Sunday, June 2, 2013

Why Memphis Schools Matter

In 2009 Bill Gates came to Memphis with a check for $90 million, and things haven't been right since.  The quiet ruthlessness behind Gates's aging geeky grin has been unrelenting and extremely effective in poisoning the chances for public education in Memphis and Shelby County. Gates's past expensive hunches that small high schools were better and that bonus pay would raise test scores have both been proven wrong, but as long as the cash keeps coming, Memphis political misleaders, corporate media hacks, made churchmen, and academics at the local universities are likely to keep toeing the line for the corporate foundations and Master Bill.

Gates's hostility to teachers and collective bargaining is well-documented, and he is an avid enthusiast for total compliance KIPP and KIPP wannabe charter schools for the poor that no middle class parent would ever send his child to.  For Gates and other philanthrocapitalists, any poor brown child seeking an option to the largely segregated and neglected public schools of Memphis should have a No Excuses, zero tolerance kind of apartheid schooling that leads to behavioral and psychological sterilization performed without public oversight. Those children who can't cut it are dumped back into the remaining public schools of Memphis, where they will be warehoused until they drop out or are moved to the correctional warehouses for adults.

Because most of the local media is complicit in the corporate takeover of public schools in Memphis, and because State government is now embarked on a systematic use of government to kill government, the general public is left with representation or voice.  That is the why behind Memphis Schools Matters.  

I invite local and regional bloggers to contact me if you are interested in posting factual stories or commentaries on the shenanigans behind the biggest corporate giveaway now in progress in the state's history.  I will protect your identity if you want, but I encourage you to use your identity to reclaim your voice.  I am interested in covering the proliferation and inner workings of charter schools, the political stories behind the voucher movement. I am interested in exposing those public officials who wish to use public monies to pay for corporate control and management of schools, thus relinquishing their public duty.  I am interested, too, in the use, effects, and spread of new standardized tests that will be used to further reduce professional teaching to teaching by numbers, while replacing the good teachers who leave with temps and untrained beginners from Teach for America or Teach Plus.

Here is a sample of the kind of story I am looking for and planning to write.  I am in Germantown on a regular basis, so if there are issues you want to discuss, contact me at

From Schools Matter last year:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Memphis District to Lose $212 Million to Charter Schools by 2016

The story unfolding in Memphis around the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County Schools gets more and more interesting.  Today one of the Gates front men, Gary Shorb, published a plea in the Commercial-Appeal for all sides to come together to embrace what is essentially a resegregation merger plan written by the Gates Foundation and their political arm-twisting outfit, Stand On For Children (SFC).  SFC has successfully led the anti-teacher, anti-child, and anti-parent fight for corporate education reform in Colorado, Ilinois, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. It is most interesting and the ultimate irony that the County Commission, which supports the "merger" plan, is now accusing outlying Shelby County towns of racism for planningto bail out on this corporate-sponsored apartheid plan for Memphis. 

Patrons $250,000+
Josh and Anita Bekenstein Charitable Fund at Combined Jewish Philanthropies
Daniels Fund
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Helios Education Foundation
Jenesis Group
Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine
New Profit Inc.
Rauner Family Foundation
Walton Family Foundation

The mechanism for getting the "merger" done to benefit the corporate charter school industry was to get the ALEC controlled State Legislature to write a law, first, to create a Transition Planning Commission (TPC) to be the public face for the plan, as devised by the corporate foundations.  Kenya Bradshaw, Executive Director of SFC, serves as Secretary on the Commission of 18 appointees (does anyone know who appointed them?  the Gov,? Bill Gates?

Next came the meetings to gather "public input," right?  And next came writing of the plan by the foundation lawyers and economists, with no further public input.

Well, the Plan was released a few days ago, and it is available on the Web.  The Commercial Appeal has published none of the details, so I spent a bit of the morning poring through the 200 page plan.  

Basically, it is plan that squeezes public funding to cover the costs of the hemorrhagic loss of revenue from shifting millions from public schools over to corporate charter operators with a free ride and no public oversight.  Secondarily, it is a plan to replace experienced teachers in urban schools with nominally prepared neophytes who will ply their trade in apartheid total compliance corporate welfare charter schools.  Thirdly, it is an attack on the teaching profession and job security.  Fourthly, it is to a plan to privatize as many school services as possible in order and to cut benefits for the remaining public employees..  

Here below are some choice tidbits with a few of my own comments.  (My bolds within the text)
Overall Shelby County public school enrollment is projected to decline 3% from FY2012 to FY2016, resulting in approximately 147,400 students enrolled in Shelby County public schools by FY2016. The enrollment mix is expected to shift to non-district operators (including charter schools and the ASD), from 4% of total public school enrollment in FY2012 to 19% in FY2016, resulting in approximately 118,700 students enrolled in district-operated schools by FY2016 (p. 13).

The Committee developed these priorities and recommendations with the understanding that Shelby County Schools will not be structured like a traditional school district in 2013–14. With the growth of the Achievement School District (ASD), the Innovation Zone, and charter schools, the district will be a mix of school operators and types. The TPC recognizes that the district does not, and should not, have the authority to mandate some of the recommendations below in charter schools and the ASD (p. 31).
The details on the Achievement School District are not complete, but it will essentially operate without local control or oversight.  It will be run out of Nashville, and it will replace the lowest scoring (poorest) public schools in the state with corporate charters.

Some details on the cost of the new Gates-Walton-Edelman Plan:

Cost Management of Enrollment Shifts
A system with multiple school operators (e.g. District, ASD and charter schools) inherently costs more to operate due to loss of scale with fixed costs being allocated across a smaller volume of students. This multi-operator environment is in place today and is projected to expand irrespective of the merger. To date, the districts have found creative ways to manage the increased costs of the existing multi-operator system (e.g. cutting or shifting 400+ positions out of the General Fund to right-size staff). However, with the projected share of students in non-district operated schools expandingrapidly in the next few years—from approximately 4% in FY2012 to 19% by FY2016 (equivalent to approximately $212M of revenues shifted to charter schools and the ASD in FY2016)—it is critical to implement strategic cost management to ensure each pathway in the Multiple Achievement Paths model is financially equitable to students. The majority of these enrollment shifts are projected to happen irrespective of the merger, and the increased cost of the system is not the “fault” of the district or charter schools. Although merged SCS will continue to be responsible for managing most of these costs, other operators will also contribute as participants who benefit from this overall system (p. 168).

Here are some specifics from the Plan with details about what they mean.  Note that almost 400 public school teachers will be lost in the first 3 years, and the Stand on Children folks are planning to make sure that these teachers lose the opportunity to transfer to the charter system being planned for urban Memphis.  One of the new priorities for the ALEC owned State Legislature will be  “Repealing TCA § 49-5-511 which requires districts to place tenured teachers on a preferred reemployment list if they lose their jobs due to a reduction in force” (p. 195):

• From FY2012 to FY2014, the shift of an estimated 9,500 students from district-operated schools to other operators (e.g. charter schools, ASD) will result in a shift of approximately $70M in revenues. Charter school revenue share will continue to be a pass-through to the district and ASD revenue share is expected to be directly provided by the State.

• If the merged SCS aggressively implements a set of management practices to manage its school and staffing footprint, it can recover an estimated $58M. This assumes 85% of step-variable costs can be recovered with the district pursuing regular staff right-sizing and active management to hold student-teacher ratios constant. For example, with an estimated decline or shift of 9,500 students from FY2012 to Fy2014, the district will have to make the following types of approximate reductions—390 general education teachers, 60 elective and vocational teachers, 50 clerks, and 15 central office positions—keeping in mind that new teaching and other employment opportunities would be created in the ASD and charter schools.

• Other operators’ paying for benefits received (e.g. utilities and maintenance in shared facilities, shared staff, shared services) can help contribute approximately $3M (see Operations Plan chapter for more details on shared services). [Presently, TN state law requires charter operators to pay nothing for these services provided by local districts]

• A modest and differentiated contribution from other operators of an estimated 4% (blended average across operator types ranging from 0% to 7% depending on specific choices made by the operators, e.g. full conversion of existing attendance zone in existing facilities contribute 0%, lottery system in existing facilities contribute 5% if choose to share school-level costs) can help recover a further approximately $3M. Enforcing contributions will require a legislative change as current Tennessee law does not allow charter school authorizers to require charter schools to contribute to district overhead. Note that benchmarks of other large urban districts show contributions to range from 2% (Denver) up to 20% (Chicago) (p. 171).

Even if all the cost savings can be implemented, including privatizing custodial and transportation operations and turning over the keys of 21 public schools to charter school operators, the TPC still projects a $57 million deficit in FY 2016.  Below is the wish list that the TPC has developed to try to close the gap created by the drain of education dollars into the corporate charter schools and ASD charter schools.  Note that there is presently no state law requiring charter operators to pay for any shared services, either utility bills, transportation costs, or shared librarians, for instance.
City, county, and state action
There are a number of outstanding issues that require city council, county commission, or state action.
These include:

• Securing the $55M in funding from the City of Memphis

• Waiving the Shelby County residency requirement for all SCS employees, given the number of current MCS employees who do not reside in Shelby County

• Ensuring that all operators (e.g. district, charter schools, ASD) receive state and local funds in the same timeframe

• Seeking definitive clarity from the state on to whom the "leveling up" requirement of the Norris Todd Act applies, and securing an agreement on that definition

• Advocating for the legislature to implement the approved changes to BEP funding, and for the proposed changes made by the BEP Review Committee. There are reforms passed in the State BEP 2.0 formula that are pending funding for full implementation. Some of these reforms, including an increase in the State share for instructional components in the formula from 70%to 75%, could yield as much as $30M in incremental revenue.

• Advocating for the state to provide funding during the merger transition period, per TCA § 49-2-1207 (5), and/or TCA § 49-2-1262

• Advocating for the legislature to approve a charter school and ASD holdback, and charter school attendance zones

• Repealing TCA § 49-5-511 which requires districts to place tenured teachers on a preferred reemployment list if they lose their jobs due to a reduction in force.

• Exploring options to recover the education portion of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) (p. 195).

Now if the wish list does not lead to the desired funds, then the TPC has a contingency plan to pay for the ridiculous and needless and expensive turnover of 20 percent of Memphis schools to charter operators.  Here it is:

Contingency Plan
If all four recommendations for additional funding have been exhausted and a budget deficit remains, the TPC has identified potential incremental cost reductions worth $48M as a reluctant contingency plan. This contingency plan is not a recommendation of the TPC. The TPC believes that these types of reductions, which would increase class size and reduce school-level staff, undermine the potential of the Plan to create a world-class educational system, and should only be pursued as an absolute last resort.

The exact initiatives would need to be identified by the district-led working committee; however, some illustrative examples are detailed below. These examples total $48M in annual savings.

• Shifting to State minimum ratio of librarians which would result in a $5.5 additional annual savings from about 115 fewer librarians

• Retracting investment in additional Assistant Principals and shifting toward a 'SCS minus one' staffing model which would provide an additional $11.4M in annual savings from eliminating close to 100 AP positions

• 15% reduction in other school staff positions (e.g., clerks, educational assistants, therapists) for an annual savings of $10.5M

• Moving to a student-teacher ratio of 'MCS plus one' for an annual savings of $20M resulting from eliminating 280 teachers (p. 177).

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