Monthly Archives: November 2015

Superintendents elsewhere caught up in SUPES. PGCPS in the Mix.

chi-barbara-byrd-bennett-cps-ct0026111316-20150128Barbara Byrd-Bennett in this undated photo at a SUPES training.

The corruption conviction of disgraced ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett illustrates the potential dangers of no-bid contracts while highlighting another potential pitfall: The problems that can arise when school leaders consult on the side for for-profit educational companies.

Increasingly, school officials throughout the country are moonlighting for education firms that sell everything from textbooks and software to professional development services.

And in many cases, these same companies are also doing business with the taxpayer-funded districts those officials oversee.

Experts say the trend is troubling. Not only does it create a conflict of interest or the appearance of one, it can also lead to something far more serious.

“Does this sidetrack superintendents so they take their eyes off the ball?” says Samuel E. Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, at Columbia University. “Does it lead to a give and take? Does it lead to a certain kind of coziness with these companies that does not serve the school district well?”

In Byrd-Bennett’s case, federal prosecutors allege she was promised bribes and kickbacks in exchange for steering $23 million worth of CPS business to the SUPES Academy, a provider of professional development for principals.

Byrd-Bennett, who pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, had worked as a consultant for the company before Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped her to lead CPS.

But she wasn’t the only school district leader with financial ties to SUPES.

A review by the Better Government Association and Catalyst Chicago identified dozens of superintendents and other high-level officials from districts across the country who worked as consultants for SUPES in Chicago.

And in a half-dozen of these cases, these paid consultants worked at districts that had also given contracts to SUPES or Synesi Associates, LLC, a related company that’s also named in the indictment.

Federal prosecutors have declined to say whether they’re looking into superintendents elsewhere, although they say the investigation is ongoing. No school district official outside of Chicago has said they’ve been contacted by federal investigators.

Notable findings from the BGA/Catalyst review, based on public records and interviews:

  • SUPES gave a paid consulting position to Baltimore County schools Supt. Dallas Dance in 2013, just months after his school board awarded the company a no-bid $875,000 contract. The district’s ethics commission looked into the arrangement following initial news stories about Byrd-Bennett and SUPES. The panel determined Dance violated district policy by not asking permission from the school board prior to accepting the consulting work, which involved training CPS principals.
  • Prompted by Byrd-Bennett news coverage, Iowa City school board members recently began raising questions about Supt. Stephen Murley’s ties to SUPES. Murley’s school board hired Synesi to do a $60,000 “operations review” in October 2011. The deal was approved following a quasi-bidding process. The next year, Murley started working for SUPES, training CPS principals. Murley told the BGA/Catalyst there’s no conflict because the district permits him to do “speaking engagements.”
  • The St. Louis school board awarded a $125,000 principal training contract, through a bidding process, to SUPES in 2012, just before Supt. Kelvin Adams started consulting for SUPES in Chicago, where he did principal training. The St. Louis district also awarded a $16,500 no-bid deal to Synesi in 2011. After questions from a reporter, school board President Rick Sullivan asked an independent attorney to review the district’s contracts with the companies, but Sullivan believes Adams is a man of “integrity” and didn’t do anything wrong.

Other school districts that hired SUPES and had officials consulting for the company include: Huntsville, Ala., Prince George’s County in Maryland, and Washoe County (Reno), in Nevada.

Procurement officials in Washoe County ended their three-year contract with SUPES in 2012, just after the first year and shortly after the resignation of Supt. Heath Morrison, who went on to work for SUPES during his next superintendent gig. Morrison, who now works for the McGraw Hill publishing company, said through a spokesman that there was no conflict of interest because he took the consulting gig after leaving Washoe County.

“I didn’t know he ended up working for them,” says former Washoe County schools Trustee Barbara Clark, who doesn’t remember the district’s contract with SUPES. “I think a lot of superintendents probably end up becoming consultants for companies.”

In both the Huntsville and Prince George’s County cases, the officials who went on to get side jobs with SUPES joined the school districts after the contracts were already in place.

Questions on payment

There are references to contracts in both St. Louis and Prince George’s County in Byrd-Bennett’s indictment. In an email to one of SUPES’ co-owners asking about how much she’d get paid, Byrd-Bennett writes: “I know we calculated PG and St. Louis….what is it for Chicago, assuming we hit the full amount?”

It’s unclear whether Byrd-Bennett was referring to payments for herself or officials in St. Louis and Prince George’s County, which is known by its abbreviations. (Officials in Prince George’s County treated reporters’ questions about the SUPES contract like a records request and have not provided any information.)

Attorneys for one of SUPES’ owners, Gary Solomon, say they’ve seen no evidence to indicate anything criminal took place outside of Chicago. Solomon and SUPES co-owner Tom Vranas were also indicted in the federal corruption case and have both pleaded not guilty.

It’s unknown how much the various SUPES consultants made for their work for SUPES, although sources say they were paid between $1,200 and $1,500 per year for each CPS principal they coached. A BGA/Catalyst review of district records from the contract with CPS shows that the consultants worked on average with about six principals.

Sources say that so-called “master teachers” earned as much as $25,000 for giving trainings to larger groups. The official in Huntsville says she was paid $26,000 for her work as a SUPES coach in another school district and is still owed $2,000 for her work in Chicago. (Another former consultant also said he is still owed money.) One former consultant whose district did not have a contract with SUPES said he made $34,000 in one year for his work for the company in Chicago and another district.

In Byrd-Bennett’s plea agreement, she says that she expected to receive a job with SUPES, bank accounts for her relatives, and a  “signing bonus consistent with those received by other superintendents when they become consultants, and thus worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Shelly Kulwin — an attorney for Solomon, SUPES and Synesi — assures that large signing bonuses weren’t the norm for retired superintendents who joined SUPES as consultants.

Instead, his interpretation is that Byrd-Bennett knew that as a matter of common practice, superintendents often receive “signing bonuses when they [go] to companies after leaving the public arena. That’s what she wanted from SUPES.”

Attorneys for Byrd-Bennett declined to comment for this story.

A lot of offers

Michael Hinojosa, just named superintendent of Dallas schools, said he never received a bonus for becoming a consultant for SUPES and ProACT Search, a headhunter company that, until recently, was also owned by Solomon and Vranas. In previous jobs, Hinojosa hired these companies — and he got his most recent job after a ProACT search.

Hinojosa says superintendents get a lot of offers, especially as they move up the ranks. He doesn’t “see anything wrong with consulting work as long as you’re getting your job done at home and you’re very clear with your board.”

CPS’ ethics policy prohibits employees from having a financial interest in a company that has a contract with the district. CPS officials say they have put new checks into place to prevent future conflicts of interest, but even CEO Forrest Claypool admits there’s “no magic bullet for integrity.”

Abrams, the Columbia professor and author of “Education and the Commercial Mindset,” says that the federal pressure on test-driven results gave rise to a whole new group of companies that promised that they could turn around schools. Like SUPES, these companies use proven school leaders to do training and mentoring, creating more opportunities for superintendents and more circular associations.

This is the crux of the problem, he says, just as it has been for professors of finance who consult with investment banks and hedge funds: candid assessment of policy may conflict with personal interest.  “And we can’t make good policy if we can’t assess it candidly,” he says.

This story was reported by Sarah Karp, of the Better Government Association, and Melissa Sanchez, of Catalyst Chicago. A condensed version of this story was published in the Chicago Sun-Times.



Who Is Funding the Charter Industry?


Ever wonder who is the supplying the money behind the privatization of public schools?

It is a long list, and it starts with the U.S. Department of Education. Every year since 1992?, your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state has charters, you can expect that they will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools, hire buses, and send students, teachers, and parents to the State Capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters. Since the children are already enrolled in a charter and can’t attend more than one, they are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.

The big foundations support the growth of the charter industry: the Walton Family Foundation has put more than $1 billion into charters and vouchers; the Gates Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation also put millions into charters, often partnering with the Far-right Walton Foundation.

There is a long list of other foundations that fund the assault on public education, including the John Arnold Foundation (ex-Enron trader), the Dell Foundation, the Helmsley Doundation, the Fisher Family Foundation (Gap and Old Navy), the Michael Bloomberg Foundation, and many more.

Here is a list of the funders of 50CAN, which started in Connecticut as ConnCAN, created by billionaires, corporate executives, and hedge fund managers, led by Jonathan Sackler, uber-rich Big Oharma.

Here is an example of a foundation that is very active in support of privatization. Check out where their money goes.

ALEC uses its clout with far-right legislators to promote charters and vouchers, as well as to negate local control over charters.

To see where the Walton Family Foundation spread over $202 million to advance privatization, look here.

The money trail is so large, that it is hard to know where to begin. Certain recipients do collect large sums with frequency, including KIPP, Teach for America, Education Trust, to name just a few.

As we say at the Network for Public Education, we are many, they are few. They have money, we have votes. Out ideas for children and education are sound, their ideas fail every time, everywhere.


Shock after PGCPS ‘confidential’ student records exposed to public view


School districts are tasked with keeping sensitive information about students private. But following the death of a Prince George’s County teenager, the 7 ON YOUR SIDE I-Team found confidential records available where anyone could see them.

Murdered defending his own mother, the family of Oxon Hill’s Keyshaun Mason wanted the world to understand the kind of young man he was when they gathered to honor him one month ago. His mother Lakisha Jenkins told the crowd, “Keyshaun was known in every area of his life.”

7 ON YOUR SIDE knows something about him too. Something we shouldn’t. Because when the I-Team searched the internet for information about the 14-year-old, we found Mason’s confidential student records posted online.

LeRoy Rooker, who previously oversaw the Family Policy Compliance Office for the U.S. Department of Education, said, “It’s shocking, it really is, that something like that, so sensitive would ever be in a place where it could inadvertently disclosed”

But Mason’s records aren’t the only ones we found. 7 ON YOUR SIDE discovered notes from a staffer in the Prince George’s County school system. Those notes detail medical and disciplinary information, grades and special needs plans for more than a dozen students at Oxon Hill Middle School.

Rooker explained all that information we found should have been protected by a federal law abbreviated as FERPA, the Family Electronic Rights and Privacy Act. It’s like its buddy, HIPAA, but for student records.

It was Rooker’s job to enforce FERPA for 21 years in his role with the Department of Education. He tells 7 ON YOUR SIDE the law is designed to make sure the kind of information we stumbled upon stays private.

“What you’ve showed me would clearly trigger an investigation,” Rooker said.

The Department of Education says it’s working with Prince George’s County to ensure it is in not in violation of FERPA following our discovery. We found the district’s information on a website called Weebly.

Jim Jones, associate professor at George Mason University, is a technology security expert. He says Weebly is not the kind of website designed to protect the kind of information we found.

Weebly, according to Jones, is a popular option for educators who want to share notes and work with colleagues and students. It has password protections, but Jones says it’s not the kind of site to wave the red flag when secret information goes public.

“Weebly is not designed to do that because they’re not expecting sensitive information to be in there,” Jones explained.

Parents also were not expecting sensitive information to be on the site. 7 ON YOUR SIDE took printouts of the records we obtained to those whose children were mentioned. Upon seeing the papers, the family of one student told us, “That’s something that’s confidential between her and her guidance counselor.”

The families questioned whether Prince George’s County schools planned to notify whether the information had been exposed. But the district wasn’t aware the records had been posted until 7 ON YOUR SIDE told them.

A district spokeswoman declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview, telling ABC7 “PGCPS makes every effort to protect confidential information”. In a statement the district said the website where the records were found was immediately taken down. But days later 7 ON YOUR SIDE was still able to access a cached version of the records, with information still publicly available on the website.

After notifying the U.S. Department of Education about our findings, the link to the records finally disappeared. But the trouble for the district has not. The agency says it will continue to work with Prince George’s County Public Schools to ensure compliance with federal law.

After our discovery and questions about the use of Weebly, PGCPS’ spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson said, “We will advise schools that the site should not be used for confidential student information. Understanding that everything in the digital realm runs the risk of being compromised, the district does have comprehensive measures in place to protect our systems from administrative procedures to dedicated staff members.”

One family the I-Team spoke with believes her child’s information should never have been on the web to begin with, saying, “She appreciates that you guys came here and let her know because clearly they weren’t going to let us know because that’s a mistake.”

Weebly, a third party web hosting platform mentioned in this report, responded to this report with this statement:

“Weebly takes the online posting of private or illegal information very seriously. Posting such content is in direct violation of Weebly’s terms of service, and its legal and policy teams respond immediately to abuse claims. Weebly hosts 32 million sites and in this particular case, it appears the site creator failed to utilize Weebly’s password protection feature and improperly publicized private student information. If anyone comes across a Weebly-powered site with questionable content, they are highly encouraged to reach out to Weebly to address those concerns.”pgcps_logoimage


Happy Holidays and Give Thanks.


Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to give thanks. No matter what may be happening around you, you can always find something to be thankful to God for.  Reform Sasscer Movement family pray that you have a blessed week with your family and loved ones. God bless!


International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – 25 November


2Why This International Day?

  • Violence against women is a human rights violation
  • Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women
  • Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security
  • Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential
  • Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.


From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

This year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women invites you to “Orange the world: End violence against women and girls.” Join the UNiTE campaign and organize “Orange Events” between 25 November and 10 December 2015.
Join us! Share your photos, messages and videos showing how you orange your world at and using #orangetheworld. For more information about “Orange the world,” see poster and download toolkit.



The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, the Empire State Building, the Peace Palace in The Hague, among other landmarks around the world were lit in orange for the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women. Photo: UN Women



Ohio Teacher Will Sue State for Bullying


Dawn Neely-Randall Will Sue State for Bullying

Dawn Neely-Randall was taking a class training her to recognize bullying. Suddenly she realized she was the victim of bullying–by the state of Ohio. She plans to sue the state and welcomes others to join her.

She writes:

Neely-Randall vs. State of Ohio
Peer Discriminatory Harassment:

This past week, as I was completing an online training module assigned by the Ohio Department of Education via a required harassment/bullying video (so we could know the state laws within the classroom context), the definition of harassment given included to 1) have an intent to harm; 2) be directed at a specific target; and 3) involve repeated incidents. I learned that legally, harassment focuses on how the behavior affects the victim.

As a teacher in the State of Ohio, I suddenly realized that I am being harassed by the Ohio Department of Education’s own legal definition as well as from legislators who are passing harmful laws to hurt me as well as many harmful laws that hurt my students, which totally, unequivocally knock the wind right out of me.

 The state is asking teachers to educate and test students in ways that many of us do not feel are morally correct or developmentally appropriate. For instance, very shortly, some districts will test 3rd graders (a test they must pass in order to pass third grade; another form of harassment) for three hours straight. So, eight year olds will sit at a computer for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT taking a high-stakes (high-pressure situation) English Language Arts test so they can pass third-grade, even though, they are only beginning their second quarter of third-grade. Harassment, much?

 In addition, “preliminary” raw data were finally released by the state from PARCC. A woman could have conceived, grown, and birthed a baby in less time than it took for students to have received their scores from the state based on their LAST year’s testing. Oh, wait. Students STILL have not received their scores and the school’s “grade card” is not due out until at least the end of January. Yet, the media are already reporting these raw, preliminary numbers, which, in effect, label teachers and schools. Districts in poverty zip codes are looking like failures whereas schools in more affluent zip codes look like they have better teachers. The scores also do not account for if a student made tremendous growth from the time he/she walked into the classroom and instead, labeled the child as “Basic” or “Limited” aka, failures. Labels hurt. Labels don’t go away. Labels on children are a form of harassment.

 Our Ohio Department of Education is a mess. State superintendents do not stick around long. Even when I called the ODE to ask about the new AIR tests, the person answering the phone asked me, “Is that spelled A-I-R?” Um, yes, yes it is. It seems that everyone there should know PARCC and AIR by now; especially at the state level.

 The charter scrubbing scandal is also a mess. Urban public schools are constantly being told they are FAILING and being threatened with state takeover while the Ohio Department of Education falsified charter information not only to the citizens of the state, but also to the United States Department of Education, and continued to label schools and did nothing to press charges against the person(s) falsifying the data, even though teachers in another state are IN JAIL for doing the same thing.

And on and on and on and on. (I haven’t even mentioned the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System where it took me eight hours to write one lesson plan and a process in which teachers are labeled at the state level based in large part on test scores.)

 Bottom line: I feel harassed by the Ohio Department of Education. I feel abused. I feel heartsick with what they are asking us to do in education and the hoops they are requiring us to put our students through. When a special ed student pulls out every eyelash during testing, that’s a problem. When a fifth-grade student breaks down blubbering during a high-states test, that’s a problem. When a child on an Individualized Instruction Plan calls the State of Ohio HIMSELF (with his parents’ help) THREE times because he feels so convinced  about how wrongly he is being treated and the Ohio Department of Education does not have the decency to return his message, that’s a problem.

 And during the high school years, in which it should be a student’s glory days and life preparation time, they are putting students, who are already being slammed by society, under tremendous stress and pressure by making teenagers the guinea pigs for their constant shifting of requirements for graduation.

 Yes, I feel harassed and finally, I’m going to do something about it.

 I will be looking for an attorney to represent me in a lawsuit against anyone harming the children, and thus, me, on my watch.

If you, too, feel harassed, please feel free to send me a note. (I’ve already heard from several people.)

 If you know of an attorney, legislator, anyone who can help me to get this process off the ground, I’d really appreciate it.

 I will be calling my union for help first. However, this is not on behalf of my amazing school or my supportive superintendent. This is on behalf of me, myself, and I. The state has crossed the line many times in the past few years, but their Peer Discriminatory Harassment online module taught me that I, too, am a victim of abuse. I will use their words in this lawsuit, not mine.

 On behalf of teachers all across the state, I’m not going to let them blacken my reputation or bruise me any longer. Feel free to join me.
Stay tuned.

Dawn Neely-Randall

ohio_map Ohio-Flag***

Puerto Rico’s School Crisis

12278121_10153406898383152_1640886395_nPhotos by Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Teachers Federation)

Politicians in Puerto Rico are seeking to solve decades of fiscal mismanagement by adopting the same education reforms that are hurting children and starving school districts in the mainland United States. The disaster capitalism coming to the azure waters of Puerto Rico is very similar to the school privatization and private-control education reform causing an uproar in Chicago and Detroit.

A day strike by thousands of teachers across the island of Puerto Rico on Tuesday demonstrated the intensity of their concern about the new regime.

In October, Senator Eduardo Bhatia fast-tracked Project 1456 in the Puerto Rican Senate. School closure requirements in 1456 are the first notable parallel with the Detroit and Chicago school privatization playbook. In Chicago, 50 schools (primarily in African-American neighborhoods) were recently closed under the pretext that they were under-enrolled. A University of Chicago study showed that after neighborhood school closure, students were shuffled to a new set of low-performing schools— often charter schools.

In Michigan, the state created the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), an education board similar to the one proposed in Project 1456. Michigan is different from other states because the vast majority of its charter schools are already run by for-profit companies. The Detroit News reports that the EAA and the for-profit charters have been plagued by low performance and corruption.

Since 2014, the Puerto Rican government has closed 135 schools— about 10% of the schools on the island. The results of these school closings are class sizes as large as 40 students. The new law requires the closure of 400 more public schools—30% of the remaining public schools on the island. Additionally, Project 1456 requires that the government turn at least 15% of schools into Lider (charter schools) every three years under the auspices of private control and the education authority.

While a debate rages on the quality of charter schools in the United States, most peer-reviewed literature demonstrates that charters typically perform no better than traditional public schools. Nor do charter schools serve all students.

While many in the mainland United States argue that charter schools are public schools— this bill makes it clear that Lider schools are public schools in name only. The bill amends Puerto Rico’s 1951 pension law by explicitly stating that charter school teachers are not public employees. As a result, they will not have access to the public pension retirement system.


While the rest of the United States is finally retreating from high-stakes testing after the failed No Child Left Behind experiment, Puerto Rico is going in the opposite direction. Project 1456 intensifies the focus on high-stakes testing. It creates a high-stakes teacher evaluation system where educators’ value is tied to three years of testing “growth.” If teachers don’t raise scores, they are fired. Statistical experts from the American Education Research Association recently publicly decried the extensive misuse of test scores by policymakers for teacher evaluation.

In some ways, Puerto Rico is moving even further than Chicago and Detroit. The most bold provision of the new law is the codification of a majority vote (the boundaries and requirement of which are not defined in the legislation) to take schools from communities and place them under the auspices of the private charter operator and the education authority.

This approach is called a “trigger vote.”  A school can be taken from public control by a vote of 51% of “parents of students enrolled in said school, who are present at the vote.” A surprising new twist in 1456 is that teachers can also take a school away from a community with a 51% trigger vote. However, the legislation does not stipulate that if teachers and parents are unhappy with the results of the trigger the school can return to from private to public status. The trigger vote is a one-way street to privatization by permanently transferring millions of dollars of public property assets into private hands.


Will private control and privatization approaches improve student achievement in Puerto Rico? After many years of private control reforms, Chicago and Detroit are still performing near the bottom as measured by average 2013 NAEP math and reading scores (4th and 8th) when compared with other large U.S. cities. The “education reforms” in Puerto Rico are being marketed as a route to academic improvement for Puerto Rican children. But the genesis of these ideas has nothing to do with students. It’s all about debt.

CNN Money reported that a group of 34 hedge funds led by Fir Tree Partners funded a report by three economists that calls for Puerto Rico to close some schools, reduce university subsidies and fire teachers so it can pay back its debt.

The privatization of Puerto Rico’s schools is a way to address the tens of billions of dollars in debt that Puerto Rican politicians have accrued over the past several decades. Will Puerto Rico satiate their addiction to debt on the backs of impoverished children? The answer hinges on the passage of 1456.

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