Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: WaPo: Fixing D.C.'s Schools

Friday, November 09, 2007

WaPo: Fixing D.C.'s Schools

I don't usually write about municipal issues in other cities, namely because I don't have as thorough an understanding of the problems facing cities other than the ones I have lived in. A recent series of stories in the Washington Post, however, grabbed me due both to their tragic nature, as well as their familiar-sounding themes.

Every American city has problems with accountability, and every American city has trouble with its education system. My hometown of New Haven has long had the stink of bureaucratic corruption. As the city's schools continue to suffer from budget cuts, worthless administrators, and a hapless superintendent, they are simultaneously being renovated and remodeled -- obscuring the problems within under nice, shiny new exteriors!

New Haven's problems, of course, pale when compared to those of Washington, D.C. The city has been long known for its suffering schools and neglected students. The school system itself has shrugged off countless reform attempts.

A series in the Washington Post illuminates some of the most eggregious and shameless corruption that I have heard of in a long time:
As Coolidge High slashed its budget for teachers and supplies in spring 2003, the struggling school received a welcome infusion of cash from one of its biggest benefactors. The AOL Time Warner Foundation sent a check for $50,000 to hire a technology expert who would ensure that students had working computers.

The money went into Coolidge's student activity account, which enabled school administrators to use it to stage a gospel fundraiser. Fewer than 50 people attended.

Coolidge has a history of losing charitable contributions.

Science teacher Terry Nostrand raised $20,610 from the Tony Hawk Foundation and Project Learning Tree in 2003 to build a skateboarding park at the high school. She deposited the money into the student activity fund. When she tried to retrieve the money the following year, she "kept getting one story after another," Nostrand recalled. "Runaround, runaround, runaround."
And if gambling $50k away on a fundraiser that raised no funds wasn't bad enough, the performers who were hired claim they didn't even get paid the $20k they were promised. So where did the money go? It seems the guy who had this ridiculous idea in the first place decided to run it by another of the system's gems.
Alston said he took his plan to Lorelle S. Dance, who at the time was a parent volunteer at Coolidge and the chairman of an advisory committee known as the Local School Restructuring Team. She worked as a business manager at six other District schools.

Dance was using her position at other schools to defraud the District. She falsified documents and directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in business to a contractor who sometimes performed no work and paid her kickbacks, according to court records. She eventually pleaded guilty to those crimes.

At Coolidge, Dance and Alston were the driving force behind the gospel concert.

That's pretty fucking awful. But it only gets worse. Here's another story of shameless greed coming out of the District's school system:
On May 21, 2004, Emerson Crawley ran up a $225 tab at one of the District's swankiest strip clubs.

Then he stuck schoolchildren with his bill. He turned in a reimbursement request to the school system describing his visit to Camelot Show Bar as a "school planning meeting."

Over two years, Crawley and his colleague William R. Jones billed more than $13,000 worth of expensive meals, drinks and entertainment to a student activity fund at Shaw Junior High School, audit records show.

Crawley and Jones work at DC Afterschool for All, a program that provides extra instruction and afternoon supervision for thousands of impoverished children at more than 80 schools. For years, program activities were funded by depositing federal grants and local money into student activity accounts at dozens of schools District-wide.
When auditors found the fraud, they recommended that the two men repay all the student activity money they spent. That seems fair, right?
But their new supervisor, Esther Monclova-Johnson, instead put Jones and Crawley on 90-day probation and initially required that they repay just the $518 spent on alcohol, records indicate. She devised a plan for them to work overtime to repay the money that was spent on food and entertainment.

"These guys are extremely talented, and the work that they give to the program is not worth them being dismissed over a practice that may have been approved . . . by past directors," Monclova-Johnson said. "They weren't doing anything that they felt was wrong at the time, but maybe it was."
Maybe. Maybe!? What the fuck is wrong with you!? It's one thing to let them keep their jobs, another to let them bullshit their debt in "overtime", but it's absolutely absurd that Ms. Monclova-Johnson can't even decide whether or not the practice of spending money for student activities on strippers and booze is fucking wrong!

Unbelievable.

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