Coverup At School Headquarters Gets Chairmans Backing
Written by Michael Lewis on May 8, 2008
By Michael Lewis
Imagine this at a corporate board meeting: when a director asks to quickly get facts on spending, the top hired hand tells her she’ll have to pay out of her own pocket to find out.
Or this scene: she asks about the qualifications of key hires and this same hired chief executive, who’s supposed to report to the board, tells her the staff is too busy to bother with her request.
Or this: she asks about how the corporation runs and the chairman of her own board tells her to go stand in line with the general public and she may someday get answers.
So the frustrated director tries to put discussion of the issues on the board’s agenda and the chief executive balks, telling her only he can decide what will and won’t go on the agenda — including any talk of his own performance.
If you think any of this could happen at General Motors or Microsoft or Google — or any corporation — stop smoking that stuff right now.
Yet as unreal as those power-play scenarios sound, they’re being played out today, and have been for years, by your Miami-Dade School Board. Each of these moves to restrict knowledge and discussion is regrettably real.
And you wondered why your bright teenagers are so illogical at times — especially on school days.
For years, several board members in the nation’s fourth-largest school district have been asking embarrassing questions of Superintendent Rudy Crew. When they seek details, he refuses and says things like:
"I do not believe that the effort required of my staff to gather and organize the information regarding job descriptions and cost of all board office renovations … is an effective use of their time."
Would you dare tell that to your bosses? You’d be out of a job in 10 minutes flat.
And since Dr. Crew’s bosses are chosen at the ballot box, he’s thumbing his nose not only at the school board but at you. How does it feel?
But you can’t get rid or him, and neither can the board members you elected, because any vote to oust him must be on the board agenda and Dr. Crew alone controls what goes on the agenda — or so says a judge whose logic in this case parallels that of your teens.
When board member Marta Perez sought help from that same judge to pry loose data that Dr. Crew refused to reveal, the judge ruled "Those documents need to be provided. How they are provided is something these parties need to figure out."
That was well over a year ago. The parties still haven’t figured it out. The information still isn’t flowing.
Now school board Chairman Augustin Barrera, siding with Dr. Crew against fellow board members’ requests for facts, is quoted as saying "You can’t have nine board members making requests of the administration continuously."
Not if the system has things to hide, you can’t. Why, they might be made public and then where would we be? The public might learn just why the schools are failing the taxpayers and, far more importantly, the students.
Mr. Barrera says the staff just doesn’t have time to gather facts for its bosses, especially because they’d have to work overtime to do it.
Of course, if information for the governing board were a priority, it would flow on regular time, not overtime — but then, how can details on how the system works possibly be a priority for the schools? All those thousands of administrative staffers are far too busy to bother with their ultimate bosses’ needs.
So Mr. Barrera wants to twist the judge’s ruling backwards. He’s seeking a board vote to authorize what Dr. Crew already does without authorization, a rule that the entire board would have to vote on any but the most routine requests for details on how the system works so that some members don’t go on "fishing trips" poking into problems.
Not only is Dr. Crew hard at work to keep board members from poking their noses into how the schools work, but the board chairman wants to help him keep things quiet.
Now you know why Johnny can’t read: the school system won’t give him anything of value to look at.