“The strike that nobody wanted is now behind us.”
– Austin Beutner
When I predicted that the charter industry’s recapturing of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board would bring a level of chaos not seen in the district since the days of the iPad debacle, the MiSiS Crisis and other John Deasy disasters, I had no idea how quickly this would occur. Within months of taking control, Board Member Ref Rodriguez, a former charter school operator, was under criminal indictment. Before he could be forced from office, he and his cohorts operated behind closed doors to hire Austin Beutner as the new Superintendent. The country’s second-largest school district would be led by a man whose resume was filled with failures and lacked any professional experience in the field of education.
As 2019 began, the effects of this chaos were in full swing. Rodriguez was gone, but his cohorts had blocked the appointment of Jackie Goldberg as a temporary replacement, leaving one-seventh of the district unrepresented. The charter industry had also blocked a proposal to put a parcel tax on the general election ballot, depriving the district’s students of needed funding. Their allies in the Los Angeles County Office of Education then threatened a takeover of the district based on manufactured warnings of impending economic doom. Beutner had botched negotiations with the teachers union and a strike was a near-certainty. Board Member Nick Melvoin seemed to relish this possibility, claiming that the teachers would strike for a couple of days to “get it out of their system” and then bow to the district’s demands.
Beutner and the majority knew that if they were going to keep schools open without teachers in the classroom, then they would need adults to watch them. Without the time to vet volunteers properly, they changed the rules in the days leading to the strike so that these protections could be bypassed. The district also attempted to block special education teachers from joining the strike by claiming that they could not keep these children safe if the courts did not intervene. After losing their case, they announced that schools would remain open even if student safety was jeopardized.
Any hopes that the board members supported by the charter industry had that full classrooms would bring a quick end to the strike were quickly dashed. The vast majority of parents refused to send their children to schools without the teachers present and many joined them on the rain-soaked picket lines. The brand new Facebook group, Parents Supporting Teachers, rapidly grew to almost 25 thousand members. The district was forced to settle with an agreement that reduced class sizes, enacted a plan that will eventually return school nurses to all school sites and ensured that all secondary schools will have librarians.
It quickly became clear that the momentum of the strike would have lasting implications. Ignoring the false argument by the California Charter School Association that the resolution would close existing charter schools, the board asked Sacramento to place a moratorium on new charter schools. Melvoin was the only holdout. The charters were able to hold on to power for a little longer when Goldberg missed winning 50% of the vote in the primary election for the seat Rodriguez had vacated by the narrowest of margins. However, just a couple of months later, she overwhelmingly won the general election. Public school advocates were back in control of the LAUSD Board.
Unfortunately, much of the damage done when the charter proponents still held control was not wiped away that easily. The public showed their mistrust of a bureaucracy with a history of missteps and sent the flawed funding measure, Measure EE, down to defeat. Once again, public school students would pay the price for the mistakes of adults.
Sacramento also seemed to miss the message sent by parents during the strike and watered down a promising set of charter school reforms. Most significantly, the governor negotiated a compromise that eliminated a provision that would have prevented unelected county boards of education from overriding local school boards that rejected charter school petitions. This will allow schools like the North Valley Military Institute to continue operating on LAUSD school sites even after the Charter School Division provides a clear case of why their charter should not be renewed.
The teachers’ union, UTLA, continued to build on the momentum of the strike by continuing to apply pressure on behalf of the students of the district. Children with special education needs were at the forefront of “State of Denial,” a report that they co-authored with the California Teachers’ Association. This study confirmed that charter schools serve a lesser percentage of these students than their public school counterparts, especially in cases of moderate to severe disabilities. The result is a financial drain on the district as it struggles to provide these costly services.
As the year comes to a close, the district will no longer be under the oversight of the Independent Monitor under the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree. While this will remove a layer of protection that has existed for decades, it will also allow for a new conversation about how these services are provided. This is especially important for parents of children with the most severe needs who were often left out under the previous agreement.
As noted by the Los Angeles Times, “the last few months have been a period of ‘relative calm’”, but that stability may be jeopardized by the upcoming elections. Every one of the seats being contested is held by a public school supporter, meaning that a clean sweep is needed to hold control. Just one loss could mean a return to the chaos of the past.
A quick flashback of the stories that I covered during the past year:
The charter industry hides behind children when it comes time to go through the renewal process for their publicly funded private schools.
Superintendent Austin Beutner holds the ultimate responsibility for dragging the LAUSD through an unnecessary strike.
In a School District currently defined by the fight between public education and privatization, both sides put everything on the line. Was it worth it?
Unable to provide proper oversight over the charters already operating under its authority, the LAUSD considers hitting the pause button.
The newly revealed lobbying contract with Sebastian Ridley-Thomas isn’t Beutner’s first dance with scandal-plagued former state assemblyman.
Confronted by the state with a list of 22 low-performing charter schools, will the LAUSD School Board take action to shut them down?
Is a central figure in LAUSD’s pre-strike propaganda efforts set to get rewarded for her participation?
Austin Beutner gets caught actively keeping information from some of his bosses on the School Board. What is he hiding?
Parents are caught unaware as Darth Beutner quietly launches a plan that could close the libraries in some LAUSD elementary schools.
Board President Monica Garcia and Vice-President Nick Melvoin both make reference to a Rules Committee that has not held any public meetings. Where is the transparency in the LAUSD?
The Community Preparatory Academy charter school was allowed to operate for two years while being past due on $82,240 in LAUSD invoices.
How can schools designed to serve children with specific needs be judged by the same criteria as those serving the general population?
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner ends his plan to defund some elementary school libraries next year as Jackie Goldberg takes her seat on the Board of Education.
Ten months after their representative pleaded guilty to a felony and resigned, the residents of Board District 5 are finally represented again.
Opponents of Measure EE are spending over $1 million to defeat a parcel tax that will fund local education. Is LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner helping them?
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner presented a parcel tax resolution without getting input from the public. The voters rejected his proposal.
Granada Hills Charter High School not only requires incoming students to attend a summer program, but they also make it as inconvenient as possible for incoming students and their families.
The charter industry loses its grip on the LAUSD School Board’s Presidency. Is the oversight of Superintendent Austin Beutner next?
Los Angeles County will make drastic changes to the way people vote in 2020. One of them will greatly benefit candidates who are flush with cash.
One charter school cancels its plans to open while another has its records seized by the feds. Both schools have drained badly needed funds from LAUSD students.
Newly released documents confirm what has long been speculated: the charter school industry is running Nick Melvoin’s office.
It appears that there was a mole in the boardroom as the LAUSD defended itself against a lawsuit from the charter school industry.
When the LAUSD tried to improve accessibility to school buildings for children with Special Education needs, they were sued by the California Charters School Association. A school board member helped them with that suit.
In the majority, charter school supporters had little respect for the minority. With the roles switched, Nick Melvoin demands collaboration.
For almost a century, the Field Act has successfully protected public school students from earthquake damage. Charter schools are exempt.
The LAUSD is allowed to appoint a representative to each charter school governing board. The Board needs to step up and make this happen.
Three years after their principal resigned in disgrace, El Camino Real Charter High School still refuses to release records that show how public funds were allowed to be used for private benefit.
Confronted by evidence that the charter school industry is not fully serving children with special education needs, will the LAUSD act?
Nick Melvoin’s plans for an exclusive new middle school include displacing children with special education needs from Fairfax High School.
Students at North Valley Military Institute claimed they were victims of “abhorrent child sex abuse”. Was anyone listening?
One school demands payment to access records while another stations armed guards at a board meeting. Both continue to receive public funds.
I would like to take this time to thank Nicole Thiroux-Petersen, Cindy Petersen and Sari Rynew for being demanding editors. The coverage of the widening Nick Melvoin scandal would not have been possible without the discoveries made by Michael Kohlhaas dot org. Matthew Kogan originally uncovered the North Valley Military Institute lawsuit.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the 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.