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Monday, August 9, 2010

The tangled web of influence behind Klein's decision to allow the expansion of Girls Prep charter to go forward

Last week, Joel Klein disclosed he would invoke “emergency powers” to enable Girls Prep Charter School to expand within PS 94, even as it pushes out a program for autistic kids, contrary to the ruling of the NY State Education commissioner, David Steiner.

Steiner had held that Klein's actions violated state law, as Klein had refused to recognize that the autistic program was a school, any change to which required a public process occur beforehand, including informing the parents of the children who would be affected. Klein's actions in invoking emergency powers to displace a school for autistic children on behalf of a charter school has provoked much outrage from parents, elected officials, and special education advocates alike.

Mike Klonsky has pointed out that hedge fund maven Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, subject of a recent NY Times profile, is on the board of Public Prep, the charter management organization (CMO) that operates Girls Prep. But this only scratches the surface of this massively connected charter school.

Also on the board of Public Prep is Eric Grannis, husband of Eva Moskowitz, operator of the Harlem Success chain of charter schools, who has provoked her share of controversy by aggressively expanding within public school buildings, also with the aid and assistance of Joel Klein, to the extent of letting him know which public schools to close for her benefit. Grannis is a founding member of Girls Prep board and former counsel of the board:

Sarah Robertson is also on the Public Prep board and remains head of the Girls Prep board. Sarah is the wife of Spencer Robertson, the founder of PAVE charter school, installed by Klein in PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn. PAVE is the subject of another complaint to the Commissioner, charging that its expansion will have damaging effects on the students with disabilities at PS 15, impacts which were omitted from the DOE's Educational Impact Statement. Unfortunately, in that case, the Commissioner did not see these effects as important enough to require them to be mentioned in the EIS.

Spencer Robertson, husband of Sarah, is the son of the hedge fund billionaire, Julian Robertson, who controls two influential and deep-pocketing foundations, the Tiger Foundation and the Robertson Foundation, both of which support Bloomberg's agenda to the tune of millions of dollars, through the Fund for Public Schools and other vehicles.

The Robertson Foundation is also among the largest contributors to Education Reform Now, the aggressive pro-charter school organization, and is one of the main funders of the NYC Charter Center, on whose board Joel Klein sits. The head of the board of the NYC Charter Center is Phoebe Boyer, the Executive Director of the Tiger Foundation and Interim Executive Director of Robertson Foundation.

Julian Robertson is in the news recently, not about his efforts on behalf of NYC charters, but because he took the Gates/Buffett billionaire’s pledge to give away most of his money to charity. Why that couldn’t include finding space for the charter schools run by his son and daughter-in-law, so that they wouldn’t have to push out autistic and other high-needs kids from critical space in their public schools is hard to figure out.

Perhaps contributing to his reluctance is the fact that these billionaire hedge fund privateers are intent on “leveraging” their private contributions as much as possible, as one of them, Whitney Tilson, pointed out in the NY Times article:

“It’s the most important cause in the nation, obviously, and with the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged,” he said.

Julian Robertson is also a philanthropist who is awfully good at avoiding to pay NYC taxes, even to the extent of hiring a social secretary to keep track of how many days he should stay out of the city each year.

Why did Girls Prep want to expand in the first place? See the SUNY charter center fiscal dashboard, which shows that this school had recently moved into dangerous territory fiscally speaking, and most likely wanted an infusion of taxpayer funds generated by higher enrollment, without having to dip into the hefty pockets of their board members or Spencer’s generous father.


Leonie Haimson said...

Excellent post, Leonie- you accurately connect the dots that form this branch of the billionaire boy's club and venture philanthropists.

One more thing we learned in CEC One from the GPCS charter renewal application is that Girls Prep is expanding its reach and network- not just by creating a new single sex school every year year for the next 5 years, but has also spun off its own board to create a non profit (hah) CMO called PublicPrep.

The outfit clearly needs a lot of that guaranteed income stream in the form of state/federal dollars to build its empire, of which it will make 5- 10 cents on every dollar in management fees.

Let's not forget that hedge funders are genius at seeing the arbitrage opportunity in a market and getting there before anyone else does.

Wonder what would happen if getting out of the edumarket becomes the optimal strategy?
Where will our schools be then?

I tried to post this on NYCPSPB but don't have the bandwidth to get it up on there- feel free to post for me!

Lisa Donlan

Pogue said...

Wow, so charters have been for profit all along. Jeez, when do you think the editorials will rail against this? 2012? 2013? Ever? Never?

NYC Educator said...

Wow. Why on earth is this not in one of the three major metropolitan newspapers? I mean, I know why, but how is this not more important than whatever nonsense was on the cover of the Post this morning?

Queens Teacher said...

Please someone! Find some way, some how to get this info out there in the mainstream media!!!

Tom Hoffman said...

We need a chart.

Disclaimer: I'm officially on vacation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous post, I am also a queens teacher why is this information not in the mainstream media, the public needs to knowthat this is just the tip of the iceberg since the bloomberg/klein era took control.

Anonymous said...

This is total insanity, this kind of information needs to be all over the news and mainstream newspapers. These people starting with Bloomberg/Klein are manipulating the law, the whole thing is shady, this has to stop!!