Wednesday, February 18, 2015

D181 BOE Candidate McCurry: A Flurry of Conflicts and Comments That are Too Big To Ignore

Today we are writing about BOE Candidate Amy McCurry.  We bloggers believe it is our civic duty to share knowledge about Ms. McCurry, who was almost "late to the party," so to speak.  It seems that she decided at the last minute to run for the school board and did not file her petitions until the last day of the filing window.  But now she is a candidate and the question on all of our minds is WHY is she running and will she make a good board member? This post is intended to present facts.  It is your job to decide if you want to elect her to represent all taxpayers, whether she will respect the rights of all students and work to ensure the highest quality education for ALL of them.  In our opinion, Ms McCurry's candidacy raises two big issues:  1) she has a financial conflict of interest and 2) she has shown a careless disregard for student confidentiality.

Ms. McCurry is a D181 paid employee.  Her departmental boss is Dr. Kurt Schneider.  She was hired on January 13, 2014 as a Parent Liaison for the Department of Learning.  She is paid $13.75 per hour and works 20 hours per week.  The BOE was required to approve her hiring as a district employee.  (Click to open 1/13/14 Personnel Consent Agenda.)  She was rehired for the 2014-2015 school year on September 22, 2014.  (Click to open 9/22/14 Personnel Consent Agenda.

At the January 26, 2015 BOE meeting, the meeting at which Dr. Schneider began his three part presentation on the Learning for All Plan, multiple parents spoke out in opposition and with serious concerns about the plan (including the plan to eliminate accelerated math for elementary students) and its negative impact on students.  (Click to open 1/31/15 Post on 1/26 meeting.)  Ms. McCurry, however, spoke out in support of the plan and elimination of math acceleration.  She stated:

"For the record, I do support the Learning for ALL Plan. Have had success with my kiddos in the school."  Then she went on to slam the idea of pulling students out of their regular grade level math class and sending them to the middle school for accelerated math.  (Go to Counter 00:35:54 of the 1/26/15 Podcast.)

At no time during her public comment did she identify herself as a D181 paid employee, let alone one who reports to Schneider. Instead, Ms. McCurry identified herself simply as a parent of 4 children at one of the 7 elementary schools in the district.   While she stated that "I personally have stake in the differentiation model" (Counter 00:37:04), the closest she came to admitting that she worked for D181 is when she said "I have a bit of a different vantage point. ....I've been pleased with what I've experienced" (Counter 00:38:07).

Why didn't she identify herself as a paid D181 employee? Why didn't she explain that her "different vantage point" meant that she works in the Department of Learning under Dr. Schneider's supervision? Why the lack of transparency? Didn't she think it mattered to the voters?

Moreover, as a D181 employee in the Department of Learning, not only did we expect that she would disclose her employment status during the first public comment she made since announcing her candidacy, but we also expected that she would comply with privacy laws that all D181 employees are expected to follow.  Instead, during her public comment she criticized the idea of 5th grade math students being sent to the middle school for accelerated math and then she specifically referenced two fifth grade boys who are sent to one of the middle schools to take 6th grade math, providing enough identifying information about them that community members could figure out who they are.  (Counter 00:37:12.) 

While it is unacceptable for any parent to reference other people's children during a public comment without first obtaining their permission, such a disclosure of private information by a D181 employee is completely inappropriate!  Students have privacy rights;  all information in their student record, including their academic placements, is confidential from the general public. (See Board Policy 5:130 on "Responsibilities Concerning Internal Information.") It is a violation of the students' privacy rights for a D181 employee to discuss or disclose the academic placement of other people's children to the general public. Her decision to discuss her own child was a personal one and she had every right to do so, but Ms. McCurry had no right to  discuss any other person's child!  How dare she?  

Why is all of this troubling?  
Plain and simple, she is running for the Board of Education and as a paid D181 employee, who reports directly to Dr. Schneider, she not only has a direct and unacceptable financial conflict of interes,t but our expectations are even greater that she know about students' confidentiality rights.  Community Member Ann Mueller, a former D181 BOE president, who also spoke at the 1/26/15 BOE Meeting, addressed the conflict of interest issue when she stated:

"Having been a two term board member on this board, and a president for 2 1/2 years, it breaks my heart when I see politics impinge on education, because these aren't widgets that are being produced here, these are children's education. And people need to be upfront when someone stands up here, and makes a comment about a program that they are employed in producing and then when they are employed by the school district. We are all entitled to our opinions, as a parent, as someone who is employed in the work world, however, it distresses me, when politics may influence and maybe even motivate people to run for this board.  I can't imagine that somebody in their right mind could think that is appropriate that you run for this school board and you be employed by the school district."   (Counter 00:42:33)

We couldn't agree with her more.

Board Policy 2:100 -- Board Member Conflict of Interest states: "No Board of Education member shall have a beneficial interest directly or indirectly in any contract, work, or business of the district unless permitted by State Law."  (Click to open Policy 2:100.)

Even when a conflict is permissible by state law, it must be disclosed and requires the elected official to withdraw from discussions and not vote on any matter that she has a financial interest in. Since Ms. McCurry works for the Department of Learning, in our opinion, at a minimum she would have to withdraw from all discussions and not vote on any curriculum items.  Since she is running for a SCHOOL BOARD, not having the ability to vote on educational programs and curricular issues would make her entirely ineffective and essentially nullify her board seat.  

This community deserves a board member who will not just be another empty suit. We need each and every board member to be able to actively participate in and vote on every issue, without any perceived conflict of interest.  Let's not forget that Board Member Clarin, whose wife is a D181 teacher, failed to recuse himself from participation in the last teacher's contract negotiations, in fact he was one of the lead negotiators.  Do we really want two board members with ties and conflicts to the D181 administration serving on the BOE?

Even if Ms. McCurry were elected, did the right thing and immediately resigned from her D181 paid job, the conflict would still exist.  She has disclosed to the press that she is a teacher.  If she were to resign and decide to seek employment elsewhere, she will need a reference letter from her most recent employer.   Thus she will continue to be beholden to the "hand that fed her" and not want to rock the boat and anger her future references.  Like it or not, that is the way the real world works.   Since an inherent conflict will continue to exist even if she resigns, it would be better for everyone is she withdrew her candidacy.

If the conflict of interest isn't enough of a reason to withdraw, then you need to carefully consider whether she will be able to follow all of the rules, including ensuring student confidentiality.  Her 1/26/15 comment included a serious "faux pas" that cannot be ignored. As a D181 employee, there is no excuse for her comment about other students' math placements (including who they are friends with, what grade they are in and what home school they attend and what middle school they go to for accelerated math).  But of course, she didn't disclose that she worked for D181, did she?  

In our opinion, these two issues have tainted Ms. McCurry's candidacy for the D181 BOE and she should withdraw from the election.  If she does not, the question remains: Can she regain the trust of potential voters?  She has lost ours, but each of you must decide for yourselves.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree, bloggers. Mr. Clarin's pro teacher bias has shown itself many times since he became elected - not in that he is the only one to see how talented our teachers are, but that he refuses to listen to any point of view other than a teacher (or small group of teachers before him). Other opinions, both teacher and parent, are important to be considered and a strong bias from a spouse's perspective - or, in the case of Ms. McCurry, an employer - is just too influential for anyone to ignore. Mr. Clarin should have recused himself from the contract negotiations and it was unethical for him to be involved. Ms. McCurry should remove herself from the BOE race for the same reason. Especially, if as you say, the rules specifically state that she must do so.

Susan Blumberg-Kason said...

Just because acceleration doesn't apply to her kiddos, it doesn't mean other students should not be able to follow this track. Yeah, some of my kids may not qualify for acceleration, but that doesn't mean others children shouldn't be able to follow that track. It makes me nervous when candidates don't put the good the community first. Civil society 101, baby.

Anonymous said...

Indefensible. Please withdraw from the election.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand people who claim they want to be public servants, and say they have the best interests of our community in mind, yet only think the needs of their own family count. Ms. McCurry's children are not the same as my children. They aren't the same as her friend's children either. They aren't the same as anyone's children, because all of our children's needs are different. Just because she is happy, the rest of us and our children don't deserve to be? Doesn't she work for the Family Resource Network? How is that for irony - she gets gets all the school resources (assistance and $), yet the unpaid parent volunteers in this district do not. Obviously this district is not very family friendly. Why would anyone ever want to move to this town over Western Springs or Oak Brook, or even CPS?

My child doesn't have an IEP, but I don't begrudge ANY child who benefits from an Individualized Education Plan. Who does she think she is, God? She gets to decide who gets what services? She thinks she KNOWS which child should work with a teacher and who gets to have 9 year olds teach the others? Unless, (and this is a hypothetical) in her role as an employee, she had access to the confidential files of those 2 children of her friends, AND she has absolute facts that those children were NOT qualified for acceleration, she should keep her mouth SHUT.

Eveyone is given his gifts and burdens in life and we must all learn how to support each other - regardless of the fact that we may not benefit from it immediately. At some point in our lives, will we all need someone to return an act of good will.

I wanted to give Amy McCurry a chance, but if this is how she supports the children and families in this district that she is paid to help, she should be fired AND immediately withdraw her bid to run for BOE. There comes a point when adults need to stand up against what is morally and ethically wrong. Now is the time.