Monthly Archives: September 2015

Pgcps Health Director Placed on Leave as Thousands of Students Need Immunizations

Profile on the new head of the Anne Arundel County Health Department, Dr. Angela Wakhkeya.

Dr. Angela Wakhweya

Prince George’s County Public Schools placed its health director on leave for mismanagement that includes student immunizations.

More than 3,000 of about 129,000 students have not been immunized in Prince George’s County.
In Montgomery County, only 9 of 156,000 have not been immunized, and in Charles County, it’s 2 of 26,280 students.

School CEO Kevin Maxwell hired Dr. Angela Wakhweya in 2013. She previously worked alongside Maxwell when he was superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools and she was the head of the county’s health department. Wakaweya was fired from that position for reasons not quite clear, but including a lack of confidence in her leadership, according to reports.

Proof of immunizations is required by Wednesday or students without immunizations will be asked to stay out of school until they are in compliance.

Via NBC 4




Mansion furnishings not only topic of interest as O’Malley left office

imageBeds, desks, chairs and other items from the governor’s mansion were not the only furnishings to occupy Martin O’Malley’s time as he prepared to leave office in January.

A table was the focus of a spirited email exchange between O’Malley and Alvin Collins, his secretary for the Department of General Services.

According to emails released through a public records request, Collins wrote to O’Malley on Jan. 9 — a week before the Democrat and his wife purchased 54 furnishings from the mansion at steep discounts. “I have not forgotten the table,” Collins wrote. “Should happen next Friday [Jan. 16]. Any remaining items are in progress!!!”

After O’Malley wrote back, calling Collins is his “favorite cabinet secretary,” Collins wrote that the incoming administration of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is “throwing me outa here. Sir, know that I will forever be thankful for all you allowed me to do. Always there for you.”

O’Malley replied: “What do you mean they are throwing you out? Before the inauguration? What about the table?”

“Table will be fine, sir. Friday [Jan. 16], as I will be monitoring if weather holds up. [Samuel L. Cook, the former director of the Annapolis Capital Complex,] got it covered.”

On Thursday — the day O’Malley and his family moved out of the mansion — general services employees formally declared 54 mansion furnishings as “junk.”

O’Malley spokesmen said the governor then asked to purchase the items, rather than have them be thrown out. State officials say the process was started earlier, when his wife, Katie Curran O’Malley, asked for the declaration. Cook devised the depreciation formula used to set a $9,638 price tag to armoires, beds, desks and other items that originally cost taxpayers $62,000, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The Department of General Services, which has a new secretary, is reviewing the sale to see if procedures were followed.

As for the table discussed in the emails, O’Malley’s former chief of staff, John Griffin, said it was not one of the mansion furnishings purchased by the governor. Griffin said it was a conference table in the governor’s reception room in the State House that O’Malley wanted moved to a new government building because it was “cumbersome to take down and reassemble.”

He could not explain what Collins meant by “any remaining items are in progress!!!”

Collins did not respond to requests for comment.

Via Sun Investigates

bs-md-sun-investigates-furniture-20150926Maryland Governor’s Mansion in Annapolis Maryland. 



How Charter Operators Rip Off Taxpayers


Eileen Appelbaum, co-author of the important book Private Equity at Work, flagged an important article in on how a secretive consulting firm that was previously investigated for corruption and a local law firm are engaged in complex, high cost bond deals to implement an asset stripping strategy that Appelbaum and her co-author Rosemary Batt have called out as a private equity enrichment scheme that impairs operating businesses. It’s bad enough to see this sort of thing take place in the dog-eat-dog world of Corporate America. It’s even worse to see it take place in charter schools, where the losers are students, by virtue of unjustifiably large portions of charter fees go to unproductive rental payments and financing fees, as opposed to education, and to taxpayers, who over time face inflated costs to fund profiteering masquerading as education.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, I hope you’ll read articles Charter schools building boom: Charters borrow nearly $500 million on taxpayers’ dime and raise holy hell about the String Theory charter schools, whose expansion plans need to be stopped in their tracks, as well as the roles of its highly paid fixers, the consulting firm Santilli & Thomson and the law firm Sand & Saidel.

The nub of the looting strategy is the acquisition and leaseback of lavish buildings to house charter schools. Because charters are correctly perceived to be risky tenants, bond financings for these purchases are at junk bond rates, meaning high financing costs are heaped on top of what would already be unjustifiably high rental charges, by virtue of putting schools in educationally unproductive glamorous digs. And of course, in an environment where it’s business as usual to lard up bond deals that could be done on a plain-vanilla basis with far more complicated deals that lower interest rates a smidge in return for allowing consultants to charge hefty fees and the financiers to dump risks worth more than the cost savings on the hapless borrower through derivatives, the financial rent extraction can occur at an even greater scale on a high-cost financing.

A 2014 post gives an overview of why the sale-leaseback scam is destructive in the private equity context:

For instance, one way that private equity overlords enrich themselves at the expense of the businesses they acquire is by taking real estate owned by the company, spinning it out into another entity (owned by the PE fund and to be monetized subsequently) and having the former owner make lease payments to its new landlord.

The problem with this approach is usually twofold. First the businesses that chose to own their own real estate did so for good reason. They were typically seasonal businesses, like retailers, or low margin businesses particularly vulnerable to the business cycle, like low-end restaurants. Owning their own property reduced their fixed costs, making them better able to ride out bad times.

To make this picture worse, the PE firms typically “sell” the real estate at an inflated price, which justifies saddling the operating business with high lease payments, making the financial risk to the company even higher. Of course, those potentially unsustainable rents make the real estate company look more valuable to prospective investors than it probably is.

The article describes how this strategy plays out in Philadelphia charter schools. Charter operator String Theory acquired a premier office building in 2013, renovated it, yet occupies only half the space for nine months of the year. And the immediate result of over-investing in real estate is whackage to the educational budget:

Shortly after moving into its flashy high rise, String Theory posted its first operating deficit. After revealing they were $500,000 in the red from paying out millions annually to bondholders, administrators told parents they were cutting certain classes and suspending bus service as cost-saving measures.

Worse, charter operators are increasingly resorting to these dodgy real estate deals (emphasis ours):

Charter schools used to inhabit repurposed supermarkets or old storefronts, but a analysis of bond documents showed that an increasing number — one out of three charters today — have bought or constructed newer and larger school buildings with tax-exempt bonds, paying millions in debt and fees to consultants along the way…..

“They’re getting bond ratings that have an eight or eight-and-a-half percent interest rate, whereas a school district getting [government] bonds to finance a project can get much lower interest rates,” said Bruce Baker, a Rutgers education professor.

This leaves charters spending more educational dollars on interest payments — $78 million over 30 years on top of String Theory’s $55 million bond, for instance — at rates that are double or triple what the district pays.

The financing process and real estate transactions themselves also entail millions in consulting and legal fees. Schools like String Theory can become enmeshed in complex and costly deals for marquee buildings that are difficult to sustain.

“There’s no real scrutiny of these deals, and charters end up saddled with big fixed costs,” said Michael Masch, former chief financial officer for the School District of Philadelphia. “They’re saying,’Look at this really prestigious building we have, that’ll attract people.’ But it’s a ridiculous amount of money to be spending on the facilities side.”

Today, an increasing number of charters are spending more of their budgets paying down debt than on actual instruction. In the case of String Theory, which enrolls 1,400 students, the school now spends nearly one third — $5.5 million — of its $16 million budget just to occupy the half-empty 228,000-square-foot high rise, along with two older, smaller schools in South Philadelphia. That figure is more than String Theory spends on teachers’ wages — $5.3 million.

Put another way, <strong>String Theory spends $3,895 per student on its building costs, nearly five times the $800-a-student average the district budgets for debt and building expenses.

The article points out that charter default rates are rising, which means that taxpayers can wind up in the worst of all possible worlds: with a default on the debt, and stuck with a white elephant of a building renovated to serve as a school, when that was probably not its highest and best use, and was likely undermaintained after its acquisition and conversion. But the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the largest local economic development agency, has become “the de facto charter-financing vehicle in Philadelphia,” despite the loud objections of critics, since charter schools do not create jobs or foster economic development.

The String Theory case is hardly isolated. Again from the article:

In 2007, Independence Charter School issued a bond for $18 million dollars with help from the PIDC for the purchase and renovation of the vacated Durham Elementary at 16th and Lombard streets. That school had been built in 1907 and maintained by the district with tax dollars for a century. Now, millions in debt and interest from Independence’s charter bonds are also being paid off with tax dollars.

In situations like these, [Rutgers professor Bruce Baker said, taxpayers are paying for the same buildings twice, while relinquishing public ownership of those properties.

“It’s not that anyone is doing anything ‘wrong,’ ” he said, “But rather that public policy permits a bad deal for the public — one that essentially gives away a public asset while charging transaction fees along the way.”

And the story also looked into the role of consultants, at least as best it could. Troubling, there’s no disclosure of what if any services were provided, yet they reaped millions in fees in the handful of cases where the authors could get information:

Many of the recent charter bond deals have been helped by Santilli & Thomson, a New Jersey-based firm that has made millions off consulting contracts and bond fees…

However, a analysis of financial documents for several charter schools that received municipal bonds found Santilli & Thomson has billed at least $5 million since 2010…

What Santilli does to facilitate these arrangements is unclear…

Santilli & Thomson also works closely with the Center City law firm Sand & Saidel, which specializes in workers’ compensation cases, but provides legal services to a number of charter schools…

Along with the $5 million Santilli & Thomson has billed to charters between 2010 and 2014; Sand & Saidel has billed charter schools at least $1 million, according to financial filings. Each firm also collects a portion of the “cost of issuance” fees attached to bond deals, which can run into the millions. In the case of String Theory, $1.5 million worth of settlement fees were built into the $55 million bond deal, although it’s not clear how the money was split among different consultants.

As Appelbaum said via e-mail:

Tax-free junk bond debt financing! OpCo/PropCo model with one set of owners owning the facilities and the school operations and having the school lease classroom space from the property company! High real estate and transactions fees. High consultants’ fees on the deals. Lack of transparency.

It’s a Ponzi scheme – depends on the charter school company expanding the number of schools it owns and students it services in order to service debt, since payments from the School District are on a per pupil basis.

This can’t be a unique situation.

As we stressed, the more voters can do to hold state and local officials’ feet to the fire and demand more transparency and accountability, the greater the odds this Ponzi scheme can be stopped before it does greater damage. I hope you’ll circulate this post and the underlying story widely, and urge friends and colleagues to take action.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


CMD Publishes Full List of 2,500 Closed Charter Schools (with Interactive Map)


Update September 28 — Some readers have pointed out that a few schools on the list are open but have a different address. This appears to be due to NCES assigning schools a different ID when they change districts. While this does not appear to affect a large number of schools on the list, it does affect some, and the editors appreciate the crowd sourcing help to clarify the list. CMD will post an updated version as soon as possible.

Today, the Center for Media and Democracy is releasing a complete state-by-state list of the failed charter schools since 2000. Among other things, this data reveals that millions and millions of federal tax dollars went to “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. The exact amount is unknown because the U.S. Department of Education is not required to report its failures, where money went to groups to help them start new charters that never even opened.

This data set also provides reporters and citizens of each state an opportunity to take a closer look at how much taxpayer money has been squandered on the failed charter school experiment in their states. The data set and the interactive map below are based on more than a decade’s worth of official but raw data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

This release comes as the U.S. Department of Education and industry insiders currently deciding which states to award half a billion dollar in grants designed to bolster the school privatization industry under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP).

As CMD has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.

For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, charter school students ran two and half times the risk of having their education disrupted by a school closing and suffering academic setbacks as a result of closure. Dislocated students are less likely to graduate. In 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%.” He found that the effects persist “even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”

Hidden behind the statistics are the social consequences. According to 2013 paper by Robert Scott and Miguel Saucedo at the University of Illinois, school closures “have exacerbated inter-neighborhood tensions among Chicago youth in recent years” and have been a contributing factor to the high rate of youth incarceration.

Then there are the charter schools that never opened despite tax money from a federal program to help more entities apply to create even more charters. Drilling down into the data of just one state in just one school year, 25 charter schools (or, really, prospective charter schools) awarded grants in 2011-’12 never opened in Michigan. The non-profit groups behind these were granted a total of $3.7 million in federal tax money in implementation and planning grants, and they also received at least $1.7 million in state tax dollars. These charter schools exist only on paper, in this case on grant notification forms and in databases of state expenditures.

As CMD has calculated, the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion in the past two-plus decades fueling the charter school industry that has taken money away from traditional public schools. And, as the Center for Popular Democracy has demonstrated, more than $200 million of that money resulted in fraud and waste over the past decade.

Click here for the full state-by-state list of charter schools that have closed between 2000 and 2013.

– See more at:


The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education


Teacher Diversity in the U.S. is an area of concern. The teacher work force has gotten less ethnically and racially diverse and more female, a development which has had an adverse effect on students, particularly on males of color. It is an impediment to the broader goals of equity and social harmony. ASI is working to better understand teacher labor market trends and identify promising interventions aimed at increased teacher diversity in K-12 education.

This report shows that nationally, progress toward greater diversity is being made, but it is quite modest compared to the need for more minority teachers. In the nine cities studied—Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—the picture is much more bleak, and there are only a few pockets of progress, surrounded by serious setbacks.

Watch the Press Conference

Download the Executive Summary


Pope Francis implores Congress to accept immigrants as their own

APW1167524Pope Francis discusses immigration, climate change, the death penalty and more during his address to Congress. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

He was pointed at times, urging the abolition of the death penalty and the end of arms trading, and warning of the dangers of religious extremism worldwide. And he was oblique at points, never mentioning the United States’ rapid embrace of single-sex marriage, but saying that “fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.”

He saved his most specific prescription for combating climate change, a cause on which he said the United States has a special obligation to lead.

“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” the pope said. “I am convinced that we can make a difference — I’m sure. And I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies.”

To showcase his focus on the poor, immigrants and the disenfranchised, Pope Francis went directly from the grandeur of Capitol Hill to St. Patrick in the City Church, in a neighborhood that has flipped over the last decade from marginalized to magnet. There, he prayed with people who variously wore suits and torn T-shirts, a gathering that included the homeless, the mentally ill, abuse victims and new immigrants.

The pope began the third day of his first visit to the United States in the office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), a devout Roman Catholic who had invited three popes over two decades to speak to Congress, and was visibly proud that one of his invitations at last had been accepted.

At 10:01 a.m., the pontiff was ushered into the packed House chamber, introduced by the House sergeant-at-arms, who said: “Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See.”

Those words formally launched an event that would have been politically impossible through much of American history, when Catholics — especially waves of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and central Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — suffered widespread discrimination.

Although members of Congress largely avoided the ostentatious displays of partisan cheering that have come to characterize the president’s annual State of the Union addresses, an ideological divide was apparent at times. In response to Francis’s passage about climate change, Democrats mostly stood and cheered, while some Republicans stayed seated and applauded mildly, if at all.

But the response to the pope’s passionate words about embracing immigrants seemed to strike a bipartisan chord. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a presidential candidate and son of Cuban immigrants, wiped away tears as the pope called himself “the son of immigrants.”

“The creation and distribution of wealth,” he said, is a vital element in the fight against poverty and climate change.

Those looking for signs of this pope’s political direction could find evidence in the speech’s repeated references to a pantheon of liberal heroes, from Dorothy Day, who dedicated her life to a battle against poverty and war, to Thomas Merton, whose “Letters to a White Liberal,” written in 1963, urged Christians to follow their faith in service of extending civil rights to black Americans.

The pope praised King for his focus on “liberty in plurality and non-exclusion;” Day for “social justice;” and Merton for “dialogue and openness to God.”

Today, the pope said, the world is “increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.”

In that troubled place, he said, it’s especially important for leaders to do what great Americans have always done — reject extremism and renew “that spirit of cooperation which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States.”

Pope Francis implored Congress to “reject a mindset of hostility” and embrace the immigrants who come “to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.”

The pope, noting that many in Congress are also children of people who made the risky journey to America, said the nation must follow the Golden Rule and “treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.”

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers,” he said, “but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

Francis’s emphasis on immigrants dovetailed with the major theme of his American trip so far, a series of reminders that his papacy is very much about renewing the church’s focus on the poor and the powerless. The pope earlier this year opened a 30-bedroom homeless shelter just steps from the Vatican. He had showers set up for homeless people in St. Peter’s Square, and invited about 150 homeless people to a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel.

In Philadelphia, where he will end his U.S. visit, the pope will visit a prison to meet with inmates. In Washington, he pointedly scheduled his visit at St. Patrick’s immediately after his hour in the majestic House chamber. The plain sanctuary of the 220-year-old downtown church was filled with people who need basic life services. But as Pope Francis noted, “In prayer, there is no first or second class.”

“I need your prayers, your support,” the pontiff said, standing at a simple wooden podium before a reverentially silent flock. Would you like to pray together?”

The hush broke like the uncorking of a bottle: “Yes!”

Later this afternoon, Francis is scheduled to leave Washington, flying to New York, where he will end his day with evening services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. He will remain in the United States through Sunday.

Americans are largely supportive of the pope’s engagement on economic, social and environmental issues. But American Catholics, who make up about one-fifth of the U.S. electorate, remain deeply divided over their church’s directives.

One Catholic congressman, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), skipped the pope’s appearance to protest Francis’s advocacy for strong action against global climate change and what Gosar sees as the pope’s failure to speak out “with moral authority against violent Islam.”

The many lawmakers who were inside the chamber on Thursday emerged with bipartisan agreement that the pope’s central message was simple: Just get along.

“It was as if he knew of the frictions and factions and reminded us that we’re here for a greater purpose,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). If some of what the pope said made members of either party uncomfortable, that was “the right thing,” Collins said. “The pope’s purpose was to challenge us, and he did so.”

But although Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) agreed that the pope’s words were bold, he worried that politicians would translate the message into partisan positions. Would Francis’s message of unity and common purpose endure in a bitterly divided Washington? Cuellar was blunt: “Knowing this Congress’s history, not for long.”

On the Capitol Lawn, many of those who watched the pope’s congressional address on giant video screens came away persuaded that Congress should — but probably won’t — take his message to heart.

“I was not expecting him to address the bipartisan divide,” said Emily Warn, 62, a writer from Seattle. “It’s as if he was trying to heal Congress. He gave them a homily, trying to broaden their view.”

In a country where the old-line Catholic population is diminishing because many families are having fewer children — though a wave of Hispanic immigrants is partly making up for that decline in numbers — the pope spoke to young Catholics, especially those who are “disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair.”

They will have children, he said, only if the nation provides them with a greater sense of “possibilities for the future.”

Following the address, Pope Francis walked through the Capitol’s second floor to Statuary Hall and paused at the statue of Junipero Serra, the California missionary whom he had canonized on Wednesday.

The pontiff then joined Vice President Biden, Boehner and other congressional leaders on the Speaker’s Balcony overlooking the West Front of the Capitol, greeting an enthusiastic crowd that numbered in the thousands. He said a few words of thanks in Spanish and then, to great cheers, switched to English: “Thank you very much, and God Bless America!”

Among those gathered below was Liliana Morfin, born in Argentina, now living in Indiana. She stood with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, thrilled to be close to her pope, the first from her country.

“I feel like he is so close to me,” said Morfin, who, like her relatives, wore blue-and-white Argentine soccer team jerseys with the pope’s name emblazoned on the back. “He may be so far, but he is close. Whatever he will say, I agree with him.”

At an environmental rally on the Mall, a few blocks beyond the Capitol Lawn gathering, E.A. Dyson, 41, of Northeast Washington, pronounced himself impressed with the religious leader. “You have reconciliation of science and faith — that they don’t have to be exclusive,” he said. “There is room for science, religion, justice, economics and the environment.”

At St. Patrick’s, the pope preached about St. Joseph, “the one I go to whenever I am in a fix.”

Noting that Jesus came into the world as a homeless person, Francis said: “You may ask: Why are we homeless, without a place to live? These are questions which all of us might well ask. Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live?”

Minutes after Francis left the sanctuary, two women lingered in a pew toward the back. Tears poured down Catalina Gallego’s face. Lilian Juarez stood beside her friend, her hands holding the pew back tightly.

“For me, we are in heaven, with this missionary from God,” Juarez said, her voice and hands trembling. “When I feel him coming through, it’s full of peace, it’s like God hugs us and makes us all together, even if we are different colors, social backgrounds — it’s like a new church. We have to keep taking care of each other! Poor! Rich! He has something special. He is not like the others.”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, DeNeen L. Brown, Pamela Constable, Jessica Contrera, Ed O’Keefe, Michael E. Ruane and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.



Debt chokes charters in Philly.

hite1In Philadelphia the city’s charter schools have received $500 million in taxpayer-backed bonds and most of that money has been mismanaged under Dr. William Hite Jr (pictured above). The same culture continues in many ways in Prince George’s County where he left as Superintendent of schools. 

Philadelphia’s regular public school buildings are so run down that the cost to repair them is estimated at $4 billion. Those buildings aren’t likely to get face-lifts with the School District limping from funding crisis to funding crisis. In contrast, the city’s charter schools have received $500 million in taxpayer-backed bonds for new or improved buildings.

The gaping inequity exists in part because the legislature has not properly updated the state’s charter school law since it was passed. The 1997 act guarantees a lopsided, conflict-ridden system with too little oversight and too few opportunities for taxpayers to influence critical financial and academic decisions affecting a growing number of students.

With no one saying no, some charters are in a frenzy to acquire or renovate buildings and finance the transactions with bond issues they can’t afford. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. issues bonds for charters, but fees for lawyers, consultants, and others who profit from the deals aren’t fully disclosed.
Bonds for charters cost more because the risks are higher, Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker told’s Alex Wigglesworth and Ryan Briggs. Those risks are passed on to taxpayers, who get stuck with even more costs when charters default, which has become common nationally.

Consider the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School. It was the first Philadelphia charter to receive bond funding, and the first to default. The Northern Liberties school spent $11 million in bond funds in 2005, but closed abruptly in December. Taxpayers have paid $6 million in debt service, but the building will likely be sold to pay creditors.

String Theory Charter School in Center City is paying $5.6 million a year in debt service on the $55 million it borrowed to purchase a swanky building. The charter’s debt service has helped put String Theory $500,000 in the red and forced it to cancel some classes and bus service.

The $3,895 per student String Theory spends on debt service for the high-rise it bought far exceeds the average of $875 per student being spent on district schools such as Solis-Cohen Elementary in the Northeast, which was so run-down that its students had to be transferred for safety.

While legislators fail to pass a budget – even as they take home one of the biggest pay and perquisite packages in the nation – traditional public schools are being forced to share their scarce resources with charters that don’t have to play by the same rules, but should.

The state’s charter law should be updated to provide stronger administration, oversight, and transparency without loopholes. Too many charters end up in trouble without proper guidance on borrowing and spending.


string-theory-high-600String Theory charter school uses half of this Center City building. The owners are board members. STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

chdb-map (1)***


Plan to boost charters splits L.A. Unified board

la-2429903-me-0606-banks-metro-charter-kaf3-jpg-20150922 (1)Students work in a first-grade classroom at Metro Charter Elementary. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Dividing lines quickly emerged on the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday over an ambitious plan to double the number of charter campuses across the city, with two members vowing an all-out fight and two others applauding the expansion of choice for parents.

The three remaining board members had deep reservations about the $490-million proposal, suggesting that the money should be used for existing schools. One said the charter campaign should influence the selection of the next superintendent.

The unprecedented expansion plan, which seeks to shift half of L.A. Unified students into charters, is becoming the latest focal point in the battle over how best to improve the quality of education for half a million students.

“The concept amazes and angers me,” said board member Scott Schmerelson. “Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.”

The project, which is being organized through the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, calls for creating 260 charters over the next eight years. The schools would enroll at least 130,000 students, according to a 44-page memo obtained by The Times.

Charters are independently run and publicly financed, exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses; most are nonunion.

Board President Steve Zimmer also had a strongly negative response, saying that the financial impact would be devastating for the students who remain in traditional schools.

“Everyone understands 250,000 kids will not be part of this,” said Zimmer, who has criticized the rapid growth of charters. “There is collateral damage: We won’t be able to lower class size or provide comprehensive support our kids need.”

The private money, he said, “could ensure every child living in poverty in L.A. County … could have access to high-quality early education.”

Board member George McKenna, along with Monica Ratliff, said he wanted foundation money “directed toward the public schools that are already established and need all the private support that we can get.”

Ratliff also said that the charter plan underscores the need to hire a new superintendent who will promote L.A. Unified’s own successes. The district has launched a search to replace schools Supt. Ramon Cortines who has said he wants to leave by year’s end.

“It’s important that a superintendent publicizes that LAUSD schools are extremely competitive” with the best charter schools, Ratliff said.

Richard Vladovic attempted to strike a more neutral tone but agreed that some district schools, especially magnet programs, also deserve more funding.

Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez, who were strongly backed by charter advocates in their election campaigns, said they support giving parents choices that include charters as well as district-run schools.

“I am open to bold ideas that are grass-roots driven, whether they come from teachers, students, families or community members,” Rodriguez said. “We want our students and families to have high-quality options.… I welcome other and all ideas that are focused on creating quality and excellence in every single school across the district. There is no one path to excellence for our public schools.”

The strongest critics of the expansion, Zimmer and Schmerelson, also are those with the deepest ties to the teachers union. Like them, McKenna also was elected with heavy union funding. Vladovic has both union and charter backers, and Ratliff was elected without significant financial support from either charters or the union.

In recent board elections, neither group could achieve a clear majority. And those divisions are reflected in board members’ responses to the charter plan.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl called it an ill-conceived attempt by philanthropists who oversimplify the challenge of improving schools.

“It has long been known that there is a set of billionaires who are attempting to run schools more like a business and who are attempting to attack large urban systems and large urban unions,” he said.

The acting head of the California Charter Schools Assn. said the ambitious expansion was an effort to give parents the high-quality schools that they want for their children. Myrna Castrejon said the project is “doable,” but charters always face political hurdles.

“There is no question that with a vigorous political opposition, getting our charters approved through that board is going to continue to be a challenge,” she said. “Front and center that is probably the biggest obstacle.”

Los Angeles Unified already has the highest number of charters — more than 200 — of any school system in the country, enrolling about 16% of students.
Currently, L.A. Unified has declining enrollment, and about half of that decrease is related to charter growth, according to a district analysis. Traditional schools in some areas already are short on students. and a few charters also have closed for that reason.

Backers of the expansion assert that competition has benefited students, producing high-performing charters and even spurred the district to improve. And the more competition the better, with the target being a “50% market share” for charters, according to the memo detailing the plan.

The Broad Foundation has given money to the California Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to support Education Matters, a new Times digital initiative devoted to more in-depth reporting on schools.

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

Twitter: @howardblume

Times staff writer Zahira Torres contributed to this report.



Behind Rauner’s call to ‘end unfunded mandates’

Rauner and Smith

By Mike Klonsky
Unfunded mandates. I hate ’em. Schools and school districts hate ’em.

It didn’t take our demagogic, education-know-nothing governor, with help from his much-smarter State Supt. Tony Smith, very long to figure that out and issue a call to end all unfunded mandates — which these days virtually means ALL mandates.

Former Oakland supt. Smith is a veteran of the old Coalition of Essential Schools and founder Ted Sizer’s less-is-more philosophy. In Oakland, he talked the Sizer Essential Schools talk in order to close public schools, fire teachers, and replace them with privately-run charters in their place.

Sizer’s progressive vision, expressed beautifully in his book, Horace’s Compromise (a seminal text and must-read, especially for high school educators) was about smaller schools (including charters) and classrooms which were more like learning communities than shopping malls, where skilled teachers were empowered to make the most important educational decisions (and yes, compromise between what’s nice and possible), to teach and not just test, and where students could engage in meaningful learning based on their interests and experience.

For Sizer, who served as dean of Harvard’s Ed School, less-is-more was never about union-busting or forcing schools to choose between basic necessities because of draconian state budget cuts to public education. It was never about austerity and do-more-with-less.

For Rauner/Smith that’s exactly what the call to abolish mandates means. Rauner wants nothing less than to privatize all public space and eliminate civil rights protections and public employee unions altogether.

Yes, let’s get rid of unfunded mandates like, Rahm Emanuel’s longer school day, like Common Core and PARCC testing madness. But we need to keep mandates that ensure student safety, special education, ELL, class size ceilings, caps on charters, and school desegregation as well as all other fundamental civil and human rights — including teachers’ right to bargain collectively with elected school boards.

The response to necessary, but unfunded, mandates, should be to adequately fund them, not abolish them.


Animal lovers come together to celebrate World Rhino Day

1rhino061815Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet, lives alone in a 10-acre enclosure, with 24-hour guards, in Kenya.

Animal lovers around the world, rejoice! Today is World Rhino Day. On September 22, the world celebrates all five species of rhinoceros, including the black rhino, white rhino, greater one-horned (Indian) rhino, Sumatran rhino and Javan rhino.

World Rhino Day was first created by World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) in 2010, and for the past five years, the world has honored the magnificent creatures on this day.

The rhinoceros species is native to Africa and Asia, and has been roaming the earth ever since cavemen were around. Today, rhinos are a vulnerable species because of habitat loss, natural disasters, and most gruesomely, poaching. In fact, poachers even go as far as sawing off the rhino’s horn, to use in Eastern medicine.

Rhinoceros horns are displayed in Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department Offices on November 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs on November 14, 2011, seized 33 unmanifested rhinoceros horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about 17.4 million HKD (2.23 Million USD), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. AFP PHOTO / AARON TAM (Photo credit should read aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)

Rhinoceros horns are displayed in Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department Offices on November 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs on November 14, 2011, seized 33 unmanifested rhinoceros horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about 17.4 million HKD (2.23 Million USD), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. AFP PHOTO / AARON TAM (Photo credit should read aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)

With the constant threat to the rhinoceros and wildlife population as a whole, there is so much you can do to get involved, especially today on World Rhino Day and all the time. We encourage visitors and members of Reform Sasscer Movement to Visit to see how you can get involved.

Read more >>> Fate of entire subspecies of rhino left to one elderly male