Edelblut, Like DeVos, Gets Appointment as Chief School Officer Despite Inexperience, Potential Conflicts of Interest
Unsurprisingly, former NH GOP State House Representative and gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut was appointed to a four year term of office by a partisan 3-2 vote by the Executive Council, the body that endorses gubernatorial appointments to key offices in the state. Today’s Valley Newsarticle by Rob Wolfe offers some background on the hearing for Mr. Edelblut’s appointment, which featured a picture of a room crowded with protesters, one of who carried a sign reading: “WHO WANTS A PILOT WHO NEVER HAS FLOWN?”, a reference to the fact that Mr. Edelblut has never served in public education in any capacity. Compounding this lack of service in public education is the fact that he chose to homeschool all seven of his children and he chose to make an undisclosed donation to a fund to support a school district seeking to use public funds to send a child to a private Montessori School. That lack of disclosure, described in an earlier blog post, led to some pointed questioning from Andru Volinski, a Democrat Executive Councilor:
During the panel’s Wednesday morning meeting, Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, expressed concern that Edelblut’s hitherto anonymous gift, which likely was made before he was appointed commissioner, represented a conflict of interest.
“I don’t have any quarrel with his contribution,” Volinsky said. “I have some concern that when I asked him about any potential conflicts of interest he did not think to disclose this.”
Edelblut last week told Volinsky that he had donated $1,000 to the Croydon School Board’s legal defense of a lawsuit brought by state officials over the board’s payments of public money to private schools.
The disclosure came after the Valley News reported that Croydon rejected a request to reveal unnamed donors to the $23,000 fund and that Edelblut for two weeks declined to answer questions about his role.
As noted in the earlier post, Mr. Edelblut and Betsy DeVos are like peas in a pod: they both lack experience and both advocate that public funds should be used to whatever purpose parents deem to be in the best interest of their child, be it public school, an on-line for profit school with limited success rates, a parochial school, or— presumably, an Islamic fundamentalist school. Mr. Volinky’s argument, like that of his counterparts in the US Congress, fell on deaf ears.
Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, said he trusted Edelblut’s integrity and warned the group not to “jump to conclusions.”
“I do not believe that he would go back on his word,” Prescott said, referring to Edelblut’s promises to act as a mere implementer of policy.
With that, the council voted along party lines, 3-2, to confirm Edelblut for a four-year term.
And so the dismantling of public education can proceed apace in New Hampshire unless more voices like Mr. Volinsky’s are raised in protest.
“It should not have required an express request from an executive councilor to disclose that,” Volinsky said.
Volinsky also said he was concerned that, contrary to statements Edelblut had made during confirmation hearings in January, the new commissioner was seeking to further his own “agenda” rather than implement policy created by others.
The continuing saga of GOP cuts that lead to a self fulfilling prophesy whereby Black America is put at an ever increasing disadvantage and then asked to assume responsibility for their “failure”… This same self-fulfilling prophesy will occur in every department being decimated by GOP budget cuts… Note the attribution to the “GOP”…. this is a budget that mirrors the GOP platform, not Mr. Trumps….
Montgomery County Superintendent Does the Right Thing in Handling Alleged Rape by Immigrant Students… Fox News Doesn’t
With the country deeply divided over the question of immigration, Montgomery County (MD) Superintendent Jack Smith encountered a nightmare scenario in his school district: two immigrant students raped a 14 year old in a school bathroom. Here’s an excerpt from a Fox News report of the incident that occurred five days earlier at Rockville High School:
The two suspects arrested in this case are 17-year-old Jose Montano and 18-year-old Henry Sanchez. They have been charged with first-degree rape and first-degree sexual offenses. According to court documents, they are accused of raping the victim inside a bathroom in the school last Thursday morning while school was in session.
Sanchez and Montano have only been in the United States for only several months after coming from Guatemala and El Salvador just over half a year ago. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has lodged an immigration detainer on both suspects.
To his credit, Mr. Smith took personal responsibility for the incident while at the same time trying reassure parents that the incident was an anomaly, that the district had sufficient safety measures in place at each of its schools, and that it was following its lawful responsibility to educate all youths who walk in its door. In his press conference, he addressed anticipated questions on each of these issues:
SAFETY MEASURES IN PLACE: “I want to reassure our parents that their children are safe and that we will work vigilantly over the coming days. We have been working all weekend and yesterday to look at every single aspect of our safety plan – everything we do. And we are going to put out something in the next few days, certainly by early next week, with the latest to our principals. We will make it available to our community as we review all of our safety efforts in our schools – with our school safety and security teams, with our school resource officers, with our teachers when they give hall passes to students who leave the classrooms, with our administrators. Just to up the level and sense of security across our schools and to make sure that we have covered any gaps.”
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S RESPONSIBILITY TO EDUCATE IMMIGRANTS WITHOUT FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR STATUS: “We do not know what anyone’s immigration status is in the school system because the law says we don’t collect that and we don’t. But of those 25,000 [students who speak another language as their first home language], some are here with different kinds of documentation and some have none. And it is wholly and entirely inappropriate for any of us, anytime, anywhere to say that we are going to deprive a 6-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, a 15- and 18-year-old of an education because a horrible incident happened last Thursday in one of our schools.”
“We do our business by the rule of law in this country and that is what the law says. It gives us pretty explicit information about who we should serve and we want to serve them because we know that it would not be good for any child, no matter any circumstance or characteristic, to go without an education in this society and in this community. So it’s very, very important that we help all students become productive members of society and it is the requirement. Additionally, Maryland has compulsory attendance laws from age 5 to 17 this year and next year that will go to 18.”
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY: “The student who committed the crime is primarily responsible (for the crime). I am responsible. All of the people who work in Montgomery County Public Schools are responsible. We all take responsibility for it. It’s a terrible, horrible thing, but the student who committed the crime ultimately has to be the one who is responsible for what happened on that morning.”
Mr. Smith’s forthright explanation, appropriate acceptance of responsibility, and thorough investigation should win him accolades. But in this environment, I would be surprised if that were the case. Already the Maryland Governor, the President’s Office, and Fox News have seized on this case as evidence that immigrants entering this country— particularly those from the south— are criminals and rapists. And the media— particularly Fox News— are doing Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) no favors. The Fox News story that this article links to includes links to several different articles with words like “outrage” and phrases like “unanswered questions” without Fox News accepting its own responsibility for spreading outrage.
From my perspective, this incident provides a textbook case of the media failing to focus on how an investigation unfolds and why it takes time for a responsible leader to issue a report to the media. Instead of headlining the MCPS’s performance of due diligence, it’s adherence to the rule of law, and the complexities of engaging law enforcement officials in an incident that occurs on school property during school hours, the Fox News headline read: “MCPS Superintendent Finally Speaks to Fox 5 About Rape Case”. When confronted by Fox News reporters as he left his office on Monday, Mr. Smith gave them the facts on the procedure he was following
“I put out a letter last night,” said Smith. “It’s a terrible situation. It’s a horrible situation. We looked at all the information from Thursday and we handed it over to the police immediately. At this point, it is their investigation.”
I know from experience as a Superintendent who has handed investigations to police departments that once that hand-off occurs it is necessary for us to say nothing to the press. Any statements we offer could impede the police work or, worse, taint the case in a fashion that might compromise a case once it gets to court. Rather than explain this reality to the public like local news outlets tend to do, Fox News has used this need for confidentiality to portray Mr. Smith as willfully obfuscating the public’s need to know. After characterizing his behavior in this fashion, they can easily find a parent or citizen who is “outraged” at the administrations unwillingness to be forthcoming. This vicious cycle of “news reporting” undercuts the rule of law in our democracy.
I don’t know the facts of the case, but I do know the procedures a public school administrator must follow, and I commend Mr. Smith for trying his best to inform the public of those procedures, for defending those procedures, and for advocating for them. When the day comes that we convict people of crimes based on a news report from the mass media, our democracy will be ended. When the day comes that an administrator’s need to provide grist for the news cycle is more important than providing those accused of a crime of receiving due process the rule of law will be ended.
Mr. Smith’s descriptions of the alleged crime as “horrible” is accurate. Fox News’ coverage of this is also “horrible”. This case provided a teachable moment for them and for all the news media. They could have used this incident to explain the horrific conditions these two alleged rapists experienced growing up in Guatemala and El Salvador. They could have used this incident to explain how ICE made the determination that they should be allowed to have entry to our country and the free public education that is associated with that entry. They could have used this incident to explain the rationale for the school district handing investigations like this over to police and the consequences of that decision by the school district. But instead of using this incident to explain this background and to explain how an investigation unfolds and why it takes time for a responsible leader to issue a report to the media, Fox News, the Maryland Governor’s office, and the President of the United States seized on this as an opportunity to sue the flames of outrage against immigrants.
With this kind of reportage, it is no surprise that the public is increasingly cynical of our government, our public schools, and our leadership.
Today’s NYTimes features an extended article by Dana Goldstein profiling the problems the Iowa legislature is wrestling with as it tries to expand its system of vouchers, a system that is a preview of where other states are attempting to move and a precursor to the kind of system Betsy DeVos is advocating for all public schools. As Goldstein writes, the problems aren’t coming from just public school advocates:
Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state.
Fiscal conservatives have long been more concerned with taxes than with the well being of children and the disadvantaged students. But in Iowa, it is evident that fiscal conservatives and religious conservatives are in different camps and when the price tag for publicly funded private schools increased the fiscal conservatives aligned with the pro-public school groups. As a result, many of the bills that would increase choice and/or increase funding for “Education Savings Accounts” are stalled in both houses of the state legislature.
There is one ray of hope in Iowa, though. The head of the religious school profiled in the Times article expressed some misgivings about the impact Education Savings Accounts was having on the disadvantaged children in his state.
Mr. Te Grotenhuis (the head of the Christian school profiled in the article) hopes that more low-income families in Pella will choose his school if one of the education savings account proposals becomes law.
But opposition from his counterparts in the public system gave him pause. “If we start E.S.A.s and cause a negative impact on the public schools, I wouldn’t support that,” he said, referring to the education savings accounts. “It comes down to ‘love thy neighbor.’”
Maybe Mr. Te Grotenhuis can influence one of his legislators to think the same way. If that happens, we may see religious schools refusing to accept any state funds in the future.
An article by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Molly Born indicates how far we’ve come in our debates about school safety. Ms. Born describes an ongoing debate in the school district regarding whether the school police should be armed or whether the school police should rely on armed city police in instances where students need to be arrested or fights need to be broken up. Ms. Born is speculating that the issue is likely to come to the forefront in the coming months because of a forthcoming board election, and the school police union wants a debate on arming their membership:
“It’s not that we think there’s this emergent need in the hallways of our schools,” said PFT vice-president Billy Hileman, whose union represents the district’s 21 school police. Still, he said, the union “believes our schools will be safer places if our police can respond to someone from the outside who may have harmful intentions.”
“If there is an active shooter in the school,” he added, “our school police are the ones that have the duty to intervene.”
City police provide backup for serious situations, but a September 2015 PFT resolution called that arrangement a “flawed safety system due to lengthy response time of the Pittsburgh Police” and their “reluctance … to deal with situations near certain schools, including afternoon and evening sporting events” that draw students and parents outside PPS.
In January 2016, Mr. Hileman took matters a step further, sending a letter to all nine board members asking them to consider removing the language prohibiting guns. The request, he said in an interview, was an effort to begin a “discussion about issuing firearms to school police officers and what the implementation would entail.” (The union itself has recommended training and psychological evaluation before issuing guns.)
Fortunately, some community members see this as more than a political issue:
Tiffany Sizemore-Thompson, assistant clinical professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, who specializes in juvenile justice issues, called the idea “a recipe for disaster” and said the district lacks data to support such a need.
“Having a gun really serves only to shore up that presence” of police as an “occupying force,” she said. “This is a school district that should be focused on progressive policies that are intended to decrease the amount of negative interactions [police] are having with children of color.”
But no where does Ms. Born pose the most important question: why have any uniformed police at all? Instead of 21 uniformed police the schools might have 12 more counselors or social workers or maybe 30+ Non-Teaching Assistants who could monitor entry ways and “hot-spots” in the schools. The article does illustrate one reality, though: once you institute uniformed guards in a school system an arms race seems certain to follow.
Today the NYTimes editors took Kansas Governor Sam Brown to task for his wrongheaded approach to taxation in his State as he is reportedly set to leave his state in the lurch as he leaves for a rumored Ambassadorship to Rome. The editors offered a description of the tax scheme and its impact:
Mr. Brownback, a Republican first elected on the Tea Party crest of 2010, used his office as a laboratory for conservative budget experimentation. His insistence that tax cuts create, not diminish, revenues has left the state facing a ballooning deficit plus a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas schoolchildren have been unconstitutionally shortchanged in state aid for years, with the poorest minority children most deprived.
The court ruled this month that they would shut the state’s schools if funding wasn’t made equitable by June 30. It found reading test scores of nearly half of African-American students and more than one-third of Hispanic students were deficient under aid formulas favoring more affluent school districts.
Brownback’s solution to this deficit is not a tax increase to improve the funding deficiency cited by the court. His solution is to offer the students “choice”, a solution the NYTimes editors derided:
Mr. Brownback played no small role in the long-running school crisis by leading the Republican Legislature to limit school aid after enacting the largest tax cuts in state history, for upper-bracket business owners. Characteristically, the governor’s reaction to the court mandate was to further undermine schools by suggesting parents “be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”
But wait! Isn’t this the same editorial board that champions Eva Moskovitz’ Success Academy because ti gives parents “the opportunity… to set their child up for success through other educational choices”? Isn’t this the same editorial board that views charter schools as the best means to improve the failing schools in New York City?
My question to the NYTimes editors is this: Can’t you see that the underlying motive of the pro-charter school movement and Sam Brownback are identical? They BOTH want to diminish funding for schools while deregulating their operations so that privatizing profiteers can take them over. Maybe the results of Governor Brownback’s failed policies linking tax cuts to deregulated charters will help them connect the dots going forward.