Kira Orange-Jones’ TFA Promotion and LDOE-TFA Contracts
Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange-Jones is once again in the news, this time for her promotion as state “liaison” for Teach for America (TFA). In August 2012, the ethics board declared no conflict of interest for Jones since her salary “is not in any way dependent on the contracts that TFA gets.”
Jones’ most vocal supporter on the ethics board, Scott Schneider, resigned last month— a coincidence that just happened to immediately follow the publicizing of his own apparent conflict of interest involving TFA’s partnering with Tulane’s Cowen Institute, with which Schneider was affiliated when he argued for Jones to retain her BESE post.
Jones’ salary not being directly affected by TFA contracts is a narrow view of the potential, unethical benefits Jones might enjoy as she sits on a state board that approves TFA contracts.
Why, if former-TFAer John White and Jeb-Bush-positioned BESE were to approve a $1.2 million contract for TFA, that might be cause to promote Jones (indirect salary connection) into a position where she might solicit even more business for TFA.
That is exactly what I believe has happened.
Here is how Jones describes her promotion:
“My role in New Orleans isn’t changing at all,” Orange Jones said Monday, “but I will start to be the liaison across the state,” especially as Teach for America considers expanding to northern Louisiana. She will see whether there are “opportunities for more coordinated effort” — for instance, sending talented New Orleans teachers up to Baton Rouge and creating efficiencies at the organization. [Emphasis added.]
“Creating efficiencies” is a euphemism for “usurping education leadership roles.”
On June 27, 2013, former LDOE employee Jason France sent LDOE a request for public documents related to TFA and Jones. On July 25, 2013, LDOE honored France’s request in part by releasing several contracts between LDOE and TFA from 2009 to 2013.
In short, what I have learned from reading these contracts is that the going rate for TFAers fluctuates but that Jones is benefiting TFA handsomely.
It only stands to reason that the favor would be returned.
The first contract (TFA_Contract__685201__Date_9-09-10) is from October 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011. On August 20, 2009, then-RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas wrote to ask that BESE give the TFA contract “special consideration” in the September BESE meeting. The contract was for “up to 40” TFAers to serve for “a minimum of” two years beginning the 2009-10 school year. LDOE agreed to pay TFA $5000 for each TFAer, with a $200,000 ceiling.
$5,000 x 40 = $200,000.
Jones signed this contract.
On August 10, 2010, Vallas requested that the TFA contract be amended (TFA_Contract__685201_Contract_Amendment_Number_55_Date_6-01-12) to add one year (expiration, June 30, 2012) and that the ceiling of $200,000 be raised to $400,000.
If each TFA teacher garners a $5000 payment for two years of service, then $400,000 for “up to 40” TFAers for two years apiece makes no sense for a three-year contract. (Like paying a five-grand temp fee for a temp “teacher” trained in five weeks makes sense to begin with.)
Jones signed this contract.
Next comes the first TFA contract that John White negotiated, dated October 26, 2012 (approved 07/20/12). (TFA_Contract__718050_Contract_Amendment_Number_60_Date_12-06-12) It is for the period from June 1, 2012 to June 30, 2014. This contract is a curiosity in that it is for “up to 40” TFAers to serve for two years but it also includes “up to five” TFAers to serve a second year only.
Did five TFAers quit and were others brought in? Did 35 quit and these are the remaining five? And why “up to five”? Might these bail before completing a second year?
Exact TFA numbers do not matter; with John White, the LDOE-to-TFA money is flowing. White and BESE approve $382,000 for the TFA fee, with the rate per TFAer now at $9000. But there’s more. White and BESE agree to pay $1200 per TFAer for enrollment in The New Teacher Project (TNTP) for up to $48,000.
Looks like White has TFA attrition problems on his hands.
Attrition doesn’t affect the cash flow. With White, there is no waiting to see if the TFAers complete the year. White and BESE instruct TFA to bill for the 2012-13 year by October 30, 2012, and for the 2013-14 year by October 30, 2013.
By this time, Jones is in the news for her ethics issue, so even though she is the director of TFA in New Orleans, her Baton Rouge counterpart, Michael Tipton, signs this contract.
Tipton’s signature must prove Jones has nothing to gain, right?
The next contract between TFA and John White (let us not kid ourselves to think anything else) is the big one: $1.2 million, dated June 20, 2013 (approved 06/07/13).
Here is what White wants to do in Kira’s New Orleans backyard:
He wants “at least 25” TFAers for their first of two years (if they make it) in 2013-14.
He wants to keep for a second year “at least 23” of the “at least 40” who made it through the first year. If more than 23 make it, he doesn’t want to pay the extra fees (He’s already handing over $1.2 million of Louisiana’s public money to them.)
He wants TFA to provide five “Managers of Teacher Leadership Development” (What? Five weeks of training wasn’t enough??) and three support staff.
He wants new TFAers to be connected with alumni for support.
He wants “accurate and timely information” on TFAers “to facilitate hiring”– including social security numbers. (If they are working under RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard, why is White asking for TFAers’ social security numbers, and why is he making this appeal to TFA instead of Dobard making it to the individuals hired?)
And he wants TFA to actively direct their recruits into leadership, both in RSD direct-run schools and in RSD charters.
White also includes this stipulation in the $1.2 million contract:
Actively recruit Teach for America–Southern Louisiana alumni living in New Orleans, across Louisiana and across the country for teaching, school leadership or district leadership roles within the RSD.
Actively market RSD employment opportunities to: Teach for America alumni who taught in New Orleans; alumni who taught in or near to Louisiana Geographies; and alumni who have family, collegiate, or other connections to Louisiana. [Emphasis added.]
Let’s get this straight: John White is paying TFA over a million dollars, and he wants active recruiting for TFA across the state– for TFAers to assume RSD leadership, not merely for the two-year-temp-stints. And suddenly, Jones has a TFA promotion in which she is still in charge of New Orleans but also recruiting statewide.
Connect the lucrative dots, folks.
Looks like that ethics board needs to investigate two TFA-BESE conflicts of interest.
Surely Jones is innocent of involvement in this million-dollar TFA leadership recruitment drive White has concocted. After all, Michael Tipton is signing contracts in her place.
An unanswered part of France’s records request involves information on how many former TFAers White has employed at LDOE. An easier request might be for info on how many LDOE employees are NOT former TFAers.
One week after approval of the $1.2 million contract, on June 27, 2013, LDOE performed some post-dating maneuver on another TFA-RSD contract that was originally signed for budget approval on July 20, 2012 and the contract signed on October 18, 2012. Yet this contract has the June 27, 2013, date on it– which just happens to be the very same day Jason France submitted his records requests for these contracts.
The contract is for 25 new and 26 returning TFAers for 2011-12 and 2012-13. It includes the lowest fee yet for TFA: $3000 to $3250 per TFAer. the contract total is $234,250.
If White is paying a fee of sometimes $3000, and sometimes $5000, and sometimes $9000, is it that TFA sometimes goes on sale? Or is he doing his characteristic “working backward from the desired result”– he has a lump sum in mind to pay TFA, and he simply divides the dollar amount by the number of TFAers needed and calls that the “fee”?
Jones and Tipton appear to have no problem with this “whatever” fee.
Could someone with real ethics please investigate these people?