Last November we wrote about what we believed was an odd decision by UCM sponsored charter school Académie Lafayette. The item was apparently offbeat enough that one commenter noted “I can’t tell when you’re being serious or writing satire anymore.”
We were serious, as this typically belated Star article confirmed. What the Star item did not note, however, is Académie Lafayette’s board was only interested in a foreign language high school partnership with KCSD because that was Superintendent Covington’s price for even talking about selling/leasing an unused KCSD building to AL.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when WNBTv received over 20 e-mails from Académie Lafayette folk this past week. Each and every letter expressed a good amount of annoyance at the antics of their board, and a distinct amount of…moral revulsion is how we’ve decided to phrase it…over the treatment of one AL board member during last Monday’s meeting.
It seems during an otherwise plain-vanilla AL school board meeting the subject of going on record as to creating a committee to look into some sort of partnership with the KCSD on a possible joint AL/KCSD international language
excellent adventure high school was introduced. (The actual language should be here by now.) From the e-mails we’ve read there was initially a stunned silence (probably among the board members themselves as we understand few, if any, parents bothered to show up.)
After said silence, one board member voiced her opposition to codifying what was not, after all, the board’s primary purpose: e.g., to lead/direct the current K-8 charter school known as Académie Lafayette. The board member -named in at least 5 different emails as Pam Gard- continued her objections, even mentioning that the idea (at this time) seemed to present a conflict of interest as 2 of the board members – Cozad and Zeller – have children in AL that would most likely directly benefit from such a (proposed) partnership. Mrs. Gard went on with her objections and was then tentatively joined by a couple of other board members in her skepticism.
Cozad and Zeller apparently nodded up and down in the right places and (distractedly) responded to their fellow board members, but pooled the preponderance of their concentration into talking to one another in their effort to fine-tune said proposed resolution; occasionally reading it back to each other, editing again, reading again, and pretty much ignoring or dismissing out of hand every other board members’ concern. When C&Z were satisfied with what they had wrought, Z found it fine and made the motion to accept.
A new -as in his 2nd board meeting new- board member seconded the motion, which was quickly passed: 4 ayes and 1 (Mrs. Gard) abstention.
(If the above sounds high-handed, it’s only as it was described to me, over and over: a pronouncement.)
All in all, as baldly ugly a power play as you’ll see outside of a NHL practice. Though to be fair, such behavior is not unheard of; most boards are really run by 1 or 2 people who firmly believe they, and only they, know what’s best for the school/company/city/nation/world, fellow board members/parents/teachers/employees/citizens be damned. What is interesting about this particular schoolyard bullying is context.
Absent the board meeting last Monday was Harriet Meyers, perhaps the heart of the AL board, as well as its most politically connected member. And just a meeting prior, long-time board member Jane Alley stepped down. Both ladies have in the past joined Mrs. Gard in arguing against predicating the lease/purchase of another building on any possible KCSD partnership, potential international high school involvement or not.
Had Zeller’s motion been tried even a month earlier, what appears a relatively unanimous board agreement would have, at best, been a contentious split decision and quite possibly have even failed.
Again, this is not that unusual a strategy: to make it apparent a board member’s wishes will be ignored to the point they resign. 1 To schedule meetings when allies are thick and dissenters thin is tried and true corporate board room behavior in America since forever.
Last night we heard from Our Friend.2
OF had just attended a KCSD board meeting. You can read what the Star considered the highlights of that event here. However, what OF found enlightening did not get any play in KC’s Paper of Record.
Shannon Jaax, hired by the KCSD to PM the building repurposing project, had just limned 8 bullet points on the draft building repurposing policy she was presenting to the board for their consideration, when without preamble or warning, and totally unprovoked, Dr. Covington channeled an old Baptist minister, raised his voice on high and preached to the minusculey assembled choir:
“But those (charter and contract schools) who seem to be friends, but are foes; who come to us in ‘partnership’ only because they wish a building, I say, and this board says, NO! Yesterday, today and tomorrow.NO!” 3
“And those schools that want to partner with us, that believe in what the board and district are doing, we’ll be happy to partner, we’ll be happy to hold your charters.” 4
Well, according to OF this sort of negated anything the AL board had in mind; Covington had just publicly shot down any offer AL might make. Moreover, the charter issue had been a HUGE bone of contention at AL board meetings – why would AL want to turn over their charter to KCSD?
On top of Covington’s broadside it turns out, according to preliminary research done by a sub-committee of the KCSD board they can’t legally lease or sell many of their unused buildings for the next 3 years; none of the elementary buildings (including, one would hazard to guess, Longan Elementary, the one Academie Lafayette desires) and only 7 of the secondary buildings, all due to the unretired bonds still tethering them to KCSD.
And while Shannon Jaax mentioned it might possibly, if the moon phase were correct and the right lawyers were hired gods sacrificed to, then -and only after the community at large has had its say (and then been rebutted or ignored by the KCSD)- maybe, just maybe, some 1 year leases would be possible. On some unspecified buildings.
Just, you know, not to our foes.
It appears that OF’s school board has spent the better part of a year in unseemly machinations (best left to those ‘worthies’ running Wall Street) in an effort to gain what KCSD Superintendent publicly claims he has no desire to ever let loose.
Moreover it appears, Dr. Covington’s inclinations aside, it would be illegal for KCSD to do so. About the only way Académie Lafayette occupies Longan is to cede its charter to the KCSD.
That about sum it up?
OF noted that Covington also mentioned the 30 Years’ History KCSD has had with both charter/contract schools and other school districts. We disremember OF’s exact words, but it went along the lines of ‘…everyone else had best just drop those feelings and deal with us now, not what we had been.’ KCSD board member Crispin Rea responded that he was disappointed in Covington’s attitude; given the nature of the board’s long and often contentious relationship with the community Rea had expected a more “nuanced” response from the Superintendent.
OF said Covington made no response to Rea; he just smiled and rocked in his chair for the rest of that particular discussion.
Which is sad because part and parcel with the new Superintendent and board is the 1 reported rape and 14 sexual assaults that occurred at Southwest High last school year. As are the constant arson and police calls to the same school. As are….well, you probably saw the same news spot I did, right? Parts of Brookside surrounding Southwest are beside themselves at KCSD’s mismanagement of its “right sizing” program and the attendant chaos.
That KCSD is nearly moribund is hardly new.
That Dr. Covington and the board should be given at least another year to revive the district is also right. That the city -in terms of the project Funk initiated to upgrade the infrastructure, to clean and more closely patrol the neighborhoods surrounding schools- should vigorously assist is also a given.
But it will take more than just the above to turn the district around. And Covington’s expressed attitude of “take us or leave us; you’re either our friend or our foe” simply won’t get the job done. Not only is it arrogantly disingenuous in its demand for solitude, it’s dismissive -in this particular case- of at least one school that easily meets or far outstrips every educational criteria that similar KCSD schools have a hard time measuring halfway up to. It’s the same old cry of ‘my way or the highway’ that has caged 30 years’ worth of prior boards and Superintendents. It is the ultimate voice of defeat.
If it were our kids’ school that was thinking of going into business with the KCSD?
We would rally every parent possible to impress upon our board, each and every meeting, even in between meetings, that while intentions are good things, track records speak for themselves. We would loudly and continually urge our board to find another way, to expand their current building, to lease from the public sector, to lease from a church, to pair enrolment, to cut expenses, whatever it took, to do everything and most anything they could to continue their success…without being drawn into the mire that still is the KCSD. 5
In fact, we would be surprised if the AL board has not already had that (informal) discussion. We’re just in doubt of the outcome.
- Though we do not state that as fact, merely our logical supposition given what we do know. ↩
- Let’s address that little issue now, shall we? Shortly after we posted our November item, Our Friend received a phone call from one of the AL board members asking if he had any influence with Ours Truly; the board member thought our post premature and wanted it removed lest it jinx AL’s chances of at leasing a building from the KCSD. OF then spent 30 minutes calling all the friends he figured might run a blog, asking that they yank the post. Meanwhile yet another board member had e-mailed us direct, with the same polite request. Eventually OF got around to calling us; we pooh-poohed the idea, but the post came down in a reasonable amount of time. OF has since stated that while he occasionally finds some of the AL boards’ decisions suspect, if not downright suicidal, he is content to air his feelings at the actual meetings. He then added if we want to know details about future meetings, we should show up ourselves. But, back to last night. ↩
- Covington did not get an “Amen!”, just the most sustained and vigorous applause of the evening. Nor was he done. ↩
- Look for the exact quotes in the KCSD meeting minutes…or not. So far nothing has been posted on their site. ↩
- We dislike unwarranted cynicism as much as anyone else, but honestly ask yourself: just how long do you think Covington will stay before a.) the school board dismisses him, or b.) he leaves for another school district? Seriously, he talks a good game and seems to have the requisite administrative tool set, but at point did that save the last 14 KCSD Superintendents? ↩