Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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.


dickpeery said...

Richard--You're doing a great service by telling the community what's going on. The school board reminds me of the Cleveland board of the early 1960s when black children were disrespected by being forced to attend only half day classes in overcrowded ramshackle schools. The one difference is the apparent lack of mobilization in the community. In the 1960s we marched, rallied and sat in at the school board until change occurred. What's happening in Richmond Heights?

Anonymous said...

Teachers also did not volunteer (they would be paid) to tutor students at the elementary or high school to prepare them for testing ( ogt) this is how much they care about the academic success of the students. Also, no pre testing available college entrance exam for 10th graders and no college fairs or visitations, however they did take a field trip to a state prison.

Richard said...

Thanks, Dick! Your comments are a great source of encouragement to me, as you were for so long THE most reliable voice for what was happening in the African American community, notwithstanding the lack of support you received from your editors at the Plain Dealer.

Your question about the lack of community mobilization is characteristically insightful. I will be addressing that issue here in the near future. But I am happy to report that the Board voted unanimously, 4-0, to accept the superintendent's recommendation for a new basketball coach.

@ Anonymous: your comment also bears on key points that we will be addressing: teacher attitudes & morale, union negotiations, and the quality of education in Richmond Heights.