Friday, March 23, 2007

JMZ on White Hat and Why It Matters.

I pity the fool who get's Jill Miller Zimon's dander up. If you are thinking of crossing Jill, I have three words for you: Fifty. Seven. Reasons.

The latest collection of poor souls is White Hat Management, the for-profit charter school management company founded by Akronite and generous GOP contributor David Brennan. Earlier this week, WCPN ran a show about school privatization on The Sound of Ideas. The guests included White Hat flak Rob Coker who at one point declined to answer questions about how much White Hat makes in profit, saying he didn't know. The next day, host Dan Moulthrop let the audience know that Coker said off air that he did indeed know the extent of WHM's profits, he just didn't want to say.

Jill was sufficiently incensed that she not only wrote a post, she emailed a bunch of us with a heads-up -- a rarity for her. She now has a second post up with a transcript of the relevant bits of the two shows.

When I first heard all of this, I kind of said, "Enh." There were plenty of shout-at-the radio moments during the show; this one ranked somewhere in the middle. But then I read other people's posts, thought about it, and realized that my reaction was because I'm used to this sort of nonsense from White Hat. For people who have been following the company less closely, the sheer hubris was probably shocking.

The most aggravating bit was Coker poor-mouthing White Hat's profits. What little we know indicates that White Hat makes tons of money, but they are notoriously close to the vest with the information. Check out this quote from a 2005 Columbus Dispatch profile of Brennan:

    Brennan said his schools overall make a profit, although he declined to disclose it, based largely on the performance of the Life Skills centers that fill three-hour computer-based learning classes three times a day. A free-market adherent, Brennan said he would prefer a voucher system in which parents could use state money to select any school of their choice, much like food-stamp recipients are permitted to choose their supermarket.
A CD story from early 2006 gives some idea of the magnitude of White Hat's jack:
    Akron industrialist David L. Brennan is reaping nearly $1 million in Ohioans' tax dollars for each charter school operated by his White Hat Management Co.

    A Dispatch analysis of recent state audits for 17 of Brennan's 34 schools shows White Hat made $15.4 million in combined profits and management fees last year.
The reason reason we don't know how much White Hat makes is that state law doesn't require them to tell us. That, and certain elected officials apparently don't want to know.

So White Hat keeping secrets is nothing new. What's a little new is that they are trying to keep secret the fact that they are keeping secrets. White Hat is rightly sensitive about it's public image. That image doesn't necessarily need to be positive, but White Hat is in danger of a public backlash if the perception turns broadly negative. White Hat's entire business model
relies on friendly legislation, and legislators will turn and run away if the voters turn.

This is why Coker's lie matters. He doesn't want people to know that White Hat's money is public, but its books aren't. Happily, Jill is on the case.


Jill said...

I take your post as a supreme compliment. It's also the reason I only scream at my kids maybe once or twice a year. Because any more than that, and there's no effect. But when I scream, as with when I pass something around by email, it's because I am truly, madly, deeply offended. Thanks.

redhorse said...

Hey, you know I have an actual white hat if you want to photograph it sometime. Actually, it's a little gray, but might suffice.

And of course, if you're into irony, you can take a pic of my black one.