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Man of Mystery

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Allow me to introduce myself. I represent men of great wealth and fame. You may know me as a reporter, columnist and bon vivant, but I confess I have had a secret life.

I am the local representative of the vast right-wing conspiracy to destroy public schools.

In exchange for acting as their man on the ground, I am remunerated handsomely with a series of "grants" delivered to my Cayman Islands bank account.  (You don't think Mitt is the only one with off-shore interests do you?)

The vast right-wing conspiracy (The VRC, as we affectionately call it) consists of a group of mysterious, wealthy men determined to end public education as we know it and replace it with cheap, tawdry, for-profit charter schools that they can milk for profits.  Naturally, I cannot disclose their identities, other than to say it includes Bill Gates.

As their local agent, I have been busy, busy, busy.  For instance, I had a hand in getting Jeremy Nowak ousted as president of the William Penn Foundation.  Through the foundation, Jeremy had financed the now notorious Boston Group consultant's report that was billed as an objective look at the district in the post-Arlene Era. 

In reality, if you hold it to the light at a certain angle, it reveals our secret blueprint for destruction of the district. By the way, you have to use an incandescent bulb.  Those LEDs don't work.

Jeremy was way too outspoken on the necessity of the report.  He was outted by the local media.  He was becoming too much of a liability.  He had to go.

And so, I called certain people in high places and said to them -- to use our secret code -- "Ixnay on Eremyjay."

And he was gone.

Once things quiet down, we will be back in business, at the same stand. And, yes, to preclude the prying questions, it was me who did the school-closing plan.

Why would right wingers want to destroy public education in Philadelphia?  I mean other than for the fun of it.  It's because we want an in on this education racket.  Our wedge is charter schools.  We plan to eventually have them dominate, and then we will milk the system for all its worth.  And then some.

It's nothing personal, as Michael Corleone always put it.  It's strictly business.  Of course, it will hurt the kids.  But the VRC doesn't like kids, especially poor kids.  It likes profits -- obscene profits some would call them, but they are just sore losers.

The funny thing is, I have been at this gig for years, going back to the Michael Marcase days in the 70's.

I was instrumental in getting Frank Rizzo to name Marcase, a true hack, as superintendent because I knew that the two of them would give the teachers union a sweetheart contract with work rules that would tie the district in knots for decades to come.  Talk about long-range planning.  Was that smart or what?

Since many of the VRC are billionaire plutocrats, money is rarely an object.

For years, I had teams of my agents in the schools for the expressed purpose of erasing the correct answer kids put on the standardized tests and penciling in wrong ones.  So it looked like the scores were really bad.

Unfortunately, my efforts were undermined by teachers, principals and others who would erase our wrong answers and replace them with the correct ones so the scores would look good.  Honestly, there's no integrity anymore.

I put an end to this "Eraser Wars" by having our agents leak details about the erasures of our erasures to the media.  Furor ensued.  Test scores dived. Victory was mine!

Also, it cost us a mint to hire those Chinese hackers to invade the district's IT system and fiddle with the data on high-school graduation rates to make them look so low.  Ditto with violent incidences in the schools.  Do you know how much it costs to get 15-year-olds to punch out teachers, set fire to wastebaskets and beat up tweens?  Not much, it turns out, at least on a per-unit basis. What cost a lot was getting those violence reports disappeared.

In the early 2000s I was worried that our plan was going to get sidetracked.  The state had taken over the schools. Ed Rendell was showering the district with money.  It looked as if Paul Vallas might actually increase political and public support for public education.  Obviously, he had to go.  Obviously, he did.  I will say no more.

It goes without saying that I was instrumental in the hiring of Arlene Ackerman.  I knew that she could do more in just a few short years to screw local support for public education than any other superintendent could do in six or seven. The thing is, the woman required no training.  She was a natural.

As proud as I am of prepping this baby, I cannot take credit for everything.  The fact that kids in 11th grade read at a fourth-grade level?  That's not me.

The fact that the district rarely, if ever, fires incompetent teachers? I wish I could take credit, but they figured that out by themselves.

The suffocating central bureaucracy? I plead not guilty.  I was out of town on another assignment when that happened.

The rabid, widespread resistance to any change in the status quo, even when the status quo sucks?  It's not me. It's Philadelphia, Jake.

Why am I revealing all of this now? Because I have decided it is time to stop sending my money offshore and send myself offshore.  Preferably to the Bahamas.

But, I wanted bragging rights for all that I have accomplished over the years.

Hence, these revelations.

Even though I will not be around to help, I am confident that the good people of this city will be able to soldier on by themselves in totally screwing up any attempt to bring real reform to the public schools. To you, I hand off my spiffy VRC lapel pin and my secret Ovaltine decoder ring. So, in conclusion, egt$ qu3#2 Hbmraaa*&.

-- Tom Ferrick

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