As you probably know, Ypsilanti’s new Board of Education will be meeting on Monday evening to decide whether or not our recently-consolidated district can possibly move forward and be successful under the leadership of either Dedrick Martin, the superintendent of the Ypsilanti Public School District, or Laura Lisiscki, the superintendent of the Willow Run School District. As we discussed a few days ago, there are, in my opinion, several reasons to look beyond our former leaders, and open the search up to a wider pool of candidates, in hopes of finding someone who might have experience successfully merging districts, or, better yet, a compelling vision as to how we take full advantage of this opportunity, marshaling all of the resources available to us, and build a truly inspirational and innovative new district that provides the children of Ypsilanti with the progressive, engaging, community-based educations they so desperately need. Before we do that, though, apparently the new board has to decide whether an internal candidate has the ability and deserves a chance.
Tonight’s post was going to be a simple one. I was just going to pass along the following note from my friend Maria, and encourage you all to let your opinions be known… but then I opened my front door to find a package from an anonymous source. (More on that in a moment.)
Support our children! Please come to Monday’s Consolidated school board meeting. The board is planning on choosing the new superintendent of the consolidated district. This decision not only affects our children, it affects the economics of our entire community. Let’s meet in the parking lot at 6:45pm to show our solidarity. Pass It on!
When: Monday, February 25
Rally: 6:45, Willow Run High School Parking Lot
Meeting: 7:30 Willow Run High School auditorium
Now, about that package… I suspect that, like Dan Rather, I might be walking into a trap right now, but something was left on my doorstep this morning that I feel compelled to share. I don’t know if there’s anything to it or not, but, given that we’ve got this big meeting tomorrow night, where the Board of Education will apparently be deciding whether or not Martin and Lisiscki will be hired to serve as co-superintendents of our newly-merged district, I felt as though I didn’t have a choice.
Before I get into the specifics as to what was left for me, though, here’s the relevant background as I know it.
A few weeks ago, AnnArbor.com ran a story about former Ypsilanti High School principal Rob Belous. Belous, as you might recall, had been put on administrative leave in October. Representatives of the Ypsilanti School District had said at the time that Belous, who has since been fired by the District, was put on leave so that an investigation could be carried out. (Apparently there were concerns regarding his performance.) In this February article, however, Belous offered a different reason. It was not his performance that put him on the wrong side of the administration, he said, but the fact that he’d been conducting an investigation of his own, looking into district spending, especially as it related to federal grant money being spent at Ypsilanti’s two high schools – Ypsilanti New Tech and Ypsilanti High School. The following clip is from AnnArbor.com.
…Belous said the first red flag came in March 2012, when he was approached by Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Martin to sign off on a number of grant expenditures for his building.
“I thought it strange that we never got an actual audit report… and that grants were done this way,” he said.
Belous was hired prior to the start of the 2011-12 academic year to lead YHS through a redesign and various other reforms. The high school was required to undergo a redesign after appearing on the state’s persistently lowest achieving schools list.
Belous began noticing “gross inequities” in how much money was dedicated to YHS per student compared with Ypsilanti New Tech per student, he said. Both schools serve students in grades 9-12, yet New Tech receives more resources from the district, Belous said.
Ypsilanti New Tech High School opened its doors in fall 2010 and follows a national model of project-based learning with an emphasis on technology.
Belous brought up the subject of spending inequities numerous times to Irvine, Jennifer Martin and Dedrick Martin, he said.
In September 2012, Belous noticed several expenditures in a grant summary that did not occur, he says. Belous claims he was told by more than one district administrator in September to stop talking about the district’s spending “if he cared about his career.”
Belous filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education regarding the district’s spending of Title 1, Title 2 and Title 31A grant dollars. Title 1 and Title 31A funding is provided primarily to help school districts supplement instruction and support services for at-risk and low-income or economically disadvantaged students. Title 2 provides funds for staff professional development to improve instructional quality….
When asked about this by AnnArbor.com, YPSD Executive Director of Human Resources Sharon Irvine said that officials hadn’t known, when they put Belous on administrative leave, that he had been looking into the district’s spending. (In the district’s defense, a representative with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, when contacted by AnnArbor.com, said that, while they’d received the Belous complaint, they’d “closed the matter,” after looking into it. Furthermore, as I understand it, there were legitimate reasons to question Belous’s ability to lead. That doesn’t mean, however, that he might not have been correct about funding inequalities between Ypsilanti’s two high schools, misuse of funds, etc.)
And here’s where I need to choose my words carefully, so as not to unjustly accuse anyone of wrongdoing. As I mentioned above, I don’t like dealing in innuendo, especially when it’s third-hand, via an anonymous source, but, as this critically important decision is scheduled to be made tomorrow, which may well determine whether Ypsilanti has a viable public school system going forward, I don’t think I have any choice but to share it.
From what I am told, AnnArbor.com filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the YPSD, asking, among other things, for the expense reports of administrators. According to the anonymous package that I received, however, they did not fully comply. Some receipts, it would seem, were either purposefully, or inadvertently, left out. I, of course, have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. (I have a call in to AnnArbor.com, but I’ve yet to hear back.) What I do know, however, is that I’ve got a stack of photocopies of what appear to be a high-ranking administrator’s expense reports, some of which appear to be signed-off on by said administrator herself, which, as I understand it, is not accepted protocol.
As I stated above, this is a tricky business. While it looks as though there were some expensive meals, for instance, I feel hesitant to comment, not knowing the context. There are, after all, occasionally situations that call for larger dinner meetings at places nicer than Applebee’s. Without knowing what the situations were, or who was involved, I’m not inclined to assign blame. Of the material that has been provided to me, however, there’s one particular event that seems, even upon my cursory inspection, to warrant a closer look. It’s a July 2012 trip to Las Vegas. According to the note that I received, this administrator took her secretary and stayed for about a week, although the conference only ran for three days. (It was a user group meeting for PowerSchool, the web-based student information system used by YPSD.) The note that I received said that this administrator attended along with “her secretary and her two other friends,” although the district’s person designated to run PowerSchool, who ostensibly could have benefited from having been there, was not allowed to join them, given the fact that there were insufficient financial resources to send him.
It’s probably also worth noting that the person who passed these receipts along to me clearly has a grudge against this administrator. “Dedrick Martin gave her the reins of the district, which she has destroyed,” the person writes. “And, if the board selects Dedrick Martin (to serve as superintendent of the new, unified district), she will stay.”
I personally do not have a vendetta against Dedrick Martin. As I said in my post a few days ago about our search for a new superintendent, I think that he might very well be the right person to lead the new district forward. I just wanted for there to be a broad search, open to external candidates, before a decision was made to give him another chance… And, as I said above, I don’t know for certain that the above allegations are legitimate. Given the fact that the new school board could be voting tomorrow to hand over the reins of the new district to Martin, though, I felt as though I should say something. At the very least, I’d like to suggest that we give ourselves a few additional days, and look into these new allegations of impropriety under his tenure. As I said, I have reached out to AnnArbor.com and have offered all of the photocopies that were left for me, and I would be happy to share them with members of the new Board of Education as well. This is much too big of a decision for our community to rush, especially when allegations like these are being made. As we all know, we won’t have a second chance at this.
update: Shortly after a reader posted this screen grab from the Twitter account of the YPSD administrator in question, said administrator deleted the post. Within a few hours, the entire account had been terminated.