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When It Comes to Employing Services of Sajan George, Indy Is a Sitting Duck.

February 10, 2018

On February 08, 2018, Chalkbeat published an article about Matchbook charter schools founder, Sajan George, who has landed a “fresh start in Indianapolis” after being “ousted from Detroit and Newark.” From the article:

When it comes to turning around troubled schools, Matchbook Learning has a troubled history — two schools it took over were closed soon after. But Sajan George, founder of the management group, thinks Indianapolis is his chance to succeed.

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders have recommended Matchbook as a partner to restart School 63, a school with chronically low test scores. The nonprofit operator has been through layers of vetting from the district and its partners. But the network’s past troubles raise significant questions about whether it is likely to succeed in Indianapolis and highlight the limited pool of partners with the interest and experience in restarting failing schools.

If the Indianapolis Public Schools Board approves the plan, School 63 would be the latest school to become an innovation school managed by an outside partner but still considered part of the district.

As Chalkbeat continues, George’s big plan is to park kids on computers using a program called Spark. This idea seems to sound good to the district (and leaves a door wide open for them to kiss their investment goodbye) because Options Are Limited.

What a fine doorway through which a professional ed reformer might easily stroll!

Aside from the Matchbook ousters in Newark and Detroit (as of June 2017 in NJ, and July 2017 in MI, Matchbook had determined to stiff its teachers for the last two months of work, certainly a major red flag), there is still more to the George history than meets the Chalkbeat-informed eye.

In what is arguably a major lapse in George’s “turnaround” history, Chalkbeat only glances at George’s history before starting Matchbook in 2011:

George got his start as a consultant working on corporate turnaround, before he began focusing on working with troubled school districts, and eventually founded Matchbook to restart schools.

But where was George prior to 2011? From his Linkedin bio:

Managing Director

Alvarez & Marsal

2002 – 2011

Led the education practice for Alvarez & Marsal, turning around some of the nation’s largest public school districts including St. Louis, New Orleans, New York City, Washington DC and Detroit.

Sajan George, Managing Director, education practice, Alvarez and Marsal, 2002-2011.

In the Matchbook section of George’s Linkedin bio, George also plugs his Alvarez and Marsal experience as follows:

Founder & CEO

Matchbook Learning

Feb 2011 – Present

Sajan is the Founder & CEO of Matchbook Learning, a national non-profit and the first ever K-12 public school management organization that seeks to turnaround our nation’s bottom 5% public schools by leveraging a blended school model. Sajan believes that by personalizing education, equipping students in their learning and teachers in their teaching with technology, real-time data, coaching and personalized pathways for engagement, every teacher and in turn every student can reach their potential. Matchbook has won numerous awards and received national recognition for its turnaround model including being winners of a Gates Foundation funded Next Generation Learning Grant for breakthrough education models, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation social entrepreneurship fellowship, the NewSchools Venture Fund Portfolio Investment, the Praxis 2012 Social Entrepreneur First Prize, separate invitations to the White House & Capitol Hill and numerous mentions in publications including Forbes and FastCompany magazines to name a few.

Prior to founding Matchbook Learning, Sajan led the Education Practice of Alvarez & Marsal, the nation’s preeminent corporate turnaround firm. Sajan spent the first half of his career performing corporate turnarounds, and then helped create and launch the first education practice dedicated to turning around entire public school districts. Sajan’s education turnaround experience covers some of the most ambitious turnaround efforts in the past decade, including: St. Louis, New Orleans pre & post Hurricane Katrina, NYC, Washington, DC and Detroit to name a few.

Under George’s watch, Alvarez and Marsal has been at the center of ed reformer fast-track money collecting for (at best) bumbling, superficial work for school districts including those in New York, St. Louis, and New Orleans– and DC.

I wrote about Alvarez and Marsal’s involvement in the above four cities in my first book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. Below I have reproduced the section involving Alvarez and Marsal so that Indianapolis can have a fuller picture of what it is getting in hiring the likes of George, who was already “ousted” from Detroit and Newark, to boot.

The excerpt (pages 16 – 18) is part of chapter 1, featuring former NYC chancellor, Joel Klein (citations removed for ease of reading):

Alvarez and Marsal: Yet Another No-bid Rip Off

[New York Schools CHancellor] Joel Klein really likes the no-bid contract. It allows him to freely choose to whom he bequeaths loads of taxpayer money. The no-bid contract easily converts public money into Klein’s own amply-funded financial tap. Klein (and Bloomberg, all via NYDOE, of course) is able to wield their “no-bid” power because mayoral control removes a school system from being classed as a “city agency.” Were the schools designated a city agency (which is the usual course), then competitive bidding would be required prior to contract issuance, as would comptroller oversight. Instead, NYCDOE views itself as a state agency; city oversight cannot touch Bloomberg, or Klein, or NYCDOE spending of taxpayer money.77

Reformer ecstasy: Unfettered power. Freedom to spend sans oversight.

Klein’s brazenness with awarding himself the Wireless Generation contract was not his first no-bid dealing. Far from it. Klein was NYC schools chancellor for just over eight years (2002-2010). According to ParentAdvocates.org, by the time he was halfway though his stay (2006), his penchant for the no-bid was hardly unnoticed:

…In the past four years the DOE has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts; for instance, on the same day the Alvarez deal was approved, the DOE okayed $42 million in other no-bid deals. While the no-bids are a very small percentage of its overall spending, the DOE is doing no-bid deals way more than it used to.

One duo that benefited from Klein’s public money largesse is Alvarez and Marsal (A&M). In the summer of 2006, NYDOE awarded A&M a contract worth approximately $17 million. One of the tasks given A&M by Klein was to “restructure the Office of Pupil Transportation to obtain annual cost savings.” Thus, the goal of spending this $17 million was, ironically, to cheapen the transport of NYC children. In fact, A&M were tasked with shaving off $200 million in the cost of running NYC schools.

In the process of A&M’s “saving money” on student transportation, in early 2007, they inadvertently contributed to mass confusion in their restructuring of bus routes. Children were left out in winter weather, with no buses arriving to take them to school. This created a dangerous situation for scores of students, requiring the school system to set up a hotline to deal with the issue:

Closing out a week of confusion in New York, officials said, a special hot line set up to handle bus problems had received 2,043 calls as of 4:30 p.m. yesterday [February 2, 2007], down somewhat from the day before.

Two years later, in a 2009 interview, Klein admits responsibility out of one side of his mouth and then excuses himself by noting that his decision to hire A&M “did cut costs”:

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein admitted Friday some things have not gone as smoothly as they could have under his watch.

Among them was the bungled school bus overhaul two years ago aimed at squeezing out cost savings that ended up stranding thousands of kids and enraging parents.

“I made the mistake, and I’m responsible for it,” Klein said at the Assembly’s second public hearing on mayoral control.

He was quick to add, though, that the high-priced consulting firm behind the fiasco did help cut costs.

Again with the sad irony of a “high priced firm cutting costs.”

Before A&M had arrived to scoop up millions in NYC, they had been in St. Louis “cutting costs” for a year (2003-04) to the tune of $5 million. In the end, the St. Louis schools faced state takeover due to their facing bankruptcy. Here is evidence of A&M’s St. Louis “success” prior to its “restructuring” transportation in NYC:

…In St. Louis — which had about 40,000 students at the time, a fraction of New York’s nearly 1.1 million — some parents, politicians and school board members said things were not so simple. They said the firm erred by eliminating needed positions, and ignored the human cost behind decisions like closing 16 schools with little notice. Today, they point out, the St. Louis system remains near bankruptcy, and student performance is abysmal.

“I think they [A&M] made things far worse,” said William Purdy, the St. Louis school board vice president. “There were many, many protests, and people were angry.”

In fact, one of the firm’s controversial moves involved eliminating bus stops, changing routes and enforcing a policy that only children living within a mile of school should receive yellow bus service.

Peter L. Downs, a St. Louis school board member, described the changes as a “disaster,” saying “assignments were made without regard to highways, bus routes were drawn without regard to one-way streets or streets that had been blocked off.”

Sure sounds a lot like the “restructuring” A&M “accomplished” in NYC.

A&M had also racked up more than $17 million for its “fiscal restructuring” of New Orleans’ schools following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In overseeing modular campus construction, A&M’s supervision resulted in the project costing an extra $29 million, with $6 million being designated as questionable costs. A&M did not provide the necessary verification to show that work supposedly completed had actually been done.

In 2012, the DC Public Schools, under Kaya Henderson, also hired A&M to “investigate” charges of cheating during Michelle Rhee’s time as chancellor. Rhee had previously hired A&M in 2007 to audit DC schools finances. Never mind that A&M has no experience in investigating test security breaches, nor is the firm experienced in erasure analysis. As the Washington Post observes:

It is not known how much experience Alvarez and Marsal has in test security. Its Web site says it offers “turnaround and restructuring advisory, crisis and interim management, performance improvement, business consulting, global forensic and dispute services and tax advisory.

So much for A&M’s resolving the DC cheating scandal. As of 2013, the scandal continues full force. However, A&M did garner $236,000 for less than two months’ work.

Reformers like Rhee and Klein really seem to like paying A&M for at best nothing and at worst, running school systems into the ground.

So, Indianapolis should ask itself whether George, a man at the help of a “consulting firm” that left students and districts in a scramble in New York and St. Louis; failure to provide evidence that its over-cost construction of post-Katrina New Orleans schools was actually fulfilled, and agreed to investigate the DC cheating scandal under former DC chancellor, Michelle Rhee, despite its having no experience in such investigations.

Not to worry: Under George’s direction, Alvarez and Marsal racked up at least $40 million for its, um, education work in New York, St, Louis, New Orleans, and DC– and isn’t making a profit the point for a consulting firm skipping from ed-reform opportunity to opportunity in our market-driven ed reform world?

And now, Indianapolis appears willing to go all-in with George’s Matchbook. After all, what is there to lose? From Chalkbeat:

Even with Matchbook’s unproven track record, however, there are compelling reasons why Indianapolis leaders might choose to partner with the group. …

Restarting the school as an innovation school in partnership with Matchbook is one way that the Indianapolis Public Schools board could fend off state takeover and maintain control over Wendell Phillips.

That’s why Hakim Moore, a parent of two students at School 63, said he supports the plan for Matchbook to take over. He is happy with the current principal and teachers. But faced with the prospect of the state taking control, he wants to see what Matchbook can do to improve the school.

“My feeling is if they can come in and make it better … that’s better than not trying at all,” Moore said.

There’s another reason why the district might look past Matchbook’s problems: There are not many turnaround operators with proven track records.

 

“Even with Matchbook’s unproven track record….”

On the contrary: Matchbook’s– and George’s– track record is quite clear.

Indy’s School 63 is a sitting duck.

Its board members, parents, and students need to take a lesson from this post.

sitting-duck

_______________________________________________________________________________________

I wrote a few books. Here’s one on the history of charter schools and vouchers:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

And here are two more: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. Swell stuff.

both books

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

7 Comments
  1. Thank for you for continuing to tell the truth about the “implosion” of public education. I was the acting superintendent in New Orleans and experienced first hand the bogus “turnaround” of New Orleans Public Schools. It was experience that haunts me to this day.

    Dr. Ora Watson ________________________________

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    John White is full of it. I have been looking for one current source of cities with mayoral control of public schools. Andy leads appreciated. Education Commission of the States does not have it.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Indianapolis Hires Failed Corporate Turnaround Specialist to Take Over a Public School | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Indianapolis Hires Failed Corporate Turnaround Specialist to Take Over a Public School – Sarah Parker Blog

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