Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bulletin: Priah is new Boys Basketball Coach

By a 4-0 vote, the Richmond Heights Board of Education accepted the recommendation of School Superintendent Linda T. Hardwick to appoint Beachwood assistant coach Jason Priah to be the new varsity boys basketball coach. Board president Josh Kaye, who had been behind-the-scenes a staunch proponent of returning disgraced Jason Popp to the position, did not attend tonight's meeting. Board vice president and Kaye ally Bob Fox presided at tonight's meeting, which drew a large crowd of parents and residents, along with seven media outlets [four local television stations, three newspapers].

The outcome was foreshadowed at last week's board meeting when, following a lengthy two-and-a-half hour executive session, the superintendent agreed to table her recommendation of Priah. It appeared at that time that the operative board majority had been stymied in its desire to reinstate Popp by the superintendent's insistence that uncontested allegations of Popp's inappropriate and racially demeaning conduct had rendered him unqualified to continue his coaching career at this time.

Still, the tension mounted as what vice president Fox promised would be a speedy executive session,   closed in on an hour's duration. Finally, the board and Hardwick emerged grim-faced from the lengthy session and proceeded to take the Priah recommendation off the table and pass it.

Still to be determined is who will coach the girls' basketball and boys' track team next year. Popp coached the track team this spring after having been removed mid-season from the basketball team. In Hardwick's words, he "slipped through the cracks" as she worked to resolve the basketball situation.

 Popp applied last month to coach both boys and girls basketball. Deniese Spencer has coached the girls team for the last five years and is likely to have the superintendent's support.

When asked by a television news reporter if Popp would coach girls basketball, the superintendent said, "Oh, no."

Taking Popp's coaching whistle resolves the district's most dramatic issue. However, it does nothing to address any of the other critical issues — among them:  endemic instability, a divided board, an embattled superintendent, a shrinking district, an estranged community — that cry out for resolution.

We will be reporting on these issues all summer long.

Silence in the Face of Outrages in Richmond Heights

It is increasingly apparent that the response to the initial outcry from members of the boys’ varsity basketball team a few months ago was the proverbial canary in the mine: a signal that there were poisonous elements in the air and that emergency remedial measures were in order.

More than the coach’s outrageous behavior and impermissible language [well, impermissible to most citizens of good conscience, if not to the majority of Richmond Heights school board members], it was the lack of an appropriate response that was a measure of the toxicity in the Richmond Heights public sphere.

It seems that while many if not most people in the sleepy suburb are still unaware of what is being done in their name, those who do have an inkling of what has been happening have either made personal adjustments [e.g., removing their children from the school system] or turned their backs to the odor emanating from the city’s school board.

We have tried over the past few weeks to restrict ourselves to more or less dispassionate reporting of the board’s public meetings, with some occasional contextual comments to explain some of the back-story.

But the back-story is now the story, or at least it should be. What is going on in Richmond Heights can no longer be confined to the sports pages of the daily paper or the fly-by coverage of local TV news seeking to capture the sound bites of human conflict.

And it certainly won’t be found in the weekly Sun Messenger, whose editorial and reportorial coverage is, to put it charitably, clueless. Earlier this month the paper called for Hardwick’s removal by the board, accusing her of being “more interested in carrying out personal vendettas … than in properly running the school district. “

Now let’s look at what the public has not been told:

1.     The board recently voted to give members of the district’s teacher’s union a two per cent raise retroactive for the school year just concluded.

2.     The superintendent claims publicly to have been improperly excluded from these negotiations.

3.     The school district has not been accredited since approximately 2000.

4.     Notwithstanding whatever public posturing has been going on, the operating board majority of Josh Kaye, Bob Fox and Aaron Burko is foursquare behind reinstating Jason Popp as basketball coach next season.

5.     The Kaye-Fox-Burko majority has consistently interfered in school matters well beyond their duties of policy-setting, interacted improperly with district employees on a regular basis, and gone so far as to inform several of them of their intent to fire the superintendent.

6.     The board president had to be backed into a verbal corner by a district parent at a public meeting before he would concede that the outrageous behavior alleged to have been committed by the basketball coach violated district policy.

7.     The board demanded in writing of a non-district employee assigned to the school to be advised of  the person’s personal relationship to the parents who are fomenting “racial” trouble.

8.     Basketball coach Jason Popp not only applied to coach the boys’ basketball team in 2011-12, he also applied to coach the 2011-12 girls’ basketball team.

9.     The board majority has failed to acknowledge the enormous impropriety of having the union president — Jason Popp — serve as party to contract negotiations while simultaneously contesting his discipline by the superintendent, discipline that they oppose.

10.  The board majority has thwarted or undermined virtually every educational initiative sought by the superintendent, fired key aides she brought in to assist her, rejected an offer by one of those aides — a Clevelander highly celebrated for his contributions — to volunteer his time and talent on behalf of the district, and stood by idly as the teachers union forced the return to the State of $100,000 in Race to the Top funds.

We could go on, and we will.

Come back tomorrow and we will let you know the real deal on what happens at tonight’s school board meeting and how the Kaye-Fox-Burko trio may try to block the superintendent’s recommendations of a new coach.

And for those of you are watched the video from the last board meeting: a major reason this trio — more than nine months before the law would require such action — resolved not to renew the superintendent’s contract , was to turn her into the lamest of lame ducks, and send an unmistakable signal of complicity to the teachers’ union with whom they are about to negotiate another raise.

Richmond Heights voters will have a chance to weigh in on all this in November.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Divided Richmond Heights school board fires another potshot at Superintendent

Hot debate precedes vote not to renew contract

Legal and ethical issues surround pair of 3-2 board decisions to dump supt., hire former board president as legal counsel

In a highly contentious and legally suspect fashion, the Richmond Heights Board of Education voted 3-2 at a 7:30AM special meeting yesterday not to renew the contract of Superintendent Linda T. Hardwick when it expires next year on July 31.

If the board does not offer Dr. Hardwick a new contract, it would continue the revolving door of district leaders that had one teacher in attendance estimate that at least nine superintendents have come and gone during her 20 years in the district, including three in the past four years alone.

Board president Josh Kaye introduced the resolution immediately after the board reconvened following the executive session it had entered as soon as the meeting starting. Only two board members — Bobby Jordan and Linda Pliodzinskas — registered surprise at Kaye’s motion, as did the superintendent, creating an inference that while the issue had not been discussed at the closed door session, the other board members — Aaron Burko and Bob Fox — had been apprised of Kaye’s intent.

Pliodzinskas, the senior member on the board, registered a number of objections to the resolution, especially pertaining to the timing of the resolution and the existence of many issues of much greater urgency.

Board president Kaye, aside from explaining the effect of the resolution, offered no rationale for its support, leaving that task to Burko. Bob Fox joined Kaye and Burko in supporting the motion, with Pliodzinskas and Jordan opposing. Video of the motion, discussion and vote here

Board member Fox then introduced a resolution that the school district add former board president Charles Tyler to its roster of attorneys. Tyler was board president last year when he resigned as a result of a job transfer out of town. 

When asked about his relationship to Tyler, Fox at first downplayed his connection to Tyler before eventually admitting that Tyler had represented Fox’s wife in litigation and was the family attorney. 

Fox defended his recommendation by saying that “the hiring of friends has gone on here forever.” Fox praised Tyler’s legal skills and suggested that Tyler could save the district money on its legal bills. After the meeting, Fox told The Real Deal that the district’s legal bill for the fiscal year ending this month could exceed $200,000.

The debate over Tyler raised questions of ethics, conflict of interest, and public perception. Pliodzinskas and Jordan opposed hiring Tyler at this time, citing ethical and professional concerns, the haste with which the issue was presented, incomplete information, and the departure from board norms in making decisions in June on organizational matters usually resolved in January. 

Jordan's motion to table the hiring of Tyler but his motion was defeated 3-2, as he and Pliodzinskas were on the losing side on all meeting long.

Several legal experts consulted by The Real Deal raised a number of legal questions about the meeting, including the Board’s possible non-compliance with Ohio’s Sunshine Law, with respect both to the adequacy of public notice for the special meeting, and appropriateness of the items presented under “new business”. 

After the meeting, Brenda Brcak, the district's chief financial officer, said that the Lake County News Herald  (an out of county publication) was the district's daily paper of record and that the Sun Messenger was its weekly paper of record. However, the Sun-Messenger did not publish an edition after the meeting was scheduled and it is unknown whether the News Herald published notice of the meeting. Brcak also said the meeting notice was published on the school district's website, but several people, including at least two city officials ,have said they looked at the site but did not see any such notice.

Of possibly greater concern was whether board member Bob Fox had a conflict in proposing and voting for the district to retain an attorney who has represented members of his immediate family.

“The hiring of friends has gone on here forever.”
board member Bob Fox, in support of his resolution to hire former school board president Charles Tyler, his friend and former family attorney.

The board is scheduled to have yet another special meeting tomorrow night at 6pm to determine formally whether disgraced coach boys basketball coach Jason Popp will be allowed to return next season, or whether the superintendent's recommendation for his successor will be accepted.

* Three short videos on the portion of the meeting covering the discussion of Charles Tyler are being uploaded at Facebook as I post this. Each video carries "RichHts action on ChasTyler" in the title. The links will be posted as soon as they are available. 

Video Links added at 2PM: