PERS problems? Some charter schools say, “Fugettaboutit”

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Oregon’s traditional public schools may be struggling with escalating pension costs, but some charter schools aren’t worried. They’ve figured a way out.

Oregon’s charter school law says public charter schools are public employers, so teachers and staff are required to participate in PERS, the Public Employees Retirement System.

For charter schools, that has traditionally meant teachers and staff were required to contribute a percentage of their pay to PERS and the employing agency had to match these contributions with a percentage of total payroll. The problem is employer contribution rates have been escalating, imposing an increasing burden on charter school budgets.

In early 2011, after PERS announced an increase in the employer contribution rate, Kings Valley Charter School, sponsored by the Philomath School District, worried that increases would force the school to reduce its operations or even close.

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In Sept. 2000, an opinion from Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers declared the following:

  1. Under ORS chapter 338, may a public charter school contract out its operations to a private, for-profit entity? Yes, assuming that the contract is consistent with the terms of the charter and all applicable laws.
  2. Would contracting out a public charter school’s operational responsibilities to a for-profit entity violate the Oregon Constitution because it would result in the loss of governmental accountability for the performance of governmental functions? No, but in order for a public charter school’s contracting out of the school’s operations to a private, for-profit entity to be constitutional, the public charter school must :(1) maintain a right of control over delegated governmental functions; (2) provide procedural safeguards to affected members of the public in relation to those aspects of the school’s operations that constitute the governmental function of providing a public education.

A non-profit group, People Sustaining Kings Valley (PSKV), was formed to come to Kings Valley’s rescue as an independent contractor. At the start of the 2011-2012 school year, the school contracted with PSKV to have it hire 35 of its 36 employees, everybody but the school’s director. The school subsequently agreed to pay PSKV $973,637 for specified services that school year, including providing instructors and teacher assistants.

With that move, the teachers and staff, as private employees of PSKV, were no longer required to participate in PERS, saving the school about $80,000 a year in PERS contributions.

This also allowed teachers and staff to participate in a pension program provided by PSKV. Under the new system, PSKV automatically contributes 6 percent of the employee’s salary to a 403b retirement plan and the employee can decide whether to contribute more.

“The school has received considerable positive feedback from the teachers and staff regarding the new arrangement,” reported a Jan-Feb. 2013 Charter Starters Newsflash, though it wasn’t at all clear whether the end retirement benefit with the 403b, which would vary with the market, would be better or worse than a PERS benefit.

As for PERS itself, the impact of decreased member participation resulting from any PERS employer engaging “independent contractors” who are not eligible for PERS participation rather than “employees” who are eligible for PERS participation is somewhat neutral, PERS says.

Generally speaking, to the extent any public employer has more “employees” participating as members of PERS it would help to decrease the unfunded actuarial liability (UAL) in the short term because of the corresponding contribution payments. However, it would also increase the future pension liability in the long run because of the increased benefit obligations accrued by those members. Conversely, if a public employer has less employees participating in PERS it would not help decrease the UAL in the short-term, however, neither would it increase the future pension liability.

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Logos Public Charter School, sponsored by the Medford School District, has a similar arrangement with a private company, Western Collegiate Consulting (WCC). On its website, WCC says it is “a state certified Professional Employment Organization (PEO) that was specifically created to provide charter schools in Oregon… qualified teachers and staff …”

WCC registered with the Oregon Secretary of State as an Eagle Point, OR business on Oct. 28, 2015. In a rather interesting relationship that could pose a conflict of interest, the Chief Executive Officer of WCC is Joseph D. VonDoloski, who was a principal organizer of Logos and served as its Executive Director until Aug. 2017. VonDoloski left Logos and simultaneously, as CEO of WCC, hired all its teachers and staff.

Logos entered into a 30-page contract with WCC on August 1, 2017, according to Cassie Zimmerer, WCC’s Chief Human Resources Officer. Logos’ former business manager, she is the daughter of Logos’ current Executive Director, Sheryl Zimmerer.

“As part of the agreement, WCC onboarded the majority of Logos’ previous existing employees and hired approximately 10-15 more individuals to fit the school’s needs for next year,” Cassie Zimmerer said. She added that WCC WCC offers a benefit package to it’s employees which includes a 401k matching program (up to 6%) that employees are fully vested in day #1.

The Medford School District subsequently raised the conflict of interest issue. It also questioned whether Logos had complied with state contracting statutes when it contracted with WCC. Those statutes, Medford asserted, require Logos to show using WCC is more cost effective than using its own personnel and resources or that it wasn’t feasible for Logos to use its own personnel.

According to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, the Medford School District has filed an ethics complaint with the Commission over the situation and the Commission is currently conducting a review.

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READ MORE about charter schools:

Virtual Charter Schools Don’t Compute

Too many Oregon virtual charter school students skip state tests

 

 

 

 

 

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The media as the resistance

NYTIMES

Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York Times, has a few things to say about the paper’s coverage of President Trump. In a Columbia Journalism Review piece, she warns that the paper needs to be careful not to “create the appearance of a pile-on… that needlessly inflame Trump loyalists.”

“Precisely because of its influence, the Times’s tone and sense of proportion in covering the president must be pitch perfect,” Abramson says. She notes statements by the paper’s current Executive Editor Dean Baquet, “Our role is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” and by David Sanger, a Washington correspondent for the Times, that it would be “the biggest single mistake . . . to let ourselves become the resistance to the government.”

To put it mildly, I’m far from a Trump loyalist, but I’ve seen the Times’ blatant bias in its coverage of Trump’s recent package of immigration proposals.

“White House Makes Hard-Line Demands for Any ‘Dreamers’ Deal”, the NY Times screamed on Oct. 8.

DACA PROTEST

The paper went on to say Trump’s “demands” threaten a bipartisan solution.

“WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday delivered to Congress a long list of hard-line immigration measures that President Trump is demanding in exchange for any deal to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, imperiling a fledgling bipartisan push to reach a legislative solution.”

The Washington Post blared on the same day:
“Trump administration releases hard-line immigration principles, threatening deal on ‘dreamers’ “

RealClear Politics fell in line, too. “ “An array of hard-line immigration priorities the White House outlined to Congress Sunday were quickly rejected by Democrats as complete non-starters, jeopardizing the chances of striking a deal to shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

 The Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, USA Today and multiple other news outlets piled on with the same “hard-line” cliché.

 Wait a minute. Why are Trump’s proposals “hard-line” and not the Democrats demands?

A little history is in order.

When President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals   (DACA) program in the Rose Garden on June 15, 2012, it hardly reflected a middle-of-the-road consensus. If anything, it represented hard-line hard-left thinking, but the media didn’t describe it that way.

This despite the fact Republicans vigorously denounced the move as an abuse of executive power. The action is “a politically-motivated power grab that does nothing to further the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty to our broken immigration system,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

And when Obama said in 2014 that he intended to expand DACA so more people would be eligible, 26 states with Republican governors went to court to stop him. Resistance broke out as well when Obama took executive action to grant deferred action status to illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States since 2010 and had children who were either American citizens or lawful permanent residents.

In both cases, courts blocked Obama’s actions and in June 2017 the Trump Administration officially rescinded the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans order.

In other words, Obama’s actions were pretty hard-line. But the media didn’t describe them that way.

Trump’s current package of immigration proposals includes a dozen proposals grouped into three broad areas — border security, interior enforcement and merit-based immigration. Key elements are:

  • Build a southern border wall and close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration and swell the court backlog.
  • Enforce our immigration laws and return visa overstays.
  • Merit-based immigration system. Establish reforms that protect American workers and promote financial success.

The Democrat’s reaction? Immediate, unqualified, harsh, hard-line dead-on-arrival rejection of Trump’s plan. “This list goes so far beyond what is reasonable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer  and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”

Why do the media label Trump’s proposals “hard-line”, but not apply the negative appellation to the Democrat’s outright rejection of them and insistence on their positions? Why aren’t the opening positions of both sides simply described as starting points for negotiation? Then we can decide what we think of them.

That would be more responsible than the major media becoming the resistance.

Lake Oswego man a big player in charter school movement

 

The News & Observer newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina, recently ran a comprehensive story about Bryan’s actions with respect to charter schools and conservative groups:

A rich donor’s money backed NC’s charter takeover law, and his school network expands

BY LYNN BONNER, JANE STANCILL AND DAVID RAYNOR, OCTOBER 09, 2017 10:00 AM

Politicians are laundering Harvey Weinstein’s filthy lucre

Disingenuous – “Not candid or sincere; giving a false appearance of simple frankness”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Democrat of New York, is shocked, shocked to find that Harvey Weinstein is a serial sexual harasser of women (And even more egregious, the New Yorker reported today that three women had told a writer there that Weinstein raped them). So shocked is Schumer that he’s going to show his purity by getting rid of the money Weinstein has given to him over the years.

“Sen. Schumer is donating all of the contributions to several charities supporting women,” Matt House, a spokesman for the Democratic leader told the Washington Post.

Other Democrats have gotten religion, too. Lawmakers who have said they will be donating Weinstein’s contributions include: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

No word yet from dozen of other Democrats who have gleefully taken Harvey Weinstein’s money over the years. The Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, nonpartisan research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, has a record of those donations.

According to the Center, recipients of Weinstein’s money include the Democratic Party of Oregon, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and such Democratic luminaries as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and even, in an odd twist, the Midwest Values PAC. Weinstein has also made donations to the Clinton Foundation. The Foundation’s website  says Weinstein gave $100,001 to $250,000 through June 2017.

Weinstein has also served as a bundler, collecting contributions from other wealthy donors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he was a bundler for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, raising millions for both.

But here’s the rub.

The contrite Democrats are being more than a little disingenuous.

Many of the Democrats who say they will be re-gifting Weinstein’s contributions plan to give the money to organizations that support Democrats. In other words, the money’s going to be laundered through liberal groups right back to Democrats and their causes.

The Democratic National Committee, for example, has said it will give some of Weinstein’s donations to Emily’s List, Emerge America and Higher Heights. Emily’s List’s entire focus is on electing more pro-choice Democratic women. Emerge America’s focus is on increasing the number of Democratic women leaders in public office. Higher Heights works to elect Black women, a primary constituency of the Democratic Party (94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016).

Chuck Schumer has said he’ll donate Weinstein’s money to women’s rights groups. You can safely bet that means liberal women’s rights groups that support the Democrats’ agenda, not the National Pro-Life Alliance or The Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative think tank.

Most money laundering is dangerous because it can lead to a criminal investigation. But don’t count on any of the Democrats caught in Harvey Weinstein’s web to face such consequences. They’re politicians. They’re protected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Too many Oregon virtual charter school students skip state tests

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The evidence is clear. Public virtual charter schools, also called cyber and online schools, are failing Oregon’s children.

But too many parents, blinded by the certainty of their ideological convictions, still commit their children to failing institutions.

Making it worse, they aren’t insisting that their children take tests designed to determine whether they are on track to be ready for college and the world of work.

In the 2016-17 school year, 95 percent of Oregon students took the English Language Arts tests, 94 percent took the math tests and 88 percent took the science tests.

bakerwebacademylogoBut at Baker Web Academy, sponsored by Baker School District 5J, just 74.5 percent of students took the English Language Arts exam and 74.1 percent took the math tests, according to Oregon Department of Education Assessment Reports. Only science participation exceeded 90 percent, coming in at 91.2 percent.

orcalogoParticipation rates at Oregon’s largest virtual charter school, Oregon Connections Academy, were deficient in 2016-17 as well. Just 72.3 percent of students took the English Language Arts exams, 72.1 percent took the math tests and 70.3 percent took the science tests.

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Another poor performer is Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA), part of a virtual charter network affiliated with for-profit company, K12 Inc. The company has come under heavy criticism for the academic performance of its schools across the country.

At ORVA, sponsored by North Bend School District 13, just 69.1 percent of students took the English Language Arts exam in the 2016-17 school year, 68.1 percent took the math tests and 65.4 percent took the science tests.

So many virtual charter school students skipping the tests seriously compromises the reliability of the test scores. It also makes if difficult for the virtual charter schools to systematically use performance measurement information to enhance learning.

But maybe the schools don’t care.

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READ MORE about how public virtual charter schools are failing Oregon’s children:

Virtual Charter Schools Don’t Compute