"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kathy Reidlinger, NOLA Charter Schools' Top Scammer

Kathy Reidlinger's $200,000+ salary as CEO of a New Orleans charter school (why wouldn't they call it Lusher?) surpasses the previous top scammer trophy held by Eva Moskowitz, who raked in $371,000 for managing four Harlem charter schools in 2007.

The Times-Picayune continues the coverage in the Sunday edition:

For a quarter-century before Hurricane Katrina, Kathy Riedlinger held one of the most coveted jobs in the New Orleans school system: principal of Lusher Elementary, the Uptown magnet school. But neither she nor her peers at other public schools were ever going to get rich.

In 2004, Riedlinger earned a base salary barely topping $60,000, though with stipends she boosted her take to $91,488, according to her tax form.

That number skyrocketed after Lusher became an independent charter school in the dark days after the flood. Lusher's new board of directors -- whom Riedlinger helped choose -- would soon grant her more money than most district superintendents.

This year, Riedlinger will haul in $203,556, including a $5,000 yearly car allowance. That doesn't include a possible performance bonus, such as the extra $10,000 Lusher's nonprofit board granted Riedlinger last year. The school's attorney, James Brown, declined to comment on whether she would get a similar sum this year. "That's in the discretion of the board. That's all I'm authorized to say," Brown said. . . .
Why would a successful public magnet school decide privatize itself as a corporate charter? Here is a little background from a thoroughly-researched piece by Carl Bernofsky that introduces the other players in this corporate welfare movement by rich white folks: Tulane University and Johnson Controls--and FEMA under BushCo.:
Tulane's other ambition is to create an exclusive high school that would employ its own personnel and be financed by the state [37]. Activists have labeled the plan racist because the new school would primarily benefit the children of Tulane professors at the expense of other public schools that are seriously underfunded [38]. Despite employment practices by Tulane that would conflict with policies negotiated between the Orleans Parish School Board and the American Federation of Teachers for school employees, some school board members endorsed Tulane's participation in establishing a new high school [39].

With the prospect of further access to public funding, Tulane began to insinuate itself into the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) with devices such as a new Internet library resource "offered only to educators in the New Orleans Public School District..." [40]. Although Tulane does not have a school of education, it began "testing the waters" by sending student observers into various public schools and by enlisting the cooperation of Kathy Riedlinger, principal of Lusher Extension School [41]. It also installed a business program into the John McDonogh High School curriculum [41].

Exercising powers newly afforded him by Senate Act 193, Superintendent of Schools Anthony Amato quietly negotiated with Tulane to make it a "partner" in a new Lusher High School that would be housed in an uptown school building (Sophie B. Wright Middle School), whose current students would be displaced [42]. Public outrage following disclosure of this "under-the-radar" scheme was a factor that contributed to Amato's abrupt resignation [42].

Well-organized Lusher parents, determined to sever the school's relationship with a dysfunctional central administration now in crisis, drafted a proposal to convert Lusher into a publicly-supported charter school administered by a private board selected by the school's parents. In a move toward self-imposed privatization, Lusher teachers overwhelmingly agreed to give up their representation by the teachers' union in exchange for a system of accountability to an untried administrative board with which they will now have to negotiate salaries, working conditions and benefits and depend upon to resolve disputes and grievances [43]. Presumably, the new Lusher board will be empowered to set student enrollment qualifications, hire and dismiss teachers at will, receive private funding, expand to upper grade levels, create alternative programs, and enter into relationships with other academic institutions.

. . . .

Dismissing the role played by the five local universities that actually operate departments of education (University of New Orleans, Loyola, Dillard, Xavier and Southern University at New Orleans), Isaacson, himself a Tulane graduate, declared Cowen to be "the hero when it comes to New Orleans education." [53] Cowen made it clear that, "his only focus when it came to public education was to find a school available in January 2006 for the children of Tulane faculty and staff." [65] However, despite this narrow focus, he was honored with the prestigious Shofar Award of New York's Central Synagogue for his leadership in rebuilding "the city's public education system" as well as "[h]is determination to save the City of New Orleans..." [66]. The reality is that by the end of 2006, the lack of concern for children of the city's poor resulted in a failure to meet the educational needs of many students and caused the flight of many teachers from some of the city's dysfunctional state-run schools. [67].

With a selective enrollment policy and first preference given to the children of professional staff at Tulane, Loyola, Dillard and Xavier Universities [68], places at Lusher Charter Schools were rapidly filled, forcing some parents in the Lusher district who were not connected with those universities to look elsewhere for schools to educate their children [69]. About 44% of Lusher's students were children from families of Tulane employees [70].

What remained was repairing the storm-damaged facilities that Lusher Charter Schools would occupy, particularly the Alcee Fortier High School building, which was in disrepair even before the storm and which required an estimated $10-15 million to refurbish [71]. This was solved by soliciting Johnson Controls Inc. to repair Lusher's elementary school and assist with the fund-raising needed to renovate the upper-grade facility. Johnson Controls complied [72]. The engineering company was eager to make amends to a city shaken by a corruption scandal that involved an earlier $81 million contract with City Hall [73,74], and it saw an opportunity to become a major player in the reconstruction of other storm-damaged New Orleans' institutions, businesses and infrastructure [72,75]. Both Tulane and Johnson Controls understand how to profit from investments and how to wield power for their financial advantage, so their alliance seemed natural. On the other hand, New Orleans' elected officials appeared ineffective and demoralized when they relinquished power to the traditional elite and accepted a firm so recently mired in corruption. The reelection of Mayor Ray Nagin on May 20, 2006 suggests a level of comfort by the white and business communities with the existing city administration [76].

From a political process unique to New Orleans, of the $52 million in FEMA money allocated for all schools in Orleans Parish, $16 million was used to renovate Alcee Fortier High School building for the upper grades of Tulane-affiliated Lusher Charter School [77].

As far as the future of public education is concerned, the Bush administration, eager to promote privatization of the public schools, awarded $20.9 million in September, 2005 and $23.9 million in June, 2006 to the state of Louisiana, much of it earmarked for charter school development in Hurricane-Katrina affected areas [78]. The teachers union is being eliminated or marginalized by charter schools, and the "recovery-district schools" will largely be operated by the state. That leaves only a handful of schools that will, for now, be retaining their collective bargaining rights [79]. More than a year after Katrina, Judge Ethel Simms-Julien denied a complaint that about 7,000 fired New Orleans public school employees were not given proper consideration for jobs after the state took over 107 of the city's 128 public schools.[80]. On December 6, 2006 Tulane announced the establishment of the Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives [81], ostensibly to assist the state with educational policy decisions and perhaps collaborate in government-funded projects [82]. On February 14, 2007 construction began on the $1.9-million, 11,000-square-foot Goldring Performance Arts Center at Lusher Charter School [83]. . . . .