Steve Perry is Right


This column appears in the November 27 – Dec. 5 edition of the Hartford News… The headline is not a misprint. Capital Preparatory Magnet School Principal Steve Perry is absolutely right when he says that he should not be the sole focus of public education advocates. Perry was at the center of controversy last week following the Hartford Board of Education’s decision to reject Perry’s proposal to create his own charter school management company and take over SAND Elementary School. The day after the board’s decision Perry posted a message on Twitter. Perry said, “The only way to lose a fight is to stop fighting. All this did was piss me off. It’s so on. Strap up, there will be head injuries.” I was among those who called for Perry’s suspension. After reading Perry’s defiant tweets last Friday, I came to the conclusion that he was correct when he said that his opponents should not fixate on him. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
I submit that what public education advocates should do is use the events of last week to amplify their general message about the racist, profit-driven charter school industry that Perry represents. There should be more discussion about how Wall Street uses Blacks like Perry as cover while they exploit low income communities of color, and how Wall Street is using Blacks like Perry as a weapon in their war against public employees. Perry is a pawn (albeit a well paid one) in the Wall Street campaign to privatize city and state services and drive down wages and benefits. Activist Josh Blanchfield’s response to my tweets about backing off of Perry was spot on. Blanchfield said, “Perry is a geek show in the corporate carnival of education reform. A freakish distraction. Stay or go, the systemic problems remain.”
Public education advocates do an excellent job of making their case against charter schools. Perry has been playing the martyr on his Twitter page, using the outrage over his tweet to enhance his image as the Black man who is persecuted by whites because he is articulate. Perry has painted whites who oppose charter schools as racist. That’s an interesting claim from someone who is staunchly anti-union and is working diligently to privatize education, considering the fact that unionized public sector jobs such as teaching comprise the largest source of employment for people of color. 
The website reported on the importance of public sector jobs to Blacks and Latinos during their coverage of the federal government shutdown.
“Government jobs remain a major source of employment for African Americans and a much smaller but still significant front of work for Latinos… Steven Pitts, an economist and labor policy specialist at the University of California Berkeley, has said repeatedly that government employment — be it at the local, county, state or federal level – together constitute the largest single employer of black men and women living in the United States. Between 2008 and 
2010, nearly a quarter of all working African Americans were public sector employees. White workers are employed by a wider variety of industries.
The steady spate of government job cuts since the end of the Great Recession has also contributed mightily to the nation’s still critically elevated black and Latino unemployment rates.” 
The charter school industry has been rocked by a scandal involving Beverly Hall, a champion of school privatization. Black Agenda Report commentator Glen Ford reported on the indictment of Hall on charges of racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements.
“Hall was a high-rolling player in the nationwide criminal enterprise to destroy public education and replace it with a privately managed, but publicly financed, system. She wound up being hoisted on her own petard, her career wrecked by the same high stakes testing regime that she supported to the hilt, and on whose altar she had sacrificed – fired – 90 school principals and countless rank and file teachers. Hall was caught in the minefield of No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top, trapped in a web of deceit.   

“A key purpose of high stakes testing is to ‘prove’ that conventional public schools are inferior to the charter model, and that incompetent or uncaring teachers and their unions are the heart of the problem. The testing regimen is designed to fail large numbers of schools, so that they can be replaced with charter operations. Beverly Hall carried out a reign of terror in her overwhelmingly Black Atlanta district. Every public school teacher understood the rules: if your students get a low score, you are out the door. In return for torturing her teachers, superintendent Hall was awarded accolades and goo-gobs of bonus money and lucrative speaking engagements. She was a kingpin of the privatization gang, not too many notches below Michelle Rhee.
But Beverly Hall was trapped in a contradiction. In order to fulfill her commitment to the corporate charter school mob, she had to use her powers as superintendent to disrupt the educational process and make teaching a living hell. However, if she was to further her personal reputation as a school administrator, Hall needed the students in her district to register ever higher scores on the tests. She had to prove, by the numbers, that Race to the Top worked – when clearly it does not – or wind up in the same trash heap into which she was so eagerly throwing her teachers. Since the students could not facilitate her crime by actually achieving the impossible scores, Beverly Hall had to rely on the lowly, terrified teachers to work her scam. Thus, she became the Superintendent of Cheating, and is now free on $200,000 bail.”
The Walton family, who own the Wal-Mart chain, have invested huge sums of money in charter schools. The Waltons are notoriously anti-union; they closed a Wal-Mart store in Canada when workers there tried to unionize. Wal-Mart employees in this country who have organized reported vicious retaliation from Wal-Mart management, including termination. Actor Aston Kutcher recently called out Wal-Mart for their low wages, which has resulted in workers being forced to rely on cash assistance. This issue was underscored when a Wal-Mart store in Canton, Ohio started a food drive to benefit employees who can’t afford food as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. The Huffington Post reported on a study by members of Congress.    

“Walmart wages are so low that many of its workers rely on food stamps and other government aid programs to fulfill their basic needs, a reality that could cost taxpayers as much as $900,000 at just one Walmart Supercenter in Wisconsin, according to a study released by Congressional Democrats.
Though the study assumes that most workers who qualify for the public assistance programs do take advantage of them, it injects a potent data point into a national debate about the minimum wage at a time when many Walmart and fast food workers are mounting strikes in pursuit of higher wages.”   
Wal-Mart workers nationwide are once again organizing Black Friday strikes to protest the company’s poverty wages. It’s pretty easy to connect the dots, as the Walton family is making big bucks while they impose their business model on this country’s education system.
Public schools have serious problems, including segregation and discriminatory disciplinary rates. However the charter school industry is not the cure. If charter school advocates and investors truly were acting in the interests of Black and Latino children, they would be working on the local, state and federal level to eradicate poverty. Poverty is a huge factor in the performance of public school students in communities of color. You will rarely even see the word poverty on Perry’s Twitter page. The child poverty rate in Hartford is 53%. Blacks and Latinos earn approximately 60 cents for every dollar whites make and possess about 10 cents of net wealth for every dollar whites have. A community resident who posted a response to a Washington Post editorial on Perry’s tweet made an insightful observation on how charter school supporters, Democrats and Republicans have avoided talking about poverty and racial economic disparity. 
“Just one more example of why, when it comes to the school reform movement, it is necessary to abide by that old truism: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.   I just came back from a meeting in DC where I heard House and Senate committee staffers, both Democrat and Republican, blather about school reform. Of course, none of them had any actual experience in education. So depressing. No one actually wants to try to understand the effects of poverty on children, their brain development, and the really long and hard work required to overcome them (or why schools cannot single handedly solve the social pathologies arising from extreme income disparity). Instead, both Ds and Rs spout their magic one-size-fits-all solutions: vouchers, charters, privatization, or whatever. They just want to declare victory and move on — until the problem comes back around again.”
I have presented facts which show that school privatizers will only exacerbate racial and class inequity in this country. Steve Perry is a megalomaniacal, profiteering workplace bully, and he should be held accountable for his behavior. However public school advocates should not allow themselves to become so consumed by their justifiable anger toward this man that they lose sight of the big picture. The community must be educated about Perry’s puppet masters, who are using racialized politics and parents’ understandable desire to see their children prosper as a means of undermining democracy, rolling back the gains of workers and turning education into just another profitable commodity for a corporate state. 
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 CP’s A Public Bank for Connecticut page.  Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and global headlines.  Contact us at 860-206-8879 or
Archive of Black Agenda Report commentary on charter schools:
Huffington Post report on Wal-Mart workers being forced to rely on cash assistance:
Salon report on the planned Black Friday strikes by Wal-Mart workers:
Black Youth Project report on the impact of poverty on children attending Philadelphia public schools:
Characteristics of fascism which are a result of corporatism:
David Samuels
Community Party

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