Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

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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A Charter School Regulator Plays the Blame Game

"It is the responsibility of the school to follow the law and its authorizer to ensure this is done to the extent possible."

- Debra Duardo, Superintendent

Los Angeles County Office of Education


Last November, the LAUSD rejected the North Valley Military Institute’s (NVMI) charter renewal. As allowed by California law, the school appealed the decision to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), whose staff also recommended a rejection. However, the county board ignored their staff’s findings and approved the renewal. They did so without having a current, certified copy of the school’s required annual independent audit.

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A Charter School Cheats, LAUSD Sleeps

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"Existing law prohibits a pupil enrolled in school from being required to pay a fee, deposit, or other charge not specifically authorized by law."

California AB 1575

The North Valley Military Institute (NVMI) is no stranger to the LAUSD’s Charter School Division (CSD). Just last November, the CSD recommended to the District’s Board that they should not renew the school’s charter. During the spring oversight visit, they failed the school in each of the four categories that they inspect, including an “unsatisfactory” rating for fiscal operations. Despite all of these red flags, the District still overlooked the fact that the school was “charging illegal summer school fees and unfairly compensating some students who have been working at the school because they could not afford them”.

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What Message Does Ref Rodriguez Send to the Children of Los Angeles?

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"My focus remains on my job and duties as a board member."

- Ref Rodriguez

It has been nine months since the news broke that LAUSD Board Member Ref Rodriguez was being charged with participating in a conspiracy that hid the true source of almost $25,000 in campaign donations from the public. While his lawyer claimed that the accusations were “much ado about nothing”, the District Attorney’s office felt that they rose to the level of a “Felony Complaint”. Through the use of legal manoeuvrings, Rodriguez’ attorneys have successfully pushed back his court date. Meanwhile, Rodriguez continues to sit on the School Board representing constituents that he is alleged to have defrauded.

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Aiding and Abetting the Killing of an Open Government

"And I would have made millions if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids."

- Villain caught by Mystery, Inc.

With multiple open investigations into alleged violations of the Brown Act, it is clear that the LAUSD School Board needs a refresher course on how this law works. According to LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin, the District’s General Counsel, David Holmquist, “is always present when the board meets”, so he should have been the one to raise a red-flag when the law was violated. Unfortunately, Holmquist seems ignorant of the requirement that “public agencies should err on the side of providing the public with more information, not less” and has declared that the vote did not have to be reported.

On June 5, the LAUSD went into closed session to consider renewing the contract of Holmquist. Before they did so, I took the opportunity to provide the following remarks during public comment:

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California Senate Candidate Alison Hartson on Education

California is firmly blue. Not only did the state’s voters provide 8.75 million votes for Hillary Clinton, all statewide offices are held by Democrats along with majorities of both houses of the State Legislature and 39 of the state’s 53 seats. Both U.S. Senators are also Democrats, although this has not always translated into progressive votes.

In 2001, Dianne Feinstein voted against the majority of Democrats in approving the Bush tax cuts. The state’s senior Senator also voted “to grant President Bush the power to attack Iraq unilaterally.” She “opposed the 1996 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana” and Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill. Feinstein has also expressed “strong support” for the California Charter School Association (CCSA) and their efforts to privatize education.

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