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Think of the children: fraud and Minnesota charter schools

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From Classroom Struggle TC

Earlier this month, a report put out by The Center for Popular Democracy and the Integrity in Education project found that since charter schools first appeared in the early 1990s, they have been responsible for costing taxpayers $100 million in fraud, abuse, and waste.

In the introduction of the nearly 50-page document, the authors list three prototypical examples of the type of fraud the report focuses on, two of which are taken from Minnesota charter schools.   In one of the noted cases, quoting from the official Federal Department of Education website:

“The former owners of one of the first charter schools in Minnesota were sentenced today in United States District Court for defrauding the school to help subsidize an extravagant lifestyle. William Pierce, age 46, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release. His wife, Shirley Pierce, also 46 years of age, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In addition, Judge Michael J. Davis ordered the couple to pay $489,239.65 in restitution to the Minnesota Department of Education, which, along with the federal government, funded the school.”

The report mentioned another fraud case from Minnesota, in which local Fox 9 News found that “Joel Pourier, 40, of Shakopee pled guilty to eight felony counts of theft by swindle. Pourier had worked as the financial director and executive director at Oh Day Aki Heart of the Earth Charter School between 2002 and July 2008.” Bank transactions indicate he had “embezzled over $1,380,000 from August 2003 through July 2008.”

In another instance of local charter school fraud Eric Mahmoud, who runs the Harvest Prep and Best charter schools, is implicated in a variety of violations, including using his school’s letterhead in asking for gross overpayment in a real-estate deal, paying employees as contractors instead of employees, and frequent unclear payments between himself and his publicly-funded organizations.

Charter schools distinguish themselves by not being held to the same standards and oversights required of public schools. Financially, this allows for-profit charter schools to take public money and for non-profit charter schools to oversee their own finances.

It’s worth speculating about the possible connection between, on the one hand, Minnesota’s special status as both where the charter school movement got its start and its #1 ranking as the best state for charter schools in the country and, on the other hand, Minnesota’s disproportionate number of high-profile cases of charter school fraud.

We at Classroom Struggle are deeply critical of the top-down authority structures and the all too common lack of meaningful community control within public education. However, charter schools’ further eschewing of accountability mechanisms has lead directly to corporate executives who run charter schools misappropriating large sums of money for personal gain. What would an education system look like in which the refrain “think of the children” inspired us to empower kids instead of making it easier to steal from them?

Short update FAQ on the Sisters Camelot struggle

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From Sisters Camelot Canvass Union

The Sisters Camelot Canvass Union (SCCU) of the IWW has released many statements and documents explaining their position on the conflict between the union and their managers, the Sisters Camelot Collective.

We encourage anyone interested in learning actual details to read these statements and documents at http://canvassunion.org/

However, as a result of the violent and apparently coordinated attack on a picket of the Sisters Camelot Bus, many similar questions have been raised again. While an attack on a picket defending worker rights at May Day – a holiday commemorating the struggles by immigrant workers in Chicago to obtain the 8-hour day – is appalling, we continue to receive questions and offers for intervention, indicating that either people are no longer reading our old FAQ document (http://canvassunion.org/2013/03/02/faq/), or that it may need to be updated.

Nothing in the following is intended to contradict any of the points on the SCCU page. The following points are entirely supplementary to those documents.

1. What’s the problem at Sisters’ Camelot?

Canvass Union workers self-organized against unfair working conditions, and for workplace democracy [improved pay was actually secondary] at Sisters Camelot. The workers approached the Twin Cities IWW, asking to join the union and become a campaign within the IWW. The IWW welcomed them, as we do any group of self-organized workers.The response of the Collective was to fire one worker and refuse any negotiations about the workers’ demands. The Collective then engaged in a vicious and protracted union-busting and smear campaign.

From the beginning to today, the Canvass Workers are waiting to hear whether the Collective has changed its mind and is willing to negotiate with organized workers.

2. Why pick on Sisters’ Camelot? Isn’t a non-profit that feeds hungry people on our side? Why not go organize at McDonald’s?

We’ve heard this one a lot. Nobody is ‘picking’ on Sisters Camelot. The canvassers endured sub-minimum wages while providing 95% of the operating budget of the operation. They were denied autonomy over their working conditions by their bosses, the Collective. They self-organized to improve those conditions, and later approached the IWW.

Workers everywhere, in all industries, in all locations, regardless of size, activity, industry, or ‘good intentions’ of their employers, have a right to organize. To imagine that some sectors should be protected from union organizing is a hard right-wing notion.

The vast majority of our campaigns have been against large and medium-sized capitalists. Nevertheless, the IWW is a union for all workers. The Sisters Camelot collective has acted identically to these large capitalist employers in the ways they have attempted to bust our union, from the nasty lawyers they use to the physical violence they coordinate and encourage. See here for more: http://goo.gl/UMBYFi

Workers at Sisters’ Camelot were actually organizing partly in order to improve the work of Sisters’ Camelot, which for some time now has been operating more like the private hobby of a few on the collective, instead of a reliable and socially useful program.

3. Are the workers willing to negotiate?

A constant smear of the workers is that they are unwilling to negotiate. This is untrue. The workers have insisted on their openness to negotiation since the beginning; the collective has never once agreed to negotiation or mediation. We are still waiting.

This is why new offers to mediate between the IWW and the Collective seem strange to us. We have always been willing to negotiate. The collective never has been. If people want negotiation or mediation to proceed, they should direct their efforts toward convincing the Collective members.

4. What right did the IWW have to picket the Sisters’ Camelot Bus at the Powderhorn Park May Day event?

Every right. Anytime an operation is struck, it is subject to a picket or strike action anytime and anywhere it attempts to continue normal operations. Sisters Camelot was not present in 2013. We approached Paul Robinson, HOBT May Day Coordinator, who assured us that “Sisters’ Camelot and HOBT have come to a mutual agreement again this year that the bus will not be in Powderhorn Park.”

On seeing the Sisters’ Camelot bus, a few workers organized a peaceful picket, and were immediately and aggressively harassed, by people pretending to not see them and go ‘through’ them, to verbal harassment. A few of the Sisters’ Collective major supporters – people not in the collective, but providing most of the energy in the campaign to destroy the workers – showed up and got on their phones. Shortly after, a large crowd of drunk and aggressive supporters of Sisters’ Camelot arrived, and began violently attacking the picket.

Some used children in strollers to push into the picketers, others held hands and danced between the picketers, physically entangling them. Finally, one picketers was harassed and grabbed and thrown off-balance, and put an attacker into a headlock as he fell. He went down and was attacked by several people, leaving him with cuts and abrasions to his face. The entire time, misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-working class language was the staple of the attackers. Anti-woman and queer slurs were constant, as were sneers that some of us may have to work for a living, or have the desire to improve the conditions of our work.

5. Isn’t this hurting the radical/liberal/leftist/activist community in (South) Minneapolis?

No. We feel the same pain that others feel when our relationships are strained, when we have arguments with friends or acquaintances, and when people we considered friends turn on us. This is not the same thing as ‘hurting our community.’ Instead, what we are experiencing is honesty, and clarification. It can be painful, but we hope that we can emerge from this conflict with a genuine community that stands behind a wide variety of important social causes, without sacrificing any of them to the others. Throwing workers under the bus is never okay.

Charter schools of the Twin Cities: by the numbers

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From Classroom Struggle TC

Here at Classroom Struggle, we take a critical view of the charter school approach to improving the quality of K-12 education. While the larger arguments about what kind of education system we want and why our current one is flawed are important, it’s crucial first to have a grasp of the numbers.

In what will be an ongoing effort on this blog, we’re going to collect important statistics on charter schools in the Twin Cities and in Minnesota because much of this information is scattered and difficult to find. We believe that the numbers lend themselves to deep critiques—we’ll get to these in future posts—of the charter school movement, but for now take a look at the data for yourself:

 


  • [Note: All data is from the most recent statistics, and as some data isn’t collected annually or is slow to be released, latest statistics might be from before 2013.]
  • Since 2010, the Walton Family Foundation, set up and overseen by the founders of Walmart, have given $1.72 million directly to charter schools in the Twin Cities (this does not include other funding, which is thought to be significant, to local pro-charter school advocacy groups and think tanks). (Source: Charter School Partners)
  • 18% of Twin Cities district schools students are designated having ‘special needs’. 12% of Twin Cities charter schools students are designated having ‘special needs’. (Source: TC Daily Planet)
  • Charter schools are increasingly more segregated by race than district schools. The number of black students in predominantly black schools has risen to 88% for charter schools and declining to 44% in district schools, and the respective statistics for white students are 73% and 51%, for Hispanic students are 76% and 38%, for Native American students 54% and 38%, and for Asian students 82% and 38%. (Source: Institute for Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota (pg. 6))

We hope to continue to add to this to create a public database of easy-to-find, accurate information about charter schools in our communities. If you know of good sources of information for Minnesota charter schools, please post them below!

Help Black Rose Press Open Up Shop

Summary
Black Rose Press is opening a screen printing shop/storefront in South Minneapolis. Please help us make this project a success.

We are a worker-owned, cooperative print shop, as well as an IWW union shop. The building was purchased this winter, and since then we have been working with the city, architects, and contractors to get ready for a big summer of renovations.

The building will serve as our printing studio, with multiple presses and various pre-press processes. The front room will also have space for retail. The building also has a seperate unit that will be rented out to generate income for the cooperative.

Our hope is to see this sturdy, yet neglected building become a permanent space for a cooperative business, specifically our small union print shop.

blackrosepress.org

What We Need
We are looking for a little extra help to finish the renovations. Any support you can give us goes a long way.

If you’re interested in helping fund this project, visit their IndieGoGo!

Picket violently attacked — call for full boycott of Sisters’ Camelot!

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On May 4th 2014, members of the Twin Cities IWW and supporters withstood a violent and deliberate attack on a picket of Sisters’ Camelot, whose canvass workers went onstrike in March of 2013 and have endured vicious union-busting efforts from the organization ever since. After some twenty minutes of peaceful picketing, Sisters’ Camelot supporters organized an escalating series of attacks and attempts to break the picket line, eventually tackling an IWW member to the ground and beating him until other Wobblies pulled them away.

Earlier in 2014, a committee organizing the 80th anniversary of the 1934 Minneapolis Trucker’s Strike was asked to participate in the official Heart of the Beast Theatre May Day Parade. Many members of the committee, which includes many IWW members, were concerned about whether or not HOBT was working with a known union-busting firm. In April, a member of the Remember 1934 committee made a discreet inquiry to the artistic director of HOBT, and an assurance was made that by mutual agreement between HOBT and Sisters’ Camelot, Sisters’ would not be at the festival.

However, on Sunday, as marchers with the Remember 1934 committee arrived at the park, a union member and striking canvasser alerted us that the Sisters Camelot bus was parked on 35th St near 13th Ave, directly facing Powderhorn Park, where the festival was occurring. Acting in solidarity with the striking canvassers, a group of Wobblies and community allies began a peaceful picket on the sidewalk in front of the bus’s serving window.

Members of Sisters’ Camelot managed only disorganized attempts to disrupt the peaceful picket for the first twenty minutes, including trying to drown the picketers out, and screaming that the workers were greedy for trying to improve their working conditions. When that failed, they called in support–many of the same cadre who had been a part of drafting anti-union “community statements,” and acted as advisers to Sisters Camelot in their union-busting efforts–in order to, as one of these individuals later explicitly stated online, “Run [the IWW] out.”

In their efforts to achieve their stated goal of breaking a peaceful picket line, Sisters’ Camelot steadily escalated their violence against IWW members. First they physically blocked workers and their supporters–at one point a Sisters’ Camelot supporter physically pushed her small child into the picket line. IWW members responded by peacefully moving around individuals trying to block their way. Following this failure, attackers began shoving and physically attacking picketers. Each time, IWW members did their best to defend themselves and continue the picket line. Meanwhile Sisters’ Camelot supporters did nothing to intervene or remove those individuals, evidently happy to have them act as their goons and enforcers. Eventually, several members of this cadre organized a group of people to encircle the picket, take picket signs and personal material and destroy them, and forcefully prevent the picket from continuing. At this point, an IWW member was tackled to the ground, where he was scratched and beaten by a member of Sisters Camelot as well as several supporters. Once more, it was up to the IWW picketers and supporters to remove these individuals, while those who had mobilized the attack looked on approvingly.

Beyond the physical attack, there was a constant stream of classist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise problematic language from the assailants. Following the final assault, a member of Sisters’ Camelot mocked and belittled the beaten IWW member and another openly queer IWW member with homophobic and sexist slurs, in full view and earshot of many of the self-described anti-oppression activists who said and did nothing. Others mocked IWW members for having to work for a living, while still others were given the same tired anti-union line of “If you don’t like your job, get a new one.” Meanwhile, two IWW members overheard an individual walk up saying, “I’m looking forward to bashing in some IWW skulls.”

None of this is particularly surprising: while Sisters Camelot and their allies claim to be anti-oppression, they have repeatedly shown throughout the last 15 months that they are more than willing to ally themselves with openly anti-worker, anti-woman, and anti-queer individuals and institutions in order to get their way. When Sisters’ Camelot was brought to court over the illegal firing of a canvasser for union activities, they employed the services of John C. Hauge, a lawyer who boasts of defending corporations against sexual assault cases, OSHA claims, wrongful death lawsuits, and aiding companies in “union avoidance” efforts, among other contemptible practices. Laughably, they have repeatedly decried “aggression” from their striking workers and the IWW.

While their self-created image of rebellious attitude and anti-oppressive culture is well groomed, what lies beneath the surface is a condescending disregard for the wellbeing of anyone beyond their social circle. At one point, picketers overheard a SC Collective member state “I’m proud to be a scab!” while other key supporters laughed about the IWW member who was bleeding from his head, saying, “well, maybe he just sucks at fighting.”

To be perfectly clear, anyone who mobilizes their friends to assault a peaceful picket of workers and their supporters, who associates themselves with homophobes and sexists and then disclaims any responsibility for their actions, or who supports this type of activity, has no right to consider themselves a part of any progressive or radical community. To even consider otherwise is a slap in the face to everyone who fights for a better world.

We don’t take organized assaults on our members and friends lightly. After the assault on our picket line, we feel it is necessary to take further action against Sisters Camelot. The Twin Cities IWW calls for a complete economic, organizational, and charitable boycott of Sisters Camelot. If a scab canvasser comes to your door, turn them away empty handed. If they approach you about hosting a food share, tell them they are not welcome. Any individuals or organizations who continue to support Sisters Camelot will be associated with their shameful actions. There is no space within our communities for any organization that operates in this way.

We Never Sleep. We Never Forget.