Monday, May 23, 2011

IL Tea Party Activists Expose Alleged Gift Cards-For-Votes School Scam

One thing I love about tea party activists is their commitment to government transparency and accountability. When they see the media speaking no evil, hearing no evil and seeing no evil, they do the media’s job for them. Citizen journalists are quickly showing the media to be biased and growing irrelevant.

The tea party activist to receive the gold star this week is Lennie Jarrett of Grayslake, Illinois.

In the Grayslake, Illinois School District 46, three tea party members decided to take action by running for three available seats on the school board this spring. I wish more would do the same thing.

Their opponents were two incumbents with strong teachers’ union ties. One of the incumbents, Mary Garcia, also serves as the teachers’ union president in neighboring District 30. The other, Susan Fecklam, reportedly ran a coordinated campaign with Garcia.

The incumbents were obviously concerned about the presence of the tea party candidates on the ballot, and what they might do to the union agenda if they were elected.

So what did the incumbents do? They allegedly broke the law, or violated school policies, by using school email accounts to promote their campaigns, and by bribing 18-year-old students to register to vote, on the presumption the kids would vote for them.

These alleged misdeeds were discovered by Lennie Jarrett, founder of the Lake County Tea Party, through a freedom of information request. He sought and received more than 300 pages of school emails that he believes proves the two candidates, as well as the District 46 superintendent, crossed the line during the recent campaign.

A political campaign on school time

Jarrett said he learned about the alleged misdeeds when he was told that Garcia emailed a state official from her District 30 account, asking for a campaign contribution. That led him to file the freedom of information request, which led him many other Garcia emails.

In one email, sent to School District 46 Superintendent Ellen Correll, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barkley and several union leaders, Garcia wrote, "I think that all members of both unions should be appraised of this information. There will be no collective bargaining with these three (tea party candidates) on the board. I am very afraid that Sue and I will not have the funds necessary to fight a 'party.'"

Using school equipment for political activities is a violation of the code of ethics in District 30, where Garcia teaches, according to Jarrett.

Another e-mail, sent by Correll to a fellow superintendent in a nearby district, said "Mary Garcia is wondering how many signs or fliers you would take?"

Superintendents are prohibited by law from participating in any political activities, according to Jarrett.

Yet another e-mail, sent by campaign manager Alex Finke to Fecklam and copied to Garcia, allegedly refers to an effort to hide campaign contributions.

By law, the joint Garcia/Fecklam campaign would be required to form a campaign committee and make a detailed campaign finance report if it raised or spent more than $2,000, according to Jarrett.

"Anything you spend counts toward the $1,999.99 that you and Mary would be allowed to spend," Finke allegedly wrote. "The only way around it would be to lie and pay me cash. Then I could claim that I am volunteering for you."

The fourth, and perhaps most disturbing email was allegedly written by Fecklam to Garcia at her school district address. Fecklam bragged to Garcia about her efforts to bribe 18-year-old high school students who live in the district to register to vote before the school board election.

It is a felony to offer bribes to anyone for voting or registering to vote, according to Jarrett.

"Don't let them turn us in; gifts to register to vote is probably illegal! I did offer Erika (Garcia's daughter) more gift cards if she can gather up even more friends!"

Holding the cheaters accountable

It's bad enough that teachers’ unions at the local, state and national level have become more preoccupied with politics than they are with students and education.

Now it appears they are willing to bend or break laws and regulations to guarantee victory.

Perhaps they've come to believe they somehow own the public schools, or have some special right to use school property for their own purposes. Perhaps they forgot that the schools are owned by taxpayers like Jarrett, who are watching and willing to hold them accountable.

"This is not about whose policies are best or whose are wrongheaded," wrote Paul Mitchell, a local tea party activist, in an article posted on the Lake County Tea Party website.

"It's about how elected officials and employees of School District 46 have abused their positions and their access to benefit themselves at taxpayer expense, and at the expense of the school children entrusted to them."

Jarrett has not been sitting on his email discoveries. He shared them with the District 46 school board at a recent meeting, as well as the Lake County State's Attorney and Illinois Attorney General.

A large group of parents and concerned citizens showed up at the school board meeting to complain about the alleged campaign abuse, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.

"You dishonor this community," parent Joan Siefert reportedly told the pro-union candidates at the meeting.

Garcia is reportedly already under investigation for her activities by a School District 30 ethics review board. She could reportedly face various types of discipline, up to and including termination of her employment as a teacher.

Garcia has already suffered at the polls. Two of the tea party candidates, along with Fecklam, were elected to the three school board seats in the April 5 election. Garcia is no longer on the board.

Meat Loaf – and supporters of good government – would say that two-out-of-three ain't bad.


The Feds, The Economy, Your State And Your School Board

The wisdom of the American people is prevailing in some of the most unlikely places. Unfortunately, the local public school board is typically not one of those places.

As the federal government goes deficit-crazy and state governments continue to feel the recession’s impact, some good things are actually starting to develop. Fiscally conservative ideals are emerging in states as diverse as Wisconsin, Idaho, New Jersey and Ohio

In these states and in others, governors and legislatures have stood-up to the ever-expanding demands of government employee unions, reigned-in employee compensation growth, and have cut state spending. Even in liberal Massachusetts the Democrat-led House of Representatives voted last week to limit the powers of their state government employees’ unions.

This is good news for the American taxpayer, and good news for the overall U.S. economy. But when state governments start to spend fewer tax dollars, that often means fewer state tax dollars are flowing to local public school districts. And when that happens, the affairs of local public school districts can get especially outrageous.

Your local school district may be the exception, and its collective behavior may be entirely “above the board.” But the sad reality for teachers, students, and parents, is simply this: in the face of tight budgets, most local school boards across the nation would rather fire teachers, than reign-in other school district expenses. The reason for this is simple: when teachers lose their jobs, students suffer – and “student suffering” gets parents and other voters in the mood for a tax increase.

It sounds cynical, I know. But think about it from the vantage point of political strategy. if school boards actually tried to manage the taxpayers’ money in such a way as to serve the students, first and foremost, then every effort would be made to retain good teachers and keep class sizes small. This would mean that school boards would look “up the food chain” in to the administrative ranks, rather than “down to the classrooms,” when the need arose to cut the budget.

But that’s generally not what happens in most public school districts. The preference for board members is usually to eliminate teacher positions, or at least to “threaten to eliminate” teacher positions – because when budget cuts are felt in the classroom, voters become more amenable to tax hikes – and tax hikes usually provide more money for the school district to spend.

Consider the case of the Mount Diablo School District in the San Francisco suburb of Concord . Like every other public school district in California, Mount Diablo is being threatened with a dramatic shut-off of state tax revenues, as the bankrupt state government grapples with a budget deficit of somewhere between $10 and $15 billion – a deficit that is expected to swell to about $25 billion by the middle of 2012.

So the elected members of the Mount Diablo School District met in open session last week. They heard public testimony, with local residents pleading to “spare the teachers jobs” at the open microphone. Members of the board even offered their own impassioned dissertations about how “every one of our teachers is a human being,” and many of the teachers “have their own families,” and they all “touch our families in such important and necessary ways…” And then the board voted unanimously to terminate one-hundred eleven of those “human being” teachers. Unanimously. No dissenting voters.

After getting the “dirty work” completed, the elected board members at the Mount Diablo School District then proceeded to vote in favor of spending over $9 million on school building upgrades. All in the same school board meeting, all on the same night.

The board made it clear that the $9 million or so that they were spending on structural enhancements was money approved directly by voters and designated for such purposes, and could not possibly have been spent on retaining teachers. Legally speaking, it was probably accurate that the revenues could not simply be used for “more urgent purposes.”

But doesn’t this speak to a degree of mismanagement by the district board? Why wouldn’t a school board in California be anticipating a shortfall in state tax revenues, given that the state government is broke, and begin strategizing a way to retain teachers, rather than enhancing buildings?

The mismanagement of the Mount Diablo School District becomes even more apparent when you turn the calendar back a couple of months. In March of this year, the district board voted to raise the salary paid to the district legal counsel by $28,000.00 (that person now takes home $190,000 annually), the facilities and projects manager got a raise of $11,000, and the director of certificated personnel got a nice $6,000.00 annual income boost (each one of these employees also receives taxpayer funded healthcare and retirement benefits).

If school districts genuinely cared for students, then budget cuts would more often happen at the district office rather than in the classroom. But nobody wants to raise their taxes just so the Superintendent or the staff Attorney can keep their six-figure salary and benefits. Thus, “firing teachers” becomes the best political strategy.

Students, parents, and teachers deserve much better.


British Government to give green light to first fully free state run boarding school -- for black kids

It is thought to be first time that a state primary school has ever bought its own boarding school to educate its children. The joint venture between the Government and the Durand Education Trust will see inner city children from south London educated at a school in Sussex.

The Government has committed up to £17.34 million phased over four years to contribute towards the capital costs, with significant investment already made and committed to by the school’s foundation for the remainder.

Under the plan, children will leave Durand Primary School, in Lambeth, south London, aged 13, and board for four nights a week, free of charge, at the school, built on the site of a former public school in west Sussex.

Durand has committed to funding the furnishing of the middle school and will pay for the construction of sixth form accommodation for older children.The first pupils will start to arrive from September 2012.

Unlike like other state boarding schools, where a fee is payable, Durand will ensure that the cost of boarding is paid for, so that parents do not have to pay a penny. Almost half of the children that attend Durand Academy receive Free School Meals and more than 95 per cent are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds. Some 40 per cent live in overcrowded households.

The new all-through Academy will provide 250 places for years 7 - 9, 375 boarding places for years 9 - 11 and a proposed 250 places for post-16 pupils.

Greg Martin, the school’s executive head, told The Daily Telegraph: “This project will transform life opportunities for children and families from Stockwell’s estates. We believe that all children deserve the best education and this project will help us to deliver that for our intake.”

Mark Dunn, former chairman of West Sussex Council, said: “This is a hugely exciting and welcome development. Not only will the proposed project bring alive the school in West Sussex again but it is also offer life changing opportunities for hundreds of children.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The poorest children are too often left behind because of weak schools and lack of opportunity. "This unique and pioneering project, led by one of London’s best primary schools, will give disadvantaged pupils the type of education previously reserved for the rich. It is vital that we concentrate resources on the children who need it most.”

Last April The Daily Telegraph disclosed how Durand Primary in London purchased St Cuthman’s, a former public school in west Sussex, for a seven figure sum.


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