Cerf’s Up: How Privatization Will Wipe Out Public Education in New Jersey (Part 1)

Damn. Read this all the way to the end – promoted by Rosi

“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.

Comments (17)

  1. speedkillsu

     The application has a whole section on the endorsement of parties involved, which include the NJEA, the school districts, and the NJDOE. Since the NJEA did not largely approve, and the reviewers clearly state that only 1% of the unions had agreed to the proposal, the reviewers took off 15-20 points. Then there is an other section on implementation and how they will make it work. Since the union would not agree to the application, the reviewers say that this would hinder the implementation of the plan, and they each deducted another 15-20 points.Hence the reviewers of the application state on the reviews that the NJEA cost NJ about 30-40 points on the application ,do your own research for a change instead of spewing the lies of the njea .http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase2-applications/comments/new-jersey.pdf

  2. William Weber (WjcW)

    Christie’s first choice for education commissioner was Michele Rhee, who declined. If it’s all about the money, explain how her appointment was going to make the both of them rich.  

  3. Jersey Jazzman

    A quick question: I’ve not found confirmation that Christie lobbied for Edison. What’s you source?

    You’ve connect the threads very well here.

  4. firstamend07

    From the New York Times 2/9/07:

    Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is a former president of Edison Schools Inc., the commercial public school operator, said yesterday that he held an equity stake in the company until Wednesday, the day before a citywide parents’ group planned to question him about his ties to Edison.

    Mr. Cerf, who was named a deputy chancellor in December after working as a consultant to the city’s Education Department for about a year, had owned Edison shares that could have been worth as much as $6.7 million by 2008, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Cerf described that figure yesterday in an interview as “1,000 percent speculative.”

    Edison is the premier promoter of for profit public education.

    Edison had tried to takeover the Philadelphia School District a few years ago. Many problems arose.

    Cerf is no mystery.  

  5. Couch Potato Politics

    No matter the scenario, privatization and the devaluation of a labor force has never worked to the benefit of anyone except the companies winning the bid.

    Once a company has won the bid, they perform two primary tasks… Decrease THEIR labor costs by hiring the most minimally qualified and then build in “cost overruns” to up the contract value at renegotiations.

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s teachers, toll takers, prisons or construction companies. Once the contract is in hand, the undercutting begins and the public gets the raw end of the deal.

    Civil service jobs are not profit motive jobs and are not a good fit for privatization.

    The Christie administration is hiring in “Contractors” to “Review” best practices and present reports on their findings. He has brought in manufacturing people to review civil service profiles and present cogent reports that are using a measure for one industry against the practice of a completely different job profile. It makes no sense.

    It is no coincidence that the same people doing the reviews just happen to be the same people or employees of the companies who would be bidding for these jobs if Christie can manage to get them privatized.

  6. Nick Lento

    …though greed is a driving force.


    Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

    by Chris Hedges

    A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

    Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers-those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential-and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

    Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts-those who march to the beat of their own drum-are weeded out.

  7. firstamend07

    Months ago I wrote this after being contacted by a friend,now it is about to happen:

    Palatucci and Christie are “national”names. Would either risk having their names attached to a sweetheart privatization deal?

    Palatucci is senior vice president of CEC,Inc,the largest private prison company operating in the State. This company already controls the vast majority of halfway houses in New Jersey. They also operate a private prison in the Philadelphia suburbs.

    Last year,Christie’s first, it was barely noticed that the Halfway houses got a $3 million subsidy increase inside a Corrections Dept. budget that was reduced by about 4%.

    Maybe just  a coincidence.

    This year the Corrections Dept. was ordered to create an RFP for privatizing inmate education .Financially this makes no sense since education represents barely 2% of the NJDOC budget.

    If there is no real financial savings why do it?


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