Is the Gates Foundation an invisible fourth branch of Washington’s state government?
(Please note, as of 8:40 PM on 2/8/2015, more emails have been received. I will go through them as quickly as possible and provide a link to additional information as soon as I can. -Dora Taylor)
In a previous post titled The charter school shell game in Washington State: Money laundering at its best (or worst?) by way of OSPI, I described how first private and now public money is being laundered through the Mary Walker School District and to charter schools. The first charter school to enjoy this set up is Rainier Prep which is located in the Highline School District and is listed as a corporation in the state of Washington.
In this post I will provide the specifics of where this scheme originated, how it evolved and the players involved. This is an explicit example of how Bill Gates, through his foundation, is able to manipulate people and policies to fit his agenda, using millions of dollars to grease the wheels. This is also an example of Gates making an end run around the Democratic and legal processes.
Within days of the Supreme Court determining that charter schools are unconstitutional in Washington State, the Gates Foundation got busy working with the Washington State Charter School Association (WA charters). WA charters contacted Superintendent Kevin Jacka with the Mary Walker School District (MWSD) as well as the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to get the ball rolling on keeping charter schools open.
This is how it went. The Gates Foundation, contacted the Washington Charter Association and had them contact the Mary Walker School District to discuss with the Superintendent, Kevin Jacka, the idea of taking on the charter schools that had opened in the state and placing them under the umbrella of the Alternative Learning Experience program (ALE).
The Mary Walker School District is located in Springdale, Washington, which is a rural community in the northeast corner of Washington State. The district consists of eight traditional and Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) schools.
The plan was to have the Mary Walker School District provide oversight for the charter schools scattered around the state and receive a percentage of the per student state allocation before sending the money onto the charter school therefore providing tax dollars to the charter schools.
According to the contract between the Mary Walker School District and Rainier Prep charter school, the Mary Walker School District will receive 4% of the per student state allocation of approximately $6,000 per student and the remaining 96% will go to the charter school.
Remember, this is state money, tax payer money, going to a charter school that has established itself as a corporation in the state of Washington. This is not the $14M that the Washington Charter School Association and others promised to provide to charter schools to keep their doors open.
After charter school visits made by Superintendent Jacka, representatives of Washington State Charter School Association and the Gates Foundation, a meeting was held at a Starbucks between the Gates Foundation and Superintendent Jacka where they worked out a financial agreement. As shown in the emails, the Gates Foundation wrote the grant proposal for the Mary Walker School District and after the school district’s review and approval, a check was sent to MWSD in December, for the first of two grants to the MWSD. The first grant was for $250,000 and the second grant totals $2.1M.
That grant money did not include an additional $160,000 paid to MWSD from the Gates Foundation via the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
It would behoove all to read the grant proposal written by the Gates Foundation for the Mary Walker School District. It reflects the fact that there are well-defined strings attached to any money that Gates “donates”. They do want a return on their investment.
The key players in this end run around the Supreme Court decision were:
Rekha Bhatt: Director of School Services at the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
Kevin Jacka: Superintendent of the Mary Walker School District (MWSD) and previous member of the Washington State Charter School Commission who resigned from the Commission in December of 2015. (The Commission was to shut down after the Supreme Court decision in September.)
Thomas Kelley (referred to as TJ in the emails): Director of School Apportionment and Financial Services, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Kelley spoke at a session of the WA charters in May, 2015 on the Fundamentals in Washington K-12 School Funding for Charter Schools
Bill Kiolbasa: COO and CEO of the Washington State Charter School Association (WA charters)
(Note: Kiolbasa is married to Melia Burns who is the Principal of Summit charter school that opened in Seattle.)
Kiolbasa seemed to have run into some trouble in New Orleans where he was CFO of a charter school owned by Steve Barr who also owns the Greendot charter franchise. Greendot opened a charter school in Washington State last year. There was a wee bit of discrepancy between what Kiolbasa reported as revenue for the charter school and what was found in a subsequent audit to the tune of $1M.
Telca Porras: Gates Foundation (GF) Program Officer for the Washington Charter Association.
Jen Wickens: Chief Regional Officer, Summit charter school
Below is a timeline based on emails provided in response to a public disclosure request. After the timeline is additional information on the topics covered in this post and additional links in the form of notes.
The attachments in the emails include:
- “A Resolution Authorizing the Superintendent to Investigate the Feasibility of Former Charter Schools Becoming ALE Programs or Other Programs of the District and to Hire Consultants to Assist in this Exploration Program”
- The “Grant Proposal Narrative” “Proposal Details” and “Budget Narrative” created by the Gates Foundation and sent to the MWSD for their review
- A letter from the American Association of Charter Schools stating that the MWSD would be provided a check through their organization
- A “Mary Walker Visit Agenda” created by Summit charter schools for a visit by the GF, MWSD and WSCSC on November 10, 2015
- A “Gates Foundation/Mary Walker School District/WA Charters Working Agenda” created by the Washington State Charter School Association for a meeting held on November 11, 2015.
For reference to the abbreviations I give in the timeline:
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI),
Gates Foundation (GF)
Washington Charter Association (WA charters)
Mary Walker School District (MWSD).
On September 4, 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court published their decision that charter schools are unconstitutional in Washington State.
On November 19, 2015 the Washington State Supreme Court determined that their ruling would not be reconsidered.
(I have provided a brief summary of each email.)
From WA charters to MWSD:
The WA charters offers to coordinate a visit to a charter school for MWSD.
From MWSD to WA charters:
Jacka replies that he wants to visit SOAR and Greendot charter schools on Monday and Summit and Rainier Prep charter schools on Tuesday.
From WA charters to MWSD:
Follow up on invitation to MWSD to visit a charter school (Summit charter school) and two Tacoma schools and a possible meeting with the Gates Foundation.
From MWSD to Summit charter school
Confirmation of meeting at Summit and MWSD staff that would attend.
From Summit to MWSD:
A request for MWSD to review the agenda proposed by Summit charter school, see agenda attached in doc file, for a meeting to be held on 11/10/2015 and a description of other guests who might attend including representatives from the Gates Foundation and the WSCSC. (According to the agenda, there was to be a “Happy Hour” at the McKinstry Innovation Center. More on McKinstry later.)
From WA charters to MWSD:
A reminder of a meeting at a Starbucks in Tacoma with “our Gates program officer” Telca and the “NW counterpart” Eide, to “discuss grant opportunities”.
From WA charters to MWSD:
A google calendar invitation “Gates, WA charters & Mary Walker” for meeting on November 9, 2015 at a Starbucks in Tacoma.
MWSD expresses interest in “grant partnerships with charter schools”.
From WA charters to MWSD and Gates Foundation:
Agenda for meeting on 11/11/2015 for the Gates Foundation, MWSD and the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
The agenda items included:
- Employee state regarding unions
- “Remaining questions with OSPI”.
- Schedule a meeting with OSPI, the Washington State Charter Association and MWSD about the ALE agreement.
Google invitation reminder to Gates, MWSD and WA charters to meet at Starbucks in Tacoma on 11/9/2015.
“Consensus on charter-ALE employee status: union”
“Typical elements of a charter-district compact (Gates Foundation)”
From WA charters to MWSD, subject: “”MW/OSPI/WA Charters Meeting”.
Setting date to meet in Olympia and WA charters is “working to draft your NACSA planning grant”.
(Again, grants written by the grantor for the grantee.)
From WA charters to MWSD:
According to email WA charters will “reach out to OSPI” and have the Gates Foundaton “prep me in advance”. WA charters “will have Rehka (Gates) send an intro email (to OSPI) so they can set a visit”.
From Gates Foundation to MWSD:
Email from WA charters to MWSD
Regarding: getting their attorney’s to “chat through the union issue”, “PR support”, a “Heads up” about First Place charter school being “too risky” and letting MWSD know a draft of the grant budget and application would be coming to MWSD soon. (This is the first time I have heard of a grantor preparing the application for the grantee.)
From WA charters to Gates Foundation and MWSD:
Draft of grant budget and application for MWSD to review. (What service!)
Working out how to make up the loss by MWSD for the small school bonus revenue with increase in funding charter school students enroll via MWSD.
Communication between Gates, OSPI and MWSD
Direct email from OSPI to Gates on funding gains and losses to the MWSD.
Grant proposal from Gates to MWSD (isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?) requesting MWSD to review the proposed narrative and budget update request.
Anyone who thinks there are no strings attached to a Gates grant needs to look at the proposal that the Gates Foundation put together for MWSD to sign, specifically under “Planned Activities Include” on starting on page 3.
Gates provides National Association of Charter School Authorizers with a check for $160K to support MWSD.
NACSA letter to MWSD about Gates grant. (This money is not listed on the awarded grants page of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation so I suppose this is just loose change for Superintendent Jacka and the MWSD.)
Gates to MWSD, please sign grant agreement
Gates receives signed form from MWSD
Randy Dorn, in a KPLU interview in 2013, Critics say alternative learning program raises red flags, once sought to crack down on school districts that misuse the Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) law to entice students from distant districts to enroll with them so they can access their public funding stream.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
State Rep. Ross Hunter said the way state payouts work is at the heart of the problem.
“The money from the state comes in a chunk. You either get it or you don’t. If the educational program that you’re providing to that kid is a $200 program, and you’re bringing in $5,000 or whatever it is from the state, you have a really big incentive to bring in a lot of kids,” Rep. Hunter said.
Now throw in another factor: Districts that run ALE programs can enroll kids from anywhere in the state, so they wind up competing for students and the state dollars that follow them. State superintendent Randy Dorn said some have tried to lure students with lavish perks.
“There were concerns that some of these were paying for private horseback riding lessons, private music lessons. If you signed up for a certain program, that you got a stipend for $1,200. Do those feel right? So we’re trying to correct those in our new bill going forward,” Dorn said.
(Now he is enabling this scheme for charter schools that refuse to close and the Mary Walker School District.)
To follow are excerpts from the post The charter school shell game in Washington State: Money laundering at its best (or worst?) by way of OSPI, about the Wary Walker School District:
Now about the Mary Walker School District (MWSD) which is a tiny district outside of Spokane in Springdale, Washington with an enrollment of 508 students.
In a letter dated December 9, 2015, the district Superintendent, Kevin Jacka, announced to their community that the MWSD will be taking on the charter schools.
The Mary Walker School district has been through some financial hard times recently.
In Feb. 2014, the Mary Walker School District considered requesting a loan from Stevens County Treasurer. In minutes for a meeting held on February 19, 2014:
BUSINESS MANAGER REPORT
- Miller presented the monthly budget report and answered relevant questions from the Board. Also discussed was the need to prepare for the possibility of acquiring a temporary loan from Stevens County Treasurer (to General Fund) to cover expenses, due to the cash flow timing constraints (see Resolution #13-04).
So the MWSD is ripe for the taking and has agreed to sign on as many charter schools as possible into their district.
And then there is a matter of an audit done of the ALE programs. From The Spokesman Review:
OLYMPIA – Under a state education program designed as a blend of classrooms and home school, Washington taxpayers have in recent years paid for:
- Bible-based texts and videos,
- Private gym memberships,
- Horseback-riding lessons,
- Church repairs,…
Those were among the eyebrow-raising expenditures discovered by state auditors looking into Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs at 18 school districts, including several across Eastern Washington. At least 158 districts around the state run such programs, which last year cost state taxpayers about $80 million.
- Mary Walker School District: The district spent thousands of tax dollars in renovations at the Springdale CommunityChurchas well as $3,700 in computer video editing equipment for two children.
The church renovations included a fence and stairway that were needed because the district leases space for alternative-school classes there, Superintendent Kevin Jacka said.”https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/my-first-progressive-article-what-the-washington-state-supreme-court-decision-on-charter-schools-achieved/
A complaint has been filed with the State Auditor regarding MWSD. The complaint is regarding MWSD not adhering to Open Public Meetings Act because the district has not put their board meeting minutes, board agendas and budgets on their web page, concerns about MWSD’s May 21, 2015 audit, a lack of oversight regarding ALE dollars, and the fact that Randy Dorn is using ALE in an unprecedented manner.
In response to a follow-up phone call, the auditor’s office acknowledged the fact that MWSD had a concerning audit and there are complexities regarding the use of ALE dollars for charter schools that are questionable.
The audit team will consider auditing MWSD to ascertain whether or not they are in compliance with Open Public Meetings Act.
The auditor’s office doesn’t have the capacity to investigate whether or not Dorn worked within his rule making authority and whether or not he followed appropriate processes to accommodate charter schools.
Many thanks to all who contributed to this article by providing research information, articles and their thoughts on the subject of undercutting the Democratic process in our state and privatization of a public good.