Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

Supporting our Teachers

In a recent op-ed, Gloria Molina attempted to absolve the L.A. School Board of responsibility for their refusal to fund the education our students deserve. In response, I sent the following letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. It was not published.

 

As the LAUSD tries to pit parents against teachers, it should be noted that the union’s proposed contract would reduce class sizes, ensure that there is a full-time nurse in every school and put full-time librarians back to our secondary schools.

The District says it would like to put “kids first” but cannot find the funds. There is no money left after spending $400 million to build (and rebuild) the Belmont Learning Complex atop a toxic site, $1 billion on the failed iPad project, $111.5 million for the botched MiSiS system and $139 million settling the Miramonte sex abuse cases.

Parents will ultimately decide who wins this fight as empty classrooms would force the District to look elsewhere in the bloated bureaucracy for the cuts needed to give students the education that they deserve. My two LAUSD students and I will be joining their teachers on the picket lines.

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Second Largest School District Faces Teachers Strike

Board.jpg"There is currently an effort to call for a strike that pits adults versus adults when students and their families will bear the brunt of a strike action."

- LAUSD School Board

Having gladly accepted the title of “a gadfly at the school board meetings”, I have a natural tendency to be suspicious of the LAUSD’s marketing materials. This is particularly true when the document is titled with the very 1984 sounding “Just the Facts.” However, recognizing that the union’s first priority is to represent the best interests of the teachers, I realize that their contract demands are not going to automatically line up with the needs of families. With this in mind, I dove into the gap that divides the two sides. I have broken the issues down by what the District states the United Teacher Los Angeles (UTLA) claims are:

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How Can a Charter School Renew or Expand Without a Legitimate Governing Board?

"A material revision of the provisions of a charter petition may be made only with the approval of the authority that granted the charter."

- FCMAT

Having already billed itself as the largest charter school in the country, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) has submitted a charter renewal that would change the school to one that serves Transitional Kindergarten to 12th and add 1,425 students. Unfortunately, the Governing Board that approved this charter petition does not include the type of members outlined in its current charter. In my prepared testimony for the LAUSD School Board, I pointed out that this should invalidate the charter renewal petition:

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The Charter School Industry Puts Bigotry Front and Center

"Appointing a non-Latino candidate like Goldberg to the seat, even temporarily, ‘is definitely not in the spirit of the law. It would seem contrary to what LAUSD’s own commission did’ when it drew the district."

- Political Consultant Mike Trujillo

Speak Up is a pro-charter group that was formed in the Palisades on the west side to support Nick Melvoin’s candidacy for the LAUSD Board but was disguised as a way that “parents could join together and push for education that puts kids first.” However, the conduct of Speak Up members prior to and during Tuesday’s Board meeting was meant to cause division in a way that should never be tolerated in front of our children. In a missive released on August 20, they opposed the resolution by “Valley Republican Scott Schmerelson” (Schmerelson is not registered as a Republican) who sought to appoint former Board member Jackie Goldberg to the vacant Board District 5 seat until a special election could be held. Given Goldberg’s extensive record which would enable her to be an effective Board Member on day one, they lied to say that “she opposes school choice” when, in fact, she co-founded an organization that simply calls for “transparency, equity, and accountability” in these publicly funded schools. They then quoted a member of LAUSD’s redistricting commission to make the case that Board District 5 was a “majority-Latino seat” and that Goldberg was, therefore, unqualified because of her ethnicity.

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Flushing Your Money Down the Toilet

"Team Granada: It was nice meeting with you yesterday to discuss possible solutions to the challenges you’ve gotten yourselves into with non-DSA approved improvements to your campus."

- Jim DiCamillo, Architect

Private businesses operate under a model that has built-in accountability. If a corporation does not generate profits, then the shareholders will demand a change in management. Therefore, when those running a corporation invest in capital improvements, they will make sure that the proper steps are taken to preserve shareholder value. Proper planning will occur, permits will be obtained and quotes will be acquired to make sure contractors offering the most value are utilized.

A charter school like Granada Hills Charter High School has no such accountability. Instead of a Governing Board approved by the investors, Granada’s administration selects the people who will oversee their operations. The state will divert education funds to their coffers regardless of how this money is misspent. As a result, the administration has ignored normal business practices and wasted money that was supposed to be used to educate students.

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The LAUSD's Failure of Leadership

"By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail."

- Benjamin Franklin

On Wednesday, August 15, the LAUSD School Board met for the first time since Ref Rodriguez resigned in disgrace on July 23, 2018. Neither a discussion about scheduling a special election to fill the seat nor Board Member Scott Schmerelson’s resolution to temporarily appoint Jackie Goldberg were included in the agenda. However, the public could make their voice heard as long as they could tie it to “any item that is described in [the public] notice” of the meeting.

Board President Monica Garcia did not make it easy for the public to speak. The “Order of Business” showed that public comment would be the third item of the meeting, right after the Roll Call of Members and Pledge of Allegiance, and specified that it was to be “on Items to be discussed at This Meeting”. However, Garcia opened the meeting by pushing the comment period until the end of the meeting that was scheduled to last three hours. Undeterred, I delivered the following statement:

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Proposed LAUSD Board Resolution Would Give Board District 5 Representation

 

"The constituents of Board District 5 endured a tainted election in 2015 and have suffered the absence of a legitimate office holder since July 1, 2015, and therefore immediately deserve a respected and experienced voice and representation on the Governing Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District"

- LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson

Ref Rodriguez resigned in disgrace from his LAUSD Board seat on July 23, 2018. Despite the fact that this left the stakeholders of District 5 without any representation on the School Board, Board President Monica Garcia has not found any urgency in scheduling a special meeting of the School Board. To make matters worse, the issue has not even been included in the Board’s next meeting. Instead, she and Nick Melvoin have announced that they will wait until the regularly scheduled board meeting on August 21, 2018, to place “a Resolution that calls for a March 5, 2019, Special Election” on the agenda. Their announcement did not mention anything about a placeholder for the seat, but the fact that Garcia chose Melvoin to co-sponsor her resolution instead of reaching across the aisle seems to indicate that the issue will not rise above the Board’s usual divisions.

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Silly Parents, We'll Tell You What to Look For

"Families have a right to know how well public schools are performing across a variety of measures (encompassed by a summative, overall rating), so that they can better understand the diverse options within the District"

- LAUSD Res-036-17/18

When my oldest child was born, I was relieved to find out that she was a girl as this would mean I would not have to worry about dealing with sports. Of course, she turned out to be a jock and played baseball with the boys before transitioning to softball in high school. On the other hand, her younger brother was once given a black eye because he was looking at a butterfly as his sister threw a baseball at him. Instead of sports, my son preferred music and artistic endeavors. When I married my wife, I became a father to a set of triplets. Two of them are on the autism spectrum. One is mostly non-verbal and in her own world while the other is more communicative and a social butterfly. The third triplet is headed off to college next month, fluent in Mandarin and tackling a double-major in global studies. My wife and I worry that she won’t take her head out of a book long enough to experience everything that college has to offer.

My sample size of five has taught me that all children have different and unique personalities, needs and abilities. Expand the number of children in the sample and the diversity will increase accordingly. The advantage of having a district as large as the LAUSD is that parents have plenty of schools to choose from when looking for programs that meet the individual needs of their children. Unfortunately, the current District leadership feels that schools can be summed up by a “single, summative rating for each school, which is determined based upon performance within each (and all) of the included data measures”. Has “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” started playing in anyone else’s head?

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Is This What Democracy Looks Like in the LAUSD?

"This is a very surreptitious way of doing business whereby you’re trying to hide...something perhaps you don’t want us to know."

- Roberto Fonseca, LAUSD Parent


LAUSD Board members elected with the support of the charter industry held a majority for a little over a year before Ref Rodriguez was forced to resign after committing campaign finance-related fraud. While claiming to govern with a “kid’s first” agenda, this majority did everything possible to exclude stakeholders from the decision-making process. The most obvious example of this was the deception of the public during the District’s appointment of a new Superintendent which resulted in a complaint being filed with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division. All committees that included members of the public were also eliminated by Rodriguez and Garcia. The trend continues as the LAUSD prepares to implement the Student Equity Needs Index 2.0 (SENI 2.0), which will divert funding from students who need more intensive help to what is determined to be the neediest areas.

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LAUSD Board Member Ref Rodriguez Resigns. Now what?

 

"Rodriguez’s misdeeds...made a mockery of the laws governing elections."

- LA Times Editorial Board

When Ref Rodriguez was first charged with felonies related to his 2015 election to the LAUSD School Board, his attorney declared that it was “much ado about nothing". It actually amounted to a great deal since Rodriguez is now a convicted felon after pleading guilty and stepping down from his position on the Board. Unfortunately for the students of the district, this will not undo the damage that has been done in the 11 months it took to resolve the case. During this time, the charter industry supported majority that included Rodriguez, appointed a Superintendent without any experience in education and dismissed an Inspector General who dared to investigate corruption at charter schools that were authorized by the district.

It is clear that Board President Monica Garcia has no interest in quickly filling the seat vacated by Rodriguez or in protecting the scarce education funds that are supposed to benefit the students of the LAUSD. With immediate action, it appears that the Board could have called for a special election that would piggy-back on the regularly scheduled November election in time for the August 11 filing deadline. However, Garcia has not even bothered to call a special meeting in the wake of Rodriguez’ resignation. Therefore, it appears that the issue will not even come before the voters until the Spring in a special election that will have to be paid for with education funds. This matters little to Garcia, Melvoin, and Gonez as the charter schools that supported their campaigns receive their funds directly from the state and will not have to contribute financially to this election.

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