Survey Monkeys and Publicly Funded Private School Basketball Teams – Mark Johnson’s Search for Wasteful Spending

Today a report from WRAL highlighted Mark Johnson’s declaration that he had found wasteful spending within the Department of Public Instruction.

In “NC superintendent slams ‘disturbing’ spending at state education agency,” Kelly Hinchcliffe begins,

State Superintendent Mark Johnson listened last week as State Board of Education members bemoaned the millions of dollars in recent budget cuts to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The cuts have harmed staff and students, one board member explained, and he urged Johnson to join them in reaching out to state lawmakers to say “enough is enough.”

But Johnson declined. Instead, he said in his 11 months as superintendent he has found excessive spending at the state education agency and said he hopes an upcoming $1 million audit he has commissioned will root out any other potential waste at the agency” (https://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-slams-disturbing-spending-at-state-education-agency/17089497/?version=amp).

Johnson has been asked by the State Board of Education to address the budget cuts to DPI before, particular Greg Alcorn, who asked in October’s meeting for Johnson to address the “elephant in the room.”

That led to some rather pregnant pauses bookended with intentional silence.

This month’s meeting had yet another one of those “standoffs.”

“I brought up these cuts and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to avoid this?’ And this education leader said if the state board and the state superintendent came together to the General Assembly and said, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t serve our students and absorb another cut,’ that would have great weight in the General Assembly,” Davis said. “So I would suggest we take this education leader up on his advice.”

“I would love to talk to that education leader as well,” Johnson responded. “There are many, many different education leaders in the General Assembly that have vastly different opinions. I know that because I’ve been working very closely with all of them. And so, yes, that is a conversation we can have. I’d like to talk to who you talked to.”

Davis tried again.

“Sure. I think this particular advice was keen on that we are together in that request, that we are unified in advocating for the department, that the department can’t absorb any more cuts. It’s important for us to publicly say that,” Davis said.

“I look forward to discussing that with the education leader you discussed it with,” Johnson responded.

“So are we in agreement on avoiding future cuts?” Davis asked.

The superintendent stared straight ahead, not acknowledging Davis’ question, as others in the room laughed nervously at the awkward silence.

Awkward silence.

Johnson did come into the meeting with an example of “wasteful spending” in the form of a few thousand in Survey Monkey plans. That is all good and well, but for a superintendent who is choosing to use surveys as a means of “communicating” with teachers it would help to clarify how those surveys are to be delivered.

In a September 21, 2017 email to all teachers, Mark Johnson’s office sent out its initial survey for teachers in the state.

surveymonkey

It is administered through Survey Monkey. Irony noted.

When pressed for more items of wasteful spending Johnson’s office provided the following (per Hinchcliffe’s report):

  • Extensive conference-related costs, such as:
  • Paying excess rates for conference speakers
  • Large sums for meals and room rentals
  • $25,000 to sponsor World View Symposium held by UNC
  • $2,500 to sponsor one episode of a single-market television program.
  • Overhead charges paid to hire personnel through intergovernmental contracts rather than directly hiring personnel, which would cost DPI less.
  • Reversion of over $15 million in Excellent Public Schools Act funds that could have been used to support early childhood literacy.

And while that might sound good and well, there have been some glaringly wasteful uses of taxpayer money that Johnson has spearheaded that maybe he should also consider in this recent financial purge.

One is this item to finance legal bills for Johnson as he is being sued by his own state board for a power grab.

300

One is the money given to him to hire people when there already existed more knowledgeable education professionals who already fulfilled those roles.

432

And finally, there is the very wasteful spending in the financing of private school basketball teams with public money. Read this gem of a piece of investigative journalism by Lindsay Wagner at the Public School Forum of North Carolina called “Out of Bounds: Embezzlement and Basketball at North Carolina’s Biggest Voucher School” (https://www.ncforum.org/out-of-bounds-embezzlement-and-basketball-at-north-carolinas-biggest-voucher-school/).

Wagner highlights the story of Trinity Christian in Fayetteville who is the top recipient of voucher money in the state but has had a shady past in financial records. In fact,

“Trinity Christian isn’t the only high profile private school basketball program to receive public dollars by way of the state’s school voucher program.

In the Fayetteville Observer story about the rise of Fayetteville’s private school basketball powerhouses, four of the five private schools mentioned have received significant amounts of public funds through vouchers since the program’s inception in 2014.

Fayetteville Christian School follows Trinity Christian with the second highest total public dollars received—$1.15 million over the past three and a half years.

Altogether, the four Fayetteville private schools that house elite basketball programs—Trinity Christian, Freedom Christian, Fayetteville Christian and Northwood Temple—have taken in nearly $4 million in school vouchers since 2014.

As the state’s school voucher program continues to expand rapidly—it is slated to grow from an initial $10 million annual appropriation to $145 million annually by 2026, spending roughly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars over ten years—it is notable that five out of the top ten private school voucher recipients are big players in statewide private school basketball programs.”

What would Johnson say to this? Probably not much because it goes against his narrative.

Besides he is about to hire an associate state superintendent focused on early childhood.

On top of the 23-persson staff already in place in the Office of Early Learning.

Not wasteful at all.

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