Category Archives: Education

Pottsville Area seeks to outsource buses

Source: Amy Marchiano, Republican Herald, March 17, 2017

The Pottsville Area school board voted Wednesday to potentially outsource its bus transportation. The board voted unanimously for the administration to accept request for proposals regarding busing students. The RFPs are due today and will be opened at 10 a.m. at the Howard S. Fernsler Academic Center. A pre-bid meeting was held at 10 a.m. March 6 at the academic center. Superintendent Jeffrey S. Zwiebel said about five interested companies attended. … Last year, the district also solicited for RFPs and also wanted to sell its fleet of vehicles. Three companies attended a pre-bid meeting last March. The district decided not to outsource busing last year. …

SRC hires teacher-prep program over protests

Source: Kristen A. Graham, Philly.Com, March 16, 2017

Over protests from the public and concerns from one of its members, the School Reform Commission awarded a contract Thursday to prepare 20 new teachers to work in the Philadelphia School District. The contract amount is relatively small for a district with a multibillion-dollar budget: $150,000 for one year of work. But the approval was controversial because of the vendor: Relay Graduate School of Education, a relatively new teacher-preparation program founded by three charter-school networks. … It submitted an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, but failed to gain approval to offer degrees in Pennsylvania. Aspiring teachers will essentially be in a two-year Relay “residency” program, working with a veteran Philadelphia educator their first year and in their own classroom the second year. If they complete the program, they would get a master’s degree from a Relay program in another state. …

Officials: Suspended Helena school bus driver acted on company’s direction

Source: Jesse Chaney, Independent Record, March 17, 2017

The Helena school bus driver who was temporarily suspended for leaving two young children at an unfamiliar school without an adult was directed to do so by the school district’s transportation company, officials said. “The driver acted on the direction of First Student,” Helena Public Schools Superintendent Jack Copps said Friday, adding that several school district officials listened to an audio recording that confirms the radio conversation between the bus driver and a dispatcher with the company. The school district has a contract with First Student to provide its transportation services. In a written complaint to Helena Public Schools, Layla Davies said her 6-year-old child and three of his siblings were on a bus that left from Central-Linc School Wednesday when he vomited on himself. The four students were supposed to transfer to another bus at Jefferson School, she wrote, but the driver would not let her 6-year-old and 8-year-old get on the second bus. Davies later found the two young students walking down Broadway Street, her complaint said. Both of them were scared and her youngest was covered in vomit, she wrote. …

Emails Reveal Mechanical Issues on Board First Student Buses, Fresno Mom Fears for Child’s Safety

Source: Angela Greenwood, YourCentralValley.com, March 8, 2017

Eyewitness News investigates safety concerns surrounding special education transportation within Fresno Unified. First Student buses transport all special needs kids within the district. Following a bus fire back in September, Eyewitness News began looking closely at the bus company, uncovering email correspondence that reveal a history of multiple mechanical issues. … Following an Eyewitness News Investigation into a First sSudent bus that caught fire while transporting two disabled students in September, we were contacted by parents claiming the air conditioners on their child’s buses were broken. We also received a picture from two different people claiming to be former and current first student bus drivers of a bus completely engulfed in flames at Rio Vista and Manning on the outskirts of Reedley. .

.. Emails that we obtained through a public record’s request when we first began looking more closely at the bus company. The emails are between Fresno Unified transportation and special education officials and staff as well as First Student management. Three months of correspondence from August of 2016 to October of 2016, reveal nearly 200 exchanges and dozens of concerns. In one email, a Fresno Unified staff member says a driver picked up students but then returned minutes later because the air conditioner wasn’t working. The email went onto to say the same bus had the same problem the day before and according to the driver, maintenance couldn’t find the issue. The very next day, a concerned principal mentions that very bus transports four students who have seizure disorders and reminds that heat induces seizures. … Claims of other mechanical issues also brought up. Twice in one week, the wheelchair lifts on a bus were allegedly broken. In another email, a principal claims it took one bus more than an hour to turn it’s engine over. …

How voucher dollars kept coming as a private school collapsed

Source: Stephanie Wang, IndyStar, March 19, 2017

The Indiana Department of Education and the attorney general’s office both had been warned. Teachers at the tiny Todd Academy weren’t getting paid. Parents complained that classes were being held in an unsafe building without heat, and the school appeared to be promoting children who weren’t ready, in an effort to secure more state money. Yet after two visits by the education department and an investigation by the attorney general’s office, the troubled Indianapolis private school still received thousands of dollars in public funds through Indiana’s school voucher program and remained eligible to receive state voucher money until it collapsed under the weight of its unpaid debts. … An IndyStar examination of Todd Academy’s experience with school vouchers exposes a serious lack of basic fiscal controls in Indiana’s highly popular school choice system. While both traditional public schools and charter schools must open their budgets to public scrutiny, voucher schools are exempt from any financial vetting — to the point that even when mismanagement has been repeatedly alleged, state officials are loath to intervene. … Despite hints of money trouble from the start, state officials approved Todd Academy to receive about $200,000 in voucher funds over three years. The school was free to keep taking public dollars, even though it had stopped filing its nonprofit tax reports. It was sued 13 times with judgments against the school in all but one case, totaling $1.8 million. … It has been six years since the state launched what has become one of the largest and broadest voucher programs, now serving more than 34,000 children at a cost of $146 million a year.

… Bolstered by the addition of vouchers, Todd Academy started to rack up hefty financial obligations the next year with the hopes of expanding to more than 50 students. … Todd Academy also had been shorting teachers’ paychecks, according to lawsuits by a dozen teachers, nine of whom eventually won judgments against the school. … The school’s finances had deteriorated to the point where Todd Academy used the promise of state voucher money to secure high-interest loans, only to be found in default of the contracts. … State law is careful to protect the autonomy of private schools participating in the voucher program. It preserves their independent curriculum, whether it be religious or not. They’re not an agent of the state, and only a portion of their revenues come from the state. The state requires financial transparency from public schools, which risk losing state funding if they’re not accountable. Schools can have their charter revoked or control taken away by the state. But voucher schools have been shielded in state law from providing any financial transparency. …

Custodians, maintenance workers believe CMU admins could privatize workforce in the name of budget adjustments

Source: Ben Solis, Central Michigan Life, March 26, 2017

Some custodians and maintenance staff employees have concerns about layoffs and outsourcing, according to the president and other members of the union that represents them.  As Central Michigan University administrators grapple with a two-year $20 million budget deficit, service, maintenance and custodial employees on campus believe both situations are likely, said Karen Witer, president of AFSCME Local #1568 and a custodian at CMU. … AFSCME’s fear of staff cuts is compounded by its upcoming negotiation of a new service contract. The union also believes CMU’s history with privatization is a sign that its workforce could be outsourced as well.  AFSCME and the university are expected to begin negotiations sometime after spring courses end in May.  When AFSCME members seek higher wages for employees making $10.08 an hour, Witer said her group is commonly confronted with talk of privatization. … CMU outsources some of its custodial work to Romanow Building Services, a Saginaw-based company, said Barrie Wilkes, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services. The university also privatized its dining services by contracting with Aramark in the mid 1990s. … Witer believes Romanow could potentially take over all custodial services at the university if administrators think the company is more affordable and more efficient. …

Two Face Charges After Missing Teen Found In New Rochelle

Source: Zak Failla, New Rochelle Daily Voice, March 6, 2017

Two were arrested in New Rochelle over the weekend after “purposely misleading” police during an “exhaustive search” for a missing autistic teenager, authorities said. Shortly after midnight on Saturday, March 4, police received a call from a mother reporting that her 16-year-old child, who has special needs, had gone missing after he was supposed to be dropped off by Mount Vernon-based First Student Inc. Bus hours earlier following an event in New Rochelle that he attends regularly. … Police stated that “it became apparent that numerous safety procedures violated placing the child at risk and that New Rochelle Police Department had been purposely misled with false information, placing the child at substantial risk of harm, delaying and delaying and misdirecting search efforts.” …

Bristol School Board, Union Agree Labor Rift Is Over

Source: Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, March 22, 2017
 
The once-bitter relationship between the school board and its unionized cafeteria workers has improved enough in the past 16 months to yield a new contract along with words of praise from both sides.  “It’s a massive turnaround from the constant conflict of previous years,” according to Chad Lockhart, president of Local 2267 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Since the 2015 election changed control of the school board, Bristol has abandoned its controversial plan to replace the cafeteria workers with a private contractor. Both sides have dropped their labor board and court fight, and recently settled on a five-year wage and benefit agreement.  “Negotiations between our board and the AFSCME union have been handled with mutual respect and professionalism,” school board Chairman Christopher Wilson said in a statement. …

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Bristol’s New Board Likely To End School Cafeteria Battle
Source: Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, November 4, 2015

Even though the labor-endorsed candidate at the top of the ticket lost, unions enjoyed a victory Tuesday when voters turned Republican school board incumbents Larry Amara and Genard Dolan out of office. Democrats won a six-to-three majority on the board after being out of power since 2011. That virtually ensures the unpopular Republican-led drive to privatize school cafeterias is dead. Democrats have warned that hiring a contractor to run the cafeterias would ultimately prove more expensive, possibly degrade service and definitely lower the value of 53 food service jobs covered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. … Democrats campaigned on a theme that privatizing the cafeterias might jeopardize the jobs of 53 union workers — mostly middle-class mothers who reside in Bristol. And even if a private contractor kept them on, it was certain to erode the insurance benefits that cover the workers and their families, Democrats said.

Bristol Taking Next Step To Privatize School Cafeterias
Source: Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, July 9, 2015

The new school year begins in less than two months, and there’s no apparent resolution near in the dispute between unionized cafeteria workers and the board of education. The board’s Republican caucus has been trying to hire a private contractor for more than two years to take over the school lunch program, but has been locked in court and labor board fights with the union representing the roughly 50 workers who run the cafeterias. Last year, the school board signed an agreement to retain Whitsons Culinary Group to take over the cafeteria operation, but changed course after a labor board ruling in favor of the union. The schools ultimately kept their own workers on the job. Next week, however, the board is scheduled to open a fresh round of bids from contractors that want to run the cafeterias for the 2015-16 school year. The school board had sought proposals this spring, but abruptly canceled that request and issued a new request that included detailed breakdowns of how many meals are served at each school….The school board intends to receive bids through July 17….

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JCPS contractor: Study still good despite error

Source: Allison Ross, Courier-Journal, March 22, 2017
 
The contractor that compiled a salary study for Jefferson County Public Schools admits its error made it seem the district was paying a lot more in “premium” salaries than it actually was, but said the error was limited to a supplemental report and does not negate the entire study. “There was one error in one report, and we took responsibility for that,” said Carolyn Long, vice president of Virginia-based Management Advisory Group International Inc., which conducted the salary study. Long said the roughly $40 million error was in some extra information her firm provided as a courtesy in an addition to the original report on salaries that JCPS had requested. … Stovall said the initial release of the salary study caused employees to feel undervalued and underappreciated for the work they do. He said that now, his members feel like the error is a “slap in the face.”  Ron Richmond, political director for the regional chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, agreed.  Richmond said more than 4,000 of his union’s members were “directly impacted by this miscalculation” and said he hopes JCPS will take action over the flawed results. …

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Management Performance Review of Certain Policies, Procedures, Controls, and Financial Activity of the Jefferson County Public School District
Source: Kentucky Auditor Of Public Accounts, May 2014

From the press release:
Auditor Adam Edelen on Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive examination of the Jefferson County Public Schools, exposing an unchecked bureaucracy that has become bloated and inefficient at the expense of the classroom. The largest review ever conducted by the Auditor’s office identified outdated and inefficient operations that cost taxpayers millions of dollars, a school board that doesn’t provide adequate oversight, an inconsistent contracting process, a toothless internal audit system and serious security and privacy concerns…

Inside Celerity charter school network, questionable spending and potential conflicts of interest abound

Source: Anna M. Phillips and Adam Elmahrek, Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2017

… [Celerity Education Group founder Vielka] McFarlane was prospering, and it showed. She wore Armani suits, ate at expensive restaurants and used a black car service. Financial records obtained by The Times show that, as Celerity’s CEO, she paid for many of these expenses with a credit card belonging to her charter schools, which receive the bulk of their funding from the state. … At a time when charter school advocates are determined to increase the number of such schools in L.A., the story of McFarlane and the Celerity schools offers a case study of the growing difficulty of regulating them. The task of spotting and stamping out risky financial practices in charters largely falls to the school district’s charter schools division, which employs about a dozen people dedicated to monitoring the schools’ fiscal health. But as the number of L.A. charter schools has grown to more than 220, enrolling about 111,000 students, oversight has become a challenge for district officials, who are at once competitors and regulators. … In 2015, McFarlane became the CEO of Celerity Global, an organization that took in millions of dollars in management fees from Celerity’s schools. But Global wasn’t just supporting the schools; it had the power to control Celerity Educational and could appoint and remove the school network’s board members. It also served as a shield. In documents laying out their findings, L.A. Unified officials complained that McFarlane and her staff repeatedly rebuffed the district’s requests for information and acted in ways “designed to reduce, or eliminate, transparency.” … Records obtained by The Times offer some insight into why the Celerity network has drawn federal attention. They show years of questionable spending and potential conflicts of interest over a period of time when former teachers said the schools lacked basic supplies and often leaned on students to fundraise. …

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Federal agents raid Los Angeles charter school network
Source: Anna M. Phillips, Howard Blume and Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2017

Federal agents raided the offices of a network of Los Angeles charter schools Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of fraud and fiscal mismanagement. The charter organization, Celerity Educational Group, opened its first L.A. school more than a decade ago, but it has recently drawn the scrutiny of the inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. It currently manages seven schools in Southern California, and has ties to four more in Louisiana, all of which are publicly funded but privately operated and exempt from many of the regulations that govern traditional schools. … Holmquist added that it is his understanding that the focus of the investigation is not Celerity’s schools, but the Celerity organization that manages them, as well as businesses that have relationships with the charter group. … The first signs that Celerity and its Los Angeles schools might be in trouble came in 2015. The organization had petitioned L.A. Unified to allow it to open two new charter schools, an application process it had gone through successfully several times before. But this time, L.A. Unified’s school board said no. School district officials raised new concerns over the charter school organization’s finances and its complex governance structure. In their final report, in which they advised board members to reject the group’s charter petition, they accused Celerity’s leaders of unorthodox fiscal practices, such as borrowing money from one school in order to pay another schools’ bills, spending money on expenses unrelated to the school and commingling the organization’s finances with those of separate legal entities. …

School District investigation shows failed charter school bus inspections
Source: Jim Spiewak, NBC2, June 1, 2015

Back in April dozens of students escaped a bus after it caught fire – a quick thinking bus driver saving their lives. Now we know the company that operated that bus — had eleven other buses fail inspection. The reports obtained by NBC2 show emergency equipment that didn’t work, gauges and wipers that were out of service and front and back breaks that needed replacing. Academy Transport owns those buses. It was hired by Celerity Education Group – which runs three Charter Schools in Lee County. The report of the bus that caught fire still has not been produced. These are not District owned or maintained buses. Charter schools contract with private bus companies to take kids to and from school. Since the beginning of April, Celerity, has avoided providing us with bus inspection reports. ….

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