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THE PROMISE -- AND PERIL: Of Grant Elementary's new Montessori pre-school, Pt. 2

Columbia natives John Wright and Mick McGuire -- prominent hedge fund managers -- lend a hand.   But is non-profit education their only goal?   Continued from Part One

Return of the Native
 
In every sense of the word, John Wright Riddick is a winner -- a hometown son made good in the big city returned to Columbia with a mind to give back. Currently a Missouri State Representative candidate, Wright Riddick -- who now goes by John Wright -- graduated at the top of his Yale economics class, and after Yale Law School, founded Rollins Capital Partners in New York City, a comparatively modest hedge fund that shares its name with Wright's home street, Rollins Court in CoMo.
 
A Presidential scholar, tennis star, and Hickman Kewpie, Wright has what it takes to be a Missouri rep says a growing roster of powerful locals.
 
His father, John Riddick, is Wright's campaign manager. A former Volkswagen dealer and PedNet proponent, Riddick left car sales to start Columbia-based Application Software, Inc. (ASI) -- a provider of flexible and self-directed employee benefit plans for Columbia Public Schools, the state of Missouri, and other public and private organizations around the country. Wright's mother Sarah Riddick taught English at Hickman High for many years.
 
As head of the Rollins Reading Company, John Wright will oversee -- alongside Columbia Community Montessori founder Myke Gemkow -- the Grant Elementary Montessori, hiring and supervising teachers, designing curricula, and making policy.
 
"It was a great opportunity backed by a great vision," he told me, praising Beverly Borduin for her persistence and panache.

At the time I spoke with Wright, however, guaranteeing Borduin's vision to low-income kids was up in the air. Wright says he is helping provide startup funding for at least two years. But what about after that?
 
What if scholarship money dries up? What if too few well-off parents sign up, reducing that part of the scholarship subsidy? Will scholarships always be guaranteed? Will enough low-income children always apply? Will they even know about the school?
 
Though Wright said he would "actively recruit" children from low-income families, he expressed uncertainty about virtually every other question. "We're still working out a lot of those details," he explained.
 
 
The Wright Stuff?
 
The number of details still up in the air about Grant's Montessori -- opening this Fall and enrolling students now -- surprised me. A handbook the group gave to parents at a recent meeting lists "tuition protocol" and "governing board" as "policies under construction."
 
Most notably, the group's presumptive board of directors did not include Beverly Borduin for reasons she could not explain. "I really haven't thought about it much," she told me. "I've been too busy getting to this point."
 
Unsettled that so little information about this public endeavor had been made public, I asked Wright if he understood the importance of the taxpayer subsidy. I wanted him to put a dollar amount on it, a question I myself had been asked when donor-parents contacted me to find out what I knew about the new school.
 
A numbers man obviously good with money, Wright could not quantify the CPS subsidy, and had heard no figures about what it might represent, in real taxpayer dollars. We agreed to call it "considerable," since it includes virtually every physical facility a startup educational program would need; a built-in customer base; and an intangible but equally important asset: Grant's wonderful name in local educational circles, particularly as one of the district's most successfully diverse schools.
 
Most importantly, Wright could not guarantee that 50% of the slots would go to poor kids. Neither could Borduin. "We haven't discussed how that would work," he said.
 
The question about low-income guarantees isn't without substance. The considerable public subsidy -- Columbia Public Schools is even building a new playground for the Montessori -- demands it. And given the Rollins-Wright pedigree, it shouldn't be that hard to promise, in writing, today.
 
Rollins Reading's board of directors -- according to state filings -- includes Richard Trainor "Mick" McGuire, a prominent hedge fund manager who founded Marcato Capital Management in San Francisco and whose father, Rick McGuire, was a long-time Mizzou track and field coach and sports psychology professor.
 
Both Wright and the younger McGuire graduated from Hickman High School. McGuire went on to Princeton and Harvard Business School, and in 2009 at age 32, became the youngest chairman ever of Borders Group, the big book retailer. His hedge fund at the time, Pershing Square Capital, was Borders' biggest investor.
 
McGuire left Pershing Square to start Marcato in December 2009. The bookseller went bankrupt in 2011.
 
Rollins Capital Partners -- now relocated to Rocheport -- has moved a lot of money around in recent years, too: over $80 million in 2012 alone, according to SEC Filings.
 
So why not a low-income student guarantee? That's one of the problems with public-private education partnerships, say two University of Massachusetts (UMass) education professors. There are no guarantees -- except the public subsidy.

PART 3
PART 1

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