“Uh, our effort is one that keeps with the original spirit of the dialogue, which has been: ‘Let’s get the most, most diverse and highest quality responders to respond to the RFP’ … We have a set of community organizations who are trusted in making the recommendation to us.”  – Louisiana State Superintendent John White (2015)

The post-Katrina John McDonogh story is a “flim flam.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “flim flam” is “dishonest behavior meant to take money or property from someone.”

Similar to the process that the RSD underwent to select Future Is Now Schools as a charter operator for John McDonogh, once again, the RSD has not been transparent in its process for selecting an operator for John McDonogh. John McDonogh alumni president, Kenneth Gill, Sr. narrated (2014): “During the 2010-2011 school year, they decided– Mr. White decided– the school wanted to go charter. It was not a process. He said: ‘Either go charter or close down!’ ”

This time, in 2014, half way into the third “process,” John White, the now State Superintendent of Louisiana, stated that it has been “a community-based process” and that the community based organizations “are not all RSD entities, and the RSD is only part of the selection process. The OPSB has an equal seat on the committee that will make those recommendations.” White stated that it included the MICAH Project, the Orleans Parish Education Network (OPEN), the RSD and the OPSB. White further explained: “We have a set of community organizations who are trusted in making the recommendation to us.”

John McDonogh’s community did not learn the specifics of who was on the review committee until The Times Picayune published the information on February 19th. The review committee includes: Stan Smith, the former interim superintendent of the Orleans Parish public schools; Zakenya Perry of the Orleans Public Education Network; Daphne Haley of the MICAH Project; Ethan Ashley of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans; and Carol McCall of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans.

The JMSHSSC has partnered with a host of organizations over the past ten months, and its strategic, research-based academic plan includes a list of organizations that the committee intends to build partnerships with as it revives John McDonogh Senior High School. OPEN, the MICAH Project and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans are not a part of the JMSHSSC’s plan because these organizations are funded by blatantly pro-charter and Teach For America entities.

Orleans Public Education Network (OPEN)

The OPSB’s September agenda listed OPEN as one of the community organizations that the Ad Hoc Committee for John McDonogh should engage. Since Louisiana legislators approved the infamous legislation that led to the takeover of 107 of our schools while most New Orleans residents were still evacuating for Hurricane Katrina, there has been no transparency or trust. Yet, OPEN, according to its website, promises to bring transparency and trust by “ensuring that there is an informed and engaged community that exercises influence on policy and programs.”

Let us consider the history of OPEN. The Committee for a Better New Orleans, Greater New Orleans Education Foundation, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Children’s Defense Fund, and Louisiana Justice Institute came together to form OPEN in 2007. The Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO) merged with the Metropolitan Area Committee (MAC) and formed the CBNO/MAC, whose major donors were: the Rosenthal & Jacobs Foundation, Joseph C. Canizaro, the Reily Foundation and the Business Council of New Orleans.  [information on the involvement of these entities forthcoming in Part II] Prior to Hurricane Katrina and the takeover of 107 of our schools, CBNO/MAC’s Position Paper on Education Reform measures wrote:

“Though complete takeover of the school system is now unlikely in the wake of the hiring of Superintendent Amato, takeover of lowest performing schools appears to be infinitely more palatable, even preferable to 15% of people surveyed… Currently, the proposed legislation would involve a takeover of a select group of lowest performing schools (yet to be determined) who would become part of a “recovery district” and whose management would then be outsourced…There are national models to suggest that this form of takeover would not only benefit the recovery schools, but also the overall system.”

CBNO created a “Blueprint for a Better New Orleans.” CBNO is a co-founder of OPEN.

Furthermore, sibling of BESE board President Chas Roemer, Caroline Roemer-Shirley, was a member of OPEN’s board of directors, according to OPEN’s 990 tax returns from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 years. Roemer-Shirley is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools openly supports charter schools, and members of its board include a KIPP New Orleans board member and a Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) board member. While Caroline Roemer-Shirley is listed as a board member on OPEN’s last available 990’s; however, she is not listed on OPEN’s website as a board member.

So who funds OPEN? OPEN is funded by entities such as the Reily Foundation and the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF). On OPEN’s website, Robert Reily is listed as the Vice Chairman of OPEN’s board of directors (he is also on the Regional Advisory Board of Teach For America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta). In 2011 and 2012, the Reily Foundation funded OPEN with $80,000. The Reily Foundation also funded the Greater New Orleans Foundation with $17.1 million as a “liquidating distribution” in 2012.

Who is the Greater New Orleans Foundation? According to 990 tax returns, from 2010 to 2012, the Greater New Orleans Foundation funded OPEN with $305,000. In Charter Schools, Race and Urban Space (2014), Dr. Kristen Buras noted that Anthony Recasner, co-founder of FirstLine Schools, served as a former chairman and director of the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s board of trustees. FirstLine Schools is one of the charter management organizations that applied for use of John McDonogh’s building. Steven W. Usdin, brother in law to OPSB board member Sarah Usdin, served on the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Asset Development Committee. The Greater New Orleans Foundation has special “donor advised funds,” such as the “Usdin-Newel Fund,” which are often political in nature, since the donor selects the entity that it will support. Sarah Usdin is the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, a charter incubator that funds organizations that applied for John McDonogh: FirstLine Schools, KIPP and Bricolage Academy. Since the Greater New Orleans Foundation provides financial support to OPEN, it is likely that OPEN will support organizations like FirstLine Schools and other charter schools supported by New Schools for New Orleans.

The Chairman of OPEN’s board of directors is also ex-officio board member of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans and the CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana. Formerly the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, the Foundation for Louisiana’s mission is to “invest in people and practices that work to reduce vulnerability and build stronger, more sustainable communities statewide.” Former and current board members of the Foundation for Louisiana include people who are current board members on Teach For America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta board of directors, OPEN and Greater New Orleans Foundation. For example, R. King Milling is on the Teach For America Greater New Orleans – Louisiana Delta’s Regional Advisory Board. Thus, it is not surprising that the Foundation for Louisiana has funded entities like the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans and even OPEN.

The MICAH Project

On the OPSB’s September agenda, the MICAH Project was also listed as one of the community organizations that the Ad Hoc Committee for John McDonogh should engage.

“Community members should have a voice in shaping community schools since strong community voice encourages community buy-in to the newly designed school system, holds schools accountable to the community, and, most importantly, helps ensure that our children have access to an outstanding education.”     –MICAH Project’s website

John McDonogh’s community has held the RSD and its hand-selected charter operator, FINS, accountable, and both entities have wretchedly failed.

When the JMSHSSC surveyed and engaged the community through a Town Hall and two Community Engagement Meetings, it found that people sought a college and career community-based traditional public high school operated by the OPSB. Unfortunately, the Micah Project works with the RSD to select charter operators. Their website states:

“The Micah Project is excited to be the first community group to successfully work with the Recovery School District (RSD) to choose which charter operator will run a neighborhood public school and hopes to pave the way for other community groups to participate in the process.”

However, the community around John McDonogh does not wish to have a charter operator. The Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools noted that out of the 23 comment cards tuned in at the Community Engagement Meetings, the “overwhelming majority favored return to OPSB” as a “direct run high school.”

Just like OPEN, pro-charter foundations fund the MICAH Project. The MICAH Project received funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Walton Foundation. From 2010 to 2012, according to 990 tax returns, the Greater New Orleans Foundation funded MICAH $45,000. The Walton Family Foundation is one of the largest financial supporters of the charter school movement. On the Walton Family Foundation’s 2013 990 tax return, it states that the foundation’s largest program-related investment is “to provide support for the development of charter school facilities.”

Furthermore, the Walton Family Foundation states that its “long term commitment to Teach For America (TFA) has continued to fuel the placement of talented young corps members” as teachers as well as support TFA’s “pipeline of educational leaders” as policy makers and elected officials. BESE representative Kira Orange-Jones serves as the Executive Director of TFA Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta. From 2012 – 2014, TFA had a $1.2 million contract with the Recovery School District (and not with the OPSB). From 2011 to 2013, according to tax returns, the Walton Family Foundation funded the MICAH Project $480,000. The Walton Family Foundation is likely to support organizations that will support charter schools that hire Teach For America corps members.

The Urban League of Greater New Orleans (ULGNO)

The OPSB’s September agenda also suggested that the Ad Hoc Committee for John McDonogh engage the ULGNO. As stated above, this was one of the organizations that came together in 2007 to create OPEN. Once again, the ULGNO’s board members include the Chairman of OPEN; a representative of Adams and Reese, a law firm connected to Roemer-Shirley’s Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools; and the Vice Chair of Bricolage Academy’s board of directors (one of the charter groups that applied for use of John McDonogh’s building).

According to the ULGNO’s website: “We are experts effecting change in economic and educational issues that adversely affect African-Americans and others living in the Greater New Orleans area.“ It is a conflict of interest for the ULGNO to be on the review committee responsible for selecting the operator of John McDonogh.

Where does the ULGNO receive its funding? Once again, the Walton Family Foundation designated a $1.2 million grant to the ULGNO last November and a total of $846,000 in 2012 and 2013. The Louisiana Department of Education currently has a $480,000 contract with the Urban League of New Orleans to provide academic enrichment to children. Other financial supports of the Urban League have been the Foundation for the Mid South Inc., the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Ford Foundation, etc. [more information on these foundations forthcoming in Part II]

Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans (CF1)

While the OPSB’s September agenda item on the Ad Hoc Committee for John McDonogh did not include (CF1), it did include the Business Council of New Orleans, which has close ties to CF1. A business woman created CF1 in 2006 to create a “unified levee board comprised of experts who would be guided by sound principles and would operate transparently and without political patronage.”

CF1’s 7-Year Status Report documented its collaboration with numerous organizations that include: Business Council of New Orleans, Scott Cowen Institute at Tulane University, Educate Now!, Forward New Orleans, Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, Louisiana Department of EducationNew Schools for New Orleans, the Urban League, Greater New Orleans Foundation, Teach For America and the Recovery School District.

CF1’s Executive Committee is made up of almost exclusively white members, while for the last forty years, John McDonogh has had nearly all black students. There are plenty of conflicts of interest regarding the people who sit and have currently sat on CF1’s Resource Council. There are numerous connections between CF1 and the major entities and individuals behind charter schools in New Orleans. CF1’s Resource Council includes: Paul H. Flower, Anthony Recasner, Kathy Riedlinger, Caroline Roemer-Shirley, Diana Lewis, Leslie Jacobs and Scott Cowen.

First, Paul H. Flower is the Chairman of the Business Council of New Orleans. Flower sat with BESE representative James Garvey on the “Master Plan Oversight Committee” under the Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education at Tulane University. The original school facilities Master Plan had arranged for John McDonogh to be “landbanked;” apparently, John McDonogh was an oversight to the Master Plan Oversight Committee.

In addition, the Resource Council includes Anthony Recasner, the co-founder of FirstLine Schools, one of the charter groups that applied for John McDonogh’s building. Caroline Roemer-Shirley is the sister of BESE board President Chas Roemer. Kathy Riedlinger, also on the Resource Council, is the CEO of Lusher Charter School, and the Vice President of the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools’ board. While Diana Lewis is a Teach For America Greater New Orleans – Louisiana Delta board member along with Leslie Jacobs.

CF1’s Resource Council even includes Leslie Jacobs, herself, the BESE board member who was the founder of the Recovery School District. Leslie also sits on the Business Council of New Orleans’s board, and her brother, Stephen Rosenthal, sits on the boards of FirstLine Schools, New Schools for New Orleans, KIPP New Orleans and Collegiate Academies.

Sarah Usdin, a current OPSB board member and the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, previously served on CF1’s Resource Council. When the OPSB voted 6-0 in favor of Resolution 18-14, for the immediate return of John McDonogh, Sarah Usdin, was conveniently not present.

Other influential individuals on CF1’s Resource Council include Scott Cowen, the former president of Tulane University; Jim Letten, former US Attorney and current Assistant Dean of Tulane University’s Law School; and Michael Cowan, a board member of the city of New Orleans’ Ethics Review Board. While the late Hal Brown, who was the DNIA member who submitted the proposal to charter John McDonogh in 2010, served as a Committee Member for CF1.

Furthermore, CF1, OPEN, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, New Schools for New Orleans and Leslie Jacobs’ Educate Now! all endorse Forward New Orleans for Public Schools. According to its website, this is a coalition led by the Business Council of New Orleans, “does not seek to resolve the question of governance or control.” CF1 participated in interviewing school board candidates about their position regarding Forward New Orleans’ platform.

BESE “Sucker-Punched” the John McDonogh Community

There has been no transparency in this selection “process”: the third time that the John McDonogh community has gone through a “process” with the RSD, only to be “flim flammed” again. According to BESE board member, Dr. Lottie Beebe, BESE members “sucker-punched” the John McDonogh community “because this group, many in New Orleans, had no idea that there would be a request for proposals.”

So whose voice matters on the future of John McDonogh Senior High School? The Times Picayune posted a poll asking: “What should be done with John McDonogh High School?” The poll had four options and out of 544 people, 319, or 58 percent, voted that that the school should be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board.

At the full BESE board meeting in February, Dr. Beebe criticized BESE’s resolution to support the RSD’S request for proposal applications for John McDonogh:

“We talk about accountability…But I think we also need to recognize that our children will be educated through our actions. They will learn from us—that we have to be respectful of policies, procedures, and again, the OPSB is an A district. There was a dialogue. There was a commitment that they would make John McDonogh a successful school. We had an opportunity, and then it’s shutting the door.”   — BESE board member, Dr. Lottie Beebe

Part II is available through The New Orleans Tribune’s “Un-Masking the ‘Flim Flam’: The Faces and Money Behind the Post Katrina Education Reforms ” 

For a deeper understanding of the relationships and funding transactions discussed in both articles, refer to this web.

An earlier version of the story was released, and a correction was made. Flozell Daniels Jr., is actually the Chairman of OPEN’s board of directors, rather than the CEO. He is the President and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana.

© Who Dat Researcher?

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