Archives for category: Los Angeles

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
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.

For immediate release
July 10, 2020
Media Contact
Anna Bakalis 213-305-9654

POLL Results: 83% of UTLA members say LAUSD schools should not physically reopen August 18

Out of the more than 18,000 UTLA members who submitted responses to our informal poll in less than 12 hours, 83% agree with the UTLA Board of Directors and Bargaining Team that LAUSD should not physically reopen schools on August 18.

Because of the overwhelming response to the online member poll, the deadline to submit responses was extended to 8 pm. There were technical issues related to some aggressive spam filters that interfered with delivery and the poll function. The poll asked one question: Do you agree with the UTLA Board of Directors and UTLA Bargaining Team that LAUSD should not physically reopen school campuses on August 18th?

“It is hitting us hard to think we may not be back with our students in the fall,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said. “And we know this is hard on our students and their parents, so many of whom have stepped up as our partners in teaching while struggling with the economic fallout of this crisis. But safety must come first, along with a commitment to focus on strengthening distance learning.”

The spike in COVID cases — with California recording its highest one-day virus death toll this week — has changed the calculations for when it is safe to go back to schools. Even before the surge, there were serious issues with starting the school year on physical campuses. State and federal governments have not provided the resources or funds to start school safely, and there is not enough time for the district to put together the detailed, rigorous plans that must be in place to reopen our sites.

UTLA is bargaining with the school district and we have another bargaining session scheduled with LAUSD next week.

Other countries that have reopened schools — such as New Zealand, Vietnam, and Germany — did so only after they had flattened the curve, accompanied by broad societal preparedness, including rapid case identification, contact tracing, and isolation. The U.S. is not even close to meeting these benchmarks.

Media Contact / Anna Bakalis 213-305-9654

For immediate release / June 9, 2020

Press release:

UTLA recommends keeping LAUSD school campuses closed; refocus on robust distance learning practices for Fall

LOS ANGELES — Amid COVID-19 infections and deaths surging to record highs, Trump’s threats to open schools prematurely, and a groundbreaking research paper that outlines necessary conditions for safely reopening schools, the UTLA Board of Directors and Bargaining Team are recommending to keep school campuses closed when the semester begins on Aug. 18.

“It is time to take a stand against Trump’s dangerous, anti-science agenda that puts the lives of our members, our students, and our families at risk,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “We all want to physically open schools and be back with our students, but lives hang in the balance. Safety has to be the priority. We need to get this right for our communities.”

UTLA is also engaging all members in a poll on Friday, July 10, to find out where they stand on re-opening campuses. UTLA will notify members of the results of the poll Friday night.

The research paper, Same Storm but Different Boats: The Safe and Equitable Conditions for Starting LAUSD in 2020-21, (attached) looks at the science behind the specific conditions that must be met in the second-largest school district in the nation before staff and students can safely return.

Even before the spike in infections and Trump’s reckless talk, there were serious issues with starting the year on school campuses. The state and federal governments have not provided the additional resources or funds needed for increased health and safety measures and there is not enough time for the district to put together the detailed, rigorous plans for a safe return to campus.

According to UTLA’s research paper, there is a jarringly disparate rate of COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) working communities, where structural racism and economic inequality mean people live with economic and social factors that increase risk of illness and death. In these communities, people are more likely to have “essential” jobs, insufficient health care, higher levels of pre-existing health conditions, and live in crowded housing. Because of the forces of structural racism, Blacks, Latinx, and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of white residents.

Carl J. Petersen, writer and public school parent in Los Angeles, writes here about a Los Angeles charter schools that took millions from the federal Paycheck Protection Plan, then laid off employees anyway.

The purpose of PPP was to help small businesses and to ensure that they did not fire employees because they couldn’t afford to pay them. But charter schools, which had suffered no economic harm, cashed in on the program…because they could.

Petersen writes:

With unemployment rates reaching levels unseen since the Great Depression due to the problems caused by the failed response to COVID-19, every dollar from the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) should be going towards helping small businesses survive. Unfortunately, the charter school industry found a way to double-dip into the government trough to supplement the money they are diverting from public schools with funds from this program.

Despite acknowledging that they could be taking money away from small businesses that needed it to survive the crisis, the governing board of Palisades Charter High School voted last month to accept a $4.606 million dollar loan from the PPP. They admitted at the time that they did not have an immediate need for the money and they failed to articulate a plan to spend the money or to pay it back. They simply felt that it was important to “get the money while the getting’s good.” Discussion of the moral and financial costs of receiving this money was swept aside.

Ignoring the reason for their $4,606,000 windfall, the governing board of Pali voted this month to lay off five members of their staff and reduce the hours for 18 other employees. Even as students throughout the country struggle to transition to distance learning, these cuts included an IT Tech assigned to helping parents, students and teachers navigate the technology needed in this new learning environment. They also eliminated a Tutoring Center Coordinator whom a member of the public and a board member credited with “helping hundreds of kids pass classes and graduate from Pali during e-learning”. A Library Media Technician, Copy Clerk, and Office Assistant will also join the unemployment line in 60 days.

The federal government should “claw back” the wasted $4.6 million.

Anna Bakalis of United Teachers of Los Angeles writes a clarification:

Got this from the LASPD site:  Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD)is the largest independent school police department in the United States, with over 410 sworn police officers, 101 non-sworn school safety officers (SSO), and 34 civilian support staff dedicated to serving the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). It is the fifth largest police department in Los Angeles County, and the 14th largest in California

The NYPD officers in New York City public schools are part of the New York Police Department, not an independent school police department.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, takes issue with the claim that Los Angeles has the largest police force in schools in the country.

LAUSD does not have the “largest school police force in the country” as claimed above (in UTLA press release). NYC DOE has more than 5,000 School Safety Officers who work for the NYPD, at a cost of nearly $500M — more than seven times the cost of the police at LAUSD.

According to the LAUSD website, they have only “10 sworn police officers, 101 non-sworn school safety officers (SSO), and 34 civilian support staff,“ far less than the 5,000 in NYC schools.

For immediate release
July 1, 2020
Media Contact: Anna Bakalis 213-305-9654

UTLA Statement on LAUSD vote to defund school police budget by 35%

The LAUSD School Board yesterday approved an immediate 35% cut to the LAUSD school police, after weeks of protests organized by Students Deserve and Black Lives Matter-LA that amplified the movement to eliminate school police. The cut equals a reduction of $25 million to the school police budget — the biggest reduction to school police in the country since George Floyd’s murder triggered a worldwide uprising against police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter.

The news came the eve of July 1, when Cecily Myart-Cruz officially became UTLA president – the first woman of color president in the union’s 50-year history.

“The school board’s action is a huge first step in the campaign for police-free schools and ground-breaking in terms of our movement for supporting Black lives in our schools,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “It was the power and passion in the streets across LA and this country, uplifting the voices of Black students, educators and families that made this happen. We can’t let up. We must keep fighting for our babies and our students.”

Prior to the 4-3 vote, the LA School Police Department budget was $70 million, which paid for the largest school police force in the country. The money saved will fund staff to serve the needs of Black students and a task force to re-envision school safety. The board motion also calls for officers to give up their uniforms and patrol off campus until a district task force meets and issues a report, according to media reports.

The late-night school board vote on Tuesday followed powerful testimony by LAUSD students who detailed the academic and emotional fallout from the criminalization of students by the daily presence of law enforcement and the use of weapons like pepper spray on children. Their stories were bolstered by years of research that shows that the presence of school police lowers graduation rates, does not make schools safer, and negatively impacts student learning.

L.A. Unified now joins several other school systems, including in Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, Denver, Portland, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Charlottesville, in moving to defund school police and remove armed officers from campus.

Last week, the policy-making body of UTLA, the House of Representatives, overwhelmingly endorsed a call to eliminate the LAUSD school police and shift funding to student needs — needs like counselors, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, and pupil services and attendance counselors.

In advance of the school board vote, UTLA joined a coalition of organizations, including Black Lives Matter LA, ACLU of Southern California, California Association of School Counselors, CHIRLA, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles, and California National Organization of Women in calling for a disinvestment from school police and an investment in students (letter attached).