Sunday, April 14, 2013

National School Choice Group Finds Voucher Allies In New Brunswick; Looking For Spot On Board Of Ed

I'm staying off this bandwagon...

Back in March Diane Ravitch posted about Rutgers student activist Stephanie Rivera's candidacy for the New Brunswick school board, and asked readers to donate to her campaign. Diane reposted Stephanie's request for help, which talked a lot about the "political machine" in New Brunswick and how for the last 20 years the board has been appointed by the mayor.
Election Day is April 16, and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. We’ll be going up against the political establishment of New Brunswick, which until now has been appointing the Board of Education and depriving New Brunswick youth and the community of the justice and quality education they deserve. For the past 20 YEARS, board members have been appointed by the same guy: New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill. And unbelievably, this is the first year in New Brunswick’s HISTORY that the Board of Education is ELECTED.
New Brunswick is right across the Raritan river from me, and I know Stephanie, but I stayed out of it and did not endorse her campaign, even after Save Our Schools NJ's Julia Sass Rubin jumped in and endorsed Stephanie, too.


First, because my husband teaches in New Brunswick, so I generally try not to get involved in things there. And second, because I didn't know her running mates.

But now I do, and MAN am I glad I stayed out of this one (well, until now obviously...).  Stephanie is great, and she has done some amazing things, and I am sure she will go on to be a fine educator and advocate, but her slate is a hot mess and she needs to dump these people. 


The Company You Keep

My biggest concern is Martin Arocho.  He is a former board member, appointed by the Mayor, who ran into some trouble while on the board.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Martin Arocho be censured as a school official found to have violated the School Ethics Act. 
Oh my.

But what is far more troubling is who Arocho has been rubbing elbows with as of late. In the last three years he has been trying to get back into a position of power in New Brunswick.  In 2010 he ran for the City Council, on the ticket of Mayoral challenger Patricia Bombelyn.  Luckily for New Brunswick, they lost.
New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill coasted to victory in the Democratic primary as he pursues a sixth term, easily defeating a spirited effort by attorney Patricia Bombelyn who waged a more than year-long grassroots campaign. 
Arocho also ran in the first school board election in January, and boy did he ever lose. He had the least votes of any other candidate. His campaign may not have resonated with voters, but he did have the support of former running mate Bombelyn.
Mr. Arocho is backed by former mayor candidate Patricia Bombelyn. In the 2010 Democratic party primary, Arocho unsuccessfully sought a city council seat on Bombelyn's ticket.
Four days ago, Bombelyn posted an endorsement of Arocho on her Facebook page: "Martin has the courage that is necessary to ensure that the interests of children come first, and he knows that successful outcomes are the best and most valid measure of good schools.(emphasis mine)
Perhaps very few people voted for him because no one knew what he stood for.
Of all the candidates, Mr. Arocho is the least specific about what policies he would support as a board member.  "Martín believes in public education but understands that much needs to be revamped to make it the best," is the only substantive policy statement on his four-paragraph flier.
Arocho was also the only candidate that did not respond to the candidate questionnaire published by Unity Square.  
(emphasis mine)
Man, those two sure seem to be beating around the bush about something, don't they? 

Vouchers, vouchers and more vouchers

Does Bombelyn's name sound familiar to you?  If you follow the dregs of the education reform movement, you may recall Bombelyn was one of the lawyers behind last year's E3 stunt in Camden where three parents appealed to the Commissioner to have their children removed from the public schools.

For Immediate Release 
Monday, October 15, 2012 
Contact: Patricia Bombelyn, Esq. 732 214 1166
Julio Gomez, Esq. 908 789 1080 
October 15th, Trenton, New Jersey – Attorneys for parents of three Camden public school students filed a class action Complaint today with Education Commissioner Cerf, against the Camden Board of Education, seeking the immediate transfer of their children from Camden Public Schools. The parents, Sandra Vargas, Maria Roldan and Gricelda Ruiz maintain that their children are being deprived of their state constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education and they are asking that their request for access to a better school be treated with urgency. (emphasis mine)
But administrative law judge Edward Delanoy didn't buy it
Mere reliance on an overwhelmingly unfavorable general review of the District’s schools, without more, is not enough to establish that petitioners are not receiving a thorough and efficient education in each of their particular circumstances,” Delanoy wrote.
The petitioners, represented by advocates who have long pressed for private school vouchers in the state, said they would challenge Delanoy’s decision while continuing to pursue the larger class-action case.
“We are hopeful that the Commissioner of Education will carefully review this matter and place the immediate needs and interests of children ahead of the interests of a school district that has failed them for over a decade,” read the joint statement from lawyers Patricia Bombelyn and Julio Gomez.(emphasis mine)
Yes indeed, Bombelyn and her husband, Martin Perez, are HUGE voucher pushers. In fact, Perez is on the board of E3.  He is also the president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLA NJ), which recently endorsed Chris Christie.  And it's not like they endorsed him on other issues and sidestepped his education policies, they FULLY embrace Christie's education reform agenda.
For over a decade, the Latino Leadership Alliance has fought with successive administrations for educational reform that ensures our children have access to high quality education, educational opportunity that breaks rather than perpetuates the cycle of poverty. In this arena, Governor Christie has been unrelenting in his commitment to our children's needs. Unlike any predecessor, he stepped directly into the ring with Trenton's educational establishment to fight for the education rights of Latino children stuck in dysfunctional schools. As a result, today, Latino parents have more educational choices because of the record number of high quality charter schools that have been opened and renewed under the Governor's administration. He also broke the stranglehold of tenure laws and policies that for years have protected adult interests at the expense of children. Now an educator's performance, rather than the passage of time, is what measures effectiveness, pay, and whether a person stays at the front of a classroom. 
And, just earlier this week, in his budget address, the Governor again demonstrated his commitment to the fight for educational justice, by dedicating funds for an Opportunity Scholarship Pilot Project, while also providing more state aid for education than any previous administration. (emphasis mine)
There you have it, the Holy Trinity of ed reform has come to New Brunswick.  LLA NJ supports charters, vouchers, and teacher accountability measures.

The Voucher Cash Truck Backs Into New Brunswick

And in case you're thinking Bombelyn and Perez's connections stop at the NJ border, you're wrong.  When Bombelyn and Arocho ran on the same ticket, their campaign received a $2,600 donation from the "New Jersey Federation for Children PAC."

Note the address; 1660 L ST, NW STE 1000, Washington DC. This just happens to be the address for the American Federation for Children. Who's behind it? Reformy glitterati such as Betsy DeVos.

...American Federation for Children (AFC), the powerful national network of billionaire campaign contributors that has been pouring millions into school privatization fights across the country.
Organized by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos, Americans for Children is officially nonpartisan. But Dick DeVos is a former Republican nominee for governor of Michigan and Betsy DeVos is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Together, they have poured tens of millions of dollars into the ideological and electoral infrastructure that supports school privatization.
“Dick DeVos has used his family’s fortune and status to create an intricate national network of nonprofits, political action committees and federal groups known as 527s that effectively fund the political arm of the school voucher movement,” notes a People for the American Way study of the political projects of the heir to the Amway fortune and his wife. “Nowhere is the impact of the DeVos family fortune greater, though, than in the movement to privatize public education.”
AFC chair Betsy DeVos has for decades been a high-stakes political player on behalf of school privatization. (emphasis mine)

Great.  Just when I thought I had a handle on all the reformers with their claws into public education in New Jersey, it turns out there's ANOTHER one breathing down our necks.

Other notables behind AFC are "venture capitalist" John F. Kirtley, and investment banker and banking heir Boykin Curry, who is also on the board of Democrats for Education Reform, and a co-founder of a chain of NYC charters called Public Prep.

To bring this full circle, it's important to note that AFC is part and parcel of another entity called Alliance for School Choice, which has identical board members and the same address. Who funds Alliance for School Choice? (As if these folks need more money??)  In 2011 the Walton Foundation gave them $1,202,000.

And here comes the trickle down. 

Between 2006 and 2010 Alliance for School Choice gave $113,500 to none other than Martin Perez's Latino Leadership Alliance. Not surprisingly E3, (remember Perez is on the board) is listed as their only ally in New Jersey.

In turn, the LLA NJ donated $2,700 to Bombelyn and Arocho's campaign.

A source tells me that LLA NJ has also donated to the Rivera, Monahan and Arocho slate. I have asked their campaign manager for a list of campaign contributions, but I haven't received a response, and contributions have not yet been reported to The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Arocho sorta kinda admits he's for charter and vouchers.

I attended a moderated public forum where the candidates, both the incumbents and the challengers, gave statements and answered questions. Luckily the moderator asked the question I submitted, which was "what is your position on charters and vouchers."

You can watch Arocho's and the other candidate's responses at about the 52 minute mark.

I believe in public schools, but I also believe in choices. I think if the public schools are not doing well, and right now we have in New Brunswick, some of the parents don't send their kids to the public schools in New Brunswick, they have a choice. And I think if the public schools would be doing well and our kids were learning and being successful, we wouldn't have a need for charter schools or any choice or any vouchers. So, that's my answer. - Martin Arocho
Does this sound like a guy you want on the board of a public school district?

You can judge for yourself, but I have to say, in my opinion, the mayor appointed board members are the clear choices in this election. They demonstrated their deep roots in and commitment to the district, as well as their depth of knowledge on the issues.  

The challengers?  Not so much.  

It's important to note that the NBEA, the New Brunswick teachers union, has endorsed all three incumbents as well.

It's not too late to back out...

You have to wonder how an outspoken public school advocate like Stephanie Rivera got caught up in such a mess.  It seems more than ironic that the student who stood up to DFER spawn Students For Education Reform is now caught up in a school board campaign with a guy whose previous campaign took money from a DFER related school choice group.

My hope for her is she disembarks this train wreck before she inadvertently gets out the Rutgers vote to elect a man who's been rejected by New Brunswick voters twice. It would be a travesty if Martin Arocho, Patricia Bombelyn and Martin Perez and their voucher loving backers were allowed to get a foothold on the New Brunswick Board of Education.

UPDATE: The New Brunswick Board of Education incumbents were returned to their seats.  The voucher pushers will have to push vouchers somewhere else. And notice, Mr. Arocho was the lowest vote getter, once again.

Well played New Brunswick, well played...


  1. It is hard to be young and want to change the world and I believe, as Mother Crusader has said here, that Stephanie has good intentions. But it is dangerous not to listen and to be swept up in people offering paths to power. I hope that the elected board of New Brunswick that comes in is one that represents the interests of the students of the public schools and the long terms success of the public schools. I think, reading this excellent analysis, that it is pretty clear who that will be.

  2. Excellent post Darcie!

  3. Darcie, as always, that you for bringing the truth to light.

  4. Why do you portray vouchers as so bad? Parents should have no choice in selecting schools? NJEA is corrupt and self serving and the reason why we had to homeschool our children. You are biased, your husband is part of the reason you dislike vouchers...he is protecting himself from competing with others. And...for the record, I am from NB

  5. Anonymous,
    You have a very clearly delineated opinion, and that is fine, but to cast aspersions on my husband is out of bounds. If you would like to debate me on the merit of vouchers, please do, but I can't respond to hyperbole such as "NJEA is corrupt and the reason we had to homeschool our children."

    I think that the state should support all public schools so that children everywhere get a good education, not dismantle public education with charters and vouchers.

    Here's a little light reading on vouchers. If you'd like to discuss this in a productive manner, I'd be happy to.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I would request you reconsider your ill-informed endorsement of the mayor's appointees or pretty much anything having to do with Mayor Cahill himself. Mayor Cahill's corrupt administration overall has overseen the wholesale destruction of black and brown neighborhoods and public services that help those communities in his town, destabilizing entire communities in the name of urban renewal and by extension disrupting the lives of many children in the school system. As people who are concerned about issues of public education, I believe we all can agree that a stable living environment is critical to educational outcomes. This is something the local government has been terrible at, and, having gone through the K-12 system in New Brunswick myself, the children are generally underserved and the few talented kids served up as PR for Mayor Cahill and his cronies in J&J.

    It's also silly to endorse people who were completely against having their positions be elected in the first place, and even sillier to try to speak for a community you don't really seem to know much about.

  7. Anonymous (same? different?? why no names??)

    I couldn't agree more that a stable living environment is critical to a child's education. I said nothing about support for the Mayor, and don't know enough about his administration to comment, so in that sense you are partially right.

    However, my post is about what I saw at the candidate's forum, and research I did into the financial contributions received by Patricia Bombelyn, her husband and Martin Arocho, and their support of vouchers and education reforms that have shown no evidence of improving outcomes for students.

    There seems to be a contingent in NB that will deride the Mayor for anything and everything - and that is their right. My point is that they would be wise to be careful who they replace the current Mayor or Board of Education with. If you replace them with individuals that support Gov. Christie and the lackeys of billionaire school choice advocates, is that really progress for the people of NB?

    I would think the Occupy NB folks would be horrified to learn that Betsy DeVos, the sister of Blackwater USA's Erik Prince ( is donating to political campaigns in NB. But strangely enough, they are on the website of the incumbents bashing them, not the ones taking these donations. I think this whole group of Rutgers activists ought to look in the mirror, and do some serious background checks before they decide which candidates to support in an election, otherwise they look like uninformed hypocrites.

  8. "You can judge for yourself, but I have to say, in my opinion, the mayor appointed board members are the clear choices in this election. They demonstrated their deep roots in and commitment to the district, as well as their depth of knowledge on the issues."

    You supported the Mayor's appointees (in NB that is essentially the same as supporting the Mayor and his agenda), and if you bought their line, then I'd have to question your judgment of character as these are the same people who opposed the move from an appointed board to an elected one, the same appointed board that up until the last election, was accountable to no one but the patronage system in New Brunswick and had no particular incentive or even a decent record of improving education outcomes in the district.

    You should probably take your own advice about "background" checks" and think about doing more research into the incumbency than "researching" alleged money trails that really don't add up to anything other than a relationship with Arocho. LLANJ et. al to my knowledge are not funding the grassroots campaign to oust the incumbents, and I'd have to question that sort of assessment given that 2 out of 3 have been on consistent record opposing school privatization, so why in the world would LLANJ back such a weak ticket for them? Also, The Middlesex County Democratic Organization (whom back the Mayor and his people) has plenty of people who support corporate education reform, hence it's not so strange seeing those corporate ed. reform backers you mention on the website of the incumbents; so to use that point to slime one side while ignoring the fact that the special interests you object to mostly have their hands in the pie of the incumbency is ludicrous and smacks of weak analysis.

  9. Anonymous, were you at the candidate's night? Did you hear the candidates? I am a big fan of Stephanie's, but I thought that Sean and Mr. Arocho were entirely unimpressive and had little to say of substance. You can disagree with my assessment, that is your prerogative.

    My source informed me that LLA NJ wrote a $300 check the night of the fundraiser, and I attempted to confirm this with campaign manager Erik Straub but he never returned my email, and contributions have still not been reported to ELEC. In fact, Eric has deleted everything I have written on the slate's Facebook page, while he and others from the campaign have posted multiple challenging messages on the page of the incumbents looking to stir the pot.

    Funny, but their questions were answered and not deleted by the campaign of the incumbents, but Erik AGAIN deleted his own comments and turned tail and fled when I challenged his lack of knowledge on the charter issues he was attempting to use to trip up me and the incumbents even though he had no clue what he was talking about.

    And for the record, I think it is well worth it for them to give $300 bucks to use Rutgers students and recent grads to try to get their guy on the board. One seat is better than no seats, right?

    You make lots of allegations but seem to have nothing to back them up. Give me some facts, not your conjecture. I backed up everything that I said.

    And perhaps next time you respond you can tell me who I am debating. Why not use your real name?

    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. President-elect Donald J. Trump has announced that Betsy Devos is his choice to be his Secretary of Education.

    Of course that is after she and her husband donated $2,707,015 to Republican candidates during the last election period.