Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 19

Illustration by Sean Wang

a satire by Christopher Paslay

When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.

Part 19 of 25

Like the Kid told Dr. Trowbridge that day on the phone, I would be running the show on test day at World Peace.  I gotta tell you, I wasn’t too happy about this—a 62 year old man pretending to be principal of a friggin charter school—but deep down I knew it hadda be this way, cause if anything crazy happened, I could take the fall for it; I didn’t have a reputation to lose like the Kid did, not in education, at least.  Anyways, how hard could it be?  It was all fake, all the students was actors, so it wasn’t like I really hadda discipline them or nothing.  It was all for show, and I was good at that, putting on a show.  Like when I took out my power drill on a guy the Gorilla had in a headlock for not paying Tony, and put it right up to the guy’s face, up to his temple, revving it real loud and listening to him squeal as the drill bit pulled out clumps a his hair.  It was all a show, cause I’d never really drill a hole in his skull . . . his kneecap, maybe . . . but never his skull, that was the Gorilla’s territory.

The Kid went over the instructions for test day wit me a hundred friggin times, and I knew it all by heart.  The state’s math and science exams would be given in one week, next Tuesday.  I had already talked wit my guy Eddie, the casting agent, and scheduled the same 100 actors to come in for another full day shoot; to help the Kid out, I took $11,500 outta me and Linda’s vacation fund to pay for it.  This time they was told they’d be acting in an informational video for the state exams, and that they’d be playing the same 9th graders as before, only this time, all they hadda do was sit there in their desks and pretend to take the tests.  Course, they wasn’t supposed to really take them, just pretend to take them—fill in the bubbles here and there, making sure they followed all the rules the proctors gave them.  These actors Eddie was giving me, well, they was actually experienced at doing this, Eddie said, cause some a them had already done promotional shoots for data companies that sold standardized tests to schools.

Eddie said it was a big business, giving tests.  He said these testing companies made cash-ola, mega bucks, and charged school districts millions.  Eddie said he had no idear how big a business this was until he got a call from one a these places, 21st Century Data, Corp., he thought they was called.  The C.E.O. and national sales manager for 21st Century Data was this slick Irishman named Gerald Coonan, and he wanted Eddie to round up a buncha actors so he could film this promotional video of kids taken his tests.  It was part of a marketing packet on why his tests was the best . . . why they could help the children learn the most.  Coonan was trying to sell his tests to a school district in Camden, New Jersey.  Eddie said he charged Coonan a cool $25,000 just for rounding up the actors.  Coonan also hadda pay the actors, and there was Eddie’s $10,000 consulting fee, too.  But this was small potatoes for the money 21st Century Data was pulling in.

“Jeez,” I says.

“Oh yeah.  These guys are making millions, my friend, tens of millions.  Seriously.”

“For freakin making tests?”

“Yep.  Testing is big business.  Every time you make some asshole take a test, some other asshole is making cash on the deal, believe me.”

“I never thought about it like that,” I says.  “So we’re all set for Tuesday, the 15th, then?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna use the same crew of people.  Like I said, they got experience doing this.”

So the actors playing the students was taking care of.  The faculty staff would again be played by me and the Gorilla and a handful a strippers from Straight A’s, but Ms. Su wouldn’t be one a them; her panties was in a twist about the blow-up she had wit Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid, and wanted no parts of coming back to World Peace Charter.  There would be four tests taken in all, two math in the morning, and two science in the afternoon.  Lunch would be in the café, but the actors were informed that they would be brown-bagging it, again.  It wasn’t good to test when you was hungry, but in Dom’s case, it clearly was; he was hoping they would do as lousy as possible.

“Alright Eddie,” I says, “thanks again.  You’s a big, big help.”

“Don’t worry about it, Manny,” he says.  “But just remember: if it works, you owe me, and if you get caught, you don’t know me.”

_______

On the day a the state exams the power was back on, and our plan was running without a glitch, at least in the beginning.  The students was in their seats concentrating on the tests, number 2 pencils in hand, booklets open to the first math section.  I was the testing administrator, so I was walking around between the four different classrooms . . . there was 25 kids in a room . . . making sure things was straight, that there was no questions from the teachers proctoring the tests, or questions from the students.  Dom told me to ask three basic questions: First, Does everybody got scratch paper and calculators? Second, Does everybody got two number 2 pencils?  And third, Let me know if you need more time, cause we’ll take you into room 263, the accommodation room.  The state exams was technically an untimed test, see.

It was kinda fun being the testing administrator, being the principal; I could see why the Kid liked doing it so much.  I was everybody’s boss, and they pretty much did everything I said, and I didn’t even have to threaten to pull out the heavy equipment, like my hacksaw or power drill.  Course, when the state testing monitor showed up, well, that’s when stuff starting getting a little hairy.  The state monitor, this young, goofy looking prick wit a cheesy mustache and big Adam’s apple and glasses comes into the building, my building, acting like he’s in charge a something.  The first thing I think is, Who’s he been wit?  Any made guys?  Frig no.  Now, I’m a made man, see, they opened the books on me in 1990, like I says before, so I ain’t trying to listen to what this little jerk has to say.

Anyways, this punk—his name was Richard or some shit—comes in and starts poking around, asking me who I am, asking if he can talk to the principal and test administrator.  I’m the principal and testing administrator, I tell him, can I help you wit something?  Okay, he says, I didn’t think you was the principal.  This gets me agitated, see, and this little jerk’s got my blood up, cause why in the friggin world don’t I look like the principal, you know?  Didn’t he see me wearing the suit and tie, walking around the building checking on the students and teachers in the classrooms, asking them if they needed anything?  Didn’t he hear what they was calling me, the friggin nitwit?  They was calling me Principal, Principal Bradshaw.  How freakin stupid does a person have to be to see a man walking around a school in a suit and friggin tie, checking on the students and teachers in the classroom and being called Principal, and not know that that person is the principal?

This state monitor person, this Richard, was a real dumb sonnavabitch, let me just say that much.  He was also a hemorrhoid, and the only reason I had any patience wit him was cause Dom told me I hadda have patience wit him.  So I let him walk around the place wit his clipboard and do his observation, go into the classrooms and stand in the back and watch the students work like some stalker.  He did this for a while, for like an hour, poking around, walking up to the students and asking to inspect their test booklets.  We was in the one classroom, Ms. Dickey’s, and the students was almost done the second part a the math test, and all of a sudden the prick says, “Mr. Bradshaw, can I speak with you for a minute in the hallway, please?”

“What?” I says.  “What’s the problem?”

“Sshh, not so loud.  Let’s talk in the hall so the kids can concentrate.”

For a minute I wasn’t sure if this little asshole actually had the balls to shush me, but he did, he shushed me—the principal, the goddamned principal a the school, and a made man at that.  Well, I went into the hall wit this guy, smiling real big to hide how much I wanted to break his head, and used all my, um, willpower to listen to what he hadda say; again, I did it for Dom.  What he actually wanted to know was if I had a master list a the names a the students taking the test, so he could see if they checked out.

“A what?” I says to him.

“A master list of the names of the students testing.  It came with the testing materials in the mail.”

“Um . . .”

“Where is your secure location?  Where are you storing the tests?”

“Oh, that would be in my office, the principal’s office.”

“Can we go there?  Please?  I need to see something for the report I have to write.”

I take him there, to my office, and we go to the cabinet and pull out the box.

“Doesn’t your cabinet lock, Mr. Bradshaw?”

“What?”

“Your cabinet?  Doesn’t it have a lock on it?”

“Huh?  I don’t know . . .”

“Your testing materials are supposed to be locked at all times in a secure location,” he says, and writes something down on his clipboard.

“What is you writing there?” I says.  “Let me see that.”

The guy ignored me.  “I need to see the ID pictures of your students, Mr. Bradshaw.  It’s not that I don’t trust you . . . although some of those students look like they could be 19 or 20 . . . it’s just a formality.  Where is your attendance information?”

“Attendance?”

“Is it computerized?  Would you mind pulling up the identification pictures of the students who are taking the tests for me?”

“Actually,” I says, “Mr. Kaplan has that information, our C.F.O.  Here, I’ll take you over to his office right now.  Follow me.”

We walk over to Mr. Kaplan’s office, which is right down the hall in the main office, and wouldn’t you believe it, Mr. Kaplan is sound asleep in his chair, his friggin feet propped up on the empty wooden table that’s supposed to be his desk.

A-hem,” I says.  “Mr. Kaplan, can I talk to you for a second?”

The Gorilla wakes up, slobber running down his chin, and nearly falls outta his chair.  He looks around like he doesn’t know where he is, then figures it out, and says, “What?  What do ya want, Manny?”

“Yeah,” I says, “how ya doing, Mr. Kaplan.  We got a visitor here, a visitor from the state, remember?

The Gorilla shakes his big bowling ball head.  “Oh, yeah, yeah, the state.  Right.  How are you doing, sir?”

“His name’s Richard,” I says.  “Now, Mr. Kaplan, I think Richard here has a bit of a problem, see.  He’s looking for our attendance records so he can pull up the IDs of the students taking the test.  I guess Richard’s new, and the people from the state didn’t go up to Harrisburg and tell him, but World Peace Charter doesn’t have no computerized attendance system, do they, Mr. Kaplan?”

“Ah, no,” the Gorilla says.

I cross my arms.  “Cause of the fire, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, the fire,” the Gorilla says.

“See Richard, we thought we had those ID pictures for you, but turns out, we ain’t got them after all.  Sorry for the whatchamacallit—for the inconvenience.”

Richard keeps pushing the issue, though, like the hemorrhoid that he is.  He says this isn’t good enough, that he needs some form of ID to verify the students taking the tests, and that if we can’t produce none, this could be a security violation, and he’s gonna have to report it to the state.

I just look at the Gorilla, and he knows what we need to do; we’re professionals, him and I, and we’ve been working together for over 20 years.

“Okay, ID pictures,” the Gorilla says, and stands up.  “Yeah, we got those outside in the parking lot.  Here, let me show ya.”

For a minute Richard thinks the Gorilla is gonna actually show him the IDs, and he turns to go wit Petie.  Something tells Richard that things ain’t right, though, and he stops and says maybe he’ll see the IDs later, maybe he’ll come back after lunch for them.  Course, a second later Petie has him in a headlock and is dragging him down the hall like a sack a potatoes, slamming his head into the office door as he takes him outside and throws him in the trunk a his new Cadillac CTS, the little asshole screaming and kicking the whole way.

After Richard is locked in the back a the Gorilla’s car, Petie comes back and says, “What a piece a friggin shit.”

“Tell me about it,” I says.  “After these tests is over, I oughta go out there and beat the friggin balls off a that sonnavabitch myself, I swear to friggin God.  Who the frig does that little jag-off think he is, anyways?”

“Yeah,” the Gorilla says.  “We oughta—”

Somebody’s coming into the main office, and for a minute we think it’s our pal Richard, but it isn’t, not at all; it’s Dr. Trowbridge, and she wants to take a look around the school herself.

“Hello?” she says.  “Anybody home?  Roger?  Yoo-hoo, anybody here?”

“Dr. Trowbridge, hello,” I says, and whisper to the Gorilla to go hide in his office.  “Hey, good to see you.  Come on in.  I was just about to check on the students, go make my rounds.”

“Good morning, Roger,” she says.  “Oh, what a horrible ride down here.  I have that stupid loaner car from my insurance company.  Ridiculous.  So, how is the testing going so far?”

“Good.  Everybody is working hard, they all got two number 2 pencils and scratch paper.”

“Can’t live without the scratch paper and the number 2 pencils, can we?”

“No, I guess we can’t.  Do you want a tour a the building to see how everything’s going?”

“You read my mind, Roger.”

So I bring her around the building like usual, and she’s satisfied wit how the tests is going, and she relaxes a little and starts to vent about her car, how the windmill totaled it, and how she’s gonna sue the pants off a the Philadelphia Unified School District, cause their insurance won’t pay out.

“Act of God,” she says.  “Unbelievable.  Just replace my car, that’s all I’m asking.  No, they wanna fight it.  They’re going to end up paying a ton of money for a lawyer to go to court, when they could settle this like human beings.  Jesus.  Where’s Richard Applegarth, anyway.  Have you seen him today?”

“The guy from the state?” I says.

“Yes, the testing monitor.  His car’s outside in the parking lot . . . probably getting hit with a flying windmill . . . but I haven’t seem him.  Do you know where he is?”

“Ah . . .”

“I talked with him this morning, and we were supposed to coordinate today.  He’s new, and this is his first assignment alone.  I told him we’d meet up and talk, maybe do lunch.”

“You know, he was here earlier,” I says, “but then he said he was gonna head outside for a while, to, um, go grab some lunch.”

“Really?  Shoot.  There goes that idea.  I guess I’ll just wait till he gets back then.”

“He might be a while,” I tell Dr. Trowbridge.  “He was gonna take a long lunch, maybe hit a bar and throw back a coupla shots.”

“Stop it,” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “He didn’t say that.”

“He said he was gonna go get a hooker and check into one a those no-tell motels.”

“Mr. Bradshaw, enough.  That’s very sexist and inappropriate, and I could write you up for saying that.  Where is he, really?”

“He’s out to lunch, though.  Seriously.  That’s where he said he was going, all kidding aside.”

“Well, he’d better not be gone too long.  He’s still on his probationary period.  I’ll just wait for him, then, if ya don’t mind.”

So Dr. Trowbridge decided to wait.  She hung around for an hour, called Richard’s cellphone, left a message, and then waited another 30 minutes, finally deciding that she hadda move on to another school—Marcus Garvey Elementary, which was down in Center City.

“Well, when Richard gets back, tell him to call me ASAP, if you wouldn’t mind.  I’m actually starting to get a little worried about him.

“No problem,” I says, and walk Dr. Trowbridge to her car.

Part 20

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