The Jefferson School Board reveals how dirty Florida's DoE is. Don't let Corcoran punish Jefferson's people for that.
Corcoran's "Schools of Hope" charter program collapsed in a compost heap of corruption, cynicism, and incompetence for Jefferson County. Don't take $20M from its kids because Somerset Charter sucks.
Late note/correction: I accidentally misstated the Times/Herald reporting on Rep. Jason Shoaf’s position on state control of Jefferson in the version of this article that went out on email. It was a copyedit goof that I caught myself upon rereading. It is correct now. Here is how the Times/Herald stated it:
Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, who represents that area, said he told department officials he would refuse to support any effort to take control away from local school officials.
My apologies to both Rep. Shoaf and the Times/Herald for the error.
If you want to know why the corrupt Florida Legislature wants to defund and destroy elected Florida school boards, watch this meeting of the very fed up elected Jefferson County School Board. It’s from Dec. 13; and the crucial part starts at about time stamp 33:30. Here is the link Facebook Watch link:
The board members recorded here on Dec. 13 don’t know yet about the massive Ron DeSantis/Richard Corcoran/Ralph Arza/Department of Education corruption scandal radiating off their tiny little school system.
It’s been kept from them, like it was kept from the rest of Florida until just before Christmas. This is an official cover-up, executed and recorded in real time. Remember that as you watch what’s deliberately kept from elected board members by an unelected public official whose salary we all pay.
The FDLE, the FBI, the Jefferson County Sheriff — anybody — should put Suzanne Pridgeon, DoE’s deputy commissioner of Finance and Operations, under oath. They should ask her what Richard Corcoran or Jacob Oliva or anyone ordered her to say or not say in an official government meeting to the elected Jefferson School Board about the MGT/Tuck/Ramsey corruption scandal scamming their kids and community and the entire state.
Pridgeon’s intentionally misleading discussion of the corrupt “external operator” procurement process before a duly elected local government is at least moral and ethical fraud on behalf of the state’s most prominent government agency.
It should be investigated as obstruction of justice on behalf of DoE, which looks to me like little more than a state-sponsored criminal enterprise.
Pridgeon: Jefferson must pay the grifty consultants with federal ESSR money starting 10/1
I’m going to come back to this inspiring meeting, in detail, in a later article.
But I want to thank the Jefferson County School Board now — from the bottom of my heart. This multi-racial collection of five people in Florida’s tiniest, least touristy, most ignored and exploited, 53-percent Trump-voting county is fighting hard for their American kids and community against the worst, most cynical exploiters of fellow human beings imaginable.
The people who care about saving community-based public education — in Florida and beyond — are in their debt. More than they likely know.
And I want to thank these often belittled people for asking very good, insightful questions for their constituents that produced information that matters — and will continue to matter.
For this article, what matters most is the question one board member asked about who will pay for the “external operator” consultant DoE is imposing.
The answer: the federal government, starting on October 1. Florida’s DoE is forcing Jefferson County to spend its most recent round of emergency coronavirus funds — known as ESSR 3 funds — on whatever grifty consultant emerges from this entire episode. Go watch, starting at roughly 52:40.
If the federal government was ever going to have something to say about the runaway grift machine operating out of DoE’s Gaines Street building in Tallahassee, now is the time, and Jefferson’s ESSR 3 is the reason.
Incidentally, the rebids for the Jefferson “external operator” scam came in this week. MGT, the Trey Traviesa-owned consultancy that DoE rigged the first bid for, decided to stay clear of this one. But three companies, whose names I don’t have, did respond, according to elected Jefferson Superintendent Eydie Tricquet.
“An absolute disaster,” of DoE/Somerset’s making, not Jefferson’s
That’s all prelude and context for this important quote and passage from Tallahassee-based NPR reporter Sarah Mueller about the DoE/Jefferson scandal. She’s interviewing Bill Brumfield, one of the elected Jefferson County School Board members, well after the scandal has broken, weeks after that meeting I linked. This story is from just a few days ago.
“The charter school was an absolute disaster...absolute disaster," he said. "So much money was spent with no results.”
Brumfield believes it will be the district that will be successful—if given enough time. He says incoming principal, Jackie Pons, has already started hiring teachers for the upcoming school year.
He thinks Jefferson County officials can’t do any worse than Somerset did and he’s confident they can educate their kids better. Though, he’d like to see the district get all the additional financial resources the state gave Somerset.
Those resources amount to about $4 million per year above what Jefferson would normally generate for itself from its own meager tax base and the state’s FEFP funding program. Somerset Charter, the so-called “School of Hope,” pocketed and then squandered that $20M over its five-year contract on an “absolute disaster” for Jefferson’s roughly 750 kids.
The DeSantis/Corcoran/Arza sell-out of Trump-voting Jefferson County
And yet, it is not Somerset but Jefferson’s kids that Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran and Ralph Arza, DoE’s unofficial chancellor of grift, plan to punish for Somerset’s failures.
Jefferson’s kids will lose the $20M over five years that Somerset squandered on a “disaster” because only a “School of Hope” operator has access to that money at present. Thanks, DeSantis.
To repeat: that $20M in state money over five years departs Jefferson along with Somerset’s failure. Somerset — including Arza’s relatives who work for it — got paid; the kids and teachers and community of Jefferson are left holding an empty state/Somerset bag.
And DoE, as stated in 12/13 board meeting, is ordering Jefferson to spend its federal ESSR money on grifty consultants it doesn’t even get to have a significant role in choosing.
[I’ll have more on who gets to choose the grifter consultant in my next article. For now, see meeting time 42:30, when a board member asks: “Do we have any say so?” in choosing the consultant.]
And what does that DeSantis/Corcoran/Arza sell-out mean, on the ground, for tiny, Trump-voting Jefferson County? Probably life and death for even the possibility of providing public education for Jefferson’s kids. From the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald story:
When the School Board takes over in July, it will have to make do on a roughly $8.5 million budget — about $7 million less than the charter school operator has during its current year, Tricquet, the superintendent, told board members last week.
The district is trying to prevent laying off employees. It can’t afford to spend its $4 million in federal relief on consultants, interim principal Jackie Pons told the board.
It means further gutted staff. It means layoffs. It greatly diminished capacity for what is already the most challenging educational situation in a state with America’s most corrupt and disastrous state-run school system.
It means the kids and community of Jefferson continue to suffer for Richard Corcoran’s grift while Somerset of Miami — connected deeply to Sen. Manny Diaz — gets paid big bucks for failure and “disaster.”
What did Somerset spend the money on? And what about ESSR funds?
Seriously, what did Somerset spend the $20 million on? Other than Ralph Arza’s relatives? Somebody should probably document that. The Jefferson Board wants to know, too. Start watching at about 1:00 to hear it call for an audit of Somerset’s spending.
At the time of Jessica Bakeman’s great “Chartered” reporting concerning Jefferson, she noted that Somerset operated 78 individual charter schools, mostly in South Florida. My question: did any of the “School of Hope” resources earmarked for Jefferson find their way into Somerset schools not in Jefferson? How about into Somerset corporate?
The Times/Herald reported that Somerset produced “extreme turnover of instructional staff” despite the extra $20 million and its great success in keeping Arza family members employed.
That five-year arrangement with Somerset Academy Inc. is set to expire June 30, and Somerset opted against extending the contract. Somerset continues to deal with “extreme turnover of instructional staff” and “extremely low proficiency” in math and reading among the majority of students, according to the company’s January 2021 assessment.
So another question: Did that turnover include any School of Hope-funded Somerset Jefferson positions or personnel transferred elsewhere in the Somerset network?
And finally, we have the ESSR questions. This is from the first Times/Herald story. I don’t fully grasp the sourcing, but:
Originally, the county’s plan did not include hiring another charter school company to help its transition.
But the Department of Education later decided it would hire a private company to provide assistance with the transition for up to three years, and it would use $4 million of Jefferson County’s federal coronavirus relief money to pay for it.
That’s bolstered by the Dec. meeting, where Pridgeon, under questioning, acknowledged that state DoE will force local Jefferson to spend its federal ESSR money on grifty consultants the Jefferson Board does not get to select.
So here are some federal questions about ESSR and the entire trajectory of the scandal.
Why did DoE want to reroute $4M in ESSR funds to private-sector MGT consultancy, owned by Trey Traviesa, Corcoran’s old business partner? Is that legal?
How did Somerset spend Jefferson’s previous ESSR funds? Did they all stay in Jefferson?
Did any Jefferson ESSR funds support overall Somerset system operations elsewhere?
Is U.S. DoE looking into these questions?
Richard Corcoran: dictator without an army
Richard Corcoran has always been a dictator without an army, lacking any mass constituency of his own and dependent entirely on the patronage of others — like DeSantis — who inexplicably hand him power.
His “power,” such as it is, is just aggressive in-the-moment bully projection backed by nothing. He even used his own child — Tweeted it out to the world — as part of the projection. See article below:
Corcoran enjoys hurling around flamboyant threats so journalist/influencers enthralled with power — as many are — will build a cheap, red wine-sipping legend around him. But he backs down from any real confrontation, always. See Polk County’s “Red Weekend” in early 2020.
That’s why this passage, noted in Sarah Mueller’s article, is an empty threat designed to cloak Corcoran’s complete surrender to Jefferson County and its elected officials in one of his petty, empty dominance rituals. (Full backstory on the Corcoran surrender to Jefferson here from Times/Herald.) This passage is from NPR’s Mueller:
"You know, I understand the meeting was very tense," said Jefferson School Board member Bill Brumfield, a former superintendent of the district.
Brumfield said he was told that Corcoran also threatened to fire the superintendent, a local elected official, if after a year they don't achieve a "C" grade. It's unclear how exactly that could happen under state law.
Jefferson County will have to achieve better results than Somerset, likely with less funding.
Here are three big reasons this threat is hooey:
Corcoran’s not going to be around to fire anybody in a year. He should have resigned in disgrace and been put under oath weeks ago. He won’t last a year. He may not last the month. Do you think my Arza reporting — and three explosive paragraphs in the Times/Herald story are the end of Arza-gate reporting? LOL. No.
Arza-gate is Corcoran-gate. Arza is Corcoran’s “friend” and unofficial DoE chancellor of grift. He and Corcoran are a package. They’ll go down together. And good luck with the president searches.
Even if Corcoran somehow convinces DeSantis to open his corruption flank completely to Trump and keep Corcoran/Arza around, there is no basis in state law for what Corcoran threatened. And he’s a weak, weak fake dictator who sits atop a DoE he, himself, gutted — with grifty ties to failed charter and external operator companies. So let’s see him try to fire somebody and retake the Jefferson schools in a “Schools of Hope, part 2” after this debacle. After Republican Rep. Jason Shoaf, who represents Jefferson County, said he would support no state action to snatch Jefferson schools back from local control. Go for it, Dick. I look forward to writing about it.
Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Somerset/Academica — who is himself neck deep in DoE/Jefferson/Arza/Corcoran/DeSantis-gate — is also running the legislation for the doomed progress monitoring/testing reform overhaul that DeSantis promised. (The whole thing is going to be an epic shit show and threat to DeSantis. More later.) But, assuming it even happens, assuming that somebody, somewhere is able to execute the new systems, a new state scheme means next year is a “baseline” year for an entirely new school grade system. And the current enabling legislation, as I understand it, pledges to hold districts harmless for how they score on the new fraudulent grading system.
So, no, Corcoran isn’t firing anybody in Jefferson County next year based on a fraudulent school grade.
And I think we may well come to regard that empty threat — against Florida’s most abused, tiniest school district — as the last piece of public trash talk by the worst, most incompetent, most overrated-by-sycophantic-power-worshipers public official in the history of our state.
The governor and state should not honor Corcoran’s ridiculous illegal threats. Instead, they should do whatever has to be done — legally, administratively — to help Jefferson repair Somerset’s “ disaster” with at least the same taxpayer resources Somerset squandered.
And then they should put Corcoran under oath.