Monday, January 25, 2010

Howie Schwach: It’s All About Charters And Breaking The UFT

Here is as follow-up by Wave editor Howard Schwach on charter schools and Peninsula Prep in Rockaway.

The Rockaway Beat

It’s All About Charters And Breaking The UFT
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Mayor Mike’s agenda from the beginning has been to break the city unions, particularly the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). What better way to do that than set up hundreds of city-funded schools where the UFT is not welcome.

I’m talking about Charter Schools.

Charters are publicly-funded schools that operate outside the rules mandated for regular schools, and that means the teachers who work in charters do not normally come under the UFT contract. Some of the charters are non-profit, but many are for-profit businesses run by high-powered companies such as Victory Schools.

That organization administers the Peninsula Preparatory School (PPA), which has been in existence for about six years and now operates out of a series of trailers at Arverne By The Sea, just waiting for the developers to build a school around them.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told me that PPA is run by a non-profit board, but that the board contracts with the for-profit Victory Schools for support and administrative services.

Victory Schools, which provides educational but not financial support to the PPA, won’t tell me how much the contract is worth to them, but the Daily News says the contract is worth more than $350,000 a year.

Look at the Victory Schools website, and you will find an administrative team that includes several high-priced ex-public school administrators and I know they don’t come cheap.

The DOE says that Victory Schools is paid by PPA through fundraising, but I am willing to bet that Victory Schools is being paid by taxpayer dollars funded by Malcolm Smith and his cohorts in the State Senate.

A story in the Daily News documented that the head of Victory Schools gave Smith $12,000 in campaign contributions last year. In addition, Smith recently earmarked $100,000 of your money for the school, supposedly to buy computers. When I first called Smith’s office to ask if he has a financial stake in PPA, his spokesperson told me she would check, but that he is on the board and “very involved” in the school’s operation.

Another spokesperson, this one in Albany, told the News, “Senator Smith has completely divested himself from any governance and administration of the school.” From the beginning, Smith was the acting chair of the PPA’s board of trustees.

At first, it operated at MS 53 in Far Rockaway, but it soon moved to its own building on Foam Place in Far Rockaway. The building into which it moved was renovated for the school by the city and state, with the backing of Smith and other local politicians.

There were questions at the time as to why the money was allocated for the school, and those questions were never satisfactorily answered.

Then, when Arverne By The Sea was mandated to build a school, something that is still a few years down the road, the PPA all of a sudden turned up in trailers on the ABTS property, with a tacit promise that the new school that would be built would eventually house the PPA elementary school.

Of course, the fact that ABTS relies on state and city subsidies had nothing to do with the fact that Smith’s school was chosen for the new school, which, at least at first, was supposed to be a public school, not a public charter.

Seems to me that there is some chicanery afoot, since Smith proposed a bill two weeks ago that would raise the cap on charter schools from 200 to 400.

Smith says the state needs to raise the cap in order to get some of the federal money extended by new Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

I believe that he has another motivation, and it concerns the reason that Beach Channel High School is being phased out over the next three years and then closed down. I have heard that Smith has promised the parents of PPA students that they would have a PPA middle and a PPA high school to send their kids to when they finish the elementary unit they now attend.

That is now three years down the road. Does this fact pique your interest and lead you to a conclusion?

The Educational Impact Statement the DOE released in relation to the plan to close BCHS has an interesting sentence. After talking about the public high school “small school” that will start at BCHS next September, the impact statement goes on to say, “The DOE will continue to assess the available space and needs for additional options at Beach Channel in 2011 and 2012.” Is there a charter school in Beach Channel’s future? Might it be Malcolm Smith’s PPA? As one television great said repeatedly, “you can bet your sweet bippy.”

I really believe that a charter school is what this is all about, after all. It’s all about clearing a space for Malcolm Smith’s charter school.

And, by the way, in 2008 the DOE gave the PPA an F report card rating, the worst rating of any charter school in the city.

The fact that it has worked itself up over the years to a B is not very enl because more than 90 percent of the schools in the city got either an A or a B on the last report card run, devaluing every school in the city.

The mayor wants unlimited charter schools. The governor wants unlimited charter schools. Smith wants unlimited charter schools. All that despite the fact that by any independent measure, charter schools do no better than public schools. What, you heard the mayor say that charters do twice as well as public schools? Smoke and mirrors.

Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes recently put out a report that shows that a large number of charter schools are failing to deliver on their promises.

Did you ever hear the mayor or the chancellor say that?

No, and you never will, because it does not fit their agenda of using charter schools to break the UFT.

1 comment:

lycophidion said...

In this, the UFT is playing a role somewhat similar to the role the AMA plays in the healthcare debate, stubbornly backing the health insurance companies in their effort to prevent single-payer (public access) to healthcare. The bureaucratic misleadership of both ignores the fact that they're slitting their rank-and-file's throats. I don't want to over-extend the parallel, because the AMA isn't and doesn't pretend to be a union, although at times the UFT DOES present itself as a "professional association," rather than a union. This distinction is key, because we ARE wage workers and our strength IS collective. This gets back to the issue you posed at the end of your essay, Norm. The "why?" First, particularly in the public sector, union leaders are in a close, often revolving-door relationship with their sectors' management (i.e., the government, and more particularly with the Democratic Party. Second, they've bought into the legal'rules of the game' imposed on us (i.e., the Taylor Law, etc.). Third, they enjoy privileges and perks not available to their members. Finally, they fear an organized, energized, activist, empowered and ant-authoritarian membership more than they fear management. We have the potential to overturn their apple cart, to cost them their privileges and privileged access to power, even to vote them out of office, when it suits us. Hence a response which is narrowly constrained to acceptable channels, timid and luke-warm, and guaranteed to demobilize.