Charter Schools Receive Meg(a) Bucks

The Bay Area’s public school system sustained another groin kick of aggressive generosity Tuesday when politically ambitious billionaire Meg Whitman bestowed $2.5 million on South Bay and Peninsula charter school programs. Apparently, the maid-firing former eBay exec didn’t spend all her money losing last year’s race for governor to Jerry Brown. The donation will go to Summit Public Schools, which established Tahoma and Rainier high schools in San Jose just this year. If the charter school’s name rings a bell, that’s because its first school in Redwood City was glamorously featured in the fire-alarm documentary Waiting for Superman. Whitman’s known for being a big fan of the film, which focuses on how the public education system is failing future generations. Summit’s founder and CEO, Diane Tavenner, as well San Jose Charter School Consortium director Alicia Gallegos Fambrini, certainly deserve a little merit pay for scoring the winning bid, but the cash infusion doesn’t bode well for the tattered public school system. San Jose Unified School District has done well to stave off massive cutbacks the last few years while other districts around the area were distributing pink slips. Whitman’s philanthropy, however, appears to be another charter schools powerplay. The charter schools somehow have become the charity darling of the ultrarich, with Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg leading the way. We won’t hold our breath waiting for a press release about a Silicon Valley billionaire’s gift to a poor, underfunded school that can’t afford chalk and writing paper. At minimum, it would have to be something trendier, like a crowdsourced microloan.

The Fly is the valley’s longest running political column, written by Metro Silicon Valley staff, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at local politics. Fly accepts anonymous tips.


  1. $2.5 million is a modest amount for a public school district but can make a world of difference to two charter schools.  God knows I wish she would have donated her money to a struggling ethnic urban parochial school like St. Patrick’s in San Jose, but there is nothing in what Mrs. Whitman has done that remotely resembles a “groin kick.”  Her donation did nothing to hurt other schools, be they public, parochial, or private. 

    Sir, if I didn’t know you that were a real-live person, I would almost think you to be an Onion parody or a false identity made up by some super right-winger or anarchist trying to discredit public education by making over-the-top remarks like this post.  IMHO criticizing citizens for public philanthropy is not a winning argument.

  2. I can’t believe that the solution to curing the problems faced by public school systems is to funnel money into charter schools and not address the systemic problems public schools face.  While I love the concept and successful implementation of charter schools, the whole point of “Waiting for Superman” was that public schools and school systems have been so long neglected that the only hope for many kids is to be “saved” by a charter school.  How in any way does that solve the problems of the school district?

    $2.5 million and a group of organized volunteers could put dozens of new playgrounds in schools.  It could fund a variety of enrichment programs like field trips we all took for granted as kids.  It could put a community garden and outdoor learning lab in how many schools?  How many computers could we purchase for $2.5mil?

    I laud any contribution to education, but am puzzled by the idea that we aren’t going to concentrate on fixing the problems districts face.  This may be a drop in the bucket for school districts and it certainly takes nothing out of their budgets, but if she really wanted to contribute to education, she could have gotten a lot more for her money.  Instead, she invests her formidable skills and income in a small group that has “solved” the problem for just a few.

    • “$2.5 million and a group of organized volunteers could put dozens of new playgrounds in schools.”

      Nah!  Public entities spend way too much $$ to do simple things. The Santa Clara Valley Water District spent that much on one frickin’ gazebo in Alviso!

      “I laud any contribution to education, but am puzzled by the idea that we aren’t going to concentrate on fixing the problems districts face.”

      The problem with the districts is that there are too many of them, with highly paid redundant superintendents and trustees (you know, guys like Joe Di Salvo); teachers’ unions who steadfastly oppose merit pay; dumbing down on grades; teaching at the level of the slowest dullard in the room; teaching a kid in any language other than English for more than one year…..I can go on an on.  In California, the public school system is Humpty Dumpty.

    • Randi, how is it any of your business to judge the merit of Meg Whitman’s donation. Why is it that the donation of any person – millionaire, billionaire or Average Joe, is subject to scrutiny by the public, so long as that donation does not contribute to some criminal enterprise or an entity inimical to the welfare of the United States or its citizens? My advice: donate what to you can to whomever you want and get your busybody self-important nose out of Meg Whitman’s business. It’s her money and her decision to donate as she sees fit, presumably in a way that is consistent with her world view and moral code. If it isn’t consistent with yours, so what? It’s not your money, it wasn’t your labor or investments which earned it and therefore you aren’t entitled to any say whatsoever. Neither am I. And neither is The Fly.

      Secondarily, from what I’ve seen, The Santa Clara County Office of Education isn’t actually interested in improving the performance of schools, only indulging in more and more wasteful spending, sociel engineering experimentation and ‘progressive education’ bilgewater. Personally, I can’t dispute the sagacity of Meg Whitman’s decision to donate to a charter school program instead.

      • And how is it any business of yours? If it’s your business to comment, why not mine other than you think I don’t agree with you.

        Please re-read my post.  I applaud donations to education.  I’m a former teacher and the daughter of teachers.  If we all agree that the public school system is in dire need of help and assistance…and it looks like we all agree on at least that point…then, while it is commendable that she gives back, if she were concerned about education, she could have gotten so much more for her money.

        And, as she’s a politician (even if she’s not running), her actions are open to scrutiny that is a level above yours or mine.  It is appropriate to question the values of politicians.

        What I don’t agree with is the name calling, the snarkiness and the blame everyone and not come up with a resolution attitude.  It doesn’t matter how we got here; what matters is how we get somewhere else.  Public education is the cornerstone of our ability to compete in this world.  We are leaving kids in the dirt because we won’t tackle the issues.  “Waiting for Superman” simply points that out and doesn’t show how to fix the system, only how we force people to compete for special treatment and an education that should be standard.

        So, what is your solution?  And that question goes to all the ranters.  What is one thing we could change or do?  I’ll start:  Centralize the purchase of text books so each district isn’t negotiating on their own and so we as a state can use the force of bulk buying.  So, now that I’ve saved a couple billion in school expenses, what will we do with the money?

        • Randi, I think you missed my point entirely, which is this: the nature and amount of a person’s donation is their business alone and ought to be based on their personal beliefs and the merit of the receiving agency. So long as it is not a donation to an immoral or illegal cause (Al-Quaida, NAMBLA, to name a few extremem examples) the issue of whether or not we think we have a better idea is irrelevant.

          As for my solutions, I propose the following:

          1. Make public education have to compete with private by offering school vouchers which can be applied to any accredited educational institution.

          2. Eliminate extraneous courses of education. The gays in history law ought to be repealed, for example. Roll back education to the basics: reading, writing, math, science and, later, history, civics, and maybe a course or two in logic.

          3. Establish a ‘three strikes’ policy to rid classrooms of students who are incorrigible and disruptive (or criminal). Push back the responsibility for students’ behavior to the parents. The right of a disruptive student to education should not trump the right of other students to a peaceful and effective learning environment. And, a problem student in one school should not become the same problem in another school. Simply expel the student in question for the remainder of the year and have the state and parents split the cost of in-home tutoring.

          4. Eliminate as much of the mid-level beaureaucracy as possible. For example: eliminate the school districts and county office of education. If the state buys, as you suggest, the same text books for all students at every grade, across the board, then one reason for even having school districts or COE is eliminated. Then contract with a private bussing service to transport students.

          5. Establish a comprehensive 360 degree appraisal system as a means of evaluating teacher performance. Couple that with an objective student testing system to measure classroom performance and establish a bonus pay system for teachers who either elevate classroom performance or maintain it at an already high level. Offer a commensurate bonus for the principal and assistant principal at each school.

  3. Voters and taxpayers are tired of throwing millions dollars at poor performing schools run by California Teachers union and California education administrators who are more interested in teachers pay and benefits and state administration rules then students education

    They don’t address schools problems because

    1) they don’t think there is any school problems that can’t be solved with more taxes and are unwilling to work with existing taxes to fix problems

    2) CTA and state education admins are unwilling to be accountable to parents, taxpayers and voters

    3) Where are the solutions to California education problems with existing taxes ?

    4) If schools want more tax then where are the school / teacher clear achievement improvement solutions If we give schools X in new taxes, we can do Y for measured student achievement commitment to voters for new taxes   Until schools solve the measuring teacher and student performance issues, don’t see any new schools taxes from voters

    5) If special education, English as 2nd or no language and problem students using up taxes is the problem.  where are the solutions and changes in state and federal laws to include parent responsibility for student’s behavior that will solve these problems

    To many voters and taxpayers it is clear No New Schools Taxes, until we see workable education solutions for new taxes and schools accountability

    PS everyone I know is send their children to private, charter or performing public schools and is involved in children’s education

    • There is another thing to consider in voting for a new or extended parcel tax, and that is how the new money will be spent.  We learned in Berryessa this calendar year that the priorities set in the description on the ballot have no meaning in two different ways.

      First, the outgoing superintendent established a stakeholders’ poll to develop how the parcel tax was to be spent.  Those who voted for the parcel tax relying on the language about priorities on the ballot were fooled.

      Second, the oversight committees have been de-fanged if, indeed, they ever had any real power to review how parcel tax money is spent.  There’s such a reliance on the superintendent when faced with binders and binders of information that the oversight committee process for tax expenditures also fools the voters who thought there would be independent oversight.

  4. A public school system is not “neglected” when it is receiving over $8,000 per student. 

    Tuition for my kids is about $7K/each and my kids get field trips, music, and computer labs, along with a better education than they had before in the local public schools. 

    There are some great teachers in the public schools, but the system itself seems irreformable.

    • A few years ago, when my son was about to start school, we applied to a few private schools. At every single one, part of the process was for him to go to school for observations and meet with the teachers where they said they would check if he was “ready” for school.

      He never had a problem, since he could already read and was OK socially. But what struck me was that with this process was that these private schools were simply choosing the best of the best. This is not a luxury that public schools have. Public schools have to take everybody and anybody, regardless of learning/physical disabilities, language issues, home problems, etc.

      This is something that gets lost when people try to compare a public school education to a private one. Privates have a huge advantage since they can be selective.

    • That’s because public school have to educate everyone.  Private schools can screen out those who need special ed and other service.  Once you take in account the amount of money spent on special ed, the amount spent per students on the rest is far less than $8000.  And most public schools are actually receiving about $7000 after the most recent round of cuts.

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