"When someone says 'it's not about money', it's about money." - H.L. Mencken
Earlier, as the overt push for privatizing New Jersey's public schools was just getting started, I wanted to bring attention to some of the strange theories and characters who were spearheading the effort. I was under the impression that they were promoting a justifiably unpopular vision based on pure conviction and that when confronted by the force of democracy would be defeated. The privatizers claimed it was about the kids and their way was superior to the tried and true system that works in the wealthier parts of the state. I thought this was a genuine contest of ideas.
I was fundamentally wrong. This is not about ideas, this is about money.
That truth was made clear when Christopher Cerf was named acting Education Commissioner. Cerf is, without a doubt, a businessman posing as a public servant. Jack Grubman, a former securities analyst for Salomon Smith Barney commenting on corruption on Wall Street said that “what used to be a conflict of interest has now become a synergy.” In that case, Cerf brings a lot of "synergies" to the position of State Education Commissioner.
Before moving on to Cerf it seems appropriate to explore the interests of the man who appointed him. That man is our duly elected Governor, Christopher "The Bat" Christie.
Christie also has an extensive history with the business of privatizing public education. Despite a recent statement at the American Enterprise Institute where Christie said "I never had a job in Trenton before I became Governor"; he did. Christie was a registered lobbyist in Trenton from 1999-2001. Far from a "Trenton Outsider" Christie was in high demand, he had all the right connections. He was hired by the Securities Industry Association to prevent stocks and bonds from being included in the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, mid-Atlantic Power Supply Association for Enron style energy deregulation and even a little mom and pop outfit known as Edison Schools Inc. for privatizing public schools; That's right folks; Christie was Edison's lobbyist in Trenton.
So you could even say Christie not only definitely "had a job in Trenton before he was Governor"; he had the same job he thinks he has now; privatizing public education to profit his friends.
After Christie, along with a company named Wireless Generation (remember that name), sabotaged New Jersey out of $400 million in order to stick it to the NJEA he needed a fall guy and chose former Education Commissioner Brett Schundler. So now the state was not only out $400 million in desperately needed education funds it was also out an Education Commissioner. What to do? Christie decided to look for talent from his old employer/current campaign donor Edison Schools Inc. and he found a willing former President and Chief Operating Officer of Edison Schools; Christie's old boss Christopher Cerf.
Yes - Christie used to work for Cerf. In 2001 while Christie was Edison’s registered lobbyist, Cerf was Edison’s President and COO.
Oh what tangled webs we weave when we wish to deceive (on a Race to the Top Application). But let's get back to Cerf.
Cerf was President and COO of Edison Schools Inc. for eight years running the company into the ground and requiring to get bailed out by the Florida Teachers Pension Fund in a corrupt deal brokered by Governor Jeb Bush. Cerf held on to his equity in the company until media attention forced him to divest when he took another public job for his private benefit in New York under New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, a long time privatization activist. Cerf, while a partner in the Public Private Strategy Group, extracted some nice fees serving as Klein's Chief Advisor on Transformation, leading "efforts to redesign the financial and organizational structure of the nation's largest school district." Cha-ching!
Along with his Public/Private/Privatizing business Cerf went to crony capitalism school. Cerf "graduated" from the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy in 2004. The what? Exactly, at least diploma mills grant fake degrees that sound like real degrees. Broad Urban Superintendent Academy is essentially a privatizing seminar program for the Broad Foundation which, like a lot of these foundations, is a front for business interests. Just play the Trump Apprentice Theme Song in your head, you'll understand.
"Degree" in hand and a wealth of experience in extracting economic rents from taxpayers, Cerf founded Global Education Advisors and became the Chief Executive Officer of Sangari Global Education. And by the way, if you want to talk cookie-cutter corporate marketing check out the Sangrai website (1980s called they want their infomercial music back). Sangari, an openly for-profit business, makes money peddling textbooks and "consulting" with public schools.
Global Education Advisors is giving Cerf some Edison-style issues – first he said he was not connected to the company, then admitted he founded it and now is leaving the door open to still financially profiting from it as it gets business from the state on studying privatizing education – more "synergies"!
So now the question becomes scope. Is this all just a quid pro quo between Christie and Cerf, a payback for years of throwing business Christie’s way? You know, typical Jersey stuff. Or is there a larger strategy at work? How does Derrell "Dangerous Minds" Bradford fit into of all of this? Why is Cory Booker giving Cerf's company secret contracts to study privatizing Newark's schools?
Who is going to make money if Christie, Cerf, Klein, Bradford and others get their way?
Part 2 tomorrow.
Cross-Posted on Blue Jersey