Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rhee says Laid-off Teachers "Hit children...Had Sex With Children..."

The Washington Post is reporting today that DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee claimed in an interview with a national business magazine that some of the teachers laid off as part of a disputed budget reduction plan had sex with children or had hit them.

The explosive charges were made as she responded to interview questions about teacher union allegations that the budget crisis was manufactured to attack teacher seniority rules and move out older teachers.

DC teacher union members are furious, with the union head noting that he received no information that any of the 266 teachers laid off was under investigation for sexual misconduct with children.
Other union activists said they were especially offended by Rhee's remarks, in light of the recent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by her fiancé, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Before Johnson's 2008 election, the inspector general for the federal Corporation for National and Community Service filed a criminal referral with the U.S. attorney in Sacramento about Johnson. It included allegations that Johnson had inappropriately touched a minor girl and climbed into bed with a teenager who worked for the charter school he founded. The school received funding from Americorps, which is part of the community service corporation.  Johnson was not charged.
"I'm ready to recommend that Chancellor Rhee submit for a fitness for duty examination because these are the rants of either a mad or very confused woman," Candi Peterson, a teacher and member of the union's board of trustees, said on the Washington Teacher blog
Rhee provided the Post with no details or substantiation of her claims when contacted on Friday.

Our questions:
1.  Why were the teachers Rhee claims had sex with children allowed to remain in the classroom until budget cuts and staff reductions rolled around?  Was any disciplinary action taken against them by the district?

2.  Did Rhee report her allegations of serious crimes to the proper authorities; were there investigations (education professionals are "mandatory reporters of alleged child endangerment and sexual abuse)?  Is she cooperating with the police now?

3.  Did Rhee inform parents that their children may have been victims of sexual assault?  Did she make counseling and medical services available to the children she believes were victimized?

4.  Did Rhee inform the union of these charges as required?

If she did none of the above, Rhee may be culpable for endangering the students in her charge.

Or, of course, she could be lying.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Judge Blocks Strong Mayor Initiative from June Ballot

In a preliminary ruling issued today, the court declared that the initiative process cannot be used to revise the Sacramento City Charter, embracing a key argument brought by former Johnson backer Bill Camp.

The Sacramento Bee has the story. Strong mayor backers will work to seek a reversal at a hearing tomorrow afternoon.

The Sacramento Press reports Johnson's reaction:

“I think it was a temporary setback,” Johnson said. “This is something we’re going to fight. We’re going to fight nail and tooth.”

Johnson noted that the early decision was “very disheartening,” and indicated that it affects voters’ rights.

“Voters deserve and have a right to vote on this initiative,” he said.

We think the following reader comments deserve highlight.  In the Bee,  Johnson critic and "Where's My High School?" advocate Susie Shields offers this:

I'm glad to see that our Mayor cannot buy this latest prize. You're gonna have to earn it like a real person, Kevin. Work hard, honestly, ethically, transparently, humbly. Pay your dues, like everyone else. Reach out to people who could teach you a thing or two instead of bullying them and steamrolling over them. Follow the rules and the law because --guess what?-- they do apply to you on occasion. Humility, mayor, humility.
 And in the Sacramento Press, youth violence prevention activist Rhonda Erwin adds,
Re: Johnson's comment " “Voters deserve and have a right to vote on this initiative,” Heck, did he even read -or was he so busy again looking at self that he missed--- The judge wrote, "“The Court recognizes the right of the people to vote on initiative measures...The Court does not lightly dismiss such, and has taken this very important right in consideration in ruling on the matter.”

For goodness sake, residents- voters- people have a right to truth, transparency, an initiative not done in the dark, LIFE, FREEDOM much more than watching him fight a loosing battle "tooth and nail" for more power.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Numbers Game?

Sac City school district monthly school enrollment figures reveal more important questions about the state of Sac things at St. Hope/Sacramento Charter High School.  Either Sac Charter has lost a troubling number of in-district students during the third month of the school year or its enrollment figures have serious discrepancies with important financial implications for both the school and the school district.

All school enrollment--whether traditional public or charters--are provided to the school board and the public every month or so.  These figures include enrollment at the end of each month, average attendance percentages and a break out of enrollment by grade level.

Charter school enrollment also includes categories for in-district and out-of-district students.  This is important because charter schools are generally free to recruit students from outside the district, even if they are using school district owned facilities.  Charters using district facilities are required to operate under board-approved facility use agreements, which are governed by state law and which seek to ensure that the facilities funded with district tax-payer dollars are adequately serving in-district children.  These use agreements include provisions that allow the district to seek penalties if the charter school is not actually serving the number of in-district students projected by the charter organizations when the facility use agreements were formulated.

If the charter over-projects its actual in-district enrollment by 10% or more, then the district is entitled to over-allocation fees from the charter school operator of approximately 1425 per unit of ADA for each unit of projected ADA over the 10% threshold. * (ADA stands for Average Daily Attendance and it measures the average number of students who are enrolled and actually attending classes at the school.)

Sacramento Charter High School's enrollment figures for the first month of the school year* show the following:

Enrollment of In-District Students:                 867
Enrollment of Out-of-District Students:          105

Total Enrollment:                                              972

(For comparison, near-by comprehensive high schools, C.K. McClatchy and Hiram Johnson show first month enrollment figures of 2208 and 1966, respectively.)

The in-district enrollment figure of 867 conforms closely to the St. Hope projection of 880 in-district students that it included in its request for a facility use agreement for the Sac High School campus during the 2009-2010 school year.  

However, something funny turns up in the Sac Charter enrollment figures for the third month * of the school year (ending November 27, 2009).

Enrollment of In-District Students:                699
Enrollment of Out-of-District Students:         272

Total Enrollment:                                             971

While total enrollment increased by one student, the change when it comes to in-district versus out-of-district students is eye-catching.  Apparently, Sac Charter is down 168 in-district students since the school year began and up 169 out-of-district kids.   This discrepancy of 168 fewer enrolled in-district students is well over the 10% threshold that triggers a penalty.

If it is indeed true that 168 in-district students left Sac Charter then it is essential that the school board investigate why the school lost 20 percent of its in-district students during the third month of school, including where these students went.

Either these enrollment figures are true, which raises the above troubling question, or the numbers are false, which leads to other serious questions about St. Hope's reporting of its enrollment.

The onus is on the school board to get to the bottom of this.  Quickly.

* The first link is a PDF of the Executive Summary to the SCUSD Board attached to the SCUSD/St. Hope Facilities Use Agreement dated November 5, 2009.    Please see page  5 of the PDF.

Enrollment links are to district generated PDFs.   For the first month's enrollment, please refer to page 5 of the PDF.  For the third month's enrollment, please refer to page 13 of the PDF.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let's Not Forget CASA

This important comment on a previous post caught our eye:

Contrary to popular belief, there are millions of dollars to be made in education. Charter schools, corporate take overs, non-profits, and the like are all cleaning up under the guise of reform. They have six-figure salaries, and the kids are getting squat…

It made us think about the California Administrative Services Authority pension scandal brought to us by the Sac City District administrators and board members who gave away of Sacramento High School to Kevin Johnson and St. Hope.  CASA also involved the creation of a murky charter school management venture.  Under the CASA umbrella, high level Sac City District officials positioned themselves into lucrative management contracts to administer the business operations of the same charter schools they helped establish.

CASA, approved in 2000, was an alternative pension system to the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPers) that promised to pay thousands of dollars more in retirement benefits to participating  District administrators and other eligible employees.    The deal raised eyebrows among vigilant community members when it was revealed that this supposedly cost-neutral plan to retain District employees with the lure of a sweetened  retirement package, required the issuance of bonds to guarantee its financial stability (with the District on the hook to repay the bonds if CASA couldn’t) and required participating members—including the District’s then-Superintendent, Jim Sweeney and -Chief Financial Officer, Laura Bruno, the architect of CASA*—to leave the District’s employ to officially work for CASA.   While CASA officials claimed the only change involved the entity signing the participants’ paychecks, critics were quick to point out that the top District administrators no longer officially worked for the District. 

The story got worse when the public learned that the school board additionally voted to spike the pensions of Sweeney, Bruno and then-District legal counsel, Martin Fine by rolling in mileage and expense allowances into their salary calculations.  The board also voted to grant Sweeney an additional 10 years of service credit.  When Sweeney retired, the extra years more than doubled his total service credit with the District, from nine to 19 years and nearly tripled his monthly retirement pay-out from about $3600 to $9900 a month.

CASA finally collapsed after a “community investigative team” led by education activist Reginald Fair issued its own report on the flawed legal, ethical and financial assumptions behind the plan.  That report prompted an independent audit, a stinging grand jury report and official warnings from CalPers that the District faced severe legal repercussions.   The whole thing has cost the school district millions of dollars in legal proceedings and settlements, while fundamentally shaking the public trust in District decision making. 

*Laura Bruno was listed on the St. Hope Schools website as a board member during the Sacramento Charter High School start up years (and well after her role as the CASA creator was revealed to the wider public through the various investigations).

 For more, read the Sacramento News and Review story from July of 2003.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Michelle Rhee and St. Hope: What Didn't She Do?

Washington DC blogger lodesterre has been reading the Inspector General's referral to the U.S. Attorney; he/she's been asking many good questions--some of the same ones on our mind too.   Such as the issue of Michelle Rhee holding "conflicting positions" at  St. Hope.

According to the IG interview with former St. Hope employee Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez, the same time Rhee was listed as a St. Hope board member, she was identified as the consultant for the New Teacher Project (which recruited teachers for St. Hope schools), the consultant for the reconstruction bridge span  and the consultant for the reconstruction of the HR department.   On a memo she was listed she as the Chief Operating Officer for St. Hope Academy.  On an organization chart she was identified as president.    As lodesterre writes:
  • ...Ms. Rhee’s titles at the St. Hope Charter Academy boggle the mind. Were all the positions paid positions? How did she perform the duties of board member and Chief Operating Officer at the same time? As president, Chief Operating Officer and Board Member at the same time? as President, COO, board member and a consultant for St. Hope on three projects, at the same time? How did she act as a consultant for St. Hope on the New Teacher Project, an organization that supplies teachers to schools, and as a consultant for St. Hope’s Human Resource Department’s reconstruction? Did she suggest to the Human Resource consultant which applicants to hire? It must have sounded interesting.
  • Why, when  Rhee was apprised by St. Hope employee Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez about sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Johnson by 3 Americorps teenage volunteers, did she not contact California State authorities she was obligated to do under California law?  Was this another one of those irksome laws she sees no problem in ignoring because she “knows” better?
  • As COO and President, not to mention those consulting positions, was Ms. Rhee aware of the misuse of Americorps funds and volunteers as outlined in the Investigative General’s report of August 2008?  As one of the top three office holders of St. Hope it seems that either Ms. Rhee was aware and therefore participated or that she was not aware and she was negligent in her duties or these positions were merely window dressing for her resume and padding for her bank account.
  • Why did Ms. Rhee not only try to bring in St. Hope to run two DC schools but insisted that she need not recuse herself from the process despite her involvement with St. Hope and of her knowledge of the charges being investigated about St. Hope?
 (By the way, does anyone know what the reconstruction bridge span was?)

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    Making the Grades with Kevin Johnson

    New allegations that mayor Kevin Johnson offered hush money to a young Hood Corps volunteer who complained of his unwanted sexual advances splashed across media outlets around the country last week.  The story has national legs given the zeal of congressional Republicans to underscore the involvement of Obama Administration officials in the dismissal of Inspector General Gerald Walpin, whose findings related to the illegal use of federal funds by St. Hope included the revelations.

    Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Washington DC schools and Kevin Johnson's fiance, also has a role in the latest saga due to allegations she mishandled the Hood Corps volunteer's complaint while serving as a St. Hope official and also intervened with Inspector General Walpin on behalf of Johnson.  We will have questions about Rhee in a later post. 

    All of this plays out in the broader context of Johnson's controversial "strong mayor" proposal to change the city charter.    The bloggers at   believe this latest revelation underscores Mayor Johnson's lack of judgment and "outright creepiness," given that reports of inappropriate sexual contact with girls date back to Johnson's basketball days in Phoenix in the mid-1990s.

    While we certainly agree with the creepiness factor, we can't just stop there.  The willingness of so many people in Sacramento to ignore or explain away for so long this alleged pattern of behavior is supremely troubling, especially since Johnson was handed over a public high school with young girls in his charge.  More on this later too.

    For now, we would like to take this in a different direction.

    Walpin's investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct includes the following:

    "One Member, (redacted) reported that, in the February/March 2007 time frame, she was entering grades into the SAC High database system per Mr. Johnson's instructions at the St. Hope office at night, purportedly as part of her Americorps service.  (Redacted) contacted Mr. Johnson to inform him that she had completed the grades and wanted him to review them.   About 11:00 pm, Mr. Johnson arrived at St. Hope and instructed (redacted) to gather her things and come with him.  Mr. Johnson drove to (redacted) apartment, in which another Americorps Member had a separate bedroom, Mr. Johnson laid down on (redacted) bed.  (Redacted) sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades..."

    Our Questions:  
    • Why was an Americorps (Hoodcorps) volunteer entering grades into the Sac High database alone late at night, without oversight by teachers or registrar?*
    • Whose grades? And for what class or classes?   
    • Why would Mr. Johnson, who does not have a teaching or administrative credential, be instructing an Americorps volunteer to enter grades and then be reviewing the grades the volunteer entered?   
    • Did Mr. Johnson regularly "touch" the grades at Sacramento Charter High School? 
    • Who, other than teachers and the registrar, are able to "touch" the grades at Sacramento Charter High School?

    *State Education Code Regarding Grades
    49066. (a) When grades are given for any course of instruction taught in a school district, the grade given to each pupil shall be the grade determined by the teacher of the course and the determination of the pupil's grade by the teacher, in the absence of clerical or mechanical mistake, fraud, bad faith, or incompetency, shall be final.
    (b) The governing board of the school district and the superintendent of such district shall not order a pupil's grade to be changed unless the teacher who determined such grade is, to the extent practicable, given an opportunity to state orally, in writing, or both, the reasons for which such grade was given and is, to the extent practicable, included in all discussions relating to the changing of such grade.