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 Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

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.

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, School Leadership

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at or 619.550.5669.

    sosocal subscriber

    At the very least, I would have to say that Mr. Collins does not appear to have a clear understanding of the wider results of his actions.  Meaning, either he is completely insulated from a thorough-going awareness of the difference between leadership and bullying, or he just doesn't care, 

    What a piece of work.

    Ven Griva
    Ven Griva subscriber

    Seems like a tempest in teapot if the words "wasting money" are not followed by an actual figure.

    Will Carless
    Will Carless author

    The most damning element of this story, IMHO, is that the district's own employees stamped the final report with the words "preliminary draft." 

    The key questions now are WHEN and WHY this was done? Was it only done after Ms. McGlone began her excellent reporting into this, and began asking questions. 

    This stinks of a cover-up. 

    Looks very much like Collins ordered the report stamped preliminary draft so as to invoke his lame excuses for why he retrospectively edited the consultant's findings. The report submitted wasn't a draft, it was a final version. Period.

    And Collins and his crew have a long history of cover-ups. Let's not forget that these guys paid a consultant $130,000 (of taxpayers' money) to write an absolute whitewash of a report about their insane billion-dollar bond deal. The district (and Collins personally) refused to provide information about that report, its findings or the justification for it. I interviewed dozens of experts in my reporting on this district's bonds and, almost without fail, they described the now-infamous billion-dollar deal as a complete disaster for the district and taxpayers. The only man who saw differently was being paid handsomely to cover up the mistakes of his paymasters.

    When will this district's leaders be held accountable for doing things really badly, then using public money to try and cover up their mistakes? 

    Collins should do the decent thing and resign. 

    Gaby Dow
    Gaby Dow subscribermember

    @Will Carless based on the feedback and even more disturbing information I am getting from other parents, teachers, students and district leaders, this is shaping up to be a Filner saga for North County. I do not believe Collins will do the decent thing and resign, he wants to stay and fight -- just like Filner did -- because first and foremost he cares about himself. Despite regional leaders quietly talking to him about stepping down with some semblance of honor, he does not seem to care if he further damages the community and children in his personal fight against the inevitable. 

    It is inevitable that his time is up, the only question now is how he will be removed and how quickly the district can get back on track. There are amazingly dedicated teachers and parents in this district who will not fail these children while the district management and union boss issues are sorted out. 

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    OK.  Read the whole red lined report..

    A)  Ashley  should query an employment lawyer (and probably a civil one).  I am guessing both will tell her that if the district released, without edits, that report without allowing a full retort by the CIO/CTO they would be hauled into court faster than one can say boo.  Sometimes reporters looking for a "story" fail to understand the constraints companies work under.  At the very least it would have offered more context. 

    B)  Insider the report is a policy dispute - how much autonomy should school sites be accorded with the technology they are using. A sub-context is that some (much?) of this technology is site-foundation raised.  Clearly the report's author comes down on the side of centralizing procurement decisions - and there is much to be said in favor of that for efficency.   But it is also the case that there are pros on the other side - most notably the legal importance of keeping a an arms length between the district and the foundations as well as providing them autonomy in respect to the money THEY raise.

    That isn't to say there are not problems.  It is a pretty damming report of management problems.  But without appreciating A and by not fully understanding the tensions with B this story (and the proceeding one) give an incomplete picture and attempt to portray what collins is doing as sweeping some objective audit under the rug (as opposed to being sure the district isn't sued for liable and not piss off foundation leaders raising hundreds of thousands of dollars with the backhanded slap at them).

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    @Ashly McGlone @Erik Bruvold But it wasn't an "audit" - a specific term with a specific meaning and fudiciary responsibilities.  It was a consultants report.  Big difference.  And yes, the public is constrained as to what it has "a right to know about" under employment law when the subject of  report can subsequently sue that the report lacked foundation and negatively impacted their future employment prospects.  The story is as much about a REALLY bad/unprofessional consultant report as it is the management failures at PUSD.

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    @Will Carless @Erik Bruvold No.  There is way too much in that report which is cast at an individual rather than the institution.  There are criticisms to be leveled at editing out/changing the institutional criticisms (the independence of sites, the choice of funding, the lack of a good way of prioritizing services) but it is prudent from a fiduciary standpoint to ask for changes to the individual criticisms.  Since the district has deep pockets you can be sure they would be named.

    Will Carless
    Will Carless author

    @Erik Bruvold Erik, any employee who sued over the independent findings of a consultant would have a pretty tough row to hoe, no? 

    Besides, the district hasn't evoked legal liability as an excuse for its meddling. Collins has just offered a half-hearted excuse that amounts to "I didn't want this to look as bad as it does, so I changed it."

    This is an absolutely outrageous breach of public trust that amounts to the best-paid educational administrator in the county quite simply trying to cover his ass. This guy has already shown he's capable of out-and-out obfuscation and isn't ashamed to use the public's money to protect himself. This is just the latest example. 

    Dude should resign. 

    Ashly McGlone
    Ashly McGlone

    @Erik Bruvold Should audit findings that reflect poorly on departments or officials be removed from public view to limit liability? At what point does the public get to know about potential deficiencies at a public agency?

    Bob Warrington
    Bob Warrington

    For what it's worth, it's more common than not to edit the report of any outside consultant before using it, so that by itself is not a negative.  External groups have an objectivity that can be very beneficial, but they virtually never have as much context as internal parties do.

    That's not to say that there isn't some damning material that seems to have been uncovered by this report, but the fact that it was edited doesn't feel like it's much of a story.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Bob Warrington I agree, but it's still interesting to see what was changed. I hope VOSD continues to write stories like this.

    Ashly McGlone
    Ashly McGlone

    @Derek Hofmann @Bob Warrington  Perhaps some sort of notice that the "external analysis" was edited internally, or a formal agency response to the report would have been more transparent here. What's more, many of the edits didn't add context but rather cut or changed Moore's findings in substantive ways.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Is it wrong to replace hyperbole with emotionally neutral language? Or does doing so make the report more believable?

    Gaby Dow
    Gaby Dow subscribermember

    I have so much more to say about this, it confirms what my foundation board experienced for years in seeking guidance to most effectively utilize over $160,000 raised for technology at my boys' school and it confirms the troubled feeling I have had since the first day of serving on the District's Technology Advisory Committee.

    Innovation and healthy, responsible, forward-thinking use of technology is CRUCIAL for our children's future. Many of the issues at Poway Unified deal with skeletons being unearthed from the past-- but this latest report deals with how we are positioned for future success, and the facts speak for themselves.

    The redlined report is quite a sight, and if I understand this correctly, this is the Superintendent's very pen editing the very consultant HE hired. It is time to stop making excuses, stop trying to hide or bury serious issues and important information, stop attacking, undermining and ridiculing the people delivering the valuable information -- any public agency leader that does not understand the future is about transparency, clear metrics and honest, collaborative engagement simply needs to step aside. 

    Tech and INNOVATION are at the heart of what our children need to be successful in the FUTURE, in a highly competitive global environment. The contents of this report matter, the way the information was handled by the Superintendent matters, and the current state of the District's tech capabilities and people leading this important department matter very much. 

    Joe Jones
    Joe Jones subscriber

    "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..."

    Judging from Moore's report, I guess Collins has a rather unusual understanding of the word "outstanding." Should he ever consider other employment opportunities, he seems like an outstanding candidate for Kim Jong Un's PR Department.