Archives for category: Los Angeles

The charter industry and the billionaires want to replace Scott Schmerelson with a charter employee. They want to buy control of the LAUSD school board.

Don’t let them! Stand with Scott, a veteran educator and a champion of public schools.

Tell the billionaires that the public schools of Los Angeles are not for sale!

Once again, control of the Los Angeles Unified School Distict school board is up for grabs, and once again the billionaires hope to buy control so they can expand the number of charter schools. The latest financial disclosures show that Reed Hastings of Netflix has contributed $925,000 to try to defeat veteran educator Scott Schmerelson. Billionaire Jim Walton of the Walmart family added another $300,000. The charter lobby is flush with money to buy TV ads and flyers that smear Schmerelson and use vicious anti-Semitic tropes in their attack ads. The charter lobby is angry at Schmerelson for two reasons: 1. He fights fearlessly for the 80% of students in public schools. 2. He released the explosive fact that 80% of Los Angeles’ charter schools have vacancies, not waiting lists. His opponent Marilyn Koziatek has no experience in the public schools; she holds an administrative job in a charter school.

Download the .pdf here.

Note: Sara Roos of Los Angeles (blogger Red Queen in LA) prepared the graph of political expenditures based on public records.

Michael Kohlhaas, a super investigator of public records in California, discovered that 22 charter schools in Los Angeles were rated “low performing” this year. If they get the same rating for a second year in a row, they must close, under the terms of the recently passed charter accountability law, AB 1505.

Among the low-performing schools are a couple of KIPPS, some Ref Rodriguez charters, and other highly touted but low performing schools.

Thomas Sowell at the Stanford’s Hoover Institution pointed to NYC’s high-scoring, high-attrition Success Avademy as his evidence for the miracle of charter schools. Los Angeles is not far from Palo Alto. Why didn’t he look there?

Carl J. Petersen is a parent in Los Angeles. He is supporting Scott Schmerelson for re-election to the LAUSD school board because of his experience with Scott’s opponent, who works for a charter school.

Control of the Los Angeles Unified School District is up for grabs in the 2020 election.

You can be sure that the LAUSD prioritizes public schools by voting for incumbent Scott Schmerelson and newcomer Patricia Castellanos.

The issue now is the same issue that has drawn a sharp divide on the school board for the past decade. Will the schools be controlled by a cabal of billionaires who favor privatization by charter schools or will it be controlled by people who are dedicated to the public schools of Los Angeles, which enroll 80 percent of the district’s children?

The charter lobby supports privatization and high-stakes testing for students and teachers.

California state law defines charter schools as “public schools” because the law was written by charter lobbyists. They have private management, private boards, and they are almost entirely free from scrutiny by public agencies; due to lack of oversight, several charter executives in California have been arrested and convicted of embezzlement from school funds. Lack of oversight explains why so many charters felt empowered to apply for and receive federal Paycheck Protection Program money as “small businesses.” They are charter schools when it is time to collect money available only to public schools, then they shape shift into “small businesses” or “non-profits” when it is time to collect money that is not available to public schools. That is called “double dipping.” It is wrong. It is unethical.

The charter industry is powerful in California due to the support of billionaires such as Eli Broad, Reed Hastings (Netflix), the Fischer Family (owners of The Gap and Old Navy), and Republican Bill Bloomfield. The candidates supported by California billionaires enjoy funding from out-of-state billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City. The fact that these billionaires are supporting the privatization agenda of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump doesn’t seem to bother them at all or make them think twice.

They want more privately managed charter schools, period, even though the vast majority of the district’s charter schools have empty seats (Schmerelson posted on his Facebook page that more than 80% of LA charter schools have vacancies). Once again, the billionaires are pouring money into a school board election. This one will be held on November 3, but early balloting will begin in a matter of weeks.

In the November election, there are two seats on the school board that will determine the near-term destiny of the district: Scott Schmerelson is up for re-election. He has served one term with great distinction. There is also an open seat, and one candidate stands out as a strong supporter of public schools, Patty Castellanos.

Scott is a career educator, who rose through the ranks in LAUSD as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He has literally devoted his life to the students of LAUSD.

Patricia Castellanos is the parent of a child in the Los Angeles public schools and a community activist.

Both deserve a seat on the board of the second largest school district in the nation.

In an ambitious effort to restart safe schooling, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced the launch of a massive program of testing and tracing for students and staff in Los Angeles.

Laura Newberry and Howard Blume report in the Los Angeles Times:

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Sunday said it was launching an ambitious coronavirus testing and contact tracing program for all students and staff aiming to create a path to safely reopening campuses in the nation’s second-largest school district.

If the plan comes to fruition as described, it would be one of the most extensive to date for an American school district. It remains unclear, however, how quickly it would be implemented and when in-person learning could resume.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner outlined the plan in an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times published Sunday, saying “the goal is to get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community.”

Beutner said the district hopes to be able to test all students and staff as part of a partnership that includes UCLA, Stanford and Johns Hopkins University, Microsoft, Anthem Blue Cross and HealthNet, among others. He said the testing would cost roughly $300 per student over a year.

“We are currently fine tuning systems and operational logistics. Then we will begin providing tests to staff currently working at schools as well as to any of their children participating in childcare provided for Los Angeles Unified staff,” he wrote. “Tests will then be provided for all staff and students over a period of weeks to establish a baseline. On an ongoing basis, sample testing based on epidemiological models will be done for each cohort of staff and students.”

The move comes amid growing concerns from parents about a fall semester of online learning for the district’s 700,000 students. A Times survey published last week showed poor students generally fare much worse than more affluent students.

Last week, the Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously approved a plan that will restore structure to the academic schedule while also allowing for an online school day that is shorter than the traditional one.

The plan leaves some parents and advocates in the nation’s second-largest school system wanting more teaching hours. There also are parents who want fewer mandatory screen-time hours for their young children — a reflection of the complexities of distance learning and the widespread parent angst over the start of the school year next week at home, online.

Thomas Ultican continues his investigation of the tentacles of billionaire reformers, this time focusing on the tumultuous career of John Deasy, who resigned as superintendent of the Stockton, California, school district.

Ultican shows how Deasy rose to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, how Justin tenure there was marked by controversy as he walked in lockstep with the Eli Broad-Bill Gates agenda of charter school expansion, high-stakes testing, and huge investments in technology. His controversial decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads and tech curriculum led to the end of his tenure in L.A.

On to Stockton, where the Mayor and three school board members were closely allied with the billionaire agenda.

A sad and cautionary tale about the destructive billionaire-funded movement to gut public schools.

Carl J. Petersen, a parent advocate for students with special needs in the public schools of Los Angeles, wrote here about the failure of the LAUSD school board to monitor graft in the charter sector.

He writes about the deliberate negligence of board members supported by the charter industry:

As Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) approached the end of its charter, it was $820,303 in debt. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was a major creditor, with invoices that were about two years old totaling $82,240. The school had not resolved the majority of the Notices to Cure that the LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) had issued, some of which involved health and safety violations. “Since CPA [had] opened in 2014, the school [had] not earned a rating higher than a ‘2’ (Developing) in the area of governance” on its annual oversight visits. Despite all of these problems, CPA requested that the LAUSD renew its charter.

Speaking in favor of rejecting CPA’s charter renewal, I noted some of the financial irregularities in the school’s governance and asked: “Was this school [Executive Director Janis] Bucknor’s personal piggy bank?” Yesterday, Bucknor herself provided the answer when she “agreed to plead guilty to embezzling $3.1 million in school funds that she spent on her personal use”. These funds were stolen from students “to pay for personal travel, restaurants, Amazon and Etsy purchases and private school tuition for her children” along with “more than $220,000…spent on Disney-related expenses, including cruise line vacations and theme park admissions.”
Central to my comments before the LAUSD board was the assertion that CPA’s charter should have been revoked long before it was up for renewal. This opinion is now strengthened the serious corruption that has been exposed by Bucknor’s guilty plea. How much of the $3.1 million could have been saved for use in the education of students if CPA had been shut down from the moment the school refused to resolve the concerns brought forward by the district? Instead, the LAUSD allowed the charter to continue operating with Bucknor having unfettered access to public funds.

Ignoring the almost five years of misbehavior by the charter that was allowed to continue without interruption, Board Member Nick Melvoin mocked my concerns by claiming that “we need to point out and be consistent of [sic] people who are saying that this board doesn’t hold charters accountable at a meeting where we are closing two schools”. He also said the board should “look at themselves in the mirror” and they should “be thinking [about] how are we holding ourselves accountable both academically at the school level and fiscally.” A good start would be to ensure that scarce funds are not taken from students in order to finance a charter school administrator’s Disney vacations.

Melvoin stated that he thought that the LAUSD would not “be comfortable with [a] conversation” that compared public schools to privately run charter schools. This is an easy position to take when he and other charter industry-financed board members like Monica Garcia, Caprice Young, and Ref Rodriguez have ensured that this competition does not take place on a level playing field. Instead of demanding accountability as they allowed public funds to flow into private hands, they built a bureaucracy that ensures that charter schools do not have to follow the same rules as their public school counterparts. The charter school industry will spend millions more this year on the campaigns of Marilyn Koziatek and Tanya Ortiz Franklin to ensure that their underregulated operations continue without interference.

The charter school industry would like you to believe that the corruption that occurred at CPA is an isolated incident. They said the same thing when Vielka McFarlane of the Celerity Educational Group “agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds” and when El Camino’s former Executive Director David Fehte was caught charging personal expenses to his school credit card. Even after these cases of misconduct became public, the CCSA fought against measures that would make charter schools accountable. This makes them complicit when the corruption continues. The same can be said for politicians like Melvoin who have stood in the way of reforms.

Don’t board members have a duty to represent the people who elected them, rather than the California Charter School Association that funded their campaigns?

Investigative reporter David Goldstein reported for KCBS-TV that charter schools in Los Angeles County gathered $78 million in Paycheck Payment Program, even though they had no cessation in public funding and no layoffs.

The big winner was ritzy Palisades Charter High School, which received more than $4.5 million.

The PPP was supposed to benefit small businesses that needed the money because their doors were closed during the pandemic and they needed to keep paying their employees.

For charters, PPP was a splendid payday. They never closed their doors; they never stopped getting a steady flow of government dollars; and they didn’t have to lay off anyone. It was free government money, for nothing. They had no need, but they grabbed what they could.

This just in from federal officials:

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 17, 2020
Former Head of Community Preparatory Academy Admits Stealing Over $3 Million and Spending $220,000 on Disney Expenses

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors today filed criminal theft and tax fraud charges against the former executive director of a charter school outfit who stole more than $3.1 million that should have been spent on school operations, but instead financed a lifestyle that included extravagant spending on Disney cruises and theme park admissions.

Janis Bucknor, 52, a resident of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) charter school and controlled several related entities, agreed to plead guilty to two felony offenses in a plea agreement also filed today in United States District Court. CPA operated two schools, one in Carson and one in South Los Angeles.

The case charges Bucknor with one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds, and one count of tax evasion for the tax year 2016. The court has yet to schedule any hearings in this matter.

Over the course of approximately 5½ years – from early 2014 through November 2019 – Bucknor stole a total of $3,168,346 from CPA, according to the most recent estimate of losses in the case. The amount of stolen funds is nearly one-third of all federal and state funding that went to CPA during the time.

In her plea agreement, Bucknor admitted using the stolen funds to pay for, among other things, personal travel, restaurants, Amazon and Etsy purchases, and private school tuition for her children. She also admitted spending about $220,614 on Disney cruise line vacations, theme park admissions and other Disney-related expenses.

The scheme began to unravel in February 2018, when “LAUSD-Charter School Division’s routine audit of CPA revealed that defendant used the CPA accounts for personal expenses, including unauthorized payments directly from some of the CPA accounts to Disney, Louis Vuitton, Girl Scouts, Ticketmaster, Uber, Baby Teeth Children’s Dentistry, Williams Sonoma, National American Miss pageants, and Forest Lawn Mortuaries, all of which were for defendant’s own personal and unauthorized use and benefit,” according to the plea agreement.

In relation to the tax evasion offense, Bucknor agreed to plead guilty to her 2016 taxes, but she admitted failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service $299,639 in taxes when she failed to report $1,322,254 in income for the tax years 2015 through 2018.

When she pleads guilty, Bucknor will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

As part of the plea agreement, Bucknor has agreed to forfeit to the government her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds stolen from the charter school.

This case was investigated by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, IRS Criminal Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Katherine A. Rykken and Alexander C.K. Wyman of the Major Frauds Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Galatzan and Katharine Schonbachler are handling the asset forfeiture part of the matter.