Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

In Los Angeles the Unified Silence is Deafening

When the LAUSD approves a charter, they accept the responsibility (and a fee from the state) for holding the charter accountable to both the charter and the California education code. By placing a former California Charter School Association staffer as the head of the LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD), the Board of Education has signaled their lack of interest in providing this oversight. It is, therefore, not surprising that complaints to the CSD by parents seem to be routinely ignored. However, given the possible financial liability to the District, if this lack of interest was misinterpreted as complicity, one would assume that both the CSD and the School Board would make sure major allegations would not be ignored. A possible example of impropriety would be removing $600,000 from an account held in trust for the student body without permission of the Associated Student Body (ASB) representatives or approval by the charter’s Governing Board.

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The Race For LAUSD District Two: A Status Report

CP2.jpgIn many ways, District 2 is a microcosm of the 2016 Presidential race. I am a Berniecrat running on a platform that supports public education, empowers parents and teachers and stands up for the most vulnerable, including students with special education needs. The incumbent, Monica Garcia is an establishment Democrat who attended the Democratic convention as a delegate for Hillary Clinton and whose Facebook page is titled @iamwithmonicagarcia. Standing in for Trump is Walter Bannister, who even uses the slogan “make our schools great again”. He has tweeted that we should forcibly arm ALL teachers, that vaccines are ineffective and harmful, blows the dog whistle by calling for the “end [of] compulsory busing” and says that “government ownership, operation, regulation and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.” There are also two other candidates who currently have a limited internet trail.

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The LAUSD: A Primer

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the largest school district in the country that is governed by an elected school board. Only the New York City school district, which is under mayoral control, has more students. Los Angeles has more than 640,000 students enrolled in the district, attending over 900 schools that are spread out over 720 square miles. The District is also the largest authorizer of charters with over 130,000 students enrolled in about 250 independent and affiliated charters.

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A Charter Serves Up More Kool Aid

The Los Angeles Times reported on August 18, 2016, that the LAUSD is considering revoking El Camino Real Charter High School’s [ECRCHS] charter, saying that “fatal flaws in judgment … call into serious question the organization’s ability to successfully implement the charter in accordance with applicable law and district requirements.” The school’s principal, Dave Fehte, sent out a response to parents, which is reprinted below along with my annotated comments:

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The Voiceless LAUSD Parent

The LAUSD School Board includes former teachers and school administrators. A student representative is also included in an advisory role. However, not one of the seven Board members has a child who is currently enrolled in the District. With this lack of representation is it a surprise that too many parents feel that they do not have a voice in how the District operates?

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Shell Game

Closed Session...significant exposure to litigation pursuant to paragraph (2) or (3) of subdivision (d) of Section 54956.9: 1 Case

- El Camino Real Alliance Board Meeting Agenda

A surefire way to rile up a charter advocate is to compare charters to “public schools”. In response, they will claim that “Charters [SIC] schools are public schools.” While one could argue that not all charters are truly non-sectarian, some illegally charge student fees and as a whole, they are not open to any student who wishes to attend, there is one thing that makes them “public”; charters operate using taxpayer funds. As a result, their Governing Boards in California are subject to the Brown Act requirement that “all meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

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The Cost of Independence

In  2011, a group of educators at El Camino Real High School,  inspired by a desire for more autonomy and flexibility in instructional practices, curriculum, governance, and finances, led the school’s conversion to an independent charter school.

-El Camino Real Charter High School (ECRCHS) Web Site


While the bloated bureaucracy of the LAUSD is certainly not a model of efficient governance, the extra sets of eyes pointed at a school site does make it more difficult for a site administrator to go rogue. This makes it harder for schools to be innovative with their academic programs and is a reason why the District needs to learn to sometimes stay out of the way. However, it also means that financial improprieties are more likely to be discovered. Given the recent reports of “lavish credit card use” by ECRCHS’ principal, one has to wonder if the school’s administration knew this when they converted the school to a charter seeking “more autonomy and flexibility” in their finances. After all, it hard to imagine an LAUSD principal being able to use a “school-issued American Express card to charge $100,000 over two years” including $885.96 for an itinerary made out to “Mr. David Patrick Fehte/San Antonio Spurs.”

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¿Adelante?

The Spanish word “adelante” translates to “ahead” or “forward”. It is something that Monica Garcia, the incumbent District 2 representative, uses as a rallying cry at the end to many of her Tweets. Unfortunately for the students of the LAUSD, Garcia seems to be content with the satisfaction of simply moving ahead, even if the direction is unclear. In the ten years that she has spent on the LAUSD School Board, including six years as Board President, the District has moved in the wrong direction. Instead of improving the public schools under her control she brags about enacting “reforms that have created new charter schools” and was instrumental in bringing John Deasy and his $1.3 billion failed iPad initiative to the District. Failure is a predictable outcome from a politician who continues to campaign on slogans instead of well thought out goals or plans of action.

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Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters

 

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, I presented at Charters, Privatization and the Defense of Public Education, a California Education/Action Conference at Richmond High School in Richmond, California. My speech asked “If the charter law was passed to improve education through competition, why isn’t the LAUSD School Board playing to win?” and is based on the following paper:

Men associating with crooks and gamblers could expect no leniency

-Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis

In 1992, the California legislature gambled with our children’s futures and allowed “teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure”. Freeing these charters “from many of the state statutes and regulations that apply to school districts”, was seen “as a method to accomplish” a series of outcomes. Specifically written into the legislation was that these privately run organizations would “provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools”.

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(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Opt-Out)

All students must participate fully in GHCHS assessments in their 9th, 10th and 11th grade year to be eligible to participate in optional activities such as senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics. Students who clearly disregard an assessment as determined by the testing coordinator or test proctor will be regarded as having refused to comply with the testing requirement and may be subject to loss of senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics.

-2016-17 GHCHS Parent/Student Handbook

It took almost a year, but Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) has finally changed their Parent/Student Handbook so that it recognizes that “per California Education Code 60615, parents and guardians have the right to exempt their child from participating in the CAASPP program. California Education Code 60615 reads as follows: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent's or guardian's written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted.” Most importantly, they have removed the requirement that “all students must participate fully in California CAASPP” in order to participate in extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, this does nothing to change the fact that past students were coerced into taking these tests in the school’s effort “to ensure that enough students participate in both state mandated and Granada selected assessments”. The LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) was given enough notice that these changes could have been made before last year’s testing season, but they chose to ignore the deadline.

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