Archives for category: California

We previously read about El Camino Real Charter School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The principal got into trouble because he was moonlighting as a coach for the NBA and charging his travel expenses to the school (i.e., the taxpayers).

The principal spent over $100,000 on personal items and charged them to the school. The school learned of the principal’s lavish spending in October 2015. This past week, the board decided to hire an investigator. Why did it take eight months to act?

He bought a $95 bottle of fine Syrah. Paid for first-class airfare and luxury hotel rooms. And racked up a $15,500 credit card tab at Monty’s Prime Steaks & Seafood.

David Fehte, executive director-principal of El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, used the same school-issued American Express card to charge $100,000 over two years. Some charges came while moonlighting as a college basketball talent scout for the San Antonio Spurs.

Now the El Camino high board of directors has decided to launch an independent financial probe of the popular principal’s spending. The forensic accounting comes ahead of a year-long management assistance review by a state financial turnaround agency prompted by the credit card scandal.

“I want guidance from agencies to tighten up the (school fiscal) policy,” El Camino board Chairman Jonathan Wasser said after a unanimous vote late Wednesday to pay for the probe of its principal. “I believe in due process.

“We need to have the forensic accounting look over all the information because it’s big, and I’m not an accountant, and it requires somebody trained to look over the evidence.”

It gets worse.

Carl Petersen, a charter school parent at another charter school, reports on the efforts at El Camino Real Charter School to pre-empt the story before it came out. The school and the principal went into a defensive crouch, treating those who questioned its finances as enemies.

A contact at the Los Angeles Times informed me that I got a faulty report about the Vergara decision. The California Supreme Court has not released its decision.

I apologize for misleading you.

In 2012, Californians voted on Proposition 30, which raised taxes on the richest citizens in order to raise funding for public schools and charter schools. The measure passed, despite a well-funded effort to defeat it.

A group of unions and progressive activists released a list of nearly 80 wealthy Californians who secretly funded the campaign to defeat Proposition 30. One of them was billionaire Eli Broad, who publicly supported Prop 30 but donated either $500,000 or $1 million to the effort to defeat it.

The progressive activists–called California Hedge Clippers–dug into records to show where the money came from to fight the temporary tax to aid schools.

Individuals named in the group’s report include Silicon Valley tech and investment executive John H. Scully ($500,000), investor and Hyatt Hotel heir Anthony Pritzker ($100,000), developer Geoff Palmer ($100,000) and private equity investor Gerald Parsky ($50,000).

Donors, regulators concluded, contributed money to an out-of-state organization, which circulated funds through a series of other groups and eventually back to California. By then, the identity of the donors was beyond the reach of disclosure laws.

As the money was channeled to California, some transfers were not properly disclosed and therefore violated the law, officials said. Well after the election, a California investigation resulted in $16 million in fines to some of the groups as well as the disclosure of some donors, including Broad, who either gave $500,000 or $1 million, depending on how the source documents are interpreted. The donors were not fined….

Among the names to emerge in the California research is Nils Colin Lind ($50,000), who was at the time an executive at Blum Capital, the firm he co-founded with Richard Blum, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband. The larger contributions include $800,000 from machine-tool manufacturer Gene Haas. The researchers also uncovered additional money from the Fisher family, heirs to the Gap fortune and among the most generous supporters of charter schools; their revised total is $10 million.

The list also includes leaders of the charter school movement, such as Scully and Tony Ressler ($25,000), a former longtime board member of the charter group Alliance College-Ready Public Schools.

Like other public schools, charters reaped huge financial benefits from Proposition 30 after it passed in 2012. School officials across the state hope voters in the November election will extend the tax on the wealthiest 2% of earners….

The donors’ money traveled a circuitous path. They contributed to Americans for Job Security, a Virginia trade association. This outfit then passed the money to the Center to Protect Patient Rights in Arizona. The center next sent $11 million to a Phoenix group, Americans for Responsible Leadership, which provided it to the Small Business Action Committee. That committee spent the money on the California campaigns.

In another relay, the Center to Protect Patient Rights provided more than $4 million to the America Future Fund in Iowa, which passed the money to the California Future Fund for Free Markets, a campaign committee supporting Proposition 32.

Not all of the donated money made it back to California. About $10 million was captured by groups in other parts of the country, the researchers said.

Once upon a time, the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, California, received national attention for its high test scores. In a book by David Whitman, called Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism (2008), the AIPCS was identified as one of the six best no-excuses schools in the nation. (In 2009, Whitman became Arne Duncan’s speech writer.) Its leader, Ben Chavis, was showered with praise by national education writers, TV pundits, and politicians. Based on its stellar data, reformers ranked it the best school in the nation. See here and here , including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Will, and many more.

Critics charged that Chavis got those astonishingly high scores by pushing out the children who were American Indian and replacing them with children of Asian descent.

Chavis’s style of leadership was brutal. He frequently made remarks demeaning racial and ethnic groups, complained about multiculturalism and unions, and punished children for minor infractions. Read here for a few of his more offensive comments.

He got results! Higher test scores.

But a state audit disclosed that $3.8 million went missing. Apparently much of it went to pay rent to the owner of the buildings, which was Chavis. Chavis resigned. He has since moved to North Carolina, where he is “a coveted speaker” on the free market view of capitalism and education.”

Chavis never received any punishment for the money he paid himself and his wife’s businesses.

Just another story of a great charter school.

In Oakland, California, a grand jury impaneled to investigate the oversight of charter schools reported that the schools were performing poorly and needed better management and more supervision. Despite results like this, the California State Board of Education, the legislature, and Governor Jerry Brown acquiesce to every demand of the California Charter Schools Association. CCSA has a rich PAC which they use to eliminate candidates who don’t support continued expansion of their private sector. They want more and more charter schools, no matter how pathetic their performance. At what point does evidence matter?

Although charter schools were intended to be an educational antidote to the city’s struggling traditional public schools, many of the city’s charter schools aren’t outperforming their district-run counterparts, and on average, performed worse last year in statewide results, according to an Alameda County grand jury report released this week.

The grand jury, which looked into Oakland Unified School District’s oversight of the city’s 37 charter schools, found that 19 scored below district averages for both charter and traditional schools in mathematics in statewide test results. And 17 charter schools scored below the district average in English. The panel reported that 15 charters scored below the district averages in both categories.

Measured against the state, the results are more troubling: 62 percent, or 23 of the city’s charter schools, scored below state averages in math, and 65 percent, 24 schools, scored below the state averages in English, according to results from the 2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, which replaced the API scores of previous years. Many of the schools performed similarly on past API tests, the report stated.

For that reason and a host of others, the panel recommended that Oakland Unified adopt a more rigorous oversight and approval process when authorizing and reauthorizing charter schools in the city. It also urged the district to increase its staffing at the Office of Charter Schools and to increase the number of on-site visits to charter schools and their board meetings to ensure stronger accountability, including fiscal and governance oversight, since they are funded on the taxpayer’s dime.

Here is a link to the Grand Jury report:

Here are highlights:

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is comprised of 95 K-12 schools with an enrollment of approximately 48,000 students. Of the public schools within the city of Oakland, thirty-seven (37) are charter schools with a total enrollment of approximately 12,000 students. This represents nearly 25% of the total enrollment of the district.

However, the autonomy and independence granted to charter schools come at a cost. Charters operate without the same scrutiny as their district counterparts by the tax paying public. For example, a charter may change curricula, teaching methods, and budget allocation without approval from the authorizing district superintendent or the elected school board. They are also able to determine their own achievement standards, accountability, and systems of discipline or transfers between schools.

Using the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Test Results for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics for 2015, the Grand Jury determined that of the 37 Oakland charter schools that participated, 17 scored below the blended average of all Oakland unified public schools and 24 scored below the statewide average in English. Nineteen scored below OUSD averages and 23 scored below the statewide average in mathematics. Within these results, there were 15 Oakland charter schools that scored below OUSD averages in both categories. Many of these charter schools have been in Oakland for years and scored similarly on the previous API tests that are no longer in use.

The Grand Jury acknowledges that test scores are not the only measure of success, as many other factors such as school culture and non-academic support personnel, must be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, it is a concern that some charters are not achieving expected results and yet may still be re-authorized.

Current legislation requires the authorizer to “monitor fiscal condition” of charters, but beyond an annual financial audit, there is no oversight of charter school’s long term financial planning or budgeting.

This growth in charter schools has altered the original intention of the charter movement from “experimental laboratories” to one that attempts to address the sub-par results in district schools.

Funding for special education services in each region is provided by the state on a per student basis. In 2010, the state allowed charter schools to withdraw from their SELPA district, and join any other such district they chose. Twenty-five of Oakland’s 37 charter schools withdrew from the Oakland SELPA reducing the funds available.

Because a SELPA district is intended to form collaborations and share special needs education resources across many schools, the departure from its SELPA of so many charter schools resulted in fewer funds for OUSD that still must serve the same broad range of special needs students including those with the most severe needs. The Grand Jury heard testimony that individual charter schools have fewer severely disabled students. The Grand Jury views this as creating an inequity for special needs students in Oakland’s district schools.

The OUSD Office of Charter Schools is understaffed and underfunded. Although they are managing to successfully comply with the current laws, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure the future success of the charter school program in the city of Oakland.

The state provides a formula for authorizer staffing levels that would require 13 full time employees to support Oakland’s charter schools. Current staffing was recently raised from five to six people.

There is no reporting or tracking to monitor potential wrongful expulsion or dismissal of “less desirable” students by charter schools.

The Grand Jury heard testimony that some charter schools may counsel a student to leave that school for a variety of reasons including recurrent misbehavior or lack of achievement. Witnesses testified that this procedure would be unknown were it not for “whistleblowers.”
A charter school is governed by a board of directors that is not publicly elected. Members of such a board may have no expertise in education or have any particular qualifications for that role.

There is no requirement that the superintendent of the school district, or any member of the elected school board, attend charter school board meetings. The only oversight is through the current authorization and renewal process that requires some site visits throughout the school year.

There is no plan in place in OUSD to manage the proliferation of charter schools and no policy in place to manage or regulate growth. Such a plan would include facilities management, safety standards, and expected student outcomes.

There is no plan in place in OUSD to manage the proliferation of charter schools and no policy in place to manage or regulate growth. Such a plan would include facilities management, safety standards, and expected student outcomes.

Tom Ultican, a teacher of high school physics and math, here explains who is behind the privatization movement in California. The vehicle for privatization is the California Charter Schools Association.

He begins:

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and the Republican machine destroying public education in California or at least trying to privatize it; are promoting their jaded cause.

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice an organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

Why are billionaires so invested in charter schools?

He writes:

Many super-wealthy education reformers are not fans of democracy. There is a natural and dark human tendency to desire control over others. With their massive wealth, billionaire’s are capable of subverting democracy and enforcing their frequently uninformed opinions.

Ultican then goes on to show what a gravy train this charter industry is for all those who jump on board. He lists the salaries of many of those who loudly proclaim “It is For the Children.” Are they doing good or doing well?

The Eli Broad-funded group “Great Public Schools Now” (sic) has released its plan for the destruction of democratically controlled public education in Los Angeles.

Despite the failure of charter schools to improve the education of low-income students unless they are free to choose the students they want and kick out the ones they don’t want, billionaire Eli Broad wants to put 160,000 children who are now in public schools into privately managed charters. The twist in this plan is that Broad and his allies have promised to take control of public schools, magnet schools, and other schools as well as their own charters. It seems that the billionaires and their minions know how to create successful schools. One wonders if this means that even the public schools will adopt “no excuses” discipline and kick out the kids who refuse to conform. To do this, the corporate reformers have to retain some public schools where they can drop the kids they don’t want.

The goal is to expand access for 160,000 students GPSN has identified as attending failing schools in 10 low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods to successful schools it wants to help replicate or expand.

The neighborhoods are in South LA, East LA and the northeast San Fernando Valley, chosen because they have “chronically underperforming schools and few high-quality school choices for struggling families,” the plan states.

GPSN says it will provide funding and support to high-performing schools no matter what type of school — charter, traditional, pilot, magnet or partnership — so they can be replicated and expanded. It will also support proposed schools with the potential to be high quality.

The widening focus is a shift from an early plan leaked last year that was developed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to expand charter schools in LA.

“This is a different kind of initiative, very different than has been attempted in Los Angeles before,” said Myrna Castrejon, GPSN’s executive director. “I am particularly excited about the opportunity to really work across sectors to really strengthen all of public education.”

GPSN also is revealing today the makeup of its seven-person board, all of whom boast decades of experience in education. In addition to Siart and Flores, who is also a senior fellow at the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the board members are Gregory McGinity, executive director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Maria Casillas, founder of Families in Schools; Virgil Roberts, chairman of the board of Families in Schools; Marc Sternberg, K-12 education program director for the Walton Family Foundation, and Allison Keller, senior vice president and chief financial officer and executive director of the W.M. Keck Foundation.

All of these are corporate reformers with “decades” of privatizing public schools.

Bear in mind that in California, charter schools are not only deregulated, they operate without any supervision. There have been numerous charter scandals involving fraud and misappropriation of funds.

This is a disgrace. Eli Broad was educated in the public schools of Michigan, and he has become–along with the rightwing Walton Family Foundation–the major destroyer of public education in the nation. Naturally, the Walton Family Foundation’s education director Marc Sternberg is on the board of Eli Broad’s latest venture, bringing together the two most powerful and union-hating, public school-hating organizations in the US.

Expect a billionaire-funded drive to take control of the Los Angeles school board in the spring of 2017, to pave the way for the end of democratic public education in Los Angeles.

Awash in contributions from billionaires, the California Charter Schools Association claimed victory in several contested legislative elections.

Its candidate in the 43rd Assembly District, Laura Friedman came in first, bolstered by more than $1 million in campaign gifts by the powerful lobby.

The charter lobby, as usual, ran under false colors, pretending to be “all about the kids” and fighting for high-quality schools.

But Steve Zimmer, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, called them out, saying it was all about contracts and money.

LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer railed Wednesday against the tactics used by the CCSA Advocates in the hotly contested 43rd Assembly District race and compared its spending in that race, at least $1.2 million, to special interest spending from oil and tobacco industries, which lobby for deregulation.

“This is no longer about choice. This is no longer about kids. It’s certainly not about civil rights,” he said. “It’s about deregulation. It’s about privatization.”

An independent expenditure committee called Parent Teacher Alliance sponsored by CCSA Advocates, the political arm of the CCSA, spent $910,791 on mailers supporting Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman and $304,355 to oppose Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian, as of Friday, state campaign finance records show.

Friedman won the primary race, earning 31.9 percent of the vote total, capturing 24,372 votes, according to preliminary election results. Kassakhian finished in second place with 24.3 percent, receiving 18,618 votes. The two Democrats topped the eight-candidate ticket to replace outgoing Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, who could not seek re-election due to term limits. They will likely compete in the Nov. 8 general election. The election results will not be finalized until mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. Voter turnout in the district was about 29 percent.

Zimmer denounced the negative mailers sent by CCSA Advocates that flooded voters’ mailboxes in the district that includes Glendale, Burbank, La Canada Flintridge and parts of Los Angeles.

“It is base thuggery, no more or no less,” Zimmer said.

He called Kassakhian, whom he endorsed, the target of the mailers, an “innocent bystander” and said Kassakhian’s only crime was having a mother who was a public school teacher and support from teachers’ unions.

“I aspire to be half as decent a guy as Ardy Kassakhian is,” Zimmer said. “To take him out the way they did, to use the hate in those mailers, it’s a new standard of low. It has no rules, no boundaries, no ethics, no morals.”

The spending by charter school supporters in this race could be a preview of what will happen in March, when three seats on the LA Unified school board will be contested. Zimmer is up for re-election in what is sure to be a highly contested race. A challenger has already announced in the race. In 2013, Zimmer’s last re-election bid, millions were poured into the three races by outside groups. He captured 52 percent of the votes to defeat his opponent, Kate Anderson, who was backed by CCSA.

Friedman and Kassakhian will have a run-off in November as the top two finishers in the race.

The charter industry continues to descend into a pit of slime in its drive for money and power and its desire to cripple public education.

Rocketship Charters, which puts kids on computers and cuts costs by hiring Teach for America kids, applied to open a charter school in the Mount Diablo School District in California. The local school board voted no, unanimously. The Rocketship corporation appealed to the Costra County School Board, which also rejected their petition. The corporation then took their appeal to the State Board of Education, which overturned the local board and the county board and granted permission to the charter to open in the Mount Diablo district.

Of course, this means that the public schools in the district will have fewer resources, and will have to lay off teachers and cut programs so that the charter can thrive. The district, which serves most children, will suffer to feed the charter.

Another illustration of California’s willingness to sacrifice public schools and local control for the sake of the charter industry. Once again, the 1% get their way, regardless of the will of the local community and its elected board.

Reader D.L. Paulson writes here about the charter industry’s sabotage of local control in education.



The overruling of local school boards is a terrible problem in California. Now that it’s hitting an upper-income community (actually, the Mt Diablo district is mixed in its demographics), middle class parents will see what poorer urban districts have had to contend with for years.

Stories abound of charter schools not only wanting the equivalent of what real public schools get, but feeling like they deserve even more. Their mode of operation is to achieve through political connections what they can’t obtain by deceptive marketing practices or bullying of local school boards.

At the bottom of this post are links to stories of a charter network called Caliber, which operates in the poor districts of Richmond and Vallejo, CA. It has another questionable educational program, especially for math, which consists of plopping kids in front of a computer for endless repetition and test prep, masquerading, of course, as “personalized learning”. All that Caliber really does is siphon badly needed funds from other schools for a relatively select group of students that it can profit from.

One particularly interesting thing about Caliber is the couple which founded it: Ron Beller and Jennifer Moses. Mr. Beller was famous for the collapse of his hedge fund and an odd story of a secretary embezzling millions of dollars. Both are part of a cabal of rich individuals that have torn apart the public education system in England, with Ms. Moses funding and pushing heavily for charter schools there. They left London a few years ago for unexplained reasons, but possibly because they smelled blood and opportunity in the charter-infested waters of Northern California.

Many people wonder, if charter schools like Caliber are non-profit, and they’re spending the same money as real community-run schools, how can anyone accuse founders of profiteering? The answer: land grabs and self-dealing. Many of the networks that run these schools, like Rocketship, buy their products (software, supplies and more) from the same companies they or their friends invest in. The properties they purchase are securitized by taxpayer dollars, allowing them to leverage an investment in the same manner as a Real-Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Since there is no public oversight over their purchasing, no bid requirements, no review of salaries or per-pupil spending, they can quite literally get away with anything.

The motives of investors like Ron Beller and Jennifer Moses are not philanthropic. That’s why they and so many other hedge-fund managers love the story of failing schools, so they can cover-up what they’re doing by pretending to serve poor minorities and other victims of some mythical failing system. No matter what jargon is used to describe their “personalized” or “no excuses” model, making poor minority students walk in straight lines, silently, and then plopping them in front of a brain-numbing computer program is not giving them the same educational opportunities as kids in, say, Lafayette, CA (right next door to Mt Diablo). It’s greed, pure and simple, as evidenced by Goldman Sachs seminars telling investors exactly how to make money through the privatization of schools. It is destroying public education in this country, and it’s going to worsen our problems of racism, community polarization, and income inequality.

We can only hope that Jerry Brown will “get it” soon. He understood similar issues with redevelopment agencies, and he ended them early in his first term. Perhaps ending the insidious invasion of charter schools will be his second term legacy.



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