30 June 2008

No accountability.

I'm leaving aside for now the completely disgusting tactic used by the Catholic Church to offload their education mission on the DC taxpaying public, all the while reaping a nice little tax free rental income, thank you very much.

Let's start with the "Education Mayor" and his flunkies. Fenty and his flunkies have known since last fall that the Catholic Church was looking to do what other private foundations have been doing for several years now: dip into the public coffers in the name of charter schools. In fact, as the Washington Post reports -- in a surprisingly critical piece -- it was yet another example of empty promises from the education wing of Fenty's regime:
Victor Reinoso, deputy mayor for education, indicated at the time that the city clearly understood the implications of the archdiocese's announcement: "We will take it into consideration as we plan future budgets," he said.

That never happened.

District officials disclosed last week that they are still looking for the money to finance the schools, a sum that could come to as much as $16 million this year. They have told the nonprofit operator, Center City Public Charter Schools, that its first quarterly payment from the city -- due by July 15 under District law -- will be delayed.

Brilliant. Loyal readers should know Victor Reinoso's name: he's Fenty's "Deputy Mayor for Plagiarism," or as he's colloquially known, the deputy mayor for education. Still, a toothless DC Council approved his nomination last summer...

Reinoso and Rhee are cut from the same cloth: say what's expedient at the moment and forget about the follow-through. As with Rhee's empty promises to Benning Elementary, Reinoso's assurances are merely meant to placate and defer the inevitable moment of truth.

Not exactly a wise way to run a school system.

And maybe the D.C. Council is finally starting to take notice that it's not necessarily a good thing to offload your authority and oversight and hope for the best:
The Center City application touched political nerves on the council, which has grown increasingly concerned about its lack of control over a charter school sector that now costs the city more than $360 million a year. Earlier this month, Gray and D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) introduced legislation tightening the regulation of charter schools, including a mandated 15-month planning period before newly approved schools open.

Really? You think maybe $360 million a year of public money going to private organizations is something you should be concerned about, Councilmembers Gray and Wells? Well, thanks for the brilliant insight. Maybe you should perk up before Rhee finishes the job.


Anonymous said...

I read that same article in today's Washington Post, but I did not think it was "suprisingly critical." On the contrary, by quoting only pro-charter chatterers, it laid the blame for a scummy deal approved by the unaccountable DC Public Charter School Board on the doorsteps of the Mayor and City Council.

The U.S. Congress established the DC Public Charter School Board in such a way that it can obligate DC funds (as it has in this case) without being accountable to the Mayor, the School Chancellor or the DC Council. Talk about taxation without representation!

Because this was such a sensitive case, the DC Public Charter School Board should have been especially vigilant about any potential conflicts of interest.

This is a hurry-up charter, completed in 3-4 months instead of the usual 12-15 months. That's why the money is needed now but not budgeted, as it would have been budgeted under the normal timeline.

What's Trulee questionable here, however, is the conflict of interest among the DC Public Charter Board, the group running the 7-school charter, and the archdiocese. The group running the charter is made up of the same people who ran these schools into the ground for the archdiocese--same executive director, Mary Ann Stanton. In December 2007 the archdiocese pretended to select this group to run the charter from among competing offers. Now this group, having won the "competition" to run the charter, had to turn around and negotiate with their old employers, the archdiocese, who "selected" them to run the charter, about the rent to be paid for the 7 parish school buildings.

The rental lease obligates the city to pay enough rent so that the 7 parishes can get half the rent money--and the other half goes to 4 parochial Catholic schools NOT part of the charter. That lease, which the DC Public Charter School Board approved in approving this hurry-up charter this month, in effect sets up a pipeline from DC taxpayers to 4 Catholic schools, to the tune of $1 million a year in taxpayer money to support Catholic schools that remain Catholic schools.

The DC Public Charter School Board failed to highlight this conflict of interest in having the charter school operator, beholden to the archdiocese, negotiating a lease with the archdiocese for rental of the 7 school buildings. An objective third party should have stepped in to review the lease.

The archdiocese makes no bones about the fact half the rent money paid for these 7 schools goes to support 4 Catholic schools that remain parochial Catholic schools. (The archdiocese told another newspaper, "We can do what we want with rent money." See: http://www.examiner.com/a-1455763~Catholic_schools_to_benefit_from_charter_rentals.html ). Hmmmmm, there might be a lot of excess rent being paid for the 7 school buildings. An independent, objective third party could have investigated that, BEFORE the DC Public Charter School Board approved the charter and the underlying lease.

Or this whole "7-school charter" might have been intended from the start to be a secret scheme to get a million dollars a year of DC public money to support 4 Catholic schools, by sacrificing 7 other schools, eliminating Catholic education from their curriculum in order to pay for Catholic education at 4 other schools.

Either way, it's time for the Mayor, the School Chancellor, and the DC Council to blow up the barriers established by Congress to keep the DC Public Charter School Board free from any accountability in the way it spends DC taxpayer funds. Let's not wait until the Gray-Wells bill passes. Let's see something done about investigating this conflict of interest, these excessive rent payments, and the unconstitutional public support for Catholic Schools imbedded in this deal.

The Washington Post's Turque and Fischer know about all this, and choose to play dumb to keep this information from their readers.

cuff said...

Anon: Excellent analysis. I suppose I should have qualified my commendation of the Post's article...it was surprisingly critical of Reinoso, bluntly stating that his promise of budget foresight simply didn't occur.

I agree entirely that it set aside the shadiness of the whole Catholic school bait and switch.