Things not going well for billionaire plan to take over Washington, D.C. Schools

As history indicates, it has taken less than a year to cobble together the naked takeover of public education and the merit pay ruse in Washington D.C.  Chancellor of Schools in D. C. Michelle Rhee is implacable, beyond expression when it comes to attacking teachers in general and their unions in particular.  The unions are weak with the neo-liberal onslaught waged against them and clamor to keep up with the destruction of their profession being downloaded in real time.   Their leadership is ineffectual and their vision less than twenty-twenty.  Union capitulation has been the mantra we have seen from New Jersey, where the New Jersey Educational Association (NJEA) has practically soiled itself in its embrace of the charter school plan promoted by ‘Boss” Booker, mayor of Newark.  In New York the success of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is a metaphor for disaster as Bloomberg and Joel Klein continue to run rampant, moving like an army now, state to state.  The United Teachers of Los Angeles cringe with weak knees at the altar of Mayor Villaraigosa and Green Dot School.  Add to this Randi Weingarten, head of the AFT and her Eli Broad connections and fervent embrace of the Race to the Top and teachers’ unions are a bet to lose in this contentious fight if they do not start to support and fight for the need for public education, racial integration and public funding tied to their states.

Washington Auctions off Teachers

Recently, according to Newser, an online news service, teachers in Washington D.C. threw in the towel over merit pay, or at least their union did.  According to the news service:

“Teacher’s unions have long opposed linking pay to classroom performance, but they agreed to this one, because it boosts a DC teacher’s maximum salary from $87,000 to a whopping $147,000.”

“They just negotiated the richest deal in the history of K-12 education for teachers,” the head of one nonprofit that favors performance-based pay tells the Wall Street Journal. DC’s deal was financed in part with $64.5 million in donations from four private foundations, something other districts may find hard to come by—and that funding will run out in a few years” (D.C. Teacher’s union agrees to merit pay, April 9, 2010,  http://www.newser.com/story/85502/dc-teachers-union-agrees-to-merit-pay.html).

Buying districts is the new game in town for the billionaires who masquerade as philanthropists.  This was to be their big ‘win’ under Rhee for it would have bought them the obedience of the teacher’s union and paid for the merit pay scheme that would ask the union to once again abandon one of its cherished values.  More than that: it would have set a model for other states.

The covenant, which includes three years of retroactive pay, has been regarded as Rhee’s signature achievement to date. The “deal” includes a provision to award teachers an extra $20,000 to $30,000 a year for student improvements on test scores and other measures, something the billionaire’s union haters have been salivating to put into policy for some time.  It also affirms Chancellor Rhee’s power to reassign “excessed” teachers — those who have lost their positions because of enrollment declines at schools or other developments (like school closures) with less regard for seniority – a major swipe at tenure.  We go from “redundant” to “excessed” in the world of capitalism as the authoritarian bullies like Courtesan Rhee and her billionaire friends roll out their plans for the teaching profession.

And just who were the billionaires that ponied up the millions in largess?  The usual suspects as I reported at (http://dailycensored.com/2010/04/10/tneure-merit-pay-washington-d-c-and-forida/). 

According to the conservative Washington Times, owned by the Reverend Sun Yung Moon:

“The merit program will be financed with an estimated $65 million in private funding from four institutions that will be gathered by the D.C. Public Education Fund. The four organizations include the Laura and John Arnold Foundation ($10 million) and the Robertson Foundation ($19.5 million).

The Walton Family Foundation, which was established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in 1987, made the largest pledge – $25 million. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have promised $10 million. In March of last year, Mrs. Rhee was named a board of director of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which is funded by the Broad Foundation” (D.C. teacher contract includes merit pay, April 8th, Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/apr/08/merit-pay-deal-included-in-dc-teacher-contract/).

Billionaire Buy-off faces snag

Yet the buy-off of the teacher’s unions scheduled to go forward seems to have run into a snag.  According to the Washington Post of April 29, 2010 the D.C. District’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi has rejected the auction plan to fund a portion of pay raises for teachers with private foundation money, saying conditions attached to the donations are unacceptable (Washington Post, 2/29/2010).

Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee also must fill a $29 million gap (with public funds) in the contract that opened two weeks ago.  That’s when Gandhi told Rhee that a budget surplus she was counting on to help fund the 20 percent raise promised in the new agreement with teachers does not exist.

What all this means is that Chancellor Rhee and the administration must find an estimated $50 million in new financing to make the contract acceptable to Gandhi in advance of his appearance Friday, May 10th before the D.C. Council. Rhee is also scheduled to testify at that hearing.

According to the Post, Ghandi in a brief interview said that his analysis of the contract is not complete:

“This is a contract of historic importance. We all know that. I think we want to examine very thoroughly the financial and legal implications. It’s a very important issue for us” (ibid).

An anonymous official for the Washington Post said the District is not barred from using foundation money to fund the raises but that the contract cannot be certified as fiscally sound unless all the money is actually part of the city budget. The private funders — the Broad, Robertson, Arnold and Walton foundations — are refusing to do this until the contract is certified by the city and approved by the union.

Also, another condition for the hefty deposit is that the $64.5 million dollar ‘donation’ to bind the contract must assure that the billionaire organizations reserve the right to withdraw the money if Rhee does not continue as chancellor (Rhee is already bought and paid for, so this is just an extortion clause, assuring Rhee stays on to do the bidding of the financiers); then there is also that little thing about demanding specific annual improvements in test scores.  This of course will cement into place the millions that will be spent on private testing companies while lacing teachers to No Child Left Behind, renamed Race to the Top by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

The official for the Post, who insisted on anonymity because deliberations over how to finance the contract are continuing, said Gandhi has determined that conditions placed on the $64.5 million donation by four foundations will not pass muster. The dollars that underwrite salaries in a collective-bargaining agreement must be “unconditional,” the official said.  Ghandi has determined that they are not, which is why the deal does not pass the smell test.

Gandhi has signaled his concern over the continued uncertainty of private financing since shortly after the tentative agreement was announced April 7, according to the un-named official.  The official also added that Ghandi’s assessment was reaffirmed as recently as last Wednesday morning, when Gandhi’s general counsel, David Tseng, spoke with D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles.

But Attorney Peter Nickles denied hearing any such assessment from Tseng. He said that although the conditions posed by the foundations present legal issues (ones which neither the D.C. public, teachers, students and parents are allowed to know and of course which the corporate media refuses to touch), he said had not been informed by Gandhi or anyone else that the private funding could not be included in the contract.  According to Nickles:

“We’ve been focusing on the conditions and dealing with them as matters that need to be dealt with (ibid)

He also added that the District has been in direct conversations with the foundations.  Sure they have.  All sellers have direct negotiations with buyers.

If this seems all reprehensible it is.  Here you have a poor and broken school district targeted by business ventures and Wall Street for privatization with prime the pump money from billionaires bent on destroying teacher unions.  Michelle Rhee is brought into Dodge to “clean up the town” by announcing her presence like a pit-bull and putting into place the tactics she learned at the Eli Broad Institute where gunslingers like Rhee are trained as to how to fight teacher unions, rally parents against public education, use the press for their privatized messages, play the Machiavellian with political leaders and put together deals that destroy unions and eventually public education.  Add to this, the largess of the billionaires that pull the strings.  Behind the “curtain” they work with the politicians and union officials to pull together some unscrupulous plan that will certainly destroy the teachers union if not leave it in disarray, due to pitting teacher against teacher in the race for test scores while destroying tenure.

Meanwhile, the public has no real knowledge; all they might know is the Washington capitol has now been occupied by the billionaire brotherhood and that these treasure hunters are “good enough” to contribute to education.  Or so they are told.  The real truth of course is that this is a hostile takeover of a school district reeling under budget woes and thus prime for disaster capitalism’s takeover plans.  The fact that it will serve as a national model for devastating teacher unions all over the nation makes the philanthropists and vulture capitalists even giddier.

Rhee and Ghandi clash could threaten the plan?  Doubtful

The clash between two of the city’s most powerful titans, Rhee and Ghandi, could put a hold on Rhee’s “national model” to terminate tenure and impose merit pay on the D.C. teacher’s union.  This would be a tragedy for the “billionaire commons” that Rhee and others have worked so hard to carve out in D.C. and elsewhere.  It would also be a pebble in the shoe of Arne Duncan, the trickster who is running the show with the help of the philanthropist booty and the use of serial killers like Rhee.

In light of all the fiscal woes and in face of perhaps losing the chance to pull off the biggest larceny in education yet, the private foundations ponied up an additional $43 million to finance changes such as the pay-for-performance plan (or pay-for-play). However those funds are not a formal part of the proposed contract and therefore cannot be at issue in Gandhi’s analysis.  This is the impasse.

Michelle Rhee declined to comment on contract issues last week:

“I can’t say anything. Dr. Gandhi and I agreed that we would be communicating directly about things (ibid).

Yes, the two dignitaries of Washington D.C., a city that does not even have representation in the federal government will speak behind closed doors no doubt with their rolodexes, working to make the contract happen.  Ghandi, as stated, knows what is at stake and thus must know which side of the bread his butter is on.  Rhee thought she already made the deal, so now must be feverishly dialing for dollars and calling her foundation friends for advice.

A number of options for completing financing of the $140 million teacher pact remain on the table. One would involve setting up a reserve fund of public dollars (‘public’) that could help underwrite the contract until the private dollars are released. Then the reserves could be redirected by the council for other District needs – a sort of matching funds game.

Yet even if the foundation funds ultimately are approved for the teachers’ contract, Fenty and Rhee face serious challenges in funding the rest of the contract. Currently a search is underway within the public schools and other city agencies for the estimated $29 million that is needed, which could be a tall order in light of the District’s fiscal straits.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the council’s finance committee, said at a hearing Wednesday that all council committees are being asked to go back to the agencies they oversee and ask for additional cuts that could be made in their budgets.

This is another nail in the coffin for public services as Rhee is now looking to raid essential services to meet the matching fund needs the foundations require.  All this is good news for the privatizers, for their hatred of teacher unions and public education extends to all public services.  If they can manage to get their strumpet, Rhee, to ‘acquire’ funds from other public services this would be icing on the cake.

The D.C. teachers union capitulates

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker said that he could not confirm Gandhi’s conclusion. He only spoke of the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the contract, saying it has taken a toll:

“It’s been a frustrating roller-coaster ride that teachers and students have had to endure. We were promised and assured that they had the funds for this contract (ibid).

Parker seems to be howling for more billionaire largess as well as Rhee.  Selling out their unions with merit pay schemes paid for by billionaires does not seem to bother many union officials these days.  The only issue: is how much? 

The Corporate Media Pander for Rhee and the philanthropist safety net

Knowing that D.C. might not get the billionaire’s monies if Michelle Rhee does not stay on as Chancellor of Schools, the Washington Post, today May 2, 2010 in their editorial section, opined that Rhee should stay on as Chancellor of Schools despite the acrimony she has brought to the city since her arrival.  The carnival barker for capital noted in their editorial that:

“IN THE RECENT tumult over a proposed contract for District schoolteachers, the key question has been ignored: Why is everyone in the city not working together to make sure that Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee sticks around?

There’s been wrangling over how to pay for raises and bonuses that teachers could earn if union members vote to approve the contract. Private foundations might reconsider their support if Ms. Rhee left. City budget officers worry that they might then get stuck with an unexpected bill. As we’ve written, both concerns are understandable; as we’ve also said, the obstacles seem small enough to be overcome with some ingenuity and goodwill. But there’s a larger point that needs addressing.

The District could fall back into that pattern, or it could accomplish decisive reforms that end the most shameful scandal of the nation’s capital: the absence of educational opportunity for too many poor African American children. Ms. Rhee and leaders of the teachers union have agreed on a contract that could accelerate the improvement, jump-start professional development and attract even more high-quality teachers; the past three years could be a preamble to lasting progress. But if the schools again fall victim to politics, and particularly to the battle for mayor between incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D) and his challenger, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), all of this could be in jeopardy” (D.C. officials ought to agree that Michelle Rhee should stay, May 2, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/01/AR2010050102802.htm)

Of course this pronouncement by the editors comes just days before the city council meeting where the contract will be discussed.  One might say it is a bill board for the foundations which no doubt put the word in so the Washington Post, itself the owner of the privatized proprietary college, Kaplan University, would come out strongly for Rhee.  The paper is little more than a corporate bulletin for the privatizers and a poster for Michelle Rhee and the privatizer’s plans to strip public funds and destroy teachers unions, all in the name of charity.  Hey, it’s all for the kids, right?