Monday, January 7, 2013

CSCOPE–What’s Behind the Curtain? Part II (Updated)


Updated: 3/29/13

Part I raised numerous questions about the business side of CSCOPE but now it is time to dive deeper.




 Let’s start with the question:  WHO OWNS CSCOPE?

To help find the answer, you need to know a little about the  education system in Texas. So the teacher in me is going to give a quick review with the help of the flowchart I made below:

cscope flowchart




















In Texas, we elect the Legislature that makes the laws governing public education, as well as  collects and distributes the public funds (our money) needed to run it.


The people elect the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Governor. Two duties of the SBOE are setting Texas curriculum standards  and the review of educational materials purchased with State funds for Texas  public schools.


The Governor appoints the Commissioner of Education who oversees the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and 20 Educational Service Centers (ESC) throughout the State. He sets the process for each ESC to elect a Board of Directors, controls the distribution of  State funds to each ESC, and is responsible for their yearly evaluation.


The Board of Directors of each ESC hires an Executive Director who serves as the CEO and may employ other personnel as needed.


In 2006, CSCOPE was a new curriculum product developed by the ESCs to sell to school districts.

 But in 2009, 19 ESC Executive Directors transferred CSCOPE to a private non-profit corporation controlled by them  called the Texas Education Service Centers Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC.)  TESCCC charges each ESC a membership fee ($200,000 - $300,000) which gives ESCs the right to sell CSCOPE to their local school districts. ESC 4 chose not to participate originally, but Pam Wells, Executive Director of ESC 4 in Houston, has now joined.

When the TESCCC sells CSCOPE to a school district, they require that all school personnel sign non-disclosure agreements to make sure no one else, including parents, is able to view CSCOPE materials. (TESCCC is now promising the public will be able to view CSCOPE by April 2013.)

The CSCOPE product is designed to REPLACE  textbooks in the classroom even though the CSCOPE curriculum has never been reviewed by the SBOE. Instead, TESCCC bypasses the SBOE process and sells CSCOPE directly to school districts. This is possible because in the last session, the Texas Legislature changed the law and now allows school districts to use State funds to purchase educational materials that have NOT been reviewed and approved via the SBOE process.

Even though TESCCC’s Governing Board is made up of State employees who meet on State property while being paid with State funds, the TESCCC  refuses to allow the public to attend its Board meetings,  refuses to release all the minutes of its Board meetings and the Texas Attorney General ruled that CSCOPE materials are exempt from disclosure because release could harm CSCOPE’s “ competitiveness in the marketplace.”

 (After the Texas Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on CSCOPE 1/31/13, TESCCC held its first publicly posted meeting on Feb. 18, 2013.)

So that means public money produced CSCOPEpublic money is used to pay a fee for the right to sell it, and public money is used to buy it. But, the public has NO right to know what is in it.

Is there a name for a scheme like that? Is it considered self-dealing? Where else in Texas are the taxpayers being scammed????

(Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, has now promised a full investigation into TESCCC and CSCOPE.)

All this raises many questions about CSCOPE. Questions like:


  • Who owns CSCOPE?
  • Why the need for secrecy?
  • Why bypass the elected SBOE?
  • Who allowed a public product to be transferred to a private corporation?
  • Should the government use public funds to operate private corporations that restrict public disclosure?
  • Should state employees have control over millions of dollars of public funds without any oversight from elected officials?….and so on…..


While I wait for the Texas Attorney General to rule if TESCCC must release all the minutes from its Governing Board Meetings, more questions arise from the minutes I was able to obtain:

  • What is the true mission of TESCCC and CSCOPE?
  • How did CSCOPE sell so fast?
  • How dysfunctional is the TRSCCC management process?


What is the true mission of TESCCC and CSCOPE?


TEC Sec 8.002 says the purpose of ESC's is to assist school districts in improving student performance and  operating more efficiently. Sec. 8.053 allows ESCs to offer any service requested and purchased by a school district.

So, if the ESCs have a product, and school districts request it, the ESC can sell it. There is no need to set up private, secretive corporations, unless…..

You read TEC Sec. 8.010: Sunset Provision

 Regional education service centers are subject to Chapter 325, Government Code (Texas Sunset Act). Unless continued in existence as provided by that chapter, the centers are abolished and this chapter expires September 1,2015. Added by Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 1232, Sec. 2.01, eff. June 17, 2011.

You see, in the “old days”, before DVDs and the internet, ESCs played a role in many classrooms. For example, because it was too expensive for every school to purchase 8mm films, ESCs offered educational films teachers could simply check out. In the days before Xerox when teachers still used mimeograph machines (the copies with purple ink), ESCs offered workrooms for teachers to make professional looking posters, lettering, and other supplies for their classrooms. They also had educational reference libraries and offered a variety of teacher training workshops. There were 20 ESCs spread across the State to make it easier for all schools to have access to their services.

But the world has changed. Most of the services provided by ESCs in the “old days” aren’t needed anymore. Private Educational Service and Consulting companies have sprung up everywhere and are now competing with the ESCs for school district business. Technology changes daily and the ESCs battle against private companies to stay relevant.

The ESC Executive Directors know they have a very short window of opportunity to come up with something they can use to claim they are still relevant,  or they all have to look for new jobs on 9/1/15. (The date the Sunset Provision could shut down all ESCs.)

What better way to claim they are not only relevant, but NECESSARY, if the majority of  school districts in Texas rely on their product for  curriculum, lesson plans, tests,  and all teaching materials? ESCs could claim that if they closed,  there would be chaos in schools across Texas!!! Of course, that is NOT TRUE, but if they scream it loud enough, some people might believe them.

They also know that the citizens of Texas are now awake, politically active, and sick and tired of their hard earned money going to unnecessary  government agencies. So, there is an excellent chance that 20 ESCs will no longer be open all around the state come 2016.

So the TESCCC Board members could simply make money off of CSCOPE via TESCCC instead of being employed by an ESC. They could follow in the footsteps  of past Board members from the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) who have found clever ways of making money from service on their Board.

Take for example the Mayor of Katy, Don Elder. When he left the HCDE Board,  he was hired as a “consultant” for one of the non-profit corporations set up by HCDE  and has been paid around $100,000 every year.

Another HCDE board member, Roy Morales, uses a different technique. He is a “Business Development Consultant – commissionable /independent contactor “ for a company that has multiple contracts with HCDE and HCDE’s non-profit corporations. So after he leaves the Board in January, he can still earn income from the work he did to expand the company’s business with HCDE and its non-profit corporations.

Roy Morales Phonoscope 1 Roy Morales Phonoscope 2

So, what is the true mission of TESCCC and CSCOPE? To assist school districts or the Board members? To ensure the quality of education  for Texas students or the  quality of life of Board members?

All I know for sure is that HCDE uses the same tactics TESCCC is using to attempt to block the release of public records - arguing release  would harm their business interests.  But, without release of business records, taxpayers would have never known that an HCDE Board member could earn commissions from  district contracts.

Could this answer the question:   Why the need for secrecy at TESCCC?


How did CSCOPE sell so fast?


It took Smart Phones 2.5 years to capture 50% of the cell phone market and people don’t need school board approval to buy one.

In sales, the average  Conversion Rates is  about 29%. That means 1 actual closed sale for every 3 product inquires.

To establish “monopoly  power” the US Court of Appeals  requires a minimum market share of 70-80%…… and…… Sec. 26  the Bill Of Rights in the Texas Constitution states that monopolies “shall never be allowed” in Texas.

Yet, in only 2.5 years, TESCCC has captured 70% of the Texas School District curriculum market –  the cusp of “monopoly” status – with CSCOPE -  a product that was still in the developmental stage  and had never been reviewed or tested…... and……TESCCC  only marketed their product at two conferences -  TASA/TASB and TASA Midwinter.

That is either a sales record that belongs in the Guinness Book  or something fishy is going on with CSCOPE.

Why did 70% of Texas Superintendents convince their School Boards to approve funds for a curriculum product that had never even been tested or reviewed? Did they not know what they were buying? Did they assume that if it was sold by ESCs, it had the approval of the SBOE?

Or, was it sold as a product that could help to guarantee that ESCs in Texas would stay “relevant’  - and thus - stay funded?

Why would they care? Could it simply be the oldest reason in the book….$ MONEY $?

There is a very limited market for top tiered school administrators in Texas and they watch out for each other like a fraternity. There are limited places for them to earn big bucks after leaving ISDs. If ESCs close, a gravy train of State funds dries up for them.

As one  State Legislator said to me, "Everyone knows ESCs are where old school administrators go to retire.


How dysfunctional is the TESCCC management process?


The minutes of the TESCCC Board meetings I was able to obtain raise even more questions about what is going on inside TESCCC and who has oversight over the public funds they control?

One example of very questionable  business practices is TESCCC’s dealings with a company called National Education Resources (NER.) This is what I can put together from the partial minutes released.

It appears  that for the first two years, all funds from  CSCOPE flowed through NER at some time. Districts paid ESCs, ESCs paid NER, then NER sent a percentage back to TESCCC.


Millions of dollars in public funds changing hands..

...…. yet….


  • Months without a formal contract?
(8/10/10) …emphasis on need to have a formal contract with NER…(10/11/10)… The (NER) contract under construction now is to simply capture the current agreement between the TESCCC and NER…(11/8/10)… J. Bass mentioned that the draft NER contract was just finalized and reviewed by legal…                                                                  (1/10/11)… G. Gibson updated the Board on the NER contract development process.

  • Contracts that “guess” performance?
(11/8/10) … Greg Gibson emphasized that this is an agreement to represent what is currently in place with NER and the TESCCC. It is an attempt , with some “guessing” to capture what is currently in place with NER in terms of performance, etc…

  • No check of the company’s financials?
(11/8/10) … D.Lovett asked if there were more specifics on the financial health and state of NER’s operation. G. Gibson said that no work was done on the financial state of NER outside of this agreement..

  • No required audit?
(1/10/11)… G. Gibson updated the Board on the NER contract development process. …the motion also included the elimination of the requirement to have a SAS 70 audit. Instead, TESCCC will retain the right to conduct a technology audit of NER facilities at any time. The Board unanimously approved.

  • Nothing in place to review billing?
(2/13/12)…A.Polin explained that some ESCs have noticed discrepancies in invoicing from NER. A Poplin asked that the Governing Board members review and confirm that they have been correctly invoiced.

  • No record of data collection?
(4/16/12)… A.Poplin explained that it is necessary to survey districts to find out what locally customized data is in the NER Developer. That knowledge is necessary to validate that NER has transferred all of the data to the State (CSCOPE) Office.
**Note: July 2012 appears to be the  final month of services from NER.


Did no one at TESCCC  - or the lawyers or consultants they hired - even do a simple Google search to find that NER’s address is a home in NY and notice that there is no  company website ?




Concerns over the management practices at TESCCC don’t stop with NER.

  •  TESCCC employees amended the budget and spent public funds without Board approval.
(9/13/10)… W. Labay discussed the 09-10 budget, providing summary and detailed documents. SOME MEMBERS QUESTIONED CERTAIN BUDGET AMENDMENTS AND EXPENDITURES THAT WERE MADE WITHOUT BOARD APPROVAL. When it was revealed that the funds in question needed to be expended during a month when there was no Board meeting, the members agreed that a procedure must be written that delineates the actions that need to be taken under such circumstances…

  • TESCCC appears more concerned with making money than providing school districts with services:
(2/14/11)… The science lessons will be ready on schedule. We are releasing only the first 12 weeks because there is concern that districts will download a year of lessons and then end or not renew their CSCOPE contracts…

(3/31/11)… W. Labay also included that many ESCs are hosting event/conferences in the summer … somewhat pose a competitive risk to the (State CSCOPE) conference

(8/8/11)… C. Bayuk – Expresses that Leadership Team is extremely concerned about these vendors … because many are in direct competition to CSCOPE.

(2/13/12)… R.Beard explained that his staff asked if CSCOPE could be sold differently from the central practice of district-wide adoption.The Governing Board discussed that this would depart from original, systemic intent; …that some districts might downsize given the option.
(9/13/10)… Gibson summarized the negotiations with the three textbook publishers for contracts to align with CSCOPE. …although we were hoping to get a guaranteed amount in advance from these companies, they are not interested in paying a significant amount for nonexclusive arrangements with us ($50,000)…some in attendance  wanted to continue with the process since their districts had asked for the textbook alignments. Others were concerned about the amount of resources that would have to be invested to review and approve each company’s alignment; currently we don’t know exactly how much time, effort, and manpower the review would take…SEVERAL ATTENDEES EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT PROVIDING WHAT COULD BE SUPERFICIAL TEXTBOOK ALLIGNMENTS TO CSCOPE IF THE MISSION OF CSCOPE IS TO CHANGE INSTRUCTION IN THE CLASSROOM…Board unanimously approved to delay negotiations… and revisit the issue at the January meeting.

  • Lack of review of  curriculum materials
  • (2/13/12)… T. Smith stated the issue of an external review of CSCOPE is becoming more prominent in information requests. The Governing Board may want to consider the option of hiring an outside group to review CSCOPE components…The question was asked if we had any idea who might perform the external review…W.Labay stated that we could use individuals and companies who perform textbook reviews as well as soliciting statewide input.
(3/5/12)…T.Smith explained that the recommendation for an external review …an estimated cost is $75,000 per content area….A.Poplin clarified that the total cost is not included in the budget W.Labay prepared for 212-13….The Governing Board discussed the option of only reviewing one content area or one component across all content areas to begin with.
(4/16/12)… T.Smith stated that the CSCOPE content review starts with Science only


So, who is ultimately responsible for this mess?


If you go back to the flowchart, I think you will find that we are.



cscope flowchart

 We elected the Legislature who funds the ESCs and the Governor who appointed the Commissioners of Education.


If we want it clean up, we need to let them know that we expect an immediate investigation of TESCCC and CSCOPE with all findings made public.

(Attorney General, Greg Abbott, has now promised a full investigation into TESCCC and CSCOPE.)

And,  we all need to start attending our local ESC Board meetings to make sure our money is being handled properly. We can no longer assume someone else is keeping watch. We have to step up and do the job ourselves.

Your local ESC can be found @ http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=2147503292.

Contact information for your Texas State Senator and Representative @  http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

Contact information for Governor Rick Perry @ http://governor.state.tx.us/contact/

Contact information for Michael Williams, Commissioner of Education @    commissioner@tea.state.tx.us
       512-463-8985


See you at the meetings.


Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com
www.TexasTrashTalk.com

13 comments :

Ginger Russell said...

Great Job Colleen on getting to the bottom of this corruption.

paprgl said...

Are the black helicopters overhead? You don't get the basics of government or curriculum.You make assumptions that defy logic. HCDE is not the ESCs, nor are the ESCs represented by a crony friend of the last commissioner.

PolitiJim said...

paprgl must have been educated at HCDE to misread the article so badly.

The article CLEARLY states that the TESCCC board could abuse power LIKE HCDE, not that they were one in the same. Forget the fact that paprgl doesn't address the other 25 documented abuses in the article. This alone proves paprgl is a CSCOPE shill or an idiot. Or both.

Anonymous said...

We live in West Virginia. All I can say is
"wow." Just, wow. The question burning in everyone's mind is who's really paying for, not just a bad curriculum, but such a biased one. I guess the next trail will lead from the house in NY.

Anonymous said...

Great Job at putting this all on paper to follow. Made me spend most of the afternoon chasing CSCOPE all over the web. On CSCOPEs own site, they say their ONLY provider is ETA hand2mind AND if you go to their site, they say hand2mind is your partner for implementing Common Core State Standards (Obama's Common Core Standards) that our Gov. Perry was against for Texas. My question is: Did our Gov. & State Lawmakers already know this, or, hoodwinked along with the rest of us? I AM INVOLVED NOW, and thanks for the info Colleen, I will now attend my ISD Board meetings as well as the ESC meeting for my region to see what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Please do find out what is going on. Do not accept everything written here as fact. There are glaring errors but I wouldn't want you to take my word for it just because I took a few minutes to type it out. ANYONE can spew "facts" and spin them to fit their own agendas.

texastrashtalk said...

Please take the time to present documents to show the errors you mention. The goal here is for people to know the truth. Someone who posts anonymously and does not name the "glaring errors" is part of the problem with CSCOPE, the ESCs and HCDE. These entities use tax dollars to hire lawyers to find ways to circumvent the law, hide documents from the public and operate business ventures using pubic funds. If you have facts to share and you want the truth told, you should not be ashamed to share your name and the documents you are claiming to possess.

Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com




PolitiJim said...

It is always amazing to me how "Anonymous" cowards challenging carefully documented points with arbitrary feelings void ANY objective facts. This comment is another. Colleen has done a wonderful job of being factual and thorough and is evidenced by the Harris Co Republican party endorsing the bill before the Legislature.

Anonymous said...

Why does asking people to do their own research scare you? I'm not asking them to believe me just because I say it to be so which is why my name is unnecessary. Here are a couple of glaring errors to start with though. First of all, ESCs are under TRS (not ERS). If you have a problem with retirees going back to work (and you very well might) then you are going to have to attack it on a state-wide level as it happens under both TRS and ERS which covers all the state agencies; it is not exclusive to ESCs. Secondly, ESCs do not use state dollars to pay for CSCOPE activities. ESCs are hybrids...they receive dwindling grant money to fund much-needed programs for school districts--ones that operate more effectively and efficiently than districts (especially smaller ones) would be able to provide on their own. Local dollars make up the rest of ESC funding by providing additional services that districts determine would be beneficial to their staff and students. I suppose it could be twisted to say that CSCOPE is publically-funded since districts are spending the tax dollars they receive on this service, but then would you also be able to say that a place like Wal-Mart is publically-funded simply because a district chose to purchase some office supplies from them? Once again, this is just food for thought. I encourage everyone to look into it for themselves.

texastrashtalk said...

You are correct. ESCs pay into TRS not ERS as I was originally told. I did not find out until the Senate hearing on CSCOPE that their retirement system is different from TEA. This blog was posted before that hearing. Thank you for reminding me that I need to go back and correct that.

What I don't understand is the need you feel to attack me as if I have some sort of hidden agenda, when you are the person who is afraid to reveal your identity. Why can't you just be helpful and state facts?

Do you have documents showing where the money came from for each ESC to pay over $200,000 to "join" TESCCC for the right to sell CSCOPE? The public does not know.

Are you telling me that the ESCs do NOT get state funds when TEC Sec. 8.121 reads:

FUNDING FOR CORE SERVICES AND SERVICES TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE. (a) Regional education service centers receive state financial support for services provided under Section 8.051 from money appropriated for the Foundation School Program...

And TEC Sec. 8.122 reads:

INCENTIVE FUNDING FOR DISTRICT EFFICIENCIES. (a) The legislature may appropriate money from the foundation school fund to establish an incentive fund to encourage efficiency in the provision of services by the system of regional education service centers...

And TEC Sec. 8.123 reads:

FUNDING FOR STATE INITIATIVES. (a) The legislature may appropriate money from the foundation school fund or other sources to implement initiatives identified by the legislature...

And TEC Sec. 8.124 reads:

INNOVATIVE AND EMERGENCY GRANTS. (a) The legislature may appropriate money from the foundation school fund or other sources for grants to regional education service centers. Money appropriated under this section shall be distributed to regional education service centers...???

No one is arguing here that ESCs do not provide services to districts. We are saying that something is corrupt with CSCOPE. The public should never be funding a governmental entity where public employees use public funds to produce a product, then transfer control of the product to a private corporation under their own control, and then charge the taxpayers again to use the product. If all governmental entities operated that way, there would be no private industry left. Or, maybe that is the plan.

Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com

Jim Ballew said...

Isn't it funny how those advocating positions to hold HCDE accountable to taxpayers PUT THEIR NAMES ON COMMENTS but those who don't HIDE behind "anonymous?" Isn't it amazing how people who advocate for misusing taxpayer money first try to divert the argument from "doing their homework" to "why don't you want them to research?" Of course THIS blog has helped people to do the research unlike HCDE themselves who outright mislead and lie when asked straight forward questions. But by all means, not only do your own research - GO TO HCDE BOARD MEETINGS. That alone will be enough for you to observe a complete lack of mismanagement and corruption.

texastrashtalk said...

I think you are confusing HCDE with TESCCC. They are both corrupt public entities throwing away millions of education dollars, but one is a state entity and the other is county.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...the two people before me opted to post anonymously, but that seemed to be okay since they were supportive. Double standard? Well anyway, by acknowledging that you made a mistake on the ERS/TRS issue due to being told incorrectly, you help make my case that being told something either verbally or via a blog doesn't make it FACT. Of course ESCs receive state (or grant) money. I never said otherwise. I just said that money goes to various other programs and not CSCOPE. I can see that asking people to verify information for themselves on this particular forum may not have been the best idea. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but PolitiJim, name-calling is the retaliation of the weak-minded or ignorant.

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