The superintendent of the Poway Unified School District toned down and removed criticism leveled in a consultant’s report before releasing it to the public last month.
Words like “arrogance” were replaced with “overconfidence.” “Dysfunction” became “issues.” “Extreme and even chaotic” decision-making became just “problematic” and “reckless and wasteful decision-making” became “uncontrolled and inefficient,” while other descriptors like “short-sighted” and longer passages were scrubbed entirely, district records show.
Voice of San Diego first obtained the $40,000 report by education technology consultant Bob Moore of Kansas-based RJM Strategies last month after threatening the district with litigation.
Moore was hired in November to assess the district’s technology department and recommend improvements. He later deemed part of that task impossible in light of the district’s dysfunction and systemic issues that spanned leadership, culture, budget and other areas.
Email correspondence between district officials and Moore obtained through a California Public Records Act request revealed Moore had submitted his final version of the report back in March.
This month, after threatening further legal action, we obtained the original “final” version submitted by Moore March 2.
We asked Poway Unified Superintendent John Collins to account for the changes between the two versions, and he took credit.
“The draft of the report produced by Bob Moore in March was an initial summary of Mr. Moore’s thoughts and did not include my input, comments or feedback as to the nature of the report,” Collins wrote in an email. “The July final version is a product I was able to provide feedback and comments on while working with Mr. Moore. I commissioned the report as an analysis of our IT strategies and processes and feel the result has helped us to celebrate the outstanding work we do and formulate new goals and organizational structures to continuously improve upon our successes.”
In addition to the softened language, the district confirmed that its own officials, not Moore, added a stamp to the report’s cover page that says “PRELIMINARY DRAFT” after Moore submitted it as a final. Draft copies of reports can often be exempted from Public Records Act requests.
Collins did not respond to follow-up questions asking why his contributions were undisclosed in the report. Moore alone is credited as the report’s author on every page of both the March and July versions.
Other staff emails reveal a bit more about what happened between March and the public release of the edited report July 15.
Notably, Collins convened an IT department meeting June 12.
Following the meeting, help desk staffer Douglas Nicoll sent an email to union representative Lynnette Turner saying, “The Bob Moore study was ‘harsh’ and John wants to ‘Keep the essence of the recommendations’ while not calling anybody out for the problems that were discovered… We won’t see it until it can be massaged into shape.”
A little more than a month later, Collins sent the report to the school board with a request to not discuss its findings publicly.
“While all of these documents are now public records, I respectfully request that you not share or discuss the contents of these documents outside of the governance team. If you should receive requests for the report or any other documents, please refer such requests to my office and we will handle them… I appreciate your understanding and discretion and look forward to discussing these issues with you in person upon my return from vacation.”
Some of Collins’ plans for how to improve the district and its technology offerings in the wake of the unflattering analysis can be seen in this July 15 memo to the board.
Other notable changes to Moore’s findings include:
• “Wasted money” becomes an “inefficient use of resources.”
• Pricey technology investments go from “being wasted” to “not having the desired impact.”
• A lack of collaboration between school and IT staff described as “not healthy” become “not productive or effective.”
• Budget cuts to “classified staff” is changed to say cuts to “management and other support staff” by generic “districts,” instead of “district leadership.”
• Moore’s observation that the district’s then-technology chief, who has since been placed on special assignment, Robert Gravina, “was dismissive,” was replaced with “seemed to be unconcerned.”
• Words like “unrestrained” and “anything goes” simply disappear from the report.
Meanwhile, these sentences were removed entirely from the July version:
• “With so much piecemeal buying of different technologies a lot of money is wasted.”
• “It is also much less politically risky to cut support staff, as compared with teachers.”
• “The situation also makes district administration vulnerable to political and public relations problems.”
• “Decision-making about issues other than technology were not examined, but one can only assume that they too suffer from decision-making without a clear direction.”
• “Favoritism, or the “good ol’ boy network,” seems to be a way of doing business for the CIO. It was clear from a couple of principals that the CIO “takes care of them” and that way of doing business was in clear evidence during a spent visiting schools and classroom with the CIO. The CIO doled out “favors” to teachers and principals in the form of items such as software and hardware. This behavior has not gone unnoticed by others.”
• Moore’s conclusion: “There is also much opportunity for follow-up study and planning, but it will be difficult to undertake those with the current IT leadership and until district staff see concrete evidence that there is a sincere and determined commitment on the part of district leadership to make significant improvements in IT services.”
We performed a redline comparison of both documents. To see everything that was changed from March to July, click here.