How To Drive Off A Superintendent In One Easy Meeting

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Want to see all the tweets from Monday’s horrid, nasty, no-good, very bad Williamson Co. Board Meeting?

Want to help someone understand the horror of it?

Want to show someone how really angry parents were by the actions of The Harpies to tell Dr. Looney that they would vote for him, while trying to take away all of the sweeteners they agreed to just days before?

Well, here is your place. https://storify.com/alveyed/how-to-drive-off-a-superintendent-in-one-easy-meet.html

Enjoy. But just know, re-living this is best with a drink nearby.

Posted in Americans for Prosperity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Susan Curlee’s Firestorm of Crazy

It’s only the beginning of July, but boy howdy has Susan Curlee been busy with the gaslighting. She’s gone to speak at a political gathering in Sumner Co., got on the radio and said she was thinking hard about demanding Dr. Looney’s termination, been writing letters to the editor, and posting more about Dr. Looney on her Facebook page, but busily deleting any comments that she didn’t like.

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I don’t know about you, but I get tired just reading the list.

Just for fun, let’s start with the last one first, shall we?

TOSSing Political Activity into the Fire

On her Facebook page, Curlee continued on her “fire Looney” rant that she started a few days before on the radio.

One of the highlights:

[Dr. Looney’s] engagement in political activity extends to his membership in the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS). According to TOSS Minutes from September and November of 2013, our superintendent brought forth both the discussion and motion to form a PAC. Keep in mind, Dr. Looney’s dues of $6000/yr are paid by Williamson County taxpayers. Our superintendent generously offered to contribute the first $1000. The simple math is this: if all 141 school superintendents contributed $1000, it would allow this organization $141,000 a year for undisclosed political activity.

The irony here is pretty delicious.

First, Curlee used Dr. Looney’s membership in TOSS as one of the ways Williamson Co. Schools did not need to pay a lobbyist. She argued that TOSS, and the Tennessee School Boards Association (of which the board is not a member) would adequately represent the board’s interests on the Hill. That worked out really well.

Plus, this criticism of undisclosed political activity comes from a candidate (who, let’s all remember, WON HER RACE) that benefitted mightily from those last-minute Americans for Prosperity campaign drops:

curlee afp mailer

To this day, Curlee denies any association with, or knowledge of, that mailing prior to its release. Yet to date, neither she nor AFP-TN has disclosed how the AFP got her high-resolution, print-quality glamour shot that she used in her campaign materials. As a former magazine editor, I can promise you that such things do not simply lurk around on the interwebz for easy copying and pasting.

Which brings us to the visit Curlee made in June to SURG, Sumner United for Responsible Government. This is a group that has staunchly opposed any tax increase in Sumner Co. In 2002, the tax rate was $2.54/$100; in 2014, prior to the increase, it was $2.02. The money, according to the county commission there, will be used primarily for funding schools, which faced a $6 million shortfall, and also for infrastructure improvements.

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Susan Curlee, Julie West, and their friends from SURG and AFP-TN on June 4 (photo from AFP-TN Facebook page)

Curlee spoke at SURG on June 4. AFP-TN posted about the event, doubtless a coincidence. Part of the promotion for the event :

Education is priority!  As we move into the next school board elections, we are honored to have Susan Curlee sharing her experiences from Williamson County in ways that will positively impact Sumner County. 

Especially if by “positively impact,” they mean, “Cost the district tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees by insisting that the board conduct a teacher witch hunt and try to find any flimsy grounds imaginable to fire the excellent superintendent.”

Attending with Curlee was her constant sidekick, Julie “Crazy Eyes” West, the anti-WCS activist and homeschool mom. They hung out with the media representative from Americans for Prosperity.

Julie

So I guess the rule about being apolitical applies only people you don’t like and who didn’t endorse you in your supposedly non-partisan school board race. The one that was, yanno, all about truth and transparency.

Flaming Transparency

Oh, yes, do let’s talk about transparency. In the post on Curlee’s school board Facebook page, there were comments. Now, I’ve heard Curlee lecture the audience and school board members at meetings about how she is happy to interact with anyone who is respectful. She has also said on various occasions that she welcomes constructive conversation.

Though you wouldn’t know to look at the post now, there were actually quite a few comments. Something on the order of  25 more than you can see as of the time of posting this blog. But in one of her fits of transparency, Curlee deleted many comments similar to this one, from parent Paige Waldrop Mills:

Susan, since you seemed to have deleted my other comment on this topic, I will write it again.

These so-called smoking gun emails from Dr. Looney that you keep mentioning, date back from the spring of 2014, before the election. They were obviously available to you at the time the Board evaluated Dr. Looney in January of 2015. The Board, of which you are a member, gave Dr. Looney a very good evaluation, rating him as “exceeding expectations” in three out of four categories and “meeting expectations” in a fourth category.

Participating in Board deliberations and the evaluation process is when you are SUPPOSED to provide meaningful input on Dr. Looney and his performance. THIS was your time to show your constituents what you were bringing to the table. THIS was the time to say your piece about Dr. Looney and provide constructive feedback. The vast majority of the Board voted to accept his very positive evaluation—10 members voted in favor of it. What did you do? You ABSTAINED.

If Dr. Looney is as corrupt as you say he is (assuming for the sake of argument that your allegations against him are true), why didn’t you have the courage to vote “no”? Rather than contribute at the appropriate point in the process, you “laid low and said nothing.”

Then, after signing a Code of Ethics saying that you would not discuss Dr. Looney and his performance outside of Board deliberations, you intentionally breached the Code of Ethics and did just that. After he filed a lawsuit against you for creating a hostile work environment, you ignored Board policy and created loads of evidence supporting his existing claims and possibly created new ones like defamation and retaliation.

There is no privilege for statements made outside the proper channels. Consequently, not only is your conduct unethical because it violates the Code of Ethics, it creates new and additional liability for you, the Board, and citizens of Williamson County. Even after I and others have pointed this out to you, you continue to disparage Dr. Looney in public, like this ill-advised post, where you imply he is a corrupt dictator, making “school system employees unwilling pawns in the political game” and that he is somehow misspending taxpayer funds to influence elections.

I can only conclude that you have no regard AT ALL for the tax payers, parents, and students that you are supposed to be representing. Please, for everyone’s sake, get some legal advice before you continue on this extremely ill-advised path.

And this one:

susan curlee 6 30 fb post gribben long comment

I guess those comments were not sufficiently respectful. True, they failed to use insults, but they obviously disagreed with Curlee and her shenanigans. They were doomed for the afterlife of Curlee-contrary comments: the screenshot.

These comments, from local gun activist and Curlee apologist Raymond Baker, seem to completely meet Curlee’s respectfulness criteria:

raymond baker comments 6 30 Curlee fb

Call me nuts, but I think that just possibly, a school board official shouldn’t allow this kind of swearing and public name-calling of the board’s sole employee, or of the board’s chairman, on the Facebook page she uses for school board matters. Certainly in a corporate setting, a supervisor who did this would be an elephant on a skin of ice when it came to employment claims. Since Curlee herself is suing her former employer, Mars Petcare, on employment discrimination grounds, I’m certain she knows all about that.

The Flame of Truth

Oh, but I forgot, Susan Curlee stands for truth! As she said at the March board meeting, “If standing my ground and stating the truth puts me in violation of the code of ethics, I’ll be in violation every day.”

hayes mcd response to Curlee 6 30 post

P.J. Mezera, the chairman of the school board, seems to think that Curlee’s search for truth has gone a bit far. He got a bit testy after she appeared on the Michael DelGiorno radio show on June 4 and said she was prepared to call for Dr. Looney’s dismissal. (Not to be confused with her April 2 appearance there, which launched the current investigation of teachers and heaven knows what else by outside counsel.)

Indeed, Mezera was so exasperated that he wrote the board (i.e., Curlee) a little love note.

Dear Fellow Board Members,

It was brought to my attention that a Board Member made public comment on the radio about potential Board business.  I cannot express sufficiently the impropriety of this action. It is damaging to the rest of the Board and the District. It is incredibly selfish in nature.

. . . Going outside the context of our Board meetings to raise individual support in the community for your particular “cause” is tantamount to inciting a riot. This is not the way our Founding Fathers intended for our government to work. These attempts at intimidation by Board Members and their community groups to influence the decisions of the whole Board is disgraceful.

I ask every Member to refrain from such behavior.  We must govern ourselves, if we can hope to govern in our offices.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

PJ

What Has to Go Up in Flames?

Now, we all know how averse the board has been to do, well, ANYTHING effective to put out the fires of Curlee’s zealous pursuit of getting rid of Dr. Looney. Individual board members have tried, of course. Parents have signed petitions and shown up for public comment, and written reams of letters to board members.

Most recently, Ken Peterson told the Williamson Herald:

I believe our Chairman should ask for her resignation for violation of the Code of Ethics and promoting a hostile work environment.

Maybe the board won’t shoot the messenger this time, like it did in April when Bobby Hullett tried to introduce a censure motion against Curlee.

Or maybe they’ll just let Curlee continue with her crusade to fire Dr. Looney. Kind of like letting an arsonist run around setting things on fire, and blaming parents and other board members for begging for water to cope with the blaze.

What has to burn to the ground before the board stops letting Curlee set their agenda and distract them from making our schools better, from preparing for a tidal wave of growth, and for preparing our students to go out and do amazing things in this county and this world?

The July work session of the board is on Thursday, July 16. Currently it is set for 6:00 p.m. in the tiny little Carolyn Campbell conference room (public seating: 18 people). The July board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 20, in the main meeting room at the Administrative Complex. Signup for public comment begins at 6 p.m., but the line starts forming about 5:30 p.m.

Comments on this and all other posts are welcome, whether or not you agree with me. I will moderate comments for abusiveness or if they get far off topic. Want to comment to me privately? Feel free to email me at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com. I live Tweet from school board meetings; follow @alveyed #wcsb for that. Thanks for taking the time to read!

Posted in Ugly Stuff | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Teacher Meeting Timeline: Get the Facts Here!

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Nine months. Yep, just like a gestating little babe, we have gone from a new board being ushered in to the birth of teacher witch hunts.

Dang, these folks are inefficient. I can’t believe it took so long! I wonder how long it will take the other gestating twin, the highly anticipated (to many of the new board members) attempt at ousting of Dr. Looney, to mature? Well, that is a story for another post.

For now, here is what we know: Teachers from Hillsboro Elementary/Middle School met in September. They talked about the new school board, in terms that were less than glowing. That meeting was recorded by an attendee. The recording surfaced just before Easter. It causes a sh#&storm. The teachers were required to go to the offices of the board’s outside law firm. Two teachers were interviewed for hours.

The list of what we don’t know is pretty lengthy.

  • Why did the recording teacher record the meeting?
  • Why did it take 6 months for the recording to surface?
  • How did Susan Curlee get hold of the recording?
  • If the school board’s two jobs are 1) to set policy for WCS, and 2) to supervise its one employee, Dr. Looney, why is the board’s attorney investigating the teacher meeting?
  • Does it take 6+ hours of teacher grilling to determine if a meeting was a mandatory school function, or used taxpayer dollars, or was held on school property?

And the big question, which perhaps cannot be answered in this post, and maybe cannot be answered even by God: Why does the board continue to let Susan Curlee’s delusional thoughts control its agenda?

Let’s take a look at the timeline of what we do know, based solely on published accounts of events. Maybe some answers will become clear. It’s a theory, anyway. Continue reading

Posted in Hidden Agenda | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Cast of Crazy

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You may have thrown it away as junk mail, but it turns out that every Williamson County resident, particularly those in the even-numbered districts, got an engraved invitation over the summer to a new local theatrical production: Crazy. It’s being staged across various venues in the county, and with rotating ensemble casts. Much of the drama plays out on the stages in the Administrative Complex, but there are also strong monthly performances to be had in the WCS Professional Development Center, and in the courtrooms and schools across Williamson county.

Crazy is the story of a white, zealous cabal and its inspired efforts to return the 86.7% white Williamson County to its proper 1850’s values, and to stop the assault of liberal values against its Christians. Mind you, we’re talking about a county that is majority Christian, and 46% of those are Evangelical Christians. Clearly, liberalism and communism are threats creeping in to endanger us all.

While the main roles are played by various school board members, all of whom have been written about extensively, our playbill today focuses on other key members of the ensemble cast.

The 9-12ers

J. Lee Douglas has played many roles in the local théâtre de l’Absurd world in the last several years. He founded the 9-12 Project in middle Tennessee in 2010, in the role of its President-for-Life, a sad, aging man who, like dementors, feeds on the fear and anger of those around him.

Other previous roles include Scrubs, the story of a bankrupt dentist living in an 8,000 sq. foot, highly secluded Brentwood manse that he managed to put into trust before the hammer fell. He is perennially haunted by the thought that the government may somehow stumble upon the staggering amount of back taxes he owes.

In the current school board election drama, he plays one of the starring roles, the King of Crazy. During his debut moment of the production, Continue reading

Posted in Hidden Agenda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Read All About It: Barb Sturgeon’s Facebook Post, Right Here

Poor Barb Sturgeon. She posted a statement on her Facebook page the evening of Feb. 10, outlining why she won’t be dropping her suit against Williamson County Schools over the banning order. That’s right, the banning order that Dr. Looney issued after she was caught red-handed with a gun on school property at a board work session.

In case you’ve been carrying on with your life and not reading every story about the schools compulsively, Dr. Looney lifted the ban on Friday, Feb. 6. One might think that since the sole remedy Sturgeon sought in the suit, the lifting of the ban, had been handed to her, she would withdraw the suit.

Um, no. Because some of us are special little snowflakes, and not only need to get precisely what we sought, we also need to be apologized to for being treated like any other person would have been treated, had they brought a gun on to school property.

By the morning of Feb. 11, about 40 people commented. All of them opposed Special Snowflake Sturgeon’s continuation of her lawsuit, and criticized Special Snowflake’s reasons for doing so. And then, POOF! the whole post was deleted.

I guess it kind of sucks when you post things outside your echo chamber, and find out that no one likes what you have to say.

Never fear! Before Special Snowflake Sturgeon hit delete, several elves got screenshots of the whole thing. Have fun perusing all 20+ shots, below. Call it an early Valentine’s Day present.

b sturgeon 2:10 statement 1

b sturgeon 2:10 statement 2

b sturgeon 2:10 statement 3b sturgeon 2:10 statement 4b sturgeon 2:10 statement 5b sturgeon 2:10 statement 6b sturgeon 2:10 statement 7b sturgeon 2:10 statement 8b sturgeon 2:10 statement 9b sturgeon 2:10 statement 10 b sturgeon 2:10 statement 11b sturgeon 2:10 statement 12

Continue reading

Posted in Ugly Stuff | Tagged | 6 Comments

The Audacity of Lee Davies, Esq.

ltr from Davies to CCYou know, I have said for years that living in Franklin is like living in Mayberry. And I meant that in a good way—the way you saw your friends and neighbors around town, and you were glad to see them. The way the community rooted for its kids and schools, and supported them so well via the public schools. The thoughtful planning of many parts of the community, reflecting a nice balancing act between public needs and private rights.

I also liked that Franklin, and by extension a lot of Williamson Co., could seem to find a way to work out their differences without getting terribly ugly. And maybe most importantly, I felt a sense of honesty and ethics among most people I met. I may not have always agreed with people, but I could respect their convictions and sincerity.

Doubtless, some of those beliefs are naive. I’m well aware, thanks.

What the County Commission and School Board elections over the summer did was rip apart the curtain that hid a lot of good old boy behavior. That’s not entirely bad, or necessarily ugly. I’d say, in a community that is growing largely from influx of people from other parts of the country, it’s a necessary and healthy thing.

What is ugly is when so much posturing takes place. And particularly when the purpose of that posturing serves to hide the base selfishness and arrogance of some of the players. To wit, the players who have decided that their narrow interests trump those of the majority of the community.

I do believe this letter from Lee Davies, lawyer for Commissioner Barb Sturgeon, is Exhibit A of just that kind of ugly.

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

Comments on this and all other posts are welcome, whether or not you agree with me. I will moderate comments for abusiveness or if they get far off topic. Want to comment to me privately? Feel free to email me at jalvey@alvey.education. I live Tweet from school board meetings; follow @alveyed for that. Thanks for taking the time to read!

Posted in Hidden Agenda, Ugly Stuff | Tagged , | 8 Comments

The Sordid Conflicts Over Barb Sturgeon’s $100,000 Law Suit

The Williamson Co. school board voted 11-0 last week to ask the county commission for $100,000 to cover legal costs related to County Commissioner Barb Sturgeon’s lawsuit against Dr. Looney, lawyer Bill Squires, and the board of education. You might think that with a unanimous vote (Paul Bartholomew was absent), this was a 5-minute discussion. As if.

But before diving into the board crazy, let’s look at the fine entry into the crazy contest by the Education Committee of the county commission. They decided to slash the board’s requested amount to $30,000. Doubtless it’s only a coincidence that the Education Committee is made up of none other than Barbara Sturgeon and her 9-12 Project buddies.

Several commissioners, including Todd Kaestner and Kathy Danner, also took the opportunity to opine about how wronged their fellow commissioner was by Dr. Looney. Because they’re police officers, judges and jurors, I suppose. And having worked precisely 0 minutes in any public school system, they are also experts on administering district policies.

One might question whether there isn’t an inherent conflict of interest in having Sturgeon still be able to sit on the committee, and the commission, which decides whether to fund the board so it can defend itself against the civil lawsuit Sturgeon chose to bring. Funnily, that didn’t come up at all as a topic of conversation at the Educ. Comm. meeting.

We’re Just Conflicted

Instead, a whole other dimension of conflict of interest got thrashed out at the school board meeting last week.

[Update: An alert reader sent me this lovely little email, which I’m adding in as background to the whole discussion of the Sturgeon suit and legal fees at the board meeting:

BW to PJM letter re Looney and banning

Since WCS attorney Bill Squires is named as one of the defendants in the Sturgeon suit, the WCS attorneys cannot, according to ethical rules of law practice, simultaneously represent themselves, and Dr. Looney and the board. Even if it’s only a theoretical chance, there is a chance the interests of the lawyers and the interests of the other parties could at some point diverge. Thus, outside lawyers must be hired.

Just to refresh your memory, Sheriff Jeff Long found a gun on Commissioner Barb Sturgeon as she left the November 13, 2014 board work session. The work session was held at the Professional Development Center, which is WCS property and is very, very clearly marked as school property.

Sign at the Professional Development Center. © 2014 Gael Morkel.

Sign at the Professional Development Center. © 2014 Gael Morkel.

On Nov. 18, Squires sent a letter to Sturgeon barring her from all WCS property “owned, used or operated” by the board while the incident is being investigated. Pretty much like WCS would ban any kid or parent who brought a gun to school, I expect. In fact, I imagine that if anyone who was not a 9-12 Project member, and an official, brought a gun onto school property, there would be enormous outcry if that person were NOT banned immediately.

Even people who don’t bring guns get banned from school property. Like Victor Alvarado, the Peeping Tom janitor at Scales a few years back. No one waited for him to be indicted, let alone convicted, before he was banned from school property. I don’t recall anyone shouting about the unfairness of banning orders then.

Rather than simply defend herself against the criminal charges pending, Sturgeon decided, in an impressive showing of personal responsibility for her actions, to file a suit against WCS instead. She claims that “the purpose of the [banning] Letter was to further the political agenda of Looney and others by precluding [Sturgeon] from attending public meetings, and to intimidate others who disagree with Looney and his comrades.” (Sturgeon Complaint Para. 9)

Um, right.

The Real Conflicts

At the Jan. 20, 2015 board meeting, the funding motion should have taken about 5 minutes of discussion, max. Instead, it stretched into more than a half hour, driven primarily by Susan Curlee and Candy Emerson, with an assist by Beth Burgos.

Before the meeting got started, though, Emerson and Burgos stopped by to chat with J. Lee Douglas, head of the 9-12 Project in Middle Tennessee, and his sidekick, Chuck Shelton.

While I’m sure Curlee would have enjoyed chatting with her buddy Barb Sturgeon beforehand, Sturgeon did not make it there early enough.

(l. to r.) Candy Emerson, Barb Sturgeon, and Susan Curlee at campaign event.

(l. to r.) Candy Emerson, Barb Sturgeon, and Susan Curlee at the private swearing-in ceremony for Barb Sturgeon at her home.

Curlee launched a diatribe about how having Squires and Golden advise on who to retain as outside counsel was somehow a conflict of interest:

“Given the nature of the predicament that we are in, if we are to retain outside counsel,” Curlee said, “I think it’s imperative that it’s one that we seek with the board, and that particular objective counsel advise us on how to proceed with providing additional counsel.”

She also said, “Given that there are multiple parties named in this particular suit, I think it’s one where there are multiple conflicts of interest, and it’s one where I think we need objective legal advice.”

I’m not sure what kind of conflict Curlee is talking about, though I have some ideas. From a legal point of view, though, there is little chance of a conflict between the interests of the board and the interests of Looney and Squires at this point.

All of them are being sued by Sturgeon. They all have the same interest: defend against and defeat the lawsuit.

Without some additional facts, I see no legal conflict of interest. Of course, that’s because I don’t go into this with a big sack of suspicion on my shoulder about Dr. Looney. Unlike Curlee, whose records requests leave no question that Looney is presumptively guilty of some unidentified, unspeakable sin. Maybe not being a member of Americans for Prosperity? Or at the very least, not campaigning for her in the election.

SC campaign party invite

Commissioners Barb Sturgeon and Kathy Danner, along with 9-12er Chuck Shelton, among the hosts of a Curlee campaign event.

But maybe Curlee feels conflicted about her gun-toting pal Babs, and the prospect of Looney and Squires having competent legal counsel to refute the lawsuit in short order? Surely not.

An interesting exchange between Curlee and Sturegon on Julie West's Facebook page.

An interesting exchange between Curlee and Sturegon on Julie West’s Facebook page.

When Is a Conflict Not a Conflict?

Beth Burgos tried to suggest that Squires and Golden might somehow advise hiring outside counsel that would ultimately have some adverse interest against WCS or the board. Here’s why that idea is utter crap.

Under the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, the ethical rules that govern attorneys here, an attorney may not represent a party against whom s/he has been previously adverse. In other words, if an attorney has litigated against you, or even represented the other side in a very amicable deal, they cannot represent you. Even if the current lawsuit has nothing to do with the former matter, it’s still a conflict.

Also, even if the lawyer isn’t technically adverse, s/he might still be barred from representing a client, if there is a significant risk that a lawyer’s ability to recommend an appropriate course of action for the client will be meaningfully limited as a result of the lawyer’s other responsibilities or interests.

There are some narrow exceptions to those rules which could allow an attorney to represent the new party, But, those exceptions require the attorney to disclose the conflict, and get informed consent from all the clients, past and potential.

Attorneys actually know these rules, unlike, say, board members without law degrees. It defies reason that the board’s lawyers would try to influence the board to hire outside counsel that have previously been adverse to WCS, or to other boards. Even if you don’t believe in their honesty and integrity, the idea that in the current climate such a move would go unnoticed is, frankly, laughable.

In fact, the legal staff is much more knowledgable about who the local lawyers have represented, and about their quality and competence, than any board member. Even if the legal staff did make a suspect recommendation, the lawyer(s) chosen would have to disclose the conflict. That’s 2 sets of lawyers with their licenses on the line if they make a false move. You can make your own assessment about how likely that scenario is.

I don’t know why Burgos backed up Curlee’s paranoid claims about conflict of interest. Maybe she got some bad advice from someone?

BB with JLD and wife

(l. to rt.) J. Lee Douglas, Beth Burgos, and Elizabeth Douglas, at Burgos’ campaign kick-off party, held at Douglas’ home.

bb kick off invite

Emerson Erupts with Conspiracy Theory

At some point during this protracted discussion, Emerson laid into both Dr. Looney and Bill Squires openly. She complained that she had not received a copy of the suit. With a great deal of heat, she said that “It’s more than just an oversight, it’s a deliberate attempt to keep the board uninformed about certain things that are going on and likewise in keeping the public uninformed about some of the behaviors and things that are going on at the central office.”

Just for the record, I personally picked up a copy of the suit from the clerk’s office in December. It’s not hard; you just have to call and ask for the case, and so long as you know one party’s name, the nice people in the clerk’s office will get a copy for you. Possibly this is a skill set beyond Emerson’s ability, but I’ll leave that to another day.

As Robert Hullett pointed out, “When we [WCS] get sued, which happens on a regular basis I hate to say, we don’t need to know about it all the time because that’s your [Squires’] job. You are taking care of it.

“And technically, we are the Board of Education and in every lawsuit, we get sued. I’d rather not spend my time micromanaging what we have people here to do.”

Why the distrust of Looney? I wonder if it’s related to those who hosted Emerson’s campaign kick-off party? Notice the name of a certain county commissioner?

c emerson launch party invite

Hosts of Candy Emerson’s Kick-off party included Commissioners Barb Sturgeon, Kathy Danner, and 9-12 Project Middle Tn leader J. Lee Douglas.

But really, there’s no conflict here.

Comments on this and all other posts are welcome, whether or not you agree with me. I will moderate comments for abusiveness or if they get far off topic. Want to comment to me privately? Feel free to email me at jalvey@alvey.education. I live Tweet from school board meetings; follow @alveyed for that. Thanks for taking the time to read!

Posted in 9-12 Project, Hidden Agenda | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Will WCS Haters Cost Schools $260,000?

Document Requests Made to WCS, By Requestor

Document Requests Made to WCS, By Requestor

 

updated legend for doc request pie chart

I’m all about public records requests. They are a vital part of an open, democratic government. Without open records, governments can hide all kinds of stuff that they shouldn’t.

Here in Williamson Co. Schools, though, we have 2 people who, between them, have requested the lion’s share of the estimated 350,000 documents currently owed to various people from open records requests. They are, curiously, 2 people who do not have children in WCS: Julie West, whose request covers about 250,000 docs, and Beth Lehman, whose request covers about 10,000. (More on their backgrounds below.)

It could be that a non-parent of the WCS has a very legitimate reason for requesting that volume of documents from the school system. Or, it could just be political paranoia. You decide.

Either way, it’s going to cost taxpayers a huge pile of cash to clear these requests. Last week, Dr. Looney announced at the board’s Policy Committee meeting that he would be seeking funds to hire an outside contractor for help in processing the many document requests the WCS has received in the last 6 months or so.

For a visual, imagine a box of copier paper; that holds 10,000 sheets of paper. Now, imagine 35 of those puppies stacked together. Then imagine yourself having to look at every single page. Because that is the task that the legal department faces.

About this many boxes of documents (or a few more) respond to recent document requests.

About this many boxes of documents (or a few more) respond to recent document requests.

In my former life as an attorney, I worked on cases that had similar numbers of documents, and far more. It is slow, tedious work. After a quick search for terms that match the request, the next step is a review, document by document, for legal privilege. In litigation, reviewers have a list of attorneys, and some knowledge of what creates legal privilege and what doesn’t. Reviewers can search for specific names, but not for finding context clues that hint at possible privilege.

Schools, in addition to reviewing for legal privilege, also have obligations to keep student identities protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and also under the health privacy law, HIPPA. West’s request spans more than 4 years, meaning more than 100,000 WCS students; it’s impossible to search for that many names and be done before, oh, 2025. Plus, it’s not just names that are protected by FERPA; it’s any information that might identify an individual student. In other words, finding the documents that contain those references requires document-by-document review.

The industry standard for reviewing documents is about 50 documents per hour. Here’s how that works out in cost.

Attorney review rate Paralegal review rate
Total hours = 5,200 $50/hr $25/hr
Total Cost $260,000 $130,000

It could well be that the estimate of total hours needed is on the low side, due to the need to review each document more closely than in a typical litigation. Because paralegals tend to be less experienced and educated in issues like privilege, the hours estimate for them is particularly low, if they can even do the job.

Julie West & Her 250,000 Documents

So let’s take a look at the West and Lehman document requests.

Julie West, a District 12 resident but not a WCS parent, made this request on Sept. 30, 2014:

Dear Mr. Golden:

Because of ongoing targeting of conservative groups, district parents, elected officials and even my family, by some connected with Williamson County Schools, it has become necessary for me to request the opportunity to review a number of emails. Please, understand that I am not requesting copies. At this time, online review will suffice.

The emails should include any WCS email or mikelooney1963@gmail.com from 2010 to present mentioning:

  1. myself
  2. [redacted]
  3. [redacted]
  4. [redacted]
  5. Sidney (Ket) West
  6. Laurie Cordoza (sic) Moore
  7. Michael Del Gornio (sic)
  8. Jeremy Durham
  9. Glenn (sic) &/or Jill Casada
  10. Carrie (sic) Bartlett
  11. Jessica Pace
  12. Fox News
  13. Parents for Truth in Education

Thank you for your attention and discretion dealing with this important issue. I look forward to receiving your response.

Julie West

West was a WCS parent for a while, but hasn’t been since 2013. She operates a FB page called Parents for Truth in Education, started in 2012 when she and Laurie Cardoza Moore, and others, began agitating about textbook selection and the horrible threat of Islam indoctrination in social studies books. They managed to get a whole paragraph changed in one AP Human Geography book. In the 3 years the page has operated, it has garnered 315 likes. A true political powerhouse.

So, West is requesting any email sent from a WCS account that mentions Fox News. That’s certainly a focused, reasonable way to discern the alleged conservative “targeting,” isn’t it? I mean, it wouldn’t capture, for example, any email sent by employees that mentions a Fox news story, would it? Oh, wait, it would.

West, though, is convinced that her requested documents will show that Dr. Looney has a vendetta against her and her family. She flatly rejects the idea that the volume of documents requested is what is keeping her request from being fulfilled. And, she has some interesting friends who are egging her on, such as Susan Curlee and Barbara Sturgeon.

JW post re docs article w initial comments

JW comments to post w SC also

SC 1-7 1etter to editor re ML posted on FB

 

The Other Listed Names

Let’s not forget that Jill Casada was a nurse at a WCS elementary school. So just possibly, she might have received a few emails from teachers and administrators inquiring about a student’s health. Doubtless, though, most of those emails would be about the dreaded political targeting West is sure exists.

Now, it is true that Glen Casada and Jeremy Durham are local politicians. I do wonder if they even knew West was so concerned on their behalf? And maybe it’s just me, but they seem like big boys, and I’m sure if they were concerned about being targeted by WCS, they are perfectly capable of requesting their own documents. Unless West is somehow on both their payrolls, which I highly doubt.

Kerri Bartlett and Jessica Page are reporters for the Williamson Herald and BrentwoodHomepage.com. They both write balanced, sourced stories. Not sure how they are part of the targeting conservatives plot.

Incidentally, media requests for records have typically numbered in the 10s up until this year. The only reason the number climbed in 2014 is because the media requested copies of records requests fulfilled for Julie West and Susan Curlee.

Not all media are the same, of course. There are media figures like Michael DelGiorno, who hosts a local radio talk show. I can’t even label him as conservative, because that would be insulting to actual conservatives. He’s more in the “tenuous grip on reality” category; he natters, pretty much daily, about the evil that is Dr. Looney, and how Dr. Looney is wrecking the school system. No, really, I am not making this up. Listen for yourself, if you can stand it.

Notably, West appears on DelGiorno’s show almost daily. And, she and Susan Curlee (they live about half a mile apart) have appeared on the same show to talk about the horrible, catastrophic state of the schools in Wilco—you know, how monstrous it is that the district’s test scores keep getting better, even though that’s really hard to pull off when your district is already at the top. Also, they talk about the unfairness of the election that Susan Curlee won. There’s also a fair bit about Williamson Strong, PTOs, and other people who actually have children in WCS schools. You know the dilettantes that THOSE PEOPLE are.

West often takes advantage of the public comment portion of school board meetings to whinge about how her records request is being ignored, and questions the motives of WCS by not dropping everything to focus on her. Indeed, she is so worried about her precious 250,000 documents that when she heard about the water main break in the server room at WCS, her first move was to call the police, since something nefarious was clearly afoot.

Beth Lehman & Her 10,000 Documents

Beth Lehman is a homeschool parent whose children have never attended public schools. She is one of the administrators, along with Julie West, of the Williamson Co. Homeschool Coalition’s Facebook page. The group’s purpose, according to the page: “We are parents, primarily but not necessarily home educators, concerned about current issues, so that we may be informed and equipped to preserve our God-given and Constitutional freedoms, for the benefit of all children in Williamson County.”

The WCHC endorsed Susan Curlee for the 2014 election, along with a whole slate of candidates, including local celebrity Victoria Jackson:

homeschoolcoalition

Strangely, I could not find the group registered as a PAC with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. I’m sure Ms. Curlee will get right on filing an ethics violation complaint against them, now that this information has been brought to light.

So, what documents is Lehman after? Her Jan. 2, 2014 request:

Dear Mr. Squires,

This is an open records request.

May I please see emails from May 15, 2014 through December 31, 2014,

from all of the following:

  • Mike Looney
  • Eric Welch
  • Robert (Bobby) Hullett
  • The communications department

Containing any one (or more) of the following:

  • Williamson Strong
  • Lehman
  • West
  • Curlee
  • Burgos
  • Islamic Promo
  • Homeschool

If there are any details to this process please advice [sic]. Thank you very much for your assistance.

Respectfully,

Beth Lehman

Basically, this request duplicates a large portion of the Julie West request, except it is (mercifully) much more limited in time scope—6.5 months, vs. 4 years+. It does add scope by asking for additional current and former board members’ emails, plus those of the Communications Department. After all, that department has almost no responsibility for getting materials to new board members like Curlee and Beth Burgos, or coordinating with them on a myriad of board-related matters.

Many of these records have already been requested and received by Susan Curlee, who has shared them with West. At least, West seems to have a pretty thorough knowledge about several documents, and said on the Michael DelGiorno show that Curlee showed some documents to her.

Lehman, too, seems rather concerned that her precious documents might have been affected by the water main break. Yep, definitely more important than, say, student records, instructional plans, or anything related to actual education of WCS students.

JW comment to MG post water main

Can’t WCS Just Ignore These and Save the Money Instead?

The sad thing about these document requests is that there is not much WCS can do about them, except fulfill them. One does not need to be a parent of a WCS student to request school documents, but simply a county resident. I can’t say I have a problem with that—often media and other investigators are the ones who uncover government corruption.

But unlike in litigation, where parties can object to overbroad and burdensome requests, and ask that a judge narrow the request, the school district does not have that option when it comes to open records.

WCS attorneys have asked West to narrow her request, so that they can get her documents to review. West has refused.

So at a bare minimum, WCS is going to have to find $130,000 to get these requests cleared. While the legal department has reviewed about 4,000 documents, including 2,000 for Susan Curlee, it is a poor use of the lawyers’ expertise on school law, IEPs, personnel law, and all those things that they handle daily, to review documents.

What could $130,000, or more likely $260,000, be used for? So many things that would impact students and teachers:

  • Technology, like smartboards for classrooms, laptops, and tablets;
  • Teacher raises;
  • New teacher hires;
  • Incentives for bus driver hires;
  • Individual facility improvements;
  • Increased pay for SAAC workers;
  • Tutoring services for struggling students;
  • Or about a zillion other things that touch students’ lives.

Please, File a Motion

As an armchair litigator, I wish that WCS would file a declaratory judgment motion, asking a judge for relief from these 2 requests. The costs of that motion would be a drop in the bucket compared to actually fulfilling the requests. Yes, it’s a somewhat risky move, and there’s not precedent for it, but maybe it’s time to try to make some. This seems like a pretty egregious abuse of the system, based on what we know. If a judge is inclined to impose some kind of limitation on an open records request, this is probably a great case to try.

West only makes vague accusations of targeting, without providing any proof. I say, if she’s got some, she needs to show it. Paranoia alone should not be the basis for costing a school system hundreds of thousands of dollars. Narrowing the request by removing Fox News, and all parties except West and her family, and limiting the request to the last year, seem like reasonable accommodations. If there has been targeting, documents from such a narrowed search would be highly likely to reveal it.

What do you think?

Comments on this and all other posts are welcome, whether or not you agree with me. I will moderate comments for abusiveness or if they get far off topic. Want to comment to me privately? Feel free to email me at jalvey@alvey.education. I live Tweet from school board meetings; follow @alveyed for that. Thanks for taking the time to read!

 

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Resolutions for School Board Members

teamworkThe New Year dawns, and at least one WCS board member, Susan Curlee, claims she’s turning over a new leaf. (Forgive me if I tend to think the other side of the leaf will be just as spotty and moldy as the first side.)

But what the heck! In the spirit of new beginnings, I thought a few suggestions might help help the WCS school board work better together in 2015.

Gary Anderson: Before each board meeting, I will sing “This Little Light of Mine,” and remember to take my light out from under the bushel occasionally.

Paul Bartholomew: I resolve to read and commit to memory Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, particularly Principles of Composition #17: Omit needless words.PeanutsEditing-1972

Beth Burgos: As a woman of science, I resolve to support my arguments with independently verifiable facts, offered up at the same time that I make broad, sweeping statements about what others think or believe.

Dan Cash: I resolve to take classes in critical feminist theory and critical race theory, right after I look up what those are.

Susan Curlee: I resolve to purchase and wear a pair of rose-colored glasses, so I can see the world the way most of my constituents do. Mostly, parent questions are just  . . . parent questions.

Candy Emerson: I will diligently commit to memory this section of Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson’s recent letter to a citizen:

As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us. Unfortunately, there is even more of a human tendency to stay within our comfort zone by further narrowing those associations to those persons who share our thoughts and opinions. By doing this we can avoid giving consideration to thoughts and ideas different than our own. This would make us uncomfortable. By considering only the thoughts and ideas we are in agreement with, we stay in our comfort zone. Our own biases get reinforced and reflected back at us leaving no room for any opinion but our own. By doing this, we often convince ourselves that the majority of the world shares opinion and that anyone with another opinion is, obviously, wrong.

It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter.

Jay Galbreath: I will continue to channel my inner Moses, leading my tribe of 9-12ers through the wilderness to occasional reason and sanity, despite their doubts about my vote on the school calendar.

Mark Gregory: Since I can no longer hawk my Buttle Opener, I will become a distributor of a different kind of bottle opener. deer bottle opener

Bobby Hullett: I resolve to be a better marching band leader than Stork in Animal House. With the current board, that’s an ambitious goal enough.Animal-House band in alley

P.J. Mezera: I will embrace the concept of limiting board debate, and give particular attention to  developing a procedure that limits all board member comments to a certain number of minutes. As a bonus, I will even consider a rule that limits the number of times a member is permitted to speak on a particular matter. (From Six Ways To Shorten and Improve Board Meetings)committee-meetings

Ken Peterson: I will arrange for a screening for board members (and anyone else—open meetings!) of the classic movie Harper Valley PTA. Afterward, a trained mediator will lead board discussion on the theme of hypocrisy, and modern-day parallels.

Rick Wimberly: I will read Toxic Co-Workers: How To Deal With Dysfunctional People on the Job, then hold a brown-bag lunch and share my findings.

What suggestions do you have for WCS Board resolutions for 2015? Add them to the comments!

Comments on this and all other posts are welcome, whether or not you agree with me. I will moderate comments for abusiveness or if they get far off topic. Want to comment to me privately? Feel free to email me at jalvey@alvey.education. I live Tweet from school board meetings; follow @alveyed for that. Thanks for taking the time to read!

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Curlee Goes Fishing in the FSSD Pond

sunset fishermanIt seems that Susan Curlee didn’t find any documents to build her case that parents and parent groups in Williamson Co. Schools are plotting against her illicitly, because we never heard anything after she requested documents from WCS in late September.

So instead, Curlee has gone fishing in the Franklin Special School District pond. Why, and what she expected to find, I have no idea. What I do know is that Curlee has once again requested documents about Williamson Strong, a grass-roots parent group.

On Nov. 21, the Friday before Thanksgiving and after the offices were closed, Curlee sent the following request to Dr. David Snowden, the FSSD Director of Schools:

From: Susan Curlee [mailto:curleesm@gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2014 4:21 PM
To: Snowden, David
Subject: Open Records Request

Dr. Snowden,

I request access to all emails meeting the following criteria:

1) containing my name, Susan Curlee

2) containing name of my child, [redacted]

3) containing name of my child, [redacted]

4) containing words “Williamson Strong”

5) containing words “Williamson Secrets”

Time frame: March 2014 – October 31, 2014

Please give me a call if you have any questions related to this request.

Thank you,

Susan Curlee

[redacted phone number]

I’m not sure what Ms. Curlee hoped to accomplish with her request. Even if there were a treasure trove of documents that mentioned Williamson Strong, so what? Why is she so concerned about employees at school district—where she is not on the board, and didn’t run for the board—talking about the parents in Williamson Strong?

Just Some Forwarded Articles, Ma’am

Curlee’s children do attend FSSD schools, so it would not surprise me that there are documents that mention her. Any time she sent an email to an FSSD teacher or administrator, her name would be captured in the database of searchable emails.

I was curious just how many emails would mention Williamson Strong or Williamson Secrets, so I asked FSSD about that. (I specifically said I was not interested in any emails that mentioned her children.) They loaded a laptop with all the Williamson Strong and Williamson Secrets emails—all 9 of them, a total of 9 pages.

Of those, 5 were forwards of the same email, which was sent from an FSSD board member’s personal email, asking that recipients consider voting for Eric Welch in District 10. One was a forward of a Williamson Secrets article, and an 8-word response. One was a forward of an article by yours truly.

That’s it. The other 543 pages were emails that presumably mentioned one of Curlee’s children.

[Side note: 543 pages of emails about Curlee’s children in 6 months of school being in session? I checked with a friend who has 3 children, all with IEPs, in WCS. Her best guess is that she sends, estimating very generously indeed, 240 emails about all 3 children over the entire academic year.]

No Fishy Facts To Catch in FSSD

I’ll be blunt: The thought of Susan Curlee inserting herself and her destructive agendas into the wonderful, collaborative FSSD makes me more than a little rage-y.

I’ve sat at many FSSD board meetings, particularly during redistricting a couple years ago. Most recently, I attended the December meeting, and nearly dozed off because it was so pleasant, peaceful and profoundly lacking in agendas, save one: to create the best education possible for all FSSD students.

There is a reason that the FSSD board just won a Board of Distinction award from the Tennessee School Boards Association. The FSSD board works together cohesively, even during trying situations like redistricting in 2012. That could  have been an explosive and divisive issue, and certainly was in some committee meetings, but the FSSD board never lost its cool in public.

Curlee has claimed before that she has been stalked, or targeted, or somehow mistreated by Williamson Strong parents. These strange ideas have never been validated, because that would require facts that simply do not exist. Taking that same misguided fight to FSSD will not uncover facts for her conspiracy theories there, either.

Instead, maybe it’s time for Curlee to focus her energies on how to net more bus drivers and substitute teachers for WCS. Or how to navigate the choppy waters with the county commission to get funding for the well-deserved 5% teacher raises that Dr. Looney is putting into the budget for 2015–16.

In other words, put down the fishing pole, and just back away.

Comments on this and all other posts are welcome, whether or not you agree with me. I will moderate comments for abusiveness or if they get far off topic. Want to comment to me privately? Feel free to email me at jalvey@alvey.education. I live Tweet from school board meetings; follow @alveyed for that. Thanks for taking the time to read!

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