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Est. April 5, 2002
March 31, 2016 - Issue 647

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Connecting the Dots
Cartel Public School Privatization
Montclair, Washington, D.C.,
Baltimore, and Chicago Parallels

"These are perilous times for K-12
educators across America as the
Cartel is geared up to eradicate
public education."

The Cartel of public school privatization education reformers has intensified its coordinated efforts to dismantle America’s public school districts in every state in the country. It has recruited both Democrats and Republicans, present and former public school employees, elected officials at every level of government (from local school boards to the Presidents of the United States, Democrat and Republican), and civic and religious leaders of every sect and denomination. In addition, the Cartel has been skillful in bringing high profile majority and minority Americans into its fold.

In last week’s column, we examined the attempted takeover of the Montclair Public Schools (MPS); this week, we focus on the parallels between the similarities in the attack on Montclair schools and three other districts that have been targeted by the Cartel. Montclair continues to be under siege as the Cartel persists in heavily influencing two of the seven Montclair School Board (MSB) members, David Deutsch and Robin Kulwin.

It only needs two more disciples to regain operational control. Deutsch and Kulwin were instrumental, along with former Board members, Shelly Lombard and Leslie Larson, in the hiring of the disgraced former superintendent, Dr. Penny MacCormack, who is now chief academic officer at ACUE (Association of College and University Educators), a Cartel-funded entity designed to push privatization into higher education. MacCormack was placed there by the Cartel that shuffles its devotees around to other school districts and/or nonprofits which they have funded after their surrogates’ privatization shenanigans have been brought to light and they are forced to leave. The process has created a revolving door from coast to coast.

Washington, D.C. underwent a similar attack on its public schools in 2006 after the election of the Cartel-funded Adrian Fenty as Mayor. With power over the D.C. schools, he immediately appointed Michelle Rhee, the Cartel’s choice, as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) without conducting a search. Her administrative experience and credentials were modest at best.

She came in like gangbusters, declaring teachers as marginally competent, and negotiated (with the full cooperation of the local Washington Teachers Union (WTU) president, George Parker) an alleged lucrative contract for teachers that included a controversial evaluation system that prevented the overwhelming majority of teachers from ever receiving its financial benefits. Rhee then fired hundreds of teachers and removed dozens of principals. (Time Magazine featured her on its cover with a broom sweeping so-called bad teachers and principals out of the district.)

Later, she declared the district to be in a financial deficit and dismissed more than four hundred teachers and education support personnel. Shortly after their elimination, Rhee miraculously discovered that she did not have a fiscal exigency after all. So she replaced the terminated personnel with hundreds of new Teach for America (TFA) hires whom Dr. Leslie Fenwick, dean of Howard University’s School of Education, has labeled as “… anthropology and communications majors masquerading as teachers.” Few have cultural or social competency with the low-income students of color to whom they are assigned to oversee.

When Rhee was forced to resign in 2010 after the election of a new mayor, she established a national pro-choice, pro-privatization nonprofit, Students First, with a billion dollars in funding from the Cartel and established local chapters throughout the country. One of her early consultant hires was WTU president, George Parker, who served as her wingman while she devastated his membership. (Parker was defeated in his reelection bid in 2010.) The Cartel also sent Rhee to Montclair to establish a Montclair chapter of Students First when the Board launched a strike on the Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS) and Montclair Education Association (MEA) leaders, Dr. Michelle Fine and Gayl Shepherd, respectively.

The Baltimore City Schools are undergoing a similar experience that is equivalent to both Montclair and Washington, D.C. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, whose election was largely funded by the Cartel, also has appointing power for the superintendent. She selected Dr. Gregory Thornton as Baltimore City superintendent in 2014. He is the former superintendent of the Chester Upland School District (CUSD) in Pennsylvania (2007-2010) and the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in Wisconsin (2010-2014). While in Chester Upland, he created so many charter schools that the district eventually ran out of money to pay its teachers, and the state had to step in with extra funding. In Milwaukee, he promoted district-operated and corporate charters.

Dr. Thornton’s last act before leaving MPS was to propose turning over twenty five low-performing schools to Milwaukee’s corporate chieftains so they could experiment with improving achievement for poor African American and Hispanic children. It was vehemently opposed by the teachers’ union and rejected by the Milwaukee School Board, but the proposal was passed into law by the Wisconsin legislature in 2015 with no limits on the number of schools that could be turned into corporate charters. After one year on the job, he has been severely criticized by the Baltimore City school board and numerous local leaders for his lack of a coherent plan and strategy to improve the schools.

Yet Thornton remains a Cartel favorite as he has been wildly successful in turning the three public school districts he has headed over to the corporate sector. The Cartel will surely find another place for him after he is run out of Baltimore.

Finally, Chicago has been consistently mauled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked lackey school board and rogue superintendents. He has gone through two Cartel-backed superintendents (CEOs) since he took office in 2011: Dr. Jean Claude Brizzard (2011-2012), who had increased the number of corporate charters and the privatization of school services in the Rochester, New York Public Schools. He was run out of town by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) during the 2012 teachers’ strike for closing an excessive number of schools and refusing to settle, at the Mayor’s direction, the teachers’ contract.

Brizzard was followed by Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett (2012-2014), who awarded numerous unapproved contracts to Cartel corporations and nonprofits and took millions of dollars in kickbacks. She had engaged in similar behavior during her tenure as superintendent of schools in Cleveland, Ohio and as chief accountability officer for the Detroit Public Schools. She was indicted in Chicago and is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for her Detroit escapades. Byrd-Bennett is currently preparing to go to jail to serve a seven and a half year prison term.

Currently, CPS is being managed by a political hack, Forrest Claypool, Mayor Emanuel’s long-term political flunky, who carries out any task he is assigned since he has no background in K-12 education. Collectively, the three CEOs have driven the school system into the ground, and Claypool is trying to balance the budget that he, his predecessors, and the mayor have raped and pillaged on the backs of teachers by cutting their salaries via furloughs, and raiding their pension system. The latter effort has been recently blocked by a judge.

The CTU president, Karen Lewis has led a valiant effort to keep the schools public and to fight for resources and the dignity of teachers. She has called for a one day strike on April 1st as a way to send a message to the mayor and the governor that teachers will not go down without a fight.

These are perilous times for K-12 educators across America as the Cartel is geared up to eradicate public education. Montclair is being targeted in the same way as the aforementioned school districts but in a slightly more civil manner. However, the Cartel is positioning itself for a frontal assault with its lead school board soldier, at the moment, David Deutsch, who was integral to the demise of Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street financial services firm, where he served as a vice president during its collapse.

If the Cartel can get two of the three upcoming mayoral appointments to the Montclair School Board later this month, it will be back in business. Public education stakeholders in Montclair need to make certain that this does not happen.

Click here for links to all parts of this series 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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