If this is recovery, why don’t I feel better?

In yet another arrogant display of disdain for the public interest, the so-called Recovery School District (RSD) announced Tuesday which private operators have been blessed with the privilege of getting money thrown at them by New Schools of Baton Rouge so they can cherrypick some easy-to-test students and make some money.  The press release is available on-line at http://www.rsdla.net/apps/news/show_news.jsp?REC_ID=287722&id=0 with all the cartoonish quality of the Department of Education’s web presence.  I could spend a whole post on the lies, bias and spin of the press release, but I’ll hit a few low points:

“Back in 2012, with over thirty percent of Baton Rouge’s public schools rated an F, the RSD and community partners created the Achievement Zone to quickly and effectively provide a clear plan along with innovative solutions to transform the city’s lowest performing schools.”  I won’t even bother to fact-check the “over thirty percent . . . F” garbage because the state’s School Performance Scores do not represent, at all, whether schools are serving their students well.  The “Achievement Zone” is a farce.  When asked for the boundaries of said imaginary zone, the Superintendent of the so-called Recovery School District refused to answer.  Clearly he wants to grab all the taxpayer funded real estate he can in order to set up privately-operated schools at public expense.  And as for “innovative solutions to transform”?  I’d hardly call privatization innovative.  Cynical, segregationist and expensive, maybe.  But not innovative.  And the spin goes on for the rest of the piece.  A somewhat more objective description is available at http://theadvocate.com/home/7443677-125/charter-schools-will-run-rsd.

I will explain the title of the post soon, but first I must comment on the state’s plans.

Let’s take a look at the Louisiana non-profits that will be charged with running these schools.  The agenda for the August 15, 2013, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting (http://www.boarddocs.com/la/bese/Board.nsf/files/9AAHQR48BC67/$file/SIT_2-3_Type5Charters.pdf) where these organizations were granted Type 5 charters doesn’t bother to list the board members or to include the full applications, but some hints are there.  More details can be discovered at the Louisiana Secretary of State’s web site (www.sos.la.gov), which gives information on Louisiana corporations, including non-profits.

Friendship Louisiana, Inc., (which is to be given use of the Capitol High School campus) is registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State, but is not in good standing because it didn’t bother filing its annual report.  I wonder how well the charter will comply with any reports due to the Department of Education.  The domicile address is 620 Florida St., Suite 110, Baton Rouge, LA 70801.  The registered agent, however, is Lee Reid, 701 Poydras St., Suite 4500, New Orleans, LA 70139.  The only officer listed is Vice-President James Gray, 1100 Poydras St., Suite 1460, New Orleans, LA 70163.  I’m sure Poydras is a lovely street, but it’s a long walk from any kind of local accountability for Baton Rouge.  The Type 5 charter application indicates that the non-profit will be punting operation of the school to Friendship Public Charter School, Inc.  Unfortunately there is no such Louisiana corporation.  Details.

Family Urban Schools of Excellence LA (FUSE for short, prospective operator of Dalton Elementary) has a domicile address of “C/O New Schools for Baton Rouge, 100 Lafayette St., Floor 2, Baton Rouge, LA 70802”.  Isn’t that cozy.  Their registered agent is Andrea Comer of the same address.  The only officer listed is President Taryn Perry, 339 Blue Hills Avenue, Hartford, CT, 06112.  I guess the out-of-state charter operators fit the apparent belief of state and local leaders that all the good ideas have to come from somewhere other than dumb ol’ Louisiana.  For whatever it’s worth (apparently not much), the FUSE application was recommended for denial by SchoolWorks, who is BESE’s reviewer of charter applicants.

The BESE application for Celerity (mercenaries-to-be for Crestworth Middle and Lanier Elementary) lists “Celerity Schools Inc.” as the non-profit applicant.  There are two similar-sounding non-profit corporations listed with the Secretary of State:  Celerity Louisiana Schools, Inc., and Celerity Louisiana Group, Inc.  Fortunately they share a domicile, the office of their registered agent:  C T Corporation System, 5615 Corporate Blvd., Suite 400B, Baton Rouge, LA 70808.  Unfortunately, they have different directors.  For the first corporation the directors are Enriquetta Cabrera, Julie Stern and Curt Hessler.  For the other corporation, the named directors are Vielka McFarlane, Curt Hessler, and Dana Walden.  All directors have an address of 2069 W. Slauson Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90047.  Inquiring minds might want to know to which corporation millions of dollars of taxpayer money will be going.  Details normally matter, though apparently not for the Recovery School District.

The fourth non-profit given a coronation today is Baton Rouge University Preparatory Charter School Inc.  That name is a mouthful of meaningless words thrown together in a feeble attempt to sound impressive.  But back to their corporate existence.  The domicile is 620 Florida St., Suite 110.  Sound familiar?  Besides being the domicile for Friendship Louisiana, it’s the location of 4th Sector Solutions, the current (or former) employer of the prospective school leader, who is apparently just now learning how to lead a school (according to the charter application).  The registered agent is Melissa Fox, 12317 Nan Rd., Gonzales, LA 70737.  The only officer listed is Jennifer Fowler, Vice-President, 1120 Country Club Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70806.

Neither in the corporate records nor in the BESE-meeting materials posted on the web was I able to find a complete list of the board members of each of the non-profits.  So I guess I know what my next public record request will have to include.

It’s worth noting that the state seized Prescott Middle’s campus because of a perceived failure of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) to educate students in grades 6-8 who were assigned to that campus.  The state’s solution, it seems, is to move to some strange state of “recovery” by putting an elementary school on that campus, one grade at a time.  And state Superintendent John White mocks EBRPSS’s use of facilities?  Hidden in the RSD press release is another enlightnening tidbit:  Celerity’s Crestworth Middle campus will not only presume to merge the student bodies of three middle schools into one campus, but it will introduce early elementary students also.  Never mind that there is a functioning elementary school next door.  It’s operated by the big, bad, beast known as EBRPSS so the state must offer CHOICE!  Never mind that students can already choose among Crestworth, Ryan or Progress Elementaries or one of the many magnets available for consideration.

Which gets me back to the title of this post.  If the Recovery School District is properly named, the end game should be a healthy school system providing a free and appropriate education to all students who wish to attend.  To the contrary, though, today’s announcement makes it clear that the purpose of the RSD is not restoring the East Baton Rouge School System to health.  Did I neglect to mention that the charters are expecting five-year contracts to occupy, rent-free, the property owned by the local school system and seized by the state?

If a piano player is having trouble with a particular passage, would the teacher cut off two of his fingers and demand that he try harder to hit all the notes?  If a football team was routinely getting clobbered, would the coach kick off the starting players and demand that the six freshmen he puts on the field defeat the opponent’s 11 players?  If a car has a worn-out tire, would a mechanic take it off and insist that the car should drive more economically if it only has three wheels in use?  The analogies are a bit far-fetched, but no more ridiculous than having the state take over real estate it doesn’t need to hand over students who don’t want charters to private operators who have to be bribed by New Schools to come to Baton Rouge.

A few closing thoughts before I go compose today’s public record request for submission to the Department of Education:  It’s hard enough already to get answers about how operations are conducted at schools run directly by state employees.  It will be much harder when the record requests will involve private operators.  I am of the opinion that records regarding the use of public money are public records (even when funds are laundered by way of privatization).  But that may require litigation.

I have unofficial enrollment data in hand for the seven schools directly run by RSD in Baton Rouge (they appear to have forgotten that they are in charge of the charter at Kenilworth Middle School).  The seven campuses collectively have a capacity of 6285, but are serving only 1720 students.  That’s 27.4%.  If you remove the two elementary schools (which aren’t quite that empty), the five remaining campuses are operating at 15.7% capacity.  And Superintendent White and the folks at the RSD work for a governor who claims to be conservative?

As for the announcement that the Istrouma High and Glen Oaks Middle campuses will be unused for the 2014-15 school year (except maybe for an office or two)?  That is a horrible idea which should offend both Democrats and Republicans.  Unfortunately the Republicans in Louisiana appear to believe that the cure to everything that ails society is to steal from the poor and give to the rich.  And the Democrats seem all too anxious to accept employment from the people doing the stealing.  Has anyone else noticed that the state’s Democratic chairwoman is married to the RSD’s second-in-command?  Maybe I need a new party to join?  I like efficient and effective public education under local control with guidance and assistance offered by state and federal governments.  Is that so wrong?

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