Tuesday, May 04, 2010

From TheMail in DC

The Perils of Privately Financed School Reform
Allan G. Assarsson, QuestDakota@aol.com

Despite all the accounting errors that preceded Friday’s council hearing with CFO Gandhi and Chancellor Rhee, the apparent rush of many council members to find the money required to backup uncertain private funding and thrust the WTU labor agreement through the approval process is even more disturbing. This insertion of private dollars into the DCPS budget calculations has inherent problems that need to be studied closely. The conditions placed by these foundations for their continued financial support not only impact our schools, but directly inject themselves into our city’s electoral process that will focus on education issues more than any other election in recent times.

These foundations may not be citizens of the District of Columbia, but they still may have an effective vote in our election. The qualified nature of their support creates the public perception that voting against Mayor Fenty may cost the city 64.5 million dollars in revenue that could help our city’s children. How many votes is this worth? This is a question you can be sure that both Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray are asking. Secondly, by accepting conditional money, we also inviting upon ourselves the unacceptable dilemma of having to choose between educational priorities that we determine are in the best interests of our children and the divergent priorities of private foundations. Furthermore, we should not confuse this type of financial support with privately funded research that a University might accept with strings attached. They are completely different. Until now, the four foundations (Broad, Arnold, Walton, and Robertson) have been funding only public charter school alternatives, and have not supported labor unions that would represent teachers or administrators. They are strong advocates for the privatization of education at every level, from pre-K through high school and beyond. It is also clear that Chancellor Rhee has qualities that these foundations have found very attractive. It should not be hard to imagine why their monies are conditional on maintaining a DCPS leadership that may be more than just sympathetic to their cause.

There are serious conflicts that may arise from accepting provisional private funding for our public institutions. The potential impact on the democratic process and independent control of DCPS policy needs to be at the forefront of our discussion of the DCPS budget and WTU labor agreement. The WTU agreement is routinely described as “groundbreaking,” clearly a very positive description that assumes none of the dangers that such private funding portends. Mayor Fenty and Schools Chancellor Rhee have unprecedented powers to affect changes in our schools without interference. But the school budget and the types of funding are within the purview of the city council. The council must exercise responsible oversight to protect the interests of both our schools and democratic process by placing their own conditions on the acceptance and application of this private financial support.


What Do DC Teachers And Billion-Dollar Foundations Have in Common?
Candi Peterson and Efavorite, saveourcounselors@gmail.com

As most of you probably already have heard by now , Dr. Natwar Gandhi, Chief Financial Officer, officially confirmed on April 30 at a DC city council hearing that he would not certify a Washington Teachers’ Union Tentative Agreement (TA) due to the conditions imposed by private foundations. Another reason that the TA cannot be certified at this time is the fact DC Government does not have the fiscal resources to fund the entire teacher compensation package.

Efavorite, frequent guest writer on The Washington Teacher blog, highlights that DC school officials have proposed to lay off DC teachers in 2011 as a means to narrow the funding gap and gain approval of teachers’ retro pay and future raises by CFO Natwar Gandhi. This raises the question of whether, if the WTU Tentative Agreement ever gets ratified by WTU members, teachers will still be around to collect their pay raises, or will they be among those on the unemployment line? In a timely piece, Efavorite offers us food for thought. “Bored with pushing lowly teachers around, Rhee has taken on billion-dollar foundations, setting them up to be the saviors of school reform, then watching as District CFO Gandhi predictably rejects them for having unacceptable strings attached to their generous gifts. Even better, this happened on the same day that a letter to the editor defending the foundations, written by their spokesperson Cate Swinburn, appeared in the Washington Post. For Chancellor Rhee, the thrill of RIFing 266 teachers based on a bogus budget deficit was probably nothing compared to publicly humiliating billion-dollar foundations that had just pledged millions to her reform effort. Now she’s saying, ‘the District is attempting to persuade the private funders — the Broad, Arnold, Walton, and Robertson foundations — to modify their requirements.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it. Once Rhee has people dancing to her tune, it seems hard to stop. In the same article, Gandhi said one of the ways that school officials had proposed ‘to narrow the contract funding gap’ was ‘. . . expediting a planned reduction in the number of teachers to save $7.6 million in 2011. . . .’ Got that, teachers? If the contract ever comes to a vote and passes, it could take a RIF to fund your back pay and pay raises, if you ever see them, before getting RIFd. It’s all laid out in front of you now. It’s a matter of deciding if you’re going to dance to that tune. You’ll be in the company of billionaires, if you do.”

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