Tag Archives: Arthur Rock

Schools Closings Creating Community Uproar in Oakland

1 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/1/2022

Alameda County has designated Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) with a “lack of going concern” label. Translation: They are going broke and must follow orders to save their district. However, many Oakland citizens are not ready to genuflect; leaving school board members in a trap. Twenty years of billionaires financing attacks on Oakland’s public school system has created a toxic political environment.

In October 2021, the OUSD board voted to end its policy of permanently closing schools every year. On November 8th – less than 2 weeks later – Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) Superintendent L. Karen Monroe sent a memo approving the OUSD 2021-22 budget but included a “lack of going concerndesignation. The memo also demanded school closures resume and $90 million dollars in budget cuts be made by January 31. Monroe also assigned the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) to direct fiscal management, noting “the school district shall follow the recommendations of the team.”

The county claimed seven financial issues: (1) decline in enrollment not budgeted; (2) unrecorded health care liabilities; (3) structural deficits; (4) multiyear projection not reliable; (5) one time funding use not sustainable; (6) past board did not make necessary budget adjustments; and (7) forgoing $10 million in AB 1480 funding.

OUSD refuted all of these charges noting: (1) the district’s COVID enrollment declines were less than most districts; (2) health care liabilities were a onetime charge and not significant; (3) the structural deficits cited are quite small and the board agrees all one time funded positions will need to be ended; (4) acknowledges the need to address the positions funded by one-time sources; (5) November 3, 2021 the board explicitly voted that all positions funded with one-time funds will not carry over to the following fiscal year; (6) this is a new board confronted with a clear, manageable challenge it agrees to resolve and (7) the choice to forgo $10 million instead of closing schools was accounted for in the district’s budget.

The District leadership believes not one of these claims by the county can legitimately be considered a basis for the “lack of going concern” designation.  OUSD district-5 Director Mike Hutchinson asserts, “Karen Monroe for five years has had oversight over every budget, and she approved the budgets.” Hutchinson also claims that the district has been working closely with the county and is in better fiscal shape than it has been in years. He asks, “What is new, besides the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

Twenty years ago, the state took over OUSD claiming a financial crisis which has led directly to OUSD becoming the most privatized public school system in California. Then like now, the Bakersfield non-profit FCMAT was brought in to supervise. The state went on to appoint a series of administrators to run the district. The new administrators welcomed charter schools and closed public schools. Concern that this could happen again might explain why three board members have changed their positions on closing schools and are placating Karen Monroe.

Schools proposed to be closed or merged between 2022 and 2024: Prescott, Brookfield, Carl Munck, Parker (K-5), Parker (6-8), Grass Valley, Horace Mann, Korematsu, RISE, Manzanita Community, Westlake, La Escuelita grades 6-8, Ralph J. Bunche, Dewey Academy, Community Day School, Manzanita Community School, Hillcrest grades 6-8.

The Billionaire Created Conundrum

The map of charter schools in Oakland and proposed school closings shows that both are all in the minority dominated flats (the low lying area between the bay and the hills). With all of these closings, residents in the flats may no longer have a traditional public school serving their community.    

Much of this can be laid at the door step of the six billionaire “education reformers” living across the bay – Reed Hastings (Netflix), Arthur Rock (Intel), Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart), Laurene Powell Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Doris Fisher (The Gap).

Reed Hastings established America’s first charter management organization (CMO) in Oakland. There are now six Aspire charter schools serving Oakland families.

Arthur Rock, Doris Fisher and Carrie Walton Penner have been investing in Teach For America (TFA) and charter school growth in Oakland. Mark Zuckerberg and Laurene Powell Jobs have been pushing education technology as well as TFA and charter schools.

Along with these billionaires, New Yorker Michael Bloomberg and Tulsa billionaire Stacey Schusterman have joined in the spending to sway Oakland’s school board elections.

Oakland’s own T. Gary Rogers established a foundation before he died that continues to be central to the local school privatization agenda. It significantly supports and directs privatization efforts by GO public education and Education78. The City Fund created by Reed Hastings and John (Enron) Arnold recently gave GO and Education78 a total of $5 million (EIN 82-4938743).

This brief outline of the money being spent to privatize schools in Oakland would be woefully incomplete if Eli Broad was not mentioned. Although his direct spending to advance privatization in Oakland has been relatively modest, the four Superintendents and many administrative staff members that he trained and got placed in Oakland are central to OUSD being the most privatized district in California. A key training manual developed at the Broad Center was the School Closure Guide.”

“Black Hole Mike” Hutchinson observed,

“A lot of these policies were first tried out in Oakland. If you go back and look at the Eli Broad handbook on school closures, a lot of the source information that they used for that report is from Oakland.”

The billionaire spending has resulted in 39 charter schools operating in Oakland today. Nine were authorized by the county, one by the state of California and 29 by OUSD. Using data from the California Department of Education, it can be shown that 31% of the publicly supported k-12 students in Oakland attend privatized charter schools.

It is disturbing that 22 of the 39 schools have a student body made up by more than 90% Hispanic and Black students. Overall 67% of Oakland’s charter school children are Hispanic or Black but only 50% of the residents of Oakland are Hispanic or Black. The privatization agenda has driven school segregation in Oakland to new heights.

The other divisive agenda is gentrification. Ken Epstein is a longtime observer of OUSD and a bay area pundit. He observed,

“Many school advocates view these school closures as a land grab of public property by privatizers. Others see this is a way to force Black and Latino families out of Oakland, making education inaccessible for them by closing the schools in the neighborhoods where they live.”

If a well financed developer could gain control of the flats, the profit possibilities are immense. These concerns are further fed when OUSD board President Gary Yee tells a Skyline High School parent that the school should be closed because the property is too valuable to be used for public education.

Is Closing Schools in the Flats the Only Possible Solution?

In an email to board members, Jane Nylund an OUSD alum, a teacher and high school student parent with a long family history in Oakland stated,

“For 2018, I counted 14 positions at $200K+, including benefits. In 2020, OUSD had 47 admin positions at $200K+ including benefits (Transparent California). And in 2019, many of them got 10% raises, all inclusive, around $20-30K each. While it’s true that other large districts have a lot of admin, OUSD has one of highest paid administrations compared to the rest of the state, at 526% of the state average. It still has its consultants at 325% of the state average. Collectively, those salaries went from around $3M to $10.7M in two years.”

Based on the claims in the OUSD administrations school closing presentation, the salary increases Jane highlights total to a million dollars greater than the projected cost savings from the closures and those are disputed.

VanCedric Williams is a school board Director representing OUSD district-3. In a private email former OUSD teacher Steven Miller reported on a community meeting attended by Williams,

“VanCedrick Williams repeatedly pointed out that OUSD has not looked at any other possible solution than closing more schools. He also notes that there is no real plan, just a stampede to close more schools.”

The OUSD board believed they could afford to keep all their schools open in October. Then L. Karen Monroe from the Alameda County Office of Education threatened them. She is in a position to cause havoc in Oakland. That seems to have intimidated some board members who are now ready to ignore equity for residents of the flats. The case for mass school closings is not well founded. Rather, the evidence suggests market based ideology and gentrification are trumping justice.

San Francisco Public Schools under Attack

5 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/5/2022

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is leading a recall effort to replace three of the city’s seven school board members. Her neoliberal supporters would prefer to replace all seven but the four board members elected in the last election cannot be recalled. If they are successful, Mayor Breed will appoint the replacements. Along with board member Jenny Lam who Breed appointed previously, these new appointments would make four of the seven school board members Breed appointments rather than elected representatives.

The excuse for the recall is that the board did not open schools for face to face instruction in the spring of 2021. An open schools now campaign was initiated by the former president in May 2020 and became a winning Republican issue. In her ongoing effort to wrest control of public schools from the elected school board which was established in 1851, Mayor London Breed sued the school board to open schools. The February 3, 2021 suit claimed a “violation of administerial duties,” for not preparing for a return to school.

Replacing democratic control of schools with mayoral control is a neoliberal and anti-democratic agenda. In February, 2021, a new PAC – “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools” – was formed with Democratic activist Seeyew Mo as its executive director. The principal officer listed on their declaration form was hedge fund founder Patrick Wolff and the treasure cited was San Francisco lawyer James Sutton. The PAC claimed, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco.” They called for a mayor appointed board and cited as evidence supporting their appeal a 2013 Center for American Progress (CAP) article that was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Another group calling for the end of elected school boards in San Francisco is the conservative Briones Society. In a recent opinion piece they urge a charter amendment to make school board members appointed not elected. In addition, they state, “We propose a new path forward for our school system based on what some education scholars call the “portfolio model.”  The model is a path to privatization that has caused major disruptions to schooling wherever it has been implemented.

The Recall

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city in December 2020. After less than three months in the city, they submitted the February 19, 2021 filing to establish a committee called “Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins & Moliga.” The filing names Looijen treasurer and her husband Raj principal officer.

Seventeen days later (3/8/2021), their filing was amended and the lawyer for the “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” James Sutton, was named treasure, Looijen was named principal officer and her husband was cited as additional officer. James Sutton’s Law firm bio says,

“Notable professional affiliations include Past President of the California Political Attorneys Association and former Member of the State Bar’s Nonprofit Corporation Committee. Notable current and past community involvement includes the San Francisco Parks Alliance, Friends & Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library, Tennis Coalition of San Francisco, Friends of the Bancroft Library, Enterprise for High School Students, San Francisco School Alliance Advisory Board and San Francisco Olympic Club.”

In other words, Sutton is a very connected local lawyer in San Francisco and expensive. The Sutton Law Firm’s web site address is “campaignlawyers.com.”

Big money soon came in support of the recall. Silicon Valley billionaire  Arthur Rock was an early venture capitalists in the technology industry. His winners include Apple, Intel, Scientific Data Systems and several more. During the last 20-years, he has been very busy working to privatize public schools. Rock gifted $49,900 to the recall committee.

However, Rock’s investment was second in size to probable billionaire David Sacks’s $74,500 contribution. Sacks is an immigrant from South Africa who Peter Theil hired to be the PayPal COO. He was the founder of Yammer and now is general partner in a successful venture capital fund. While in college in 1995, he co-authored The Diversity Myth: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Politics of Intolerance with Peter Thiel. Both Sacks and Thiel were significant Trump supporters in 2016.

A second committee called “Concerned Parents Supporting the Recall of Collins, Lopez, and Moliga” was legally formed on October 13, 2021. Arthur Rock’s $350,000 contribution to “Concerned Parents…” is by far the largest single contribution in the recall. In fact Rock’s total of $399,500 contributed to the recall represents 30 percent of the total recall contributions of $1,133,390.

Race Based Attack

After the former President of the United States persistently called the Covid-19 virus the “China virus,” many Asian Americans began experiencing physical attacks. San Francisco is 34 percent Asian and it was in this atmosphere that someone at the “Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins & Moliga” committee found a string of tweets putting Collins in a bad light with the Asian community.

In 2016, two years before Collins an African mother ran for the school board she had fired off tweets that some people found offensive to Asians. After the tweets became an issue Collins posted a letter of apology to the community on medium also stating,

“A number of tweets and social media posts I made in 2016 have recently been highlighted. They have been taken out of context, both of that specific moment and the nuance of the conversation that took place. President Donald Trump had just won an election fueled by division, racism and an anti-immigration agenda. Meanwhile one of my daughters had recently experienced an incident in her school in which her Asian American peers were taunting her Latinx classmate about “sending kids back to Mexico” and the KKK. It was a time of processing, of fear among many communities with the unknown of how the next four years would unfold.”

Mayor Breed called for Collins’s resignation as did all of the Asian American city council members as did both of Breed’s appointments to the school board; Jenny Lam and Faauuga Moliga. The school board stripped her of the vice-presidency and all of her committee assignments.

Collins has been accused repeatedly in both local and national media of posting a series of anti-Asian racist attacks. It is a very effective political attack in a heavily Asian community. However, the tweets are relatively innocuous. They do not get much worse than,

The attack is BS. It is more about the recall and this report from KCBS Radio, “After a long, contentious debate, the San Francisco Board of Education has voted to do away with Lowell High School‘s merit-based admissions process after students say it is partially to blame for the school’s racist atmosphere.” Collins was a driving force behind the decision.

Gentrification

Patrick Wolff the principal officer of the “Campaign for Better San Francisco Public schools” founded Grandmaster Capital with seed funding from his billionaire friend Peter Thiel. According to the hedge fund journal, Wolff and Thiel were initially brought together by a common interest in chess. “Thiel is a serious chess player and Wolff began his career as a full-time, professional chess player, twice becoming US champion, hence the Grandmaster name.” 

The Wolff-Thiel and Sacks-Thiel connections along with Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the “Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments” should have people worried about gentrification. Szeto and Meronek referenced Tory Becker the director of the anti-gentrification group LAGAI when writing about Trauss,

“Entrenched online in the libertarian strongholds of Reddit and TechCrunch, and in the real world through real estate- and tech-sponsored nonprofits like SPUR and YIMBY Action, Trauss’s followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it’s only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all. Her vision is Reagonomics ‘dressed up in a progressive sheep’s costume,’ according to Becker.”

The third largest contributor to the recall effort is the “California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee (IMPAC).” They kicked in $55,900.

Conclusion

A combination of neoliberal politicians, deep-pocketed public school privatization advocates and real estate developers are making a major push to gain control of San Francisco’s public schools. This is an ongoing effort that became crystal clear in 2017 when Vincent Mathews was chosen to be Superintendent of Schools.

Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the Broad Academy for school administrators known for its manual on how to close schools. Broad graduates have a track-record of developing financial deficits in the systems they manage.

Mathews served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, he was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy. His close relationship with school privatization groups made him an odd choice for “progressive” San Francisco.

Mathews came to San Francisco from Inglewood, Ca. The LA Times noted about his tenure there,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

It is not surprising that San Francisco’s school district is facing a $125 million deficit.  

Now Mathews is retiring leaving the district in financial distress.

It is very sad to see the once capital of progressive thought in America turning into a bastion of neoliberalism and opposing democratically run public schools.

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.”

Ed Tech Spending Rampaging through North Carolina Public Schools

27 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/27/2020

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”

Mary Ann Wolf is President of the CHCCS school board. She is also a long time proponent of education technology. In a 2010 paper she wrote,

“Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies. Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology. Personalized learning is enabled by smart e-learning systems, which help dynamically track and manage the learning needs of all students, and provide a platform to access myriad engaging learning content, resources and learning opportunities needed to meet each students needs everywhere at anytime, but which are not all available within the four walls of the traditional classroom.”

Wolf is Director of the Digital Learning Programs at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University and is a member of the Digital Promise Micro-credential Advisory Board. She also presents at Future Ready symposiums.

In other words, Board President Mary Ann Wolf isn’t just a fan of putting kids at digital screens. She is a well paid leader in the movement.  The headline on the Friday Institute’s homepage proclaims, “Coaching digital learning institute.”

At the Friday Institute, Wolf had a colleague named Lauren Acree who in 2019 took a position as Design Principle at Education Elements. Parents in CHCCS are suspicious about why Wolf never revealed her connection to Education Elements when the scandal erupted.

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

Superintendents Organized to Sell Education Technology

In 2015, the Raleigh law firm Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP established The Innovation Project (TIP) with ten superintendents from North Carolina’s public school districts. The more than 100-years-old firm has deep ties to the business and political communities in North Carolina’s capital. For example, their self published history notes,

“Ed Gaskins was a member of EGH’s other predecessor firm, Sanford & Cannon. Sanford & Cannon was formed in 1965 by Terry Sanford (1917-1998), former Governor of North Carolina, and Hugh Cannon (1931-2006), one of Governor Sanford’s senior advisors who served as counsel to the governor.”

Why did law firm Partner Gerry Hancock initiate TIP as a service of the Raleigh law firm in their offices at the historic Briggs Hardware Store? Whatever the real motive was, by 2017, TIP had 26 superintendents of public education signed up and were ready to move onto the campus at North Carolina State University as a non-profit.

The Innovation Project’s Strange Road to Non-Profit Status

The odd TIP path to non-profit status began in 2013 two years before it was founded. Joe Ableidinger received EIN 46-3120883 for the non-profit World Class Schools. He was attempting to start two charter schools using computer based instruction. In July 2013, World Class Schools received a $100,000 grant from the Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges fund. An intiative financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The charter schools never opened and the non-profit changed its name to The Innovation Project in 2017.

TIP’s 2017 form 990 covering 7/1/2017 to 9/30/2018 is filed under the World Class Schools EIN 46-3120883 but with the new name. It lists two salaried employees Ann McColl and Joe Ableidinger.

In 2015, TIP received a startup grant of $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and soon after other foundations like the Belk Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave support. However a significant portion of their funding comes from membership dues. In a letter accompanying TIP’s invoices for the 2017-2018 school year, they announced cutting the dues from $36,000 to $30,000 per year.

TIP’s initiatives include establishing a virtual academy; creating their own version of turnaround schools called restart schools; establishing innovative classroom programs; addressing North Carolina’s teacher shortage and serving home-school families.

Unfortunately, this entire agenda with the exception of teacher shortages is being addressed by promoting education technology. For the teacher shortages, they have partnered with TNTP. In North Carolina, TIP could have partnered with the existing exemplary education professionals at University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University or Duke University to create alternate paths to teacher credentialing and professional development. Instead they chose to contract with the TFA created TNTP that is an unqualified light weight in education circles.

TIP also sites Mary Ann Wolf’s Friday Institute as a partner. (Update: On June 15 Wolf left the Friday Institute to become President of the Public Schools Forum also at North Carolina State University.)

On the TIP resource page, they list three sources under the category of Changes and Innovation.

  1. Center on Reinventing Public Education, Tracking Actions in Districts related to COVID-19
  2. Chiefs for Change,Tracking Innovation
  3. FutureEd, Tracking state legislation in response to COVID-19

Center on Reinventing Public Education is the billionaire financed organization promoting privatizing public education using the portfolio model of management. Chiefs for Change is the Jeb Bush founded organization promoting education technology, vouchers and charter schools. FutureEd sells the idea of putting children at digital screens instead of with actual teachers. This is the TIP agenda.

Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, was one of the superintendents accompanying Mark Johnson on that free trip to Apple Inc. She is also a TIP member.

In the paper Personalizing Learning in a Digital World: Four key priorities for digital and personalized learning,” the Digital Learning Institute thanked “Dr. Lynn Moody, …” for helping make the report possible.  

When Tip member Cathy Moore was deputy superintendent of Wake County Public Schools she was featured in a promotional video on the Education Elements web site. Today she is the superintendent.

Mary Ellis is a TIP member from the Union County Public Schools (UCPS). In 2015, while acting as Superintendent for UCPS, Ellis started a private endeavor called Educatrx Inc. She had three partners, two district technology leaders and Jason Mooneyham from the Chinese computer manufacturing company Lenovo.

In 2016, Ellis had legal corruption charges brought against her for conflicts of interest when her company facilitated a few technology deals including purchasing 10,000 Chromebooks from Lenovo. The district attorney dropped the charges.

Ellis is also a TIP consultant. In the 2017 TIP tax form, she is listed as being paid $121,629 for her services.

TIP creates classes for the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). After reviewing NCVPS, state auditor Beth Wood said, “Be concerned that these online classes may not be preparing your children for the next grade or for college.” In the audit, Wood noted that eight of 12 NCVPS courses audited did not meet required curriculum content standards and there was no assurance that 11 of the 12 NCVPS courses analyzed met adopted standards for rigor. 

The vast majority of America’s school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Not all education technology is bad, but there are limitations. Students eventually need good graphing calculators, spread sheets, word processing and modern data acquisition capability. However, when the technology is little more than worksheets delivered by a digital device like those from I-ready and Education Elements not only is the screen time required unhealthy, the lessons are hated by students and ineffective.

To conclude this piece, here is a list of the 26 North Carolina school districts and their leaders that sent $30,000 or more to The Innovation Project in 2017.

  1. Alamance-Burlington Schools
    Dr. William “Bruce” Benson, Superintendent
  2. Asheboro City Schools
    Dr. Terry Worrell, Superintendent
  3. Beaufort County Schools
    Paul Higgins, Instructional Technology Director
  4. Cabarrus County Schools
    Dr. Chris Lowder, Superintendent
  5. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
    Dr. Pam Baldwin, Superintendent
  6. Craven County Schools
    Dr. Meghan Doyle, Superintendent
  7. Cumberland County Schools
    Dr. Marvin Connelly, Superintendent
  8. Edgecombe County School
    Dr. Valerie Bridges, Superintendent
  9. Gaston County Schools
    Mr. Jeff Booker, Superintendent
  10. Hoke County Schools
    Dr. Freddie Williamson, Superintendent
  11. Iredell-Statesville Schools
    Dr. Brady Johnson, Superintendent
  12. Johnston County Schools
    Dr. D. Ross Renfrow, Superintendent
  13. Kannapolis City Schools
    Dr. Daron Buckwell, Superintendent
  14. Lenoir County Schools
    Dr. Brent Williams, Superintendent
  15. Lincoln County Schools
    Dr. Lory Morrow, Superintendent
  16. Moore County Schools
    Dr. Robert “Bob” P. Grimesey Jr, Superintendent
  17. Mount Airy City Schools
    Dr. Kim Morrison, Superintendent
  18. Onslow County Schools
    Dr. Rick Stout, Superintendent
  19. Person County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Peterson, Superintendent
  20. Rockingham County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Shotwell, Superintendent
  21. Rowan-Salisbury Schools
    Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent
  22. Vance County Schools
    Dr. Anthony Jackson, Superintendent
  23. Wake County Schools
    Dr. Cathy Moore, Superintendent
  24. Warren County Schools
    Dr. Ray Spain, Superintendent
  25. Wayne County Schools
    Dr. Michael Dunsmore, Superintendent
  26. Wilson County Schools
    Dr. Lane Mills, Superintendent

California Plutocrat Education Election Spending

20 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/20/2020

Unlike 2018, fewer of the wealthy class appear to be spending so freely to control California school policy, but their spending still dominates campaign spending. Large amounts of money are being spent in an attempt to regain political control of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and there appears to be a concentration of money directed at key county school boards. They are also spending liberally on California state senate and assembly races.

Little Sis Map of Plutocrat Spending for Independent Expenditures

In this election cycle, the three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures. These expenditures are unlimited as long as no coordination can be shown with a candidate’s campaign. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

The Battle for LA

LAUSD is by far the largest school district in California and nationally it is second in size only to the New York City School District. Since the introduction of charter schools in the 1990s, LAUSD has become approximately 20% privatized. There are more charter schools in Los Angeles than any other city in the country. Political control of the LAUSD is seen as key to either slowing the privatization train or accelerating it.

In 2020, the four odd numbered LAUSD board seats were up for election. Since the charter school industry already has three board members not up for reelection, they only need to flip one seat to regain control of the board. In 2019, they lost control of the board when Jackie Goldberg received 71.6% of the vote in a special election to replace district 5 board member Ref Rodriquez who pled guilty to conspiracy charges.

During the March primary election both District 1 Board Member George McKenna and District 5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. In district 7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos and the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin were the two top vote getters in the primary. They will face off in the general election for the district 7 seat.

The most contentious school board race is between district 3 incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek. During the primary race, LA Times reporter Howard Blume opened an article writing, A million-dollar attack campaign is underway portraying Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson as greedy, corrupt and determined to score fast cash by exposing children to deadly vaping and McDonald’s French fries.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, Teachers Union President, said the ads were an “attempt to eviscerate Scott, a lifelong educator and champion of our public schools…. Scott’s likeness is literally made into a caricature, with clear anti-Semitic overtones.” Scott Schmerelson would hardly be the first Jew in Los Angeles to face anti-Semitism. 

Schmerelson finished his educator career as principal for 10-years at Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle School in South Los Angeles. He is also a former leader in the Association of California School Administrators.

Schmerelson probably became a more important target for the forces working to privatize public education when he vocally opposed investment banker Austin Beutner as the next Superintendent of LAUSD. He said he wanted a school chief with education experience.

Marilyn Koziatek’s campaign web address says,

“Marilyn is the only candidate who currently works in a public school. She leads the community outreach department for Granada Hills Charter, one of the highest-performing public schools in California.”

First of all, charter schools are not public schools. They are private businesses with a contract to provide services to the government. The public has no democratic influence over them. Secondly, Koziatek has never taught. She does PR for a private company selling education services which pales in comparison to her opponents almost 4 decades working in classrooms and leading schools.

The LA times reported in 2003, “The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to convert Granada Hills High School, which has among the best academic records in the school district, into an independent charter school.” (Emphasis added) The article also noted, “Board President Caprice Young hailed the vote as a victory for the charter movement.”

There is a rumor that Koziatek was forced into running by the highly paid Executive Director of Granada Hills Charter, Brian Bauer. The charter’s last tax form 990 (EIN 05-0570400) listed Bauer’s 2017 salary as $271,287. He is also on the board of the California Charter Schools Association.

The independent expenditures for Marilyn Koziatek and opposing Scott Schmerelson by the organization Families and Teachers United is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. The Students, Parents and Teachers group supporting Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos is sponsored by the LA Unified Teachers Union.

In District 7, two Latinas are facing off, Patricia Castellanos and Tanya Ortiz Franklin. Neither candidate appears to have deep experience in education. Franklin taught elementary school for five years and worked part time at Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools while she attended law school. Castellanos was a community organizer and works as the Workforce and Economic Development Deputy for LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

In direct campaign contributions, as of 9/14/2020 Castellanos had almost a two to one advantage in contributors 581 to 347 and a money advantage of $206,562 to $95,146. Franklin has a large advantage from independent expenditures with Bill Bloomfield’s $3,327,483 to Castellanos $767,551 from the teachers union founded Student, Parents and Teachers.

In a way, the contest for school board seat 7 is between 27,000 LAUSD teachers and an extremely rich man from Manhattan Beach.

Last month, former assistant US Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch posted, Los Angeles: Vote for Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos for LAUSD School Board.” She asks if LAUSD will be controlled “by cabal of billionaires who favor privatization by charter schools,” or by parents of the 80% of students who attend public schools?

Spending Directed at the California State Legislature

Campaign data was accessed from the California Secretary of State between September 14 and 17. Total spending for the California State Assembly and State Senate candidates was tabulated for the three PACs and seven plutocrats in the map above. The data is presented in Tables 2 and 3. All 80 Assembly seats are up for election as are the twenty odd numbered Senate seats.

A reasonable analysis of the spending pattern indicates that candidates for State Assembly receiving $5,000 or more are being supported to drive the school privatization agenda. Candidates receiving more than $10,000 probably fall into the category of being heavily influenced and those receiving more than $20,000 are owned.

The candidates receiving less than $5,000 are likely getting those donations to insure they answer the phone and listen.

The spending in the Senate mirrors the spending in the Assembly and the analysis is similar with the exception of the even number candidates. Those candidates who are not on the ballot must be supporting the plutocrat agenda as equally as the candidates receiving more than $10,000.

Kevin Kiley ran for senate seat 1 and lost in the primary. His $30,200 dollars came from 6 plutocrats and EdVoice for the Kids. For the general election EdVoice has sent Brian Dahle, the incumbent who beat Kiley, $1500. Maybe Dahle will not be inclined to answer the phone.

Jim Walton skewed a little from the public school privatization agenda to make 24 direct contributions to republicans running for the California state legislature.

Billionaires Spending on Key County School Board Races

A significant amount of the spending by the three PACs shown in the Little Sis map above was concentrated into the race for five county school boards. The largest amounts were directed toward Alameda, Orange and Riverside counties. Table 4 details the spending.

Some Conclusions

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

On the other hand Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Obviously, democracy is compromised when seven plutocrats have the resources to skew election results in their direction. In this election two of the seven identified plutocrats are from Bentonville, Arkansas not California. However, it is becoming harder and harder to convince people to continue privatizing their public schools, to continue wasting money on standardized testing and to continue cutting taxes for plutocrats.

There is some good news. Fewer plutocrats are supporting the privatization agenda than in 2017 and 2018.  In 2017, billionaires spent more than $10,000,000 dollars to swing the LAUSD election and the following year they spent more the $40,000,000 dollars trying to elect Marshall Tuck as Superintendent of Public Instruction. This year the spending is not as intense or as widely distributed.

Residents of Alameda, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties can use Table 4 to identify who to vote against. Residents in the Los Angeles Unified School District can follow Diane Ravitch’s advice and vote for Scott Schmerelson in district 3 and Patricia Castellanos in district 7.  

Big Win for Denver Public Schools

7 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/7/2019

Denver voters rejected the portfolio model of school management on Tuesday. Candidates endorsed by the teachers union were the victors and the “corporate school reform” candidates lost. Leading up to the election, the education focused publication Chalkbeat pointed out,

“If candidates backed by the Denver teachers union win at least two of the three seats, union-backed members will have a majority on the board for the first time in recent history. That could set the stage for a shift away from encouraging school choice and school autonomy to more heavily investing in traditional schools.”

The teachers union endorsed candidates won all three of the seats up for election.

Big Money No Longer Enough

The board of directors’ at-large seat is voted on by the entire city. There were three candidates vying for the at-large seat: Tay Anderson, Alexis Menocal Harrigan and Natela Alexandrovna Manuntseva. Anna DeWitt filed for the seat and raised some money but was not on the ballot. Manuntseva did not have enough resources or organizational support to compete. The race was essentially between Anderson and Harrigan.

Harrigan was the most politically connected of the nine school board candidates. A Denver Post biography noted,

“Menocal Harrigan currently works in advocacy for expanding computer science education. She previously was an education adviser to then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Denver City Council aide and a staff member for Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped launch DPS’s current reform agenda during his time as superintendent.”

Anderson’s biography on the other hand looks anything but formidable. The Denver Post reported,

“Anderson, a Manual High School graduate, ran unsuccessfully for the District 4 seat in 2017, when he was 18. He currently works as restorative practices coordinator at North High School.”

Tay is now 21-years-old.

Harrigan received large contributions from Colorado billionaire, Phillip Anschutz, and from billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter who lives in New York, Emma Bloomberg, and from a billionaire Teach For America champion from Silicon Valley, Arthur Rock. In total, she had over $350,000 supporting her campaign. Three independent expenditure committees spent more than $190,000 dollars in her support including $127,000 from Students for Education Reform (SFER).

It should be noted that Phillip Anschutz has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. Walden Publishing  was behind the school privatization movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for Superman.’

Surprisingly, Tay Anderson had more than $125,000 supporting his election including $40,000 from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). Committees that bundle many individual contributions are allowed to make large direct donations.

At-Large Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS At-Large Director

The board of directors’ seat-1 contest was a three way race between Diana Romero Campbell, Radhica Nath and Scott Baldermann.

Nath was endorsed by other groups skeptical of reform, including the Working Families Party and local parent and student group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos.

Baldermann was endorsed by DCTA.

Romero Campbell had the backing of groups that favor the district’s reforms, such as the advocacy organizations Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform.

Campbell is President of Scholars Unlimited, which offers tutoring and other educational programs. She previously was director of early learning and education at Mile High United Way.  Like Harrigan, she received donations from Anschutz and Bloomberg. She also had more than $100,000 in support from the same three independent expenditure committees as Harrigan: SFER, Students Deserve Better and Ready Colorado Action Fund.

However, Campbell’s in excess of $250,000 supporting her election was dwarfed by her opponent Scott Baldermann and she was not happy about that.  It does seem a little ironic to see a “corporate reform” candidate complaining about being outspent.

Scott Baldermann’s Denver Post bio says, “he is PTA president at Lincoln Elementary and a stay-at-home father. He previously owned an architecture business.” Evidently, Baldermann is wealthy enough to finance his own campaign with more than $350,000 while contributing $10,000 to both Tay Anderson’s and Brad Laurvick’s campaigns.

District 1 Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS Director Seat-1

The contest for the board of directors’ seat-5 was the most competitive of the day. The teachers union endorsed Brad Laurvick for the position. He is a Methodist pastor who participated in rallies in support of striking teachers. He has a son in DPS and a daughter who hasn’t reached school age.

Candidate Tony Curcio had the support of groups that favor many of the current reforms, including the advocacy organizations Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform. He also received support from Emma Bloomberg and the same three independent expenditure committees as Harrigan and Campbell: SFER, Students Deserve Better and Ready Colorado Action Fund. Curcio had almost $250,000 in campaign support.

Julie Bañelos, a former school teacher who ran for the board in 2017, was the third candidate for seat-5. She currently works for Catholic Charities and has an impressive resume as an educator. She is an outspoken opponent of the “corporate reform.” Part of her answer for why she was running says,

“The governing body of DPS needs a champion of equity for all our students, particularly for our black, indigenous, and people of color, English language learners, students receiving special education services, and LGBTQ+ youth. As a public servant, I will materialize the values of the whole community, not the interests of the powerful few.”

Bañelos had more than $14,000 in campaign support which would have been more than adequate a few years ago, but in 2019 with the other two candidates wielding more than $200,000 in support it was not sufficient.

District 5 Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS Director Seat-5

The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform appear to be the only candidates who supported the portfolio model of school governance. They received less than one-third of the vote. Candidates opposing privatizing public schools and closing schools received greater than two-thirds of the votes cast.

A Big Repudiation of the Portfolio Model of School Governance

Jeanne Kaplan was a former school board director in Denver and is a blogger. In a 2017 article, “What’s Next”, she described how the board was captured:

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a ‘mighty minority’ of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously ‘reform’: 7-0.”

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Expanding achievement gaps; bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; inefficiently busing children out of their neighborhoods and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

This election result was a public repudiation of the portfolio model.

Neerav Kingsland, the Executive Director of the City Fund, recently wrote,

“Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.

“Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.”

The City Fund is a $200,000,000 dollar fund dedicated to expanding the portfolio model of school governance. The funds come from billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix), John Arnold (Enron), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Michael Dell (Dell). City Fund is very secretive about its operations.

In his post, Kingsland tried to defend the miserable results coming from Denver which he cites as the national example for the portfolio model. The truth is transportation costs are up because of the inefficient structure. Administration costs have zoomed compared to the rest of the state of Colorado and the achievement gap is among the largest in the nation. On the 2019 NAEP reading and math tests, Denver’s students were still below both the national average and were also significantly outperformed by comparable cities like San Diego and Austin.

When Kingsland says “expand high-quality schools,” he means charter schools. And for him “quality” means the school scores well on standardized tests. Lawyers like Kingsland probably don’t understand how useless those tests are for evaluating teachers or schools. If they do, it must be an inconvenient truth.

Obviously, the Denver voters have seen through the corporate smoke and mirrors and are calling for a change. No more closing schools in a poor community because they have low test scores. Instead, help those schools and their educators. No more bringing in unqualified Teach For America corps member and pretending that they are ready to lead classrooms. No more following the dictates of the American Legislative Exchange Council and removing public schools from the purview of the elected school board. No more pretending that politicians and businessmen know better how to run schools than trained experienced educators.

No more using the portfolio model to privatize public schools.

Twitter: @tultican