Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Changing Stories, but not for the Better

In my last post, I wondered whether the School Board, faced with the purchase of 15 Apple Watches for senior FCCPS Administrators, would defend the decision and bolster its justification, or conclude there had been a problem.   Turns out, there is another option that was activated at the Sept. 22 School Board meeting: offer a new and different explanation for the purchase.  And argue that even if buying the watches was a mistake, FCCPS was just testing a new technology.  That may sound reasonable, but only if you ignore the facts.  FCCPS bought unnecessary Apple Watches for 15 senior administrators rather than spend that money on a need more critical than the Superintendent missing an email or text.

In the explanation FCCPS and the Board offered tonight, the story that the watch purchase was in response to an active shooter drill changed.  Instead, Dr. Jones said she saw the Apple Watch demonstrated over the summer, and while initially resistant, when she saw the watch with her staff its potential as an administrative tool became clear.  So she offered the watch to those who saw value in it.  Dr. Jones said she finds the Apple Watch very valuable, and is not missing notifications as she once did.

But no one discussed the prior “active shooter” justification, and whether it was accurate. (As of my writing this, the prior story is still on the web:  No one discussed if the Apple Watch offered any capability different from a smartphone.   And no one discussed whether, if the purpose of the purchase was to test a new technology, why 15 watches were bought and all assigned to the most senior administrators in FCCPS.  With one exception, no one discussed if the money might be put to better use on a more critical need.

As for School Board oversight, the board offered the view that the size of this purchase was below its ability to oversee.  Certainly a purchase of a bit less than $6000 might fall below Board notice in budgeting in a $50M budget, and delegating decisions sometimes results in mistakes.  Then admit the mistake own up to it.  I applaud Lawrence Webb – who flatly said he disagreed with the decision.

In other news, there was a complaint about Dr. Jones reaching out directly to the members of the Special Education Advisory Committee.  The Board unanimously found that Dr. Jones had acted properly. 

The School Board appointed its representatives to the small staff group that will evaluate proposals for the construction of a new high school.  The appointees for the School Board are Toni Jones and Ty Byrd, with legal advice from Tom Horn.   Kieran Sharpe objected, saying that the review group needed better input from the public in order to evaluate proposals, a very sensible point.  The Board however approved the nominations, with Mr. Sharpe voting “no.”   That’s a rare thing – a School Board vote that isn’t unanimous.

Last, the draft work plan was approved – I have discussed that document previously. 

I look forward to your comments.  I am happy to amplify further for anyone who is interested.

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