Charter Schools’ USA Hillsborough Facililities Will Not Be Shuttered This Year…But

From Marlene Sokol in the Tampa Bay Times:

TAMPA — Responding to concerned parents who learned last week that the Hillsborough County school district is challenging the legality of three charter schools, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia assured them Thursday that the schools will not close

“We are committed to keeping the schools open for the remainder of the school year,” Elia wrote in a letter to parents. “Under no circumstances will we disrupt the education of students.”

The situation affects more than 2,000 students at Woodmont, Henderson Hammock and Winthrop, three schools operated by the for-profit Charter Schools USA.

The letter does not say how Elia will keep the schools open if they lose their charters. But district spokesman Stephen Hegarty described two scenarios. The district could take over the operations after their charters are revoked. Or the terminations might not take effect until after the school year is over

For several months the district has been trying to get clarification on what role local nonprofit boards have at the schools, and how much power is in the hands of a board affiliated with Charter Schools USA.

“When our school district enters into a contract with a charter school, it is very important that we know who is running the school.” Elia wrote. “When charter schools are operated by local people of good standing who care about the children in the community, it provides an important connection for students and parents.”

If the local nonprofits show they are actually running the schools, Elia wrote, she will not terminate the contracts. If not, she will. A letter to that effect, dated July 29, gives the boards two weeks to say if they would like a hearing.

WTSP 10 reporter Kendra Conlon has a response from CSUSA communications director Colleen Reynolds:

“The boards just received the letters – one on Friday afternoon and one this afternoon, so they still have to meet to discuss their alternatives. I can tell you that the boards’ focus will always be to provide high quality educational and academic options that students don’t otherwise have. With that in mind, I’m sure the boards will do “The boards just received the letters – one on Friday afternoon and one this afternoon, so they still have to meet to discuss their alternatives. I can tell you that the boards’ focus will always be to provide high quality educational and academic options that students don’t otherwise have. With that in mind, I’m sure the boards will do whatever they need to do to make sure parents continue to have a choice in their children’s education in Hillsborough County. They’ll work through the system and hopefully will be able to resolve this issue amicably on behalf of the students. This is not about what’s best for the adults – it’s about what’s best for the students

What utter spin.

So if that sketchy CSUSA board which got them in trouble in the first place will do  “whatever they need to do to make sure parents continue to have a choice,” and  really feels it’s not about what’s best for the adults,” they will have to admit that sketchy board has been, well, sketchy. Such an admission could slash  CSUSA CEO Jonathan Hage’s bottom line and lighten up those hefty management fee hauls. Worse, the Hillsborough incident will prompt other local Florida school boards to take a look at the CSUSA boards supposedly providing oversight over the facilities in their district.

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Can Florida Teachers and Public School Advcates Look to the Harbinger of Hawaii?

From Cathy Bussewitz and Juliet Williams  of the Associated Press:

A 40-year political career came to a close after Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie lost his bid for a second term in a stunning primary-election defeat by a fellow Democrat and state senator who defied party leadership to challenge the incumbent. A second intraparty fight for U.S. Senate was too close to call.

State Sen. David Ige, once seen as an underdog, cruised to a decisive 35 percentage point win in Saturday’s primary after being dramatically outspent by Abercrombie, who also had high-profile endorsements including President Barack Obama. Ige said his win “proves that people power can be money power, especially in Hawaii.”

Abercrombie is the first Hawaii governor to lose to a primary challenger and only the second not to win re-election. His defeat comes after Obama last month cut a radio ad for Abercrombie, invoking the Hawaiian word for family to tell voters in his native state that Abercrombie is “like ohana to me.”

The governor was seen as confrontational and he angered many voters with a proposal last year to raise a host of taxes. The politically influential teachers union also campaigned for Ige after Abercrombie alienated teachers in 2011 by imposing a final contract that cut pay by 5 percent after negotiations failed.

Ige, a respected state senator who served in the Legislature for 28 years, felt Hawaii was headed in the wrong direction, and that too many of the governor’s decisions were dividing communities.

Bold print mine.

First, some realities. Hawaii is bluer than the Pacific Ocean which surrounds it. Florida has a huge advantage in red counties. Florida ain’t Hawaii when it comes to demographics, but what’s emboldened above represents facts on the ground in Florida.

After Florida Democrats decide between former GOP governor Charlie Crist and former state senator, Nan Rich, focus and assets will be aimed at current republican governor Rick Scott. The current governor’s people must feel that Crist will prevail as they are running TV spots attacking him – even in areas where republican voters greatly outnumber democrats as in the Florida Panhandle.

But make no mistake about two points: Rick Scott’s education policy has indeed served to “divide communities;” and as in Abecrombie’s case, Scott has “alienated teachers.”

Neither President Obama or democrat Sen. Bill Nelson are on the ballot to draw in republican voters who focus on Washington politics. Few change-overs – if any – of congressional seats are likely to occur. The 2008 democrat gubernatorial nominee, Alex Sink, failed to make education an issue and failed to mobilize the state’s teachers. Neither Rich nor Crist will make the same mistake.

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It’s Called Backdoor Legislation, Senator Gardiner, and the Florida Constitution Says You Can’t Do It

Vice President of the Florida Education Association Joanne McCall provides an effective response to Andy Gardiner’s shrill attack on the teacher’s she represents for their lawsuit against SB 850. With two days left in this year’s session, Gardiner allowed his bill addressing personal learning accounts for severely disabled students to be attached to SB 850 along with several other pieces of education legislation. Gardiner’s opinion piece cynically carved out his own bill as a metaphorical bloody shirt to demonize the state’s teachers as being against children with disabilities and their families.  McCall explains in the Tampa Tribune:

Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, in his July 25 commentary in the Tribune (“Union trying to limit choices for students with disabilities,” Other Views), seemed to miss that point when talking about legislation that he favors concerning personal learning accounts for students with disabilities. This provision and another bill expanding the state’s corporate voucher program failed to pass in the Legislature on the day before session ended. The bills were filed, went through the committee process and ended up not being approved.

On the final day of the session, both these failed bills were attached to Senate Bill 850. When SB 850 was filed in February, it was a five-page bill that expanded Florida’s collegiate high school program. During its travels through committees in the Florida House and Senate, additional provisions were added that were unrelated to collegiate high schools. Three weeks from the end of the legislative session, the bill had grown to 40 pages and included provisions dealing with public school improvement and accountability, amendments to the Career and Professional Education Act and items related to dropout prevention, school hazing and middle grades reform.

The Florida Constitution contains restrictions to the Legislature’s authority to create laws, stating that “every law shall embrace but one subject … and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” The legislation passed on the final day of session contains multiple subjects — including the expansion of vouchers — and these multiple subjects are not expressed briefly in the bill’s title.

And it’s not just that the bills were attached at the last minute, but they were changed from their final versions that had failed the day before. For those reasons, the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit challenging the way SB 850 became law.

McCall’s much more measured tone as compared to Gardiner’s ear-piercing, selective outrage better serves Floridians as a better illustration of education policy and legislation.

 

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One Florida Community Complains About TOO MANY Charter Schools Opening

From Sun Sentinel reporter Arun Sivasankaran:

Tamarac city officials have shot down a proposal to open a charter high school within the city.

At a recent City Commission meeting, officials went against staff’s recommendation and voted unanimously against granting a special exception to open an alternative high school named International High School. The denial is in the backdrop of complaints by city residents that too many charter schools are opening in the city.

The city’s planning board initially referred the matter to the City Commission without any recommendation. After city officials voted to send the item back to the planning board, the board voted 3-2 in favor of approving the request by the property owner, American Charter Development, and the school operator, Newport Education Partners.

Voting against the application, Mayor Harry Dressler referred to “existing deficiencies” in the city’s code in addressing the issue of special exception for charter schools. He said his vote was based on the best interests of the community and the city.

The staff’s recommendation in support of the applicant is based on “outdated” special-exception processes, Commissioner Debra Placko said. “My community has raised a lot of concerns, which have been substantiated this evening a little bit. I think I will be doing a disservice to the community if I support this. I have serious concerns.”

But I thought that the public has been wailing for choice via charter schools.

And interesting tidbit from the Tamarac story is the existence of a supporting petition.

Charter schools seem to be sprouting up all over the place, said Commissioner Pamela Bushnell. “I cannot understand how you are going to fill this school when already there is so many,” she said. In the petition submitted by the applicant in support of the school that was purportedly signed by residents and businesses in the city, most of the signatures are from people in Sunrise, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill and Coral Springs, she added.

So the charter school outfit got their supporting signatures outside of the community. The charter school industry is notorious for bogus petitions. One only needs to reminded about the shady manner Parent Revolution operates or Michelle Rhee’s bogus petition to support parent trigger in Florida last year. 

Lets hope that Hillsborough officials ask for the petition results that Charter Schools USA says they have for a MacDill AFB facility.

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Charter Schools USA Savage Public Relations Campaign to Shield Themselves From Scrutiny

The Tampa Bay Times has now begun reporting on Charter Schools USA Hillsborough problem. Writes reporter Marlene Sokol:

Frustrated by answers her staff was getting to questions about school governance, superintendent MaryEllen Elia dispatched letters this week to the boards of three schools, saying she’ll soon move to terminate their charters.

The reaction?

Unlike other community leaders who often treat Elia with deference, charter board chairman Rod Jurado called her move “a pathetic attempt” to take away parental choice as she deflects attention from “abysmal” performance in the district’s schools.

At stake are the Winthrop, Woodmont and Henderson Hammock charters, with a combined enrollment last year of more than 2,000 students. All three are managed by Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. While they have advisory boards with local representatives, leadership also comes from the nonprofit Florida Charter Educational Foundation, which has close ties to the for-profit company.

For months, Hillsborough officials tried to sort out those relationships. The issue arose in 2013 when the group was involved in a bid for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base. Confusion over governance was one reason Elia recommended against the MacDill school. The School Board backed her up, and the group appealed to the state.

Charter Schools USA may have tipped their hand in the MacDill controversy when they pulled their application and retooled their local governing board structure. They’d never been denied an appeal to a state board filed with cronies. Did Charter Schools USA boss Jonathan Hage signal that he knew Elia had the goods on them?

But those the problems with the local governing board still exist with the other three CSUSA facilities which are drawing scrutiny from Hillsborough. Even though it appears MacDill has all local board members, will it really be providing oversight? The unanswered questions on CSUSA’s other charters could torpedo the MacDill bid.

Perhaps the clear problems with the Hage’s CSUSA business model that are at odds with Florida law explains the PR campaign focused on demonizing Elia. CSUSA is making a big deal about WTSP reporter Noah Pransky reporting on story before they got the letter. Maybe Elia remembered the manner Hage’s goons savaged her during the first MacDill brawl and she preempted them.

And Hage’s guys are indeed making it about Elia in an attempt to shield themselves from scrutiny. Why didn’t they respond to official district inquiries? Why didn’t they correct problems with the board structure as they knew chairman Ken Haiko serves on numerous CSUSA local boards all over the country?

The ferocious attack on Elia by Jurodo which also besmirched Hillsborough public schools says much about the way Hage goes about business. It leaves the impression he feels that the political access that he’s invested in over the past decade enables him to bull through anything and shields his empire from scrutiny.

 

 

 

 

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Hillsborough: A Fight Like No Other For Charter Schools USA

Mary Ellen Elia is no ordinary superintendent.

Her Hillsborough district is the state’s 8th largest and no Florida superintendent is as positioned politically as she.  Elia was the  only representative from the state’s traditional public schools in newly elected governor Rick Scott’s education transition team. There was a reason for that. It was Elia’s district which in 2009 accepted a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to evaluate teachers with data. It was VAM’s pilot.

But it is Elia’s presence on Scott’s transition team which is most poignant here. Also on that transition team was Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage. The two now find them facing off against in each other this morning over the future of four CSUSA facilities belonging to Hage in Elia’s district. Last night’s stunning report from WTSP reporter Noah Pransky that Elia had notified Hage that she would be closing three of his schools for a pattern of ongoing illegal oversight was indeed a show stopper.

Hage already has suffered a defeat at the hands of Elia who successfully rejected his bid last spring to open a facility on MacDill AFB. Elia effectively made the case that Hage’s CSUSA facility had sketchy and uncertain local board control. It is under these same circumstances which has prompted Elia to shudder Hage’s three other Hillsborough schools.

In the letter Elia sent to CSUSA earlier this week she reminded them that since Hillsborough’s March 22 inquiry, CSUSA has failed to “provide clarity of the governance structures” for their three facilities and that they are illegally “operating the schools.”

Hage has not been directly drawn into the fray, but his surrogates are spewing aggrieved outrage on his behalf. They have been targeting Elia personally by saying “her hostile ploy” is “ridiculous” and “without merit.”

Unlike Elia, Hage has invested his own money for access and influence. Along with his wife, other CSUSA executives, CSUSA itself and CSUSA’s real estate development arm Red Apple Development, Hage has filtered as much as $500,000 into Florida politics in the past three years. CSUSA was an early financial sponsor of his friend Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Charter Schools USA and Hage know how to play the public relations game as well as anyone. When not releasing the hounds as in their battle with Elia, they know when to keep their mouth shut. In 2013 they refused to speak with Tampa Tribune investigative reporter William March for a story about Bush’s foundations. Hage has even gone as far as threatening  blogger Chris Guerrieri with a lawsuit on two separate occasions.

Scathing Purple Musings has received no such threat, but executives of Charter Schools USA subscribe and receive email notification upon publication of each post.

Elia, if you will, is on the inside of Florida’s ed reform movement. She will be much harder for Hage to steam roll as he is accustomed in his many scraps with Florida school boards. This time, his business model is at risk. Ken Haiko, who is listed as chairman of the three Hillsborough schools, is also listed as chairman for numerous boards around the country.

In the event Elia prevails, Hage will be forced into some abrupt changes to CSUSA’s structure that could greatly affect his bottom line. He realizes that there is danger here and it may explain the current shrill outrage coming from the CSUSA camp.

 

 

 

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BREAKING! Three Charter Schools USA Facilities Marked For Closure For Illegal Oversight Practices in Tampa

Well, well. The Hillsborough School District versus Charter Schools USA battle just got more intense. From WTSP reporter Noah Pransky:

Hillsborough County, Florida — 10 Investigates has confirmed Mary Ellen Elia, the superintendent for the School District of Hillsborough County (SDHC), will attempt to close three schools this fall operated by for-profit company Charter Schools USA.

Elia sent 90-day warning letters to Henderson Hammock, Winthrop, and Woodmont K-8 charter schools, warning them they “have not exercised continuing oversight over the operations of these schools.”

Woodmont Charter School, a “C” school last year and home to 615 students in Temple Terrace, is led by Chairman Rod Jurado, whose LinkedIn page describes him as a management consultant who can “help improve your business processes & increase profits.”

Jurado also is the chairman at Winthrop Charter, an “A” school and home to 1,239 students in Riverview. And his LinkedIn page also indicates he is at the helm of Henderson Hammock, a “B” school and home to 874 students. However, the school’s webpage indicates Ken Haiko is the chairman, even though he is also the chairman of numerous other Charter Schools USA schools around the country.

Text of the letter to Charter Schools USA execs includes the following:

As you are aware, the district has been communicating with you since March 22, 2014, to get clarity on the governance structures at Winthrop, Woodmont, and Henderson Hammock charter schools. Although several letters have been exchanged, there has been no documentation submitted by you or the schools to explain the governance structure of the schools. The Hillsborough County Public School contract, Part 8: Governance Structure defines the requirements for the governing body of the school.

The charter holders of Winthrop, Woodmont and Henderson Hammock charter schools have not exercised continuing oversight over the operations of these schools. The governing boards have in fact allowed their educational services providers to perform virtually all of those functions and are in fact not operating these schools. The School District has made many attempts to discuss the governance structures of these schools and the schools have refused those efforts.

Emphasis mine. And such is the speculation Scathing Purple Musings made in a post earlier today regarding CSUSA’s MacDill application.

 

 

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Charter Schools USA Resubmits MacDill AFB Application, Includes Sketchy Survey Data

So Charter Schools USA is back in trying to bag a facility on MacDill AFB. In spite of lots of showboating and aggrieved hand wringing by CSUSA mouthpieces, Hillsborough school district rejected their application because it wasn’t clear if local folks would make up the controlling board. They’ve taken care of that this time, but CSUSA may have been a little too cute in their application by including “survey data.” Tampa Tribune reporter Erin Kourkounis, who has been covering the story from the start explains:

(CSUSA’s local attorney Stephen) Mitchell said 90 percent of the 400-plus military families who responded to a MacDill survey said they want a charter school on base, Mitchell said.

According to the charter application, many military families who live off base are interested in sending their children to school at Tinker but it is at capacity. The K-8 charter would serve nearly 900 students.

Its not clear whether or not Mitchell and CSUSA revealed their survey methodology.  The numbers are so slanted toward supporting the CSUSA application that it was likely a push poll designed to get the responses they want. Will Hillsborough ask them?

Mitchell is also serves as chairman and president of MacDill Charter Academy LLC. With CSUSA maintaining what’s sure to be a generous management fee, a local board filled with cronies serves as a rubber stamp and will take on characteristics of other CSUSA local boards – like those in Louisiana - which utilize CSUSA website templates.

The whole MacDill AFB-Charter Schools USA deal reeks of cronyism. Tampa Bay Times reporter Marlene Sokul reported in February that Florida governor “Rick Scott – or someone close to him” recommended that CSUSA run the MacDill AFB facility. CSUSA boss Jonathan Hage has donated more than $100,000 to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work fund and the state republican party.

 

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Florida School Board Member Opts-Out His Children From High-Stakes Testing

In a press release from three Florida parents organizations and Lee County School Board member Don Armstrong:

Lee County School Board Member, Don H. Armstrong, announced at Tuesday night’s Board meeting that he intends to ‘opt his children out’ of high stakes testing this school year.

Armstrong is the father of twins enrolled in fourth grade at a Lee County Public School. After much review of the state testing calendar, Armstrong has raised serious, ethical concerns about the amount of testing his children must endure. With careful consideration of recent concerns, he is publicly questioning the validity and diagnostic value of the tests.

Armstrong acknowledges the fact that scores often don’t arrive until long after a child has moved on to another grade or school. He also recognizes the negative impact of scores on children. He disagrees with the constant labeling of children. As a parent and elected member of our local school board, he is taking a stand.

With assistance from groups such as United Opt Out, Opt Out Orlando, Parents Rock, TNT, and ConversationEd, Armstrong is well versed on the FL statutes with regard to parental rights and the ‘Opt Out’ language. He is prepared to take this bold step on behalf of his own children. Armstrong also wants to encourage and support all parents who wish to exercise their parental right and choice to ‘opt out’ of high stakes testing.

For More Information Contact:

Don H. Armstrong, Lee County School Board member & Parent

Kathleen Jasper, Conversation Ed, #Boycott TheTestWebinar

Lori Fayhee, TNT: Testing is Not Teaching, (Lori is also the Lee Cty Parent who successfully opted her child out of FCAT last year)

Erika Donalds, Parents Rock,

NEWS: NBC with video: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/55765407/

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Jeb Bush’s Common Core Website Goes Silent

For two months, nothing.

No more TV spots. No more teacher Tweets. No more press releases.

What happened?

Scathing Purple Musings wrote in March about the Common Core initiative from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s future. Learn More. Go Further was designed to end all debate and educate the public on Common Core’s benefits and superiority.

So why did they pull the plug?

There are two possible reasons. Neither of them good for Bush or Common Core, the latter of which is being sounded defeated at every juncture. Bush has few political allies on Common Core left and its main private sector supporter, the Chamber of Commerce, has slowly been losing the benevolent status they once enjoyed from traditional conservative voters for its advocacy on Common Core and immigration reform.

Respected conservative columnist George Will said earlier this year on FOX News that a supporter of Common Core couldn’t win the republican nomination. This is even more true now. Make no mistake. Jeb Bush wants to be president. The recent two months of inactivity from his website may be a signal he’s thrown Common Core under the bus for political expediency.

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