Cummings’ Collaboration: Records Show that Behind the Scenes, David Cummings Plotted Attacks on District with Michelle Fine/MCAS

In her previous farewell comments, former board member Shelly Lombard had taken on the scorched-earth attack campaign of MCAS and Michelle Fine in a not-particularly-oblique way – referencing Fine’s funding hypocrisy (as a recipient of big bucks from Deutsch Bank, who simultaneously crusades against others’ supposed ‘corporate’ influence.)

I am disappointed this year that we have gotten sidetracked. We let our town be divided by people who accuse others of corporatizing education while they took hundreds of thousands of dollars from people like Leona Helmsley and Deutsch Bank. I am disappointed that we squandered our precious time looking and talking about who’s on the agenda and what order they spoke in rather than focusing on what was right for our kids. I am disappointed that we have allowed people who have a vested interest in the status quo because of their day jobs, their anti-charter school books or anti-ed reform speaking tours, we allow them to make our children collateral damage while they advance a national or state political agenda.

During Monday’s BOE meeting, Lombard again warned the board of the same issues she spoke of previously – about how some members of the community have launched a campaign of misleading and manipulative attacks on the district leadership. Lombard has also had a chance to look through some of the Michelle Fine emails that we’ve been looking at, and understandably was disappointed after she read some emails that exposed Fine plotting with other members of the board (it looks like, based on the emails, that she was referring to David Cummings) to try to attack the district superintendent. According to Baristanet:

Lombard cautioned against not wasting time and focusing on specific goals so that at the end of their tenure they would be able to see what they had accomplished rather than spending time putting out fires. “Please play by the rules. I haven’t read all of them, but I’ve read some of the Michelle Fine emails. Some of them are really sad. The saddest is that it appears there were BOE members that may have cooperated with her,” said Lombard, adding that it is the job of BOE members to listen to all points of view and bring all issues to the superintendent, not to gather complaints from staff and use the information to ambush the super. Lombard called for a review to determine whether there were any ethics violations. “You can’t ignore it. It has to be addressed or, like Alex Rodriguez and steroids, it will taint everything else in the future.”

Lombard closed her remarks by saying to the members that they need to be willing to make hard decisions and not be more concerned about being popular.”

We mentioned in our first post on the emails that we thought that Cummings’ clear coordination with the activists to try and attack the district was very concerning and ethically shady. We wondered whether the Times would dig into the emails – and wondered whether Cummings’ wife being an executive at the Times would help spike the coverage. Thus far – unfortunately for our town – it looks like it has. The Montclair Times has been bizarrely quiet about the revelations contained in the emails, including the bombshell we reported that reveals that Regina Tuma was behind the AssessmentGate leaks and attacks.

Incidentally, in letter to the editor today, Lombard also questioned whether Cummings’ wife’s role was affecting their coverage – something that we wouldn’t have thought much about a year ago but is growing worrisome with their lopsided coverage (and lack thereof) on these issues.

We want to point out a few of the emails that support Lombard’s concerns about Board members coordinating with Fine to attack the district and advance her political agenda.

In this email, Cummings talks about using Fine’s content to push the district, and asks that Fine keep him in the loop on her coordination with other board members, so it doesn’t look like they are all coordinating, and so that they can keep the puppet master (Fine) a secret:

1 - CF Coordination

In another email, Cummings sent Fine this subject line: “Different issue…but potential idea” and pasted this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/nyregion/east-ramapo-school-board-is-criticized-by-new-york-city-monitor.html?_r=0

According to the NYT article referenced above:

A monitor appointed by the state to investigate the East Ramapo School District in Rockland County delivered a sharply critical report on Monday, saying the board had shown favoritism to the Orthodox Jewish students who attend private schools in the district and calling on the Legislature to give the district additional money while overhauling its governance.

In the face of such complaints, the state education commissioner, John B. King Jr., in June appointed Mr. Greenberg, a former federal prosecutor and senior legal adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo when he was attorney general, to investigate the board’s conduct and fiscal management.

Cummings then wrote: “There may be something here to consider. When she discusses cuts, but increases central staff.” Presumably Cummings is referring to MacCormack, and he’s trying to relate the Ramapo’s BOE favoritism/spending to something about MacCormack and the Central Office staff (we’ve already debunked MCAS’s claims of big increases in Central Office staff size and spending in a previous post).

2 - CF Coordination

This email is particularly troubling, as it shows Cummings coordinating with Fine and suggesting issues for her to use to attack the district. And lo and behold, the very next day, MCAS sent out a their digest to supporters, making exactly the same point – arguing that classroom cuts are linked to supposed central office increases:

Central services staffing has grown by more than 50 percent:

In 2008-09, the district budget showed there were 12 administrators at central office and 21.4 secretaries/clerical staff for a total of 33.4. Now, there are 51 administrators, secretaries and other staff in central office – a 52.7 percent increase since 2008, according to a central services staff list received from the district..

________________________________________

Those now-vanished budget surpluses tell an important story about our schools: As our school budget surpluses swelled, our classrooms underwent severe cuts. Parent Chris McGoey breaks it down, helping us to understand how the district’s budget decisions have affected our children’s education. Read more

That’s a real problem there, with Cummings coordinating these (false) attacks with Fine, and providing the ammo for her political attacks.

And of course there’s this exchange, with Fine and Cummings discussing strategy around opt-out. Fine replies “happy Halloween – get rid of the witches and let’s return to the fun,” presumably a reference to their effort to run McCormack out of town:

3 - CF Coordination

There’s more where this came from in the emails. At this week’s meeting, Fine called her emails boring and asked for people to ignore them. Unfortunately, the press is. But they shouldn’t be. These emails contain serious revelations about the conduct of officials in our town, as well as the huge news about Regina Tuma/AssessmentGate, which has somehow gone completely unreported. And as these emails show, we have serious questions here about who’s side David Cummings is on as he uses his position to work hand-in-hand with those attacking the district he’s supposed to be helping lead.

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