The $100,000 Question

Massachusetts, one of the highest regarded public education systems world-wide, is embroiled in a ballot initiative, Question 2.  Question 2 proponents want to raise the current cap on charter schools to include 12 new charter school each year. Opponents – and full disclosure, I land in that category for a number of reasons – want to keep charter schools capped at current levels.

One would think that the state governing boards making decisions about which charter schools to approve and how many might try to maintain neutrality in such a debate. But here in Massachusetts, one would be wrong.

Paul Sagan, the appointed Chair of the Commonwealth Board of Education (by Governor Baker who is an advocate for charter schools and lifting the cap) is one of those who gives thumbs-up or thumbs-down to charter schools in Massachusetts. Paul Sagan, it was recently revealed, donated $100,000 of his own money toward the campaign tasked with tasked with getting Massachusetts voters to vote Yes on 2. Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

Mr. Sagan, who sits on a number of Boards of Directors, used to serve as an executive in a company called Akamai. Mr. Sagan, it was revealed yesterday, also deeded over some of his stock to a family fund supporting charter schools.

How, I ask you, is this allowed to stand? Why is there not more outcry for Mr. Sagan to resign from the Board of Education?

Mr. Sagan’s boss, Governor Baker, apparently thinks this is a big “nothingburger“. Yes, that is indeed the terminology Mr. Baker used to describe these ethically questionable donations when asked about it. Nothing to see here, move along.

Even if one were to swallow the spin that Mr. Sagan’s monetary support for lifting the cap on charter schools is perfectly allowable, there is an aura of cronyism here. Instead, of neutrality and impartiality when making decisions about charter school approval, it appears that the “fix” is in.

Political appointees are certainly well within their right to donate and support whatever makes them politically happy. However, when your appointed position on a very high-level board making decisions about how many and which charter applications receive approvals will be impacted by whether or not a ballot initiative passes, that is not a “nothingburger”.

That is the real deal, and a raw one at that.

Thanks But No Thanks

It happened that I was sitting at my desk during my lunch, reading the local newspaper, when I spotted an article about new ethics requirements for teachers who receive gifts from students. How ironic that this discovery was on the day before our Holiday break — and that 5 students had given me a Christmas present that very day!

The new regs seem like a knee jerk reaction to some larger issue, and far removed from the tokens that kids bring to their teachers. It’s not as if the students I have from families with limited monetary resources are buying me a day at the spa. The geniuses behind this regulation  can make all the noise they want about “bribery” and undue influence as evidenced by a present for teacher. If a good grade or college recommendation can be “bought” with a $25 Dunkin Donuts card, image what $250 could buy.  Valedictorian?

So this morning, in addition to handwriting thank-you notes — because THAT’s the polite and accepted social norm  I want to model for my kids — I dug through the website and found the form I need to complete. I’m including the link here for anyone else teaching in the Commonwealth’s public schools (hmmm, do Charter School teachers need to do this too?).

Despite my appeal for no gifts (I have a treasured collection of notes from students),  some parents and students still give gifts at certain points in the year,  Christmas being one of those times. I dread Valentine’s Day — I’ll have to refile this form for every cardboard box of candy a student brings.

So here’s what I’ve needed to declare in order to disclose “the appearance of a conflict of interest” (I kid you not, this is the title on the form!):

  • 2 packages of Ferrero Rocher chocolates
  • 1 Country Apple bath set
  • 1 Cherry Blossom bath set (hmmmm, are the kids trying to tell me something?)
  • 1 dozen butter cookies in a ziplock baggie
  • a 2009-2010 calendar (priceless!)
  • hand lotion and a jar candle
  • handmade eggrolls to share with the class and 1 chocolate homemade cupcake

I might add that, in the spirit of not allowing presents to impact my professional decisions, I did complete a behavior report on one of the gift-givers after the students aimed a pencil at another student in the classroom (missed!) and used inappropriately foul language.

Good grief!