- Cassy Horton
California Charter School Association
After the forced resignation of former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy, a relative calm had returned to the district. However, just months after the California Charter School Association (CCSA) had paid millions to purchase the School Board in the 2017 elections, chaos had been reintroduced. Newly elected Board President Ref Rodriguez had been forced from his leadership position after being indicted on criminal charges related to his campaign but was refusing to resign from his board seat. With their narrow majority in danger, the “Broad Block” elected Monica Garcia President of the Board and dug in to satisfy the interests of their corporate masters before their inevitable loss of control.
It would be almost a year after his indictment before Rodriguez was finally forced from office. Even an arrest for public drunkenness did not hasten the process. The “Broad Block” made the most of their time, making significant changes culminating with the hiring of Superintendent Austin Beutner behind closed doors, even though he did not have any professional experience in education.
With the departure of Rodriguez, the break down of three charter supporters (Nick Melvoin, Garcia and Kelly Gonez), two supporters of public education (Scott Schmerelson and Dr. George McKenna) and one swing vote (Dr. Richard Vladovic) left the board in a deadlock. The “Broad Block” took advantage of the new circumstance to block the appointment of a temporary replacement for Rodrigez, which left one-seventh of the district’s stakeholders unrepresented for almost a year beyond his resignation.
With this as a backdrop, the LAUSD Board repeated the same mistakes made with Deasy and let Beutner operate without proper oversight. The Superintendent bungled negotiations with the teacher’s union and the district was confronted with a work stoppage. Tensions boiled as he purposefully kept information from some of his superiors on the board. He made an attempt to force elementary schools to choose between keeping their libraries open and other vital services. After the board voted to put a parcel tax on the ballot, the Superintendent broke a promise made to the board and changed the wording from what they had approved before submitting Measure EE to the voters. The measure was voted down, costing the district’s students $12.5 million.
Almost two years after Rodriguez’ arrest the voter’s were finally given a chance to speak and overwhelmingly elected Jackie Goldberg, a strong supporter of public education, to the Board. The two sides were now even. Whichever one could win over Vladovic would gain control.
The LAUSD Board’s first meeting in July is devoted to selecting a new president, making appointments to various boards and setting up a meeting schedule. As this year’s meeting began it was quickly clear how Golberg’s election would change the board. As the representative for Board District One, McKenna had the first opportunity to make a nomination and selected Vladovic. Melvoin nominated Monica Garcia. All of the other board members passed. All but Melvoin voted to approve Vladovic’s nomination and he returned to the Board’s presidency.
The change in direction was immediate. While Rodriguez and Garcia had blocked the creation of committees during their two years in charge, Vladovic moved to reinstate them. This will allow deeper discussions including community involvement for issues like special education and parent engagement. He also stressed that ensuring transparency would be a priority. Goldberg was appointed to the role of Vice President and indicated that she will be introducing a resolution to move some board meetings to evenings.
While Vladovic made it clear in his nominating speech that the elected board sets policies and that the Superintendent is responsible for enacting these policies, little else was said about Beutner during the proceedings. However, events outside the boardroom should ensure that the subject comes before the board members very quickly.
Just prior to the board meeting, the Los Angeles Times released an article entitled L.A. charter school backers’ plan: Take back mayor’s office, sue school district, battle teachers union. The report detailed a confidential memo obtained by michaelkohlhaas.org where supporters of the charter school industry, including Nick Melvoin’s Speak Up organization, discussed how they would “overcome setbacks at the hands of the teachers union.” This included the goal to “Attack UTLA” (United Teachers Los Angeles), the union that represents teachers.
Included in the documents obtained by michaelkohlhaas.org is an email by CCSA representative Cassy Horton that shows that two of Beutner’s senior staffers were coordinating with these same charter organizations in the lead up to the strike. It is also clear from this message that executives from two charter schools met with the LAUSD Superintendent to specifically discuss the districts counter-proposal to the union.
The Superintendent of the LAUSD represents the students of the district, not the charter industry. His only concern with these publicly funded private schools should be to ensure that the district is providing proper oversight and that the district is following the charter law. Since the CCSA was not a party involved in the strike and their schools were not affected, there was no reason for Beutner to be talking with them at all about the ongoing negotiations. The situation was even worse if he were conducting these discussions without the knowledge of his bosses on the school board.
As the current iteration of the board tries to unwind the damage done by the “Broad Block” while they held control, looking at the tenure of Beutner has to be among the first priorities. He was hired under questionable circumstances, has had too many failures during his short time at the helm, and has repeatedly been insubordinate to the Board members who did not approve of his hiring. The students of the LAUSD deserve a Superintendent whose loyalties do not lie beyond the district.
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.