Schweich to Exam CEE-Trust School Reform Contract
January 16, 2014

(AP) – The Missouri auditor’s office will review how state education officials awarded a contract to a consulting firm to suggest ways to improve schools in Kansas City and other unaccredited districts.

The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust was hired last year and presented its proposal this week to the State Board of Education.

Some legislators and community groups leveled criticism after emails raised questions about the bidding process. One complaint was that CEE-Trust’s bid was nearly three times higher than that of a competitor.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said Wednesday the office decided a limited review of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was warranted based on documents provided by the agency. The auditor requested documents in December related to the contract and to a proposed ballot measure on teacher tenure.

CEE-Trusts Offers Plan for State Intervention in KC Public Schools
January 14, 2014

Members of the Missouri Board of Education got their first detailed look at a consultant’s plan for “state intervention” of the unaccredited Kansas City, Missouri school district.
The plan was created by the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, known as CEE-Trust.
The plan calls for a quick, major, transformation of the troubled district.
It’s designers say urban school systems are the problem holding students back, but urban schools themselves can succeed.
It’s central premise is to shift much of the decision making away from the District’s central and give more control to schools to decide how to educate their pupils.
If the state Board of Education adopts the plan, and the Kansas City Public School system does not regain accreditation this year, the plan could be in place by the next school year.
The plan was drawn up for Kansas City, but it’s designers say it could also be used to reform the unaccredited urban school districts in the St. Louis area of Normandy and Riverview Gardens.
The district’s central administration would be replaced by a state Community School Office.
That agency would function like a central office, but with fewer duties.
The Community School Office would still operate buildings, handle transportation and enrollment.
Other functions, however, would be delegated to the schools.
The plan calls for nonprofit educational agencies to serve as sponsored of individual schools. Those sponsors could be successful charter schools, or even operations sponsored by nearby districts, as well as other school reform groups.
The school sponsors and building principals would have more control over how money is spent in each school, curriculum, and who are hired as teachers.
Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who is most interested in the CEE- Trust plan, says other options are also being looked at.
Nicastro told reporters Monday the Kansas City district has its own reform plan. Several other agencies also have drawn school reform options.
There will a hearing in Kansas City on the plan on January 29th at 6:30 pm at the Paseo Academy at 4747 Flora.
Nicastro said it is possible the state Board could act on the reform plan as soon as it’s next Board meeting in mid-February.

Controversial Plan for KC Schools Due Monday
January 12, 2014

(AP) – A private education reform group is preparing to release its recommendations for turning around Missouri’s unaccredited school systems, even as debate swirls over whether the consultant was appropriately awarded the contract.

The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, (AP) – A private education reform group is preparing to release its recommendations for turning around Missouri’s unaccredited school systems, even as debate swirls over whether the consultant was appropriately awarded the contract.

The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, has been tasked with coming up with ideas that could be implemented in the Kansas City school district and potentially also in Normandy, Riverview Gardens – both in St. Louis County – or any other districts that become unaccredited. CEE-Trust was started by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit that operates a charter school incubator.

The firm, which will make its draft recommendations to the State Board of Education on Monday afternoon, was awarded the contract last fall as a new state law took effect giving the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education greater powers to intervene in troubled schools. But Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro received criticism from some lawmakers and community organizations after emails raised questions about the bidding process used to select CEE-Trust.

Key among the concerns is that the state initially sought to hire CEE-Trust without putting the project out to bid, according to emails obtained through an open records request by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity , an interfaith social justice organization also known as MORE2, and provided to The Kansas City Star. After the state board balked at a no-bid contract and other entities were invited to submit bids, CEE-Trust still came out the winner, even though its bid was nearly three times higher than the closest competitor.

MORE2 executive director Lora McDonald said her group was among several that called for the state to pull the plug on the study until contract questions were answered. She said she also has concerns because she believes that the soon-to-be unveiled proposal will recommend the expansion of charter schools in unaccredited districts. She noted that the Kaufman Foundation, one of two foundations bankrolling CEE-Trust’s contract, is a charter backer that has opened its own charter school.

“We have gone through this rabbit hole of creating a few high-quality schools, but, who goes to them?” McDonald asked. “It’s the children whose parents are on top of their game, and those kids are going to get a good education because they have parents who are capable of facilitating that, no matter which school they are in. I think what is left behind is kids whose families have the greatest level of need and the least ability to access the privatization movement.”

Following the Star’s story about the emails, two groups of state lawmakers called last month for investigations, and Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich is considering whether to audit the department. been tasked with coming up with ideas that could be implemented in the Kansas City school district and potentially also in Normandy, Riverview Gardens – both in St. Louis County – or any other districts that become unaccredited. CEE-Trust was started by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit that operates a charter school incubator.

The firm, which will make its draft recommendations to the State Board of Education on Monday afternoon, was awarded the contract last fall as a new state law took effect giving the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education greater powers to intervene in troubled schools. But Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro received criticism from some lawmakers and community organizations after emails raised questions about the bidding process used to select CEE-Trust.

Key among the concerns is that the state initially sought to hire CEE-Trust without putting the project out to bid, according to emails obtained through an open records request by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity , an interfaith social justice organization also known as MORE2, and provided to The Kansas City Star. After the state board balked at a no-bid contract and other entities were invited to submit bids, CEE-Trust still came out the winner, even though its bid was nearly three times higher than the closest competitor.

MORE2 executive director Lora McDonald said her group was among several that called for the state to pull the plug on the study until contract questions were answered. She said she also has concerns because she believes that the soon-to-be unveiled proposal will recommend the expansion of charter schools in unaccredited districts. She noted that the Kaufman Foundation, one of two foundations bankrolling CEE-Trust’s contract, is a charter backer that has opened its own charter school.

“We have gone through this rabbit hole of creating a few high-quality schools, but, who goes to them?” McDonald asked. “It’s the children whose parents are on top of their game, and those kids are going to get a good education because they have parents who are capable of facilitating that, no matter which school they are in. I think what is left behind is kids whose families have the greatest level of need and the least ability to access the privatization movement.”

Following the Star’s story about the emails, two groups of state lawmakers called last month for investigations, and Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich is considering whether to audit the department.

Missouri Auditor Asks for DESE Records on KC Student Transfer
December 14, 2013

Post- Dispatch:
Missouri Auditor Thomas Schweich is weighing whether to launch an audit of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in light of recent controversies involving the education commissioner.
Schweich sent a letter to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro this week stating his office is considering a probe into the very issues that have triggered calls for her resignation from teachers unions, more than a dozen lawmakers and even the St. Louis County Branch of the NAACP.

Schweich is requesting department documents relating to the development of a plan calling for a new statewide district for underperforming schools, which Nicastro is expected to unveil in January. He wants records concerning the process by which the department procured a contract with CEE-Trust — Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship — an Indianapolis-based firm that’s drafting an improvement plan for Kansas City Public Schools. Schweich also has requested any internal and external communications concerning the proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate teacher tenure.

KC School Lawsuit Accuses Nicastro of Trying to “Break-up” the District
December 13, 2013

The Kansas City School District filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the state school Board of trying to break up the unaccredited school system.
The charge is contained in the lawsuit filed by the district in its effort to block the student transfer law from being applied in the troubled school system.
The lawsuit also asks the court to re-classify Kansas City as a provisionally accredited district, removing it from some state sanctions.
Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the law.
The ruling means the Kansas City district must pay the tuition and transportation costs from any student who wants to flee to an accredited district nearby.
The district is worried the school system could be destabilized by such a move.
The lawsuit says Nicastro and some if the State’s top education officials “covertly” tried to dismantle the public school system and convert it to a set of charter schools.
The lawsuit cites recently released
e-mails.
Those e-mails track the effort to have Missouri enter into an agreement with a school consulting firm called Cities
for Educational Entrepreneurship (CEE-Trust).
The e-mails indicate the state was going to use almost $400,000 in grant money from the Ewing Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation to pay for CEE-Trust to evaluate the district and possibly start “opportunity schools”, a phrase the group used to describe the charter schools created by the group in Indianapolis.
The suit says DESE rigged the bidding process to steer the contract to CEE-Trust.
The suit also charges the educational officials deliberately did not re-classify the Kansas City Schools even though the district’s latest Missouri test scores showed the Kansas City schools earned enough points to move from its current unaccredited rating to provisional accreditation.
A change like that would have prevented the Kansas City district from coming under the student transfer laws for unaccredited districts.
There was no comment from DESE Friday.
Commissioner Nicastro, DESE, and the state Board of Education have repeatedly said they are not interested in taking over the district, but only want to help it improve.
The lawsuit and its charges show the quiet, but very tense feud between the troubled district and the state is now breaking open in the courts.
Missouri lawmakers are being urged to revise the state’s student transfer laws.
The head of the Senate Education Committee, Ed Pearce said revising that law should be the top education priority for legislators in 2014.
He, and several other Members have filed bill addressing the 29-year old student transfer law.