Friday, August 30, 2013

Information discussed during the 8/26/13 Board Meeting regarding the Administrators' Attendance at Kurt Schneider's "On the Side" Symposium

Earlier this week we were asked by a reader to discuss the attendance of numerous D181 administrators at Kurt Schneider's summer symposium at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM).  This topic was discussed at some length during the 8/26/13 Board meeting after Board Members Heneghan and Garg asked for an explanation of the $2760 check to UWM for Administrative Professional Development that the board was asked to approve.   This post will review and discuss information regarding this expense that was provided prior to the meeting (Click to view Check run,  Click to View Board Q&A's)  and during the board discussion and what appears to be a lack of transparency in the release of documentation regarding the symposium.  

Information we have learned:

1.  Less than 2 weeks before the teachers in D181 were to report back for training and the start of the 2013-2014 school year (July 29-August 7), Kurt Schneider was a presenter at the National Leadership for Social Justice Institute.  The full title of the symposium was:  "Leading Proactive High Achieving Schools for All Students."  (Click to view symposium's agenda.)  According to what Superintendent Schuster said during the meeting, Schneider used vacation days to teach at this one week symposium.

2.  Seven additional D181 administrators, including the entire Department of Learning, also attended this conference.  They were:  Kevin Russell, Assistant Superintendent of Learning; Christine Igoe, Director of Pupil Services;  Dawn Benaitis, Director of Assessment; Principal Griffin Sonntag; Principal Casey Godfrey; Principal Eric Chisausky and Principal Justin Horne.

3.  The $2760 check was for the registration fees the District paid to have the administrators attend the symposium.

4.  More expenses incurred by these 7 administrators -- meals, lodging and transportation -- will be submitted for reimbursement and approval by the Board at a future meeting.

5.  Board Member Heneghan asked for an explanation of why so many administrators, including the entire Department of Learning, were gone from the district so close to the start of school to attend a seminar that had some topics that were not relevant to D181.

6.  Schuster responded that by attending Schneider's symposium, the seven administrators, including 2 new principals, participated in training on the Learning for All Plan that is being rolled out in D181 and therefore attendance at the institute was invaluable. 

7.  Board Member Heneghan asked why if 7 administrators were going to attend a one week conference so close to the start of school, wasn't the board told about it either before or after the fact, especially if Schuster believed that this conference was that important.  He pointed out that the lack of disclosure was notable, since the board seems to be told about "every other type of little seminar that takes place."  Board President Turek quickly jumped in to state that HE had known about it and that Schuster had told HIM about it and discussed it with him on several occasions.   Heneghan then responded that if that was true, then Dr. Schuster  hadn't followed Board principles whereby all Board Members are to receive the same information from her.  Any information Turek received from Schuster should have been disclosed by her to the rest of the Board.

8.  Board Member Heneghan asked why he was not being allowed to review the materials that the attendees had received at the conference.  Superintendent Schuster said this would violate copyright law.  Board Member Heneghan -- a lawyer by trade -- pointed out that allowing him to review the materials would not be a copyright violation, and that moreover, under district Board Policy 5:170, the Board may actually own the copyright of the materials prepared by Kurt Schneider for this seminar. (Click to open Board Policy 5:170 that Heneghan referred to.) Even if that wasn't the case, Heneghan noted that nothing would prohibit Schneider from waiving the copyright in order to allow people to have copies of the materials.

9.  During the discussion, Board Member Yaeger asked Heneghan if he was willing to indemnify the district of any copyright violations resulting from this request.  Heneghan unequivocally said yes. Schuster then said she would not post anything for the community, but would make the documents available for the board members to read. Heneghan then asked if Schuster would make copies for the board to read and she said "I'm not sure, we will show them to the board."  Following this answer, Heneghan said that Schuster should consider what he was next saying as a Freedom of Information Act request to release the materials to the board.

10.  Schuster then responded to Heneghan stating that she "would always follow the law and you are asking me to violate a law."  He responded that "no one is asking you to violate a law." He then pointed out that if Schneider prepared any educational materials while employed by D181, the copyright for those materials would be owned by D181 and then told Schuster, "If you are going to follow the law, you should start by following our policies."  She made no response to that statement.

11. Board Member Garg asked why, if the training dealt with what is being rolled out in our district, didn't Kurt Schneider present the materials during an in-service day that could be attended by all of our teachers and administrators.  She pointed out that it was inefficient to send 7 administrators to a seminar during a busy time year when Schuster had told her the district was running on a "skeleton crew" and had also told Garg she could not provide her with some data she had requested because she did not have time. Without giving Schuster an opportunity to respond, President Turek simply thanked Garg for her statement.  At no time did the Administration respond to Garg's concerns.

12.  Despite the concerns raised by both Heneghan and Garg, the Board voted 4 to 2 to approve this expenditure.  Heneghan and Garg voted NO.  Turek, Clarin, Vorobiev and Yaeger voted Yes.  And of course, Nelson was absent.

Following the 8/26/13 meeting, we did some quick research on Copyright law.  We found the following link: This site should be understandable by all since it is actually written for children.  Perhaps if the Board Members and Schuster read it, they too will understand that Board Member Heneghan was correct in his interpretation of the law and that he was not asking Dr. Schuster to break the law.  Information provided on this website explains copyright law and limitations on the exclusive rights afforded by a copyright.  One of those exceptions under copyright law is the Fair Use Doctrine.  The Fair Use Doctrine 

"allows limited copying of copyrighted works for educational and research purposes. The copyright law provides that reproduction "for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research" is not an infringement of copyright. The law lists the following factors, which courts must consider together in determining whether a particular use of a copyrighted work is a permitted "Fair Use," or is instead an infringement of the copyright:
  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes: the noncommercial educational use is more likely to be a fair use;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work: the more factual and less creative the work, the more likely it will be fair use;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: the more taken the less likely to be fair use; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: in other words, is the use taking away from the copyright owner money that the she might have been making from the work."

It would seem that the Fair Use doctrine applies to Board Member Heneghan's request.  Under Board Policy 2:020 board members are tasked with approving curriculum and evaluating educational programs. (Click to open Policy 2:020.)  In order to understand the nature of these programs and properly evaluate them, if it is true, as Dr. Schuster represented, that the materials taught during this symposium pertain to the Learning for All Plan, then providing him with a copy of the materials would be for "educational purposes."  There would be no "commercial nature" in copying these materials for use by a Board Member in performance of his duties.  

In fact, in order to allow the D181 Community members -- teachers, parents and students -- to have a better understanding of the Social Justice philosophy that arguably is driving the Learning for All heterogenous model in D181, the materials should be posted on the D181 website.  Again, there would be no commercial nature in doing so, rather, the posting would be for educational use.

And even if Schuster continues to insist that she is being asked to break the law by a board member by providing copies, copyright law applies only to copies of the originals.  So, there would be no copyright infringement if she allowed Heneghan or any other board member or community member to review the materials at the Central Administration offices and there would have been no reason to state that in her "answer" to Heneghan and Garg's questions posed prior to the meeting.

What is baffling is why Schuster and her administration would bother to prevent anyone from reading the Social Justice Materials that the attendees paid for with taxpayer $.  Are there concepts, data or information contained in the materials that they don't want community members or inquiring Board members to see?  If nothing, then the Adminsitration should immediately turn them over to the Board, post on the D181 website, or provide the community access to them at the Central Administration offices.

Regardless of the content, the broader and more important issue is why taxpayer $ was used to pay for this type of out of town, week long, professional development conference on the eve of school starting for 7 administrators.  We have already written about the 4 day summer work weeks the majority of the Board approved for the administrators.  To leave town en masse to attend a conference right before school starts (they must not have used vacation days for this since the taxpayers are footing the bill) is unacceptable,  especially when all principals should be in their buildings preparing to start the new year (in particular, the novice principals), the new Assistant Superintendent of Learning Russell and Assessment Director Benaitis should be learning their new jobs, and other Department of Learning administrators should be dotting all I's and crossing all T's in connection with the Advanced Learning Plan, Learning for All Plan, or whatever it may be called next week.

Our tax dollars are better spent providing In Service Days for all of our educators and principals within the boundaries of D181.  Even if Schneider used paid vacation days to teach off site, in our opinion it does not seem right to send 7 administrators to his "institute" and pay for a full week away from D181 with taxpayer $.  The following appears to be the "chain of events:" D181 gave him paid vacation days, he used part of them to teach a symposium at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee where he may have been paid for his services (and if so, in our opinion, he should have disclosed that), participants paid to attend  the symposium, and if he was paid, then the registration fees may have been used (in whole or in part) by UWM to pay the "presenters" for their services.  Since D181 paid for the seven administrators to attend his symposium, the Administration and Board should, at a minimum, find out and have disclosure of:

1.  Why couldn't he have taught the Institute courses to everyone in D181 on site?
2.  Confirm if Schneider did receive compensation from UWM for his services during the Social Justice Symposium, and if so, was any part of the compensation paid with D181 tax payer $? In our opinion, this may raise a conflict of interest.
3.  Determine if Schneider prepared any of the symposium materials on-site in D181 or during his regular work hours for D181, and if so, then have the copyright assigned to D181.

There were alot of important issues raised when Heneghan and Garg pulled this check from the Consent Agenda for an explanation and discussion prior to the vote.  Unfortunately, other than for a "challenge" to Heneghan by Yaeger, some brief comments supporting this seminar by Member Clarin,  an admission by the President that he had received more information on this from Dr. Schuster than the rest of the board and some thank you's to the comments made by Heneghan and Garg, none of the  board members were willing to engage in a substantive discussion.  The majority of the board's silence and the administration's lack of disclosure even to the board (not to mention the community) screams of a lack of transparency.  The community expects more.

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