El Camino Real Charter teachers voice strong support for school, meet with union reps; LAUSD makes correspondence public

Sue Freitag drama teacher El Camino

Performing arts teacher Sue Freitag of El Camino Real Charter High School.

A $1,139 dinner at a steakhouse. A $95 bottle of fine Syrah wine. A $73 bill for flowers.

Those charges and others made by staff of a successful charter school were cited this week at an LA Unified School Board meeting and led the district to take the first steps to revoking the school’s charter.

El Camino Real Charter High School, which educates 3,600 students in the west San Fernando Valley, was given a Notice of Violations Tuesday that they must answer by Sept. 23, or the district could hold a public hearing to decide whether to revoke the school’s charter and return it to traditional district school status.

On Friday morning, all of the correspondence between the district and the school that was provided to the school board members was made public as per a request by board member Monica Ratliff.

While some of the school board members seemed outraged about the charges against the charter school in more than an hour of debate Tuesday, many teachers who spoke in support of the school said they felt that the district was being too harsh on the school. Some of them supported the expenses on lavish dinners, even though the district rules wouldn’t allow such practices for their own traditional schools.

“There are some things that need to be negotiated, and that may mean taking you out to dinner,” said teacher Sue Freitag. “I think the district is being unreasonable. Once again, it’s a huge bureaucracy trying to tell us all what to do. Charters are supposed to be independent.”

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Freitag taught at the school for 14 years when it was a district school and after it became an independent charter school. She is also a member of the teachers union, UTLA, and notes that she is making 7 percent more than she did as a traditional school teacher. She said she has been part of the school family for 32 years, going back to being a student there.

“This school has had a pristine reputation in academics and the arts and it hurts me personally to see our reputation under scrutiny,” Freitag testified to the school board on Tuesday. “I question the charter school division as to why these issues were not brought up prior to the school year?” Freitag, who also is in charge of the theater program at the school, said, “I’m here for students, they deserve a safe school environment free of political interference.”

The teachers at El Camino Real will be meeting after school on Friday with UTLA members to discuss the issues with the school. The teachers have a separately negotiated UTLA contract that is different than the one for the overall district.

At Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Richard Vladovic said he sifted through the thousand of expenses of El Camino and asked, “Is it common to ask school funds to pay for a corkage fee? Can you use money meant for the students to pay the price of a bottle of wine? Can they purchase alcohol with school money? … If an LA principal did that, what would probably happen?”

Schools have done that, but they are told it’s against district policy, school officials said. Superintendent Michelle King shook her head and said, “There would be an investigation, and appropriate action would follow. No, we wouldn’t say it’s OK.”

Vladovic added that the school was asked months ago about the charges of “significant meals at restaurants and who attended the meetings and what they were for, and they did not respond.”

Jose Cole-Gutierrez, director of the district’s Charter Schools Division that brought the vote for the Notice of Violations to the school board, said his office noted the “seemingly exorbitant personal and improper expenses” including first-class travel and other expenses into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said the school has “the opportunity to remedy concerns noted” including charges on credit cards charged to the school that includes unauthorized travel expense. Although charter schools run independently, they must still follow some overall district rules and procedures, and their charters are renewed by the school board every five years but can be revoked at any time.

“We noted credit card activity that is still problematic,” Cole-Gutierrez said. “It does not prohibit the use of personal expenses. It discourages it, but does not prohibit it.” He said the district’s charter division asked for clarifications for the past two years.

School board President Steve Zimmer noted that the Notices to Cure from the charter division are common requests, and that the school board doesn’t plan to revoke the school’s charter immediately. Other school board members expressed serious concerns.

“This does not reflect on a great school, I have major concerns,” Vladovic concluded. “Do we treat schools that are still LAUSD property, as opposed to charter schools on independent sites, differently? No, so they are all treated the same.”

Board member Scott Schmerelson, who represents the district where El Camino is located, pointed out that each of the teachers speaking for the school was passionate and said “the charter school is excellent and used to have a stellar reputation.” Schmerelson noted a media interview with a school representative who said there was a lot of money in the school’s treasury and the expenses weren’t of concern.

“You can’t use public money like that,” Schmerelson said. “What bothers me the most is the arrogance, the arrogance, on the news, as if we’re the bad guys. We like the school, I don’t want to revoke the charter, I think it’s a great school. But you have to play fair and have to be fair with public money.”

Schmerelson said he received many emails from faculty members who said they were happy with the school, but unhappy with the administrators who created these problems. “The great majority of the emails I received were for the school, but against the deeds that were done,” Schmerelson said.

Janelle Ruley El Camino attorney

El Camino attorney Janelle Ruley

In the charter school’s own by-laws, it notes that purchases for staff meals must be pre-approved and “each department has a budget of $50/employee/year for meals.”

Janelle Ruley, a charter rights attorney of Young, Minney & Corr representing the school’s governing board, said the school district’s recent action “feels like a bait-and-switch sucker punch.” She said the school board’s actions are unproductive and said the school answered all the questions in a timely manner and changed some school policies.

“Like Charlie Brown kicking a football, charter schools are set up to make compliance mistakes and they’re heavily penalized when they actually do,” Ruley said. She added that the school board action “will expose the district to liability.” Ruley said the school plans to answer all the questions within the deadline, but that didn’t stop the teachers and families from being angry.

Gail Turner-Graham El Camino

Teacher Gail Turner-Graham

Teacher Gail Turner-Graham pointed out that “El Camino takes care of its teachers” with an average salary scale of $90,000 per teacher last year. She said the school increased classes, clubs and extracurricular activities by more than 15 percent and two college counselors are dedicated specifically for college planning and helping students with credit recovery. She said the school has a waiting list of 1,000 students and has “established a lean operating system” even though support staff increased by more than 40 percent.

Softball coach and teacher Lori Chandler said she had taught at the school since 1985 and when they first talked about going charter. “At the time the faculty lacked confidence and a majority was not in favor, but five years ago was very different and the faculty fully supported it,” said Chandler who also graduated from the high school. “That was the very best thing that happened to El Camino Real. Being a charter school means decisions are made at the school level.”

Chandler pointed out the school won 97 awards in the past five years in athletics. She suggested that the district wanted to take back the school because it was thriving so well and had several million dollars in their coffers for retiree benefits. “Perhaps that’s the problem, we are thriving too much,” said Chandler, who devoted 33 years to the school.

Lori Chandler El Camino

Lori Chandler, teacher and alum at El Camino Real.

District officials said they first notified the school of concerns last year, on Sept. 29, 2015 and issued a “Notice to Cure” to explain the irregularities by Oct. 30, 2015.

But the faculty and students didn’t know of the issues at the school until the first week of school this year, according to a science teacher at the school for the past 14 years, Dean Sodek. He said the faculty and parents were surprised and it was like “having a kitchen sink lobbed at us” by the district.

Sodek said the district paid a total of $1.2 million in oversight fees over the past five years to the district. He said the district charter office should offer more assistance to the school. He and other staff members said the district’s actions have shaken up the school.

“Please try to understand our frustration,” said the school’s ‎director of marketing, Melanie Horton. She said the district’s actions were “distracting and scaring our students and staff.”

Dermot Givens El Camino Real parent and attorney

Dermot Givens, an El Camino parent.

Parent Dermot Givens, an attorney whose son Damian got into the school through open enrollment, pointed out that his is one of the 8 percent of African-American families at the school. “It is not an all-white upper-class population,” Givens said, adding that his son is fluent in French, learning Mandarin Chinese and a member of the basketball team.

Marshall Mayotte, the school’s chief business officer, said the district’s report was a result of “sloppy work and false statements.” He pointed out that his name was mentioned 11 times for charges made on an employee business card and he was not at the restaurants that were named.

After the district voted to approve the latest notice to the school, Mayotte said, “We were caught off guard.” He said he didn’t have time to answer the summary of facts before the district made them public. The Los Angeles Daily News conducted an in-depth investigation of the school finances in May that also detailed expenses.

Tensions during the school board meeting grew so tense that board member Monica Garcia ordered: “OK, everybody breathe! Everybody breathe! There is a lot of tension and anxiety out there. What I hear is there is a lot people who support their school and want to see a solution and concern about some behavior came to light at some point. …  What I’m interested in hearing is a conversation of how to fix the issues.”

Scott Silverstein, a newly elected member of the El Camino school board and the parent of a recent graduate of the school, said, “We are more than happy to make the necessary changes.”

Commentary: UTLA head should seek to avert state crisis, not create one

Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLABy Caroline Bermudez

Nearly two years ago, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez posed a question in an op-ed worth revisiting.

Is the L.A. teachers union tone deaf?

Based on a recent speech given by Alex Caputo-Pearl, the head of United Teachers Los Angeles, the answer is a definitive yes.

The juvenile world of heroes and villains Caputo-Pearl described, one where evil corporations and billionaires look to profit from public education while scrappy, earnest underdogs try to stop them, bears no semblance to reality.

Teachers unions in California comprise one of the most powerful political forces in the state.

Rather than admit this, Caputo-Pearl issued a battle cry worthy of a Bugs Bunny cartoon in his speech given at the UTLA Leadership Conference:

“With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for Governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018. There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

What is glaring in Caputo-Pearl’s speech is that aside from mentioning his own two children, the word “children” was said only once. This speaks volumes as to the rationale behind his leadership, a role serving the interests of adults before those of students. Threatening to strike should be an absolute last resort, not the first order of action.

It calls to mind a classic paradox.

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.

The unstoppable force is the rising cost of health care and pensions in this nation. As a result of these sharply increasing costs, LAUSD faces a staggering amount of debt, to the tune of more than $11 billion, that threatens to cripple the entire system because the district is on the hook, per demands made by UTLA, to provide lifetime health benefits and retirement pensions to its employees.

According to a report written by an independent financial review panel that was commissioned by LAUSD, the district owes more than $20,000 per student for unfunded liabilities (see page 44) although per pupil expenditure in California is less than $10,000 per student. Placed in further context, the liability for retirement benefits LAUSD is obligated to pay for is four times that of other large urban school districts. Twenty-seven percent of state funding LAUSD receives goes to paying pension and health care costs before factoring in teacher salaries, school supplies and textbooks.

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UTLA notifies teachers about new media campaign, possible demonstrations

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A recent UTLA demonstration. (Photo: UTLA website)

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl welcomed teachers to the new school year and urged them to get involved in a media campaign for late August, according to a recorded robo-call that went out last night.

In the recorded message by Caputo-Pearl sent out Sunday night before teachers return to school, he complimented teachers for the “amazing people and work in our public schools” throughout the district.

He also said union chapter meetings will be held starting the second week of school that will discuss the unprecedented media campaign and call for possible demonstrations later in the school year. The school district may be involved with a nationwide “walk-in” in October as they did last year.

• Read more: UTLA president’s aggressive 10-point plan for upcoming battles

The UTLA president also repeated his call that “billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda,” talking about wealthy Californians who the union says undermine public schools.

The robo-call is meant for the 31,000 teachers represented in district schools and some charter schools at LA Unified.

Starting late August and running through the month of September, the UTLA public relations campaign will include billboards, posters and online messages that will feature union members, students and parents from the district.

Their social media campaign will use #wearepublicschools. The plan for the campaign is to create a “positive public narrative around the great things happening in our district public schools, featuring educators, students and parents, while beating back the corporate charter narrative and to share our vision for fully funded neighborhood community schools.”

Commentary: LA teachers head is ready to incite a ‘state crisis’ if union demands are not met

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl is the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union that has a long and storied history of discarding presidents elected as firebrands but who reign as defenders of the status quo. Caputo-Pearl seems determined to end that cycle and bring teacher union militancy to the entire state of California.

In a July 29 speech to at the UTLA Leadership Conference, Caputo-Pearl outlined the union’s plans as it readies for the expiration of its contract next year and a gubernatorial election in 2018.

“The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl told an audience of 800 activists. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

While it’s not clear what form a “state crisis” would take, Caputo-Pearl described a series of actions the union will undertake in coming months, beginning with a paid media campaign denouncing “billionaires … driving the public school agenda” and a “massive” political mobilization to ensure the November passage of Proposition 55, which would extend a 2012 measure that raised taxes on high-earning residents to fund schools.

UTLA will then set its sights on the next Los Angeles Unified School District board elections.

“We must face off against the billionaires again in the School Board elections of 2017, and WE MUST WIN,” Caputo-Pearl said, explaining that the next board would vote on a new contract. The union needed to help elect a board that would resist a “vigorous campaign to cut our benefits” by district leaders, he suggested.

But Caputo-Pearl isn’t content to shape LAUSD’s agenda. He hopes to organize the entire state.

“All of the unions representing LAUSD workers and the teachers unions in San Diego, San Bernardino, Oakland and San Francisco share our June 2017 contract expiration date,” he said. “We have an historic opportunity to lead a coordinated bargaining effort across the state.

“Coordinated action could dramatically increase pressure on the legislature and fundamentally shape the debate in the 2018 Governor’s race.”

Caputo-Pearl stopped short of calling for a multi-city teacher strike, but pointing to a common contract expiration date that enabled “coordinated action” put it on the table.

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UTLA president’s aggressive 10-point plan for upcoming battles

AlexCaputo-Pearl

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

The president of the LA teachers union, UTLA, outlined an aggressive plan for the coming year during a speech on July 29 at the 2016 UTLA Leadership Conference at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

Predicting that LA Unified will look to cut UTLA’s health benefits in 2017, along with other coming battles, Alex Caputo-Pearl said that “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.”

Caputo-Pearl then walked through a 10-point action plan aimed at achieving strike readiness and advancing the union’s agenda between now and early 2018:

  1. Media campaign  UTLA plans on launching its first paid media campaign in years starting this month. The campaign will use billboards, signs, bus benches and more aimed at pressing an anti-charter school agenda. “This is a major intervention in shaping the public narrative, and there will be a key role for you in amplifying the media campaign through social media,” Caputo-Pearl told the crowd.
  2. Prop. 30 extension — The union will organize to help pass an extension of Proposition 30, now called Proposition 55, which seeks to extend the temporary personal income tax increases approved in 2012 on incomes over $250,000 for 12 years to be used for education and healthcare funding.
  3. Contract preparations — Caputo-Pearl said in preparations for the 2016-17 contract re-openers, UTLA leaders will engage hundreds of members in school-site dialogues about what priorities the union should have in the talks. He said some issues, like class size and salary, are already on the agenda, but other issues like the district’s ability to reconstitute schools, standardized testing and restorative justice implementation could also be prioritized.
  4. Anti-charter agenda — The UTLA president also outlined an agenda aimed at taking on independent charter schools in the district and the state. “This fall, we will build a community forum here in Los Angeles with Senator Ricardo Lara, chair of the Senate Appropriations committee,” he said. “The hearing will look specifically at the fiscal report on the impact of charters on LAUSD. It will look at changes to state law that will be necessary if we want to protect the civic institution of public education from insolvency.” He also talked of a plan to coordinate efforts with other teachers unions in the state that will also be entering contract negotiations soon.
  5. Organizing — UTLA will be launching a coalition in the fall with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the LA Alliance for a New Economy, and the Schools LA Students Deserve Grassroots Coalition to “bring parents, youth, clergy and community into efforts to push for community schools, public school accountability and educator unionization,” Caputo-Pearl said.
  6. Contract priorities — In the winter, Caputo-Pearl said UTLA “will initiate a systematic process to identify priorities for our full contract bargaining in 2017-18, through school site chapter meetings and collective surveys, and through input from committees. We will sunshine demands and plan for escalating actions as we head towards the expiration of our contract,” as well as develop coordinated bargaining for UTLA-represented charter schools.
  7. Training — Caputo-Pearl said UTLA “will continue our tradition of providing trainings and ongoing support for school site organizing and contract enforcement, from taking on bad principals, to organizing for effective school discipline programs, to holding administrators accountable to the contract, and more.” He added that additional money from a recent dues increase has been used to hire more staff to help achieve this.
  8. Social justice — As a way to stand for racial and social justice, Caputo-Pearl said UTLA will be “organizing for infusions of resources into our highest-needs schools. In a time of unprecedented wealth inequality, this is the right thing to do. It is also the strategically smart thing to do, because in the absence of a pro-active approach to these school communities, Broad-Walmart will target these schools for privatization, leading to a further undermining of the entire system.”
  9. Board elections — Caputo-Pearl said UTLA is already endorsing LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer for reelection, as he faces off against Nick Melvoin and any other challengers that may enter the race. “We expect the billionaires to come hard after Zimmer again and we have to be ready. On top of this, the composition of the school board will be up for grabs as board districts 2 and 6 also have elections,” Caputo-Pearl said.
  10. More money for political action — Caputo-Pearl said UTLA will encourage its members to invest in its political action fund, PACE, in preparation to fight the Great Public School Now plan — which he calls the Broad-Walmart plan due to it being funded partially by the Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation — and to fund school board candidates UTLA endorses.

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Internal document shows LA Unified disputes some findings of UTLA-funded study on charter schools

UTLA released its study on the fiscal impact of charter schools on May 10.

UTLA released its study on the fiscal impact of charter schools on May 10.

Six weeks ago LA teachers union officials told the LA Unified school board that independent charter schools were costing the district about $500 million each year.

School board member Monica Ratliff called on Superintendent Michelle King to provide the board an analysis of the union-funded study on independent charter schools from which the figure was derived. But the board has met as a full body at least four times since the report was released and has yet to discuss the report publicly. The board meets again today.

A district spokeswoman has been unable to say when the board will discuss the report.

An internal district document obtained by LA School Report shows that district officials have disputed some of the findings of the union’s study.

The union’s report was immediately criticized by district staff and others, as both inaccurate and an attempt to divert attention from far larger drains on the district’s finances. District officials were directed to refrain from commenting officially.

After LA School Report obtained the interoffice correspondence, King released a statement. The interoffice letter, dated June 14, was written by the district’s Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly, Associate Superintendent Sharyn Howell, who oversees special education, and Jose Cole-Gutierrez, director of the district’s Charter Schools Division.

“The information that both our labor and charter partners have brought to the forefront regarding our financial situation is informative, valuable and appreciated,” King’s statement reads in part. “Our team will continue to scrutinize these reports as we create strategies for a successful future and the growth of a variety of high-achieving schools.”

The California Charter Schools Association issued a 10-page response to the UTLA study a week after it was released and sent it to King and members of the school board. The group called the union’s report “riddled with inaccuracies.”

“It draws sweeping and often irresponsible conclusions based on limited information and obsolete data,” the CCSA said.

An initial analysis by the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the district’s bargaining unit for middle managers, also found inaccuracies in the report.

UTLA said in a statement in the days after the report was released that it stood by its data used in the study and said the information was provided by the district.

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LA education leaders react to Great Public Schools Now’s plan to expand successful schools

MonicaGarcia2The much-anticipated Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) plan to expand successful schools in the Los Angeles area was released today, and education leaders are weighing in.

GPSN says it will fund the expansion and replication of successful schools in 10 high-needs neighborhoods, including charter schools, magnet schools, pilot schools and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools — and not solely charters, as a controversial early draft plan stated.

Reaction has come in across a wide range of viewpoints. Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the LA teachers union, offered up the harshest criticism of the new plan so far.

Here are reactions from some key education leaders in California and Los Angeles:

“This new plan is a public relations move meant to distract from the original proposal, which was greeted with widespread condemnation. It’s clear by the group’s new pro-charter board of directors that the goal remains the same—to rapidly expand unregulated charter schools at the expense of neighborhood schools. It is deeply irresponsible for this group to continue to pursue its agenda in light of the recent report that showed the unchecked growth of charter schools is having a devastating impact on funding for the schools that most LA students attend. We can’t let the majority of our schools starve so that a few privately run schools can do well.

“Instead of defunding and deregulating our neighborhood schools, we must invest in sustainable community schools that support student learning and address issues of access and equity. UTLA is working with parents and community members to fight for investment in schools. Our recent contract agreement makes significant strides for our students and our classrooms, sets a foundation for more improvements to public education in Los Angeles, and addresses equity for our highest-needs students.” — Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA 

 “As a product of the Los Angeles Public Schools, I was able to get a strong college preparatory education, attend college at 16 and graduate in four years. Today, with a college education more important than ever, every Los Angeles student deserves the same opportunity that I had. But not every school gives students the preparation they need for college admission and graduation that affords them the opportunities that a college education provides. That is why UNCF (the United Negro College Fund) supports Great Public Schools Now’s commitment to finding what works in public education and ensuring that college is attainable for every child in every neighborhood—not just some children in some neighborhoods. Because, as we say at UNCF, ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste.’” — Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund

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Judge issues mixed rulings in unionization struggle between UTLA and charter school operator Alliance

AlexCaputo-PearlUTLA

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

*UPDATED

A California Administrative Law judge has issued a number of rulings in the year-plus legal battle between Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and the LA teachers union, UTLA.

Friday’s rulings on several complaints that were brought to the California Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) were mixed, with some in favor of the independent charter school operator and some in favor of the union.

In a sign of how contentious the struggle between the two organizations has been, both issued news releases claiming victory. Alliance called the rulings a “major win,” and UTLA said the rulings showed Alliance “repeatedly and illegally violated teachers’ rights.”

Alliance operates 27 independent charters in LA Unified, and Alliance’s management has for more than a year been resisting an attempt by UTLA to unionize its teachers.

Judge Kent Morizawa‘s rulings dismissed a number of complaints that UTLA had brought accusing Alliance officials of making coercive and threatening statements to its employees in a series of official communications. But he also found that Alliance officials had unlawfully denied UTLA organizers proper access to two schools and unlawfully denied UTLA access to its email system when it redirected a union email to teachers’ spam folders. He also found that an Alliance official made a coercive statement to a teacher by implying that the teacher’s views on unionization could impact her official evaluation.

“The email and campus access have long been a non-issue. UTLA has had access to Alliance emails for more than a year and has access to Alliance campuses,” Alliance Chief Development and Communications Officer Catherine Suitor said.

She added, “We admitted the singular statement of one principal was ill-advised – and not a reflection of Alliance policy in any way. The principal is no longer at the school. We agree with judge that no one should feel coerced or intimidated.”

The rulings order Alliance to cease and desist from blocking emails or UTLA access to its schools. A news release from Alliance focused on the rulings in its favor, including that official communications from Alliance leaders to its employees about UTLA were not coercive.

“In a major win for Alliance College Ready Public Schools, Judge Morizawa with Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) rejected UTLA’s claims of coercion and dismissed the union’s attempt to block the Alliance’s First Amendment rights to communicate with their employees,” the release stated. “This important decision has deemed that Alliance has, in fact, acted in good faith and lawfully during the prolonged unionization effort. After reviewing Alliance’s communications with its schools and staff—the Judge shared an opinion that Alliance has been sharing accurate information that is within its legal boundaries.”

UTLA focused its release on the rulings in its favor.

“Alliance has been ordered to ‘cease and desist’ its illegal behavior,” said UTLA attorney Jesus Quinonez in a statement. “That’s not a ‘major win,’ as Alliance management tried to claim in an internal communication to employees. It is a finding of fact that the executives of this company have violated the law by interfering with the rights of teachers and school employees.”

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State lawmakers approve audit of Alliance schools’ use of funds in battle with UTLA

California Senator Tony Mendoza

California Senator Tony Mendoza

The California Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted Wednesday to audit Alliance College-Ready Public Schools over the charter management organization’s use of funds in its unionization conflict with the LA teachers union, UTLA.

Alliance operates 27 independent charter schools in LA Unified. The organization’s management has for more than a year been resisting an attempt by UTLA to unionize its teachers.

The audit was requested by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who wrote in a letter to the committee that he wants to determine if the public funds Alliance receives were used to “advance student achievement and improve the quality of educational programs” and were not used to resist unionization, which Alliance would have to use privately raised funds for.”

“Alliance schools are publicly funded,” Mendoza said in a statement. “The purpose of those funds is to educate children inside the classroom – not to intimidate teachers and parents.”

The audit also will look into matters beyond Alliance’s finances, including if information about Alliance parents, students and alumni was shared in conflict with confidentiality laws.

An Alliance press release characterizing the audit as politically motivated pointed out that Mendoza does not have any Alliance schools in his district and also is a former board member of UTLA. Mendoza represents District 32 in the eastern area of Los Angeles County.

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Commentary: Does LAUSD want to protect children or a bloated bureaucracy?

MonicaGarciaScottSchmerelson

LA Unified school board members Monica Garcia and Scott Schmerelson

By Peter Cunningham

Across America, parents are demanding more and better educational options for their children while teachers unions and bureaucrats desperately fight to retain their monopoly over public school students.

The latest front in the war against charter schools is in Los Angeles, where a study funded by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) tallied up the financial impact of the district’s 221 charter schools.

The union’s analysis concluded that charter schools cost the district more than half a billion dollars—but nearly all of it was the per-pupil money that followed 100,000 students to their chosen independent charter school.

Notably, the analysis did not include the 53 unionized charter schools in Los Angeles, suggesting that the real motivation behind the study is to protect unionized jobs, at the expense of the education of the children of Los Angeles. UTLA has embraced the findings of the study and is urging the school board to consider the financial impact on the district before granting any more non-union charters.

The essential problem with the UTLA study is that it is designed to bolster a false argument—that charter schools are siphoning money from traditional public schools. Charter schools are public schools, serving the same students with the same tax dollars and they are held accountable to the same—and often tougher—performance standards. Arguing that public charter schools take money from traditional public schools is like arguing that a younger child deprives an older child of parental attention.

• Read more: Contrary to UTLA study, LAUSD makes money from charters

In Los Angeles, parents aren’t interested in protecting a bloated bureaucracy or preserving a steady flow of union dues. They want schools that prepare their children for success, and they are voting with their feet. LA Unified has more charter students than any other district in the country, making up 16 percent of the district enrollment. Over the last decade, the number of LA charter schools has more than tripled.

The same holds true for parents nationwide. A 2015 poll of 1,000 public school parents conducted by Education Post found that 65 percent agreed that, “Public charter schools offer parents in low-income communities options for quality schools that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.”

Only 35 percent of parents agreed with the union’s argument that, “Public charter schools take resources and high achieving students away from traditional public schools.” The pro-charter numbers were even higher among African-American and Latino families, who overwhelmingly make up the Los Angeles student population.

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LAUSD makes money from charters, contradicting UTLA-funded study, documents show

SchoolBoard28

Tuesday’s school board meeting while the union report was delivered.

* UPDATED May 13

As district officials and other analysts pick apart the UTLA-funded study released Tuesday that claims that independent charter schools drain half a billion dollars from LA Unified, the district’s own numbers show LA Unified actually makes money from charters.

The first finding of the 42-page union-funded Cost of Charter Schools report states that the revenue collected from charter schools does not cover the annual budget of the district’s Charter Schools Division.

But that’s not what the district’s own numbers reveal.

In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division. That report, presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee by Charters Division Director Jose Cole-Gutierrez, showed that the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charter schools brings in $8.89 million while the annual expenses of the division’s 47 employees including their benefits total $8.37 million.

The UTLA report puts the indirect administrative costs of the division at $13.8 million, including the cost of the square footage of space used in the Beaudry headquarters by the staff, janitorial costs and time managing and investigating charters that could be spent on traditional schools. These costs, it states, are not supported by the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charters that is used to fund the district’s charter schools division.

The UTLA study notes the district doesn’t charge the charter schools the full 3 percent it says they could charge for the 56 schools that are located on district sites. That could result in an increase of $2 million for the district, it says. School board member Monica Ratliff pointed out at Tuesday’s board meeting that many of her constituents ask why the full amount is not collected from the charter schools.

The report was immediately criticized by district staff and others, as both inaccurate and an attempt to divert attention from far larger drains on the district’s finances. District officials have been directed to refrain from commenting officially, but they are planning to respond to the report as early as a special school board meeting planned for Tuesday to discuss the budget.

An initial analysis by the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the district’s bargaining unit for middle managers, also noted that the district’s own figures for its charters division contradicted those in the UTLA report. AALA reported that a district official said the number of charters contracting outside the district for special education — and the ensuing financial impact — was vastly misrepresented in the UTLA report. And it questioned whether UTLA was reading the regulations on charter fees correctly and whether the district could charge charters a full 3 percent.

“The report is full of glaring inaccuracies,” the California Charter Schools Association stated in a email. “It mischaracterizes how special education is funded, it ignores millions of dollars that charters pay to the district for facilities, and it guesstimates the staff time of hundreds of district employees, among many other distortions and false conclusions. We’re encouraged that the district will be scrutinizing the report to assess its accuracy. But what’s especially frustrating is that this report totally ignores the most important part of public education: student learning.”

It added, “When it comes to the district’s finances, the elephant in the room is the $13 billion in unfunded post-employment benefit liabilities that places LAUSD in the unenviable position of having to make very hard decisions in the months and years to come. It’s of course no surprise that UTLA’s report made no mention of that issue; they’d rather blame everyone else than offer real solutions for the district’s complex financial problems.”

The UTLA report comes as the district is facing a potential $450 million deficit within three years due to declining enrollment and increasing fixed costs, including pension costs, legal liability and other post-employment benefits.

The report was but together by a Florida-based consulting company, MGT of America, and Susan Zoller, a former teacher and administrator who compiled the report, presented it to the school board on Tuesday.

UTLA spokesperson Anna Bakalis said in a statement, “The data used in the MGT report came directly from the district. We stand behind the figures as given to MGT. We are glad this financial impact report has sparked a dialogue about these issues, and look forward to finding out more ways to address the findings that were laid out in this report.”

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Commentary: UTLA says ‘unmitigated’ charter growth hurts LAUSD? Inconceivable!

The Princess Bride

By Michael Vaughn

The Los Angeles teachers union just spent $82,000 on a report that concludes that the thousands of Los Angeles families who are choosing to send their children to charter schools are costing the LA school district a half-billion dollars annually.

The report “doesn’t fault charters,” according to the LA Times, “saying that the problems have more to do with state and federal policies as well as district decisions.”

The union’s “analysis” of the report, not surprisingly, does blame charters: “Unmitigated charter school growth limits educational opportunities for the more than 542,000 students who continue to attend schools run by the district, and … further imperils the financial stability of LAUSD as an institution.”

So, let’s get this straight. Report concludes: Bureaucratic system is broken. Union’s analysis and solution: Charters are messing with our system! No more charters!
The union really likes that word—“unmitigated”—when talking about charter growth, which has quite a Princess Bride ring to it.

• Read more: Contrary to UTLA study, LAUSD makes money from charters

Charter growth in California is mitigated by a long, onerous application and approval process. It’s mitigated by performance contracts—the “charter” agreements—that must be approved before a charter school can open and that need to be re-approved every five years. But more importantly, charter growth is mitigated by families and their choices. If families don’t choose to send their children to a charter school, it is quite neatly mitigated away. Charter schools need people to sign up for them, or they don’t exist. It’s quite an efficient system of mitigation.

The problem that charters are presenting to the union is that lots of families in Los Angeles are signing up for charter schools, which generally are not unionized.

So LA families are seeking out charters in droves because they clearly found a charter school that is providing a better public service than what they were getting in the traditional LA school system. The LA union pays $82,000 to learn, allegedly, how that system is inefficient in funding schools. And instead of then analyzing the report and focusing on ways to mitigate the system’s inefficiencies and improve service, the union screams that we must mitigate parents’ choices to protect the system.

It’s prioritizing the system over service to families. And it’s a slap in the face to the families who are choosing charter schools, as LA parent Leticia Chavez-Garcia writes about here.

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UTLA-led rally at Castelar Elementary puts charters in crosshairs

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Parents, students and teachers rallied Wednesday at Castelar Street Elementary School in Chinatown.

About 200 parents, students and teachers rallied Wednesday morning outside Castelar Street Elementary School in Chinatown as part of a “walk-in” calling for lower class sizes at LA Unified, increased staffing and more accountability for Prop. 39, the law that gives charter schools the right to use empty class space at district schools through a process called “co-location.”

Several TV news crews were on hand for the demonstration, which saw parents, teachers and students march around the block hoisting banners and chanting before walking into the school. There were no speeches or news conference.

The choice of Castelar as a focus for media attention was no coincidence, as parent leaders at the school recently stopped a planned co-location of a charter school there.

“With the threat, the defunding of public education and then also the co-location effort, with Metro Charter School wanting to take over so-called extra space, this community was in an uproar, the parents were in an uproar. And it doesn’t make any sense to them,” Arlene Inouye, who is treasurer for UTLA, told LA School Report. “So they rallied together and have been front and center in protesting the ability of the charter schools to do that.”

The walk-in was part of a national effort organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, with protests and rallies going on in cities around the country. UTLA took part in a similar national walk-in day on Feb. 17. The Alliance said rallies were planned in 80 cities Wednesday as part of the Reclaim Our Schools protest.

According to Inouye, there were rallies planned at 150 LA Unified schools Wednesday, although it is unclear how many schools were the site of rallies. Because a focus was on co-locations, more than 500 charter parents signed a letter addressed to UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl asking him to stop the event out of concern for protests happening in front of students. “We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all,” the letter said.

Caputo-Pearl was not present at the Castelar event. A UTLA notice did not specifically say that rallies were planned at co-locations, and according to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), only one unidentified charter school was the site of a demonstration.

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UTLA to protest at schools this week; hundreds of charter parents object

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The charter parents’ letter set up in UTLA’s lobby. (Credit: CCSA)

UTLA is helping parents organize protests on May 4 at schools throughout the district, and in a letter more than 500 charter school parents are asking to stop it.

The Reclaim Our Schools protest is part of a nationally scheduled demonstration for Wednesday, and UTLA says 80 cities and counties have signed up to rally against a proliferation of charter schools.

The national group, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, issued a statement explaining: “As public schools are increasingly threatened by a view of education that supports privatization, zero-tolerance discipline policies, less funding, and high-stakes standardized tests, AROS is fighting back with a broad vision of American public education that prioritizes racial justice, equity and well-resourced, world-class, public community schools.”

The national organization has schools from Pulaski County, Ark., to Tomahawk, Wis., ready to protest before school on Wednesday and then have the students and teachers walk in to the school to begin classes as scheduled. The organizers said they are objecting to “a national movement to Reclaim Our Schools from privatization efforts that will bankrupt public education, we will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district.”

Meanwhile, in front of the UTLA offices, an enlarged letter from charter school parents asked that the teachers union stop the protest. The letter was signed by 527 charter school parents and was put out for display at various entrances of the offices on Wilshire Boulevard.

“We are asking you to stop,” said the letter directed at UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl. “You plan to stage demonstrations at charter schools sharing campuses with district schools. If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies. We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all.”

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Students, educators rally for public education across LAUSD

As part of demonstrations taking place at schools around LA Unified and in cities across the country, a group of roughly 100 protesters made up of parents, students, district leaders and politicians gathered outside Hamilton High School Wednesday morning to rally in support of public education.

“Every day at this school I’m exposed to someone with different experiences,” said senior class president Brittany Pedrosa. “The cultural diversity makes it so beautiful.”

Pedrosa’s fellow students talked about being at Hamilton with special needs, or in special programs like music, arts or Arabic language, with teachers and counselors who help them even after hours. They also talked about having class sizes of more than 40 students and not having enough resources. One student talked about coming over from Mexico at 6 years old with her sister.

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl

“I remember coming home from school with my sister surrounded by my uncles helping me with English homework. Those were the hardest years of my life,” said Jessica Garcia. “Now I will be the first in my family to go to college.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the LA teachers union, UTLA, said that 40 cities throughout the country and 170 schools at LAUSD alone were participating in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools demonstrations.

“I just got off the phone with the people in Chicago and this is happening all over the country where we are highlighting great programs in sustainable neighborhood community schools,” Caputo-Pearl said. “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.”

Caputo-Pearl was talking about the non-profit Great Public Schools Now program, which was started by the Broad Foundation and has announced a plan to expand the number of charter schools at LA Unified. Megan Baaske, representing Great Public Schools Now, was at Hamilton observing the event and handing media a statement saying, “Great Public Schools Now is an effort dedicated to expanding high-quality public schools, not privatizing them. We hope to work constructively with any group that shares our deep desire to improve education in Los Angeles, and we support all communities who are rallying for better schools.” Continue reading

20,000 expected to ‘walk in’ at LAUSD schools Wednesday morning

Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLA

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

More than 20,000 parents, students and teachers in LA Unified are expected to stage a “Walk-In” before school on Wednesday orchestrated by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools to protest charter expansion and call for greater investment in public education.

“We have coordinated this with the school district and the superintendent’s office,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which is leading the LA part of the nationwide protest.

In fact, Superintendent Michelle King will be attending one of the demonstrations at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles along with school board president Steve Zimmer and vice president George McKenna as well as American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The purpose of the demonstration, they said, is “to fight back corporate privatization and stand up for fully-funded public education; to reclaim the promise of public education in LA.”

Specifically, their mission is to protest the proposed Greater Public Schools Now (GPS Now), which plans a major expansion of school funding and an increase in charter schools for the area. “We reject Broad-Walmart’s plan to undermine LAUSD,” according to the mission statement. “We call on Broad and the Waltons to pay their fair share in taxes to support quality schools that serve all students.”

King issued a statement saying, “Great progress is taking place in our classrooms and schools, thanks to the thousands of talented and dedicated teachers in LA Unified. The United Teachers Los Angeles ‘Walk-in’ will take place before the start of the school day on Feb. 17, allowing our employees to celebrate their success without disrupting the teaching and learning process. We are grateful to our teachers and join with them in recognizing their pride and enthusiasm for their work.”

UTLA’s website included a sign-up list and offered information tools and flyers to print out at the 70 school sites.

The flyers they plan to hand out to parents, staff and community members state, “We stand together—parents, educators, students, school staff and community organizations—to send a strong message to policymakers and billionaires like Eli Broad that public education is NOT for sale. We are reclaiming our school and committing to work in solidarity to ensure that our school serves the needs of its community.”

Maria Palma was incensed when her child brought home a flyer asking her to attend a meeting after the demonstration at the San Jose Elementary and Highly Gifted Magnet School in Mission Hills. She complained to her school principal and district representatives.

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UTLA mails voting ballots asking members for dues hike

UTLA big red tuesdayAlex Caputo-Pearl, president of the LA teachers union, UTLA, has been warning for months of “dangers” ahead, imploring his members to dig deeper in their pockets to fight them. He will soon find out if the message resonates among the union’s 35,000 members, now that ballots have gone out, asking for a $19 monthly raise in dues.

Ballots were mailed on Jan. 15 and the counting begins on Feb. 10, with an announcement of the results expected shortly after.

The call to raise dues — by roughly 30 percent — was announced by Caputo-Pearl during his state of the union speech in August, and he has spent the last several months pushing hard on members by painting the struggles ahead as nothing less than a fight for UTLA’s existence.

“Our union is facing an unprecedented web of attacks that threaten the survival of public education and the educator union movement,” he wrote in the September issue of the union newsletter.

The threats Caputo-Pearl cites are coming from all directions — local, state and national.

Locally, LA Unified is threatening to slash health benefits to teachers as a means to deal with a coming budget deficit, while a massive charter expansion plan could also decimate UTLA’s membership.

Statewide, signatures are being gathered for a November ballot initiative that would eliminate defined benefit pensions for new public sector employee. This means new employees would contribute to 401(k) retirement accounts, which are “riskier,” according to UTLA. There is also the pending Vergara v. California appeal that, if upheld, essentially would make it easier to fire teachers and not require seniority to be considered during layoffs, among other blows to teacher job protections.

Nationally, the Friedrichs v. CTA, which was argued earlier this month before the U.S. Supreme Court, threatens public unions’ right to collect dues from nonmembers as part of their employment.

To make the case for the hike, Caputo-Pearl and his leadership team have pointed out that UTLA members pay low dues compared with other large teacher unions. According to the December issue of UTLA’s newsletter, members pay $63 per month, $41 less than New York City teaches pay and $40 less than nearby Pasadena teachers pay.

 

UTLA taking aim at ‘Broad-Walmart’ plan in national ‘walk-in’

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UTLA protests outside of The Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles.

The LA teachers union, UTLA, is planning to take part in a national “walk-in” event on Feb. 17 set to take place at schools in at least 30 cities, including Los Angeles.

The walk-in is being organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national group of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups whose stated goal  is “fighting for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities.”

The walk-in, according to UTLA’s website, will involve UTLA members, parents and students gathering outside of their school, “then they all walk into their schools together building solidarity amongst our members as they will feel the power of collective action. Walk-ins build relationships. Walk-ins build power. Walk-ins build hope!”

The website adds: “This action to RECLAIM OUR SCHOOLS will push back on the privatizing agenda and call for greater investment in public education and justice. UTLA is leading the local effort for this nationwide action by tailoring the walk-in to the needs of each school while also keeping in view the need for fully-funded and resourced public education.”

In his monthly column in the the UTLA newsletter, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the walk-in locally will have several agendas, including  show of opposition to the Great Public School Now initiative to expand charter schools in LA Unified. Due to the involvement of philanthropist Eli Broad and members of the Walton family, UTLA constantly refers to the initiative as the “Broad-Walmart” plan.

Caputo-Pearl wrote that the walk-in “is strategically aligned to influence the debate in the national presidential primaries. We will be making history as we move forward our local struggles in support of community schools and against Broad-Walmart—and make these struggles immensely more powerful by placing them in a national context.”

Broad charter plan faces heavy attack at LAUSD board meeting

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Jackie Goldberg declares war outside the school board meeting.

* UPDATED

The Broad Foundation plan to expand charter schools in LA Unified made an ominous debut before the LA Unified board yesterday as one opponent after another ripped into it as unwanted, unnecessary and destructive to the district and public education in general.

The widespread attack came in several forms after the board postponed voting on a resolution from Scott Schmerelson that would put the board on record as opposing the plan. The delay enabled the board to adjourn earlier so the members could reconvene their private discussions on finding a new superintendent.

“We have been here since 8 in the morning and will be meeting until about 11 tonight, not that I’m asking you to have sympathy,” said school board president Steve Zimmer, explaining to the audience why some resolutions were being delayed.

While no one from the Broad foundation or its offspring now developing the plan — Great Public Schools Now — was invited to speak, the effort was a target all day, illustrated in stark terms by former school board president Jackie Goldberg as she addressed a coalition of community organizations at an anti-charter rally outside district headquarters. “This is war! We need to do battle right now,” she said. “We don’t have the money, but we have the numbers, we have the people!”

Those remarks echoed much of what transpired inside the building, where one of the first orders of business was nine union leaders representing employees of the district, standing together and telling the board, “we affirm out commitment to the resolution,” as Juan Flecha, president the administrators union, put it. The group included Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the teachers union, UTLA, which has emerged as the staunchest opposition group to the GPSN plan.

Later, the board granted Schmerelson 10 minutes for a parade of supporters to speak, starting with several students from Roosevelt High School, who referred to the “Broad-Walmart plan,” a sure sign that their remarks were scripted by UTLA, the only group that consistently describes the effort in those terms.

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LA Unified’s union leaders unite to oppose Broad charter plan

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Leaders of LAUSD unions unite against charter plan

Leaders of the nine unions that represent teaches, administrators and other staffers at LAUSD stood before the district board today to express a united front against the Broad foundation plan to create more charter schools in the district.

Flanked at the podium by the union leaders, Juan Flecha, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), told the board, “All of us and our respective unions see this single passion for public education and commitment for the district.” He expressed disappointment that school board member Scott Schmerelson‘s proposal against the Broad plan had been postponed until January in deference to more time needed to continue the search for the new superintendent.

Flecha said the union leaders stand in “support of the motion and it is important for the incoming superintendent to know where we stand, and we look forward to have the board pass it.” He added that he saluted Schmerelson’s braveness to bring the issue before the board.

Schmerelson issued a statement only hours before the school board meeting saying that “I remain extremely concerned about the issues outlined in the revised resolution, Excellent Public Education for Every Student, and I am grateful for all the input I have received about the future of our public schools.”

Flecha also took the time to salute outgoing superintendent Ramon Cortines, saying, “I want to salute and thank Ramon Cortines and honor him. His efforts have been heroic and his ability to listen and act accordingly is admirable.”

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