Minneapolis Public Schools Administrator Runs a Side School Choice Consulting Business

January 16, 2018

When it comes to declining student enrollment for the Minneapolis Public Schools, it looks like the fox may be guarding the hen house. 

Bryan Fleming

Bryan Fleming, who has served as Director of Enrollment Management for the Minneapolis schools since 2016, runs a side consulting business that offers “School-placement Advising for families and family law practitioners.” Fleming’s side gig bears his name–Fleming Education Group–but no mention of his role as a current employee of the Minneapolis Public Schools. His bio simply states that he is a “former educator and school administrator.” 

Fleming may be collecting an undoubtedly generous, taxpayer-funded salary from the Minneapolis schools, but that doesn’t appear to have made him a champion of public schools. Instead, the consulting company that bears his name offers this note for prospective clients:

Fleming Education Group helps clients manage their fears and anxiety about educational options, and strive for child-centered solutions in every instance. We know how to broaden a family’s school-choice lens in a productive, efficient way to achieve the outcomes that will maximize their child’s promise.

“Broadening a family’s school-choice lens” is an interesting position to take for someone employed by a pubic school district–particularly one that is struggling to stay afloat amid the endless proliferation of school choice schemes. But the Fleming Education Group is clearly targeted to families with choices, the kind that can easily walk away from a school they deem unworthy or unfit for their children. 

Need proof? Just read through the blog post currently up on the Fleming Education Group website. Called “Debunking ‘Private–Why a Private School?’,” the post is a declaration of love for exclusive private schools. The blog post, part of a series called “Thoughts by Bryan,” offers Fleming’s thoughts on the value of a private education–and the freedom these schools enjoy by “admitting only those students appropriate to the mission.”

Here are the first four paragraphs of the  Fleming Education Group’s blog:

Those of us with children in private schools have chosen our school for many important reasons, one of which may be that it is an independent, or “private,” school. Yet when family, friends and neighbors ask, “Why do you send your student to a private school?” many of us find it difficult to articulate the answer.

Our difficulty may stem, in part, from the fact that we chose our private school for many intangible reasons that are hard to put into words. And sometimes we might be concerned that our answer will trigger a debate about the merits of public versus private school.

At Fleming Education Group, our client families pose this question more often than not. I want to help make answering “why a private school?” in general, and “why Breck, SPA, Blake, Minnehaha Academy, International School or Providence Academy?” in particular easier for anyone exploring school-placement options.

Especially here in the Twin Cities where there are so many excellent, non-private school options (Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Orono, Wayzata and many more), it’s important to focus on understanding the value of independence, as this is truly one of the things that can make private-independent schools worth the investment.

This is jaw-dropping. The Minneapolis Public Schools’ own Director of Enrollment Management runs (according to his LinkedIn page) a side business built around steering families into private schools. The “many excellent, non-private school options” Fleming’s post mentions does not even include the Minneapolis Public Schools. 

Fleming is  a full-time employee of the Minneapolis schools. As I understand it, full-time employees of the district are not allowed to operate side consulting gigs that directly conflict their paid employment with the district. At the very least, the district has a “conflict of interest” policy.

This came to a head in 2016 when Associate Superintendent, Lucilla Davila, was placed on leave for her involvement in a business that provides after-school programming. Davila was reinstated in January, 2017 although she is now listed as being part of another side consulting business, Global Immersion Network Consultants (GINC), with a very similar-sounding, educational mission to that of the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Multilingual Department.

Fleming was the Director of Admissions for the prestigious Blake School from 2000-2014. He then took a short turn as an employee of the Bush Foundation, a key, local philanthropic group that has been very supportive of market-based education reform efforts. In 2014, the Bush Foundation gave a $200,000 grant to the Education Transformation Initiative. This is very important to keep in mind here.

The Education Transformation Initiative became Minnesota Comeback, according to a 2016 press release from Minnesota Comeback:

Incubated by The Minneapolis Foundation as the Education Transformation Initiative, MN Comeback is an independent nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Comeback is a local group with ties to a national, billionaire-funded reform outfit called Education Cities. Education Cities’ mission, carried forward locally by Minnesota Comeback, is to spread school choice and facilitate the growth of charter schools, under the guise of a “sector neutral” preference for “High Quality Seats.” They want seats as opposed to schools  because “seats” open the door to investors (in education technology, for example) that traditional, union-staffed public schools might not.

The charter schools being given funding, PR and “growth opportunities” by Minnesota Comeback and their supporters need students from the Minneapolis Public Schools in order to survive and further weaken the district. (A district, weakened by design through chaos, reduced funding and poor management, for example, is a boon to charter school operators.)

Enter Bryan Fleming. As Director of Enrollment Management for the Minneapolis schools, he has key insight into what families want from the Minneapolis schools and what their reasons are for leaving the district. He appears to have a side business that promotes school choice and indicates a clear preference for the greener grass at fancy private schools while the Minneapolis Public Schools struggles with shrinking enrollment and the accompanying loss of funding.

If this isn’t a conflict of interest, then what is?

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23 thoughts on “Minneapolis Public Schools Administrator Runs a Side School Choice Consulting Business

  1. Ray

    The Director of Human Capital at MPS sure likes capitalism. How many more parasitic consultants are they planning on hiring before MPS is all gone?

    Reply
  2. Anita

    Shouldn’t Minneapolis Public Schools’ principal, Crystal Ballard, be considered working against MPS too since she worked with the now defunct S.U.N. Academy charter school in north Minneapolis? It’s a conflict of interest to be working with a school that pulls enrollment from the district that employs you, right? I noticed that S.U.N. Academy has removed their website since they abruptly closed, but there remains this documentation of the school. Another charter destabilizing MPS, located just blocks from the district headquarters, in an area that could have used MORE funding for their public schools, but instead funding was funneled to a school that closed, further setting back public education in a high needs neighborhood, all cosigned by Crystal Ballard. http://www.startribune.com/sun-academy-charter-school-shuts-down-abruptly/435933453/ Shame on Ballard. Also, shame on the University of St. Thomas Charter Authorizing Program, who backed yet another sketchy charter. And speaking of St. Thomas and their work toward destroying MPS, look at MNComback and their association with St. Thomas, with Alvin Abraham who works with both organizations, another charter funneling hustle. Furthermore, why does Maggie Sullivan, chief talent officer for MPS, work with MNComeback? Another conflict of interest where an MPS employee works to weaken the district that employs them by supporting the growth of charters. http://www.mncomeback.org/index.php/coalition/ AND ANOTHER MPS employee working with MNComeback, Bety Ohrn, who has long worked to expand charters through her former position in the Office of New Schools at MPS and I believe is now working along with Eric Moore crunching numbers about data for MPS? Who is she beholden to with her corporate education reform background with Teach for America, and working with Jon Bacal, originator of the first MPS Office of New Schools which works to expand charters. Jon Bacal now runs Venture Academy a “virtual school” (more computer “instruction”, fewer teachers, while the school still receives funding for students which is pulled from traditional district schools) , where Betsy Ohrn sits on the board. http://www.ventureacademies.org/the-venture-board/ The conflicts of interest and ties are thick and tangled. These people mentioned are not working to strengthen MPS, they are actively working to weaken it while still getting a check from MPS. And these are only the few I felt like writing about now. There are more. Thanks for your work, Sarah. Too bad the Star Tribune refuses to do this type of work exposing what’s going on with MPS.

    Reply
    1. KM

      How about Michael Kurhajetz who’s in charge of Teacher Evaluation…he’s never taught. He came from a two year stint with KIPP. He told me that he thinks he knows that Public Education is failing because he’s tutored kids in the district. Came from Target’s Trim a Tree dept. Broad Academy. Interesting…he took down his education info from Linked In. Used to state he was getting some certificate/degree in Charter Admin from University of St. Thomas. I wonder if it’s because I asked him about it…he got mighty defensive.

      Reply
  3. Beth

    I am so not a fan of this person. He recommended neuropsychological testing for one of my children without speaking to her teachers or doctor about it. It was COMPLETELY uncalled for. Total charlatan.

    Reply
  4. MPS Teacher

    How can an area superintendent (Lucilla Davila) have the time and energy to spend on an additional job? I would question if some of her work day in her Minneapolis role is spent building her business.

    Reply
  5. Thomas Odendahl

    Thanks for this article, for your solid reporting. A few really petty questions of my own, because this kind of behavior disgusts me so: Who was on the hiring committee that interviewed Mr. Fleming? Does he get a full 52 week contract , or is he on a teacher or counselor schedule? How about a Reserve teacher schedule, where there is no possibility of being paid on days students are not in school? Is he paid more than $20 per hour? Does he have a reserved parking space? A locker in the health club? Does he use a district-provided phone? Vehicle? Did he pay for his own background check – as Reserve teachers must – or was he exempted from a background check? Has he ever had to manage a classroom? Has he been given a work shop or training concerning conflicts of interest? Did anyone check his resume, call his previous employers, check to see if he was up to date on his mortgage? What do his neighbors think of him? Did he take a drug test before he was hired? I mean, there are lots of invasive questions, ones that make any of us squirm, and no one thought to see if his side job was exactly the opposite of what he was supposed to be doing for the schools? Who signed off on his hiring? Does he have a big fat severance package that will kick in when the embarrassed district lets him go?

    Reply
  6. Gwen

    I am frustrated that he told parents at a nondiverse school that they should be comfortable with kindergarten class sizes of 30 because they did not have diversity. I wonder if that is what he tells his private school clients…
    ( note: I understand we should be and are working towards diversity, but still, his response was unreasonable )

    Reply
  7. Gladtoberetired

    How much does Fleming make at MPS? Teacher salaries are made public, why not administrative positions. This position is a total waste of taxpayer money. And they want a referendum!! I’d also like to know his qualifications. Was he qualified, or just another “minority de jour” hired because it was politically correct. MPS disgusts me.

    Reply
  8. Cassie C.

    According to a Facebook comment by Rebecca Gagnon, Board of Education, Director, MPS, former superintendent Michael Goar’s team hired (appointed?) Bryan Fleming. Referencing Fleming’s website as well as yours, and a piece you wrote for The Progressive (http://progressive.org/magazine/cashing-special-needs-kids/#.dpuf) I am wondering about that connection. Fleming’s site reads, “and has pursued post-graduate studies at Harvard University in education leadership and policy.” His site also reports, “Special Education Advocacy services Fleming Education Group helps clients manage their fears and anxiety about educational options, and strive for child-centered solutions in every instance. We know how to broaden a family’s school-choice lens in a productive, efficient way to achieve the outcomes that will maximize their child’s promise.” So is there that DMC, District Management Council CEO John J-H Kim and Michael Goar connection? As you wrote in the Progressive article linked above, “District Management Council CEO John J-H Kim, a Harvard Business School graduate, worked for McKinsey and Company as a consultant before becoming the founding CEO of the for-profit “school management company” Chancellor Beacon Academies—a fact notably absent from his LinkedIn page, perhaps for good reason. Kim’s stint at Chancellor Beacon Academies ended in 2004, when the company—facing dim financial prospects and accusations of mismanaging schools—became part of Imagine Schools, a national charter school overseer plagued by a string of scandals.” Also, note all the TFA trained corporate education reformers employed by HR at MPS, (http://humanresources.mpls.k12.mn.us/ ) follow up on the LinkedIn for Danial Glass ( https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-glass-9a529537 Teach for America, KIPP, Harvest Prep), Emily R. Olson, Coordinator ( 2011 Teach For America Corps Member https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-ruth-olson-ph-d-a3a6728 )

    In case you need more information on the harm that TFA and some of its alumni do to public education, these are good reads:
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=15733

    https://www.thenation.com/article/what-happens-when-you-criticize-teach-america/

    http://progressive.org/public-school-shakedown/went-wrong-teach-america/

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/10/20/teach-for-americas-biggest-problem-isnt-green-teachers-or-failing-schools-its-that-it-cant-take-criticism/?utm_term=.4e840bb03896

    Reply
  9. Former MPSer

    I was on the hiring panel (he was not “appointed”) for Mr. Fleming. He disclosed that he had this business and an agreement was reached that his partners would continue the work of his business while he worked for the school district. He was not to engage with the work.

    I don’t know what’s transpired from there, but I do know it was disclosed, negotiated, and handled.

    Reply
    1. Former candidate

      I am confident they were plenty of highly qualified candidates when he was hired! With no clear-obvious CONFLICT OF INTEREST – which were not given the opportunity of an interview!

      Reply
      1. Former MPSer

        Yep. Many very highly qualified. And some not so much. He was the most qualified at the time. Would I make the recommendation again? Not sure. But hindsight…

        Reply
        1. Lisa GS

          If this is the case, then why is this separation not at all clear in his org’s website. For these cases where people said they worked with him, directly, was this after his hire in 2016? If so, then he’s in violation of the 3000 policy. Is he still making money from his consulting business, even if he isn’t handling the day to day? How is that not a conflict of interest? MPS Gen Counsel should resign over this.

          Reply
  10. Brian Hugues

    Brian Fleming performed child school choice counseling as a family counselor during my divorce and was excellent. He was fair, balanced and very knowledgeable. It was the few things that my ex-wife and I agreed upon thanks to his listening skills and they way he presented his recommendation. I understand his firm and MPS may look like a conflict, but I have since found out that he works with diversity in schools and has been an outstanding student advocate in nearly all circumstances. I actually think its a good thing that he has a wide variety of engagements and understands different private and public schools very well. It pains me to see someone who has performed so well, is so knowledgeable about kids – and really helped us – and I have heard great things about from so many other schools and his references at MPS, that he is being under investigation. I wish him the best and hope he is able to continue to do good for kids like he did my own. Interestingly, he never even suggested that we send out kid to a private school in either district. He asked our preferences and our custody and went from there. He came highly recommended by both attorneys.

    Reply
    1. sarah.lahm@gmail.com Post author

      Question. When did Fleming “perform school choice counseling” for your family? What year? How long did it take? When did you and your ex-wife meet with Fleming? For how long? Time of day? Time of the week? I would love to know more. Reply here or email me at sarah.lahm@gmail.com. Thanks.

      Reply

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