Monday, March 2, 2009

No “transparency" in the Vallas/Rockford/charter connection

I received an anonymous comment the other day. The writer, was telling me that I was “way off base” on the Rockford charter school debacle and that the current superintendent search and the accompanying imposition of a Chicago-based chain of charter schools was the model of “transparency.” Another writer named Anonymous writes this morning with the same message--the Rockford charter school deal is going to fix the failing school system and make it more accountable.

But Jeff Kolky’s story is Sunday’s Rockford Registar Star pretty much blows both Anon’s arguments away and confirms most of what I’ve been saying for the past month or so. New Orleans school boss Paul Vallas had indeed held secret meetings with Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, developer Sunil Puri, president of the First Rockford Group, and some loyal board members. Puri is a big player in state politics and contributed heavily to the campaign of former Gov. Rod Blogojevich.

The purpose of the meetings was: 1) to override Hazard & Young’s selections for superintendent and bring in a Vallas favorite, and 2) to help maneuver Chicago International into town in hopes that privately-managed charter schools would attract outside investment into depressed Rockford. Morrissey’s motives may not have been so bad, and I’m not saying he’s been a bad mayor, but he kept his meetings with Vallas and the school board a secret while charter schools were sold, not just as a dubious business move, but rather as an educational reform. Rockford needs an economic fix. It also needs leadership that is open and above board about what it's doing with public schools and public decision-making.

As for “transparency,” Kolky writes:

Rockford dentist Cyrus Oates introduced Vallas to the superintendent search in December. Oates said he met Vallas’ wife, Sharon, while on a private jet [Isn’t it great that Vallas gets to fly around on private corporate jets?—mk] in November en route to a Dollars For Scholars board meeting near St. Louis. That meeting led to an offer from Vallas to consult with Rockford officials.

When first asked about his role by a reporter Feb. 9, Morrissey said he had met with School District consultants as a search firm built its criteria for the next superintendent. Morrissey said he had a chance “to talk with (Vallas) a few times in the past” and that “I think he has some contacts here.” It was only after Vallas confirmed that Morrissey had a seat at the table that the mayor acknowledged his participation.

1 comment:

  1. As for the "transparency conspiracy," right now we are less concerned with looking for smoking guns than we are about finding a strong superintendent who can bring real change. Personnel issues are usually handled in private, and so what if the mayor was involved. Shouldn't he be? Readers, since Mike didn't re-post my comment and in case you don't follow the link to it, here it is:

    You're way off base regarding the Rockford situation. We have a failing public school system with the state's highest truancy rate, way-below-average test scores and a deplorable minority achievement gap. A diverse grassroots initiative decided it couldn't wait for a plodding and vision-less District 205 administration to implement only slightly marginal improvements while the quality of our kids' education hung in the balance. In full transparency with the school board, administration, teacher's union, and broad involvement by community leaders, they carefully recruited the best Chicago charters who have demonstrated real performance in difficult urban environments to offer additional public education options to desperate parents. To their credit, the school board has thoughtfully and responsibly considered their applications and, so far, has approved two charters with one more under review. These innovative learning models will not only enrich the lives of their students, especially those in underserved minority neighborhoods, but will be innovative examples of new approaches that can be extended into traditional schools. This initiative will monitor their performance to ensure delivery. You should learn more about what's happening at the street level in a community before disparaging its rational efforts to improve public education for its children.
    Signed, a Rockford parent


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