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La. BESE Member Kira Orange Jones and NM Acting Chancellor Chris Ruszkowski Are Married.

July 12, 2017

In September 2016, Teach for America (TFA) Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans-Delta Region and Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member, Kira Orange Jones, announced that she would be leaving her specific TFA post only to move into a higher post overseeing 15 TFA executive directors.

Orange Jones, who has been a solid corporate ed reform ally on Louisiana’s mostly corporate-ed-reform-bent BESE, assures the public that her new post will not alter her residency in New Orleans and will therefore allow her to retain her BESE seat. As Jessica Williams reports in the September 06, 2016, New Orleans Advocate:

Kira Orange Jones, the head of the local branch of the national teacher recruitment organization Teach For America and one of New Orleans’ representatives on the state’s top education board, said Friday she will leave her current job with TFA after nearly a decade.

“After nine and a half incredible years leading Teach For America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, I am launching the search for my successor,” Jones said in a Friday email to her colleagues.

She isn’t leaving the organization entirely, however. In her new role, she will manage and support the national organization’s executive directors across 15 regions, a job that will not require her to leave New Orleans, she said.

That means she’ll be able to keep the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seat to which she was elected in 2011.

Orange Jones is one of several BESE members who garnered substantial out-of-state billionaire support for her campaign, both in 2011 and 2015. In 2011 as The Nation reports:

 Last fall, a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turned the races for unpaid positions on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) into some of the most expensive in the state’s history. Seven pro-education “reform” candidates for the BESE outraised eight candidates endorsed by the teacher’s unions by $2,386,768 to $199,878, a ratio of nearly twelve to one. In just one of these races, the executive director of Teach for America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, Kira Orange Jones, outspent attorney Louella Givens, who was endorsed by the state’s main teacher’s unions, by more than thirty-four to one: $472,382 to $13,815.

To support Orange Jones’s campaign against Givens, Eli Broad, billionaire head of the education reform organization the Broad Foundation and a major trainer and placer of school superintendents, chipped in $5,000. Reed Hastings of Netflix kicked in the same. Houston energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife Laura gave a total of $10,000, as did Walmart heiress Carrie Walton Penner and her husband Greg. New York City’s second-wealthiest man, Michael Bloomberg, contributed $10,000 as well.

And the out-of-state billionaire money into the 2015 BESE race outdid that of 2011, with Orange Jones again scoring big. An excerpt from the 2015 Times-Picayune:

Major education activist groups are again spending big on Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education races. More than $3.5 million has already come in to political action committees that support the Common Core standards and innovations such as charter schools and publicly funded vouchers.

It’s an astounding amount of money for a relatively obscure board. And the sum has already exceeded the 2011 BESE race — itself unprecedentedly expensive — even though it doesn’t count contributions made directly to candidates, nor most October spending. …

The national advocates are trying to avert a turnover of power on BESE that would reverse their wins of the last four years and put Louisiana Education Superintendent John White out of a job. …

Most of the contributions are being funneled through Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby‘s Empower Louisiana political action committee. From July 17 to Oct. 4, contributions to the PAC totaled $2,175,750, according to state ethics reports. That included several familiar names in education philanthropy:

  • $800,000 from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • $625,000 from Action Now Initiative, a project of Laura and John Arnold, a former hedge fund manager
  • $400,000 from Alice and Jim Walton of the Wal-Mart Waltons
  • $250,000 from Eli Broad, founder of two Fortune 500 companies …

Stand for Children is also spending big. The group files with the state monthly; in September, it spent almost $400,000 on advertising for Boffy, incumbent Kira Orange Jones of New Orleans and challengers Jada Lewis of Baton Rouge and Gary Jones of Alexandria.

Education Reform Now Advocacy has spent almost $430,000, entirely on Lewis and Orange Jones. If you’ve received one (or many) Orange Jones mailers, they cost Education Reform Now Advocacy about $120,000 through Oct. 4.

Orange Jones’ presence on BESE raised ethical concerns that led to the eyebrow-raising 2013 resignation of the ethics vice chair who approved her TFA-connected presence on BESE.

But here she is, still, and she says she plans to remain in New Orleans despite her promotion.

But there is yet another complication:

In October 2016, Orange Jones married Chris Ruszkowski, the newly-appointed acting Commissioner of Education for the State of New Mexico.

CRKOJwedding

CR (Christopher Ruszkowski) & KOJ (Kira Orange Jones) wedding napkin/Instagram

In June 2017, New Mexico Commissioner Hanna Skandera officially exited her post, and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez announced that Deputy Secretary Ruszkowski would become acting commissioner.

So, here are a couple of questions:

  1. Where will Ruszkowski and Orange Jones primarily reside (or, where are they residing)?
  2. Will (are) they maintain two separate residences, with Ruszkowski primarily residing in New Mexico and Orange Jones, primarily residing in New Orleans, Louisiana?

If Orange Jones maintains that she has her permanent residence in Louisiana, she must file Louisiana tax return. The only way around this filing is to reside in Louisiana six months or less in a given tax year.

And if Orange Jones dips below six months of Louisiana residency (in her case, specifically in BESE District 2), then her BESE seat is a goner. BESE member eligibility requires that “the candidate shall be a resident of the district.”

As it stands, Orange Jones has yet to file her 2015 and 2016 Personal Financial Disclosures, and this disclosure is a form that she is supposed to file annually and that will be of particular interest in 2018 because the form pointedly asks public servants to acknowledge that they have filed a state income tax return for the previous year.

Got that? Orange Jones is two years behind on her annual personal financial disclosure filings. And as the New Orleans Tribune notes, her 2012 and 2013 disclosures were also filed late. Yet this behavior from Orange Jones apparently goes unaddressed.

After all, she is rather well-connected– perhaps even connected enough to hold a Louisiana BESE seat from New Mexico, if she so desires.

crkojwedding2

Christopher Ruszkowski and Kira Orange Jones, Telluride, Colorado, October 02, 2016/Instagram

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

12 Comments
  1. I filed an extensive Ethics complaint on her two years ago and got nothing so I’m done. If anybody wants assistance filing another one I will be glad to help. It requires a Notary Public to verify your signature ($10.00). And while you’re at it file one on John White’s falsified credentials!

  2. Zorba permalink

    What is it with Louisiana state education administrators and officers, and their required financial disclosures?
    They seem to want to either neglect to file them at all (Kira Orange Jones) or they neglect to add the required information on their spouses (John White).
    It doesn’t help to have ethics laws if everyone ignores them and there are no consequences for this.

    • Linda permalink

      The melodrama of “Max” White and wives- current and ex.- coupled with the Telluride wanna-be’s glittery excess, could provide citizens with a guilty pleasure in which to wallow. But, the overarching umbrella of loss of democracy and government and education integrity makes it impossible.

      • Zorba permalink

        Unfortunately, Linda, this loss of democracy, loss of educational integrity, lack of accountability, and assault on the public schools, is happening in way too many states now. 😦

  3. Linda permalink

    We can’t lose faith in the systems that were developed to create honest government. The members of BESE who serve the oligarchy are depraved.

  4. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Just waiting for the day when the progeny of these power couple ed reformistas all attend AltSchool together…

    • Zorba permalink

      Bwahaha! Of course, Christine, their special little children will be attending very exclusive and expensive private schools.

  5. Linda permalink

    The groom looks like a hillbilly from Deliverance serving as waiter. The 99% taking pot shots at the pretenses of the toadies, is what happens when the oligarchs’ usurp all power.

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