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Kennewick School Board Member and a Conflict of Interest?

What is Going on Here?

For years, rumors about the reading goal and the program it spawned have been circulating throughout Kennewick schools.  Many concerns were directed at how the reading program had been created; who was driving the initiative; use of tests and testing irregularities; pressures on administrators, staff and students to achieve performance goals; costs for instruction and testing; the claimed student growth and the books published about those claims and profit making by those involved. 

Other criticisms include the reduction or elimination of exploratory and elective classes and general narrowing of the curriculum resulting from doubles classes.  This list is not exhaustive.

Recently, I asked a trusted colleague who has studied these issues to help me understand by writing a connect-the-dots narrative of the development of Kennewick’s reading program and implications for the future.

This article does not answer all my questions but provides a start for those of us wanting to know more. 

This presents an opportunity for the Tri-City Herald with its resources and distribution to construct a complete story for Kennewick citizens.

Honoring requests from family the author will remain anonymous.

  • There is the appearance, if not fact, that school board member Lynn Fielding is profiting by his position and influence on the school board.
  • The non-profit Children’s Reading Foundation is promoting the sale of books authored by Fielding, Nancy Kerr and Paul Rosier published by their for-profit New Foundation Press.
  • There is an ethical, if not legal, issue when a school board member uses a position of trust to manage the school district for his benefit.
  • There is also the appearance, if not fact, that Fielding’s influence is at work to place new members on Kennewick’s School Board who will maintain policies sustaining profits to the New Foundation Press.

The Question

With an important school board election fast approaching this fall for the citizens of Kennewick, it is important voters be fully apprised of some facts.  So please allow for some tedious details in order to get the whole picture.

First, a clarification is in order.  What you are about to read is not an opposition to children reading early and reading well.  Rather it is a question about whether or not a board member is personally making money because of the decisions he makes or decisions he influences as a public servant for the citizens of Kennewick.

The Money

Since 1999, the Kennewick School Board has voted to allocate more than 2.9 million taxpayer dollars to The Children’s Reading Foundation and its local chapter.   This has been confirmed by the district business office (see table).  According to the foundation’s own website under the same name, it is a non-profit that was first started by current board member Lynn Fielding and five other people to serve Benton and Franklin County schools back in 1996 and was then called the Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation.

According to the website, the foundation director received many inquiries from people who wanted to replicate this model, so in 1998 the board of directors created a separate entity called The National Children’s Reading Foundation.   In addition, two other programs were created to support local reading: Team Read Tutoring (2000) and Ready! For Kindergarten (2002).

A Problem

Roughly four years ago the Tri-City Herald broke a story about the Kennewick School District coming up a few million dollars short in its budget.  After the news was out, the blame eventually landed on the former accountant for the district who was only hired by the board to work part time.  Students and staff were suddenly looking at some unexpected cuts because of mismanagement and were not happy.  Questions were asked, and people began looking a little more closely at the machinations of the Kennewick School Board including its funding for programs like the Reading Foundation.

Soon, then Superintendent Paul Rosier left the district and this side of the state for a job as executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators.  It is important to note here that Mr. Rosier is also one of the other five people who began the original Reading Foundation and that he is still listed on the Foundation website as a director on the board.

The lack of clear and satisfactory explanation by the district office and the school board prompted a disruption to the status quo of elected board members who seemed to always support Mr. Fielding’s Reading Foundation and his other district policies regarding reading. Fielding has been on the board for twenty-two years, and in that time has developed a reputation with other board members for being an expert on educational matters.  He speaks, has written four books, and he consults with other districts in the U.S. and Canada.  As a result, he has an unspoken authority with other members of the board and therefore has enjoyed a comfortable majority through the late 90’s and most of the last decade.

Losing Control

But with the upheaval and election, he was suddenly looking at only two allies on the board.  New board members, Wendy London and Kathy White, were evidently not as certain about his judgment and sagacity concerning educational matters and often were at odds with Mr. Fielding and his two supporters.  In fact, there were a number of people who began to suspect this school board/author was using his power and influence on the board to enforce curricular policies that would validate the claims he makes in his books.  If this is true, then at the least Fielding is using our children, teachers, administrators, and taxpayers for his personal aggrandizement, and at the worst, he is using everyone for personal profit.

If this seems too sensational to be true, then try asking district employees any or all of the following questions:

1. Up to how many hours of direct reading instruction are third graders given per day?

2. What is taken out of the third graders’ day to accommodate this extra reading time?

3. Do teachers or para-educators ever read the reading test questions for the students in order to help them pass the test?

4. Are students ever held in from recess or lunch in order to practice for the reading test?

5. How much time do third grade teachers and students spend practicing for the reading test as opposed to just reading?

Here’s the point: The only way Mr. Fielding can validate the main ideas of his books is by providing ample quantities of favorable data.  So Kennewick teachers and kids spend a great deal of time making that happen for him.

About a year later, the State Auditor’s Office did an investigation of Mr. Fielding and a possible conflict of interest with his position on the board. The investigation found there was an improper vender/vendee relationship regarding the Reading Foundation and the district.  The lawyer who passionately represented Mr. Fielding was Leland Kerr.  His wife is a co-founder of the Reading Foundation, Nancy Kerr.  According to the foundation website, she is currently International president of the Children’s Reading Foundation and has served in that capacity (president)  since 1996.

Regaining Control

During the investigation Fielding’s two strong allies on the board were Dan Mildon and Dawn Adams.  When Mildon decided to step down, Fielding’s majority was once again in peril.  The fix came in the form of Heather Kintzley, who happens to be Dawn Adams’ niece.  Her voting record shows clear support for Mr. Fielding’s reading policies and support for his Foundation.  The fact that she was a family member of Fielding’s one remaining supporter, passed muster with the Tri-City Herald who endorsed her and also evidently passed muster with the citizens of Kennewick.  As a result Fielding maintained control of the Board and kept the taxpayer dollars flowing into his foundation.

The next board shift was the recent resignation of Wendy London.  At least two very qualified people offered to fill the vacancy until the election, but both were rejected in favor of Brian Brooks.   One of those rejected was running for a board position, so that rejection was understandable.  The other was not running for a position, but did offer her services until the election.  She is a retired educator with a stellar career who has also clocked a lot of hours at school board meetings.

A recent Letter to the Editor of the Tri-City Herald (8-30-2011) made an inquiry about the board’s executive session decision to put Mr. Brooks in this position.  Since he is running for a spot on the board, this decision has automatically given him the edge in this election as a sort of incumbent.  Why would the controlling members of this board make such a decision?

The Money – Again

How about because of money?

It was mentioned earlier that Mr. Fielding has written four books.  These four titles can be seen on the National Children’s Reading Foundation website under “Our Store.”  The titles are The 90% Reading Goal; Delivering on the Promise; Annual Growth, Catch-up Growth; and Extraordinary Parents.

The first three titles are co-authored by Nancy Kerr (her husband Leland was the lawyer defending Fielding) and Paul Rosier, the superintendent in charge when the district budget came up a few million dollars short.  The last book is Fielding’s own and also the most expensive of the four.

The reading foundation is listed as non-profit, but if you look in the on-line store to buy one of these 18 to 22 dollar books, it says next to “Payment”  “Make checks payable to The New Foundation Press (not The Children’s Reading Foundation).”

The web page for the New Foundation Press, shows three pictures and biographies: Lynn Fielding, Nancy Kerr, and Paul Rosier.

In this biography Fielding advertises his services as an educational consultant for “school districts interested in leveraged educational reform from birth through grade 12.”  This is probably legal, as there seems to be no direct link between this publishing company and the Kennewick School District.  If Fielding wants to advertise here for private profit, he can.

For Profit

The problem comes when we find that the books he has written are on the Reading Foundation website that our school district funds using your dollars.  The problem comes when we find his same advertisement as a consultant on the Reading Foundation website under “About Us.”

This is nice free advertising for the books and the consulting business, and one would think Mr. Fielding would be loathe to ever seeing it go away after he leaves the board this fall.  For after he is off the board, he can legally cash in without the kind of scrutiny he would get as a board member.  So in response to the letter to the editor asking why he put Brooks in London’s seat, would it be unreasonable to suggest that he wants both his seat and London’s to be occupied by people who will support his free advertising on the Children’s Reading Foundation website even after he leaves the board?

A few calls were made to find out more about the New Foundation Press, and now things get really interesting.  The business is licensed by the State for profit, and is operating in the city of Kennewick.  But when a call was made to the city of Kennewick, it turned out that this local business did not have a license to operate in Kennewick.  And that the state business license lists the address for the New Foundation Press as Lynn Fielding’s law office.  One would think that a tax attorney would know to license his business with the city.

Maybe what Kennewick taxpayers should do before this election is contact the New Foundation Press and ask Mr. Fielding if there could be a conflict of interest with his position as a director of the Kennewick School Board and why he didn’t license his for-profit company with the city of Kennewick.

 

Resources for more information:

The Children’s Reading Foundation

http://www.readingfoundation.org/about-us.jsp

The New Foundation Press

http://www.newfoundationpress.com/authors

Kennewick’s 90% Reading Goal – An Opinion
http://ksdcitizens.org/2010/09/19/kennewicks-90-reading-goal-an-opinion/

KSD and the Reading Foundation
http://ksdcitizens.org/2010/11/03/ksd-and-the-reading-foundation/

Kennewick School Board meeting minutes from September 24, 2008 starting on page 5
http://www.ksd.org/about/schoolboard/Meeting%20Minutes/School%20Board%20Meeting%20Minutes%20(2008.09.24).pdf

Decision to appoint Brian Brooks to the interim position on the Kennewick School Board

http://ksdcitizens.org/2011/08/17/ksd-school-board-triumvirate-maintains-status-quo/

http://ksdcitizens.org/2011/08/19/ksd-school-board-triumvirate-responds/

Bob Valiant’s opinion about success of the reading goal

http://ksdcitizens.org/2011/09/27/the-verdict-is-in-on-kennewicks-reading-goal-by-bob-valiant-ed-d/

KSD Elementary School Report, fourth bullet point
http://ksdcitizens.org/2010/11/05/ksd-elementary-school-report/

KSD School Board Report for January 26, 2011
Raise the third grade reading goal…
http://ksdcitizens.org/2011/01/28/ksd-school-board-report-by-tom-staly-5/

KSD School Board Report for February 8, 2011
Determine and reverse the cause of reading loss in 6th grade…
http://ksdcitizens.org/2011/02/11/ksd-school-board-report-by-tom-staly-6/

KSD School Board Report for March 9, 2011
Bond noted that the district focus on reading and math has produced the unintended consequence of low science standardized test scores in some elementary, middle and high schools.
http://ksdcitizens.org/2011/03/16/kennewick-school-board-report-for-march-9/

Lynn Fielding’s presentation to the Education Consumers Foundation (ECF) on April 21, 2009
Fielding admits the experimental nature of his reading program when stating during the first [5] years of Kennewick’s program, “we made a lot of mistakes” because “we spent a lot of time not knowing what we were doing, thinking that we did”. (video segment – Grades K-5, and Kennewick’s focus on reading)
http://www.education-consumers.org/PreK_LFVids.htm