Dwight Evans’ Laughable Plea for School Funding

by Christopher Paslay

After dismantling public education and lining his own pockets, Dwight Evans suddenly gets a conscience.   

Dwight Evans, who represents the 203rd legislative district in Philadelphia, published a commentary in today’s Philadelphia Daily News headlined, “Deathly ill public ed needs state meds.”  My first reaction after reading it was Is Dwight Evans off his meds?

Evans’ article begins:

I’M CALLING IT the Harrisburg Syndrome: the chronic and costly practice of refusing to invest responsibly in education.

Pause the tape right there.  Since Evans is talking about the need to “invest responsibly in education,” let’s examine some of the ways Evans himself has invested in public schools.

First, there is the education legislation Dwight Evans has fought to pass—the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, which opened the floodgates for the privatization of Philadelphia’s public schools, and Acts 46 and 83, which according to the University of Pennsylvania Labor and Employment Law, “allows the Secretary of Education to declare the system in ‘distress,’ and upon making that declaration, to displace the Board of Directors of the school system and impose a five-member ‘School Reform Commission’ to take over the duties of the Board.  Additionally, the Act eliminates teachers’ right to strike, and prohibits them from negotiating a number of issues for collective bargaining purposes.”

In laymen’s terms, Evans has supported laws that have taken tens of millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and put them into privately owned charters (like Evans’ own West Oak Lane Charter); laws that enabled Harrisburg to take over the Philadelphia School District; and laws that have taken away the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ right to strike and to collective bargain.

Then, there are Dwight Evans’ business investments.  In 1983, Evans founded Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), which as of 2007 had an operating budget of $12 million.  According to its website, OARC takes “a holistic approach toward community revitalization, by focusing on our Five Pillars: Housing and Economic Development, Business Development, Education and Community Relations, Cleaning and Greening, and Arts and Culture.”

Within Education and Community Relations, OARC offers charter school management, with a fundamental philosophy that “Charter schools must be run as a business . . . a business that produces a product . . . that product is a highly educated student.”  OARC has also opened several charter schools of its own.  In 1998 they opened the West Oak Lane Charter School, as I mentioned above, and owns the property at 2116 E. Haines Street that houses the HOPE Charter School, the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology, and Ombudsman.

Since Evans founded the corporation in 1983, OARC has grown by leaps and bounds, and has made many people lots of money (including Evans himself).  Interestingly, though, OARC is technically a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3), and enjoys tax-exempt status, which means they don’t pay federal income tax or property tax on their buildings.

Another one of Evans’ “investments” in education is his connection with Foundations, Inc., an education management organization that gets paid to both consult and run schools.  According to an article on philly.com:

State Rep. Dwight Evans and Foundations have a long history together, dating back more than 20 years.

Foundations collaborated with the lawmaker in several after-school programs in the area and helped design West Oak Lane Charter School. Between 2006 and 2008, employees from the company donated more than $25,000 to his campaigns. Among them, chief executive Rhonda Lauer donated $3,900, chief of staff Emelio Matticoli donated $3,100 and consultant Martha Young donated $5,920.

Foundations has made millions off of the Philadelphia School District.  As stated by Helen Gym on Young Philly Politics:

State Rep. Dwight Evans was a leading architect behind the state takeover of the Philadelphia Public Schools, and a company with which he has close ties, Foundations Inc., became one of the District’s first EMOs (education management organizations) as well as a major recipient of millions of dollars in school service contracts. Foundations has run Martin Luther King High School for the last eight years, taking in management fees as it ran the school. The school has not done well, to say the least, and its poor academic performance placed it on a list for “turnaround,” a national model of restructuring.

When parents of Martin Luther King’s students voted 8 – 1 to allow Mosaica Schools, Inc. to replace Foundations—Evans bragged about how he had bullied the School Reform Commission, Superintendent Ackerman, and Mosaica Schools into allowing Foundations to keep the contract to manage the school.

“I was like a bulldog on a bone,” said Evans, although Foundations was eventually forced to give up running King High School.

Amazingly, like OARC, Foundations is a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3), and enjoys tax-exempt status.

Now, back to the ludicrous commentary Evans had in today’s Daily News.  Evans writes:

A physician would look at the condition of public education in Pennsylvania and call for broad-spectrum antibiotics in the form of money. Not just your garden-variety antibiotic, but consistent, broad-based funding – similar to what’s advancing in California – to provide for the “thorough and efficient” education system called for in our state constitution.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics in the form of money. 

I had to go back and reread that line several times to make sure it was really there.  It was.  Evans, of all people, is asking the state for more money for the Philadelphia School District.  He suggests doing so by raising—get this—income taxes:

California has ordered the antibiotic. Last November, voters approved Proposition 30, which calls for income-tax increases that will boost California’s K-12 budget by roughly $1 billion.

Evans then throws in a cherry-picked statistic about corporate net-income taxes just for good measure (and to appeal to all those class warfare lovers out there):

The Harrisburg Syndrome shows no signs of abating. The House recently signed off on cutting the corporate net-income tax to 6.99 percent from 9.99 percent. That’s right – taxpayers across the state are being hammered by local school taxes while big business gets a tax cut.

And while corporations affiliated with Dwight Evans, like OARC and Foundations, pay ZERO taxes!

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Evans’ commentary was that he used the state of California as an example of a public education system that works (according to Education Week, California’s K-12 schools get a “C” average and rank 31 out of 50), and that Evans refers to his new educational virus as “Harrisburg Syndrome” (it was Evans who fought to pass legislation that enabled Harrisburg to take over Philadelphia public schools to begin with).

Are Philadelphia public schools and their students in desperate need of more funding?  Absolutely.  But the School District’s budget woes are primarily a result of fraud, waste, and abuse of the Dwight Evans variety, which hardly makes the lawmaker a credible voice for calling for more school funding on the backs of the state’s hardworking taxpayers.

Audits Involving City Schools Make for Good Political Theater

by Christopher Paslay

How many audits does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?  Or in the case of the Philadelphia School District, the center of a political and financial train wreck?  It seems the number just keeps getting bigger. 

Conducting audits on school district officials, and those associated with the district, is quite the new fad for local politicians (I think it is actually trending on Twitter as I write this).  It’s not hard to understand the recent appeal of conducting an audit, especially when you say the word “audit” out loud:  Audit

You have to admit, it sounds so powerful.  So intimidating

The word “audit” can be used two ways, as a verb and as a noun.  Here’s a verb form: The climate was right for the state senator to score some political points with voters, so he decided to “audit” the school district.  Here’s a noun form:  The mayor owed a favor to the school district official, so he used his clout to call off the “audit”.    

Sometimes I wonder how Don Corleone in “The Godfather” would have used the word audit.  I picture him saying something like this: (talking to Sonny):  Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.  Not unless you want to get audited.       

Here’s how I picture Don Corleone talking to Bonasera: Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.  I will ask you to make an audit disappear.                

This is how Johnny Depp’s character would use audit in the film “Donny Brasco”:  You think you’re gonna run an audit on me?  Forgetaboutit!   

Imagine if Samuel Taylor Coleridge rewrote his classic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” around our local politicians’ obsession with conducting audits that seem to go absolutely nowhere:  Audits, audits, everywhere, nor any drop to drink . . .

The recent audit mania that has befallen our city’s public schools is quite curious.  It’s not that the district doesn’t deserve to be investigated; it’s just that these recent audits and “investigations” have thus far amounted to nothing more than political theater.      

Take the much publicized IRS audit of the district’s finances last spring for example.  In May, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the IRS was investigating the district and had “28 specific areas of inquiry” and sought “information on reimbursements for travel and meals, the use of district automobiles and credit cards, and ‘checking account data for payments that are processed outside the district’s general fund.’” 

Four months later, what has the IRS audit has amounted to? 

Diddly squat.

In April, when conflict of interest allegations between School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and State Rep. Dwight Evans grew too intense (when Archie had a closed-door meeting with Evans which resulted in Foundations Inc. being offered a contract to take over the failing MLK High School), Mayor Nutter ordered a probe into the situation.  He directed Joan Markman, the city’s chief integrity officer, to conduct an investigation to see if there was any hanky-panky going on.  What has this amounted to so far? 

Nada.   

The best is when school district officials conduct audits on themselves.  Last year, it was reported that the Philadelphia School District abruptly and without reason took a lucrative security contract away from Security and Data Technologies Inc., a Caucasian-owned firm, and gave it to IBS Communications, a minority-owned firm.  It was the second time the district improperly steered work to IBS.  The first time, it ended up paying 12 times the $1,000 estimate offered by a competing firm.  When Ackerman was accused by public officials of breaking the law over the security contracts, she spent over $173,000 of district money to conduct an “internal investigation.”  Guess what the conclusion was?

All clear in here.   

It would be nice if government leaders could finish one audit before starting another one.  Or before starting a dozen other ones.

Here are just a few of the more noteworthy audits/investigations local leaders have recently called for:

Pa. Auditor General Jack Wagner is currently investigating the identities of the anonymous donors who funneled $405,000 through the 501(c)3 charity Children First Fund to buy out Arlene Ackerman’s contract (a charity with an eight-member board that once included Ackerman, SRC Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr., and now-interim Superintendent Leroy Nunery II).           

City Councilman Bill Green has also requested that Jack Wagner investigate whether three members of Ackerman’s staff helped organize protest rallies in her favor while on the clock at work.

Then there’s the review being conducted by the Philadelphia School District’s legal office to see whether the critical comments Arlene Ackerman made about district officials violates her buy-out contract and will void her $905,000 severance package.   

Whether any of these audits/investigations amounts to anything remains to be seen. 

But one thing’s for certain: They sure do make for good political theater.

Arlene Ackerman’s Million Dollar Lynching

by Christopher Paslay

Activist Novella Williams complains Arlene Ackerman was ‘lynched’ by Mayor Nutter and other local leaders.   

At yesterday’s School Reform Commission meeting, activist Novella Williams complained that former Philadelphia school’s chief Arlene Ackerman was lynched by the SRC and local African American politicians, including SRC Chairman Robert Archie, Mayor Nutter, state Rep. Dwight Evans, and Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery.

“She deserved not to be lynched by three of four black men,” Williams said.  “I didn’t think my men was going to destroy her.”

William’s comments were similar to those Jesse Jackson made about Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in June of 2010, when Gilbert personally attacked LeBron James and said that he “cowardly betrayed” the city of Cleveland by taking $120 million to play in Miami. 

“[Gilbert] speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Jackson said in a public statement.  “His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.” 

A runaway slave that makes $120 million, that is. 

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan also used the slavery analogy, calling the NBA a “big plantation” on which LeBron James was a “sharecropper.”       

Though Ackerman is no NBA superstar, her base salary of nearly $350,000 for the past three years was close to the NBA league minimum for a rookie, which in 2010-11 was $490,180; Ackerman was also given a car, two chauffeurs salaried at $44,000 each, a BlackBerry, a cellphone and usage, a laptop, and a printer. 

And now Ackerman is being paid, all told, over a million dollars to walk away. 

As one person wrote on Philly.com’s comment board, “If getting a million dollars for not working is considered a lynching, sign me up. That’s like hitting the lottery.”

Questions go beyond schools CEO

“The Philadelphia School District is experiencing a leadership crisis. Amid all the controversy surrounding Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, however, it’s easy to forget to ask whether the School Reform Commission is serving the interests of the city’s public schools.

Some education advocates have wondered if it’s time to get rid of the SRC, the appointed body charged with overseeing the Philadelphia School District for the past decade. In a series of articles for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, the activist and retired Philadelphia schoolteacher Ron Whitehorne highlighted some of the major criticisms of the SRC, including that it provides no real oversight of the superintendent, simply rubber-stamping whatever comes across its desk. Whitehorne also noted that the SRC’s decisions are too often made behind closed doors, and that its meetings are not very accessible to parents and concerned citizens. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Questions go beyond schools CEO.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

Philadelphia Schoolteacher Announces Plans to Open Cybercharter and Make Millions

by Christopher Paslay

 

Here’s the plan: I’m going to start a charter school in Philadelphia and make a million dollars.  Not just any charter, mind you, a cybercharter.  I’m thinking about naming it after myself and calling it Chris’s Cyber Charter.  Either that, or Lee Iacocca Cyber Charter.  Anybody want in?   

Currently, the Philadelphia School District pays nearly $9,000 per student for cybercharters.  How much of that money is actually spent on the students is unclear.  But when you take into consideration that officials in western Pennsylvania’s North Hills School District have estimated that cybercharters spend less than $1,000 per year on each of their students, there’s a lot of room for profit in the Philadelphia cybercharter industry.   

I figure I can clear about $8,000 per student on my new business venture.  This means that if I can recruit a meager 10 students to enroll in Chris’s Cyber Charter, I’ll equal my current salary teaching.  If I can sign up 20 students, I’ll double my pay.  If I can talk 120 students into coming on board, I’ll make my first million before the age of 40.  Anybody want in?

Opening a charter school is not as daunting a task as one may think.  The website “US Charter Schools” explains that there are four basic steps to starting a charter: exploration, application, pre-operations, and operations. 

The exploration phase first involves investigating state laws and reviewing chartering agency policies.  Most of this, incredibly, can be done online.  Next, an organizing committee must be formed to plan the charter.  The team assembled to launch Chris’s Cyber Charter will incorporate the expertise of none other than me, myself and I. 

I will draft the school’s mission statement, which will be to make as much money as humanly possible.  But I of course won’t write it like that.  Instead, to remain reputable in the public eye and to help recruit students, the mission statement will be something like, Chris’s Cyber Charter is dedicated to the success of students who have not had their needs met in a traditional public school setting.  CCC is dedicated to providing the educational programs and services necessary for all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, and learning style, to become productive, responsible members of society. 

I will also design the instructional program (it will be flexible and allow students to select their own path and work at their own pace), outline the school’s administrative structure (Joe, a colleague and good friend of mine who has a current PA principal’s certificate, will run my school), write the staffing plan (a team of five core subject teachers, one of which will be dually certified in special education and another in physical education, will be the instructors), write a statement of facilities needs (we will need laptops, wireless internet, and a full time I.T. person to set-up and maintain the school’s website), and outline a rough budget (CCC will need approximately $1 million in annual funds to effectively educate its eventual student body of 120 students).

Phase two of opening a charter involves the application process—drafting, presenting, and getting the charter approved.  A strong charter application includes things like a statement of why the school is needed, a description of the education program to be used, learning objectives for students, methods for student assessment, a financial plan and a 3-5 year budget projection, etc.  I plan on talking to Dwight Evans about how to bully the Philadelphia School Reform Commission into accepting my charter application, and how to drive out competitors like a “bulldog on a bone.” 

Phase three is pre-operations, which includes recruiting staff and students, developing a formal operating agreement with the sponsoring district, and most importantly, securing funding.  CCC plans on securing $1 million in annual funds from the Philadelphia School District.  Likewise, CCC also plans on receiving an additional $250,000 for start-up costs from the PSD and the city’s taxpayers for the first year only.  In the 2010-11 school year, the PSD spent $310 million on its 74 charter schools (which comes to $4.1 million per school), so $1.25 million is really just a drop in the bucket.       

Finally, we get to phase four—opening the charter school doors.  Because CCC is a cybercharter, there are no actual doors to be opened.  All learning takes place on computers in cyberspace from each student’s home, so there are no brick-and-mortar buildings to maintain or pay for; there is no rent, utilities, or upkeep of any kind.  Teachers also do their teaching, using special state of the art software programs, from the comfort of their own homes as well.       

CCC students will take the PSSA tests to measure their academic gains.  Even if students crap-out and fail the state tests, it doesn’t matter.  It’s common knowledge that cybercharters in Pennsylvania are the pits.  The report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows that cybercharters are performing far worse than traditional neighborhood public schools.  As Elmer Smith noted in his June 21st Daily News column, “In reading and math, cybercharters performed below average in comparison with district schools at every grade level tested. That was without exception.”

But this minor blemish doesn’t matter.  Progressives will still love CCC because the school is right on board with the three biggest educational trends of the 21st century: learning is “student-centered” without all that useless drilling from teachers; the curriculum allows children to select their own instructional paths and work at their own pace; and CCC uses state of the art technology.    

So let me repeat my plan: I’m going to open a cybercharter in Philadelphia and make a million dollars.  Anybody want in?