Wednesday, December 19, 2018

OK: Another Rich Amateur Assault On Education.

Hechinger Report elevated my blood pressure with a story that is a near-perfect microcosm of the state of public education and, really, democracy in 2018.

Looks like a fun guy.
Paul Campbell is a successful business guy. He put in over a decade with Rolls-Royce in Indiana, rising to the level of VP of customer business. He put in a few yers with Capstone, a manufacturer of micro-turbines. Then he jumped to Enviro Systems, a "supplier of environmental controls for some of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world." Enviro was founded in 1979, and its parent company is Zodiac Aerospace, a French company with roots back ton 1896 (they started out with hydrogen balloons). Zodiac is huge-- 100 sites and 35,000 employees. Zodiac acquired Enviro in early 2015; in June of 2015, Campbell took over as President and CEO of Enviro. Enviro boasts 170 non-union employees.

Enviro is located in Seminole, Oklahoma, a town that ballooned to 25k people during an oil boom a century ago, but by 2000 had shrunk to under 7,000 people. It has since bounced back a bit, but it's a small town about an hour away from Oklahoma City; it's in those suburbs where Campbell actually made his new home-- not Seminole.

Campbell hadn't been at the company a year before he was complaining about the local schools-- specifically, that he couldn't recruit or retain good people for Enviro: "We can't get people to work here. The main reason we found is because of the local education system."

Seminole's schools, like all of Oklahoma's schools, suffer from a state government that is hostile to public education. But Campbell, who also became involved in the Chamber of Oklahoma, didn't start lobbying the state for better funding or resources for the local education system. Instead, he set out to create a charter school.

The local school board turned him down twice, so he took his case to the state board, which overruled the local elected board's decision.  The local board argued that the charter didn't have local support, and I'm inclined to believe them because an elected school board in a  town of 7,000 hears about what their constituents do or don't want. At ball games, in church, at the grocery store, on Facebook-- if the voters had been unhappy about the first 7-0 vote against the charter, the second 7-0 vote against it would never have happened. But Campbell, who was by then a bit of an Oklahoma charter guru, knew how to play the game, and he brought a crowd to the hearing.

Seminole schools had their own problems, with a failed bond issue to replace a 80-year-old building that turned out (after the bond failed) to be unusable.

And so Seminole taxpayers got an extra school they didn't ask for and took a budget cut to local schools that they didn't want. And with Campbell's school pulling a mere 29 students, odds are good that actual costs of running Seminole schools will drop by nearly nothing, but they'll lose somewhere between $100K to $270K.

Hechinger reports that some of the anticipated issues haven't arisen yet, but this doesn't seem to matter to Campbell one way or another (his response to the issue of further financial strains on the school system-- "Adapt.") Campbell's concept for the charter is as a source of meat widgets for employers; the first project of the year was research career paths. This is not a bad fit for Oklahoma, where public education is being retooled as work force preparation, which is where "college and career ready" aimed us-- proper meat widget job training for the not-wealthy class.

So there it is. A guy with money and clout and who thinks he's hot stuff (he tells Hechinger "I love doing something that no one thinks can be done") decides that he might as well singlehandedly overrule democratic controls and, even though he knows nothing about running a school, go ahead and create a school based on what he thinks a school should be, which most especially includes making school a training program to provide his business with workers. He's started a whole charter backing organization, because after three years of living near this community, he knows what communities like it need and he kn own how schools should be run.

Campbell talks about the frustrations of dealing with the local school board, and as someone who worked for a small town/rural local school board, I'm not unsympathetic. But let's be real-- after a year of being an employer in a small town (and one who chose not to live in that town) he went to the school board to tell them how he'd like the schools to be transformed to suit him.

Democracy is frustrating and messy. Sometimes you don't like the results. But the repeated bypassing of the process of democracy, particularly in the name of taking private control of a public institution, particularly when done by amateurs who don't know what they're talking about, and most particularly when their intent is to impose their own set of goals snd purposes upon that institution-- this is all bad news, and it has been the story over and over and over again with modern ed reform, from Bill Gates and Common Core all the way down to Paul Campbell and his moves to make rural Oklahoma education in. his own image. It is not good for our nation to have critical public institutions bent to the will of unelected amateurs, no matter how much money and clout they have.

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