Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Who Rules Brookline's Dexter Southfield Private School?

During the 2015-2016 school year, around 8,000 students were enrolled in Brookline’s public schools. In Brookline High School, for example, around 1,800 students were enrolled in 2015-2016; and it’s anticipated that by 2023 Brookline’s public school system will need to find enough public high school classroom seats for 2,600 enrolled public high school students.

Brookline’s public school students, however, are not the only elementary, junior high school or high school age students enrolled in a school in Brookline. At 20 Newton Street, on a 36-acre campus hilltop estate, opposite Larz Anderson Park and the Antique Auto Museum, around 825 students are enrolled, for example, at a “non-profit” private school called Dexter Southfield, whose entrance is located on St. Paul’s Avenue off Newton Street.

In 1966 the then all-male Dexter School purchased its 36-acre Newton Street property for $520,000 and soon began constructing a Brookline campus containing 69 classrooms in four buildings, athletic facilities and art studios. In addition, Dexter Southfield also has a Rowing Center, located on the Charles River, just 4 miles away in Dedham.

According to the Exempt Property Record Card data for 20 Newton Street, that’s posted on the Town of Brookline Assessor’s Office website, the valuation of Dexter Southfield’s Brookline real estate increased from $37.2 million in fiscal year 2007 to $78.3 million in fiscal year 2017, yet its fiscal year 2017  town real estate tax payment bill was zero dollars. In addition, according to its Form 990 financial filing for 2014-2015, the value of the “non-profit” Dexter Southfield private school’s endowment fund on June 30, 2015 was over $30 million.

An “Upper School” secondary school was not established on Dexter Southfield’s Brookline campus until 2002, when the school was still called the Dexter School; and following its merger with the Southfield private all-female day school in 2013, the name of the private school was changed to Dexter Southfield. Despite this 2013 merger, however, according to Dexter Southfield’s website, “the school will always operate under”” a “core belief that boys and girls benefit from distinct paths of learning;” and except for some selected special advanced high school level classes, all pre-8th grade classes and most secondary school classes apparently don’t include both male and female students in the same classroom. Dexter Southfield’s website also notes that “transportation to and from the School” for its students “is provided by our fleet of faculty-driven school buses from central locations throughout Greater Boston, Metro West, and the South Shore.”

The Town of Brookline doesn’t charge an admissions fee for any Dexter Southfield private school student, parent, teacher or administrator who might wish to play across the street in Brookline’s Larz Anderson Park on weekdays or weekends. But Brookline parents in the neighborhood whose sons or daughters were accepted for admission to Dexter Southfield’s campus were generally required to cough up a tuition fee of $43,175 for a 6th, 7th or 8th grader and $46,670 for a 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grader, in order for their child to be allowed to enter the Dexter Southfield classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year.

Among the special educational advantages provided the 825 private school students enrolled at Dexter Southfield is that only 14 other students are generally sitting in each class that a student takes. So, presumably, each classroom teacher can provide more special attention and personal instruction to individual Dexter Southfield private school students than what a Brookline public school student might receive in most Brookline public school classrooms, where the average class size is 21 students, rather than 15, like it is in Dexter Southfield.

The Dexter Southfield private school claims in its Form 990 financial filing for 2014-2015 to be non-discriminatory in its admissions policy. Yet its website indicates that only 15 percent of its students are “students of color;” and, as late as the 2013-2014 school year, The Handbook of Private Schools indicated that only 2 percent of Dexter Southfield’s male students were African-American in racial background.

Not surprisingly, Dexter Southfield is governed by a board of trustees whose members include folks with business, professional or family links to corporations, Wall Street investment banks, corporate law firms and various tax-exempt “non-profit” institutions that might be considered economically exploitative by some of Brookline’s 21st-century working-class and middle-class residents.

K & L Gates corporate law firm partner William Shaw McDermott, for example, has been the president of Dexter Southfield’s board of trustees since 1991; and according to the website of K & L Gates, the law firm’s corporate clients include The Goldman Sachs Group, Halliburton, Microsoft, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Starbuck’s, Duke Energy, E.I. DuPont du Nemours, United Technologies, Honeywell, Viacom, CBS, One Lincoln Street Boston, John Hancock Financial and Education Management Corporation. McDermott also is a member of the Harvard School of Public Health Leadership Council and has been a trustee of Deaconess Hospital or overseer of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital since 1990.

Despite being the board of trustees president of a private school located in Brookline, however, K & L Gates Partner McDermott has apparently been less interested in establishing an open admissions and free tuition policy at the Dexter Southfield secondary school, for all high school students whose families reside in Brookline that wish to attend his school, than in being involved in Dedham, Massachusetts town politics. Since 2005, McDermott has, for example, been the president of the Citizens for Dedham Neighborhood Alliance; and he also is both a Dedham, Massachusetts Town Meeting Member and the co-chairman of Dedham’s Master Plan Committee.

Other members of the Dexter Southfield board of trustees include: former Managing Director of The Goldman Sachs Group Scott Barringer; Thomas H. Lee Partners investment/stock-speculation firm Co-Chair and Dunkin Brands/Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins corporate board member Anthony Di Novi; and Welch & Forbes LLC Chief Investment Officer and Portfolio Manager Charles Thorndike Haydock.

Kraft Group President Jonathan Kraft—the son of the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots who also owns a stake in the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] mixed martial arts promotion company, Robert Kraft—is also, coincidentally, a member of Dexter Southfield’s board of trustees. Besides sitting on Dexter Southfield’s governing board, Jonathan Kraft (whose father’s personal wealth was estimated to be $5.2 billion in 2016 by Forbes magazine) also is a Massachusetts General Hospital [MGH] trustee who chairs the MGH board of trustees’ Finance Committee, a member of Harvard Business School’s Board of Dean’s Advisers, the Williams College Investment Committee’s Chair and a Williams College Trustee Emeritus, and a trustee of another private school, the Belmont Hill School.

The tax-exempt Dexter Southfield private school in Brookline claims to be “non-profit.” But according to its Form 990 financial filing for 2014-2015 between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, Dexter Southfield’s total revenue of $36,077,974 exceeded the school’s total expenses of $32,783,379 by $3,294,595; and the value of the school’s total net assets increased from $24.5 to $24.8 million. Yet the tax-exempt Dexter Southfield private school paid zero dollars in U.S. federal income tax during the same period (although it has also apparently benefited from millions of dollars in Massachusetts Development Financing Agency-issued tax-exempt bonds financing in 21st-century).

The $36 million that Dexter Southfield collected included over $29.5 million from tuition and fee payments from families of enrolled students, over $2.4 million from grant contributions and $2.2 million from stocks and bonds portfolio investment income.

Over $16 million of the $36 million that Dexter Southfield earned from its “non-profit” private school operation was used to pay salaries of Dexter Southfield’s 105 employees. Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, for example, Head of School Todd Vincent was paid a total annual compensation of $331,664, including an annual base salary of $284, 652, by the Brookline private school (while the annual base salary of the Superintendent of Brookline’s public school system is apparently just $170,115). The Head of School’s wife was also employed by Dexter Southfield and paid an annual salary of $62,500; and according to its Form 990 financial filing for 2014 “Head of School Todd Vincent lives in campus housing provided by the school.”

In recent months, there has been much discussion in Brookline about whether or not public tax money should be diverted from unionized non-charter public schools in Massachusetts in order to create more, generally non-unionized, publicly-funded charter schools in the Commonwealth; and about whether or not a new public school building in Brookline should be constructed for $95 million on the 2.7 acre Baldwin School land site on Heath Street.

Yet until the well-heeled folks who control Massachusetts private schools like Dexter Southfield are politically pressured to help fund Brookline’s public school system more and to prioritize serving community educational needs—by perhaps enrolling for free more working-class and middle-class students whose parents live in Brookline and sharing land space on its 36-acre campus with Brookline’s public school system—students in under-funded and overcrowded Brookline public schools may be in danger of not receiving, during the next 8 years, the same schooling advantages received by Dexter Southfield students.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Do Ivy League Universities Favor Applicants From Elite Prep Schools?

The elite Ivy League universities of the U.S. power elite (like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, etc.) have apparently historically favored, in an undemocratic way, applicants to admission to these universities who are graduates of the U.S. power elite's elite prep school system. As Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff noted in their 1991 book Blacks in the White Establishment? A Study of Race and Class in America:

"...By the early 1980s, `only' 34 percent of the incoming freshmen at Harvard and 40 percent at Yale and Princeton were from prep schools...It remains...a distinct advantage for an applicant to an Ivy League school to attend an elite prep school. Two studies have shown that students from the...private secondary schools continue to have an advantage over public school graduates when it comes to admission to Harvard. In one of these studies, David Karen, a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard, noted that the Harvard admission staff places applications from certain boarding schools in special colored folders to set them apart from other applications. Karen found that applicants from these schools were more likely to be accepted for admission, even when he controlled for parental background, grades, SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores, and other characteristics...."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prep School Prejudice At Andover Historically

During the 20th century, the elite prep schools of the U.S. power elite--like Andover--apparently reflected the racial and religious sectarian prejudices of 20th-century U.S. society in general. As G. William Domhoff and Richard L. Zweigenhaft noted in their 1991 book Blacks in the White Establishment? A Study of Race and Class in America:

"Not surprisingly, there is considerable evidence that prep school administrators and students have demonstrated many of the same prejudices found in the larger society over the years. The experiences of Jews and blacks at Andover are instructive because that school has long prided itself on educating `youth from every quarter,' and it was one of the first boarding schools to accept black students. Frederick Allis's history of Andover, Youth from Every Quarter, is unlike any of the histories written about prep schools for it does not gloss over embarrassing or distasteful moments. Allis provides ample evidence that, for Jews and blacks at Andover, anti-Semitism and racism were likely to be part of their prep school experience. In the 1930s, when about 3 percent of the student body was Jewish, the headmaster wrote to a colleague: `We shall never have a larger percentage, and I am trying to reduce it just a little. On the other hand some of them make first class students and real leaders, although very few of them are permitted to hold important social positions.' Some Jewish students were given the `silent treatment' by the other students in their dormitory. And though Andover accepted black students relatively early, it did not accept very many, and they were not especially welcomed by the community. Prior to the 1950s, Allis writes, `the School had done little if anything for blacks.' For example, in 1944, in response to a request from an alumnus that Andover accept more black students, the headmaster responded that there were currently 2 black students at the school, and that accepting more might `cause trouble.'

Friday, October 17, 2014

Revisiting Lawrenceville School and Other Prep School Campuses and Endowments

In their 1991 book Blacks in the White Establishment?: A Study of Race and Class in America, Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff wrote the following in reference to the tax-exempt and "non-profit" Lawrenceville School prep school:

"...With the exception of the specific geographic location, the following description of the Lawrenceville School could apply to many American boarding schools: `The school is located on 330 magnificently landscaped acres of New Jersey countryside just five miles south of Princeton. Its physical plant--including a nine-hole golf course, mammoth field house and covered hockey rink, library of some 23,000 volumes, science building, arts center with 900-seat auditorium and professionally equipped stage--would be the envy of most colleges.'

"Most colleges would be pleased to have Lawrenceville's endowment as well. In 1983, Lawrenceville and the other 15 prep schools that make up Baltzell's select 16 had a combined endowment of $381 million, and their physical plants were valued at about the same amount...`In effect,' Cookson and Persell claim, `the combined real estate holdings of American boarding schools represent a "Prep National Park," a preserve free from state and local taxes...' 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Are U.S. Prep Schools Still Excluding Working-Class Black Students?

In the 1980s, the percentage of Black students attending the U.S. power elite's prep schools whose family background was low-income and working-class apparently decreased. As G. William Domhoff and Richard Zweigenhaft's noted in their 1991 book Blacks in the White Establishment: A Study of Race and Class in America:

"The ABC [`A Better Chance'] program was founded in 1963 by 16 independent secondary schools, with assistance from Dartmouth College, the Merrill Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation...The changing role of ABC, and the increasing entry of middle-class blacks into private schools are reflected in the one survey we know of that provides a comprehensive look at the racial composition of elite prep schools in the 1980s. It indicates that the number of black students has leveled off and that more of them are from the middle class. In their study of 2,475 freshmen and senior students at twenty prep schools, Peter Cookson and Caroline Persell found that 106 were black (4 percent). Notably, the fathers of 70 percent of their black sample were professionals: 17 percent were doctors, 14 percent were lawyers, 6 percent were bankers, 8 percent were college teachers, and 25 percent were secondary school teachers. One-third of the black respondents indicated that their families earned more than $7,000 per year [in 1980s money]..."

Monday, October 13, 2014

St. George's School's Undemocratic Role In U.S. Society

In their 1991 book, Blacks in the White Establishment?: A Study of Race and Class in America, G. William Domhoff and Richard L. Zweigenhaft indicated the undemocratic role in U.S. society that the St. George's School prep school has historically played, in the following reference:

"...St. George's School in Rhode Island, one of the most exclusive prep schools in America...St. George's, a scenic New England prep school that caters primarily to the children of the American upper class. Indeed, St. George's is singled out by sociologist E. Digby Baltzell as among the 16 most exclusive of the many boarding schools that `serve the sociological function of differentiating the upper classes from the rest of the population.'...

"Before World War II the graduates of the country's most prestigious prep schools had a virtual guarantee that the Ivy League college of their choice would accept them. Some prep schools were known to have special relationships with specific colleges. The six boarding schools many consider the most socially exclusive, often collectively referred to as `St. Grottlesex' (Groton, St. Mark's, St. Paul's, St. George's, Kent and Middlesex) served as strong `feeders' to Harvard...'

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Prep School Racism and Sexism At St. Paul's School Historically

As late as the 1990s the prep school that the ultra-rich U.S. Secretary of State, John "Secretary of War" Kerry, attended--St. Paul's School--was apparently operating in an institutionally racist and institutionally sexist way. As Columbia University Professor of Sociology Shamus Rahman Khan--who was a student at St. Paul's School during the 1990s--recalled in his 2011 book Privilege: The Making of An Adolescent Elite At St. Paul's School:

"I am surrounded by black and Latino boys...It was September 1993...I quickly realized that St. Paul's was far from racially diverse. That sea of dark skin only existed because we all lived in the same place: the minority student dorm. There was one for girls and one for boys. The other 18 houses on campus were overwhelmingly filled with those whom you would expect to be at a school that educated families like the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts...Why were there comparatively few Black or Latino students? Why did blacks and Latinos not do as well as the white and Asian students?  Why, though girls consistently did better than the boys, was the student body still half boys and half girls? If you believe that boys should not win more academic awards than girls, even though girls outperform them, then the school is not a meritocracy...It was in the 1950s...that St. Paul's hired its first black teacher, John T. Walker..."

And, coincidentally, the St. Paul's School administration apparently also required its women students "to cover their shoulders, resulting in that was called the `no bare shoulders rule,' until this rule was "challenged" in recent years by the women students at St. Paul's School, according to the same book. 

In her 1983 book The Good School, Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot also reported "that there were 45 black students at St. Paul's in 1969, but only 23 in 1980," according to Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff's 1991 book Blacks in the White Establishment?: A Study of Race and Class in America.