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Posts published in “Day: August 23, 2016”

Charter cronyism?

A guest opinion from Levi B. Cavener, a teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org where an expanded version of this essay with primary sources is available.

In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State's education world including the multimillion broadband fiasco, citizens have a right to be leery about cozy relationships between government entities and their business partners.

Take, for example, the recent charter school petition Caldwell School District received from Pathways in Education (PIE). From a public records request, that petition stated that PIE would pay California based Pathways Management Group (PMG), operated by charter entrepreneur Mr. John Hall, to the tune of $127 per student per month for “charter management.”

With a desired enrollment of 300 students and a flexible year-round schedule, that creates a significant contract of $450k for PMG per year. It is unclear what services would be provided for this fee as many of the services listed such as paying utility bills and purchasing electronics appear to be redundant activities the Caldwell district office already performs.

The PIE charter petition also states that the California nonprofit Education In Motion (EIM) will have exclusive ability to appoint PIE's board of trustees. Pay no attention to the fact that the California Secretary of State also lists Mr. Hall as agent of that nonprofit at precisely the same California address shared with PMG, which he presides over.

In other words: an out-of-state group (with Mr. Hall listed as agent) has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees to the charter -- not the local community. Hand-picked trustees then contract with Mr. Hall's vendor to manage the charter, in perpetuity. Now, that's a good business model!

Idaho's laws regarding charters was written to prevent this apparent type of conflict of interest. It states that “No more than one-third (1/3) of the public charter school's board membership may be comprised of nonprofit educational services provider representatives.”

In this case, an entity under agency of Mr. Hall has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees which subsequently contract his management services. Some would say that means Mr. Hall controls more than the ⅓ share allowed, and in fact, has de facto control of the entire board.

All of which leads full circle back to the loss of local control because an out-of-state entity is not only in charge of an Idaho school, but is also the recipient of a lucrative business relationship with the school. Isn’t that cronyism? You know, favoring close friends, or, yourself?

But wait, it gets better: PIE withdrew its application from Caldwell School District before trustees voted on the charter proposal, and then resubmitted it to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC). That end-around step means that no elected officials will have an opportunity now to vote on opening PIE in Caldwell going forward.

That result is because the IPCSC members who will vote on granting PIE’s charter are appointed by a governor whose tenure has been littered with these types of conflict-of-interest episodes.

And the appointed commission may very well vote to grant a California nonprofit, with Mr. Hall listed as agent, the ability to appoint trustees in Caldwell, Idaho. Which will then engage in a substantial financial contract with an entity also helmed by Mr. Hall. Because that makes sense.

But these are the sorts of things that occur when the public loses control of making fundamental decisions about its local schools when that control is exported to charter schools along with their out-of-state management groups.

And for all the rhetoric about the “freedom” to have “choice” in our public schools, PIE suggests that we have given away every modicum of the freedom to run the schools in our community to a California nonprofit and business partners. Only in Idaho …

Trump 78: Losing their religion


Over the course of the campaign, Donald Trump has questioned the religion of a lot of people.

Some of them are his opponents.

“We don't know anything about Hillary [Clinton] in terms of religion,” he said at one gathering of evangelical leaders in New York on June 21. “Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no — there's nothing out there. There's like nothing out there. It's going to be an extension of Obama but it's going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up. With Hillary you don't, and it's going to be worse.”

Actually, quite a bit is on the record about Hillary Clinton' religious background. As NBC summarized, "Clinton is, in fact, a practicing Methodist who knows her Bible well and speaks often about the important role faith plays in her life. In her books, and occasionally on the campaign trail, Clinton has talked openly of how she turned to faith in times of hardship, including during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the death of her best friend, Diane Blair, in 2000."

Senator Ted Cruz, who is extremely open about his religious beliefs and is the son of a minister, came under similar attack. In January, NBC reported, Trump told a group of Baptists, "Just remember this, in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?"

Speaking of the similarly openly devout Ben Carson, he remarked, "I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."

He may not know a lot about Presbyterians either, since the Presbyterian church described as his says he is not an "active member."

Then there are other people he has gotten crosswise with. President Obama he has famously tried to have tagged as a Muslim. (Obama was a church-going Christian in Chicago for many years.) And of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney he asked - in Salt Lake City, of all places - "Are you sure he's a Mormon? Are we sure?"

The point of this recitation is not simply to recount yet another collection of outrages. It is that Trump, in trying to poke at people where they're sensitive, is taking flippantly at best the seriousness with which many people take their religious beliefs - including, from widespread available evidence, all of those evidently devout people he has attacked in the course of his campaign. I personally have no problem with irreligion; we have the right in this country to believe in no religion at all, as well as any one in particular, and if Trump chooses to be an unaffiliated (for meaningful purposes), he's at liberty to do that.

But a person running for public office making a practice of attacking other people over their religion is another matter. A small-town mayor or county commissioner should never be allowed to get away with it, and few local communities probably would put up with it. A president most certainly should not do such a thing.

A president mindlessly attacking people over matters of religion would open a can of explosives that might not ever be resealed - at least until after the damage is done. - rs