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Interview questions the Miami-Dade School Board should ask would-be superintendent Jacob Oliva
The DoE chancellor who couldn't oversee tiny Jefferson County schools or prevent corruption in his own state agency wants to run massive Miami-Dade. The M-D board better ask some questions first.
The effort to find the next superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools has been underway for about one week, but the process already has sparked rumors that the board has a top candidate in mind and has prompted sharp criticism about the district’s tight timeline.
[By contrast, the Polk County School Board — my former board — took almost a year to pick its new superintendent. And the process I helped set in motion landed us a pretty clear upgrade over the previous superintendent. Sorry Miami-Dade.]
Russ Rywell, a district teacher and former District 3 School Board candidate, in an op-ed published in the Herald Tuesday called the process “madness.” He also pointed to the district’s ongoing struggle to fill teacher vacancies. “We are still trying to find qualified teachers five months into the school year,” he wrote, “but a seven-day search is good enough to find the next superintendent of the nation’s fourth-largest school district?”
“It’s obvious they have someone already,” Fair said.
Is that “someone” Miami-Dade has in mind the beleaguered Florida Department of Education K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva — one of 16 applicants announced late Wednesday?
I don’t know enough about Miami politics to know if Oliva has the personal and political juice and connections to become the preferred candidate of a sketchy search. I truly don’t. He could very well be applying as a desperate shot-in-the-dark on his own merits to escape Richard Corcoran and the imploding DoE.
I personally find it hard to believe Oliva would apply publicly for a high profile job he thought was rigged for somebody else, especially at this moment in his career. But that’s all useless speculation, really.
What’s not useless are the questions that Miami-Dade board members could publicly ask Oliva on behalf of their own constituents and Florida citizens and taxpayers about the exploding DoE/Jefferson County corruption scandal.
“Tell us, Chancellor Oliva…”
If I were sitting on the Miami-Dade School Board, here’s what I would ask Jacob Oliva — and make him answer — before I hired him to replace Alberto Carvalho:
It’s true that DoE’s very narrow investigation of the breathtakingly stupid corruption of Board of Education Member Andy Tuck and Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey cleared you of wrongdoing in connection with them. But we’re curious about Trey Traviesa’s MGT and how you came to present a draft agreement with MGT to your subordinate. We’re curious about how you came to instruct her to create a supposedly competitive bid RFQ from the draft agreement with MGT. Can you tell that entire story, please, in detail?
Did you consider it illegal or unethical to negotiate and draft an agreement with MGT, a private company, on behalf of the taxpayers before you issued an RFQ for services? Do you consider it illegal or unethical to use the draft MGT agreement itself as the template for the supposedly competitive RFQ?
What exactly was Richard Corcoran’s role versus your role in negotiating with MGT before the RFQ?
Is it true that Corcoran had total control over who won the bid? Did he order you to use MGT as the Jefferson County firm? Did he order you to craft the RFQ with the draft MGT agreement? Did you know that MGT is owned by former legislator Trey Traviesa (Corcoran’s old business partner)?
Did Vice Chancellor Ramsey report directly to you? If so, why were you unable to supervise her? Would you be able to stop public corruption by your subordinates here in Miami-Dade?
What’s your moral opinion of Miami-based Somerset Charter’s decision to cut-and-run from the children of Florida’s highest profile “School of Hope” situation?
Are you sad to leave Jefferson County kids and citizens bereft of education resources?
Have you discussed that morality with state Sen. Manny Diaz and Ralph Arza (the famous racist, convicted-criminal witness-tamperer, state charter school lobbyist)? Diaz and Arza are both are neck deep in the Jefferson County debacle. Diaz works for another part of Somerset’s parent company, Academica. NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman detailed Diaz’s Jefferson role here:
Millions of taxpayer dollars flow through the charter-school network, Somerset Academy, Inc., to its for-profit contractor Academica. The Miami company provides administrative services like recruiting staff, developing curriculum and handling legal matters. It’s a growing business, as Somerset operates 62 charter schools in Florida and is rapidly expanding into other states and countries. Other prevalent charter school chains in South Florida are also under the “Academica umbrella,” as leaders have described it. Those include the Mater, Pinecrest and Doral academy networks.
Florida’s first all-charter school district in Jefferson County is a prime example of the fruits of the special relationship between Academica and the Legislature. Academica has close links to current and past state lawmakers who have written laws and budgets benefiting dozens of charter schools that the company helps run, mostly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In particular, Senate education committee chair Manny Diaz, Jr., a Hialeah Republican, helped secure legislation and funding in 2017 that aided Somerset’s efforts in Jefferson County. Then a committee chairman in the state House of Representatives, Diaz was instrumental in making the district’s transition to charter schools possible.
Diaz is a top administrator at a private college also affiliated with Academica. Doral College was created in 2010 to offer advanced courses at charter schools, including Somerset Academy schools. Somerset alone pays Doral College more than $100,000 a year in public money for delivering college-level courses at the network’s schools, including in Jefferson County. And Diaz’s boss — the president of Doral College — has led the transition to charter schools in Jefferson as a consultant for Somerset.
Can you please give a full account of the Nov. 1 meeting about Jefferson County described here in the Tampa Bay Times story:
On Nov. 1, a week before the state opened the project for bids, the Department of Education hosted a meeting to discuss the transition plan with Jefferson County school superintendent Eydie Tricquet, Jefferson County’s current charter school operator and Traviesa. Also included was prominent charter school lobbyist Ralph Arza, a longtime close ally of Rubio and Corcoran who resigned from the Legislature in 2006 after using racial slurs during a drunken tirade. Arza has four relatives, including his brother and sister-in-law, working in Jefferson County for the company currently operating the schools.
Can you tell us what Ralph Arza’s four relatives — including his brother and sister-in-law — actually do for the children of Jefferson County to earn their pay from Somerset? Are they teachers? Bus drivers? Highly-paid administrators?
These last questions don’t pertain directly to the DoE/Jefferson scandal; but they’re relevant to this discussion.
Why have you decided to leave DoE at this moment? DoE and state government are about to oversee the biggest overhaul to Florida’s fraudulent testing and “accountability” system since Jeb created it in 1998. From the outside, your department seems to be falling apart under its own corruption and incompetence. Are you fleeing a sinking ship at a crucial time?
Current state legislation does not meaningfully de-emphasize or change Florida’s high stakes testing experience like Ron DeSantis promised it would. We might as well keep the FSA, don’t you think? Why have you silently allowed the Legislature to make a liar out of the governor on the Florida testing experience?
And then, were I a Miami-Dade board member, I would finish the Oliva interview with this:
Chancellor Oliva: You recently blamed teachers for our state’s chronic and worsening the teacher shortage. “When you create this narrative that schools aren’t safe, then wonder why people aren’t entering the profession, I would challenge the leadership,” K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s conflicting, it’s reckless, and it needs to be clarified,” Oliva said.
Considering everything we’ve discussed here today, do you still think teachers are “reckless” to choose not to work under the thoroughly corrupt, cynical, brutalizing, anti-human leadership of this state?