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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mayoral control of schools? Consider Kevin Johnson.

K.J. with pals Arne Duncan and Arnold Schwarzenegger at a 2009 rally in Sacramento. Photo via AP
The rising star, it seems, set up a fake government—and some people are starting to notice.
If any city is still contemplating turning their schools over to mayoral one-man rule, this portrait of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson should provide the cure.

Dave McKenna writes in Deadspin about K.J.'s attempt to set up "a fake government".

According to McKenna, the mayor is replacing civil servants with cronies funded by the Wal-Mart empire and tasked with "the twin purposes of working to abolish public education and bring in piles of cash for Kevin Johnson".

McKenna writes:
Johnson is husband to Michelle Rhee, the controversial school-privatization activist, and there is considerable evidence that their shared desire to turn public schools into engines of profit for private actors is what has driven much, if not most, of Johnson’s more recent wrongdoing. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, he’s enjoyed the profile and appointments of a national figure on the make: public appearances with President Barack Obama, portrayal as a latter-day Metternich by The New York Times, and the patronage of serious players like Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates.
 McKenna has been on the trail of K.J. and Rhee for a while. Here's his piece from a year ago.
Kevin Johnson's Grifter Wife Returns To The Scene Of A Scandal

Rhee left her Stand For Children organization a year ago to go to work for a fertilizer company.  No Shit!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wizzards owner Leonsis underwrites D.C. charters. Then gets a new practice arena from taxpayers.

"...we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we're talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice." -- Alan Iverson
D.C. billionaire venture capitalist/philanthropist Ted Leonsis helps bankroll all of the district's privately-run charter schools through his Venture Philanthropy Partners. That includes more than $5.5 million to KIPP DC. But there's a catch to his generosity. 

You see, Leonsis has an interesting philosophy. He believes that instead of paying taxes on his investment profits, taxpayers ought to pay him. This year the payment comes in the form of a new $55 million basketball practice arena for his Washington Wizzards. Taxpayers are picking up most of the cost. 

According to CSN:
The project will cost an estimated $55 million... The Wizards' lease with the city is for 19 years and involves a $23 million investment from the government... Events D.C. [the city's official convention and sports authority] is contributing about half of the total cost for construction.
The latest on D.C. charters... The attorney general has filed two lawsuits alleging that D.C. charter school leaders used for-profit companies to divert millions of taxpayer dollars into their own pockets. The D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees all city charter schools, has no legal right to examine the books and records of those private companies, and says it therefore has little ability to monitor how those dollars are spent. -- Washington Post

As if KIPP DC needed the $$$... They just received another $4.2 million gift this week, from Joel Smilow, the president and chief executive of Playtex Products. Obvious connection there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Whatever happened to the Zuckerberg's $100M 'gift' to Newark schools?

The Hechinger Report carries an interview today, with journalist Dale Russakoff, author of “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” The book tells the story of Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million "gift" to Newark Public Schools five years ago.

HR wants to know how the money was spent? A question I've been asking since 2011. Despite a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, we still don't even know exactly how that money was spent except that it was used to create a couple of new privately-run charter schools and that about a third of it was used to pay crony political and educational consultants and contractors through a slush fund set up by former mayor Corey Booker and Gov. Christie. We also know that it provided a nice tax break for Zuckerberg.

Most telling part of the interview is when HR asks Russakoff about former superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan. She responds:
There are tremendous numbers of parents and teachers in Newark who felt that the schools needed radical change, but there was no acknowledgement that those people should be playing a role in this One Newark process. I asked Cami Anderson about the lack of communication and she said the One Newark plan is, as she kept calling it, 16-dimensional chess, which was a way of saying it’s incredibly complicated. She said if you brought families in, of course every family was going to have some issue and if you fixed that issue you would create an issue for someone else. She felt it was important to make the decisions that she thought were the best for the families and the kids. In doing that, she missed a lot of input that was critical.
Anderson's response to Russakoff goes right to the heart of corporate-style, top-down school reform's failure (even by its own standards of success), it's elitism and lack of transparency. The good news is that the very parents and community activists that Anderson held in such disregard, have run her out of Newark. The bad news is that her replacement is Chris Cerf who helped engineer the whole Zuckerberg affair.

Now that Anderson's gone. Booker's gone, Zuckerberg's gone, Oprah's gone, and Christie's off running for president of the United States, we're all left asking: where did the money go?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Noble -- The Billionaire's Charter School Network

Former Exelon CEO John Rowe at his Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy. 
It was 2006 and Mr. Manderschied was president of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. He met with Mr. Rauner, then chairman of Chicago private-equity firm GTCR LLC, in a living room-like suite at the firm's Sears Tower office. But he was nervous because he had never asked anyone for such a large sum. After an hour's discussion, Mr. Rauner agreed to the $1 million donation that would make his name the first one emblazoned on a Noble school. -- Crain's
While parents and Bronzeville community activists had to go on an 18-day hunger strike to win an open enrollment high school at Dyett, all charter hustler Mike Milkie had to do was walk into billionaire Bruce Rauner's office with his well-connected pal Manderschied and ask him for a million bucks to open another in his chain of privately-run charter schools. Then it's over to CPS to win easy approval for another charter school to compete with underfunded neighborhood schools for area students.

Already the state's biggest charter network, Noble expects to teach 15% of Chicago public high school students by 2017.

How they call them public schools, I will never know.

The Noble Network of Charter Schools founded by Milkie, a former Chicago high school teacher, looks more like an ego-boosting tax haven for local billionaires than it does public, neighborhood charter schools. For a meager $1M "investment", billionaires like Gov. Bruce Rauner, Sec. of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Allan Muchin (founding partner of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP), former Exelon CEO John Rowe and former ComEd CEO and CPS school board president Frank Clark, had schools named after themselves.

According to Crain's: 
Mr. Rauner, a Republican from Winnetka, has backed a number of charter schools, including the UNO Charter School Network now dogged by questions of cronyism. But he has given the most to Noble, just over $3.5 million.
It was a nice boost for Rauner, who while locked in a tight race for governor,had hundreds of students moving around the city, wearing required school uniforms with polo shirts, jackets, sweats, and sports team jerseys bearing his name.

Now CEO of the Noble Network, Milkie says he understands how to talk to business executives.
“Their dollars are a great investment in terms of return,” he says, citing low administrative costs and the “tremendous impact on students' lives.” He provides dashboards of data to document progress on everything from student testing to detentions to teacher bonuses.
“Businesspeople like to measure things,” says retired Exelon Corp. Chairman and CEO John Rowe, who estimates he's given $4.5 million to Noble and for college scholarships to its graduates since 2007.
In its latest capital campaign, Noble has raised more than half the $50 million it's targeting for expansion. That includes $15 million last year from Glenview-based Illinois Tool Works Inc.'s foundation for the ITW David Speer Academy for a school built across the street from Prosser High School. ITW has already been contacting Prosser freshman and their families to recruit them away from Prosser.

But lately, Milke and his wealthy patrons have run into trouble when they tried to expand into more upscale north-side white communities. Parents rose up in opposition and local pols responded by putting the kibosh on Noble's expansion plans.

Big money talks, but doesn't always win.