Destroying Public Education in St. Louis

18 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/18/2019

On April 2nd, St. Louis city voters picked Adam Layne and Tracee Miller to serve on their seven-member Public School Board. They appear to be the two least likely candidates out of the seven to protect public schools. With the state ending twelve years of control over the city’s schools on April 16, this election result is not a happy one for public education advocates.

The Seven Board Candidates

  1. Adam Layne is a former Teach for America (TFA) corps member assigned to a St. Louis charter school and is currently a board member of the Kairos Academy charter school.
  2. Tracee Miller was a TFA corps member and is currently running a math tutoring program in St. Louis for the Gates Foundation supported Khan Academy.
  3. Louis Cross boasts a long career with St. Louis Public Schools. He served as principal and interim superintendent of the now defunct Ethel Hedgemen charter school.
  4. Bill Haas served on the school board from 1997 to 2005, and again from 2010 to 2018. He was one of two board members that stood in opposition to contracting with Alvarez and Marsal to run St. Louis schools in 2003.
  5. David Merideth served on a special committee in 2017 that studied the school board’s role in future governance of the district when state control is relinquished.
  6. Barbara Anderson is a graduate of St. Louis Public Schools who taught on the elementary, middle and university levels throughout her career.
  7. Dan McCready is from Cincinnati, where he taught third and fifth grade math at a Cincinnati public school. He currently works at KIPP Victory Academy, a St. Louis charter school.

Dark Money Sways Election Results

Layne and Miller

Adam Layne and Tracee Miller

New board member Adam Layne appears to be a talented and idealistic young man. In 2011, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from George Washington University. Unfortunately, that youthful idealism was corrupted when he was enticed into the segrenomics business by TFA. [Professor Noliwe Rooks defines segrenomics as profiting off segregated poor communities by selling them education services.]

Layne’s report to the Missouri Ethics Commission (ID: A190713) shows him receiving only $155 in campaign contributions.  The first time I searched the Ethics Commission, I got a clue as to how with such meager experience and direct campaign support; Layne won a seat on the board. There was some sort of data base error and instead of displaying Adam Layne in the name field it put Public School Allies. The error will not repeat but the downloaded excel file displays it.

Public School Allies

An Error Showing Public School Allies in the Name Field Instead of Adam Layne

Chalkbeat reported that St. Louis is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model; which assures the privatization of schools. Public School Allies is a political action committee created by The City Fund staff. It supplies campaign financing under IRS Code 501 C4 rules making it a dark money fund.

City Fund lists The Opportunity Trust as their partner in St. Louis. Opportunity is a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

Marie Ceselski of the St. Louis 7th Ward reported,

“Last week, St. Louis City-based Civil PAC sent out a targeted, glossy, multi-color mailing supporting Adam Layne. …

“At the time of the mailing, Civil PAC had $37.21 in its bank account per MEC records. On Wednesday, March 24th, Civil PAC reported to MEC that it had received a $20,000 donation on March 19th. The donation was from Public School Allies ….”

The other new board member Tracee Miller also appears to be dedicated and idealistic. However, like her fellow new board member, she too had her youthful idealism corrupted by TFA. Through TFA she was introduced to a group of “education reform” companies profiting off segregated poor communities.

Miller’s present employer the Khan Academy’s main purpose is promoting kids learning at computers – euphemistically known as “personalized learning.” She also lists Blueprint Education as a current employer. Blueprint is another TFA related business working in the segrenomics sector. Miller shares her responsibilities for Blueprint in Massachusetts,

“Supervise elementary math intervention program; hire, train, observe, coach, and evaluate high-quality full-time math intervention specialists; write lesson plans and provide instructional support for elementary teachers in math; serve as a liaison between school teams and Blueprint Fellows/Blueprint Program; track student data and use data to drive instruction via lesson planning and coaching; maintain a positive and professional atmosphere with clear and high expectations.”

At Dever Elementary school in Boston, the Blueprint experience was such a disaster that 45 of the original 47 teachers quit. Jennifer Berkshire of the Have You Heard blog started getting messages from upset teachers that did not know where else to turn. They told her, “We’ve lost faith because there’s absolutely no accountability here.” and “Blueprint has no idea how to run a school, and it’s maddening that there isn’t more oversight from the state.

The amount of dark money that went into supporting Miller through independent expenditures is unclear, however, it is known that a dark money fund created by the newly established Joseph Wingate Folk Society put $143,000 dollars into the political action committee Voters Organized Through Education StL (aka Vote-StL PAC). Complaints have been filed with Missouri’s Attorney General over the way this secretive new fund operates. Besides this fund and Public School Allies there were other dark money funds operating around this election.

Miller received a modest direct contribution total of $8330 (ID: A190747). A $1,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is particularly note worthy. LEE was established in 2007 to elect TFA corps members into education leadership positions. Miller sent a $1000 back to LEE to purchase their campaign consulting services. Leadership for Educational Equity’s three member board is comprised of Emma Bloomberg (former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter), Michael Park (a Partner in McKinsey & Company’s New York office) and Arthur Rock (Silicon Valley billionaire who contributes heavily to promote charter schools and TFA).

TFA is an industry leader in the business of segrenomics. It has been remarkably successful everywhere except in the classroom. These temporary teachers with virtually no training nor experience are not ready to run a class. Letting TFA corps members teach is akin to letting a college graduate with five-week training fly commercial airliners or perform medical diagnosis. They have no business being granted a teaching license and students in their classrooms are being cheated. It is money from Billionaires that is making the TFA outrage possible.

St. Louis Elites Have Led a Century of Public Education Malfeasance

In 1904, St. Louis held an exposition on the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, the city was wealthy and boasted an amazing public education system. Particularly noteworthy were the schools designed and built by architect William Ittner. In an in-depth piece, Journalist Jeff Bryant observed, “More than a century ago, St. Louis embarked on a revolution in education that made the city’s schools the jewel of the Midwest and a model for urban school districts around the nation.

Unfortunately, segregation dominates the St. Louis story. Bryant cites the work of Richard Rothstein a Senior Fellow, emeritus, the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). “In an interview with a St. Louis reporter, Rothstein points to integrated neighborhoods in the city, such as Desoto-Carr, that were transformed into single race communities through federal housing programs.” This doomed many of the city’s schools to poor academic performance and anemic financial support plus the city itself stopped growing. The latest census shows that St. Louis has not grown in population since that 1904 exposition.

The schools in St. Louis receive 9% less revenue than the state of Missouri on average and next door in Ferguson they receive 13% less revenue. Rutgers University’s school finance wizard, Bruce Baker, put St. Louis schools into his “most screwed” category. The Normandy school system in Ferguson is where Michael Brown graduated just two months before being shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed. In her book Cutting School, Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks commented,

Racial and economic segregation, racially specific forms of educational instruction and testing, subpar facilities, undertrained teachers, and white parents determined to keep Blacks out of their more stable and functional school systems were all as much a part of Michael Brown’s life as they were for the students involved in the cases that formed the plaintiff group in Brown v. Board.”

In 2001, four of the seven seats on the school board were up for election. Mayor Francis Slay a Democrat did not want to run the schools directly but he put together a slate of candidates to dominate board. He made sure they could significantly outspend their opponents. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

This led to a sixteen year crisis in St. Louis schools. The first action by Slay’s team was to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. The River Front Times reported the team’s goal was to “make the district more efficient, save money and hopefully redirect those savings to boost academic performance somewhere down the road.

A&M selected Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Roberti commuted from his home in Connecticut using a $110,000 travel expense perk. His education advisor was former New York Superintendent, Rudy Crew, who was living on the West Coast and would not move to or spend much time in St. Louis.

Roberti closed more than 20 schools and “balanced” the school budgets by borrowing $49 million dollars from an existing desegregation program. The money had to be repaid. By the time it was recognized that the system’s $73 million dollar deficit had ballooned to $87.7 million, Roberti and A&M were long gone. The were consulting in the Detroit School System for the soon to be failed emergency manager Robert Bobb. In 2007, the state of Missouri took over St. Louis Public Schools citing its financial issues.

Democrat Slay responded by becoming a “cheerleader for charter schools” hoping that would turn the tide of people moving out of St. Louis. Slay’s effort to privatize public schools drew support from 110 miles away in Osage County where the billionaires Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield had made their new home. They also have a modest little 8300 square foot home in St. Louis but are registered to vote in Osage.

Libertarian Gospel Propagated in Missouri

Rex and Jeanne Sinqufield

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield grew up in a St. Louis Catholic orphanage. Unlike other extremely wealthy libertarians such as David and Charles Koch or the entire Walton family, Rex did not inherit his wealth. Three years after graduating from high school, he left a Catholic seminary to pursue a more secular path. He eventually earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. At the school, he met and married his wife and business partner Jeanne Cairns. Jeanne also earned an MBA, plus she was awarded a PhD in demography.

In 1977, Rex co-Authored Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation: The Past and the Future with Roger Ibbotson. The book is still considered a standard reference for those who seek valuable information on capital market returns. Ibbotson gained his PhD in finance from the University of Chicago.

In 1981, David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago and Sinquefield formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. His wife Jeanne supervised the DFA Trading Department and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2005. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

The Sinquefield’s lived in Santa Monica, California – which he called “Soviet Monica” – while running DFA. In 2005, Rex and Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years.

The Center for Media and Democracy produced “A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-me Institute.” They demonstrated his attitude about public education by quoting Rex:

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Rex Sinquefield’s primary policy interests are education, income tax reform and local control. He funds efforts for school vouchers, the elimination of teacher tenure and income tax reform. Ballotpedia stated, “Through the financial support of political committees and organizations, including Let Voters Decide, Teach Great and the Safer Missouri Citizen’s Coalition, Sinquefield has donated millions of dollars to support his policy priorities on the Missouri ballot.

Sinquefield Ballot Measures

Ballotpedia.org Image

Sinquefield wants Missouri to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes altogether, partially replacing the lost revenue with a broader sales tax that would be capped at 7 percent. He believes Sam Brownback was on the right path in Kansas and wants Missouri to follow.

Sinquefield is currently trying to privatize the St. Louis’s Lambert Airport as a way of eliminating the 1% earnings tax in the city. Rex started learning his anti-tax beliefs at his mother’s knee. When he was seven years old, she had to give him and his brother up to an orphanage after his father’s death. Alan Greenblatt reported,

In strained circumstances, his mother resented having to pay the 1 percent tax imposed on earnings of people who work or live in St. Louis. ‘I can’t afford this damned tax,’ he recalls her saying.

Two Observations

The great concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few individuals is destroying democracy. Rex’s anti-tax, anti-union and free market ideology might be a winning philosophy, but his ability to spend so liberally to sell his ideas makes anyone else’s opinion mute. Billionaires are warping the democratic process and driving us toward oligarchy. We need a significant wealth tax to end this kind of financial tyranny.

Privatizing public education is another attack on the foundations of democracy. Charter schools, vouchers and education technology are not solutions to poverty and under resourced schools. Today, there are some good things happening in Saint Louis Public Schools. Protect it from billionaires and their TFA staffed armies of “deformers.”

7 Responses to “Destroying Public Education in St. Louis”

  1. ciedie aech April 20, 2019 at 6:58 pm #

    “…like her fellow new board member, she too had her youthful idealism corrupted by TFA. Through TFA she was introduced to a group of ‘education reform’ companies profiting off segregated poor communities.” A new thought for me, that not only did TFA come along and promote the hiring of younger, cheaper and more biddable teachers into poorest schools to create reason to push out older and more resistant teachers, but the process has also been able to indoctrinate and destabilize — “corrupt” — previously embedded professional theory.

  2. Christine Langhoff April 21, 2019 at 4:08 pm #

    On Boston’s Dever elementary school –

    Although Boston’s public schools are disproportionately populated by kids in poverty and those who speak a languange other than English at home, the Dever was an outlier with even more extreme numbers of these demographics, leading to its very low test scores and a low ranking, so the state took it over.

    The very first thing the appointed principal did was eliminate bilingual instruction – apparently under the notion that the kids were to stupid to use two languages, when of course that would have strenghtened early literacy skills. It’s what happens when you bring in folks without pedagogic knowledge.

    The results were so disastrous that the state returned the school to the district – having worsened instruction for all the kids caught in the middle, and churning through all that staff.

    #FailedExperimentLetsMoveOn

    • Christine Langhoff April 21, 2019 at 4:09 pm #

      *too stupid

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