Tag Archives: New Orleans

Brother in law in the public interest


There’s a strange and still-mysterious scandal in which some number of apparently connected Turkish groups have gotten approval to run charter schools across America, some 120 of them. The unusual nature of the “Turkish school” movment made the big-time news first in Texas, courtesy of the New York Times, which noted that although much of the opposition to the Turkish charters was based on good old-fashioned American xenophobia — the schools tend to employ Turkish teachers — the trend also raised financial questions. Those questions are a bit more prominent now because of an estimable package of stories in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about Turkish charter schools in Louisiana. The package is not just estimable, it has one of my relatives cast in the role of public-service hero, brother-in-law Folwell Dunbar (picture below). Here’s the bottom line from the T-P:

Inci Akpinar, the vice president of a company called Atlas Texas Construction & Trading, sat down with an official from the Louisiana Department of Education a little more than a year ago and made him an offer. As the state official, Folwell Dunbar, recalled in a memo to department colleagues, Akpinar flattered him with “a number of compliments” before getting to the point: “I have twenty-five thousand dollars to fix this problem: twenty thousand for you and five for me.”

At the time, Dunbar was investigating numerous complaints against Abramson Science & Technology Charter School in eastern New Orleans, which shares apparent ties to Akpinar’s firm as well as charter schools in other states run by Turkish immigrants. In fact, state auditors had already turned up startling deficiencies at Abramson. The records they kept of unannounced visits to the campus, as well as interviews with former teachers, paint a chaotic scene: classrooms without instructors for weeks and even months at a time, students who claimed their science fair projects had been done by teachers, a single special-needs instructor for a school of nearly 600.

Dunbar — having declined to take money from Akpinar — recommended more than a year ago that the state board of education yank Abramson’s charter. But the board ultimately stopped short of closing down the school, giving it a year to shape up under a “corrective action plan.”

Folwell also reported the bribe attempt to New Orleans police, and now the state has finally agreed to close the school and investigate. Those who haven’t dealt intimately with government have no idea how hard it is to do the right thing in these types of circumstances. All the peer pressure pushes in the direction of inaction and going and getting along. And let’s not forget, this happened in Lousiana. Ordinarily, because I try not to miss a chance to give Folwell a hard time, I’d make a sardonic brother-in-law joke here. This time, I think I’ll just sit back, read the story again, and be proud.

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Filed under corruption, education

The View from the Moonwalk


Jed Horne, a former New Orleans Times-Picayune metro editor who helped the paper win the Pulitzer for coverage of Hurricane Katrina, has a nice piece over at The Daily Beast that explains why the Mississippi flood probably won’t drown New Orleans.  The piece ably explains why the flood will likely stay six whole inches below the top of the riverside levees that protect the city — basically, the Corps of Engineers will open two giant spillways to divert floodwaters south to the Atchafalaya basin and, in the second case, into Lake Ponchartrain and out to the gulf. But I call it “nice” because Horne has both an encyclopedic knowledge of place and a real way with words. To wit:

Except for the city’s habitual nonchalance—subtropical torpor?—this is nothing like Katrina. As tributaries to the north backed up into farmland, and residential neighborhoods sandbagged furiously against rising water, New Orleans danced and drank through the second of two JazzFest weekends, then rose a bit groggily on Monday to begin opening the bays on the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a giant escape valve 30 miles upstream.

It’s a relatively short piece, but it does a better job of taking you “there” —  to the river itself, which “was only that much more amazing to habitues of the Moonwalk, a populace that includes homeless and hippies as well as the well-heeled, given how startlingly low the river was just a few months back” — than other flood coverage I’ve seen, even coverage full of flooded-out Arkansas farmers losing their entire crops. That sense of reality ‘s the difference a real writer with an eye for detail brings to anything he describes, and the reason real writers will always be worth a lot of money, whether their visions are conveyed in ink or pixels or videography.

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Filed under Bonnet Carre Spillway, Mississippi River flooding, New Orleans, New Orleans Moonwalk