Once upon a time it was common to hear someone say, “That’s the $64 question.” Meaning that this was the question no one could answer. As in, “How does your mama make such great biscuits?” In my case, even mama could not answer this question because there was no recipe. Just a dab of this and a pinch of that.
Today, Alabama education also has a $64 question that involves the actions of the state charter school commission and the role they allowed Texan Soner Tarim to play in commission business.
More than a year ago Tarim prepared charter applications for Woodland Prep in Washington County and LEAD Academy in Montgomery. Since the charter commission had contracted with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers since they begin in 2015 to thoroughly review any charter applications, that’s what they did with both the Woodland Prep and LEAD Academy proposals.
NACSA is based in Chicago. They told me that they had reviewed 500 applications in the last 10 years. So they have quite a track record. Records on the Alabama Open Checkbook web site show that Alabama paid them $113,000 for their work. So we apparently thought they knew what they were doing.
Enter Soner Tarim.
This video shows Tarim in one of several recent appearances before the Texas state school board pleading his case to open four new charter schools in Austin, TX. Go to the 36-minute mark where a Texas board member asks him his role in the Woodland Prep application. He readily says that he did the proposal.
Then the board member asked him why NACSA recommended that the application NOT be approved. Listen carefully (though the audio is not the best in the world) and you will hear Tarim explain that basically NACSA did not know how to grade an application and he had to show them how to do it.
This is incredible.
Tarim had a financial interest in both of these charters. So he had a very vested interest in whether they were approved or not.
And if this isn’t a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.
Even more amazing is that the charter commission let him get away with it. The end result? The commission ignored the NACSA recommendation and approved the applications.
So I go to my bank wanting to get a loan to buy a car. I fill out the application, listing my debts, income, etc. The banker looks at what I give him and shoves the paperwork back at me saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you are credit worthy”. So I stare at him, tell him that I don’t care how many years he has been in the banking business, but it is clear that he has no clue what he is doing AND I will approve the loan myself.
What are the chances of that happening?
I’m guessing somewhere between slim and none–and slim has no chance at all.
But that’s what our appointed state charter commission did. They listened to the only guy in the room trying to make a buck from this transaction and took the bait, hook, line and sinker.
Which brings us to the $64 question.
WHY? WHY? WHY?
How do you do this and look yourself in the mirror? Any Alabama money Tarim hauls back to Texas comes out of the pockets of state taxpayers. As a public entity the charter commission should be a good steward of tax dollars. What they did with Tarim is a failure to do so.
How do you rationalize this kind of conduct? I don’t think you can. Which is why I have repeatedly called for a full scale investigation of the charter commission and how they go about their business.
It should be pointed out that the Texas school board turned down Tarim’s application for four new chart schools. But then, they have dealt with him since he opened his first charter there in 2000 and understand how he operates..
But not good ole gullible Alabama. Not only did we let the fox in the henhouse, we opened the door for him.
WHY? WHY? WHY?