Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Friday, May 24, 2013

Billionaire Boys Club couldn't buy L.A. School Board elections

"This is a testament to the voters. Voters put their belief in skills and expertise.... It sends the clear message that school board seats are not for sale." -- Monica Ratliff. 
Fifth-grade teacher Ratliff gave the corporate school "reformers" a real kick in the butt this week when her popular, but poorly-funded campaign for school board ended in victory. Her opponent in the race to represent east San Fernando Valley, described in the Washington Post as, "the well-connected Antonio Sanchez" received some $2 million from donors including the Coalition for School Reform, the political-action committee started by outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and  funded in large part by wealthy outside reform advocates.

WaPo's Valerie Strauss reports:
Ratliff and Sanchez were thrown into a run-off in March elections for three school board seats, one of which went to a supporter of school reform and the other to an opponent. Those elections were marked by  big money given to the reform candidate who lost –  despite a $1 million donation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization.
Ratliff had no paid staff and no meaningful help from her own politically active teachers union, according to the L.A. Times. Ten to 20 faithful volunteers knocked on doors every weekend. The teachers union endorsed both candidates in the East Valley race, even though Ratliff is a highly regarded teacher and union leader at her school. The neutrality of United Teachers Los Angeles was a huge advantage to Sanchez because it cut off Ratliff from her best hope of major support.

She won anyway.

Another reason why we need an elected school board in Chicago. With all the big money pouring into elections behind corporate/reform candidates, especially since the Citizens United court decision, organization combined with a just cause can still win out. That's more that you can say for a mayor-appointed school board.

Then there was the L.A. mayor's election between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee candicates Garcetti vs. Greuel. Garcetti, the anti-union candidate won by 4 percentage points in the most expensive mayoral race in L.A. history. The race generated a record $33 million in spending, including outside money from political action committees. It also generated one of the lowest turnouts in history.

Hmm, this seems to be a trend.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Maybe Pritzker left it in her other purse...

Obama's pick for Commerce Secretary and former Rahm-appointed Chicago school board member, Penny Pritzker "inadvertently ommitted" more than $80 million in reported income. Hey, mistakes happen. Been there, done that, says Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who was on the receiving end of a Pritzker "courtesy call" this week and who is almost as rich as Pritzker.

Emily Heil writes in the Washington Post:
That might sound like a lot of money, but it’s all relative. Pritzker, whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain, is worth about $1.5 billion. So it’s easy to see how a few million — or 80 — could go missing. Maybe she left it in the other purse? 
According to Sun-Times columnist, Lynn Sweet:
Pritzker’s biggest hurdle toward confirmation will be Republicans grilling her on the major stain on her record, the 2001 failure of Superior Bank, a Hinsdale Savings and Loan, and tax avoidance strategies employed by her trusts and business empire.
The Pritzker family founded Hyatt Hotels, and have been at odds with UNITE HERE Local 1, the hotel workers union for years. Pritzker is on the board — she will step down if confirmed — and the union, after at first giving Pritzker a pass, in recent days has started a campaign to oppose her; an ad in Politico called her appointment “The President’s mistake.”
Pritzker is also taking some heat for sheltering millions in taxable income in offshore trusts. On financial disclosure forms, Pritzker has revealed that she received $53.6 million in income in 2012 from a trust in the Bahamas. The income is described as being paid for “consulting services.” The offshore issue is sure to bring questions from congressional Republicans, especially on the heels of a Senate hearing into tax avoidance by Apple Inc., whose chief executive defended the company’s actions this week by protesting, “We don’t stash our money on some Caribbean island.”

Pritzker's resignation left the school board with only 6 voting members left to rubber-stamp the mayor's massive school closing plan.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Learning from Prof. Joravsky about Rahm's latest TIF deal

Rahm's Choose Chicago cronies applaud the great TIF swidle.

I continue to learn from Professor Joravsky about TIF, the Mayor's own taxpayer supported slush fund. Today, the prof schools us on what might be Rahm's greatest-of-all scams, the DePaul Arena TIF swindle, by which he takes millions in taxpayer dollars that should go to Chicago Public Schools and funnels them to his rich pals and corporations. In the latest case, that means spending $55 million of your property tax dollars to build a hotel and basketball arena for DePaul, on the near-south side. This at the same time he's about to close more than 50 neighborhood schools, primarily in the city's most under-served black communities, because the city is too broke to operate them.

Writes Joravsky:
 And what do you, the taxpayers, get for this $55 million? You get a hotel that you'll probably never stay in. And an arena for DePaul basketball games that you'll probably never attend. Because let's face it—there are even fewer fans of the Blue Demons in this town than of the White Sox, who also play in a subsidized facility that doesn't often fill up.
Since the deal costs $55 million, we'll have less money to spend on schools. Which means most of them will still go without music, art, drama, intramurals, or reduced class sizes.
At this point, I should remind everyone who doesn't know that DePaul is a private university with tuition costing more than $30,000 a year for undergraduates. That means it's a long shot for average Chicagoans, unless they're willing to go into severe debt to pay for it. 
Which is exactly why I'm sharing Professor Joravsky's piece with my students who are doing exactly that.  I'd like the get their take on the great TIF swindle.

Side bar

Interesting (at least to me) was the sudden resignation of billionaire Republican candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner as chairman of Choose Chicago, the city's tourism arm. The resignation came on the eve of the announcement of the DePaul Arena deal. Rauner was named chairman of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau in 2010 by former Mayor Richard Daley. When the CCTB merged with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture last year, Mr. Rauner became chair of the newly created Choose Chicago.

Is candidate Rauner now trying to distance himself from the DePaul deal, in case it collapses in scandal?

Rahm has named former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, as Rauner's replacement. You might remember how Obama was forced to dump Rogers after two wannabe reality TV stars crashed the first White House state dinner, an event to honor of the prime minister of India. I suppose this was a way to give her a place to land. It usually works that way in the City the Works.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gates on Common Core back in 2009

In his speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures, on July 21, 2009,  Bill Gates outlined a plan of action for legislators to adopt common education standards, which he claimed would help jump-start a sagging economy. “Difficult times can spark great reforms,” he stated, and the stimulus package funds present a great opportunity. With clear, consistent standards and robust data systems to evaluate teacher effectiveness, more students will have the chance to make the most of their lives.
When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.

Monday, May 13, 2013

UNO charter hustlers have Wall Streeters' undies in a twist

The scandal involving the UNO charter school hustlers has Wall Street investors worrying. Today's Sun-Times reports: 
Now under investigation by two state agencies, the United Neighborhood Organization is also facing tough questions on Wall Street from investors who lent tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the rapid expansion of UNO’s charter-school network. The questions were prompted by Chicago Sun-Times reports on $8.5 million in state grant funds paid to companies owned by two brothers of Miguel d’Escoto, a top UNO executive.
As the largest charter-school operator in Illinois, the United Neighborhood Organization depends largely on City Hall and Springfield. It also borrows money — from banks and on Wall Street — to pay its bills.

Steven Levy, an executive with Prudential Financial in Newark, N.J., has been all over UNO boss Juan Rangel about the d’Escoto brothers’ deals. Levy says he's worried about the teachers union being able to exploit UNO corruption to kill millions in state grant money to pay for the group's real estate deals. Investors are losing confidence in the group's ability to pay back millions in loans.

“From what I understand, they are able to pay debt service — certainly in the near term, in the next year or two,” says Carlotta Mills of Standard & Poors. “Right now, I want to see if they are able to get the money from the state.”

Machine pols like Ald. Eddie Burke and Mayor Emanuel are putting the screws on Gov. Quinn in order to get him to turn the money spigot back on again to keep the Wall Streeters happy.

I'm pretty sure he will. When Wall St. speaks, Chicago politicians listen.

Bill Gate$ buys into Common Core

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:
For an initiative billed as being publicly driven, the Common Core States Initiative has benefited enormously from the generosity of the private philanthropy of Bill and Melinda Gates. How much? About $150 million worth. Take a look at this list of grants, obtained from their foundation’s Web site. Note not only the amounts but the wide range of organizations receiving money. Universities. Unions. State education departments. Nonprofits. Think tanks. 
AFT got $4.4 million. NEA, only a million.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Slow Eddie" Burke wants the UNO tap turned on again. Gee, I wonder why?

From left, Gov. Pat Quinn, UNO CEO Juan Rangel, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Ald. Edward Burke at the July 2012 groundbreaking on the Southwest Side for the UNO Soccer Academy High School.
Back in the Harold Washington days, they called him "Slow Eddie" Burke to distinguish him from "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak, as a leader of the racist cabal of 29 Chicago aldermen who stood in opposition to the city's first black mayor.

Vrdolyak is out of prison and back plying his trade in nearby Cicero. But Ald. Ed Burke is still with us and still pulling the same shenanigans. On Wednesday, Burke asked his pal Gov. Quinn, to turn the the money spigot back on for the UNO charter hustlers.

Last month, as investigations swirled, Quinn suspended the remaining payments from a $98 million state school construction grant to UNO after it was found that millions were funneled to companies owned by two brothers of Miguel d’Escoto, a top UNO executive who resigned following the reports. Quinn, worried about his own connections to UNO, asked the clout-heavy group to clean up it's mess before he would turn the spigot back on. That clean up would likely include a leadership shuffle with UNO political boss Juan Rangel stepping down.

Burke has five UNO schools in his ward and UNO helped his brother Dan defeat progressive Rudy Lozano in a close 2010 election. Burke’s daughter-in-law, Jacqueline Burke, has worked for UNO since 2009, according to UNO payroll records. Also, about $1.67 million from the state grant to UNO went to Windy City Electric, which was operated by top Burke precinct captain Anthony Burke, to help build the charter elementary school that UNO operates next to the future Soccer Academy High School.

Burke has also raised a ton of money for Quinn who needs Slow Eddie's backing if he has any chance of being re-elected in the upcoming governor's race. And so it goes. The ties that bind.

According to the Sun-Times:
Burke — who attended the school’s groundbreaking last July, along with Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan — called himself a “big fan” of Juan Rangel, UNO’s chief executive officer, who also co-chaired Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign. Burke called Rangel a “man of honesty, integrity and good purpose.”
All this, just as Pres. Obama was turning National Teacher Appreciation Week into “National Charter Schools Week" and calling privately-run charters, "learning laboratories". I'm sure Slow Eddie's family, Rangel, the d'Escoto brothers, Madigan and Rahm will all be joining in the celebration.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

'Blowing up the system' -- Roberts confesses

Roy Roberts was told to "blow up and dismantle" Detroit's school system 
When Michigan'sTea Party Gov. Rick Snyder brought in Roy Roberts in May, 2011, to replace the Robert Bobb/ Barbara Byrd-Bennett school management team in Detroit, he was told to, “blow up the district and dismantle it.” At least that's what the Detroit Free Press reported in an article that has since been revised and no longer includes such comments.

Roberts, a former GM exec, who was managing director of the Chicago-based private equity investment firm Reliant Equity Investors,.began his smash-and-grab assault on the schools by throwing out the collective-bargaining agreement and imposing top-down authority, using the power given him by SB4. He announced this week, that he is leaving the district.

Roberts' statement brings to mind the opening line in A Nation at Risk, written 30 years ago as the seminal document of the modern corporate school reform movement:
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war,” the report said. “
I would paraphrase it this way: If a terrorist group threatened to "blow up and dismantle" our public education system, we would most definitely consider it an act of war. Roberts' now-deleted unsolicited confession shows corporate reform has declared war on public education. .

They come and they go

Catalyst follows the comings and goings of the cogs in Chicago's corporate reform wheel. The latest to catch my eye is Oliver Sicat, who leaves CPS to become the CEO and president of Edvocate, the charter management organization overseeing USC Hybrid High School in Los Angeles.

Sicat was the founder of University of Illinois at Chicago College Prep, a campus of the Noble Street Charters Schools.  USC Hybrid High, now in its first year, is a charter school authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District and designed and built by the University of Southern California Rossier School.

He was hired by Rahm to run the charter school wing of the mayor's school-closing operation. You know how that goes -- close a neighborhood public school, claiming it's "underutilized" and then open 3 charter schools around the corner, run by private companies. It's an economic and political win-win for the mayor and the corporate guys. And Sicat was the guy brought in to make it work.

Rahm even invented a new position of chief portfolio officer specifically for his rising star bureaucrat.  So why is he leaving a position created just for him? Don't know. Rahm likes to keep the revolving door revolving. It keeps any one department from getting too much power. Plus he's had to make room in the bloated school-closing/charter bureaucracy for new blood, like ex-marine colonel and hostage negotiator, Tom Tyrell and for Ald. O'Connor's sister, Catherine Sugrue.

Much like the military-industrial complex, where operators slide easily from the government bureaucracy to corporate board rooms, so it is with the edreform-corporate complex.

One group that sticks around is the corporate patrons of charter schools themselves who also keep Rahm on a short leash.

From the Chicago Tribune:
Yet the mayor's kitchen cabinet of advisers includes political donors from the strata of high finance in which he himself made millions of dollars. Those advisers, many active in promoting charter schools, include Michael Sacks, the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, who also heads Emanuel's World Business Chicago economic development panel; Kenneth Griffin and his wife, Anne Dias Griffin, who each run hedge fund firms; and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, a likely candidate for the Republican governor nomination. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Michael Milken treating schools like junk bonds

Good post at Modern School blog, describing the great K12Inc. public school  heist engineered by  indicted racketeer and securities fraud purveyor, Michael Milken. Despite K12’s lack of success in terms of improving student achievement, the company has been a cash cow for Milken and his fellow investors.

According to MS:
Milken, as you may recall, was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud in 1989 as a result of his insider trading and junk bond scamming. As part of a plea deal, he admitted guilt to six securities violations, but was never convicted of any of the racketeering charges. Sentenced to 10 years in a tennis club prison for white collar crooks and permanently banned from Wall Street, he ultimately served only 22 months, paid a hefty $1.1 billion in fines, but bounced back in better shape than the vast majorities of Americans could ever dream of, with a net worth of over $2 billion in 2010.