by Paul Goldman
RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – What’s gives with the new school board following the failed approach of the old school board? Didn’t they all just get elected promising real change?
A few years ago, after the city’s CAO had been de facto hired, the press reported the truth: he didn’t have the highly coveted graduate degree in public management from the top school in the country for such things as claimed. He knew this would give him real credibility on management issues given the school’s reputation.
Turns out, I actually do have the very degree he pretended to have. So what follows is not merely based on a proven record starting with helping Governor Wilder make Virginia the first large state in the country to ever be considered the best managed [twice in a row!], and authorship of the “City of the Future Plan” praised by Richmond City Council along with city leaders: but also the academic knowledge of how to make bureaucracies work when they are failing to meet goals, such as delivering the education our kids require to compete in the 21st century.
Thus the School Board Action reported today in the Richmond Times Dispatch – following the same failed path as before – baffles me really. After spending a year running for office castigating the old school board and current School Administration for failing to have the guts to make the hard decisions to improve Richmond Public Schools, the new school board members gave up barely a month after being sworn into office.
“They went along to get along” as the famous saying in how to survive in Congress goes.
When some of us helped change the law a generation ago to allow citizens to run for the school board – instead of the slots being filled by politically corrective appointees approved by special interest groups – the hope was for change, not old wine in a new bottle.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, I get that. But after nearly 20 years, surely this is sufficient time to begin to hold everyone accountable don’t you think?
Richmond Public Schools have roughly 4000 employees, the city government another 4000. That is roughly 1 local government employee for every 25 residents!
THIS DOESN’T count the many other thousands working for outside contractors who have contracts to provide services previously performed by these public officials.
According to the Virginia State Auditor, we have the most expensive city government – by far – in the whole state, no one is even in third place behind us.
We are paying upwards of $2 billion for schools, city government and the like in one form or another, we have the highest rate of double dipping in the state as WTVR’s Catie Beck and Mark Holmberg have pointed out:
But once again, the new School Board tells us what the Old School Board said: We don’t have anyone working for the school system or city government capable of figuring out how to provide our kids the quality of education the School Board concedes they are not getting, even close to getting.
As the RTD reports today, the new school board has again turned to the Virginia Foundation for Educational Leadership to provide, once again, the path to the “promised land.” I am sure the VFEL is a fine organization with fine people. No one doubts their good intentions or academic qualifications.
BUT YOU CAN’T FIX THE SCHOOLS BY ADDING MORE BUREAUCRATIC SYSTEMS, PILING ONE GROUP ON ANOTHER, making A listen to B then C, then D, now the VFEL, the Mayor has another group, business leaders their own group, the list grows and now grows again.
Been there, done that! It is a flawed approach, no disrespect to the VFEL.
There is only one way to turn around the Richmond Public School System: anyone with any success in such things, anyone who has studies how to do such things, knows the answer.
Give Dr. Brandon at least credit for admitting the self-evident: the current Richmond Public School Administration can’t get the job done, not even close. Once again, their answer, now endorsed again by another school board: Bring in outsider advisers to tell us what to do.
I ask you, why pay 8000 government employees all that money if NONE OF THEM, alone or together, can do what they are being paid to do?
It makes no fiscal sense, it makes no education sense, it makes no common sense.
BOTTOM LINE: The New School Board makes a fundamental and fatal mistake by thinking the problem with education in Richmond can be solved by just DOUBLING OR TRIPLING DOWN for 17 years now on the same fatally flawed bureaucratic approach.
Asking the VFEL to focus on the 8 schools having the most trouble by the state’s analysis is admirable: but it will not work in the end, and what about the other three dozen or so which the School Board claims are performing so well because the state watered down its ratings on purpose to help create the illusion of real progress? Are the test scores really telling parents the truth? National experts, who aren’t getting any money from Richmond government, have an entirely different view than those who are getting money or some other reward. That’s the hard truth. Or look at SAT or other test scores.
Those of us who actually have seen our work get recognized at a national and state and local level, who actually also have academic knowledge, know this:
You can’t fix a failing bureaucracy if you fail to understand the difference between line and staff authority, between making the hard decisions that change structures permanently as opposed to passing the buck so you have the “plausible deniability” as they say in politics.
An old dodge by a new School Board is still the same ole, same ole.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.