UPDATES after the bump.
Tony Bennett knew he was in a bind with Indiana voters last year and so did the wealthy education privatization movement who eventually donated $1,885, 304 to his ill-fated campaign. Along with four members of the current Florida Board of Education, Bennett bagged $200,000 from Alice Walton, $50,000 from Eli Broad, $40,000 from Mike Bloomberg AND $64,000 from Michelle Rhee. Among Bennett’s top donors was Christel Deehan, a successful condominium developer from Indianapolis. Deehan ranked third among Bennett’s donors with a total of $90,000 in three separate contributions. She also founded an Indiana charter school – Christel House – in 2002.
According to the Associated Press, Bennett learned in September that Deehan’s charter school was set to receive a ‘C’. Deehan had just made a $50,000 contribution to Bennett in late June.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”
“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.
“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”
By Sept. 13, (grading director Jon) Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a “C.”
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a “C” to an “A,” including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high “B” look like an “A” and changing the grade just for Christel House.
It’s not clear from the emails exactly how Gubera changed the grading formula, but they do show DeHaan’s grade jumping twice.
By September 21, Christel House had their A. Here’s how:
Bennett wrote to staff twice in four days, directly inquiring about DeHaan’s status. Gubera broke the news after the second note that “terrible” 10th grade algebra results had “dragged down their entire school.”
Bennett called the situation “very frustrating and disappointing” in an email that day.
“I am more than a little miffed about this,” Bennett wrote. “I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.”
.When requested a status update Sept. 14, his staff alerted him that the new school grade, a 3.50, was painfully close to an “A.” Then-deputy chief of staff Marcie Brown wrote that the state might not be able to “legally” change the cutoff for an “A.”
“We can revise the rule,” Bennett responded.
Over the next week, his top staff worked arduously to get Christel House its “A.” By Sept. 21, Christel House had jumped to a 3.75. Gubera resigned shortly afterward.
Dehaan made a final $15,000 donation to Bennett’s campaign five weeks later on November 1, 2012. One of Bennett’s trouble shooters in the grade change, Chu, is now part of Bennett’s Florida staff.
UPDATE: Christel Dehaan denies speaking with Bennett about changing score.
UPDATE: Jersey Jazzman takes a look at the emails.