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Paul Pastorek Is Positioned to Charterize Puerto Rico. Who Is This Guy, Anyway?

November 30, 2018

The Puerto Rican Department of Education has decided to contract with former Louisiana state ed superintendent, Paul Pastorek, at $250 an hour ($155,000 max) for assistance that includes soliciting the US Department of Education for hurricane recovery aid.

The dog whistle in that news is a charterized Puerto Rico.

In this post, I offer a slice of Pastorek history and involvements. Even though I cut it short, this is a long post.

Get some coffee and sit in your comfy chair.

Here goes:

Like many ed reformers, Pastorek has no teaching background. A lawyer by trade, Pastorek was appointed to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in 1996 by then-governor, Mike Foster, who was impressed by (wait for it) Pastorek’s *passion* about education. From an old Pastorek bio:

Mr. Pastorek served on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)
from 1996-2004, including the last three years as president. …

At first, he was a passionate volunteer in a New Orleans public junior high school.
Appalled at some of the things he saw in that inner-city school, he began to read
literature and work with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce to improve the
education of children in New Orleans. His work came to the attention of Governor
Mike Foster, who appointed him to serve on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Pastorek’s time as a governor’s appointee to BESE ended with Foster’s 2004 departure from office. However, Pastorek was still around, serving under then-state superintendent Cecil Picard (a major force behind all-charter New Orleans) as “chair of the recovery school district committee.” Three years later, just after Picard died (February 2007), Pastorek became state superintendent. From this March 01, 2007, WAFB.com report:

“It’s time to take education to the level.” Those words came from the state’s new superintendent, Paul Pastorek. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education named Pastorek to finish out the late Cecil Picard’s term.

Walter Lee with BESE says, “It’s most unusual for the first time ever, for a state superintendent to be a non-educator.”

Up against two superintendents, Paul Pastorek, a lawyer, will take office as state superintendent no later than March 30th. He has served eight years on the board of education, three as president and under Cecil Picard as chairman of the recovery school district committee.

Having little to no teaching experience and being placed in key positions of ed leadership is a hallmark of market-based ed reform. So is the attendant, oversized compensation.

For such talent as Pastorek, one must expect to pay. And pay, Louisiana taxpayers did.

According to the November 27, 2009, Times-Picayune, the late Cecil Picard’s salary and benefits totaled $265,000, including housing and car allowance. (In 2002, Picard’s salary and housing totaled $127,000.)

However, in 2008, Louisiana taxpayers paid Pastorek an astounding $430,210.

For his three remaining years, Pastorek received $340,000. (See here and here and here.)

For a sense on just how oversized Pastorek’s salary was, consider the following: In 2018, the highest paid state superintendent, Carey Wright of Mississippi, received $300,000. The second highest in 2018 is Pam Stewart of Florida at $276,000, and in third place is Louisiana’s ed reformer, John White, at $275,000. (See this EdWeek article for the comprehensive list.) The 2018 average pay for state superintendents is $174,000.

Pastorek’s salary was obscene.

But the financial bonanza did not stop with Pastorek. in true market-based-reformer style, Pastorek boosted salaries for top administration to the tune of $8M, all in the name of *Attracting Talent*. From the November 27, 2009, Times-Picayune:

Salary costs have jumped in Louisiana’s education department, even as the number of full-time employees dropped, and the number of people drawing six-figure paychecks has more than doubled in the two years since Paul Pastorek took charge of the agency.

Payroll at the Department of Education grew by $8 million — 21 percent — after Pastorek became state superintendent of education in 2007, an Associated Press review of salary data shows.

Pastorek says the pay is needed to attract and keep the best talent. But with huge state budget shortfalls predicted for several years, the salary boosts have irked some lawmakers, already bristling about Pastorek’s own hefty pay increases.

“I just don’t, along with many of my colleagues, feel like we can put a lot of money into administration so this guy can go out and pay big salaries and not (put the money) into the classroom for the kids,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. …

Eighteen top Pastorek deputies draw six-figure salaries, compared with seven under Picard. Two of the high-paying positions under Pastorek have gone to former lawmakers.

A handful of Pastorek’s highest-paid workers have the same job titles they held under Picard but receive paychecks $24,000 to $30,000 larger.

The department’s median salary is $60,902, a growth of $11,170 from Picard’s final month in office.

The $210,000 salary for Pastorek’s deputy superintendent, Ollie Tyler, nearly matches the base pay Picard received as superintendent, though Picard also had a car and housing allowance. …

Keith Guice, president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said BESE doesn’t have authority over personnel decisions besides hiring the superintendent, evaluating him and setting his salary.

But he said, “I am concerned that BESE and the state Department of Education keep in mind that local school systems are being asked to educate children with less money and that we should be mindful of how we spend ours.”

Pastorek lasted two more years, until May 2011. Then-governor, Bobby Jindal, wanted to replace Pastorek with New York deputy superintendent and Teach for America alum, John White, and Pastorek was there to help.

In fact, Pastorek released a press release about White’s hire as Recovery School District (RSD) superintendent before BESE voted on White’s hire. From the April 22, 2011, Louisiana Voice: 

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek recently got a lesson in humility, in timing, and, most important, in how not to B.S. a legislator when testifying in committee hearings.

It all occurred on Thursday, April 7, in an otherwise routine testimony before the House Appropriations Committee and Pastorek came away with proverbial egg all over his lawyerly face.

Near the end of his testimony, committee Chairman Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), in an otherwise cordial exchange about Recovery School District (RSD) business, asked, “Are you waiting for a new RSD superintendent to help?”

Pastorek answered in the affirmative.

“When do you expect to have a new superintendent?” Fannin asked.

“I expect to have one this week if I can possibly have one.”

“So, you indicated earlier that you didn’t have one but you expect to have one?”

“That’s correct,” Pastorek said. I’ve got to get State Board (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) approval and I’m working to set that up. In fact, I have it on the agenda for Friday.”

The only problem with Pastorek’s answer was that he had already chosen a replacement for RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas and Fannin knew it.

In fact, Pastorek himself had announced the previous day, April 6, that John White, deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education would succeed Vallas.

Moreover, at the very time he was testifying on April 7, Pastorek’s Department of Education public information office was issuing a department press release announcing White’s appointment. The press release even quoted Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, and Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.

The press release, under the heading, “State and local leaders endorse John White as next RSD Superintendent,” read as follows:

BATON ROUGE, La – Less than 24 hours after State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek announced his pick to lead the state-run Recovery School District (RSD), an impressive list of state and local leaders is lining up to express their support for Pastorek’s selection. In making their endorsements, these officials join U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who yesterday praised the selection of John White. White, who began his career in education as an English teacher in a high-poverty school in New Jersey, is currently serving as Deputy Chancellor of Talent, Labor and Innovation for New York City, the nation’s largest school system.

Governor Bobby Jindal: “It’s a testament to Louisiana’s commitment to bold and innovative education reform that we’re able to attract talented public servants like John White to come to Louisiana and help move our education system forward. John is well qualified and we’re eager to work with him and Superintendent Pastorek to advance the Recovery School District and continue to improve educational opportunities for our children.”

Tomorrow, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will consider whether to authorize the State Superintendent of Education to appoint the next leader of the RSD.

On Friday, a press conference to formally introduce White will be held at 1 p.m. at Andrew Wilson Charter School in New Orleans.

Fannin allowed Pastorek to dig himself a sufficient hole before springing his trap. “It’s all over the news that one’s been selected and….you look surprised.”

“I’ve been working on selecting one for about eight months,” Pastorek said, less confident now.

“And you sit here today, under oath, telling us that you didn’t know that one was hired and that….”

“I haven’t hired anybody,” Pastorek protested. “I can’t hire anybody until the board approves it on Friday.”

“So you weren’t willing to share that you had made the selection? I think those questions were asked,” Fannin said.

“No, I don’t think that question was asked,” Pastorek said. “What I’ve been trying to do, Mr. Chairman, is, I’ve been trying to report to all my principals what my plan is to do. And I’m trying to get buy-in and support, trying to communicate to my people about that.”

“The way to get buy-in is to come to this committee and be forthcoming, forthright, with information about all you know,” Fannin admonished him. “I’m going to look you pretty straight and I have to tell you I don’t think that’s been (done)…. today.”

Another way to get buy-in is to not issue premature press releases. It’s just tacky.

There is so much story regarding Pastorek and his ed reform connections/manipulations, and it is a challenge to successfully and succinctly relay in a single post. When it came to getting White positioned as Pastorek’s successor as state superintendent (the real goal from day one with bringing White to Louisiana), Pastorek’s connection with former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, comes into play. Bush commanded a nonprofit comprised of state superintendents, Chiefs for Change (C4C), with which Pastorek remained for a while as “chief emeritus” and which, years later, White took over. Bush used C4C to push for White’s election as state superintendent. It is noteworthy that the 2011 La. BESE election was bombarded by hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-state billionaire cash to get ed reform sympathizers in office. (For more on Bush-Pastorek-White, see this post or read my chapters on Bush, Paul Vallas, and Eva Moskowitz in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes; for more on the 2011 purchase of BESE, click here.)

Following that 2011 BESE election, in early 2012, White breezed through as state superintendent.

But let’s step back to pre-reformer-purchased BESE.

The 2007-elected/appointed BESE majority was against having White– who had only been RSD superintendent for a month– slide in as interim state superintendent.

From the May 13, 2011, Advocate via the Louisiana principals’ blog:

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pick to be interim state superintendent of education triggered criticism Thursday from the panel that will make the choice.

Three members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said Thursday they oppose Jindal’s choice. One other, Louella Givens, of New Orleans, is said to be opposed. If four BESE members oppose the move, it will fail.

The governor needs eight of 11 members of the panel to clear the way for John White, who took over as superintendent of the Recovery School District earlier this week with a $281,000 per year pay package.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, also criticized Jindal’s pick.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek announced on Tuesday that he is resigning effective Sunday.

The state superintendent is the governor’s chief lieutenant for public schools. The superintendent recommends and carries out policies that affect an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.

The RSD superintendent oversees 14 low-performing public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish and about 70 others in New Orleans.

The governor names three BESE members and eight are elected from single-member districts. BESE leaders plan to meet next week to pick an interim superintendent.

On April 8, [2011,] BESE approved White to become RSD superintendent 7-1 with three abstentions. Dale Bayard, of Lake Charles, was the lone “no” vote. Keith Guice, of Monroe; Linda Johnson, of Plaquemine; and Givens abstained.

All four were cited Tuesday as being opposed to White becoming interim superintendent even as word spread that Pastorek would quit.

Guice, who is also a former BESE president, said Thursday  he opposes White’s selection.

“I am looking at Mr. White’s qualifications, and I cannot support his candidacy,” Guice said.

“And it has nothing to do with the governor,” he added.

Guice said White lacks the education credentials to be a public school principal in Louisiana.

“We desperately need someone that can build some bridges with public schools, can communicate with the educators of Louisiana, who understands their problems,” he said.

White, 35, is former deputy chancellor of the New York City school system.

Bayard said he will oppose efforts to make White interim  state superintendent.

“The guy really needs to get seasoned to handle such an important job,” Bayard said.

Johnson also said she will oppose White becoming interim state superintendent.

“We brought him 30 days ago to be RSD superintendent,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, he has not had an opportunity to prove himself.”

Givens did not return a call for comment.

Walter Lee, of Mansfield, another BESE member, said he told Jindal’s office that he is undecided on White.

Lee said he would prefer a compromise candidate.

Under state law, BESE can only offer an interim superintendent a seven-month contract until a new board takes office in January.

If BESE goes along, White would reportedly  serve as both state and RSD superintendent, for now.

But Tucker said Thursday he told the Jindal administration that officials should find someone other than White to be interim state superintendent.

“I want him to be focused on RSD,” Tucker said of White.

Meanwhile, Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said Jindal was “possibly holding up” Senate committee action on a House-passed bill to redraw BESE boundaries.

Smith said the delay would be aimed at pressuring BESE members to back White while the new boundaries are finalized.

But state Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur and sponsor of the bill, said he requested the delay Wednesday because he was concerned that Pastorek’s resignation would dominate the meeting.

Bayard plans to seek re-election in October.

Asked if there was any linkage between his stance on White and new lines for his BESE district he said, “Anything’s possible.”

Johnson is not seeking another term.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the state needs an interim superintendent who can maintain Louisiana’s national reputation as a fertile ground for public school reforms.

White did get voted in as state superintendent in January 2012. Though delayed for seven months, Pastorek’s efforts to place White as Louisiana state superintendent paid off.

But let us return to discussion of RSD:

Another issue referenced above is that of former RSD superintendent, Paul Vallas, another market-based-reform opportunist non-teacher with an established history for butchering the finances of school districts (again, for details, see my Vallas chapters in A Chronicle of Echoes). Pastorek’s and Vallas’ time in Louisiana overlaps (2007 – 2011). It was a time of incredible squandering of federal funds. From my June 29, 2013, post on RSD fiscal history:

During Paul Vallas’ time a RSD superintendent (2007-2011), every annual state audit evidenced issues of fiscal irresponsibility and corruption. …

And some more awful handling of federal aid to RSD, chiefly during Vallas’ tenure:

state audit released Monday faults the Recovery School District for not properly overseeing modular campus construction after Hurricane Katrina, resulting in $6.1 million in questionable costs on the $105 million project. The project’s original budget increased by $29 million thanks to 60 change orders and contract amendments, the audit says. …

The [January 2007 to September 2009] report lands as New Orleans works its way through a massive school rebuilding plan funded in large part by nearly $2 billion in FEMA funds. It also comes just a week after [legislative auditor] Purpera’s office issued a separate audit showing that $2.7 million in property had been lost, misplaced or stolen from the Recovery School District in the last 4 years. …

The [January 2007 to September 2009] audit found that Arrighi-Simoneaux charged the RSD $170,571 for fuel for temporary generators that was never provided and $37,843 for 16 light pole foundations that were never built. An additional $472,852 that was charged for foundations “appears to be unreasonable for the service provided,” according to the audit. The firm billed at least $139,000 in work beyond the scope of the contract.

Arrighi-Simoneaux’s unit pricing may also have been too high. For instance, the company charged $110 to drill each of 180 four-inch holes in wooden floors, though the task takes less than 30 seconds, auditors say.

Here’s what Pastorek allowed to happen in the first year of Katrina recovery:

The relatively gargantuan salaries of many of the consultants who appeared to rule the new system was another factor in the public’s general unease. Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. The firm’s contracts continued unchallenged, despite the fact that one of its chief assignments — the disposition of left-over NOPS (New Orleans Public Schools) real estate — was being handled without the services of a single architect, engineer, or construction expert. This omission cost the city a year of progress in determining how and where to rebuild broken schools, and endangered hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA money. It only came to light when the two Pauls [Pastorek and Vallas] were forced to hire yet more consultants for real estate duty, and to bring in the National Guard to oversee the engineering operations.

The security firm that billed RSD more than $20 million defends its profiteering by noting that no student was killed during the previous school year— thin proof given that no student was killed on campus in the previous 60 years either (with one sad, anomalous exception). That company, the Guidry Group from Texas, will keep its contract in the coming school year. Sodexho has never explained why it could not deliver hot food to those 22 campuses, and no public or media entity ever held its feet to the fire for that explanation. Its contract, too, continues. Alvarez & Marsal, for its part, merely said “whoops” when its lack of competence in the field for which it held a $30 million contract was exposed.

That’s what one gets from Pastorek leadership in a crisis situation: A chaotic hemorrhaging of recovery funding.

But Pastorek will watch out for his own. After all, he was willing to allow Louisiana taxpayers to fund Vallas’ repeated, personal trips clear across the country, as the November 22, 2009, Times-Picayune reports:

The superintendent of the Recovery School District drove his state-issued vehicle on numerous out-of-state personal trips in an arrangement that violated the state administrative code but had the blessing of his immediate supervisor, according to an audit report released this morning.

The report by the state Legislative Auditor found that RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas drove a state-owned, 2007 Dodge Durango on 41 out-of-state trips between July 2007 and April 2009.

“Superintendent Vallas reviewed a listing of these 41 trips and characterized 31 of them as personal in nature; 30 of the personal trips were to visit family in Illinois and along the Gulf Coast,” the report said.

The state paid for $946 in fuel costs for these trips and also paid $774 to cover damage that Vallas caused in a Nov. 2, 2008, car accident that happened while he was driving to a press conference in Chicago to discuss a constitutional convention in that state.

The report said Vallas also failed to maintain a log of how the vehicle was used, as state employees are required to do.

Vallas, who oversaw public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia before coming to New Orleans and still owns a home in Illinois, told auditors that he had verbal permission from state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek to use the SUV for personal trips. Pastorek confirmed that he had given the authorization.

Anything for a fellow reformer– including serving one who wants to privatize Los Angeles schools, billionaire Eli Broad. Consider this October 21, 2015, LA School Report:

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation said today Paul Pastorek, a former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who joined the foundation in an executive role earlier this year, has been appointed to lead the group’s efforts to expand charter schools in Los Angeles Unified. …

We have asked Paul to lead our foundation’s involvement in this particular initiative for the next several months, working closely with other funders and community organizations, until we ensure any plan reflects community and family needs for quality public schools,” the Broads said in a letter to “Friends” that was distributed today.

Few issues have roiled the LA Unified community more than the foundation’s plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district. An early report by the foundation said the goal is to serve as many as half the students in the district in 230 newly-created charter schools within the next eight years, an effort that would cost nearly half a billion dollars. 

It’s also a plan that district officials have said would eviscerate public education as it is now delivered by LA Unified.  …

As education superintendent in Louisiana from 2007 to 2011, Pastorek worked to establish more charter schools….

In 2017, Los Angeles school board succumbed to its first pro-charter majority; Broad spent almost $1.9M in the effort.

Broad was also involved in the out-of-state billionaire effort to buy Louisiana’s 2011 BESE election (the one on the heels of Pastorek’s resignation and work to get White in as his successor as state superintendent), which serves to (again) illustrate how ed reformers connect and reconnect help other ed reformers, which brings me back to the opening of my post:

As current chair of the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Pastorek will surely use that $250/hr. in consulting fees to charterize Puerto Rico.

And if history holds true, Pastorek will assist in steering the resulting federal funding toward any number of overpaid, incompetent edupreneurs in Puerto Rico even as he collects his overpayment and moves on to his next ed reform stint.

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Paul Pastorek

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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?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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5 Comments
  1. It’s really disaster capitalism what we have today. “”Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. “

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Corruption propogated under the banner of saving children. What a case study.

  3. Robert Tellman permalink

    Don’t forget Sean O’Keefe was Pastorek’s college roommate. That’s what got him to NASA and the connections just grew from there. None of his experience qualified him for State Superintendent of Education.

    He also brought in that joker with the Florida water deal connections, I forget his name. I think that one is still drawing an LDOE salary.

  4. Linda permalink

    How does the Center for American Progress (funded by Bill Gates) factor in PR’s disaster capitalism? CAP reported in a post they are committed to PR. Is that commitment to destroy public education? Gates’ goal for charters was stated in Philanthropy Roundtable, “…brands on a large scale.”

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