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El Guapo’s Election Report Card

22 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/22/2023

Going into the recent general election, I prepared and published recommendations for forty-two K-12 school board seats on various voters’ ballots. Those positions were from the fifteen largest school districts out of San Diego County’s forty-two school districts. Twenty-nine of my recommendations won and thirteen were defeated.

Across that nation, school board races became targets of culture warriors speciously targeting schools to promote their ultra-right ideology often verging on fascism. Schools were unscrupulously accused of teaching critical race theory (CRT) and grooming students to become gay. It did not matter that CRT has never been taught in the K-12 environment or that turning a straight student gay is not any more possible than turning a gay student straight.  

There was some of that kind of dishonest campaigning in San Diego but it was largely unsuccessful.

Awaken Church is not Woke

In 2004, C3 founder Phil Pringle asked veterans of the evangelical megachurch tradition in Australia, Jurgen Matthesius and his wife Leanne Matthesius, to move to San Diego and found the church. They arrived in 2005 and began holding services in hotels, elementary schools and even at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). The year 2014 witnessed the establishment their first permanent site in Carlsbad and they have since grown to five campuses with about 10,000 parishioners. Originally established as the C3 church, in January 2020 they relaunched as Awaken Church.

Early in the pandemic Awaken Church defied government orders not to hold indoor services. Until the orders against indoor gatherings were lifted, Awaken continuously defied cease and desist orders from the county even in the face Covid-19 outbreaks linked directly to their services.  

In the recent school board elections, Awaken became extremely active calling for a change in school operations. Their RMNNT political action arm labels themselves as “warriors of liberty.” They self define as a remnant of people rising up violently, if need be, to fight tyranny. They are a dangerously misled and armed people with a doctrine that could hardly be more un-American. Following the national movement, school boards were targeted as the place for promoting their radical ideology of change.

Out on Coronado Island, Awaken found a fellow traveler in the MAGA right organization, We the Parents Coronado (WTPC). Like Awaken they have rudely railed against state and local mask mandates and vaccine requirements. WTPC’s web page links to anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQ materials. The reality is WTPC is a small organization but very loud.

Coronado is an upscale city of 20,000 on a sort of island with San Diego Bay to the north and east plus the Pacific Ocean to the west. There is a narrow strip of land known as the Silver Strand extending south to Imperial Beach. Driving down the strand one sees the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, the Seal Team training facility and Silver Strand State Beach. It is a stunningly beautiful community filled with naval flag officers, doctors, lawyers and expensive real estate.

In the general election, there were 3 four-year school board terms and 1 two-year board term on the ballot for Coronado Unified School District. The Awaken candidates were Scott Youngblood, Lisa Meglioli and Geri Machin. Scot Youngblood is an orthopedic surgeon and retired Navy Captain who was endorsed by the Republican Party. On his campaign webpage this Navy doctor revealed himself to be anti-vax and anti-mask. RMNNT the political action group affiliated with Awaken offered candidate training. Lisa Meglioli is a member of Awaken who took the RMNNT training where Coronado’s Republican Mayor Richard Bailey served as an instructor. Awaken’s third candidate, Geri Machin, was a founder and former executive director of WTPC.

When the election results came in, three of my four recommended candidates won (Alexia Palacios-Peters, Malachy Denis Sandy and Renee Cavanaugh). However, it was disappointing to see the anti-masker who is supposedly a doctor win that fourth seat. There are five total seats on the Coronado school board.

In San Diego Unified, the Awaken style change candidate was Becca Williams. She is the anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandates candidate endorsed by the Republican Party. Becca has teaching experience in charter schools and along with her husband founded Valor Education a charter management organization whose classic education is a conservative response to progressive values. She lost to the candidate I endorsed environmentalist and UCSD lecturer Cody Peterson.

In Carlsbad, the Awaken style change candidate was Sharon Mckeeman locally infamous as the founder of the anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandates organization “Let them Breath”. She was endorsed by the Republican Party. I endorsed Michele Tsutagawa Ward a 20-year educator and a school principal in Poway. She won.

The Encinitas Elementary School District is relatively small, but I agreed to review it at the request of a few concerned parents. The Republican Party endorsed Andre Johnson for one of the three seats on the ballot in which voters selected three from a list of candidates. Johnson manages information technology and the database for Awaken Church. It is a reasonable conjecture that he aligns with writer Jakob McWhinney’s observation that Awaken candidates have a “hyperbolic worldview that casts them as righteous fighters against a diabolical liberal ruling class.”  

In Encinitas, my three endorsements all carried the day.

Looking at some Election Misses

My recommendations won almost 100% of the seats in the school districts within 30-miles of the Pacific Ocean. However, in an exception, San Diego Unified candidate Shana Hazan defeated Godwin Higa. Godwin has a decade’s long history as a teacher and principal. He is also a leading expert in trauma informed teaching. Hazan had two years of teaching experience and has worked more than the last decade at Jewish Family Services. Still, she raked in big campaign contributions and racked up an impressive list of endorsements including from the Democratic Party and the San Diego Union Tribune.

I was fairly certain that Hazan would win but recommended Higa. Besides his superior experience and training, I was also concerned by her campaign reports showing $1,500 from Alan Bersin, $1,500 from Scott Peters, $1,500 from Irwin Jacobs, $1,500 from Joan Jacobs, $1,500 from Allison Price, and $1,500 from Robert Price. This is support from two neo-liberal politicians and a group of billionaires. There are reasons to believe she is a gifted young woman who believes in public education and protecting the commons. She just might be one of those political leaders who starts on a school board and goes on to higher office.  Hopefully she is not a neoliberal.

In East County, the school boards are dominated by members who are recommended by the Republican Party. I am fine with Republicans, who believe in traditional Republican values like local control, public education and fiscal management. That is why I recommended all three of the Republicans running for the Escondido Union High School District and they all won.

I was quite disappointed to see that Zesty Harper won a seat on Escondido’s elementary school board. After winning a seat in 2014, she became a controversial figure proclaiming, “No longer will it be OK for this disservice we have called your education to continue.” She declared that creationism should be taught in classrooms alongside evolution. She also sent her own children to Heritage Charter School instead of an Escondido Union School District campus. Her campaign web page states, “Zesty strongly believes in school choice and has supported local charter schools to increase innovation, competition, and choice in Escondido public schools.”

The Grossmont Union High School District has been run by the same Republican cabal for more than a decade. It was time for a change, but my council was ignored. I find board member since 2008, Gary Woods, particularly troubling. He taught online graduate courses at Liberty University and serves as executive director of the Equip Biblical Institute. Woods was endorsed by the Republican Party. There is a strong whiff of Christian nationalism here. This is the board that turned venerable Helix High School into a charter school.

Why is it El Guapo’s Report Card?

When I first entered the classroom students often asked if they could call me Mr. U. Something about that just put me off so I decided to have some fun with it. The vast majority of my students were Mexicans. Which was not unexpected since you could clearly see the Las Playas bullring just a mile or so away. I told them, “You can call me El Guapo.”

Guapo is pronounced wăpō like the Washington Post’s (WAPO). Most of the kids knew El Guapo meant Mr. Handsome. More than any kids I have ever worked with, Mexican kids love to joke around and tease. They immediately latched on to my new name and shortened it a little. Pretty soon I was Guapo as in “hey Guapo when will we ever use this stuff?” Which I would answer with the ever so encouraging “YOU; probably never.”

We all had a lot of fun learning math and physics.

The relationship between teachers and students is unique. We aren’t really friends but often develop deep attachments. We are not parents but students come to us – adults in their life that they trust – with issues they might not be willing to discuss with their parents. We are the example in their life of how to live that is working to prepare them for the future. This relationship is so important it is why machines should never replace teachers. It is probably more important than the curriculum being delivered.

Some Final Thoughts

We are a society being buried in lies.

“The election was stolen; everybody knows I won in a landslide.” This lie is still believed by 60% of Republicans because they watch Fox News which blatantly lies.

School choice is based on Milton Friedman’s lie that Public Schools are government monopolies. There are about 19,000 school districts in the United States each with their own governing bodies the vast majority of which are elected. That is not a monopoly and in reality school choice is about not having to go to school with those peoples children. It’s a racist agenda.

Well financed propagandist Christopher Rufo has widely spread the lie that CRT is being taught in K-12 Schools. He claims it is making white children uncomfortable; another lie.

A lot of people believe the lie that public schools are grooming students to “turn them” gay. The result is censorship and a small minority of LGBTQ+ students being tormented for who they are. They are people and they deserve respect. Prejudice is a social disease.

These lies have been used to divide us and distract us from billionaires grabbing more and more for themselves. Economic inequality has reached heights never before witnessed in this country and putting up with lies is a root cause. If we lose our Democracy then there will be no choice but to put up with lies. Look at what is going on in Russia, China and Hungry.

The American public school system is a treasure and must be protected from liars and their paymasters. If someone tells you that voucher schools and charter schools are superior to public schools, they are lying.

Palomar Community College Board Election

26 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/26/2022

There are three positions up for election on the Palomar Community College board.

There is no incumbent running in Area 1. The Republican Party is endorsing Frank Xu. The Democratic Party, Palomar faculty and students at are endorsing Judy Patacsil.

Patacsil is a community college professor with an amazing list of endorsements. This daughter of Filipino immigrants is obviously well liked and respected by colleagues. She has the endorsement of four currently serving board members and is also the choice of organized labor.

The student newspaper, Telescope, was impressed by Frank Xu’s technical and business background. However they endorsed his opponent because “we do not agree with his statements about changing the race-based admissions quota and his dislike of race and diversity inclusion.”

Frank Xu appears to be a far right ideologue. He is President of the new non-profit California for Equal Rights Foundation (CERF) (IRS ID 85-2315151). Last year CERF joined a law suit against San Diego Unified School District over Critical Race Theory. CERF legislative reports read like they were lifted from Christopher Rufo and the Manhattan Institute.

Recommendation Area 1: Judy Patacsil

Area 4 has a match between Kartik Raju who was appointed to the board last year and Michelle Rains a restaurant owner from Ramona.

Rains is endorsed by the Republican Party and has substantial support from building contractors. She also has the endorsement of several elected officials in Ramona.  

Raju is endorsed by the Democratic Party and he is supported by four existing Palomar board members and the Palomar college faculty. Raju is an electrical engineer with diverse experience in project management, defense and aerospace. Telescope endorsed him stating,

“He expressed enthusiasm for student culture, and the connections he’s made here at Palomar. He also shared his personal experience at a community college, and the joyous discovery of all the benefits it offered.”

Recommendation Area 4: Kartik Raju

In Area 5, Jacqueline Kaiser – endorsed by the Republican Party – is running against incumbent Nora Miyamoto.

Kaiser is from Fallbrook where she was involved in community planning. She has a masters in business administration and is supported by the San Diego Chapter of the Association of General Contractors. County Supervisor Jim Desmond, Asseblywomen Marie Waldron and State Senator Brian Jones all support her candidacy. Telescope also endorsed her stating, “While she doesn’t have any prior experience at Palomar, we feel that a forward-thinking business mindset could bring fresh ideas to the board.” The students seemed to really be taken with her in their one on one interview.

Miyamoto who also lives in Fallbrook has worked at Palomar for 21-years. Her bio states, “With nearly 30 years of community college experience, she served in various positions—a part- and full-time faculty member, a classified employee, a temporary employee, a mid-level academic director and as an Instructional Dean.” She shares an impressive list of endorsements including that of four existing board members and the Palomar faculty.

Recommendation Area 5: Nora Miyamoto

Encinitas School Board Election 2022

4 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/4/2022

Nine schools serve 4,813 students in K-6 classrooms administered by the Encinitas Union Elementary School District (EUSD). This November, residents will be voting to select who will serve four year terms in three at large board seats from a list of six candidates.

The Democratic Party endorses the three incumbents running; Emily Andrade, Marla Strich and Raquel Pfeifer. By a vote of the board, Pfeifer was appointed to the board in July. She assumed the deceased Gregg Sonken’s seat.

Emily Andrade was first elected to the EUSD board in 2010 after spending time as a principal at three different schools in the district. Marla Strich was originally elected to the EUSD board in 1998. In 2000 she completed the California School Board Association’s Masters in Governance professional development series. Raquel Pfeifer is workforce development facilitator for San Diego State’s Academy for Professional Excellence in the Child Welfare Development Services program. Her facebook page indicates she is running on a slate with Strich and Andrade. The Encinitas Teachers Association supports this slate.

Candidate Thomas Angel has no online presence and the only thing known about him is that he claimed to be a retired physicist. Justin Ried is a marketing executive at Qualcomm. His linked in page shows deep experience in digital marketing across several companies but no engagement with or experience in education.  

The Republican Party makes one very odd endorsement for Andre Johnson. He manages information technology and the database for Awaken Church. The Voice of San Diego’s Jakob McWhinney reported this May,

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Awaken has played a pivotal role in a new movement of conservative activists who thunder in public and at times make vaguely threatening statements toward elected officials. As the Republican Party’s influence in local politics wanes, some conservatives, sensing a vacuum in the regional power structure, have pivoted away from traditional Republican values, and toward a more hyperbolic worldview that casts them as righteous fighters against a diabolical liberal ruling class.”

Over the past two years, several of the church’s pastors have actively spread medical misinformation at events and rallies throughout the region, and from the pulpit. The church itself has also allied with political groups looking to recruit like-minded conservatives to run for office, and others seeking positions of influence.”

Recommendations: Emily Andrade, Raquel Pfeifer, Marla Strich

Community Schools Promises and Pitfalls

28 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/28/2022

Community school developments are surging in jurisdictions across the country. Since 2014, more the 300 community schools have been established in New York and this month Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was touting them at an event in Pennsylvania. In May, the California State Board of Education announced $635 million in grants for the development of these schools and in July, they disclosed a $4.1 billion commitment to community schools over the next seven years. However, some critiques are concerned about a lurking vulnerability to profiteering created by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

What are Community Schools?

For decades America has turned a blind eye to the embarrassing reality that in many of our poorest communities the only functioning governmental organization or commercial enterprise is the local public school. No grocery stores, no pharmacies, no police stations, no fire stations, no libraries, no medical offices and so on leaves these communities bereft of services for basic human needs and opportunities for childhood development. Community schools are promoted as a possible remedy for some of this neighborhood damage.

The first priority for being a community school is being a public school that opens its doors to all students in the community.

A Brookings Institute study explains,

“According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is ‘both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.’ In community schools, every family and community member is a partner in the effort to build on students’ strengths, engage them as learners, and enable them to reach their full potential.”

The Brookings article notes that although community schools have a different looks in different communities they all have four common pillars: (1) “Expanded and enriched learning time,” (2) “Active family and community engagement,” (3) “Collaborative leadership and practices” and (4) “Integrated student supports.”

That means health care including vision and hearing is available through the schools as well as family housing and nutrition support. Families and other community members are encouraged to contribute both labor and leadership to the schools. Community services provided by governmental agencies also have site based coordinators.

Joshua Starr is the CEO of PDK International and the former Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Maryland. In a recent article for Kappan, he claims to “strongly support the community school model” but perceives some speed bumps. He asks, “Does the community school movement suffer from the “give me more stuff” syndrome? And concludes it probably does. However, his two biggest concerns are (1) the use of resources and (2) the use of data.

He points out that there are multiple streams of revenue coming into Title I schools and worries that these streams, meant in part to promote parental engagement, need to be administered wisely.  He makes clear his belief in the importance of family engagement but asks, “However, before agreeing to fund additional staff positions, shouldn’t we make sure that every staff member who has a family-facing responsibility in their job description is actually doing that work (and doing it effectively)?”    

Starr claims that by the end of the first quarter of 1st grade, it is possible to identify whether or not a student is on track to graduate. He notes that a student who is failing every class and has accumulate many absences is quickly noticed but the students who fail one class and only has a few absences are often overlooked.

He concluded,

“All of this is to say that the process of identifying and responding to students’ needs is enormously complicated. Ideally, schools will begin with early warning indicators to identify kids who aren’t on track to graduate on time, teachers and staff will know how to interpret that data, school leaders will give them time and resources to build relationships with students and families, and school teams will coordinate among district resources and community assets to provide the supports children and families need.”

Profiteering Hawks Looking to Feast on Community Schools

There has been some encouraging anecdotal evidence from several of the original community schools. In March, Jeff Bryant wrote an article profiling two such schools for the Progressive, but there are also bad harbingers circling these schools. In the same paper from Brookings quoted above, there is a call to scale the “Next Generation Community Schools” nationally. They advocate engaging charter school networks and expanding ArmeriCorps. Brookings also counsels us, “Within the Department of Education, use Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidance and regulations to advance a next generation of community schools.”

Brookings was not through promoting a clearly neoliberal agenda for community schools. Their latest paper about them notes,

“There is a significant and growing interest in the community schools strategy among federal, state, and local governments seeking to advance educational and economic opportunities and address historic educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Building off this momentum and with support from Ballmer Group, four national partners—the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution (CUE), the Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS) at IEL, and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI)—are collaborating with education practitioners, researchers, and leaders across the country to strengthen the community schools field in a joint project called Community Schools Forward.” (Emphasis added)

Steve Ballmer was Bill Gates financial guy at Microsoft and is the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. His Ballmer Group recently gifted $25,000,000 to the City Fund to advance privatization of public education in America. This is the group that funded the supposedly “unbiased” report from Brookings.

John Adam Klyczek is an educator and author of School World Order: The Technocratic Globalization of Corporatized Education. New Politics published his article Community Schools and the Dangers of Ed Tech Privatization in their Winter 2021 Journal. Klyczek declares,

“Bottom-up democracy through community schools sounds like a great idea. However, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal legislation funding pre-K-12 schools that replaced “No Child Left Behind,” requires ‘full-service’ community schools to incorporate public-private partnerships that facilitate ‘wrap-around services’ managed by data analytics. Consequently, ESSA incentivizes the corporatization of community schools through ‘surveillance capitalism.”’

He contends that ESSA’s mandate for “full-service” public-private partnerships creates “structured corporatization” paths similar to those in charter schools. Klyczek claims the mandates are a greater threat to privatization than current high stakes testing because in addition to academic data they are mandated to collect data on health care, crime prevention, workforce training and other wrap-around services. He states, “In other words, community schools are required to track data pertaining to the health, crime risk, and workforce readiness of community ‘stakeholders.”’

A Washington DC educator and union leader, Dylan Craig, responded to Klyczek in the same 2021 Winter Journal. He wrote,

“This leads me to what is perhaps the most striking assumption in Klyczek’s response: Union and community pressure is not just prone to but will inevitably succumb to corporate co-optation. Again, I find this reading deterministic and overly pessimistic. It is due to public pressure that the ESSA included language for community schools.”

“Now, if democratic control were to be gained in individual schools as I propose, local community members and unions could better organize around the issues that Klyczek discusses, potentially finding methods to meet the current data-reporting requirements in ways that serve the individual school and not tech oligarchs. If a suitable method cannot be found, communities can fight to change the language.”

 Conclusion

Although I appreciate the positive we-can-do-it attitude Dylan Craig exhibits, I find John Adam Klyszek’s analysis more persuasive. Klyszek may be a little over the top, but seeing the wealthiest owner in the NBA, Steve Ballmer, underwriting research on community schools shows me that these schools are certainly privatization targets. The 2015 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a delight for neoliberal politicians and their billionaire patrons. It opened the door to market based solutions for many education needs including community schools.

In the 1930’s the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his masterpiece, A Study of History: “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

It is going to be a challenge to keep profiteers from devouring the promise of community schools.

School Board District Elections for Coronado, Carlsbad and Vista

19 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/19/2022

The November 8, 2022 general election will usher in large changes to school board districts in San Diego County and around the country. School boards are quite literally that foundation of American democracy. In this installment, three districts are highlighted and recommendations for the seats are made.

School board races are supposedly non-partisan; however the Democratic and Republican Parties have both weighed in. The Republicans do formal endorsements but the Democrats only highlight party members. In this piece both methods are treated as endorsements.

Coronado Unified School District (Coronado USD)

Public school students 2,747 – Charter school students 0 – Percent charter 0%

Coronado is an upscale city of 20,000 on sort of an island across the bay from San Diego. It is the home of Naval Air Station North Island with a narrow strip of land known as the Silver Strand extending south to Imperial Beach. Driving down the strand one sees the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, the Seal Team training facility and Silver Strand State Beach. It is a stunningly beautiful community filled with naval flag officers, doctors, lawyers and expensive real estate.

Lately the community has experienced divisive political turmoil centered on their school district. The new MAGA right organization, We the Parents Coronado (WTPC), has been loudly railing against CRT, state mask mandates and vaccine requirements. They strongly support “school choice.” Last year an article in the Coronado Times reported,

“Prior to going offline Wednesday afternoon, the We the Parents of Coronado Website featured a section called “Values” that linked to a post about the Declaration of Independence on the American Citadel blog written by Zack Strong. But when visitors clicked through to The American Citadel site and viewed other blog posts there, some were shocked to discover that other posts contained controversial content.”

“Posts found on The American Citadel site include anti-LGBTQ referring to the homosexual ‘agenda’ as “satanic” and “dangerous,” while others are blatantly misogynistic, including one post called “Stay Home, Amy” that chastises newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett for working outside of the home, and ends with the advice, “Ladies, the home is where you were designed to shine.” Many posts are suggestive of anti-Semitism, while others appear to make disparaging comments about Black Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. Other posts seem to call for a violent insurrection, and fantasize about the assassination of President Biden and Vice President Harris.”

The WTPC website has since been scrubbed of this content but it can still be viewed here. However, their cleaned website continues to direct people to the works of Christopher Rufo the paid mouthpiece of libertarian billionaires Charles Koch and the Walton family. Rufo became infamous for propagandizing critical race theory (CRT) saying it is used to groom k-12 students against the white race. The reality is that CRT is a legal theory discussing how race affects legal outcomes. It is only seriously studied in law school graduate seminars. CRT has never been taught in k-12 schools and until just over a years ago, very few k-12 teachers had ever heard of it.

The WTPC has all the earmarks of an authoritarian white supremacist group.

Coronado USD’s school board is made up of five members. This year four positions are on the ballot. Three are for regular four year terms and one is for the remaining two years of Stacy Keszei’s term. Widely viewed as a driving force in WTPC, Keszei resigned her seat this January.

The board seats are all voted on at large with seven people running for one of the three full term positions and three people running of the short term position.

– Full 4 Year Term

1. Stephanie Anderson is a local business women and native of Coronado. She is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Anderson lists no experience in education but she does seem to truly value the public schools and her answers to the Coronado Times questions for school board candidates are reasonable.

2. Helen Anderson-Cruz is the loan incumbent running in this election. She has a doctorate in education from the Rosier School of Education at USC. A Coronado Islander since 1989, Anderson-Cruz taught English language arts in the Sweetwater District for 20 years. She has a granddaughter attending Village Elementary.

3. Michael Iversen is Vice President of Commercial Strategy at Galaxy Medical. This recent Danish immigrant reports no background in education. He is very critical of the Coronado USD governing board and the actions of parents and students over the past few years.

4. Lisa Meglioli has the endorsement of the Republican Party. Her web page says she is an Italian immigrant with five children ages 11 to 21 who are or were Coronado USD students. She shows no background in education and seems to be the only candidate who did no answer the Coronado Times candidate survey.

5. Alexia Palacios-Peters says on her Facebook page, “I’m a mom, military spouse, and attorney running for CUSD Board Trustee in 2022.” Her website notes that before becoming an attorney she earned a degree from the University of Texas in early childhood education and taught in elementary school. In her answers for the Coronado Times she says that she has children in ¾ of the schools in the district.

6. Malachy Denis Sandy is a retired Navy Captain who attended the Naval Academy. His answers to the Coronado Times indicate that he is very disturbed by the culture war focused on Coronado USD. He says, “There appears to be a small but vocal group of people in the Coronado community who refuse to work within the structure of CUSD and California State guidelines and policies.” He is bothered by their not placing value on science, data, facts and history. He does not appear to have any background in k-12 education.

7. Scot Youngblood is an orthopedic surgeon and retired Navy Captain who is endorsed by the Republican Party. The policy positions on his website show an unquestioning belief in the validity of standardized testing. Scot does not have any experience with k-12 education.

Recommendations: Helen Anderson-Cruz; Alexia Palacios-Peters; Malachy Denis Sandy

Short Term

1. Nicole Boucher is a registered nurse. In her interview with the Coronado Times she noted her disappointment with state government and its “unconscionable bills (i.e., AB-2223 and SB866).” AB-2223 is a law that guarantees woman will not be investigated or charged for experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or perinatal death due to causes that occurred in utero. It is on the governor’s desk but has yet to be signed into law. AB866 would have allowed students 12 years and older to receive COVID vaccinations without parental consent. It was pulled and never made it to a vote. Boucher has no experience with k-12 education.

2. Renee Cavanaugh’s Facebook page states, “Renee Cavanaugh, is a retired CUSD teacher, running for school board to keep our schools great.” While answering the Coronado Times questions, she noted, “CUSD was recently named the number one school district in the county based on graduation rates, student-teacher ratio, spending per student and attendance and suspension rates.” Her answers also demonstrated a deep knowledge of how the k-12 system functions.

3. Geri L. Machin is believed to be the executive director of We The Parents Coronado. In her answers for the Coronado Times she claimed 10 years of teaching experience in both private and public schools. She has a campaign website and the endorsement of the Republican Party. Last year she wrote an anti-masking opinion piece for the Coronado Eagle and Journal.

Recommendation: Renee Cavanaugh

Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD)

Public school students 11,027 – Charter school students 0 – Percent charter 0%

Carlsbad is an upscale bedroom community of 115,000 on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is home to Legoland and Callaway Golf.

There is no incumbent running in Area 1. Sharon Mckeeman who is endorsed by the Republican Party is running against Michele Tsutagawa Ward who is endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Carlsbad Teachers Association.

Mckeeman and two other candidates use Briana Baleskie from Brian Bilbray’s Imperial Beach campaign services organization as their treasurer. Mckeeman is the founder of Let Them Breath which sued the state to reopen schools during the height of the pandemic. She is also a homeschooler. On her web page she shares, “As a home educator in the past she nurtured her children to achievements such as her son winning the county and state science fair.”

Ward is a 20-year educator working mostly in Carlsbad elementary schools. She is presently the principal of Tierra Bonita Elementary in Poway. Her web page shares that she was voted Calavera Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2012. She is involved with local organizations supporting education like the Carlsbad Education Foundation and the California Association of Asian and Pacific Leaders in Education.

Recommendation: Michele Tsutagawa Ward

Area 4 also has no incumbent running. Candidate Jennifer Fornal is a non-profit project manager and has been involved with the Carlsbad PTA since 2013. She has managed several projects for youth development and after school programs. Fornal is endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Carlsbad Teachers Association.

Gretchen Vurbeff is running against Fornal. Her web page notes that she is an exercise physiologist working as a wellness educator for the past 30 years. She has been volunteering with the PTA for more than a decade. Verbeff also uses Briana Baleskie as her treasurer and is endorsed by the Republican Party. It is certainly not a deal buster to be endorsed by the Republican Party, but in today’s political climate to also use the same treasurer as the other endorsees is worrisome.

Recommendation: Jennifer Fornal

In Area 5, incumbent Kathleen Hope Rallings faces off against Scott Davison. Rallings was first elected Trustee in 2014. Her district biography notes, “She received a B.A. in Speech Communications from California State University, Long Beach, and an M.A. in Negotiations and Conflict Management from California State University, Dominguez Hills.” Rallings is endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Carlsbad Teachers Association.

Davidson’s web page opens with a call for transparency. This kind of goal has become associated with the anti-CRT and Anti-LGBTQ movement that is driving teachers out of the classroom. He may not support either agenda and he claims to believe in public schools. In 2020, Davidson setup a gofundme page to support the Trump inspired open schools movement. He also uses Briana Baleskie as treasurer for his campaign and is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Recommendation: Kathleen Hope Rallings

Escondido Union School District (EUSD)

Public school students 14,360 – Charter school students 2,864 – Percent charter 16.6%

Escondido is a community of 151,000 located north and east of San Diego. It is San Diego County’s second oldest city and is rumored to have been a hideout for Pancho Villa and his men.

EUSD is a k-8th grade district not to be confused with the Escondido Union High School District which serves grades 9-12.

In area 2, long serving Trustee Joan Gardner has been on the board since 1998. Gardner is endorsed by the Republican Party and has yet to mount much of a campaign. She was the target of a failed 2016 recall effort.

Elizabeth Shulok is attempting to unseat Gardner. She is a UC Berkley trained data scientist and mother engaged with education. She has organized preschool classes, volunteered in classrooms and chaperoned field trips. Shulok makes a very impressive presentation on her web page, on her Facebook page and at her LinkedIn site. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Recommendation: Elizabeth Shulok

In Area 4, incumbent Georgine Tomasi is being challenged by former board member Zesty Harper. Tomasi has a 40 year career working in education starting with teaching high school history in New Jersey. She presently works for the California Teachers Association. Her web page lists some of the important accomplishments she contributed to as an EUSD Trustee. Tomasi is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

After winning the Area 4 seat in 2014, Zesty Harper became a controversial figure when she proclaimed, “No longer will it be OK for this disservice we have called your education to continue.” She stated that creationism should be taught in classrooms alongside evolution. She also sent her own children to Heritage Charter School instead of an EUSD school. On her web page it says, “Zesty strongly believes in school choice and has supported local charter schools to increase innovation, competition, and choice in Escondido public schools.” Harper is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Recommendation: Georgine Tomasi

Area 5 incumbent Frank Huston is running unopposed.

Best Book of 2022 – Left Behind

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2022

Lily Geismer has performed a great service to America. The Claremont McKenna College associate professor of history has documented the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In her book, Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality she demonstrates how Bill Clinton “ultimately did more to sell free-market thinking than even Friedman and his acolytes.” (Left Behind Page 13)

When in the 1970’s, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, Paul Tsongas, and Tim Wirth arrived on the scene in Washington DC they were dubbed “Watergate Babies.” By the 1980’s Tip O’Neill’s aid Chris Mathews labeled them “Atari Democrats” an illusion to the popular video game company because of their relentless hi-tech focus. Geismer reports,

“Journalist Charles Peters averred that ‘neoliberal’ was a better descriptor. Peters meant it not as a pejorative but as a positive. … Neoliberals, he observed, ‘still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out,’ but ‘no longer automatically favor unions and big government.’” (Left Behind Pages 17-18) [Emphasis added]

Founding the DLC

In 1984, Lyndon Johnson’s son-in-law Charles Robb was the Democratic Governor of Virginia. He hosted a series of meetings in Washington and Virginia to develop a strategy for going forward. The meetings occurred shortly after Mondale’s huge loss to Ronald Reagan. It was decided they needed a new structure outside of the Democratic Party and Al From was tasked with writing the initial plan.

From’s scheme called for establishing the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to give the party a winning direction. Robb convinced From to become executive director of the nascent organization. From hired Will Marshal to be policy director. Geismer reveals,

“The architects recruited as founding members a lineup of fourteen senators, including Nunn, Chiles and Gore (who had just moved chambers); seventeen representatives, like Wirth, Gephardt, Leon Panetta of California, and Les Aspin of Wisconsin; and ten governors, such as Robb, Babbitt, James Blanchard of Michigan, Richard Lamm of Colorado, and Bill Clinton of Arkansas. … Of the total forty-one inaugural members, there were no women, two were men of color, and only four came from outside the Sunbelt.” (Left Behind Page 45)

Historian Arthur Schlesinger labeled the DLC “a quasi-Reaganite formation” and accused them of “worshiping at the shrine of the free market.”

Union pollster Victor Fingerhut called them “crypto-Republicans.”

Douglas Wilder a black Virginia politician criticized their “demeaning appeal to Southern white males.”

Others called them the “conservative white caucus” or the “southern white boys’ caucus.”

Jesse Jackson said its members “didn’t march in the ‘60s and won’t stand up in the ‘80s.” (Left Behind Pages 46-47)

In 1989, From convinced Bill Clinton to become the chairman of the DLC. That same year the DLC founded the Progressive Policy Institute to be their think tank competing with the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute. Today, it still spreads the neoliberal gospel.

The next year, the DLC issued the New Orleans statement which stated the “fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not government.” The statement also claimed that a “free market regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.” (Left Behind Page 107)

At the DLC convention in early 1991, Clinton rejected criticism from people like Jesse Jackson and Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) stating, “choice is not a code word for elitism and racism.” Geismer notes that in his speech, “He then listed off the DLC proposals to address the problems of poverty with programs like childcare vouchers, public school choice, job training programs, and community policing.” (Left Behind Page 127) [Emphasis added]

It was at their 1991 convention that the DLC urged Congress to give President Bush fast track trade authority to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Democratic establishment had not been warm to the idea and labor strongly objected.

After Clinton won the Democratic nomination, labor unions were in a difficult position. Geismer explained,

“Labor officials and the rank and file both had strong objections with Clinton’s position on free trade and were well aware of the New Democrats’ long-standing hostility toward unions. … Even though union members had gained more than a quarter of the delegate seats at the 1992 Democratic Convention, labor leaders made a conscious decision not to demand that Clinton openly advocate for unions in the platform or to temper his support for free trade. This calculation rested on their sense that Bush was a bigger threat to unions, and the movement should focus their energy on defeating him.” (Left Behind Page 133)

Once elected, Clinton turned away from New Deal liberalism and Johnson’s Great Society. He claimed that by increasing private sector activity in blighted urban areas and providing more credit these communities of poverty would be lifted up. He proposed creating enterprise zones “to create a small-business entrepreneurial economy in every underclass urban area …” (Left Behind Page 144)

Geismer describes a 1996 speech given by Hillary Clinton:

“Hillary Clinton took pains to emphasize the potential of micro-credit not just internationally but in the United States as well. The speech came just as states were implementing the requirements in the 1996 welfare reform act, which fulfilled Bill Clinton’s campaign pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ The law terminated the assistance for women and children in place since the Roosevelt administration and served as a potent symbol of the Clinton administration’s attempt to put a nail in the coffin of New Deal liberalism.” (Left Behind Page 170)

In the fall of 1999, the Clinton administration negotiated with Senator Phil Gram (R-Texas) to end the Glass-Steagall act. This was the culmination of the administration’s support for deregulating the banking industry, which unleashed an historic wave of consolidations. The 2:45 AM deal ended the bank reforms President Roosevelt enacted to insure banks would never again make dangerous deals that led to failure and losing their depositors assets. (Left Behind Pages 309-312)

In retrospect, a good case can be made that the neoliberal agenda has been a disaster. The bank failures of 2008 almost brought down the entire World’s economy. Economic inequality has grown along with the creation of hundreds of billionaires both of which harm democracy. America’s childhood poverty rates are the highest in the developed world and homelessness plagues every moderately large city in America. It truly is “The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality.”

The Attack on Public Education

The philosophy that guides people can also blind them. Neoliberals are so convinced by the magic of markets that they have fallen for the illusion that public education is failing. They are convinced that a business type accountability and market based competition are needed. It seems not to have occurred to them that the foundation for America becoming the economic, scientific and cultural leader of the world is public education. How can they overlook the fact that America’s public education system has produced by far the most Nobel Prize winners in the world? Evidently they believe that since it is not a market based system it must be failing. However, even the conservative publication Education Next just produced a study showing that public education results have been steadily improving for the last 50 years.

Vice President Al Gore was convinced public schools were failing and needed a new direction. During a monthly “Gore-Tech session”, the Vice President asked venture capitalist John Doerr, “If you Silicon Valley types are so smart, why can’t you do something to create new schools?” Doerr who had scored big with investments in Netscape, Amazon and Google, like Gore, was certain public schools required radical change. He wanted “better schools based on Silicon Valley’s principles of accountability, choice and competition.” (Left Behind Pages 233-234)

Two big results came from this conversation. Doerr, a notoriously successful venture capitalist, went home where he was integral to establishing the NewSchools Venture Fund which was one of the first venture philanthropies. It was dedicated to promoting charter schools and education technology. NewSchools collaborated with Reed Hastings and Don Shalvey to create America’s first Charter School Management organization. 

Geismer notes,

“Computer companies had long understood that getting a foothold in the nation’s schools was a potential goldmine. … As the participants at the Gore-Tech sessions took up education reform, the conversation quickly turned to the topic of charter schools, which were a favorite reform tool of the president.” (Left Behind Page 239)

Like other venture capitalists, NewSchools’ founders expect a return on investment. This return would be measured in test score gains rather than dollars. (Left Behind Page 255)

Al From told Clinton that in order to win reelection in 1996 he need to “grab the mantle” of charters and school choice for Democrats. Geismer avers,

“The 1996 State of the Union was most notable for Clinton’s declaration that the ‘era of big government is over.’ Elaborating on the theme, he also dared ‘every state to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend; and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.’” (Left Behind Page 244)

Some Parting Notes

Lily Geismer’s book is special. The scholarship is above reproach and she solidified my personal opinion about the neoliberal ideology and its implementation. I hope as many people as possible read this edifying book. It provides profound insight into the source of the stupefying inequality plaguing American society.

The book and this post put the neoliberal faction of the Democratic Party in an extremely bad light. However, it is important to remember that the neoliberal market driven agenda is embraced even more tenaciously by America’s conservative community and they don’t seem concerned about “a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out.”

Stockton Schools after Deasy

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2022

The infamous John Deasy resigned his post as Superintendent of Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) on June 15th, 2020. That made his tenure two weeks more than two years which further exacerbated the longtime administrative instability at SUSD. He apparently steered the district budgets toward deficit spending and left a decimated finance department in his wake while other administrative positions multiplied. Concurrent with his two years in Stockton, money and leaders from organizations bent on privatizing public education were bolstered and became more active.

Stockton is an interesting place with vibrant political activity. The 209Times a Facebook based news outlet claims over 200,000 readers. It is not a slick publication but it does seem effective. 209 is the Stockton telephone prefix. Another internet based news outlet Recordnet.com is often an adversary of the 209Times.

The city was a gold rush town established in 1849. Situated 75 miles down the San Joaquin River from the Golden Gate Bridge at the north end of the San Joaquin valley, it is the farthest inland deep water port in California. That valley has the most productive farm land in the world and a significant portion of its bounty ships from Stockton. Just 13 miles north of downtown is where John Fogerty got “Stuck in Lodi Again.”

Stockton is a city of 315,000 people and one of America’s most diverse communities. The demographic makeup is 42.1% Hispanic, 21.6% Asian, 20.8% White and 11.8 % Black. It has a 20% poverty rate and a stunning 82% of its K-12 students come from families in poverty. SUSD enrolls around 34,000 students into its 54 schools. Charter schools enroll close to 6,000 students.

With high poverty rates, Stockton has naturally underperformed on standardized testing which is significantly more correlated with family wealth than anything else. Linda Darling-Hammond pegs that correlation at 0.9 which is an almost certainty. The education writer Alfie Kohn suggested we could replace standardized testing by asking students just one question, “How much money does your mom make?” (Kohn page 77)

Breaking the Bank

In California, schools are required to submit a budget progress update each November called the First Interim Report. Because this report is formulaic, it provides a way to compare a district’s finances over time. The SUSD reports for 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 reveal what appears to be a deliberate attempt to financially harm the district. In an era with declining enrollment both teaching staff and management permanent positions were increased significantly while cash flow turned steeply negative.

In teacher jargon, FTE stands for full time equivalent. Between the times John Deasy was hired until he resigned the full time staff at SUSD increased by more than 500 people. In terms of money, that represented a $9 million increase in yearly spending on salaries. During this same period, attendance declined by more than 1,300 students. That represented about a $9 million dollar loss in revenue from the state. SUSD had an $18 million dollar negative structural budget change.

SUSD board of trustees contracted with the Fiscal Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) to review their financial situation and processes. The executive summary of the January 2022 report noted,

“At the time of FCMAT’s fieldwork, there had been significant employee turnover and the elimination of some management positions in the Business Services Department. Key budget management personnel had been in their positions for only a brief time; therefore, there was a lack of historical institutional knowledge about the district’s 2021-22 budget development and 2020-21 financial closing processes.”

In other words, despite all of the hiring Deasy left the financial department in chaos. The FCMAT study claimed that SUSD was headed for serious financial difficulties when the one time spending from the federal government is gone in fiscal year 2024-25. Currently they say the district is spending one time funding on $26.3 million in salaries, benefits and services that appear essential.

 DooWop Don in Charge

Don and Sue Shalvey live in Linden, California a small rural community 10 miles east of Stockton. When they actually moved there is unknown. Don is a bit of a rock star amongst neoliberal Democrats. His San Carlos Learning Center was the first charter school in California and the site of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1997 round table discussion on charter schools. In Lily Geismer’s book Left Behind, she describes the meeting at the round table between Don and “a thirty-something man with a goatee and Birkenstocks.” That was Reed Hastings who Geismer claims needed someone like Shalvey to give his education plans credibility. (Left Behind Page 249)

Together, Shalvey and Hastings successfully campaigned to end the charter school cap in California. At the same time Hastings was starting his new company Netflix. The two soon hooked up with John Doerr and the NewSchools Venture Fund to invent a charter network called a charter management organization (CMO). Shalvey did most of the leg work in developing University Public Schools which later changed its name to Aspire. It was America’s first CMO. (Left Behind Page 249)

From 2009 to 2020, Don served as a Deputy Director for K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversaw charter schools and teacher preparation. Before he was a charter school founder and before he was a school teacher, he was a disc jockey. That is why his twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

In 2020, Don assumed leadership of San Joaquin A Plus Inc. (A+)

Before he arrived, A+ was a modest organization working with a total of about $50,000 annually. On their tax forms (Tax ID: 51-0536117) A+ is listed as a public charity and it states, “The primary exempt purpose is to support and enhance the education of the community’s youth and to create responsible employable and productive citizens through tutorial and other services and the teaching of school literacy, school readiness, and parent education.”

With Don’s arrival, Helen Schwab, President of the The Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation (Tax ID 94-3374170) gifted A+ $400,000. This low profile organization suddenly became a player in Stockton politics and school policy.

Researchers at University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis noted as a key component in their model of billionaire funded attacks on public education the development of local organizations to collaborate on the agenda. In addition to A+, it appears that the Community Foundation of San Joaquin has also been converted to this roll. In 2019, The City Fund (Tax ID 82-4938743) gifted them $298,960 and Bill Gates (Tax ID 56-2618866) has also been granting them funds. In there latest tax filing (Tax ID 27-1476916), the Foundation lists Don’s wife Sue Shalvey as Chairman.

Larry Tramutola is a political organizer for hire. He represented Michael Bloomberg in his $18 million dollar support for San Francisco’s successful soda tax referendum. Last year, he launched the Stockton Education & Outreach Project. Their first report seemed designed to put public schools in as bad as light as possible. The funding for Tramutola’s project is unknown.

A Leadership Nightmare

After John Deasy stepped down as Superintendent, Recordnet.com reported,

“Biedermann was selected by the Board of Trustees to serve as interim superintendent after John Deasy stepped down April 21, 2020. In 2018, Deasy became the district’s 12th interim or full-time superintendent over the past 30 years. Deasy succeeded current Stockton City Councilman Dan Wright, who took over as interim superintendent in August 2017 for Eliseo Davalos, who lasted 13 months. Carl Tolliver served two stints from Sept. 14, 2005, to June 30, 2006, and from July 2010 to June 2012.”

Brian Biederman who is mentioned above had served as head of educational services for Stockton Unified under Deasy and appears to have been his choice as a successor. This June, when Biederman ran for Superintendent of San Joaquin County Department of Education, the required form 460 campaign reports show that Napa resident John Deasy contributed $100.

However, when it came to creating district stability, Biederman was not the answer. In January 2021, just 8 months into his tenure he resigned claiming personal health issues.  

Left in a difficult situation, the district board hired former Monterey County Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. as acting Superintendent with the intention of eventually naming him Superintendent. He was already serving as a consultant to the district. Ramirez came with some baggage. In 2016 while serving as Alisal Union School District’s superintendent he admitted personal use of district credit cards which he repaid and also drew a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former district employee. However, he had strong support from within SUSD and the community.

Just over a year later, Ramirez resigned. The district announced that they accepted his resignation so he could care for the health of his elderly parents. However, the executive session agenda item that led to accepting the resignation by a 4-2 vote was listed as item 2.1 discipline/dismissal/release. A person in the know said that Ramirez was removed because he was spending more time in Don Salvey’s office than his own district office.

Going into the 2022-23 school year, the SUSD board has settled on Dr. Traci E. Miller as interim superintendent. She is a 25-year veteran of SUSD where she has served as middle school counselor, high school counselor, head counselor, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Director.

In June, there was a Grand Jury report on SUSD. It drew two different public responses. The 209Times wroteBiased ‘Grand Jury’ Issues Another Attack on SUSDstating.

“While Stockton Unified was dedicating its new headquarters after a 40 year inspirational music teacher Arthur Coleman Jr, operatives of the power brokers who ram Stockton into the ground that we refer to as the “Stockton Cabal”, tried to overshadow the progress with yet another “special report”. This one comes less than a year since the last ‘grand jury special report on SUSD’.

“The major point of contention? A potential $30 million deficit. Only problem is that’s exactly what was already mentioned last year. Yet, the report again failed to mention that ousted Cabal approved Superintendent John Deasy left the district in a $100 million deficit.”

Recordnet.com had a quite different response. Their article Grand jury finds Stockton Unified trustees failed as district leaders in scathing reportstates,

“A San Joaquin County civil grand jury has found the Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees have failed as district leaders and will likely continue to do so.

“A scathing 33-page report released by the 2020-21 grand jury says Stockton Unified trustees are the direct reason for what’s been called the district’s ‘revolving door’ of superintendents.”

A close reading of the Grand Jury report is not a scathing report on the district trustees nor is it a completely biased attack with no value.

Page 12 in the report states,

“Selection of the current CBO was made contrary to Board Policy (BP) 4211.2. The CBO was hired without a search, screening process or interviews.” (Report Page 11)

CBO stands for chief business officer. When asked about this finding, school board Vice President Ray Zulueta said that he assumed when Human Resources brought them a hire recommendation that they had correctly followed the process. This looks like an example of the superintendent not getting the job done. The board hired the guy but they have no choice but to believe people are doing their job.

The grand jury was also was critical about the way change orders were being handled. They shared,

“For example, athletic facility projects at Franklin High School had an overrun of approximately $6 million. No change order was submitted to the Board for approval.” (Report Page 12)

This makes clear to the trustees how critical it is to put people in place who have both competency and integrity, but this was not an attack directed at the board.

The charge of bias does ring true when discussing the budget issues. On page 22, The Grand Jury regurgitates information from the January FCMAT report about possible deficits and unprofessional financial processes.  It does not indicate that the SUSD trustees caused the report to be generated nor does it mention the huge out of budget spending during the Deasy administration. Many district leaders believe Deasy’s spending led to more than $100 million dollars missing from district total assets. That looks like something on which the Grand Jury should have focused.

After looking at the issues swirling around SUSD, I believe the district is in damaged but decent shape. As Dr. Miller takes charge, it seems like a great time for a new beginning. Her résumé indicates a professional educator with deep experience. She has administrative experience and a twenty-five year relationship with the community. The board now has the opportunity to see if she can make the trains run on time, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. There is every reason to think she can. If she proves herself, 10 or 15 years down the road she could still be superintendent.  

Not a Day behind Bars for A3 Charter Grifters

12 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/12/2022

The A3 Charter School Conspirators fraudulently collected $400 million from the state of California, misappropriated more than $200 million and according to the Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry outright stole $80 million. The two ring leaders were fined $18.75 million each, given four year jail sentences and credited with four years for time served while under house arrest awaiting court dates. Of the 11 people charged in the A3 charter school scam, the largest in California history, not one of them will spend a day behind bars.

In 2019, the San Diego County Grand Jury heard testimony from 72 witnesses and voted out a 67-count indictment against Sean McManus, Jason Schrock, Justin Schmitt, Eli Johnson, Steven Zant and six others. Their criminal scheme involved a network of 19 online charter schools enrolling thousands of students. For the plotters, their summer athletic programs which had no teachers or classes were particularly successful for purloining ill gotten gains.

Schrock and McManus established the Academic Arts and Action charter Academies in 2015; soon dubbed A3 charters. An early step in establishing the A3 empire came when Steven Zant, a former superintendent of the tiny Dehesa Elementary School District in San Diego County, brokered the sale of the online nonprofit charter school Mosaic Online Academy of Southern California to A3 for $1.5 million. The A3 non-profit tax filing for 2016 indicates that McManus received salary and benefits totaling $487,781 and Schrock collected $368,015. It shows A3 revenues of $14,205,716 and a profit of $10,587,203. The new non-profit business was lucrative from the start.

Before hooking up with McManus, Jason Schrock’s linked in page states he was principal at Valley Christian School in Cerritos, CA for seven years starting in 1999. He then became “Regional Advancement Director” for Iowa based Northwestern College affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in America. In 2014, he became co-owner of Creative Arts Early Leaning Academy in Orlando, Florida and apparently is still associated with them. Also in 2014 he became CEO of Learning Re: Defined which catered to a Christian clientele. They appear to be defunct.

Sean McManus had been chasing charter school gold several years before partnering with Schrock. From 2009-2015, he was CEO of the Academy of Arts and Science Charter Schools (AAS). Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris reports that it was here he developed his model for using cash-strapped small districts to authorize his online schools. The seed money for AAS was provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program (CSP). Eleven Academy of Arts and Sciences charter schools that used the for-profit K-12 curriculum received a total of $2,825,000 from the CSP state grant to California. Today, all 11 schools are closed.

McManus learned a lesson while running AAS. Some of the schools were hybrid models that had in class training which meant physical addresses. Los Angeles Unified School District sued AAS for opening classrooms in their territory without authorization. The A3 charters would be 100% cyber schools with no physical classes.

How the Scam Worked

Under California Education Law, small school districts had an incentive to authorize charter schools. They get 3% of the revenue. Schrock and McManus approached small districts throughout the state to establish cyber charters.

The chart above shows authorizing districts for each of the 19 A3 charter schools. To read the chart, follow the example of Dehesa Elementary District on right side second chartering district down. Dehesa served 138 elementary school students and was supervising 11,568 charter school students in four A3 schools. The largest district authorizing an A3 school was Acton-Aqua Dulce with 1085 students and supervising 14,734 charter school students. It is unlikely that any of these small districts had the bandwidth to monitor the schools they had authorized.

A Los Angeles Times article from 2019 listed some of the charges in the indictment. The following is a summary.

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock hid the fact that they essentially owned and operated the charter schools at the same time that A3 contracted with those schools. This allowed them to operate multiple businesses that charged their own charter schools millions of dollars for services and then channel the money from those businesses into their own charitable trusts and personal bank accounts. They used this scheme to invoice at least $83.3 million from the charter schools.

More than $8.18 million went into personal bank accounts, some in Australia, and into charitable trust accounts for McManus, Schrock and their wives, and $500,000 went to a family member of McManus. They used $1.6 million of A3 Education’s funds to buy a private residence for McManus in San Juan Capistrano.

The Los Angeles area was serviced by the A3 School Valiant Academy of Southern California. Its performance in both English and math testing was extremely low. The school’s performance was so poor that the California Charter Schools Assn., which advocates for charter schools, recommended closing it.

Those original reports underestimated the scope of the fraud. In July 2022, the San Diego Union reported that A3’s fraudulent activities totaled approximately $400 million of which only $240 million has been recovered.

No Time Behind Bars.

A news report from Santa Clarita noted,

“If convicted, McManus and Schrock each face up to 40 years in state prison. Sentences for the other nine defendants if convicted could range from 4-11 years.”

The report also said that Sean McManus had fled to Australia and that there was a $5 million bench warrant issued for his arrest. McManus is still in Australia and has only participated in court proceedings from his local lawyer’s office.  

The court case was handled by the highly respected San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link. He was originally appointed to the Municipal Court in 1981 by Jerry Brown and was elected to the Superior Court in 1990. At his recent retirement party, fellow Superior Court Judge Michael Smyth praised him saying, “Forty-one years and he’s been crushing it as a judge, as they say, and he hasn’t lost a step.”  That makes the outcome in this case even more puzzling.

Some of the reasons for no jail time must have resulted from prosecutors making deals and the judge signing off on them. It seems that all of the minor figures have had their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors and were sentenced to fines and probation.

Accountant Robert Williams provided financial services and let his offices be used as A3’s business address. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of altering or falsifying corporate records with the intent to defraud. From 2019 leading up to his 2021 sentencing, he remained free on his own recognizance. Williams received a $300,000 fine and three years of unsupervised probation.

Last September, Judge Link sentenced McManus and Schrock to four years in prison for their guilty pleas to two felony counts, one count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and one count of conflict of interest. However, the Judge indicated the law required that he take time spent under house arrest into consideration. Therefore the four year prison terms were fulfilled. There must have been some kind of an agreement struck with the prosecutor to get this outcome.

Schrock has been serving his house arrest in Orange County and McManus in Australia. McManus attended the sentencing hearing over Microsoft Teams from his lawyers office. Judge Link said at the trial,

“Mr. McManus and Mr. Schrock were thieves. And I don’t like to dance with thieves. I think they should be punished. That being said, Mr. McManus and Mr. Schrock came forward and basically divulged everything they could come up with. Without the cooperation of Mr. Schrock and Mr. McManus, we would not be here today with the amount of money that the receiver has been able to recoup. Except for that, I would definitely be putting both of these fellas in prison for a significant period of time.” 

The judge’s sentiments sound heartfelt but do not tally. McManus and Schrock misappropriated $400,000,000 of which only $240,000,000 has been recovered and they stole $80,000,000. The large fines come well short of equaling the amounts stolen. Their four year prison sentences were satisfied by two years of house arrest and McManus has never returned to face his charges in person.

I cannot help wondering how that Australian house arrest was monitored.

Broken Legal System Must Be Reformed

This result was not a legal deterrent. Conspirators were able to fraudulently acquire so much wealth they could buy their way out of jail. Rich people hate fines but fear jail time. It is nice that some of the A3 theft was recovered but society would be much better served if moneyed racketeers faced certain jail time.

The A3 saga painfully highlights how unjust and manipulated in the favor of means our legal system has become. American style blind justice must be reinvigorated. Well-heeled scofflaws need to face jail time and large fines. The A3 outcome is an absurd miscarriage of justice painting the prosecutor and Judge in a bad hue.

Genuine Reforms by Real Education Professionals

5 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/5/2022

The tragedy of modern school “reform” is that it stopped education improvement. Politicians from the Democratic and Republican Parties agreed that government-run organizations were inferior to privatized ones and market forces were the path for lifting all boats. Their economic theories led to charter schools and vouchers for private, mostly religion sponsored schools. Moguls and legislators, with no education training or knowledge decided that standards, modeled on business practices were, required. It has become a tool for privatizing public schools, controlling classrooms by politicians in capital cities, and is making learning dreary.

It is wonderful to learn of professional educators standing up to this folly and implementing practices promising to undo some of the damage.  In Orange County, California, Alison Dover and Fernando Rodríguez-Valls, associate professors in the Department of Secondary Education at California State University, Fullerton, have been developing the Language Explorers program since 2015. The methods they used can be adapted to any classroom or discipline. Their newly published book by Teachers College Press is Radically Inclusive Teaching with Newcomer and Emergent Plurilingual Students Braving Up. With this book when combined with the supplemental materials at Professor Dover’s web site, any teacher’s practice can be advanced.

Cultural Destructiveness

In 2001, I began teaching in a California school, often being the only White guy in classrooms where the bullring in Las Playas de Tijuana was in sight. Naturally many many of the students were native Spanish speakers and some of them had almost no English abilities. Surprisingly a student’s multilingual abilities were not prized. In fact a state law pushed by software developer, Ron Unz, mandated English only instruction.

Around the change of the millennium, Unz financed legislative initiatives in California and Arizona, replacing bilingual education with English immersion programs, also known as the “Unz initiatives.” They were detested by many teachers, administrators and parents alike and eventually challenged in Arizona. In 2015, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the approach violated the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

By 2004, Massachusetts, California and Arizona were subjecting 40% of America’s newcomer language learners to anti-bilingual policies. After more than two decades of academic failure, these language laws are almost all repealed. However immigrants are still being labeled. Dover and Rodríguez-Valls write, “Instead of amplifying emergent bi- and Plurilingual students’ already expansive linguistic resources, schools routinely frame newcomer students as ‘English Learners’ who lack the communicative skills to fully participate in academic settings.” (Radically Page 4)

Newcomers and emergent plurilingual students are not half-empty vessels that need to be filled with English language skills. The authors share,

“In our work with teachers and administrators, we challenge them to position newcomer students as Emergent Plurilingual (EP) students, who enter our classrooms with unique and expanding linguistic repertoires that are ready to be utilized as classroom resources; in fact, most students whom districts label as ELs are actually already plurilingual, in that they have the ability to use multiple languages at varying levels of proficiency and for different purposes (Council of Europe, 2007). Our challenge, then, is not to address students’ ‘deficits,’ but to figure out how to support all students – including  monolingual and plurilingual students – in exploring, playing with, and using their linguistic repertoires as a bridge to complex disciplinary content.” (Radically Page 13) 

Central to the education malpractice that Dover and Rodríguez-Valls are addressing is the trust in monoglossic ideologies.  Influenced by academic articles like Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education by Nelson Flores and Johnathan Rosa, they share this perspective,

“Monoglossic Ideologies lead educators to shut down students’ use of multiple languages, encouraging them to ‘focus on English,’ rather than consciously stretch their linguistic repertoires by making connections between their existing linguistic structures and new content and concepts. While few educators with a monoglossic ideology see themselves as oppressive, monoglossia reflects the colonial, assimilationist roots of US public education, in which being monocultural and monolingual (in English) has historically been positioned as more desirable than multicultural and plurilingual identities. This is sometimes referred to as one of the ways ‘White gaze’ shapes educational and linguistic policies and practices, irrespective of the racial and linguistic identities of educators and students themselves …” (Radically Page 16)

Dover and Rodríguez-Valls tell us that braving up is about creating alternative, plurilingual spaces that evade restrictive policies and mandates. This “radically inclusive teaching” challenges educators to take a stand and do what is right for their students and engage with this approach:

“As university-based researchers and teacher educators, we see our role not as providing ‘professional development’ per se, but rather as collaborating with school-based educators to reimagine what it means to teach and learn in radically inclusive, plurilingual environments. We use the word ‘radical’ intentionally; one of the first conversations we have with prospective Language Explorer teachers invites them to first define and describe the culture of schooling as it is now, and then participate in a visioning process in which they reimagine school as affirming and culturally robust.” (Radically Pages 29-30) 

Rejecting the Banking Model

In 1970, the famed Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire, wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, addressing the classroom model in which learning is one-directional; teachers teach and students learn. He labeled this the “banking model” where “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.” Dover and Rodríguez-Valls update this observation stating, “Despite movements toward more student-centered pedagogies, ultimately most educational experiences remain structured around the knowledge teachers want to impart to students.” (Radically Page 82)

The book emphasizes the needs and benefits associated with recognizing students’ cultural “funds of knowledge” as assets to the classroom along with their raciolinguistic identities (ascribed to students without their knowledge or consent) and daily languaging practices. In doing so, monoglossic ideologies are disrupted, heteroglossic classrooms emerge and “plurilingual superpowers” are unleashed. (Radically Page 43)

To accomplish this, three core principles are emphasized: modeling, open dialogues, and co-learning. All of these are nuanced and in this piece I will not delve into them in any detail. However here is an example from the core of modeling which is “We do every project first.” (Radically Page 43)

Based on the modeling principles framework, a non-negotiable practice for educators is that “teachers do every single project themselves before assigning work to students.” Unlike classrooms where modeling is focused on concrete skills, the language explorer teachers use modeling as a form of academic disruption in which they use themselves as “models to illustrate principles of vulnerability, humanity, and linguistic experimentation.” (Radically Page 43)

Authentic Teacher Training

For the past 30 years, there has been an effort to privatize teacher training financed by billionaires. For example, Relay Graduate School is a fraudulent effort created by the charter school industry and made possible by billionaire financing. TNTP is an unqualified teacher training organization, spawned by Teach for America, whose training program would be laughable if it was not so harmful. These and many other teacher and administrator training programs have all been lavishly financed by billionaires, with one of three agendas: (1) advance neoliberal causes; (2) implement libertarianism; or (3) realize a religious approach to schooling. Improving public education is not their priority.

In this book we find an authentic effort to improve pedagogy in public schools, full of useful ideas and stimulating insights. More importantly this is how teacher development should be. Fullerton State University is located in Fullerton, California just north of Anaheim in Orange County. The department of Education there hosts teacher training and programs for school districts throughout Orange County and the Los Angeles basin. These publicly supported professionals from Fullerton are improving schools, enhancing student equity and supporting education justice.

One of the partners for the Fullerton team is Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD). Its 20 middle and high school campuses serve 30,000 students, utilizing 1,200 teachers. Twenty percent of the students are classified as emergent plurilingual with 54 languages spoken in the district. AUHSD takes in on average over 300 students from 20 different countries every year, making it a natural client for the Language Explorer program. (Radically Page 123)

AUHSD is led by Superintendent Michael Matsuda who taught in the district for 22 years before assuming its leadership. He is focused on equity, inclusion and teaching democracy. In 2015, the district turned to Fullerton State for help when an influx of newcomers arrived including many refugees from the Middle East. Matsuda’s team wanted a summer bridge program created for the new students. This situation widened the path on which radically inclusive teaching could travel.

Dover and Rodríguez-Valls forcefully state that the Language Explorers learning is done in academic enrichment classes. They explain,

“They are not remedial programs to meet perceived gaps in students’ academic or linguistic foundation. This framing is both intentional and strategic; within many districts, ‘enrichment’ is typically interpreted as primarily for academically elite and linguistically dominant students. However, by positioning the Language Explorers as an enrichment program – one in which students earn elective credit; go on field trips; access smaller class sizes and mentorship; engage in creative, project-based learning; develop leadership skills; and present to outside audiences – leaders can situate newcomer programming to serve the broader educational mission of the district.” (Radically Page 135)

Language Explorers wants us to brave up our pedagogies and methodologies. Dover and Rodríguez-Valls state, ‘Radical teaching does not happen in isolation; changing systems of oppression is a collective process.” (Radically Page 136)

I was personally impressed by the methods taught in this book.

FCMAT – California’s Unaccountable Political Player

28 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/28/2022

California Assemblywomen Delaine Eastin wrote legislation creating the Financial Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) in 1991. Her legislation was in response to the bankruptcy of the Richmond School District and requests for financial help from four other districts. In 1992, Governor Pete Wilson signed the legislation into law and located FCMAT (pronounced Fick-Mat) under the auspices of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Since then, its power has grown and portfolio expanded with little oversight. Today, there is a burgeoning chorus of critics calling for reform or even termination.

In the mid-1990’s, I made the trip through the south end of the San Joaquin Valley many times. On the car radio, the only listening choices available were Rush Limbaugh and the Buck Owens show from the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. Bakersfield is named after founder Thomas Baker but the name easily could refer to the weather. The city of a half-million sitting about 140 miles from Death Valley regularly sees temperatures over 100° F between May and October. It gets really hot for extended periods. That is where the FCMAT home office is located.

Bakersfield, the county seat of Kern County, is an economic powerhouse in both oil and agriculture. In 2020, it had a slightly larger Republican voter registration than Democratic (R=158,771 & D=152,102). Registrations have been almost evenly split for decades. In 1992, when Republican Governor Pete Wilson chose the Kern County Office of Education as administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT, the Republican voter registration advantage totaled 118.

The Developing Juggernaut

FCMAT employs a neoliberal structure popularized in the United Kingdom called QUANGO. The Scottish writer Roland Watson describes QUANGO as a “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” Those of short duration are sometimes referred to as a task force. They carry out government mandates by receiving and issuing contracts. Watson noted that “its rear end looks distinctively democratic and accountable but the front part is definitely statist and bureaucratic.” The problem with a QUANGO is the tendency to overtly support the political agenda of whoever is in power.

The Data Center Reported that in 1992 FCMAT had a budget of $562,000 which ballooned to $35.6 million by 2002. The report also criticized its use of no-bid contracts and lack of accountability. Los Angeles State Assembly Woman Jackie Goldberg called for an audit of FCMAT in 2003. The state auditor reported that FCMAT was providing value to districts but did criticize the over use of no-bid contracts. That appears to be the only audit ever done of FCMAT.

Besides the legislation listed in Table 1, there are many legislative edicts for FCMAT to audit specific school districts. The districts are charged a no-bid fee for the mandated audits; FCMAT contracts out much of the work. Local school districts that have had previous financial issues often must pay a consulting fee to obtain FCMAT’s blessing in order to implement a budget. In districts with financial problems, this agency has more power over district policy than voters.

Transparent California reveals that the top 2020 total salary at FCMAT, $313,780.72, went to CEO Michael Fine. Including Michael, there were thirteen FCMAT staff members who earned more than $214,000 that year. The data shows that FCMAT had seventeen employees on staff being paid a total salary of $3,568,008.

Is it really about Gentrification?

In 2018, two school districts in California requested emergency funding to maintain operations. Both Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) arrived in this predicament due to incompetent (unethical?) administration during a state takeover.

California took over Inglewood’s schools in 2012 because of financial problems that should properly be credited to George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and the state of California’s almost unregulated charter school movement. In 2016, Secretary of Public Instruction (SPI) Tom Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews to be IUSD’s forth state appointed Superintendent.  

At the beginning of the millennium, Mathews led the for-profit Edison school in San Francisco. Later, he went through training at the infamous Broad Academy which included studying their handbook for closing public schools. He also served for two years as the state appointed superintendent for OUSD (2007-2009).

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. About his Inglewood tenure, the LA Times noted,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

FCMAT was supervising that state loan given to IUSD and was charged with monitoring the district’s finances. However, they missed the bad budgeting practices implemented by the state appointed administrator.

In Oakland Antwan Wilson another Broad Academy graduate blew a hole in the Budget under FCMAT’s less than watchful eye. After two and a half years on the job, he left Oakland to be superintendent of schools in the nation’s capital. Soon after that, huge budget problems were discovered causing the school board to immediately order more than $15 million in mid-year budget cuts.

In an article detailing some of the mismanagement and greed in Oakland, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported:

“Wilson brought in dozens of executive staff members from outside the Oakland district, creating new positions and departments that were not budgeted, and paying more than was customary in the district, …. In 2013, before Wilson arrived in Oakland, only four administrators earned more than $200,000; two years later, at least 26 did…

The 2018 solution to these financial issues from the state legislature was AB 1840 which dictated the terms under which OUSD and IUSD could receive emergency funding. It signified that in the budget acts for the coming years, Oakland and Inglewood could apply for emergency funding if they met certain criteria. It also meant that their respective counties – Alameda and Los Angeles – would assume control from the state and use FCMAT to financially supervise the districts.

In SB 74 the 2020 budget act, Oakland received $16 million with the law stipulating “affirmative action by the governing board to continue planning for, and timely implement, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property”.

The next year, the new school board turned down $10 million authorized in SB 129 which again required “Affirmative action by the governing board to continue planning for, and timely implementation of, a school and facility closure and consolidation plan that supports the sale or lease of surplus property.”

FCMAT explains on their web site how the governing power in OUSD was changed by AB 1840:

“Under the provisions of Assembly Bill (AB) 1840 (Chapter 426/2018), the trustee serves under the direction and supervision of L.K. Monroe, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. Assembly Bill 1840 designates FCMAT as the agency to identify and vet candidates to serve as county trustee. The final selection of a candidate for Oakland Unified School District trustee will be made by Superintendent Monroe, with the concurrence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) and the president of the State Board of Education.”

In other words, OUSD no longer under state control is now under county control and their fiscal agent is FCMAT. Many people are wondering if the big push to sell off school properties from both the state and county is not motivated by gentrification and developer profits. It is well known that outside of a onetime cash infusion there are no significant savings associated with closing wholly owned school sites.

Working for the Bosses!

Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) in San Diego County went through a grueling few years. In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members plus district Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. Unlike the previous board that got its financial support from the construction industry, the new board members were all supported by the teachers’ union. This was not greeted enthusiastically by some local political forces.

During their first three years, the district ran harmoniously. In 2018, trouble emerged. There was a transition in leadership within the SUHSD financial team. The CFO, her top assistant and two other members of her small team retired after submitting the budget for the 2018-19 school year. That summer the new CFO, Jenny Salkeld, discovered a $20 million dollar error. She immediately reported her discovery to the district and county.

After receiving Sweetwater’s alert about the accounting errors, the County Office of Education officially disapproved the 2018-19 budget the district had submitted. The reasons for disapproving the budget were the reasons Salkeld had reported.

Apparently someone at the county leaked the budget information to the Voice of San Diego. The district which was in the process of understanding the extent of the problem lost the opportunity. Instead they were faced with a withering public attack in both the San Diego Union and The Voice of San Diego. Headlines implied that a group of incompetent people at SUHSD were incapable of managing their affairs honestly.

Enter FCMAT. SUHSD was forced to pay them $50,000 to have finances reviewed. A preliminary report was delivered that December at a SUHSD district school board meeting. Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry shared,

“FCMAT’s chief executive officer Michael Fine told board members that 302 entries in the district’s accounting system were doctored to create the impression the district had more money than it really did. ‘That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up,’ …”

For weeks, local San Diego TV and Print media were filled with damning headlines like the NBC affiliate’s, “Audit of Sweetwater Union High School District Finds Evidence of Fraud” or the online publication Voice of San Diego’s “Audit Finds Sweetwater Officials Deliberately Manipulated Finances.” Every local news outlet published a story with some version of these headlines. There was speculation that the fraud had to do with a large school bond measure voters had approved and predicted multiple people were going to prison.

The following June FCMAT issued its completed report. It certainly weighed an ‘A’ (my mother’s satirical goal for a college research paper) but was not of great value. By the time the report arrived, SUHSD had already implemented a vast majority of the recommended fixes to their budgeting process. Eventually, the former SUHSD CFO was fined $28,000 for falsely attesting to the accuracy of the budget and the district agreed that they would bring in an independent consultant for any future bond offerings. Ironically, the district had used an independent consultant for the bond offering in question.

This April, the San Diego Union’s Kristin Tanaka reported, “Seventeen of San Diego County’s 42 school districts are projecting that they will spend more than they take in — not just in the current school year, but the next two years — as districts grapple with rising costs and lower enrollment, according to the latest batch of financial projections districts submitted to the county.” SUHSD was not one of the seventeen. The district survived the crisis and still has the same apparently popular school board in place.

It was a similar story in 2003 for OUSD. Then Superintendent Dennis Chaconas realized that the accounting system was dated and needed modernizing. EducationNext reported “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.” Most sources say it was actually a $37 million dollar deficit but still big and shocking.

Ken Epstein shared, “OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.”

Local political leaders like then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and influential state Senator Don Peralta wanted OUSD taken over by the state. They used FCMAT in an effort to make it happen. Online news source Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds:

“Tom Henry, the CEO of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) opposed this plan, and Mayor Brown questioned it heavily. (During a state takeover, FCMAT would be responsible for monitoring the school district’s financial progress.) Phone records later obtained by the Oakland Tribune revealed over 40 phone calls on key dates between Brown, Henry, and Randolph Ward, who would end up in charge of OUSD when it was placed under state control, in the two months before the state takeover.”

During the same period, there were no phone calls to OUSD Superintendent Dennis Chaconas.

OUSD was forced to accept a $100 million dollar loan and taken over by the state instead of paying off the deficit with the $37 million dollars from their construction fund. After almost two decades of state and county control financially supervised by FCMAT, Oakland is still stuck with $6 million dollar yearly loan payments until at least 2026 and the state appointed administrator was allowed to create a new financial crisis.

….

At the very minimum, it is time to reign in and reform FCMAT. They have become an authoritarian lever used by people in power to enact their unpopular agendas. It is supposedly an “Assistance Team” but in reality FCMAT is causing more damage than their “assistance” is worth.