Miami-Dade union leaders fear more outsourcing of members’ work at district schools

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org   

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho Photo: NBC6 South Florida

The Miami-Dade School Board has agreed to spend up to $1.8 million to outsource lawn service maintenance long done by unionized workers, and union leaders now say they fear Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is eyeing more privatization that could lead to additional work cuts for its members.

The two, five-year outsourcing contracts stand to eliminate tasks generally assigned to maintenance workers and custodians represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 1184.

“It’s work the employees are supposed to be doing,” said AFSCME local president Vicki Hall. AFSCME workers are generally the lowest-paid union members working for the school district; they include custodians, maintenance employees, bus drivers and food service personnel.

“It weakens the union when they outsource and take away jobs from the employees who should be doing the work,” said Terry Haynes, the AFSCME local’s senior vice president. He estimated the two contracts cost 10 to 15 school district jobs.

Both pointed the finger at Superintendent Carvalho for the outsourcing. “He’s aware of it; all falls under him,” Haynes said, adding the superintendent “backed the first two” contracts.

“I believe this is the start of outsourcing of all of lawn service,” Haynes said.

“He’s trying to outsource lawn service. He’s trying to privatize,” said Hall.

District officials did not respond to calls for comment on the issue, so reasons for the outsourcing were unknown, including whether they claim it was for cost reasons. Carvalho also would not discuss the matter when a reporter attempted to talk with him at the Dec. 14 board meeting.

A day after the meeting, however, district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego released this statement: “Recently, there was misunderstanding regarding the District’s procedures for contracting out. In an effort to provide clarity, the District and the Union are working on an agreement to ensure that all parties understand the process and protocols to be followed.”

Outsourcing a management right?

Union officials Hall and Haynes complained that in recent years district officials have taken the position that outsourcing is a management right that can be invoked unilaterally and they do not have to confer with the union.

But Haynes said the district is overlooking a ruling in a case years ago in which the union prevailed in arbitration. The ruling in that matter stated the district had to notify the union if it sought to outsource work that could be performed by union employees and the parties had to negotiate the impact of the proposed work. If the parties did not come to an agreement, the union could move ahead with arbitration.

After that case, the district generally followed that ruling, until recently, Haynes said, adding the two contracts are indicative of the district’s changing policy.

The first of the two contracts was approved by the School Board on Nov. 18, 2015 for up to five years for 11 companies to provide lawn service totaling up to $1 million. The type of work includes tree, palm and shrub trimming, pruning and stump removal, according to board records.

The contract was approved two days after the union withdrew a grievance and the request for arbitration. The union had filed the grievance in June 2014 after discovering that a private firm was doing lawn service work at Krop Senior High School in North Dade.

According to documents provided by the school district, approximately $273,000 has been paid to the companies as of Nov. 29, 2016. The union did not file a grievance at the time the contract was approved, according to Haynes.

The other contract, for up to five years, was approved by the School Board on Feb. 3, 2016. Thomas Maintenance Service will be paid up to $800,000 to mow vacant lots and clear fence lines.

According to documents provided by the school district, nearly $82,000 was paid to Thomas Maintenance as of Nov. 21, 2016.

Haynes said the union filed a grievance related to the Thomas Maintenance contract in April regarding work done at the district’s North Dade maintenance facility. Two more grievances were filed in September after the union learned about other outsourced lawn work at a high school and an elementary school, both in the northwest section, Haynes added. All three grievances remain pending.

New Miami-Dade School board member: Let’s focus on fixing failing schools

Update: The Miami-Dade School Board Wednesday unanimously approved a new plan to improve failing schools in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

The proposal, introduced by board member Steve Gallon, also gained the backing of residents and community leaders in the northwest section of the county. School Board Chair Larry Feldman said he hoped the strong showing of support by the board and the community will result in an initiative that will become “blue print” for the improvement of failing schools everywhere.

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Photo:CBS4Miami

Photo:CBS4Miami

 

Newly elected Miami-Dade School Board member Steve Gallon is proposing to focus the district’s attention on improving failing schools in some of the county’s poorest locations, often in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

Gallon, who campaigned on a promise to throw a spotlight on failing schools, has an item on Wednesday’s School Board agenda to address schools that have received repeated “F” ratings as well as those that have received a “D” under the state’s rating system.

The new school improvement proposal for failing schools is reminiscent – on a much smaller scale – of an initiative undertaken while Rudy Crew was superintendent of schools in Miami-Dade more than a decade ago.

Crew’s effort, which began in the second half of the 2004-2005 school year, entailed a large number of schools, with substantial district funding, during a period of intensive state scrutiny of failing schools. Known as the School Improvement Zone, the plan was abandoned after several more years with questionable results.

Gallon’s proposal, which makes no mention of specific funding support, calls on the Miami-Dade School Board to actively monitor the progress of the undertaking through the review of plans and programs, and other actions to bring about improvement.

While acknowledging that “the district as a whole has done well,” Gallon said in an emailed response to questions about his proposal, “there remain pockets of persistent underperformance in certain sectors of the community.”

He said his item was not “to indict the District for past performance” but “seeks to serve as a renewed call for action” for improving “F” and “D” schools.

A number of those failing schools are in District 1, which Gallon represents, and District 2, represented by board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.

Gallon pointed to the following schools needing attention: Carol City Middle which has received five consecutive “F” grades; Brownsville Middle, which has received three “F” grades in a row, and North Dade Middle, which has received two consecutive “F” grades.

He listed four other schools with “F” grades: Skyway/Dr. Frederica S. Wilson Elementary; Poinciana Park Elementary, and Earlington Heights Elementary.

All seven schools are in School Board Districts 1 and 2.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency around addressing the needs of these schools in the areas that were enumerated and must include strategies that are inclusive of parents and stakeholders in the broader community,” Gallon said in his written response.

“This item is not simply about District 1 and 2,” said. “This item is about the collective responsibility and commitment of a united School Board that is charged with educational oversight of a unified school district. The approval of this item will further bolster the Board’s conversation and commitment to all schools and all children irrespective of voting districts or zip codes.”

Gallon called for a “review of the resource allocations in schools to ensure equity and the support structure to ensure effectiveness and impact.”

The School Board, he said, should “play a role” in monitoring the initiative “because what gets monitored gets done.”

Gallon’s item, which seeks board support for enactment, calls for the Superintendent to:

*Provide a status update, at the Feb. 15, 2017 School Board meeting, on the Districts’ F schools, including improvement planning, intervention and support, leadership, teacher quality and support, professional development, curriculum, resource allocation, technology and parental and community partnerships;

*Provide monthly status updates to the School Board on the progress of the F school improvement plan; and

*Initiate a framework and process to establish a District Advisory Board to provide input and support to the schools that earn two or more consecutive letter grades of F based on the annual state assessment.

Two Miami-Dade charter schools loaned $900K in taxpayer funds to sister schools

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Keys Gate Charter School in Homestead. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Keys Gate Charter School in Homestead. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Two Miami-Dade charter schools illegally transferred taxpayer funds by lending a combined $912,094 to sister schools outside the county, the top lawyer for the Florida Department of Education has determined.

As a result, Miami-Dade Public Schools auditor Jose Montes de Oca is recommending the district initiate efforts to recoup the money even as a representative for one of the charter schools claims no law was broken.

On Dec. 6, Montes de Oca will brief the school board audit and management committee on what steps the district can take to recoup the funds used for the loans.

In an Oct. 21 letter to school district attorney Walter Harvey, education department general counsel Matthew Mears said Keys Gate Charter School in Homestead and BridgePrep Academy in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood were prohibited from making loans to affiliated schools not in Miami-Dade.

“Funds that are appropriated to a local school district are for the education of the students within the school district,” Mears wrote. “For this reason, the transfer of appropriated funds across district lines, with or without interest, is not authorized.”

Colleen Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Florida Charter Educational Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns Keys Gate disputed Mears’ conclusion that the $700,000 loaned to Clay Charter School in Middleburg, Florida, is illegal. Keys Gate and Clay are operated by Charter Schools USA, one of the country’s largest charter school management companies, under a contract with the foundation.

“We have not received any direction or concern regarding this issue,” Reynolds told Florida Bulldog. “However, we believe we are in full compliance with the law.”

Florida Department of Education general counsel Matthew Mears.

Florida Department of Education general counsel Matthew Mears.

Juan Carlos Quintana, a principal with S.M.A.R.T. Management, the company that developed and operates BridgePrep Academy, did not return three phone calls and an email message seeking comment about the $212,094 loan given to an unidentified affiliated school in another county. Two other Miami-area charter schools under the BridgePrep name also had loaned a combined $18,949 to sister schools outside the county, but those funds have already been paid back, according to a Sept. 12 Montes de Oca memo to the audit committee.

The dispute over the use of district school funds for loans initially arose in May when Montes de Oca notified the school board’s audit and management committee about the problem following his review of annual financial statements for 2015 submitted by Keys Gate and BridgePrep. At the time, Keys Gate had loaned Clay Academy $750,000 with zero interest. Since then, the loan was paid back, but Keys Gate issued another loan for capital improvements at Clay Academy. This second loan is for $700,000 with a five percent interest rate and a term of five years, according to Montes de Oca’s September letter.

Opinon sought

The school board attorney sought an opinion from Mears after Keys Gate officials informed Montes de Oca that the loans were acceptable under state law, according to a Nov. 30 letter by the school district auditor.

Mears’ response that the loans are illegal prompted Montes de Oca to recommend that the money be returned. “The district administration plans to formally notify these schools of the state’s guidance and that the loan funds must be repaid,” Montes de Oca wrote.

Charter school watchdogs told Florida Bulldog the loans illustrate a total disregard for taxpayer funds diverted from public schools to private educational institutions. Lisa Guisbond, executive director for Citizens for Public Education, an organization that advocates against charter schools and standardized testing in Massachusetts, said Keys Gate and BridgePrep should be held accountable for the mishandling of school district funds.

“It seems bizarre that a charter school would have an extra $750,000 to loan out when so many public schools are scraping by to meet the needs of their students,” Guisbond said. “That kind of blows my mind. It’s outrageous, even.”

Carol Burris, executive director for the New York-based Network for Public Education, said Keys Gate and BridgePrep should not have given out the loans in the first place.

“In the case of these charter schools, their allegiance to their sister charters was greater than their allegiance to the children of Miami-Dade County they are supposed to serve,” Burris said. “They put the needs of the charter schools ahead of the needs of the kids. That is a problem.”

It’s a good thing both schools were caught, she added. “Hopefully, it will discourage other charters from doing the same,” Burris said. “And I hope the citizens of Miami-Dade have all of their tax dollars returned.”

Banned in New Jersey’s public schools, ex-official wants on Miami-Dade School Board

 

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Steven Gallon III

Steven Gallon III

A former Miami-Dade County school principal/district administrator banned from working in New Jersey public schools following an investigation during his tenure as superintendent of a 7,000-student district is seeking a seat on the Miami-Dade School Board.

Steven Gallon III says his New Jersey troubles, including an arrest for theft, were “driven by politics.” Likewise he disputes allegations surrounding his firm’s management of a trio of South Florida charter schools and his authority to hire and set salaries. “That had nothing to do with me,” Gallon said in an interview.

With the school board election set for Aug. 30, Gallon has a sizeable funding lead in his attempt to unseat District 1 incumbent Wilbert “Tee” Holloway.

According to the latest campaign reports filed with the Miami-Dade elections office, Gallon has raised $65,120; Holloway, $17,900; and another candidate, James Bush III, $4,685.

Gallon, who worked his way up from teacher to principal at Miami Northwestern Senior High from 1998-2005 to district administrator in Miami-Dade public schools, said he’s running because District 1 needs a change.

“…The schools in District 1 continue to languish in the areas of student achievement, educator quality and support, and other areas that will ensure the learning and lifelong success of our students,” he said in a prepared statement to FloridaBulldog.org.

Aware of the funding gap, Holloway said the election is “not about money.” He said he believes he has done a good job for the parents and students in his district and hopes voters will support his re-election.

Holloway declined to comment about controversy surrounding Gallon, including his tenure in New Jersey. It is for the voters to decide, he said.

New Jersey controversy

In 2008, Gallon was hired as superintendent of the Plainfield, N.J., public schools at a salary of $198,000. Not long afterward, controversy enveloped the new superintendent.

First, the New Jersey Department of Education found that two of three Miami colleagues that Gallon hired did not have the required certifications for their $100,000-plus positions, according to a New Jersey media report. After the finding, the two, Lalelei Kelly and Lesly Borge, were fired by the school board, the report stated.

School Board incumbent Wilbert "Tee" Holloway

School Board incumbent Wilbert “Tee” Holloway

Despite the news report, Gallon said in his statement, “Only one of the four from Florida had an issue and was erroneously placed in the wrong position by Human Resources when hired and prior to my arrival as superintendent.”

Furthermore, he stated, “… with respect to the certifications of staff, I requested a state inquiry and the state concluded that I did no wrong and there were issues with nearly 30 other employee[s] that were employed by the district prior to my arrival and under the responsibility of the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources.”

Following the certification issue, Gallon, Kelly and Angela Kemp, his third assistant from Miami, were charged with stealing more than $10,000 worth of educational services, according to a press release from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which filed the charges in May 2010.

The prosecutor’s press release said Gallon was charged with “conspiring to commit theft by deception, theft by deception as an accomplice, and false swearing.” Kelly and Kemp were charged with “uttering false documents, theft by deception, conspiracy to commit theft by deception and false swearing,” according to the press release.

The allegations involved Gallon, then a South Plainfield resident, declaring under oath that the two assistants and their children lived with him while the children attended a local school, the prosecutor’s office said. The assistants actually lived elsewhere, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The lies allowed the children to attend school in South Plainfield, costing that district $10,500 during a five-month period, after which the children were moved to a school where they actually lived.

After their arrests, Gallon and his two assistants took a deal that allowed them to enter a pretrial intervention program with the condition they never work for New Jersey public schools in exchange for their charges being dismissed, according to New Jersey media reports. Gallon’s two assistants repaid the money, according to a news report in New Jersey.

‘What benefit or gain was there?’

In a statement, Gallon blames his troubles on politics.

“Due to politics I was accused of allowing my two godsons – ages 6 and 7 to reside with me and legally attend school in my area for a brief period of time. Where I’m from we take care of our children and provide shelter and support where needed. I was making $225,000 a year. The parents were making six figures. What benefit or gain was there? There was no ‘theft’ and the school district they were enrolled [in] can attest to that.”

Gallon said he decided to leave New Jersey because of its “slow wheels of justice” and to “attend to my mother whose health was failing.”

He also claimed that “no one was banned from working in New Jersey,” though public records and media reports indicate otherwise.

Following a review by the New Jersey Department of Education’s Board of Examiners Gallon’s administrator certificates were revoked in June 2012. A department document states the board upheld the provision Gallon signed in the “consent agreement” to “never seek nor accept employment in any New Jersey public school or public system.”

In August 2014, a New Jersey state appellate court turned down a request by Gallon’s two assistants, Kelly and Kemp, to revoke the ban prohibiting them from working in state public schools.

After the controversy in New Jersey, Gallon and his company, Tri-Star Leadership, were hired in June 2011 to provide educational services at three charter schools in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, according to a June 2014 story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The paper said that by the end of summer 2012 Gallon had obtained positions for the two associates arrested and banned from working in the New Jersey public schools, made payroll decisions without approval of the three charter school boards and entered into a business with one of the volunteer board members of a charter school.

Despite the controversy surrounding the three schools, state ethics officials found that no laws had been broken.

Two of the three charter schools, Success Academy in Fort Lauderdale and Excel Leadership Academy in West Palm Beach, shut down in the summer of 2013. Miami’s Stellar Leadership Academy remains active.

Gallon said the three schools had management problems before his company was hired. “I had no authority to hire, fire, pay, or even write checks at either school,” Gallon said in his statement.

Nothing “improper or illegal” occurred, he said.

Florida education on trial; Lawsuit seeks to redefine public education to benefit poor

By Eric Barton, FloridaBulldog.org flaed

A case that could fundamentally change how Florida funds and administers education is center stage in a trial that begins next Monday in a Tallahassee courtroom.

The lawsuit, brought by a public advocacy group, wants a judge to declare the state’s public education system unconstitutional. Such a ruling could require lawmakers to envision a new way to fund schools that would seek better parity between the rich and the poor.

The trial is expected to be a rebuke of Florida’s public education system. Parents, teachers, school administrators and a slew of experts will seek to prove the state has failed to provide a quality education to public school students.

In its defense, the state will attempt to demonstrate that Florida’s public schools are among the best in the nation. In a written response to inquiries from the FloridaBulldog.org, Meghan Collins, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, claimed the lawsuit “ignores the success we have had in Florida schools.

“Working with local education officials, the state remains focused on providing every student in Florida with the opportunity to receive a great education,” Collins wrote.

Critics, however, say Florida schools fail minority and poor students, a fact that’s reflected in graduation rates.

“There are some serious inequities, especially for African-American students and students where English is a second language, in Florida public schools,” said H. Richard Milner, director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert for the plaintiffs. “Structures and mechanisms are not in place to make sure poor and minority students are not underserved in the state.”

Leon County Circuit Judge Gene Reynolds III

Leon County Circuit Judge Gene Reynolds III

The non-jury trial that begins March 14, and is likely to last five weeks, will be presided over by Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds III. The trial stems from a lawsuit filed in 2009 by Citizens for Strong Schools. The little-known nonprofit was formed in 2008 in hopes of improving education in Alachua County where it supported a local property tax increase passed by voters to help pay for public schools. It has since raised about $12 million annually.

A constitutional amendment

The suit backers pin their case on a constitutional amendment voters passed in 1998 that declares education of children “to be a fundamental value” and requires the state to make education a “paramount duty.” The amendment says the state must “make adequate provision for a uniform system of free public schools” within “an efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system.”

The amendment, however, doesn’t define what the state must do to live up to that requirement. Using a set of statistics and experts, the plaintiffs contend the state has failed its public school students. Perhaps most damaging to the state’s cause: Florida ranks among the lowest states in the nation in per-pupil funding, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Attorney Neil Chonin Photo: University of Florida, Bob Graham Center

Attorney Neil Chonin
Photo: University of Florida, Bob Graham Center

The lead attorney representing the group is Neil Chonin, a lawyer for 54 years who retired from his Miami firm to work for Southern Legal Counsel, a nonprofit public interest law firm based in Gainesville. The three-attorney office faces a team of lawyers from the Florida Attorney General’s Office. “This is certainly a David versus Goliath case,” Chonin said from his Tallahassee office.

Florida’s lead is Jonathan A. Glogau, special counsel chief of the Attorney General’s Complex Litigation Office. He declined comment, as did the Attorney General’s spokesperson.

Department of Education spokeswoman Collins, in a written response, noted that Florida “has had historic K-12 funding for the last two years.” That repeats a claim Gov. Rick Scott made in October, apparently in reference to the over-all education budget, which supporters say has reached its highest level in recent years.

However, it’s a claim PolitiFact Florida ranked false, because per-student spending is lower than it was in the 2007-2008 school year and is dramatically down when accounting for inflation.

In court documents, the state has indicated it plans to call 16 witnesses, mostly state-level administrators, including Pamela Stewart, the Florida Department of Education commissioner. The state will also use several experts, including from the conservative, but nonpartisan Hoover Institution and the University of Arkansas. Also expected to take the stand in support of the state will be Frank Brogan, chancellor of the Pennsylvania state system of higher education and former Florida lieutenant governor. Brogan didn’t return an email and phone message left at his office, and the state’s other experts declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

successA key to the state’s defense will be to insist that it’s reasonable to assume some schools and some students will underperform. “To the extent that deficiencies exist in certain schools, those deficiencies are not caused by nor can they be remedied” by the state, Glogau wrote in Florida’s response to the lawsuit.

The state will also employ statistics to show successes of Florida’s education system. Collins noted in her statement that Florida’s high school graduation rate has increased 18 percentage points since the 2003-04 school year. Over that period, the graduation rate for black and Hispanic students has increased 22 percentage points.

The plaintiffs, however, plan to show that there’s another side to those statistics and that Florida nevertheless remains nine percentage points below the national graduation rate of 80 percent. Only six states and the District of Columbia have lower graduation rates than Florida.

Worse for minorities and poor

Chonin says it’s worse for minorities and the poor. Only 59 percent of black students graduate in Florida, compared to the national average of 67 percent. It’s similar for economically disadvantaged students, with only 60 percent graduating, compared to a national average of 70 percent.

“It blew me away when I first started realizing how many kids in the state can’t read and don’t graduate,” Chonin said. “It’s time we hold the state accountable for failing these kids.”

Milner, the University of Pittsburgh professor, said the case could become a landmark rebuke of public education and could set the standard for similar lawsuits elsewhere in the country.

Rarely has the quality of public education been subject to such a public tribunal, and Milner said the closest comparison may be the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which led to school desegregation. While the Florida case likely won’t lead to any national changes, it could expose flaws in the practice of desegregation, Milner said.

“Schools in Florida are largely still not integrated, with rich white communities providing far better education than poor black schools,” Milner said. “There are still major inequities in public education in Florida, and this lawsuit threatens to expose that.”

Chonin said he can prove at trial that the state has violated the constitutional amendment because it has failed to provide a “uniform and efficient” public school system. The state, Chonin said, funds education using local taxpayers, meaning poorer counties have fewer resources.

“You have counties like Sarasota or Palm Beach that have high property taxes, and then you compare them to Gadsden or Savannah or Jefferson counties,” Chonin said. “Their taxes are far less, and because of that, the performance of their schools can’t compare.”

Jonthan A. Glogau, special counsel at the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Jonthan A. Glogau, special counsel at the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

The plaintiffs will claim the state’s testing methodology is unfair to minorities and serves only to hurt the education process. They have listed 70 potential witnesses, with 40 who could appear in person at the trial. The list includes several instructors. Among them is Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles, who refused in 2014 to administer the state’s standardized tests and garnered headlines and public support for her decision. Also expected to testify is Chris Guerrieri, the Jacksonville teacher who writes a blog critical of the state’s education bureaucracy.

School administrators also are expected to take the stand in support of the plaintiffs, including superintendents from Franklin, Hernando, Duval and Alachua counties.

If Citizens for Strong Schools succeeds at the non-jury trial, Judge Reynolds has wide leeway in what he could order. The lawsuit asks the judge to declare that the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide a quality education, especially to disadvantaged and minority students. If the judge agrees, he could order the Legislature to rewrite the way education is funded in the state, scrap standardized testing and require new safeguards to assure all students get the same level of education.

Taking sides

Multiple education groups have joined the suit on both sides. Among the groups that oppose portions of the lawsuit is Florida Voices for Choices, which supports voucher programs that allow public school students to attend private schools. Its executive director, former Tampa schoolteacher Catherine Durkin Robinson, says the voucher program lets parents choose the best education model for their children. If lawmakers are forced to create a new funding model for education, voucher programs could be at stake.

“Funding is important, but empowered parents choosing from a robust array of options is more important,” Robinson wrote in an emailed response to questions.

But Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie says the voucher programs have contributed to poor funding for education that has crippled schools in the state. That has meant inadequate salaries for teachers, which leads to more turnover and fewer chances to lure teachers from other professions, he said in a recent interview.

“These are dollars that could positively impact teachers’ salaries and provide a better education for our kids,” Runcie said. “This is not how we should treat the people who are teaching the next generation. Teaching should be a profession like any other where we are providing competitive wages.”

Miami-Dade teacher Liane Harris is expected to testify in support of the lawsuit. She teaches at a Secondary Student Success Center (S3C) in Hialeah, a program for students who have been held behind two or more grades.

In 2014, Harris joined several hundred educators and others in a march in downtown Miami to protest Gov. Scott’s education policies. Harris says the state’s standardized tests have failed low-income kids and cuts from voucher programs have left schools struggling to provide even the basics.

“There are kids being left back, year after year,” Harris said. “These tests and these cuts have failed these children.”

New union deal at Miami-Dade Schools to begin push toward $15 hourly minimum wage

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org minimumwage15

A tentative agreement between Miami-Dade Public Schools and the union representing its general employees raises the minimum pay for some of district’s lowest paid workers to $10 an hour, marking what a top union official says is the start of a drive to obtain a minimum hourly wage of $15.

The deal also provides for an immediate average pay hike of about four percent to the district’s food service employees, custodians, bus drivers and other workers.

Negotiators for the Miami-Dade school system and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 1184 reached the agreement Nov. 13. It goes to the School Board for approval today.

“We will be pressing for $15 an hour” in future negotiations, said Local president Vicki Hall.

“I think it is a very good deal for the union considering they are the lowest paid,” said James Haj, Assistant Superintendent in charge of the school district’s Labor Relations Department. He added that the district will look at the $15 an hour wage minimum, but only as an idea to be phased in over time.

“It does not happen overnight…We will keep moving on it,” Haj said.

Government agencies in various states around the country have joined the $15-an-hour minimum wage movement.

Last week, outside County Hall in downtown Miami, several hundred workers joined a $15 wage minimum rally headed by the Service Employees International Union, part of a nationwide demonstration in more than 200 cities that day.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this month unilaterally established a $15 hourly minimum wage for all state workers in New York City by the end of 2018, and the end of 2021 for state workers outside the city. Other cities that have approved a $15 an hour minimum, to be reached over the next two to five years, include Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Miami-Dade School Board will be asked to ratify the agreement subject to union members endorsing the pact at a Nov. 23 vote.

BOARD MEMBERS LOBBIED

Sources said the agreement came after union officials lobbied several school board members for a pay boost higher than the 2.4 percent that district officials had been offering. Union officials said the board members they lobbied were chairwoman Perla Hantman, Marta Perez Wurtz, Lawrence Feldman and Wilbert Holloway.

The pay boost for the union’s 7,300 workers is slightly more than the percentage boost accepted earlier this year by unions representing teachers, professional/technical workers and skilled craft employees. The AFSCME union gained much of the increase with a step advance on salary schedules — providing a nearly 4% average hike — rather than a flat rate hike.

According to district figures, the AFSMCE new contract’s total would cost increase salary costs by $4.5 million, though that number is proportionally less than its labor agreements with other unions. For example, the deal with the United Teachers of Dade, representing 31,000 teachers and other support personnel, is $50.1 million more.

If approved, the AFSCME accord would cover terms and conditions for three years, with the wage increase set for the first year, retroactive to July 1. Union officials said additional improvements to health insurance benefits would actually provide a wage improvement of 5 percent in the first year of the new contract.

About 714 employees represented by the union, including some food service and bus aides, will have their hourly salary hiked from about $9 to the new $10 minimum, Hall said.

Hall said the agreement also provides for joint union-management committees to study increasing the minimum hourly work guarantees for bus drivers to seven hours from the current six hours and evaluating staffing of food service workers and custodians to possibility add workers and reduce part time employees in these categories.

Growing chorus of Miami-Dade teachers denounce pay deal by Carvalho, union

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org teachersalary2

As Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho blames Tallahassee legislators for failing to overhaul the standardized testing system used to evaluate student and teacher performance, a growing chorus of disgruntled rank-and-file teachers accuse him, the school board and the teacher’s union of breaking state law governing their employment contract.

In recent weeks, at school board meetings and on social media, dozens of teachers have denounced the agreement negotiated in August by the school district and United Teachers of Dade, alleging the terms do away with significant pay raises they were due in 2014.

During last year’s legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott signed off on funding that allows school districts to implement a new system for doling out raises based on teacher work performance. Broward County Public Schools, for example, approved the new system in March.

A Facebook group called “#Teacher Strong MDCPS Employees, you are worth more,” has amassed more than 3,500 members in less than two months and has become a place for teachers to vent. A majority of the commenters are teachers at Miami-Dade Public Schools.

Sarah Hays Duffort, a teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High in southwest Miami-Dade, is one of the more vocal critics. She said in an interview that many educators feel disillusioned under Carvalho, the American Association of School Administrators’ 2014 national superintendent of the year.

FRUSTRATION

“We are frustrated,” Hays said. “We are bearing the brunt of this management.”

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

In late August, district officials said they reached a deal with the union that includes about a three percent salary increase and another one percent healthcare salary savings to teachers and educational support personnel. At the time, Carvalho issued a statement praising its terms.

“This historic agreement represents our investment, both intellectually and financially, in the value of our teachers and the work they do,” Carvalho said then. “Despite years of economic challenges and tax shortfalls, we were still able to negotiate an agreement that dignifies and honors the teaching profession.”

But a sizable representation of the teacher’s union didn’t agree, and 40 percent of its members voted against the contract last month only days before the school board approved it.

Hays, two other teachers interviewed by FloridaBulldog.org, and scores of their colleagues on Facebook contend the contract is illegal under a state law approved in 2011 that divided teachers into two categories and created different pay raise schedules for tenured and non-tenured employees.

Under the law, teachers hired before July 1, 2014 are grandfathered into a salary schedule that bases salary increases on their tenure. Those hired after that date qualify for raises based on work performance, including how their students fare on standardized tests. The teachers who object to the new contract say it does not differentiate “grandfathered” teachers from non-tenured teachers and that the three percent pay increase is considerably less than what the law requires.

School district officials insisted the teachers’ contract is legal and fair.

“Current amendments to state law define what constitutes a ‘grandfathered salary schedule’ and the district adhered to said requirements in negotiating the present labor contract,” said School Board Attorney Walter Harvey in an email response to Florida Bulldog. “As stated in the agreement with UTD, the new salary schedule will serve as both the grandfathered and the performance pay salary schedules.”

Jose L. Dotres, who heads the district’s Human Capital Management Office, said by email that the new agreement evens the playing field.

“The new salary schedule provides [Miami-Dade Public Schools] the ability to negotiate increases that value all teachers,” Dotres said. “Because salaries are negotiated on a yearly basis with UTD, teacher compensation will generally increase rather than remain at current levels.”

Miami-Dade school teacher Sarah Hays Duffort

Miami-Dade school teacher Sarah Hays Duffort

Teacher Hays lacks confidence in the school district’s assurances. She said that under the school district’s interpretation she would be considered a non-tenured teacher whose work performance determines the size of her raise even though she has worked six years for the district. The reason: she was hired on a year-to-year basis and is not classified as a permanent employee.

PAY FORMULA

State law requires school districts to come up with a formula that rates non-tenured teachers from “highly ineffective” to “highly effective.” Non-tenured teachers who score “unsatisfactory” and “needs improvement” can be placed on probation, while those who rate “effective” and “highly effective” would get annual raises of $2,500 and $3,500, respectively. Tenured or “grandfathered” teachers, on the other hand, would get salary increases based on the number of years they have worked for a school district.

Hays, who makes close to $42,000 annually, said she has no problem having her work performance evaluated, saying she has always received a rating of “highly effective.” But under the pay scale negotiated in the UTD contract, he says, she will get a meager salary bump of $837.

“I do a good job and I am fine with accountability,” Hays said. “I figured once they get the performance pay schedule in motion I will have some type of benefit. The problem is the benefit [of raises based on her performance] never comes.”

Thais Alvarez, a teacher at Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 center who posts criticisms regularly on the Facebook page, said she qualifies to be grandfathered because she has been a permanent district employee since 2007. Alvarez said she has not received a raise in almost five years as they waited for the legislature and the school district to set up the new salary raise system.

“It’s a huge impact because teachers like myself were supposed to see greater increases in our later years,” Alvarez said. “I was anxiously waiting to get salary increases of $2,000 to $3,000. I thought it was worth the sacrifice because eventually my salary would go up.”

Alvarez said there are teachers earning $30,000 a year for as long as a decade who under the new system will see only a $600 increase under the deal, while others no longer can count on future earnings to put away for their retirement.

“While it is factually accurate that they are giving us a pay increase,” Alvarez said. “It cannot be called a raise when you factor in the cost of living, medical expenses and higher contributions to our pensions.”

Natalia Guevara, a Ferguson High chemistry teacher with a masters’ degree in public health, said she recently obtained a real estate license and plans to moonlight as a realtor to supplement her $49,000 yearly salary. A district employee on a year-to-year contract since 2009, Guevara said she maintains a “highly effective” rating for the past three years, but has yet to see a raise.

“Personally it is very disappointing,” Guevara said. “I bust my ass every day grading papers, running the science honors society, and getting the kids involved. If I am doing my job well, I should be rewarded.”

Carvalho’s contract “contrary to law” but Miami-Dade schools boss won’t fix it

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

Nine months ago, a state audit concluded that Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s generous severance package violated state law. Despite the finding, Carvalho has refused to amend his employment agreement to fix one of the problems identified in the audit, claiming he doesn’t have to do so.

The Florida Auditor General’s report determined that “contrary to law” Carvalho’s contract with the school board does not “prohibit severance pay should the superintendent be terminated for misconduct.”

Carvalho would not be interviewed. Instead, he responded to questions via school district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, who said changing Carvalho’s contract to prohibit severance pay should he be fired simply isn’t necessary.

“Pursuant to the Superintendent’s contract, he is bound by all current Florida laws,” Gonzalez-Diego said.

The law, enacted four years ago, says government employees who enter into employment agreements cannot receive more than 20 weeks of compensation as severance pay and that all employment contracts contain a provision that prohibits severance pay if an individual is fired for misconduct.

Douglas R. Conner, an audit manager for Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman, handles inquiries about the Miami-Dade Public Schools audit. He declined comment, saying “Our follow-up procedures on the findings noted in our report will occur during our next audit of the district” early next year.

The Miami-Dade School Board approved a seven-year extension of Carvalho’s contract on March 20, 2013. The contract’s terms remained the same as when it was first signed in 2008, including a severance package that would pay Carlvaho a lump sum for one year of his $318,000 salary should he be terminated without cause, according to the January report.

The auditor, however, concluded the severance deal “did not appear to be consistent” with the 2011 state law prohibiting school district executives from getting more than 20 weeks of compensation if they are fired without cause.

“Also, contrary to law, the agreement did not prohibit severance pay should the Superintendent be terminated for misconduct,” the report states.

CARVALHO FIXED ONE PROBLEM

Auditors brought the illegality to the school district’s attention last October and Carvalho quickly responded with a memo to both the auditor general and school board members stating he was modifying his employment agreement.

“I further agree…that any severance payment that I may receive may not exceed an amount greater than 20 weeks of compensation,” Carvalho wrote.

However, neither Carvalho nor the school board fixed the issue of prohibiting severance pay should he be fired for misconduct.

Gonzalez-Diego told FloridaBulldog.org that Carvalho’s contract specifies that severance will only be provided for termination without cause. “If he gets fired for cause, he doesn’t get anything,” Gonalez-Diego said. “He doesn’t get paid.”

Furthermore, Carvalho was not obligated to modify his contract but did so anyway, Gonzalez-Diego added.

“The Superintendent’s contract was negotiated specifically to be prospectively and automatically adjusted in accordance with any and all changes to Florida State statutes without any requirement for the contract itself to be amended,” she said.

“In an abundance of caution, the superintendent voluntarily executed a memorandum confirming his concurrence with the limitations placed on any severance as specified in any Florida statute.”

Critics cite the auditor’s findings as evidence that Carvalho gets preferential treatment even as he demands that rank-and-file educators accept onerous labor contracts.

“He is constantly calling us excessive for demanding pay we were promised,” said Shawn Beightol, a science teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High School. “Yet he negotiated a salary agreement that would pay him an excessive amount of money for work he won’t do and that the auditor general deemed was illegal.”

Trevor Colestock, a library media specialist at Crestview Elementary, echoed Beightol. “Alberto Carvalho always claims financial urgency every time he bargains with teachers,” Colestock said. “But here the auditor general cited him for attempting to obtain what a reasonable person may assume is a golden parachute. Go figure.”

Beightol was among dozens of school district employees who attended the school board’s regular meeting earlier this month to protest the new labor contract negotiated by United Teachers of Dade and the school district. The teachers, many of who don’t have tenure, accuse the school district of failing to give them higher raises based on their work performance.

School Board member Raquel Regalado, who is running to unseat Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016, called the criticisms unwarranted. She noted Carvalho voluntarily adjusted his severance package in response to the audit.

“Alberto has done a fantastic job,” Regalado said. “It was the superintendent who amended his contract to be in accordance with state law.”

Connections, conflicts and $600K in deal criticized by Miami-Dade schools auditor

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Doral College executives, State Sen. Anitere Flores, left and Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Doral College executives, State Sen. Anitere Flores, left and Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Since 2013, a non-accredited college employing two Miami-Dade state legislators as its top executives has collected $600,000 in state charter school funds for offering high school students virtually worthless two-year degrees.

The arrangement has drawn criticism from Miami-Dade Public Schools Chief Auditor Jose Montes de Oca, who questioned charter school spending for Doral College’s dual enrollment program, according to a report presented to members of the school board’s audit committee in mid-March.

“The agreements as approved and executed do not contractually guarantee that the high school will receive any benefit from the college in exchange for its payments of public funds,” Montes de Oca wrote. “We are also concerned about what will be the benefit that…students will receive by attending classes at the college.”

The chief auditor cited possible conflicts of interest involving members of the non-profit boards that run Doral College and oversee two participating charter high schools, Doral Academy and Sommerset Academy in Pembroke Pines.

The college and the two high schools have one thing in common. Each is affiliated with South Miami-based Academica, one of the largest charter school management companies in the nation. Academica runs 49 schools in Miami-Dade County, and dozens more in south Florida, California, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Washington D.C.

DO STUDENTS BENEFIT?

“We continue to be concerned that Doral Academy Charter High School’s governing board lacks independence from Academica, its for-profit management company,” Montes de Oca wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to school representatives and an Academica executive. “We also remain concerned as to whether these expenditures of the high school are driven more for the benefit of the college, rather than to maximize the best interests of the high school students.”

The auditor noted that Luis Fusté, vice-chairman of Doral Academy, and Andreina Figueroa, chairwoman of Sommerset Academy, served on the board of Doral College when agreements with the charter schools were approved for this school year and last year.

The principals for Sommerset and another Academica operated charter school also sit on the board of Doral Academy.

Academica representatives declined to comment, instead referring questions to administrators with the college and the charter school.

doralcollegelogoDoral College’s president is State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who served as ex-Gov. Jeb Bush’s education czar. She did not return two phone messages and two emails requesting comment.

However, State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, Doral College’s chief operations officer, defended the deals.

“The auditor is picking at something they don’t like that is perfectly legal,” said Diaz, a Hialeah Republican. “We strongly feel we are not only preparing [honor] students to get into Ivy League schools, but also providing access to students who may not be interested in going to college.”

Doral Academy Principal Douglas Rodriguez also dismissed the auditor’s conclusions.

“There is nothing inappropriate going on here,” Rodriguez said. “I’m surprised more people aren’t doing what we’re doing.”

Doral College was incorporated in January 2010, featuring a three-person non-profit board of directors that included Academica executive Victor Barroso, Doral Academy chairwoman Angela Ramos, and Sommerset principal Kim Guilarte-Gil. By September 2010, Barroso was no longer on the board. Ramos and Guilarte-Gil stepped down two years later.

Montes de Oca began raising concerns about Doral College’s reliance on charter school funds in December 2013 after reviewing Doral Academy’s annual financial statement.

Auditors flagged $400,000 in state funds the charter school provided to Doral College for start-up costs in 2012. Montes de Oca claimed Doral Academy’s board did not vote to approve the arrangement until four months after auditors started asking questions about the deal. Montes de Oca also told the School Board the deal “lacked transparency.”

In addition, the auditor questioned a lease agreement between Doral Academy and its landlord, School Development LLC, a company owned by Ignacio Zulueta, who along with his brother Fernando, also owns Academica. Their sister is Academica vice president Magdalena Fresen, wife of State Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, chair of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The lease agreement had a provision to allow School Development to terminate Doral Academy’s lease early without requiring the landlord to repay $4.5 million in charter school funds that were used to construct new facilities on the nearly three acre campus, including the building that houses Doral College. After the auditor called attention to it, School Development eliminated the early termination clause.

The Zulueta siblings are major contributors to Republican candidates. Last year, the two brothers and their sister each gave the maximum $2,600 donation to the successful congressional campaign of Carlos Curbelo, then a Miami-Dade School Board member.

In 2010, the Zuluetas bundled $2,000 for Flores’ senate campaign and this year have given another $1,500 in support of her reelection.

DORAL COLLEGE HIRES SEN. FLORES

Doral College’s board hired Sen. Flores as president on April 15, 2011 while she was championing a successful bill to create online virtual charter schools. Since that law went into effect, Academica has launched a virtual education division that includes 19 of its charter schools.

In 2012, Flores also supported a failed bill that would have allowed school districts to convert underperforming schools into charter ones.

Flores is currently paid $150,000 a year by Doral College, according to her 2014 public financial disclosure form.

In 2013, Doral College hired Rep. Diaz as chief operations officer post at a salary of $76,250 a year. He has also been a vociferous charter school advocate. Last year, Diaz sponsored a bill that would have severely limited school districts’ control over privately managed charter schools. The bill died on May 2, 2014.

Diaz, a former Miami-Dade Public Schools teacher, coach, and school site administrator for 20 years, denied that his job at Doral College is tied to his support of charter school legislation that would ultimately benefit Academica.

“I don’t see any conflicts,” he said. “All these pieces of legislation are broad and affects everyone in the charter school industry.”

This session, Rep. Fresen, whose wife is an Academica executive, has pushed a controversial proposal that could force school districts to share millions of dollars in construction funds with competing charter schools.

During a tour of Doral College’s building at the Doral Academy campus with this reporter, Principal Rodriguez insisted his high school students in the dual enrollment program are getting a bona fide college experience.

“For instance, there’s a bioethics team that has participated in a national ethics bowl against schools like Florida State University and Clemson University,” Rodriguez said. “In the last three years, the team has only lost one match.”

Two Doral Academy seniors, Juan Infante and Miranda Murrillo, praised the dual enrollment program. “Even though I can’t use Doral College’s credits, I believe the courses gave me a big advantage with college admissions officers,” said Infante, who has been accepted to Harvard University. “It put me ahead of the curve.”

DORAL COLLEGE NOT ACCREDITED

Doral College’s current enrollment is 793 students, all hailing from 11 charter schools in Miami-Dade that are managed by Academica. Last year, 18 graduating high school seniors obtained associate liberal arts degrees from Doral College, Rodriguez said.

The problem is that those associate degrees don’t mean much because Doral College is not an accredited institution of higher learning.

The college is currently seeking accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Rodriguez said. He called auditor Montes de Oca’s concerns “a non-issue.”

Rodriguez also downplayed questions of conflict of interest. He said Academica’s owners exert no control over the boards of the 49 charter schools that rely on the management company.

But higher education and ethics experts called the relationship between the charter schools and Doral College highly unusual.

“I have not seen anything like this around the country,” said Adam Lowe, executive director for the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. “I’ve never seen a college created for the exclusive purpose of crafting courses for high school students.”

Lowe said the inability of students to transfer credits from Doral College is a problem. “You have to wonder if the students will receive a valuable collegiate education,” Lowe said.

Robert Jarvis, an ethics law professor at Nova Southeastern University, questioned why the charter schools would need Doral College when there are accredited universities and colleges in the tri-county area.

“It certainly raises eyebrows,” Jarvis said. “It’s not like the Doral area is hurting for institutions of higher learning.”

Francisco Alvarado can be reached at falvarado@browardbulldog.org

Pay for play? Curbelo campaign boosted by School Board vendors he voted to help

By Francisco Alvarado, BrowardBulldog.org 

Miami Congressman-Elect Carlos Curbelo visits Dr. Gilbert L. Porter Elementary School in southwest Miami-Dade.

Miami Congressman-Elect Carlos Curbelo visits Dr. Gilbert L. Porter Elementary School in southwest Miami-Dade.

During his campaign for Florida’s 26th congressional district, Rep.-Elect Carlos Curbelo wasn’t shy about collecting thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from individuals directly tied to corporations that benefited from his vote on the Miami-Dade School Board.

Curbelo’s campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission show that two-dozen people who either own or work for companies doing business with Miami-Dade Public Schools gave generously to the Miami Republican’s successful run against incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia.

The companies included charter schools, utility companies, food suppliers, and lobbying firms.

In all, Curbelo’s campaign received $60,700 from School Board vendor interests.

Owners and executives of six firms that had contracts renewed by the school board over the past two years contributed much of that money, $24,300. Curbelo cast a yes vote in support of each of those firms, records show.

In addition, owners and employees of eight other school board vendors with no business pending at that time gave $36,400 to Curbelo’s campaign.

Curbelo’s reliance on political contributions from School Board vendors creates the appearance of undue influence that government watchdogs say underscores the need to enact laws at the local, state, and federal level to prohibit such donations.

“There are pay-to-play laws where this type of scenario is limited or banned,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics based in Washington D.C. “It’s something that certainly merits scrutiny.”

CURBELO’S NOT TALKING

Curbelo, who relinquished his school board seat this month in advance of next month’s swearing in, did not return requests for comment left on his cellphone’s voicemail. Campaign spokeswoman Nicole Rapanos did not respond to emails with a list of questions for the congressman-elect.

Some jurisdictions already have laws in place aimed at curtailing “pay-to-play” political contributions.

In 2006, New Jersey enacted a law prohibiting city and county government agencies (school districts are not included) from awarding no-bid contracts to companies whose owners or employees have made political contributions to a candidate or a political committee. The law does not apply to contracts that are awarded in a “fair and open” bidding process

Locally, Miami Beach enacted a tough vendor ban on political contributions in 2003. City candidates cannot accept donations from developers, lobbyists, company executives or their employees if they have business pending with Miami Beach government. They remain free, however, to contribute money to political action committees and electioneering communications organizations.

Krumholz says laws that eliminate “pay-to-play” political contributions are the kind of campaign finance reform that restores public trust in the electoral process. In Curbelo’s case, she said, it would eliminate the perception that he’s beholden to companies conducting business with Miami-Dade Public Schools.

“While he’s still a sitting school board member, there is a clear opportunity for conflicts of interest to arise,” she said. “He may be inclined to vote based on the money and not the merits of the policy.”

Vendors such as charter schools could also benefit at the federal level now that Curbelo is a congressman, she added.

“It’s never a bad idea to court a sitting member of Congress,” Krumholz said. “Presumably, he can be useful to them in his new position since they already have a cordial relationship based on the contributions they have given.”

Curbelo won a bitter, close race against Garcia that was marked by attacks on both candidates’ character and integrity. On the campaign trail, Garcia often accused Curbelo with being more concerned about lining his own pockets than serving the people. Garcia, who served the last two years in Congress, cited Curbelo’s unwillingness to disclose the client list for his lobbying and public relations firm Capitol Gains, as well as the political contributions he got from companies doing business with Miami-Dade Public Schools.

Curbelo’s campaign has run afoul of campaign finance reporting requirements. Last month, the Federal Elections Commission sent Curbelo’s campaign a warning letter asking it to explain numerous mistakes and inaccuracies with its October filing, including why it had misidentified or omitted $93,000 in contributions from political action committees.

In a response to the FEC, the campaign blamed the mistakes on a software glitch.

Curbelo’s campaign finance reports, school board meeting minutes and contracts show he collected contributions from people who own or manage firms with matters before the school board. The contributions were made a few weeks before or a few weeks after Curbelo cast his vote in favor.

CAMPAIGN MONEY FROM CHARTER SCHOOLS

For instance, four executives from Academica, which operates more than a dozen charter schools in Florida, each gave $2,600 – the maximum an individual can give a candidate per election – to Curbelo’s campaign. Those executives were President Fernando Zulueta, Vice-President Ignacio Zulueta, Senior Vice-President Magdalena Fresen, and Marketing Director Victor Barroso. The Zuluetas and Fresen gave the same day, Sept. 30, 2013. Barroso gave on August 1, 2013.

Six months earlier, Curbelo was among school board members who voted unanimously to approve contracts for five new charter schools operated by Academica, including elementary and middle schools at 9500 SW 97th Ave opposed by the East Kendall Homeowners Federation. The federation is a coalition of condo and town home associations in southwestern Miami-Dade.

According to a May 9, 2013 story in the Miami Herald, neighbors contacted board members before the vote to ask them to reject the schools or at least hold off the vote until the county decided whether or not to approve a re-zoning application submitted by Academica.

“We believe that by the School Board approving these applications you will be putting the cart before the horse, keeping in mind that the approval process from Miami-Dade County has a long way to go,” wrote Jose Suarez, president of the East Kendall Homeowners Federation.

Curbelo told the Herald state law prevented the school board from denying the contract based simply on neighborhood opposition. “We have a ministerial function here,” Curbelo said. “If the entity complies by the law we must approve the charter.”

Two months later, on June 19, 2013, the board, including Curbelo, approved more contracts with Academica regarding a new charter school and renewals for eight existing charter schools.

The Zuluetas referred comment to Fresen, who said the contributions to Curbelo’s campaign were unrelated to Academica’s business relationship with Miami-Dade Public Schools.

“Academica respects the rights of individuals to participate in and support the electoral process and believes that is essential to our democratic system,” Fresen said. “I personally believe that [Curbelo’s] support of parent choice during his tenure on the Miami-Dade County School Board has helped thousands of families in our community. I also believe that he will be a tireless advocate for those families in the U.S. Congress.”

Curbelo also received $2,600 each from Demetrio Perez and Jonathan Hage, owners of two other charter school companies with Miami-Dade schools contracts.

On March 12, Curbelo and seven other school board members voted to extend from five to 15 years the contract for an elementary school in downtown Miami operated by Hage’s Charter Schools USA. Two months later, the board, including Curbelo, voted to approve adding five years to a 10-year-contract with Perez’s Lincoln-Marti Schools.

School board vendors that supply vending machines, children’s lunches, tutoring and electrical services also gave to Curbelo’s campaign.

One of those companies is Hialeah-based AGC Electric. On September 3, 2013, the board, including Curbelo, approved a $4 million contract for electrical services that was split among nine firms, including Hialeah-based AGC.

AGC owner Tomas Curbelo gave Carlos Curbelo’s campaign a total of $5,200 for the primary and general elections in 2013. Tomas Curbelo did not return a phone message left with one of his employees. It is not known if the two men are related.

Marcel Monnar owns the tutoring company One-on-One Learning. On Sept. 20, 2013, he gave Curbelo’s campaign $1,000. Sixteen days later, Curbelo voted with other the board members to award a $3.4 million tutoring services contract among five firms, including One-on-One Learning.

Monnar did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Curbelos’ campaign also received $3,000 from the International Pizza Hut Franchisee Holders Association’s political action committee.

Koning Restaurants International, one of the largest Pizza Hut franchisees in the country, is one of eight pizza makers under contract with Miami-Dade Public Schools.

Koning’s owner, Al Salas, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Pizza Hut had no apparent school board contracts at stake in the last two years.

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