In my view, the most pressing issue with our modern “system” of governance is that no one in a position of authority is ever held responsible for their actions.
The very concept of holding the power structure accountable for their acts and omissions is anathema in an age of Cover Your Ass politics, where, for the right price, any irresponsible decision, malfeasance, or error in judgement can be cleaned, polished, and molded into something different.
This week we learned that in July, a former Volusia County School District employee had the courage to file formal allegations of waste and mismanagement with the Florida Department of Education following repeat deadline extensions, change orders, and cost increases surrounding a new finance and human resources software system.
According to an informative piece by News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander, “… the original price tag was $5.2 million for implementation. Three change orders have added $2.2 million to that cost — and that doesn’t count the additional $1 million license fee the district must also pay each year.”
Ultimately, under the management and direction of our All-Stars in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, the implementation of the financial software is expected to cost you and me more than $10 million. . .
Oh, did I mention that the project is now nearly two-years behind schedule? Yeah.
Inexplicably, upon receiving the whistleblower’s complaint, the state Department of Education directed that the Volusia County School Board investigate itself.
You read that right.
So, the district hired a sharp labor and employment attorney from the mammoth legal/lobbying/consulting firm GrayRobinson – a one-stop government big box store – who took a look and determined the complaint should be dismissed with a finding of “no waste, fraud or financial mismanagement.”
Far be it from me to second-guess, but it appears our detective’s investigative efforts were limited to reviewing the complainant’s timeline of events and supporting documentation, then interviewing a paid “Project Manager/Consultant” – and everyone associated with this expensive debacle with “Chief,” “Director,” or “Senior” before their names.
The whistleblower refused to participate in the district’s “investigation.”
That’s okay, the senior management team explained everything away quite handily. . .
In the final report, our intrepid investigator explained, “This monumental task was proposed on an aggressive timeline,” “…against a backdrop of limited staff resources (some of whom are naturally resistant to change) without the necessary institutional knowledge and technology expertise needed for a project of this magnitude.”
In other words, it was not the fault of senior leadership – it was those obstructionist jacklegs and malcontented misfits they hired to serve the district’s information technology needs who screwed the pooch. . .
Apparently, we, the long-suffering taxpayers, were fools to think a project of this “monumental” magnitude could be had for a paltry $5.2 million.
As our learned sleuth deduced, “…it’s typical for projects like this to cost $6-to-$10 million,” lauding the district as, “thoughtful, diligent, and responsive in this process,” including salving our fears with the knowledge, “The VCSB has adjusted its team and methodology to ensure Phase 2 is implemented with fewer issues in 2021.”
I think “implemented with fewer issues” translates to, “We’ve learned from our mistakes – and we promise Phase 2 won’t be the same unmitigated shit show Phase 1 was. . .”
I was surprised that our detective took the district consultant’s word on the $6 to $10 million estimate.
However, I was not so shocked that, “…no one interviewed raised any concerns about the cost of the implementation of the Oracle products.”
Nothing to see here, folks. Simply hardworking senior bureaucrats going about the people’s business since 2017 in a thoughtful, diligent, and responsive manner – two million here, a million there – nothing to be concerned with.
Now, move along. . .
According to the News-Journal report, the complainant reported that he was fired from his position at Volusia County Schools after bringing his serious concerns to light.
Not surprisingly, the scope of the district’s “investigation” did not include a review of allegations related to “…termination of employment or claims of whistleblower retaliation.”
In my view, We, The People, who pay the bills and suffer in silence, simply should not be asked to accept an investigation of the Volusia County School Board and its staff – when the investigator is selected and paid for by the Volusia County School Board.
I’m weird that way. . .
Let this serve as another valuable lesson to any potential whistleblower concerned about waste, fraud, and mismanagement at the massive money pit that is Volusia County Schools:
Take your concerns and evidence directly to a state or federal law enforcement agency with the power to flash a badge, subpoena records, serve search warrants, and interrogate people under oath!
You would be amazed at what that combination of investigative tools can accomplish.
In my view, the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has, once again, shirked its responsibility and weakened our system of checks-and-balances that protect taxpayers, students, teachers, and staff – and it is quickly losing the trust of those it serves.
If you thought things couldn’t get worse – think again.
At yesterday’s Volusia County School Board meeting in an “off the agenda” ambush – our elected dullards gifted our “new” Superintendent, Dr. Carmen “Blundering” Balgobin, a massive $50,000 pay raise commensurate with her title (we currently pay her $579.00 per day).
As you may recall, in September, Blundering Balgobin, in concert with our heartless elected officials, pulled something of a bloodless coup d’état undermining School Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz as he recuperates from cancer treatment.
With little fanfare, the School Board simply dropped the word “Interim” from Balgobin’s title – and, just like magic – we have a “new” superintendent.
And things have been an abject dumpster fire since she took command. . .
At a time when the School Board just took $11 million from reserves to balance a bloated budget approaching $1 Billion – despite internal warnings of a looming “financial crisis” – those we have elected to represent our interests lavish an obscene pay increase on a ghostlike failed senior administrator?
Did no one on the dais of power realize that Blundering Balgobin’s $50,000 bump eclipses the annual household income of the average Volusia County family – and could have been used to support teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff members – who are struggling to make ends meet on pitifully inadequate salaries?
Is it just me, or is anyone else bothered by the massive exodus of teachers and staff from the district for “personal reasons”?
Fortunately, political novice Anita Burnette trounced entrenched School Board Chair Ida Wright last week, largely on a refreshing platform of “changing district culture by improving communication and making sure educators feel valued; prioritizing spending on classroom needs and tightening spending in administrative budgets; and closing the achievement gap for minority students.”
In coming months, it will be interesting to watch as our current elected officials – and their overpaid senior staff – set about beating any sense of independent thought out of Ms. Burnette in favor of the lock-step conformity that perpetuates this culture of malignant mediocrity.
Good luck, Ms. Burnette. You’re gonna need it. . .