Tuesday, May 29, 2012

End Due Process for Abusive Administrators?

One of the most vitriolic and idiotic elements of the Ed Deform and Teacher Bashing movements is their assertion that the schools are filled with terrible or dangerous teachers who are impossible to remove because of tenure and due process protections and that these parasites force novice teachers (who are all presumed to be better than their more senior colleagues) out of jobs.

But what about administrators who lack the time or competency to effectively monitor and evaluate their employees or who wield evaluations as a weapon to harass teachers they do not like? The fact is that administrators themselves can be incompetent, abusive and even guilty of criminal misconduct.

Should we end due process, seniority and tenure for administrators?

Oh yeah, they don’t have these protections. They have something better: status and power.

Consider the case of Ramon Cortines, former superintendent of LAUSD, SFUSD, Pasadena and New York. He was accused of sexually harassing a colleague and allowed to retire with benefits, while LAUSD was forced to pay out $200,000, plus lifetime health benefits worth $250-300,000 to Scot Graham, LAUSD’s former director of leasing and asset management, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Cortines, like other high powered abusers, denied that he harassed anyone, but admitted that he engaged "adult behavior," and insisted that it was consensual. Yet Graham had complained of Cortine’s behavior to superiors on three occasions. Meanwhile, the district refused to investigate and encouraged him to drop his complaints.

While the out-of-court settlement precludes us from ever knowing whether Cortines was guilty of wrongdoing, some are asserting that the large size of the settlement is an indication of his guilt and the district’s fear of going to court and losing. What is clear is that Cortines enjoyed the protection of his district, which refused to pursue the allegations, investigate his behavior, or otherwise threaten his professional or social wellbeing.

San Francisco Breeding Ground for Corrupt, Inept and Abusive Administrators
Not long after Cortines left San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the Bill Rojas administration oversaw the misallocation (and theft) of millions of dollars from the district. Up to $68 million disappeared into the hands of nonteaching staff, including several who were indicted. Rojas ultimately fled to Dallas, bringing with him several of his loyal criminal cronies, where he managed to continue his incompetence and corruption while evading the long arm of the law. William Coleman, who was Rojas’ No. 2 guy in SFUSD and continued in Rojas’ new administration in Dallas, eventually pled guilty to charges of attempting to influence a grand jury. However, while Rojas was fired from his job in Dallas, he quickly landed a job at a for-profit charter school in Boston, proving that no bad deed goes unrewarded.

At SFUSD, Rojas was followed by Arlene Ackerman who finagled a $250,000 salary, plus a $2,000-a-month housing allowance and $375,000 severance package, payable even if she quit, which she was forced to do not long after taking over. As superintendent of SFUSD she pretended to clean up the district’s sloppy financial records and the scandals of the Rojas years, while completely missing Trish Bascom’s embezzlement scheme which was occurring right under her nose. This blunder was no doubt due to her obsession with quashing dissent and getting her underlings to toe the line. “I can’t continue to tolerate the dissension,” she said about her SFUSD staff and teachers.  Part of her strategy for reducing dissent was to spend $400,000 a year of district money on a PR firm to put a positive spin on her leadership, money that should have gone to classroom instruction.

Ackerman then went on to head Philadelphia public schools where she secured a raise that pushed her salary higher than those of the mayor or governor. While in office she gave a $7.5 million no-bid contract to cronies at IBS Communications to install surveillance cameras despite previous work with the district that involved cost overruns 12 times what they had originally estimated.  She then scapegoated underlings for the scandal and squeezed the Philadelphia school board for a $900,000 buyout package to get her to resign and go away.

Cheaters Prosper
In Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee presided over one of the largest cheating scandals in the nation. In Atlanta, Superintendent Beverly Hall oversaw an even larger cheating scandal. In both cases the administrators threatened to fire teachers if test scores didn’t go up. In both cases, there were abnormally high rates of erasures and implausibly high improvements in test scores.

Rather than relying on independent outside evaluators, both Rhee and Hall conducted their own biased internal investigations that not surprisingly absolved them and their districts (see New York Times), despite the flagging of numerous schools by McGraw Hill for the suspicious erasure patterns (see USA Today report). The State Superintendent of Education also recommended that the scores of many D.C. schools be investigated because of their unusually high gains, something Rhee’s administration refused to do.

Rhee was never fired, punished or held accountable for the cheating scandal. She did resign when the mayor who had appointed her, Adrian Fenty, lost his re-election bid. Yet she remained the darling of the right wing Ed Deform movement, securing millions of dollars in donations to her bogus student advocacy non-profit, Students First, and numerous $50,000 speaking engagements. To her supporters she is still seen as a hero who took a tough school district and turned it around by being tough on teachers and their unions. It doesn’t matter to them that those “gains” were fabricated because they don’t really care about improved educational outcomes for children. What is most important to them is improved business opportunities, something that Rhee has championed through her support of high stakes testing, private charter schools and her general attacks on unions.

Hall, who has since retired, may not get off so easily. There is currently a grand jury investigating the scandal and District Attorney Paul Howard has not yet determined whether to file charges against her. (See Atlanta Journal Constitution 4/22/12). However, her former top adviser Kathy Augustine resigned after one day on the job as superintendent of the DeSoto Independent School District, with a severance deal worth $188,000, which is a far cry from punishment for her role in the Atlanta cheating scandal. Three other former superintendents are still on the Atlanta Public Schools payroll earning six-figure salaries.


  1. I agree there are a lot of bad administrators. There sure seem to be a lot of incompetent principals in LAUSD--much worse than teachers, who are mostly good.

    I am not at all sure that Cortines is guilty of harassment. At least I have not seen any evidence of it yet. (There could be things we have not yet heard of.) (What exactly is an "inappropriate sexual advance"--in a social setting, at RC's home, to a guy who was probably a long-term lover?) The district did not settle because it thought it would lose--but because they did not want the embarrassment of having this in the news for months, with a long drawn-out trial. Afraid of that possibility, they caved and offered a large settlement. That shows lack or responsibility with taxpayer funds--to pay out that much just to save their face.

    Not saying that RC is innocent--I just have not seen proof of harassment yet.

    One thing might be worth investigating. How did this guy Graham get his job with LAUSD? Did RC pull strings for him?

  2. Supposedly Cortines pulled some strings to get him from SFUSD down to LAUSD.

    We will probably never know the details b/c it'll be settled out of court.

    However, while it could be a situation in which Graham had at one time engaged in consensual activities with Cornines, he had reported unwanted advances by Cortines at least 3 times and LAUSD blew him off.

    When a person says no, the safest and most responsible response is to respect that "no," not only by Cortines, but by their employer.