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To Merryl Tisch: Take Responsibility for the Ted Morris Charter Con

November 28, 2014

In November 2014, both the New York Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) approved the opening of a Rochester charter in September 2015 for a lead applicant, Ted J. Morris, Jr., who has been found to be a fraud. (For a good summation of the issue, read this post.)

NY Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the situation with Morris isn’t Regents’ fault. She implied that it was NYSED’s fault. As the Democrat and Chronicle reports:

Tisch said the board only sees applications after they’ve been recommended by the state Education Department, suggesting it wasn’t the members’ normal responsibility to vet them for errors.

“When it comes to the board, it comes with an endorsement from (NYSED) and the local regents,” she said. “What we hear is whether … they’ve put together a sound application. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and I think people in (NYSED) need to address that with you.”

Bill Clarke, the director of the NYSED charter school office, was not available for comment.

Don’t blame me, says Tisch. I’m just a rubber stamp for NYSED.

Tisch absolves herself of responsibility for the Morris fraud because NYSED is supposed to verify that a charter applicant has “put together a sound application.” But now she knows (and the public knows that she knows) that NYSED hasn’t assured that the applications it brings to Regents are “sound.”

Tisch is responsible to New Yorkers for ignoring what she knows.

Despite shirking responsibility for the Morris incident, Tisch wants to “aggressively” open more charter schools in New York. She said so on the radio, and the New York Daily News captured her statement in a November 16, 2014, article:

The state should raise its cap to allow more charter schools, the Board of Regents chief said Sunday, running counter to the city administration’s position.

“As we look to this legislative season, people are going to say we need to raise the charter cap. I personally am a great believer in charter schools … I believe in opening them aggressively” Chancellor Merryl Tisch said on the John Catsimatidis radio show. “I’d like to push more charter schools.”

Charter backers plan an effort to raise or eliminate the cap, which has 28 slots left in the city. [Emphasis added.]

So, basically, Tisch wants to “aggressively” expand the number of charters in New York State, but she doesn’t want to be held responsible for approving charter leaders who falsify their credentials.

Not good enough, Merryl.

Both Regents and NYSED were involved in approving Morris, and both share the responsibility. Here is a bit of background on New York charters in general and on the Morris application, specifically:

In 2010, New York State legislature raised the charter cap in New York State from 200 to 460 in an effort to win federal Race to the Top (RTTT) money. NY Regents is the authorizer for 130 of these additional 260 charters, and the State University of New York (SUNY) is authorizer for the other 130. The cap that Tisch wants to “push” to lift has not yet been reached.

Both Regents and SUNY are to offer requests for proposal (RFPs). In short, the NYSED committee reviews charter applications and makes recommendations to Regents for final approval.

As it stands, several days prior to Tisch’s “aggressive” charter “push” statement in the New York Daily News, on November 10, 2014, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) P-12 Education Committee issued this memo signed by NY Commissioner of Education John B. King, Jr., approving four charters for the 2015-16 school year– including Ted J. Morris, Jr.’s, Greater Works Charter School. Final approval was officially announced at NY Regents November 17-18, 2014, meeting.

The November 10, 2014, memo includes the following language:

The Commissioner and Department staff recommend that the Board of Regents consider, approve and issue initial charters and provisional charters for the following four new charter schools:

New York City School District

 Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School (proposed to locate in CSD 5)
 New Ventures Charter School (proposed to locate in CSD 31)
 South Bronx Classical Charter School III (proposed to locate in Bronx)

Rochester City School District

 Greater Works Charter School

The Commissioner and Department staff recommend that the Board of Regents issue the initial charters and provisional charters for the above listed four new charter schools.

Together, these four new schools will add 1,560 high quality seats for families in New York City and Rochester. ….

In Rochester, Greater Works Charter School will create an option for a high quality high school education in a small, supported and individualized environment. [Emphasis added.]

King and the P-12 Committee are all in for Morris and his Greater Works Charter School. Thus, they make the following recommendation to Tisch and her Regents:

VOTED: That the Regents find that the proposed charter school: (1) meets the requirements set out in Article 56 of the Education Law, and all other applicable laws, rules and regulations; (2) will operate in an educationally and fiscally sound manner; (3) is likely to improve student learning and achievement and materially further the purposes set out in subdivision two of section twenty-eight hundred fifty of Article 56 of the Education Law; and (4) will have a significant educational benefit to the students expected to attend the charter school, and the Board of Regents therefore approves and issues a charter and provisional charter to the Greater Works Charter School for a term of five years in accordance with §2851(2)(p) of the Education Law.

The remainder of the NYSED Committee’s November 10, 2014, memo includes several pages on each of the four approved charters.  I find this excerpt on the Morris charter the most ironic:

School Governance and Leadership

Including lead applicant Ted J. Morris Jr, the founding team consists of ten individuals, nine of whom will serve as members of the School’s initial Board of Trustees with one member serving as an advisor. A School Trustee Background Information form, Statement of Assurance and resume or curriculum vitae was provided for each of the five individuals who will comprise the school’s initial Board of Trustees. As required, the applicant group has provided a set of draft by-laws and a draft code of ethics. [Emphasis added.]

Yes, the fraudulent Morris’s application included an ethics statement for his school. (I’ll let that hang in the air.) And yes, Morris’ resume was included.

That does not mean that NYSED actually read Morris’ resume or investigated its contents. Instead, the NYSED Committee continues with a statement on Morris’ credentials, taken at face value:

Ted J. Morris, Jr., is the lead applicant and founder of the proposed school. He serves as an education consultant and has held operations positions are (sp.) various non-profit your (sp.), education, and human service-related agencies.

On the 2014 Greater Works Charter School application, Morris included both a detailed resume and the following summation of his credentials and experience (page 39-40):

Ted is the Lead Applicant for and Founder of GWCS. He is a life-long resident of Rochester, NY. Currently, Ted is an education consultant with the Morris Firm and has previously held positions such as the Director of Operations, Finance, Development, and Assistant CEO with various non-profit youth, education, and human service-related agencies. He has 7+ years of experience in these fields. Ted has a B.S. in Human Services, an M.S.W. in Non-Profit Leadership and is finishing up his Ed.D. in Administration. He has written several successful grants, most recently receiving a grant from the City of Rochester for a summer youth employment project that employed 40 teens. Ted will serve on the initial Board of Trustees. [Emphasis added.]

NYSED should have checked Morris’ age as part of a verification process for charter approval. Surely NYSED performs criminal background checks on its charter lead applicants… right?

Not necessarily.

Had they done so, they would have had to utilize his birthday… which would have required NYSED to notice his age: 22 years.

22 years old, and he claims to have “7+ years experience” in education consulting, nonprofit leadership, and human services.

That would have Morris’ “experience” extending back to his being 14 years old. (In fact. Morris has included the same “7+ years experience” statement to NYSED since at least 2012; more on this to come.) A flag to indicate he might be a fraud, no?

But no. NYSED took Morris at his word, with no in-depth check on his credentials, and Regents took NYSED’s word.

And neither of these two charter-pushing authorities bothered to even request a college transcript.

Legitimate individuals have postsecondary transcripts. In fact, all three universities from which I *legitimately* graduated offer the security of mailing copies of my transcripts directly to the entities requesting them per my signed request.

All that NYSED– or Regents– had to do in order to uncover specifics on Morris’ fraudulent credentials was ask him to order his college transcripts and have them send directly to NYSED.

Imagine that.

Instead, what we have is a deflecting of responsibility by charter-happy Merryl Tisch, who has been on the Regents board since 1996 and whose family could benefit from her “aggressive” charter push via her brother-in-law, Andrew Tisch, who sits on the board of online learning company, K12. (Here New York blogger Norm Scott documents and explains Merryl Tisch’s connection to a K12 effort to open a charter school in New York.) Moreover, Merryl Tisch and husband James have paid NYSED employees using her own money. The Tisch-funded “Regents fellows” are described in this November 2013 Times Union article as follows:

A team of two dozen well-paid analysts embedded in the State Education Department is having a dramatic impact on a reform agenda that’s causing controversy throughout New York.

None are public servants.

Supported with $19 million in donations from some of the nation’s wealthiest philanthropists, the Regents Research Fund team makes up a little-known think tank within the education agency. It is helping drive reforms that affect the state’s 3.1 million public school students and employees of almost 700 school districts. …

The arrangement is stirring concern in some quarters that deep-pocketed pedagogues are forcing their reform philosophies on an unwitting populace, and making an end run around government officers.

So now, we have Tisch– one of those “deep pocketed pedagogues”– ignoring NYSED’s openly displayed lack of what she insists as “a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes” for charter application approval.

But how much “work” goes into investigating those charter applications, really?

Consider the letter of support from Offspring Charities, included with Morris’ 2014 charter application (page 76). Until a few days ago, Morris was included on Offspring Charities’ facilitators and staff page. I know this it true because I read Morris’ bio on this page and cited it in my November 25, 2014, update on Morris. However, if one now looks at the Offspring Charities facilitators and staff, no Morris. (Note: A snapshot of Morris’ erased Offsprings bio can be found here: http://i.imgur.com/f9FkhQ8.jpg )

Given Morris’ being found to be a liar, it is no surprise that Offspring Charities would erase Morris from its site. However, what I notice in the letter of support included on Morris’ July 2014 charter application is that the writer of the letter, Offsprings Executive Director Christine Alborn, makes no mention of any connection to Morris. None. And neither does Morris in the resume he included as part of his charter application. Instead, in her letter, Alborn offers only shallow, generic support of the Greater Works Charter School. Her letter in sum: I just think Greater Works Charter School will be good just because.

Did NYSED really read this letter? Did NYSED phone any of the authors of these “letters of support” to discuss the connections that these supporters might have to Morris or to proposed board members?

Sure, the application looks good on the surface– lots of letters, and lots of details on proposed board of directors, financials, hiring, courses…. Nevertheless, the surface is just that. Superficial.

Did the NYSED charter vetting committee consider this– or any– application with any critical thought and attention to detail?

These make for some serious questions that Tisch is brushing aside.

She has her rubber stamp and is not afraid to use it.

And just when one thinks this is all there could be, with Tisch excusing herself from responsibility and NYSED’s committee not even asking for official transcripts to verify if “lead applicant” Morris is legitimate, here comes exiting New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy tweeting that “young” Ted J. Morris, Jr., “made mistakes but can learn/succeed.” Duffy then cites that Morris resigned from the Greater Works Charter School board.

Duffy is a former mayor of Rochester who is soon to be the CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance.

Is Duffy fine with the likes of Morris giving Rochester “the business”? “Businessman” Duffy’s casual tossing off of Morris’ deceit makes me wonder what motivated Duffy to tweet in defense of Morris. Then again, Duffy considers to have been “extraordinary” his “experience with Andrew Cuomo”– the same Andrew Cuomo who has promised to “bust” the public school “monopoly” via charter school “competition.”

Morris’ string of deceptions is not a “mistake.” It is a lifestyle that he has been cultivating for years. Some of the same lies about his professional experience are on this redacted Greater Works 2012 letter of intent to NYSED, including a tidbit about his intention to be the school’s CEO:

Ted J. Morris, Jr. is the Lead Applicant for and Founder of Greater Works Charter School. Ted is the Assistant CEO at the Hickok Center for Brain Injury. He has 7+ years of experience in the fields of education, human services and administration. Ted will serve as the school’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Unlike Greater Works board membership, Greater Works CEO is a paid position– and one Morris could still hold. Just keep this truth in mind, Rochester.

I do not believe Morris is walking away from Greater Works Charter School after trying to sell the idea to NYSED and Regents for four years.

For at least three years– 2012, 2013, and 2014– Morris has been misrepresenting himself to NYSED and, by extension, to Regents and the citizens of Rochester.

He clearly meant to do so.

Others found him out; otherwise, it is almost certain Morris would have continued in his lies.

Morris has been exposed– and with him both NYSED’s and Regents’ failure to properly investigate the charters they have approved.

Time to step up, Tisch:

At least ask to see evidence of NYSED’s having verified lead applicant credentials before stamping your “aggressive” approval.

merryl tisch

 

______________________________________________

Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic

 

 

 


 

From → Charters, Ethics

11 Comments
  1. The school will open. Morris will have a 6 figure job as CEO. Tisch will deflect, deny and do nothing about it but spin cartwheels as she pounds another nail into the coffin of public education. It isn’t about the quality of charters, or the quality of public schools….its about dismantling public schools, firing public school teachers, setting up “rocket ship” type rooms with 100 “scholars” and 2 clerks to ensure the kids are plugged in and learning how to be servants to the 1%.

    This is a prime example of how it happens. How many charters have come and gone? Who cares? Keep em coming, keep closing public schools, keep blaming teachers until there are no public schools left and the charters HAVE to serve all kids.

    Perhaps then, the next wave of reform will roll back to public schools being in favor…but by then, so much damage will have been done to the kids and to the economy, maybe our society really will become like the hunger games.

  2. john a permalink

    Al roads lead back to Governor Cuomo. He is the thief executive officer for New York State. This is the same Governor that disbanded his own ethics commission. Once again, thank you Mercedes for a fine piece of muckraking journalism.. Will this scandal reach the main stream media? Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

  3. Jack Covey permalink

    While Morris’s resignation is welcome news, I’m sorry to say such a positive development won’t last.

    My own educated prediction:

    Dr. Ted Morris, Jr.’s parting from the charter school is only temporary. (Indeed, the latest statement that the Kozik is that Morris has only been replaced as “lead applicant” by Kozik. It says nothing about whether or not Morris is out as CEO.)

    Morris’ resigning is just a strategic ploy to quiet criticism in the short term… then, once enough time has passed, and the spotlight is off, Kozik and the charter honchos will just do what then originally wanted to do in the first place—install Ted back into a high-paying leadership position at the school.

    Mark my words, Dr. Ted will eventually end up employed by the school at some position—with a six-figure salary, a fancy title, and vague duties / job description… and those folks calling the shots won’t have the least bit of shame in doing so.

    When defending Ted’s rejoining the charter, be prepared to hear the charter school leaders vomit up something along the lines of…

    “Someone of Ted’s caliber and dedication and leadership abilities will be a fine addition to our school. We’d be foolish not to avail ourselves of his talents… ”

    or words to that effect.

    AND ONCE A CHARTER SCHOOL’S OPERATIONS ARE UNDERWAY, NOBODY CAN DO A THING TO STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING.

    As anyone who follows education knows, once the charter is granted—especially with a rabidly pro-charter Board of Regents led by Ms. Tisch—and the charter school’s functioning is underway, it’s impossible to close them or exert even minimal oversight, or effect any safeguards—i.e. one barring this mountebank Morris from having anything to do with the school.

  4. Jack Covey permalink

    ***VIDEO OF TED MORRIS, JR,***

    Here’s a news story with a handsome, telegenic male reporter who forget to check if Morris had actual credentials… and Morris arguing that his lack of experience actually gives him an advantage over seasoned education professionals.

    http://13wham.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/local-man-launching-new-charter-school-17949.shtml

    • Jack Covey permalink

      Just watched the interview with Morris again… I fail to see any of the overwhelming charisma that I was expecting from Morris… the only thing that stands out he employs some serious teeth-whitening, and that he could perhaps he could miss a few meals and slim down a bit. (Hey, a lot of us can say the same😉 )

      The principal of the last high school he attended said that Morris showed up on campus, sat at the lunch tables, shot the breeze with students and teachers—including the principal—but never attended any of the classes to which he was assigned.

      http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2014/11/25/questions-raised-year-old-charter-founder/70096942/

      ———————-
      “Former School Without Walls principal Dan Drmacich and the Rochester School District both verified that Morris left the district in 2008.

      ” ‘From what I remember, he was very articulate, a great conversationalist, but … he didn’t go to many of his classes,’ Drmacich said. ‘We constantly worked with him through his teacher adviser and the school counselor, to no avail — to the point he realized and we realized he was just coming to school and hanging out versus attending classes on a regular basis.’ ”
      ————————————-

      One phone call to this principal from Morris’ charter partner Kozik would have—or should have—ended Kozik’s involvement with Morris and his proposed school. However, Kozik never made that phone call… or probably chose not to make that phone call so he could have deniability.

      Kozik is a disgrace to education for being stupid or corrupt enough to get himself involved with a crook like Morris. I wouldn’t hire him to work at a school—not even as a lunchroom monitor or crossing guard.

      Could someone without a high school diploma—let alone without a medical degree—bamboozle people into allowing him to practice as a doctor, or head up specialty department at a hospital?

      Could someone without a high school diploma—let alone without a law degree—bamboozle people into allowing him to practice law, head up a law firm, or serve as a judge?

      The whole time, Morris was crossing his fingers that nobody found him out while saying to himself, “What a bunch of suckers!” My guess is that, during his teen years, Morris was carefully and constantly looking for a scam with a big payoff for himself, and then chanced upon the neo-liberals’ and privatizers’ recent push for totally unregulated charter schools to replace public schools, and Morris saw exactly the phenomenon that he could exploit.

      He probably Googled “charter school scam” or something similar to see how he could pull this off… and all the ways to steal money and line one’s pockets while running a charter.

      As he perused scandal after scandal in on-line news reports, he would notice that in most instances, by the time the charter crooks were caught, the money that the charter thieves stole was effectively theirs for good—moved to an off-shore bank in the Caymans or Switzerland. As an actual paid employee, they could fire Morris once his scam was exposed, but they couldn’t recover the money.

      Had this gone ahead with Morris running the show, I suspect you would have seen all the usual charter school perfidy:

      — farming out services to for-profit companies owned by Morris, and Morris pocketing a huge sum;

      — a crooked real-estate deal that results in Morris pocketing a huge sum;

      — hiring of Morris family and friends at huge salaries, but vague duties where they do nothing, and never/rarely even show up on campus;

      — in general, just cutting costs to the bone of every aspect of the school that they can—more money for Morris to steal… and do so via the use of uncredentialed teachers with 50-80 kids crammed in a room full of computer terminals… and no oversight as to whether any of the on-line “lessons” deliver instruction or the students are doing any real work—“Hey man, charter schools are awesome… I get to surf the net all day, and play video games!! Woo-hoo!!”

      Morris even says not to expect a significant portion of the students at Greater Works Charter School to go to college… so when no one ends up going, he can say “that’s how we planned it… so kids could get into careers that didn’t require college.”

      — eventually, an announcement that the leaders messed up, and that school is millions of dollars in debt, and has to suddenly close with the students being dumped back into the pre-existing public schools from whence they came, and the crooks like Morris skipping out of town to repeat the scam elsewhere. (This happened with the ICEF charter chain here in Los Angeles, with billionaires rushing into save the schools from total collapse and public scandal. The crook Mike Piscal skipped town and, I believe, head up one of Andre Agassi’s schools.)

      What I notice from the the charter industry is that once a massive scam has occurred with millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money gone for good, they respond by saying, “Well, we want these crooked charter schools closed as much as anyone else. They give charters bad name, blah-blah-blah… ”

      However, when school boards or legislators want to enact safeguards and regulations that would prevent multi-million-dollar frauds from happening in the first place, or ask the charter to reveal their books, those same charter proponents—California Charter Schools President Jed Wallace comes to mind— fight it tooth and nail. They talk about how charter leaders need flexibility and freedom to innovate and can’t be held back by the status quo… or some other such nonsense.

      If you took away the opportunity for charter heads to line their pockets—

      i.e.

      —say that those in charge of charters had salary caps so that salaries would be in line with their equivalent in the public school system;

      or

      — impose strict conflict-of-interest regulations where you can’t farm out any services to companies you own or are related to… and instant death penalty for the charter once this is discovered;

      or

      —demanded that the books be wide open so you could see where every penny goes;

      or

      —demand that all their teachers be credentialed;

      or

      —demand that they could not cream off a subset of the brightest and easiest-to-educate kids, but instead had to educate everyone—even the Special Ed. kids, English-language-learners, behavior problem kids… that are more costly to educate, and, in general, had to have the same admissions and expulsion policies as the regular public schools…

      If stuff like that happened, the motivation for the hucksters to open a charter would drop like a rock, as would the number of charters opening.

  5. Texastitle1teacher permalink

    When a teacher is hired, they mail transcripts to the ed center, conduct fingerprints, and then have their references checked, as well as providing proof of their teaching cert.

    But to open a school and get the Phil to pay for it, I don’t have to do any if those things…but the teachers who I hire will???!!!

  6. Other Spaces permalink

    The Offspring Charities page with the bio for Morris is in Google cache and I took a screen image of it here: http://i.imgur.com/f9FkhQ8.jpg

  7. ira shor permalink

    The lies, crimes, and thefts in this corporate privatization war are deep. Thanks to Mercedes for digging down and throwing light on this abomination.

  8. Sharon in NYS permalink

    Mercedes, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for your work on this outrageous affair! I live in a school district that has a small chance of being affected by this and other Rochester charter schools.

    What I learned in defeating a charter school proposal in my semi-rural area this past year is that it takes a LOT of digging and close reading to ferret out the misrepresentations of charter school organizers. It also takes a good deal of effort to educate the public and encourage a letter-writing campaign to the state (in our case, SUNY).

    Yet another questionable aspect of the GWCS. In Morris’ GoFundMe video, he made reference to something called the “New York Charter School Incubator” to which he would be sending some of the money raised. A Google search turns up the organization, but the links are now dead-ends. More evidence of deceit?

    The GoFundMe site with video is still live: http://www.gofundme.com/greaterworks

  9. The story reveals that Ted Morris as a liar is a small fish compared to the privatizers. The real credibility problem is with NYSED, Tisch, King and the whole charter/deform program. Why should we believe anthing they say?

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  1. Mercedes Schneider Calls on Regent Tisch to Be Accountable | Diane Ravitch's blog

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