How it all fits together

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UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl
Door knocking with twin sisters from Gardner Elementary during UTLA’s Neighborhood Walks on October 6.

Props. 55 & 58, school-site struggles, PACE, and the fight against CCSA

On October 6, I walked with the Gardner Elementary school community, knocking on doors to ask people what they would like to see in their neighborhood school and giving out information about Propositions 55 and 58. We did this while UTLA members, parents, students, and other stakeholders from more than 100 schools across Los Angeles were doing the same, as part of the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools Day of Action. 

As Gardner chapter chair Robert Reyes and key Gardner neighborhood walk organizer Rebecca Cabrera worked with dozens of students and parents making posters for the walk, as LAUSD School Board President and UTLA-endorsed candidate Steve Zimmer rallied the Gardner crowd, and as I spoke to Reyes about Gardner’s incredible 94% PACE contributor rate, it struck me that this was the perfect reflection of how we project what we stand for and how we are fighting for it. It was inspiring.

Enforcing the contract & organizing for improvement at schools

On and around the October 6 action, it’s been energizing to watch our officers, Board of Directors members, and staff collaborating in work groups to address common school-site problems and broader issues that shape our classrooms. UTLA officer Cecily Myart-Cruz, UTLA Board members Erika Jones and Noah Lippe-Klein, and a broad team put together the amazing racial justice event at Dorsey High School, while UTLA officers Colleen Schwab and Daniel Barnhart, UTLA Board member Bruce Newborn, and others organized the first of a series of strategic interventions with the District on student discipline and positive behavior support. Our Class Size Task Force continued to hammer away at the District on class-size data and supported organizing around class-size issues at schools, while our newly formed Special Education Task Force, chaired by UTLA Board member Lucia Arias, began setting down a framework for action around the crucial issues in serving our most vulnerable students.

The billionaires try to strike again

At around the same time, a drama was unfolding that crystallized who we are fighting against and why. For weeks, the California Charter Schools Association and its $170-million Super PAC had been walking the halls of Sacramento, twisting legislators’ arms to stay away from our October 20 community forum on the financial impact of charters on LAUSD. 

CCSA is not an educational organization — it is a billionaire front group, funded by Eli Broad, the Waltons of Walmart, John Arnold of Enron, and more. CCSA is not about supporting the original intent of charters: to create contained, innovative learning environments for high-needs students within the broader public system. Not at all. Rather, CCSA wants an unlimited, unregulated charter sector that undermines the entire system and privatizes public education.
CCSA convinced legislators to stay away from the October 20 event. So, we pivoted, figuring we should take the bully head on: We repurposed October 20 and challenged CCSA to a public debate. We confirmed with Univision and KPCC radio that they would moderate and air the debate. 
CCSA declined. 

Quite simply, CCSA is afraid to debate us in public. Let’s talk about why.

Why CCSA is afraid to debate us: Part 1 

This has been a long time coming. A national movement has been developing around public school accountability and sustainability over the past two years, with a sharp critique of unregulated charters and charter school expansion. The reflections of this movement are now everywhere. 

The national NAACP and Black Lives Matter organizations have called for a moratorium on charter schools, out of equity, access, and civil rights concerns. The ACLU published a revealing study on student “pushout” at charters. Localities like Anaheim and Huntington Park have voted for moratoriums on charters. The LAUSD School Board held the managements of El Camino Charter, Magnolia, and Celerity accountable for severe irregularities in the areas of transparency, governance, and the use of public money.

We in UTLA should be proud that we have contributed mightily to building this movement. Some of our contributions have included:

  • October 2014: We took a path-breaking proposal to the bargaining table with LAUSD, calling for an accountability article in the UTLA-LAUSD contract that would have set standards for all publicly funded schools on student equity and access, financial transparency, parent engagement, and more. While we were not able to win this in bargaining, our proposal gained attention as a model for shaping demands among unions, school boards, community groups, and others.
  • October 2014: We got rid of one of the most corporate, pro-unregulated-charter-growth superintendents in the country, John Deasy, which sent a message to privatizers across the U.S.
  • March 2015: Sixty-seven Alliance charter educators announced that they were forming a union, with UTLA’s support, at L.A.’s largest charter operator. The major thrust of their organizing drive has been teacher voice in their profession and the ability to advocate for school improvement with parents and students. Alliance management’s illegal anti-union, anti-student, and anti-parent response has been revealing and has gained media attention across the country.
  • September-December 2015: From the exhilarating protest at the Broad Museum opening in September to the picketing at hundreds of schools in November, we pushed the Broad-Walmart privatization scheme into a corner, so much so that they have reformulated themselves several times.
  • February 2016: More than 200 schools in L.A. participated in school “walk-ins” as part of the first AROS National Day of Action, which focused on what we love about our neighborhood schools and on our emerging proactive model, Sustainable Community Schools, that counters the privatizers.
  • May 2016: We commissioned and released a nationally unique study by MGT of America on the fiscal impact of charter school growth on LAUSD, which showed in very detailed terms how continued unregulated charter school expansion will have dramatic, negative consequences for both District and charter students.

We’ve done a lot. If I were CCSA, I’d be afraid of us, too.


Why CCSA is afraid to debate us: Part 2

But, there’s more to why CCSA is afraid to debate us. We’re right and they’re wrong, and that makes for a hard debate for them to win. Consider just three examples.

  • Two months ago, CCSA bullied legislators in Sacramento to oppose or abstain from voting on Senate Bill 322. The bill went down in flames. It was a common-sense measure that would have required due process for charter students who face suspension or expulsion. In the face of studies showing troubling racial disproportionality in suspensions/expulsions and their negative impacts — as well as the disproportionate use of suspension/expulsion by charter schools to push students out — it is unconscionable that CCSA led the effort to defeat this bill. In a public debate, this is indefensible.
  • This week, CCSA attempted to prevent the LAUSD School Board from denying the charter renewal of two Celerity charter schools (LAUSD denied them anyway). Celerity plays a confusing shell game organizationally that doesn’t allow their authorizer, LAUSD, to appropriately monitor them. The shell game involves two business entities, Celerity Educational Group and Celerity Global Development, whose roles appear to shift in ways that are difficult to understand. Moreover, conflict-of-interest issues have been raised, as the same person has leadership roles with the business entities and at Celerity schools. Celerity has repeatedly refused to produce documents regarding its operations, and large unknowns exist regarding the uses of public money. In a public debate, this is indefensible.
  • Finally, this week, CCSA attempted to bully Huntington Park Mayor Graciela Ortiz, a great counselor and UTLA member, and the Huntington Park City Council to get the city to back off its call for a moratorium on charter schools. The mayor and city council have very logical reasons for the moratorium: The city has seen an unregulated explosion in charters and has more than 20 schools across three square miles. Rather than continue to allow more charter expansion, the city wants to do some land-use planning—to consider parks, youth recreation spaces, and small business development zones. It was a shocking scene at the meeting: a billionaire front group descending on a small city to demand that the democratically elected leadership of the city bow down. CCSA did this with rhetoric that not only smacked of anti-democratic sentiment, but also of racism and paternalism. It was, frankly, disgusting. Ortiz and the city council stood their ground and extended the moratorium to a year. In a public debate, CCSA’s actions are, again, indefensible.

We’re going to press CCSA until they debate us.


The centrality of Props. 55 & 58 and PACE

This war with CCSA only puts an exclamation point on the need to get out the vote for Propositions 55 and 58 and the need to join PACE and organize our co-workers to join PACE.

Eli Broad and the Fisher family, huge contributors to CCSA, put $11 million into the secret campaign to defeat Prop. 30, Prop. 55’s predecessor, in 2012. They are likely doing the same right now to defeat Prop. 55. We need everyone phone-banking, precinct walking, and doing all they can to support Props. 55 and 58.

Moreover, CCSA dumped almost $10 million into the 2013 and 2015 School Board elections, and we can expect that they will dump more than that into the School Board elections this March, when we absolutely must elect a board that will support our movement for Sustainable Community Schools, support our demands around school-site issues emerging from our workgroups and site struggles, support our 2017 contract bargaining, and support our 2017 health benefits bargaining. We will not be able to equal the money of the billionaires, but we absolutely must increase our number of PACE contributors to be in the game.

I will end with Glenwood Elementary School in the East San Fernando Valley, and their great chapter chair, Petra Cano, who is already leading the charge to elect UTLA-endorsed candidate Imelda Padilla to the School Board in March (by the way, Imelda joined a vibrant October 6 neighborhood walk with Arleta High School and chapter chair Hector Perez-Roman).

Amidst my many school visits — officers and staff have done almost 400, at this point, over the past six weeks — I was inspired by the educators at Glenwood. It was so moving to hear the story of a former teacher who had worked with students, parents, and community to make the beautiful murals that are all over the campus. They reflect so strongly what we are about: commitment, compassion, creativity, and the building of real community schools. All of you, keep up the great work, stand proud, and vote November 8 — you are an inspiration.