The Cranky Taxpayer

The Cranky Taxpayer

The State "Responds"


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On June 30, 2006, I received the following email from the Education Department regarding Richmond's ongoing violations of the state truancy law:

Mr. Butcher,

Dr. Emblidge asked that I update you on the steps that have been taken since your inquiry about truancy in Richmond.

On June 22, Dr. Emblidge requested that the Department of Education review the data cited on your Web site, including truancy data published by Richmond on its Web site but not reported to the department, and your conclusions regarding the scheduling of truancy conferences. The department subsequently notified Richmond Public Schools that it would be conducting this review. In addition, the department will be requesting a report from Richmond on its efforts to reduce truancy as specified in the Truancy Reduction and Prevention Program (TRAPP), which was implemented last year.

When divisions submit required data to the department, the division superintendents are required to certify in writing that the data being submitted are accurate. Examples of these submissions, which you referenced, include data for the following charts and tables that are found on the department Web site:

* Table 8: Number of Days Taught, Average Daily Membership, Average Daily Attendance and Percent Attendance
* No. of Students with Whom a Conference Was Scheduled After the Student Had Accumulated Six Absences During The School Year
* Dropout Statistics

As in other instances, should the DOE have reason to question the accuracy of submitted data, the DOE follows up with the division. 
[link to the data added]

The State gets an "A" on courtesy (short term, at least; see below) and an "F" on content:

  • The President of the State Board, Mark Emblidge asked the troops to "update [me] on the steps that have been taken."   In response the Department told me:

  • The Department has notified RPS that it "will be" reviewing the data;

  • The Department "will be" requesting a report from Richmond regarding its truancy activities with the State's $675,000;

  • Division superintendents are required to certify data they submit to the State; and

  • If the Department has reason to question the accuracy of the data submitted, they follow up with the local school division

  • According to the email, the only "step" the Department has taken is to tell Richmond it will be taking "steps."  That one (baby) step was not a request for information.  Neither did it include an analysis of the published data (about a ten minute job).  The Department took eight days and all they managed to do was tell RPS they will be "conducting [their] review".
     

  • The Department "will be requesting" a report on Richmond's efforts to reduce truancy using the State's $675,000 (i.e., the Truancy Reduction and Prevention Program, "TRAPP").  Notice, please, the State hasn't requested a report; they "will be requesting" it.  Never mind that the Plan already calls for quarterly reports.  And never mind that the Appropriations Act requires that "the Department and the City of Richmond shall provide a project status report that includes an assessment of the results of the program to the Chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees by December 1, 2005."
     

  • The remainder of the email discusses the process by which local school divisions report information to the State and it tells us that the Department "follows up with the [local school] division" if it has a reason to question the data.  Why do you suppose half of this email discusses data quality?  At this point in the process, the Department has not even analyzed the data in its possession, or the data on the RPS Web site; it has not demanded any data from Richmond; it only has told Richmond that it will be "reviewing" the data I copied from these two sources.  Why is the Department talking about an unidentified (and apparently hypothetical) data problem, rather than asking about truancy and Richmond's violations of state law?  Do you smell another coverup such as  this one or this one?

It Gets (Much) Worse

Following that email, the Education Department fell silent until September, 2006, when I heard elsewhere about a July, 2006 meeting between the Richmond Superintendent, the President of the State Board of Education, and the new State Superintendent on the truancy issue.  I sent a Freedom of Information Act request on 9/12/06 for:

  • All non-identical copies and draft copies of the presentation for Dr. Emblidge and Dr. Cannaday and other Department of Education staff on July 19, 2006 regarding accuracy of truancy data, efforts underway to increase accuracy, and efforts to reduce truancy;

  • All records presented to Dr. Emblidge, Dr. Cannaday, or Dept. of Education staff in preparation for, in connection with, or as follow up to the July 19 presentation; and

  • All public records identified in, referred to in, or relied upon to prepare that presentation.

After an exchange of clarifying emails, the Education Department told me they had no records, adding:

"Richmond collected the hard copies of the presentation at the end of the July 19 meeting because the information had not been presented to the school board."

Hiding from the Public

What a wonderful way to do public business: Hold a secret meeting; watch a presentation; keep no records of your own and give back the hard copy of the presentation so your press officer can honestly say: "I do not have a copy of it."

Continuing Richmond Violations

It gets better: The Richmond School Board had a copy of the presentation, of course, and they produced it to my FOIA request.  You can review it here.  In short, the presentation says that the percentage of conferences went from 7% in 2005 to 73% in 2006.  The presentation does not say what the denominator is in that calculation (we don't know conferences as a percentage of what).  Let's infer that the numbers respond to the statute and are the percentage of kids with six truancies for whom the conferences were scheduled.  Presuming that much, the Richmond Superintendent admitted to the State Superintendent and the President of the State Board that she again failed to comply with the plain requirement of 22.1-258 in 27% of the cases: After the sixth absence the Superintendent is required to hold the conference within fifteen days in every case.

The presentation is silent about the further question: How many of the required proceedings did the Superintendent initiate in cases of the seventh truancy (Note slide 18, which might be helpful on this subject but is blank)?  For certain, however, there is no evidence that the state is acting to compel Richmond to initiate those proceedings.

Lying Down with Dogs . . .

A further trifle: A document becomes a "public record" when it is "in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business."  Code 2.2-3701.  Thus, the copies of the Richmond presentation became "public records" when the President and Superintendent reviewed them in the course of deciding to continue ignoring their responsibility to enforce the truancy law.  Code 42.1-86.1 makes it unlawful for a state agency to "sell or give away public records" or to "destroy or discard a public record" except in accordance with a records retention and disposition schedule approved by the Librarian of Virginia.  In any event, a signed "Certificate of Records Disposal" must be approved by the agency's designated records officer and on file in the agency before records can be destroyed.  In this case, the Superintendent and the President gave away a public record, certainly without the execution and filing of a Certificate of Records Disposal.

So there it is:

  • The Richmond Superintendent admitted that, despite considerable improvement, she continues to grossly violate 22.1-258;

  • The State Superintendent and the President of the State Board held a private meeting on the subject, destroyed a public record in violation of State law, and decided to continue to ignore their duty to enforce the State truancy law as to Richmond.

I think the word for all this is "malfeasance."

Note added on January 2, 2012:  In January, 2011, the Board of Education proposed a truancy regulation to implement Code 22.1-258.  The Governor approved the proposed regulation on December 29.  So I got to do some holiday reading.

Unfortunately, it's a truly awful job.  So I filed comments.

 

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Last updated 04/01/12
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