Archives for category: Los Angeles

Karen Wolfe, a public school parent and blogger in Los Angeles, reports on the upcoming battle royal for control of the school board.

The charter ndustry is planning a raid on the school board, and their candidates can expect to be showered with money from billionaires who want to privatize more of the public schools. As karen points out, most of the donors will be able to hide their names until the primary is over, so voters won’t know which billionaires have decided to buy their public schools.

Steve Zimmer, president of the school board, will be challenged by a parent organizer for the California Charter School Association, the mother lode of privatization. Zimmer started his career as a TFA teacher, but stayed in the classroom for 17 years. The billionaires raised nearly $5 million to beat him last time he ran, but he prevailed.

Carl Petersen, a staunch friend of public schools, is running for a seat.

In another board race, the queen of corporate reform, Monica Garcia, is being challenged by teacher Lisa Alva. This will be an interesting contest because Lisa Alva started her career on the reform team but fell off the bench when she happened to participate in a conference call in 2013 that disillusioned her.

There is another candidate, Nick Melvoin, with sterling reformer credentials. He has raised $161,000. Garcia has raised $132,000. Zimmer has raised $29,000. So far. The billionaires and PACs haven’t weighed in yet. They will. The LAUSD is a big prize. The second largest district in the nation. Nearly a quarter of the students in the district attend charter schools. Billionaire Eli Broad wants half the kids in charters. He is persistent.

Will the people of Los Angeles allow the billionaires to take control of their public schools?

The primary election will be held on March 7, 2016 and the general on May 16.

We will watch this election closely as it develops.

Karen Wolfe is a parent activist in Los Angeles. She wrote the following plea to the school board of LAUSD, which will make a decision tomorrow:


Dear Board members,

I just learned that a proposal for a brand new LAUSD Playa Vista middle school is to be voted on at tomorrow’s board meeting.

Please vote No on Agenda Item 14, Establishment of the New Middle School Pathway in Collaboration with Loyola Marymount University.

· It was clear last December, when the board rejected this, and it is clear now. This is a segregated school for certain families to feel more comfortable being in LAUSD. The curriculum is STEM, which is already available at the curriculum at the existing middle school. If this becomes the well resourced, favored school, all nearby middle schools will experience an exodus.

If the only justifiable rationale for an additional middle school on the west side, where enrollment has dropped, is that these families prefer to segregate themselves from our LAUSD children, then it is morally imperative that the school district do everything in its power to make integration of our students a priority. Especially given the potentially horrifying impacts of last week’s world events, then Interim Superintendent, Ramon Cortines’ words from last December’s board meeting seem prophetic:

“There are some people in our schools that don’t want to go to school with ‘those children’ based on class.…Because there are people that feel that they are entitled because of where they live, and I am saying you can’t escape it anymore. Our children need to grow up in an education that deals with all levels of socio-economics, all levels of ethnic and cultural diversity. We cannot escape it anymore.
This district and this area needs to be a model for this.”

I am not saying that parents have racist intentions. But unintended bias is something that needs to be interrupted.

· The Board Informative erroneously states that the policy implications of this vote are “unknown at this time.” Since the School District creates policy through board action, the policy is well documented in the near unanimous vote recorded at the December, 2015 board meeting, and the policy rationale is well documented in the transcript and recording below. In fact, then Superintendent Cortines requested board approval for a plan that prioritized integration policy. The only opposing vote was because Ms. Ratliff perceived the associated charter school as getting special treatment in the facilities upgrade.

· The communities most heavily impacted by the establishment of this school should be provided an opportunity to give input for the board to consider. School board president Zimmer wisely stated in December, 2015, “it is absolutely clear to us now, and is the way we are going to move forward. All stakeholders together working together for a solution here that works for all families. For all families. I believe even in this difficult week, even as there’s been missteps and communication which I apologize for, I believe it is possible for us to get to answers that work for all families, all children and all schools by working together. All stakeholders together in this process.” That was a year ago. Last month, at a small meeting of the education committee of the Westchester/Playa neighborhood council, we were told that one group of stakeholders had worked to create this school. We were reassured though, that a community meeting would be held before the board voted. This new school would have wide reaching impacts, and the larger community including Westchester HS, Orville Wright MS, Marina Del Rey MS, and feeder elementary schools should have a fair opportunity to discuss them and propose mitigations for potential problems.

· I have heard two different district staff explain that this proposal is what Orville Wright teachers want because they did not want this school located on their campus. That is like telling a restaurant owner that a new restaurant is being built next door because he didn’t want one on his patio. The teachers and parents I have spoken to at Wright tell a different story. They would have felt differently if LMU had approached them in a collaborative manner, rather than simply to take Wright’s real estate for their own separate school, offering nothing to the teachers or children at Wright.

· The agreement calls for waivers from the UTLA and AALA contracts. Parents do not have contracts with the schools. We and our children have to live by the rules contained in those labor contracts, and we can look them up on the internet. If this school is going to have different rules, then those rules and the reasons for waivers should be part of the community’s consideration of this project.

· Loyola Marymount boasts the largest and longest running Teach for America corps. TFA is a drastically different organization than it was 20 years ago. Our board president is a rare exception to the well documented attrition rate of TFA. Over 70% of its temporary teachers leave after two years. Using a large number of TFA temps in one school would have a significant impact on a school. This should be part of the discussion.

· The further gentrification of the west side is bringing new families into LAUSD’s boundaries. This could become the future lifeblood of our neighborhood schools. Creating a new school for a wealthier, predominately white population will set a dangerous precedent. As new families continue to move into the west side, they will expect their own schools. These newer families could enroll their children in existing middle schools and prevent the closure or merger of existing schools. The possibility of such segregation, especially in such close proximity should be avoided.

· Adding schools and classrooms to the west side will increase the available Prop 39 space, creating more work for principals and more conflict in schools already beleaguered by charter co-locations.

Finally, please do not go down this path. After last week’s presidential election, the beautifully diverse and vibrant California made clear that it would lead the way in protecting the values we hold dear. Please do not let us down; raise us up.

Sincerely,

Karen Wolfe

TRANSCRIPT AND RECORDING OF DECEMBER, 2015 BOARD MEETING
http://lausd.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=377&meta_id=25162

Superintendent Cortines said:

Wright has an opportunity to be an outstanding middle school for the feeder elementary schools. “I really see a seamless system” in Westchester. It shouldn’t be about those that can yell the loudest. It needs to address the issues of Wright that this district has neglected for years of it becoming a leading middle school on the west side of the City. That is the plan I am recommending…

3:44 Now, I’m going to say it the way it is. I’ve been to those schools. And there are some issues here, and you’re going to disagree with me, some of you. I’ve spent my life, my professional career, 60 years, dealing with the issues of integration. I want you to know that when I was superintendent in Pasadena, and they would say to me, well the African American community or the black community. And I would say which one of the communities? One of the issues that you as a community are going to have to face is the class issue. There are some people in our schools that don’t want to go to school with ‘those children’ based on class. Ma’am, I see you saying it’s not true. I’ve seen it and I’ve gotten the letters that it is true. So I’m saying you together, in working on an instructional plan for the elementary and for Wright are going to have to face that head on. Because there are people that feel that they are entitled because of where they live and I am saying you can’t escape it anymore. Our children need to grow up in an education that deals with all levels of socio-economics all levels of ethnic and cultural diversity. We cannot escape it anymore. This district and this area needs to be a model for this. My recommendation is very clear that under the direction of Dr. Gibson and Mrs. Hildreth, the superintendent and other that we should begin the study that should be in the middle school , not just in one elementary but in five elementaries. That’s my recommendation.

Board President Zimmer said: I understand this is a public meeting. The courage that you have shown all of those 60 years demands all of our respect and thanks. If this was not clear from the beginning, it is absolutely clear to us now. And is the way we are going to move forward. All stakeholders together working together for a solution here that works for all families. For all families. I believe even in this difficult week, even as there’s been missteps and communication which I apologize for, I believe it is possible for us to get to answers that work for all families, all children and all schools by working together. All stakeholders together in this process. We can’t do it if we don’t have the facilities investment. Very clearly, that I believe in Orville Wright Middle School. I believe in the efforts, driven by staff, not by this district, by staff, teachers and families It’s s transformation process that I will continue to invest in. Has to be about instruction. So when we make commitments about meaningful instructional pathways, we have to work out how we fulfill that commitment without injuring a commitment to others…Each of the elementary schools in the feeder pattern, as we see a reinvestment in each of our schools, again driven by instruction, driven by the quality and excellence that we demand for our children, and we should demand for all children

Karen Wolfe
310.823.4204
@kwolfepack on twitter
http://www.PSconnectNow.org
PS Connect – Friends to Schools

This just happened in Los Angeles: Educators at four LAUSD public schools turned away money from the two billionaire backers of privatization. Broad and Walton are offering funding to these schools at the same time that their charters are diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from the district’s public schools.


For immediate release
Media Contact:
Anna Bakalis
UTLA Communications Director
213-305-9654

UTLA Educators Overwhelmingly Vote Against Broad-Walmart Grant Funding

Los Angeles, CA – This week, educators at four LAUSD schools voted to reject grant money from “Great Public Schools Now,” the public face of a group backed by the California Charter School Association and bankrolled by billionaires Eli Broad and the Waltons of Walmart.

Educators say that this is a PR stunt, not a genuine effort to fund schools in need and are calling on the District to uphold the vote by not accepting the grant money from GPSN, in any way. These four schools are within the targeted 10 areas for Broad-Walmart funding.

The vote was 98% in favor of rejecting the money; ballot counts at Drew Middle School, Pacoima Middle School, San Fernando High School, and Gompers Middle School were, respectively, 35 to 1, 58 to 0, 72 to 0, and 22 to 3.

Jared Dozal, who voted against his school receiving Broad-Walmart money, is a math and computer science teacher at San Fernando High School. He says this is a distraction from real, lasting efforts for sustainable funding for all public schools.

“We know that some will see this as an opportunity missed for funding, but the amount offered is peanuts for the billionaires behind this effort,” Dozal said. “We won’t let this distract us from saving our schools from a corporate takeover, paid for by the people who only want to destroy public education.”

Dozal said the grant’s offer of “up to” $250,000 per year for three years is insulting, considering the amount of money siphoned from public schools to subsidize rampant charter school growth.

For example, according to LAUSD’s own numbers, Gompers Middle School has $1.4 million less in its budget than 2013. Since school budgets are in large part determined by enrollment, the rapid expansion of charter school growth has clearly impacted the middle school.

In the zip code that Gompers is in, and in the nearby zip codes, there are 21 charter schools. Thirteen of these are the largest corporate charters, including Green Dot, Alliance, Aspire and Kipp. The Waltons of Walmart have contributed generously to these four corporate charters, and Eli Broad alone has contributed more than $75 million over the last few years. In fact, in the June 2015 GPSN plan, Broad and Walton say they will be raising $135 million more for these charter school operators.

Getting the funding and resources our students need requires meaningful and sustainable initiatives. To that end, members of United Teachers Los Angeles join with parents and community members to address issues like school site improvements and student safety, enriched curriculum that includes funding for arts, music and ethnic studies as well as fully staffed schools with full-time nurses, librarians and counselors.

UTLA is also working to pass Prop. 55 on next week’s ballot, pursuing long-term funding solutions in Sacramento, and supporting efforts such as the Make It Fair campaign to close corporate property tax loopholes.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles invited the powerful California Charter School Association to debate the issues surrounding the explosive growth of charter schools and their lack of accountability. The CCSA refused.

Here are the issues that CCSA doesn’t want to talk about:

Lack of financial accountability; lack of transparency; cream-skimming the students they want; bias against students with special needs and English language learners; the loss of funding for public schools that enroll all students; fraud, self-dealing, profiteering.

Why is CCSA afraid to debate?

The United Teachers of Los Angeles hired an independent research firm to analyze the true cost of charter schools to the school district.

The firm, MGT of America, was free to reach its own conclusions.

Its report concluded that charters are costing the Los Angeles Unified School District nearly $600 million a year in lost revenue.

A report by MGT of America, an independent research firm, reveals that LAUSD has lost an astonishing $591 million to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone. If costs associated with charter school expansion are not mitigated with common sense solutions, the district will face financial insolvency, according to an analysis of the report.

As the number of independent charter schools continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important for LAUSD to quantify, forecast, and manage the costs associated with independent charter expansion. LAUSD oversees more charter schools than any other district in the country. Charters are privately managed despite relying heavily on district and taxpayer funding.

Taken together, the findings in the report paint a picture of a system that prioritizes the growth opportunities for charter school operators over the educational opportunities for all students.

As Massachusetts and Georgia voters prepare to vote on whether to expand the number of charters, they should be fully informed that more money for charters means budget cuts for public schools. Budget cuts for public schools mean larger class sizes, fewer teachers, fewer programs for the schools that serve the majority of students.

As the charter sector continues to expand, because of false promises to parents about their “success” (even before the school opens), the public school system that has been a foundational element in American democracy is threatened by loss of funding and privatization.

The Los Angeles school board voted not to renew five charters, and required the removal of the leader of a sixth charter. That leader had acknowledged charging many thousands of dollars for first-class air travel, hotels, and meals while moonlighting as a scout for a pro basketball team.

Three of the five charters that were not renewed are a Gulen charters.

The five can appeal to the county board and the state board. They undoubtedly expect a reversal as the county board loves charters and the state board is under the thumb of pro-charter Governor Jerry Brown. After meeting him a few years ago, I thought he was a hero (especially after he railed against Race to the Top as an effort to subvert state control). But he turns out to be an admirer of privatization. He started two charters when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters.

Here is a report on the meeting by Karen Wolfe, a parent activist. She points out that charter renewals will cost the district 6,000 more students, leading to more budget cuts. She expects the county board might overturn the school district’s non-renewal.

There is something creepy about the way charter students and parents are bused to hearings in matching T-shirts, obviously to intimidate the board or legislators. Call them the charter Orange Shirts. Charter Troopers. The charter leaders should stop using the kids as political pawns.

Howard Blume reports in the Los Angeles Times that the Los Angeles school board is considering closing three Gulen charter schools. The schools are part of the Magnolia Science Academy network of 10 schools.

The problem is that the schools rely heavily on a Turkish teachers brought in on temporary work visas.

The three charters now under review have five-year operating agreements that are expiring, and the L.A. Unified School District must either approve or deny their renewal applications. The official word, with no accompanying explanation, reached their campuses by email Tuesday afternoon: School district staff will recommend denial.

The Board of Education is expected to vote next Tuesday on the recommendations for Magnolia Science Academy 1 in Reseda, Magnolia Science Academy 2 in Van Nuys and Magnolia Science Academy 3 in Carson.

Magnolia’s schools have attracted increased attention in the wake of a failed coup in Turkey in July. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Turkish cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the revolt. Erdogan claims American charter schools with Turkish ties supported — and even helped fund — Gulen’s alleged activities.

L.A. Unified has not yet released its rationale for recommending that the schools’ renewal requests be denied. But sources inside and outside the district make it clear that one major issue is Magnolia’s foreign workers, most of whom came in to teach.

The school group applied to bring in 138 teachers from abroad, almost all from Turkey, and 97 eventually worked for Magnolia. Thirty-seven still do. As required by law, Magnolia covered the visa-related costs, which it estimated at about $3,000 per employee, and chose to pay for the visas of spouses and children.

L.A. Unified estimated the total cost of that effort at about $929,000, according to Magnolia Chief Executive Caprice Young, the former L.A. school board president who took over Magnolia in 2015.

Young said she ended the practice, though she has brought in a Chinese citizen to teach Chinese.

L.A. school board president Steve Zimmer, however, says Magnolia’s past actions remain a problem. Magnolia never indicated it intended to import teachers en masse, Zimmer said, when before the Board of Education for approval.

“The role of an authorizer includes making sure that a charter follows the instructional and business practices outlined in its petition,” said Zimmer, who declined to discuss the district’s internal report.

The significance of any alleged ties to Gulen is a matter of intense debate. The cleric, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the coup. And Turkish-associated charter groups, including Magnolia, have denied financial or management ties with each other or with him.

Magnolia’s Turkish employees agreed to be interviewed only on condition of anonymity, out of fear that family members back home could be targeted in a wide-ranging crackdown on dissidents and suspected Gulen followers. Magnolia governing board member Umit Yapanel recently stepped forward as an admirer of Gulen, he said, to emphasize the peaceful intentions of like-minded people.

“In discussing whether the schools should be renewed, L.A. Unified officials will bring up the spending of public education funds on the visas, the employment of foreign nationals over American workers and the failure to disclose the hiring strategy, said district sources who were not authorized to speak on the record. The work visas, known by the designation H-1B, are supposed to be used only when no qualified American job seekers can be found.”

Like other Gulen schools, the Magnolia chain denies any ties to the Turkish Gulen movement yet is heavily staffed by Turkish teachers. Gulen schools typically have Turkish board members and in other states have been investigated for steering contracts to Turkish contractors and vendors.

Mercedes Schneider describes here the billionaire-funded plan to disrupt and privatize public education in Los Angeles, while deceiving the public and hiding the men behind the curtain.

Mercedes uses her superb investigative talents to follow the money and show the tight collaboration be tween the faux-Democrat Eli Broad and the far-right, union-hating Waltons of Arkansas.

She writes:

“It seems that the Walton-funded writing on the Los Angeles wall might well entail expanding charters as the answer to making all Los Angeles schools better. It also believes in bringing traditional school districts around to its market-driven-reform thinking via corporate-reform-group infiltration. Too, it seems that the Walton Foundation believes that grass roots support for its effort is a matter of getting the public mind in line with the Walton charter expansion priorities.

“The Walton intentions in incubating and expanding corporate reform fit hand-in-glove with the Broad intentions for Los Angeles. On its website, the Broad Foundation generously tosses around the term “public schools” even as it features KIPP, Success Academies, and Teach for America among its handful of “key grantees.” Furthermore, the Broad listing of current grantees is for the most part a corporate reform festival:

4.0 Schools
Achievement First
Achievement School District
Bellwether Education Partners
Bright Star Schools
Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
Building Excellent Schools
Center for American Progress
Central Michigan University Foundation
Charter School Growth Fund
Common Sense Media
Education Reform Now
Education Week
EXED, LLC
Great Public Schools Now
Green Dot Public Schools
Harvard University
IDEA Public Schools
Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
Leadership for Educational Equity
Michigan Education Excellence Foundation
Michigan State University – College of Education
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
National Center on Education and the Economy
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
Noble Network of Charter Schools
Orange County Public Schools
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
Policy Innovators in Education Network
Progressive Policy Institute
Results in Education (RIE) Foundation
Scholarship Management Services
School of Visual and Performing Arts
Silicon Schools Fund, Inc.
Success Academy Charter Schools
Teach For America

“Note that Broad is currently funding ExED, and that Great Public Schools Now has two ExED reps on its board/team: William Siart and Anita Landecker. What this illustrates is the all-too-common corporate reform funding incest. (According to the Walton 2013 tax form, Walton has also given ExED $50,000, and the Waltons loaned ExED $5 million for Los Angeles charter school facility financing.)”

Karen Wolfe reports here on the surprising dilemma facing the Los Angeles school board: Whodunnit?

As has been reported, the principal of the El Camino Real Charter High School used the school’s credit card for his personal expenses. Apparently, there were other school officials who racked up heavy bills at the taxpayer’s expense. The principal billed the school credit card for first-class air travel, expensive meals, hotels, wine, and other luxuries. Now the school has been given a month to straighten out its financial mess.

Some commenters on this blog have said that if this were a public school principal, he would have been fired, not given a month to make things right.

At the recent school board meeting, defenders of the school said the school should not be blamed. They said that the school’s problem were the fault of the district for its failure to supervise the charter school!

Really!

This is like the old story of the man who murders his parents and then begs for the court’s mercy because he is an orphan.

Joshua Leibner wrote an open letter to celebrated author Ta-Nahisi Coates, with the expectation that Mr. Coates would never see the letter.

Leibner, an NBCT teacher in Los Angeles for 20 years, wrote this letter to counter an “open letter” that John Deasy had written to Ta-Nahisi Coates.

Leibner acknowledged that both of them were using the format to make a statement directed at the public, not the author.

He used his letter to excoriate Deasy and his fealty to the agenda of the Billionaire Boys Club.

If Deasy would like to respond to Joshua Leibner, I welcome his letter.