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A Scholarly Masterpiece: William Frantz Public School

19 May

By Thomas Ultican 4/18/2021

My wonderful friend from New Orleans, Mercedes Schneider, said of this meticulously researched book, “Intense, captivating, and horrible in its reality, William Frantz Public School is a story overdue for the telling – a must read for those seeking to understand New Orleans’ history and the lingering impact of White racial superiority upon the Black community and city infrastructure.” I concur. It is a captivating read.

At its 1938 founding, speakers proclaimed the new William Frantz Public School (WFPS) a “protection for democracy” and a “fortification against encroachment of those terrible ‘isms.’” (WFPS page 3)

However, racism did not just encroach; it dominated. WFPS was built to be a White students only school. Sitting on the border between the all white Florida neighborhood and the all Black Desire neighborhood, WFPS only served the White families. Worse still; the authors report,

“The Orleans Parish School Board built no schools between 1941 and 1951. As a result, existing neighborhood schools throughout the city faced overcrowding. The problem was particularly acute in Desire. Due to the severe overcrowding, many Black children attended school for only a fraction of the time as their White peers living in the Florida neighborhood.” (WFPS 9)

With the Brown versus the Board of education decision in 1954, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation as a school enrollment policy unconstitutional. Louisiana segregationists quickly coalesced to become leaders of their state’s “massive resistance” movement to oppose integration.

In 1955, a wealthy lawyer named Leander Perez and a state senator named William Rainich established the White Citizens’ Council in Louisiana. By that fall, the white supremacist organization had chapters in half of the state’s parishes and a statewide membership of 100,000. The New Orleans chapter would eventually grow to over 50,000 members. (WFPS 21)

As the White Citizens’ Council started calling for the public schools to be closed rather than integrated, a group named Save Our Schools (SOS) formed to oppose closing schools. The book notes, “Although ardent in their work, many perceived SOS as elite and ‘liberals allied with the Urban League, the Council of Jewish Women, [and] the league of Women Voters.’” (WFPS 24) Many SOS members sent their own children to all white public schools and though disagreeing about the Brown decision, they all agreed it was settled law.

The authors document political strong-arming, horrific acts of cruelty and the hysterical fear with which white racists fought to stop school integration. Their greatest horror was realized when one 6-years-old girl named Ruby Bridges was escorted into WFPS on November 14, 1960.  

The Times-Picayune ran an editorial with the headline “Dreadful Day Comes at Last” and the White Citizens’ Council started pressuring White parents to pull their children out of WFPS. Protestors surrounded the school, chanted racist slogans and intimidated anyone approaching the school. (WFPS 35)

In an attempt to keep some of the White children in WFPS, President Mary Sand and others from SOS organized car pools to deliver students to the front of the school so they would not be forced to go through the heckling crowd. “Like the families of the students they transported to WFPS, SOS drivers received crude and threatening telephone calls, up to 200 per day, from people who told the women they would ‘cut your cunt out and stuff it down your throat.’” (WFPS 59-60)

As a result of the intimidation tactics, New Orleans was able to defy court orders and schools remained virtually segregated. The following year:

“Black citizens started an unofficial boycott of White-owned department stores and threatened to cancel the Zulu parade, a traditional and popular Black parade, during the upcoming Mardi Bras. Rumors circulated that the entire Mardi Gras celebration would be canceled … By mid-December, city business leaders along with the Times-Picayune finally called for the end of the protests, intimidation, and vandalism.” (WFPS 69)

As the decade of the 90s opened the neighborhood around WFPS was in trouble. “Prostitutes worked the streets outside some schools, and an early 1990s poll of Black students from the Desire projects located near WFPS found 40% of Black students had seen a dead body and 72% had seen weapons being used.” (WFPS 121)

Seventy-five thousand Black children and 19,000 White children constituted Orleans Parish school district in the early 1990s with extreme poverty gripping the Black community. (WFPS 117)

By 1993, there were no White students attending WFPS. (WFPS 111)

In 1997, the state established its test based accountability scheme. (WFPS 128)

In 1998, WFPS was judged academically unacceptable. (WFPS 132)

In 2005, WFPS was put on the National Register of Historic Places. (WFPS 155)

In 2013, like the rest of the post Katrina schools in New Orleans, WFPS became a charter school. (WFPS 258)

Three white women who are not from New Orleans – Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White, and Martha Graham Viator – say they considered not writing this book because of that. It is our great good fortune that they did. Their scholarly and extremely readable effort shines some much needed light on the horrible racism and mistreatment the Black citizens of New Orleans.

Why Tax Billionaires Out of Existence

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2021

Twenty years of studying education policy, politics and practices has been awakening. Seeing billionaires inflict their often misguided and unpopular beliefs on our nation’s public schools has made it clear how undemocratic and dangerous extreme wealth is. They have established voucher programs routinely sending taxpayer money to religious schools even though these programs have lost decisively whenever submitted to voters. In her book Slaying Goliath, Diane Ravitch labeled these 0.1% of Americans as disrupters. She asked and answered the question “what do disrupters want?” They want:

  • Inexperienced teachers with little or no training from organizations like Teach For America.
  • To replace teachers with machine teaching (“blended learning” – “personalized learning”).
  • To move fast and break things including school systems, historic schools and communities.
  • To eliminate local democratic control over schools.
  • To eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rights.
  • To eliminate teacher defined benefit pensions.
  • To eliminate teachers unions.
  • To evaluate teachers and schools with standardized test scores.
  • To lower taxes and reduce spending on education.

Controlling the Political Process

In 2018, the Network for Public Education (NPE) produced a masterful report detailing how school board elections are being stolen from local residents. In the introduction to Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools,” the authors state, “This report provides some insight into how the very wealthy insert themselves into local elections through direct contributions, Independent Expenditure Committees and even non-profit organizations.”

The Billionaires Cited in “Hijacked by Billionaires”

In my post-election analysis of three elections, School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” I show that billionaires Alice Walton of Bentonville, Arkasas, Michael Bloomberg of New York, New York and Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school board races in Oakland, California and Indianapolis, Indiana.

In that same election, the spending in Los Angeles and for California state offices was enormous. Through a combination of direct contributions and political action committees, seven billionaires put more than $14,000,000 into the 2020 election. The bulk of it went into the Los Angeles school board election with over $1,000,000 going to state assembly and senate races plus more than $1,000,000 went into five county board of education elections.

The Path of Billionaire Spending in California’s 2020 General Election

Similar election spending went on in New Orleans, Camden and many other jurisdictions mainly through Public School Allies the political arm of the City Fund founded by billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings.

In 2014, SFGATE reported, “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who suggests that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education, says they should be replaced by privately held corporations.” Hastings said out loud a belief held among many of his anti-democracy peers.

Creating an Alternate Teacher Training Path

In their effort to privatize public education, billionaires have created alternate paths for teacher credentialing and professional development.

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp is the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her “temp teachers” who have no intention of staying in the classroom. In 2011, the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Many corporate donors also sent TFA $100,000 to $999,000: “Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

These unqualified “temp teachers” have not studied teaching and they have no experience. A new teacher coming through a traditional program has taken many education courses and spent a year working with a master teacher as a supervised student teacher. TFA teachers typically have no education courses in college and get just five-weeks of classroom training in the summer.

TNTP is one of several organizations that only exist because billionaires have financed them. Wendy Kopp founded TNTP (originally called The New Teachers Project) in 1997. She assigned Michelle Rhee, who had completed a two year TFA tour, to lead it. Along with TNTP and TFA there are also the Broad Superintendents Academy and the fake school for professional educators called Relay Graduate School instilling the billionaire inspired privatization mindset.

Selling Technology and School Choice

With their enormous wealth, billionaires have poured more than $200,000,000 into organizations like New School Venture Fund to sell edtech and school choice; also funding think tanks (CREDO and CRPE) to provide a veneer of academic credibility.

To advance these sales they have created their own education media empire with The Education Post and The-74 as their flagships. Bill Gates has spent lavishly on publications like EdWeek turning them from a teacher resource into an edtech promoting outlet.

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” —Plutarch (c. 46–120 ce)

In 2017, Bill Moyers wrote,

“The top 1 percent owns more than 30 percent of America’s wealth. The poorest half owns just 2.5 percent. Wall Street bonuses alone are twice the amount of all the combined earnings of minimum-wage workers in this country. We are grotesquely, bizarrely, grossly unequal — unequal in cash, health care, schooling and access to clean air and water. Unequal in our access to power. And we are becoming more unequal by the year: Since Ronald Reagan became president, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has doubled.”

As Louis Brandeis famously stated, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

School Choice and White Supremacy like Two Peas in a Pod

9 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/9/2020

In Overturning Brown, Steve Suitts provides overwhelming evidence for the segregationist legacy of “school choice.” He shows that “Brown v Board” has been effectively gutted and “choice proved to be the white supremacists’ most potent strategy to defeat it. In the 21st century, that same strategy is being wielded to maintain segregation while destroying the separation of church and state.

(Note: In this article references to “Overturning Brown” given as Suitts page#)

Defeating Brown

On May 17 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” He added it is “inherently unequal” and plaintiffs were “deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”

A large portion of the United States was not intensely affected by the ruling but in the Deep South, the response was hostility and a determination to fight. Southern politicians organized a “massive resistance” movement. In Jackson Mississippi, the editor of the Jackson Daily news declared, “This is a fight for white supremacy” (Suitts 31).

Governors and state legislators established commissions or committees “to develop options for preserving segregation.” (Suitts 18)

Wallace and Connor

People like Mississippi Senator James Eastland, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor and Alabama Governor George Wallace are well remembered for their egregious support of “white supremacy.”

Eastland who served in the US Senate for 30-years stated, “I have no prejudice in my heart, but the white race is the superior race and the Negro race an inferior race and the races must be kept separate by law.”

Bull Connor employed Birmingham firemen and policemen using water hoses and police dogs against African-American demonstrators. It was after his arrest during those demonstrations that Martin Luther King wrote his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He stated in the missive, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

In 1958, John Patterson, bested George Wallace for Governor of Alabama. Patterson, a proven segregationist and former Alabama attorney general, had attempted to put the NAACP out of business through a series of harassing lawsuits. The loss prompted Wallace to vow, “No other son-of-a-bitch will ever out-nigger me again.” (Suitts 26)

In 1963, Wallace won the Alabama Governor’s office. In his inaugural address, he attacked governmental overreach in Washington DC and “the illegal 14th amendment.” That is the amendment to the constitution that guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law.” It was the central argument under-girding the Supreme Court’s “Brown” decision. In the address written by soon to be Klan leader Asa Carter (Suitts 26), Wallace famously called for “segregation now … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever.”

These infamous segregationists were not decisive in stopping what they called the “forced mixing” of students in school. It was the committees and commissions with their schemes for school choice leading to “virtual segregation” that effectively frustrated “Brown”.

Soon after the “Brown” decision, Alabama’s Boutwell Committee reported their plan which aimed for “virtual segregation.” The report decried “forced integration” claiming it would lead to “violence, disorder, and tension for the state and its children.” (Suitts 20)

The primary intellectual force behind the plan was a corporate attorney in Birmingham, Forney Johnston. He was a staunch segregationist who represented Alabama’s Big Mules:” coal, railroads, wealthy industrialists and investors. (Suitts 19)

The Boutwell plan posited four basic strategies for stopping compulsory “mixing” of races in schools. The key to the plan was school choice and not mentioning race as a reason for not admitting a student. The four main points:

  • Eliminate all prohibitions against the operation of mixed schools.
  • Remove from the state constitution any suggestion that there is a right of education and an obligation of the state to fund public school children. The state is to promote education in a manner and extent consistent with available resources, and the willingness and ability of the individual students.
  • Give local school officials the power to refuse admission to individuals or groups whose scholastic deficiencies would compel undue lowering of school standards.
  • Provide vouchers and other tax funds for both black and white children. (Suitts 21)

The plan called for a school choice system that enabled children “to attend all-White schools, all-Black schools, or desegregated schools in a state-financed system of public and private schools.” They called it the “Freedom of Choice Plan.”

The editor of the Montgomery Adviser called it “manicured Kluxism.” The plan was ratified by 61% of Alabama voters in 1956. (Suitts 22)

Southern segregationists often “condemned integration as the work of communists.” (Suitts 32) Adopting the language of University of Chicago libertarian economist Milton Friedman, they began denouncing the “monopoly of government schools” calling it “socialism in its purest form.” (Suitts 59)

By 1965, most voucher programs adopted in Southern states had been declared unconstitutional including indirect expenditures such as tax credits. (Suitts 49) Sill it is estimated that by the 1980s in the eleven states of the former Confederacy as much as 75% of private school white students were virtually segregated. (Suitts 64)

Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks noted in Cutting School that using the federal government’s economic power finally broke the back of state-sanctioned segregation in the South. Rooks shared, “By 1973, almost 90 percent of southern schoolchildren attended integrated schools.”

Re-segregating America’s Schools

When nominating Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Republican Party platform stated its opposition to busing for desegregation, support of private school tuition tax credits and vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools. It was the first time a major political party had called for vouchers.

In his acceptance speech, President Regan asserted, “We must continue the advance by supporting discipline in our schools, vouchers that give parents freedom of choice; and we must give back to our children their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms.” (Suitts 72)

Steve Suitts observed:

“…, the southern states’ first plan for defeating court-ordered desegregation, the one that Johnston and Boutwell devised in 1954 in Alabama, is exactly what today’s advocates and supporters of vouchers seek to implement: no compulsory ‘race-mixing’ in schools and no mention of any intent to discriminate. What could be more American than the freedom of parents to choose their children’s school – private or public – with public financial support? (Suitts 91)

Segregation by caste and segregation by class are the two common types of segregation. Caste segregation is by skin tone and class segregation is by economics.

With class segregation, it is perfectly acceptable for a few Black and Brown students to be in a school with a majority of White students if their parents hold the requisite wealth. Both types of segregation are harmful to all students.

The 1975 Supreme Court decision, Milliken versus Bradley, struck down inter-district remedies to segregation. Professor Jack Schneider of the University of Massachusetts claims this decision was the “beginning of the end of school desegregation.” He stated, “In determining that school districts could not be compelled to integrate students across their borders, Milliken dramatically narrowed the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board case.”

In his Milliken dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated, “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”

Public School Enrollment by Race Graphic

Brookings Chart Shows Growing Pluralism in American Schools

A paper from the Brookings Institute says, “School districts and metro areas that were released from court-ordered desegregation plans during the 1990s and 2000s showed a marked trend towards greater segregation, especially in the South.”

On the subject of desegregation trends, a Civil Right Project report from UCLA added,

“These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.” (Emphasis Added)

In the 2002 Supreme Court ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the court ruled that publicly funded vouchers could be used to send children to religious schools providing that certain constitutional prerequisites were met. The divided court’s 5-4 decision allowed for taxpayers being forced by state law to send their dollars to religious schools.

In the Espinosa decision handed down this year, the Supreme Court again split 5-4 along what looks more like political lines than lines of legal judgment. Their decision means that if a state gives money to any private schools it cannot refuse money to religious schools.

Last week leaders of the Catholic Church in America penned an opinion piece championing a federal bailout. Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Gómez called for help with their fiscal problems. They stated,

“The most effective and immediate way to accomplish this is to fund scholarship assistance this summer to families who are economically disadvantaged and need such support. The scholarships would be used at Catholic or other non-government elementary or secondary schools. This approach would be similar to providing Pell grants that can be used at any institution of higher education, including religious institutions.”

In her fascinating book The Good News Club, Katherine Stewart quotes President Ulysses S. Grant’s diametrically opposite advice from that of the Catholic Church leaders. He said in 1876,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards, I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Last fall, the Urban Institute studied where school segregation occurs. They concluded, “Holding school size constant, private and charter schools tend to have higher average contributions to segregation than traditional public schools.”

In the 1990s, charter schools first appeared. Since then, they have been significantly contributing to the re-segregation of America’s K-12 schools. A Brookings Institute study of segregation in schools reported,

“Charter schools are more segregated than TPS [traditional public school] at national, state, and metro levels. Black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

The growth of both charter schools and private schools has engendered growing segregation among America’s school children. This trend portends a divided inefficient society.

Professors Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena along with many other sociologists and educators have conducted research identifying the clear benefit of and need for school integration. They state, “New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.”

A research brief by Professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley of Virginia Commonwealth University states,

“What is clear, however, is that racially diverse schools are not linked to negative academic outcomes for white students. And in a number of subjects, like math and science, diverse educational settings are consistently linked to higher test scores for whites. One analysis of 59 social science articles related to school composition effects on mathematics outcomes found, for instance, that math out-comes were higher at every grade level for students from all racial and SES backgrounds who attended racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.”

Conclusions

Steve Suitts book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement is strongly recommended for anyone interested in American education history or school policy.

To reverse the re-segregation of schools in America, stopping public school privatization is necessary.

The separation of church and state must be reestablished.

Infamous John Deasy Resigned under Suspicious Circumstances Again

29 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/29/2020

April 21, the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) board accepted John Deasy’s letter of resignation effective June 15, 2020. His quitting mid-contract marked the third straight superintendent position he ended in a similar fashion. All three time, the resignation came with ethical charges and legal suspicions.

Stockton, California, was a gold rush town established in 1849. Situated 75 miles down the San Joaquin River from the Golden Gate Bridge at the north end of the San Joaquin valley, it is the farthest inland deep water port in California. Several waterfront scenes for the movie “On the Waterfront” were shot there.

Brando on the Waterfront

Brando “On the Waterfront” in Stockton 1954

Stockton is a small city of about 315,000 people and one of America’s most diverse. The demographic makeup is 42.1% Hispanic, 21.6% Asian, 20.8% White and 11.8 % Black. The city has a more than a 20% poverty rate; however, SUSD reports that 82% of their students live in poverty. The district enrolls 40,000 students into 54 schools.

Why Deasy resigned is not clear. Upon his resignation the 209 Times reported,

“Controversial superintendent John Deasy is out of Stockton Unified School District effective June 15th after agreeing to resign tonight amidst an investigation sources tell us into his actions and possible conflict of interests regarding a contract between board trustee Lange Luntao and the organization he is director of on behalf of Mayor Michael Tubbs, Reinvent Stockton Foundation.”

Bob Highfill of Record Net observed that there has been a 4-3 split on the school board for some time, which was reflected in the 4-3 decision to accept Deasy’s resignation. Board member Scot McBrian said that until this year he had been happy with Deasy’s work.

However, recently Deasy pushed for a $2 million waiver of development fees for a low-income housing project within the district. The reduction in fees to the school district was part of a project being pushed by Stockton Mayor Tubbs. When he did not get the required votes, an angered Deasy reworded the proposal and submitted it again. It was voted down again 4-3.

McBrian also mentioned problematic issues with the unions, the addition of six charter schools and a simultaneous roll-out of English and math curricula objected to by a number of teachers. Controversies surrounding the superintendent were mounting at the time of his resignation.

A 209 Times investigative article delved into the push to privatize public schools in Stockton and the three board member allies Deasy had helping him:

    1. “SUSD Trustee AngelAnne Flores is a current employee of Aspire Charter Schools in Stockton, and is part of a public alliance and voting block along with Lange Luntao and Candelaria Vargas. 
    2. “Lange Luntao is not only the best friend of Mayor Michael Tubbs …, but also simultaneously an SUSD Trustee and the Executive Director of Reinvent Stockton Foundation which is also the “Stockton Schools Initiative” and “Stockton Scholarship”. The Reinvent Stockton Foundation also has a contract with SUSD to farm data of students as well as promote their “stockton scholarships” scheme. 
    3. “Candelaria Vargas, is married to Max Vargas who is the personal assistant for Mayor Tubbs who endorsed and pushed for all three of these Trustees to be elected.

“All three of these SUSD Trustees are not only part of the “Reinvent” network, but are also members of an organization called School Board Partners that are seeking to push a Wall Street inspired “Portfolio” model of big corporate charter schools under the guise of “reform”, in “urban” cities across America including Stockton.”

In 2018, when billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings put up $100 million each to found The City Fund, other organizations they support were repurposed. Education Cities was divided into two new school choice promoting organizations, the above mentioned School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners.

DoWopDonDon Shalvey (twitter handle @doWopDon), who joined with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to found Aspire Charter Schools in 1998, has been working to enhance charter school penetration in Stockton. Today, Aspire is one of three charter schools looking to expand in Stockton. Shalvey left his post as the Gates Foundation Deputy Director of Education Programs, to lead the A+ non-profit organization in Stockton supporting Charter School growth.

As part of their investigation, the 209 Times reviewed and published emails between Shalvey, Deasy and others. They concluded, “What was hidden from the SUSD Board Members was the intimate relationship and secret communications the Superintendent had with Mr. Shalvey and his associates, which led to the fast-tracking of 6 Charter School petitions in SUSD, which were all amazingly approved via Consent Agenda – eliminating any discussion or input from the public.”

Deasy and Tubbs

John Deasy and the Mayor Providing Local Political Support

Mayor Michael Tubbs, a youthful African-American politician, was extremely angered by Deasy’s departure and blamed the four member faction that opposes his personal agenda. Tubbs stated,

“Given the gravity of the circumstances, there should be a serious discussion about whether Mendez and McBrian should be recalled, which I would be in favor of. I’ve heard from community members that are interested in considering a recall and I would be in 100% in favor of that. Our kids deserve nothing less than the best.”

There is a recall the school board effort underway in Stockton.

The obvious question is does Mayor Tubbs realize he has adopted the education agenda of US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the very conservative Walton Family Foundation and the ultra-conservative libertarian mogul Charles Koch? Does Tubbs understand that he has embraced education policies Cornell’s Professor of African-American studies, Noliwe Rooks, derisively labels “segrenomics”; the profiting from selling education to segregated poor communities?

A Legacy of Controversy and Ethical Issues

In 2004, reporter Juliet McShannon writing for the Lookout News in Santa Monica, California noted, “Controversy seems to follow John Deasy.” At the time he had been leading Santa Monica Unified School district for almost three years.

Deasy came to Santa Monica after a five year stint as Superintendent of Coventry School District in Rhode Island. At the relatively small district of 6000 students, Deasy obtained one of the first small school development grants given out by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He also made national news when he launched a “pay for performance” initiative with Coventry teachers.

Standardized testing became his main metric for evaluating teachers, and he terminated the contracts of a number of teachers who did not meet his expectations.

In April 2001, Deasy abruptly resigned from Coventry effective June 1 to take the superintendent’s job in Santa Monica. He left behind financial problems and a small district that did not have time to find a new leader for the 2001-02 school year.

In 2006, Deasy graduated from Eli Broad’s superintendent’s training academy, which trains its candidates in a market-based data driven methodology. Billionaire Eli Broad is well known for his determination to privatize public education.

Deasy left Santa Monica to become superintendent of the very large Prince George’s County Schools in Maryland, the largest majority African-American county in the United States. This would be the first of three straight superintendents’ positions he would resign under suspicious circumstances.

When he arrived in Maryland, Deasy immediately started promoting charter schools and a teacher “pay for performance” agenda.

There was buzz in the area. Baltimore had Andres Alonzo firing teachers and closing schools and just a few miles the other way Michelle Rhee was promising to “fix” Washington DC’s schools by firing teachers and principals. These three superintendents were given the undeserved label “reformers.” It has become clear that they were just “disrupters.”

After two years on the job in Maryland, Deasy resigned.

That October 2008, the Baltimore Sun’s Liz Bowie speculated, “John Deasy is denying there’s any connection, but many people in the education community will continue to wonder whether the Prince George’s County superintendent would be moving on if there hadn’t been a dust-up in the past several weeks over how he got his doctoral degree.”

Bowie reported that “Deasy had been awarded a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Lousville in 2004 although he had only completed nine credits, or about a semester, there.” She also noted that Deasy had given his advisor, Robert Felner, a $125,000 contract from Santa Monica Unified and that Felner’s group received a total $375,000.

On September 29, 2008, a press release stated “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today that Dr. John E. Deasy has been named deputy director of its education division within its United States Program.”

Two years later, with a big push from Eli Broad and the LA Mayor he politically supported, Antonio Villaraigosa, Deasy was hired as Deputy Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In January, 2011, he was named Superintendent.

At the time, other billionaire groups were also spending to influence the district. The LA-based Wasserman Foundation gave a $4.4 million grant, another $1.2 million came from the Walton Family Foundation, and smaller grants came from the Ford and Hewlett foundations to pay the salaries of more than a dozen key senior staffers in the district.

The staffers were working to advance the market-based data driven school reform agenda, charter schools, testing and competition.

Controversy came to LAUSD soon after Deasy took charge. When he walked into a classroom at Washington Preparatory High School being led by substitute teacher Patrena Shankling, he got into a dispute with her over the quality of the lesson plan and fired her on the spot. When a school teacher was implicated in an ugly sex scandal at Miramonte Elementary school, Deasy removed the entire staff from janitor to principal completely ignoring due process but gaining tough-guy headlines.

Deasy pushed charter school expansion and implementation of education technology. Two technology agendas appear to have led to his demise as Superintendent. He rolled out a completely incompetent student digital data system. It failed at scheduling students for classes, recording attendance and inputting grades; it was a disaster. But his I-pad fiasco was worse because it brought legal charges and an investigation by the FBI.

There were many things wrong with the $1.3 billion plan to put I-pads in the hands of every student but the suspicion that the bidding had been rigged put Deasy in legal jeopardy. Emails showed that he had been in negotiations with Apple and curriculum provider Pearson before any competitive bidding process started.

Interim Superintendent Ramon Corzine noted the bidding process had been plagued by “too many innuendoes [and] rumors.”

Deasy resigned before the legal investigation by the FBI and LA County District attorney got under way. This time the Broad Academy stepped in to hire him as “superintendent-in-residence.” That was in 2015.

In 2018, Deasy was off to be Superintendent in Stockton, resigning this year with ethical and legal malfeasance charges mounting.

Don’t Sacrifice Teachers and Students to a Neoliberal God

8 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/8/2020

The US is not ready to open schools. We blew it. Let’s face reality squarely and quit making outcomes in our country even worse.

New York’s Michael Flanagan Ed. D. wrote,

“The pressure to reopen schools, and return to work, will continue to intensify, no matter how many new cases of Covid-19 there are each day, and the numbers are growing. Businesses, politicians and even health professionals are in the process of trying to convince us that sending our kids back to school will be safe.”

As if to prove Flanagan’s claim, Harvard’s “Education Next” published a Frederick Hess interview with Jeb Bush where he repeatedly emphasized,

“First and foremost, schools have to open with the health and safety of our students and teachers being paramount. But they have to open, or we will have huge economic, health, and social challenges.”

Not to be outdone by “low energy Jeb”, the President of the United States employed his normal elegance when tweeting,

“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available.”

Republican Congressmen, Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, have introduced the Reopen Our Schools Act. Congressman Banks declared,

“Reopening our schools is the lynchpin to reopening our economy. Many parents rely on their kids going to school so they can go to work. To get our society up and running again, we need our children back in school.”

The Economist claims schools should be the first economic institutions to reopen and added,

“Those who work at home are less productive if distracted by loud wails and the eerie silence that portends jam being spread on the sofa. Those who work outside the home cannot do so unless someone minds their offspring.”

These neoliberal forces are promoting the idea that teachers and children must be thrust into an unsafe environment so the world’s economic engines can continue providing decent return on investment. Make no mistake, face to face teaching during this pandemic without proper conditions is fraught with danger.

Political leaders know that so they are racing to pass legislation indemnifying schools from legal liability.  In California, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and his coauthor State Senator Susan Rubio, D-LA, introduced AB1384 to shield schools. O’Donnell made this ludicrous statement,

“We need to do everything we can to protect the students, and the schools. My bill will indemnify school districts as long as they follow all the state and local health directives. We still want school districts to use best practices when it comes to student safety.”

In May, Mitch McConnell announced that the US Senate was taking up legislation to protect schools from lawsuits. He stated, “Can you image the nightmare that could unfold this fall when K-12 kids are still at home, when colleges and universities are still not open?”

When it comes to political malfeasance, Florida is determined not to be outdone. Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education, is the former Speaker of the House and a charter school owner.  On Monday, he released an order stating, “Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students …”

The forced school reopening amounts to a conscription putting teachers, students and families at risk. Florida trails only New York and California in confirmed Covid-19 cases and Miami-Dade County is a national leader in cases. At this time, Covid-19 cases in the state are spiking to new record levels.

Obviously, Commissioner Corcoran’s order ignores health and safety. It is driven solely by a neoliberal ideology valuing commercial enterprise above human life.

Could-a Should-a Would-a

If the United States had acted decisively in late February and shut down businesses, instituted robust testing, contact tracing and social distancing, we probably could safely open schools now. It is also likely that more than 120,000 victims of the virus would be alive today.

Even in March when it became clear to everyone but a fringe element that we had a huge problem, a united response led by the federal government would have put us in position to reopen in-school education.

Instead of a united effort to effectively meet the Sars-CoV-2 crisis, we experienced politicization and demagoguery.

By the end of March, California had an effective shutdown in place with almost universal cooperation. Then ultra-conservative media started agitating against the shut down.

Purported healthcare professionals like neurosurgeon, Russell Blaylock, started discouraging mask wearing as did the discredited Irish scientist Delores Cahill.

In late April, The Conservative Daily Post reported on claims by two Bakersfield, California emergency room doctors, Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi. These doctors from Accelerated Urgent Care claimed that the nationwide lockdown policies are not an appropriate reaction to the “China-originated novel coronavirus” and were causing other healthcare problems to be ignored.

Kristi Noem, the Republican Governor of South Dakota, publically opposed CDC health guidelines saying, “I believe in our freedoms.” This happened just days after the President of the United States took to twitter and attacked the Democratic governors of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, calling for their states to be liberated.

Trump Liberate tweet

Attack on Governor Gretchen Whitmer for Implementing CDC Guidelines in her State

This constant degrading of the public response to Covid-19 led to more people joining in protest against state policies. Soon conservative groups were demanding that schools be reopened immediately.

LA Times Open Schools Gaphic

This Los Angeles Times Picture was taken in Orange County May 9, 2020

Because our response to the novel coronavirus was undermined, states do not meet the safety criteria for opening schools.

The Whitehouse has created an opening America website with proposed state or regional gating criteria.  They include:

“Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period AND Downward trajectory of covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period”

“Ability to quickly set up safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals and trace contacts of COVID+ results”

“Ensure sentinel surveillance sites are screening for asymptomatic cases and contacts for COVID+ results are traced (sites operate at locations that serve older individuals, lower-income Americans, racial minorities, and Native Americans)”

“Ability to quickly and independently supply sufficient Personal Protective Equipment and critical medical equipment to handle dramatic surge in need”

America’s schools do not meet these “gating criteria.” Covid-19 infections in the United States are accelerating, so out of control that testing with contact tracing is not possible. The following Johns Hopkins graphic makes it clear that this situation will not ameliorate quickly.

Johns Hopkins World Comparison

The Johns Hopkins Graph is Normalized to Daily Cases per Million

Teachers and Students Will Not Be Safe

Neil Demause of Fairness & Accuracy Reporting wrote on July 3rd about opening businesses. He shared,

“Infectious disease experts say that offices can be the perfect petri dishes for viral spread, involving gatherings of a large number of people, indoors, for a long time, with recirculated air. As one study (Business Insider4/28/20) of a coronavirus outbreak at a Seoul call center showed, the virus can quickly spread across an entire floor, especially in a modern open-plan office.”

It is easy to extrapolate the Korean call center to the local 3rd grade classroom.

Dartmouth Immunologist Erin Bromage states, “We know that at least 44% of all infections–and the majority of community-acquired transmissions–occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people).” Professor Bromage also notes, “Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures.”

Pennsylvania educator Steven Singer observed, “And even if young people are mostly asymptomatic, chances are good they’ll spread this thing to the rest of us.” The paper Steven cited also states, “Although  clinical  manifestations  of  children’s  COVID-19  cases  were generally less severe than those of adults’ patients, young children, particularly infants, were vulnerable to infection.”

On Monday, The Daily Mail reported, “As many as half of coronavirus patients with NO symptoms may silently suffer ‘disturbing’ lung damage that leaves them oxygen-deprived without knowing it, study finds.”

Education professionals have been publishing concerns recently.

Rutgers University’s Mark Weber Ed. D. posted “How Schools Work: A Practical Guide for Policymakers During a Pandemic.” His list is not exhaustive but it gives the laymen an idea of the practicalities involved with doing school. It includes:

“The typical American school cannot accommodate social distancing of their student population for the duration of the school day.”

“Children, especially young children, cannot be expected to stay six feet away from everyone else during an entire school day.”

“Children cannot be expected to wear masks of any kind for the duration of a school day.”

The author and special education expert, Nancy Bailey, recently posted, 22 Reasons Why Schools Should NOT Reopen in the Fall.Among the 22 were:

“2. How Will the Flu and Covid-19 Tango?… Last January, before Covid-19 became well known, 27 children had died of the flu. What will the dance of these two illnesses look like in the fall?”

“8. Cost for Safety: The Council of State Chief School Officers estimate that schools will need $245 billion to safely reopen.”

“18. School Restrooms: … School bathroom conditions have always been a source of concern.”

“19. Teacher Qualifications: There are not enough teachers for smaller classes for social distancing. Experienced older teachers may not want to get sick. Will schools hire a glut of teachers without qualifications?”

Oakland, California high school history teacher and union organizer, Harley Litzelman, published “Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus.”  He addressed among other issues, the likely large loss of teachers to the ill-fated open-schools-on-campus-now policy. Litzelman shared,

“A USA TODAY/Ipsos poll found that one in five teachers say they are unlikely to return to campus next year, signaling a tsunami of resignations. Chicago middle school teacher Belinda Mckinney-Childrey told ChalkBeat that “I can’t chance my health to go back. I love my job, I love what I do, but when push comes to shove, I think the majority of us will be like ‘I think we’re going to retire.’” Also, this is personal; my fiancée has serious asthma. She’s the best middle school English teacher I know, but she won’t teach next year if she’s forced to return to campus.”

Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, participated in a televised interview about her objection to Governor Baker’s plans to reopen schools. She was asked about the American Association of Pediatrics call for schools to open “as soon as possible.” Aren’t they aligned with Governor Baker’s position? Najimy pointed out, “The AAP does not have practical experience in school and … they are not absolutists.”

Steven Singer posted, “Do NOT Play Russian Roulette with Our Lives – No In-Person Schooling During a Pandemic.” In the article, Steven declares, “Reopening schools to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic is tantamount to Russian Roulette with the lives of students, teachers and families.”

On Monday, education writer, Jenifer Berkshire, tweeted, “The school reopening fight just gets crazier – and more politically confusing. In growing # of states GOP now saying ‘open the schools or else’”

Community leaders, religious leaders and schools will need to work together for a solution to child care. There are many unused recreation centers, school facilities, libraries and church facilities available. Forcing children and teachers into an unsafe situation is not the only way to solve the child care dilemma.

In order to reopen schools safely, there are two non-negotiable imperatives. First, the rampaging virus must be brought under control through testing and robust contact tracing. Second, the US Senate must send schools $245 billion dollars to pay for the social distancing logistics, supplies, staff and transportation enhancements required.

Since there is no way to meet the first requirement and it is unlikely the Republican led Senate will meet the second. Let us quit pretending and concentrate our efforts on creating enhanced distance learning this fall.

Fraud at Sweetwater; Maybe but Unlikely

1 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/1/2020

For the past week, local San Diego TV and Print media have been filled with damning headlines like the NBC affiliate’s, Audit of Sweetwater Union High School District Finds Evidence of Fraud” or the online publication Voice of San Diego’s “Audit Finds Sweetwater Officials Deliberately Manipulated Finances.” Every local news outlet published the story with some version of these headlines.

On Monday June 23, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) presented the results of its long awaited audit of Sweetwater Union High School District’s (SUHSD) finances. The report authors state,

“Based on the findings in this report, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that fraud, misappropriation of funds and/or assets, or other illegal fiscal practices may have occurred in the specific areas reviewed.”

How Did SUHSD Arrive Here?

For Sweetwater, this is really a continuation of the course set by corrupt leadership a decade earlier. It is also emblematic of the financial stress all California school districts are facing. Kristen Taketa reporting for the San Diego Union noted in November 2018:

At least 10 districts in the county are projecting that they will not be able to meet their financial commitments next school year, including Chula Vista Elementary, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Mountain Empire Unified, Oceanside Unified, San Diego Unified, San Marcos Unified, San Ysidro, Sweetwater and Vista Unified. More districts won’t be able to meet their financial commitments after next year.

Three factors are mainly responsible for these growing financial stresses. The state has mandated a more than doubling of teacher retirement payments from 8.1% to 18.4% without providing extra assets. Special education costs have been soaring and enrollment has been shrinking due to an increase in state funded privately operated schools.

enrollment-graphs

The Drop in Attendance Accounts for a $20 Million Drop in Revenue

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. The fifth member of the five person board, John McCann left the board to run for a seat on the Chula Vista city council.

Cartmill and Lopez pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting gifts over the state limit. Quinones, Ricasa and Gandara were charged with felonies. Arlie Ricasa pled guilty receiving probation and a fine. Gandara was sentenced to 7-months jail time and fined $7,994.

Pearl Quinones also pled guilty and stated “I would have fought it to the very end if I had been able to afford to keep fighting it.” She received a three-year probation with the felony being reduced to a misdemeanor.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called this a “pay-for-play” scheme stating,

“For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multi-million dollar construction projects. This case is outrageous and shameful.”

In my opinion, Gandara was out of control and deserved the outcome. On the other hand, the school board members’ biggest mistake might have been being careless while the district attorney was planning to run for mayor.

I was politically opposed to the four indicted board members but never believed they were selling their votes and still don’t. I believe they did put the school district and the community first. Dumanis painted them with Superintendent Gandara’s malfeasance.

It is true that they all accepted a small number of free dinners and tickets to local sporting events and did not report some of them correctly. DA Dumanis over-charged them with misdemeanors and felonies that forced their resignations from the board. She could have more appropriately cited them with infractions which would have brought fines, however, the DA valued headlines over justice.

An entirely new five member school board was elected in November, 2014. After completing the school year with interim-superintendents, the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of SUHSD. That June 8, 2015 decision was a hailed by the board, the community and the teachers union.

In a 2019 interview, teacher’s union President Gene Chavira said he felt Janney made two critical errors. She rejected the expense of having a forensic audit performed on the district’s finances and she did not listen to board members and labor leaders when they encouraged her to bring in an outside leader for the finance department.

Janney had been a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in the district. She evidently had formed a strong relationship with Karen Michel and wanted her to be the district’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Michel and her number two, Douglas Martens, retired in June of 2018. There last official act was delivering the budget for school year 2018-19. The budget was approved by the board on June 25th and sent to the County Office of Education (COE) for final approval.

Jenny Salkeld was hired to replace Michel as CFO. In early September, Salkeld discovered a $20 million negative discrepancy in the budget and reported it to the Sweetwater leadership team which forwarded her report to the COE.

The County immediately disapproved of the SUHSD budget and brought in the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) to investigate Sweetwater’s finances.

The FCMAT Audit

Audit Team

CEO Michael Fine and the Four Women Who Performed the SUHSD Extraordinary Audit

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. It is not a government entity but does receive financial support from the state.

FCMAT is organized as a non-profit. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

The County’s official rejection of the 2018-19 budget was a trigger bringing in FCMAT to conduct a Fiscal Health Risk Analysis. On December 17th, 2018, the Analysis results were presented to Sweetwater’s board by FCMAT CEO Michael Fine. The Voice of San Diego reported,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ …”

Although Michael Fine’s charge of “cover-up” appears mistaken according to the new audit, it does point to a central problem that led to a bad budget. The audit revised the 302 “negative budget entry” count to 220 and explained the origin of these often inadequately documented inputs.

The auditors reported that SUHSD began the budgeting process by rolling the 2017-18 budget into the beginning template for the 2018-19 budget. This was not viewed as unusual, but projections concerning changing budget demands then needed to be inserted into the budget model and that was not satisfactorily done.

FCMAT states, “Interviews with staff … indicate that the district was not utilizing data from a position control system to project salaries and benefit obligations.”

Apparently the suspicious entries were the budget being updated based on actual costs when they arrived. These entries were suspicious because they were not documented in accordance with the California School Accounting Manuel.

I worked in SUHSD from 2002 – 2017 and these findings seem to confirm my own impression of unprofessionalism in the district office. It didn’t appear corrupt but there was little concern with meeting deadlines, crossing t’s and dotting i’s.

In the audit, FCMAT questioned delays in posting payroll transactions. They wondered if these delays were purposeful for hiding the understatement of salaries and benefits in the budget. They concluded it was not, but does give more evidence of the lack of professionalism in the financial department.

In the report, FCMAT says Superintendent Karen Janney, CFO Karen Michel, Director of Financial Services Douglas Martens and Financial Consultant Adam Bauer may be guilty of financial fraud over the February 2018 bond deal. However, much of the damning evidence comes down to the fact that they followed Bauer’s advice about the best path to guarantee a good bond rating.

Laws and methods had changed since the last time Sweetwater did a bond deal. It is difficult to understand why SUHSD not following previous processes with fidelity was considered suspicious.

FCMAT also claims Sweetwater officials should have known that the drop in ending revenue between 2016 and 2017 from $36,285,098 to $21,469,748 indicated deteriorating financial conditions. This was also part of FCMAT’s evidence for Sweetwater knowingly misleading the bond markets about the district’s financial health.

The “extraordinary audit” was triggered by FCMAT’s declaration in December 2018 of possible fraud and cover up. By agreement with the county the audit was quite limited and focused almost exclusively on the 2017-18 budget year and SUHSD internal budgeting processes.

By comparison, a forensic audit of SUHSD is estimated to cost as much as $2,000,000; the county cost for this “extraordinary audit” was estimated at $50,700.

The auditors did not look at data from previous years.

Going Forward

The audit was delivered Monday, 6/23/2020. The document reminds the district’s board, “Within 15 days of receipt of the report, the governing board is required to notify the county superintendent of its proposed actions regarding the county superintendent’s recommendations.”

Board member Paula Hall indicated this would not be a problem since they have already instituted many of the FCMAT suggestions. She also expressed how pleased she was with CFO Jenny Salkeld’s professionalism. Hall believes the district now has strong leadership in finance.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the state budget on Monday, June 29th. Now Salkeld’s team needs to finish the 2020-21 budget and present it to the board.

Wednesday the 25th, the Sweetwater board met in a virtual executive session and put Karen Janney on paid administrative leave by a vote of 4-1. A board member said that in the uncertain legal climate they felt this move was needed to protect both the district and Janney.

The board also voted to lay off 223 employees and selected Dr. Moises Aguirre to serve as acting Superintendent.

Aguirre must now pick up the ball and continue the planning for opening school on August 3rd.

Dr. Aguirre faces the challenge of how to safely open schools in the Sars-CoV-2 era if that is even possible. If not, he and the Sweetwater team must find a way to make distance learning work for all 36,000 students.

My best guess is that there was no intentional fraud or purposeful financial misleading in SUHSD. It looks like there was a significant budget creation error that collided with state created structural deficits. I do not expect any prosecutions.

If meaningful changes are not made to California school financing, there are going to be many more districts running into these same structural deficits with no good solutions.

Persistent Billionaire Financed Attack on Oakland Public Schools Continues

29 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/29/2020

This month, a survey was launched in Oakland, California with the claim “This survey is a primary partnership between OUSD and GO Public Schools Oakland.” Apparently some Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board members were stunned by the news and were not happy about raising the stature of a billionaire financed organization dedicated to privatizing public schools. It seems the survey resulted from a secret negotiation between OUSD administrators, GO and possibly some OUSD board members.

On May 13, when OUSD Director Shanti Gonzalez learned about the Survey, she wrote to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell,

Hi Kyla. Can you tell me more about the robocall that went out today that referred parents to GO’s website/survey and why it was decided to send this to parents? We don’t typically use our infrastructure to refer people to groups that engage in political activities, so I am curious.”

Two days later Gonzalez wrote again,

“I understand the desire to collaborate and avoid duplication of efforts, but please remember that GO plays two roles in the Oakland education arena. In this case, their intent was to support our efforts to understand families’ needs. Their other role is to shape the composition of the board of OUSD and ACOE [Alameda County Office of Education], and to support the growth of charter schools, at least historically.”

OUSD Director Roseann Torres was characterized as being hopping mad when she found out about the survey. In an interview Torres stated,

“The Superintendent will not respond to my emails about the survey. She doesn’t care that as a Director, I am her boss.”

On the other hand Director Jody London’s response to constituent questions about the survey indicates that she was informed. She writes,

“The OUSD Office of Equity and family engagement team are collaborating with GO and a number of other Office of Equity partners to reach as many families as possible with the survey that will provide very important information about our planning the reopening of school. The survey is standalone and initially only directed participants to GO if they wanted to provide information to receive the mailed school supplies thank you gift. That has now changed …”

“This more collaborative approach with a number of partners on the family survey will give us the best opportunity for a strong level of participation and useful feedback about reopening.”

Survey Sponsors 

Logos of the OUSD Survey Partners

Originally the above logos were depicted at the top of every page of the survey and a gift offering at the end of the survey required the takers to give their email addresses to GO Public Schools. After Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown became involved, the direction to GO Public Schools was replaced and logos at the top of each page were eliminated. People were directed to the OUSD web site to apply for the gift and the only logos shown were from OUSD and GO on the bottom of the intro page.

This survey is transparently GO’s and there is another survey by OUSD which is somewhat similar. The committee that created the second survey includes Teach For America (TFA), KIPP charter schools and others. It appears the content of both surveys are important to the charter industry. The GO survey seems to bias towards technology implementation and the other survey appears to be priming a unified enrollment system.

Privatization in Oakland Driven by Billionaire Dollars

Chris Stewart is a 2014 Bush Fellow, the CEO of Brightbeam and sits on the board of Great Schools. He feels the claims of billionaire dollars are unfair. He sees them as working to create “quality schools” or does his high six figure billionaire paid salary cause that opinion? Without billionaire dollars and a state take-over, Oakland public schools would be much healthier and the community would not be so divided.

The billionaire spending to privatize public schools in Oakland has been enormous.

Tax records document that just two foundations, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (EIN: 56-2618866) and the Walton Family Foundation (EIN: 13-3441466) have spent more than $240,000,000 on privatization efforts in Oakland.

The Silicon Valley Community fund was formed in 2006. It has become an extremely large donor directed fund with reported assets of about $8 billion dollars. In 2018, it took in almost $6 billion dollars. Only three years of their 1,500 page long tax reports (EIN: 20-5205488) are searchable but just those three years show more than $15,000,000 spent on privatizing schools in Oakland including a 2017 gift to GO of $1,000,000.

This year, The City Fund – which was founded by two billionaires in 2018 – reported spending $7,591,666 on privatizing Oakland public schools. The City Fund supports the implementation of the “portfolio model” of school administration to drive privatization.

The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. Oakland’s school board implemented this model in 2018 under the name “Citywide Plan.” The method makes it almost certain that schools in poorer and minority communities will be privatized.

In 2004, Don Fisher of the GAP and Buzz Wooley a San Diego investor put up $100,000 each to establish the Charter School Growth Fund. In 2005, Buzz Wooley resigned from the presidency and Jim Walton took his seat on the board. Since then the Walton Family Foundation has had significant influence over the fund. Between 2012 and 2017 the Charter School Growth Fund (EIN 05-0620063) spent $12,998,570 supporting privatized schools in Oakland.

The Ely and Edythe Broad Foundation (EIN 95-4686318) has spent a relatively modest $3,457,664 on privatized schools in Oakland. However, four different graduates of Broad’s strange education leaders training academy have served as superintendents of OUSD between 2003 and 2018. Diane Ravitch recently noted that “Broad Institute got accredited even though it has no faculty, no campus, no course catalogue ….” It was accredited by the Western States Schools and Colleges. There have been two common outcomes wherever “Broadies” serve; labor and community unrest accompanied by extreme budget issues.

The latest budget problems in Oakland trace directly to the tenure of Antwan Wilson the last Broad trained superintendent to run Oakland’s schools.

Are Billionaire Bought Board Members Now a Board Majority?

Roseann “Rosie” Torres is a lawyer who moved from her hometown of Stockton to Oakland in 2004. A civic organization she joined gave her a homework assignment to study the public school district budget. This opened her eyes to the tremendous inequities between the schools in the hills where she lived and those in the flats where much of Oakland’s minority population lived.

In 2012, school board member Noel Gallo convinced Rosie to run for the seat he was vacating so he could run for city council. Before his tenure on the school board SFGate reports, “In the mid-1990s, Gallo was a city employee during then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s two terms in office, working as a staff member for former City Manager Robert Bobb.” That is the same Robert Bobb who would take the Broad training course in 2005 and become the Detroit public school’s first emergency manager in 2009. Gallo introduced Rosie to GO Public Education.

In 2012, GO provided Torres with $37,847 in independent expenditures and helped her raise $36,635 in direct campaign contributions. These were historically large numbers but that same year GO was providing even larger campaign assistance to James Harris and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge. All three candidates were successful.

In addition, GO representatives introduced Torres to many Democratic politicians serving locally, at the state capital and in congress. Torres said she really did not know who GO was and it took her about six months after the election to figure it out.

After Torres turned against the GO privatization agenda, there assistance unsurprisingly ended. In 2016 when she ran for reelection, her total campaign money fell from the 2012 $74,000 to $17,725, however a group of local activists went to work for her and she won.

Torres will not be running for reelection this year. She needs a break from the pressure and drama.

In 2012, billionaires started actively engaging in local school board elections. All at once, school board elections in cities like Dallas became well funded and prohibitively expensive. That same year billionaires including Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Laurene Jobs Powell of Palo Alto, California and others started making max donations to certain Oakland school board candidates.

The direct contribution limits of $700 made the independent expenditures with unlimited spending the place where most of their money went. In Oakland, that independent expenditure money was funneled though the GO Public School Advocates committee.

Table of Independent Expenditures

In 2018, $146,000 of Michael Bloomberg’s $250,000 contribution was put into the campaign to elect Gary Yee. Six years earlier, Yee was the focus of a recall campaign which was mainly about his push for closing schools. With Yee’s election, forces for privatization and school closing seem to have gained a solid majority on the OUSD board.

Some Closing Observations

The state government is also being corrupted by the prolific billionaire spending that is undermining democracy in America. In 2018, AB1840 which provided extra funding for financially strapped Oakland and Inglewood school districts was signed by Governor Brown. The root of their financial problems was the same; paying the extra unfunded costs associated with charter school openings and financial mismanagement by Broad trained superintendents.

One of the mandates for receiving financial help was the involvement of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) in stabilizing the budget. FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, this non-profit organization has developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

FCMAT appears to have two strategies for solving district financial issues; laying-off personnel and closing schools.

On Memorial Day (May 25), the State Senate Fiscal Review Committee met to consider the May revise including AB1840 money for Oakland and Inglewood. Jane Nylund an Oakland resident and educator submitted a comment that reads in part,

“I strongly oppose the amendments of the Trailer Bill to AB 1840 regarding disbursements to Oakland Unified School District for 2020-21.”

“These amendments strip our local discretion to draw from the variety of strategies for fiscal solvency, listed as (c)(1)-(5). The language is clear:  the District “MAY” use the strategies. It is not mandated to use any particular one of them.

“Given the current situation with Covid-19, and all the unknowns that come with it regarding schools, it is completely inappropriate that OUSD is held hostage to sell property that it may find necessary to keep open in order to mitigate health risks of Covid-19.”

Community based schools run under the authority of an elected school board have served as the foundation for American democracy for two centuries. Feckless billionaires operating from hubris or theological commitment or a desire to avoid taxes or a pursuit of more wealth are sundering those foundations.

Will activists of good will be able to throw off the yoke of billionaire financed tyranny and defend their public schools in Oakland?

Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

Superintendent Karen Janney and the school board at Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) have a target on their backs. In September 2018, new Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, announced there was a $20 million dollar hole in the submitted 2018-2019 school year budget. Salkeld had discovered a long smoldering budget irregularity. Janney immediately reported the budget issue to the County Office of Education and informed the bargaining units with whom she was negotiating about the new uncertainties. Since then, journalists looking for readers and politicians looking for opportunities have robustly slimed the district and its leaders.

A Quadruple Whammy

Besides the mystery of going from a reported $17 million positive budget to an actual $10 million deficit, Janney and the board of trustees had to deal with the states increased pension payment requirements, a hike in special education costs and shrinking enrollment.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the state required school districts to pay 8% of teachers’ salaries to the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). In the just submitted Second Interim budget report, Salkeld revealed that the rate is now 17.1% and will increase to 18.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. In other words, the retirement costs have more than doubled.

This school year, spending on special education has zoomed to $62.5 million and is projected to reach almost $70 million in two years.

In addition, SUHSD is experiencing shrinking enrollment. Between 2014 and today the average daily attendance in the district has dropped from 38,302 to 36,023. That accounts for another $20 million in lost revenue. The drop is almost entirely fueled by the expanding charter school sector. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15% of 7th grade through 12th grade students in the Sweetwater service area were in charter schools; a total of 6,281 students. (Number of students derived by cross referencing county charter school data with state attendance records.)

With all of the turmoil, the fact that SUHSD has 13 high schools and 11 middle schools in excellent facilities with professional leadership and highly skilled educators is often overlooked. According to the state, 23% of the district’s students are English language learners and 60% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. What might surprise outsiders is that the professional educators in Sweetwater love their jobs, their students and their schools. They take great pride in the quality of education being provided and are not disturbed in the least by the learning challenges associated with these kinds of student demographics.

However the current situation has presented an opportunity for demagoguery. Chula Vista Elementary has for several years gotten around the law limiting them to grades K-6 by starting dependent charter schools. They now have five dependent charter schools educating 2,108 students who would otherwise be in SUHSD schools. A recent article in the San Diego Union reports “Chula Vista district leaders say they want to give parents more options for middle school as soon as this July.” They want to steal more students.

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. On June 8, 2015 the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of the district.

Janney was born and raised in the district. She began teaching in SUHSD in 1978 and soon became an administrator. When Jesus Gandara was appointed Superintendent in 2006, Janney was serving as Assistant Superintendent of schools. By 2009, she had completed her doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration at San Diego State University (SDSU) and had been forced out of the SUHSD by Superintendent Gandara.

Janney had many friends in the district who were excited by her selection as the new superintendent. I was working at Mar Vista High School at the time and vividly recall how two staff members that were taking her education leadership course at SDSU were absolutely thrilled. I was OK with her selection but had some unfounded reservations that I kept to myself.

I soon became troubled by three different Janney agendas. I was bothered when she found funding to buy tee-shirts for all staff. The shirts had “Sweetwater Union High School District Putting Students First” emblazoned across the front. Though not mandated, there was pressure applied to wear these corporate styled promotional tee-shirts on certain days. It reminded me of the corporate approach to leadership employed by large charter school chains.

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

A second and more troubling policy change came a few months into her tenure. Janney announced that Sweetwater was joining the Core Districts. Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts led by John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They agreed to evaluate teachers using testing data for a chance at Race to the Top grants. Today, CORE is offering to conduct school evaluations for California districts using the residual-gain growth model as an alternative to the California Department of Education evaluation method.

Worse – in 2017, Janney scrapped the district’s expensive I-pad program and replaced it with another Ed Tech industry scheme for putting students at glowing screens. She purchased laptop computers for all students and staff. She had succumbed to the allure of education technology and its associated bad pedagogy. Janney also signed the Future Ready pledge making SUHSD a target for education technology salesmen.

Since the budget crisis began, it has become apparent that Janney is incapable of creating a good working relationship with the County Office of Education (COE). It may not be all her fault. She has been careful to legally comply with the COE but has not developed any visible cooperative relationships.

Superintendents are in charge. School boards only approve or disapprove of the agenda set before them by the Superintendent. From the beginning of her administration, board members, union leaders and community members recommended that she replace the financial department’s leadership. Janney refused and turned away calls in 2015 for a forensic audit of the district’s finances. She was not willing to accept the almost $2 million dollar price tag. These two decisions are central to the financial situation the district is in today. Many people were predicting financial issues would eventually be revealed.

When the crisis first manifested in September 2018, trustees and others encouraged Janney to utilize existing expertise within the district to run a messaging campaign making sure the district’s side of the story was being told. Janney chose instead to leave existing communications director, Manny Rubio, as the sole district spokesperson. During the first two months, there was no public response to the crisis by SUHSD. Rubio was content to wait and react to media questioning.

As the hidden $20 million dollar problem and growing structural issues created an urgent need for budget cuts, Janney made another critical error. Under her leadership the district’s central office staff has doubled. This is where cuts should be expected but Janney has rejected most cuts to her staff. To successfully solve the crisis she needs the cooperation of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA – the teacher union), however, cutting teachers before district staff is undermining collaboration.

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

The Financial Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) was summoned to Sweetwater to look at the budget. After a three day deep dive into SUHSD finances, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine delivered a report and some damning words. He said that 302 entries that made the district finances look better were not well documented. He concluded, “That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up.” He also suggested the district was in danger of a state takeover.

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT.  It is a QUANGO which Roland Watson describes as “a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.” It is a neo-liberal construct common in the UK. Those of short duration are sometime called task forces; they are set up to look at an issue, report their recommendations and then disband. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

It is eerie how closely the issue in SUHSD echoes the 2003 events in Oakland, California. In 2000, the School Board appointed Dennis Chaconas Superintendent over the objection of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who had pushed a city hall official for the superintendent’s post. In 2003, Education Next Reported, “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Chaconas wanted a waiver from the state to allow use of existing construction funds to temporarily pay off the deficit. Instead State Schools’ Superintendent Jack O’Connell and influential Democratic politicians like State Senator Don Perata and Mayor Jerry Brown were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt. Through apparent complicity with FCMAT, a state takeover of the district came about which gave Broad trained administrator Randolph Ward complete control.

The problem with a QUANGO is they carry out the political agenda of whoever is in power. An article in the Black Agenda Report stated,

“FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law.” (Tom Henry was FCMAT CEO)

FCMAT is still draining money from Oakland. Former Oakland School District Public Information Officer, Ken Epstein writes,

“State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.”

“… The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.”

In December 2018, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine accused SUHSD of the felonious offense of covering up bad financial information with no evidence. At the same time his team moved in to perform a forensic audit of Sweetwater’s finances. To this date no evidence of criminal malfeasance has been presented and no forensic audit has been conferred.

That has not stopped Will Huntsberry and the Voice of San Diego from running banner headlines like “State Investigators Say There’s Evidence of a Financial ‘Cover-Up’ in Sweetwater” and linking to these allegations repeatedly throughout the last year.

Another Huntsberry headline claims, “Docs, Interviews Show Sweetwater Officials Ignored Budget Warnings.” This article which Huntsberry repeatedly linked in latter reports says one unnamed employee went to Director of Finance Doug Martens and CFO Karen Michel to raise concerns. Huntsberry says both of them told the employee not to worry about it. Martens and Michel resigned from Sweetwater after the June 2018 budget was submitted. If there were legal or ethical problems with financial reports, they are the main suspects. Technically, the report is not false but it is purposefully misleading and sensationalized.

A Final Observation

I lived through the three superintendents’ tenures of Brand twice and Gandara once. They were perverse and unethical. At the same time, many Trustees serving on the board appeared to represent the construction industry more than parents, students or taxpayers. The present board and superintendent might not be perfect, but I do not believe they are corrupt. That is important.

At this point in time, billionaires throughout America are openly hostile toward public education including US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Many politicians who take money from them would be happy to facilitate the state taking over our school districts. It is in the best interest of the entire Sweetwater family to close ranks and solve this crisis before outside forces take advantage.

 

 

The Dallas Model Episode 2: Who is Behind the Corporate Education Reform Agenda in Dallas

24 Feb