During my law enforcement career, a wise old mentor impressed upon me the importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety – because the public’s perception quickly becomes their reality – as interpretation, impressions, and understanding materially influence how they look at situations.
When you are responsible to the community, the stakes are high, and excuses are cheap.
In time, no one believes the official explanations and justifications when what we see and hear with our own senses no longer comport with what we are being told from on high.
As the old idiom says, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Now, the Volusia County School Board is being rightfully perceived by wary constituents as a cheapjack facilitator for backhanded paybacks – exacerbating a malignant distrust by taxpayers and teachers alike.
You do not have to be a paranoiac like me to be suspicious of the machinations of government and power structures that have proven – time and again – that once the “system” reaches a certain size and configuration, it exists only to serve itself and those in its upper echelon, like a weird perpetual motion machine.
On Saturday (?), it was quietly announced that Volusia County School Superintendent Carmen Balgobin – a grossly inept fill-in administrator who is single-handedly destroying public confidence in an education system with a bloated budget approaching One-Billion dollars – executed an oh-so-cozy arrangement with former School Board Chair Ida Wright – a weird scheme that creates a dubious paid position, apparently crafted exclusively for Wright, which focuses on “diversity and equity” under the Human Resources Department.
This strange move comes after Ms. Wright voted in favor of a massive pay increase for Balgobin – and just one month following Ms. Wright’s unceremonious loss to newcomer Anita Burnette, who won the seat in the general election with nearly 60% of the vote.
According to reports, “Wright will be paid $35 an hour and work 20 hours or less per week…”
You read that right.
And, like Randolph said, it stinks like rotten mackerel in the moonlight.
Perhaps more disturbing, flabbergasted taxpayers are now being told that the position Balgobin apparently created out of whole cloth – which, to my knowledge, was neither authorized, nor publicly approved, by the School Board – directs federal dollars obtained by the district under a Title II grant to compensate former Chairwoman Wright for her services.
According to a report by Daytona Beach News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander, the Title II grant represents “…federal money that is intended, in part, to provide low-income and minority students greater access to effective teachers, principals, and other school leaders.”
Last month, the School Board received the district’s annual “equity report” which, once again, “…spotlighted an under-representation of Black and Hispanic students in advanced academic courses, of female students in sports, and of Black and Hispanic employees, particularly in leadership positions. The same issues have been reported year after year.”
So, rather than immediately terminate the employment of Human Resources Director Rachel Hazel – and our current “Equity and Compliance Officer” in something laughingly called the Office of Professional Standards – those highly compensated do-nothings in the Ivory Tower of Power who have consistently (“year after year”) failed to recruit and retain even a modicum of diversity in district “leadership positions” – Blundering Balgobin unilaterally decides to exploit this abject failure by using it as an excuse to gift her generous benefactor a place at the bureaucratic teat?
Perhaps more disturbing, when this unvarnished quid pro quo was exposed for what it is – and long-suffering taxpayers pushed back against what one Volusia County teacher aptly described as a “kickback” – we were openly gaslighted by Director Hazel in an official communication which labeled our well-founded suspicions as “categorically untrue.”
“We will continue to communicate facts and hope that the public will be open to listening to those facts,” Hazel said. “If anyone has any questions we welcome those and we’ll answer them as completely as we can.”
According to the News-Journal, the district cannot produce a job description – or employment application – for Ms. Wright’s new role, and it is increasingly apparent that the position was neither advertised nor competitive.
I find that strange.
I’ll bet federal grant administrators will too.
At a time when Volusia County teachers and staff are locked in a pitched battle with the district – fighting admirably for an equitable pay increase and parity for veteran educators, you know, a living wage that will attract and keep highly diverse and qualified teachers in Volusia County classrooms – the School Board, then led by Ida Wright, showered Balgobin with a 34% raise. . .
According to Volusia United Educators President Elizabeth Albert, “We all understand that there is a desire to work on diversity within the ranks of Volusia County schools, but why now? Why in this moment when there’s no money for teachers, for support professionals. If in fact the funding is already in place, why not talk about it? Why keep everybody in the dark?” Albert asked. “The appearance that something is awry, that’s what is the most off-putting.”
Those we elected to represent our interests lavished an obscene pay increase on Carmen Balgobin – a ghostlike failed senior administrator – and now those who pay the bills are expected to stand idle while the recipient of their largesse shunts scarce federal grant dollars – which are earmarked for programs that improve student achievement and provide low-income and minority students greater access to effective educators – to a former elected official who helped facilitate her enormous raise less than a month ago?
In my view, it is past time for federal authorities to step in and ensure the integrity of the process, and preserve the public’s trust in our educational system, by protecting grant funds from diversion to a position which supplants an already existing equity and diversity compliance position as apparent payback for a very lucrative favor.
Our last/best hope lies in newly elected Anita Burnette, who trounced the entrenched Wright on the strength of her promise to “change 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.”
Now is the time for Ms. Burnette to make good on her pledge by demanding answers for how and why this disgusting greasy-palm culture can continue in the senior ranks of Volusia County Schools.