Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

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


"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?


"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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Was the Public Deceived in the LAUSD Superintendent Search?

Is this for real?

- LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson

When the East Area Progressive Democrats filed a complaint with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office regarding alleged violations of California’s Brown Act, LAUSD Board member Scott Schmerelson’s Public Statement was used as Exhibit A. In releasing this document, Schmerelson exposed that the Board had taken a vote in closed session on April 20, but had not reported this action to the public as required by law. This violation was further compounded by the fact that the Board’s Executive Officer had announced that there were “no actions to report”, “creating a deception that misled the public and confused any accurate understanding of the genuine status of decision-making by the Board.”

Schmerelson has now provided additional information about the LAUSD Board’s actions leading up to the appointment of Austin Beutner as the new Superintendent. In a presentation before the Northridge East Neighborhood Council last Wednesday, he confirmed that a vote was taken on April 20. Additionally, he divulged that “certain Board members had this planned months ago.” Originally, he was told that “Beutner [was] going to work for one dollar.” However, the other Board members ignored their fiduciary duty to the students of the LAUSD and taxpayers by voting for a contract that pays him $350,000 annually.

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Complaint Alleges LAUSD Board Violated the Brown Act

None of you should be making all these decisions in private and without the input of the public.”

- Former LAUSD Board Member, Jackie Goldberg

In 1953, the California legislature declared that “the people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know” and passed the Brown Act. As a result, the actions of all local agencies, including school boards, must “be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.” The public may be excluded from a meeting “to consider the appointment [or] employment...of a public employee”, but “the legislative body of any local agency shall publicly report any action taken in closed session and the vote or abstention on that action of every member present”.

When former LAUSD Board Member Jackie Goldberg spoke during the 9:00 AM meeting on May 1, there was  an audible gasp from the gallery when she mentioned that the Board had already selected a Superintendent and “that he starts on the 15th of May.” This directly contradicted the Board’s Executive Officer, Jefferson Crain, who had announced at the end of the April 20th closed session that there were “no actions to report due to today’s discussion” and they were “going to recess until May 11:00”. During the ten days between these two meetings, community members had been lobbying the entire Board to appointment Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. If they had known the results of a vote had already been taken, they could have focused their energies on urging specific Board Members to change their vote before the contract was finalized.

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Looking at the California Governor's Race From an Education Perspective

Budgets are statements of values, and it is inexcusable to me that California is number one in per prisoner spending, and number 41 in per-pupil spending

- Candidate Delaine Eastin

It has been almost four years since John Deasy was forced to resign from the LAUSD after a failed $1.3 billion iPad program and spearheading the “disastrous” MiSiS computer system, which cost the district over $189 million. The LAUSD had promoted him to the role of Superintendent “without so much as a job interview” and ignored his “shady history of allegedly lying about his credentials and snatching up money wherever he [could] find it”. Among the remnants of his tenure is the District’s fractured relationship with its teachers whom he constantly bullied as he led the country’s second-largest school district.

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