Where’s Waldo*

Sometimes procrastination can be a good thing.  Case in point.

Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg has hardly missed an opportunity to grab the spotlight as the face of spinnable DPS “reform.” He has occasionally even been the face of some not so positive events.  So his absences of late have been quite noticeable.  I have been wondering where he has been and what he has been doing, and because I delayed, yes procrastinated, writing this post, a probable answer to his months’ long disappearance has surfaced.  Politics has trumped leadership for the Chief Executive Officer of DPS.

It appears this Broad trained superintendent (Venture philanthropist Eli Broad funds The Broad Superintendents Academy ), who believes public education should be privatized, who believes public education is a bottom line business, and who for some reason believes teachers need to be consistently attacked and squashed, has spent untold hours writing a bill and then lobbying, testifying, and phoning legislators to pass this bill, a bill that dealt not with DPS core values of “Students First, Equity, Collaboration, Integrity, Accountability, and Fun,” (I’ll add educating students!).  No, DPS’ Waldo spent much of this time from January through the first week in May engaged in the game of politics, the end result being a bill that further defunds the DPS employees’ pension.  When you are a businessman, the game is all about the bottom line and winning.  In spite of all of the time and hard work the superintendent and his Chief Financial Officer who just happens to be the former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives (this couldn’t possibly be the reason for his employment could it?) spent crafting the language and getting the political playing field right, the bill was introduced in the eleventh hour – five days before the 120 day session ended – and because of that timing there was very, very, very little opportunity to mount any opposition. This was most likely the political strategy from the beginning, and it worked, if not making pension contributions is your major goal.  It is not clear the legislators who gave him this victory even understood the ramifications of this bill.  Even worse, if they did understand the bill, how could they morally and economically justify the further shorting of the DPS pension plan leaving a bigger unfunded liability? (less money into pension = larger unfunded liability)

Meanwhile, the following are some of the events Mr. Boasberg missed during his months of politicking.

In January 2015, the general obligation bond oversight committee, a committee charged with ensuring that taxpayer monies are being spent as promised, decided how it was going to spend  $30 million in so-called “reserves.”  Not surprisingly, the committee, with strong direction from the DPS staff,  took the 42 school requests and allocated much of the money to three charter schools.  Where was the superintendent?  Not easily visible and instead sent his Chief Operating Officer to explain to the press and the community why the 42 school requests got reduced to these few charters.

In February 2015 Denver’s Fox 31 investigated allegations that a principal in a Far Northeast Turnaround school changed students’ grades.  See here and here and here. Under pressure DPS hired a special investigator to get to the bottom of the situation; the District has yet to reveal the results or the costs of this investigation.  Was the superintendent front and center in this picture?  No.  His Chief of Schools was tasked with writing an explanatory letter.

In early April the District announced a massive restructuring of two central administration offices, the Office of Schools and the Academic and Innovation Office.  Was Mr. Boasberg proudly announcing this change?  Nowhere to be found but he did send his Chief Academic and Innovation officer to explain. And when she was asked what impact this would have on the budget, she was unable to provide the information.

A few short days later two students brought loaded guns to Skinner Middle School.  Weapons at school is a very scary and very serious situation, one that should be addressed by the person at the top.  Was Superintendent Boasberg publicly reassuring parents, students, and employees that all DPS safety procedures were properly followed and safety restored?  No, again he was nowhere to be found but sent the unknown DPS Security Chief to face the press, families and community members. (5:50 into the press conference).  Twenty seven days later at this same school five students ingested marijuana, the police were notified  but still no superintendent. In fact no DPS employee was on the record responding to this incident.

(About this time the District finally responded to the November SPF letter, written by the Chief Academic and Innovation Officer.  This will take a whole other blog.  But noteworthy holding to my blog theme, nothing from the superintendent.)

And finally, at the beginning of this merry month of May, as the reality of middle school CHOICE collided with families in Stapleton and Park Hill, and as the rhetoric demanding a traditional, comprehensive neighborhood middle school rose  (57% chose a traditional, comprehensive neighborhood school; charter school DSST Stapleton was next highest with 13%), a letter from the DPS administration went home to affected families assuring them there would be yet another proper community process to determine what the new middle school would look like.  Who signed this letter? Again, Chief of Schools.  The superintendent appears to have been too busy dialing for votes at the legislature to be bothered with education matters.

What was the true importance of this bill?  Well, one could always dream it was about restoring the educational opportunities “education reform” has stolen from our kids but in spite of Boasberg’s declaration about two or three more teachers per building, we who have followed this Broad trained superintendent know better.  The reality of his appearances at the Capitol and the reality of his lobbying efforts are not really about more teachers.  After all, “reformers” don’t believe in smaller class size, so they only mention it when they think it will score points with the public, and obviously politicians.  What is and is not important to the superintendent has become abundantly clear in these last months: grade changing, weapons in schools, reorganizations, not so important.  Defunding a public pension, politics and winning, pretty important. The reality is if you are a businessman and privatizer masquerading as an educator you really only care about the bottom line.  If you can sell paying bankers and lawyers hundreds of millions of dollars instead of putting that money into your company’s pension plan and then sell that scenario to the public and state legislators as somehow having “saved” money,  you will be regarded by the business world as a success.  Forget about learning, forget about the people, forget about safety, forget about data.  Just show me the money.  And silly me.  I thought the head of a public school district should care about delivering an equitable 21st century education, care about the welfare of his constituents, not just in theory but in reality.   This superintendent’s absenteeism and abdication of leadership can now be explained.  Who knew that finding Waldo would be easier than finding the DPS superintendent?

*Where’s Wally? (known in the United States and Canada as Where’s Waldo?) is a series of children’s books created by the English illustrator Martin Handford.   The books consist of a series of detailed double-page spread illustrations depicting dozens or more people doing a variety of amusing things at a given location. Readers are challenged to find a character named Wally hidden in the group. (From Wikipedia)