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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. Malachie 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; Malachie 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.

Lessons from NPE Philadelphia

11 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/11/2022

The Downtown Double Tree Hotel where the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference was held has great meeting facilities. Over the May Day weekend of learning and being inspired, it was an easy trek from the five joint sessions in the large room to the six smaller breakout sessions. The difficult part was picking which of the eight panels available in each breakout sessions to attend.

I presented in a Saturday afternoon panel called “The City Fund: Where they’ve Developed and Implemented the Portfolio Model and Where they Hope to Spread it Next.” At the same time there were seven other panels: “Fight against Vouchers in Tennessee”;  “The Constitutional and Policy Pushback against Vouchers and Charters”;  “Gerrymandering, Education and Unaccountable State Legislators” and four more. Even I was conflicted about being in my panel and not being able to attend one of the other offerings.

The conference opened with Diane Ravitch firing up the crowd at 8 AM Saturday morning. For those of us from the west coast that was equivalent to 5 AM. She proposed a new framing of the acronym WOKE as “Wide Open to Knowledge and Enlightenment.” Ravitch continued the theme demanding,

“Let’s reclaim the word WOKE as Public School Activists!”

“Wake UP to Inequity”

“Wake UP to Injustice”

“Wake up & bring LIGHT into our Public Schools”

Following Diane, NPE Director Carol Burris introduced an activist she met when he was in high school and she was a principal, Nikhil Goyal. Today he is education advisor for Senator Bernie Sanders. Goyal demanded a “New Deal for Public Education.” He called for:

  • “$100s of millions for school infrastructure
  • “End standardized testing
  • “End federal charter school investment
  • “Institute restorative justice
  • “Extend the child tax credited paid at 100%”

Goyal also made the point, “we cannot discuss public education without discussing poverty, gun violence, the opioid epidemic and safe housing.”

Privatization is Private Control over Public Goods.

Donald Cohen from In the Public Interest shared his definition of privatization as private control over public goods during his panel. The panel was moderated by NPE co-founder Anthony Cody and included Professor Maurice Cunningham, author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization and Professor Donald Reed co-author with Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. of Getting into Good Trouble at School: A Guide to Building an Antiracist School System.

Professor Cohen contended that what is labeled a public good should be decided democratically and claimed privatization is an assault on democracy. He noted that markets always exclude people.

Maurice Cunningham pointed out that the right has redefined liberty as selfishness. Donald Reed observed that shutting down the ability to learn with movements like anti-CRT is fundamentally an assault on democracy.

The panel presented strong evidence for why resisting the privatization of public schools is fighting to save democracy.

VanCedric Williams is an Impressive Leader from Oakland, California

For more than an hour, Oakland Public Schools Director VanCedric Williams explained the attack on his schools and answered questions. Williams teaches in San Francisco Unified but lives in Oakland. His performance was so impressive that I and others in the room felt we were witnessing the birth of a future star in the struggle to save public education from the looters.

He explained how in 2004 Oakland Unified Public School District had a $10 million deficit but was forced by the state of California to accept a $100 million dollar loan. After a series of four state appointed and Eli Broad trained administrators, Oakland still owes $100 million dollars not to the state but to JP Morgan-Chase their new creditor that they did not choose for a loan they did not choose.

A Surprise Lunch Time Visitor

At 12:30 PM we were all scheduled to eat and listen to a panel discussion moderated by Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dean of Education at the University of Kentucky. Heilig is also an NPE board member. Joining him on the panel was the first female of color to be elected president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Cecelia Myart-Cruz. She is hated by billionaire privatizers and their propaganda organs The 74 and LA School Report. Also on the panel was Adelle Cothorne the former principal of Noyes elementary school in Washington DC who blew the whistle on the Michelle Rhee pushed cheating scandals.

However, before lunch was served the room became stimulated by the arrival of Bronx Congressman Jamaal Bowman. Bowman came to ask us to support his new bill to eliminate standardized testing. He also said, “You cannot have a democracy without having an exemplary public education system.”   

Diane Ravitch, Jamaal Bowman and Carol Burris

The joint lunch session ended with three NPE awards. Dr. Annika Whitfield voice of the resistance in Little Rock who challenges the Walton family in a daily struggle to save that city’s public schools received the first ever Diane Ravitch David award. This year the Phyllis Bush Grass Roots award went to Charles Foster and the organization of pastors in Texas and Tennessee working to save public education. They were preaching to the choir in Philadelphia. Also receiving the Grass Roots award was Stand for Schools Nebraska which has succeeded in protecting that state from privatization including no charter schools or vouchers.

Panel on The City Fund

As the moderator of the panel, I presented an outline of the oligarch game plan for privatizing public education. This outline which was first suggested by Dr. Jim Scheurich and his team came from my article The City Fund uses Oligarch Money to Privatize Public Schools.

  1. Convince the public that business is the best model for running schools.
  2. Develop a huge infusion of new dollars for school board elections. (Dark Money)
  3. Establish unified enrollment for public schools and charter schools.
  4. Undermine teacher professionalism with Teach for America (TFA) or any instant-teacher-certification program and take control of teacher professional development.
  5. Implement Innovation Schools which are an ALEC sponsored method for removing schools from elected school board control.
  6. Develop a funding conduit for national and local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local privatization initiatives.
  7. Co-locate charter schools with public schools using rules that favor charter schools.
  8. Develop a network of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  9. Support gentrification.

The three other panel members were Keith E. Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and adjunct professor at Rutgers University; Gloria Nolan, Interim Parent Liaison for St. Louis Public Schools and a new NPE board member; plus Sarah Sorensen, public school parent and Board Trustee in San Antonio ISD. Each of these panelists told the story of how City Fund is financing the attack on their public schools and running the playbook outlined above.

To date, The City Fund is operating in 14 cities with plans to expand to 40 cities.

Wrapping up Saturday

Session 4 began at 3:40 PM and featured 8 stimulating panels. I attended “The Federal Charter Schools Program: Decades of Damage and Mismanagement.” Among those other panels I would have liked to attend were “The Nebraska Miracle”, “Astroturf Parents Groups” and “Getting the Data Straight: Understanding Public Education’s Great Success.”

The last joint presentation of the day was delivered by Professor Noliwe Rooks who gave a moving presentation about the democratically ignored citizens of Detroit. At least three different times – from 1995 to 2010 – the governor of Michigan overrode public votes for the state not to take over their schools; twice countered by a Republican and once by a Democrat.

The day concluded with a book signing and a mixer.

Steven Van Zandt and the Ashbury Jukes

Sunday morning began with eight more informative panels followed by morning brunch at 9:25 AM. Suddenly there was a stir in the room and a teacher at the table in front of me was absolutely thrilled to see that Diane Ravitch was sitting down on the stage to interview Little Steven.

Steven Van Zandt co-founded the band South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes who subsequently took his writing and musical producing abilities to the E-Street band where he and Bruce Springsteen collaborated on many big hits. He also is well known for his role on the Sopranos, but his social activism and support of public education is much less known.  

On twitter Diane Ravitch afterwards posted, “I wish you had been in Philly to hear the wonderful “Little Stevie” (formerly the EST band and “The Sopranos”) talk about his love for music, kids, teachers, and arts in the schools at #npe2022philly. Everyone loved his enthusiasm and candor.”

These two fighters for justice, Diane and Steven, met at a Los Angeles teachers’ rally during the last strike.

Steven made two remarks that particularly resonated with me: “Teach rock not war” and “teachers are on the front-lines of a war against ignorance.”

Diane Ravitch and Steven Van Zandt

What is going on at TFA

The last breakout session I attend was presented by Julian Vasquez Heilig, Jameson Brewer and Gary Rubinstein. In 2015, Teach For America (TFA) had it largest corps class ever and was enjoying almost uninterrupted good press. That year Heilig moderated a panel discussion on TFA in which then doctoral candidate Jameson Brewer presented his observations of being a 2008 corps member. Since then he and Heilig have published a string of peer reviewed research articles that undermined the propaganda from TFA. It may not be a direct cause and affect relationship but since then the size of the TFA corps classes have continued to be reduced.

Their newest article is Planting Toxic Seeds in Fertile Soil: The Knowledge Acquisition, Achievement, and Behavioral Beliefs Inculcated Into Teach For America Corps Members of Color.” The last five years, TFA has been focused on recruiting teachers of color; however they still inculcate these teachers with “top-down, authoritative, and militaristic in the delivery of curriculum, pedagogy, and classroom management.” The paper states,

“This ideology is wrought with deficit ideologies about the culture of Black and Brown communities, who, drawing from their White Saviors or White ideology, are understood as lacking the appropriate cultural characteristics to end poverty. So, while TFA recruits in the past few years (a small portion of the organization’s overall history) have increasingly been non-White, corps members are still inculcated with these White cultural assumptions and the myth of meritocracy, which are infused into the organization and its vast education reform and policy network.”

The Best For Last

Jitu Brown is a freedom fighter from Chicago and the director of the civil rights organization Journey for Justice (J4J). He will always be remembered as the man who organized the Dyett High School hunger strike which after 34 days led to the end of Rahm Emanuel’s reign of terror for Chicago’s Black community.

In his more than one hour address, he cried from the depths of his life for justice. Jitu told us about setting off firecrackers when he was 10-years-old and having a Chicago cop stick a gun in his mouth. He asked, “Why did we have good neighborhood schools when I went to school but our kids don’t have them anymore?” He noted with disdain, “They want to give kids a laptop and call it education.”

Jitu is not a fan of school choice which he presciently observed was born to maintain segregation. He claimed, “Charter schools have been weaponized to move Black people out of our cities” and also noted that young people of color look to Ella Baker as their model of fighting for justice.

Jitu and J4J are always inspirational at NPE conferences.

Jitu Brown Speaking at NPE Philadelphia

For almost 4-years since our last gathering in Indianapolis, we have been isolated and watching as billionaires got richer while funding the privatization of the commons. Following NPE Philadelphia, I came home happily exhausted knowing that after a rest I would be ready to fight on for public education the foundation of American democracy.

I am inspired by what a diverse group NPE is. It stretches from Charles Foster and a group of Baptist preachers to Jitu Brown and J4J. We have Muslims and Mexicans, Jews and Asians and Buddhists all working harmoniously to save our public schools. This is a model for America.

Happily, I was once again able to take a picture with the great Diane Ravitch. She has not always been on the right side of all things but what makes her great is that she is capable of changing her mind if the evidence demands it. Like her and every other human, I have been wrong on occasion but fighting to save public education is far from an error. We must stop the looters and save democracy.

All picture by Thomas Ultican

My Network for Public Education Conference Experience

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2022

In 2014, the first Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference was held at Austin, Texas. My first conference was the following year in Chicago. That was the year after the late Karen Lewis and the Chicago teachers union decided enough is enough and stood strong against a host of privatizers and education profiteers. Their powerful teachers’ union victory sent ripples of hope to educators across America. That year, Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Mercedes Schneider, Peter Greene, Jennifer Berkshire, Jose Vilson, Jan Resseger, Steven Singer and many other pro-public education activists started dominating social media.

NPE Chicago was held in the historic Drake hotel just up the street from Lake Michigan. When walking into the lobby, I was greeted by Anthony Cody the co-founder of NPE. Steve Singer from Pennsylvania and T.C. Weber from Tennessee arrived just after I did. During the conference, it seemed I met all of the leading education activists in America.

Particularly memorable was lunch the following day. I met Annie Tan for the first time in the hallway heading to lunch and she said let’s get a seat near the stage. So, I followed her to an upfront table. Turned out our table mates included Adell Cothorne the Noyes Elementary school principal famous for exposing Michelle Rhee’s DC cheating scandal. Jenifer Berkshire who had unmasked herself as the Edu-Shyster was also at the table. The Curmugducator, Peter Greene, and his wife were there as was well known education blogger and author Jose Vilson.

It strangely turned out that Greene, his wife, Vilson and I were all trombone players.  Of course, everyone knows that trombone players are the coolest members of the band.

A highlight of NPE 2015 was the entertaining hour long presentation by Yong Zhao. He is an internationally decorated professor of education. Zhao had just published Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

His presentation focused on the harm caused by standards and testing. He also made fun of the concept of being college ready and the recently broached kindergarten readiness. Zhou made the logical observation that it was schools that needed to be ready for children. He also shared what he wanted for his children was “out of my basement readiness.” Zhao claimed that on a recent trip to Los Angeles he met Kim Kardashian in an elevator. He observed that she clearly had “out of my basement readiness.”

NPE 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina

We met in the spring for the 3rd NPE conference. There was some thought about cancelling in the wake of North Carolina passing anti-transgender bathroom legislation. I am glad we didn’t. Many disrespected North Carolina teachers came to our hotel in the large downtown convention center complex to report and be encouraged. It was a great venue and I met more amazing people who taught me a lot.

The Reverend William Barber’s poor people campaign was leading the fight against the kind of cruel legislation emanating from the capital building an easy walk up the street. Barber might be America’s most inspirational speaker. His keynote address fired up the conference.

A major highlight for me was meeting Andrea Gabor. She is a former staff writer and editor for both Businessweek and U.S. News ξ World Report and is currently the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College. Gabor is also one of America’s leading experts on W. Edward Deming’s management theories which are credited with the rise of Toyota among other successes. She was there leading a workshop based on the research she did in New Orleans which eventually led to her 2018 book After the Education Wars; How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform.”

Gabor was an agnostic concerning charter schools when she went to New Orleans. Her experience there gave her insight into how damaging the privatization agenda had become. A New Orleans parent accompanying Gabor described how during her eighth-grade year she was in a class with 55-students. Their room was not air-conditioned and they were restricted to running the fan 10-minutes each hour to save on electrical costs. With the promise of never before seen large scale spending on schools in black communities, residents did not care about the governance structure. It was the first significant spending on education in their neighborhoods in living memory. Now, they have no public schools left and choice was turning out to mean the schools chose which students they want.

NPE 2017 in Oakland, California

In early fall, we gathered at the Marriot hotel in the Oakland flats. The first evening, smoke from the big Napa fire made being outside uncomfortable. That Friday night, KPFA radio hosted an event at a local high school featuring Diane Ravitch in conversation with Journey for Justice (J4J) leader, Jitu Brown. Two years earlier, Brown led the successful 34-day hunger strike to save Dyett High School from being shuttered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. J4J, Bats, NEA, Black Lives Matter at School, AFT, Parents Across America and many other organizations had representative both attending and presenting in Oakland.

When leaving the inspiring session with Jitu and Diane, I ran into San Diego Superintendent of Schools, Cindy Marten. A San Diego teacher carpooling with me had what appeared to be a heated exchange with Marten. However, when Marten was appointed Deputy Secretary of Education by Joe Biden, that same teacher lauded her saying “don’t worry my Superintendent will take care of us.”

We were one of two conventions that weekend at the Marriott. The other was sponsored by the nascent California marijuana industry. When returning to my room in the evenings, the sweet smell of pot wafted down the hallways but as far as I know there were no free samples.

In the main hall, a Seattle kindergarten teacher, Susan DeFresne, put up a series of posters that covered all of one very long wall. Her artwork depicted the history of institutional racism in U.S. schools. Six months later Garn Press published this art in the book The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools.

In Oakland, I saw a new younger leadership appearing. It is also where I met activists, school board members and researchers from Oakland who would become invaluable sources for my articles about the public schools they are fighting desperately to save.

One of our keynote speakers was a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur Genius award, Nicolle Hanna-Jones. Today everyone knows about her because of the 1619 Project.

NPE 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis was a trip into Mind Trust madness and home of the second most privatized public education system in America. Diane Ravitch jubilantly opened the conference declaring, “We are the resistance and we are winning!”

Famed Finish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, was one the first featured speakers. He labeled the worldwide business centric education privatization agenda the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and buttressed Ravitch’s declaration stating,

“You are making progress. The global situation is getting better.”

One of the most visible people at NPE 2018 was founding board member Phyllis Bush. She was dealing with the ravages of cancer and seemed determine not to let it slow her in the least. She had always shown me great consideration so the news of her demise not long after the conference was sad, but in the last years of her life she helped build NPE into a great force for protecting public education.

Last year, I was also saddened to learn that the women with the walker, Laura Chapman, had died. Her research into the forces attacking Cincinnati’s public schools and the spending nationally to privatize public schools made her a treasure. I really enjoyed our breakfast together in Indianapolis and will miss her.

There were many outstanding small group presentations at NPE 2018. One that I found personally helpful was put on by Darcie Cimarusti, Mercedes Schneider and Andrea Gabor. Darcie did significant research for the NPE report, Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools. In her presentation she demonstrated LittleSis a program she used for her research. It is a free database and orthographic mapping facility. LittleSis is viewed as the antidote to “Big Brother.” Gabor and Schneider shared how they search for non-profit tax forms and explained the differences between an IRS form 990 and form 990 PF, the forms non-profits must file.

Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice (J4J) came to Indianapolis with a message:

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights. Only by organizing locally and coming together nationally will we build the power we need to change local, state, and federal policy and win back our public schools.”

J4J shared their #WeChoose campaign consisting of seven pillars:

  1. A moratorium on school privatization.
  2. The creation of 10,000 community schools.
  3. End zero tolerance policies in public schools now. (Supports restorative justice)
  4. Conduct a national equity assessment.
  5. Stop the attack on black teachers. (In 9 major cities impacted by school privatization there has been a rapid decline in the number of black teachers.)
  6. End state takeovers, appointed school boards and mayoral control.
  7. Eliminate the over-reliance on standardized tests in public schools.

Jitu Brown introduced Sunday morning’s keynote speaker, Jesse Hagopian, as “a freedom fighter who happens to be a teacher.”

In his address, Hagopian listed three demands: (1) End zero tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; (2) Hire more black teachers (he noted there are 26,000 less black teachers since 2010) and (3) Teach ethnic studies including black history.

For me personally, I had the opportunity to cultivate deeper friendships with the many wonderful individuals who I first met at NPE Chicago. That included once again speaking with my personal heroine and friend, Diane Ravitch.

#NPE2022PHILLY

I am excited about seeing everyone in Philadelphia, making new friends and igniting a new wave of resistance to billionaire financed efforts aimed at destroying public education.

COVID-19 interrupted our 2020 plan to meet in Philadelphia and interrupted us twice in 2021. This year we will finally have what promises to be a joyful rejuvenation for the resistance.

I do not think it is too late to be part of it. Go to https://npeaction.org/2022-conference/ and sign up for the conference. It will be the weekend of April 30 – May 1.

Relay Graduate School Forced onto DC Black Community

30 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/30/2022

School leaders and teachers in Washington DC’s wards 7 and 8 are being compelled into training given by Relay Graduate School of Education (RSGE). West of the Anacostia River in the wealthier whiter communities public school leaders are not being forced. When ward 7 and 8 administrators spoke out against the policy, they were fired. Two of them Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Marlon Ray, formerly of Boone Elementary School are suing DC Public Schools (DCPS) for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act and the DC Human Rights Act.

Jackson-King and Ray are emblematic of the talented black educators with deep experience that are being driven out of the Washington DC public school system. They are respected leaders in their schools and the community. When it was learned Jackson-King was let go, the community protested loudly and created a web site publishing her accomplishments.

In 2014, Jackson-King arrived at the Lawrence E. Boone Elementary school when it was still named Orr Elementary. The school had been plagued by violence and gone through two principals the previous year. Teacher Diane Johnson recalled carrying a bleeding student who had been punched to the nurse’s office. She remembered students fighting being a daily occurrence before Jackson-King took over.

In 2018, Orr Elementary went through a $46 million dollar renovation. The community and school board agreed that the name should be changed before the building reopened. Orr was originally named in honor of Benjamin Grayson Orr, a D.C. mayor in the 19th century and slave owner. The new name honors Lawrence Boone a Black educator who was Orr Elementary’s principal from 1973 to 1996. 

Jackson-King successfully navigated the campus violence and new construction. By 2019, Boon Elementary was demonstrating solid education progress as monitored by the district’s star ratings. Boone Elementary which is in a poor minority neighborhood went from a 1-star out of 5 rating when Jackson-King arrived to a 3-star rating her last year there.

City Council member Trayon White petitioned Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to rescind the removal of Jackson-King as principal stating,

“I have received many letters, emails and texts from parents and former students regarding this action. I join them in getting answers. I have personally witnessed Dr. Jackson-King’s leadership. Over the past six years, she has transformed Boone into a 3-star school by incorporating new partners and programs. She is not just a pillar at Boone, she is a pillar in the community with much respect from those who know her. … In the words of many, ‘Dr. Jackson-King has led our School Family Community from total chaos to success.’”

Marlon Ray was Boone’s director of strategy and logistics. He worked there for 13-years including the last six under Principal Jackson-King. Despite his long history in the district, Ray was apparently targeted after filing a whistleblower complaint over Relay Graduate School. Ray questioned RGSE’s relationship with DCPS, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. He implicated Mary Ann Stinson, the DCPS Cluster II instructional superintendent who wrote Jackson-King’s district Impact review that paved the way for her termination.

In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that DCPS leadership responded by requiring him to work in person five days a week in the early months of the pandemic while most of his colleagues, including Jackson-King’s replacement Kimberly Douglas, worked remotely. This continued well into the spring of 2021.

In October of 2020, Ray joined with about 30 Washington Teacher’s Union members, parents and students to rally against opening schools before it was safe. Ray reported that he received a tongue lashing from a DCPS administrator for being there and then 2-hours later receive a telephoned death threat. He reports the caller saying, “This is Marcus from DCPS; you’re done, you’re through, you’re finished, you’re dead.”

Ray’s position was eliminated in June, 2021.

Dr. Jackson-King and Ray were not the only ones who experienced retaliation and were ultimately terminated due to opposing Relay. Johann Lee, formerly of Kimball Elementary School and Richard Trogisch, formerly of School Without Walls criticized Relay and DCPS’s COVID mitigation strategy, respectively. They are also both out. Ray says there are others who have not come forward.

Embracing a School Privatization Agenda

George Bernard Shaw noted that, “… the first rule of morals and manners in a Democratic country: namely, that you must not treat your political opponent as a moral delinquent” (Selected Non-Dramatic Writings of Bernard Shaw page 408). Keeping this in mind, I will try not to impugn Mayor Bowser’s integrity. I believe she is sincere in her belief that public schools are failing and that privatization is the cure. It is an illusion that started gaining adherents during the Reagan administration and the next five presidents have continued advancing it.

In Washington DC, the mayor has almost dictatorial power over public education. Therefore, when she becomes convinced of an illusion that falsely claims public schools are failing, there are few safeguards available to stop policy led destruction.

In the chart above, notice that all of the key employees she chose to lead DC K-12 education have a strong connection to organizations practicing what Cornell Professor Noliwe Rooks labels “segrenomics.” In her book Cutting School (Page 2), she describes it as the businesses of taking advantage of separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education to make a profit selling school. Bowser’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennifer Niles, was a charter school founder. Her second Deputy Mayor, Paul Kihn, attended the infamous privatization centric Broad Academy. She inherited Kaya Henderson as DCPS Chancellor and kept her for five years. Kaya Henderson, a Teach For America alum, was the notorious Michelle Rhee’s heir apparent. The other two Chancellors that Bowser chose, Antwan Wilson and Lewis Ferebee, also attended the Broad Academy and both are members of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.

The DCPS web page is quite unusual in that it is close to being a Muriel Bowser campaign organ. A 2018 message concerning the end of Education Week ironically stated,

“Today, Mayor Bowser also announced that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) awarded $1.5 million in grants to five nonprofit organizations to recruit and train more than 250 high-quality new charter school teachers. The Scholarships for Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act Teacher Pipeline Grant awardees are: Relay Graduate School of Education, the Urban Teacher Center, AppleTree Institute, KIPP DC, and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.”

There are four main governing Components in the Washington DC school system: (1) The State Board of Education (SBE); (2) The Office of the State Superintendent of Education; (3) The Public Charter School Board and (4) The District of Columbia Public Schools. The SBE is an elected board with little power to effect policy. The other three entities are all controlled by Mayor Bowser.

The State Superintendent of Education who awarded $7.5 million in public education dollars to five private companies was Hanseul Kang. Before Bowser appointed her to the position, Kang was a member of the Broad Residency class of 2012-2014. At that time, she was serving as Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Department of Education while her fellow Broadie, Chris Barbic, was setting up the doomed to fail Tennessee Achievement School District. In 2021, Bowser had to replace Kang because she became the inaugural Executive Director of the new Broad Center at Yale. Bowser chose Christina Grant yet another Broad trained education privatization enthusiast to replace Kang.

(For a background information on the Broad Academy see Broad’s Academy and Residencies Fuel the Destroy Public Education Agenda.)

Bowser and her team are in many ways impressive, high achieving and admirable people. However, their deluded view of public education and its value is dangerous; dangerous for K-12 education, dangerous for democracy.

“Teach like it’s 1885

The root of the push back against Relay training by ward 7 and 8 educators is found in the authoritarian approach being propagated. NPR listed feedback from dismayed teachers bothered by schemes such as:

  • “Students must pick up their pens within three seconds of starting a writing assignment.
  • “Students must walk silently, in a straight line, hands behind their backs, when they are outside the classroom.
  • “Teachers must stand still, speak in a ‘formal register’ and square their shoulders toward students when they give directions.”

Dr. Jackson-King noted, “Kids have to sit a certain way, they have to look a certain way. They cannot be who they are. Those are all the ways they teach you in prison — you have to walk in a straight line, hands behind your back, eyes forward.”

RSGE does not focus on education philosophy or guidance from the world’s foremost educators. Rather its fundamental text is Teach Like a Champion which is a guidebook for no-excuses charter schools.

Three no-excuses charter school leaders established RGSE. In the post “Teach Like it’s 1885”, published by Jenifer Berkshire, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.”

The Hampton Idea comment is a reference to W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1906 speech at Hampton University in which he called on the Black students to seek academic skills not just technical education.  

In her book Scripting the Moves, Professor Joanne Golann wrote:

‘“Ultimately no-excuses charters schools are a failed solution to a much larger social problem,’ education scholar Maury Nation has argued. ‘How does a society address systemic marginalization and related economic inequalities? How do schools mitigate the effects of a system of White supremacy within which schools themselves are embedded?’ Without attending to these problems, we will not solve the problems of educational inequality. ‘As with so many school reforms,’ Nation argues, ‘no-excuses discipline is an attempt to address the complexities of these problems, with a cheap, simplistic, mass-producible, ‘market-based’ solution.’” (Page 174)

Legitimate education professionals routinely heap scorn on RSGE. Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,

“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”

Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Ken Zeichner is one of America’s leading academics studying teacher education. In a paper on alternative teacher preparation programs focused on Match Teacher Residency and RGSE, he asserted,

“These two programs prepare teachers to use highly controlling pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are primarily used in schools serving students of color whose communities are severely impacted by poverty. Meanwhile, students in more economically advantaged areas have greater access to professionally trained teachers, less punitive and controlling management practices and broader and richer curricula and teaching practices. The teaching and management practices learned by the teachers in these two independent programs are based on a restricted definition of teaching and learning and would not be acceptable in more economically advantaged communities.”

This is the training program that these courageous educators were fired for opposing.

Petaluma Charter School Lessons

23 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/23/2022

A Petaluma Argus-Courier headline read, “Petaluma could soon welcome charter school.” Local prodigy, Gianna Biaggi, had come home to establish the Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL). Biaggi had spent the previous year as a New School Creation Fellow at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. She was exited to use her new training to establish a High Tech High inspired school where she grew up.

Petaluma is a unique community with a lot of appeal. In the 1990’s, I was invited to a celebration of the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival’s 30th anniversary hosted by a Buddhist family in Petaluma. Picked up my date in San Francisco, headed across the Golden Gate Bridge and in less than a 40-mile drive up highway 101 we were there. It would be one of the more memorable evenings of my life.

I met a musician named David Freiberg at the party and asked him what bands he had been in that I might know. David responded, “I was in Jefferson Airplane and Quiz Silver Messenger Service.” I was impressed and his Wikipedia page is even more impressive. He was there with Linda Imperial who currently had the world’s number one solo jazz vocal album. Somehow, I ended up in the kitchen with David and Linda where I asked them to sing the spiritual “Amazing Grace.” They gifted me an amazing a cappella performance.

Petaluma is a community of mostly white liberals. The racial breakdown is 70% White, 1.3% Black, 21% Hispanic, 4.4% Asian and 3.3% other. It is in Sonoma County which has a Democratic Party voter registration of 57.7%, a no preference voter registration of 19.2% and a Republican Party voter registration of 17.5%.

 Gianna Biaggi attended Sonoma High School in nearby Sonoma, California. In her 2013 graduation speech, she spoke of being a part of the Youth Ambassador’s program and how that led to a wonderful three weeks in Paraguay. She also proudly noted, “Through the support of my favorite teacher, Ms. Manchester, I created the Wolf Club, named after Jack’s [Jack London] illustrious nickname, ‘Wolf.’”  She also stated, “With the help of Wolf Club members, Ms. Manchester, and the director of Jack London State Park, I was successfully able to create Jack’s Ambassadors, a program for middle school students that is based off of my experience with the Youth Ambassadors.”

After graduating from high school, Gianna continued down the path of seeking to be of public service and creating for the community. Following earning a 2017 bachelor’s degree in international studies from Kenyon College in Ohio, she won a Samuel Huntington Public Service Award and became an Interexchange Christianson Grantee. That took her to Nairobi, Kenya where she created a community library in the Kibera slums and established Sunflower Fellows, a 4-year literacy and leadership program for low-achieving girls attending informal schools.

Gianna’s story about her time in Africa is really impressive. However, Petaluma is not Nairobi. The US education system is sophisticated and staffed by a huge number of highly educated and experienced professionals. Siphoning money from public schools to create a parallel school system negatively affects public school students. It creates irrecoverable stranded costs that drain per-capita resources.

High Tech High Graduate School of Education

High Tech High (HTH) graduate school of education is in a different category than Relay Graduate School or the training provided by TNTP. Relay and TNTP were created to undermine the role of public universities in training educators and to promote school choice. Both organizations have shallow academic and profession depth. Conversely, HTH graduate school was created to teach HTH teachers the school’s brand of progressive education and it undeniably has academic and professional depth starting with founders Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan.  

For several years Professor Riordan while a faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education led the practicum seminar for Harvard’s student teachers. He has a wealth of education credits to his name. Professor Rosenstock also taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the University of California, Berkeley School of Education. He holds a Juris Doctor from Boston University, and an honorary doctorate from Cambridge College.  It was fascinating to learn that while Rosenstock was at Brandeis University he developed a close relationship with Abe Maslow the originator of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They regularly carpooled to school.

In 1998, Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan were on a team at Harvard that won a large grant from the Clinton administration to design a new American high school. They traveled around the country looking for existing models when a teacher in San Diego got them exited. So they moved there to study his approach and soon after were offered a job to create High Tech High.

At the time, neoliberal thinking was permeating the Clinton administration and America’s business community. The analysis in Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk” was widely accepted as basic fact. Business leaders were convinced public education was failing and market based solutions were the required answer. In San Diego, a 40-person committee of business elites led by Gary Jacobs decided they wanted to create their own independent public school. They contacted Rosenstock for his advice and he explained charter schools.

Gary Jacobs is the former director of education programs at Qualcomm but more importantly, he is the son of Qualcomm founder and billionaire Irwin Jacobs. These wealthy San Diegans knew nothing about education, but perceived no problem with experimenting on other people’s children. They appeared convinced that if they hired the right consultant, they could create something new and wonderful that would lead the way to education reform.

The education model they embraced was similar the progressive education ideas first suggested by John Dewey at the beginning of the 20th century. Problem based education was their focus. It was reminiscent of the experimental school developed by Corinne Seeds at UCLA.

Tufts University Education Professor, Kathleen Weiler, wrote Democracy and Schooling in California: The Legacy of Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds. She shared,

“Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds were nationally recognized as leaders of the progressive education movement and were key figures in what was probably the most concerted attempt to put the ideals of progressive education into practice in a state-wide system of public education in the United States.”

Heffernan was the California Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education between 1926 and 1965, and Seeds was the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA between 1925 and 1957.

Professor Larry Lawrence worked at the Seeds school under Jonathan Goodlad. He observed that when the charismatic Goodlad left in 1987, the school floundered. When Heffernan retired, the progressive education movement in California slowed and reversed. After meeting with HTH founding principal and CEO, Larry Rosenstock, and touring one of the schools, Professor Lawrence concluded that when Rosenstock leaves, the HTH system will falter.

Professor Lawrence also questioned the quality of the school’s math education. A science professor from Southwestern Junior College regularly complained during committee meetings I attended about how unprepared for college academics the incoming HTH students were.

As appealing as progressive education is, there is some reason it has never blossomed.

Magnolia Global Academy for Leaders (MGAL)

In November 2020, the Sonoma Index-Tribune ran the headline, “Local grad to launch new all-girls high school in Sonoma County.” The article began,

“Gianna Biaggi is a Sonoma Valley native and a graduate of Sonoma Valley High School. She is currently a New School Creation Fellow at High Tech High, an education charter school incubator in San Diego.”

Evidently nothing developed with the girl’s school but a few miles away in Petaluma she found a lot of support for her new school idea. It helped that the new Superintendent of Petaluma City Schools, Matthew Harris, is a pro-choice former Teach For America corps member.

Gianna is a well liked local girl. She was able to quickly gather 50-people willing to have their names added to a supporters list on the new MGAL web-page.

Included on the supporters list were Iliana Madrigal-Hooper, Commission on the Status of Human Rights; Dr. Matthew Long, Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma Campus; Dr. Lena MacQuade, Sonoma State University, Women’s and Gender Studies and Rob Riordan, President Emeritus, High Tech High Graduate School of Education. It seems that the main motivation for several people on the list was doing a favor for Gianna.

On August 24, 2021, Gianna formerly submitted her 800 page charter petition to the Petaluma City Schools board. That is when the delusion was pierced. The district staff came back with a powerful rejection recommendation that included:

“The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school.”

“The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.”

“The charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate.”

“The Petition submitted is for the establishment of a district-operated ‘dependent’ charter school. … First, as a dependent, District-operated charter school, MGAL could not legally operate in most private facilities. School facilities for public school districts are highly regulated as to location, condition and safety, and the kind of space available in the local community does not meet applicable legal standards as dictated by the Field Act.”

The board voted unanimously 5-0 to turn down the charter petition.

A Few Observations

One of the major flaws in charter school legislation is that people with minimal background in teaching and administering schools are allowed to petition for charters. This has resulted in horrible schools like KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Yes Prep with their test prep and “no excuses” agenda.

In Petaluma’s case, Gianna Biaggi seems like a well intentioned bright young women but she does not have the experience to start and run a school. However, a dependent charter is an intriguing idea. It is a charter that is created by a school district to operate within and be governed within the District’s family of school options. It must follow all state facility laws. Shouldn’t all taxpayer funded schools be required to provide the same level of safety as a public school?

Deborah Meier has long been an advocate of progressive education and smaller democratically operated schools. In 1974, she founded Central Park East and latter the Mission Hill School in Boston. These very successful programs have made her more open to charter schools because of the possibility for developing smaller progressive schools. It seems like the dependent charter school model could be a path for this kind of development. That explains her willingness to serve on the advisory board for HTH Graduate School of Education. However, she also believes schools must practice and model democracy. She has written, “We can learn a lot from charters about autonomy, but not much about democracy.” (Public Education Page 164)

An illusion underlies the “public education is failing” meme. It has been propagated relentlessly by corporations and billionaires ever since the Reagan administration published A Nation at Risk.” That publication was based on misunderstood statistics and sold a belief that schools were failing. A study at Sandia lab seven years later showed that not only were schools not failing but that they had been delivering steadily improving test results if you compared apples to apples. The whole premise of “A Nation at Risk” was based on misguided bad scholarship.

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.