Friday, July 22, 2011

Charter School Scandal Expands to State Department

Two more educators have fallen victim to the botched efforts by the LA Dept. of Education to deal with irregularities at a New Orleans charter school. The article linked here by reporter Andrew Vancour of the Times Picayune identifies Folwell Dunbar and Jacob Landry as the two Education Department staff members fired this week connected with the problems at Abramson Science and Technology Charter School.

But it looks like once again the wrong educators have been fired. The questionable firings started at the school when two young teachers were apparently fired for making legitimate complaints to the State Dept. about possible violations of education and child protection laws by charter school operators. Now the firings have extended to at least one of the Dept. staffers who tried to properly report and correct the problems at the school. According to the Picayune article, Dunbar after an attempt was made to bribe him last year, insisted on corrective actions by the Dept. including suspension of the school's charter. Now that the charter has been suspended and the charter operators removed, it's mystifying to observers why Mr Dunbar and his boss Landry, would be fired.

All this demonstrates why the practice of approving dozens of charter operators with minimal qualifications and with little state oversight has been a very bad policy. These rampant charter school adoptions proliferated under the administration of State Superintendent Pastorek who apparently never met a school privatization scheme he didn't like.

In a statement, Dunbar said, "I was terribly shocked and disappointed" when the department of education let him go, adding, "I am very proud of the department's post-Katrina reform efforts, and am honored to have been given an opportunity to contribute."

Last summer when Dunbar's recommendations were ignored and apparently hidden from BESE, he recommended the following: "Dunbar made six recommendations for improving oversight: more clearly defined roles for the state, the RSD and charter school boards; a "comprehensive" school quality review system; a more clearly spelled out procedure for handling complaints; whistle-blower protection policies; and more of an effort to live up to the idea of "complete transparency."

Maybe if BESE had seen his recommendations and adopted at least the whistle-blower protection, Dunbar would still have his job today. Possibly the two young teachers fired by the charter operator may have been allowed a hearing and had a chance to be reinstated by BESE which is supposed to have authority over all state approved charters. But because of a State Superintendent dominated-dictatorial culture at the State Department, BESE never got a chance to do its job.

In a statement announcing the firings, acting Superintendent Ollie Tyler said there was a need for the charter school oversight department to go "in a new direction".

That "new direction" should be as follows:
BESE should reclaim its constitutional authority over the State Department of Education, and the State Superintendent of Education should answer to BESE instead of the reverse. We also need to elect more members to BESE who are not just lackeys of privatization interests and our anti-public education governor!

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