Clark and SAND School Parents Push Back Against the Charter School Hustle

This column appears in the Nov. 21 – 27 edition of the Hartford News…

Tuesday night Clark Rising, a grassroots group of Clark Elementary School parents, SAND Elementary School parents and local public school advocates joined forces to fight back against the corporate takeover of both schools by Achievement First, Inc. and Capital Preparatory Magnet School, respectively. The showdown took place at the monthly Hartford Board of Education meeting. Parents told me their chief complaint was that they are being excluded from conversations about the direction of Hartford schools such as Clark, SAND and Rawson, the site of the BOE meeting. I spoke with Rawson Principal Gerald Martin, who claimed that he has been making an effort to reach out to parents. Martin said that he had no personal opinion on the charter school concept and that the decision on privatization should be left up to Gov. Dannel Malloy and the parents. 
 
 
 
Last week Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra announced that he would not support an Achievement First takeover of Clark School. However that doesn’t mean this plan is dead; the BOE made that clear at the meeting. During the public comment portion city resident Hyacinth Yennie accused the BOE of pitting parents against each other “with so called choice.” She brought up the “blue ribbon” Dwight School which was shut down as an example of the BOE using “failing schools” as a ruse to justify privatization. The crowd at Rawson roared in approval when Yennie urged city officials to “put a leash on Dr.(Steve) Perry.” Perry is the principal at Capital Prep. BOE Chairman Matt Poland was unconvincing as he denied being a pawn of the charter school power brokers and attempted to demonize public school advocates. Achievement First was co-founded by Stefan Prior, Gov. Malloy’s Commissioner of Education. Perry is the central figure in the plan to privatize SAND School. Apparently Mayor Segarra and the BOE are allowing Perry to take a quasi paid leave of absence from his taxpayer funded job (he’s been absent 20% of the school year and arrived late or left early numerous times) so he can act as an agent for the charter school industry. Charter schools are big business. Really big business. Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez reported on the charter school hustle in 2010. He explained how Wall Street investors are reaping huge windfalls from school privatization.
 
 
 
“One of the things I’ve been trying now for a couple of years is to try to figure out why is it that so many hedge fund managers, wealthy Americans, big banks and executives of Wall Street banks have all lined up supporting and getting involved in the development of charter schools. And I think I may have come across one of the reasons: there’s a lot of money to be made in charter schools. And I’m not talking just about the for-profit management companies that run a lot of these charter schools.
 
“It turns out that at the tail end of the Clinton administration in 2000, Congress passed a new kind of tax credit called a New Markets Tax Credit. And what this allows is it gives an enormous federal tax credit to banks and equity funds that invest in community projects in underserved communities, and it’s been used heavily now for the last several years for charter schools. And I focused on Albany, New York, which in New York state is the district with the highest percentage of children in charter schools. Twenty percent of the schoolchildren in Albany are now attending charter schools. And I discovered that quite a few of the charter schools there have been built using these New Markets Tax Credits.

“And what happens is, the investors who put up the money to build the charter schools get to basically virtually double their money in seven years through a 39 percent tax credit from the federal government. In addition, this is a tax credit on money that they’re lending, so they’re collecting interest on the loans, as well as getting the 39 percent tax credit. They piggyback the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits, like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfields credits. The result is, you can put in $10 million and in seven years double your money.

“And the problem is that the charter schools end up paying in rents the debt service on these loans. And so, now a lot of the charter schools in Albany are straining paying their debt — their rent has gone up from $170,000 to $500,000 in a year, or huge increases in their rents, as they strain to pay off these construction loans. And the rents are eating up huge portions of their total cost. And, of course, the money is coming from the state.

“So, one of the big issues is that so many of these charter schools are not being audited. No one knows who are the people making these huge windfall profits as the investors. And often there are interlocking relationships between the charter school boards and the nonprofit groups that organize and syndicate the loans. And so, there needs to be sunlight on this whole issue. And the state legislature right now is considering expanding charter school caps, but one of the things I press for in my column, there has to be the power of the government to independently audit all of these charter schools, or we’re not going to know how public dollars are ending up in the coffers of Wall Street investors.”
 
Black Agenda Report commentator Bruce Dixon recently wrote a column on charter schools. Dixon talked about the true socioeconomic and political purpose of school privatization. “Doug Henwood, a radical economist and founder of Left Business Observer, says it as succinctly as anyone when he sums up the goal of bipartisan corporate education reform imposed on poorer neighborhoods as ‘…low cost privatized holding tanks leading to McDonalds jobs for the lucky, or to prison for the not so lucky…’ along with classes delivered by computers rather than unionized teachers. But as useful as this summation is, it leaves out one element worth noting. You can’t run a global empire without a military class, any more than you can run a prison without prison guards… Before the era of corporate reform there was at least one achievement of genuine small d democratic education reform pushed through by the administration of Chicago mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s. Since then parents in every public school have been allowed to elect parent councils, with reps from among rank and file teachers, which have veto power over title one funds and principal’s contracts, which are limited to two years. The ‘innovative’ answer of downtown bureaucrats, corporate elites and subsequent mayors to parents taking a hand in running the schools has been to simply close Chicago public schools and replace them with charters over which parents have no say. What mayor, and what alderman really wants organized parents running their own neighborhood institutions? It’s bad for business if you’re a privatizer, or a politician who takes cues and campaign contributions from privatizers. And ultimately habits of local democracy are bad for empire.”
 
Last week Jonathan Pelto exposed how Perry used workplace bullying to further his attempt to take over SAND School and start his own charter school management company. Jonathan reported that Capital Prep teachers came forward to complain about Perry’s administrative team pressuring them to write letters to the BOE supporting Perry’s plan. Administrators told teachers to use their work emails to send these letters and to copy Perry on the emails, which would provide Perry and his team with a record of which teachers were playing ball. Jonathan pointed out that Perry using his subordinates to lobby the BOE is a clear violation of BOE policies, which prohibit the use of work emails for political activity. Late Tuesday night the school board voted 5-3 against the SAND proposal. Mayor Segarra said he would not support the plan due to a lack of support by the parents. Congratulations to the Clark and SAND school parents and public school advocates on their victory! The link to Jonathan’s report, DN’s archive on charter schools, Gonzalez’s New York Daily News column on the school privatization cash scam and Dixon’s commentary are available in our Resources section.
 
The Community Party supports Jonathan’s call for Mayor Segarra, BOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Poland and the entire BOE board to hold Perry accountable for his behavior. Their failure to do so should be viewed as an act of collusion.
 
Stay tuned for info on CP’s Safe Work Environment Act and Rep. Matt Ritter’s workplace bullying town hall, coming in 2014. Check out the CP Facebook page.  http://www.facebook.com/CommunityPartyAction. Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and global headlines.  https://twitter.com/CommunityParty1  Contact us at 860-206-8879 or samuelssloflo@aol.com.
 
 
Resources
 
Jonathan Pelto’s column on Capital Preparatory Magnet School Principal Steve Perry using workplace bullying tactics to lobby for the creation of his own charter school management company, and the privatization of SAND Elementary School:
 
 
Democracy Now! archive of reports on charter schools:
 
 
Juan Gonzalez’s New York Daily News report on the school privatization cash cow:
 
 
Black Agenda Report commentator Bruce Dixon’s column on charter schools:
 
 
David Samuels
Founder
Community Party
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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One Response to “Clark and SAND School Parents Push Back Against the Charter School Hustle”

  1. David Samuels: The Community Party’s Powerful Voice for Social Justice - Wait What? Says:

    […] Here is a column David Samuels wrote for the Nov. 21 – 27 edition of the Hartford News.  It can also be found at Clark and SAND School Parents Push Back Against the Charter School Hustle. […]

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