Unmentioned in the article is that Spencer Robertson, the founder of PAVE, is the scion of Julian Robertson -- former hedge fund manager and according to Forbes, the #147 wealthiest person in the US, with an estimated fortune of $2.2 billion.
Julian Robertson is one of many hedge fund operators who have taken up charter schools as their new hobby, according to an article in the Style section of the NY Times. Robertson owns vineyards and golf courses in New Zealand, as well as homes in Locust Valley, the Hamptons and Sun Valley, as well in New York City.
He and other financiers are especially enthusiastic about the cause, because they their contributions are more than matched by hefty subsidies from state and city taxpayers. According to Whitney Tilson, another hedge fund operator and charter school supporter:
“It’s the most important cause in the nation, obviously, and with the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged."
And yet Julian Robertson himself is careful not to pay NYC taxes , by making certain to spend under 183 days in the city. The state recently brought a lawsuit against Mr. Robertson senior for failure to pay taxes, but Robertson won this case, by proving that he had carefully worked out the minimum number of days he would reside in the city and having his scheduler keep records of this:
"...Mr. Robertson designated an assistant, his scheduler Julie Depperschmidt, to keep a careful count of where the Robertsons were from day to day in 2000 and to make sure they did not spend 183 days or more in New York City."
Spencer Robertson's wife Sarah is Director of Talent Recruitment at PAVE , and head of the board of Girls Prep Charter School, which has caused considerable controversy of its own by seeking to expand within a District 1 public school building. See the photo below, courtesy of the NY Times, of a recent District 1 meeting about the expansion of this school.
See this article about a "secret" meeting that took place last May, between Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Julian Robertson and other members of the Billionaire Boy's club, about how to coordinate their charity "efforts".
I suppose that didn't include a measly $6 million for a building for PACE, since DOE has now given them carte blanche to keep squatting in PS 15 for at least five more years-- which presumably would also allow the school to keep collecting interest from the $26 million of taxpayer funds they already had been given for school facilities.
Finally, everyone must read this brilliant Diane Ravitch piece about how the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program, with its emphasis on charter school expansion is antithetical to the whole concept of equal opportunity and public responsibility for education. She puts it within a historical context, as only Diane can do:
Having written the history of the New York City public schools, I was reminded of the origins of free schooling in certain northeastern cities in the early 19th Century, when wealthy men decided that it was their civic duty to help civilize the children of the poor. In their view and in their day, they were doing good deeds, but their schools were stigmatized as charity schools for children of paupers and were avoided by children of the middle class. Outside of big cities, public education emerged as a community response to a community's need to school its children, not as a charitable venture.
Today, with the proliferation of charter schools, we may be seeing a resurgence of the historic pattern as public schools are privatized and taken over by very rich men (and women) who see themselves as saviors of the children of the poor. Naturally, you find this a repellent portrait because it undermines the democratic foundations of public education. It means that our society will increasingly rely on the good will of wealthy patrons to educate children of color. It means that education is seen as a private charity rather than as a public responsibility. Let's hope that the new owners who have taken over these schools are able to sustain their interest. After all, having 500 children in your care is not the same as having a stable of polo ponies or a vineyard in Napa Valley. If the children don't produce results that make the sponsors proud, they may pick a different hobby.