Big Money Fails to Oust In-Coming Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent

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Democracy 1, Oligarchy 0.

That might be the score in the latest contest between corporate education reformers and the Pittsburgh Public School Board.

Special interest groups and the media had stirred up controversy for months over one line in newly hired superintendent Anthony Hamlet’s resume.

Last night the board voted to let the 46-year-old African American start his job as planned Friday morning.

The board voted 7-2 not to cancel his contract. He will be sworn in tomorrow to start a 5-year commitment in the city.

He had been unanimously hired May 18 from the Palm Beach County district in Florida where he had distinguished himself with an excellent record of leadership and enacting authentic reforms.

Though critics cited one line in his resume as too similar to a statement in a Washington Post article, the real reasons for the dispute are ideological.

Put simply, Hamlet favors reforms that have nothing to do with teaching to the test, charter school expansion, closing schools and other market driven policies.

This put him at odds with the usual gang of corporate sycophants:

1) The Campaign for Quality Schools Pittsburgh – a PAC recently formed to Make City Schools Great Again by promoting charter schools and other failed neoliberal reforms.

2) A+ Schools, an advocacy organization that used to champion the same kinds of authentic reforms school directors are trying to enact with Dr. Hamlet’s help. However, after getting a fat check from the Gates Foundation, the group has became a cheerleader for privatization and disaster capitalism.

3) Various foundations who immediately offered to pay for a new superintendent search if the district dismissed Dr. Hamlet – a measure that probably would have meant paying him at least a year’s salary to sit at home.

Why?

In short, they want a superintendent who thinks like them who they can control. They want to undermine our elected school board and community input process. They want to further THEIR agenda – not the education of our children.

Pittsburgh school directors are to be congratulated for not giving in to the monied interests.

Even the two directors who voted to remove Hamlet did so for good reasons. Though I thoroughly disagree with them, I think Terry Kennedy and Lynda Wrenn truly have the best interests of students at heart. They have always voted that way before.

It’s easy to write a blog about a district where you don’t live, as I do. They, however, are accountable to their constituents. I’m just a doofus with a WordPress account. They had a lot of information to process and made a tough decision. Thankfully, the other seven board members didn’t see it their way.

But that’s the beauty of it. This was democracy at work! At so many other urban districts throughout the country – even in similarly troubled Philadelphia – decision making “by and for the people” has become disbarred.

Many schools like Pittsburgh’s with a shrinking tax base, large pockets of crippling poverty and a history of state disinvestment are taken over by the state. Bureaucrats and flunkies make these decisions not members of a duly elected school board held accountable by the voters.

In fact, many calling for Hamlet’s dismissal were surely cheerleading just such a move in Pittsburgh. They were hoping to show that democracy doesn’t work in the Three Rivers community and must be replaced with … THEMSELVES.

The defeat of that position is the biggest victory here.

Now Hamlet and the board will get a chance to enact authentic reforms to help the children of Pittsburgh get the best possible education.

Now Hamlet will get to strengthen the restorative justice project already under way at 20 city schools. Instead of simply assigning detention or suspension for student misbehavior, administrators are encouraged to make students set things right after doing wrong.

In Florida Hamlet made a name for himself partnering with the criminology department at Florida Atlantic University on this same project.

It’s widely acknowledged in education circles that suspensions can have lasting impacts especially on black students making them more likely to enter the school-to-prison pipeline. Finding an approach to increase discipline without adversely affecting students’ prospects is imperative. This is especially true since Pittsburgh Public Schools have been known to suspend black students at a rate four times higher than white students.

Hamlet also will get to enact measures to transform Pittsburgh’s schools into a central part of the community and not apart from it. Like many on the board, he is an advocate for community schools. That means pushing for social services to help students and the community to make the schools the center of the neighborhood.

Hamlet has received support from all over the city including from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

However, in an unexpected move, some educators came out individually in favor of Dr. Hamlet even though doing so might mean putting targets of their backs from corporate forces.

High School teacher Jon Parker even wrote a blog about the issue where he pulled no punches:

“While the [Pittsburgh] Post-Gazette is complicit in this scheme to defame and destroy Dr. Hamlet, the real enemy here, as always, is A+ Schools. They simply cannot pursue their Gatesian agenda with a superintendent who believes in community schools. They need one who believes in firing teachers. They can’t pursue their agenda if the superintendent believes in collaboration rather than stacked ranking. And they can’t pursue their agenda of closing schools and turning them into charter profit factories if the narrative in our schools shifts away from “achievement” being measured by high stakes tests. Simply put, Anthony Hamlet is not their style, and they can’t stand that Pittsburgh’s community, through real grassroots activism and real community empowerment, elected a school board which genuinely engaged its community in a selection process that produced a once-in-a-lifetime superintendent selection.”

 

Erin P. Breault, a district teacher with three children who graduated from Pittsburgh Public, wrote to the Post Gazette to praise Dr. Hamlet:

“First, he will be a fine superintendent who will work to foster community schools, increase student learning outcomes and graduation rates. He will be an especially welcome breath of fresh air, not beholden to corporate “reformers” agenda. Second, I am especially alarmed about growing calls for his contract to be dissolved and if it is not, that our democratically elected school board be replaced by an appointed system.

This is outrageous. These attacks on Mr. Hamlet and on the process of the search need to be viewed in context. There are powerful interests including the Pittsburgh foundations, A+ Schools and Students First who are upset that their vision of privatization of our public schools has been challenged by our school district.

They have leapt into action, using their money, and political clout to engage into what amounts to character assassination.”

 

Kathy M. Newman, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote to the Post Gazette to school them on the definition of plagiarism:

“Mr. Hamlet’s resume is not a copyrighted work of art or nonfiction, such as a novel or a work of history. Nor is it a work of journalism. He was not trying to “pass off” (a legal term) the work of another artist or historian or journalist as his own.

…the outrage over Mr. Hamlet’s resume doesn’t acknowledge why it is that we demand citations from students and historians, or why artists might sue those who have appropriated their work. As the scholar Steven Dutch has argued, in an article called “Sense and Nonsense about Plagiarism,” citations “allow readers to check the accuracy of facts, gauge the credibility of the ideas being presented, know whether an idea is solidly established, controversial or hypothetical, and find further information.” When Mr. Hamlet borrowed a sentence from a Washington Post editorial to express his educational philosophy he did not, to use another phrase from Mr. Dutch, diminish the “credibility of the ideas being presented.”

Finally, the furor over Mr. Hamlet’s resume has had a tone of moral outrage so hysterical that I have been concerned about the toxic mixture of sanctimony and glee expressed by many people I otherwise like and respect. Again, according to Mr. Dutch, “the institutional hysteria over plagiarism [can become] a ‘witch-hunt.’ … Charges of plagiarism are fast becoming the blood sport of choice among academic bottom-feeders.”

Ouch. But perhaps the most incendiary remarks came from Churchill resident Lorraine Turner. In the Post Gazette, she accused the paper of outright racism in its criticism of Dr. Hamlet:

“As an African-American, we are taught this particular lesson many moons ago (along with the talk about police) growing up in, “Pittsburgh, Mississippi.” That lesson is: Black people must run twice as fast and jump twice as high as their white competitors. Black people must be exceptional with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. The comparison of President Barack Obama and Donald Trump will highlight this lesson…

…The editorial goes on using language to highlight nearly every antiquated, racist stereotype referencing black men: Mr. Hamlet made a “perfunctory apology” (he didn’t bow his head and say, “I’se so sorry), Mr. Hamlet “sounded like a nervous student” (just call him boy), then “a bad superintendent” (black is bad), “a good superintendent” (one approved by someone white), Mr. Hamlet “prefers recalcitrance to transparency’ (recalcitrance is when one is stubbornly resistant to authority or guidance — he thinks he’s actually going to have the power of the superintendent!)…

… I hope the board quotes a line from “The Wizard of Oz,” and tells your good ol’ boy editorial staff what the Good Witch of the East told the Bad Witch of West: “Go away, you have no power here!”

In the end, the power of the monied elites evaporated against the power of good ol’ fashioned democracy.

Because the fight against corporate education reform is a fight for representative government.

And the winners of today’s battle are as always our children, our grandchildren, our posterity.

Charter School Lobby Donates $50,000 to Teachers-Union-Backed PA Attorney General Candidate

Giving a bribe into a pocket

 

What’s the best way to avoid a charter school scandal?

 

In Pennsylvania, apparently you bribe the Attorney General.

 

That may be why Students First PAC donated $50,000 to Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for the position.

 

This political action committee is not to be confused with the infamous national group founded by Michelle Rhee. Students First PAC is a state organization that typically contributes to charter school friendly candidates.

 

And $50K is quite a chunk of change in a State Attorney General race – the office in charge of prosecuting charter schools for breaking the law.

 

Charter school scandals have been an almost weekly occurrence throughout the Commonwealth. Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest brick-and-mortar organization, is under investigation for pocketing $1.2 million “in improper lease-reimbursement payments.” As Philadelphia public schools are being closed due to a miserly state budget, “nonprofit,” charter operator Aspira Inc. was caught using public money to boost its real estate holdings instead of using those funds to educate children. Nicholas Trombetta, the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter, an institution that operates exclusively over the internet, “was charged with fraud, for funneling $8 million of the school’s funds into his personal companies and holdings.”

 

It’s easy to see how having the state Attorney General on your side would benefit an industry rife with fraud and malfeasance.

 

Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery Country Board of Commissioners, is the odds on favorite to succeed Kathleen Kane as the state’s highest ranking law enforcement officer.

 

He is running for the Democratic nomination against Northhampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, and Allegheny Country Attorney General Stephen Zappala.

 

Despite strong corporate education reform ties, Shapiro has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers union in the Commonwealth.

 

At a public debate earlier in March, challenger Morganelli called out Shapiro on the Students First PAC donation.

 

“Josh, you are really good at giving speeches but your resume doesn’t match your performance,” Morganelli said. “You have received $25,000 from Students First PAC, which is a charter school [organization], and you received it on March 4th 2015. That is a charter school advocate that is hurting our public schools. Josh gives a great speech here then takes $25,000 from Students First PAC, I think that’s wrong.”

 

Morganelli added in a prepared statement in Harrisburg, “It was later determined that Josh accepted an additional $25,000 from Students First PAC in 2012. Who knows how much more he may have received from them that has not yet surfaced.”

 

Shapiro has never publicly denied these allegations.

 

His response at the debate was that voters should judge him based on his record.
However, Shapiro’s campaign manager Joe Radosevich responded further.

 

“Josh’s record in support of public education is unmatched and he’s proud to stand with Pennsylvania teachers in this election,” he said. “Josh is the only candidate for Attorney General who will protect Pennsylvania teachers and stand up for the rights of each and every student to a ‘thorough and efficient’ education as guaranteed in our state constitution.”

 

Morganelli also took issue with PSEA for endorsing Shapiro over himself. He criticized the organization for a history of siding with candidates with whom high ranking leaders have a relationship regardless of their positions on eduction. He cited PSEA’s endorsement of Tom Corbett for Attorney General in 2008. Corbett won that election and went on 2 years later to become one of the worst Governor’s in state history whose “greatest” achievement was slashing almost $1 billion from our public schools.

 

PSEA’s endorsement of Shapiro is in the same line, Morganelli said.

 

“How can PSEA endorse a candidate who is in bed with the Charter school folks? This would be like someone being funded by both the NRA and CeaseFire [PA] – inconceivable!”

 

PSEA spokesman David Broderic compared Morganelli’s criticism to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

 

“PSEA’s members decided to recommend Josh Shapiro, based on his support for our issues,” Broderic said. “That’s what happens in politics. Today’s Trump-like antics don’t do anything but devalue politics. It’s a shame he felt the need to do that.”

 

Shapiro is receiving tremendous flack for the donations. In private, he explained the matter further, according to a confidential source.

 

He said the money was actually donated by his friend Joel Greenberg, a hedge fund manager who has worked with Shapiro on county, Jewish and Israeli issues. Greenberg funneled the money through Students First PAC. He gave his own personal money to Students First PAC which, in turn, gave it to Shapiro.

 

Greenberg is infamous in his own right as one of the three Philadelphia investment bankers who founded Students First PAC. He is also on the board of the American Federation for Children, a national school choice group with mega wealthy far right backers including the Koch Brothers.

 

The explanation makes little sense. It is shameful that the PSEA hasn’t pushed Shapiro to either publicly explain his actions or give back the money. At very least, the union could retract its endorsement.

 

Morganelli is to be praised for bringing the matter to public attention. Unfortunately, he is plagued by his own political shortcomings.

 

In 2007, Morganelli joined State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe for a witch hunt against illegal immigrants.

 

Metcalfe, a Republican from Cranberry Township, is so far right, he makes Rick Santorum look like Bernie Sanders! He is infamous in state politics for flamboyant actions against homosexuals and immigrants.

 

Metcalfe wrote a report called “Invasion PA” claiming Commonwealth lives were at stake because of a perceived influx of illegal immigrants. It was laughed out of Harrisburg, but Morganelli supported it – at least at first.

 

“It’s not an illegal immigration issue, it’s a crime and national security issue,” said Morganelli, who claimed about 5,000 illegal aliens in Northampton County had been responsible for a disproportionate share of the crime.

 

Five of 10 rapes in Northampton County last year were committed by illegal immigrants, Morganelli said.

 

Pennsylvania taxpayers are picking up the tab for illegal aliens housed in county and state prisons, he said.

 

However, when the report was met with ridicule, Morganelli tried to distance himself from it.

 

He called it ”deficient.”

 

”The report was, in my view, poorly constructed,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted Morganelli as saying. ”It was a compilation of opinions and inferences drawn from arrests that really did not support the conclusion that an ‘invasion’ is occurring in Pennsylvania.”

 

In addition to this catastrophic lapse in judgement, Morganelli is also a staunch advocate for the death penalty. Not exactly someone suited to state office.

 

Of the three Democrats running for the position, Zappala is clearly the best candidate. He has been a just Attorney General in Allegheny Country since 1998. For instance, he is in favor of treatment and prevention for drug abusers rather than incarceration.

 

The Republican candidates are John Rafferty, a state senator from Montgomery County, and Joe Peters, a Wyoming County resident who was a former police officer, federal prosecutor and spokesman for current Attorney General Kane.

 

Kane is not seeking re-election. The primary election is April 26.

 

The office has been plagued by scandal under Kane. She stormed into the position with immense political good will, the first Democrat and woman to be elected to the position since it became an elected office in 1980. She was a rising star likely to challenge Republican Pat Toomey for U.S. Senate. However, her star fell in August 2015. She was arrested and charged with multiple offenses, including two counts of felony perjury, and obstruction of justice. A month later the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania suspended Kane’s license to practice law, the first such occurrence for a Pennsylvania Attorney General. Since she was not removed from her position, she has continued to exercise her duties as with a suspended license by delegating legal responsibilities to her top advisers.

 

Pennsylvania needs an Attorney General free from controversy, and both Shaprio and Morganelli don’t fit the bill. We can’t let someone who accepts huge charter school donations take over regulating the industry.

 

And shame on PSEA for letting down the Commonwealth’s teachers, parents and children. Endorsements should be made based on what’s best for our schools not personal relationships.