Chula Vista, California
On Monday evening (9/26/2016), the board of the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) had petitions from three charter schools; two requesting charter renewals and one for a new school. The two renewals are co-located charters that were started by SUHSD’s previous board (four of the five resigned as part of plea deals) and the new petition is for an independent study charter.
My first teaching job was in SUHSD as a paid certificated intern, teaching 3 out of a possible 5 classes a day while completing a master’s in education at UCSD. At my new job, I was soon regaled with stories of corruption in Sweetwater instigated by superintendent, Ed Brand. I never witnessed direct evidence of this widely and firmly held belief. Brand’s first stint as SUHSD Superintendent was from 1995 to 2005.
It was surprising in 2011, when the SUHSD Board brought Brand back. He had resigned as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified in 2006, less than a year after leaving Sweetwater to assume that position.
An article in the San Diego Union speculated that Brand was pushed out in San Marcos for unethical hiring and political practices. It says in part:
“… accounts have emerged of other things not in keeping with San Marcos Unified’s image. They include Brand’s ordering the hiring of a teacher, whose husband is a state education official, even though a panel of elementary school principals in charge of hiring voted not to offer her a job; a staff party for management aboard a 112-foot historic yacht; and two outsiders infusing cash into a school board candidate’s campaign.”
The state education official was Scott Himelstein then Deputy Secretary of Education/Chief of Staff and later Acting Secretary of Education for the State of California. In that capacity he served as chief policy advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on K-12 and higher education.
William D. Lynch was a source of outside money and according to the Union article cited above, “The High Spirits yacht, where Himelstein hosted the party, is owned by multimillionaire businessman William D. Lynch….” Lynch is an ally of Brand’s and of state Secretary of Education Alan Bersin, former superintendent of San Diego city schools. Lynch is also a philanthropist who runs the William D. Lynch Foundation for Children, which promotes literacy. Scott Himelstein is the foundation’s former president.
Given who he associates with it was not surprising to learn that Ed Brand promotes privatizing public schools. Upon returning to Sweetwater, he started working on a new charter school idea. His dream was to develop a k-16 charter system and with support from several long time cronies, he had a charter proposal written. Susan Mitchell who has an almost forty-year working relationship with Brand was the lead petitioner for the school originally named Ivy League Prep Academy but soon renamed Stephen H. Hawking Math and Science Charter School.
Like Mitchell, most of the stated charter school founders also had similar long term associations with Brand. Before the courts and voters replaced the SUHSD school board, Brand was able to open a second charter school named Stephen W. Hawking II Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math Charter. The schools were started as K-6 schools not through 16.
After the passage of proposition 13 in 1978, it became almost impossible to pass a bond issue for the construction of new school facilities in California. Amendments that gutted proposition 13’s 2/3 requirements for passing bond measures always looked popular initially but were soundly defeated come election day. In 2000, proposition 39 was narrowly written so it only reduced the requirement to pass school bonds and it required a 55% majority. A big loud political battle ensued but proposition 39 prevailed.
The charter school industry was able to slip a clause into proposition 39 that required school districts to make any excess capacity available to charter schools. This crucial point was barely noticed and not debated publically at all.
Co-location is a very disruptive unsound education policy. As Gary Cohn reported in Huffington post:
‘“One of the difficult things about having a charter school co-located on a district public school campus is that . . . the two schools end up competing for those things that are necessary to provide a quality education for the students,’ says Robin Potash, an elementary school teacher and chair of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Proposition 39 Committee. ‘That includes competing for the same students.”’
In a July 10, 2015 article for La Prensa, Susan Lazzaro wrote:
“Community advocate Maty Adato asked the Sweetwater Union High School board a provocative charter school question at the June 22 board meeting. Trustees were deliberating on the renewal of facility contracts for Stephen Hawking charters I & II. The charters are for grades K-6 and Adato wanted to know if Sweetwater, a 7 -12 district, must give up unused classroom space to a K-6 charter.”
This is a question that seems bound for the courts because besides being bad policy, in order for this co-location mandate to be hidden in proposition 39, the law had to be poorly written. Lazzaro also noted a question from one of the five new board members, Paula Hall, “What happens, she asked, if the charter schools want more of our classroom space?” Another question without an answer.
Hawking I is co-located with Castle Park Middle School and Hawking II is co-located with Southwest Middle School. This is a clear illustration of the irrationality of the charter school movement from the standpoint of the taxpayer. In these two campuses there are four administrations doing the job that two administrations did 5 years earlier. The charter school movement is driving up the education cost per student which means either class sizes must increase or school taxes must increase; probably both.
In addition, taxpayers within the school district’s boundaries obligated themselves with bonds and other taxes to pay for these schools. Now, the buildings have been partially taken out of public control and their elected representatives no longer have legal authority to represent constituent interests.
The charter school movement puts tax dollars outside of democratic control with little accountability. Even with strict public accountability, malfeasance and criminality occur. It should come as no surprise that fraud and abuse are escalating in this low accountability charter school era.
A fundamental charter school theory postulates that elected representatives developed emasculating education code depriving public schools of the opportunity for innovation and improvement. Charter schools freed from accountability promised to untie this Gordian knot and market forces were expected to drive improvement. After 20 years, we see that charter schools are better at marketing than public schools but only rarely match the public school teaching prowess. For the first time nationally, education progress appears to have slowed with the rise of charter schools.
Independent Study Charter
Carol Burris, the Executive Director of National Public Education is currently publishing a series of articles about the charter school movement. In the second installment carried by the Washington Post she writes about independent study charters.
“Although the original intent of the independent charters may well have been to scoop up at-risk kids and give them a second chance, the lack of criteria for student placement, along with inadequate regulations have led to obvious abuses. There are now far too many independent learning charter schools whose operators, some with no background or expertise in education, make substantial salaries, ….”
“ACATL Leadership Academy’s (ALA) mission is to create an educational system that ensures social justice by acknowledging, understanding and healing institutionalized racism, poverty, and marginalization.
“ALA will be a non-classroom based 9-12 grade charter high school within the Sweetwater Union High School District, and will be a reed in our community known for its innovation, flexibility and strength.
“ALA will serve students 14 thru 22 years of age and will set a goal of recapturing students who have left the traditional school system. ALA will partner with students, parents and family (relatives), and community organizations to address social justice issues our youth encounter in San Ysidro, California – the San Diego International Border region of the United States.”
This sounds great, however, taxpayers have already established Learning Centers at every high school in the SUHSD.
The public school system also provides an Adult School in San Ysidro which is an opportunity local taxpayers are providing for “recapturing students who have left the traditional school system.” Now taxpayers are being asked to compete with themselves and support yet another facility with no real needs assessment.
In other words, publically financed schools are already performing the same function ACATL proposes with the advantage of having highly trained experienced psychologists, councilors and certificated teachers working with students. This request for taxpayer money to be taken from Sweetwater schools to finance someone’s heartfelt dream makes little sense, but California’s charter school law pretty much guarantees ACATL will get a charter.
Carrol Burris in the article I cited above also spoke to the profit motive of these kind of schools:
“In addition, running independent learning centers can be very lucrative. One of San Diego County’s largest networks of independent learning centers is the Altus Institute. It advertises on billboards and runs ads in movie theaters and on television. Altus operates Audeo Charter, Audeo Charter II, the Charter School of San Diego and Laurel Academy. It has a total K-12 enrollment of about 3,000 students and takes in tens of millions of dollars in state and federal revenue. Like Learn4Life, its learning centers are located in malls and office buildings. Its younger students are home-schooled.
“In 2014 compensation for Altus Institute President Mary Bixby was $371,160 — exceeding the total pay plus benefits of the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District that serves nearly 130,000 students. Bixby is a board member of the charters, a full-time employee of one of the schools and also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two other Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.”
Segregation by Choice
Last year a new charter school, Imperial Beach Charter, opened up next door to my high school. A local resident remarked to me, “the people west of 13th street don’t want their kids going to school with those kids at Mar Vista Academy.”
A blogger going by the moniker educationrealist posted this observation:
“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.)”
I recently reviewed Mercedes Schneider’s new book, School Choice. On page 22 she writes:
“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not.”
This following table shows the demographic difference between the Mar Vista Academy (the public school) and Imperial beach charter.
|School||Hispanic or Latino||White not Hispanic||English Learners||Free & Reduced Price Meals|
|Imperial Beach Charter||514 (59%)||250 (29%)||160 (18 %)||544 (62%)|
|Mar Vista Academy||714 (82%)||45 (5%)||277 (32 %)||679 (78%)|
Too often, charter schools are just rouges to make taxpayers finance private schools.
Charter schools have not shown significant educational improvements and they come with significant risks. Last year the Center for Media and Democracy reported:
“Nearly 200 charters have closed in California, nearly one of every five that have opened. Their failures have included stunning tales of financial fraud, skimming of retirement funds, and financial mismanagement, material violations of the law, massive debt, unsafe school conditions, lack of teacher credentials, failure to conduct background checks, terrible academic performance and test results, and insufficient enrollment.”
In other words, many charter schools are unstable and they have shut down with no notice even mid-way through a school year.
Charter schools increase the cost of education because of the required redundant administration for the same number of students and private sector administrative incomes are normally much higher than public employment rates.
All of the charter requests to SUHSD should be denied, but under present law if that happens either the county or the state will grant the charter. Past time for an immediate moratorium on new charter schools in California. Unwinding this unstable costly charter school system will benefit students and taxpayers.
The charter school industry wasn’t an organic development. Politicians and their wealthy masters created it with massive incentives. The federal government is spending billions on promoting charters plus foundations such as the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Edith and Eli Broad Foundation and the Fisher Foundation provide unimaginably large sums of money toward these privatization efforts yearly. If the elites succeed in destroying and monetizing our public education system, the opportunities for middle and working class people will significantly diminish. Just look at Detroit to see what the future holds for the poor.
The charter school movement is undemocratic and irrational. It needs to end.