Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Jersey EA gearing up for Second Battle of Trenton

This is it.
Everything we stand for as a union is at stake – your future, your family, and your right to make a living.
On Monday, the NJ Senate will vote on a bill to take thousands of dollars out of your pocket every year – and destroy the quality of your pension and health benefits in the process. The Assembly is looking at the same bill and will vote as early as Thursday.
Less than one week from today your whole future could be changed… for the worse:
  • Thousands of dollars out of pocket every year.
  • No right to collective bargaining on health benefits.
  • Promised pension benefits stolen from you.
In 1776, when things looked lost for the Continental Army, George Washington marched his troops into Trenton and won a surprise victory. The Battle of Trenton changed the course of history.
On Monday, we launch the Second Battle of Trenton.
Because this is New Jersey, not Wisconsin.
So if you care about your future, your profession and your colleagues, there is only one place for you to be on Monday.
No excuses. No second chances.
This is it.
See you Monday morning.
Stay connected: Check often for updates, and follow NJEA on Facebook and Twitter. You can also get updates sent directly to your phone by texting "UNITY" to 738674

From Karri Bodine, June 18, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

From STRS: Report on June 2011 Board meeting

From STRS, June 17, 2011
This week, the State Teachers Retirement Board held its monthly meeting. Following the regularly scheduled meetings, a report titled "Board News" is posted on the STRS Ohio Web site, as well as mailed to a number of members and education organization representatives who have requested it. As a member of STRS Ohio with an e-mail address on file, you will also receive this report each month. The June report follows.
During its June meeting, the State Teachers Retirement Board elected Mark Hill as its vice chair for the coming year. According to Board Policies, James McGreevy, who is currently serving as vice chair, automatically moves into the position of chair. McGreevy and Hill will assume their new responsibilities on Sept. 1, 2011.
The Ohio Senate members followed the lead of their colleagues in the House of Representatives by passing a biennial budget bill that did not alter contribution rates for the five Ohio public pension systems. The current structure of 10% of salary from members and 14% of payroll from employers paying into STRS Ohio would have moved to 12% from both members and employers. Differences between the House and Senate mean the bill is headed to a conference committee. It will hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions, and later in June each chamber will vote on the conference committee report.
Following that, the bill will be sent to the governor. Given neither reported version had the contribution rate change in it, it's hoped that the conference committee will not include this language. Since the governor's original budget contained the provision, however, we will continue to work with the conference committee to oppose adding this language back into the budget. It is possible that the concept could be part of future discussions relative to pension reform.
An Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) Subcommittee is developing a request for proposal (RFP) for an independent actuary and policy advisor in regard to pension reform issues. Pension legislation (Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 69) has stalled while legislators await this independent review of the plans the five public pension systems have developed to strengthen the solvency of their pension funds. STRS Ohio's Executive Director Michael J. Nehf and the directors of Ohio's other four public retirement systems sent a letter highlighting key issues they would like the ORSC Subcommittee to consider as its members craft the RFP. The primary issues raised by the directors are:
- The five Ohio retirement systems, dating back to 1920, are critically important to the State of Ohio's economic engine;
- As fiduciaries, the five retirement boards have spent several years and more than a million dollars in developing the reforms proposed by the respective boards and pending before the General Assembly;
- The inclusion of health care review in the RFP seems misplaced and unnecessary; and
- A broad scope to include operations, investments, etc. is duplicative of studies already completed and millions of dollars already spent to comply with existing reporting or regulatory requirements at both the state and federal levels.
The subcommittee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, June 21, at the Statehouse.
The Retirement Board voted to accept the Investment Plan for fiscal year 2012 (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012). The plan details staff's investment strategy for each asset class comprising the system's investment fund.
STRS Ohio staff expects modest overall economic growth during fiscal year 2012. With no rebound in sight for the housing market, the main driver for the U.S. economy is projected to be consumer spending, which will be steady, but is not expected to surge forward. On the inflation front, commodity prices have moved higher, but those increases have only sparingly been passed through to core consumer prices (i.e., Consumer Price Index excluding volatile food and energy costs).
The recent surge in headline inflation indicators, largely from energy and food costs, should ease as the economy moves through fiscal year 2012, and core inflation will likely remain contained. Interest rates are not expected to increase before the middle of the fiscal year, at the earliest, because core inflation should be in check and the unemployment rate will likely remain elevated. Staff believes the global economy is vulnerable to additional shocks from Europe's and America's debt problems, political unrest in the Middle East, and even natural disasters like Japan has faced.
With these factors in mind, STRS Ohio plans to have a significant overweight in liquidity reserves to lower the risk of the investment portfolio. The Investment Plan calls for raising the maximum policy range for liquidity reserves to 10% from 5% until June 30, 2012.
On July 1, 2011, the Fiscal 2012 Investment Plan will be posted on the STRS Ohio Web site ( or available by calling STRS Ohio's Member Services Center toll-free at 1-888-227-7877.
The Retirement Board adopted the proposed budgets for fiscal year 2012 (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012). The operating budget totals $89,732,800, which represents a slight decrease from this year's budgeted amount of $89,773,600. The budget provides funds for several new initiatives, including an asset/liability study of the investment funds and an information technology controls audit. The capital budget for fiscal year 2012 totals $2,277,100.
Throughout the fiscal year, the Retirement Board reviews each month's expenditures and year-to-date expenditure totals as part of its regular meetings. The information is also posted on STRS Ohio's Web site for members to view at:
The Retirement Board approved the 2012 premiums for all the plans offered through the STRS Ohio Health Care Program. A complete list of these premiums will be posted on the STRS Ohio Web site ( on June 22, 2011, or can be obtained by calling STRS Ohio's Member Services Center toll-free at 1-888-227-7877 after that date. Additional information about the 2012 Health Care Program will be provided in upcoming newsletters and on the STRS Ohio Web site. In late October, all current enrollees will also receive personalized health care plan information in preparation for the fall open-enrollment period, which extends from Nov. 1-22, 2011.
In determining premiums, annual health care cost trend rates, as well as the claims experience of plan enrollees, are taken into consideration. In addition, the 2012 premiums reflect the recently approved reductions in member premium subsidies for all plans.
Member Education staff linked up with 76 members in May during three Retirement Countdown 2011 webcasts. This webcast is being offered every Wednesday through June to provide retirement information to help members finalize their retirement applications. Based on survey responses, members found the webcast easy to schedule and more than 95% stated the presentation met or exceeded their expectations. Members can register for the webcast on the STRS Ohio Web site,, by clicking on the Retirement Countdown 2011 link under the "Web Presentations" heading in the left column of the home page.
In June, Aetna implemented a diabetes support program for STRS Ohio Aetna Medicare Plan (PPO) enrollees. This program targets enrollees with long-term indications of high glucose levels evidenced by an HbA1c greater than 8. HbA1c testing is used to monitor the effects of diet, exercise and drug therapy on long-term blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. The Aetna program encourages enrollees to obtain evidence-based care and to improve their blood sugar management and HbA1c results. These enrollees will receive daily outbound calls and feedback about their fasting blood sugar; case management will also be available as needed.
Enrollees will also receive information calls and quarterly mailings covering such topics as exercise, managing medicines, depression, cholesterol and blood pressure. Aetna will also have an outreach program for enrollees where there is no HbA1c on record. These enrollees will be encouraged to have this testing and to report the results. If their resulting level is greater than 8, they will then be offered the interactive daily program.
The Retirement Board approved 505 active members and 108 inactive members for service retirement benefits.
The June Board News can also be viewed as a PDF by clicking the following link:

A topic, and point of contention, at yesterday's CORE meeting

From John Curry, June 17, 2011
It has become apparent that some CORE members were not aware of what former STRS board member John Lazares had to say about STRS and healthcare. This disappointing topic came up yesterday and some CORE members are yet to know what has transpired. Please examine what a formerly endorsed (by CORE) STRS board member had to say about STRS and YOUR STRS-sponsored health insurance.
P.S. Yes...I am still shaking my head also!
'Offering health care in 1974 was a mistake, Lazares said. “Now, in the last few years, because health care costs have gone up so greatly and so many baby boomers are retiring, they’ve seen they can’t furnish health care costs and (also) a retirement plan,” he said.'
Pension changes will cost taxpayers
'Districts will have to put up levies more often to pay for higher salaries,' official says.
The Western Star, February 2, 2011
By Andy Sedlak, Staff Writer

FRANKLIN — A former board member of the State Teachers Retirement System says proposed changes to its pension plan will come out of the wallets of taxpayers and put a financial burden on school districts.

Like many critical of the proposed changes, John Lazares, who served on the 11-member STRS board from 2004-08, says changes approved Thursday will cost districts more because older teachers with larger paychecks will be forced to stay in the classroom longer. He also said past decisions — such as the offering of health care in the mid-1970s — greatly contributed to the organization’s financial hardships.

“School districts will have to put up levies more often to pay for higher salaries and fringes,” said Lazares, 61, superintendent of the Warren County Educational Service Center and former Kings Local Schools superintendent. “The only place (districts) can save money is getting senior people to retire when they hit 30 years.”

Under the current plan, teachers may retire and receive 65 percent of their highest three years as long as they’ve logged 30 years. Under the proposal, teachers must work at least 35 years and be at least age 60, collecting 77 percent of their highest five years.

Arnol Elam, superintendent of Franklin schools, echoed Lazares’ statements.

“This will surpass any unfunded mandate out there,” Elam said. “Let’s say 10 teachers a year fall into the new retirement (category), that’ll represent $1.1 million a year in additional operating revenue for the district.”

The eligibility change would be phased in from 2015 to 2023. The proposed plan must be approved into law by the General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich

STRS cited higher health care costs, significant financial losses two years ago and a history of generous benefits as reasons for the change.

Offering health care in 1974 was a mistake, Lazares said. “Now, in the last few years, because health care costs have gone up so greatly and so many baby boomers are retiring, they’ve seen they can’t furnish health care costs and (also) a retirement plan,” he said.

Laura Ecklar, director of communication services for the STRS, said while it is an optional benefit, all state pension systems have taken advantage of the health care option and it comes from a fund separate from pension money.

“This issue is not created by health care as much as it is by demographic issues and the fact we just went through a huge recession,” Ecklar said. “Rising health care might force a person to work longer, (but) I think we’re all aware health care costs are a significant issue for everyone, not just retiring teachers.

“At the end of the day, without this package of changes, there would be a time when we wouldn’t be able to pay pensions at all,” she said.

For more information regarding proposed changes to the STRS Ohio retirement system, visit

Hey, Governor, are you beginning to see the handwriting on the wall?
Organizers gather more than 3 times the necessary signatures to get SB 5 referendum on November ballot
Toledo Blade, June 17, 2011
COLUMBUS — The coalition seeking to repeal Ohio’s new law restricting public employee collective bargaining rights said Friday they’ve already gathered 714,137 signatures.

That’s more than three times the 231,149 necessary that would be needed to put the question on the Nov. 7 ballot with about two weeks left to go before the filing deadline.

“We know there are still more petitions to be turned in,’’ said Melissa Fazekas, spokesman for the We Are Ohio coalition of public and private sector unions and other organizations.

Signature-gathering events are expected across the state this weekend, she said. Petitions must be filed by June 30.

“In Lucas County, we had the required number of signatures rather rapidly,’’ said Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association. “You have a large union base in Lucas County, so there was an all-out effort in both Lucas and Wood counties.

“I know we’re going to have a very large number collected from both counties, and I think you’ll see similar numbers in Cuyahoga and Franklin,’’ he said.

The traditional rule of thumb when filing petitions for ballot issues is to file about twice as many as the number of valid signatures of registered voters than is required. That allows room to still reach the ballot if a large number of signatures are declared invalid by county boards of election for a variety of reasons.

Sen. Shannon Jones (R., Springboro), sponsor of Senate Bill 5, said supporters of the law always knew the issue would make the ballot and have been preparing accordingly, even if their efforts have not been readily apparent.

(Click image to enlarge.)

A political action committee and non-profit organization, both called Building a Better Ohio, have been created, but the organization has been largely silent so far. Ms. Jones said she doesn’t expect the campaign to begin in earnest until Labor Day.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of momentum,” she said. “There’s a time and a place for a campaign, and when that time presents itself, we’ll have strong grassroots support of folks who will talk about the benefits of Senate Bill 5, why we need it, and the choice before the voters will be clear.

“We can either continue to do things the way we’ve been doing the way [them], or we can do things better so that we don’t return to more increased taxes or job losses and return to prosperity in this state,’’ she said.

Among its numerous provisions, Senate Bill 5 prohibits all public employees from striking, limits what they can negotiate, prohibits local governments from paying any portion of an employee’s share of his pension benefits, require employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums, and prohibit the automatic deduction of “fair share’’ fees from public workers who refuse to join a union.

Getting the word petitions you may find very useful!

From Mary Lou Guizzo, June 17, 2011
Hi Kathie,
It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday. Just wanted to thank you again for writing your blog which I came across while looking for information on the stability of the STRS fund. You are doing a real service to others by maintaining this web site!
Looks like weareohio is going to have a news conference shortly on the number of signatures that have been collected on the referendum petition for SB 5:
Mary Lou Guizzo
Here is another web site that has online petitions:
If you were to put it on your blog you could just cut and paste the info below:
I just let my State Senator know that I oppose Governor Kasich's misguided budget that attacks Ohio's working families. Will you do the same?
Governor Kasich’s budget takes Ohio in the wrong direction. Instead of creating jobs, he slashes them. He increases state spending by $5 billion, but he cuts money for local schools,cities and towns by $3.1 billion. He’s passing the buck to municipalities and forcing them to make the tough choices on how to make do with less.
Please join me and tell your State Senator to oppose this budget! Visit
Thank you!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From STRS: Contribution shift proposal may reemerge in conference committee discussions

From STRS, June 15, 2011
Members who have been following communications from STRS Ohio during the past few months know that the system has continually expressed its concern about one component of Gov. John Kasich's proposed state budget that was first presented in March. This component called for a shift in employer/employee contributions from the five statewide pension systems. Employers would pay 2% less based on payroll and employees would pay 2% more. For STRS Ohio, this could mean an increase in member contributions to 12% from the current 10%, and a decrease in employer contributions to 12% from 14%. Requiring employers to pay less was recommended as a way to help offset the cutbacks in state funding to state and local governments.
STRS Ohio Executive Director Michael Nehf, as well as constituency groups and individual STRS Ohio members, voiced their concern with legislators about this budget bill language. In subsequent action, the contribution change was removed from Substitute House Bill 153 (the budget bill) by the House of Representatives before it was sent to the Senate. The Senate also chose to omit this language.
However, other differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bill mean it now goes to a conference committee composed of three House members and three Senate members. They will hash out the differences and, later in June, each chamber will vote on the conference committee report. Following that, the bill will be sent to the governor.
Media reports suggest that the contribution shift to 12%/12% may come up again in the conference committee. STRS Ohio continues to voice its concern, noting the following:
- The State Teachers Retirement Board has spent the past two years forming a reasonable plan to help strengthen the financial condition of the pension fund. This plan maintains the current level of employer contributions at 14% and also calls for increasing the member rate to a total of 13%. This contribution structure, plus other changes, bring the pension fund to the statutorily required 30-year funding period.
- A shift in contribution rates to 12%/12% would mean the board's plan no longer meets the 30-year funding requirement. The Retirement Board and Legislature would be faced with making additional reductions in benefits for current and future teachers, as well as retirees. The board's proposed plan already requires current and future educators to work longer and contribute more for a lesser benefit in retirement, plus provides a smaller cost-of-living adjustment for all retirees.
- The 12%/12% proposal plus the additional 3% from members contained in the board's plan - a 50% increase for members - still leaves the pension fund short of reaching the 30-year funding requirement by one-half year due to the fact that member contributions are 100% refundable and may have accrued interest attached.
As noted above, both the House and Senate chose to omit the contribution language from the budget bill, recognizing that this shift would adversely affect system funding. STRS Ohio is grateful for this action, but is also mindful that the language could reappear during conference committee meetings. The executive director and other staff are sharing their concerns with the committee members and the governor. STRS Ohio continues to advocate that any discussion of contributions should be held within the context of the pension reform legislation proposed by the five Ohio statewide public pensions systems and contained in House Bill 69 and Senate Bill 3. STRS Ohio members who would like to share an opinion on this topic should contact the members of the conference committee as soon as possible. Their contact information can be found at the following link:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ohio probe sought in pensions' currency dispute

June 14, 2011
By Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has asked for a state investigation into whether banks may have manipulated foreign exchange rates charged to Ohio pension funds and the state's injured worker insurance, potentially costing pensioners and businesses tens of millions of dollars over the past 12 years.
(Please click on this link for the rest of the article:
From John Curry, June 14, 2011

Superintendents Lodermeier, Nardini and Diglia...... you hit the voucher nail squarely on the head!

From John Curry, June 14, 2011
Now...if we can get other Supers to become vocal like you we could send Huffman and his vouchers packing! Thank you for having the courage to speak out about a bill that will destroy public schools and the lives of those who work in them. If Huffman wants his kid to continue attending Lima Central Catholic then he (in conjunction with the church) should pay the full tab. Why should his income be subsidized by the taxpayers to send his kid to a private school? According to his voucher bill (HB 136), even those with six-digit incomes will still be eligible for a state subsidy (voucher) to send their kids to private schools.
Bath schools Superintendent Bill Lodermeier thinks Huffman’s vouchers are a way to lessen costs for parents paying for private school. Given the influx of students with state-paid EdChoice vouchers, Huffman’s bill is just a way to pacify those now paying for the same education, Lodermeier said.
“You’re going to end up having the best of the best because, all of the rotten ones they don’t want for one reason or another, they’re going to come back to the public schools,” Lodermeier said. “How are you going to raise taxes, levies, when all the good parents or the parents who can afford to send their kids someplace or collect the vouchers are going to vote no? They’re not going to vote for you. It’s going to destroy the system.”
“You’re going to end up having the best of the best because, all of the rotten ones they don’t want for one reason or another, they’re going to come back to the public schools,” Lodermeier said. “How are you going to raise taxes, levies, when all the good parents or the parents who can afford to send their kids someplace or collect the vouchers are going to vote no? They’re not going to vote for you. It’s going to destroy the system.”
Will vouchers hurt public schools?
June 11, 2011
School choice advocates see state Rep. Matt Huffman’s voucher plan as needed reform. Public educators say it could spell the demise of their schools — and communities.

Huffman calls his Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship school choice for the middle class. His bill, currently in committee, would award vouchers for private education to any family that meets somewhat expansive financial guidelines. A family of four making up to $61,189 could take a voucher for the maximum yearly $4,626 to pay for religious or other private schooling.

Huffman says the bill would deliver choice to families that otherwise don’t have it. Some families can afford to send their children to private schools; other families are able to use state vouchers under the existing EdChoice program to escape failing schools. In between, Huffman believes, are parents who would opt out of public education for their children if they could.

Bath schools Superintendent Bill Lodermeier thinks Huffman’s vouchers are a way to lessen costs for parents paying for private school. Given the influx of students with state-paid EdChoice vouchers, Huffman’s bill is just a way to pacify those now paying for the same education, Lodermeier said.

The Ohio Constitution provides for free education. It doesn’t specify any particular type of school to deliver that education, Huffman said. Nor does the constitution prohibit the state from spending money on religious education, he said.

No matter what Huffman sees in the Ohio Constitution, federal courts have been clear about the separation of church and state, Lodermeier said. He believes that Huffman’s bill violates that separation.

Whatever the philosophical differences, could Huffman’s bill open the door to eliminating — or at least greatly reducing the need for — public schools?

Absolutely not, said Chad Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio. On average, only about 5 percent of eligible new students opt for the EdChoice vouchers each year. Huffman’s bill isn’t likely to draw even that number, Aldis said. Many income-eligible families live in high-performing districts, removing the primary motivation to move.

“Families have already paid a premium to get into a suburb, and they pay higher property taxes and a higher real estate price to buy the house,” Aldis said. “They often do that with education being part of that equation. They’re already paying that additional, sort-of-hidden cost. The chance of them leaving to pursue that (Huffman voucher) is relatively small.”

Bath’s Lodermeier, Elida Superintendent Don Diglia and Shawnee Superintendent Paul Nardini — all from high-performing suburban Lima districts — see a greater risk: Huffman’s bill would transfer the best students to private schools that have the ability to refuse admittance, something public schools cannot do.

“You’re going to end up having the best of the best because, all of the rotten ones they don’t want for one reason or another, they’re going to come back to the public schools,” Lodermeier said. “How are you going to raise taxes, levies, when all the good parents or the parents who can afford to send their kids someplace or collect the vouchers are going to vote no? They’re not going to vote for you. It’s going to destroy the system.”

Aldis counters with a report from the Foundation for Educational Choice — founded by Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman — showing that 18 of 19 public districts nationwide facing competition improved. The exception was Washington, D.C., which didn’t lose money when it lost students to vouchers. But even there, graduation rates went up dramatically.

Unintended or not, though, the public superintendents worry what Huffman’s bill would mean to the future of an education system that has relied on public schools. Weakening the local public schools will harm the larger communities, where quality public schools boost property values, Diglia said.

Huffman’s bill wouldn’t destroy public schools. But it open does the door for future changes. The superintendents worry that could further weaken public schools.

“Ultimately that seems to be their goal,” Nardini said. “A public system is one of the reasons that our country is so great. … I really believe this country was founded on public education and educating the masses and keeping its public informed and as educated as possible. That’s what makes us a great country, and (Huffman’s bill) kind of flies in the face of all that.”

Ronald Lederman Jr. is editorial page editor of The Lima News. Email him at

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Columbus teacher gives thanks to our Legislators!

From John Curry, June 13, 2011
"Thanks for giving me something to vote for and candidates to support to remove you from office."
Thank You Letter from a Columbus Teacher
By Joseph On June 13, 2011

Courtney Johnson is an English teacher at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School in Columbus, Ohio. She has worked for Columbus City Schools for over ten years and, recently, she’s been an outspoken critic of Senate Bill 5 and the disastrous budget bills Republicans are trying to push through the legislature.

She’s spoken about workers rights at multiple rallies in Ohio and at congressional hearings in DC and, like many other public employees in Ohio, she’s decided to fight back against Kasich and the GOP-controlled Legislature’s attacks on hard working teachers, fire fighters and police officers and to stand up against Kasich’s job-killing, anti-education budget.

Last week Courtney sent me a letter she was writing to Ohio’s elected officials and she’s kindly given us permission to print it here are Plunderbund.

A few days ago, as I lobbied at the Statehouse, there were a lot of “thank you’s” being tossed around. I’m sorry that I didn’t offer many in person, but I value these words immensely. So here goes:

Thank you House of Representatives for removing the SB5 provisions from the budget bill. Those provisions have already passed, and now it is up to the citizens of Ohio to decide if they stand.

Thank you Senators for keeping them out of the budget yesterday. Thank you for not end-running the voters of Ohio.

Thank you for doing your job: standing up for what is right for the people of the state of Ohio.

And while I’m at it:

Thank you for limiting my choice about what happens to my body.

Thank you for not letting me have a chance to speak out when you limited my choice about what happens to my body.

Thank you for cutting public education funding so deeply that my mother’s special education job no longer exists as she knew it.

Thank you for the look in my child’s eyes when I come home from whatever meeting, rally, hearing, or signature gathering just before he falls asleep.

Thank you for making me miss yet another evening being a mom.

Thank you for making it more difficult for my child and my students to compete with the “best and brightest.”

Thank you for turning my chosen career, teaching, into a four-letter word.

Thank you for enlightening me that something as complex as teaching and learning can be judged by bubbling in circles.

Thank you for getting so tired of our mass messages that you removed your email addresses from your website.

Thank you for your constant hospitality at the Statehouse, except for that one day you locked the doors.

Thank you for deciding that my life is more valuable than those of our safety forces.

Thank you for showing me how very important it is that people have the power to ensure that democracy is carried out.

Thank you for the awakening in myself and my fellow progressive brothers and sisters.

Thanks for giving me something to vote for and candidates to support to remove you from office.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some investigative journalism and some charter school facts become crystal clear!

Click image to enlarge.
From John Curry, June 12, 2011

• The school’s sponsor, its headquarters and the management and consulting firms all share the same Patterson Boulevard address. Kids Count also listed Harris’ Kettering home as an address as recently as 2009, state records show.

“Essentially they are providing oversight for themselves,” said Piet van Lier, who researches K-12 education for Policy Matters Ohio, a think tank with liberal leanings. “It is unbelievable that this is allowed to happen in Ohio charters.”

OMG, Hazel, the editor used the "L-word" in the paragraph above. Quick...... go round up the kids and hide them in the basement for protection!"

Lack of oversight an issue for model charter school system
Records show close ties at Richard Allen where there should be independence

By Christopher Magan and Margo Rutledge Kissell, Staff Writers
Updated 1:24 AM Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ohio taxpayers contribute millions of dollars to a Dayton-based charter school system known for the type of strong academic performance that would make any urban educator envious.

But Richard Allen Schools are also becoming known for something less desirable: questionable oversight of how the schools are run and how their money is spent.

A Dayton Daily News examination found that of the $6.5 million in tax dollars Richard Allen Schools received in 2009, more than $1 million went toward management and consulting firms founded by Jeanette C. Harris, Richard Allen’s CEO and president.

State auditors announced in March they uncovered $89,067 in misspent funds and numerous bookkeeping omissions and irregularities, and a “deeper, special audit” of the system’s finances is now under way. The schools are currently operating with a $234,000 deficit, according to Harris.

Harris characterized most of the audit findings as misunderstandings, and denied she has undue influence in her schools’ oversight.

“Our thrust is educating children. That is the drive from the administration all the way down to the janitor,” she said. “We don’t steal, we don’t cheat. There is no misappropriation of money in this organization.”

A Daily News examination of Richard Allen Schools’ tax filings, audits and public records shows Harris has close ties to every part of her schools’ operation, including the board charged with overseeing how the money is spent. For example:

• Kids Count of Dayton, the nonprofit sponsor charged with independently overseeing Richard Allen Schools, was founded by Harris. Until 2009 she also served as its vice president.

• Another nonprofit she formed, the Institute of Management Resources, manages millions in tax dollars for Richard Allen’s three Dayton schools and one school in Hamilton. Harris served as president of that organization until 2008.

• A for-profit company Harris founded and still runs, the Institute of Charter School Management Resources, provides consulting for the schools and collects lease payments on its facilities.

• The school’s sponsor, its headquarters and the management and consulting firms all share the same Patterson Boulevard address. Kids Count also listed Harris’ Kettering home as an address as recently as 2009, state records show.

“Essentially they are providing oversight for themselves,” said Piet van Lier, who researches K-12 education for Policy Matters Ohio, a think tank with liberal leanings. “It is unbelievable that this is allowed to happen in Ohio charters.”

Harris is one of the area’s highest-paid educators. Last year she made $220,490 — the bulk of which she says came in consulting fees from charter schools in other states, and not as president of Richard Allen Schools.

But Harris isn’t the only family member on Richard Allen’s payroll. Her daughter, Michelle Thomas, earns $133,422 as the superintendent of the schools, according to tax records.

Harris doesn’t see the hiring of her daughter as a conflict. “As long as she is doing a good job, I don’t think the board is going to fire her,” Harris said.

Harris’ husband, the Rev. Earl Harris, has also had a strong role in guiding the schools’ vision, though he is not on the payroll. He was once a board chairman for the charters and still attends every school board meeting in a non-voting, emeritus role. Charter schools, which exploded in numbers during the last decade as an alternative to problems in the public schools, are increasingly under fire for their oversight and accountability practices, including what are often close connections between the schools and the governing boards that are supposed to serve as independent bodies.

“To have a successful charter program, you have to have accountability,” said Terry Ryan, a school reform advocate with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which sponsors its own charter schools. He added that a key to accountability is independent oversight.

Some of the loudest voices calling for tougher oversight of charters are coming from charter advocates.

A proposal approved by the Ohio House that limited the clout of charter governing boards brought stinging criticism from Ryan and Chester Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Foundation and a former assistant education secretary in the Reagan administration. State senators removed the provision, but the issue could re-emerge in a conference committee, where lawmakers finalize details in the state budget.

“We are at a crossroads,” Ryan said of the charter movement in Ohio. “The House (proposal) will take us further down that nebulous road where it is not clear who is responsible for what.”

Strong performance

On the most recent state report card, Richard Allen Schools received one “effective” and two “continuous improvement” ratings, or one B and two Cs. Those are strong scores for a system serving an inner-city population. The schools typically outperform their Dayton Public Schools counterparts on state tests, while students at Richard Allen Preparatory posted the highest average score on the 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment-Literacy assessments in Montgomery County, edging out Oakwood students.

Charter advocates and other critics, however, say the solid academic performance masks a more serious problem.

“What happens with the money, how transparent they are and how closely they follow the law is just as important as good performance,” said van Lier, who featured Richard Allen along with several other charters in a Policy Matters Ohio report titled “Authorized Abuse.”

The schools are taking advantage of poor regulation in Ohio monitoring how public money is spent, allowing charters to virtually write their own rules, according to van Lier.

“There are red flags everywhere,” he said. “It is not unique to this school, but perhaps it is an egregious example. It is an indicator of how loose things are in the charter sector. There isn’t really any oversight. There is no one with the will or the power to do any oversight. Really, we already have for-profit charters in Ohio.”

Charters are supposed to be governed by independent sponsor boards, and in 2006 the Ohio legislature tightened restrictions on the number of charter school boards an individual can serve on, limiting it to two.

But the Daily News found that Richard Allen Schools has since routinely used the same board members for all four schools — an apparent violation of the law.

Harris acknowledged the problem and said the board has approved new members. She said she couldn’t name them because they have not been officially seated.

Ohio Board of Education Vice President Tom Gunlock, who sat on the Richard Allen board from 2005-06, said he can see how oversight could be compromised if sponsor boards have members from multiple jurisdictions. But, he said, that’s not really the case with Harris’ schools, which are confined to Dayton and Hamilton.

“All of her schools are serving all the same kids geographically and economically, so I don’t see an issue with that,” he said.

A charter pioneer

Harris said she was drawn into the business of educating young people by her first business partner, the late Warren Wise, who had developed an after-school tutoring program.

The two founded WestPark Academy, a private preschool, in 1996 as a way to offer black children an alternative to traditional public schools that were unsuccessful, the Richard Allen Schools website says. The school was an immediate success and quickly grew as its reputation for high expectations and results spread.

Harris and her husband opened Richard Allen Academy for students in grades 7-9 in 1999.

They have since opened Richard Allen Preparatory, which shares the building with WestPark at 627 Salem Ave.; Richard Allen Academy II, now in the former United Way Building at 184 Salem Ave.; and Richard Allen Academy III in Hamilton.

The schools follow a philosophy borne out of the schools’ namesake, Bishop Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Church. A focus is put on teaching academic fundamentals and critical thinking skills while instilling values and an understanding that “excuses and failure are unacceptable,” according to the website.

“We believe you can’t just educate the child, you’ve got to educate the whole family. We spend a lot of time with that,” Harris said.

While teachers are evaluated three times a year, administrators also grade parents twice a year with their own report cards.

Parents who receive a D or F must meet with the superintendent to discuss the importance of being involved in their child’s education before they can re-enroll their children.

Management fee questioned

Harris did not provide copies of tax forms for the Institute of Management Resources, the nonprofit that manages the state money the schools receive, or the contracts it has with Richard Allen Schools. Other tax records and state audits show the company typically receives 10 percent of all state funds allocated to the school as a “management fee.”

In exchange, the management company oversees the schools’ operation, payroll and compliance with state regulations. In 2009, according to state audits, the non-profit received more than $1 million in management fees.

Harris defended the fee, saying it is less than the industry standard of 15 percent. But auditors have questioned the expense, in part because the schools have been operating at a deficit.

In 2009, that shortfall was $1.38 million, but Harris said it has fallen to about $234,000 because the management company forgave fees owed for services.

Richard Allen has repeatedly been late paying bills, including its portion of teachers’ retirement payments to the State Teacher Retirement System.

In February, the schools were more than $90,000 delinquent, forcing the state to use “foundation funding” given to schools to operate and educate students, to make up the difference. To date, STRS officials noted, $145,000 in “foundation funds” have been used to cover the schools’ delinquencies in the retirement account.

State auditors could begin further garnishing the schools’ state funding if the costs of recent state audits are not repaid.

Richard Allen’s management company makes loans to the schools to help catch up these and other late bills. Those loans are listed on the schools’ books, but auditors said they could find no “terms” for the repayment agreements.

Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said a lack of transparency is inherent in the system in Ohio.

“The opportunity for fraud is abundantly clear if the management company has free reign to take money out of the school for undefined services and then loan the school money, claiming there isn’t enough money to pay the bills,” he said.

The Ohio Department of Education has initiated a crackdown of sorts. Richard Allen’s sponsor, Kids Count of Dayton, is unable to sponsor any new charters because it failed to follow state rules, submit the proper forms and meet oversight requirements, according to a February letter from the department.

National attention

Harris said the academic success of her schools has drawn attention from around the globe, and she’s built a lucrative consulting business because of it. She said she consults with charter schools across Ohio and in other states, such as Georgia and Connecticut.

“We’ve had people look at us from all over the world,” she said. “They’ve looked at our academic performance. They’ve looked at our financial performance. They looked at our operation and they like what they saw.”

Rhonda Ragland of Trotwood also liked what she saw. That’s why she put her son, Ross, in Richard Allen’s kindergarten program four years ago.

Now 9, Ross just finished third grade at Richard Allen Academy II. This fall, her 4-year-old granddaughter will enter WestPark’s preschool program.

Ragland knew about the recent audit because the superintendent brought it up at a parent association meeting. But she said she is far more concerned about the academic performance of her son and the other children in the school.

“I believe in test scores. I believe in performance,” said Ragland, a mortgage underwriter for Fifth Third Bank in Dayton. “Basically, it’s the only school in this area that’s going to give me the challenge I need.”

Hey, Governor, I hear that you spoke at a graduation!

From John Curry, June 12, 2011
Kasich speaks at ECOT graduation, supports one of the GOP's biggest donors
By Joseph On June 12, 2011
Kasich will tell you he wants to spend “more dollars in the classroom” and that he wants to “improve our schools” but today he attended the graduation ceremonies at ECOT – an online, for-profit charter school with one of the worst graduation rates in the state and an operator who is one of the biggest Republican donors in Ohio.

ECOT, The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is the 21st largest “district” in the state of Ohio. As Greg pointed out last month, the state spent $59,978,866 on the school last year – millions of which seem to go directly into the pocket of William Lager, the schools founder.

Lager has returned a lot of that money – hundreds of thousands of dollars just last year! – directly into the campaign coffers of some of his biggest (typically Republican) supporters – including tens of thousands of dollars directly to Speaker of the House Speaker William Batchelder, Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus and Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O’Connor.

Which might explain why this school has been gaining support among Ohio’s Republicans even though it has been sucking hundreds of millions in state funding away from Ohio’s public schools while failing Ohio’s students for nearly a decade.

In giving the commencement speech this year Kasich will join the ranks of Jeb Bush and Ohio Republican politicians Mark Wagoner, Gary Cates, Jim Petro and John Husted. All have spoken at past ECOT graduations and, not surprisingly, all have received contributions from Lager.

During the last campaign Kasich said he would push for State takeover of Cleveland Public Schools if they didn’t improve, but ECOT continues to have a lower graduation rate and a lower attendance rate than Cleveland Public Schools. Not only is Kasich not pushing for State takeover of ECOT – he’s promoting the school and of his party’s largest political donors – by speaking at their graduation.

If Kasich was serious about promoting the best schools and the best teachers, if Kasich was serious about putting more money back into the classroom, if Kasich was serious about doing the best for Ohio’s children, you really have to wonder why he is promoting a school like ECOT that:

  • Has had consistently flat or declining test scores for a nine year period
  • Has graduation rates of below 35% over that entire time (consistently 20 points lower than Cleveland Schools’ scores)
  • Has attendance rates that are consistently below the state average
  • Has student achievement scores that are significantly below state averages
  • Received 36% more in per pupil funding than the state average
  • Is run by an unlicensed superintendent and unlicensed assistant superintendent who are each being paid over $100,000 per year (above statewide averages)
  • Pays teachers are paid an average salary of $34,450, well below the state average of $55,812.

As a business, ECOT works great. They take in tons of cash (from the state), they make big profits for the founder, and they do it all while underpaying their teachers. As an educator, however, they kind of suck.

I guess we now know what Kasich thinks is important in a school.

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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