MOU Zoo

According to VBOE, 27 of 44 (61%) of Richmond’s schools are not fully accredited.

This hardly comes as a surprise to VBOE: They’ve had the SOL data since last summer. 

As they report, last July our (soon to be ex-) Superintendent “indicated” that a division-level academic review was in order and in November VBOE voted (pdf @ p.365) to approve that review.  Yet the only progress to date is a “First Review of Division-Level Memorandum of Understanding for Richmond City Public Schools,” on the agenda for the June 22 VBOE meeting.

If VBOE had been sweating through a massive restructuring of the Richmond school system, this delay (while another year’s worth of kids are subject to damage by Richmond’s awful schools) might make sense.  Unfortunately, the only product of this foot-dragging is a meaningless bureaucratic mishmash – a “Memorandum of Understanding” that does nothing but create busywork and a “rough draft” plan that is not a plan.

The MOU

In bureaucratese, “Memorandum of Understanding” is “MOU.”

You might reasonably ask what an MOU is. 

Well, whatever it is, it’s not a statute, regulation, or contract, or an enforcement order authorized by statute, so it’s not something that could be enforced. 

That said, let’s read this one and see what it does.  Or doesn’t do.

The MOU tells us in seven paragraphs that VBOE or VDOE will:

  1. coordinate . . . to provide technical assistance;
  2. meet with the RPS Board “President” (our School Board calls her its “Chair”);
  3. meet with the RPS Superintendent;
  4. provide “oversight over processes, procedures, and strategies” to include approval for expenditures of state or federal funds;
  5. “work closely” with RPS personnel and (redundantly) approve expenditures;
  6. (redundantly) provide “oversight over processes, procedures, and strategies;” and
  7. modify the MOU at will.

There we have six unquantifiable busywork provisions that are quite silent as to any result beyond a major opportunity for delaying financial processes.  That paragraph 7, however, says something: The MOU is not an agreement; it is some kind of (empty) bureaucratic fiat.

Well, perhaps RPS will be doing something useful.  Let’s see.

Richmond’s eleven paragraphs say they will:

  1. tell VBOE who the top three candidates are before they hire a Superintendent (more on this below);
  2. meet with VDOE;
  3. give VDOE approval of expenditures (If this were enforceable, it would create a huge bureaucratic burden for VDOE and give it control of RPS.  It is not enforceable.  It looks mostly to be a mechanism for delaying RPS decisions to spend money.);
  4. consult with VDOE about instruction and staff development;
  5. consult with VDOE about human resources et al.;
  6. create a corrective action plan (that they haven’t managed to create in the past year);
  7. cause the RPS Superintendent to keep the RPS Board updated;
  8. require RPS people to “participate” in technical assistance and professional development, as specified by VDOE;
  9. appear before VBOE to report;
  10. send the Board and Superintendent to professional development training; and
  11. permit a VDOE bureaucrat to sit on the RPS Board ex officio if RPS is not fully accredited after eight years(!).

Nope.  More busywork.

Paragraph 7 is particularly instructive: If the Super does not keep the Board updated, you’d think they’d fire the Super.  VBOE’s intrusion to this level suggests overwhelming busybodyness at VBOE.  Or sublime dysfunction in Richmond.  Or both.

Deeper Dive

Let’s take a more detailed look at the buns that enclose this nothingburger.

Paragraph 1 provides:

Should a vacancy occur in the position of Division Superintendent, the Richmond City School Board will provide the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the President of the Virginia Board of Education the names and credentials of its top three finalists to fill a vacancy of Division Superintendent or Interim Superintendent at least 5 business days prior to making an offer to the preferred candidate. The credentials of applicants must include experience in leading successful school and division turnaround efforts as evidenced by a multi-year trajectory of improved student achievement outcomes on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests or comparable state-mandated assessments in school divisions outside of Virginia.

The first clause is conditioned on a vacancy we know will occur on July 1, so we get to wonder why it is there.  Indeed, the sentence is quite clear without that clause, so the clause is doubly unnecessary.

(Are you beginning to notice a pattern of redundant nonsense here?)

This paragraph doesn’t tell us what VBOE might do if they object to a candidate and RPS hires her anyhow.  Indeed, there is nothing VBOE can do:

  • VBOE can enforce (presumably by injunction) Title 22.1, but the MOU is not part of that Title.
  • VBOE can sue to enforce the Standards of Quality, but those do not require a turnaround specialist as superintendent.

Presumably VBOE could sue to enforce its regulations regarding division superintendents (here and here), but those regulations are silent as to turnaround experience.  And the MOU is not a regulation or order, so the “turnaround” requirement there is meaningless.

Indeed, this is close kin to the demands for approval of RPS expenditures: Intrusive busywork that is not authorized by law.

Turning to the other end of the sandwich, Paragraph 11 in the Richmond section:

The Richmond City School Board will permit [a VDOE] selected representative to meet with the local board in an ex-officio, non-voting, member capacity should the division fail to have all of its schools Fully Accredited by the beginning of the 2025-2026 school year.

Aside from being quite unenforceable, this provision is ridiculous: If having a State bureaucrat sit on the RPS Board ex officio might accomplish anything, VBOE should demand it now.  The ongoing, outrageous harm to Richmond schoolkids is too high a price for delaying action at all, much less until 2025.

But, of course, eight years is a good number for VBOE: All of the members will have been replaced by then.

The Tell

Paragraph 11 is important for what it does not say: Richmond is in gross violation of the Standards of Quality and if RPS don’t do what VBOE wants, VBOE will sue them.

To the same end, the last section of the MOU, “Additional Consequences for Non-Compliance” quotes a 2016 statute that authorizes VBOE to withhold payment of At-Risk Add-On funds if a local Board fails or refuses to satisfy VBOE in a division-level review.

That statute is part of the Acts of Assembly and is printed for the World in the Code; quoting it here does not add anything.  Presumably this is a threat. 

Probably an empty threat:  Withholding funds from a School Board that already is harming too many of the students in its charge would be counterproductive. 

More to the point, as paragraph 11 warned us, VBOE does not say, “If you haven’t fixed those schools by date x, we’ll sue you.”  That is because VBOE does not know how to fix Richmond’s broken school system (Sept. 21, 2016 video starting at 1:48).  They don’t know what to tell a judge that Richmond should be made to do, so they don’t even contemplate exercising their authority to sue.

Your tax dollars at “work.”