Sunday, August 10, 2014

Charters - The Gift that Keeps on Giving

There's almost something humorous about charter stories today.  They come faster and faster; stars who start charters that fail, financial scandals, and promises made and then broken.

What's the funny part?  Well, the supporters of 1240 said "we have a lot to learn from charters."  I would agree and in more ways than one.  We should be the state to be uber-careful about who comes through that charter door.  No backdoors for anyone.  No one who has been indicted in another state.  y

Here's the examples of what NOT to do:

- In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the FBI, not just the state auditor, have moved in on a charter group. From AP:

Two Albuquerque charter schools have paid more than $1 million to a private company owned by the schools' top administrator and another school official, according to a financial review by the state auditor's office released Wednesday.
That was in July.  Now in August the FBI raided the building.  

The state auditor wouldn’t give specifics. However, sources told News 13 the federal investigation surrounds fraud and embezzlement allegations involving state and federal dollars.

The Southwest Learning Center is made up of three schools for different age groups all under one roof. Because school officials call them separate schools it qualifies for an extra $850,000 from the state in small school funding.

- Meanwhile, in New Orleans, they are trying to get students enrolled, both in real public schools and charters, via one application (to try to make it easier for parents).  Indeed, charter proponents are all for school districts and charters within their boundaries doing this.

New Orleans, after Katrina, became mostly a charter district, a move that mostly just confused parents.

This new enrollment process?  Not working well.   From the Times-Picayune in July:

New Orleans public school enrollment faltered badly Wednesday when hundreds of parents arrived at the lone resource center to sign up their children -- only to be turned away for lack of staff to help them. It was an embarrassing fiasco for an enrollment process that has received national praise and aims to make life easier for families.

Recovery School District Deputy Superintendent Dana Peterson confirmed that Wednesday afternoon. And 300 people was all the system was expecting, he said, based on past experience. But more than 800 showed up before noon, and there were only a dozen stations to serve them.

There are no default assignments to a neighborhood schools; all families must choose where to go. 

Speaking of New Orleans, this was a sad piece from a recent New Orleans high school grad, Glenn Sullivan in The Washington Post:

In my school, as in many schools — especially in reform-oriented school districts — a lot of the good, black teachers have been replaced by younger white teachers. Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, nearly 75 percent of the city’s public school teachers were black. That began to change after Katrina, when charter schools began to grow in number. The percentage of minority teachers across New Orleans public schools dropped from 60 percent to 54 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to data compiled by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives. This troubles me. 

So many stars, so many charter schools (Andre Agassi, John Legend, Eva Longoria and my fav, Pitbull).  But whose in trouble after just two years?  Former NFL star, Deion Sanders, opened Prime Prep Academy in Dallas just two years ago, and has pretty much been in trouble ever since.  Money for subsidized meals given to the school by the state but no documentation any were ever served.  Fighting, physical fighting, among the school's leadership. 

From FOX News:

Prime Prep has been a troubled institution in a number of areas since its opening. In addition to claims of financial mismanagement, its athletic program withdrew from the University Interscholastic League, which presides over public school competition in the state, when it struggled to conform to eligibility rules.

Then, of course there's the Gulan chain of charters that just keeping having issues.  Gulen is the largest charter chain with Texas having the largest number of them.  Ohio has been having issues with this group. From the Akron Beacon Journal:

Public records show that since late 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor has allowed 19 of these schools in Ohio to hire 325 educators almost exclusively from Turkey.

However, as early as 2002, state audits found thousands of public dollars “illegally expended” to finance the U.S. citizenship process for Turkish employees — some fresh out of college with no classroom experience and broken English. Help with legal and immigration fees also extended to their children and families, including the spouses of directors.

Three of the Ohio schools have been visited by the FBI as part of a multistate probe. The agency said it is part of a white-collar criminal investigation.

Federal agents have not disclosed details, only that the investigation originated in Cleveland, has spread to Indiana and Illinois, and may or may not be connected to previous investigations at related schools in Baton Rouge, La., and Philadelphia.

As I said to the Charter Commission, I think there are better charter groups to bring into Washington State than a group under investigation in multiple states by the FBI.

Remember Rocketship charters?  This is a group from Northern California who touted high school with computerized learning.  The San Jose Mercury News reports that Rocketship is pulling back on their growth.

But eight years after its first school opened in a downtown San Jose church, Rocketship has scaled back its ambitious goal of enrolling 1 million students in 50 cities -- which would have put it on the same scale as New York City's school district, the nation's largest.

Perhaps even more devastating for this darling of charter-school boosters is that its vaunted test scores have plummeted.

Primary among its difficulties, Smith concedes, is the failure of an audacious plan to knock down walls and create 100-student classrooms, which Rocketship is abandoning.

Rocketship, Smith said, has been targeted partly because it challenges the status quo.

Not so, said the network's leading nemesis. Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, whose successful lawsuit led Rocketship to abandon plans for an already-approved school in Tamien, southwest of downtown. He said he's most concerned about governance.

"What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?" asked Bymaster, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a "Stop Rocketship" website that has attracted a local and national following.

He noted that Rocketship reneged on a promise to maintain local school boards and instead consolidated them with the national board. "How do we as a community hold them accountable?"
 Remember those explanations that freedom from regulations included not having teachers unions involved?  Not so much now.  Green Dot, for example, has its own union (which is better than nothing).  But in one STEM school in Marlboro, Massachusetts, 80 staff members joined a union.  It was not the teachers union.  No, this group of people joined the Teamsters.  You can't be in a more powerful group (seriously, ever worked on a film set?). 

Like most charter schools, AMSA hires teachers to one-year contracts and does not offer seniority. The school did not, until now, have to wrestle with the union to fire employees.

"A lot of key people, award-winning teachers, were let go. That decision cannot be made in five minutes in a back room so someone else can get the job. We need a process so that everyone can feel more protected," said Lino Alvarez, a computer science and Web design teacher at AMSA. 

No kidding.  You need "tenure" in order to protect due process?  Do tell.

Charters; not the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Read more here:


Charlie Mas said...

Charters LOVE it when they can get a public school district to include them in the enrollment process.

Not only does it give them additional exposure and facilitate access, it is yet another opportunity for them to out-source work to the public system for free. If the public schools are doing their enrollment for them, then they don't have to do that work or, more to the point, pay for that work, themselves.

We're also seeing that some of that regulatory "red tape" that frees charters to innovate is actually needed to prevent abuses. The wheels of justice turn slowly. It takes a year or two before the charter can start embezzling, and then it takes a year or two for anyone to notice, then it takes a year or two for someone to investigate and then it takes a year of two before charges are brought and then another year or two for the case to reach trial. It's a long, slow cycle.

Anonymous said...

Just to add balance:

Are saying SPS staff doesn't embezzle?

NB Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

NB, certainly there have been instances in SPS. I'm not going to tell you otherwise.

But these sums of money, throughout the U.S.? An order of scale different. And embezzlement in SPS did not leave a school struggling to stay open or parents wondering where they can send their school if it closes.

Anonymous said...

Correct, because SPS is a school district constantly robbing peter to pay pal then potter. The entire district would have to go Bankrupt before a single building.

I believe handing over large sums of money for contracts to friends that provide zero benefit to the school district is a kin to embezzlement.

It might be even worst because they do it right in our face and of coarse have a "policy" that allows for it.

Junket anyone

NB Parent

Anonymous said...

There is also a much better chance of 1) getting the money back and 2) seeing the perpetrators go to jail when any embezzling is done in the public school system. With the charter schools, very little can be done. I've known of some people in AZ who got off scott-free with several hundred thousand dollars they "borrowed" from a particular charter chain. Because of the grey area in which charters exist (public/private money), and the lack of accountability (AZ asks charters for accounting of monies and the charters say no, and there's nothing anyone can do about it), they get away with a lot more. And yes, AZ is among the queen bees when it comes to charters suddenly closing their doors. I've had more than one friend/relative relate stories of going to school only to find a chain on the door - no warning. Money's gone, school is closed, no ability to get school records, teachers don't get paid, and the charter school founder skips off with the money to another state to start up another charter.
Then there's Utah, where they don't bother embezzling - they just hire all the family members and keep all that public money in the family. One family member sells the land to the other family member (at a very high cost) who uses the family member in the legislature to get the charter school charter approved (wife usually "works" as a charter school lobbyist) , then hires another family member's company to build the charter school (also at a very high cost), then the now-complete charter school hires all the founders family members at highly inflated salaries as teachers (don't need a cert to get a job), secretaries, and administrators, and even invent jobs to ensure all the family members are employed, and ensures that the kids enrolled all attend the correct ward. It's quite the racket, but totally sanctioned by the legislature. And the sad thing is, we don't even know half of what goes on behind the scenes in the charters. Ever tried an FOIA on a charter? Good luck with that.
Give me the public system any day, screwed up as it may be in some places. At least there is some recourse and accountability, even though at times it may not seem that way.


Anonymous said...

Is my timing good or what? Perfect example of Utah legislator advocating for "school reform" whose wife is a lobbyist for the charter school industry.

Minor conflict of interest, but Utah legislators seem to consider that an their wallets.