LAUSD food ‘guru’ retires following highly critical report

David Binkle

David Binkle

David Binkle, the embattled food services director for LA Unifed, has resigned from the job he held through last December before he was removed under a cloud of controversy.

Binkle had become a celebrity in the food world the last few years after appearing on talk shows and receiving praise from First Lady Michele Obama for promoting healthier food choices for students. 

But he fell under intense scrutiny after being removed from his post last year as the district launched an investigation into possible mismanagement of his division and ethical breaches.

An internal audit released in July by the district’s Office of the Inspector General concluded that Binkle had violated ethical codes by asking a food contractor to pay for his airfare and hotel accommodations. It also found that the total value of the gifts was $8,831, far above the allowed limit of $100 per year. Binkle also failed to properly report the gifts and to report his ownership of a food consulting business, the audit found.

 

Binkle had become so well known and celebrated the last few years that he was referred to as the district’s “food guru” or “food czar” for guiding LA Unified toward healthier food options, an effort that began in 2011 and continued last year with the the school board’s passing of two “good food” resolutions.

Binkle had continued to collect his $152,000 annual salary since his removal under the district’s so-called “teacher jail” system of sending employees home or to administrative offices with pay while investigations proceeded.

Binkle had previously denied any wrongdoing.

“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office,” he wrote in an email to CBS Los Angeles in February. “I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.”

The resignation took effect on July 31, and the Food Services Division is now under the interim co-direction of Laura Benavidez and Timikel Sharpe. Binkle began working for the district in 2008 and was promoted to the director position in 2012.

The district said it has made changes to correct the problems found in the audit.

“The District has tightened financial controls and revamped the procurement process as a result of the audit. It also halted a vendor-funded marketing program that was harshly criticized in the audit,” LA Unified said in a statement that announced Binkle’s retirement.

California teachers summit attracts 20,000 educators statewide

California Teachers Summit at Pasadena Civic Center

California Teachers Summit at Pasadena Civic Center

In what organizers call the state’s largest teacher training ever attempted, more than 20,000 educators gathered for the California Teachers Summit at 33 sites across the state on Friday.

“It’s so exciting to bring teachers teaching teachers in this unprecedented collaboration,” said Ellen Moir, of the nonprofit New Teacher Center who helped organize the Better Together campaign.

Among the educators speaking were math instructor Andrew Stadel (see his speech below) and Pepperdine professor and poet Thema Bryan-Davis along with actress Yvette Nicole Brown from the TV shows “Community” and “The Odd Couple” and NFL player-turned-astronaut Leland Melvin.

As part of the agenda, teachers sat in groups talking about issues such varied issues as how to punish students using cell phones in class and where to get cheap supplies for the classroom. They discussed Common Core, school gardens, new technology and troubles with principals. A few of them came for the Professional Development points that add to their salary.

“It gives me goosebumps to see so many teachers coming to this on a nice summer day when they could be doing anything else on their last free days,” Moir said. “But we hope this will prevent isolation and burnout among teachers, because it’s such a problem in our profession.”

The summit was organized by the New Teacher Center along with California State University, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities and its member institutions. It was paid for by $3.5 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a group often condemned by teacher unions for its education reform efforts.

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House version of NCLB revise would cost LA Unified $78.7 million

Superintendent Ramon Cortines

Superintendent Ramon Cortines

LA Unified’s chief lobbyist, Edgar Zazueta, told the school board last week that the House of Representatives version of the revised No Child Left Behind bill could cost the district $78.7 million in Title I money for low income schools, which translates to 22.9 percent of its funding.

The board has voted to protest the House bill but has yet to take a stand on the Senate version, which does not include that provision. Superintendent Ramon Cortines said that he will solicit input about how the district should respond to the Senate bill.

“It will no doubt not be everything we want, we will have to see what eventually comes through,” Cortines said.

The two bills, now before a House-Senate conference committee to reach a compromise, are efforts to revamp the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as” No Child Left Behind.” The efforts has been eight years in the making, and significant barriers and compromises remain, Zazueta told the board in his overview.

He predicted that the compromises could take several months, with the biggest issues over accountability, portability and funding. It remains unclear, he said if House Speaker John Boehner would bring the conference bill to the floor for a vote if it would lose a significant number of Republican votes.

In one major difference between the two bills, Zazueta said, the House version would allow parents to opt their children out of tests without penalties to schools. He warned that such action could lead to less accountability of schools, or comparisons across the country.

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Zimmer appoints board’s newest members to lead committees

SteveZimmerLAUSD School board president Steve Zimmer has given the board’s two newest members committee chairmanships.

Ref Rodriguez will be taking over the Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Committee, which was previously run by Bennett Kayser, whom Rodriguez defeated in the June runoff.

Zimmer named the other new board member, Scott Schmerelson, chairman of the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee.

Mónica Ratliff will head the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, which was also once led by Kayser. Ratliff previously served on the committee.

Mónica García will retain her chairmanship of the Successful School Climate: Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee. When students protested the military-grade weapons available to school police at the board meeting last Thursday night, García pointed out that the issue will be taken up at her committee.

Schmerelson was also named as the district’s liaison to the National School Boards Association. Zimmer previously made other board appointments just after being elected to the position last month.

Most of the committees meet monthly, and they are all open to the public.

Caputo-Pearl calls for UTLA dues increase in face of ‘dangers’ ahead

Alex Caputo-Pearl

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, used his state of the union speech Friday night to call for a raise in union dues of $19 a month, an increase he said would enable the union to prepare for future challenges “greater and more dangerous” than those of recent years.

Reminding members that UTLA has not changed its dues structure since 1970, he warned that the current level of contributions would leave the union “bankrupt or dramatically weakened” in the years ahead. 

“UTLA needs to invest in itself the way serious organizations have always invested in themselves,” he told a crowded room at La Quinta, where the union held its annual leadership conference over the weekend.

Then, alluding to the union’s successes of the last year, which included a new labor agreement with LA Unified and successful campaigns in three of four board seat elections, he added, “Let’s be clear, we are a more powerful union than we were a year ago, but we must be a stronger union tomorrow than we are today because the challenges in front of us are greater and more dangerous than they were yesterday.”

Currently, UTLA’s full-time teachers pay $689 a year in dues. Raising them by $19 a month, taking the annual cost to $917, would bring in an additional $8 million for the 35,000-member union.

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Editorial: It is time for California to rethink the parent trigger law

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By The Editorial Board

Five years after California’s parent-trigger law was passed, it has not had the dramatic effect on public schools that its proponents hoped it would. Yet it is already at a crossroads in its young life.

The law, passed in haste in 2010 in an effort to empower parents at lower-performing schools, lets them force dramatic change if half or more of them sign a petition. They might demand the replacement of some or most of the staff or vote to turn their school over to a charter operator. They might even close the school altogether.

Under the law, the parent trigger is an option only at schools whose scores on the state Academic Performance Index fell below the proficiency mark of 800 and that failed to meet their federal improvement requirements, called Adequate Yearly Progress, for several years in a row. The law limited the trigger option to 75 schools on a first-come-first-served basis to see how it played out; at the time, officials expected the number to be quickly met and expanded.

But that hasn’t happened.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Morning Read: How big of a threat to unions is the Friedrichs case?

Is the Friedrichs case an ‘existential threat’ to the teachers’ unions?
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Friedrichs vs. California case next year, giving it a chance to strike down union “agency fees.” Education Next


Neighbors push back against private schools’ plans to expand
Elite private campuses throughout the Los Angeles area are embarking on big-ticket upgrades to satisfy growing demand for cutting-edge education. Los Angeles Times


Promising algebra study gets second act
Researchers working with some 13,000 students in 18 school districts over a three-year period may have solved one of public education’s great conundrums. SI&A Cabinet Report


Chris Christie to teachers union: You deserve a punch in the face
Christie said the union cares only about higher wages and benefits and not about children. Washington Post


Can schools integrate when neighborhoods do?
Parents and educators at a San Francisco elementary school hope their changing community means better times ahead. Hechinger Report


Irvine family seeks lawsuit against school district after son’s suicide
Darrell and Kristi Kirkland allege that their son was driven to suicide after being subjected to “intense verbal and physical bullying by his classmates.” Orange County Register

Commentary: LAUSD board meeting lost in transparency

LAUSD school boardFor more than a year, students, parents, community groups and even LA Unified members, themselves, have demanded greater transparency in how the board conducts the business of the nation’s second-largest school district.

Too often, critics say, the board moves with no apparent effort to broaden the conversation or even allow the public to watch the process unfold, let alone participate.

And now it’s happened again.

Maybe it’s only a small example, but it’s a perfect metaphor that illustrates the sometimes cavalier approach the school board takes to informing the public, thus strengthening community participation, input and trust.

The LAUSD board had a meeting last night — an open session, followed by a closed session. The agenda went up early in the week, along with the reminder that the open session would be televised on KLCS and live-streamed over the internet. Closed sessions remain private.

But when 6 pm came, time to start, screens stayed blank.

No video. No audio. Nothing.

A parent, a student, a community member who might have wanted to see what the members were up to were shut out. And so they missed an update on the federal government’s efforts to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. They missed a flurry of committee assignments.

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Students face LAUSD board, demanding end to military weapons

The LA Unified board endured a long and unusual protest last night as about 50 students demanded specific actions to get military-style weapons out of the hands of district school police.

The students, some of them wearing bullet-proof vests, chanted for 20 minutes at the start of a meeting — “Back to school, no weapons” and “We want justice for our schools” — in protesting the federal 1033 Program, a federal effort that provides school districts with surplus military-grade weapons. LA Unified has been a recipient.

Board president Steve Zimmer let the chanting continue and at one point said, “Let them go on.”

The demonstration inside the board meeting followed two hours of drumming and shouting outside LA Unified headquarters, with students holding signs bearing the face of President Obama and Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Manuel Criollo, a protest organizer from the Labor Community Strategy Center, told the board that he wanted an end to the program, which had given the district a tank, three grenade launchers and dozens of M-16s. The district returned the tank and grenade launchers last fall, but has kept the M-16s. In a June letter the Criollo’s group, Cortines said the district had ended its involvement with the program.

Brillo called for the board to be more public about the weapons and demanded that they be returned.

“It’s ironic that we have surplus weapons but we do not have surplus books,” he said.

Inside, the crowd called out to the only black school member, George McKenna, and he responded by recalling his own experiences with civil unrest while defending the need for school police to be prepared for any occasion in which student safety is at risk.

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LAUSD board votes to request bids for superintendent search

superintendent searchThe LA Unified board voted last night to start the search for a new superintendent by issuing a request for bids to firms that would aide in the selection process.

The move is the first step toward identifying candidates to replace the current superintendent, Ramon Cortines, who has expressed a desire to step down by the end of the calendar year.

The board also voted to promote Sharon Howell to Associate Superintendent for Special Education. Previously an assistant superintendent, Howell will now see a $1 billion program for the 20 percent of students who fall into the program.

 

Survey: Majority of students feel unprepared for college, careers

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By Fermin Leal

More than half of high school juniors and seniors across the country don’t feel they’re ready for college and careers, even though these remain top goals for students, according to a survey released Thursday.

Results from a multi-year College and Career Readiness survey of 165,000 high school students conducted by YouthTruth, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, found that 45 percent of students feel positive about their college and career readiness.

An overwhelming number of students, 87 percent, want to eventually earn a college degree and land a career. But many believe that their schools aren’t helping them develop the skills they’ll need to succeed after graduation.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: AP U.S. history course gets a ‘positive’ revision

Revised AP U.S. history standards will emphasize American exceptionalism
The move comes after significant pushback from conservatives who claimed the redesigned course fpainted American history in too negative a light. Newsweek


San Diego Unified’s had some dark days with solar
Despite its struggles with solar so far, the district is preparing to ramp up its solar footprint with a major investment of bond funds. Voice of San Diego


Parlier Unified board puts superintendent on leave after grand jury report
The report that found the district had misused millions of dollars and made unnecessary purchases. Fresno Bee


New research dogs effectiveness of Head Start
The latest evaluation of the federal Head Start program found positive effects on general reading achievement but nothing more. SI&A Cabinet Report


How the big new education law could cut testing time
The Senate version of the bill contains several amendments aimed at addressing one of the hottest issues in education: standardized testing. NPR


California’s school system ranked 9th-worst in the nation
The ranking is due to low reading and math test results, a high dropout rate and an abysmal score for the student/teacher ratio San Francisco Chronicle

LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s LA Unified school board meeting

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* UPDATED

LA Unified decided not to live-stream any of the meeting.

The LA Unified school board is meeting today at 6 p.m.

The board will first meet in open session before moving into a closed-door meeting, in which the discussion includes how to search for a new superintendent. Only the open session will be live-streamed.

In open session, the members will discuss the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, several committee appointments and the selection of a representative to National School Boards Association.

Click here for the live-stream coverage.

Qualifications for serving on the Alabama ed board? None, apparently

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

For all the criticism they might endure, California education officials are rarely accused of being unqualified for their jobs.

That’s not quite the case in Alabama.

The state’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, is under fire for filling a vacancy on the state’s board of education with someone who lacks any credentials or background in education. As Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss wrote this week, the appointee, Matt Brown, is “a man with absolutely no history of participation or even interest in helping public schools to represent his district on the state Board of Education.”

Brown, 28, a design engineer at the Baldwin County Highway Department, did not attend public schools and has stated that his children will not. His only real connection to education is that he publicly opposed a report thatsaid Baldwin County would need 16-20 new schools by 2040. Brown was the organization’s head at the time, so he was in opposition to his own report, Strauss’ story points out.

Brown formed an organization that successfully defeated a tax proposal that would have helped the county pay for the new schools.

Public education activist Larry Lee wrote in a blog post the appointment “stunned educators” and in a letter to the governor said, “As chair of SBOE you know this body oversees 90,000 public school employees and a K-12 budget of $4.1 billion. The education community does not believe Matt Brown has the knowledge or experience to step into such a role.”

While there has been a lot of opposition in Alabama to the appointment, it is being cheered by the anti-tax crowd. “I don’t think there could be a better choice,” a Baldwin County school board member, David Cox, told AI.com, a website for three Alabama newspapers. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”

Civil rights group unsatisfied with LA school police’s demilitarization

Fight for the Soul of the CitiesSuperintendent Ramon Cortines of LA Unified confirmed in June that the district’s police force has ended its involvement in a federal program that delivered military-grade weapons to school districts. The decision on the so-called 1033 Program came on the heels of President Obama‘s announcement in May that he was severely restricting the parameters of the program.

The response from a local civil rights group, Fight for the Soul of Cities? Not good enough, show us the proof.

And members are planning to express their demands in a protest at 4 p.m. today outside LA Unified headquarters, prior to the school board’s 6 p.m. meeting. The group also wants a review of the history of the program.

As part of The Labor Community Strategy Center, the group says a simple letter from Cortines is not enough to satisfy it. The members want verification that the controversial program — which provides local forces with surplus military-grade weapons from the federal government — has ended.

It also wants a list of the school police force’s current stock of weapons, the destruction or return of some M-16s the department acquired through the program, a declaration from the school board the program has officially ended and any communication the district had with the federal government that could help verify that it cancelled its involvement.

“We still have deeper questions for the LAUSD Board: who made the decision to ask for these weapons? Who approved them? Why did they really truly need them?” the group said in a press release.

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Teachers see diversity lesson in new documentary of old Boyle Heights

A new documentary — focusing on the ethnic mix of Boyle Heights and how the construction of a freeway nearly destroyed the neighborhood — is drawing the attention of educators as a way show how the east LA neighborhood once stood as a monument to diversity and community strength.

“East LA Interchange” debuted at a packed screening at the Downtown Film Festival last weekend. Afterward, the teachers appearing in the film, and many educators in the audience, expressed interest in showing the film to their students.

“I have been overwhelmed with the reaction,” said filmmaker Betsy Kalin who spent many hours in school archives and libraries to piece the story together. “We always knew this could be a great teaching tool even at a national level in social science, ethnic studies, political science and more.”

What drew her to the story was finding school class photographs going back to 1926 with ethnically-mixed students attending Roosevelt High School, Hollenbeck Middle School, Garfield Senior High School and Belvedere Middle School — all LA Unified schools.

Hollenbeck

Hollenbeck student council in 1940s. Photo by Bluewater Media

“People lived next door to each other in the neighborhoods, but it is at these schools where they became friends and they mixed,” Kalin said. Principals and teachers at the schools helped Kalin and her team with the project.

Roosevelt High was nicknamed the “United Nations of schools” because for decades it often had more than 100 different nationalities among the student population, Kalin discovered in her research.

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Last 8 schools set to dish out Breakfast in the Classroom

Breakfast in class (via TakePart)

Breakfast in class (via TakePart)

Overcoming lingering technical and logistical problems, eight remaining LAUSD schools will begin providing free breakfast in the classroom within the first two weeks of the coming school year, district officials said.

That will complete the largest school breakfast program in the nation after more than three years of planning, said Laura Benavidez, project manager for the LAUSD Breakfast in the Classroom program.

Breakfasts served in the first 10 minutes of class were to be completely rolled out by the end of last school year, but problems at the eight schools prevented them from happening, Benavidez said.

“We won’t be hitting all the eight schools with breakfasts on the first day because there’s always so much going on, but it will happen at all the sites during the month of August,” said Benavidez. School starts August 18.

The schools yet to roll out are: Encino Elementary, Van Gogh Elementary, Revere Middle School, Beckford Elementary, Brentwood Science Magnet, Hale Middle School, Vernon City Elementary and Esteban Torres High School.

Now, more than 350,000 breakfasts are being served, compared with the 100,000 breakfasts served district wide before the in-class program began.

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Morning Read: MiSiS won’t be a crisis this year, LAUSD says

LAUSD officials: MiSiS ready for the new school year
While the $133.6-million computer program isn’t fully functional officials said that placing students in the proper classes won’t be a problem. Los Angeles Daily News


BH High’s only black principal settled race case, now wants board seat
Carter Paysinger announced he would retire June 30, move to Beverly Hills and seek a seat on the school board. City News Service


Should body cameras be used in schools?
An Iowa school district plans to have its principals wear cameras to record their interaction with students. Ed Tech Magazine


Number of homeschoolers growing nationwide
As the dissatisfaction among parents with the U.S. education system grows, so too does the number of homeschoolers in America. Education News


Meet the grandmother of America’s best charter schools
Linda Brown is an undeniable force in the movement to create high-performing charter schools. The Seventy Four


Teach to Lead initiative expands opportunities for teacher leadership
Teach to Lead is an effort to improve the quality of instruction and learning in American schools. Education News

JUST IN: Ian McKellen, Hal Holbrook join video to support Esquith

In response to the “teacher jailing” of a beloved LA Unified teacher, Rafe Esquith, acclaimed actors Ian McKellen and Hal Holbrook joined past and present students in a You Tube video to offer their support for Esquith and to show how money spent from his after-school program, Hobart Shakespeareans, benefitted his students.

“It is our response to their request for 15 years of financial records of the Hobarth Shakespeareans,” said attorney Ben Meiselas, who is representing Esquith with Mark Geragos in a dispute with the district. The response was accompanied by a July 28 letter and signed by Geragos, questioning why an outside law firm hired by the district is delving into the school program that was paid for by donations and often by the teacher himself.

Geragos also questioned who hired the firm, Sedgwick, and under what authority is it investigating the financial history of Hobarth Shakespeareans.

In a letter to Sedwick lawyers, Geragos wrote:

“Your letter states that the scope of the investigation has changed, yet again, and is now focused on ‘Mr. Esquith’s compliance with government ethics laws in his actions with the Shakespeareans.’ Your July 20, 2015 letter to the Shakespeareans and your statements concerning Mr. Esquith constitute defamation of character per se. Please notify your legal malpractice carrier that we now intend to include the Sedgwick law firm as a defendant in our action against LAUSD for defamation of character and for aiding and abetting the tortious conduct and due process violations by LAUSD.”

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Report: Fixing CA teacher shortage requires ‘profound shift’ in thinking

teacherAmong the biggest challenges facing California school districts in the coming years is a growing teacher shortage. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has plummeted since 2008, and more than 100,000 teachers are expected to retire in the next decade.

Despite the gathering storm, the state lacks any cohesive strategy to solving the problem, according to a new report from Bellwether Education Partners, a national non-profit that focuses on improving education, especially for high-needs students. The solution would require a “profound shift” in thinking and involve a multi-faceted approach that would bring more cohesiveness to strategies at the statewide and local level, the report finds.

“California has created a highly fragmented approach to teacher preparation, in which teachers receive content training in an undergraduate bachelor’s degree program, followed by pedagogical training in a separate post-baccalaureate traditional or alternative program, and then by completion of a separate induction program once they begin teaching—with little or no integration between these experiences,” the report states.

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