Friday, February 24, 2012

Troubles mount for Richmond Heights schools

Yesterday I began a summary of my reporting on the colossally troubled Richmond Heights School District. I thought this would be beneficial as a review for those who have been following district events since last January’s revolt by the all-black boys basketball team against their coach, Jason Popp, for his unprofessional and we must say, racist, behavior towards the team. I thought such a summary was especially important because I believe a combination of factors is assembling that is likely to  force sweeping changes upon the District.

I promised Part II of the summary today. And then I received a document purporting to be from a major player in the district that lays out problems more extensive than even I might have imagined. So rather than proceed with Part II as planned, I offer Real Deal readers this status update and assessment.

1.    As expected the Richmond Heights Board of Education voted last night not to renew the contract of Superintendent Linda T. Hardwick. Dr. Hardwick was hired on an interim basis in November 2009 and given a contract the following month that expires July 31, 2012. Under Ohio law, had the board not passed a nonrenewal, Hardwick’s contract would have been extended automatically.

2.    This was actually the second time the Board had voted not to renew Hardwick’s contract. The first vote was last summer during a period of more or less open warfare between the board, then under a Josh Kaye-led majority, and Hardwick. That vote was premature and therefore likely unlawful. But it passed by a 3-2 majority as a slap in the face to Hardwick and a signal to the teachers union, headed by Hardwick nemesis Jason Popp.

3.    This year’s nonrenewal vote likely signals the end of the Hardwick administration. She has been on paid administrative leave since November while “under investigation” for various infractions, including alleged misappropriation of district property, insubordination, and sundry other offenses. There had been some speculation that with a new board majority and fresh leadership, Hardwick might be reinstated. That is not going to happen. In fact, on the agenda for this Monday’s special meeting, the second in four days, is a resolution to spend about $7,000 to hire a search firm to find and vet the next superintendent.

4.    Also on Monday’s agenda is a resolution to fire Timothy Pingle, the high school principal. He was just hired in August and lasted all of four months before running afoul of interim superintendent Robert Moore, who had been acting superintendent for only about a month. Moore accused Pingle of unprofessional conduct in December, at which time Pingle joined Hardwick on paid administrative leave.

5.    So, at present the Richmond Heights Local Schools have an interim superintendent, an interim secondary principal, and an interim elementary school principal. In many underperforming districts, experts cite the transient student families as a major factor in poor student performance.

6.    In October the District fired clerk-typist Margaret “Peggy” Parker for alleged dishonesty, insubordination, and neglect of duty. Like several other former district employees, Parker appears to have been the latest  employee targeted by the Board as a way to force Hardwick out.

7.    There are presently at least nine, and likely more, investigations pending against the school district, including at least three filed by Hardwick. These charges have been filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Some of these charges have been filed by parents on behalf of their children. There is also an indication that charges have been filed with the Ohio Department of Education.

8.    The lead actors in most of the pending complaints are board member Josh Kaye and teachers union head Jason Popp. Each seems prepared to maintain a defiant stance against all comers.

9.    Earlier this month attorneys for the school board proposed  separate settlements to Hardwick and Parker. Both offers were rejected.

10. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. At a time when planning should be underway for next year, every key position is without a settled incumbent, the accreditation push is on hold, adverse decisions by various investigative are likely to begin raining down with potentially comprehensive effects, teachers are apprehensive, the district is financially strapped, and may have to compete with the city over who gets to be a revenue measure on the ballot first.

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