Why Isn’t Mark Johnson Testifying In The iStation Hearing?

Today will mark the another day for the hearing for the iStation / Amplify debacle over the procurement of a reading assessment tool for elementary schools. Liz Bell of EdNC.org has been covering everyday.

The long-awaited hearing on the Department of Public Instruction’s choice of an assessment tool vendor to test K-3 student reading began Monday.

Department of Information Technology (DIT) General Counsel Jonathan Shaw on Monday began reviewing DPI’s process, which losing bidder Ampify claims was unfair.

Along with Bell, Dr. Chelsea Bartel, an experienced school psychologist, has been following the hearing with her twitter feed – @chimpsea. Her knowledge of the case and her advocacy for more transparency in the procurement process for iStation lends a rather piercing view of the the entire hearing process.

As many times as the word “superintendent” has shown up in a statement she has reported, it seems odd that probably the one person who might really need to be questioned in this hearing is Mark Johnson, especially after the bombshell of a revelation was reported by Justin Parmenter on his blog, Notes From the Chalkboard.

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The very text message that is “at the center of the months-long controversy was intercepted by DPI staff who used used the laptop of the former Director of K-3 Literacy to monitor her personal communications for more than a year after her retirement.”

So, it begs the question “Why in the hell is Mark Johnson not testifying at this hearing?”

Because what Parmenter has uncovered has truly necessitated a whole new line of questioning.

And he is running for the second highest office in the state right now.

 

Remember Longevity Pay? The Same Lawmakers Who Said They Were Giving Teachers Raises Took That Away Years Ago

It’s sadly humorous to hear so many NC GOP lawmakers “claim” that we as teachers” are allowing pay raises to stay on the table by supporting Gov. Cooper’s veto against the current edition of the now-overdue budget.

Why? Because those are the same lawmakers who took away longevity pay from teachers years ago.

 

harry brown

In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.”

However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay.

Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise.

longevity

That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift. And remember that educators are the only state employees who do not receive longevity pay.

It’s almost like the North Carolina General Assembly doesn’t even want to have teachers be considered employees of the state.

Last summer was the fifth summer that veteran teachers did not receive longevity pay. For the many veteran  teachers who have never really seen a raise in the past 6-7 years in actual dollars, the loss of longevity pay actually created a loss of net income on a yearly basis.

Consider the following table compiled by John deVille, NC public school activist and veteran teacher who has chronicled the various changes in educational policy for years. He tracked the recent teacher pay “increase” and used DATA-DRIVEN logic to show something rather interesting.

teacherpay2019

What deVille did was to compare salaries as proposed from the recent budget to the 2008-2009 budget that was in place right before the Great Recession hit, the same financial catastrophe that most every GOP stalwart seems to forget happened ten years ago. Adjusting the 2008-2009 salary schedule with an inflation index from the Bureau of Labor, the third column shows what those 2008-2009 salaries would be like now. Most steps see a shortfall. Add to that the loss of longevity pay that was used to help finance these “historic raises” and the amount of money lost by teachers over these past ten years becomes rather eye-opening.

Longevity pay does mean that much to veteran teachers. It also means a lot to the NCGA because they used its elimination to help wage a systematic war against veteran teachers.

In the last five-six years, new teachers entering the profession in North Carolina have seen the removal of graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. While the “average” salary increases have been most friendly to newer teachers (financed in part by removal of longevity), those pay “increases” do plateau at about Year 15 in a teacher’s career. Afterwards, nothing really happens. Teachers in that position may have to make career-ending decisions.

The removal of longevity might make those decisions easier to make on a personal level, but more difficult for the state to recover from.

Veteran teachers fight for schools, for students, for fairness in funding, and for the profession. When they act as a cohesive group, they represent an entity that scares the current leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly like nothing else.

One of the best ways to act as a cohesive group is to vote in November of 2020 and not for Dan Forest as our next governor.

Why That “3.9% Pay Raise” That Was Vetoed Really Wasn’t a “3.9% Pay Raise” To Begin With

NCGA GOP stalwarts are trying to frame the narrative that Gov. Cooper and NCGA Senate Democrats placed teachers on the chopping block because they upheld a veto on what was presented as a 3.9% average raise in teacher salaries.

And that narrative is a gross misinterpretation of the reality.

On the surface, what Berger & Co. are presenting to the public is that teachers now will not get a 3.9% average raise.

3.9 1

But many people forget that when budgets are written for the state, they are biennial budgets: two-year budgets. When teachers are said to be getting a 3.9% pay raise in “this budget,” it means it is over a two-year period. That “full” raise is not occurring immediately. Plus, any budget  can be amended in a future session to offset anything passed in this past summer.

3.9 2

Now, consider this:

3.9 4

Step increases based on seniority according to that tweet above are also part of the “raises.” The issue is that those step increases have already passed in a mini-budget bill this past fall.

Lawmakers in the Senate Thursday passed what’s known as step increases for teachers.

It’s basically a bonus. For each year you’ve been a teacher, you’ll get about a $100 step increase up until a certain point but some are worried it’s not enough.

Lawmakers have been passing these ‘mini budgets’ since Governor Cooper vetoed the full budget, months ago.

That makes that whole narrative of leaving a 3.9% raise on the table even more misleading.

3.9 3

What Cooper and Senate Democrats vetoed was based on the last graphic there.

 

 

 

 

Looking At That Erroneous Claim That Cooper Left A “3.9% Pay Raise” For Teachers

A graphic was circulated often last fall on social media that portrayed Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest veto of an NC Senate bill concerning teacher raises in NC as a slap in the face of teachers.

And after today’s announcement from the NCGA that there would be no budget compromise, people like Phil Berger will try and spin the narrative that teachers left a “3.9% raise” on the table just to spite themselves.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is that the graphic is a woeful misrepresentation of the actual “raises” that were to be given out under the Senate’s plan. In fact, Cooper was right in issuing a veto because those raises were surgically constructed to have a glossy exterior but an empty effect.

That particular veto concerned Senate Bill 354.

SB354 1

That bill would have put the following salary schedule in place for teachers.

SB354 2

It would have replaced this salary schedule.

schedule4

The problem is that there is not much of a difference. In fact, it would only affect teachers with 16+ years and even then, not much at all. Just look at the comparison.

SB354 3

What that translates to is a monthly increase of $50 for all teachers with 16-20 years of experience.

150$/month for teachers with 21-24 years of experience.

$60/month for teachers with 25+ years.

But look at it in this manner – Why? Because it is important to note that the number of veteran teachers in North Carolina has gone down in the last few years – especially when the current NCGA powers who are currently bragging about what SB354 was offering.

Kristin Beller, the president of the Wake County Association of Educators and a champion in public school advocacy, “ran” these numbers concerning the proposed raises in SB354 against the current numbers of teachers in the state (those numbers can be  found here).

true raise1

The first part concerns the numbers of teachers in the state broken down by experience.

beller1

Then she added numbers in the categories defined by SB354’s compensation ranges and showed the percentage of those groups as part of the entire teacher workforce.

beller2

Then she multiplied the number of teachers in each rung that would get a raise by the actual monthly raise defined by SB354 and then added those products together. That sum is the amount of overall money given to the raises.

beller3

Since the graphic at the beginning of the post “represents” the entire teaching profession getting an average “%3.9” raise, then it means that every teacher should have gotten something. Right?

Not so.

Furthermore, if you divide the sum of money to be used in the raises by the number of teachers in the state, you get… less than $33/month.

beller4

And yes, that bill had “raises” for the following year.

SB354 4

It does the exact same thing as the 2019-2020. Except it only adds $50 a month to each of the teachers in the 16+ year experience range.

That’s what Cooper vetoed.

His plan would have been much better for all teachers.

 

 

 

Every North Carolina Lawmaker Should Be a Proctor for a State Exam

Of the many incredibly clever, spot-on, and ingenious signs from the May 16th, 2018 march and rally in Raleigh, this one has remained my favorite.

proctor

“Can Anyone Here Proctor?” This gentleman was everywhere. That’s what made this sign so powerful – there is always a test to be administered and there is always a need for  proctor. If you want to get an idea of the absolute unenviable task of setting a testing schedule for a large school can be, then create one for all exams that allows for space and time and room for all accommodations.

And then find proctors for all of them.

Exams for our school system start tomorrow morning.

They last multiple days.

Exams after the winter break for the FALL semester.

Proctors needed for all of them.

So before the General Assembly passes yet more mandates and bills that show a complete ignorance of the tasks and duties of teachers and staffs in public schools, each lawmaker should serve as a proctor for a state exam just to get an idea of the inner workings of a school filled with duties and tasks that must be performed with limited resources and space.

Twice.

There is a booklet.

proctor's guide

There is also mandatory training.

Don’t be late.

Oh, and next year each lawmaker should be required to administer one of those exams.

 

 

 

How Mark Johnson Transformed DPI Into The “Department of Private Interest”

It all started with HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided.

In short, it was a power grab. And the new state super, Mark Johnson, walked into the office with more power than any predecessor. He also had by far the least experience of any in public school administration.

And Mark Johnson was not given this power to champion the public schools; he is there to champion those entities that want to weaken public schools and allow more private entities to take a foothold in North Carolina such as charter schools.

The state board did not go easily after HB17. For the next 18 months Mark Johnson and the SBOE fought in court over control of the public school system. Johnson “won” in a state that has seen the NCGA try everything in its power to gain a stronghold of the judicial branch of the state government. Just look at the 2018 constitutional amendment for judicial elections and appointments that was defeated on Election Day and one sees that attempt at power grabbing.

In June of 2018, Johnson entertained former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a multitude of other politicians who have made it their job to privatize public education in North Carolina.

meeting1

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Days later, he laid off 40 people from the Department of Public Instruction due to a budget cut made by many lawmakers in the same room as Johnson and Bush in a year where the state supposedly had a surplus.

The next month, Johnson did a reorganization of DPI. Below is what DPI organizational flowchart was prior to Johnson’s actions:

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

The first thing to notice is that on the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1, 2018 with this:

With the 8 June 2018 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Session Law 2016-126, I am now exercising my authority under that Act to manage administrative and supervisory personnel of the Department. Accordingly, I am changing your position appointment from “dual report” to reporting [only to the Superintendent directly] or [to the Superintendent through the Deputy State Superintendent]. The change in your appointment is effective immediately,” Johnson wrote.

What that meant was that those people who held those positions not only now answer to Johnson alone, but he has total control over what they do. A man with less than two calendar years of teacher training and classroom experience combined along with an unfinished term on a local school board now “calls” the shots for all of those veterans in a DPI whose budget was being slashed by the very people who prop up Johnson and passed that original HB17 bill.

Also in the older chart, Johnson reported to the state board. In the new one, the state board of education does not even really have any ties to DPI except through an internal auditor. It’s like they do not exist, which is just what the powers that run the NCGA wanted.

Another change is that there are now FOUR Deputy State Superintendents: Operations, District Support, Early Education, and Innovation along with a Chief of Staff. That’s now five people who run DPI and directly report to Johnson and no one else (when you include the Chief of Staff).

And soon after that Johnson named a new Chief of Staff.

Joseph Miamone was the headmaster of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a charter school in Rutherford County. He was also a member of the Charter School Advisory Board which reviews applications for charter schools in the state and makes recommendations to the state board as to which applications should be accepted.

That hire was yet another move to cater to private industries to receive monies from NC taxpayers as Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy is a charter school affiliated with TEAM CFA.

tjca

That affiliation is shown right at the top left of the homepage. Click on it and you get:

CFA

That outfit at one time operated over 10 charter schools in North Carolina.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has donated money left and right to specific politicians and PACs here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was  opened with Dr. Eric Hall as the original superintendent. He reported straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB17 which gave Johnson more power as a state superintendent than any other in the state’s history.

Hall then reported (until early 2019) directly to Johnson as the Deputy Superintendent of “Innovation” and that ISD that now has a foothold in NC was heavily involved with TEAM CFA.

In a short amount of time two of the five most important positions that directly report to Mark Johnson had ties to a charter school chain whose owner made plenty of direct political contributions to people in the NCGA who prop up Johnson.

You might want to see who all has received political contributions from John Bryan. All one has to do is look at FollowtheMoney.org.

Among the other North Carolinians John Bryan has donated to include:

  • Chad Barefoot
  • Phil Berger
  • Tim Moore
  • Ralph Hise
  • Jason Saine
  • David Curtis
  • Jerry Tillman

That’s quite the list of privatizers.

Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County still is the only school in the new Innovative School District and is run by a for-profit charter school company – Achievement for All Children.

Achievement For All Children was among the groups who applied for state approval to run struggling schools that will be chosen for the Innovative School District. Achievement For All Children is heavily connected to Oregon resident John Bryan, who is a generous contributor to political campaigns and school-choice causes in North Carolina.

TEAM CFA seemed to have more of a foothold in DPI thanks to Mark Johnson than people who have actual experience in the state’s public schools.

Those political contributions to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is making his own run at the governor’s mansion, seem to point to some rather seedy underpinnings. And it’s no secret that Forest loves charter schools. That is well known among public school advocates.

And in 2019, Johnson unilaterally decided to sign a contract with iStation as the provider of software for the Read to Achieve initiative. Ironnically, he did the same with Class Wallet this past school year without input from educators. It turns out that both ClassWallet and iStation hired the same lobbyist in NC to procure those contracts from DPI – Doug Miskew from the Public Sector Group in Raleigh.

Public education in North Carolina receives the highest amount of money in the state budget each year. It’s supposed to. It’s literally in the state constitution. How it goes about funding public education is a process that involves numerous checks and balances to ensure fairness.

But those checks and balances have been removed somewhat by a eight-year super-majority in the NCGA elected in a gerrymandered manner that has allowed for the greatest expenditure  in the state budget to be a more open coffer for private entities to profit from.

And it’s certainly changing DPI from a public service agency to a haven of private interests.

“The Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations” – Phil Berger’s Comments On Read To Achieve

“Administrative resistance to ‘embarrassing’ students, and the education bureaucracy’s refusal to explain why a child is unable to read, has been allowed to trump providing children with the basic skill necessary for success. It’s nothing short of malpractice and another example of the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations.’” – Sen. Phil Berger, January 8th, 2020 in an emailed statement to the State Board of Education.

Phil Berger’s words in defense of Mark Johnson’s allegations that tens of thousands of North Carolinian third graders were improperly promoted under the Read to Achieve mandate are nothing short of being tone-deaf, ignorant, and tinged with racial connotations.

Yes, racial connotations. In a rather panicked defense of his act of an “emergency purchase” of iStation after a recent hearing did not go his way, Mark Johnson offered a shallow accusation that the Read to Achieve initiative has been intentionally sabotaged. From T. Keung Hui:

Johnson said “rogue” former staff with the state Department of Public Instruction have “gutted” the Read To Achieve program to allow social promotions to continue. He made the same accusations in a December memo. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden, who was the main backer of the Read To Achieve program, echoed Johnson’s concerns on Thursday. Promoting a child to fourth grade who cannot properly read is one of the most harmful and cruel actions the education bureaucracy can take, Berger charged.

What Berger said echoes a phrase that was  used by former President George H.W. Bush in 2000 while addressing te NAACP about his landmark education bill No Child Left Behind.

But it’s really hard not to look at that word “bigotry” and not see its discriminatory connotations based on race – especially coming from Phil Berger who while in office as the leader of the Senate, has overseen the passing of so many pieces of legislation that blatantly involve the manipulation of racial disparities for political gain.

Just look at the Voter ID law that was recently placed on hold.

Just look at the racial gerrymandering of districts within North Carolina.

Just look at the incessant denial of expanding Medicaid in NC.

Just look at the privatization of public education and its polarizing effects.

Just look at the fact that income inequality still rampantly exists in a state that is sitting on an incredibly large surplus that could be invested in taxpayers, pre-k programs, and public schools but is used to “validate” more corporate tax breaks.

Oh, and since Berger has been power, North Carolina still has a per-pupil expenditure that is lower than 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation.

So, in using a term like “soft bigotry” to create some sort of cherry-picked interpretation in hopes that it is the right red herring to throw out for everybody to chase, Phil Berger actually casts a light on himself.

Because it’s too hard to hear “soft bigotry” and not feel someone is referring to race.

bergerbigotry

 

 

A Prayer For Milo Garcia

Yesterday, a memorial service was held in honor of the life and spirit of Esteban Garcia whose physical life in this world seemed much too short to fully express the love he possessed and gave to others.

esteban

It was a little over six years ago that we lost his wife Sarah to breast cancer.

Sarah Ferguson Garcia was an English teacher at West Forsyth. She was a mother, sister, daughter, and my friend. My teaching career and style has her fingerprints on them. She is the reason I became nationally certified.

And I think of her every day when I walk into the 1000 building at West as well as the family she loved dearly. Now I will think more of them, especially Milo, who is now nine years old.

The last time I really got to spend time with Esteban was in Raleigh at a rally for public schools, specifically concerning the “Class Size Chaos” mandate that was threatening art classes on the elementary school level. He got up in front of those people on a most frigid day and talked about how Milo used art and his art class as a way of dealing with the loss of his mother. He was defending public schools, but mostly defending children.

He gave me the biggest hug that day when I approached him. He called me “brother” in that way that you knew was meant with love and kindness. Only people who embody that kind of love for others can radiate it and freely give it to others.

I am not what people would call a religious person, but being around Esteban made me aware that I am a spiritual being and vessel.

If you can, be active in helping the family deal with this loss, especially Milo. As was noted in Esteban’s obituary and at his service, there is a fund that anyone can donate to for the benefit of Milo.

In lieu of flowers, for those desiring to send a memorial in Esteban’s memory, the family asks that a gift be made to the Milo García Benefit Account – please make checks payable to Salem Presbyterian Church and write “Milo Garcia” on the memo line and mail to Salem Pres Servant Leaders, c/o Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 1046 Miller Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27103. Every donation will be deposited directly into an account created solely for Milo’s benefit as he grows up.

 

Speaking Of Mark Johnson’s “Emergency” Purchase, Let’s Revisit The Political Contributions Among Those Involved With The iStation Contract

It is perfectly lawful to donate to a political campaign, and with the Citizens United case decision from the Supreme Court a few years back, it is now lawful for corporations to donate money through political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs.

However, while it is lawful, it doesn’t mean that some interesting ethical questions occur.

When iStation “secured” its contract with DPI last summer amid some secretive circumstances and recently had its legal counsel send Cease & Desist letters to people questioning the process, three names came into focus.

They are:

  1. Richard H. Collins, CEO of iStation,
  2. Doug Miskew, lobbyist in NC hired by iStation, and
  3. Kieran Shanahan, legal counsel hired by iStation.

When DPI awarded iStation a contract over mClass, it seemed obvious that it was a unilateral decision on the part of the state superintendent, Mark Johnson. But for anyone who has followed North Carolina’s recent history in public education, it is apparent that Mark Johnson answers to the powers of the NC General Assembly led by Phil Berger who enable him. That’s why this blog and others do not really see Mark Johnson as the real leader of DPI.

In fact, the organizational chart for DPI now looks mostly like this.

reorg.png

 

If one was to investigate the political contributions of the three people above associated with iStation, then he would find this (from followthemoney.com)

collinsftm

Richard Collins is based in Texas and contributes a LOT of money to republicans across the nation. Above is a snapshot of his contributions to NC campaigns. There’s Phil Berger.

shanahanftm

Kieran Shanahan has given well over $150,000K in this state, including to Phil Berger. It should also be noted that Shanahan is the NC Rep. Party Finance Chair.

miskewftm

Doug Miskew has given money as well, but not directly to Phil Berger’s campaigns – rather to Phil Berger Jr.’s campaigns. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t given money for Phil Berger, Sr. to use to strengthen his cronies’ campaigns. He just does it through another channel.

In Feb. of 2017, Colin Campbell wrote a piece for the News & Observer that talked of a committee used by NC Senate republicans that was used to give money throughout the state to various campaigns.

Some people call it a “slushfund.”

Campbell started his article,

Republican N.C. Senate leaders raised and spent $2.2 million during the last election cycle through a new committee that bypassed the N.C. Republican Party, giving Senate leaders more say in campaign decisions.

The committee uses a 2015 law that allows groups of Republicans or Democrats in either the legislature or statewide elected positions to create fundraising committees that act like political parties, accepting and distributing unlimited donations for campaigns.

That fund is still going today. Millions of dollars passing through it. In fact, you can look for all of the documented contributions and expenditures required by law to be recorded here.

slush

If one digs around enough, he can see who has contributed to this fund.

slushall

There’s Doug Miskew.

There’s James Goodnight. He founded SAS which is used heavily by DPI for EVAAS “calculations” and school performance grades.

There’s Jonathan Hage. He owns a chain of for-profit charter schools that have campuses in North Carolina.

Mark Johnson as the state’s highest public education official has given more control over student data to Goodnight’s SAS Corporation, catered more to for-profit charter schools run by people like Jonathan Hage, and awarded at least two contracts to companies lobbied for by Miskew, including iStation.

And Mark Johnson doesn’t really do anything unless Phil Berger affirms it, especially when it pertains to Read to Achieve.

And iStation is supposed to help with Read to Achieve.

You can draw your own conclusions.