News has filtered through of the hostile takeover by PCE (Parents for Choice in Education) at the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools (UAPCS). It seems that having squandered nearly a million dollars of Other People’s Money to turn Utah into a petri dish for the destruction of public education through vouchers (and failing at the task), PCE has decided to take a different tack, bodysnatching boards that might prove useful in its ultimate goal: bankrupting the public education system completely so that homeschoolers, wingnuts and education profiteers can fill the void.
Filling the void worked very well financially for Blackwater’s mercenaries in Iraq and New Orleans, and there’s a reason we mention that. Erik Prince, who leveraged his father’s auto parts fortune to make an even bigger one for himself as the military privateer in charge of Blackwater, or Xe as it is now called, is the brother of Betsy DeVos who is married to Dick DeVos, of the Amway fortune. Betsy and Erik’s mom Elsa also fancies herself a philanthropist and according to Betsy, the family is the biggest “soft-money” contributor to the Republican party. But where the Princes and DeVoses are concerned, we’re talking wingnut republicans. Which leads naturally to Utah, the cradle of wingnuttery.
Betsy is all about the kids now, and one of her many pet PACs is called All Children Matter (ACM). ACM was PCE’s biggest donor between 2004 and 2008, and PCE in turn spent the DeVos/Prince money judiciously, on pro-voucher candidates in the Utah Legislature, among other things. They also bought t-shirts and other goodies for Milton Witt.
Astute followers of the new anti-democratic process for winnowing the field of state school board candidates will recall that Milton Witt was one of three names recently sent to Governor Herbert by the governor anointed appointed committee: to be placed on the ballot for District 9. Heaven forbid that the people themselves decide. The other two were Daniel Steven Isham and Joel Coleman. Joel Coleman is married to Kim Coleman who was fired as principal of Monticello Academy and then turned around and tried to sue the State of Utah. Isham is the 26 year old assistant custodian who would like to one-up Arizona by demanding immigration documents from six-year-olds as a way of cutting down on class sizes. Remember, the governor only has to choose two from this stellar crew. Denis Morrill, far and away the most qualified candidate, was eliminated by secret ballot at an open meeting of the committee – a combination that can only occur in the world capital of passive aggressivity.
And now we see part two of the bodysnatching scheme. With the sudden unexpected appearance of two slots on the board of the nonprofit UAPCS, PCE revved its engines. It had two accomplices on the board already: Mark Cluff and Lincoln Fillmore, both PCE board members.
Fillmore had an especially tight relationship with PCE, having done nearly $40,000 in political consulting for them in 2005 and 2006, while he was also pocketing profits from his charter school consulting business, Charter Solutions. The conflicts boggle the mind, but in Utah, conflicts have a way of escaping people’s attention, particularly when they pertain to oneself.
So what’s the answer to having one conflicted board member? Why, add another! With virtually no notice to the actual members of the association, Jed Stevenson, another charter school consultant who encourages people to think of his Academica West business like a “district” was nominated by Cluff and Fillmore to fill one of the UAPCS vacancies. Stevenson is a PCE Trustee. Robyn Bagley, last seen losing a desperate campaign for legislature against Karen Morgan of Cottonwood Heights, was the other person proposed for the second vacant slot. Bagley, the self-professed “stay-at-home mom” is a politically ambitious person who appears to be padding her resume with as many board memberships as possible (to leap on board Mitt Romney’s corsair in 2012?), so in addition to serving on the board of Open High School of Utah, she is naturally, PCE’s board chair.
After a rushed phone consultation with the remaining UAPCS board members, Bagley and Stevenson were hastily appointed to the vacant slots by the rest of the board. It would be up to the UAPCS membership to confirm or reject them as board members at the annual member vote in May.
But the annual member vote would never happen. The new PCE majority launched its first shot across the bow at the April UAPCS member meeting, where Board Chair Mark Cluff announced that there was some new appalling problem with the UAPCS bylaws that no-one had ever noticed, and that the time it would take to fix it would preclude any member vote until the fall. There were objections from other members present. And then the meeting time ran out.
May’s member meeting rolled around and again, Cluff explained that the liability, the terrible, agonizing liability of the wretched bylaws had pre-empted the vote. He thanked Jed Stevenson, the 2002 graduate of the fourth-tier California Western School of Law with the suspended Utah Bar license for discovering the problem.
Cap’n Winitzky, soon to be forced to walk the plank by the PCE pirates who’d commandeered his ship, read his own prepared statement, denying that he’d called anyone to revolution, and reiterated his support for the Association. Two weeks later he was gone, followed by the Association’s bookkeeper, Prasad Boppana. Kim Frank, who’d served as the accidental UAPCS lobbyist while being married to Craig Frank, the accidental legislator from Pleasant Grove, whose contempt for Utah’s slim legislators’ ethics laws was so great that he never bothered to list charter schools on his conflict of interest form, stepped in as Interim Director. Craig Frank had also been a beneficiary of PCE largesse although the contributions to his campaign account were minor in comparison to others.
And so, the vote stopped along with the music, at an association that started out looking for ways to share resources and best practices to improve public education. Having convinced certain charter schools in the association that they’d literally get more bang for their buck by spending more time playing the political game and less time worrying about self-improvement, PCE now has a board majority at the UAPCS, and who knows, maybe even a significant portion of the membership ready to enlist in the second round of the voucher wars.
The only remaining question is whether the charter schools who are members of the UAPCS fully understand that the UAPCS is now a zombie driven by the parasite within, nothing more. And when the zombie walks them to the precipice, will they obey?