I will ask the School Board to seek a State Attorney’s Office investigation of what happened with K12

I will ask the School Board to seek a State Attorney’s Office investigation of what happened with K12

As an elected School Board member, the evidence presented to me thus far regarding the Polk District’s relationship with online education provider K12 leaves me with this inescapable concern: I fear that one or more members of top district staff sought to circumvent the School Board — and School Board policy — to create a lucrative contract or relationship with a vendor that one of them went to work for shortly afterward. I don’t know that this happened. I don’t even know if it’s technically illegal to try to circumvent an elected School Board in contracting. But on behalf of my constituents and my community, I would like to know. And I see an ongoing unwillingness, from anyone, to fully account for the K12 matter. My own School Board Attorney seems uninterested or immobile in addressing any of this. He has not said a word to the board about it. And he has not, to my knowledge, responded to any communication on which I’ve included him. I have grown very very weary of playing a cat-and-mouse information game with district staff leadership on behalf of the public that elected me. I do think brand new Deputy Superintendent John Hill is attempting to restore some regular order to communication. And I appreciate that. But he is not who the public needs to hear from. And I don’t think he’s in any position to resolve this issue because he is not one of the players in it, from what I can see. That’s why I will ask my fellow elected board members on Tuesday to request a State Attorney’s Office investigation of the entire K12 issue. More on the helpful precedent for that in just a moment. But here is my best, good faith description of the facts as I know them right now: In May 2017, former Deputy Superintendent John Small directed his subordinate, Marc Hutek, to sign some kind of $1.8 million agreement with K12. It’s been called a “sales quote.” Within months, Small went to work for K12 and Hutek grew concerned about what he had signed. He expressed those concerns to Superintendent Jackie Byrd. The School District then had a meeting with K12 in Fall of 2017, in which newly retired John Small represented K12. It’s not clear what was discussed in that meeting. In January, K12 provided Hutek with a press release that he “reluctantly” approved praising a K12...

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Comparing Jackie Byrd’s statement about John Small/K12 with Marc Hutek’s

Late yesterday [June 12, 2018], Assistant Superintendent Marc Hutek said in writing that former Deputy Superintendent John Small directed him to sign a “sales quote” for $1.8 million with online education provider K12 on May 26, 2017. As deputy superintendent, John Small was the second-ranking official in the Polk District at time Hutek says he gave the directive. Small was Hutek’s boss. In fact, Hutek replaced Small as the head of workforce education when Jackie Byrd promoted Small to deputy in 2016. Small retired from the District in late September 2017 and went directly to work for K12 in October 2017. He is now a K12 vice president. Here is Hutek’s direct statement about signing that K12 sales quote, as provided yesterday [June 12, 2018] in an email that answered questions I had asked of staff a couple days before. Q: Who authorized/directed Marc Hutek to sign the Sales Quote on 5/26/2017? Or did he sign it completely on his own initiative? A: John Small directed me to sign the quote and stated since it was not superintendent/Board approved, it was not considered a contract only a quote. I will post the full content of Hutek’s answers to my questions below, along with the full text of Superintendent Jackie Byrd’s only public statement on K12, which was issued on June 7, 2018. In that statement, she asked for a retraction of some sort, without specifying what statements needed retraction. Here is a relevant excerpt of Byrd’s statement. A possible source of the confusion regarding this issue is a “Sales Quote”, valid for 30 days, of $1.8 million for 550 blocks of 10 enrolled users that Marc Hutek signed on May 26, 2017.  A copy of that quote is attached with this letter.  In all honesty, I do not know just what Mr. Hutek understood this document to involve since he clearly lacked the authority to bind the School Board.  In any event, it was never acted upon and nothing went before the School Board based upon this “Sales Quote”. Dr. Hutek brought this to my attention several months after he signed it. I immediately asked that the matter be reviewed.  As the result of my request, a meeting was held last fall with representatives of K-12, including Don Kidd, Vice President, John Small, Dr. Hutek and myself.  Attached to this letter is Dr. Hutek’s memorandum confirming this meeting and the...

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UPDATED: What “sexual harassment training” did “executive staff” receive on July 11, 2017?

Additional later update (Wednesday evening): HR Director Teddra Porteous just provided me with the power point presentation used in the training. She is looking for the sign-in sheet. I’ll review the presentation when I can. And Porteous provided an email showing that she first sought out Gonzalez for the training on May 31, as Wes Bridges behest. A few other updates in the body of the post. Important earlier update (Wednesday evening): I just got off the phone after a strange and testy conversation with Thomas Gonzalez. I sent his office, through his public website, a link to this article early this morning. I just wanted him to be aware I had written it. He called me late this afternoon. It was not a particularly pleasant talk. He seems to think I have accused him of something. I have not. More on that in a second. But first, Gonzalez told me a pretty important piece of news: Polk District HR has asked him to review the Jason Looney investigations. It’s a little unclear what that means and if there’s any documentation of the services anywhere. District staff certainly isn’t communicating with me about any of this. So I welcome Gonzalez’s information; but I don’t think the scope of what he’s been asked to do is adequate to fulfill what I’m asking. He seemed to agree, but it was a combative kind of agreement. He and I talked over each other quite a bit; and I think he was quite impatient with me trying to explain the limitations of the scope of the review I think he’s been asked to perform. All in all, it was a weird chat and kind of inconclusive, which is fine, because I will be asking the board to clarify the scope of a review at our next meeting. I did provide Gonzalez with the timeline I’ve created and asked him to read it, which he agreed to do, I think. But he also seemed to think that it wouldn’t really be relevant to his review. I don’t know for certain, though; it was kind of a circular conversation. As regards the “training” on July 11, 2017, Gonzalez told me that it was, in fact, a routine, pre-scheduled training. But we had difficulty establishing when it had been scheduled. I think he’s planning to send me emails about the scheduling. I hope so.  I mentioned to Gonzalez...

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A K12 timeline and remaining questions: What I think I know — and what I don’t.

A K12 timeline and remaining questions: What I think I know — and what I don’t.

I’m still in fact-finding mode on the K12 issue. And I’ve still got timelines on the brain. So here is an update on what I think I know about the relationship between K12 and the District — and what I don’t know. I’ve organized it chronologically, which I find very helpful. I will continue to update is more information becomes available. February 2014 K12 creates Fuel Education as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Education Week has a good background story on the some the K12 struggles that helped lead to this move. See link here. Excerpt here: As education companies fight for space in the digital learning market, one of the biggest and most controversial players in the school industry is betting that a simple strategy—changing the name of a line of products and services—will give it an edge…. …The Herndon, Va.-based company is probably best known as an operator of online schools. It manages schools and offers blended learning programs in more than 30 states and enrolls about 125,000 students. But it also sells numerous other online and blended learning curricular products and instructional services, and the company says the rebranding is bringing together a number of related offerings—collectively accounting for less than 10 percent of its business—under the new name. Fuel Education will operate as a separate legal entity owned by K12, and house several different “personalized learning” platforms, as well as teacher professional development, consulting, and Web-based courses. And here: K12, which reported revenues of $848 million in fiscal 2013, has long been a focal point in the debate over the role of for-profit companies in education, particularly as it relates to the management of schools. The company and its backers argue that it fills an important, often unmet need by providing flexible and customized online services to students who struggle or otherwise aren’t comfortable in brick-and-mortar schools. K12’s detractors point to its students’ lackluster showing on state tests, and to complaints about its business practicesas reasons to be skeptical of its role. The company has weathered a wave of bad publicity recently. Last year it settled a federal lawsuit by investors who had claimed they were misled by the company about its students’ academic performance and its business practices, though K12 denied the allegations put forward. In September, a prominent hedge fund investor, Whitney R. Tilson, offered a broad critique of K12, in which he said its...

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Superintendent Byrd’s statement concerning K12

Superintendent Byrd’s statement concerning K12

I just received this note from Superintendent Jackie Byrd, within the last hour or so, along with some electronic documents I will need to review. I’m publishing her statement in its entirety. It’s a much delayed reaction to the article I wrote at this link — and an email I sent to District leadership two weeks ago. It’s worth noting that I let a week go by before saying anything publicly about my K12 questions. I won’t be retracting anything because I don’t know what the superintendent wants me to retract. She cites no incorrect statement, which is hardly surprising, because I mostly said what I didn’t know. I was asking for answers. If the superintendent cares to quote something that is incorrect and can demonstrate its incorrectness, I will retract it. For now, I’ll just allow her to have her full say without further comment: Mr. Townsend, It has come to my attention that posts appearing on your website as of last Friday (June 1st) contain serious and false allegations implying that the Administration has acted inappropriately with K-12, one of three State /School Board approved vendors providing online educational services for Polk Virtual School.  I am writing this letter to provide you with accurate, factual information regarding this issue and to request your retraction of the inaccurate allegations you’ve made.  While I understand that your sources are employees of the Polk County School system, that does not mean it is factual information. Florida law requires that the School Board give students and parents a choice of at least three vendors who can provide online educational services through the Polk Virtual School.  It is the parents and students who decide which vendor they wish to utilize, and each vendor is paid by the School Board based on the number of students utilizing that vendor.  The School Board has no role in suggesting, promoting, favoring or otherwise designating any particular vendor over the other two vendors. K-12 has been a vendor for the Polk Virtual School since 2009 when Dr. Gail McKinzie was the Superintendent.  The agreement with K-12 provides that they will be paid a specified fee for each student who selects the K-12 program for that student’s online education services.  The agreement with K-12 provides no fixed amount or minimum number of students for which it will be paid.  That agreement has been approved by the School Board...

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Portrait of a leadership culture: a decade-long timeline of power, relationships, and consequences in the Polk District

Portrait of a leadership culture: a decade-long timeline of power, relationships, and consequences in the Polk District

Brandi Garcia Blanchard is a bilingual Hispanic administrator. Juanita McCoy is an African-American teacher who worked her way up from serving as a para. Polk County needs more of both of those categories of employees to serve our diverse student population. So why did the Polk School District mercilessly disrupt — and nearly ruin — the professional lives of these women at almost exactly the same time in the summer of 2017? The most obvious and immediate answer is that Blanchard and McCoy, almost simultaneously, ran afoul of Jason and Laquita Looney during the 2016-17 school year. Both women were on the losing end of a dispute with a Looney. The word of a Looney was enough to severely harm their careers — and to some extent their lives. That’s really not in much dispute. The deeper question is why. And did they deserve it? A disconnect I cannot explain It is Jason Looney’s official position — and the Polk School District’s — that after 11 successful years as a Polk District employee (and after a promotion by Looney at Tenoroc High School) that Blanchard suddenly became a lazy and ineffective administrator starting in roughly September of 2016. It is Laquita Looney’s official position — and the Polk School District’s — that Juanita McCoy shoved Looney in the back at Southwest Elementary on May 31, 2017, as the culmination of ongoing, one-sided harassment during the winter and spring of 2017. This is despite the fact that the only eyewitness says there was no shove; there was no HR investigation; and all indications, including the principal’s statement to police, show the conflict went in both directions. “They’re the same to each other,” the principal told police. Having reviewed these two cases more deeply than anyone else, I find that the evidence does not support the position of either the Looneys or the District. Indeed, I find that both women, whatever their alleged shortcomings or culpability, are the victims of truly vicious institutional cruelty. Moreover, by my count, collectively, the Looneys have been complainants or complained about in at least six formal investigations of school-based disputes since 2010. In one case, the GJ investigation, they were essentially co-defendants. In every single case, no matter which side they were on, School District action sided with the Looneys. The Looneys won. Many people on the opposite side of the Looneys suffered deeply for...

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