Parent Revolution is an organization funded by the Walton Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation to promote the “parent trigger,” that is, to encourage parents to seize control of their public schools and impose changes, such as handing the school over to a private charter operator and/or firing the staff.
Ellen Lubic, a professor and community activist, wrote the following commentary on Austin’s post. She begins with introductory remarks, then follows with a point-by-point dialogue.
I welcome a response from Ben Austin.
Last week, something extraordinary happened
Grassroots organizations across Los Angeles organized and fought against powerful special interests and long odds. For one single moment the people of Los Angeles stood together for the simple proposition that we must elevate our kids above our politics. And the people won.
The “special interests” Austin alludes to are the parents, teachers, and community, and the taxpayers of California…We, the People. As opposed to the special interests who paid for this day of scripted actors and a phony scenario, the tycoons law firms and PR firms representatives who beat the drums for this media device, using highly paid organizers from Parent Revolution and United Way.
This carefully orchestrated photo op event was put on by Ben Austin and his young Westside followers from Parent Revolution, the group he started in 2009 with major financing from the Waltons of WalMart fame, Eli Broad of the Broad Academy which trains CEOs like Deasy to run school districts according to a business model, and some others of the wealthiest people in the world, and also the ever questionable United Way. The two event leaders, Gabe and Ryan, both young men in suits and paid in the neighborhood of a reported $200,000 a year to help run these “non profits” rapidly drummed up this dramatic scenario over the weekend before the LAUSD Board of Education meeting on Oct. 29 when the Board would evaluate a new 3 year contract for Supt. John Deasy.
Deasy, who we are told leaked to the the LA Times that he had resigned the previous Wednesday, was helped with this created “public outcry for him to stay” by about 100 – 160 bussed-in inner city people. This group of mainly Latino community members, included a few older women who spoke as parents, but many were young ‘partying’ Latino youth who claimed that they were paid for the day of acting and who all clapped and cheered when Monica Garcia entered the Bd. room. Gabe and Ryan also arranged for Teach for America teachers to leave their classrooms, making taxpayers foot the bill for substitute teachers. There were many staff and young lawyers from the various law firms which work for Broad and the billionaires seeking to privatize public schools. These were the people handing out free food and drink to the bussed-in actors and even to a homeless man who participated in their chants.
Although Austin claims to have had a major group of collaborators in attendance, many of those he lists claim not to have been any part of this PR stunt, nor to have known about it.
When I drove up to the building in early morning I saw the most unusual sight of a row of buses, a large police presence, and many media vans parked in the red zone. There were about 100 or so people milling around the front entry although the line for the public was not very long. At the front of the line was Ben Austin looking every bit a ‘surfer dude’ in a grimy plaid jacket and unkempt hair. He was ‘high fiving’ with many of his group at the ‘coup’ he felt he had pulled off. He claims not to have gotten into the meeting yet he was in the front of the line, so if he chose not to enter the meeting room, it was not for lack of seating since at least 1/4 of the room was empty. Many his cute young Westside supporters in their green Parent Rev t-shirts were there. However, I did notice that most of the day’s actors did leave after the photo op, so they were not very serious about this vital Board meeting. They had had much fun, for pay we were told, outside the Room.
The media bought in to all of this. They interviewed only pro Deasy folks, and did not seem to seek out others who were there who were anti Deasy. This became the spin on the evening news…just as Austin plannedit.to be. The power of the billionaires PR and law firms is vast and showed clearly that day. I personally went up to a KNX reporter after the meeting and volunteered to be interviewed in response to this set up. She talked with me for at least 20 minutes, but the evening news reflected only what Austin and his collaborators had intended, and no mention was made of the anti Deasy people who were not allowed to speak.
In the Board room, I sat next to an older well dressed man who was taking notes even faster and more detailed than I. I noticed he had a credential hanging from a Stanford Law School lanyard and I asked him if he was Deasy’s lawyer. He seemed embarrassed and defensive and said he was not a lawyer, though he quickly took off and pocketed the lanyard. He was quite out of place seated in the midst of the yellow daisy brigade, those who had been handed daisies by the young lawyers leading the show (daisies for Deasy chants, and to be easily recognized by Vanessa, the monitor who handed them, alone, speaker’s forms). The young Latino men seated behind me told me that they loved the day and that Monica Garcia was wonderful and they came at her personal invitation.
I spoke with many of the participants, from the dozens of young SCRIPTED chanters, to the young women lawyers in blue jeans who handed out the their hand painted signs for the actors to carry in a protest circle for benefit of the media which filmed it all. Gabe and Ryan were also handing out printed sheets of paper with both chants and talking points for the actors to use. I was amazed at how rapidly these power brokers had pull off this detailed media event. Young inner city participants told me that they had been called over the weekend and were both mandated, and wooed, to attend.
How did that happen? While the LAUSD still has a long way to go, for the past three years it has been steadily improving in a number of key categories. Under Superintendent John Deasy’s leadership, LAUSD students have been learning more, scoring higher and graduating in greater numbers. They’ve also been suspended a lot less.But change is hard. Lots of politicians spend a lot of time talking about kids. But a genuine kids-first agenda — where we make every single decision as if it would literally impact our own children — still remains disturbingly radical when compared to the status quo.Two weeks ago, word leaked that Dr. Deasy might be leaving. Dr. Deasy often faces powerful opponents who challenge his independent, kids-first agenda. These interest groups have been working for years to push him out. This was their moment.
The teachers of LAUSD voted an overwhelming 91% NO CONFIDENCE in Deasy some weeks prior to this farce meeting on Oct. 29. Voices from all over Los Angeles County and the entire state complained for many weeks at the terrible decisions of Deasy, the Broad anointed Supt., and his Broad grad pal, Asst. Supt. Aquino, not only about the firing of innocent teachers, the embedding of charter schools in public school venues, keeping so many in teacher jail, and not reporting egregious teacher offenders to the State as required by Education Code, but mainly about the huge $1 BILLION dollar expenditure of taxpayer money for iPads at over retail cost and with no keyboards and no plan for WiFi (which had been investigated by a prior Board as a serious and dangerous health issue for young children) and for having made no plan for who was responsible for loss/theft/breakage of these soon to be outdated iPads. Deasy had been the education face of these iPads when Apple advertised them for school use, and he was also a stockholder, so many people question what seemed a sweetheart deal.
As to word being leaked to the LA Times of the Deasy resignation, the ‘insider’ information at the Times is that Deasy and his crew were the leakers, so as to prepare for this charade of phony “public” support. Some weeks prior to this meeting, Monica Garcia, the big Deasy supporter on the Board, sent out a cyber letter by eblast from her office at Beaudry to support Deasy, but she signed it with the names of two others. These kinds of things have muddied the truth for a long time. A few weeks ago the other Deasy Board supporter, Tamar Galatzan, decided for the first time in LAUSD history, to call for censure of the Board’s current president for accusations made against him from 12 years ago, and already a settled issue, but she clearly set this up to deflect from the investigation of the committee headed by new Board member Monica Ratliff, into the financing and choice decisions surrounding the iPad fiasco. (Jaime Aquino in public testimony called all the real and vast public outcry, including articles by the LA Times, just “NOISE” and said it was a minor distraction.) This investigation is now turning up many financial and other decisions made by Deasy and his staff wtih NO transparency to the Board nor the public which foots all the bills and should be his ultimate employer.
With this vast amount of publicly voiced disapproval, Deasy should have been gone, and not given another 3 years of these ill advised decisions which could easily lead to to bankrupting LAUSD. In private sector he would have been removed long ago, but with the lawyers from the biggest and most powerful law firms in America, who represent Eli Broad (who got Deasy hired without a search forother candidates), Bloomberg, Murdoch, Waltons (all of whom who poured money into the LAUSD School Board elections), and their ilk, who are determined to make public education a huge free market investment opportunity, and with their well paid toadies like Deasy and the mendacious and manipulative Ben Austin, a majority of the Board renewed his contract. This is a travesty.
During a 72-hour window leading up to the board meeting, parents looked at each other and realized that nobody was coming to their rescue. Parents recognized that they must become the change. So they organized. One mom at my daughter’s neighborhood elementary school even organized parents during our annual “Halloween Haunt” festival.
Austin lives on the Westside among the weathiest LA residents.
As to how this event was all put together, you can read the Ravitch posts of Oct. 28, 29, 30 to see the real facts with the actual tweets between the leaders of Parent Rev and United Way as to how to do this for the most media impact. A farce all the way…Moliere could not have done it better.
The day was all phony! It was a set up, all orchestrated by the lawyers and PR folks, from the phony orange robe the young lawyers and Gabe and Ryan handed to a young woman to pretend she was a recent high school grad, to the setting up the circle of Latinos who were told to keep their faces angry and aimed always at the media cameras as they chanted the scripted words while carrying the signs made by the leadership, to the lawyers handing out of the daisies for the hired ‘Public” to wear behind their ears, and then, the coup de gras of speaking to the Board.
I was first person to enter the Board Room and immediately requested a speaker’s form from the Board’s monitor, Vanessa, to give my testimony to the Board and the public. She stood near a phalanx of police who lined the wall of the room. I was told emphatically that no one would speak that day. However within mere moments, some of the bussed in folks with their daisies were handed numbered speakers forms. I again asked the monitor, Vanessa, for a form, and again she told me I was not allowed to speak, that only the bussed-in women could speak.
This was the most undemocratic, one-sided, set up I have ever witnessed at a public meeting in a building owned by the public. A few other people who were against rehiring Deasy asked for forms and they too were turned down. Only the pro Deasy ‘actors’ were given forms. They mainly testified in Spanish with an English translator generally reading from a script as to what they said. I spoke with some of these women outside as we waited so many hours for the meeting to begin, and they all spoke to me in English, but by using Spanish to give their testimony, and then with the translator, they each got 10 minutes to make their points, whereas the public comments are limited by the Board to only 3 minutes each. Only Mr. Walter Wattles, an older and most erudite member of the public who, I was told, was a former teacher, and who attends most meetings, was finally allowed to speak against the Deasy contract renewal. He had only 3 minutes to make his points, which spoke for all of us who recognize the many faults of this Superintendent.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and civic leaders across the political spectrum one by one stood up and stood behind this organic grassroots movement.United Teachers of Los Angeles, the local teachers union, stood alone — politically isolated on this seminal issue. Not even other teachers unions would support UTLA’s extreme cause.
At the end of the meeting, Warren Fletcher, president of UTLA came forward and demanded that a substitute teacher who had been screamed at, maligned and insulted, and fired on the spot, in a fit of uncontrolled rage by Deasy, and in front of her class, be allowed to speak about this incident. She did give her powerful testimony, and together with that of Wattles, and the No Confidence vote of thousands of teachers, and all the issues presented over many months by a multitude of teachers, it was clear that there are so many factors of his questionable behaviors, that Deasy should never have been rehired.
So what really happened behind those closed doors?
Following this outpouring of public support, Dr. Deasy emerged from last week’s school board meeting with an agreement to remain as superintendent through 2016.
Austin’s claim of an “outpouring of public support” is the biggest lie of all…there was NO “outpouring of public support” but rather it was a pay day and party day for all the hired actors, the scammed inner city attendees, and all the support staff from the law and PR offices and non profits which were active in the charade. I researched some of these non profits, and their Boards are filled with lawyers from the same powerful firms who represent the tycoons behind it all. These purveyors of planned disruption, all paid by a hidden community of vast wealth and power, created a totally dishonest scenario. They manipulated uninformed inner city people of color once again.
This sham was put in place not by the public, but by the power players who forced their voices to be the only ones heard.
How did community power save the superintendent?Saving Dr. Deasy did not happen because of the traditional power players: Mayors, philanthropists, unions or any other traditional institutional interest group. It didn’t even happen because of Dr. Deasy. He was actively discouraging his supporters — making it very clear that he felt it was time for him to go. Parents kept going despite his admonitions because this wasn’t about any single person. It was about our kids.
Clearly the manipulation by Deasy and his supporters used the non profits of Austin’s Parent Revloution, and United Way, to put this day together. Sadly, not only former Mayor Tony Villaraigosa who now works for the ponzi company Herbalife and who bragged about closing LAUSD public schools in favor of charter schools, and charter supporter and new Mayor Eric Garcetti whose wife worked for former Mayor Riordan to set up his Catholic School Charters, got in on this farce.
Austin ‘spins’ this to say the actual, voiceless real public, We the People with no access to the best law firms in the nation and no endless funding by the billioniares who even seek to manipulate our local elections, that we are the “power players”…. while Broad, Murdoch, the Waltons, Bloomberg, et al, are the downtrodden supporters of the communities living in poverty. It would be laughable if were not really the most disgusting deception.
The media repeatedly falls for this artifice and created spin. Are they just lazy, or do they collude for their own profit?
Austin speaks of doing this for “our kids” when his kids, and those of all the major players in this day of infamy, go to the best schools in Los Angeles, both public and private. None of them are inner city parents struggling to survive. Austin earns his big income (only a portion of which is approximately $250,000 from donations mainly from the Waltons to Parent Revolution) by using the inner city parents to his own end, and to further the goals of his benefactors, the Waltons, who support ‘parent trigger laws’ to break the unions, Teach for America to fire well trained teachers and use inexperienced and ill trained youngsters at minimum cost in their place, and ‘stand your ground gun laws’ for all Americans. The Waltons, now listed by Forbes as the richest family in the world, choose to starve their employees with low wages, and teach them how to apply for food stamps and free health care at the expense of the public, the taxpayers. These are Ben Austin’s bosses who pay him handsomely to manipulate society in their behalf.
If this movement did have a single leader, it was the team at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. They helped to organize this loose coalition of over 60 organizations, and they stood up and took and action when we had very little time or hope.But there were dozens of other leaders. Grassroots community organizations like Alliance for a Better Community, Community Coalition and Inner City Struggle helped to lead this movement partly because of Dr. Deasy’s commitment to poor communities and communities of color.Parent leaders like Amabilia Villeda, who serves as chapter coordinator for the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union, helped turn out dozens of parents to support Dr. Deasy. Amabilia and other parents worked collaboratively with Dr. Deasy to transform their failing school using California’s landmark parent trigger law. Today their children attend the first-ever school where the district is working collaboratively with a charter school to serve the same kids, while also providing free universal preschool for all neighborhood kids. Parent Union members spoke movingly about Dr. Deasy visiting them in the rain to extend his hand in partnership.
There was one parent there speaking for 24th Street, and these better informed parents chose not to turn their school over to be charterized, and instead worked with the administration to promote some positive change. This was unlike Adelanto/Desert Trails and Wiegand where minimally informed parent groups were manipulated to vote for change and then got charterized.
The scripted parents who spoke to the Board were not true representatives of the plethora of LAs inner city communities and parents. Not one representative of the tens of thousands of unhappy parents who are outraged by the Deasy administration, and who want public schools enriched, but not charterized, was allowed to speak at this ‘fix’ of a meeting.
Why did the BoE allow this?
Parents waited in line for hours to get into the meeting, even though many didn’t get in, including me. They passed the time by passing out “Daisies for Deasy.” In one resounding collective voice, the chants from hundreds of parents and community leaders could be heard from blocks away: “Don’t be Crazy — Keep Doc Deasy!”
This is pure baloney. Everyone waited for hours, not just the bussed in actors. There were only a few inner city parents, of those who were bussed in, who chose to stay and speak in favor of Deasy while the rest went home after the media left. They were given free food and drink as they waited outside. Music was played by the leaders for their enjoyment in this party atmosphere all set up by Gabe and Ryan at great monetary expense. One reporter estimated that it cost the leaders over $40, 000 to put on this media event party. Yes, the loud speakers that Gabe and Ryan had set up magnified the shouting from the printed chants they handed out, and that all their high paid professional worker bees led, loudly. It was a mind-bending sham and truly Goebbels-like behavior.
These are the unsung heroes whom our children may never thank, but who stepped up for them when it mattered.Under the leadership of Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic, the LAUSD school board listened to the will of the parents and the will of the people. Now is the time for all adults on all sides of this debate to start acting like grown-ups, including Dr. Deasy and his supporters.
We the real People, we the taxppayers and parents, need to hear from the Board about this travesty and why they colluded with the billionaire opportunists to orchestrate such a blatant undemocratic situtation? We need to know why they would allow the ‘use’ of the bussed-in community of color to make their singular scripted pro-Deasy points while those of us who wanted to testify as to Deasy’s faults were not permitted to speak? We find this disrespectful to all. Also we need to hear from Steve Zimmer who has done an about face since his election.
And we need to know why the Board extended the contract of this shoddy Superintendent for another 3 years? The Board got many angry emails from endless real community members who were outraged at this manipulated dance, but to date the Board has refused to reply to their electors.
It is time for us all to find candidates who are not intimidated by the wealth of the power players who actually run/own LAUSD, and the big businesses which grease so many palms for unjust enrichment. We need honest brokers for education.
Moving forward, everyone must commit to live by one simple rule: if it’s not okay on the playground, it’s not okay in our politics either. This is not about adult interests or petty political games. It’s about our kids. Anyone who deviates from that simple rule, as one mom at the board meeting scolded, we’ll have to put in a time-out.
“Time out” Austin says…yes, these robber barons would love us, the informed and activist public, to sit quietly while they play out their schemes to enrich themselves as they are diminishing the educations of our students in public school, and generations of students to come….all for an investment opportunity and profit. They want to shut down our voices while they continue to pick our pockets.
Ben Austin, whose resume reads like a story of a master of manipulation, from his Sacramento shenanigans, to his two full time jobs paid by taxpayer money while working for both Villaraigosa and the city of LA, and concurrently for Green Dot Charter School’s former director, Steve Barr. And now it seems payback time and Steve Barr, Austin’s not so Secret Sharer in the Deasy/Broad/Walton escapade, is still working at operating charter schools for major profit even though he left Green Dot under a cloud. This is all information that can be researched online.
Ben Austin is not a person to look to for truth telling, nor for pure motives.
Ben Austin is the executive director of Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents striving to improve their children’s education. Ben is the proud parent of two young daughters.
Various of these groups Austin lists below say that they were not part of this charade. Those participating were mainly supporters Michelle Rhee and Eli Broad, who are both board members and/or directors of some of these “non profits.” Other reports show only about a dozen organzations that were active participants on Oct. 29.
Community groups and organizations that turned out at the rally, aided with organizing efforts, or voiced their support to save Superintendent John Deasy’s job include: Alliance for a Better Community, ACLU of So Cal, the Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend The Arc, Campaign for College Opportunity, CARECEN, CCSA, CFY LA, Children Now, CHIRLA, City Year, Community Coalition, Communities in Schools, Educators 4 Excellence, Ed Pioneers, EdVoice, Families In Schools, Goodwill of So Cal, Green Dot,, KIPP LA, LA Gay & Lesbian Center, LA Small Schools Center, LACER Afterschool Programs, LA Educational Partnership, LA Gay and Lesbian Center, LAMP Community Center, Lanai Road Education Committee, LA Urban League, LA Voice, Mind Research Institute, Music Center, New Teacher Center, Parent Partnership, Parent Revolution, Parent Institute for Quality Education, Partnership for LA Schools, SEIU 99, Students for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, Students Matter, Teach For America, Teach Plus, The California Endowment, Think Together, UCLA Center X, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and the Youth Policy Institute.