Monday, March 28, 2016

Who Was Propping Up Washington State Charter Schools After Supreme Court Ruling?

I finally received one charter school's documents that I had requested via public disclosure; these were from Green Dot's Destiny Middle School. 

Now it took some doing because initially a couple of charters did not want to give me anything, saying they weren't public schools.  When I pressed them on handing over documents that were created during the time that they were charter schools, then I got an okay but was put off to "March or April."  I'm still waiting for a couple of other schools.  (I note that Rep. Gerry Pollet also got this runaround which should tell you something.)

Green Dot itself only sent them to me in hard copy which, of course, makes it more difficult to copy from and track.  They said they have to buy special "software" to send them to me electronically.  Guess what was in the huge stack of documents?  A letter dated October 2015 to a law firm saying that Green Dot would be sending them public disclosure documents...electronically.

Here's the narrative I wrote about the time right after the September 4, 2015 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the charter school law to about the end of December.  The narrative does have an Executive Summary but really, to get the full impact, you should read the entire narrative.

Busy, frantic, scheming is how you would describe the actions of the charter schools in the e-mails, their supporters, OSPI, State Superintendent Randy Dorn and, most of all, the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

Highlights:
About the Supreme Court, the head of Excel charter school, Gillian Williams – in a September 6, 2015 e-mail to other charter school leaders - said this:
"This fight is not over and the truth-telling about the crass media play of this court at the cost of students who most need support has not even begun."

September 4, 2015 Tom Franta CEO of WSCSA to charter school leaders:
Guys, The Supreme Court just ruled, and it looks bad…very bad

September 8
Anne Martens at the Gates Foundation wants to throw a bake sale at charter school rally for PR stunt to get the media to yet another rally. She wrote to Bree Dusseault at Destiny Middle School and Jen Wickens at Summit Sierra:
The teacher Union in Seattle is organizing a soup drive to feed the teacher(sic) as they go on strike and the media is loving it
But Jen Wickens at Summit didn't want to do this because they had told families they DID have the money for the year and didn’t want to confuse the issue.

Did you note that Wickens said they told families they had money to finish the school year?  Yes, within the week, they had the money.

September 11th 
from Chad Soleo, Vice President of Advancement at Green Dot Public Schools.
We have cleared a big hurdle already in this step. We’ve secured financial commitments to keep us open throughout the year without reliance on public funding.
From a September 12th e-mail from Dave Stewart at Vulcan to Andrew Jassy at Amazon (Mr. Jassy is on the board of Pride Prep Rainier Prep charter school.)
Ballmer is contributing $5M. He has not yet allocated the amounts, but it will be spread across bridging local charter schools, advocacy and other support.

Nick Hanauer, Eli Broad and Alice Walton are also likely to make significant contributions, although it is not clear to what extent it will be allocated to bridging existing schools, advocacy or other support.

The charter association and funder representatives agreed to wait 2-3 weeks before announcing these grants.
Why did they want to wait? Because then they could continue to find more funders, could ask charter families for money and  
schools have money from existing grant sources to maintain operations into October. Therefore, we anticipate waiting until late-September, early October to release any funds so that we may determines the final funding gap needed.
So there was no fire to put out on that front.  In fact:


September 23rd e-mail from Marguerite Kondracke (Social Venture Partners Seattle) to Marco Petruzzi (CEO of Green Dot Public Schools) as well as Bree Dusseault (head of Green Dot Washington) and Andrew Buhayar (on charter board at Excel: )

So we are still going to receive payments from the state, according to the Seattle Times? If so, let’s put it in a reserve account. Odds are, we will be asked to pay it back if the court ruling stands.
Reply from Marco Petruzzi to Bree Dusseault at Green Dot as well as Marguerite Kondracke and Andrew Buhayar:
I think we spend the funds, since we have a backstop with Gates. I’ve rarely seen a situation where we would have to return funds. But this may be it. 
It's a lovely thing to have not one, but two pots of money to fund your schools. 

Who else was helping to prop up these schools?

Sep 7th
e-mail from Rekha Bhatt at WA Charters to Charter leaders
On agenda for conference call

School operations - work with Randy Dorn and Rob McKenna to ensure a path forward (independent schools, home school, ALE possibly pilot)
September 12 e-mail from Mitch Price, Director of Policy and Government Relations at WA Charters
I see no need for schools to collect or submit homeschool petitions this week, given the expedited reviews of private schools applications and the ALE contract process, the fact that OSPI has said ALE apportionment dollars could flow even before an ALE contract is executed and the email fro Dierk starting (sic) that school districts have no authority to refuse to accept a declaration of intent to homeschool past the 15 day window.
Here's the one that was most troubling:


Nov. 19 Dave Powell at Stand for Children to Franta and Green Dot
But with the signature on transfer forms - we know the District staff are much more open to charters than the Board. I can call Josh Garcia, whom I have a good and candid relationship with and ask directly him directly (sic) about how they would direct their staff on signing transfer forms, I feel like there is a way to get the senior staff there to give a quiet go-ahead to their staff under the boards (sic) radar and if the board gets wind of the signing of transfer forms, there is a pretty easy answer back from the Supt that its(sic) biz as Normal. Let me know if such a call is desired or helpful. Don't want to tip people off either though.
To note, Josh Garcia is the Deputy Superintendent of Tacoma (he was awarded the "leader to learn from” award by Education Week this year) and yet Mr. Powell at Stand for Children believed he could persuade Mr. Garcia to direct Tacoma School District staff to act “under the boards (sic) radar” AND figured an “out” for Mr. Garcia.  Mr. Powell of Stand is stated at Green Dot's website as one of the "founders" of the Green Dot school in Tacoma.
Nov. 22  Bill Kiolbasa at WSCSA to Tom Franta at WSCSA, Stand for Children, Green Dot:
I agree on coordinated effort, but I think this is a good start. The overall ALE agreement may be a district issues, but if choice transfer forms are signed all the time, and we have some mid-level allies who will do this, that would seem to be simple cover"
On what Mary Walker School District should do, here's the advice WA Charters gives them:


Nov. 30   Maggie Meyers at WA Charters writes to Kevin Jacka at MWSD:
First, we want to thank you again to your willingness to work with us and your commitment to providing a quality, public education for all Washington students. As this issue gains attention we wanted to provide you with a media response plan in the likely event that press reach out to you directly. Our recommendation is that Mary Walker decline any interviews and instead provide a short statement. Our team can handle any further questions.
Washington State Charter Commission


September 12, e-mail from Mitch Price at WA Charters
The other looming question is whether the Commission will consider it a breach of contract to shift to another designation. Yesterday I ran into Josh and he told me that he and Eileen (Aileen) were "looking into it" but considering saying we breach our batter contract if we go homeschool and removing our charter status if families apply. My assumption is applying for private school or ALE would warrant the same response of homeschool does, given homeschool is the lowest level of breach.'
This issue has never been publicly addressed. Would charter schools be in breach of contract with the Washington State Charter Commission because they were now providing services to students in a manner different than described in the contracts that were signed?  Or if they aren't charters but public schools now but go back to being charters...exactly what does this all mean?

If this was all happening in just three months of existence for these charters and this is just one school's public disclosure documents, I wonder what else will turn up.

Summary
You cannot have charter schools and their supporters believing there is a way to circumvent regulations and laws.

You cannot have charter schools and their supporters believing that it's okay to go around (or around the backs of) elected school board members to get what they want.


You cannot have charter schools and their supporters taking money from two sources to support their schools and not publicly revealing that fact.  

I have given other reasons why the Governor should not sign the charter school bill before him but now there is all of this.

It is deeply troubling and he should veto the bill. 

31 comments:

Eliza said...

"Now it took some doing because initially a couple of charters did not want to give me anything, saying they weren't public schools."

Well *that's* super interesting. If they aren't public schools, they shouldn't be getting public money. The End.

-LizaSfT

correction said...

Andrew Jassy is the board chair of Rainier Prep, not Pride Prep.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, Correction. I'll fix that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

It was quite interesting to see a guy from Vulcan tell the guy from Amazon (that would be Mr. Jassy) about getting the money for all the charters. The connections in this town are quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

In those Amazon, Vulcan, Microsoft, Gates etc circles, supporting charters seems trendy, like the latest club. None of them have ever had a child in SPS if they've ever had children. It's just something they do because all their pals are doing it, so it must be a good idea. Can't figure out if they are thinking they are doing a public service or if there is money in it down the road. Of course there is money in it down the road!

FTB

NO 1240 said...

It is interesting to note that charter schools had millions in private funding, but Dorn decided to do an end-run around the Constitution.

Dave Powell's comment confirms what we have always known- the reformers work with individuals within the administrative structures and seek to work under the board's radar:

"Dave Powell at Stand for Children to Franta and Green Dot

But with the signature on transfer forms - we know the District staff are much more open to charters than the Board. I can call Josh Garcia, whom I have a good and candid relationship with and ask directly him directly (sic) about how they would direct their staff on signing transfer forms, I feel like there is a way to get the senior staff there to give a quiet go-ahead to their staff under the boards (sic) radar and if the board gets wind of the signing of transfer forms, there is a pretty easy answer back from the Supt that its(sic) biz as Normal. Let me know if such a call is desired or helpful. Don't want to tip people off either though. "

The amount of dollars and connections to individuals are staggering. If the privatization effort continues...I'm sure this will be just the tip of the iceberg.

Michael Peña said...

From a comment off my Facebook page when I shared it: "What you really need to dig out and look at is the amount spent on lobbying for the final vote, and who it was paid to. You don't hire that many lobbyists for chump change."

Anonymous said...

Green Dot flat out lying that they can't send FOIA documents? Barely maybe completely illegal Mary Walker District manipulations? Sneaking around behind school boards?It is exactly why some of us don't want charters in this state. Kinda wanna vomit.

Can you send to Ravitch and Valerie Strauss at Wash Post and even the annoying Gates-funded Times because not every reporter has been bought off I hope. Maybe to the Atlantic or some other big liberal pubs? These attitudes cannot stand and the only way to stop it is big media attention I am guessing.

The WEA should hear this too if they haven't already.

NoCharters

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, the Times refused my op-ed, saying the e-mails are "hearsay." I have written to Valerie Strauss and many other media outlets.

I also wrote to the Tacoma School Board about the suggested end-run around their elected duty by Mr. Powell of Stand for Children (and fyi, Green Dot's Destiny Middle School claims Stand as a "founder" of their school.) What's interesting is the deputy superintendent in question has been honored nationally for his work. As I told the Tacoma School Board, I'd hope with that kind of background that the deputy sup would have absolutely said no to this kind of action. But they should know there are people out there who would suggest it.

Michael Peña said...

No way the Times would ever publish this and you know it. How about the Stranger? Seattle Globalist? Lots of other options around...

ConcernedSPSParent said...

Perhaps the PI?. I no longer pay attention to the times.

Josh Hayes said...

The Times is still (increasingly shrilly) insisting that the governor sign the charter bill now, now, NOW! Before people have a chance to look further into it, one supposes.

As for "smoking guns", isn't a persistent record of sleazy behavior and the suggestion of fomenting misfeasance enough? Perhaps you think we should only be concerned if some charter big-wig is caught robbing a bank or something?

FOIA SEZ said...

Bree Dusseault was quite the player. National Charter Expansion was providing assistance to Green Dot. As well, Dusseault was in touch with Senator Patty Murray's office and there was talk of getting Federal assistance.

Tell me, we have state laws and there was attempts to get federal assistance? What is wrong with that picture?

One thing is clear, charter schools received support from Gates, Hanauer, Ballmer, National Organizations etc. and OSPI to circumvent the court's decision. Disgusting.

FOIA SEZ said...

Melissa's documents show clear attempts at back-room deals. I suspect we're looking at the tip of the iceberg.

Anonymous said...

I agree with FOIA -this is a big deal and back room politics at the very least. Thanks Melissa for pursuing and exposing this.

Mary

Anonymous said...

Unless something is missing, wasn't the last batch of emails the Tacoma attorney challenging the OSPI attorney about the legality of the OSPI to MWSD transfers? Sounds like Tacoma wasn't on board with the plan and actively raising concerns to OSPI. Would be pretty ballsy to have your attorney calling out OSPI on not following the law if your Dep Sup was in the back corner as a coconspirator.

-IMO

Melissa Westbrook said...

I guess you didn't read my narrative; Stand for Children is listed as a "founder" of Destiny Middle School. I think that connects him quite a lot. And it was a very specific person that he said he could persuade to do something highly unethical and then hide it with a smokescreen. You can't have smoke without fire, aka.

I have no problem with advocacy; I have a problem with making it look like it's some kind of "hey kids,let's have rally" when it all a front for people chockful of money to throw at an issue.

Actually FOIA SEZ, it was Murray's aide who contacted Ms. Dusseault to help. Interesting and I'll have to ask the Senator next time I see her.

And, as I stated, I'm waiting for more to come. That I could find issues in both places - OSPI and Green Dot - and that's just in three months? What will it all look like in three years?

I also want to emphasize - again - no help from these people on McCleary but boy, was Summit figuring out how to get their share of both the Seattle Schools' Operations and BTA levies (without lifting a finger to help pass them.)

Melissa Westbrook said...

IMO, I wrote to the Tacoma School Board today. Mr. Garcia, the Deputy Superintendent, is highly regarded so Mr. Powell might be waaay off in his ability to get Mr. Garcia to do his bidding.

AKA, you can believe what you want but yes, I absolutely uncovered things that were not known before. Unless, of course, you work for some charter entity and already knew this already.

This is not all about McCleary but I think every single public school parent who spoke out this session, alone or in a group, deserves the credit for doing so. That no charter school or group did that says more about them than me.

Anonymous said...

The fact that they didn't need public money, yet took public money and stashed the rest away in their "reserves" says plenty.

"So we are still going to receive payments from the state, according to the Seattle Times? If so, let’s put it in a reserve account. Odds are, we will be asked to pay it back if the court ruling stands.
Reply from Marco Petruzzi to Bree Dusseault at Green Dot as well as Marguerite Kondracke and Andrew Buhayar:
I think we spend the funds, since we have a backstop with Gates. I’ve rarely seen a situation where we would have to return funds. But this may be it. "

These are the same people who lobbied the legislature with their 22 highly-paid lobbyists, and not once did they seek to fully fund PUBLIC SCHOOLS via McCleary.

These are the same people who rallied* parents and kids to go down to Olympia and lobby for public money for their privatized schools DESPITE the fact they had plenty of private money, and never once spoke up about fully funding PUBLIC SCHOOLS via McCleary.

Says enough right there. Selfish, greedy, lacking ethics - they don't give a crap about kids. They just want whatever money and market share they can get their slimy hands on. No different than any other charter operators in all the other states. Look at the lovely mess in Chicago, where the UNO charter schools/network tried to evade FOIA requests for years, and without a lawsuit, no one would have known how they spent public money ($150K on a FIREWORKS SHOW - this as public schools were being shut down).

CT

*kids and parents used as pawns to further the greed of the charter corps and their billionaire sugar daddies, but because there's a double standard when it comes to charter school lobbying vs public schools who aren't allowed to do it, it gets labeled as "rally" instead.

NO 1240 said...

I was just reading that article, CT.

I did note that:

• More than $11,600 for 42 buses that brought parents of UNO students to a September 2011 rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago for increased public funding of charter schools. The group also bused parents to demonstrate at City Hall, the Chicago Board of Education and the Thompson Center."

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/uno-united-neighborhood-organization-charter-schools-chicago-spending-revealed-juan-rangel/

If charter schools are allowed to persist, we will see more bus loads of charter students heading to Olympia.

Melissa uncovered the fact that private funders were willing to keep charter schools open, but Dorn used ALE rules to circumvent the court's decision.

Anonymous said...

The irony in this statement is just killing me.
"This fight is not over and the truth-telling about the crass media play of this court at the cost of students who most need support has not even begun."

First of all, "cost of students who most need support"? Looking at Gerry Pollet's report about how many private school kids and kids from North of the Ship Canal Bridge are now attending Summit Charter School, I'm not seeing those as kids who most need support. RBHS - yes, those kids most need support. But Summit's population does not represent the population found in SE Seattle nor RBHS. My guess is that most of the charters, if not all, are similar, not that they'll publicize that.

Secondly - "truth-telling" - from people who lied about their funding? Really? Said with a straight face?

Lastly - who is really involved in the "crass media play"? Could it be the 22 lobbyists, their billionaire sugar daddies, and the anti-public school ed deformer organizations like Stand On Children?

This is all just a big racket. A long con.

CT

FOIA SEZ said...

I just read through a batch of e-mails dated December 2015. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the role the Washington State Charter Association played in converting charter schools to ALEs. The Washington State Charter Association is a private special interest group and they were working to collect public funds for charter schools- after I 1240 was determined unconstitutional. They played a major role in coordinating efforts between OSPI, Mary Walker School District and educational service districts.

If the media is watching, obtain documents between OSPI and the Washington State Charter Association during December 2015.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The WA Charters group has - with little pushback from OSPI or the Charter Commission - become the major player for charter development and operations. It's astonishing that a private group could be so involved with public policy and running of schools but you cannot read these e-mails without seeing it.

That OSPI called it out as an issue and yet didn't push back that much is odd.

But let's see what the SAO thinks.

Anonymous said...

@AKA: The evidence is the state of mind of the persons communicating. Were such ideas and thoughts ever acted upon? Perhaps not, if that's your point, so you may claim no harm, no foul. But please don't be so naive as to dismiss this coordinated charade and scheme by charter supporters as nothing new. It's not just what they are or aren't doing. It's how they are doing it, and who is paying for it. As always, follow the money.

WSDWG

Anonymous said...

The head of the Washington charter lobbying association being married to the principal of the only Seattle charter school also falls into eyebrow raising territory. Push charters to keep spouse employed. Hey maybe not illegal but certainly unseemly. Appearances matter and this appearance is not working.

Charter lobbying association suggests: spring kids from school repeatedly to stage fake outrage in Olympia. Fake because it is orchestrated by the adults not the kids. Principal married to charter lobbying head: Sure and what else can we do.

It reeks. Do not know any other word.

The Dusseault-Eide marriage with both undermining SPS traditional public schools and hardworking SPS teachers via lobbying, charters and Gates Foundation is another example.

Charter backers are all How Dare People Bring In Personal Lives. But if personal lives revolve around getting their professional lives into well-paid stable jobs on the taxpayer dime, these things need daylighting way more often in my book.

NoCharters

Melissa Westbrook said...

To note, Kaaren Andrews, the principal of Interagency, was on Green Dot's board when they opened. Her name no longer appears there.

She was one of a handful of SPS employees invited to the charter school rallies. The others include Michael Tolley, Nate Fitzpatrick (former TFA), Clover Codd, and Michael Starosky (chief of schools). Why those four other people, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Well, to play devils advocate a tiny bit, I suppose it's not too surprising, that like any industry there are a lot of linkages between entities. I was interested to note that the Director of School Development Programs at the WA Charter Association is now Vice Principal at GreenDot's Destiny Middle School in Tacoma and that the School Operations Manager there was the State Operations Coordinator at Stand For Children Washington previously.

Its clearly a community that takes care of its own, as is true in many professions. So maybe the spouse thing isn't as problematic/surprising as it seems? Though it's hard not to wonder....

reader47

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have nothing really to say about who is married to who. It's none of my business really except as it affects situations and policies.

seattle citizen said...

Gates Foundation is in a polygamous marriage with the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Stand For Children, Teach For America, and other national organizations that fund policy change towards free-market, neo-liberal publIC education. Their many children include te Washington State Charter School Association, ACT Now, League of Education Voters, the Seattle Times...
It's a big family....

Ms206 said...

My thoughts exactly! They can't have it both ways...take public money and play by different rules.

seattle citizen said...

Certainly not the charter school industry.
;)