Tag Archives: Florida

This Is How the Trump Administration Will Privatize Our Infrastructure

Source: David Dayen, The Nation, June 20, 2017
 
North Miami Beach’s Norwood water treatment plant is a major source of revenue, serving a region with almost five times as many customers as city residents…. Critics, including plant employees and members of the local Public Utilities Commission, blamed the city for intentional lack of investment and reduced staffing. “It’s on the city workers somehow that the system has fallen into disrepair,” said a spokesman with AFSCME Florida. “If you’re a journalist, and the newspaper is not making money, is that on you?” … As for plant workers, they could lose benefits under CH2M immediately, since the city’s contract with AFSCME expired in 2015. The CH2M contract calls for $2.4 million in annual savings in labor costs starting in year two. And with a fixed fee for operations and maintenance, CH2M can only extract profits and deliver long-term cost savings by cutting corners. …

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North Miami Beach Gives Public Water Utility Serving 180,000 People to Private Firm
Source: Jerry Ianelli, Miami New Times, May 17, 2017
 
None of those facts stopped the North Miami Beach City Commission last night from voting 4 to 2 to outsource its public water utility to global engineering firm CH2M Hill. From here on out, the company will control virtually every operational facet of a water plant that serves more than 180,000 people in North Miami Beach, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, and Miami Gardens. … On April 3, the city held a special meeting to begin formal negotiations with CH2M. In the leadup to that meeting, the city’s municipal worker’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, spoke out against the privatization plan as an attempt at union-busting. The ASFCME warned that privatization deals tend to lead to job or benefits cuts to workers.  Though the final contract guarantees that all city workers who pass a drug test and physical must be rehired by CH2M, the contract does not say what will happen to those workers in the following years. (During that April 3 meeting, multiple city workers accused the government of willfully underfunding the plant to create an excuse to privatize it.) …

North Miami Beach to Vote on Privatizing Its Water System Tomorrow Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, May 15, 2017
 
On April 3, the City of North Miami Beach started negotiating with a global engineering firm to take over the city’s water utility, which services close to 200,000 people in north Dade. Clean-water activists vehemently opposed the move, citing research that water utilities run by private companies tend to get much more expensive over time, and typically provide services at “cheaper” rates by cutting staff or services. … But those facts have not mattered at all to North Miami Beach’s elected officials. Tomorrow, the city commission will vote on whether to hand the utility’s operations over to CH2M Hill Engineering for an annual fee of $18.8 million per year. (The city would retain ownership of the utility, but CH2M would handle the plant’s day-to-day operations. The city will also pay CH2M $19.3 million in the first year to cover startup costs.) …

North Miami Beach Moves Forward With Water-Privatization Deal Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, April 4, 2017

At the beginning of North Miami Beach’s meeting last night about a plan to privatize its water system, City Manager Ana Garcia asked residents to trust the city based on the commission’s track record. That was an odd appeal, considering Mayor George Vallejo is the subject of an ongoing Miami-Dade County criminal probe and the FBI and Miami-Dade County Public Corruption unit have launched investigations into the water negotiations. Despite all of those red flags, commissioners voted 4-2 last night to move forward with the plan after a testy meeting that lasted close to three hours. … The city also did not disclose that an affiliate of the leading company bidding for the project, global engineering firm CH2M Hill, has held a temporary contract to operate portions of the plant since October 17, 2016. The contract raises additional questions as to whether the city’s bidding process has been fair. … The vote authorizes the city to begin negotiating a contract with CH2M, which is angling to take over the full operation of the city’s water plant.

… Per the terms of the city’s request for quotation, the private company is expected to take over full plant operations and take over the contracts of every employee at the utility. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union that represents the utility workers, says roughly 80 employees could be affected. The union warned last week that privatization deals tend to lead to benefit cutbacks and employee layoffs as the new company tries to cut costs. AFSCME does not have an active contract with the city, and union representatives warned last week that, without a contract, a private company could cut benefits and salaries from day one. …

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Did Miami’s biggest developer avoid labor taxes? The feds are investigating.

Source: Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald, July 6, 2017

Federal investigators are seeking to learn if the Related Group, Miami’s biggest developer, lowered costs on an affordable-housing project by hiring subcontractors who failed to pay employment taxes, the Miami Herald has learned. … Related’s business practices are under scrutiny because of a long-running federal investigation into South Florida’s affordable-housing industry. … Even so, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and IRS are investigating the project’s cost structure to determine if Related padded bills and hung onto profits illegally, violations which could bring criminal charges, sources said. Prosecutors have already successfully targeted three other affordable-housing developers in Miami-Dade — Carlisle Development GroupBiscayne Housing Group and Pinnacle Housing Group — that used federal tax credits. The new investigation focuses on whether developers misused county funds.

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Miami Developer in Hot Seat Over Low-Income Housing Fraud
Source: Samantha Joseph, Daily Business Review, March 21, 2017

A South Florida developer is in the hot seat after an uptick in fraud among developers using government credits to fund low-income housing ventures grabbed prosecutors’ attention. Pinnacle Housing Group Inc. affiliate DAXC LLC is accused of inflating construction costs to gain about $4.2 million from low-income apartment complexes in Miami, Sunrise, Homestead and Winter Haven. It paid $5.2 million, including forfeiture, and a $1 million fine to the federal government under a deferred prosecution agreement released Monday. Pinnacle’s affiliated contractor solicited bids for concrete shell work for housing developments from 2009 to 2011. It received final bids from a subcontractor to build the concrete structures, but instead of signing contracts with that company, it entered agreements with DAXC at rates of up to $1.5 million above the bids. DAXC in turn paid the subcontractor at the lower rates, making net profits of about $3.1 million. … The apartments rose during the housing market collapse, when contractors tasked with creating concrete shells often went out of business, leaving developers on the hook for stranded projects. Pinnacle’s use of DAXC as a middleman might have been part of a strategy to shield the developer from potential liens. The company has developed more than 8,500 affordable housing units over about 20 years in business. …

Justice Department moves forward in its case against ETMC, Paramedics Plus

Source: Roy Maynard, Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 12, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice continues to build its case against East Texas Medical Center and its ambulance division, Paramedics Plus, in what they say is a $20 million kickback scheme to ensure Paramedics Plus retained lucrative contracts. Most recently, Justice Department attorneys filed a list of people they expect to depose in coming months. In all, more than 100 people could be deposed as this case moves forward. The government also filed a proposed schedule, which outlines when fact discovery will take place, when expert discovery will occur, deadlines for motions and trial preparation and finally, an expected timeframe for the start of the trial – summer of 2018. … In January, the Justice Department announced it would intervene in a lawsuit against ETMC and Paramedics Plus brought by a whistleblower – former employee Stephen Dean, who was Paramedics Plus chief operating officer. According to the suit, ETMC and Paramedics Plus paid more than $20 million in kickbacks and bribes, including cash payments to Oklahoma officials. …

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You Paid For It: Pinellas Commissioners discuss ambulance kickback settlement Tuesday
Source: Mark Douglas, March 21, 2017

Former U.S Attorney Brian Albritton told Pinellas County Commissioners Tuesday that a federal lawsuit alleging ambulance fee kickbacks could have cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion if they lost in court. Commissioners agreed to settle the case involving Paramedics Plus Sunstar ambulance service for $92,700 and to forgo an estimated $500,000 in uncollected ambulance fees from patients. They will also have to pay legal fees to Albritton who the county secretly hired last year to resolve the case. Pinellas commissioners discussed the case publicly Tuesday for the first time since Eight On Your Side first broke the story of alleged kickbacks and a federal investigation of Pinellas County’s ambulance contract last month. That settlement, signed March 7 by Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch, requires the county to pay $92,700 to federal prosecutors, the Florida Attorney General and attorneys for the whistleblower–a former executive with Paramedics Plus. It also requires Pinellas County to turn over all documents and evidence gathered in the course of the county’s own internal investigation, and to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation and whistleblower action filed against Paramedics Plus in Texas.

… Since 2004, Paramedics Plus has operated as Pinellas County’s exclusive ambulance provider under the county-owned brand name Sunstar. The current county contract with Paramedics Plus amounts to about $50 million a year. In 2014, a former high-ranking executive of Paramedics Plus filed a whistleblower action in Texas that alleged an ongoing ambulance fee kickback scheme that stretched from Pinellas County to Oklahoma and California for over a decade. The scheme alleged by the whistleblower and federal prosecutors in a related legal action included so-called “profit cap” rebates that essentially funneled overcharges from Medicaid and Medicare to Pinellas County and other local governments that oversee public ambulance contracts. County leaders in Pinellas insist the “rebates” or “kickbacks’ in Pinellas totaled only $35,000 or so and ended up in county bank accounts, not someone’s pockets. In Oklahoma, the whistleblower suit alleges those kickbacks amounted to as much as $20 million. Federal prosecutors in Texas have cited specific acts of corruption in Oklahoma that include kickbacks, political payoffs and self-enrichment involving Paramedics Plus executives and government overseers in Oklahoma. … Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard says the settlement has no impact on the county’s ongoing $50 million a year contract with Paramedics Plus because the company has not been charged criminally or been found guilty of anything.

Feds Intervene in Alleged $20M Ambulance Kickback Scheme
Source: Eric Topor, Bloomberg BNA, January 27, 2017

A Texas health system paid an Oklahoma agency and its president $20 million in cash bribes in exchange for lucrative ambulance service contracts over 15 years, federal prosecutors said ( United States ex rel. Dean v. Paramedics Plus, LLC , E.D. Tex., No. 14-cv-203, complaint in intervention 1/23/17 ). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas partially intervened Jan. 23 in a whistle-blower lawsuit, filed under court seal in 2014, accusing East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System (ETMC) of paying the kickbacks to Oklahoma’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). Specifically, the government said ETMC concocted the kickback scheme with EMSA president and co-defendant Herbert S. Williamson, and paid the kickbacks through checks, bank wires and inflated service contracts, mostly through ETMC’s ambulance service company, Paramedics Plus LLC. The government said it paid the defendants over $70 million in Medicare reimbursements and over $38 million in Medicaid reimbursements just from 2009 through 2013, and it was seeking treble damages on all payments tainted by the kickback scheme, plus monetary penalties for each individual false claim submitted. The FCA authorizes monetary fines of up to $11,000 for each false claim submission. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether criminal charges against Williamson would be coming in the future. … The complaint describes how Paramedics Plus, which contracted with the EMSA to provide ambulance services within the EMSA’s jurisdiction, was forced to “cut corners” due to the amount of its revenue that went to paying kickbacks. Paramedics Plus “avoided training and personnel expenses” to make sure enough money was available to pay kickbacks to the EMSA and Williamson, according to prosecutors. The complaint alleges Paramedics Plus executives were forced to forgo paying drivers and paramedics retention bonuses to stem high paramedic turnover because the company “would not have enough excess profits to make [Williamson] whole.”

Officials Ruled Inmate’s ‘Boiling’ Death An Accident. But Documents Show They Omitted Key Details.

Source: Matt Ferner, Huffington Post, March 29, 2017

The June 2012 death of Darren Rainey, an inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida, attracted national attention after other inmates claimed he was burned like “a boiled lobster” after about two hours in a shower that guards had modified to punish prisoners. A Florida prosecutor issued a 101-page report earlier this month that cleared guards of any wrongdoing in Rainey’s death. The prosecutor, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, called Rainey’s death an accident resulting from his schizophrenia and heart disease and from confinement in the shower room. But a trove of official documents reviewed by The Huffington Post indicates that some information from police, the prison and emergency services was not included in the prosecutor’s final report, which raises questions about the circumstances surrounding Rainey’s death. A review of the documents was permitted by a person with close access to the investigation who asked not to be identified sharing non-public information. …

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Madness: In Florida prisons, mentally ill inmates have been tortured, driven to suicide, and killed by guards.
Source: Eyal Press, The New Yorker, May 2, 2016

Shortly after Harriet Krzykowski began working at the Dade Correctional Institution, in Florida, an inmate whispered to her, “You know they starve us, right?” It was the fall of 2010, and Krzykowski, a psychiatric technician, had been hired by Dade, which is forty miles south of Miami, to help prisoners with clinical behavioral problems follow their treatment plans. The inmate was housed in Dade’s mental-health ward, the Transitional Care Unit, a cluster of buildings connected by breezeways and equipped with one-way mirrors and surveillance cameras. “I thought, Oh, this guy must be paranoid or schizophrenic,” she said recently. Moreover, she’d been warned during her training that prisoners routinely made false accusations against guards. … Krzykowski mentioned that she had overheard security guards heckling prisoners. One officer had told an inmate, “Go ahead and kill yourself—no one will miss you.” Again, Perez seemed unfazed. “It’s just words,” she said. Then, as Krzykowski recalls it, Perez leaned forward and gave her some advice: “You have to remember that we have to have a good working relationship with security.” … A few days later, Krzykowski was running a “psycho-educational group”—an hour-long session in which inmates gathered to talk while she observed their mood and affect. After a dozen inmates had filed into the room, she noticed that the guard who had been standing by the door had walked away. She was on her own. Krzykowski completed the session without incident, and decided that the guard must have been summoned to deal with an emergency. But later, when she was in the rec yard, the guard there disappeared, too, once more leaving her unprotected amid a group of inmates. Around the same time, the metal doors that security officers controlled to regulate the traffic flow between prison units started opening more slowly for Krzykowski. …

… Reached by phone, Perez declined to comment, telling me that I could direct any questions to Wexford Health Sources, the private contractor that now provides mental-health services at Dade. In 2013, Florida privatized all the health services in its prisons. According to a series of investigative articles by Pat Beall, of the Palm Beach Post, this policy change has resulted in grossly substandard care. One difficulty with entrusting mental-health services to a for-profit company is that there is a disincentive to acknowledge abuse, because doing so could jeopardize the contract. Wexford’s Web site describes “integrity and ethics” as the “foundation” of the company’s culture. Wexford, too, declined to comment.

Lawmaker to Rick Scott: Restore order in privately run women’s prison

Source: Mary Ellen Klas, Tampa Bay Times, March 24, 2017

Warning that inmate health and safety is at risk at the state’s largest privately run women’s prison, Rep. David Richardson asked Gov. Rick Scott this week to use his emergency powers to replace the top officers and take state control of Gadsden Correctional Facility. … Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat and retired forensic auditor, has been on a one-man mission to force change in Florida’s troubled prison system. After several surprise inspections in the last month with investigators from the Department of Corrections and the state’s Office of Chief Inspector General, he concluded the Gadsden prison faces “significant inmate health and safety concerns” and management has repeatedly retaliated “against inmates for discussing matters with me.” Gadsden Correctional is a medium-security prison that houses 1,544 female inmates and is one of the seven privately facilities in the state. Gadsden is the only Florida prison managed by Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah. McKinley Lewis, spokesman for the governor, said late Friday that Scott is reviewing the letter but had not yet taken any additional action beyond what had begun prior to Richardson’s request.

… Among the conditions Richardson observed during two surprise visits this month: 55-degree temperatures in inmate cells; no hot water; care being withheld from ill inmates; a tooth extraction without sedation, an inmate who contracted pneumonia after being housed in a unit with no heat or hot water, and reports that guards who impregnated inmates were allowed to remain on the job. … Richardson said he has heard several recurring complaints: meal quality was poor and inadequate, clothing was rationed, and white inmates said that black officers imposed harsher reprimands on them than black inmates. Healthcare is also a recurring concern, Richardson said. … Richardson has filed legislation to shift management from the Department of Management Services to the Florida Department of Corrections but it has faced push back from lobbyists for the private prison industry. The bill has not gotten a hearing.

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Private prison deprived inmates of heat and hot water for months, lawmaker finds
Source: Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald, February 24, 2017

The 284 women housed in C-dorm at Gadsden Correctional Facility lived for months without hot water or heat, faced flooded bathrooms daily and endured water rations when the septic tanks were jammed with food waste. After state Rep. David Richardson demanded action following a series of surprise visits over the past 18 months, the private prison operator that runs the facility — Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah — received approval from the state to repair and replace the water heater, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $10,000. But Warden Shelly Sonberg never authorized the work. Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, announced another inspection this month, this time with Chad Poppell, the head of the Department of Management Services, the state agency that oversees private prisons, and two other state legislators. In the two days before they arrived, four work crews descended on the prison and made many of the repairs. … In a letter to Richardson Thursday, Poppell said he has since removed the state-paid official in charge of monitoring conditions at the prison and has also launched his own investigation. When Richardson returned Thursday with two investigators from the Florida Department of Corrections as requested by Miguel, other problems emerged at the prison, which houses 1,530 inmates in four dorms. They learned that there are 495 open work orders for repairs. Inmates said they had been pressured not to speak to inspectors and feared retaliation.

…Richardson, a retired forensic auditor, has had success in calling attention to the problems he has uncovered at state-run prisons. He has revealed evidence of officer-on-inmate violence at youthful offender facilities, uncovered how gangs evaded officers, caught officers withholding food from inmates, and persuaded the Department of Corrections to close down Lancaster Correctional Institution, a youthful offender prison. He uncovered “horrific” conditions at Columbia Correctional, where toilets wouldn’t flush, showers didn’t work, a heating system didn’t heat and deafening sounds came from an exhaust fan. He also dug deep into the finances at Lake City Correctional Institution, another one of the state’s seven privately operated prisons and discovered Corrections Corporations of America, now known as CoreCivic of Tennessee, had overcharged the state at least $16 million over the past seven years.

… Richardson has also explored the balance sheet at the prison, which is paid $43.67 a day per inmate. … Richardson believes that the Management Training contract may not only have inflated per diem figures but inflated costs for educational programming, which are $2.3 million a year. …

Judge sides with House speaker in lawsuit in Florida Lottery contract dispute with Scott administration

Source: Associated Press, March 8, 2017

In a move that could escalate tensions further among Florida’s Republican leaders, a Tallahassee judge on Tuesday sided with House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a lawsuit that contends the administration of Gov. Rick Scott approved an illegal contract. Circuit Judge Karen Gievers on Tuesday ruled the Florida Lottery lacked the legal authority to sign off on more than $700 million contract with IGT Global Solutions to run lottery games. Gievers declared the contract, which is supposed to run until 2031, “void and unenforceable.” … Corcoran sued the state’s lottery secretary last month, arguing that the contract approved last fall exceeds the Florida Lottery’s authorized budget. During a daylong hearing on the lawsuit held this week, top aides who work for the Florida House also testified that the contract also was structured in a way to sidestep legislative oversight. They noted that lottery officials last fall asked legislators for more money to pay for the contract. … Florida had a contract with Gtech, one of the world’s leading lottery operators. It merged with International Game Technology and changed its name, and IGT Global Solutions is a subsidiary. State records show the old contract — which started in 2005 — was worth roughly $387 million. The new contract is worth as much as $717 million. …

‘Foster Shock’ documentary takes Florida’s privatized child welfare system to task

Source: Les Neuhaus, SaintPetersBlog, March 13, 2017

A documentary film about Florida’s privatized child welfare and fostering programs — made by a Guardian ad Litem and filmmaker from Palm Beach — casts a draconian look at what happens to children when they are taken from abusive situations at home and become dependents of the state, at taxpayer expense, often to their peril. “Foster Shock,” which is currently being screened around the state at community viewings and nationally film festivals, was directed and produced by Mari Frankel, who has also served as a Guardian ad Litem (person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the best interests of a child) for the last several years. … Her film paints the picture of a bleak and broken system funded to the tune of roughly $3 billion per year of Florida taxpayer money. The film also argues that a sizable chunk of that money often goes to the six-figure salaries of the executives running the so-called “community-based care” agencies (CBCs), like Eckerd Kids, whose own executive director, David Dennis, earned $708,028 in the fiscal year 2015, according to publicly-available IRS 990 statements. But the children sometimes wind up in group homes, or foster homes, where they are abused or even killed – maliciously or by neglect. There have been a string of widely-publicized incidents the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) has had to ultimately deal with in recent years, but the CBCs keep getting their contracts – typically worth tens of millions of dollars per county – renewed by the state. … The CBCs – routinely staffed by personnel who are not licensed social workers, certified master social workers or licensed clinical social workers and are packed into cubical-farm office spaces – subcontract out much of the case management work to other agencies. The case management workers who actually check on the children’s welfare are not licensed clinic social workers either and have demanding caseloads hovering around 20-30 families, depending on the county. …

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Family: Teen suicides evidence of failure of privatized foster care
Source: John Pacenti, Palm Beach Post, March 13, 2017

A lawyer representing the biological family of a teenager in foster care who broadcast her suicide on Facebook live says the tragic death is just the latest evidence that the state’s move to privatize foster care is not working. WLRN-FM reports the death of 14-year-old Naika Venant in January was the second teen suicide in a Miami Gardens foster care home overseen by the agency Our Kids in the two months. In December, 16-year-old Lauryn Martin hanged herself with a scarf in her room at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter on Plantation Key. Howard Talenfeld, a lawyer representing Naika Venant’s biological family, said it is the Department of Children and Families that gives the job to a contractor like Our Kids. … Talenfeld says it’s been 40 days since his firm requested relevant records from DCF and Our Kids, and it hasn’t gotten anything yet. …

Florida’s child-protection system needs major overhaul, report says
Source: Orlando Sentinel, February 3, 2015

A new report from the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, created last year as part of a wide-ranging reform law, calls for state leaders to go well beyond their previous efforts to fix the state’s troubled child-protection system. The 50-page report, submitted Friday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, focused on “the need for a statewide, system-wide child welfare strategic plan” that pulls together the disparate parts of Florida’s response to the abuse and neglect of children. ….. Following a scathing review by the non-profit Casey Family Programs of 40 child deaths in Florida, lawmakers last year sought to fix problems that have repeatedly occurred in the state’s programs to protect children from abuse and neglect. Lawmakers concluded, in part, that Florida needed its own research arm to better advise the Department of Children and Families and privatized community-based care organizations that provide adoption, foster care and case-management services. As part of a major reform bill, the Legislature established the Florida Institute for Child Welfare at Florida State University’s College of Social Work. In the new report, Patricia Babcock, the institute’s interim director, and Nicholas Mazza, dean of the university’s College of Social Work, wrote that “Florida’s child welfare system is unique in that its case management services have been privatized.” ….

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These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like a Prison’

Source: Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley, ProPublica, March 8, 2017

… Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. … Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. … Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff. The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. … Despite such allegations, Camelot has continued to expand. It contracts with traditional school districts to run about 40 schools across the country — schools that serve kids who have gotten into trouble, have emotional or behavioral issues, or have fallen far behind academically. In 2015, Camelot reported more than $77 million in revenue, more than a third from contracts with the school districts of Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago. … About half a million students in the United States attend alternative schools, which are publicly funded but often managed by private, for-profit companies such as Camelot. Camelot’s story illustrates the risk that for-profit schools, which are favored by the Trump administration and new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, may put earnings ahead of student welfare. It also exposes the dismal educational options available to some students that traditional high schools don’t want to serve, because they are disruptive, severely disabled, years behind in school, or have criminal backgrounds.

… Add it all up, skeptics say, and the Camelot experience starts to resemble the nation’s incarceration system: racially biased, isolated, punitive, unnecessarily violent and designed, above all else, to maintain obedience and control. … Public school districts typically contract with Camelot to run one of three types of programs: “transitional schools” for kids with behavior issues; “therapeutic programs” for those with special behavioral and emotional needs; and “accelerated programs” for students who have fallen far behind. … Most Camelot students share two characteristics. They are nearly all poor. And they are overwhelmingly peopleof color. … The incidents at Camelot tended to follow a similar pattern, according to multiple accounts from students and staff members. Nonacademic staff members (usually the behavioral specialists and team leaders but sometimes higher-level employees) were permitted by administrators and school leaders to manhandle students as a form of intimidation — whether the teenagers had acted out or not. They preyed most often on students who had the least recourse to complain: social pariahs whose parents were disengaged or unable to advocate effectively, because they didn’t speak English, for instance. School leaders condoned the abuse and in some cases even encouraged it, according to Jandy Rivera and others. … In most middle- and upper-income communities, parents provide an informal yet crucial form of accountability for schools — protesting, and even suing over, mistreatment of their children. But this safety net is largely missing in the Camelot schools, where parents lack the knowledge, confidence, resources or language skills to complain. Those who have come forward say that few people in positions of power, including school officials, lawyers and police officers, take them seriously — if they listen at all. …

Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?
Source: Alexia Fernandez Campbell, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Disruptive students are a headache for public schools. They distract from lessons, skip class, and often bring down the graduation rates. That’s why school districts across the country have resorted to opening alternative schools in recent decades, with hopes that smaller classes and individual attention might help these students get their diplomas. But even these alternative schools (which differ from charter schools in that they are still part of school districts and thus answer to superintendents) can be a burden: They’re expensive to run, and their graduation rates are still pretty low. Desperate for help, many school districts are now hiring private companies to manage these alternative schools and educate their most troublesome students. … Richmond is one of the latest cities to experiment with outsourcing education. In July, the city hired a Texas-based company called Camelot Education to run the Richmond Alternative School, which last year served 223 students from across the city in grades 6 through 11. Nearly all of the students at Richmond Alternative are black (97 percent) and most are poor (87 percent qualify for free lunches). Some black parents once dubbed it the “colored children’s prison” and it has been criticized for contributing to what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline—Virginia is the state that refers the most students to law enforcement. …

… The turn to the private sector is not new for Richmond. In 2004, the city hired a private company to run a previous iteration of its alternative school, which was then called the Capital City Program. The $4.6 million agreement with a Tennessee-based company called Community Education Partners was the school district’s most expensive contract that year. … The quality of the education provided by Community Education Partners turned out to be substandard, according to a Richmond Magazine investigation, which found that a third of the school’s teachers were not credentialed. Elsewhere, schools run by Community Education Partners were not faring much better. The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued the company in 2008 for allegedly providing “fundamentally inferior” education to students at an alternative school in Atlanta—an environment “so violent and intimidating that learning is all but impossible.” Atlanta canceled its contract with the company, and a year later, so did the city of Philadelphia. …

… The teachers who have been working at Richmond Alternative the past few years will have an opportunity to interview for teaching positions with Camelot, Bock says, but, if hired, they will be required to undergo the company’s de-escalation and behavior modification training. Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union. … This may be the first time that Richmond will work with Camelot, but data on the company’s presence in Philadelphia provides a fuller picture of its track record. Camelot was one of half a dozen companies running Philadelphia’s alternative schools in the past decade, the largest experiment in privatizing alternative education to date. …

Florida to Examine Whether Alternative Charter Schools Underreport Dropouts

Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, March 6, 2017

Florida’s Department of Education is expanding an inquiry into how schools classify students who leave without graduating, in response to a ProPublica report that the state may have thousands more dropouts than it acknowledges. Also in reaction to the ProPublica article, the school board chairman in Orlando is asking the district superintendent for a formal report regarding concerns that low-achieving students have been pressured to transfer from traditional to alternative high schools. … Fifteen students at schools run by for-profit Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS) in Orlando’s district said that, because of their academic performance, they had been denied admission to regular public high schools or told they had to transfer from them to alternative programs, according to our Feb. 21 article, which was co-published by USA Today. Some were pulled from class for surprise assemblies where ALS representatives gave a pitch to attend their schools.

… Several traditional schools improved their graduation rates by dispatching students unlikely to earn diplomas on time to ALS schools, the article reported. Enrollment in alternative schools in Orlando’s district, Orange County, has tripled in recent years, swelling to 3,900 in 2014. District officials say transfers for academic reasons are voluntary. ProPublica also found that these alternative schools could be significantly undercounting dropouts by coding students who leave as withdrawing to enter adult education, such as GED classes. State rules don’t label withdrawals for adult education as dropping out. … The state education department, which was already reviewing graduation-rate data, will broaden its examination in light of ProPublica’s findings, a department spokeswoman wrote in an email. The state board of education will consider the matter at its March 22 meeting. …

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‘Alternative’ Education: Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System
Source: Heather Vogell and Hannah Fresques, ProPublica, February 21, 2017

… Sunshine collects enough school district money to cover costs and pay its management firm, Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), a more than $1.5 million-a-year “management fee,” 2015 financial records show — more than what the school spends on instruction. But students lose out, a ProPublica investigation found. Once enrolled at Sunshine, hundreds of them exit quickly with no degree and limited prospects. The departures expose a practice in which officials in the nation’s tenth-largest school district have for years quietly funneled thousands of disadvantaged students — some say against their wishes — into alternative charter schools that allow them to disappear without counting as dropouts. … The Orlando schools illustrate a national pattern. Alternative schools have long served as placements for students who violated disciplinary codes. But since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 refashioned the yardstick for judging schools, alternative education has taken on another role: A silent release valve for high schools like Olympia that are straining under the pressure of accountability reform. As a result, alternative schools at times become warehouses where regular schools stow poor performers to avoid being held accountable. Traditional high schools in many states are free to use alternative programs to rid themselves of weak students whose test scores, truancy and risk of dropping out threaten their standing, a ProPublica survey of state policies found.

… Concerns that schools artificially boosted test scores by dumping low achievers into alternative programs have surfaced in connection with ongoing litigation in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, and echo findings from a legislative report a decade ago in California. The phenomenon is borne out by national data: While the number of students in alternative schools grew moderately over the past 15 years, upticks occurred as new national mandates kicked in on standardized testing and graduation rates. The role of charter alternative schools like Sunshine — publicly funded but managed by for-profit companies — is likely to grow under the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of school choice. … The charters exploit a loophole in state regulations: By coding hundreds of students who leave as withdrawing to enter adult education, such as GED classes, Sunshine claims virtually no dropouts. State rules don’t label withdrawals for that reason as dropping out. But ALS officials cannot say where Sunshine students actually went — or if they even took GED classes at all. …

House votes to abolish one of Gov. Rick Scott’s prized agencies, Enterprise Florida

Source: Jeremy Wallace, Miami Herald, March 10, 2017

The Florida House shrugged off political threats from Gov. Rick Scott and stuck a dagger into the heart of his political legacy on Friday. By an 87-28 vote, the House voted to kill Enterprise Florida, the agency Scott has relied on to hand out tax breaks to businesses in exchange for them creating jobs — a central promise in his two campaigns for governor. … With 87 votes backing the Enterprise bill, the House would be in a position to override a Scott veto because the bill passed by more than a two-thirds majority. … But the Senate still needs to pass its own bill. So far, it hasn’t. … It’s a remarkably bad week for Enterprise Florida. On Monday, the agency’s CEO, Chris Hart IV, quit abruptly without much explanation. He was only on the job since January. It’s the second time in nine months that its CEO has left. … Eliminating Enterprise Florida — a quasi-private government agency created in the 1990s to serve as a commerce department — has a long way to go. Both chambers have to pass identical bills for it to pass the Legislature and end up on the governor’s desk. Even then Scott would seemingly have the last say in vetoing the idea. … Jenne said even if the Senate doesn’t take up the bill, Enterprise Florida is vulnerable. He said in a few weeks the House and Senate will start working on a 2017 budget and the House is almost certain to put no money in the budget for Enterprise Florida, regardless of whether Renner’s bill moves forward. That will set up a budget showdown that could still put a spending plan on Scott’s desk that would de-fund what Jenne called Scott’s “policy baby.” …

Related:

Another Scandal at Florida’s Privatized Development Agency
Source: Kasia Tarczynska, Clawback blog, February 28, 2014

For the followers of Enterprise Florida (EFI), another scandal at the organization should not come as a surprise. Television station CBS12 in Palm Beach discovered this week that EFI, the privatized “public-private partnership” responsible for recruiting companies to the state, has spent thousands of dollars on entertaining site selection consultants.

State-run agency accused of abusing tax payer dollars
Source: Michael Buczyner, CBS 12 NEWS, February 25 2014

CBS 12 News spent hours reviewing 20 months worth of spending at Enterprise Florida and uncovered thousands of dollars spent on sky boxes, steakhouses and at fancy hotels. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on credit cards. We weren’t provided the detail on what was purchased. Our investigation found leaders at Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development machine, spent more than $21,000 at Yankee Stadium in New York. They also paid a visit to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX where they dropped more than $7,100. The stadium tour also stopped off in Atlanta, GA for a cost of $4,400.

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