Monday, January 18, 2016

LA: Buying a School Board

Danielle Dreilinger of the Time-Picayune and published an incredible story last week, outlining how some businessmen worked to buy themselves some members of the Jefferson Parish School Board in the 2010 election.

The Times-Picayune/ had to sue its way to the Louisiana Supreme Court, but the  eventual result was 285 pages of emails from the government account of Lucien Gunter, former executive director of the public Jefferson Economic Development Commission and the private Jefferson Business Council and Committee for a Better Jefferson. Those emails leave no doubt that some business interests set out to push the teachers union aside, put their own people on the board, and make sure that their elected people did as they were told.

The time lag is due in part to a suit by one of Gunter's correspondents to keep the emails from being released, a suit that resulted in emails that were released, but with many private citizen names redacted. Dreilinger does not mention it, but I'm willing to bet that the lawsuits have also resulted in some government in-service training on How Not To Use Your Government Email Illegally For Your Own Private Baloney.

Journalists have done a lot of digging through those pages, and I recommend that you read the full article for the whole ugly picture. But here are some of the uglier parts.

The coalition, which called itself the "Enough Is Enough" coalition was led and coordinated by Jim Garvey, an elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In fact, in a "white paper" written by the business interests, he was called "the leader of their 'Strike Force'" Think about that for a second-- an elected member of the state education board conspiring with local businessmen to make off with a local school board election.

The Committee for a Better Jefferson was resurrected specifically to run the campaign, which kicked off by seeking out and recruiting the candidates they wanted.

Now, you may think, politicians and businessmen look for  and support like-minded candidates all the time. It's part of how a democracy works, kind of.

But the CBJ required each recruited candidate to sign a "detailed pledge" that was basically their marching orders, including boosting charters and Teach for America, and then each candidate wa assigned a handler who coached them on talking points. This is not the support of like-minded candidates. This is setting up some sock puppets to hold elected public office while being stricty answerable to private inerests.

The emails express a sense of ownership. One person wrote, "We need to be aware of and in control of our candidates meetings with incumbents." When one candidate made a public comment about wondering who might help him raise money, Gunter jumped in: "These candidates have been briefed on more than one occasion and that kind of comment is unacceptable," he wrote, and spoke darkly of penalizing the "guilty" party.

The details are numerous and depressing. One email writer notes that he hasn't yet given his check to "the guy who is running in my home district (and can't even remember his name) Please send me his name."

The emails cover the collecting and funneling of campaign money for the sock puppets. Garvey wants to avoid any obvious buying of candidates and suggests making the checks in smaller amounts. Another member of the committee spins ideas about keeping school buses busy on election day so that they can't be used to take people to the polls.

They were also careful to make sure that the campaign seemed to come from a collection of concerned individuals and not a coalition of business groups.

Ultimately the sock puppets won, and Garvey et al were ready with transitional plans for them. At that point the email supply ends.

The good news is that the sequel to the 2010 election was the 2014 election in which pro-union candidates pushed the sock puppet majority out. But the bigger lesson is that if teachers, students and school leaders in some parts of the country have the feeling that business leaders and state-level elected officials are actively, but semi-secretly, working against them, they are correct.

Read the full article here, then add it to your file of "No, the privatizers really are pulling every dirty trick in the book to get their hands on public tax dollars" stories.

1 comment:

  1. This kind of corruption was the cause of the NOLA schools being viewed as hopeless before Katrina. This does not bode well for that great city and its children. They will become corrupted just like the adults.