Educate All Students, Support Public Education

February 19, 2014

Walker Wired to Secret Email System

Filed under: Scott Walker — millerlf @ 2:04 pm

Unsealed email ties Scott Walker to secret email system

By Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice and Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel

Madison Included in more than 27,000 emails unsealed Wednesday is one that for the first time directly ties Gov. Scott Walker to a secret email system used in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive.

“Consider youself now in the ‘inner circle,'” Walker’s administration director, Cynthia Archer, wrote to Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch just after the two exchanged a test message.

“I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW and Nardelli. You should be sure you check it throughout the day,” she wrote, referring to Walker by his initials and to Walker’s chief of staff, Tom Nardelli.

Court documents have previously showed Walker’s aides set up a secret wireless router in the county executive’s office and traded emails that mixed county and campaign business on Gmail and Yahoo accounts. The email from Archer made public Wednesday is the closet link yet between that system and Walker.

The exchange was included the raft of documents unsealed Wednesday as part of Rindfleisch’s appeal of her 2012 conviction of misconduct in office for doing campaign work on county time.

Speaking to reporters in Madison Wednesday morning before the release of the emails, Walker said he was confident that there wouldn’t be anything damaging in them beyond what had already led to criminal charges.

He downplayed his relationship with his former deputy chief of staff and said he would stay focused on cutting taxes and creating jobs.

“This is going to be communications from a county employee from several years ago that went through a legal process that concluded early last year. I’m confident that through that process they were able to review each of those communications — the authorities were — and they concluded that process last March,” Walker said.

The governor said he hadn’t seen the files being released and hadn’t looked at any of the emails contained in them “for years.”

The records also reveal a frenzy of activity by prosecutors and investigators on Nov. 1, 2010, the day before Walker was elected governor. They conducted raids at Walker’s county office, his campaign office and the homes of several of his aides, including Rindfleisch.

Just before those raids were conducted that day, John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim agreed to prosecutors’ request to enlarge the probe to include Rindfleisch, his deputy chief of staff, and three other top aides in the Milwaukee County executive’s office — Nardelli; Fran McLaughlin, his spokeswoman; and Dorothy Moore, his scheduler.

Of that group, only Rindfleisch was charged. Moore now serves as Walker’s scheduler in the governor’s office.

To get the search warrants, prosecutors presented the judge with dozens of emails involving Walker’s campaign and county staff. The prosecutor’s tagged those emails and other supporting documents, SW1 through SW71.

The records show that in August 2010, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm used an investigation into Walker aide Darlene Wink — who had acknowledged posting political comments online while on the county dime — to seek the personal email records for four other Walker employees and allies.

Among those records were the emails of Timothy D. Russell, a longtime Walker campaign and county aide. Russell was later convicted of stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans group that Walker named him to head. Russell was sentenced to two years in prison.

The records make clear that Walker’s campaign staff and county team were in constant communication in the months leading up to the 2010 primary and general election.

In April 2010, Nardelli and Walker’s campaign manager, Keith Gilkes, arranged for daily 8 a.m. conference calls between the campaign and key county staff.

“These will not be long duration calls as we have much work on our plates, but good coordination will help (us) resolve issues before they blow out of proportion,” Nardelli wrote.

Weeks earlier, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader asked Rindfleisch and others with the county to provide a “backgrounder” on issues that could come up at an event featuring Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat who was running for governor.

On May 18, 2010, Walker’s administration director, Cynthia Archer, wrote to campaign and county staff she would no longer be checking her private email account and told people to contact her on her cellphone for urgent matters.

“The significance of this email is that it shows that the people addressed on this email are acting in concert with the county executive staff to find alternative ways to communicate using private email during the workday,” David Budde, an investigator for the district attorney, testified in the Nov. 1, 2010, secret hearing. “This also is a direct admission that Archer was using private email during the workday.”

Archer used her private email to discuss official county matters with Walker through his campaign account, and with campaign advisors including R. J. Johnson. One such exchange involved a story about Walker’s potential county pension.

According to prosecutors, Rindfleisch had nearly 5,700 email exchanges withthe campaign staff of Walker and Brett Davis, who was running for lieutenant governor. Davis lost the primary in September 2010, but went on to serve in Walker’s administration as Medicaid director.

The Rindfleisch emails are replete with examples of her communicating with campaign staff during what would have been her daytime work hours at the courthouse.

On Feb. 25, 2010, she shared tips with then Walker campaign aide Stephan Thompson on economic development issues and cutting the size of the County Board — highlighting accomplishments during Walker’s tenure as county executive.

Rindfleisch is responding to directives from Thompson, who tells her to compile several lists. When she mentions a major General Electric expansion, Thompson was enthusiastic.

“Awesome! All we need is a few examples,” he wrote to Rindfleisch.

One June 2010 email shows Walker on his campaign email account encouraging radio talk show host Charlie Sykes to request copies from the county executive’s office of open records requests made by Democratic groups. Walker said the volume of requests from the left and from “the other GOP candidate” in the governor’s race were voluminous and in some cases nearly identical.

“Ask (my official office) and we would be happy to send over the info,” Walker wrote to Sykes.

In emails, Walker’s operatives made it clear they favored Davis over Rebecca Kleefisch — the ultimate winner — in the race of lieutenant governor.

On March 2, 2010, Rindfleisch — who was working for Davis part time — wrote Gilkes asking whether Kleefisch would be allowed to use material for advertising from a campaign event Walker and Kleefisch attended.

“I know she’s the bane of your existence. But I have a question. Will Kleefisch be allowed to use anything for the event for advertising? Like post it on facebook, tv commercial, etc,” Rindfleisch wrote to Gilkes.

“I’m REALLY beginning to dislike her,” Rindfleisch wrote to Gilkes.

The next day, Gilkes wrote back, “No — that will be made abundantly clear to her.”

In his comments to reporters, Walker made a distinction between a taxpayer-funded public employee doing work on a campaign and another public employee getting emails from a campaign.

“Unlike the caucus issue where the problem was official staff being directed to (do) campaign activity…There’s nothing wrong with the other way around, as long as you’re not using taxpayer resources to do campaign-related activity. Outside of this example, we talk to people all the time, stakeholders from around the state,” Walker said, referring to the caucus scandal that rocked the Capitol a decade ago.

Walker blasted Democrats for hyping the release of the emails and for holding a conference call on them with Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

“It shows the cynicism we see in politics today,” Walker said. “These are people who are naysayers who want something bad to happen in Wisconsin.”

Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Curley ruled last week the records should be publicly available in Rindfleisch’s case file, saying they would become unsealed on Wednesday. Her order delayed the unsealing for a week and a half so the court clerk could make them available in an orderly fashion to the large number of media outlets and others seeking them.

Rindfleisch was charged as part of a wide-ranging John Doe investigation led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. John Doe proceedings are often conducted in secret and give prosecutors the power to compel people to produce documents and testify.

Chisholm closed that probe in March 2013. But seven months earlier, he opened a second John Doe investigation, looking into campaign spending and fundraising in recall elections. That second investigation is ongoing, and Rindfleisch is also caught up in that one. It is not known why she is a subject of that probe.

(The latest investigation has been targeted in a spate of legal challenges, with three lawsuits filed in as many months in attempts to halt it.)

Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation after she pleaded guilty in 2012 to one felony count of misconduct in office for doing campaign work at her government job.

Despite her guilty plea, Rindfleisch under state law is allowed to appeal her conviction based on the scope of the search warrants used against her.

She argues her conviction should be thrown out because the search warrants were so broad as to be unconstitutional. Her appeal is before the Milwaukee-based District 1 Court of Appeals, which includes Curley.

A wealth of sealed documents from the investigation was added to the case file last year at the request of the state Department of Justice so it could more effectively argue the scope of the search warrants was appropriate.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, Associated Press and other media groups intervened in the case in an effort to make the records public.

The records have previously been unavailable because of a secrecy order issued by John Doe investigation Judge Neal Nettesheim. Rindfleisch argued the secrecy order remained in place, while the media groups contended the records should be public now that they were part of a normal appeal.

Curley sided with the media outlets in ruling an array of records collected as part of a criminal investigation are routinely included in court files and must be available to the public except in unusual circumstances.

The records in question include emails from Rindfleisch’s personal computer and private email account; affidavits supporting John Doe search warrants; and a transcript of a secret hearing on search warrants issued the day before Walker was elected governor in 2010.

Likely included in the emails are messages exchanged with Walker or his top political aides as he ran his 2010 campaign for governor.

Separately, the Journal Sentinel is seeking to have county documents and emails seized in the first John Doe investigation returned to the county and made accessible to the public. The newspaper filed a motion last month to do that with Nettesheim, the judge who oversaw the first John Doe investigation.

Journal Sentinel reporters Kevin Crowe and Jason Stein in Madison and Steve Schultze and Dave Umhoefer in Milwaukee contributed to this report.


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February 18, 2014

Wisconsin Senate adopts narrow voucher school accountability bill

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:38 pm

No sanctions included in measure

By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel 2/18/14

Madison — The state would better track the performance of taxpayer-funded private voucher schools and expand the fight against heroin abuse, under bills passed by the Senate Tuesday.

After rejecting a much broader schools measure in recent days, Senate Republicans moved forward Tuesday with a narrow bill that would apply existing state report cards for public schools to voucher institutions but not impose sanctions on schools receiving poor marks. Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, still hope to proceed with a broader bill that would sanction failing schools.

The narrow measure passed the Senate 29-3 and now goes to the Assembly. Three Democrats voted against it: Sens. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie, Jon Erpenbach of Middleton and Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse.

The Senate bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), said that he had to postpone an “ambitious agenda” to sanction schools of all kinds that receive public money but don’t measure up. But Olsen said the bill made a “big step forward” forward by moving up the date for voucher schools to receive report cards from 2020 to the 2015-’16 school year.

“That’s my definition of accountability and that’s what this piece of legislation does,” Olsen said.

Sen. John Lehman of Racine, a former teacher and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, dismissed that, saying that most senators of his party didn’t feel the bill went far enough. Republicans, he said, had caved to pressure from voucher supporters and broken a promise to hold voucher schools to the same standards as public schools.

“This bill started out as one thing and ended up as what I call a ‘no consequences bill,’ ” Lehman said. “I have a fear that this is going to be sold as some kind of an accountability bill, which it is not… This bill continues to allow two unequal and publicly funded school systems in the state of Wisconsin.”

Olsen said that the broader bill didn’t just fail because of the objections of some voucher school representatives. The more ambitious bill also failed because public school advocates opposed high-stakes consequences in that version such as having independent charter schools taking over failing public schools, he said.

The current report cards for public schools have been sharply criticized for penalizing schools facing challenges, such as students who live in poverty or who cannot speak English. The more limited proposal before the Senate doesn’t include any provisions — present in a previous version — to overhaul the report cards.

In June, the governor and GOP lawmakers expanded taxpayer-funded private voucher schools beyond Milwaukee and Racine and across the state, with a cap next year of 1,000 students for the statewide program.

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February 17, 2014

Jordan Davis Murder Trial, Stand Your Ground and the Anti-lynching Movement of Our Time

Filed under: General,Racism,Trayvon Martin — millerlf @ 11:49 am

Rinku Sen of Colorlines

Comments on Melissa Harris Perry 2/16/14

We are still debating whether or not race is a factor in this case and in this trial. As long as we are debating that, we cannot get to the discussion of how race is a factor. The problem with the way the prosecution has carried out both of these trials (Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin murders), by refusing to put race on the table, they enable the bias that “stand your ground” codifies to continue to remain invisible and unclear and hidden.

What Michael Dunn expected from that interaction with Jordan Davis was not respect, but submission.”Stand your ground” laws codify the expectation of submission from young black people to white men. By not raising that at all, the prosecution enables that expectation to remain as an unwritten rule embedded into “stand your ground” laws.

Unless were going to deal with that in the course of “justice being carried out”, then we’re never going to get to the racial dimensions of the law and system and the racial dimensions of the shooters intentions. I think fighting “stand your ground” laws is the anti-lynching movement of our time.

That’s the way that we have to think about what is required to have Americans think and understand what is going on underneath those laws and develop the will to take them down.

Rinku referred to the following blog during her remarks on the Melissa Harris-Perry show.

How Keeping Our Sons Safe Makes It OK for Whites to Be Racists

The Jordan Davis case led some parents to give their kids “the talk.” But doing so absolves white people of their responsibility to unlearn stereotypes that scare them.


By: Tonyaa Weathersbee Posted: Feb. 12 2014 Roots


The slaying of 17-year-old Jordan Davis by a white man who didn’t appreciate his taste in music had some black people scrambling to give black boys “the talk” about how not to scare white people into shooting them.

The Rev. John Guns, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., was one of them.

Using the trial of 47-year-old Michael Dunn—who, on Nov. 23, 2012, fired nine bullets into the SUV that Jordan and two of his friends were sitting in after he argued with the teens over loud music—as a launching point, Guns talked to black boys about the importance of not exacerbating trouble with people who might be threatened by them and their skin.

At one point Guns brought a young man up on the stage who was wearing a hoodie—which Trayvon Martin was wearing in February 2012 when he was stalked and fatally shot by George Zimmerman—and told him that whenever he walked inside a store, he needed to take the hood off. Better to walk out of the store, he said, than to wind up being killed at age 18 for … well, scaring some squirrelly store owner into thinking you were there to rob the place.

To be sure, Guns’ advice is sound and pragmatic—and a lot of black parents who love their children are probably repeating it. I understand it.

But I don’t like it.

I don’t like it because as practical as it is, it inadvertently feeds the notion that black youths, and black males in particular, ought to capitulate to racist whites in order not to suffer at their hands.

And any white man who believes that black kids ought to turn down their music because he doesn’t like it, even if they are only sharing the same parking lot for a few minutes, isn’t seeking respect.

He’s expecting submission.

Any white store owner, or night watchman, who expects a black youth to take off his hood because it scares him, even though that black youth has no plans to do anything scary, isn’t asking for respect but for his irrational fears to be coddled.

Jordan Davis’s Mother Speaks Out Against “Stand Your Ground Law”

Filed under: General,Racism,Trayvon Martin — millerlf @ 8:42 am

Photo from the January 14 cover of Jet Magazine

Words of Jordan’s Mother, Ms. Lucia McBath, at a hearing before the  United States Senate on “stand your ground” laws:

Some will tell you that the argument was about music, but I believe that it was about the availability of guns and the eagerness to hate. People like Mr. Dunn feel empowered to use their gun instead of their voice to reason with others. Now I face the very real possibility that my son’s killer will walk free, hiding behind a statute that lets people claim a threat where there was none.  

This law declares open season on anyone that we don’t trust for reasons that don’t even have to be true. In essence, it allows any armed citizen to “self-deputize” themselves and establish their own definition of law and order. It lets one and all define their own criteria for right and wrong and how justice will be carried out.  

Even the Wild West had more stringent laws governing the taking of life than we have now. “Stand Your Ground” defies all reason. It goes against the sound system of justice established long ago on this very Hill.

Jordan was named for a change in the tide, a decision to try harder and do better. He was my only child. He was raised with love and learning and a clear understanding of right and wrong. I have been without Jordan now since Thanksgiving weekend 2012, without him last Christmas and on his birthday in February. 

I never got to take his prom picture or see him graduate from high school. I can tell you all about him-about his easy smile, his first girlfriend, and his plans to join the Marines. I can tell you how he loved his dad’s gumbo. And, how they both rooted for the NY Giants. But you can never really know my boy. 

Because an angry man owned a gun, kept it close at hand, and chose to demonstrate unbridled hatred one balmy evening for reasons I will never understand. These laws empowered his prejudiced beliefs and subsequent rage over my son’s own life, his liberty and pursuit of happiness. There will be no sense made of any of it, unless I and the families of other victims speak out to assure this kind of predatory violence ends.

It was fifty years ago that my father shook hands with Eleanor Roosevelt. She assured him of the validity of his struggle and the promise of better times. She, as he did, believed that this nation was righteous to the core. That we as a country would never stop striving to do better. And that was what made us better. 


Honorable men and women of the Senate, you can prove them right today. With your help and willingness to bring our laws back toward the true tenets of justice, you can lift this nation from its internal battle in which guns rule over right. You have the power to restore hope to a nation crying out for justice.

February 12, 2014

Weigh in now against bad accountability bills

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 12:52 pm

A Call from the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future 2/12/14

Legislative activity around accountability for public education, voucher and independent charter schools is, to say the least, fluid. I would even throw in the word “secretive” and venture an opinion that the Legislative Majority is trying to confuse and confound public school advocates in an attempt to keep them quiet and disorganized.

We can’t let that happen. We need to keep the pressure on. I know you have all been asked to do a great deal but let’s keep representing our value that our public schools are worth protecting and promoting because they are the heart and soul of our communities. This legislative session ends on April 3.

This version of the accountability bill adds a few more bells and whistles, but it continues to use misleading letter grades to label schools — something Governor Scott Walker’s own School Report Card Design Team recommended against — and continues down a path that would shutter public schools or convert them to charters.

Although the mandate that five percent of all schools must fail mandate has been withdrawn, it is safe to say that they have already tipped their hand and, with this bill, schools that currently “meet expectations” would get letter grades of “C.” Given the broad swath of schools in this category a majority of public schools would be labeled “C” or mediocre according to the proposal. Based on history and experience with these legislators it doesn’t take much imagination to hear the rhetoric now: “We need to expand vouchers and charters because Wisconsin has too many mediocre, ‘C’ schools.”

Another surprise: The Senate Committee on Education will be voting on another version of accountability on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 10 a.m. in Room 411 South in the Capitol. Committee chairperson Senator Luther Olsen(R-Ripon) has scheduled an executive session on Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 286. No testimony will be heard.

I think it is safe to say that we can expect an accountability bill that puts public schools in a bad position to still move through the process. When and where we don’t know, but that is no reason to wait. Our best bet is to keep talking and writing about our public schools and their value to our communities. Keep those letters-to-the-editor, opinion pieces, and press releases flowing.

Now is the time to rally the troops — again — and contact your legislators, especially if they are Senate Republicans, as well as members of both committees. Just click on their names below for an easy way to send a message. When you’ve done that, copy your legislators. Finally, pass this note along to members of your organizations, friends, relatives, neighbors, and public school advocates.


Members of the Senate Committee on Education are listed (click on their names to send an e-mail message):

Members of the Assembly Committee on Education are listed (click on their names to send an e-mail message):


February 10, 2014

Wisconsin Assembly Version of Accountability Bill: AB-379

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 4:37 pm

The Senate accountability bill is SB-286.

The Assembly version is AB-379. To see the Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis and the full bill, link to the the following PDF:

AB -379

Some noteworthy features of the SB-286:

1) While public schools would be forced to close or turned into an independent charters, voucher schools would not be forced to close but would not be able to enroll any additional voucher students. 

2)  Public schools have to take the state test. Voucher schools get a choice, they take the state test, but they also have the opportunity to take a different test and submit that information if they choose.

3)  There is a stipulation that the lowest performing 5% of public schools must be placed in the lowest performing category. It suggest that even if you are not in the “F” or “Fails to meet expectations” category, you can be thrown into the group that could be slated for closure or conversion to charter. Labeling 5% as “lowest performing” — even when they aren’t — is a backdoor way to create perpetual charter school expansion.

4)  Low performing schools will be closed or turned over to independent charter management organizations (CMO).

5)  The MPS Superintendent will have the power to contract directly with CMOs, circumventing the elected School Board.

6)  90% of the funding goes to the CMO. (Presently approximately 80% goes to the CMO.)

7)  Failing schools in MPS are only given 1 year before sanctions begin, rather than 3, and this stipulation is retroactive.


February 9, 2014

Study concludes WI charter schools are doing better because of students they select

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:04 am

 WKOW-TV Madison


SPRING GREEN (WKOW) — The Forward Institute released a study on Thursday which hypothesizes that private charter schools in Milwaukee have higher report card scores than public schools because they are selecting students who have lower rates of truancy

Author Scott Wittkopf held a news conference on the study in Spring Green to emphasize the fact that the same trend would follow a statewide expansion of charter schools, something currently being considered in the state legislature.

“If you take that same model out-state, you have extensive interview processes with parents, with students.  You have access to academic records from the students.  It’s very easy in the process to select students,” said Wittkopf.

Sen. Dale Schultz says the study shows that charter schools are clearly “skimming” students that have the ability to perform better, leaving public schools with fewer high performing students.

“This wild desire to move these charter schools that aren’t locally chartered all across this state is not warranted,” said Sen. Schultz.

Wittkopf and Schultz say before that expansion is approved, more studies like these have to be conducted to know exactly what the ramifications of such a move would be.

The bill has yet to be voted on in the Assembly or Senate.

Republican Senator Calls for Ending Privatization of Milwaukee Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:01 am

Sen. Schultz says it’s a mistake to take this “flawed model statewide”

The Forward Institute held a press conference, Feb. 6, to release its latest study. The importance of the study — “Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools” — to every community in the state was underscored by the appearance of State Senator Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center), who said it provides more facts that it is time to end experiments in privatizing our public schools until there is some evidence that it really works.
Scott Wittkopf
According to Institute chair Scott Wittkopf, scores on the Wisconsin School Report Card aren’t affected by whether or not the schools in Milwauke are traditional public schools, independent charter institutions, or MPS charters. Instead, Wittkopf said, the important factors are dealing with student poverty, erasing truancy, and making sure the best teachers are in the schools most in need.

“Show me a community in distress, and I’ll show you a school district in distress,” said Wittkopf. “That fact is true whether the ‘community’ is considered rural, urban, a state, or the entire nation. As a community we invest in public education because every child requires, and deserves, an equal opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life. It is our responsibility as a community to provide for that equal opportunity through public education. The very future of our communities, large and small, depends on it.”

According to Wittkopf, there are five public policy alternatives that could actually deal with the challenges facing our children:

  • Communities need to deal with truancy.
  • State government should put a time limit on the public school privatization effort. It  isn’t working and it needs to end.
  • Schools and state government need to use data appropriately, not as a means to punish schools and children.
  • Wisconsin needs to fix its school-funding system.
  • Wisconsin needs to address the real issues that face real communities, such as poverty.

This important study is available to you, your organization, and your friends and neighbors to learn more about public schools that are the heart and soul of your community. The media community should have received this press release. Please check with them to make sure they have that they are considering using it. While you are there, offer some comment of your own on behalf of your public schools.

February 5, 2014

Lawsuit: Rocketship under fire from four school boards in its home base, Santa Clara County, California

Filed under: Rocketship — millerlf @ 10:28 am

The “miracle” English language-only charter management model (Rocketship), originating from San Jose California, was recruited to Milwaukee by the MMAC,  Schools That Can, the Mayor, the Common Council President,  Howard Fuller and Deborah McGriff. Their goal is to establish 8 Rocketships in Milwaukee communities to directly compete with Milwaukee Public Schools.

In the Spring last year, Rocketship staff and teachers went to the doors of MPS schools, on the southside, as parents were picking up their children at the end of the school day. They attempted to convince families to pull their children from MPS while berating MPS programs.

Rocketship schools in California consistently have lower numbers of special education students than their surrounding public schools. They do not offer art and music. They are opposed to bi-lingual programming.

 And they have been exposed for having a fundamental flaw in their “original” design. Rocketship schools are founded on use of “learning labs.” Learning labs are staffed by hourly employees who lack teaching credentials. Rocketship says that the “learning labs” save enough money for each school to hire 6 fewer teachers yearly, saving up to half a million dollars a year. The problem admitted in a PBS report is that the “learning labs” don’t work, even though students spend 25% of their day in the lab, sitting in front of computers.

Lawsuit targets Rocketship schools in Santa Clara County

Posted:   02/05/2014 San Jose Mercury News By Sharon Noguchi

SAN JOSE — In another blow to the flagging fortunes of Rocketship charter schools, four Santa Clara County school districts on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to rescind the approval of 20 Rocketship schools and prevent the county school board from granting similar requests.

The suit claims that the Santa Clara County Board of Education overstepped its authority in approving petitions for the 20 charter schools in December 2011, and argues that only local school districts can approve them.

“The suit is not an attempt to prevent charter schools in Santa Clara County,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Sue Ann Salmon Evans, said, “but to ensure that local charter schools are authorized in compliance with the law.”

The lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court by the Alum Rock, Evergreen, Franklin-McKinley and Mount Pleasant school districts, all K-8 districts on San Jose’s east and southeast side. Some of the 20 schools were slated to be located within their boundaries, as well as in four other local school districts.

Echoing the criticism previously leveled at the county board’s approval of these petitions, the suit maintains that the county board must deny a charter petition unless there is a reason the school could not operate if authorized by a local school district.

The board’s authorization of the charters serves “to usurp the powers and oversight of local school districts … by creating a super-district of charter schools in Santa Clara County,” the suit alleges.

County school board President Leon Beauchman and county Superintendent Xavier De La Torre were not immediately available for comment.

But Preston Smith, co-founder and CEO of Rocketship, said that the organization answered the lawsuit’s allegation when it submitted its petition in 2011. “In addressing the achievement gap, there are pockets of underperforming students in districts countywide, who are difficult to serve in a stand-alone school,” he said. A countywide charter allows a school to serve students in multiple districts, he said.

Four of the 20 schools were scheduled to open next August — two in the Alum Rock District, and two in San Jose Unified — but Rocketship has encountered delays. Now, Rocketship plans to open just one school in San Jose, on North Jackson Avenue in the Alum Rock District. Another school will open in Nashville, Tenn.

In October, Rocketship lost a court challenge over a planned school in the San Jose Unified School District. In that case, the court ruled that the county board did not have the authority to exempt Rocketship from zoning rules. The decision has left that school, planned near the Tamien light-rail station, in limbo. The San Jose City Council failed to muster enough votes to grant Rocketship the needed exemption.

Last month, Rocketship withdrew an application for a charter school in Morgan Hill. After losing in a first-round request to the district board, the organization suddenly pulled its appeal to the county school board.

The suit does not affect five Rocketship schools already operating in the county.

It’s not clear why the suit was filed more than two years after the county board’s controversial charter approval. But Salmon Evans, who is with the Long Beach law firm of Dannis Woliver Kelley, said that “there have been a lot of efforts to try and resolve this issue without going to litigation.”

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at

February 3, 2014

Wisconsin Organizations Oppose Accountability Bill SB-286

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 5:14 pm

“The legislation being considered by the Senate Education Committee is a far cry from what needs to be done to ensure that all schools receiving taxpayer money meet important standards,” said Julie Underwood, dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “This bill has gone through several revisions that have fundamentally changed its meaning, and if passed, the results would be devastating for Wisconsin’s public schools and students.” 

As independent Wisconsin business owners, we recognize that public schools are the heart of our communities. We feel a responsibility to stand up for our employees, their families, and the schools that ensure a bright future for our state. We adamantly oppose Senate Bill 286. If passed, it would require that five percent of the schools in Wisconsin be identified as “failing” every year — whether they are failing or not. Those schools could be closed and the children sent to for-profit, unaccountable charter schools. 

We need an environment that allows us to stay focused on what’s most important and do it extremely well. Rather than support educators in doing their best work for our children, this bill would arbitrarily label schools as failing, provide preferential treatment for voucher schools and take improvement tools away from local districts. 

It is imperative that Wisconsin develop one standard set of criteria by which all schools receiving public funds must be measured – not radically different standards for traditional public and voucher schools as is in the current bill. 

  • WASB. Response to Senator Farrow’s request for input on school accountability.  

Unfortunately, each new version of the bill strays farther and farther away from the Design Team’s agreed upon principles, such as treating all taxpayer-funded schools equally. These changes make it impossible for the WASB to support the bill. I’m confused why fashioning a bill that protects taxpayers, informs parents and brings real accountability to all schools receiving taxpayer funds has become so problematic. This should be simple. 

  • WEAC. Input on SB-286.  

This bill took a smoke-and-mirrors approach to real accountability for voucher schools. Essentially, it allowed voucher schools – even those that are overwhelmingly funded with taxpayer dollars – to choose whatever assessments they want for their report cards and choose whichever students they want to in those reports. This is blatantly unjust and unwise.

  • DPI Supt. Evers. Letter to School and District Accountability Design Team regarding SB-286.  

Attempting to equate test results in a high-stake accountability system with serious sanctions is a dubious idea at best. Variations in test content, timelines, administration methods, security, and student populations makes consistent apples-to-apples comparisons almost impossible.

The bottom line is that all report cards must be based off the same data, and calculated in the same way, for all schools to ensure fairness and maintain confidences in the system. 

We were very disappointed to see that draft six of the substitute amendment fails the “fairness test” as embodied in condition #2 above. Draft six would allow voucher schools to choose whatever assessment they want for their report card and count whichever students they desire. Also, the draft’s timeline for sanctioning the lowest performing schools provides preferential treatment for voucher schools.

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