Home > News and Commentary > Suffer The Children. The War On Public Education. One School District’s Story.

Suffer The Children. The War On Public Education. One School District’s Story.

American Commentary Blog Has Obtained Training Materials And Documents Of The Civitas Institute’s Training Of The Wake County School’s Board Of Education Through A Records Request Pursuant To North Carolina’s State Open Records Act. Material Includes A Civitas Institute Hit Piece On N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight (D-Dare County).

Education has long been a boogeyman of right wing politics. But the modern attacks on the financial well being and the idea of a free appropriate education for our nation’s children by the nation’s monied interests has its roots in the Powell memo recently revealed to much of the nation in the Citizens United v. FEC case. With the rise of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, anti-federal government rhetoric, and the rise of political based economics largely discredited previously by economists as “voo doo” economics, ideological and financial pressures have mounted. Income tax cuts at the top became prevalent and the Department of Education funding cut. This has produced strains on state and local governments to fund education more resulting in the rise of property taxes on America’s middle class. In economic downturns such as the one we have been in since 2007, the results are state and local governments become deluged in red ink with no cushion. For many who have memories before “Reaganomics”, there wasn’t these large property and local tax increases, lotteries, and such. With the Reagan revolution and the rise of Milton Freidman’s Chicago School of economics, there has come the idea that privatization is the model of the future. Privatization can best be described as getting rid of what is public and instead funding private interests as a replacement (through tax payer dollars or public debt usually accompanied with tax cuts, tax “credits” for private schools and/or inflating the money supply). However, private interests, more than not, conflict with the public interest and do not share the same goals. And with the ascendancy of the Bill Clinton presidency and the “Third Way” Democrats called the Democratic Leadership Council and its related “think tanks” who have controlled the national Democratic Party since, public education, teachers and teachers unions, and the concepts of a free and appropriate public education has fewer and fewer friends in government on the federal level. For readers interested in the travails of public education under the Obama administration, I suggest they read the online journal of madfloridian at the site, the Democratic Underground.

One school system had been defying the trends from the political parties, conservative court decisions, and the Reagan revolution through the years. That school system which has become the largest in the state, is the Wake County Public School System of North Carolina. Its diversity program was based on socio-economic factors and its success was accomplished with a magnet school program which helped draw diverse people into schools in different neighborhoods. It created diversity on every level, socio-economic, racial or ethnic, disability or ability, regardless of neighborhood demographic or location. One of its goals was to achieve no more than 40% of a schools population being dependent on subsidized lunches and allowed for even distribution of resources through all schools independent of neighborhood make up. Though the recent urban sprawl of Wake County since 2000 has caused around 30% of the schools to miss its 40% targets on subsidized lunches lately, the infrastructure remains. It survived the Gringrich revolution in Congress and challenges from the right by having a concensus among even the most staunch conservatives and most staunch liberals on the school board working together and being proud of the system’s diversity and educational accomplishments. In an article by Bob Geary titled, “Wake County goes to hell” in the Independent Weekly, this concensus was noted,

Indeed, the consensus was intact a year ago, according to Bill McNeal and Tom Oxholm.

Their book, A School District’s Journey to Excellence: Lessons from Business and Education, is a text for school officials and board members. Published early in 2009, it recounts how Wake’s schools, though not perfect, “gained national recognition for the quality of their educational program.”

McNeal, the African-American insider, was superintendent of Wake schools before Burns. Based on Wake’s achievements, McNeal was named “National Superintendent of the Year” by the American Association of School Administrators in 2004.

The article also went on to mention that Tom Oxholm was a Republican accountant that was elected in the GOP landslide of ’94 and was part of a group to show that the school system was wasteful with taxpayer money, but came to the conclusion this was not so and co-authored the aforementioned book. He determined the Wake School System was efficiently managed and was actually a bargain. He also cited the Wake County Board of Commissioners with chronically underfunding it.

So what has happened with the Wake County Public School System? What has happened is that the board elections in 2009 was sparsely voted on by only 4.5% of Wake’s voting population and that well funded right wing organizations took advantage of the low turnout numbers and the burgeoning extreme Tea Party to put a new majority in charge that is hostile to what has been the system’s goals for educating Wake County’s children throughout these years.

The new school board members swept into office in November of 2009 owe their success largely due to Raleigh businessman and former state Rep. Art Pope, a funder and organizer of right wing causes and “think tanks” along with the John William Pope Foundation named after his late father. According to a Sourcewatch profile, it provides the following information,

Art Pope is the president and vice-chairman of the board of directors for Variety Wholesalers Inc., and a director of the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity, which organized the Tax Day Tea Parties across the country, and which organized “town hall” opposition to health care reform in 2009. He is a member of the board of directors of the John Locke Foundation, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, and the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.[1]

Sourcewatch also points to just how partisan and ideological Pope is due to his work to purge moderates from the Republican Party.

Such a highly partisan and ideological movement taking over non partisan positions such as the school board should bother Wake County residents who depend on concensus in providing its children the best opportunity at equal access to the best education regardless of background. As we look deeper into their proposals, the more parents and students should have concerns and apply scrutiny. As pointed out by Bob Geary in “Wake County goes to hell“, Art Pope joined forces with businessman Bob Luddy, and former state Rep. Russell Caps, president of the right wing Wake County Taxpayers Association to push the Wake Schools Community Alliance, a new group from which the newly elected board members came from. Geary noted that Pope believes public schools are inefficient monopolies, Caps is a fundamentalist Christian that doesn’t like evolution taught as widely accepted scientific theory, and Luddy started a charter school and two private schools, one of which Wake school board member Ron Margiotta is on the board of. He along with the new board members from the Wake Schools Community Alliance plan to take the Wake School system in a different direction. Wake County residents soon found out what that direction is.

On the website of the Wake Schools Community Alliance website, they claim that they are a non-partisan group. That begs the question, on what planet are they considered so? They are backed by the most partisan hard right Republican organizations and funders in the state of North Carolina and endorsed by the Wake County Republican Party chaired by Claude Pope. Since they have taken their positions and stated what they have in mind for the Wake County Public School System, chaos has ensued and has gathered national notice. They plan to scrap the diversity program (and its busing methods) for “community” based schools by creating community zones like other districts in the U.S. have taken in resegregating their schools. It should be noted also that the aforementioned political operatives and organizations that have backed the new members of the Wake Schools Community Alliance support more charter schools and even vouchers in the name of “choice“. At this point, one should ask who’s choice? When pondering if this is the right approach, one should know the history and background of the ideology. In the UCLA study titled, “Equity Overlooked:Charter Schools and Civil Rights Policy” as part of its civil rights project, the following historical points were made;

School choice is a longstanding concept with important early historical roots in the days of resistance to southern desegregation. Although eventually blocked by the Supreme Court, one early reaction to Brown v. Board of Education was to shut down public school districts and provide state-financed vouchers allowing white students to attend private schools (referred to as segregation academies). “Freedom of choice” plans, another popular southern resistance strategy, were versions of token integration. In what was often an atmosphere of violence, intimidation and virulent opposition, black students were given the opportunity to “choose” to transfer to majority white schools. These plans were used for years to effectively preserve segregation. In 1968, more than a decade after Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled in a case from New Kent County, Virginia, that “rather than further the dismantling of the dual system, the plan has operated to simply burden children and their parents with a responsibility be] placed squarely on the School Board.” Freedom to choose in New Kent meant that, three years after the strategy was adopted, no white student in the county had elected to attend the segregated black school, and 85% of the county’s black students were still attending all-black schools. Similar patterns were documented across the South.

In both vouchers and freedom of choice plans, educational choice was used in the aftermath of Brown as a way to circumvent desegregation.

During this same time period, economist Milton Friedman proposed a model for education reform, based on his economic philosophy, calling for the privatization of public schools. ”

The purpose of Wake’s magnet schools and diversity program was to create programs of academic interest that would draw in diverse Wake children into schools, primarily in the inner city, that might be normally left only to the disadvantaged and the poor without special programs and opportunity. Would neighborhood zones “zone out” children from this opportunity? And in the case of charter schools, they do not receive the same board oversight and requirements of other “public” schools and tend to be selective. There are also studies that show the privateers of these schools skimming off the taxpayers’ dime are not all that cost efficient either. And while the school board has said it plans to keep the magnet schools and spread them out (one presumes to their suburban supporters) it all defeats the orginal intent of them. But this is the direction the new board makeup has pursued and chaos has followed. Superintendent Dr. Del Burns tendered his resignation effective on June 30th. The board after meeting in closed sessions decided to put him on leave (with pay). The incident as reported by Kim Genardo, NBC17 at MyNC.com summed up the events,

It took three separate closed-door meeting and a total of more than four hours of debate to suspend Burns. The debate began after Burns expressed his view of the current state of the Wake County School Board to several local media outlets.

“I’m an educator, not a politician,” Burns said in a Feb. 18 interview. “And what I’ve observed is something I’ve not seen before: partisan politics at the board table.”

Margiotta explained Tuesday that Burns’ “choice to conduct these interviews was a poor decision and totally inappropriate in the opinion of this body.”

There was also the contentious meetings when the board voted on doing away with Wake’s diversity program such as the following from NBC17 titled, “NAACP Files Formal Complaint Against Wake School Board“,

At the March 2 meeting, Margiotta commented, “Here come the animals, out of the cages,” after witnessing the crowd’s reaction to congressional candidate Bill Randall’s remarks to the Board.

“The image of animals out of their cages is covered in the history of racism and ugliness and hatred in this country,” said the Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president. “We know what it means.”

An NAACP attorney, Al McSurely, questioned Margiotta’s educational background and referred to the members halting the diversity policy as “clowns.” Barber likened the board’s handling of the issues to a gang, a dictatorship, communism — and the Mafia. Margiotta is of Italian descent.

And there is this from a report by Mike Baker of the Associated Press,

The talk was angry, as terms like “segregation” peppered many arguments. A crowd of students sitting outside the doors of the meeting chanted so loudly that they briefly disrupted the hearing. Extra police officers were on hand to provide security.

Raleigh police said three men were charged with trespassing or resisting officers. One was released and two others remained jailed Tuesday night.

“Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Resegregation has got to go,” an arrested man chanted as officers placed him in the back of a squad car.

And there also was the partisan vote the board took to have the rightwing think tank, the Civitas Institute, to “train” the school board on how to run a public school system. The Civitas Institute is funded by guess who? It is funded by the John William Pope Foundation. The following post by Chris Fitzsimon at NC Policy Watch called. “Connect the rightwing dots” had this to say on the issue,

The staff members of Civitas are unabashed supporters of vouchers and tax credits. They fight efforts to reduce class size, oppose funding for early childhood programs for at-risk kids, and routinely call for less support for teachers and school administrators.

The chair of the Civitas Board is conservative businessman Bob Luddy, who just happens to have been the largest single indivdual contributor to the campaigns of the four members of the Gang of Five elected this fall. …

The Director of the Pope Civitas Institute is Frances De Luca, who used to run the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the group that staged a rally in support of the new board majority before a December meeting.

Pope is not only a big contributor to AFP, he serves on the national board.

The AFP rally was led by staff member Chris Farr, the ex-wife of Republican lawyer Thomas Farr, recently hired by the Gang of Five to audit the school board’s legal expenses and provide other legal advice.

American Commentary Blog has acquired some of the Civitas materials used through North Carolina’s Open Records Act. The substance of this acquisition will be discussed.

The first training session occured on March 5th, 2010 and the material American Commentary has acquired is from this session. The following is a break down of the day’s presentations and I have added a profile of each presenter of the subject topics. The first topic that day was, “The Roles and Responsibilities of School Board Members” presented by Lindalyn Kakadelis. Lindalyn Kakadelis is the director of the N.C. Education Alliance, a project of the right wing John Locke Foundation. The next topic presented was “Employment Law and School Districts” presented by Doug Punger, Attorney Faw, Fogler and Johnson, Former Counsel with Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Mr. Punger gained some notoriety for defending a generally anti-gay school board but otherwise served fairly amiably until he retired from his position from general counsel. What this means in terms of the board and the new anti-bullying law, time will tell. The next topic discussed was “School Finance: What a School Board Member Needs to Know” presented by Phil Price, Chief Financial Officer, North Carolina Department of Instruction. The final subject was “Parliamentary Procedure: Learning The Ropes” and was presented by Phil Strach, Attorney Ogletree Deakins, practices in the area of employment law and advises on questions of parliamentary procedure. It cannot go without mention that Phil Strach is legal counsel for the North Carolina GOP. He also represents management vs labor. That should bother teachers and aspiring teachers alike, especially since schools with higher standardized test scores receive more money and there seems to be a move afoot to fire teachers where school performance is lower. Since poor, disadvantaged and disabled kids typically score lower on standardized testing, teachers in resegregated schools with higher concentrations of these children would be paid less for tougher jobs and have their employment security at risk (which would discourage people from entering the field). This approach does not serve all of Wake County’s children nor the system as a whole. To scrap a nationally recognized system that serves the whole county and ranks above the national average academically so a few surburbanites can have smaller segregated neighborhood schools on the taxpayer’s dime that lack civil rights oversight while at the same time, inner city schools become crowded and less cost effective, seems to be a bad and risky idea. The documentation from this “training” session is only concerned it seems with employment law, parliamentary procedure to control and/or shut off debate, and on implementation accompanied by budget overview. Included was something unrelated to the job of school board membership, a story from the Civitas Institute’s “magazine” concerning state funds on a contract for Jennette’s Pier having been given to Clancy & Theys of which Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight’s (D-Dare) construction company has ended up a subcontractor for. I suppose in handing out this partisan piece, the sense of irony escapes them concerning their positions on charter schools and vouchers given the benefits to their cronies (such as Luddy). In fact, privatization and corporatism are what’s financially and morally wrong in today’s America. Below are samples from the Civitas training materials American Commentary received (not all are given due to volume).

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  1. December 3, 2010 at 7:40 am

    the public schools on our district can really give some good education to young kids. they have high standards “~~

  1. July 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

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