When Perception Becomes Reality

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? 

My God.

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.”

Bullshit.

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.”

I agree.

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? 

My ass.   

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. 

9 thoughts on “When Perception Becomes Reality

  1. Daytona has the worst rated schools in Volusia.As a resident of Ormond Beach I and many others who paid good money for our homes have Mainland high school that gets a 3 out of 10 on real estate sites for residents of Ormond.Time Ormond gets its own high school.Biden is against charter schools but residents in Ormond send lots of kids to private schools .Could it be because the national teachers union and Randi Weingarten its president for decades gives 95% of their political donations to Dems.? Goverment workers in Volusia it is time to wake up we came from other places and are not dummys.

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  2. I agree Ms. Burnette needs to look into things & things do smell, but good luck getting the federal government involved! As for living in OB and HS – both of my kids went to Mainland HS & they both did awesome! My son is about to start his Masters @ ERAU! Sorry to hear “Pete” above wasn’t happy. I highly doubt OB will get its own HS at this point, although with all the new building going on . . .

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    1. Psycho if you read into what I am trying to say that I do not live in a 55 and over commmunity.Real Estate companies have ratings of schools from Great Schools,Pitney Bowes and The National Center for Education and Mainland the school that ran a fake course for the football team and gave all A ‘s rates a 3 when you look up schools to send your kid in my neighborhood in Ormond Beach on real estate agent sites.I never had kids but paid school tax all my life.Schools in Daytona rate like garbage.My home value is also based on schools .Glad your kids did good but guess you never read what the other kids did.Derrick Henry should be ashamed of his scbools among many other things.Lots of kids now going to relious and private schools as people with money are coming down.Have a great day.

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  3. I read this morning’s piece in USA Today, dba The News Journal, with my usual,WTF attitude.Good grief! You called it right, Mark. You’d think Volusia County would eventually run out of grease for all those palms. It never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for once again spotlighting another “behind the scenes “ deal.

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  4. Disgusting, Substite teachers in Volusia County are only paid $10/hr and deal with all children regardless of race, color or creed. That’s about $3 per hour per child based on 18 kids. Volusia County needs more teachers interacting with the children, not over paid fluff. Teachers get trainingt on being sensitive to diversity and most kids these days are pretty good about this too.

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  5. and another thing that the NJ didnt know…Ida Wright only needs two more months of service in FRS to get a retirement! A deal done in advance of the election, no doubt.

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  6. Well-penned. I resigned in February in protest to Fritz/Balgobin. I started with Volusia in 1985 (and I and my six siblings all went to VCS, as well as my husband and our four sons) as a clerk, worked my way up and hold a terminal degree. I am heartbroken over the Board’s failures and handing over of our beloved VCS-we are now Osceola North. Thank you for this. You have more faith in the new board member than I do. I hope she can do what she says. I doubt it. Linda Cuthbert was my best friend until I stood up to her, and Bill worked with my mother at NSBSHS, he was HER best friend. Again, I am heartbroken. Can you, perhaps, get those feds you speak of to step in? Balgobin has led students into massive failure–something we in the biz know lies in the system, not the children–and completely trashed VCS. We veterans, and I hold a terminal degree and was one of the State’s identified top 1% of educators–are leaving in droves. Just as interim/deputy Super. Balgobin wants us to.

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  7. I understand the article is written mostly about the individual and It does a good job of taking the attention away from the lunacy of the politically ‘woke’ positions being put into place. About a year ago the NJ had an article in it about Volusia’s schools and it was stated that teachers are subconsciously racist when teaching minority students. Teachers, nor administrators, balked at that statement and didn’t defend themselves. All in the name of complying with the ‘same ole same ole’ of the teachers unions and setting the stage for more positions like the one they are offering Ida. No accountability or statistical data from the current positions you mentioned which were initially established to get more minorities into the AP classes. (Well, most minorities, because Asians were excluded.) It stunk then and still does. And just like Affirmative Action that was put in place back in the 60s, positions and made up jobs like those that are meant for diversity/inclusion, WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH!
    I

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  8. And the way it will go down, as it always does… Ms. Burnette will be incensed and will order an “investigation” into these charges of conflicted interests, it will probably be done by the School Board and will take AT LEAST 3 months (long enough that retirement for Wright can be firmly established), the findings will be “no criminal intent, nothing to see here, folks”, Ms, Wright will give up her new position “in the interests of the people due to the conflict” and knowing her retirement is intact, Ms. Burnette will make an announcement crowing about her accomplishment “in the people’s best interest”, the report will be buried wherever it is that reports go to die in Volusia County and Ms.Burnette will fall into line as one more public servant in the well-oiled machine that is Volusia County Government!
    Sadly.
    As for Pete’s comments, apparently you do not realize that you get out of your schooling what you put into it, the school itself is only the forum. Teachers can only provide an interface to the subject matter at hand, it is up to THE STUDENT to actually DO the work. Education starts at the family level and every teacher knows that without the support, encouragement and interest of the parents, any student without personal drive can founder no matter the rating of the school. Conversely, a student with the support of parents interested in their education can get a superior education at a poorly rated inner-city school if they apply themselves to their studies.
    Even though there is much wrong at Volusia County schools (our entire educational system is in shambles in fact), put the blame for a poor education where it belongs; on a society that seeks to blame others for its own shortcomings, somehow having a sense that they are entitled to be educated since they attended school, nevermind the fact that they did not put the work into it that was necessary to actually BECOME educated. “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

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