Archives for category: Los Angeles

Larry Buhl of Capitol & Main explains the LAUSD school board elections. They are shaping up as the nastiest and most expensive in school board history.

As usual, the combatants are charter school billionaires, who want more charters, versus the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who are fighting for public schools and to protect the gains they made in the strikes of 2019.

The charter side has far outspent the UTLA and their allies. The charter lobby has been entirely responsible for the vicious attack ads, especially those against incumbent Scott Schmerelson, a veteran educator. Early charter flyers against him were anti-Semitic. He was falsely accused of inflating his salary as a board member (an independent commission sets the board’s pay). Schmerelson was targeted with a barrage of lies. He was endorsed by every Democratic Club and labor union in his district, as well as the Los Angeles Times.

The biggest edge of the pro-charter forces is money. With the support of billionaires, their candidates are amply funded.

A pricey proxy war between rival factions — charter school advocates and L.A.’s main teachers union — is playing out in two runoff races that could determine control of the Los Angeles Unified School District board. On one side is United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). On the other are California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and charter allies Alice and Jim Walton; philanthropist and major charter backer Eli Broad; and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Because the two races could tip the balance of power on the board toward teachers unions and traditional schools, or to charter schools, both sides are spending an unprecedented amount of money on their candidates – and, in the case of the charter-friendly candidates, to attack their opponents.

Both sides have been spending increasingly larger amounts to influence the outcomes of LAUSD races, and this year’s race has now eclipsed 2017 as the most expensive in L.A. history. Most of the ads are created with money from independent expenditure groups, called IEs or just outside spenders. These groups face no fundraising limits, and the candidates, whose campaign money is dwarfed by the influx of IE cash, aren’t allowed to influence the IE ads or approve their content. Legally they can’t coordinate with IE groups at all.

In 2020, IEs have spent more than $13 million on just these two board races. That’s $10 million more than IE money spent on all 2020 Los Angeles City Council races combined. And charter school advocates have enjoyed a lopsided financial advantage. Pro-charter forces have already spent far more than they did in 2017. The total spent on negative ads by pro-charter IEs on all LA school board races this year tops $5 million, about ten times more than money spent by UTLA and allies. And the L.A. City Ethics Commission site shows that a new mailer has gone out nearly every day in October.


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.