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?

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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

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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-Guttierez, 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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Judge grants injunction against big LAUSD charter in battle with UTLA

AlexCaputo-Pearl

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction yesterday against Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the latest development in the effort by the LA teachers union, UTLA, to unionize Alliance teachers.

The injunction, which was sought by the California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), follows a temporary restraining order the judge issued in late October when he ordered Alliance to cease activities that PERB and UTLA claimed were blocking the unionization effort.

The injunction is another legal blow to Alliance, which is LA Unified’s largest charter organization with 27 schools and around 700 teachers who are currently not represented by any union. After PERB sided with UTLA, the union won the restraining order, and PERB took the rare legal step of going to court itself against Alliance, filing a formal complaint in August.

Alliance officials have made no secret of their opposition to its teachers’ unionizing and have maintained that their actions are legal. Alliance spokesperson Catherine Suitor asserted that PERB and the court based their rulings on inaccurate information provided by UTLA and that UTLA is using delay tactics in court because it has not garnered the support of a majority of Alliance teachers.

“The filing of unfair labor practices is a standard tactic in labor organizing, particularly when efforts are not accelerating at a rate deemed acceptable by union leaders,” Suitor said today in a statement to LA School Report. “Despite an intense year-long unionization campaign, the majority of Alliance teachers have shown no interest in allowing UTLA leadership to speak on their behalf.”

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Charter group tells LAUSD board contribution process was lawful

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Eli Broad

The executive director of the state charter schools political action committee sent an email to the LA Unified school board and other district officials yesterday, offering a sharp response to a story in the Los Angeles Times that was highly critical of the group’s campaign finance reporting practices.

“I am reaching out to you to ensure that you have the facts, which are sadly neglected in this article,” wrote Gary Borden, executive director of California Charter School Association Advocates. “Unfortunately, the Times has decided to turn common and fully legal electoral practice into ‘gotcha’ politics. The article simply does not reflect the reality or the integrity of our electoral practices.”

The article highlighted how donors to a political action committee who funneled millions of dollars into this year’s LA Unified school board races were “shielded” from having their identify revealed until after the May 19 election. The donors included high-profile charter school supporters, including Eli Broad, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Carrie W. Penner of the Walton family.

At issue was the fact that donations were made to a Sacramento-based PAC, which then gave the money to a Los Angeles-based PAC that supported the election efforts of three CCSA-endorsed candidates. The article points out that if the contributions had been made directly to the local PAC, the donors’ names would have been revealed before the election.

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UTLA urging teachers to fight Broad plan with ‘success’ stories

EliBroadUTLAprotestIn a recorded robo-call sent out to teachers last night, seven UTLA leaders encouraged them to attend the LA Unified board meeting next week and relate positive things that are going on in their schools.

The union leaders, led by president Alex Caputo-Pearl, took turns encouraging teachers to remind the board that great things are happening all across the district, with Caputo-Pearl saying, “We’ve seen failures, and hundreds of successes that have not made the news.”

They cite the new effort by the Broad Foundation to expand charter schools in Los Angeles and, as one said, “Our enemies will take every chance they get to tell the world about our district’s shortcomings.”

The union leaders mention that the board will be deciding about “picking a fight” with the Broad plan, a reference to a resolution from Scott Schmerelson that urges the board to go on record opposing the charter plan.

The union leaders ask the teachers to stand up and briefly discuss “something you take pride in going on at your school, something that is right.”

For teachers can’t attend the board meeting, the union has posted on its website a section called “Stand Up for Our Schools,” where teachers can send photos and write stories about successes in math, science, family night events, cultural themed events and class projects.

At the bottom of the site, there’s a link that goes to the personal email of each board member and starts with: “Dear School Board Member, I am a teacher at (enter school name). Attached are some photos of the great things happening at our schools. I urge you to recognize, be proud of, invest in, and stand up for our school. None of these innovative programs were brought to you by billionaires.”


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Schmerelson revises anti-Broad measure — but unanimity uncertain

ScottSchmerelson1Scott Schmerelson has revised his LA Unified board resolution that attacks an outside group’s plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district. A majority of the seven board members has expressed opposition to the plan.

But a shift in mission from the group — Great Public Schools Now, supported by the Broad Foundation and others — combined with the changed language in the resolution, suggests it might be more difficult for him to achieve a 7-0 vote from a board that includes several members supportive of charter schools.

The resolution will be voted on at the Dec. 8 board meeting. It is largely symbolic because state law provides school boards only a limited ability to deny legitimate charter applications.

In the resolution he introduced last month, Schmerelson called for a declaration that the school board “opposes the Broad Foundation plan.” It now says the board “stands opposed to external initiatives that seek to reduce public education to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares while not investing in District-wide programs and strategies that benefit every student.”

But officials of Great Public Schools Now say they have revised their plan to include investing in some traditional district schools, including pilots, magnets and other high-performing schools with large numbers of children receiving free and reduced-price lunch.

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Charter group expanding mission to include support for LAUSD schools

Anita Landecker

Anita Landecker

In what would appear to be a strategic shift, the organization leading an effort to open more charter schools in LA Unified now intends to expand its mission to support traditional public schools that serve low-income children.

The organization, incorporated as Great Public Schools Now, is an outgrowth of a plan by the Broad and other foundations to create enough new charter schools to serve half of the district student population within eight years.

The foundations’ initial plan, articulated through a draft proposal over the summer, did not include consideration of investment in traditional district schools. But the plan now under development has been widened to include a goal of investing in pilot, magnet and other   high-performing district schools that have large numbers of children receiving free and reduced-price lunch.

“In one of the early meetings, the idea was raised, and people said, ‘Definitely, let’s do it’ “ said Anita Landecker, the interim executive director of Great Public Schools Now. “I don’t know how yet; it hasn’t been worked out, but there is an interest in helping high-quality schools that serve low-income kids.”

The willingness of the group to invest in district schools comes in some measure as a response to widespread criticism of the original Broad plan. Opponents, including members of the district school board and the LA teachers union, UTLA, have attacked the proposal as dangers for public education that would cost the district programs and jobs and leave half the student population with inferior assets.

Board President Steve Zimmer, perhaps the most critical of the seven board members, dismissed it as a “some kids, not all kids” plan that he would fiercely oppose.

Landecker described the new approach as an effort that would blunt some of the criticism even as the major thrust of the effort remains adding charter schools to satisfy the growing public demand for them and reducing the long lists of students on waiting lists to get in.

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LAUSD unions silent over financial report predicting trouble ahead

AlexCaputoPearl

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

Spending cuts. Layoffs. Early retirement packages. Reductions in benefits.

These needs, which were among recommendations made by LA Unified’s independent Financial Review Panel on Tuesday, are the kind that would make any union leader lose sleep. But three full days since the doom and gloom report was presented at the LA Unified school board meeting, with recommendations that would hit the district’s employees hard, the unions have had little if anything to say about it — even after several board members described the need for an all-hands-on-deck collaboration to forestall financial instability.

Messages seeking comment from three of the district’s largest unions —  those representing the teachers, administrators and staff workers — produced only a response from SEIU Local 99, a statement that does not suggest it agrees or disagrees with the financial panel’s conclusions.

The union leaders had an early opportunity to respond. After the presentation, board President Steve Zimmer invited the district’s labor leaders to make any comments. Only Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the teachers union, UTLA, accepted the offer, but he used the opportunity to attack the Broad Foundation‘s proposed charter school expansion plan due to the big impact it would have on district enrollment.

Declining enrollment is one of the reasons the panel foresees a loss of revenue in the coming years, and while the Broad plan would hit the district’s enrollment in an enormous way, the panel’s report does not take it into consideration. Even if the Broad plan were cancelled tomorrow, the panel’s dire financial predictions remain.

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Lesbian teacher suing LAUSD for $12 million over discrimination

judgeA former LA Unified teacher is suing the district for $12 million, claiming it failed to protect her from abuse, harassment and discrimination because she is a lesbian.

Cathy Figel taught physical education at Marina del Rey Middle School for 13 years and claims to have endured anti-gay language, anti-gay graffiti scrawled in her work area; exclusion from some school activities, vandalism to her car and physical abuse by a student.

Though the lawsuit was filed in September of 2014, Figel has been seeking publicity recently, issuing a press release about her case through her law firm and also granting an interview to KCAL.

“To be exposed to anti-gay language is a challenge because, as a lesbian, when I first hear it, you know, emotionally I am angry,” Figel told KCAL. “I was supervising the locker room, and it was something to the effect of, you know, gotta watch that lesbian is looking at us.”

Figel claims the district and the LA Unified school board did not respond to her complaints and that she was encouraged not to openly identify as a lesbian. She also claims she was transferred to another school, which she views as a retaliatory action, and she eventually retired.

In statement to LA School Report, a district spokesperson said, “The District is committed to ensuring a hostile-free work environment for all employees. The District does not agree with the allegations or characterization of its actions, and is therefore vigorously defending this lawsuit.”

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Panel conveys dire warning, LAUSD board seems to get message

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The front row are members of the Independent Financial Review Panel

An independent Financial Review Panel yesterday detailed drastic measures that LA Unified must take to remain afloat in what school board President Steve Zimmer calls a “perfect storm” of financial trouble for the district.

“There’s a fiscal cliff that is immediate if different decisions are not made,” warned Bill Lockyer, the former California attorney general and state treasurer and one of the all-volunteer panel that made the group’s presentation to a full house in the school board meeting on Tuesday.

“You will be out of $600 million by 2019,” said another member of the panel, Darline Robles, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education. “You will have to rein in certain expenditures.”

And Maria Anguiano, the vice chancellor for Business & Finance at University of California, Riverside, said the loss of 100,000 students over the past two years in the district means that the LAUSD staff should not be growing like it has, and that “10,000 lay-offs would be about level for the 100,000 loss of students.”

But the drama of the exchange was not so much the bad news the panel members were delivering, including strong recommendations to make across-the-board spending cuts — the board members were well aware it was coming. Rather, it was the board’s apparent sense of urgency to deal with it and the district’s labor partners utter silence when offered the opportunity to comment.

“Sacrifice will be much more important here than strategy,” said board vice president George McKenna. “What are we going to give up for the children?”

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