I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Newpoint: Lingering Questions Must be Addressed

There were takeaways too numerous to discuss from the marathon all-day workshop the School Board held on Friday.

The staff did a thorough job of detailing the numerous contract violations Newpoint has had.  There is no question that there have been numerous contract violations.   And these are important.

But I don’t need to bring in a thick binder of information and be led through it to know what I know about Newpoint.  There are other issues at play more devastatingly serious that could very well warrant closure of these schools.

The contract violations, all of which were known in January, February, and March of this year, did not even warrant a notification to the board.  I have a huge problem with this.  Apparently my counterparts on the board do not.  I can’t make informed decisions about important issues if the information I receive is incomplete, inaccurate, or non-existent.

Often, as a board member, I have felt like the last one to know when important issues pertinent to board decision-making  are known by staff members.  On the rare occasion when I have been made aware of potentially serious issues, I have followed up vigorously and have effected change.

Administrative staff was furious with me when I made a public records request of the DOE regarding lunch over-rings and over-charges that were contained in a state report.  I followed through, made additional inquiries, pushed hard for additional audits that led to expanded investigations, and we ended up paying back $250,000 to the Department of Agriculture.  (Former employees are facing charges for their part.)

Then we had the Kesco debacle that was brought about in large part to a devastatingly bad hire—the effects of which are still resonating as that employee was recently in court pleading to a felony over her puffed resume that was not checked. The Judge in that case wondered aloud about why the district did not do their due diligence in that hiring decision...... Disaster.

Then we have the auditor general findings, resulting in our having to make multiple restatements this past year.

And massive under-staffing in the grants administration department at our career center that led to a blistering audit finding.  And that understaffing situation was known about for years and not addressed.

Then we've recently had 10 months with no bank reconciliations---prompting the Board's audit committee to request a special meeting to take action.

Frequent violations of statutes regarding the posting of minutes occur--this is almost a common occurrence,

And then the gigantic fiasco with the PATs center, where board members were left in the dark about what appears to have been a strong push to close that 49 year old PROGRAM.  That  disastrous committee/working group debacle still has PATS Parents pissed-off. But to quote a telemarketer,

"wait, there's more!"

communications shortfalls, all of which led to considerable consternation and anger from the community over PATS and now Newpoint, continue to come in.

And now this fiasco with Newpoint grade tampering and cheating allegations that the board knew nothing of before March 26th of this year.

Deception and withholding of information has become a hallmark of the way the board is "handled" over the last several years and it is disgraceful.

 And the Newpoint timelines as presented don’t square,

I’m sorry to have to say.

Students were robbed of $1000 dollars in May of 2014 and that money was never recovered for those students; the sheriff was not called and the district did no investigation so far as I've been told by a Newpoint insider.

The board was never told.

All of this points to an anemic, weak display of utter disregard for those students that wrote a passionate email directly to our leadership with a plea for help.

The Board was never told about money being stolen from students.  Ever.

At the end of May 2014, on multiple occasions, The district (but not the school board) was notified that cheating and grade tampering was occurring at Newpoint, and students were going to graduate without legitimately meeting state graduation requirements.

Between the theft of cash and the grade tampering in May of 2014, of which we WERE NOT AWARE AS SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS—how many contract violations did that add up to?  Why no investigation, why no monitoring, why no improvement plan, why no action?

Now we are being told none of that matters, and the only thing that matters, the only thing that is important is that we close all three schools this year, for contract violations.  As recently as April 13th I was still being told, with emphasis, that I was wrong about Newpoint and my ANGER at their attendance of the Governor Rick Scott bonus check presentation.  I was wrong, none of the allegations would have made a difference in Newpoint’s earning an “A” letter grade from the state.

I was told I was wrong repeatedly and we could not have prevented that taxpayer money from going to Newpoint in March of this year based upon the school’s academic performance from 2014. 

  The problem with that is that had we done our jobs in May of 2014, we may have found the evidence we now have learned about which would have allowed us to keep that money in the state’s coffers.  And Governor Scott would not have been placed in a position where he's posing for "photo-ops" with Newpoint.

Because we did nothing when we should have, in May of 2014, we will never know how much of the $62,000.00 Monthly that Newpoint has received for the past year, we'll never know how much of that we would have saved the taxpayers had we acted in May of 2014 instead of May of 2015.

But once this story is thoroughly dissected, and I am hopeful it will be,  I do believe the truth will emerge.

We could have done something about this and we could have kept Newpoint away from the ceremony wit Rick Scott at a bare minimum.  We should have.  We didn't.

And now we're given a timeline that makes no sense.  

On the 27th of March, I was told I was wrong.  On the afternoon of March 27th, 2015, less than two months ago, I knew what I had seen DEMANDED immediate action and a report to the SAO. 

But on the 27th I was told we didn’t have the authority, we didn’t have enough to go on to send it to the SAO, we had to investigate further.  But wait-----what about all the stuff we knew from January and March 2015 compliance meetings, where student safety was being marked as "not in compliance?"  That plus all of May 2014 equals we should have had enough, we did have enough.

But Friday, just this past Friday,  we are told the piece that allowed us to move forward now was a DCF report that was concluded on March 14th and was delivered to the district on March 26th.

So what I knew and what I wanted to do on the 27th of March should have been the appropriate course of action to take. I asked the Superintendent to come with me to the SAO and he said he would not.  But why not, he had the DCF report as of the day before.  He knew of all of the issues from January and March partnering meetings with staff and Newpoint, and the stuff from May—even though the School Board did not know this stuff---intentionally---but yet he still said I had it wrong??  

So why he strenuously objected to my coming to SAO on March 27th with what I knew does not make any sense according to his timeline. 

We had more than enough to go on, He just DID NOT WANT TO GO.

So yes, I blogged about it, and yes, I went early the next week to the SAO over the strenuous objections of the superintendent.  The SAO within that week announced they had launched an investigation.  Numerous media reports were coming out and the story was growing.

By the 13th of April, many public records requests had been made, and I have recently made all of my documents public.  There were significant issues with Newpoint in 2014, and the issues continue into this year.

But no acknowledgment from staff that it was wrong for the Board to be kept out of the loop on these meetings from January and March of this year, nope, only that “”we should have told you, we will going forward.”

But is that good enough?

Will this total disregard for the board continue?  I have no doubt it will until such time as we say NO.  NO MORE!

And, disturbingly, there are allegations that indeed the investigation was stymied by administration of the school district after the March 16th presentation of cash to Newpoint by Rick Scott.

  These allegations come from several credible whistle-blowers.  So you are damned right I’m following up on this as vigorously as I can, in every way I can, to get to the bottom of this mess. 

And I’m not going to be spoon-fed some “stuff” that purports to be the real reason why we must shutter Newpoint right now.  “Look behind door #1, but DO NOT DARE look under this bed or behind that curtain, those are not the droids we are looking for” is what we’re being led to believe.

I will rip open every door, pull back every curtain, and look under every bed.

I think we need to get to the bottom of everything and not simply allow somewhat common contractual transgressions be the story of the entire Newpoint story.

In the case of five-flags, at least, it may not even be enough to sustain and win the inevitable appeal that will come.  I believe we should all use our brains, our common sense; additional, significant, directed questions about this whole situation must be asked—to include this question

“Given the PATS center debacle of just a few months back---why the Hell is it acceptable at all for the board to be so left in the dark about all of these serious allegations surrounding Newpoint?”

Guess what, I’M ASKING!

Because now we come to the moment of truth and we have to do what we have to do.  We have been here before.  But let’s turn over all the rocks, find all the issues, and not allow others to manage us like the malleable children’s toy "Gumby."

No comments: