Who says you can’t make big bucks in public education?

All in the family: Alison Avera and Tracy Breslin
All in the family: Alison Avera and Tracy Breslin

If Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson gets her way and pumps $1 million into Turnaround for Children (TFC), the private firm headed by her former strategy chief, Alison Avera, Avera won’t be the only old friend and associate Anderson helps. Anderson also will be helping Avera’s partner, the former “talent officer” of the Newark Public Schools, Tracy Breslin. Avera and Breslin are partners in the consulting firm, Advisera LLC, and they are life partners.

Together, in 2011 and 2012, Avera and Breslin were paid $742,000 to work in the Newark public schools.  But, although they held job titles in Newark–a state-operated school district–they were paid by the Foundation for Newark’s Future (FNF). That’s the pass-through scheme set up by former Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and announced on national television by Oprah Winfrey and Gov. Chris Christie; it was supposed to improve education in Newark. It didn’t do that, but it sure made a lot of consultants happy..

The payments to Breslin and Avera are recorded in FNF’s tax returns. Avera and Breslin are listed both as grantees and independent contractors and they were paid to provide Anderson with help running the Newark school district. Avera was paid more than $378,000 and Breslin was paid more than $364,000.

The FNF’s documents show the home address for both Breslin and Avera at the time as 160 Prospect Park West Apt. 3 in Brooklyn’s upscale Park Slope neighborhood. The brownstone, according to real estate websites, is valued at $4.2 million,  but their apartment is worth little more than $800,000 and was recently up for rent at more than $3,000 monthly.

Avera and Breslin also worked together in the consulting firm Cross and Joftus, which must be a particular favorite of the state education department in running takeover districts. Cross and Joftus also were hired in Jersey City and Camden.

While Avera was chief strategy officer for Anderson’s Newark Public Schools, Breslin was the interim Chief Talent Officer and, according to Breslin’s resume, we have this to thank Breslin for: “She facilitated district/union negotiations leading to a breakthrough teacher contract.” Where have we heard that before?

Breslin also developed Anderson’s strategy of “principal autonomy,” a key to the superintendent’s failed “Renew Schools” policy. Turnaround for Children was paid $700,000 this school year to help three of the renew schools–Chancellor Avenue, Cleveland, and 13th Avenue–and Anderson wants to give TFC another $1 million. The schools did not do well on statewide tests.

Breslin’s “principal autonomy” piece allows newly hired principals at “Renew Schools” to hire new staffs, thus consigning regular staff members, many of them experienced and tenured,  either to temporary assignments, rubber rooms throughout Newark, or even to their homes, paid to do nothing. They’re not paid as much as Breslin and Avera, of course, but they are paid–and not with Mark Zuckerberg’s money, but with public money.

Like Avera, Breslin has a resume extraordinarily like Anderson’s. All three were trained at the Broad Academy, a billionaire-funded “school” that promotes privatization among school administrators. All three earned master’s degrees from Harvard. All three worked together in the New York City schools, headed for privatization under Chancellor Joel Klein until that process was slowed by the election of Mayor Bill DeBlasio. And, of course, all three earned top-of-the-line money while working for the cash-strapped Newark public schools.

Avera had a hole in her resume that Breslin fills for the pair. Like Anderson, Avera worked for Teach for America (TFA), which now supplies Newark with untrained, inexperienced and poorly paid temporary teachers to replace the tenured teachers Anderson is unsuccessfully trying to fire. Breslin didn’t work for TFA but she did work for New Leaders, another pro-privatization  organization Anderson helped lead.

 

 

 

 

 

15 comments

  1. Urban Teacher

    Turnaround for Children is not a private firm. It is a nonprofit.

    Bob Braun: Yes, it’s a private non-profit firm. Just because something is non-profit, doesn’t make it private. Trust me–try sending them an OPRA or FOIA request and you will see how private it really is. Ask what its top people are making and you will learn both how private it is and how meaningless the distinction between a for-profit and a non-profit can be.

    • El Che

      The firm may not profit, but the politically connected people running sure do, at the expense of the children, education and common decency. May they all burn in hell the whole lot of them!

      Bob Braun: Some for profit companies don’t make profits and some not-for-profits provide extraordinarily high salaries for management. When we’re talking about the privatization of American public education, it is a distinction without a difference.

  2. Another staffer

    I’m really dumb about these things so can someone explain to me how Cami can use funds I would assume are allocated to Newark Public Schools as a personal checkbook to send whevever she wants? I mean she is the “head” of NPS, right? So, how is she able to allocate money to other entities? I know I’m pretty naive about finance and politics so I’d appreciate a (simple) explanation.

    Bob Braun: It’s called state control. The state-appointed superintendent is vested with all the powers once enjoyed by an eleced school board. So, if Cami Anderson wants to give a big contract to a company headed by an old pal like Ali Avera, she can. The sate education commissioner, David Hespe, could stop her but, since returning to the commissioner’s office he once held with distinction, Hespe has proved himself morally challenged and frightened of his boss, the bully of State Street.

  3. DA

    Bob

    Many organizational and management consulting firms have both a non-profit and at times a for profit arm. If they have a non-profit status they can apply and compete for more unrestricted government grants and funds. They also may get benefits with SBA if listed as a non-profit in the specific and/or Education arenas. These are all ways to work a system to their business benefits.

    Newark Board has fiscal control now, right? What will happen with this and in freezing Cami’s salary remember that one?

    Bob Braun: Excellent points about the difference between profit and non-profit firms. Yes, the board has fiscal control–but not governance. Is a decision not to give a contract to one of Cami’s cronies a financial or governance question? Uncharted territory.

    • DA

      Bob

      It would seem a bit of both financial and goverance; but in the end in the business or corporate mindset it is all about the fiscal lines, “old boys and now girls clubs”, and that money is the bottom line in these networks.

  4. WitchDoctorEvans

    This kind of rampant corruption is happening all over state controlled districts look at Paterson were consultants are feeding like leeches on the public’s dime while real educators get the shaft. Whether its IFL’s 1.5 million dollar contract, Theodore Best’s no show job, “coaches” who get over 125K for nothing and even a “coach” for the business administrator (http://www.northjersey.com/news/paterson-schools-paying-21-500-for-business-administrator-s-coaching-contract-1.1149137 A). Paterson is another Newark. Corruption at its finest and of course since its directed from Christie down the AG will do nothing!

    Bob Braun: Thank you for this–and, at least, Paterson has the Record to watch it. Newark has the Star-Ledger that keeps repeating the refrain that what Anderson does–no matter how corrupt and ineffective–present “bold and sensible” reforms.

    • booklady

      Cozy–Frank Ciecierski, President Resource Action Concepts, Wildwood Crest, was Adjunct Professor MBA program Pace University, where Richard Kilpatrick, Paterson’s Business Administrator, earned his MBA in Finance.
      Curious–Joe Malinconico (who wrote the Northjersey.com piece that WDE linked here, also wrote Jan 22, 2013 article “School District Has New Business Administrator” for TAP into Paterson/The Alternative Press. He noted, “Richard Kilpatrick once monitored the finances of the Paterson school district as part of his job with NJ DofEd.” [County School Business Administrator 2008-2012] In the article Superintendent Donnie Evans says of RK, “His previous experience in Paterson made him a unique candidate because he is acutely aware of the DOE’s expectations for a state-operated district.”
      JM cites RK’s experience in Jamesburg (K-12 enrollment ~700), West Amwell (K-6 enr ~260), and an unnamed Camden Co charter school. Paterson’s K-12 enrollment is 25,000+.
      If RK has questions even with the experience Dr Evans cites, couldn’t RK call the Chief Intervention Officer at NJ Dept Ed?

      • booklady

        What is the $ threshold that requires bids? If it’s $25,000, wouldn’t it be convenient to offer services for $21,500?

        • DA

          This is a great question all federally funded programs must have a fair RFP and procurement process that meet DOE approvals for contracts above a certain “CAP” what is the federal and state policy in the bidding process for all these consulting firms? Are minority businesses in based Newark getting a fair opportunity to bid? I have never in 20 years across the nation seen a superintendent just not answer to anyone and have such rampage and complete autonomy!! What is our legal recourses or options??

  5. Bill Wolfe

    superb capture of the essence of cronyism and corrupt insider self dealings to promote incompetence.

    We can expect even more pervasive proliferation of these kinds of frauds and the Charter School movement, privatization, and “public private partnerships” are embraced by Democrats and expand to other public sector policy and institutional arenas.

    PS – I would have left the “life partners” out. I realize it is legitimate concern that these folks are in a relationship, but it opens the door to homophobic critics.

    Bob Braun: Maybe, but they live together and have children so not characterizing their relationship would seem awkward. If they were man and wife–and, for all I know, they are married–I would mention that.

  6. NWK TEACHER

    Fascinating as always! When you do these articles, do you reach out to the people that are involved for comment. I would love to hear their side of the story.
    Bob Braun: That’s a fair question and a good one. The answer–it depends. Because this is my blog and I am solely responsible for its content, I get to make that decision. I know the tradition in main-stream media is always to ask for “the other side of the story.” This issue was the source of some of the nastiest arguments I had with editors at The Star-Ledger. This is what goes into my thinking before I make that decision: 1) I am an opinion writer. Although many of my blogs are fact-based and I strive for accuracy (and apologize for inaccuracy), I use my blog to make a point. It’s an argument and I don’t feel any obligation to make the other side’s argument. I am not a disinterested umpire. 2) I have found over the years that I can pretty well guess what an opposing comment will be and, often, I believe it to be untrue and I am not in the business of printing what I believe to be lies. One of my heroes in Andrea Seabrook (http://www.decodedc.com/), the former Congressional correspondent for NPR who quit because she was tired of reporting lies. So was I. 3) I will do my best to contact the other side if there is a genuine question of fact. Indeed, I have delayed publishing stories while I wait for responses that often never come. That’s a form of censorship I won’t abide. 4) I often do ask for comment and I am often ignored. That’s okay, but it won’t stop me from writing a story. For example, when I discovered the state-operated Camden school district hired the cousin of Chris Christie’s wife Mary Pat, I asked Christie’s flack to respond. He refused. Ok. 5) Sometimes the stories are so fact-rich–like the one about Alison Avera and Tracy Breslin–that I see little point in asking them for their comment. What will they tell me: “We were worth every cent of that $750k?” 6) If someone wants to dispute the facts in my story and can show with a preponderance of evidence I am wrong, I will correct what I’ve written and issue an apology. I’ve done it and will do it again if necessary. 7) I don’t believe in balance for balance’s sake. Paul Krugman is credited for a line in which he said something like, “Earth is round, others disagree.” I had a colleague who, when he was off his meds, believed I was not Bob Braun but rather another colleague who had died. I didn’t think his opinion about whether I was dead or not merited denial.
    I know you thought you asked a simple question but it doesn’t have a simple answer.

    • NWK TEACHER

      I did! I never expected such a long response!!! You are simply the best blogger on Newark topics and I totally understand and respect your position.

      Bob Braun: Had to smile when I read your comment that I was the “best blogger on Newark topics.” Some 20 years ago, the then editor of The Star-Ledger, Mort Pye, retired after 35 years on the job. When he came in, he hired an almost entirely green, inexperienced staff (including me)–and, no, it wasn’t because we were cheaper, he paid us well. At his retirement party, a group of us sang a song that had a line saying he “was the best boss we ever had.” When he got up to speak, he said the obvious–for most of us, he was the ONLY boss we ever had. So, if you think I’m the best, I thank you for your kind words, but the competition isn’t too fierce.

  7. Rafael

    This is worst that Watergate or Bridgegate. It should be named Camigate! Where does all of this underhanded money funding end? Everyone talks about over paid teachers, but these two above are really over paid leaches! When is the State going to get their hands out of public schools pockets and start fixing its own problems? Too many con artist have suck out funds from the system and produce nil, zero. nada! It is time to wake up and smell the coffee instead of the BS!!

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