Volume 1 Issue 1

Wasting Money on New Data Systems: What Aren't They Telling Us?

by a Jeffco Parent

We all pay significant amounts of property taxes in order to support our public schools. Whether or not you are a parent, and whether or not your kids already have graduated, you’re invested in the success of our Jeffco schools because at the most basic level, you’re paying for it.

These students are the future of our community. In a more practical sense they ensure we have vibrant local businesses, and that quality companies are willing to start or relocate here.

Good schools bring a wide variety of other positives to the community.

The belief in an excellent education is a shared value. But often we’re asked to support the schools without asking where the money is going. We’re told to take it on faith that it’s being spent correctly and efficiently. And often we’re made to be the ‘bad guy’ when we seek information, request reports, and demand accountability.

In a way, the lesson too often communicated from district leaders is that parents aren’t welcome in the decision-making process.

That sort of behavior makes us wonder: What are they hiding? Why don’t they want us involved?

We’re here to support them, to reinforce their good decisions, and to constructively assist when they make mistakes or are led astray.

When we dig deeper into the management of Jeffco schools, we find a lot that ought to engage,  and frankly outrage, parents.

A year ago, we were told about enormous budget cuts looming. The superintendent told us that because of the budget cuts, the school  district needed to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, close schools, reduce the number of elective courses and options offered, and increase fees.

What we were not told was that the superintendent and other school board members were quietly diverting current funds away from core educational programs and activities. They redirected  those dollars to a controversial conglomeration of corporations and businesses that stand to make millions of dollars from the sale of their products and the use of our children’s personal information.

It’s not a matter of being anti-business or opposing profits per se. But these decisions shouldn’t be made in the dark. As they affect our students and our kids, they need to be public. Contracts with major corporations should always be open for discussion and debate because of the risk of abuse, corruption, lobbying, and other pressure.

When we dig a little deeper, we find the real benefactors. Rupert Murdoch is the chairman and CEO of the world’s second-largest media conglomerate and has a net worth of$8.6 billion. His company, News Corp., built the infrastructure now called inBloom. News Corp. then handed inBloom over to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently funds and markets the system.

This summer, the board accepted a $500,000Gates Foundation grant that will be used to prepare our children’s data to be incorporated into the LoudCloud Learning Management System. At the same time our school board approved spending $2 million for the LoudCloud dashboard.

This expenditure is only the beginning of a multi-million dollar partnership that threatens to entangle Jeffco Schools without any demonstrated educational benefit. We are the first and only school district listed as purchasing this system and working with LoudCloud. When asked about the ongoing cost for the dashboard, the board admitted that future costs are unknown.

These activities have been going on at least as far back as 2012, while the board threatened a $40 million budget shortfall.

The Jeffco School Board also has been quietly working with inBloom, formerly called Shared Learning Collaborative. Teamed together, inBloom and LoudCloud are poised to increase profits as they enter into multi-million dollar deals with school districts around the country.

Interestingly enough, most states and school districts that initially partnered with inBloom have since distanced themselves from the company as concerns have surfaced over privacy of children’s personal information. Recently, the Jeffco Schools partnership with inBloom (and now LoudCloud) has received more attention as parents learn more about the cost of the partnership and the plan to store children’s personal information on inBloom Internet servers. Parents didn’t learn about the issue until March.

Yet Jeffco Schools has been participating in an inBloom pilot program since 2012. All we know thus far is that in 2015 the cost to use their services will be somewhere between $172,000 and $430,000, according to the district’s website.

“pricing is still being determined” for each year after that, so the district is entering into agreements when they have no idea how much it will cost us in the future.

During Dr. Stevenson’s service as superintendent, the district has spent millions to build new schools and then threatened to close others only a few miles away, citing budget reasons. Money is wastefully spent when the economy is good, followed by frantic threats of closures and cuts when the budget starts to tighten.

At the June 6 Jeffco School Board meeting, a parent asked the superintendent if LoudCloud and inBloom were connected in any way. The question was asked in the context of determining how the school district chose these particular companies from the array of available providers for similar products and services. The superintendent responded by denying any sort of connection between LoudCloud and inBloom, saying they are independent entities. A little research easily disproves the claim. Thus, the superintendent now acknowledges the two are connected, and says the LoudCloud dashboard will not be effective if there is no inBloom system. Either district leaders were covering up the arrangement or were unacceptably ignorant.

Why would the school board try to hide this partnership? Will our children benefit from this artnership? Or, will Jeffco Schools merely pad the pockets of wealthy interests? Murdoch, whose company built inBloom, said it best: “When it comes to K–12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone.”