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The Fate of McKinley Elementary School

This article is a follow-up to a previous post describing just how closely woven into the fabric of California’s public education system the privatizers have become.

Dora

Steve Barr is the CEO and founder of Greendot, Inc., a charter school franchise. It is his idea to have as many Greendot, Inc. charter schools as possible in the United States if not beyond in the coming years. To achieve this goal, he and Ben Austin who was hired as a consultant by Greendot, Inc.  have created what Ben Austin terms “The Parent Trigger”. In California it is now law, thanks to Mr. Austin and company, that if 51% of parents sign a petition demanding that their school be “turned around”, then the district must begin the process of taking drastic measures as required per the edicts of Race to the Top to reorganize the school. The options are either to fire 50% of the school staff, replace the principal, close the school or transform it into a charter school.

This affiliation that Steve Barr and Ben Austin have to each other has been downplayed and in fact, according to the Daily News:

The Parent Revolution, which has close ties to Green Dot public schools, a large charter management organization in Los Angeles, is working with parents around Mount Gleason and believes that the school could be among the first to be reformed with the new law.

However Austin denied playing anything but an advisory role in the parents’ decision to organize.

“We’re not orchestrating…. It’s very patronizing to think that we would be making these kinds of decisions.”

But as Kenneth Libby asked in an article regarding Ben Austin on his blog Schools Matter:

“Shouldn’t Austin also mention that he pulled in $94,475 in 2008 as a private “consultant” for Green Dot? It all makes me wonder: is Green Dot a candidate for running the school in the near future?”

And from Sharon Higgins’ blog, The Perimeter Primate:

The “Parent Trigger” and its connections to the phony LA Parents Union, Green Dot, Steve Barr, and Eli Broad

Originally conceived in Los Angeles by Steve Barr’s (of Green Dot) Los Angeles Parents Union, and largely funded by the Broad Foundation, the “Parent Trigger” has spread east, and here and here. This is an initiative where if enough parents can be convinced, pressured, and tricked to sign a petition, a school will be closed down and replaced with a charter. On each Form 990 from 2005 to 2008, Steve Barr is listed as the CEO/President of the LAPU board.

Eli Broad contributed nearly 50% of the funding for the launch of the LAPU (formerly the Small Schools Alliance, aka the Parent Revolution). The money he supplied helped pay for the propaganda to make it seem like the movement is being generated by “the people,” when in fact it is a carefully planned, targeted marketing campaign designed to wipe out the public schools.

It is most important to know is that this organization is not grassroots; it’s astroturf!

An absolute lie is being spread that it was “developed by the grass-roots group Parent Revolution in the Los Angeles Unified School District.’ The lie is that group was not a grassroots group by any means. Danny Weil explains its true astroturf nature. Community members in LA have even stated that they were offered monetary compensation [by Green Dot] in exchange for their signature on a petition.

You can go to The Perimeter Primate for the full article. It’s well worth reading.

Then Ben Austin and company decided to try out their new law on an unsuspecting school in Compton, California, McKinley Elementary School. This would be the first school in that district to be turned into a charter school.

Through various means, they approached parents and convinced them to sign a petition to “transform” McKinley Elementary School.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in an article titled Effort to Convert Compton School to Charter Draws Fire

Cynthia Martinez, (center) PTA President and parent of a student at McKinley Elementary School in Compton along with other parents in opposition to a Charter program.

“Some are withdrawing signatures given under the ‘parent-trigger’ law to make a school a charter, saying they were intimidated or misled.”

“They told me the petition was to beautify the school”, said Karla Garcia whose two children attend McKinley. “They are misinforming the parents so I revoked my signature”…The school’s PTA held two meetings Thursday in which parents said they had been harassed or deceived into signing…Other parents said that they were told if they didn’t sign, the school would close or they would be deported.

It was reported in the LA Weekly Blog:

Hundreds of Angry, Confused Parents Show Up to District Board Meeting

The LA Weekly has been following this story in detail and provides an in-depth look at what happened during the meeting and the people involved. This article is also a recommended read.

Then on December 29, 2010, the new school board president of the Compton Unified School District shared in a piece published in The Bulletin that the California State Board of Education was providing only 15 days for public comment before a decision would be made on the fate of McKinley Elementary School and that two week period was during the holiday break.

According to the article: “New Compton Unified School District President Satra Zurita Looks Forward”

McKinley parents have a limited time in which to file their opinions on the petition and the concept of transformation into a charter school. Zurita has issued a statement on the deadline:

“School districts throughout our state are closed for the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. So I am both surprised and extremely disappointed to learn that the official period for important public comment on a set of critical state education regulations affecting school districts statewide will include one of the most sacred days on the Christian calendar and the most celebrated national holiday of every new calendar year, and close mere days after we return from break.

“It is unclear who is really behind this suspiciously accelerated process or what they are thinking? Clearly they aren’t thinking about our school districts, parents and students by establishing a comment period that in no way respects the community’s need and desire to have adequate input on the state laws that will affect them.

“Demanding that our school district and parents provide their input during a 15-day public comment period at Christmastime is an unprecedented abuse of authority by the State Board. It also begs the question, whose interest are being served, the public’s, or well-connected special interests using this process as a part of a coordinated campaign to advance their particular agenda? The state order allowing this to happen should be rescinded.

“That this is the time they have chosen to allow school districts, parents and community stakeholders to draft and submit their comments on proposed parent trigger regulations which will determine how this innovative and critically important education reform measure will be administered files in the face of the spirit, and the reality of community engagement and empowerment. The only interests served by this power play are those who seek to leverage the law, for private or political gain, not the public’s, not our schools and certainly not our children’s.

“Thankfully a new Administration will be taking office in a matter of days and we fully hope and expect that they will return a sense of fairness and thoughtful deliberation to this important public process by extending the comment period through January 18, 2011.”

And who are those folks on the California State Board of Education who are not allowing enough time for the parents to respond?

On the top of the list is:

Ben Austin, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Parents Union since April 2008 who developed the Parent Trigger and has been a consultant to Greendot Inc., a chain of charter schools.

Ted Mitchell, President and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit all about making a profit in charter schools.

Ruth Bloom, who states in her bio that she is one of the founders of Teach for America, Inc., the company that staffs charter schools with cheap and inexperienced labor in the form of fresh out of college recruits who receive five weeks of training.

Yvonne Chan, Principal of a conversion charter school.

Johnathan Williams, founder and co-director of The Accelerated School (TAS), a charter school organization in South Central Los Angeles.

Looks like the cards were stacked against the parents in Compton from the beginning.

McKinley Elementary School

It will be interesting to see what Jerry Brown does when he becomes Governor of California in 2011. Will he listen to the school board and parents, the people on the ground, the true stakeholders or will he bend to the moneyed lobbyists who are hell-bent on making a profit on our public school system?

Update: December 30, 2010 at 9:45 AM:

Another follow-up article by the LA Weekly, Compton’s Parent Trigger Feud.

Another recommended read.

7 comments on “The Fate of McKinley Elementary School

  1. Nancy Willing
    January 1, 2011

    My eyes are bleeding but my soul is lifting. Thanks for this thorough reveal of the scummy tactical astrotufing strategy a la Broad. It gives me new vigor to fight the encroaching Broadification of Delaware schools to see California parents and journalists catching these bastards in the act before the damage was done.

  2. seattleducation2010
    December 31, 2010

    Thanks for the info Caroline.

    Dora

  3. CarolineSF
    December 30, 2010

    Celerity and Parent Revolution claim that they’re committing to accept all the students who are currently attending McKinley Elementary. Celerity’s current schools operate under no such constraints, so it’s untested under such circumstances.

    I’ve wondered why Green Dot wasn’t the designated operator for McKinley too. My guess might be that Green Dot is already struggling badly after taking over a large high school with the commitment to accept all existing students — and under scrutiny from the press and the public. Green Dot make a hostile takeover of Locke High School in Watts, poured money (of which it has plenty, thanks to private philanthropy) into Locke, broke Locke up into several small schools, and committed to keep the same students. So far, the academic results are basically dismal, so Green Dot may not want to risk more of the same.

    My prediction is that this project is combusting. Green Dot/Parent Revolution’s public relations firm, The Rose Group in Culver City, Calif., is desperately struggling to do damage control after it became apparent that the Parent Trigger had ignited “civil war” within the McKinley parent community. (It was an advocacy newspaper that’s a vigorous supporter of the Parent Trigger, the L.A. Weekly, that used the term “civil war.”) The Rose Group is flailing so wildly with the damage-control effort that it’s apparent they’re panicked.

    I hope the McKinley Elementary community can come together someday soon to support their school rather than allowing a predatory privatization advocate to target it for destruction.

  4. seattleducation2010
    December 30, 2010

    Leonie,

    I will look into that. I assume that there is some sort of business relationship between them.

    Dora

  5. seattleducation2010
    December 30, 2010

    California Teacher,

    The pattern that I have seen so far is that the students who attended a school that is “turned around” do not have first choice in terms of attending that school. They usually go through an admission process because charter schools are selective in terms of who they admit. They want “high achieving” students. That way the charter school is guaranteed high enough test scores to continue to receive state money. And…they will not take IEP students.

    In terms of IEP or what is termed “special ed” students, now there are charter schools that will admit those students but that is their focus so mainstreaming of IEP students would become a thing of the past as far as the privatizers are concerned.

    Dora

  6. Leonie Haimson
    December 30, 2010

    great stuff as usual, Dora; but a question. Why is Ben Austin pushing a Celerity charter school rather than Green dot for McKinley?

  7. California Teacher
    December 30, 2010

    If this “parent revolution” group gets away with this deception, and the school is indeed converted to a charter, will they in turn have a lottery that will limit the attendance of the students? Will the same student body who attended the traditional school all be given spots in the new, “converted” school? If not, than surely a civil lawsuit would be in order.

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