Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Grant, Grants’ Category

Holy New Living Word, Bat Man!

John White’s Department of Education just can’t seem to keep tabs on all these pop-up private for-profit education facilities that have proliferated under his and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping educational reform programs.

Questionable expenditures by an organization under contract to the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) have been flying under the radar, overshadowed as it were, by corruption charges against internal auditors with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Remember New Living Word up in Ruston? That’s the school that was approved for some 300 vouchers even though there were no instructors, no computers, and no facilities—and obviously, no vetting. Just an application from the school was all that was needed, and BAM! Instant approval.

Not that New Living Word was the only one; there were others, including one in which the director had a long of history of legal problems and another in which the director referred to himself as a “prophet.” And there was the charter school that decided it could conduct random pregnancy tests on female students after one girl was expelled when it was learned she was pregnant, though no punishment was meted out for the dad, a member of the school’s football team. Only threatened legal action by the ACLU reversed the ill-considered policy.

Still, New Living Word became the instant poster child for DOE’s bureaucratic ineptitude.

Until now.

Now we have Open World Family Services, Inc. a New Orleans education “nonprofit” established ostensibly to “strengthen the family through education and training,” and paid through grants under the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally-financed program funded through a $1.4 million contract with DOE that ran from May 1, 2009 through April 30, 2012.

Or perhaps we should have said had Open World Family Services, Inc. It closed its doors on May 31, 2012, a month after its contract with DOE ran out.

But not before its administrator managed to misappropriate, misspend, mishandle, mismanage, fold, staple and mutilate more than $300,000, according to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

To read entire audit report, click here: 000011D0

Included in that amount were $116,323 in expenses which Open World did not incur, $148,596 in unapproved purchases and expenses that included debit card withdrawals ($16,758) airfare to Monrovia, Liberia ($7,204) and payments to the immediate family of Executive Director Kim Cassell ($18,414).

Cassell’s attorney assures us it was all just your basic “lack of knowledge of grant management” that led to a number of “errors in funds management.”

That would be the usual errors, like requests for reimbursements listing 129 specific checks (all payable to vendors) totaling $221,624 when only 74 of those checks totaling $105,301 actually cleared Open World’s bank accounts. But what of the remaining 55 checks? Well, Cassell’s former administrative assistant told state auditors that Cassell instructed her to pull blank checks and use or record the blank check numbers on reimbursement requests for “projected” vendor expenses.

“By submitting reimbursement requests that included false information, Open World improperly received $129,402 in reimbursements from DOE and may have violated state and federal laws,” the audit report said.

Just an error in funds management.

Kinda makes you wonder about those seven contracts worth a combined $430,000 that the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has awarded to Open World Family Services since 2008 to combat asthma and tobacco use. Did that money go up in smoke as well?

Open World, the audit says, submitted requests and received reimbursements for employee benefits totaling $13,079 for which no expense was incurred.

Another simple error in funds management.

From May 2009 to October 2011, Cassell improperly used public funds totaling $11,108 for veterinary bills and pet supplies, a homeowner’s insurance payment, personal travel and college tuition payments, according to the audit report.

Ditto on the error in funds management.

Cassell’s time sheets from Sept. 18, 2010, to Oct. 19, 2010, indicate that she was on vacation and traveling. But during that same time period, the audit says, she made debit card withdrawals in Monrovia, Liberia, totaling $4,576 and that she incurred airfare charges totaling $200 on Oct. 17, 2010.

She explained to auditors that she traveled to Liberia for the purpose of registering Open World as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) in West Africa.

She also incurred charges on the organization’s debit card totaling $1,099 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, while on travel to that state in November of 2010.

In all, the audit says that from May 2009 to February 2012, only a couple of months before her grant contract with DOE ran out, she used $148,596 in grant funds for puchases and expenses not included in approved grant budgets. That amount included $97,961 for rent, utilities and building improvements; $16,758 in undocumented debit card withdrawals; $7,204 in undocumented airfare charges; $15,340 for insurance policies, and $11,333 for vehicle expenses. “By using grant funds for unauthorized purposes, Open World appears to have violated its grant agreements and may be required to reimburse funds improperly spent,” the report says.

New Orleans attorney Jauna Crear wrote a five-page letter of response to the audit’s findings but basically defended her client’s actions in a single sentence:

“An overall review of the allegations, along with Ms. Cassell’s explanations, clearly shows a lack of understanding of the non-profit governance rules as opposed to a willful disobedience thereof.”

All of which raises several questions:

  • Does DOE customarily hand out multi-million dollar contracts to non-profits with inadequate experience in handling public funding?
  • What safeguards does John White have in place to prevent abuse, theft, and misapplication of public funds by other organizations under contract to DOE?
  • Does John White believe it might be worthwhile to conduct a review of other such contracts/grants?
  • Is it possible that DOE, like DHH, may have eliminated the position(s) of internal auditor as a cost-cutting measure?
  • Will DHH review the seven current and past contracts it has awarded to Open World Family Services totaling $430,000?

Sometimes you just gotta scratch your head and wonder…

Other times you look at who is running this state and then you know…

Read Full Post »

“We were directed to doctor the data to allow the schools to become eligible.”

—Former employee of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), who claims that LDOE employees under former State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and in “at least the first year” of his successor, John White, were directed to skew data to allow several charter schools in the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans to become eligible for several million dollars in federal grants.

Read Full Post »

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) for at least three years manipulated qualification requirements for several New Orleans charter schools so that they would qualify for millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a former LDOE employee who now works for a parish school district and who asked that his name not be revealed.

The employee told LouisianaVoice that the practice started under former Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and continued at least in John White’s first year as superintendent.

He said the recipients were “four or five” schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans and all were charter schools. “LDOE employees were told to manipulate the data to allow the schools to qualify for the federal grants and each of the schools was subsequently approved.”

He said the data were also skewed in some instances to block grant eligibility for other schools.

One criterion was that the school be a failing school, he said. “These were new charter schools, so they were not actually ‘failing’ schools, but we were directed to doctor the data to allow the schools to become eligible.” He did not name the charter schools that received the grants.

He said the other criterion was for “conditional” schools. He added that the federal Department of Education is moving toward making “conditional” the single criterion for grant eligibility.

The former LDOE employee said he did not recall the exact amounts awarded the schools but that the total for all four was “several millions of dollars.”

He also touched briefly on the current accusations that the refusal by LDOE employees of requests to adjust the LEAP and iLEAP scores for the RSD was at least partly to blame for the delay in releasing school test scores until Tuesday of this week (May 20).

“The department (LDOE) did that for schools all over the state last year,” he said.

He said there was no logical reason for the delay in releasing the test scores, a delay that has thrown some school districts into a state of chaos—particularly those that have already completed their school year. Schools in those districts still don’t know which students will be required to take courses during the summer to bring their grades up.

Students in other school districts who may have been told they were exempt from finals because of outstanding grades are now finding that they have to take finals after all.

An LDOE official, speaking for White, said despite the prevailing belief, there was no set schedule for the release of the test scores—even though educators and administrators across the state were in accord in the belief that the scores were to have been released last Friday.

“There was no reason for the delay,” the former LDOE employee said. “DRC (Data Recognition Corp., of Maple Grove, Minnesota) had everything done well in advance of last Friday. The test scores should have been released on time.”

DRC is the vendor under contract to LDOE for testing and test grading of the LEAP and iLEAP tests.

The firm presently has two contracts with the department totaling $111.7 million.

The first, Contract No. 603573, is for $66.5 million and runs from Sept. 1, 2003 through June 30, 2015. It calls for DRC to test grades three through nine in English, language arts, mathematic science and social studies, and to administer criterion referenced testing in grades three through seven and grade nine from Sept. 1, 2003 through June 30, 2008.

Contract 704708 is for $48.2 million and runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2015. That contract calls for DRC to provide support services related to LDOE’s current assessment program which includes the developing of test forms, printing, distributing and collecting materials, coring and reporting for LEAP, iLEAP and other standardized tests.

 

Read Full Post »

Two months ago, when the Federal Communications Commission allotted $8 million to expand broadband Internet access in rural Louisiana areas, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to praise, perhaps a bit prematurely, the “investment” while Gov. Bobby Jindal remained uncharacteristically silent.

Despite Landrieu’s laudatory claim that the funds would “upgrade the digital infrastructure in rural communities,” the $8 million represented only 10 percent of an $80 million grant for Louisiana that was rescinded in October of 2011 because of Jindal’s aversion to what then Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater deemed a “top-down, government-heavy approach that would compete with and undermine, rather than partner with the private sector…”

What Rainwater—and through him, his boss, Jindal—did not acknowledge is that the Jindal administration’s obsession with protecting the private sector at the expense of broadband Internet service to customers in the rural areas of the central and northeastern parts of the state was part of the 12-year-old official position staked out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in August of 2002. http://alecexposed.org/w/images/6/6f/9A15-Municipal_Telecommunications_Private_Industry_Safeguards_Act_Exposed.pdf

Also ignored by the Jindal administration—and ALEC—is that broadband service in the U.S. is woefully inadequate when compared with countries like South Korea, Japan and even Portugal and Italy. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/competition-and-the-internet/

And it’s even worse in the country’s rural areas. http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/broadband-service-rural-areas-promise-still-exceeds-reality

No doubt you’ve seen those cute AT&T commercials featuring the man sitting at a table with children. He asks a question and gets feedback from the kids and the commercial ends with, “It’s not complicated.”

Indeed it is not. In 2008, Jindal’s very first year as governor, he signed SB-807 into law as Act 433 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act, was authored by then-Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans). It passed the Senate by a 34-1 vote with only Dale Erdy (R-Livingston) voting no. Absent and not voting were Sens. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) and Sheri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville).

AT&T, which contributed $10,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2007, supported the bill. AT&T also contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.

It’s not complicated.

It also passed overwhelmingly in the House by a 94-9 vote. The only members casting no-votes were Reps. James Armes (D-Leesville), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Greg Cromer (R-Slidell), Jean Doerge (D-Minden), Ricky Hardy (D-Lafayette), Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Sam Jones (D-Franklin), and Chris Roy (D-Alexandria). Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City) was absent and did not vote.

The only ALEC member to go against the official doctrine was Carmody. He attended ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting in San Diego at which the organization’s Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force passed an official resolution in potential opposition to private telephone and cable companies by public bodies such as city councils and parish governments. http://louisianavoice.com/2012/05/09/could-loss-of-that-80-6-million-broadband-internet-federal-grant-last-fall-have-been-deliberately-orchestrated-by-alec/

Other members of the Louisiana Legislature who attended that meeting included Reps. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), State Chairman Joe Harrison (R-Gray), Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte) and Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge).

Act 433 well may even have been written by AT&T, which is a member of ALEC and a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. AT&T chipped in $50,000 to the ALEC cause in 2010 and was a member of the Louisiana Host Committee for ALEC’s 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Jindal was the recipient of ALEC’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at that 2012 meeting. http://www.alec.org/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s not complicated.

And lest one think that Louisiana’s loss of the $80 million broadband grant in 2011 was the exception, consider this:

  • Early this year, the Kansas Legislature undertook Campaign Stop Google Fiber—and any cities that may wish to invest in broadband network technologies. Included in legislation introduced in the legislature were stipulations that except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not themselves offer to provide or lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of allowing a private entity to offer, provide, carry or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/30/1273848/-Kansas-moves-to-Stop-Broadband-Internet-to-residents?detail=email
  • In February of 2011, the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) initiated a public battle with National Public Broadband (NPB) by inundating Lake County with a flurry of public records request designed to slow NPB’s efforts to bring broadband Internet to rural areas of Lake County.

While MCCA correctly asserts that Lake County should act transparently, the barrage of requests submitted by the association makes its intent to protect its own financial interests over those of rural residents of the county is quite apparent. Its monopoly is, after all, being threatened and those cable services that are overpriced and which provide as little speed as possible are fighting back.

Certainly it’s only coincidental that AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Excel Communications, Fair Point Communications, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, and Cox Communications are members of ALEC. All but Excel and Fair Point serve on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations.

It’s not complicated.

So, given Jindal’s cozy relationship with ALEC and given ALEC’s opposition to public participation in expanding broadband Internet service to rural areas in competition with ALEC members, it’s perfectly understandable why Jindal eschewed that “top-down” management of the $80 million grant.

It’s not complicated.

And it is equally apparent that the monopolistic advantage enjoyed by private sector providers be protected at all cost—even at the cost of creating some 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes that would support several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

It’s not complicated.

Top-down management apparently is good only when it originates from the fourth floor of the State Capitol. Just ask any legislator, former state employee, or board or commission member who has dared to contradict him on any issue.

It’s not complicated.

Read Full Post »

What do Louisiana and New Jersey have in common besides having governors who yearn to be president and who share the character traits of a bully who will seek vengeance against perceived opponents and throw subordinates under the bus?

No, it’s not that the governors are the back-to-back chairmen of the Republican Governors Association or that neither one looks very good in a suit, though those would be good guesses.

Try what the Wall Street Journal calls cronyism and contract abuse.

Accounts of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s questionable contracts and nefarious deals are fast approaching the status of legendary, from the giveaway of LSU hospitals, to the CNSI debacle; from Magellan to Alvarez and Marsal; from the SAS Institute contract by the director of the Office of Workers Compensation three weeks before his resignation and the subsequent hiring of that same director by SAS to several contracts with IT firms that have experienced major problems in other states and in some cases, had those contracts cancelled after repeated delays and cost overruns. There are others but the list quickly becomes tedious.

And now both MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims. http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/purchase/noa/contracts/g8043_13-r-23132.shtml

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.  http://www.njdems.org/cronyism_exposed_in_christie_contracts

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

One must wonder just how long that Road Home is, how long will it take to disperse federal funds to begin recovery from a hurricane that occurred more than eight years ago, in 2005. Or will the program continue to languish so that firms contracted to oversee the federal grant money can extract as much money for themselves as possible?

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

In Louisiana HGI eschewed the middle man and contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Two New Jersey Democratic congressmen on Wednesday called upon the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to investigate New Jersey’s dealing with HGI. In a Jan. 29 letter to Donovan, Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. and Frank Pallone said, “We respectfully request that your department investigate the circumstances surrounding the termination of this contract and appoint an official within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to independently monitor New Jersey’s usage of (Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery) funds.”

Their letter said there had been a “lack of transparency” with the selection criteria and distribution process of CDBG-DR funded programs administered by HGI.

http://www.ahherald.com/newsbrief/monmouth-news/16943-pascrell,-pallone-call-for-federal-investigation-into-handling-of-sandy-recovery-funds

In Louisiana, no one has requested a federal investigation…yet, but the Legislative Auditor’s review of 24 loans to property owners through the state’s Small Rental Property Program has indicated that the state could be on the hook for at least $116 million and possibly as much as $600 million in improperly received or misspent disaster aid following Katrina and Rita. http://app1.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/830C07388A1CA59886257B49006AE5FE/$FILE/00031C15.pdf

So perhaps John McCain was correct in hyping a ticket of Christie-Jindal to head the GOP presidential ticket in 2016. The way each has managed federal hurricane recovery funds makes them perfect for the Republican Party.

Read Full Post »

From time to time at LouisianaVoice, someone will ask us how we get the information we use for our stories.

The answer is quite simple, really.

Instead of listening to what elected officials, political appointees and attorneys are saying, we listen to what they’re not saying.

And then we find out where the appropriate public records are and we go get them, sometimes finding it necessary to take legal action to obtain what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Louisiana. Our driving obsession is that public records are not the exclusive domain of whomever happens to be holding office at any given time.

The public’s right to know should be uppermost in any government—unless that government or a particular politician or bureaucrat has something to hide and we feel that having something to hide is the only reason for not releasing public records, deliberative process be damned.

And so, we choose to ask one more question. We know the politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers are going to put the best possible spin on any issue, so we must ask one more question and if we’re not satisfied with the answer, there are always the public records.

That’s the beautiful thing about a democracy; there’s always a paper trail when the politicians and their lawyers quit talking—or when they talk and we hear what they don’t say loud and clear.

And so it was when Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson fired off that six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy in which she chose to attack Kennedy for his political aspirations as much as to defend her client, State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge), that we listened.

Dorsey, in 2007, pushed through the legislature a $300,000 appropriation for the Colomb Foundation in Lafayette which Kennedy in July of this year listed as one of three dozen non-government organizations (NGOs) that owed the state some $4.5 million for non-compliance in reporting on how their grant money was spent.

The Colomb Foundation received its funding to design and build a community center in Lafayette Parish.

The Colomb Foundation is run by Sterling Colomb who is married to Sen. Dorsey.

Pierson, however, went for Kennedy’s jugular when she dropped her bombshell in her letter: Dorsey and Colomb were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant, she said.

It was one of those “aha” moments that attorneys love. A “gotcha,” as it were, the implication being that there could be no conflict if Dorsey was not married to Colomb at the time.

Advantage, Dorsey.

But wait.

There was something in Pierson’s declaration about their marriage date that was not said—like how long had they known each other or how long had they been in a relationship? Could Dorsey have used her position to funnel $300,000 in state funds to her future husband?

We listened but all we could hear was crickets chirping. So, we embarked on a little paper chase that took only a few minutes and a couple of clicks of a computer mouse. And what do you suppose we found?

On Jan. 5, 2007, one Sterling Colomb contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, according to records obtained from the Louisiana Ethics Commission. And while the $300,000 grant to the Colomb Foundation was indeed approved three years before their marriage, the campaign contribution from her future husband came approximately four months before the opening of the 2007 legislative session during which the grant to his foundation was approved—a little more than three years prior to their marriage.

Aha.

Your move, counsellor.

Read Full Post »

BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The Walton Family Foundation, already the largest single donor to Teach for America (TFA), recently committed an additional $20 million to recruit, train and place an another 4,000 unqualified teachers in America’s classrooms.

That includes $3 million to the New Orleans region, administered by one Kira Orange Jones who sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which just happens to be the agency that contracts with TFA for those novice teachers.

In case you live in a cave, the Walton Family Foundation is the benevolent offshoot of Wal-Mart, one of the most successful retail businesses in American history but which is alone responsible for the demise of more neighborhood mom and pop stores than any one factor since the Great Depression—all while enjoying the benefit of almost $100 million in various tax breaks in 19 Louisiana cities, according to incomplete figures that do not include newer state stores.

More on that later.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, apparently kept in the dark as to Jones’ title of Executive Director of the New Orleans TFA regional office, ruled that her serving on BESE was not a conflict because her salary was not affected by the contracts with the state.

The ethics board member—its vice chairman—who lulled the board into believing she was a mere rank and file employee of TFA, has since resigned after it was revealed that he had his own conflict as a legal counsel for Tulane University which also had a contract with TFA.

LouisianaVoice recently obtained through a public records request of the Department of Education (DOE) copies of three separate contracts between DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) and TFA. Two of those contracts, dated in September of 2009 and 2011, were signed by Kira Orange Jones, complete with the notation beneath her signature identifying her as “Executive Director.”

Exercising a bit more caution in 2012, the contract was signed by Michael Tipton, Jones’ boss.

Those contracts, by the way, called for the state to pay TFA up to $5,000 per teacher provided for RSD—up to 40 teachers—and RSD would then be required to pay their salaries.

TFA alumnus Jack Carey, vice president of the greater New Orleans program said the money would fund more than 500 positions in the 2013 to 2015 school years, though with the state paying that generous “finder’s fee,” and local school boards paying the salaries, it’s rather difficult to imagine why an additional $3 million is needed other than to surmise the whole TFA thing is one gigantic scam designed to line someone’s pockets. That “someone” would be someone other than Louisiana teachers who have invested thousands of dollars on bachelor’s, master’s, and plus-30s and even Ph.Ds., but suddenly find themselves taking a back seat to those who train for five weeks over the summer to become teachers.

But it’s not only established teachers who take a dim view of TFA. Many of TFA’s own alumni are critical of the organization to which they once pledged their loyalty.

http://truth-out.org/articles/item/17750-teach-for-america-apostates-a-primer-of-alumni-resistance

One former TFA teacher now says that the organization glosses over issues of race and inequality but “fits very nicely into an overall strategy of privatizing education and diminishing critical thinking.”

Whenever a TFA teacher begins to questions the motives and intent of the program, “The staff would get together and talk about how to handle these people,” another former TFA member says. “They’d plunk him down with groups of ‘stronger corps members’ to improve his attitude” by “trying to further indoctrinate others and myself.”

Yet another dissident said he no longer recognized TFA. “All I see is a bunch of liars who are getting themselves rich and powerful. They just can’t stop lying.” He added that TFA refuses to recognize established evidence that a child’s socioeconomic level at birth better predicts his future tax bracket and educational attainment than how well her teachers prepare him for standardized tests.

“We really get to know what schools across our community need in the way of high-quality teachers,” Carey said, “and we work with them over the course of a year to understand their needs and help make great matches.”

Wow. How noble.

But perhaps Mr. Carey has not taken a trip down to the Ninth Ward to George Washington Carver High School.

I have.

Has Kira Orange Jones toured Carver High?

I have.

Washington Carver High School is the alma mater of Marshall Faulk, Heisman Trophy runner-up at San Diego State and all-pro running back for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams (where he won a Super Bowl).

But you’d never know it.

Eight years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the entire Ninth Ward, the school still has not been rebuilt. Today, it consists entirely of T-buildings. Superintendent of Education John White’s annual report, released last February, lists Carver as among the schools scheduled for new construction. Even though the proposed construction is to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), no steps have actually been taken to start construction other than the naming of two architectural firms. No contractor, though, eight years post-Katrina.

The football weight room is pathetic, consisting of three or four weight benches any other school would have thrown out years ago. There is no cover for the foam padding on the benches—padding that is crumbling. And the players’ lockers consist of plastic bins scattered across the floor—easy pickings for anyone who wanted to steal a watch or an i-Pod.

No one visiting the T-building weight room would ever believe that an NFL Super Bowl player once escaped the Desire Housing Project by playing his high school ball here.

Despite these conditions, George Washington Carver made it to the quarter-final round of the state high school football playoffs last year.

But far worse than the deplorable athletic facilities eight years post-Katrina is the fact that incredulous as it may sound, the school has no library.

Let that sink in. There is a public high school in Louisiana today that does not have a library.

Yet John White and Bobby Jindal and BESE President Chas Roemer would have us believe they’re all about education.

Gov. Jindal, Superintendent White, Chas Roemer, BESE member/TFA Director Kira Jones: what say you to the revelation that a public high school has allowed to exist under your watch that has no library? A school comprised exclusively of T-buildings? We’d love to hear your take on this. But please don’t hide behind Kyle Plotkin or your respective public relations sycophants in your response. (Surely is quiet; are those crickets we hear chirping?)

And so the Walton Family Foundation goes about with its press releases that glorify its generosity on behalf of education.

In truth, the Walton Family Foundation is all about the Waltons. TFA is simply the vehicle by which the Waltons try to put on their civic face. They are probably among the least civic minded of all.

Remember those patriotic television ads of a few years back when Wal-Mart was all about “American made” products? How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those ads? But we do hear about Bangladesh sweat shops collapsing on workers even as they turn out products for Wal-Mart.

And we hear plenty about how Wal-Mart exploits its U.S. workers with low wages and no benefits—all so it can keep corporate earnings up and competition out.

Wal-Mart is all about tax credits and making money. Here are 20 examples of economic development subsidies in 19 Louisiana cities, subsidies that total $96.5 million (the figures are probably higher because it’s virtually impossible to get updated figures from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development):

  • Abbeville: $1.665 million;
  • Alexandria: $2.5 million;
  • Bossier City: $1.7 million;
  • East Baton Rouge: $1.385 million;
  • Hammond: $1.365 million;
  • Monroe (Supercenter): $840,000;
  • Monroe (former discount store) $3.09 million;
  • Natchitoches: $1.5 million;
  • New Orleans: $7 million (estimate);
  • Opelousas (distribution center): $33 million;
  • Port Allen: $1 million;
  • Robert (distribution center): more than $21 million;
  • Ruston: more than $947,000;
  • Shreveport: $6.3 million;
  • St. Martinville: $3.725 million;
  • Sulphur: $1.8 million;
  • Vidalia: up to $1.65 million.

Wal-Mart’s expansion has been made possible to a large extent by the generous use of public money. This includes more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments, though the precise figures aren’t always available.

That’s because in Ruston, for example, the total subsidy was more than $947,000. That included a $647,000 enterprise zone tax break, plus $300,000 from the city in infrastructure improvements around the site through a state grant. But the city also made $12 million in road improvements throughout the area through a sales tax increment financing district. But since the district includes neighboring developments and because other area businesses benefitted from the road improvements, the benefits to Wal-Mart were impossible to quantify.

In addition, Louisiana Wal-Mart stores also receive about $5.4 million a year from a state policy that allows stories to keep a portion of the sales tax they collect from customers.

So, while the Walton Family Foundation gives itself a metaphoric pat on the back with its news release trumpeting its $20 million gift to TFA ($3 million allocated to Louisiana), it conveniently ignores how it has managed more than a billion dollars in tax dodges (nearly $100 million in Louisiana)—money that could have been used to support education.

Like perhaps permanent buildings, including a library, at George Washington Carver High School.

Read Full Post »

BATON ROUGE (CNS)—Before we leave the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) funding controversy (for now; we can always return to it when events warrant), we thought we’d review a few of the more interesting NGO funding requests that came before the Louisiana Legislature this year.

We interrupt this story for a tip of the hat to our friend C.B. Forgotston who provided us with some background information on one of the 36 organizations that State Treasurer John Kennedy said earlier this week were a tad negligent in providing an accounting of how their NGO funding from the state was spent.

Forgotston pointed out that one of those, The Colomb Foundation in Lafayette, is being asked to account for $300,000 of $361,000 in funding it received.

All non-profits are required by law to file Non-Profits 990 Reports with the IRS each year. These reports are public record but search of Non-Profits 990 Reports by Forgotston produced no results under the name The Colomb Foundation, Inc.

Oops.

The foundation’s registered agent is Sterling Colomb, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office.

Sterling Colomb is married to Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb.

Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb is a state senator from Baton Rouge.

Oops again.

Connect the dots and follow the money, folks.

Thanks, C.B.

We return you now to our regular story.

Altogether, about 100 applications were received from the same NGOs which submit their paperwork each year in hopes of receiving funding from the state.

In the past, it’s been pretty much a routine procedure to ask for—and receive—funds from the state. It is, after all, a scheme strikingly similar to vote buying, only more respectable, we suppose. Who could vote against a legislator who brought home funding for the local Council on Aging or for a community activity center or a kids’ baseball park?

That was then when the state had money. There was little to no oversight provided on the disposition of these funds. Give ‘em the money and remind them who to vote for next election.

But this is now when funding is hard to come by and when the governor is pulling money from higher education, health care and developmentally disabled programs and using one-time money to plug budget holes.

Still the applications came in from those councils on aging, local civic clubs, arts museums, the YMCAs and substance abuse centers.

Even the Treme Community Education Program, Inc. which was on that list of 36 organizations that State Treasurer John Kennedy is asking to provide an accounting for the use of past funding—or pay the state back—submitted a request.

In the case of Treme Community Education Program, it is being asked to account for the expenditure of $425,000 but that didn’t prevent the organization from submitting a request this year for $475,000 “to provide transportation for senior citizens to all offsite field trips; wholesome nutritious means, and organized physical, academic and social activities specifically for their age group.”

Small potatoes. Check out some of the other requests, some of which were approved in House Bill 1, the state’s general appropriations bill signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 13. First, those that received funding:

  • $1 million for the 2013 NCAA Women’s Final Four Basketball Tournament Host Committee;
  • $544,020 for the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation;
  • $280,577 for the New Orleans Bowl;
  • $151,140 for Healing Hearts for Community Development in Metairie;
  • $400,000 for the Avondale Booster Club.

Here are some of the other requests:

  • New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation (Jazz Fest): $2,470,586;
  • State Fair of Louisiana (Shreveport): $12,664,960;
  • 2014 NBA All-Star Host Committee; $3,250,000;
  • Teach for America: $5 million (at least $1 million of that request was approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). TFA, in addition to the money received from the state outright, also receives $3,000 per teacher placed from local school districts that hire TFA teachers. The local school districts must also pay the salaries of the TFA teachers.
  • Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana: $6.53 million (approved for $4.8 million in Priority 2, or second year funding).

This is the same Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana that was recently awarded a blank contract by the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to assume administrative and operational control of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe.

This is the same Biomedical Research Foundation whose President and CEO, Dr. John F. George, Jr., is a member of the LSU Board of Stuporvisors—the same public agency that somehow skirted all existing conflict of interest laws to award that blank contract to an organization run by one of its board members.

That’s the same John F. George, Jr., M.D., who made two campaign contributions of $5,000 each to Jindal.

That’s the same Biomedical Research Foundation whose board members, including John F. George, Jr., M.D., combined to contribute $31,000 to various Jindal campaigns. Besides George, those board members and the amounts contributed include:

  • Roy L. Griggs of Griggs Enterprise: $5,000;
  • Thomas Pressly, III, M.D.: $3,500;
  • John F. Sharp, past President/CEO: $2,500;
  • Craig Spohn of the Cyber Innovation Center: $10,000.

Oh, and this is the same Biomedical Research Center of Northwest Louisiana that currently has five active contracts with the state, excluding that blank contract with LSU, totaling $26.2 million. These include:

  • $14 million “for capital improvements for the wet-lab business incubators.”
  • $995,966 “to facilitate economic development by developing infrastructure need to provide technology transfer assistance to the university systems of Louisiana and to help commercialize technologies through the operations of a wet lab facility.”
  • $8.75 million for research equipment.
  • $1.9 million for “scanner acquisition for the positron emission tomography imaging center.”
  • $563,700 the “provide PET and PET/CT scans for patients who are financially and medically indigent.”

Going back a few years, the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, which will henceforth operate the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and the E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe with a blank contract, also had eight contracts (now expired) totaling another $14.1 million.

So it only makes sense that the foundation would be seeking an additional $6.53 million in NGO funding for “acquisitions.”

Read Full Post »

When last we left State Treasurer John Kennedy, he was announcing that 36 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have until Aug. 31 to fulfill their reporting requirements under terms of more than $4.45 million in grants they received from the state or be turned over to the Office of Debt Recovery.

We wish him well in this endeavor. His efforts are certainly fiscally responsible.

LouisianaVoice took a little closer look at some of those 36 recipients and made several interesting discoveries:

  • Of the 36, only 15, or 41.7 percent were still listed as organizations in good standing with the Secretary of State’s office as required for qualification for the grants. Those 15 combined to receive $2,265,000, or 50.9 percent of the total amount received;
  • Nine ($1.1 million) were listed as no longer in good standing with the Secretary of State and nine others ($450,000) were listed as inactive.
  • Three ($645,000) were never listed with the Secretary of State as required.

Even more interesting was the discovery that five of the organizations with combined grants of $1,955,000 have seven active contracts with the state in amounts totaling more than twice that amount—nearly $4.4 million, according to figures provided by Louisiana Transparency and Accountability (LaTrac), a master online list of state contracts.

And while each of the contracts has a different starting date, each runs through April 4, 2049, according to LaTrac records. No reason was given for contracts of such long duration but LouisianaVoice has submitted a public records request for copies of the contracts and explanations of the scope of work to be performed under the contracts.

While no years were given for when any of the organizations received their respective state grants, the most interesting entity on that list was Rapides Primary Health Care Center in Alexandria which Kennedy has asked to provide an accounting for the $550,000 in NGO money it received from the state.

At the same time, Rapides Primary Health Care Center has two contracts with the state totaling $1,525,000.

The first, for $1,025,000 (issued on Jan. 19, 1996), calls for the construction of a health care center building and the second, for $500,000 (issued on March 2, 2007), is for emergency roof and equipment replacement and building repairs, planning and construction.

There are others.

  • The Colomb Foundation of Lafayette has a $369,875 contract that began in 2008 with the state for the completion of building and grounds improvements but is being asked to account for a $300,000 state grant.
  • The Treme Community Education Center in New Orleans has two contracts totaling $2,110,000 for program operations, planning and construction (1.45 million) and for planning and construction of Leverette Senior House ($660,000). Both contracts were issued in 2001. At the same time, Treme Community Education Center is being asked to account for the disposition of $325,000 in received from the state.
  • Serenity 67 of Baton Rouge has a $225,000 contract issued in 2003 for the acquisition, planning, construction and renovation of a multi-purpose center. The organization has been asked to explain how it used a $150,000 grant.
  • Community Awareness Revitalization and Enhancement of New Orleans is listed as one of the nine inactive organizations by the Secretary of State. The organization’s last report was filed with the Secretary of State on Nov. 12, 2010 and it has not accounted for the manner in which a $130,000 grant was used. Yet, it has an active contract with the state in the amount of $150,000 for the planning and construction of the Claiborne Avenue Walking and Bike Path.

Besides its current contracts, Rapides Primary Health Care Center also had seven other contracts with the state totaling $535,800 which expired between the years 2004 and 2009.

The largest of the seven, for $325,000, a contract issued on July 16, 2006 and ending on June 30, 2007, was for equipment and other items to provide primary and preventive health care services in the medically-underserved area of Rapides Parish.

Another contract for $90,000, which ran from April 1, 2004 to March 16, 2005, was issued to provide family planning services to individuals and families in Rapides and a third, for $82,000, ran from Oct. 1, 2004 to Sept. 30, 2007, called for the facility to provide Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food and nutrition services for Rapides Parish.

But there is a lot more to this story than 36 non-profit organizations crowding around the public trough. It’s about accountability and playing fast and loose with the public’s money. A lot of people have a lot of questions to answer and we’re willing to wager not a single member of the legislature—or any state agency head, for that matter—can tell us to what purpose these funds were used—or by whom.

The amount—$4.5 million—is rather miniscule in the overall scheme of things, in a state budget running into the billions where contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars are funneled to political allies and former employers with little thought of the cumulative costs to taxpayers. The lack of accountability is symptomatic of a much larger problem—a complete loss of public confidence in the ability—or willingness—of Baton Rouge to keep the interest of the citizenry uppermost in mind.

The state may get some of these funds back but in all likelihood won’t come close to recovering all of it. Even if it does recover every dime, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of state contracts where there is little to no oversight. The public funds that are sucked up in these contracts dwarf any amount these 36 non-governmental organizations may have received in public largesse.http://louisianavoice.com/category/orm-office-of-risk-management/page/3/

http://louisianavoice.com/2011/05/20/rainwater-thompson-what-did-you-know-and-when-did-you-know-it/

http://louisianavoice.com/2011/12/12/doa-apparently-allowed-several-major-violations-of-contract-through-poor-oversight-management-of-orm-privatization/

No, the NGOs are not the real problem here.

The problem is the GOs.

Read Full Post »

Blind, unquestioning loyalty has long been a prerequisite for serving in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Any administrator, of course, expects his appointees to be loyal, and rightfully so. There’s no argument at any level with that basic principle of employment, whether one works for a bicycle shop or the President.

Generally, though, an intelligent CEO will seek candid input from subordinates—even if that input differs from his management philosophy. The free exchange of ideas is, after all, the foundation for growth and progress in any organization.

Except with the Jindal administration.

At least a dozen firings/demotions have documented the belief that if you don’t drink the Jindal Kool-Aid, if you so much as give a flickering thought to dissent, you will be teagued.

Teagued, of course, is the term born of Jindal’s firing of state employees from rank and file workers to state board members to university presidents and cabinet officials and of the demotions of at least four legislators from their committee assignments.

To this point, the firings and demotions have been limited to state employees and legislators.

No longer.

Now there may reason to believe the Jindal retaliation team has reached into the private sector and the perpetrator is none other than Superintendent of Education John White.

The latest victim may be Sue Lincoln, formerly a reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB), and a veteran of 35-years’ reporting experience.

Lincoln, who lives in Baton Rouge, is careful not to say outright that White had her fired, but the evidence is pretty convincing.

The Southern Education Desk, headquartered in Atlanta, GA., is funded by a multi-million dollar grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and reports on education news from five states—Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana. While Lincoln worked for LPB as a reporter for the Southern Education Desk, her salary was paid from the grant.

It is, or was, a two-year grant administered through Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) and involved eight stations—five National Public Radio and three Public Broadcast System television stations. They included WLPB-TV and WRKF Radio, both Baton Rouge stations.

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer feigned surprise and/or ignorance of reports of manipulations of student test scores by the Department of Education (DOE) during a Senate Education Committee hearing last week but the truth is Lincoln first reported on the department’s suppression of data as early as February 12.

It was that report that most probably ended her reporting tenure with LPB and the Southern Education Desk.

The report cited studies by Mercedes Schneider, Ph.D., a teacher in St. Tammany Parish which called into question dramatic jumps of up to 25 points in high school standardized test scores.

Lincoln noted that Herb Bassett, who holds a master’s degree in mathematics and who teaches in LaSalle Parish, also saw major discrepancies in statistics released by DOE. Bassett is the same one who at last week’s Senate Education Committee accused DOE and White of releasing fraudulent data.

It was that data about which Roemer denied any knowledge but promised he’d “look into it.”

Immediately after we posted Roemer’s denial, Schneider emailed LouisianaVoice to say, “I have a document that proves he (Roemer) is lying.”

She promptly followed that email with a copy of a letter she sent to White and BESE members (including Roemer) on Dec. 1, 2012 in which she called attention to what she said was “scoring bias” in the 2012 school performance scores. (We will elaborate more on the contents to that and other documents in subsequent posts as our coverage of this growing story continues.)

White apparently turned up the heat on Lincoln and her bosses in Atlanta in an effort to kill the story.

He first told Lincoln the story was “too complicated for television” and that “Even the New York Times doesn’t have enough ink and paper to do it justice,” Lincoln said. “He accused me of sucking up to Diane Ravitch.” Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University and a leading opponent of current education reform trends.

“He told me to ‘check with people over you to be sure this is the right thing to do,’” Lincoln said

A series of emails between Lincoln and White is even more revealing.

At 1:28 p.m. on Jan. 23, as White prepared for a weekend in New Orleans with his wife (She has never moved to Louisiana from their New York home, which should say something about White’s long-range plans for remaining in Louisiana), Lincoln emailed him:

“John, thank you for your call and the copy of the letter you sent out. After conferring with my editors here and in Atlanta, they want me to go ahead with the story. Please don’t let it affect your evening with your wife, but I will be coming down to N.O. to interview you at 10 tomorrow morning.

“I’ll give you a statement instead,” White tersely replied six minutes later.

As Lincoln delved further into the questionable data, she sought a comment from White who, instead of addressing the apparent problem, went on the attack.

Two days later, at 8:51 a.m. on Jan. 25, Lincoln emailed White: “Due to an electrical fire at LPB Wednesday night (Jan. 23), we were without video-editing capability for the majority of the day Thursday. As a result, the airing of my story on the 2012 SPS (school performance scores) analysis has been pushed back to Feb. 1.

“Because of this delay, I have to ask again—would you consider going on camera to make a statement?”

Four minutes later, at 8:55 a.m., White, apparently not having read Lincoln’s email asking for an on-camera statement, wrote: “Your source knowingly distorts facts in print, but you are using her as a source on the very issue about which she distorts facts.

“This story is pure innuendo and drama—a fiction—under the guise of investigative reporting.”

Then, 19 minutes later, at 9:14, White, sent another email saying, “Sue, take a look at what your source has written here. First she lies about my experience working in schools. But more than that, she goes out of our (sic) way to assert that my administration created this formula regarding graduation rate bonus points and such.”

Finally, at 9:29 a.m., 38 minutes after Lincoln asked him to appear on camera, White responded: “No thanks. If reported accurately, this is a story of a formula and a calculation by way of that formula. The number and the formula can speak for themselves.”

“I can’t say for certain that the story is the reason I’m no longer reporting for the Southern Education Desk,” Lincoln said. The grant is currently under consideration for renewal but LPB informed Lincoln they were “going in a different direction” should the renewal be approved.

WRKF was not a partner in the initial grant, but has asked to become a partner if there is a third year of funding.

“The Southern Education Desk managing editor at GPB was unfailingly supportive of doing investigative stories,” Lincoln says. “And he was insistent that there needed to be a ‘firewall’ between the financial and political concerns of LPB management and what Southern Education Desk reporters covered.”

So why would LPB crater to White’s demands?

First, there is the factor of Course Choice providers. Described by DOE as “an innovative educational program that provides Louisiana students with access to thousands of high-quality academic and career-oriented courses,” the program simply allows practically any provider to offer online courses to students—on the state’s tab. Not only may just about anyone, private or public sector, offer courses, but they also are free to charge just about whatever they want.

Bottom line: there’s big money for Course Choice providers.

One of the approved providers is Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Follow the money.

Second, LPB has a contract with the Iberville Parish School Board to provide certain curriculum and instruction to the parish system. Elvis Cavalier is the Iberville curriculum director, or Chief Academic Officer. He also serves as Director of Academies, also known as principal of the little-known Math, Science and Arts (MSA) Academy.

Little is known about the school because it flies under the radar. It does not exist for all practical purposes. It is not listed among Louisiana public schools and its student scores are not reported to DOE or to the federal government.

Known informally as a “shadow school,” scores for its 1200 students are spread out among the other public schools in Iberville Parish. This allows Iberville School Superintendent Ed Cancienne to boast—and he does—that Iberville’s performance score “has grown.” He neglects to add that that growth is primarily the result of infused scores from the “non-existent” MSA Academy.

Lincoln said she began investigating that story and her editors at LPB kept telling her to get additional information. “When I’d get that, they’d want more. It kept on that way until I was finally informed there would be no story,” she said.

Follow the money.

“I can’t prove that I was terminated because of pressure or implied threats from White regarding the Course Choice program or because of the shadow school story,” Lincoln said.

“All I can do is connect the dots.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,438 other followers