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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sheila Joseph, Founder of East New York Preparatory Charter School, Shows Why NYC Charters Cannot Continue As Currently Set Up

Leo Casey over at Edwize has posted a very troubling but excellent article on the misconduct of the ENY Prep Head of School, Sheila Joseph. His point is a good one: charters must have someone who is accountable, and financial affairs of a charter or any school must be transparent. Sheila Joseph responds, also below.

Sheila Joseph: Charter’s Maybelline Cover GirlBy Leo Casey, Edwize, On January 30, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

Sheila Joseph, (pictured above and at right) the disgraced founder of East New York Preparatory Charter School, was

once a rising star in New York’s charter school movement. Today, she has become a stark symbol of why New York charter schools so desperately need the accountability and transparency reforms, the guards against profiteering and the guarantees of teacher and parent voice advocated by the UFT and elected officials.

Born in Rockaway, Joseph attended Berkeley, got a law degree at Georgetown, and for three years served as a Teaching Fellow. She received a cool $100K from Joel Klein’s Charter Center and was a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, the well-heeled training program for hard-charging charter CEOs. Heralded as “the first African American woman to found a charter school in New York,” she is the star of an upcoming documentary and was even honored by Maybelline as a leader in education reform. With a back-story like this, what could possibly go wrong?

Just about everything. As reported by Gotham Schools [9] and the New York Post, Joseph ran ENY Prep as if it were her personal fiefdom, telling parents, teachers, students and her own board members that it was her way or the highway. From the City’s own (and understated) report, her “superintendent” salary was repeatedly increased without any Board deliberation; Joseph allowed “broad discrepancies” in her accounting of student enrollment — the very basis of ENY Prep’s $2.6 million in public revenue; she remained on the school’s Board of Trustees (voting on her own compensation, no less) despite a City order for her to resign; she submitted incomplete financial disclosure forms. Most damning, the City found in the school’s Board “a lack of interest or ability in overseeing the academic, operational or fiscal operations of the school.”

But that’s only half the story. All, ALL, of ENY Prep’s teachers left or were fired last year. The State Education Department found that Joseph discharged 48 students, conveniently before state exams were given, and disabled students were “counseled” out of the school. In commenting on the findings, the City’s charter schools chief Mike Duffy described them as the worst violations he’d ever seen.

In a shameless effort to barricade their positions, the New York Charter School Association and the NYC Center for Charter School Excellence have claimed that ENY Prep’s likely closure is proof that charter “accountability” is working, and needs no reform. But their case is as weak as it is theoretical:

Take, for starters, that 100 percent of the ENY Prep students who took last year’s math exam met or exceeded state standards; 86 percent met or exceeded the standard in ELA. Despite Joseph’s arrogance and dysfunction, teachers and students were accountable for their responsibilities and performed at a high level.

And consider the courageous, if distressed, efforts by parents to stop Joseph’s reign of terror. In this widely circulated letter, concerned parents chronicled years of malpractice — from the dissolution of the school’s founding board and Joseph’s efforts to block a parent association to a pattern of student expulsions and teachers living in fear of termination. Parents were accountable for their responsibilities, and took action to improve the school.

If charter sector accountability was working, why didn’t city and state officials step up their oversight when Joseph paid herself $217,000 in 2006-07 (nearly 13 percent of the school’s gross revenue)? Why weren’t the red flags noticed when ENY Prep omitted teacher turnover data on their mandatory state reports? Didn’t officials notice all those board resignations and student “withdrawals”?

Finally, why did Klein’s charter chief only investigate the school after parents raised concerns and after Joseph’s damage was done? Why, having failed so miserably at providing oversight of a school they chartered, are Klein and Mayor Bloomberg fighting against efforts to bring real accountability to the New York charter sector?

The fact of the matter is that the charter sector remains unaccountable to students, parents, and the public at large. Although some individual charters take their public responsibilities seriously, the sector does not have sufficient safeguards against Joseph’s kind of abuse. As Mona Davids, head of the New York Charter Parents Association has expressed, parents have insufficient recourse to fight against inexcusable practices. As Juan Gonzalez has reported, the charter sector has invited corruption, self-dealing, and profiteering. Left unchecked, Gonzalez warns that Bloomberg’s “mad rush” to create more charters without meaningful accountability will unleash “bigger financial scandals than in the bad old days of community school boards.”

In early January, the UFT proposed a series of reforms to make charter schools more accountable and transparent to the students, parents, and public that charters must serve and to the teachers they employ. The UFT was joined by many elected officials who see the same abuses and know they must be put to an end.

These recommendations called for:

* limits on charter school administrator and management salaries to within the appropriate range of public sector compensation,
* empowering the City and State comptrollers to audit charter schools’ fiscal, operational, and programmatic activities,
* holding charter school board members and employees to the same and rigorous financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest prohibitions as all other public officials,
* more timely public reporting of all sources of a charter school’s funding and all fees paid to outside consultants and contractors; employee names and salaries, including data on teacher turnover; annual budgets; and audited financial statements;
* establishing independent parent associations or parent and teacher associations and school leadership teams similar to those required in district public schools, and
* automatic recognition of the unions that represent employees in the school district where a charter is located as the representative of workers in charter schools for the negotiation of de novo contracts.

If adopted, these proposals would strengthen the charter sector’s accountability and transparency. Had they existed prior to Sheila Joseph’s arrival on the charter scene, many of her transgressions could have been avoided. Parents would not be scrambling to find a new school. Teachers would not be afraid to speak up, would not face retaliation, and could negotiate a contract with management that is custom-tailored to their school.

To these proposals we’d like to add one more — state receivership. It is unconscionable that in places like East New York Preparatory Charter School and Merrick Academy Charter School, the students, parents, and teachers are punished for the failures of the school’s Board of Trustees and the city and state’s lackluster “oversight.” In these instances, the state must have the authority to take over the charter school and re-constitute the board of trustees. This will allow successful schools — as measured by the hard work of students, teachers, and parents — to continue and blossom under leadership that actually puts children first. That would be real, not punitive and theoretical, accountability.
Not content with just one fellow, Klein and Co. have paid Building Excellent Schools nearly $1 million since 2004 to produce more CEOs like Joseph — with similarly disastrous results.

Article printed from Edwize

School flunks out
By MAURA O'CONNOR and YOAV GONEN, NY POST, January 26, 2010

The city is about to pull the plug on a Brooklyn charter school that's rife with financial mismanagement, The Post has learned.

East New York Preparatory, which has booted low-performing students and shortened its year by a dozen days, would be only the fourth city charter school ever shuttered and the second to have its charter revoked by the chancellor, who authorized it to open in 2006.

The school, which yesterday received a 30-day notice of the city's intention to close it in June, was put on probation last February, after city officials caught wind of sky-high staff turnover and the dissolution of the school's board of directors.

In November, state Education Department inspectors documented a host of violations that led city officials to drop the hammer.

"To revoke a charter before it's expired is a big step to take," said DOE charter chief Michael Duffy.

Among the concerns uncovered by the state Education Department are:

* Founding principal Sheila Joseph changed her title to "superintendent" and had her salary hiked from $120,000 to $180,000, plus a $20,000 bonus, without explanation.

* The school offered 12 fewer days of instruction than approved in its charter.

* Forty-eight students were discharged in the 2008-09 school year, including seven low-performing third-graders prior to state testing.

The school has 30 days to appeal the closure notice, something Joseph suggested she might do.

"I think this letter is meant to incite a riot and create a lot of fear," Joseph told parents of a mailing they had received from officials over the weekend documenting the problems.

UFT And Elected Officials: Charter Schools Must Be Public Schools, Serving All Students
by Leo Casey On January 3, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

With growing appeals for changes in New York’s charter school law, prominent elected officials joined the United Federation of Teachers today in a call for major reforms which would ensure that charter schools become public schools in the fullest meaning of the term — not private schools supported with public funds.

State Senator John Sampson, leader of the Senate’s majority Democratic Conference, and New York City Comptroller John Liu joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this call. State Senators Eric Schneiderman and Toby Stavisky and State Assembly members Michael Benedetto, Alan Maisel, Jose Peralta, Adam Clayton Powell, IV and Linda Rosenthal were present and participating in the call.

Among the proposed changes are:

* a mandate for charter schools to serve the same proportion of the neediest students as the local community district in which they are located;
* a cap on charter management fees and salaries;
* a prohibition of ‘for profit’ management and operation of charter schools;
* full financial and operational transparency for charter schools;
* common sense fixes to a broken charter funding formula;
* independent school leadership teams, as well the rights of charter school educators to union representation and the rights of families to independent parent associations;
* restrictions on the NYC Department of Education’s practice of pitting of district schools against charter schools over space allocations.

These fixes to the law are a necessary and essential component of any change in the law. A complete list of the reforms proposed for the charter school law are included in the report prepared by the UFT and published today, Separate and Unequal: The Failure of New York City Charter Schools to Serve the City’s Neediest Students.

“Charter schools represent an experiment in pursuit of excellence, and we all applaud that intention,” Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said. “But in these tough economic times, those of us in government must demand and extract greater accountability and transparency from every dollar we invest, especially in support of our great asset — the education of our children.”

“The discussion of charter school must be honest. The disparities [in the numbers of high needs students and English Language Learners] raise a great deal of concern,” Comptroller John Liu said. “We have limited resources for public education, they must be going to the classrooms and serving kids, not lining corporate pockets.”

Separate and Unequal documents the need for these reforms. The report shows that taken as a group, New York City charter schools are failing to educate their fair share of low-income [free lunch] students, English Language Learners and Special Education students. Charter schools enroll a much smaller proportion of those students than their local community school district — despite the fact that the existing act explicitly mentions the education of at risk students as one of the purposes of charter schools. Such a pattern means that the students with the greatest needs do not have an equal opportunity to attend charter schools in New York City. While a minority of charter schools — mostly unionized — are making a real effort to serve these students, the great majority are not. Since the charter funding formula is based on the average enrollment of high needs students across the city, the report concludes, the great majority of charter schools are being funded for students they don’t actually serve.

Separate and Unequal also documents exorbitant charter management fees and inflated charter management salaries, far in excess of school district overhead and salaries, that divert public funds from schools and students. Some of the most egregious cases are those involving for-profit management companies.

It is important that charter schools be treated fairly by the law, and the reforms designed to fix the broken charter funding formula are intended to do precisely that. Where charter schools have legitimate complaints about funding, such as the current lengthy two year lag, a proposal is being made to shorten this time period. For schools whose educators participate in the Teachers Retirement System, a reform would remove pensions from the funding formula, with the cost assumed by the local school district. And to ensure fairness among different charter schools, funding for the neediest students such as English Language Learners, Special Education students and free lunch students would be done on an actual per capita basis.

“New York’s charter school experiment has led to some promising innovations, but as a group New York City charter schools have become a separate and unequal branch of public education, working with a far smaller proportion of our neediest students than the average public school,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

“The current law allows charter schools to operate without the transparency in their finances and operations that officials and the public need to judge their success; it also permits charters to become profit centers, paying inappropriate salaries and outsize management fees. Until all these issues are addressed, we are urging the Legislature not to consider any other action on charter schools, including the potential lifting of the charter school cap.”

Head of charter school set to close fires back at teachers, DOE
by Maura Walz, Gotham Schools

The head of the Brooklyn charter school whose charter could be revoked is firing back at the Department of Education and the former teachers who reported her.

In a letter sent to parents on Tuesday, Sheila Joseph, superintendent of the East New York Preparatory school, called the DOE’s allegations that she artificially inflated her salary, violated its charter by shortening the school year and expelled nearly 50 low-performing students before they took state tests “unfounded and untrue.” Joseph also argued in the letter that the school’s high faculty turnover rate was necessary to preserve high standards for the students.

“No one enjoys faculty turnover, but just as we have high and uncompromising standards for our students we also will not compromise on faculty performance,” she wrote. Between the end of last school year and the beginning of this one, the school lost every teacher it had.

“Some of our best teachers are now here because others had to be let go,” Joseph continued. “I don’t take lightly the fact that there has been turnover. However, I will never allow your children to have anything less than the absolute best.”

Former teachers at the school reacted angrily to Joseph’s explanation to parents.

“She’s lying,” said one former teacher who was dismissed in June.

“You’re saying you let go of 100 percent of your staff last year because they were bad, but all of your students passed the test?” the teacher said. (The school had 100 percent of its students score proficient on state math exams last year.) “If so, you must have done something with the scores.”

Teachers accused Joseph of firing them in retaliation for wanting to leave and for reporting abuses at the school to the DOE, which put the school on probation last February.

“I knew this was coming,” the teacher said. “We opened this can of worms.”

Teachers described a school in which teachers were fired arbitrarily and replaced with staff with neither teacher certification nor undergraduate degrees. The principal of the school was fired almost immediately after announcing she wouldn’t return the following year after having differences with Joseph, teachers said. A former teacher described a main hallway decorated with pictures of the teaching staff. “You’d come in and you’d see another picture gone,” the teacher said. “You’d be like, oh no.”

In addition to expelling students, a teacher said, low-scoring third graders were sent back to second grade to avoid being tested. Teachers said that students with disabilities were either counseled out of the school or taught by teaching assistants who lacked proper certification.

One teacher said the school never gave her a copy of its charter; when she finally received it from the DOE’s charter school office, she discovered the school had received funds for technology and project-based learning that were never implemented. Another former teacher said that, even as Joseph gave herself a raise, she cut teachers’ hours and solicited donations from parents, citing budget cuts.

Mona Davids, head of the New York Charter Parents Association, who has argued that charter schools need to be more transparent and held accountable for more than just test scores, said the case of East New York Prep underscores the need for better parent grievance processes and teacher whistle-blower protections in charter schools.

“If you’re trying to tell us that everyone of those 48 [expelled] students’ parents didn’t want to complain about it — they couldn’t complain about it, because they have nowhere to go in the charter school system,” Davids said. The DOE opened its investigation of the school in response to complaints from parents, but Davids said the process must be more formal.

Davids said that as a charter school parent, she also hoped that teachers would one day be able to report improprieties they see in their schools without fear for their jobs.

“There should be whistle-blower protections for teachers in charter schools,” she said. “I’m not saying that all charter schools should be unionized, but with every job, there should be some some protections.”

The school and parents received a letter from the DOE on Monday night detailing the reasons behind the closure. The school has 30 days to respond before Chancellor Joel Klein makes a final decision. In the letter, Joseph says she will reply to the charges in that time.

Joseph is also convening a series of meeting with parents to defend herself and the school. The first of those meetings was held tonight, with three more to follow through the weekend. One former teacher also reported that the school’s parent coordinator is organizing a petition for parents who want to save the school.

The DOE is holding a meeting of its own at the school, next Wednesday, to explain the closure and offer help placing students in other schools.

A former teacher said she was confident that the schools’ students would weather the changes and find spots at other schools.

“The school doesn’t even need to be shut down, in my opinion,” she said. “[Joseph] just needs to go.”

Full text of Joseph’s letter

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