To no one’s surprise, the ideologically reliable editorial page of the New York Sun has rushed to the defense of deputy Chancellor and former Edison President Chris Cerf against charges of “conflict of interest.”
“It’s not a matter of his having sold stock in Edison Schools the day before he was asked about it,” Sun editorial opined with an imaginative timeline which managed to leave out the little fact that Cerf divested his stake in the Edison stock after he learned he would be asked about it.
The editorial continues: “What he actually did was forgo — he gave away — warrants for Edison Stock that could have been, someday, worth millions. He had no dealing with Edison in his work for the Department of Education. But he wanted to go the extra mile in exchange for a clean field in public service. Which of his or Mr. Klein’s critics has ever made that kind of sacrifice in order to be unencumbered to work within our school system?”
How about the thousands of public school educators who earn a fraction of a deputy Chancellor’s salary, and who have foregone the opportunity to ever earn millions of dollars in stock, but do the hard work of educating over one million New York City public school children every day, often against overwhelming odds and without much needed support? You won’t find a group more critical of Klein’s reign at the DOE, with the possible exception of parents.
The bottom line here, which the Sun studiously avoids, is that the number two person at the DOE was holding on to rights to Edison stock worth millions of dollars at the very same time that the company was under contract with the DOE and looking for considerably more business. The value of Cerf’s Edison stake was not unconnected to the present — and future — volume of Edison business with the DOE.
Over at the Chalkboard, Joe Williams expresses some reservations regarding our criticism of the DOE’s mishandling of Platform Learning-gate. What’s wrong with Platform Learning running up the bill ninefold for providing NCLB mandated tutoring, he asks. Doesn’t this just reflect the demand of schools and parents who chose their tutoring services?
Perhaps Joe should take a look at the report of the Special Commissioner of Investigations that looked into Platform Learning, when he gets some free time from the hard work of attacking critics of Joel Klein. [Yeah, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.] The report details what it calls “improprieties” that Platform Learning, Newton Learning and other private SES providers employed in the marketing of their tutoring services. [Newton Learning is a subsidiary of Edison Schools, and as we noted here Monday, the head of Platform Learning is a former executive Vice President at Edison.] The report reads:
The investigation revealed that Platform Learning Inc. (“Platform”), Newton Learning (“Newton”), and several other SES providers engaged in a number of questionable business practices in their dealings with the DOE, with parents of DOE students and with students themselves. These included misappropriation and misuse of confidential student information and the offering of self-serving incentive programs.
Furthermore, providers failed to conduct background and fingerprint checks on individuals who worked on school premises and who came in contact with New York City public schoolchildren…
Here are some of the particular findings regarding Platform Learning:
Investigators spoke to a confidential source who reported receiving a telephone call from Michael Davis, Platform’s Development Coordinator, in which Davis offered a payment of $5,000 to the source’s school as an incentive in exchange for the enrollment of more than 150 students in the Platform program.*
In the presence of his attorneys, investigators interviewed Davis on two occasions…
Davis finally acknowledged that, during a conversation with Everett Hughes, principal at IS 292 in Brooklyn, the concept of giving funds to schools was raised. Still Davis claimed that no specific amounts were discussed.§
In the second interview, additional questionable business practices were confirmed. Davis admitted that personnel from two schools provided him with students’ personal information…
According to Davis, other Platform personnel, whom he could not identify, possessed copies of student rosters which listed confidential student pedigree information. The Platform representative explained that at some schools the rosters were left in plain view by parent coordinators, but he claimed that he did not copy or gather any of the information contained in these documents. Davis also reported that he knew of at least one parent coordinator who was hired by Platform to enroll students…
Moreover, Davis admitted that he gave $2,000 to a principal. Specifically, Davis stated that he received a telephone call from Casper Cacioppo, principal of PS 89 in Queens, seeking a contribution to the school’s renovation fund. Davis explained that Platform operated an in-school program at PS 89 at the time of the solicitation and during the subsequent 2004-2005 school year…
Davis also confirmed our finding that Platform failed to conduct timely background and fingerprint checks on individuals who ultimately came in contact with New York City public schoolchildren. Davis acknowledged that he and other Platform representatives were not fingerprinted until after this investigation began…¶
The SCI also interviewed Matthew Fields, Vice President of Platform for the Northeast Region.
In addition to Davis, in the presence of his attorneys, investigators interviewed Matthew Fields on two occasions. During these interviews, Fields was, at times, evasive. However, he acknowledged personally requesting and receiving student information from DOE school personnel. Moreover, he confirmed that Platform both offered and actually donated sums of money to a number of DOE schools…
Fields stated that it was his understanding that individuals working in Platform’s SES program were required to have fingerprint checks but could begin working in the DOE schools while awaiting the results.¶ Fields claimed that he did not offer any incentives or monetary amounts to schools, principals, assistant principals or parent coordinators, and was not aware of any Platform employee extending such an offer. Contrary to that assertion, he acknowledged the payment of funds, by Platform, to a number of schools.
The report provided a long list of improprieties and questionable activities by Platform Learning which it “represent only some examples of the conduct discovered.” The list includes:
- Requested and/or obtained confidential student information/labels
- Failed to fingerprint or do background checks on individuals who came into contact with students
- Solicited in the schools
- Offered items of value to schools based on the number of students attending Platform classes
- Solicited parents
- Distributed backpack mailers to schools
- Offered money to parent coordinators for recruitment of students
- Misstated student attendance
- Promised and/or gave incentives/rewards/gifts to students
- Conducted a raffle at a school
- Recruited the President of a PTA to obtain a student roster
- Gave funds to schools
- Exceeded Student to Instructor Ratios
- Maintained student contact information on personal computer
What is amazing here is that the DOE received this report while Platform Learning was overrunning its first contract by some $35 million, and yet with it in hand, the DOE still gave Platform Learning a second contract. It is not as if all of these improprieties, which included the filing of records claiming 100% attendance for students who never attended a single session of tutoring, were unconnected to the enormous overruns on these contracts.
And just in case you didn’t remember, the school bus debacle was designed to save a grand total of $12 million.
* “Investigators have a tape of a telephone call in which Davis withdrew his offer of a payment of funds to the school. The offer was withdrawn after the fact of this investigation had been made public.” [Footnote to this sentence in the original report]
§ “In his third interview with investigators, again under oath and in the presence of his attorney, after compelling his testimony, Hughes admitted that Platform representative Michael Davis had given him several envelopes containing sums of United States currency totaling $500.” [Taken from pp. 13 - 14 of the report.]
¶ In footnote 27, the report says: “Several Platform employees failed to disclose their criminal records. Fingerprint checks revealed those individuals were arrested for crimes that included: attempted murder, attempted robbery, and the sale of narcotics.”