Sunday, December 23, 2007

Starved for money

If you listen to Kozol of the land of Kozolnistan, schools are starved for money. On the other hand, money can flow quite freely as this extraordinary report in the Washington Post about D.C.'s school practices shows. It relates how a teacher on the verge of retirement founded an institute to promote Lucy Calkins' dubious theories, instantly got $2.9 million from the school system without a contract, and promptly gave herself a salary of $150,000 among other hugely wasteful activities. All out of love for children:

In spring 2005, Ford said, she was looking for ways to remain active in education after her retirement, scheduled for that summer. Ford said she, Kelly and two other women who had worked at Horace Mann decided to create a nonprofit group to spread enthusiasm for literacy training across D.C. schools. They incorporated the institute March 25 that year, and Ford became president and executive director. Her compensation, which started four months later, is listed as $150,000.
"It was a spontaneous initiative by four of us," Ford said. "We saw this as a huge moral obligation."
Calkins is the draw:

After receiving its funding, the Teachers Institute quickly sent a group of assistant superintendents to New York for training. In the years since, it has sent teachers to visit Calkins's programs and brought staff members from the program to visit District schools. It holds three-day training sessions and monthly study meetings for teachers and principals.

The group has purchased thousands of children's books and provided schools with rugs for children to curl up on while reading.

More waste:

In September 2006, Kelly said, the institute rented a warehouse to store a "vast quantity" of excess books, supplies and electronics that the organization had bought with public funds and whose value Kelly estimated at $100,000.

An Internal Revenue Service filing shows that, for the year that ended in June, the organization spent more than $1 million on "professional development." Over two years, the institute reported spending $244,000 on computers and software, $357,000 on travel and $1.1 million on printing and publications.
In an initial interview, Ford estimated that the institute had 16 employees. Later, she said the number was actually two, explaining that the rest of her staff members were public school teachers detailed to assist the institute.
When The Washington Post questioned an IRS filing by the institute showing that it had spent $94,000 on the unpaid board of directors, an outside accountant for the group determined the number to be a mistake. The accountant, John T. Squire, said the group will file a corrected report to the IRS.
Ford referred many questions about spending and bookkeeping issues to her outside accountants, saying she prefers to keep her focus on the programs aimed at children. Time spent answering questions about finances, she said, detracts from the push to improve reading and writing.
"It is really hard to be diverted from the mission," Ford said. "The kids in the city are running out of time. I just want to do the work."
The kids are running out of time. They desperately need to be saved by Calkins.


Anonymous said...

Well, well, what a small world. Ms. Ford's erstwhile stomping grounds, Horace Mann, was my old elementary school. It wasn't such a plutocratic neighborhood then -- white and middle class, but homes in that area now go for mega-millions.

Even in my day the standards of DCPS were pretty low. I got in trouble (frequently) for committing the cardinal sin of READING ahead in the book. Paper was rationed, so writing too much got you in trouble, too. Good thing I wasn't required to write Calkins-style about my wonderful personal insights on anything and everything in those days. Went back to DC about 2 years ago for a family wedding and drove by Horace Mann -- grounds are better landscaped but it hasn't changed much.

I've never been back and have no fond memories. My parents took me out in fourth grade. My father had taught me how to write, research in a library, use the periodical index, etc. One good thing about Horace Mann, there was practically nothing to do, so by deftly concealing a book behind a workbook propped on my desk I managed to read many, many books.

Family still in DC now wouldn't even consider sending their kids to DCPS. The system seems to be disastrously managed.

Catherine Johnson said...

very interesting.....

Catherine Johnson said...

I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop on this one.

Catherine Johnson said...

Horace Mann!

Good grief.

Ed was talking to his friend Debbie Silverman, who won a national award for best art book a few years ago. She said one of the other nominees was a teacher at Horace Mann. The guy has written 5 books, I think.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh're not talking about Horace Mann the private school (are you?)

maybe I better go read the article

palisadesk said...

No, not Horace Mann the private school. This Horace Mann was (and is) a K-6 school in the DC Public Schools. It's situated in northwest Washington, near American University, and in my day was almost all white and middle class. It drew from the Spring Valley neighborhood and had some notables' kids. Nixon's daughters both went there, as did the offspring of senators such as Estes Kefauver and Frank Church. A smattering of diplomat kids, bureaucrat kids. There was a big exodus after the primary grades. The local junior high had a bad reputation.

One of my best friends stayed in DCPS through ninth or tenth grade, then her parents paid out-of-district fees to send her to high school in Montgomery County, MD.

The standards in DCPS were quite low even then. I am told they are worse now but find it hard to imagine. The system has been racked by one scandal after another.

The famous Horace Mann private school is in NYC, yes?

Instructivist said...

[The system has been racked by one scandal after another.]

Talk about scandals. Here is one that cost well over a hundred million.

The Price of Neglect
Not Maintained, Costly Heating Systems Fail in Droves

By David S. Fallis, V. Dion Haynes and Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 31, 2007; A01

The Army Corps of Engineers came to the District in the late 1990s on an expensive mission: launch a massive overhaul of decrepit school buildings, which eventually included spending $80 million to replace ancient heating systems with brand-new boilers to last 25 years or more.

Since then, 40 of the 55 renovated heating systems have broken down or needed major repair. Public schools officials failed to maintain the new equipment, leading to problems such as damage from mineral deposits that built up because the water was not properly treated, repair records and interviews show.

It would have cost just $100,000 a year to remove harmful minerals from the water flowing into all of the more than 400 boilers in the public schools. But maintenance officials say there was never enough money for it in their budget.

As a result, heating systems old and new have been breaking down all over the school district. Administrators had to sink more than $10 million into emergency repairs this year alone, prompted by cold classrooms at 71 schools in February that displaced hundreds of children.

The failing boilers are a testament to the school system's longstanding inability to keep its buildings in shape or make the best of huge infusions of money. This decade, records show, the schools have spent more than $116 million to replace or overhaul heating and air-conditioning units, including the Army Corps projects. This winter, officials trucked in temporary boilers for seven schools where the systems have failed.

The District's water is "hard," or heavy with minerals such as magnesium and calcium carbonate. Left untreated in a steam boiler, it leaves deposits that can clog pipes and corrode the inner workings.