by Steve Zeltzer
KPFA WorkWeek Radio
Some of the same people who helped wreck the world economy in 2008 are now in California using the deregulation of education, charters and testing scams to make a killing in California public education. They are also running up against angry parents, teachers and advocates of public education in Richmond, California.
Ron E Beller, his wife Jennifer Moses were leading stars as speculative traders at Goldman Sachs in London in the 1980's before the collapse. They left Goldman Sachs in 2001 to set up their own hedge fund, which was called Peloton and it was run by Beller, Moses and Scott Mead.
Peloton initially made huge profits from the subprime mortgage debacle in the US. Peloton's top manager described proudly how it had gambled on a "'world coming to an end' trade that debt linked to subprime loans would tumble and higher quality securities would rise". As a result the firm's ABS investment fund rose 87 percent in 2007. EuroHedge magazine awarded the fund best new fixed-income fund. Now, despite investing in high quality mortgages, it's worthless.
Beller and Moses early claim to notoriety in the UK was a secretary at Peloton who stole millions of dollars that he and his wife did not know was missing. "Not all Goldmanites avoid the headlines. An abiding tale of the boom years is how three London executives, Jennifer Moses and her husband, Ron Beller, and Scott Mead, had so much cash they did not notice when an assistant, Joyti De-Laurey, stole more than £4m from their accounts."
In the case, it also came out that Ron and Jennifer had spent £500,000 on her 40th birthday weekend in Italy. According to trial records, Mrs. Moses took trips with personal shoppers around Bergdorf Goodman, a high-end exclusive department store in New York. Two housekeepers and a firm of landscape gardeners looked after their home outside New York as they spent most of their time in London.
Jennifer Moses also had big political aspirations. She had become an education advisor to UK Labor Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Her job was to “fix” the crisis in the British school system with US capitalist enterprise schemes and enterprise social policies. She was one of the US Clintonite neo-liberals who wanted to give “tough love” to the poor and children. According to reports she was even so hardliner in cutting benefits that even labor party leader Tony Blair was put off according to reports. According to one of her supporters, Moses took a “strictly pragmatic view of education supporting city academies and private money in the state education” which was opposed by many Labour MPs. "Her view is very American," says one leading Lib-Dem who knows her. "It is that if you can solve a problem with private money, just get on with it. It would have shaken up the brethren around Gordonif she had joined the team." As an American with, according to colleagues, a "formidable intellect", it is understood the Prime Minister was convinced Moses, a libertarian with a social conscience, was the woman to help "get things done" and show that he was not relying on what new rightwing Labour party officials called “old” labour.
She and her husband were also supporters of the private charter school in the UK called the ARK schools. ARK advertises itself as an American and British educational charity sponsored and run by a group of millionaire merchant bankers and currency speculators. According to the UK National Teachers of Union NUT although it adverstises itself as an operator of ‘non-selective inner city schools.' it is not.
“ARK, advertises its specializing in math. It has been revealed that one proposal considered by ARK is to develop a math curriculum and sell it to others. The other specialism proposed is citizenship. According to Elle Macpherson, his ex partner, Busson is so devout a Catholic he decided that he couldn’t marry a divorcee, despite having two children with her out of wedlock and despite Macpherson herself being a Catholic.”
According to an investigation by the NUT branches “Contrary to spin, there is only one academy sponsored by ARK currently functioning. It is Burlington Danes Academy in White City, opened in September 2006. Already they have changed the key selection criteria from the original 10% Christian to 25% Christian for this September’s intake.”
Her political adventure with PM Gordon Brown ended abruptly when the collapse took place in 2008. "Jennifer was going to take an unpaid role in Number 10 but that has been put on hold because of what has happened with her husband's business.”
“House Of Cards” Peloton Fund Collapses
The collapse of his fund Peloton happened on the last day of the quarter in 2008 and it figures in the book "House of Cards". Since the collapse took place in the last day of the quarter, other speculative hedge funds had to downgrade their own holdings leading to the escalating crash. Investors lost $17 billion in their fund and sued Beller’s fund for compensation.
The couple decided finally to leave their scandals in London behind and put their energy into "doing good” back in the United States according to their friends.
As education entrepreneurs, they first put their work into helping to attack the teacher’s contract and teacher’s union in New York City.
NY city school Superintendent Joe l Klein had been appointed by Michael Bloomberg and had a mission to reorganize New York Public Schools with the Teach for America TFA and the New Teacher Project which was being pushed by the Obama administration and his US Education Secretary Arnie Duncan. The "project" had been established by Michelle Rhee in 1997. The Gates Foundation and other privateers argued that they were “reinvigorating” the schools but it turned out it was really aimed at efforts to bust the teachers union and bring in testing systems and other programs to make education a business operation profitable for testing companies like Pearson and charter operators.
Beller was brought on as an unpaid operative for New York School Superintendent Joel Klein and since he was not on the paid staff of the school district he could operate without any inspection of his “work" at the New York City school system.
Testing operator Pearson also would later be investigated by the New York State Attorney for providing kickbacks for testing contracts with the state. It had been given the contract for the testing system used in the “No Child Left Behind” plan backed by Obama and Duncan. Pearson was also involved in a billion dollar scandal where the Broad Foundation LAUSD superintendent John Deasy made a non-competitive bid sweet heart deal with Pearson and Apple for over a billion dollars worth of tests, software and computers. He had been secretly meeting with Pearson and Apple representative to make sure they won the contract. Beller in an interview claimed that he was unaware of the financial scandal at LAUSD with Deasy who was also a graduate of the Broad Academy.
In New York, Beller’s tactics also began to leave a bitter taste.
"Reforms were needed, but went too far, spearheaded initially by consultants from McKinsey and later by Ron Beller, a former Goldman Sachs partner who was considered 'their hit guy,'” said the former DOE cabinet member, who worked with Beller during the reorganization. “There’s nothing like a trader at an investment bank for the sharp, bright edge of the marketplace – a brutal clarity, applied to the school system.” His job under Klein was organization changes in the New York school system.
New Business Ventures
Ron Beller and his wife now decided on new hunting grounds. They bought a multi-million dollar home in San Francisco and set up the Caliber charter school chain. The first board meeting of the charter school was held in the offices of Fortress Investments on the 42nd floor at One Market Plaza in the Spear Tower on October 31, 2013. A former Goldman Sachs speculator, Peter L. Briger Jr. was now principal and co-director of Fortress Investments and responsible for Credit and the Real Estate business. He became a billionaire at Goldman and then lost most of it when the market crashed and was only left with $350 million. Since that time according to Forbes his is back up to $1.2 billion.
According to a report in Vanity Fair “ “Briger built a 12,000-square-foot home in East Hampton in 2007 to add to his residence in Manhattan. A helicopter that is partially owned by Fortress, purchased before the company went public, sometimes shuttles Novogratz and Briger to and from the firm’s Manhattan offices. (The men say they reimburse Fortress for the expense.)”
The Beller-Moses couple set up a Caliber Schools as a non-profit corporation and billionaire Peter Briger Jr. now became one of the first board members. Moses had previously worked as a “consultant” for Fortress. Beller also became a co-founder with his wife of the venture capital company Ed-Mentor LLC, which invests in early stage education technology companies.
One question that the parents and public need to ask is whether Beller and Moses are using their testing techniques on their Caliber students as testers to see how their software works. This question is further amplified by the “contributors” to the Caliber charter school who included Zuckerberg Education Ventures, The Chamberlin Family Foundation, Gates Foundation and others.
Beller also set up a new venture capital company Branch Hill Capital with $40 million with Manal Mehta a speculator at the Peloton Partners. The first school that was built was in Vallejo. Although there was some opposition, it received approval by the local school board.
Teachers are non-union and forced to work from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM and sometimes 6:00 PM. One of the sales pitches that these charter operators make is that teacher even eat lunch with their children. While this may sound good, it violates California labor code, which requires that workers get lunch off for their own business. Having lunch with students means not have a required lunch break since they are still with their students.
The next school was in Richmond where it is trying to get a new school location in Richmond on a hilltop for $60,000, so it can leave the flatlands in Richmond, where most of the poor and immigrant children live. Students will have to be driven to the school by their parents, which would eliminate those students who whose parents could not drive them. Parents, United Teachers of Richmond union members and public education advocates on May 10, 2016 spoke out and demanded answers from Ron Beller, his operatives and the West Contra County School Board Assistant Superintendent who are pushing a secret deal for the charter school in the community.
Beller is planning to get $20 million from foundations and private investers to build a school on the former Adams Middle School site, which is on an earthquake fault. Proposition 39 which passed in California in 2001 was touted as making the state more efficient and also reducing the percentage of votes required to pass school construction bond initiatives. It was backed by John T. Walton from the Walmart family who gave $3 million and Reed Hasting of Netflix and with the California Charter School Association who gave $1 million. It was also backed by the CTA and CFT despite language that forces school district to give schools or funds to charters to pay for their rent. This CCSA drafted initiative allowed local school boards and even country school boards to be override votes opposed to giving charter school land. It allowed the State Board of Education which Jerry Brown has packed with charter privatizers the ability to ignore local communities on whether a charter should be established. This has forced charters in neighborhoods destroying local community schools and created additional divisions.
At the same time, school boards now are spending more and more time and money on charters and their locations and operation. Governor Brown who set up private military charters in Oakland has also vetoed legislation for more transparency and accountability from charter schools allowing the corruption and fraud to grow.
This law is also now threatening the complete bankruptcy of school districts who are being forced to approve more and more charters who are wiping out their fiscal viability. This is also part of the plan of the privatizers who want to eliminate united public school districts and make entire school districts like Los Angeles and West Contra County charter districts.
The first community meeting in fact was held at the Mira Vista school in Richmond which is one of the schools that would be affected. At the Richmond school meeting Beller said he was working for free and had no ulterior motives than the right of the children to have "choice" like he had. At the community meeting, he claimed that the law required the school to be accepted, but did not point out that he had financially helped changed the law to all his charter operations. Beller did not point out that he and his wife have also contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the California Charter School Association which has been pushing charters as well as fighting unionization by charter school teachers.
CalSTRS Dumped By Beller's Caliber Charter Schools
At their June 25, 2016 “school board meeting,” which of course includes billionaire Briger, Beller & Moses voted to eliminate the CalSTRS pension plan for certified teachers, and instead, replace the defined pension with a 401K and social security. This will mean a net loss of retirement income for teachers at the Caliber Charter schools, but of course increase the profits of the schools. The approval of this, the board said was approved by the WCCSB and other charter schools are taking the same action threatening the entire Cal-STRS pension system.
The lack of enforcement of the California Brown Act by State Attorney General Kamala Harris has allowed these charters to avoid any serious oversight. There are no accompanying documents from their board meetings such as who exactly approved the dropping of the Cal-STRS pension plan by the district. Reporters who have sought to get records from these charter schools are continually stymied and denied records that they would automatically get at a public school district.
Community speakers charged at the meeting that he had also personally profited from speculating on housing mortgage loans while he was with Goldman Sacks where he was former chief of now-collapsed hedge fund Peloton Partners. Thousands of working class families in Richmond lost their homes as a direct result of the massive capitalist speculation by Beller, Moses, Briger and Goldman Sachs, and now they wanted to destroy their community schools for their charter school chain.
Beller and other charter school operators call parents of public school students and urge them to leave their public schools, and go to a charter school where they will get a "great" education. Most of their targets are Latino and Black students with higher potential. It is called cherry picking, and creaming the top for good scores and has drained public schools of many of their best students.
While at Goldman Sachs, Beller also had a reputation as a workplace bully. "Mr. Beller's intense demeanor sometimes caused friction. He berated secretaries, and poor-performing traders kept quiet in meetings to avoid being humiliated by him, according to people familiar with the situation.
Richmond community and labor member also challenged him at the meeting for opposing unionization at charter school and using non-union labor in the construction of the public funded privately run charters. There are now 6 charter schools in line to get constructed in Richmond, while other poor public schools are being starved of funds. Charter school supporter and non-union builders and “Venture Philanthropists” Steve and Susan Chamberlin have given large donations to charter supporters on the West Contra School Board who denied at the meeting that they received contributions for Charter supporters. They are known as education "reform" advocates and gave over $2.4 million to WCCSF for bringing in more Teach For America staff.
At the Caliper meeting WCCSD, Trustee Cuevas vehemently denied taking any money from charter supporters, but was strongly challenged on this since she had taken money from charter non-union builders Steve and Susan Chamberlin. These developers build charter schools non-union, and then lease them back to the charters for profits and with the taxpayer paying the rent, Investors also get special Federal tax breaks that allow them to double their money in 7 years.
The UBC carpenter’s union Local 713 also had a six month picket at the Aspire charter school in Richmond, which was built by Chamberlin Associates and brought in non-union carpenters from Nevada with subcontractors paying them $17.00 an hour. The union picket failed to force Chamberlin to pay prevailing wages and Chamberlin continues to build non-union in Richmond.
Under California charter laws, these charters are also not required to build under the Field Bill, which requires better health and safety standards for the students, teachers and staff. This allows the charter investors to have greater profits, and obviously building non-union is part and parcel of the plan. Additionally, hundreds of millions of public funds are now in the pipeline for more non-union charter schools in California in a direct challenge to the California Building Trades.
Teach For America?
The use of Teach For America, a government funded program to bring into the classroom teachers with no experience, has been used throughout the country to replace senior professional teachers and drive down costs, so that the charters and public schools can become more profitable. Recently the San Francisco Unified School district decided that they no long saw any value to using TFA in replacing teachers. Lita Blanc, president of the United Educators of San Francisco teacher union said, “TFA actually does institutionalize turnover as a way of life”.
Other SFUSD opponents of TFA charged that it has been used to bring in inexperienced teachers and cheap labor making schools more profitable, but shortchanging the students, many in immigrant and poor working class community schools. SFUSD School board member Jill Wynns has also opposed TFA’s financial connections to supporters of charter schools and “market-base education reform”, which Feller and Moses fit to a tee.
Now Beller and his wife Jennifer Moses are supporting privatization schemes with what they call "blended learning" in education in the US and the UK, and Caliber is one of their hot ventures. Blended learning, of course, means getting rid of teachers and having the students on computers during the day. Already there are a growing number of shopping mall “blended learning” charter schools, where you have a lot of computers and no certificated teachers. Their work in helping to kick off the 2008 collapse, by the speculation on mortgage securities, may now be repeated in the speculation by charter operators in California and throughout the country.