Saturday, November 18, 2006

How to Succeed in Public Education Without Even Working

Could someone please, please find me a job like the ones that Lynn Spampinato has had over the past few years? One of those very rare jobs where they pay you not to come to work, and don't expect you to accomplish anything? Ideally, this job would provide me with a nice hefty 6-figure salary. And if at all possible, it would be great if this whole boondogle could be funded through taxpayer dollars, especially if those dollars come from tax rates that are high enough that just about every working adult really feels the bite when they look at their paycheck stubs and property tax forms. That way, I could feel extra smug when I wake up at 10:00 AM or so on a Wednesday morning, and look out the window to watch the guys from the nursery arrive to rake my leaves. After all, a decent part of the meager wages they receive from back-breaking labor will go to pay me to do absolutely nothing that day. How cool is that?

Many of you won't have a clue who Lynn Spampinato is, and with good reason. Heck, I don't really know her, either. She could walk by me on the street and I wouldn't even know it. And really, this isn't about her, even though she greatly deserves all of the scorn that I plan to heap upon her.

So, to recap the story of the rort so far, Lynn Spampinato was -- until mid-October -- the "Deputy Superintendent for Instruction" for the city of Pittsburgh's public schools. Or was it the more-ironically-titled, "Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, Assessment and Accountability"? She arrived in Pittsburgh to great acclaim just as 2005 was coming to a close, earning a base salary of at least $160,000 per year during the 10 months that she held the position.

Not bad. Seriously. For that kind of money, I would probably accept the job even if I did have to come into the office five days a week. Maybe even six days a week when things got busy at the office.

But "something" happened in mid-October that put Ms. Spampinato out of work just 10 months after she arrived on the scene. Not out of a job, you understand, just out of work. She was still getting paid, of course. But she was put on "paid leave" from her taxpayer-financed, six-figure-salary position.

Why? What was this mythical "something" that caused her departure? Ah, I was afraid that we would encounter this little rub. You see, we -- the little people who forked over part of our salaries in order to pay hers -- we simply can't be permitted to know the reasons behind all of this drama. In fact, we can't really even be trusted to know whether Ms. Spampinato was fired, resigned under threat of being fired, or simply quit. No, no, no... the peasantry can't be told anything about the real story here, because that would violate the vaunted "confidentiality" that is inherent in all "personnel matters". Never mind the fact that she was, ultimately, working for us.

Fast forward a month to mid-November. The monthly School Board meeting is drawing nigh, and Dr. Spampinato has been paid more than $13,000 to do essentially nothing for the preceding four weeks. Nothing, that is, apart from keeping her mouth shut about what really happened and attending meetings with her attorneys.

Time had clearly come to take action! Our bold and dynamic School Superintendent Mark Roosevelt took charge of this ridiculous situation, and put an end to it. He did, so (of course) by paying Ms. Spampinato even more money to keep her mouth shut.

What really happened here? Did Dr. Spampinato have video footage of Mr. Roosevelt dressed up like Little Bo Peep and doing unspeakable things with farm animals? Since nobody's talking, that's as good of an explanation as any, I guess.

The one bit of good news in this mess is that Dr. Spampinato will not remain on "paid leave" for the rest of her natural life. But in exchange for keeping mum about what transpired here in Pittsburgh, she will get paid $213,000 to settle this little "personnel dispute". In addition, she will be "be available" to the Pittsburgh Public Schools as an "academic consultant" through April 15, 2008.

The news stories on this rort (an excellent Australian term that unfortunately has no decent American equivalent, although Wikipedia equates it with "fraud") leave out some key details. We don't really know, for example, whether this $213,000 constitutes her pay for these consulting services, or whether she is being given the $213,000 simply to leave quietly, and will then be entitled to bill the district (i.e, the rest of us) additional fees for whatever "consulting" she may provide.

What we do know is that the $213,000 is not contingent upon her actually doing anything for the taxpayers of Pittsburgh. The Post-Gazette quotes district Solicitor Ira Weiss as saying that "[s]he will be paid the money regardless of the level of utilization of her services". That's lawyer-speak for, "we're paying her in the hopes that she goes away and keeps her big mouth shut".

All right, so you might wonder just why the hell I am making a big deal about all of this. All together, the taxpayers have shelled out about $133,000 for the 10 months that Dr. Spampinato worked here, plus another $13,000 for her month of paid leave, plus this additional $213,000. Since we don't know whether she will be billing for her consulting time, we'll just ignore that possibility for the moment. Altogether, this amounts to about $360,000 that we are paying this woman for 10 months worth of work. As government waste scandals go, this one seems pretty penny-ante.

And yet, it still really sucks. Take this $213,000 that we taxpayers are shelling out just to make Dr. Spampinato go away. Let's put this in perspective. That's about a dollar for every taxpayer in the City of Pittsburgh. No big deal, right? We pay that much for just 30 minutes of parking in Shadyside. But imagine that we aren't talking about tax dollars for a second. Imagine that you are walking down, say, Craig St. in Oakland one day and come upon one of the many beggars who hang out along that stretch of sidewalk. One of them asks for a dollar, but has story to go along with his request for a handout. I need your dollar, he says, because I just got fired from my $160,000-per-annum job, and I am really hoping that I don't have to burden myself by doing any other work for a while. I would really like to take the next 18 months off, but I certainly don't want to dip into my savings. Couldn't you help me out?

Nobody would give this beggar a dime. In fact, most of us would be indignant that even the most shameless moocher would have the gall to even make such a request. So why should Lynn Spampinato be any different from any other panhandler that we encounter?

Now let's be fair here. Dr. Spampinato isn't just asking for a simple handout, and we do get something in the bargain. She has agreed not to sue the Pittsburgh Public Schools (again, that means, ultimately, us). So this isn't just simple panhandling. It's more like extortion. Doesn't that make you feel better about forking over that dollar?

Lest you be even remotely tempted to give this woman the benefit of the doubt or feel any sympathy for her, there is also the matter of her recent employment history. According the the Tribune-Review and other news organizations, this new appointment as a consultant represents Dr. Spampinato's eighth position in just six years time. She pulled similar stunts in Colorado and St. Louis, leaving under mysterious circumstances well before her contract had come up for renewal.

It would seem that public education is particularly susceptible to this kind of taxpayer-financed extortion. This may be especially true in Pennsylvania, with its seemingly limitless number of independent districts, all of which must be staffed by a veritable army of Ed.D.'s and Ph.D's. With so many separate districts competing for the small number of people -- and an even smaller number of decent people -- who hold such qualifications, salary inflation is inevitable. Throw in the unionized nature of just about every school district, and you can add a pathological fear of firing anyone (or even allowing a public discussion about "personnel matters") into this gigantic mess. The inevitable result is that people like Dr. Spampinato are able to extort money from the taxpayers again and again, moving from place to place without any worry that the details of their conduct will ever be opened up to public scrutiny.

Nice work if you can get it! You know would be nice? If our former Deputy Superintendent for (among other things) "Accountability" would actually demonstrate some for a change. If there are unspeakable problems within the Pittsburgh Public Schools that make it impossible for talented people to work there, we -- the people who fund this circus -- deserve to know about it. If Dr. Spampinato is nothing more than a fraud whose sole talent is extorting money from school boards, then we -- or at least her next prospective employer -- deserve to know about that, too. After all, we've paid $213,000. We at least deserve to know why.


Anonymous said...

This article is very good, but you left out one key person. The Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Mark Roosevelt, who appointed her in spite of knowing her past work history. They both came from the Broad Foundation along with many other Broad Foundation programs that are costing the district millions of dollars.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Fair enough, and thanks very much for your comment. While I did take Mr. Roosevelt to task for proposing the payout at the end of the debacle, I should have paid more attention to his role in starting the whole mess to begin with. I also did not know about the connection to the Broad Foundation, so you have my gratitude for pointing that out as well.

Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

You should have also paid attention to the mindless rubber stamps that voted to approve this decision. This site waves the banner of transparency and new government but does little to expose the dirt of so-called progressives. Harris might not have been a great school board rep but Dowd is certainly no better. The latest waste of money came when the school district failed to properly charge the state for students we educated costing us another 200k. The total waste of tax dollars for the last 6 months now sits at over 420k.By the way, that amount represents the total yearly budget for 6 city council reps and their staff.

Now Dowd and Colazzi want to run for council seats. Thank god they have decided to do so, maybe now we can kill two birds with one stone. Get them both off the board and send them back to their private lives where they cant waste any more of our tax dollars.

And I dont want to hear that it is Roosevelts fault. Board members are the trustees and they should act in our best interest. Look at Dowd's website, the first thing he promises is to not waste tax dollars and to be transparent. Talk about breaking your word.

Anonymous said...

Shame you carefully did NOT point out that the City of Pittsburgh has one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, and that by finally getting people on the board (Dowd being one), we are acutally making the necessary cuts we need to close schools and try to get this city back on track where all children can receive an education. Typical Pittsburgher to be so caught up in the patronage systems that a couple bright bulbs in power make people quake in their boots. No one can defend what happened with Spaminato, but blaming people who actually are committed to turning around an archaic system is not the way to deal with it. A mistake was made with Spaminato. You never made a mistake? Hope you like it in your glass house.

Anonymous said...

Before you publish reports on Broad wasting tax dollars, you should try to get your facts straight. Broad trains people on their dime, and then offers them to districts to work in already existing positions in districts. People won't take you seriously if you don't know what you are talking about.

Richmond K. Turner said...

It's time for some of you anonymous commenters out there to stop making yourself look like bloody idiots. Why on earth are you still posting comments on something that was posted three freaking months ago?

It's time for a bit of a lesson in blogging manners. This especially applies to Anonymous (3:30 PM). Do you see how I tacked the time of your post onto the name "Anonymous". That's so (a) everyone can tell which Anonymous comment I'm responding to, and (b) so that everybody knows that I am responding to a comment made in response to the original post, and not to the original response itself.

If you don't say that you are responding to another comment, everyone will assume that you are responding to the original post. So it makes you look a bit daft to say, as you did:

Before you publish reports on Broad wasting tax dollars, you should try to get your facts straight.

I didn't say jack about the Broad Foundation in my original post. I've still never said jack about the Broad foundation in any post anywhere in four months worth of posting. So where, exactly, did you ever get the idea that I was accusing the Broad Foundation of wasting tax dollars? Are you just hearing voices in your head, or are you responding to Anonymous (1:37 AM)?

If you are responding to another commenter, then do me the common courtesy of making the target of your comments clear to everyone who comes after you.

But since you have opened this door, I would point out that if the bloody Broad Foundation consistently produces shitheads of such astonishingly meger talents that school districts have to pay them $230,000 to just to make them leave without making a fuss, then they aren't doing anyone any favors at all. Regarless of who pays for the Broad Foundation training.

Anonymous said...

Guess what this same person is now hired by Virgin Islands Department of Education as the Commissioner.
With all the bad stuff I read. I just know it will be a repeat of the Past .. well it will be a ride and One I do not like

Anonymous said...

She hasnt been hired yet by the USVI Deparment of Education. The legislature must approve it first. She would be catastrophic to the students and teachers of USVI. I sincerely hope the Legislature comes to their senses first. I understand she was the ONLY one who applied for the job.

Anonymous said...

I first applaud Mr. Turner's willingness to comment on the ridiculously bad choices made by some educational entities. As a parent, I'm utterly appalled that many qualified local Virgin Islanders were overlooked in choosing Spampinato. The fact that her prior "victims" have chosen not to provide details as to why she was removed also concerns me. I fear that, once again, the children will be the ones who ultimately suffer.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for duplicate postings, as my connection failed during first post.

Anonymous said...

It would be very difficult to make da education system in da Virgin Islands any worse den it is. Half of da senators entrusted with da service of confirming her are barely HS educated demselfs.
After watching da confirmation hearings on TV I must say dat I would jus withdraw my name if I was her. It was da most pathetic ting I have seen here in a long time and I was more den embarrassed for our parents who only want their chilren to have more opportunities den they had.......Or do they?.

Anonymous said...

The USVI Legislature failed to confirm her appointment. From the St. Thomas source:
Oct. 18, 2007 -- Public schools in the Virgin Islands need help, but Lynn Spampinato -- whose nomination as education commissioner has been mired in controversy since its announcement in August -- is not the right person to get the job done, senators said during Thursday's full session.
During a Rules Committee hearing last week, senators made it clear that most of their concerns about the nominee centered on a confidential agreement between Spampinato and one Pittsburgh school district. While the agreement has since been released to senators, many said on Thursday that there are still many "unknowns" to Spampinato's job performance, and whether she actually succeeded in turning around other school systems throughout the mainland.
"The president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers said she was surprised that the Legislature had not yet obtained a true picture of the record of Dr. Spampinato," Davis said. "They gave her a very negative evaluation, said she caused turmoil in the education system of Pittsburgh. They said she rushes in like a bull in a china closet, destroying both the good and the bad…."

Anonymous said...

Intelligent minds realized that the Governor of the Virgin Islands and Dr.Spampinato were planning to scam the V.I. taxpayers. The Governor raised the salary of the Education Commissioner before Dr. Spampinato accepted the position as acting Commissioner of Education.She gave out free workbooks to win the support of parents. The governor launched a massive compaign to get the senators to approve her nomination. Many V.I. citizens appealed to the senators to vote in favor of her nomination. However,the senators rejected her nomination

For those who are not aware, the population of the V.i. is more than 80% Black.All the senators presently in office are Black.Senator Listen Davis, a former Commissioner of Education, stated that it would be crazy to confirm Dr. Spampinato. None of the senatorswho voted against Dr. Spampinato her made race and place of origin the basis for their decision Senator only senator who played the race card was Ronaild Russell He apparently was bribed by the Governor. The senator who rejected Dr. Spampinator made a wise decision. They reflected the sentiments of the silent majority: The V.I. public school system should not be fixed by a white outsider;there are native Virgin Islanders capable of performing the duties of an Education Commissioner.

Anonymous said...

"Senator only senator who played the race card was Ronaild Russell He apparently was bribed by the Governor."...What? Isn't the Governor black?...It is posts like yours that prove the need for education reform in da VI!

Anonymous said...

"The V.I. public school system should not be fixed by a white outsider;there are native Virgin Islanders capable of performing the duties of an Education Commissioner."...Wow...Wow...Wow...What year is this? Now when you say "native" would they be the same who have taught you to write such elequantly written statements?

Anonymous said...

What language is "da"? What dictionary this word can be found:"elequAntly"?

Anonymous said...

eloquently written.....

Anonymous said...

Can't we sue the Board of Ed. to find out the circumstances of her departure? Afterall, it is public money being used...I think we have a legal right to know what happened.

Anonymous said...

Do you want to know what happened to Spampinato after the Pittsburgh incident? After she took a position abroad and continued to con and insult people?

Anonymous said...

OMG.... Guess what... I just had one of those meetings with the famous Ms. Spampinato.... just this month .... she's a work of art.... totally agree with everything you said about her... I now unfortunately work in a school that has a provider that she is in control of.... she is a unpleasant and crazy lady.. I'm glad you put up this article about her.

ahmad atallah said...

i hope that she has a catastrophic career end. news from uae says that she has wrecked sabis ppp project there and caused the termination of around 500 employees and the curtailing of sabis activities there

Anonymous said...

Education is a right and right must be availed.i find this article to be very nice since it is in support of education lynn spampinato