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Est. April 5, 2002
October 01, 2015 - Issue 623

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The Broad and Cartel Assault
Teachers and Communities
Seven New Jersey Examples

"As Broad moves in on a school district,
his representatives launch a major marketing
campaign, with falsified data, to assert to the
community that the schools are failing and that
their only salvation is to turn them into so-called
'high-performing charter schools.'"

The education reform Cartel (comprised of the Koch Bros. and their numerous corporate, foundation, and wealthy allies) are becoming more aggressive and public in their assault on Public education. One of its most prominent members, Eli Broad, essentially serves as the Cartel’s minister of education. In that capacity, he has personally contributed more than a billion dollars to: elected officials at every level of government; voucher, charter and public schools; Common Core; search firms for education administrators; privatization advocacy groups; and universities who cooperate with and support his program. In addition, he has established his own superintendents’ and school administrators’ training academy to takeover state education agencies and public school districts across the nation.

To date, Broad has installed his graduates and/or their mentees as heads of more than one hundred large and medium-sized school districts and state education agencies. His objectives are to: demonize teachers and their unions, promote virtual and bricks and mortar charter schools, run public schools as a business, reduce the number of union jobs in school districts, privatize school services, and promote high stakes testing. As Broad moves in on a school district, his representatives launch a major marketing campaign, with falsified data, to assert to the community that the schools are failing and that their only salvation is to turn them into so-called “high-performing charter schools.” On September 21, 2015, Broad announced that he and Cartel members would raise $490 million to place fifty percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) students in charter schools by 2023. In effect, LAUSD would become New Orleans west. This action was a follow-up to Broad influencing the award of a billion dollar contract to fellow Cartel member, the Apple Corporation, for IPads, which resulted in Broad superintendent Dr. John Deasy’s forced resignation. Below are examples of Broad’s education reform activities in seven New Jersey school districts.

New Jersey Broad Examples

In 2011, Christopher Cerf, former CEO of Edison Schools, a company focused on chartering and privatizing public schools and former Deputy Chancellor of the New York City Schools, was appointed Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) with the assistance of the Cartel and Eli Broad who had contributed millions of dollars to New Jersey Governor Christie’s campaign war chest. Shortly after Cerf’s arrival, Broad contributed millions of dollars to the NJDOE to establish Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) to assess and allegedly improve teacher effectiveness in low-performing school districts targeted by Broad for placement of its superintendents. Between 2011 and 2014, he placed seven Broad-trained and/or mentored superintendents in New Jersey districts: Newark (2011), Montclair (2012), Bellville (2012), Jersey City (2012), Highland Park (2013), Trenton (2013), and Camden (2013). Cerf’s first appointment was the recently departed Cami Anderson, who worked with him in New York City, as superintendent in Newark. With Broad, Gates, and other foundation funding, Anderson negotiated a new teachers’ contract with the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) with the full support of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). It mandated merit pay and teacher evaluation using student test scores, which Commissioner Cerf tried to use as a model for forthcoming teacher contract settlements throughout New Jersey.

Anderson (a white female) hit the ground running in aggressively promoting the Broad plan. She rapidly increased the number of Newark charter schools; sold school district buildings at below market rates to charter management organizations; filed tenure charges against hundreds of teachers; closed numerous schools; gave her central office staff exorbitant raises and perks (spending more than $300,000 on catered meals in one calendar year); awarded nearly half a billion dollars in hardware, service, and consultant contracts to Broad and Cartel allies; and included student assignments for charter school into its district operations, basically aiding charter schools in their student recruitment. She consistently disrespected the Newark African American community, causing a furor by broadcasting her cultural sensitivity based on the fact that she was a “baby mamma” by her live-in black boyfriend, and she began refusing to attend the meetings of the advisory school board appointed after the state seizure of the school district. Anderson also introduced a One Newark Plan that would close even more schools, change students’ school assignments, and terminate large numbers of teachers and principals, several of whom took her to court and won reinstatement. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote a letter to President Obama (receiving no response) asking him to intervene in this education stalemate, and seventy-seven Newark black clergy members wrote a letter to Gov. Christie demanding that Anderson be removed due to her refusal to solicit input from the community for her reforms and her callous treatment of those who questioned her reform practices.

They co-led a group that traveled to Washington, D.C. to make the same request to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to no avail. Anderson continued to ignore the Newark community, and Christie and Cerf (until he left in 2014) backed her without equivocation in the face of escalating community opposition. Finally, in mid-2015, Christie, who was trailing in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, forced Anderson to resign. He did not want the battle over Newark’s public schools to serve as a distraction to his fledgling campaign. Furthermore, in an effort to stifle community dissent, Christie also set up a committee to design a blueprint for the return of Newark’s schools to local control. He then replaced Anderson with her former boss, former New Jersey Education Commissioner, Chris Cerf, a move that appears to many to be “déjà vu all over again” (in the words of the recently deceased New York Yankee icon, Yogi Berra). So far, Broad has achieved many of its Newark goals.

In 2012, Commissioner Cerf appointed three Broad superintendents, Dr. Marcia Lyles (a black female) in Jersey City, Dr. Maureen MacCormack (a white female) in Montclair, and Dr. Helene Feldman (a white female) in Belleville. Dr. Lyles, a Broad Academy graduate and friend of Cerf, was appointed over strong community objections and immediately began implementing the Broad program—closing schools, contracting with Broad and Cartel allies, attacking the teachers’ union, and privatizing school services. She has been able to overpower her opponents with the strong support of Democratic Mayor Steve Fulop, a former Goldman Sachs trader, who is also heavily supported by Broad and the Cartel. She held up the settlement of the teachers’ contract in an attempt to force it closer to the Newark model that Cerf was promoting across the state. Lyles persists in systematically pushing the Broad itinerary.

After a comprehensive search for the Montclair superintendent, Dr. Maureen MacCormack, Cerf’s chief of staff, was selected for the position although she had not been announced as a finalist. Upon taking office, she declared the district to be failing and instituted a focus on high stakes testing. A state teacher’s union manager confronted MacCormack on this false allegation, and she was forced to modify her statements. At first, local residents did not mount a major counteroffensive to MacCormack’s charges until she accelerated her attacks on teachers and the district. Montclair, a middle-class community, had long enjoyed a reputation for high quality public schools. When local public education stakeholders began responding, they did so in traditional ways: community forums, letters to the editor, op-ed columns, letters to superintendent, polite questioning of school board policy, and respectful negotiations with Dr. MacCormack.

In a meeting with a public education supporter, she denied any association with the Broad Superintendents Academy while her graduation diploma was hanging on the wall behind her in plain sight. Most Montclair citizens, as do many victims of the Broad assault, did not accept or realize that they were dealing with education reform gangsters who would say and do anything to accomplish their overarching aspirations to dismantle and privatize public education. Only when a local activist, David Herron acting alone, began confronting and filling charges in court and with the state ethics commission (over MacCormack’s use of illegal administrative job titles, her certification to be superintendent, a school board member’s conflict-of-interest in voting on school district contacts, and MacCormack’s improper contracting practices) did things began to move. She resigned suddenly in February 2015 to supposedly take a lesser job in New York. For now, Montclair has survived Broad as the interim superintendent, who has a two-year appointment and is a vocal supporter of public education, has begun to dismantle many of MacCormack’s reforms.

Belleville’s Broad superintendent, Dr. Helene Feldman (a white female) already serving as Belleville’s director of special education, was an emergency interim choice in the wake of her predecessor being removed over sexual assault allegations. She was given a four year contract to get the district back on track. However, one of her first moves was to install a video and audio system, with 800 cameras, in every classroom, corridor, and stairwell in the nine school district building to surveil teachers, students, and staff for safety purposes in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Each student and employee will also receive radio frequency ID cards that will be needed to enter schools or board buses, which are also equipped with cameras. The security system was also comprised of panic buttons for teachers, reinforced windows and doors, and an armed guard in every school in the district. When the Belleville Education Association (BEA) president, Michael Mignone, questioned this policy and raised other issues on behalf of his members, Feldman filed tenure charges against him. Mignone, a science teacher, had been previously evaluated as being one of the best teachers in the district. After a year-long struggle, and with the fervent support of his fellow teachers across the state and the state teachers union, Mignone prevailed. Not long after, Feldman and the Board came to a parting of the ways in 2014. The Broad initiative was again stopped for the moment.

Commissioner Cerf hired three Broad superintendents in 2013: Tim Capone (white male) in Highland Park, Dr. Francisco Duran (Latino male)) in Trenton, and Paymon Rouhanifard (Iranian male) in Camden. Tim Capone, who had been removed as a principal in Delaware, was identified for Cerf at a privatization conference in the Washington, D.C. area. He was brought to New Jersey to head the Regional Achievement Center (RAC) in Trenton where he had a contentious relationship with local districts. Within months of his employment as Highland Park’s superintendent, he reorganized the district and in doing so was able to abolish the positions of the Highland Park Education Association (HPEA) president and vice president. That decision ignited the broader community, and the local field representative for the state teachers union, Nancy Grbelja, organized hundreds of teachers and a cross-section of community members to attend school board meetings to protest. The Board originally stood firm in its support of Capone. Grbelja was joined by Darci Cimarusti, a community activist, who would run for and win a seat on the Highland Park School Board during this controversy, and Kim Bevilacqua-Crane, who stepped up as the new HPEA president as the union was reeling from Capone’s attack. By quickly assassinating the HPEA union leadership, Capone had hoped to pummel teachers into submission to his plans to execute the Broad education strategy. He was not prepared for the staunch resistance of the three amigos. Recognizing that they were facing a slick and deceitful adversary in Capone (a gangster education reformer), Grbelja, Cimarusti, and Bevilacqua-Crane organized Highland Park citizens through one-on-one and group meetings, community forums where they laid out the Broad agenda and mass attendance at school board meetings to the extent that meetings had to be moved to a larger venue.

Additionally, the three amigos served notice to individual board members that their anti-public education and anti-union positions would be remembered at the next election. When Cimarusti joined the board in January of 2014, she was able to advocate vigorously against Capone’s Broad scheme with a seat at the table. She and her two colleagues, with strong community backing, forced the board to separate Capone from the district in August 2014. The board’s public rationale was that “educational and financial ramifications drove its decision, when, in fact, it was the political and community muscle assembled by the three amigos. Nevertheless, Capone had done substantial damage by quietly issuing millions of dollars in contracts to Broad and Cartel allies during his twelve month tenure as superintendent.

The appointment of Trenton superintendent, Dr. Francisco Duran, lacked controversy as almost no one knew he was a Broad surrogate. A Latino male in a city with a sizeable Hispanic population, he was embraced by the minority community. In his first town hall meeting where he was introduced to the Trenton community, he made it clear that he worked well with charter schools (which were on the rise in the city). It was largely unknown that his mentor, Dr. Arlene Ackerman, former superintendent of the Philadelphia Public Schools, was scholar in residence at the Broad Superintendents Academy (BSA) who had indoctrinated her disciple in all things Broad. She had been instrumental in promoting him from a teacher’s aide to a superintendent. The former position endeared him to Trenton’s education support personnel that were overwhelmingly minority; they felt he was one of them until he reduced their wages and benefits. But Duran deferred to Trenton Education Association (TEA) leaders due to the strong leadership of its president, Naomi Johnson-Lafluer and its grievance chair, Janice Williams. They kept a tight rein on his behavior toward teachers and let it be known that they would not countenance a major expansion of charters and gave a resounding no to vouchers. Standing in fear of these two African American women, Duran reduced his Broad advocacy to delivering tens of millions of dollars in contacts to his Broad and Cartel associates that had minimal positive impact on district programs.

Paymon Rouhanifard was the final Broad superintendent that Commissioner Cerf employed to lead the Camden Schools.

Rouhanifard, at age 34, was the youngest of the seven Broad acolytes, and he only possessed bachelors’ degrees in economics and political science. He was on Cerf’s staff in the New York City Schools charter school office, reporting to Cami Anderson before she arrived in Newark and appointed him as her Deputy Superintendent for Innovation (assigned to create more charter schools). More Than 53% of Camden Certified Teachers and Administrators possessed a B.A. +30 credits, M.A., or Ph.D. Degrees. His experience, other than his administrative post in Newark, was a two year stint as a Teach for America (TFA) teacher in New York City and as a staffer in the charter school office. At the announcement of his appointment as Camden’s new superintendent in March 2013, Cerf said with a straight face that “… he was the best choice out of the 100 applicants who had applied.”

It had already been decided by Gov. Christie and Commissioner Cerf that Rouhanifard would have a glide path to turning Camden into the all-charter district that Cerf had outlined in NJDOE’s 2012 Portfolio of School Management. Since his arrival in 2013, Rouhanifard has converted twenty-five percent of Camden’s 26 schools into corporate charters, with more to come this year, and he has reduced the Camden Education Association’s (CEA) membership by 500 members and counting. He is low-key and charismatic and has developed a cooperative relationship with the CEA president even as he eliminates his members. Rouhanifard has hired several Broad-trained central office staff, including Dale Chu as director of Camden Schools, who was charged with sexual harassment while employed by a Broad superintendent in Indiana. As the case with his fellow New Jersey Broad cohorts, he has also bestowed millions of dollars on Broad and Cartel cronies.

Lessons Learned

Overall, Eli Broad has enjoyed some success in promoting his education reform agenda in New Jersey by strategically fielding a group of applicants who are racially and gender diverse. But teachers and union leaders have achieved victories, as well, when they have engaged and organized their communities across race and class lines. It can no longer be assumed that public education is embraced as a sacrosanct institution that the broader public will support without question. Public education stakeholders have to be mindful of the following realities: the intense marketing of public school privatization to the general citizenry by conservative education reformers; the Cartel’s funding of majority and minority elected officials and leaders at local, state and national levels, including President Barack Obama; the stagnant economy which has caused intense economic anxiety among the body politic resulting in a decline in willingness to support public education; the unspoken fact that, nationally, today’s public school student are more than fifty-one percent minority (Asian, African American, Native American, or Hispanic) and mostly low-income, causing the larger majority population to be more attracted to education reform that promotes public school privatization; and teachers, unions, and others’ continued use of organizing strategies and practices that are no longer appropriate for current public education advocacy.

Nonetheless, what these examples show is that teachers, teacher unions, and public education stakeholders can stop the Broad program and get rid of Broad superintendents when they monitor them and engage in continuous education of citizens about the public school privatization threat in their service areas. Highland Park, Belleville, Montclair, and Newark teachers and community leaders unleashed sustained efforts to defeat the Broad assault.

Yet the best strategy is to monitor the superintendent search process in order to prevent Broad candidates from emerging as finalists in the first place. Elsewhere in New Jersey, teacher and union leaders are pursuing this tactic to ensure they are not blindsided with a Broad superintendent after the hiring decision has been finalized: Diana Joffe in South Plainfield (with the support of school board member, Debbie Boyle); Susan Berkey in South Brunswick; the previously mentioned leaders in Trenton and Highland Park; and Dan Anderson, retired teacher and now school board member, in Bloomfield. Teachers and public education stakeholders can win the Broad battle, despite being outspent and having to overcome a bipartisan political constituency aligned with Broad and the Cartel. They have to be willing to speak truth to power and to organize and enlighten a diverse body politic to advocate for public education. Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer and National Public Radio’s The Connection to discuss public school privatization, and he has lectured to parent, teacher, and union groups throughout the nation. Contact Dr. Farrell. 

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