The Cartel: Education + Politics = Money


They don't call it the Soprano State for nothing.

If you thought New Jersey's corruption stopped with the politicians and the Mob, think again. The Garden State's Department of Education is so corrupt that it makes its reality stars look squeaky clean.

Second to New York, New Jersey spends the most money per pupil than any other state in the nation. It is also one of the worst taxpayer sinkholes in the country. While the average teacher costs the state $55,000 per year, the cost per classroom can run upwards of $430,000.

Where, might you be wondering, does that extra $380,000 go?

That's what The Cartela compelling new documentary by TV reporter Bob Bowdon that opened last week—seeks to uncover. In a dizzying slate of interviews with administrators, teachers, parents, and students, Bowdon paints a picture of "rampant, pervasive, institutional" corruption in a state that's mired in the "school district business."

To wit: New Jersey has 616 school districts averaging 2,300 students per district, while nearby Maryland (a comparable state in terms of size and population) has just 24 school districts that average around 35,000 students. That might not seem like a big deal until you consider it means that taxpayers are paying for 616 superintendents (and all the attendant administration costs that go along with it).

In the past decade alone, the Pleasantville Public Schools have cycled through 13 superintendents and the U.S. Attorney's office has indicted five members of it's school board on corruption counts. In another district, a superintendent was given a $741,000 severance payout on top of his $120,000 per year pension. When the enormity of his parachute was challenged, they finally settled for $556,000.

And if you're an honest teacher trying to stand up to the corruption, think again. Paula Veggian, who spent 40 years as an educator in Camden and blew the whistle on grade inflation, was demoted and transferred to another school over Christmas vacation. (She was later offered her old job back after her lawyer filed a federal lawsuit against the school district.)

Meanwhile, Beverly Jones from the Trenton Central High School, who in 2004 was named the best history teacher in the state, received a public apology after her reports of phantom salaries (paid to teachers who don't exist) and competent 9th graders being held back a grade to fill seats in a new "repeater" program were proven true.

"They cannot afford to stand up to administrators," Jones tells Bowdon in the documentary. If they could, she continues, "They would say the children are not the focus, the money is the focus, and what happens to the money no one knows."

The New Jersey Education Association has arguably put the biggest stranglehold on the system. From vehemently opposing merit pay and vouchers, which would undoubtedly hurt their bottom line even if they gave students better school options, while endorsing patronage jobs, "rubber room" type strangleholds keep bad teacher's from getting fired. (In the past decade only one of 10,000 teachers in Bergen County has gone through a tenure hearing process.) In fact, in 2008 the NJDOE blocked 21 out of 22 applications for charter schools, most of those on technicalities that amounted to nothing more than forgetting a pair of parentheses on an exhaustive 100-plus page application.

In short, The Cartel presents NJEA as an egregious, hubristic union that seems intent on trampling over innovation for the sake of pensions and tenure. All this while running ads (yes, teachers running ads) boasting about their overly-inflated graduation rates even though less than 40% of the state's 8th graders are proficient in reading and math.

And if you think this is limited to New Jersey, think again. Much like the drug cartels, this enterprise is national. But instead of running coke and pot on the backs of mules, running their careers and get-rich-quick scams on the backs of your children.

Michael Slenske is a writer who is based in New York.
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less