November 10, 2015

Florida superintendents stand with education commissioner on proposed cut scores


As the state Board of Education explores setting passing scores for the new Florida Standards Assessments that are more in line with "proficiency" grades on a key national assessment, Florida's superintendents say they're sticking by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on this one.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents said in a statement today that they support the long-used process to establish "cut scores" for Florida's standardized tests since the exams began in 1998 -- a move that signals superintendents' opposition to the state Board of Education's suggestion that they might take a different path.

The group says they support Stewart's recommended cut scores, which came this fall after input from more than 300 educators and stakeholders. Stewart's proposed cut scores are generally higher than the state’s previous standardized test (the FCAT 2.0); she told Board of Education members last month that that “demonstrates that the trend in Florida has been to increase the rigor” of exams.

But state education board members indicated they felt that Stewart's proposal didn't go far enough. They asked Stewart's office to provide information about how cut scores are defined for the National Assessments of Educational Progress and desired suggested scores that would be within 10 points of NAEP's, in the interest of potentially making FSA's passing marks more competitive with national standards.

But Florida's superintendents said, "to deviate from the established Florida Department of Education (DOE) process negates the process itself and calls into question the need for the process. It also further undermines public confidence in Florida’s already fragile accountability system."

The state board is due to set cut scores for the FSA at its January meeting.

While the superintendents agree with Stewart's position on cut scores, they continue to oppose efforts to use results from the new FSA to issue school grades for the 2014-15. They, like other educator groups, want the initial test results to serve as a baseline from which to judge students' and schools' progress in future years.

November 09, 2015

Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez gets house arrest, probation


For-profit college operator Ernesto Perez — a big-time donor to South Florida politicians — officially pleaded guilty Monday to illegally bundling more than $159,000 in campaign contributions.

Perez, who owned Dade Medical College, will surrender in January to begin serving house arrest and probation.

Perez’s official sentence is three days in jail, but because the college operator is receiving credit for time already served, there will be no additional days behind bars.

The plea deal was first discussed last week when Perez was arrested on the campaign finance charges. It was postponed until Monday so attorneys on both sides could work out the details.

Perez also receives three years of probation, plus two months of house arrest. The college owner agreed to pay $150,000 to law enforcement for the cost of the investigation — $95,000 of which he has already paid, lawyers announced.

Perez will also make $50,000 in required charitable donations. The college owner will not be required to pay any restitution to his former students — Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said this is because the criminal charges settled on Monday dealt with Perez’s personal conduct, and not the actions of Dade Medical College.

More here.

November 07, 2015

FL lawmakers kept soaking up freebies at Dade Medical College - until the bitter end


Five weeks before for-profit Dade Medical College collapsed, the liquor was still flowing.

It was open bar at a ribbon-cutting for a new outdoor terrace at Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida. The location: downtown Coral Gables.

There was hors d’oeuvres. There was paella. And there were politicians.

Ernesto Perez, Dade Medical’s principal owner, donated big to scores of political campaigns, sometimes backing both candidates for the same seat. He steered jobs and contractual work to nearly a dozen local politicians, and invited them and their colleagues to events like this one. In those moments, Perez made it a point to shoot photos of himself with the politically powerful, which he liked to splash on the Internet and share on the school’s Facebook page.

The political prestige gave the college credibility, which raised the school’s profile, which helped to recruit more students. That, in turn, boosted profits, which allowed for even more political contributions, and even more influence. Prosecutors say Perez spent more than $750,000 on political contributions.

Perez’s school had luxury suites at Miami Heat games, and Miami Dolphins games.

“If I was at a Heat game and ran into him, they might have handed me a wristband,” acknowledged state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, who also attended the September ribbon-cutting.

More here.

November 04, 2015

PHOTOS: Ernesto Perez and his political friends

Cantor and mayor



Before his for-profit college suddenly collapsed on Friday, and before he was arrested for allegedly illegal campaign contributions on Tuesday, Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez was the king of an educational empire. Perez earned $431,999 a year, put his parents and wife on the company payroll, and he contributed heavily to political campaigns.

Perez enjoyed access to local, state, and federal politicians — a U.S. Senator from Colorado, the mayors of Miami and Homestead, and lots of state lawmakers. Here are photographs of some of the many politicians who crossed paths with Dade Medical College. The photos demonstrate the enormous level of Perez’s political reach.

See more photos here

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho floated as contender to lead L.A. school district


It seems speculation about the future of Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho always follows him.

The head of the country's fourth-largest school district has been floated as a contender for Miami-Dade mayor or even president of the University of Miami.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times revived speculation about Carvalho possibly heading up the L.A. Unified school district, listing the 51-year old as a likely finalist for the position -- if he's interested.

Carvalho has previously said he wants to serve at least through the end of his contract, which runs until 2020.

"My commitment, as stated numerous times before, is to this community and our school district," Carvalho wrote in text message early Wednesday evening. 

The 2014 national Superintendent of the Year enjoys the deep support of his school board and has cultivated a growing prominence nationally. Carvalho recently met with President Barack Obama to talk about testing in schools and was appointed to a national testing board.  

The Times reported that the school district is keeping its job hunt confidential, so it's not known who is actually interested in the job. The nation's second-largest school district is looking to fill its top spot by the end of the year.

November 03, 2015

UPDATED: Giving money to politicians backfires on Ernesto Perez


One week ago, Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez was drawing a $431,999 salary and running six campuses spread across the state.

On Tuesday, Perez found himself in handcuffs, flanked by a wall of TV news cameras.

The humbling ordeal followed the Friday closure of his for-profit college empire. And the subsequent filing of criminal charges that he illegally bundled more than $159,000 in campaign contributions to politicians.

At Miami’s Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, Perez turned himself in to authorities. The new charges are on top of pending perjury charges, from 2013, that remain unresolved.

Spreading around political cash was Perez’s calling card — now, it has become part of his undoing. And although Tallahassee politicians passed laws that helped Dade Medical, such as weakening academic quality standards, none of that was enough to keep his college afloat. The combination of mounting debts and heightened scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education led to Friday’s school collapse, which displaced about 2,000 students.

During the school’s heyday, Perez was influential enough to secure a sit-down meeting with Gov. Rick Scott. He traveled to Tallahassee in a chartered plane. He drove around downtown Coral Gables in a silver Bentley.

Perez is now “liquidating some long-held assets,” his defense attorney, Michael Band, told Circuit Judge Stacy Glick in a Tuesday court hearing.

More here.

DEVELOPING: Dade Medical College boss turns himself in to face new campaign charges

0133 Dade Medical College E

via @MrMikeVasquez

Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez turned himself in to authorities on Tuesday, after being hit with new criminal charges that he illegally bundled campaign contributions to politicians.

Perez was taken into custody, but will be released after posting bond. Miami-Dade prosecutors on Tuesday tried to finalize a plea deal with Perez that would settle the new campaign violation charges, as well as older, still-pending charges that Perez tried to hide previous arrests from when he was younger. Perez is accused of failing to disclose his criminal history when serving on Florida's Commission for Independent Education — Florida's for-profit college watchdog agency.

The plea deal on the table: Perez would get three days in jail (but only serve one because of previous time served). He would serve two months of house arrest and also get probation, while paying $200,000 in restitution.

Both Perez and Miami-Dade prosecutors agreed on the plea deal, but Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stacy Glick threw those plans for a loop when she abruptly ended a hearing on the matter on Tuesday. Glick expressed frustration that the technical details of the plea agreement hadn't been worked out before it was brought to her.

The plea deal will have another court hearing in two weeks.

This developing story will be updated here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

For-profit FastTrain College forged signatures, ex-employee says


The former director of admissions at FastTrain College testified in federal court on Monday, telling jurors that school owner Alejandro Amor scolded employees over the forged signatures they were putting on student financial aid documents.

Amor wasn’t upset that the forgeries were happening, ex-employee Juan Arreola testified. The for-profit college owner was ticked off that they weren’t convincing enough.

“The name’s crooked ... you need to coach your guys better,” Arreola said Amor told him. Amor’s suggested method, Arreola said: Put the original signature up to the sunlight in front of a glass window, and then trace it.

“You need to show your guys how to take forging classes,” Arreola said his former boss told him.

Arreola is one of many ex-employees testifying in the criminal trial of Amor, the owner and former school president. The trial may last until December.

Miami-based FastTrain once boasted seven Florida campuses, including locations in Kendall, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines. Amor had a private jet and a 54-foot yacht named Big One.

More here.

Dade Medical College students demand answers


The anger of Dade Medical College students boiled over on Monday, leading dozens of students to protest in the streets outside the school’s now-abandoned Coral Gables headquarters. Hundreds joined a new Dade Medical College Facebook group that seeks “justice for students.”

But while anger came easily, answers did not. What to do now? Where to turn?

Florida’s Commission for Independent Education, the state’s for-profit college watchdog, monitored the chaotic situation from 488 miles away at its Tallahassee headquarters. In an e-mail, the CIE informed students it was working “to arrange for the train-out of all students at their current locations.” It’s not clear who would teach those classes now that Dade Medical is out of business, but Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said the goal is “to arrange classes at the DMC campuses.”

Whatever school or schools step in could make millions of dollars from the displaced Dade Medical students. Those negotiations appeared to be moving quickly, and behind closed doors, on Monday — three days after the for-profit college unexpectedly closed.

In a separate e-mail to students, Lissette Paradela, Dade Medical-Homestead director of nursing, announced that “Management Resource College (MRC) has been approved for a teach-out program of DMC students and faculty.” Paradela instructed students to attend one of four meetings at their new school on Tuesday.

If that e-mail proves correct, Dade Medical students will end up going from one poorly performing nursing school to another. Dade Medical graduates for years struggled with low scores on the nursing license exam and Management Resource College also has low passage rates — in 2014, under the name Management Resources Institute, it had a passage rate of 51 percent.

The national average in 2014 was 82 percent.

More here.

October 31, 2015

Dade Medical College owner calls the cops on his former students


Coral Gables police have confirmed they were called to Ernesto Perez's Coral Gables home Friday night - in response to student protesters and TV stations that were camped out in front. 

Coral Gables police spokesperson Kelly Denham said that police were called to Perez's home between 10 and 11 p.m. Friday night. Denham said she did not know how many students had gathered to protest Perez, who announced earlier in the day that his for-profit Dade Medical College (and its sister school, the University of Southernmost Florida) would immediately close.

"We were called by the homeowner," Denham said. "For them not to go on his property."

The sudden closure of Perez's schools has angered many students, who invested tens of thousands of dollars in their education and are now left with college credits that won't transfer to community colleges and most other traditional schools. 

When they showed up at the Perez home, Denham said police found no issues or problems, and quickly left. Police did not bother the protesters or force them to leave, she said.

"Those protesters have their First Amendment rights," she said.

If there's a police report, she said it won't be available for a couple of days.