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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Follow-Up

(from THIS site)

I'm referring to this posting about Scranton School District (SSD).  Here's what I've learned:
  • The hired teacher is related to Director Lesh through marriage, although not in his immediate family.
  • I was told that Director Lesh had nothing to to with the individual's hiring.
  • The SSD Board was not told about the more distant familial relationship.
  • The hiring would fall outside of the SSD's (arguably laughable) anti-nepotism policy*.  
Like many things in the SSD's administrative history, this instance seems to just skirt the boundaries of impropriety.  Technically the policy was not violated, but it does tell a story that this particular hire was not questioned during the last board meeting.  I mean it's not as if the SSD has had problems with this in the past (I'm being sarcastic...it has been a problem; see this posting from August 23, 2013).  

As I've noted before, given the significant legal and ethical lapses of the SSD Administration in the past, one would think that the SSD Board would have gone the extra mile and disclosed the relationship, even if it did not technically violate the policy.  I do realize that there is a lot of the SSD Board's plate, but part of that is because prior versions of the SSD's administration failed to pay proper attention to both the letter and the spirit of the law. 

By the way, unlike the SSD's Conflict of Interest policy, there appears to be no real sanction or consequence if the board were to not follow the Anti-Nepotism policy.  Why is that?  Well, I suspect that's the case because the Anti-Nepotism "policy" isn't really a policy...it's actually a guideline.  The distinction is important because a policy effectively says "you must do this"; a guideline says "it would be kind of nice if you did this".  The Anti-Nepotism policy guideline is actually a "trust us, we'll do the right thing" kind of document. 

In the end, this is not the SSD's final hour, and I'll confess some sense of dismay at the Scranton Times for failing to report on the issue.  As soon as the name "Lesh" appeared in the board meeting notes, the individual's hiring should have been put on hold pending a review.  That isn't required per the SSD's anti-nepotism policy guideline, but it would the right thing to do for what has historically been an ethically challenged organization. 




(*) You can find all of the SSD's policies by following this link.  Here is the text of the anti-nepotism policy guideline (red text by me):

Purpose

The district prohibits nepotism in the selection, hiring and assignment process.

Definitions

Nepotism means the hiring of relatives of the Board or Superintendent.

Relatives shall mean father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter, grandchild, nephew, niece, first cousin, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, or aunt.

Delegation of Responsibility

As soon as the Superintendent becomes aware that a finalist for a full-time position is a relative of a current Board member or the Superintendent, s/he shall notify the Board. All candidates shall be required to complete a written form disclosing any relationship with any current Board member or Superintendent.[1]

Guidelines

Nothing in this policy should in any way reflect on the teacher selection process, provided that in the event a relationship is identified between a member of the selection committee and a candidate, the member of the selection committee who is related to the candidate, shall be disqualified from participating in the selection process.[1]

No persons shall be assigned, or reassigned to a position that requires that the employee directly supervise or be supervised by a relative. Should such a relationship occur, the employee to be supervised shall be transferred to another position with no diminution of his/her employment status. In the event such a transfer is not possible, a nonrelated supervisor shall conduct the employment evaluation. This policy and its implementation shall not cause the resignation of any Board member or discharge of any employee should a relative be elected or hired/transferred to a position of supervision.

It is the intention of the Board that this policy not prohibit the selection, promotion or transfer of any person in the employ of the district prior to the date of the adoption of this policy.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

If a Tree Fell in the Woods (or if a Relative were Hired in the Scranton School District)...

With apologies for the impossibly long title.

(photo by the author)

During the September 3rd meeting of the Scranton School Board (the Board/SSB), something unusual happened, namely that Director Lesh actually attended.  This has not been a regular occurrence over the course of 2019.  Something else happened that may not be unusual in the history of the Scranton School District (SSD), namely nepotism.  Emphasis on the word "may" by the way; more on that in a moment.

During the above-referenced meeting, the Board hired Ms. Dawn Lesh as a fifth-grade teacher.  Reference HERE.  If you've heard that last name before then congratulations...you have a functioning short-term memory.  Yes, Ms. Lesh has the same last name as Director Lesh, who just happened to show up for a meeting.  To vote for Ms. Lesh, among other business.

Note that the SSD has been a hot-bed of nepotism.  Case in point:  The former business manager, who admitted to one felony as part of an on-going corruption probe (reference HERE), has a spouse working for the SSD.  That's one of many familial relationships in the SSD.

Problem established, is Ms. Lesh related to Director Lesh?  I don't know.  Strangely, the family relationship...or lack of family relationship...was not referenced at all by the Scranton Times.  Not in the report from the meeting.  Not in any reporting since the meeting.  I even contacted two reporters at the Scranton Times to inquire about this omission; one got back to me and said that they wanted to ask Director Lesh about that, but he is rather stealthy when it comes to press accountability.  The second reporter hasn't responded to an email I sent a few days ago.

Why am I even writing about this?  Two reasons:
  1. I love Scranton.  I was born there, I (now) work there, and no matter where I live, Scranton will always be my home.  I want the city and the SSD to be successful.  
  2. There's a reason why the SSD is awash in friends and relatives...namely that over the years no one cared while successive leadership regimes treated the district as a personal/family employment agency.  That lack of concern is a symptom of cancer that has rotted the SSD for decades and has left the SSD on the verge of a state takeover.
The above noted, if Ms. Lesh is not related to Director Lesh, then she deserves to be free of the tarnish by association.  Being a teacher is hard enough these days, especially in Scranton and she deserves the public's support (as do all of our teachers).  She also deserves a public affirmation that her hiring was based on talent and ability alone.

If Ms. Lesh is related to Director Lesh...as a daughter, daughter in law, niece (by birth or marriage) or any other familial relationship...then this a new low for a school district known for new lows.  In fact, I would argue that this is the worst insult of all, as the SSB recently voted for a recovery plan that will negatively impact taxpayers for years to come.  Implicit in the recovery plan is the idea that the SSD is changing for the better; blatant nepotism is among the worst of the "old" SSD sins.  This would be a step back for a school district that is already backed up to a cliff of its own making.

By the way, nepotism is always wrong In every instance and manifestation.  Giving a relative a job, no matter how well qualified they are, reinforces the idea that public service exists for the personal enrichment of the powerful and well-connected.  It also denies the SSD the talents of individuals who just happen to have the wrong last name.

Enough said.

The taxpayers of Scranton, those who have paid (and will continue to pay for) the for SSD's corruption in the past deserve to know if that corruption is still a thing of the present. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

When adults fail...

...we shouldn't use children as cannonballs and/or decorations.

Soon to be former Scranton School District (SSD) Greg Popil wants to send all of the students in the district to Harrisburg to protest for higher state funding.  You can read about it HERE.  This is a horrible idea on multiple levels:
  • How can a financially distressed school district afford to send 10,000 kids and teachers on a four hour round trip?
  • What happens to those kids who don't want to go?
  • What happens if parents don't want their kids used as political decorations?
  • Just where would you put 10,000 kids in Harrisburg?
  • How do you feed 10,000 kids in Harrisburg?
I could go on...and on...but the point is made.

Speaking of points, here's mine:  It's not the job of children to obtain fair funding for the SSD.  That's the job of the adult members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, individuals who should have known that this has been an issue for years, but yet have allowed it to continue (by way of background, the SSD receives far less money from Pennsylvania than other comparable school districts).  So far they have failed, miserably I might add, to solve this issue and yet basically no one in any position of authority has been publically willing to call them out on their horrible performance.  I get that these are powerful individuals, but I can't help but see the irony of students being evaluated on their work but yet we don't want to evaluate the adults on theirs.

Am I being too hard on our elected officials?  Is it not their fault that the Pennsylvania Legislature is dominated by members of another political party?

My answers to the above questions are "No" and "Too Bad".  I'm sorry that this is a tough problem to solve.  However, Pennsylvania's legislatures are among the best paid in the country.  It's time they earned their keep.

Some think that sending kids to Harrisburg to protest the SSD's state funding would be a great lesson in civics.  I think an even better lesson in civics would be for our local legislators...both from the PA House and the PA Senate...to explain to the students why they are unable to solve this seemingly simple problem and why other elected officials believe that they are worth less in funding than students from, say, Erie Pennsylvania.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Children of the Corn

"He who walks behind the rows"

"Outlander!"


My late brother Chris and I would sometimes randomly quote movies we liked, including the above references to Stephen King's Children of the Corn.  Another favorite movie to quote was Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (a truly disturbing movie, for the record, which explains why we liked it so much when we were in our early teens).  Anyway, I was thinking of the "He who walks behind the rows" line as I was in Iowa, driving to Cedar Rapid from Fairfield.  The thought was so motivating that I actually stopped to take a few cellphone pictures.



This was something of an Iowa homecoming for me, as I had traveled to the state quite a bit during the years 2004 through 2014.  Iowa is, in some respects, the anti-matter New Jersey:  Not crowded, wide-open spaces, exceptionally friendly people and a big sky.  By "big sky" I mean this idea of a sky that is a kind of big dome over your head, circling around to the horizon in all directions.  When you live in a place with tall hills/mountains, it just seems like the sky just isn't quite so big.

Oh, and there is the air.

The air here feels different.  Mind you, that notion of different has a certain range of motion, in the sense that, for example, as I was driving by a General Mills facility there was a kind of funk the air, a sweeter version of what I experienced while driving by the manure facility on Tuesday evening in route to Ottumwa.  Outside of those human-induced invisible clouds of funk, the air in Iowa just feels better.  That's something I would never have noticed, say, ten years ago.  However, having developed asthma somewhere during the last decade or so, I've become acutely aware of how clean the air around me is, and how that might impact me.  The impact, by the way, isn't all that much, especially given things like rescue inhalers, but it's an annoyance...and source of future health pondering...never the less.

Iowa would be a perfect place for me if it was next to the ocean.  It's worth noting though that there are no perfect places.  What's more, future moving decisions will be driven more so by proximity to children than air quality.  What I will say is this:  Had I been born in Iowa I would likely never leave.

The trip, by way, was a good one.  I met lots of great people with my (still relatively new) employer and I have an open invitation to come back any time I am needed.  It's a good feeling to know that what you are doing is valued.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Aqualung

"Aqualung" is the name of a song by the band Jethro Tull*, popular when I was a teenager.  It could also be, tongue and cheek, what happens you "vape" too much, at least according to those who defend the practice.  The quote marks around the word "vape" are there because I think the very term sounds ridiculous.  Anyway, in this context, Aqualung would be from inhaling too much water vapor, which proponents of "vaping" claim the practice actually involves.  If all "vaping" involved just inhaling water mist, well then they would have a point.  Then again, if that were true I wouldn't have a posting to write.

All of this comes about as are a result of a series of well-publicized health issues that at least on the surface appear to be tied to "vaping".  Examples include:

I could go on, but the point is made.  Since I've been reading these articles over the past week or so, I decided to do a little digging into how those who defend "vaping" view this information.  The chief "pro-vaping" theory out there is that, at least for those who have recently died, the cause of their demise likely has to do with these folks inhaling some kind of synthetic THC (the active ingredient in Marijuana).  Along with that theory comes a heaping-helping of claims that this is all a plot on the part of Big Pharma and/or tobacco companies to suppress "vaping" as an alternative to smoking tobacco (or, in the case of "vaping" Marijuana, the health benefits that seem to follow every Internet discussion of that particular plant).  In these cases, it's easy to get caught up in the confusion of it all.

Maybe it's worth just a minute or two of time to take a step back and taking a broad view of this whole "vaping" thing.

First, is "vaping" objectively better for someone than smoking cigarettes?  It sure is.  Then again, eating a diet consisting solely of deep-fried pork rinds is also better for you than a diet consisting solely of Hemlock.  Both will get you killed; all that differs is the timing.

Second, our lungs are designed for one thing, and one thing only:  Breathing the air that exists around Planet Earth.  That's it.  Nothing else.

Granted, if "vaping" only involved breathing in water vapor, well, it would probably not be all that harmful.  The problem is that we all know that the addiction fun of "vaping" comes from the stuff that is also heated along with the water vapor.  That stuff, by the way, is effectively unregulated.  Yes, Johnny Cool over outside the office building could be "vaping" pure vanilla flavoring or he could be "vaping" vanilla-flavored benzene.

The other important element that I think gets lost in the whole "vaping" discussion is the role of addiction.  Specifically, it seems that most folks who "vape" are actually using it as a delivery mechanism for the poison nicotine.  Oh, and yes, nicotine is poisonous, so when someone smokes or "vapes" they are actually introducing small amounts of poison into their body with each inhalation.  As if that were not enough, nicotine is also highly addictive.  How's that for a combination:  A highly addictive poison.

The bottom line is that "vaping" is bad for anyone.  It is simply not safe.  You could argue that it is safer than smoking cigarettes, but that's ultimately an argument of the lesser of two evils;  what's lost on some though is the fact that both choices are still, in fact, evil.

If you smoke, please stop.  I sincerely mean that, as this world needs all of our talents; none of us are truly expendable because of an addiction that offers nothing in return.  If "vaping" can help you stop smoking, well then that seems like a reasonable way to end one deadly habit, as long as it just doesn't replace it with another.  If you "vape" please at least ween yourself off of the nicotine and purchase your supplies for a reputable dealer.  Better yet, just stop.


(*) The song Aqualung isn't a favorite of mine, but it does bring back some 70's fueled-memories.  A really great Jethro Tull song is "Teacher".



Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cutting Cords

Preface
The post below was written on August 11th, but I haven't gotten around to hitting the publish button until now.  Call it lazy blogging I guess, or call it "no one cares about this but you anyway Steve".  Either works fine for me.  Part of the lack of blogging units problem is the fact that I'm actually doing well.  You read that right:  I am actually doing well.  I'm adjusting well to a new job with a new company and new co-workers.  I'll also confess that it's nice to feel comfortable about what I do for a living again, as that hasn't been the case for a while now.

To that last point, and maybe this is a larger posting topic, but the last few months have been a reminder to me of two things:

1) We are all more than what we do for a living, but yet that still matters.  At least it still matters to me.  It's a tough nut to crack when you find yourself in a position where you're not happy in your professional circumstances.  It's also something you don't necessarily see until you are on the other side of those circumstances.

2) Things work out, at least some times.  I'll always struggle with that one, in part because I am not a patient man.  I am certainly persistent, but not patient.  Maybe that's part of what folks try to convey through religious faith, namely this notion that there is some bigger reason to this all.  I know, I've mentioned that before, but maybe part of what I'm doing is trying to convince myself that all of what I've experienced somehow means something.

Anyway, that's where I'm at.  On to the main posting.

* * * * * *

Main Posting
Two noteworthy cords were cut recently:  The Superintendent of the Scranton School District and with my cable.  Both seem to be a step in the right direction.

Goodbye Dr. Kirijan.
You can read about Dr. Kirijan's departure from the Scranton School District HERE.  I've never met the (now former) Superintendent, but suffice to say, the Scranton School District (SSD) is a "hot mess", and as a leader, she carries some responsibility for the current state of affairs.  Case in point:  In addition to being banned from negotiating with the teacher's union and not blinking an eye at a no-bid multi-million dollar busing contract, Dr. Kirijan was the force behind SSD Directors and others having to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs...you can read more about this on Tom Borthwick's blog).  An NDA in a public school setting is outrageously ridiculous, as the only information held by a district is, by default, the property of the public anyway.  We're not talking about protecting trade secrets here by any stretch of the imagination, but instead, this is an attempt by an administrator to exercise control in precisely the wrong area.

There have been other criticisms of Dr. Kirijan over the years, with some being more valid than others.  Regardless, Dr. Kirijan and the SSD are better off without each other.  Kudos to the SSD Board for taking the initiative to end her contract.

On an unrelated and personal note, it feels good to be working in Scranton again.  No matter where I go, no matter where I've lived or will live, Scranton will always be my home.  Driving into the city makes me feel a kind of connection that I've been lacking over the past 2+ years.

Speaking of personal...

Goodbye Comcast Cable
Ms. Rivers and I have joined the ranks of those have cut the cable cord, at least for television.  By way of disclosure, we still have cable service, but now just for the Internet.  I've been scheming to do this for a while, but my attention has been elsewhere until recently.  In a way, this makes a ton of sense for us, as we don't really watch all that much television to being with.  What's more, every time we changed Comcast packages to save money, we'd end up with more sports channels that we never watch and fewer channels that we would watch.

The replacement plan in all of this as been to get an upgraded Internet service and then use SlingTV for the broadcast stuff.  For the benefit of the curious, in addition to getting back a few channels we lost last year (including Comedy Central), we've reduced our monthly cable bill by nearly $50 (and climbing, as our last Comcast package was creeping up every few months).  This may not seem like much, but anytime you can get something you were missing and pay less for it, well, it's a good thing.

I did, by the way, get the sales pitch to stay with Comcast.  I asked if they could provide channels a-la-carte, and they said no*.  Sales pitch over.




(*) Technically incorrect, as they could provide just the channels we wanted, but they just don't want to.  Why?  As I understand it, the only way the golf channel (for example) is economically viable is to force folks (formerly) like us to pay for it, even though we never watched it.



Sunday, August 4, 2019

Two Mass Shootings

Two mass shootings this weekend. What will our elected officials do about it?

Well, after 20 LITTLE CHILDREN* were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School nothing was done. NOTHING. What makes anything think it will be different now?

This country lost part of its soul on that day; what's happened since, including this weekend, is a reminder of that fact. More families grieving because our elected officials didn't care enough to act after 20 little children were slaughtered.

Just to be perfectly clear, I am not advocating any specific policy solution(s), other than to say anyone who feels that "the solution to gun violence is more guns" is part of the problem. We have enough guns in this country already. What I am saying is that someone in a position of power has to DO SOMETHING.

Congress and the President that they can take their "thoughts and prayers" and shove them up their collective rear-ends. I am tired of the pandering and inaction. I am tired of mass shootings and the politicians that enable them through inaction.




Wednesday, July 31, 2019

...and the rock cried out no hiding place

See THIS LINK for a reference to the title.

Fun fact:  This is the second time in about 11 years that I've used this blog post title.  The first time was on November 22, 2010.  That was a pretty trying time for me actually.  I'm not making any comparisons from then to now, but it has been something of a bumpy ride for me over the past year, pretty much coming to a head at the end of June.

Details on the above aren't needed (and, if provided, might actually get me in trouble anyway), but what I will share is this:  My personal life has been nothing short of great.  My health is okay (I need to lose some weight...).  My children seem to be doing well.  My professional life though has been a struggle.  For me, that has been a big deal.  A very big deal.

Understand that what I do for a living, and where I do it, has had an over-sized impact on my life.  Growing up I was just a poor, ungainly tall, awkwardly thin kid from a housing project and I just knew that I had to do better.  I didn't know what "better" was, other than the fact that one day I wanted to have a house where I could plant Marigolds, just like my well-off cousins had at their houses.  It was as simple as that, believe it or not.
(Age 11; I look like a Muppet.)

I have been fortunate most of my working life, by the way.  I worked for a wonderful organization for 28 years...an organization that both makes money and helps people live better lives.  Despite losing my job to a corporate reorganization in December of 2016, I am exceptionally proud to be an official retiree of the Prudential Insurance Company of America.  I even have my signed certificate of retirement framed.  If I do nothing else professionally, I would still be able to look back and say "I did well".

Since then, well, it's been a struggle.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, we just don't fit into an organization well, regardless of talent or desire (or lack of desire).  That struggle culminated in late June (as noted above), with me once again finding myself being corporate re-organized into a free agent.  Long story short, my free agency was to be short-lived, and I started a new job on July 22nd.  It's my honest hope that this will be the last full-time job I have until I "really" retire, which will be in something like 10 years.  All signs point to this being both possible and desireable at my new employer.

There are people to thank in all of this, none the least of which is Ms. Rivers, who has known just how difficult of a ride the past year has been for me, and who literally kept me sane.  I also have a great group of co-workers to thank at my last employer; they helped me in ways that they never realized.  Last but certainly not least, I have the senior leadership team at my new employer to thank for giving me this opportunity to re-anchor myself in productive, meaningful work.

Finally, I will admit that I didn't want to write this posting.  I just don't want that kind of attention.  But I can't both avoid this and just write about other stuff, which explains why I haven't published anything since July 12th.  I need to get these sentiments out of the way now and resume the ruminations over other mundane things, per the usual at www.sgalbert.com.  Why?  Listen to the song:  There's no hiding place down here.

More to come.

(I actually do plant Marigolds, ever year.)


Friday, July 12, 2019

It's (business) day 11...

...since I found myself with some extra free time as a result of a corporate restructuring.  Here is my to-do list:
I'm not that concerned about confidentiality for my list, as I can barely read my own handwriting (make that "hand-printing").  Note to self:  I actually completed #23 on Monday.

Actually, one would think that I should have written this posting 11 days ago, but I've been somewhat conflicted about the notion of this blog entry.  On one hand, I do share a lot on this website.  In fact, over the years some of these postings, and the discipline associated with organizing my thoughts such that they make sense for the public Internet, have really helped me deal with some significant life events.  On the other hand, I loathe anything remotely resembling sympathy from anyone.  I just don't want it.

Anyway, a number of the folks in the department I worked in at my last employer, including the person I reported to, were laid off in late June.  If this was my first experience with corporate downsizing, well, I'd be more unnerved by the whole thing.  As it stands though, I am now an official veteran at such things (see The Watch).  I wasn't entirely surprised by these events; a benefit of being hyper-vigilant is the fact that I sensed something was possibly coming.   Regardless of staging or intent, the fact remains that I am now a free-agent of sorts.  Just to get the thought out of the way, I'll note that I hold no ill-will towards any person or organization.  Being bitter for more than two minutes about anything in life is a ridiculous waste of time and energy, both of which are too precious to squander.

I'll note that I am actually fine.  Really and truly fine.  Well outside of the bit of sunburn I got on my feet from pressure washing the back deck on Wednesday.  I should have expected that to happen, seeing as though I basically have albino feet and I was wearing water shoes with plenty of wide-open plastic webbing.  This means, by the way, that I have sunburned diamonds on the top of my feet.  I'd share a picture, but it honestly just looks ridiculous.  And my feet are just generally gross.  And so I digress.

So what's next?  Well, I have a to-do list, see above, but I get bored easily, so that is already starting to get tedious for me. The obvious answer is that there are new professional challenges ahead of me; I just need to find them.  First, though, I have to put some Aloe Vera gel on my feet.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Scranton & Rights


With the guilty plea of Scranton's former Mayor on three felony charges (reference HERE), there continues to be quite a bit written about "rights", as in "city residents have a right to ___________".  As I read all of this stuff, some coming from the horde of anonymous commentators (having the online equivalent of beer muscles), I do think there are some clear lines in the sand.
  1. Scranton residents have a right to an explanation from the former Mayor His attorney publicly proclaimed his innocense multiple time in the media.  This means that, in addition to explaining his felonious actions, he also needs to explain why his attorney lied on his behalf about his (lack of) innocence.
  2. Scranton residents have a right to know who else in city hall is implicated.  If media reports are true, there may be city employees on the payroll as I write this who participated in the former Mayor's illegal activities.  Authorities need to identify all of the players by name.  These individuals need to be fired.
  3. Scranton residents have a right to know exactly who "paid to play".  Bribery works because there are two willing partners.  If a city vendor paid the former Mayor in order to continue to do business in Scranton, barring their proactive participation in the investigation, those vendors need to have their contracts nullified.  
  4. Municipal employees have a right to a presumption of innocence This is precisely why "names need to be named".  Not every municipal employee participated in the former Mayor's fraud; in fact, the vast majority did not.  How do I know this?  Well, call it a combination of age and common sense:  Illegal activities need some degree of secrecy to function, which means a limited scope of participants.  Innocent city employees should be freed from guilt by association. 
Lastly, rights, as such, always come with obligations.  For example, with our right to free speech comes an obligation to not use that same free speech to yell "fire!" in a crowded movie theater.  Scranton residents have an obligation in all of this mess, namely to vote.  Based on what I've read over the years, about 1 in 3 eligible voters in the City of Scranton actually cast a ballot in any given election.  In addition to simply being utterly pathetic, voter apathy is the fertilizer that helps fraud grow in government.  For there to be actual, real change in how Scranton is governed, people have to get out and vote.  In the end, you get the government you (do not) vote for, and we all know how that works out, at least in Scranton.