Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What Paul Vallas learned early about the school reform biz

Rauner gives Vallas fat contract to fix Chicago State.
“High-performing individuals with decades of specialized experience and knowledge do not limit their ability to contribute to the greater good." -- Paul Vallas
Paul Vallas was never an educator, but he was a quick study. He learned from the start of his stint as Mayor Daley's schools CEO in 1995, the power of government contracting and that there was good money to be made in the school reform business. He also came to believe that the future of school reform belonged not to the system's bureaucrats, but to the outsider corporate reformers, wealthy, powerful, self-interested billionaires and outside consultants who they patronized.

After Daley gave him the boot from Chicago and through a series of unremarkable stints as district school chiefs in Philly, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Vallas assembled a team of loyalists (mostly former Chicago school bureaucrats) and developed a strategy for injecting himself and his brand into struggling urban school districts, in order to do "the greater good". The game plan involved using political clout to place his lieutenants into power in selected districts and in return, having them bring in the big-ticket Vallas Group to "reform" district schools from the top-down. It also included a heavy dose of replacing public schools with privately-run charters and weakening or completely eliminating union collective-bargaining agreements.

It was a plan that included perks and kick-backs to district leaders as in the case of former Vallas partner Gary Solomon, who along with former Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is now doing heavy prison time on fraud and corruption charges in the Chicago SUPES scandal.

Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant and lead teacher for The Supes Academy and worked as a consultant for Synesi Associates, the consulting company founded by Vallas and Solomon. Vallas not only hired Solomon and his companies when he worked in Philadelphia, but brought Solomon with him to New Orleans.

From an earlier Sun-Times story:
Urging that the then-newly formed Synesi be hired in 2007, Vallas told officials the New Orleans school system didn’t have anyone who could do the work, according to documents from the New Orleans district. And in his “justification for an external contractor” letter, he urged that Solomon’s company be hired without seeking competitive bids.
Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos broke a story Friday, exposing the unlikely relationship between Vallas, the erstwhile Chicago Democrat Party machine operative, and billionaire Republican and future governor of IL, Bruce Rauner. Actually, a bit of old news. But he evaded the whole Vallas/Solomon connection.
Nearly seven years ago — when Rauner wasn’t yet a politician, just a wealthy private investor with an interest in public education and a friend in the mayor’s office — Vallas corresponded with and met with him, offering to help create what he described as an “ambitious new school district” in Chicago.
In three letters to Rauner in 2010 and 2011, Vallas offered to work for with Rauner and city officials. Vallas said that school “buildings would be provided to the charters at no cost.”
“Concerning our potential partnership, I would welcome the opportunity to contract with you to assist with your school reform efforts in Chicago,” Vallas wrote to Rauner in February 2011, when Vallas was the top schools official in New Orleans.
 “You once told me that if I ever decided to launch a domestic education business, you would be willing to invest,” Vallas told Rauner. “Based on my research and years in the education field, I firmly believe this is a can’t miss.”
Vallas now claims that nothing came of the plans he and Rauner discussed for the Chicago schools and that his offers to assist CPS, "were rebuffed, as leadership chose to follow Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s vision for the district."

A lot has changed since Vallas first solicited Rauner. Vallas lost his bid to become Lt. Gov of IL and in the process, became a factor in Pat Quinn's election loss to Rauner in the governor's race.

Under the15-month contract Rauner has given Vallas to lead an economic recovery at Chicago State, he is still allowed to continue his private work with the Vallas Group.

Here's what Mihalopoulos' story left out...

Actually BBB's "vision" was Gary Solomon's vision and Solomon's vision was Vallas'. Same dreams but different beds. Solomon’s consulting company advertised that it had “the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model of education reform.” In Philadelphia, he marketed the consulting company as using the “Paul Vallas method of school reform.”

In Chicago, Solomon used his former partner's strategy of installing BBB as schools CEO and then kicking-back to her after she gave SUPES and $20M contract to do principal training.

Solomon later said he used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a “mistake.”

But Vallas had used a similar approach in Rockford, St. Louis, Philly, Rochester, Peoria and other districts and greased the wheels for the Synesi group. Synesi landed two no-bid contracts worth nearly $893,000 in New Orleans during Vallas’ time running the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011.

Vallas calls his involvement with Solomon in New Orleans a “non-story.” He also says, “New Orleans honored me with the key to the city, while those involved in CPS are about to be locked up.”

He's right and this says a lot about our justice system and media's reluctance to make the connection.

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