Category Archives: Education

ALEC Sets the Table for Gerrymandering, Union Busting, Protecting Fossil Fuels, and Privatizing Schools

Source: Mary Bottari, PR Watch, August 7, 2018
 
When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) convenes its 45th annual meeting of legislators and corporate lobbyists at the swank Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel on August 8, it will serve up a veritable banquet of union-busting, gerrymandering, pro-fossil fuel, and school privatization proposals for lawmakers to take back home. … With citizens turning to the courts and ballot box in a growing number of states to clamp down on hyper-partisan “gerrymandering” schemes, ALEC members will instead be voting on a resolution to defend the right of politicians to keep hand-picking their voters. … ALEC’s latest union-busting bill, which would force unions to hold recertification elections every other year, has long been pushed by anti-union PR man Richard Berman and others. … Over the years, ALEC has worked hand-in-hand with the DeVos family’s group, American Federation for Children, to advance a “cash for kids” model of school privatization, including dozens of bills promoting school vouchers. For decades, ALEC billed vouchers as a civil rights ticket for low-income kids, but then ALEC’s “Education Savings Account Act” created a “universal” system that siphons off public education dollars to private school parents of any income level. Now ALEC is debating a new bill, the “Economic Development Zone ESA Act,” to require the state to pay the equivalent of public school aid toward any private school for students who live in majority low-income economic development zones. Given the cost of a private school education, the likely effect would be to subsidize the ability of middle- and upper-income families in economically distressed areas to pull their kids out of public school. …

Principals’ Union to Go After New Members in Charter Schools Post-Janus

Source: Arianna Prothero, Education Week, July 30, 2018
 
The national union for public school principals plans to launch a recruitment program for charter school leaders.  The initiative comes as unions are anticipating steep membership and funding losses as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The largely non-unionized charter sector could present ample—albeit rocky—territory for expansion for unions. … The American Federation of School Administrators voted last weekend on a resolution to create a charter school recruitment program at its convention in Washington. This is the first concrete move by a union of educators to focus on organizing charter school personnel post-Janus. Neither of the national teachers’ unions offered up such resolutions during their conventions earlier this month. …

Ruling unlikely to end Puerto Rico Oversight Board struggle with local government

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, July 24, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Puerto Rico bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain’s anticipated ruling on the relative powers of the Oversight Board and the local government is unlikely to end the battle for authority over the debt-burdened U.S. territory. Swain will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an adversary complaint filed earlier this month in the Title II bankruptcy case by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in which he argued the local government can’t be forced to follow parts of the board’s fiscal plan that deal with policy. Governance issues are likely to remain whatever her ruling, observers said. … Other Puerto Rico government sectors have followed the government in filing adversary complaints challenging the board’s power. On July 9 Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rico House President Carlos Méndez Núñez filed a complaint similar to the governor’s. On Tuesday the biggest minority party in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, said it planned to submit an adversary complaint on different grounds on the same day. …

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Puerto Rico governor names new utility head after board members quit
Source: Reuters, July 18, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday named a new executive director of the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), following the resignation of its former head and four of the utility’s seven-member board last week.  Jose Ortiz will replace Rafael Diaz-Granados, who quit a day after being named executive director, leaving the utility with no leadership amid a massive restructuring effort following devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last September.  Diaz-Granados and the four other board members resigned after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello blasted them for agreeing to pay Diaz-Granados an annual salary of $750,000. The PREPA board unanimously elected Ortiz, an engineer, to the post on Wednesday, Rosello’s office said in a tweet. Ortiz, the fifth PREPA executive director named since the hurricane devastated the island and its electric grid last September, is due to take office on July 23. …

Puerto Rico Bondholders Win Ruling Against U.S.
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018
 
A federal judge has refused to absolve the U.S. government of liability for investors’ losses on Puerto Rico bonds, a potential blow to efforts to write down the U.S. territory’s $73 billion debt load.  The ruling issued Friday by Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an incremental victory for hedge funds fighting to get repaid on the $3 billion in Puerto Rico pension bonds These creditors have targeted the U.S. directly, saying the federal government should make them whole for enacting a 2016 law that set them up for losses.  The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the rescue law, known as Promesa, designed to tackle the U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis. Promesa was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, creating a court-supervised process for wringing debt reductions from creditors instead. …

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Union rep: Keep food workers, hire private manager

Source: Lloyd Jones, Conway Daily Sun, July 17, 2018
 
Would the Conway School Board consider hiring a private manager for the food service program and retaining its 12 employees rather than going entirely the private route?  That’s the alternative AFSCME Council 93 Regional Coordinator Steve Lyons is proposing in order to save the jobs of his union members.  The board voted not to renew the 12 employees’ contracts and to authorize School Superintendent Kevin Richard to enter into negotiations with Cafe Service’s Fresh Picks, a Manchester-based food service provider, at its July 9 meeting. … Lyons told the district that once it goes down the path of privatization it probably cannot turn back.   “I think you are making a bad decision,” he said. “Getting out of it, you’re getting out of it for good. The companies will come in and replace your equipment. They’ll make it so it’s economically unhealthy for you to (switch back).” …

Consultant: District Wasting $1M Annually on Inefficient School Bus Routes

Source: July 10, 2018, School Bus Fleet

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A school district here is wasting over $1 million a year, a transportation consultant has found, on inefficient school bus routes that it outsourced to private companies, while some of its own buses go unused, Asbury Park Press reports. The consultant, Ross Haber of Ross Haber Associates, was hired earlier this year to pinpoint potential cost savings in the public school transportation program, according to the newspaper. Lakewood Public School District spent about $9 million on public school transportation over the past school year. The report comes after the district took a $28 million loan from the state to settle a budget deficit for the upcoming school year, Asbury Park Press reports. … Haber’s preliminary findings are posted on the school district’s website and he shared an update on Thursday at a public meeting that was attended by school officials and dozens of district bus drivers and aides, Asbury Park Press reports. The report finds that inefficiencies include too many bus stops, empty seats on buses, and buses being contracted while some of the district’s own buses sit idle. …

Trump Administration Backs Off Reshuffling of Student Debt Collection

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, July 9, 2018

The Department of Education planned this month to begin reshaping the role of private debt collection firms in handling student loans by pulling defaulted borrower accounts from a handful of large private contractors. Lawmakers who control the department’s budget had other ideas. After a recent Senate spending package warned the department against dropping the debt collectors, the plan is on hold. And it’s not clear how those companies will figure into the Trump administration’s proposed overhaul of student loan servicing. Private loan servicers handle payments from borrowers on their student loans and provide information on payment plan options. … The tactics and performance of debt collectors have come under attack from Democrats and consumer advocates. And the Education Department has been involved in a years-long legal dispute over contract awards for the collectors. But the Trump administration, in a resolution of that legal fight, in May said it planned to cancel the entire debt collection solicitation. … Members of Congress, who have already expressed concerns about aspects of the department’s so-called NextGen loan servicing system, warned in separate appropriations bills against the move. … The week after Senate appropriators voted the bill out of committee, and just before it planned to start reassigning borrower accounts, the department notified collections firms it was postponing that step. …

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Editorial: The Student Loan Industry Finds Friends in Washington
Source: Editorial Board, New York Times, March 18, 2018
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear even before taking office last year that she was more interested in protecting the companies that are paid by the government to collect federal student loan payments than in helping borrowers who have been driven into financial ruin by those same companies. Ms. DeVos’ eagerness to shill for those corporate interests is apparent in a craven new policy statement from the Education Department. The document claims that the federal government can pre-empt state laws that rein in student loan servicing companies if such a law “undermines uniform administration of’’ the student loan program. …

Banks Look to Break Government’s Hold on Student-Loan Market
Source: Josh Mitchell and AnnaMaria Andriotis, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2018
 
Private lenders are pushing to break up the government’s near monopoly in the $100 billion-a-year student-loan market. The banking industry’s main lobbying group, the Consumer Bankers Association, is pressing for the government to instate caps on how much individual graduate students and parents of undergraduates can borrow from the government to cover tuition. That would force many families to turn to private lenders to cover portions of their bills. While that could mean lower interest rates for some, it could constrain funding to households with blemished credit histories. A group of investors also is lobbying for legislation to provide a clearer legal framework for “income-share agreements,” under which private investors provide money upfront to cover tuition in exchange for a portion of a student’s income after school. …

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Stanley County won’t outsource school food service

Source: Dave Askins, Capital Journal, July 10, 2018

Meals served to Stanley County School students and staff will continue to be prepared by district staff. At its regular meeting on Monday, the school board declined to accept a proposal to hire Thrive Nutrition to handle food services in the district. … At June’s special meeting, board members had questions about staff, their compensation and cost savings. … Asked by board members about out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance, Headlee said there is some cost to employees. Veteran SC teacher Shirley Swanson, who routinely attends board meetings, said at June’s meeting that health insurance is currently paid in full for the employee. … Thrive Nutrition’s 401K match, Headlee said, is discretionary, not guaranteed. … The cost savings a district can realize by outsourcing food service to Thrive Nutrition is based on the procurement by 30 facilities, which means more buying power. …

CPS kills $60M deal at the last minute over sexual harassment of janitors

Source: Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun-Times, July 6, 2018

Just before a scheduled vote, Chicago Public Schools officials withdrew plans to approve a $60.6 million contract for school cleaning and other facilities management work because the company set to be given the work has a poor history of protecting its janitors from sexual harassment, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. GCA Educational Services Central States Inc. was being recommended for the lucrative, three-year deal to manage facilities services at 34 Chicago schools, including cleaning, which has become an issue amid reports of filthy schools. But at the same June 27 meeting at which the Chicago Board of Education was set to award the contract, Arnie Rivera, CPS’s chief operating officer, announced he was pulling the recommendation to hire GCA to oversee the work at a group of South Side schools where some of the worst problems were found during inspections for cleanliness.

… But the Sun-Times confirmed it was because GCA’s parent company, ABM Industries, Inc., has had a series of problems keeping its janitors safe on the job. … ABM was featured in the 2015 PBS “Frontline” documentary “Rape on the Night Shift” about women who were sexually harassed and assaulted while working as night janitors in California. Since 2000, ABM has been sued three times by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over such claims. While under a three-year consent decree that a judge signed in one of those cases, the company was sued again by three janitors in California who accused ABM of failing to do enough to keep them from being sexually harassed and assaulted at work. In the spring of 2017, more female janitors in California complained to the company that supervisors sexually harassed them, then sought help from the EEOC, according to the documentary. And GCA Service Group — which ABM bought in 2017 — had been sued in 2012 by a school janitor in Tennessee who said she was fired after reporting incidents to supervisors of sexual harassment and assault by a coworker. …

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1 in 4 Chicago schools fails in new inspections spurred by dirty schools reports
Source: Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun-Times, July 3, 2018

Chicago Public Schools officials say their efforts to improve school cleanliness are working, but data they released late Tuesday showed that one in four schools still failed “blitz” inspections despite heightened awareness prompted by Chicago Sun-Times reports. Just ahead of the July 4 holiday, CPS released school-by-school summary results of inspections by central office staffers and employees of Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, which have major contracts to clean and oversee facilities services in the school system. …

CPS fails to count schools in janitorial contract, costing millions
Source: Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun-Times, April 12, 2018

It’s the latest wrinkle in a controversial contract to privatize custodial management with Aramark, which has faced sharp criticism for failing to keep schools clean. Aramark was supposed to save CPS $18 million this year. But the district understated the square footage that would need cleaning in its request for proposals, spokesman Bill McCaffrey said, at a cost of $7 million over the projected $64 million CPS expected to spend this year. … Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley sold the $260 million Aramark deal to the Board of Education and the public by saying it would free up principals from managing custodians, result in cleaner schools and save the cash-strapped district millions of dollars. Some of the savings was to come from layoffs of hundreds of custodians. But the district was on the hook for some $20 million more to Aramark than it promised, essentially wiping out the $18 million Cawley said the district would save in its first of three years, as first reported by WBEZ. …

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Teachers File New Labor Charge Against Cesar Chavez Charter Network and TenSquare, a Consulting Firm

Source: Rachel Cohen, Washington CityPaper, July 6, 2018

An ongoing legal battle between unionized teachers at Chavez Prep Middle School in Northwest D.C. and their charter school escalated today. The union filed a new unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, this time naming TenSquare Group, a charter school consulting firm, a joint-employer of the school. This is the fourth charge the union has filed against the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School network since August, but the first time TenSquare has also been named liable. In its latest complaint, the union alleges that the charter network and TenSquare have illegally changed the school’s calendar for the 2018-19 school year in ways that affect terms of employment, have bargained in bad-faith (referred to as “surface bargaining”), and have walked out of a bargaining session before its scheduled end time, “thereby disregarding their bargaining obligation under the [National Labor Relations] Act.” …

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Behind the Consulting Firm Raking In Millions From D.C. Charter Schools
Source: Rachel Cohen, Washington CityPaper, May 24, 2018

“Everybody’s afraid.” That’s a D.C. charter school administrator’s assessment of TenSquare, one of the city’s most connected, lucrative, and controversial charter consulting companies. … Even in education circles, most people have never heard of TenSquare, a national for-profit consulting firm that currently operates in seven states and the District. It markets itself as a universal fixer for troubled charters—a one-stop shop for facility financing, staff recruitment, back-end operations, teacher training, and academic turnarounds. … But a five-month City Paper investigation has raised a host of questions about TenSquare’s work. Available data do not show consistent improvements across the D.C. schools that hired TenSquare, and several schools got worse. Its business dealings reveal a criss-crossing web of repeat players, potential conflicts of interest, and in one instance the recurring appearance of an alleged far-right activist. Yet it’s not a coincidence that TenSquare has landed some of the most remunerative charter contracts in the city: While not every school leader disparages TenSquare, a number have said they felt real pressure from the PCSB to hire the company. …

DC: Teachers Hit the Picket Line at First Charter School to Unionize in D.C.
Source: Liana Loewus, Education Week, December 1, 2017

A growing number of charter school teachers have begun to start seeing unionizing as an option, as we’ve written. Among the most recent charters to organize is Chavez Prep Middle School in Washington, part of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School network. Teachers there voted in June to form a collective-bargaining unit affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers. And now those teachers are saying the charter school’s administration isn’t negotiating with them as is legally required. “By law after our vote, any changes to our working conditions have to be negotiated with us,” said Christian Herr, a science teacher who headed the organizing effort. “Our board continues to make significant changes—adding job duties without additional compensation, things like that—without bargaining with us.” …

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Privatization Plan Defeated in NH

Source: Melissa Weinstein, AFSCME Now, May 30, 2018
 
What if you and your co-workers were forced to leave a job you loved, to which you’d dedicated your career, so that non-union private contractors could be hired for a fraction of the cost? More than 100 Nashua, New Hampshire, School District custodial workers had been facing that prospect for the past 2½ years. Until recently, that is.  Members of AFSCME Local 365 (AFSCME Council 93) finally won the battle against privatization of Nashua School Custodian services. Faced with the threat of politicians putting corporate interests before quality public services, members successfully mobilized to elect Nashua School Board members who understand the value and commitment of public service workers. Following that victory, the board voted 6-1 in late February to negotiate a new contract with AFSCME members, whose contract had expired in 2016. …

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Nashua BOE rejects privatization plan
Source: Hannah Laclaire, The Telegraph, February 28, 2018 (Abstract)
 
The Nashua Board of Education has rejected privatization, ending two and a half years of discussion about the topic and protecting more than 100 union service-based jobs within the district. … Last fall, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire sided with the Nashua School District in an appeal from the union that the district committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to bargain with the Nashua Custodial/Janitorial Staff concerning the district’s plan to move toward privatization at the end of the term of the “collective bargaining agreement between the parties.” …

School board-custodian case moves close to Supreme Court
Source: Tina Forbes, The Telegraph, September 22, 2016 (Abstract)

The Nashua School District is one step closer to having its case considered by the New Hampshire Supreme Court after the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board denied the district’s request for a rehearing on its plan to privatize some of its custodial workforce. The labor board handed down its decision on Tuesday, more than a month after the school board voted to appeal the labor board’s initial decision in favor of the district’s custodians.

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