THE BLOG
10/20/2014 01:03 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2014

New Orleans Charter Operator Bails; Surplus Laptops Sold Bearing Student Data

In February 2012, then-new Louisiana Superintendent John White told Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) about how he planned to work a marvel of renovation and preservation for New Orleans' McDonogh High School by allowing Steve Barr, CEO of Green Dot Charters in Los Angeles (a businessman with no vested interest in the New Orleans community) to assume control of the school and work hand in hand with the locals:

RH: Post-Katrina, there were concerns about outsiders invading New Orleans schooling. There have been intense racial politics. How did you negotiate that during your time at the RSD, and how does that shape your approach going forward?

JW: It's extremely important as a leader to never give up on your ideals. But on the other hand, never give up on respecting everyone at the table. That gives you a baseline of credibility off of which to operate.

RH: Can you offer an example of how you do this?

JW: Yes, at John McDonogh High School. When I first came to New Orleans, the word on the Street was we were going to shut down the building of that 100-year-old high school. And now we've announced that we are spending $35 million to renovate it. Steve Barr [founder of Green Dot Public Schools] and teachers now are going to take over the school's management...By staying at the table, by sitting through the discussion, by always insisting that this can be a college and career school, we had a compelling vision that attracted great partners, and are in a position to turn one of the lowest performing high schools in the country into a real beacon for change.

A compelling vision of attracting great partners to created a beacon of change? Teachers taking over school management?

Not if that "great partner" decides he wants out.

The short of it: No "beacon." No renovation of McDonogh happened; California-based Steve Barr (of Future Is Now charters -- formerly Green Dot) pulled out, citing a "facilities decision" as his reason. Never mind that New Orleans has a number of unoccupied school buildings that a money man like Barr could have renovated or even demolished in favor of moving in temporary buildings while a renovation of McDonogh happened. However, such effort would have been a mark of one invested in the community more than in himself.

I teach at a 100-year-old high school that was systematically renovated over the course of several years, and that while the school remained a functioning school of approximately 1,800 students.

But such projects require investment in the community. Our school was not being long-distance "managed" by someone with a short-term, profit-focused commitment.

Barr's principal concern is not in how his decision to bail on his commitment affects the community on the receiving end. It is on his "venture."

McDonogh closed in June 2014. As a part of washing its hands of New Orleans, Barr's ironically-named Future Is Now (FIN) left behind equipment that the Recovery School District (RSD) (another ironic name) is auctioning off in the aftermath of the FIN-RSD divorce.

On October 11, 2014, RSD auctioned off laptops that still had student information on them, including student social security numbers.

And so we have yet another example of the problems introduced by "charter churn": the changing of hands of equipment and the opening of fresh doors by which the security of student data might be breached.

In his weak attempt to explain the breach Recovery School District (RSD) Superintendent Patrick Dobard offers the following to Danielle Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune:

Dobard said his office has trained charter staff on property-disposal procedures but not checked up on devices until now. "We relied on the operators actually following the protocol," he said.

And there we have yet another problem with lack of oversight in the name of charter "freedom": "Trusting" that those preparing for disposal the property from the school that "just didn't make it" will actually "follow procedure."

But why should the "charter staff" from a folded operation care about procedure? Barr's chain did not care enough to invest in keeping the "100-year-old high school" open. In fact, Dreilinger could get no word from the FIN spokesperson other than an "it's not my problem" response:

Former Future Is Now spokesman Gordon Wright said the organization had no response because it no longer exists. [Emphasis added.]

No more FIN in New Orleans for Gordon Wright to worry about. Moreover, as of June 2014, he is with Education Post, the new, well-financed corporate reform blog where Wright recently wrote a post "protecting" two teachers from education historian Diane Ravitch on a blog that worships US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (Yeah, I know. Funny.)

But back to McDonogh, where students will not fall into new schools in the way that corporate reform promoters like Wright are able to fall into new, corporate-reform-promoting jobs.

In sum, we have a 100-year-old New Orleans high school that was supposed to be renovated; a California-based charter manager who decides not to follow through on his commitment because it was "too hard"; the haphazard liquidation of property that resulted in a breach of student data; no charter manager to answer for the breach because the charter manager is no longer the charter manager, and a textbook example of unforeseen problems associated with "charter churn."

Nevertheless, Dreilinger's article includes a strategically-placed statement that downplays this inevitable and ever-present churn:

The Recovery system oversees about 50 charters in New Orleans, plus more in Baton Rouge. Every year, a small number of charters have closed.[Emphasis added.]

If "every year" a "small number" close, that is a lot of churn. The result is a district that never stabilizes and remains forever open to the uncommitted, nonresident Steve Barrs to come and go relatively unscathed while critical property -- not the least of which is student personal information -- ends up sold on the auction block of apathy-birthed incompetence.

Originally posted 10-17-14 at deutsch29.wordpress.com

Schneider is the author of the ed reform whistleblower book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Whos' Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.