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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.

Poverty isn’t the only problem with public education

If you’ve followed local and state news lately, you undoubtedly have read about low performing schools in Craven County and throughout the state.

The N.C. General Assembly recently changed what it means to be a low performing school and while Craven County had three, there were 578 additional ones throughout the state.

The State Board of Education defines low-performing schools as those that receive a grade of D or F and as a school that either meets expected growth or not.

To break down the grading system – which in itself is flawed – a D equals any number grade from a 40 to a 54. To put it bluntly – that number grade would be a big fat F for a student.

But I digress.

Across the state, Board of Education members fought back. Wake County’s board, which had at least 20 schools that didn’t make the grade, decided to show their disapproval of the ranking by abstaining from voting on plans to improve the schools. Of course, their votes counted as affirmative ones, so it really was just a statement and nothing more. It kind of makes you wonder whether they even read the plans to approve the schools in the first place to be honest.

A few days after Wake’s lack of a vote, Craven County Board of Education members enter the fray. But they couldn’t all be available to vote on the plans. Three members were absent during their work session and another member had a family emergency. So, instead of voting on the plans during their regularly scheduled board session at night (when the public can attend), the few members bitterly voted on the plans, all the while blaming poverty.

Across the state, nearly every media outlet blames poverty solely. Even Chairman Carr Ipock spent time during the work session to whine about schools not having enough resources, children coming to school unprepared, etc.

No one can dispute poverty plays a role in education. Study after study says this is true.

However, at no point should our elected officials, educational leaders or teachers use this as a blanket excuse for mediocre performance.

School districts across the state were very quick to boast a trend in the number of students graduating. So, if we are to assume graduation rates are increasing is poverty then not a problem? Or are we graduating sub-par students as well?

According to an article by Dr. Christopher Boerl entitled, “Poverty Need Not Be A Reason Why American Schools Fail,” written two years ago, he gives examples of many schools who have succeeded in spite of funding.

Amanda Ripley, author of “The Smartest Kids in the World,” devoted her profession to identify why schools are failing and what can be done about it.

As she states, “Compared with their counterparts abroad, too many American educators rely on poverty as an excuse for poor student achievement. Indeed, a large body of research shows that teachers who hold high expectations for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, get better results.”

And Ripley’s research tears apart what many of us who are parents already know is failing: Common Core.

“Academically, American schools are too easy, with surveys of students showing pervasive boredom and low expectations,” she writes. “Our curriculum needs a booster shot, and not just in reading and math, the two subjects covered by the new Common Core national standards, but in every area, including technical and career education.”

As a parent of a child who is not living in poverty, but certainly not living in lush circumstances, I can vouch for Ripley’s assessment.

My child is hindered by Common Core math. He’s performing at three grade levels above his current grade level in math and is stuck drawing boxes.

He is drawing boxes to add. And it’s insulting, not to mention a time waster, which he already understands.

Does no one see a problem in that? He looks at me as we do his homework and rolls his eyes because he doesn’t see the value in the education he’s being offered. If he in his first few years of school doesn’t see the value in the educational process afforded to him through the public school system now, why should he ever?

So, no Chairman Ipock, members of the Craven County Board of Education and the Wake County Board of Education, it’s not just about poverty.

Children need to feel valued. They need to be challenged. And they need more than sub-par performance and whining about funds if we want to fix our public education system.

Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “Education is not a problem. Education is a solution.”

So, let’s start coming up with some real solutions. Otherwise, my child and many others will look back on their school days as Mark Twain did and repeat his famous words: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

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