Saturday, April 24, 2010

John King Testimony at Perkins Hearing Questionned

At the end of his testimony[at Perkins' hearing] Deputy Educaiton Commissioner John King, who comes from the charter school world, said: “The Regents have asked the Legislature to strengthen the accountability and transparency elements of the charter school statute as part of raising the charter cap.”

But King does not explain what elements need to be strengthened or why; and his testimony is full of long abstruse descriptions of all the “desk audits” and oversight the state already does.

Did anyone who was present at his testimony get a sense of his actual position on this?

Leonie Haimson

I read it - with NYSED, it's much more important to read and study the exact text of what they write than to listen to what they say, since NYSED officials typically use baffledygook to conceal what's really going down.

If you know NYSED and how it actually operates, what they're doing re charters is exactly the same as what they do for public schools, i.e., nothing. NYSED maintains an irrebutable presumption that whatever a school district says it, has and will do is what it is, has, and always will do. For example, King cites the fact that districts (including charters) must have annual independent audits as some kind of evidence that there is accountability and transparency and that everyone must either follow the law or NYSED will step in and make them. ROTFL!

In fact, federal and State audits and investigations have shown repeatedly that when NYSED receives these outside audit reports and finds that the audit work done is defective and even possibly that the outside auditors are corrupt and working hand-in-hand with corrupt district (or charter) officials, it does absolutely nothing at all about it.

Similarly, federal and State audits have documented consistently since 1989 (and perhaps earlier) that when NYSED gets a district outside audit report which shows there is probably corruption of some kind, including thefts, it does nothing about it - unless there is an outside prosecutor who has actually secured a criminal conviction for the thefts or other corrupt financial acts. The last federal - USDOE OIG - audit report showing that this is NYSED's modus operandi was issued in Nov. 2009 and was described as "scathing" by knowledgeable audit professionals. NYSED's "desk audits" for district, charter and BOCES audit submissions have also been shown to be highly defective and questionable by the same federal and State official audit reports.

When NYSED and its contractors and representatives visit districts or schools, allegedly to see what's going on in terms of any specific program or requirement, again, what the visited entity says is happening is given an irrebutable presumption of correctness and NYSED's monitors, consultants, program staff, etc. simply walk around with blinkers on and are not allowed to "see" things that are literally happening right before their eyes. For example, NYS Comptroller audit report a few years ago said that NYSED allowed schools and districts to "massage" data they'd submitted re school crimes and violent incidents so as to allow them to evade being listed as persistently dangerous. NYSED's response to this public humiliation was to allegedly set up monitoring protocols to "verify" schools' crime and violent incident reports. And the protocols for this type of verification are very detailed. I've read them. The only problem is that they only examine a school's internal paperwork. So it's quite possible (and I know this happens) that a school will report no serious crimes for any school year, while if you mosey down to the local police precinct, you'll find that the police have numerous official reports on file re the most serious crimes and violent incidents they handled in that school for the year in question.

In the wonderful world of NYSED, schools and districts are allowed to create the fiction that the world outside them does not exist and the only documentation for anything (financial, educational, crime-wise) which exists re any of these things is what they create or concoct and officially report. Then NYSED goes ballistic to evade ever, ever, ever looking at documentation from the real world to see if the school or district's internal paperwork matches up with the real world's paperwork. It rarely does.

The problem with asking for real, serious NYSED auditing and monitoring of charters is, unfortunately, that too many people in charters come from the NYS public education system. If NYSED set up real, rigorous audit and monitoring procedures for charters, its officials know darn well that these charter folks would raise hell, and make all kinds of public noise re how NYSED doesn't really audit or monitor what public school districts and schools do, and is trying to be anti-charter - and discriminate against charters by subjecting them to levels of actual scrutiny that are completely missing when public school districts and schools are monitored and supervised by NYSED. They'd yell "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" and make a public issue and re what those of us who watch NYSED (and Tweed) carefully already know - that there is no real, meaningful monitoring or supervision going on at the State level.

So, what a "desk audit" means is that NYSED reads (or does not read) whatever a charter or public school district or school submits, rubber-stamps it as "acceptable" and throws it in the circular file. For what it's worth, in the rare case where political pressure has forced NYSED to do a real school monitoring and verification job - as it was forced to do re a NYSED-approved private special ed. school in NYC a few years ago - and NYSED finds the grossest possible violations of law which endanger students - it does absolutely nothing meaningful to force correction at all, much less quickly, unless intense outside pressure is brought. In the case I'm thinking of, it took the UFT 3-4 years before NYSED was forced to actually make this approved private special ed. school hire a properly certified administrator and provide the related services the IEPs of these severely disabled children required (and which NYS was paying for). To this day, I have no reason to think that NYSED's work brought the school into compliance with all the important and bottom-line requirements - and if the UFT had not done a real number on NYSED, it would have never done anything at all. As for that school's outside audit reports - from what I've heard, I'm comfortable saying that nobody would rely on one sentence in any of them for any purposes whatsoever.

At the time, this was the only state-approved private special ed. school in NYS whose staff were unionized. I was told that the only reason the UFT did anything was because the school's administration became rabidly anti-union and was engaged in very serious union-breaking activities at the time. A negative NLRB decision supports this contention. While the UFT may publish a paper exposing charter financial corruption, you can be sure it won't do the same re the numerous incidents of regular public school financial corruption which are exposed, almost daily in NYS, via official investigatory reports, audits and in the media via scandal ... unless the district in question has been taking a rabidly anti-union position. And even then, the UFT doesn't bite the hand of them who feeds it, nor of those who protect those higher ups who do, i.e., NYSED. That school's case was truly sui generis.

Remember - when the Roslyn, LI whistleblower wrote to NYSED citing chapter and verse re the massive thefts done by the superintendent, business manager and assorted thieves working there, NYSED did exactly nothing about it. The whistleblower, irked, then sent the same letter to Newsday and the Nassau County D.A. ... and the sky fell in. That ex-superintendent got out of jail recently, btw. What federal and state audits and other reports have told us since that time is that although NYSED changed protocols and the Legislature passed new anti-school district corruption laws, NYSED has refused to enforce them and a savvy superintendent or principal can still manage to steal millions of dollars from any public school district, public school or charter school in NYS, and even if someone puts the cancelled checks indisputably documenting the thefts in NYSED's hands, NYSED will do absolutely nothing about it. And again - this isn't me saying this. It's what major audit reports from the US DOE OIG say, if you know how to read auditor-ese.

Basically, if you want to keep charter financial corruption under control, you need to revise all the rules for auditing all NYS k-12 public education entities (and making their full audit reports publicly and easily accessible) in NYS and then require what I call one-school audits, which would then put district and charter auditing on the same footing and, inter alia, make a lot more of the public school financial corruption out into the public arena for review. NYSED would rather go out of business than do this.

Don't expect Steiner or King to make this any better.

Dee Alpert

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