candidates? A meet-and-greet will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at Golden Corral in New Bern or visit their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/BackToBasicsCravenCounty or their Website at http://www.CravenB2B.com.

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