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Thomas Carroll, Wal-Mart, and the Effort to Defeat the Albany School Budget

Some good investigative reporting by the Albany Times Union shows that an organization led by conservative state charter backer Thomas Carroll was behind a series of anonymous fliers and a push poll which urged voters to reject the public school budget in Albany.

A postal record, obtained by a Times Union Freedom of Information request, lists the customer who paid for the mailings as “School Performance.” Tom Carroll, who founded the Brighter Choice Foundation — which supports all of the city’s 11 charter schools — is on the board of School Performance Inc., according to the most recent public records available. Chris Bender, executive director of Brighter Choice, has also served on the School Performance board.

Two mailings sent out by Mail Works, a direct to mail company, went to 32,178 city residents, records show. Postage alone cost $6,766. However, the total cost spent by the charter affiliate to defeat the Albany budget is likely far greater because a third mailing went out and the push poll was conducted over a few weeks. The professionally printed cards could have also cost thousands of dollars.

Carroll’s name is familiar to those who follow charter school issues in New York, since he is one of the most prominent advocates of a corporate, anti-union charter model which attracts money from conservative funders such as the Walton Foundation — which also provides money to the group which sent the fliers.

Carroll did not respond to requests for comment and Bender has denied that the Brighter Choice Foundation was involved in the mailings. Though that is technically true because School Performance is a separate entity, the organization has received a significant amount of money from Albany’s charter schools. Its board members also run many of Albany’s charter schools.

School Performance, which provides management services to Albany’s charter schools, is listed as being funded entirely by public money on its 2009 tax return. Some of the money for the organization has come from Albany’s charter schools, which means Albany taxpayers may have supported an entity that has encouraged them to vote down the district’s $206.5 million budget proposal. Money has been contributed to School Performance by the Walton Family Foundation, the charitable arm of Wal-Mart.

Given that SUNY’s Charter School Institute found that Carroll’s own charter school relied on the Albany school district to admit special needs students who were refused admission to Brighter Choice Albany Prep, Carroll’s opposition to fully funding the district’s budget is ironic at best. And his decision to do so through anonymous fliers and polls (paid for by a company funded primarily through the district’s own money via charter management fees) is inexcusable.


1 Comment:

  • 1 Thomas W. Carroll
    · May 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    We have lots of things on which to disagree, so you need not make stuff up.

    The fliers were funded with individual contributions to School Performance, not with money from (a) the Walton Family Foundation, (b) charter management fees , (c) taxpayers, or (d) the Brighter Choice Foundation.

    The Walton Family Foundation has provided support to charter schools in Albany, as it has across the nation. But, they did not provide any money for the disputed mailings — directly or indirectly.

    All of this was pointed out to the Times Union’s reporter/editorialist Scott Waldman — in writing — before the final version of his story was filed replete with errors.

    You could have just asked me directly and I would have been happy to explain all of this to you.

    The mailings, by the way, informed taxpayers how much property tax rates have gone up in recent years in the City of Albany — about 20 percent. Informing taxpayers of this simple truth is hardly scurrilous.

    The fact that the Albany school district took down from its website the historical tax-rate data on which this assertion was based was suspect, but luckily a copy of the web page was printed before they tried to bury the information and hide it from voters.

    As for the point about our failure to put a “paid for” line on the mailers, I concede the mistake. As you know, I haven’t been bashful about expressing my views.