Connecticut seeks to lead the “Local Control is a White People Thing” bandwagon?

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Yesterday, fellow pro-public education blogger, Jersey Jazzman, wrote a great piece about the fact that a number of school districts in New Jersey – all populated by black and Hispanic citizens – have been under state control for years.  (See: Local Control of Schools: It’s a White People Thing.)

Diane Ravitch, in turn, picked up the piece on her national blog, noting that, “In many districts, especially where the population is non-white, privatizers insist on mayoral control or state control…there is no evidence that taking away popular rule improves the schools…It does make it easier, however, to privatize them.”

We certainly know that reality here, as Governor Malloy’s education reform associates like Mayor Bill Finch, “Education Reformer Extraordinaire” Paul Vallas, and corporate business organizations like Excel Bridgeport and the Council for Education Reform, are spending over $100,000 to eliminate Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the Mayor.

As Diane Ravitch also noted, Michelle Rhee’s husband, Kevin Johnson, a former basketball star and now Mayor of Sacramento, California, was recently in Bridgeport to speak at a forum with Finch and Vallas to spread the message that having the right to choose one’s elected representatives was way overrated.

At the “information session,” the three “Democrats” explained, to the assembled that, in essence, democracy was an impediment to having quality schools.

A funny statement since a National School Board Association study recently determined that 96 percent of respondents reported that membership on their local board of education was determined by popular election.  In addition, the report identified that the “evidence of existing or attempted mayoral control was found in less than 20 major districts around the United States”.

The whole notion is especially “funny” considering Paul Vallas has gotten his last four six figure jobs through appointed boards, but recently his private consulting company signed an $18 million contract with the Indianapolis School Board, a board that is democratically elected.

In response to Kevin Johnson statements here in Connecticut, Bridgeport native John Bagley, another former NBA star, who was recently elected to the Bridgeport Board of Education as a member of the Working Families Party, wrote a commentary piece in the CT Post responding to Johnson’s ant-democracy position.

Bagley’s outstanding piece can be found here:  http://www.ctpost.com/opinion/article/Bagley-and-KJ-one-on-one-one-more-time-3985354.php#ixzz2AVde6X00

As to Kevin Johnson’s message, Bagley wrote, “’KJ’ didn’t tell us that his city of Sacramento, like the towns of Trumbull, Fairfield, Easton, Stratford and Westport, has an elected Board of Education. When he and his so-called `reformers’ start demanding an appointed board in Trumbull and Fairfield, then I will be willing to listen to what he has to say, even if his advice comes long-distance.”

Bagley added, “Maybe ‘KJ’ and his `reformers’ can explain why the city of New Haven, which has an appointed board, has more failing schools than Bridgeport.”

Finally, Bagley closed with a message to Johnson, but it is a message that should be delivered to all the people who are spending big money to undermine democracy in Bridgeport.

Bagley wrote, “Don’t come into my house and mess with my right to vote.”

The fact is, those corporate education reformers, including Finch and Vallas, should be ashamed.  And meanwhile, the silence coming out of the Governor’s Offices is deafening.

Board of Regents Newsflash: Let’s put in a chief of staff with no public higher education experience

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First Governor Malloy selected former UConn President Phil Austin to be the interim President of the Connecticut Board of Regents, despite the fact that he has no experience running community colleges.

And today it has  become public that they will be adding a new Chief of Staff with NO EXPERIENCE with public higher education at all.  The Chief of Staff’s position is to oversee the day-to-day operations of the agency in charge of Connecticut’s State Universities and Community Colleges.

Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas of the CT Mirror are reporting that, “Deputy State Labor Commissioner Dennis Murphy, an administrator with longstanding ties to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, will become the interim chief of staff for the state’s merged public college system.”  http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17913/governor-ally-become-college-systems-next-chief-staff

According to the CT Mirror, “Murphy, who will be appointed by Philip E. Austin, interim president for the Board of Regents for Higher Education, also will retain his labor title and split his time between the department and the college system.”

Earlier in the week the Board of Regents informed the existing chief of staff, former Malloy spokesperson Colleen Flanagan, that she was returning to her post as communications director for the Regents, and a new Chief of Staff would be added with a salary of $129,000 plus benefits

Murphy was one of Malloy’s earliest appointees, becoming Deputy Labor commissioner in January 2011.

Murphy previously served as Malloy’s Director of Human Resources in Stamford from 2004 to 2008.

Before that Murphy served as Bridgeport Mayor Joe Gamin’s Director of Labor Relations.

Murphy is the spouse of John Stafstrom, who is the former Democratic Town Committee chairman of Bridgeport and a partner in the law firm of Pullman and Connolly.

John Stafstrom and Pullman and Connolly has received a series of high-profile state contracts since Malloy became Governor including being given the lucrative job of handling the state’s legal work for the Jackson Laboratories project and the new Connecticut Airport Authority.

A graduate of Fairfield University and Boston College, Murphy appears to have had absolutely no experience with any public higher education entities in his career, making him an odd selection for a new public  university system that educates well over 100,000 Connecticut residents.

Connecticut business leaders urge Bridgeport voters to give up their democratic rights

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Yesterday, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a statewide group made up of some of Connecticut’s most influential business leaders, called upon Bridgeport voters to do away with their elected board of education, and instead, allow Bill Finch, the Mayor of Bridgeport, to appoint who he sees fit to serve on Bridgeport’s school board.

Connecticut Council for Education Reform is the “education reform” group that played a prominent role in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.

In a blast email to their supporters yesterday morning, they wrote: “This Election Day, Bridgeport voters will make a critical decision that will impact students in their public schools for years to come. The district’s Charter Revision Commission has put forth a referendum that would give the mayor the final decision as to who would be appointed to the city’s board of education. It is vital that Bridgeport citizens vote yes to this proposed change in order to avoid the reversal of the many positive gains that have recently taken place for Bridgeport public schools.”

As they say, their argument is that an elected board of education would be be dysfunctional, but a board appointed by Bridgeport’s Mayor will work together and continue “the many positive gains” in Bridgeport.

Imagine if corporate executives told the American people that because Congress is, as we all know, dysfunctional, that members of Congress should be appointed by the President rather than elected by the people.

Yet that is exactly what these business people are saying.

Not that regular people will run into many of these business leaders, but here is the list of Directors of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).  If you see any of them, ask them why they think that giving up citizens’ democratic rights is something for which American businesspeople should be advocating?

The CCER Board of Directors is;

Steven J. Simmons, Chairman & CEO, Simmons/Patriot Media & Communications

Ramani Ayer, Retired Chairman & CEO, The Hartford

Roxanne Coady, President & Founder, RJ Julia Bookstore

Mary Barneby, Complex Director, UBS Private Wealth Office

Marna Borgstrom, President & CEO, Yale New Haven Hospital System

John Crawford, President, Strategem, LLC; Lead Director of Board of Directors, Webster Bank

Mitchell Etess, CEO, Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority

William W. Ginsberg, President & CEO, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Kim Jeffery, President & CEO, Nestle Waters North America

John R. Koelmel, President & CEO, First Niagara Finanacial Group

Ned Lamont, Founder and Chairman, Campus TeleVideo; Distinguished Professor, Central Connecticut State University

Richard Levin, President, Yale University

Brian MacLean, President & COO, The Travelers Companies, Inc.

John R. Rathgeber, President & CEO, Connecticut Business & Industry Association

Jim Torgerson, President & CEO, United Illuminating Holdings Corporation

Dudley N. Williams, Jr., Director of Corporate Citizenship & Diversity, GE Asset Management Group

PS:  If you have contact information for any of these people, drop them a note and ask them where the draw the line when it comes to taking away people’s right to direct representation?

How do you plead: Guilty or Ignorant? Choose carefully, lying will get you a bigger fine.

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There are some who seem to think they are above the law.

And then there are those who act like they are above the law, and then attempt to claim they didn’t know they were doing something wrong when they are caught.

We’ll soon find out which strategy the education reform forces in Bridgeport will be taking.

Not satisfied with intentionally manipulating the wording of Bridgeport’s upcoming charter revision vote in order to confuse voters into supporting the change that will take away their own democratic rights and give Bridgeport’s mayor the power to appoint his own board of education, the proponents of the referendum appear to ducking their legal obligations under Connecticut’s campaign finance law.

Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee formed to support Mayor Finch’s effort to eliminate a democratically elected Board of Education, and replace it with one under his control, has filed a report that is so misleading that an official complaint has now been filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Connecticut law requires that every campaign treasurer and deputy treasurer must follow the state’s campaign finance laws.

Ignorance of the law is not a defense.

And as the law states;

“Any person who violates any provision of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $2,000 or twice the amount of the improper contribution or payment, whichever is greater.

Those who break the law on purpose face even stiffer fines.  The law goes on to read;

“Any person who “knowingly and willfully” violates any provision of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws is subject to criminal penalties of up to $5,000 in fines, or five years imprisonment, or both.

Last week, the political action committee known as Residents for a Better Bridgeport filed their October 10th campaign finance report with Bridgeport’s Town Clerk.  The Committee claimed that they raised $572 during the period, on top of the $100 that they had already raised.

Their report also claimed that they did not make any expenditure, whatsoever, to promote their cause.

But of course, Residents for a Better Bridgeport spent or encumbered tens of thousands of dollars in their ongoing campaign to pass the charter revision.

Just ask anyone who has received one of their three glossy mailings or has seen one of their new videos or even clicked on their website: http://www.residentsforabetterbridgeport.com/

Connecticut campaign finance law is based on the fact that voters have a fundamental right to know what candidates and political action committees are spending their money on.

Failure to disclose that information is one of the most serious offenses under Connecticut’s campaign finance laws.

And the law is particularly clear.

The campaign treasurer and deputy treasurer have the legal obligation to submit campaign finance reports that not only reveal any expenditures the committee has made, but they must also reveal any expenses that has been incurred but have not yet been paid.

Every few months, candidate committees and political action committees, like Residents for a Better Bridgeport, must submit a report of their activities.

There is even a whole section, “Section S,” that is included for the purpose of listing expenses incurred but not paid.

The directions for this legal document read, “The obligation to report expenses incurred arises when the committee enters into a written contract, promise or agreement to make expenditure.”

The State Election Enforcement Commission guide goes on to say, “For example, if a political committee purchases mailers that it distributes in June but is not billed for them until August, the committee would report the expense in Section S…If a committee incurs an expense but will not know the actual cost until it receives an invoice at a later date, it should still report the expenditure incurred in Section S in the period in which it was incurred and provide a good faith estimate of the amount. “

But Residents for a Better Bridgeport, which is the vehicle being used to support Mayor Finch’s initiative failed to report any expenditures or any agreement to make expenditures.

That is a huge violation, and now, the Treasurer for Residents for a Better Bridgeport, Lillian Wade and the Deputy Treasurer, Steve Stafstrom, are facing serious legal repercussions.

The committee failed to report any expenditures or plans to spend money for a website, yet they have a website which can be seen at http://www.residentsforabetterbridgeport.com/

The committee failed to report any expenditures or plans to spend money on mailings and yet they have produced three high cost direct mail pieces which can be seen on that same website.  Clearly they spent money or planned to spend money for the design, printing, data, mail-shop and postage related to those mailings.  In addition they illegally used a photo of President Obama and appear to have used municipal resources for political purposes (check out the photos of school property and the Mayor.)  It certainly appears that the Mayor and staff engaged in political activities on public time.

The committee also failed to report any expenditures or plans to spend money on the four, high quality video advertisements that can be found on the website and on a YouTube channel set up by the charter reform supporters.  To complete videos of this quality, expenditures would have needed to take place or, at least been planned, for expenses including script development, site identification, filming, editing and a variety of other expenses associated with the production of the videos.

The videos can be seen using the following links:

Bridgeport – Vote Yes – Length 3:54 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIVwdOvF98s&feature=plcp

Bridgeport – Vote Yes – Shorter Piece 1 Length 1:31 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sssdwlFJGes&feature=plcp

Bridgeport – Vote Yes Shorter Piece 2 – Length 1:55 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2y1xYkk_VNQ&feature=plcp

Bridgeport – Vote Yes Shorter Piece 3 – Length 1:31  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjawn109CzE&feature=plcp

All: http://www.youtube.com/user/BportVoteYes

In addition, the Political Action Committee, Residents for a Better Bridgeport also violated campaign finance law by failing to include proper “paid for by” disclaimers on the videos.

There also appears to be illegal in-kind corporate contributions from Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company that runs Achievement First Bridgeport.

The video includes people who it implies are Bridgeport teachers.  However they are teachers employed by Achievement First.  Also, the videos are filmed in classrooms.  If those classrooms are in Bridgeport schools, it is an illegal use of municipal resources.  If the classrooms are in the Achievement First – Bridgeport School then it may very well be an illegal in-kind contribution of space.

Each of these violations carries significant penalties.

Together they paint a disturbing picture of a group of individuals who have joined together in an attempt to take away the democratic rights of Bridgeport citizens…

They call themselves, Citizens for a Better Bridgeport, but their alleged illegal activities have now earned them a full-fledged campaign finance complaint.

I know, because I submitted the complaint and the corresponding evidence to the State Elections Enforcement Commission earlier today.

Team Vallas: Saving money by giving the same standardized test to 9th, 10th and 11th graders?

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In order to understand things correctly, we have a question for Team Vallas.

As we have come to learn, you all, as the experienced “education reformers” among us, believe that more standardized testing leads to an environment in which students will learn more.

With that as one of your guiding principles, Team Vallas determined that Bridgeport students would be better off if they took three additional rounds of standardized tests, plus the State of Connecticut’s own standardized tests.  I think the way it was explained was that starting this year, Bridgeport schools would conduct three sets of “CMT like tests,” in addition to the “CMTs.”

Round #1 was aptly named the Benchmark Assessment Test.

Teachers, students and parents in grades 3-8 were informed that Bridgeport’s new standardized testing would begin on October 1st, while students in grades 9-12 would begin their testing October 3rd.

An announcement also went out to parents telling them that, “they could contact their children’s schools to obtain results once testing is completed.”

In addition, to ensure that no cheating took place, Team Vallas instituted a sophisticated anti-cheating system that included making sure that the tests were locked up at all times and deploying proctors as warranted.

But now a question has arisen.

After speaking with a number of Bridgeport students and teachers today, it has become apparent that all 9th, 10th and 11th grade students were given the exact same “Editing & Revising” test.

Meaning, despite the fact that grade level curriculum and proficiency levels are very different in grades 9, 10 and 11, students in all three grades were required to read the same passages and answer the same exact questions.

This new development was certainly unexpected and raises the following inquiries;

(1)   Did the Bridgeport school system get a better price from the multi-million dollar testing company by allowing it to provide the same test to multiple grade levels?

(2)   They must charge less for correcting the test right?

(3)   Is this testing methodology some type of post-modern, neo-analytical mechanism to track students across multiple grade levels?

(4)   By utilizing the same test year after year, do you find that student’s test scores go up, thereby proving that “education reforms” are actually working, after all?

(5)   Can you point out other school districts that have utilized this rather unique approach to standardized testing?

Or (6) was this some type of colossal mistake?

 

Oct 2 2012: Team Vallas continues to take Bridgeport teachers off teaching duties to apply textbook barcodes

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File this one under, How do these school administrators keep their jobs?

Team Vallas watchers will recall that earlier this year, Bridgeport purchased more than $10 million in new textbooks.

And over the last six weeks, Bridgeport teachers have spent literally hundreds of hours putting barcodes on those books so that they could finally be provided to Bridgeport’s students.

But the huge question remains – What happened to the contract between Follett Software and the Bridgeport Board of Education, a contract that retained Follett Software to do this work?

On July 19, 2012, in one of Paul Vallas’ now famous no-bid contracts, the Follett Software Company, of McHenry, Illinois, provided Team Vallas’ Marlene Siegel, the Chief Financial Officer for Bridgeport’s Public Schools, an agreement for the “Custom On-Site Textbook Barcoding Project in your district.”

The agreement included (a) Data Services, (b) Barcodes and Labels, and (c) Custom Onsite Services that included processing 90,000 textbooks, using three teams, 10 workers per team, and a total work schedule of seven days.

Follett Software’s contract included a detailed list of its obligations.  Those services included the “placement of barcode on back of textbook,” and the “placement of eye readable identity strip on inside of back cover.”

The Follett Software contract with the Bridgeport School System even includes the following language;

“Based on discussions with your district, your implementation is scheduled to be completed no later than September 21, 2012.  Follett staff will work with your district to begin planning to reach that implementation date.  Because Follett plans our resource allocation based on projected installation requirements, we appreciate your collaboration in meeting this mutually agreed upon timeline.”

And the contract’s payment schedule required a total payment of $82,612.84, due in two payments.  The first payment was due upon signing the contract; the second was due by July 15, 2013.

A quick review of the Board of Education’s Operating Budget (linked on the BOE’s website) shows that Team Vallas and the Board of Education allocated $294,908 for, “District-wide reserve – essential services (includes scanners and bar codes for the Destiny Textbook Manager) and $70,550 for “DESTINY TEXTBOOK MANAGER:  On-site inventory of HMH books/Materials by Follett Educational Services, plus two additional site licenses – Skane, BLC

But here it is, almost three months later, and Bridgeport teachers continue to spend valuable time putting barcodes on the textbooks rather than teaching.

In fact, many students didn’t get their textbooks until well after school started and others still haven’t received the text books they need for this semester’s classes.

Yet Vallas’ new round of standardized testing is taking place this week and mid-term grades are due at the end of this week.

This level of administrative incompetence would never be allowed to existing in any other school district in Connecticut.

Once again, Paul Vallas and his Team of Keystone Cops reveal that all their talk of giving teachers the time and tools to teach is nothing more than empty rhetoric and outright lies.

Considering that Team Vallas had a contract in hand last July 19th and apparently handed Follett Software tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds, what exactly did Bridgeport get in return for that contract….Except for another black eye?

Test’ m till they learn, dammit!

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Today’s homework assignment:  Call your local school district and ask them for the entire list of standardized tests that they give to students in your community.

In Bridgeport, for example, rather than waste time learning, students will spend next week taking the new round of standardized “bench-mark” tests that “education reformer” and Superintendent of Schools, Paul Vallas, has ordered.

But Bridgeport is not alone; Cities and towns all across Connecticut have dramatically expanded the number of standardized tests they give to our children.

Along with the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), Bridgeport is adding three new rounds of “CMT-like” tests.  Together, these four tests will disrupt more than 3 weeks of instructional time.

But those tests are just the tip of the iceberg.

Make the call and you’ll find that your town suspend actual teaching activities in order to have their students take many of the following tests, or tests similar to the following.

There are the Direct Reading Assessment (DRA) or Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) tests.  There are the Northwest Evaluation Association Measure of Academic Performance (NWEA MAP) tests.

Then there are the LAS, LAU and NOCTI tests.

Add in PSAT and SATs for high school juniors and seniors.

And, of course that doesn’t even count all of the practice tests and reading prompts that begin as early as 1st grade.

A seasoned veteran estimated that, during the period from 3rd grade through 12th grade, students and teachers devote upwards toward 30 or more school days a year taking these standardized tests.

The newest initiatives are adding even more standardized assessments, this time for children in Kindergarten through 2nd grade.

All this means that Connecticut’s students are spending as many as 300 days taking standardized tests during their primary and secondary education.  300 days being the equivalent of at least a year and a half of what would otherwise be learning time.

These 300 days don’t even count the real academic testing, the tests that measure whether the student has learned the particular curriculum; the tests that are actually needed to give students their grades.

Meanwhile, the costs of the myriad of tests are astronomical.

An employee of the Connecticut State Department of Education estimated that the CMT/CAPT tests cost about $24.5 million a year.  The federal government picks up about $6 million of that, with the rest paid for by Connecticut’s taxpayers.

Add in all of the other standardized tests and we are probably paying well over $50 million a year on standardized testing in Connecticut schools.

So on Monday, when the students of Bridgeport spend their day taking a Reading Comprehension test, or on Tuesday, when it is Editing and Revising, or on Wednesday, when it is Mathematics – Part 1, or on Thursday, when it is Mathematics – Part 2, take a moment to appreciate the irony that, thanks to Bridgeport’s “Education Reformers,” Bridgeport’s students, and our tax dollars, are being spent for even more testing, rather than on actual teaching.

I think they call it – Made in America.

Hooray! Let’s hear it for more standardized testing! Go Bridgeport!

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It is hard to imagine that Team Paul Vallas could do a better job revealing their true stripes, again.

Yesterday, Sandra Kase, Paul Vallas’ “Chief Administrative Officer,” sent out a memo entitled “prime time for student learning.”

No, the memo was not about expanding instructional time, nor was it about broadening students’ horizons by bringing back some of the missing “specials,” nor was it about enhancing the schools bilingual program, not was it about undoing the damage to the school system’s special education programs.  It was the instructions about the next round of standardized testing.

Kase writes;

There will be another administration of the benchmark testing in English Language Arts and Mathematics that will mirror the CMT and CAPT examinations. These tests will be administered to all students in Grades 3-11 beginning the week of October 1, 2012.”

So starting next Monday, learning will STOP and testing will begin, again, in Bridgeport’s public schools.

Last Spring, Vallas ordered a round of standardized tests for all the students of Bridgeport.

The results were supposed to help guide summer school decisions, but the results never showed up in time.  In fact, last year’s test results were never used for any of their stated purposes. And we still don’t know how much money was wasted on those wasted tests.  But they did have the seal of the City of Bridgeport printed on the test forms so that was cool.

Now, Kase is announcing that its test time again and add, that the standardized tests will “mirror the CMT and CAPT examinations.”

Mirror the CMTs?

Certainly Kase recalls that last June 13th, Paul Vallas, education reformer extraordinaire, was very critical of the CMT and CAPT tests, in an interview with Reuters News.

At the time, Vallas criticized the massive test format saying, “the assessment systems are not reliable…They need to be more sophisticated, more accountable, more fair,” and that he favors, “a series of abbreviated standardized tests every six weeks, all year, so teachers can monitor student progress and adjust accordingly.”

So what are they doing in Bridgeport this year… three more rounds of large standardized tests that “mirror the CMT and CAPT examinations!”

And Team Vallas has the chutzpah to entitle the memo, Prime time for student learning.”

If it wasn’t so incredibly wasteful, so incredibly stupid and so incredibly unfair, it would actually be funny.

These $200,000 a year corporate reformers, brought in to “turnaround” Bridgeport…

And their solution is to go from wasting two weeks a year on standardized testing, to eight weeks a year and counting.

But as Governor Malloy so elegantly put it, he doesn’t have a problem with standardized testing, as long as the test scores go up.

It is time for parents and supporters of public education to fight back.

Here is the link to the new anti-standardized testing petition being circulated by the Connecticut Chapter of Parents Across America.

http://www.change.org/petitions/reduce-the-use-of-standardized-testing-in-connecticut

As a tribute to Team Vallas’ effort to destroy public education in Bridgeport, take 30 minutes out of your schedule today, and send the petition link to everyone you know.  Then follow-up with an email or a call to urge them to sign it and pass it on.

A “Prime time for student learning?”

To Sandra Kase, Chief Administrative Officer,

Here is a quote to put up on your wall…

“From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

“1984” by George Orwell

Former CT Education Deputy and Stamford Superintendent put on leave in Warwick, RI.

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Thanks to a Wait, What? reader from Rhode Island, I’ve learned that according to press reports, Peter Horoschak, Superintendent of Schools in Warwick, RI, that state’s second largest school district, was put on administrative leave today.  According to the Warwick School Committee’s Vice Chairman, the action was due to a personnel matter.  Superintendent Horoschak reported that he is unaware of what the issue may be.

Few may realize that Horoschak served as the Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, and Assistant Secretary of the State Board of Education, in the mid-1970s.  He also served as Superintendent of Schools in Stamford, Connecticut, in the early 1990s.

Horoschak played a key role in the famous 1978 Bridgeport teacher’s school strike, which led to the passage of Connecticut’s landmark 1979 Teacher Collective Bargaining Act, a law that requires that deadlocked teacher contract negations are resolved through binding arbitration and not strikes.

With no mechanism to resolve issues, and strikes illegal, 1,250 Bridgeport teachers went on strike September 6, 1978.  The Bridgeport strike garnered worldwide attention. Bridgeport Superior Court Judge James Henebry ordered that teachers be rounded up and jailed.

In the first week, at least 135 Bridgeport teachers were arrested and taken to the Connecticut National Guard’s Camp Hartell.  Over the 19 day strike, a total of 274 Bridgeport teachers were sent to jail.

Despite efforts by both sides to send the unresolved issues to binding arbitration, the Connecticut court blocked the effort, claiming that binding arbitration was not allowed under Connecticut law.

Following the failure to get the issues to binding arbitration, Horoschak, who was the State Department of Education’s point person on the strike, ordered the parties back to the bargaining table.  With continued pressure from the state, the strike was eventually settled.

However, twenty years later, Bridgeport’s teachers remained the lowest paid in Fairfield County and the second lowest paid public school teachers in Connecticut.

As the Bridgeport Education Association celebrated the strike’s 20th anniversary, Jack Reh, the President of the Bridgeport Education Association, at the time, noted that “16 teachers have resigned to take better-paying jobs in other districts since school opened in August.

Now, 14 years more years have passed and the famous Bridgeport teacher’s strike was 34 years ago.

However, the City of Bridgeport started this school year off with a series of layoffs, including 14 special education teachers.

At the same time, Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s interim superintendent, and “education reformer extraordinaire,” managed to find about $1 million to pay for a series of consultants who were hired on no-bid contracts.  Further, many of these consultants actually work for Vallas’ private consulting firm; a company that recently signed a $1 million contract to work with schools in Illinois and an $18 million contract to work with 15 schools in Indianapolis.

Despite the publicity about these out-of-state contracts, Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education made no effort to publicly review the appropriateness of the no-bid contracts.  The new, democratically elected Board of Education has, to date, also overlooked Vallas’ use of no-bid contracts.

Sadly, these issues reflect a broader concern reality about the demise of an active and independent media.  The Connecticut Post, Bridgeport’s newspaper of record, hasn’t even written a story about Vallas’ $18 million dollar contract in Indianapolis, and it is hard to imagine that anyone there or at any Connecticut newspaper, have realized that the Warwick superintendent put on leave today is the same individual who played an important role in the great Bridgeport strike of 1978.

Connecticut: The State of Modern Capitalism:

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The concept that Connecticut taxpayers need to pay the world’s biggest hedge fund $115 million dollars to stay in Connecticut is, understandably, a hard thing to truly understand.  They managed to pay their CEO $3.9 billion last year and we have to cough up $115, or they’ll move?

But of course, Bridgewater is not the only private corporation that taxpayers are subsidizing.

In fact, while cuts are being made to vital services, more and more companies are demanding what is, in essence, a ransom.  If we taxpayers don’t pay the ransom, they won’t relocate to Connecticut, or even worse, they’ll leave and take their jobs with them.

Take, for example, the situation that occurred two months ago, when on Sunday, July 8, 2012, more than 400 people joined Governor Dannel Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch, Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops and a “host of outdoors celebrities from the world of fishing, bullriding and NASCAR,” for a press conference at Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor industrial site.

The event was to announce that Pro Bass will build a 150,000 square-foot store, a store that will serve as the anchor tenant of Bridgeport’s plan to develop the now vacant Steelpointe area.

According to press reports, the agreement was the product of nearly a year of negotiations between the State, the City and Bass Pro Shops.  The full subsidy package remains vague, but according to the Malloy Administration, the project “is expected to generate at least 250-300 jobs.”

Governor Malloy proudly proclaimed, “This is about jobs, and its great news for the City of Bridgeport…Bass Pro will be a draw for people from throughout the region, one that will help revive the local economy.”

And Mayor Bill Finch added, “Today’s announcement marks a historic moment for the City of Bridgeport and Steelpointe Harbor. Bass Pro Shops’ investment in Bridgeport will create hundreds of jobs, generate new tax revenues and bring economic growth to the City. They are a proven brand that will generate interest and attract customers from throughout the region. Bass Pro Shops is committed to Bridgeport and we are proud to have them as a major anchor tenant at Steelpointe Harbor.”

On behalf of the business community, Joe McGee, vice president of public policy with the Business Council of Fairfield County, and a former commissioner of the Connecticut Development Authority (the state agency responsible for attracting business to the state) said, “Bass Pro is not just a Bridgeport opportunity. It’s a regional opportunity. A Bass Pro competitor — Cabela’s — continues to enjoy significant success at the other end of the state in East Hartford several years after opening.”

For the politicians and business leaders in attendance, the day could not have gone better.

So what about the Cabela’s story:

Six years ago, almost to the day, a different Connecticut governor and a different major outdoor retailer held a similar press conference.  Governor M. Jodi Rell, the Mayor of East Hartford and the corporate leadership of United Technologies Corporation and Cabela’s, held a press conference at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field to announce an agreement that Cabela’s would build a 200,000-square-foot “superstore,” its first store in New England.

The onlookers were told that Cabela’s is “a significant cash generator” and the new store at Rentschler would “benefit the Hartford area.”

In Cabela’s situation, the Connecticut Development Authority wooed Cabela’s with a $10 million incentive package for the company and another $12 million to build roads and make other infrastructure improvements on the site.  To sweeten the deal, East Hartford’s Town Council approved a ten-year tax abatement plan that would save Cabela’s $6.7 million in property tax payments.

As with Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor site, The Rentschler Field plan was looking to Cabela’s to be the anchor tenant for a $2 billion development that would include stores, hotels, offices and high-tech companies. A study conducted by the University of Connecticut predicted that the Rentschler Field project would create 6,000 to 8,000 jobs and generate $40 million in state revenue and $57 million in local taxes, every year.

It wasn’t long before officials had to admit that, “The presence of Cabela’s, considered a retail super magnet, hasn’t been enough to persuade companies and developers to invest money at Rentschler.”

By the beginning of 2009, East Hartford Mayor Melody Curry was quoted as saying “I think we were expecting to see more growth and development than we’ve seen so far.”

Now, six years after the State of Connecticut and East Hartford “invested” nearly $32 million in public funds to attract Cabela’s, there is no sign of the projected $40 million, a year, in state revenue, nor is East Hartford getting its $57 million.  In fact, after letting Cabela’s keep nearly $7 million in what would have been their share of local property taxes, in about 2016, Cabela’s will finally start paying East Hartford about $750,000 a year in real estate taxes.  At that rate the taxpayers of East Hartford won’t even recoup their investment until 2026.

The question arises, if Connecticut’s taxpayers got burned in 2006, why did Governor Malloy and Mayor Finch engage in the very same strategy in 2012?

Was the 2006 experience just bad luck?

The answer can be found in an investigative report conducted by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a non-partisan, independent watch-dog group outside of Washington D.C.

The Franklin Center found that Bass Pro shops and Cabela’s “received or are promised more than $2.2 billion from American taxpayers” over the past 15 years.

The study found that, “The stores are billed as job generators by both companies when they are fishing for development dollars. But the firms’ economic benefits are minimal and costs to taxpayers are great.”

The researchers noted, with some irony, that, “the amount of tax dollars that have been poured into these two companies would be enough to purchase every man, woman and child in the United States their own fishing pole.”

The Franklin Center report, released in August, found that:

  • “Cabela’s has received $551 million in local and state assistance during the past 15 years.
  • Bass Pro Shops received $1.3 billion in local and state assistance during the same period.
  • The federal government helped ensure liquidity for Cabela’s’ credit card division by providing $400 million in financing for the purchase of the company’s securitized debt.
  • Both firms have a history of targeting rural or smaller suburban communities and negotiating deals that involve extensive borrowing on the part of the municipality to build a store.
  • In fact, Bass Pro Shops often pays comparably little toward the construction of its own stores. While this sometimes is the case with Cabela’s, its development schemes tend to involve elaborate agreements that include massive outlays for public spectacles in the midst of the retail setting.”

According to the report, Stacy Mitchell, author of Big Box Swindle, said that Cabela’s and Bass Pro always seek to convince elected officials that the store will be a major tourist attraction.

And even as Connecticut and Bridgeport were signing on the dotted line, it turns out the Franklin Center had discovered that, at least Cabela’s, has “begun to rethink its strategy, which has reaped it hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives.”  According to a top Cabela’s corporate official, “We have come to the conclusion that the places that are most likely to offer incentives are the places we are least likely to want to build.”

And as to the claim that the new Bass Pro will lead to jobs for Bridgeport residents, an investigative report by Brian Lockhart, a Connecticut reporter for the Connecticut Post and Hearst newspapers, discovered that both the Malloy Administration and the Finch Administration knew, but did not reveal, that Bass Pro was facing allegations that, “the company since at least November 2005 has denied qualified blacks and Hispanics retail positions.”

As the Federal Government’s lead attorney wrote, “Our investigation lasted over two years…(there was) a pattern or practice of discrimination…going on at virtually all Bass Pro stores across the country.”

So, despite knowing that the promised economic nirvana that would come with helping build a Cabela’s in East Hartford never occurred and that Bass Pro was facing discrimination charges for refusing to hire blanks and Hispanics, Governor Malloy and Mayor Finch told the assembled on July 8th of this year, “Bass Pro Shops’ investment in Bridgeport will create hundreds of jobs, generate new tax revenues and bring economic growth to the City.”

And on top of that, we still don’t know what Malloy and Finch promised Bass Pro in order to get them to say they’d build a new store in Bridgeport.

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