It must be Charter School weekend at the Boston Globe! One article that caught my eye was “Top-notch school isn’t marred by loose ties to Turkish cleric.” Good to know, since Pioneer Charter School of Science might be “marred by the data!”
Ignoring the current economy, and attributing Saugus community concerns to an “undercurrent of xenophobia” so they could be readily dismissed, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) granted a charter to Pioneer Charter School of Science II. It will be a regional Commonwealth charter school that will open in Saugus in fall 2013 and, at full capacity, will service 360 students from Saugus, Peabody, Lynn, Danvers, and Salem.
In Pioneer’s application to the MADOE, it anticipates receiving $13,500 per student; 360 students at $13,500. = $4,860,000. Out of this figure Pioneer will take a 9% management fee of $437,400 to “manage” 360 students. This figure does not include the $893 per public “facilities support” or any additional non-tuition revenue, which has yet to be determined. Divide $4,860,000 by the 5 communities = $972,000. per community. Again, this figure does not include the “non-tuition” revenue or the additional 5% yearly increase usually budgeted for charter schools from the sending districts. Each of these towns will end up giving Pioneer Charter School over a million dollars to service 72 students!
Pioneers website has a bar chart comparing their MCAS Scores to the state and sending districts, what is missing here is that in their 10th grade cohort, 22.2 % of students with disabilities left (counseled out?) leaving Pioneer with 3 students with disabilities taking the MCAS! It doesn’t indicate what SPED designation these students were, but there is a big difference between a .4-SPED SAR (Severe Academic Remediation) or .4 LAB (Learning Adaptive Behavior) student and a .2 or .3 Resource Room student who needs a little help in math or English! Take the dough then let the SPED kids go! Also, Pioneer is comparing their 54 students who took the test, with 72,220 from the state, and 1043 students from Everett, Chelsea, and Revere Highs who took the 10th grade MCAS!
What Pioneer fails to explain is their staff and student attrition rate. Pioneer Charter started out with 58 students in 9th grade (their last accepting year, Pioneer does not backfill grades 10, 11, 12) and ended up graduating only 34 students! Very surprised the SPED attrition rate was not seen as red flag to Commissioner Chester. Pioneer is supposed to be a “high performing charter school,” the Boston Globe called it a “Top-notch school,” yet half the kids are gone and the BESE is allowing Pioneer to open another school? Why?
Then I read, in the Globe, that Pioneer was looking into acquiring the former Weylu’s Chinese Restaurant on Route 1 as a possible location for Pioneer Charter II, my curiosity was sparked, I had to check it out. This property is listed for $10.75 million, and several buyers are lined up to purchase it. Even though Pioneer is now out of the running for the property, where was the money going to come from, to even entertain this purchase? Is Pioneer affiliated with a non-profit foundation that is willing to buy the property and pick up the tab to cover such costs as fees for legal, project management, and architecture and renovation expenses, and then lease it back to Pioneer? Were they planning to approach Mass Development, the state’s finance and development authority, for a tax-exempt bond? If that was the case, it didn’t appear in the Pioneers Charter School application. Was there any thought by Pioneer that, in addition to taking a million dollars to service 72 Saugus students, they would be taking a valuable piece of tax generating property off the Saugus roll?
In Massachusetts, we graduate thousands of teachers from our excellent colleges and universities each year. Last summer at a UP Charter in Boston, 4,100 certified teachers interviewed for 58 positions. So I find it difficult to believe, and unacceptable, that 16 teaching positions were filled from outside the United States, at Pioneer Charter School of Science, when we have qualified unemployed teachers right here in Massachusetts. I do not think it is a good use of public education funds to pay the $84,215 on legal and immigration-related fees.
How many of the original 16 Pioneer teachers with temporary H1B, B-1, and L1 visas were certified to teach in Massachusetts? How many had taken and passed the MTEL. How many were teaching on a waiver? How many were teaching in their subject area? As of Pioneers last report to the MADOE 2010-11 only 56.7%, out of 27.7 teachers, were licensed in their teaching assignment! In Saugus Public Schools 99.5 are licensed in their teaching assignment. In the state 97.5 are licensed in their teaching assignment.
Recent research by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) finds over half (54%) of all workers brought in through the H1B visa program are being paid at the lowest level. Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations noted, “hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers into the US each year on H1B, B-1, and L1 visas and then treats them like modern indentured servants: they are tied to a particular employer with little bargaining leverage or workplace rights and paid an artificially low wage. The H1B sets the minimum wage for this imported talent at a mere 17% of the prevailing US wage; the L-1 visa, for transfer of employees within companies, has no wage floor, allowing firms to continue to pay home-country wages. This means that some Indian engineers are working in the US for as little as $8,000/year plus expenses.”
After I read the GAO article, I wondered about the 16 foreign born Pioneer teachers. Were these new comers to Massachusetts “modern indentured servants”? Dominic Slowey, of Slowey/McManus Communications, a “strategic public relations firm,” who’s clients, in addition to Pioneer Charter School of Science, include the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Academy of the Pacific Rim, Phoenix Charter Academy, Boston Renaissance Charter, Associated Early Care & Education, Community Group, and Hampden Charter School of Science, pointed out PCSS is non-union and thus able to hire and fire who they want. This is true, charter school teachers do not belong to a union. However, I would remind Mr. Slowey that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and we have laws in Massachusetts! If the school was opened Monday thru Saturday, 7:30am to 5:30pm, how long was a teacher’s workday and week? What were their salaries? Where did they live? Since only 4 remain in the current school, where are the other 12 teachers now? Have these teachers returned to Turkey? Why? Are these teachers at a sister charter school in the United States? What school are these teachers working in? What are they getting paid? Since Pioneer Charter has been open since 2007, why isn’t the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Pioneer teachers and the charter school on the MADOE site? Inquiring minds would like to know. Finally, I’d also like to know how much Slowey/McManus Communications is getting paid to provide public relations services to all these charter schools!