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In Search of Heroes

California is not just any “blue state.” By many measures, California is a blue nation. It boasts the world’s sixth largest economy, isolated from the rest of the nation by mountains and deserts that were virtually impassable before modern times. It is blessed with diverse industries, abundant natural resources, and the most attractive weather in North America. California is nearly a nation unto itself.

And it is an occupied nation. California is ruled by a coalition of monopolistic businesses, public sector unions, and the environmentalist lobby. These Occupiers control a Democratic super-majority in the state legislature, as well as nearly all of California’s major cities, counties and school boards. To enrich and empower themselves, the Occupiers have oppressed California’s dwindling middle class and small business sectors, and condemned millions more to poverty and dependence.

For the average working family, no state in America is harder to live in than California. It has the highest cost-of-living, the highest taxes, the most onerous regulations, one of the worst systems of public education, congested freeways and failing infrastructure.  It will take heroic efforts to turn this around. And heroic efforts require heroes.

In the face of this overwhelming power, this alliance of oligarchs and government bureaucrats that has conned voters into embracing their servitude, where do you begin? What steps can you take? How do you rescue education, cut taxes, encourage new homes and new infrastructure, and save small businesses from crippling regulations?

As it turns out, a lot has been done in select locales, where heroes stepped up and successfully fought for reforms. And if those reforms could be replicated in other cities and counties, things would begin to change. To borrow a quote from Winston Churchill, if small local reforms began to spread across this great state, it would “not be the beginning of the end, but it would be the end of the beginning.” Here are some examples:

(1) Turning failing schools into charter schools:

As recently reported by CPC general counsel Craig Alexander, in 2015 parents at the Palm Lane Elementary School of the Anaheim City School District turned in far more signatures than needed under the Parent Trigger Law. The goal of the law and the parents at Palm Lane was to convert a public school that had failed their children for over a decade into a charter school. But the district, as a pretext to denying the Parent’s Petitions, improperly disallowed many signatures. It took a few years for parent volunteers and pro-bono attorneys, all of them heroically volunteering their time, to fight in court. But on Friday, April 28, 2017, the Court of Appeals issued a 34-page opinion that upheld in full the trial court’s ruling in favor of the parents and against the Anaheim Elementary School District. The Appeals Court found the trial court’s initial ruling, including the court’s findings of the bad faith tactics of the district, was correct in all aspects. Palm Lane Elementary school will start the 2017-2018 school year as a charter school.

(2) Stopping secret negotiations between cities and counties and public sector unions:

It wasn’t easy, but a few years ago, heroic progress was made. Orange County, Costa Mesa, and Fullerton all adopted so called “COIN” ordinances. COIN stands for “civic openness in negotiations.” This prevented elected officials from approving sweetheart deals with the government unions whose campaign contributions got them elected, all behind closed doors with minimal opportunities for public review. And to explain what happened next, one may borrow a quote from Tolkien: “Sauron’s [the Occupiers] wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift.” California’s union-controlled legislature passed a law they termed “CRONEY” (Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act), which mandates government agencies with COIN ordinances make public all negotiations with private vendors involving contracts over $250,000. There’s no comparison, of course. Private vendors disclose proprietary cost information in negotiations, and public entities are already required to take multiple bids in a competitive process. By contrast, public sector compensation, benefits and work rules are by definition not proprietary, they are public. And public sector unions, regrettably, have no competitors.

(3) Reforming financially unsustainable pension benefits:

If someone told you that they were going to invest their money, but if that money didn’t earn enough interest, they were going to take your money to make up the difference, would you think that was fair? Of course not. But that’s how a couple of million unionized public sector workers are treating the rest of us. California’s annual pension costs have risen from 3% of all state and local government revenue (i.e., “taxes”) to nearly 10% today, and there is no end in sight. But heroes are out there. In June 2012 voters in San Diego and San Jose passed pension reform initiatives. In both cases, to borrow some Star Wars terminology, “The Empire [The Occupiers] Strikes Back.” After relentless attacks in court, San Diego’s reforms were left largely intact, and San Jose’s were severely undermined, although some important provisions were preserved.

The people who fought for these reforms are too numerous to mention. They are all heroes. Some of them, like San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, San Diego councilmember Carl DeMaio, Costa Mesa mayor Jim Righeimer, and California state senator Gloria Romero, were elected officials whose courage has earned them the permanent enmity of the Occupiers. Other heroes, far more numerous, were the citizens, parents, and activists who dedicated countless hours to these causes.

Turning California back into a place where ordinary citizens can afford homes and get quality public education is not going to be easy. But there is no chance unless heroic individuals band together and fight the Occupiers, one issue at a time, one city at a time, one school district at a time.

Over the next several months, the California Policy Center intends to find more examples of heroic local reforms. It is our intention to not only compile these stories, but for each of them, distill them to the essential steps that were taken, so that these winning formulas can serve as an example to others.

We are in search of heroes. Contact us. Tell us your story.

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Ed Ring can be reached at ed@calpolicycenter.org.

 

Freedom and Liberty = Public Charter Schools

As a follow up to my post of last week (Anti-Choice Teachers Unions Want to Take Control of O.C. Board of Education), former State Senator Gloria Romero has penned another excellent op-ed piece in the O.C. Register. In Celebrating National Charter Schools Week Senator Romero not only noted that this week is a time to celebrate the tremendous success of public charter schools but the continued voracious opposition to public charter schools by unions and the local Boards of Trustees the unions pay to elect.

 

In 2008, Former State Senator Gloria Romero authored and guided to passage the “parent trigger” law, which allows a majority of parents in a failing school the option to petition the local educational agency (LEA) to implement reform in the school.

 

Here is part of her op-ed piece:

“Increasingly, parents understand that charter schools were precisely given the flexibility to be independent of the many constraints under California’s Education codes, allowing them to be more innovative while simultaneously being held accountable for improved student achievement. Several studies confirm that charter school students do better than their traditional school peers. Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found that charter schools do a better job teaching low-income students, minority students and English language learners than traditional schools. The Center for Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research found that charter school students are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college.”

Yet despite public charter school successes unions and school boards fight parent’s desire to start and continue great public charter schools.  No example of this is the fight by the parents of children at Palm Lane Elementary School, a currently traditional public school that has been failing for over a decade.  The District’s response when the parents attempted to use the Parent Trigger law to convert the school to a public charter school? Sue them in court and spend an estimated million taxpayer dollars to stop the parents’ efforts.  In effect spend over a million in taxpayer dollars to keep children in a failing school.  Who are these deniers of parents’ rights to a quality education for their children?  Trustees Jeff Cole, Ryan A. Ruelas, Bob Gardner, David Robert H.R. Heywood and Jackie Filbeck. (Board of Trustees) And lets not forget their enforcer Superintendent Dr. Linda Wagner. (Superintendent) If liberty, freedom, parents’ rights and quality education (not to mention fiscal responsibility) were grades these trustees and the superintendent needed to earn: they would receive an F grade.

And the ongoing battle of the parents of Palm Lane students: the Superior Court judge ruled against the District and in favor of the parents. See Parents and Children Win The Right to State a Public Charter School. District responded with an appeal that is still pending.  Who is among those filing legal briefs in support of the school district to deny parental choice and a quality education for their children?  You guessed it, the California Teachers Association.

I commend Senator Romero’s op-ed to your reading.

About the Author: Craig Alexander is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over twenty five years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding construction defects, insurance coverage, personal injury, property damages, business litigation and general civil litigation matters and professional liability cases. Craig is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s School of Law and he was admitted to the California State Bar in December of 1987. This article originally appeared in OC Political, and is republished here with permission.

Anaheim City Elementary School District Should Stop Thwarting Parents

It didn’t take long for Anaheim City School District’s trustees to snub Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks’ July 16 ruling that the district had unlawfully rejected the reform effort, supported by almost 67 percent of Palm Lane Elementary School’s parents, to restart the chronically underperforming school.

Not only had Judge Banks issued the decisive ruling finding the district had engaged in arbitrary, unfair and capricious actions obstructing parents’ rights under the Parent Empowerment Act, he expressed “astonishment” with the extent of the district’s actions. In upholding parents’ rights, Judge Banks ordered the district to reverse its erroneous rejection in February of parents’ Parent Trigger petition and commence the parents’ process of soliciting proposals to operate their envisioned independent charter school.

It was nothing less than a smackdown of a California school district’s obstructionist actions against its own parents.

Judge Banks ordered the parties to return to court July 23, but on the eve of the court hearing, trustees assembled in a closed session and unanimously voted to appeal the ruling. They then removed public discussion of the ruling from the board’s agenda, thus denying the public the right to hear any discussion of why Judge Banks ruled against the Anaheim City School District.

The district has resorted to bullying tactics. Score one for secrecy in government and the trustees, who sued their own parents to prevent them from using the law.

“They are fighting us, but in reality, they are fighting our children,” commented Cecilia Ochoa, one of the parent leaders.

In the same meeting in which they prevented public discussion of the Palm Lane ruling, trusties preserved agenda approval of boosting the contract of the law firm they retained to fight parents from $305,000 annually to $678,000 annually – a $373,000 increase.

How many new teachers could that have hired? How many new computers or tutoring services for students might it have generated? Shamefully, while the district hastily dispatched taxpayer-funded lawyers to fight not only its own parents, but now the judge as well, not one of the trustees actually bothered to attend one day of the trial.

Trustees, beholden to teachers and other employee unions opposed to the parent reform efforts, never agendized a public discussion with the Palm Lane parents to learn why they launched the school reform movement. Instead, robocalls derisively labeling parents as “outsiders” were made by the district the morning after Judge Banks’ ruling.

Undoubtedly, the district prefers doing business behind closed doors and letting its generously compensated administrators do the dirty work.

Anaheim City Superintendent Linda Karen Wagner’s salary and benefits were not immediately available on Transparent California, a statewide database that tracks compensation packages. However, she collected a total of $250,887.16 a year in compensations at her previous position in Monrovia Unified, and likely received a raise when recruited to Anaheim. Assistant Superintendent Mary Grace, who along with the superintendent helped oversee the obstructionist actions against parents, collected a total of $181,121 in 2014.

Anaheim City School District has not demonstrated good government. The trustees need to stop conducting business in secret. They should immediately abandon their appeal of Judge Banks’ ruling and show respect for their own constituents, who dared to act on behalf of their children.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, is an education reformer who served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission.

The CTA Empire Strikes Back

Emperor Palpatine: There is a great disturbance in the Force.
Darth Vader: I have felt it.
Emperor Palpatine: We have a new enemy, the young Rebel…
Darth Vader: How is that possible?
Emperor Palpatine: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You know it to be true. He could destroy us. The Force is strong with him.
– Quote (edited for brevity) from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

There are indeed great disturbances in the force. There are indeed challenges to the imperial monopoly that, for nearly 40 years, has eroded the quality and escalated the costs for California’s system of public K-12 education. And the imperial stormtroopers who enforce their educational edicts on California’s state legislature, its thousands of public school boards, and by extension, millions of parents and children, are all part of an evil empire called the California Teachers Association, or CTA. In plain English, the teachers union.

A comprehensive summary of just how harmful the CTA has been to California’s young students can be found in a 2012 report “The Worst Union in America,” by Troy Senik, published in City Journal. Senik explains how it all began:

“The CTA began its transformation in September 1975, when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Rodda Act, which allowed California teachers to bargain collectively. Within 18 months, 600 of the 1,000 local CTA chapters moved to collective bargaining. As the union’s power grew, its ranks nearly doubled, from 170,000 in the late 1970s to approximately 325,000 today. By following the union’s directions and voting in blocs in low-turnout school-board elections, teachers were able to handpick their own supervisors—a system that private-sector unionized workers would envy. Further, the organization that had once forsworn the strike began taking to the picket lines. Today, the CTA boasts that it has launched more than 170 strikes in the years since Rodda’s passage.”

With 325,000 members paying, on average about $1,000 per year, the CTA runs an empire sustained on dues revenue of over $25 million per month. This permits them to fund political campaigns, educational campaigns, and legal battles, with almost no constraints based on cost. They have enough money to fight on all fronts, everywhere, all the time. And they do.

Back to Troy Senik, on how back in 2010 the CTA squelched a parent trigger campaign by activist parents in Compton.

“In 2010, when 61 percent of parents at McKinley Elementary School in the blighted L.A. neighborhood of Compton opted to pull the trigger, the CTA claimed that ‘parents were never given the full picture . . . [or] informed of the great progress already being made’—despite the fact that McKinley’s performance was ranked beneath nearly all other inner-city schools in the state. Several Hispanic parents in the district also said that members of the union had threatened to report them to immigration authorities if they signed the petition. Eventually, the Compton Unified school board—heavily lobbied by the CTA—dismissed the petition signatures, with no discussion, as ‘insufficient’ on a handful of technicalities, such as missing dates and typos.”

Pretty nasty stuff, from a union whose rhetoric emphasizes their concern “for the children” and the “working families.”

REBEL CAMPAIGN #1  –  PARENT TRIGGER LAWS

Which brings us to the latest disturbance in the force, this time in Anaheim, where Palm Lane Elementary School, failing academically, qualified as a parent trigger eligible school. But this time, despite being subjected to many of the same dirty tricks experienced by Compton’s activists, the Palm Lane activists managed to take the district to court, where, last week, they won. But, of course, the CTA Empire struck back. Take a look at this announcement on the CTA’s Facebook page (July 24, 7:59 p.m.):

“The Anaheim School District is appealing a judge’s flawed ruling in favor of a parent trigger effort based on outdated data and controversy over an administrative reassignment. The effort was organized in part by the law’s authors and has drawn support from political outsiders and extreme national figures including Newt Gringrich. Kudos to the strong members of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association who have worked fairly and openly to ensure that the local community has the facts regarding this flawed law and that parents who’ve been excluded from the process have a voice.”

Will the band of rebels in Anaheim have the resources to fight the union’s appeal? The union knows they can wear them down. Twenty five million dollars a month buys a lot of attorneys, along with state and local politicians.

But unlike in episode five of the famous Star Wars saga, the rebels aren’t just fighting on one planet. There’s trouble all over the galaxy.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #2  –  FRIEDRICHS VS. THE CTA

For example, later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case “Friedrichs vs. the CTA,” which challenges the right of government unions to charge mandatory “agency fees.” As it is, teachers can endure a laborious “opt-out” procedure to avoid paying the “political” portion of their dues, which is about one-third of the total dues. But they still have to pay the agency fees which pay for allegedly non-political activities such as educational programs. litigation, and collective bargaining. The Friedrichs case, and it’s a strong one, argues that collective bargaining with local governments is inherently political. To give you a taste of what sort of attitudes are spawned by the CTA Empire’s monstrous deluge of misleading us-vs-them rhetoric, here’s a comment posted on a UnionWatch article authored by Friedrichs, “Teachers Stand Against Union Tyranny“:

“…she is a plant who is voicing the concerns of the extremists in America who want to do away with the middle class and working poor. She is nothing more than a bought and paid for goon of the Koch brothers and groups like theirs. If I worked with this rat I would make her so unwelcome in so many ways that she would seek out the right wingers she has sold her soul too and leave teaching. She is a gutless, repugnant, two faced, scumbag. She needs a punch in her ugly lying face. What a skank.”

Wow. Funny how the reformers are so often tainted as “haters.” But apparently this is not the hate the stormtroopers are looking for, so they’ll move along now.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #3  –  VERGARA VS. CALIFORNIA

The galaxy is a big place. Rebellious planets abound. Along with Palm Lane and the Friedrichs case, working its way up the California appellate system is Vergara vs. California. The plaintiffs prevailed in this case in Los Angeles superior court last year, but a final decision may not come until 2016. Vergara argues that lifetime tenure – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit, have harmed California’s children. They further argue that these policies have a disproportionate negative impact on students from disadvantaged communities. Watch these closing arguments by the brilliant Marcus McRae, for everything you need to know about this important case.

Now take a look at how the CTA Empire struck back, in this excerpt from their press release announcing their plans to participate in an appeal to the Vergara ruling.

“From the beginning, this lawsuit has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. This lawsuit was not about helping students, but yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students.”

California’s state legislature is filled with politicians who are, with rare exceptions, either wholly owned by the CTA, or tepidly support reform but stop short when it counts so they can avoid being individually targeted by one of the CTA’s imperial cruisers. As a result, the courts are one of the only places reform can begin. But court battles can cost even more than political campaigns.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #4  –  BAIN VS. THE CTA

Nonetheless, here’s yet another rebellious planet in the CTA’s galaxy, lead by tireless reformer Michelle Rhee, in the form of “Bain vs. the CTA,” a case that argues the union cannot strip members of voting rights and discounted insurance benefits simply because they have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues. As education reformer Larry Sand writes for UnionWatch in his recent post “Bain Explained“:

“The Friedrichs case, with a possible Supreme Court decision next year, is much further along than Bain. If the former case is successful, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the latter. Friedrichs claims that all union spending is political and therefore joining should be voluntary. If it flies, teachers will have an option to join the union or refrain from doing so. That could take the wind out of Bain’s sails as there will probably not be the two tiers or classes of membership that there are now. If all dues are political and you join the union, then all fees will be chargeable and teachers couldn’t then opt out of the political portion because all of it would be political. However, should Friedrichs fail, Bain will be all the more important.”

The legendary Star Wars movie saga has been producing installments longer than most Americans have been alive. In the moral debate over how to manage California’s schools, the only difference between the CTA and Palpatine’s empire is that complementing the overwhelming raw power wielded by the CTA, there is a propaganda machine of unmatched potency. Along with equipping rebel armies with attorneys, reformers will have to tap the force of truth and pay the freight to spread their message across the galaxy, telling it in terms that win the hearts of parents everywhere.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Palm Lane Reform Activists Win Court Ruling – District Immediately Appeals

The yearlong battle with the Anaheim City School District and Anaheim City Board of Education has ended. The parents of the 733 students enrolled at Palm Lane Elementary School have finally been granted the right to restart their decade-long failing school as an independent charter school.

Judge Andrew P. Banks, Orange County Superior Court, issued his 9-page ruling July 16th on the written and oral arguments that exposed the lengths to which the district bureaucrats went to deny the parents their legal rights to free themselves and their children of union control.

The parents submitted valid signed petitions to ACSD in January. They filed a Writ of Mandate after the Board of Education rejected their petition and requested the Court to order the District to accept the petition. The parents asserted they had gathered valid signatures from more than 50% of the parents as required by the Parent Empowerment Act.

The District responded that the parents failed to submit the correct number of valid signatures and failed to include a separate list with the names of the lead petitioners. They also asserted Palm Lane was NOT a subject school and parents failed to exhaust all of the available administrative remedies before filing the writ.

Judge Banks refuted all of the respondents’ arguments, ruled in favor of the parents and rebuked ACSD for their unseemly conduct. On multiple occasions he chastised them for acting in bad faith by their failure to work cooperatively with the Palm Lane parents as they were legally required to do by the Act as well as a formal California Teachers’ Association Advisory on Parent Empowerment Act Regulations dated 1/5/2012. [1]

The Act instructs school districts to collaborate with parents to verify the collected signatures, granting them 60 days to do so in questionable cases and to request a personal appearance by a parent at the district office if need be.

Judge Banks censured ACSD for making no attempt to collaborate, contact or meet with the lead parents on even a single occasion. He also rebuked them for the process they employed to verify signatures, calling it “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair.”

To verify signatures, ACSD hired a temporary employee whom they failed to educate in the specifics of the Parent Trigger Law, failed to train, supervise or provide with a written script for the telephone contacts with parents. They also restricted her calls to parents to the normal 8:30-4:30 workday, thereby insuring many parents would not be contacted. The unverified petitions, designated pending, were subsequently all discarded as invalid.

At its 2/19 meeting, the AC Board of Education rejected the petition, declared the parents had failed to meet the 50% requirement, falling 12 short of the necessary 355 signatures. Judge Banks personally reviewed the signatures and found a minimum of 378 to be valid.

Despite being labelled a subject school by the district superintendent in her letter to Palm Lane parents last October and in multiple internal memoranda, ACSD maintained Palm Lane was not a subject school in court testimony. The designation is determined by the Average Yearly Progress score, a number the State uses to assess a school’s improved performance.

Because California did not issue AYP scores for 2014, another test was used to measure yearly performance which ACSD insisted disqualified Palm Lane from being considered a subject school. Judge Bank disagreed.

Citing a memo from State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson in which he orders school districts to use the most recent AYP in place of a 2014 result, Judge Banks stated ACSD should have used Palm Lane’s 2013 AYP, a test result that capped a decade-long record of failure. Relying on the Torlakson memorandum, Judge Banks determined Palm Lane qualifies as a subject school.

The Court questioned the district’s credibility. One witness asserted under oath that she affixed her signature to an essentially blank page that lacked the text contained in every other copy of the petition.
Refusing to withdraw or correct her testimony, it highlights the persistent lack of integrity exposed during the court proceedings and the basis for Judge Banks’ repeated rebukes of the district’s conduct, calling the superintendent’s comments “troubling”.

The most credible witness in the case was Alfonso Flores, a decorated war veteran hired as a consultant to educate and train the parents in the petition gathering process.

Judge Banks ordered the school district to accept the petition and allow parents to solicit charter school proposals. As the Wall Street Journal noted in its July 21st editorial, “the case shows how far the union and administrative bureaucracy will go to preserve their monopoly, even breaking the law.” [2]

The civility of Court’s language stands in stark contrast to the deliberate misrepresentations in the district’s communications with the parents and the bullying and intimidation their union representatives employed to frighten the parents.

Cecilia Ochoa and the lead parents, Mark Holscher and the pro-bono Kirkland and Ellis legal team and Senator Gloria Romero and her Center for Parent Empowerment are to be congratulated for their persistence.

The school district, elected school board members and the powerful teachers unions have been handed a well-deserved public rebuke. We hope it is the first of many. They have been exposed as acting in their own self-interest, not in the interest of the students or their parents. Congratulations to Judge Banks for taking them down a few pegs.

Not unsurprisingly, ACSD almost immediately announced they will appeal Judge Banks’ decision. Unions do not relinquish money and power until they’ve exhausted all options and are forced to do so.

About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

FOOTNOTES

1. http://avpeta.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/parenttriggeract.pdf

2. http://education-curriculum-reform-government-schools.org/w/tag/palm-lane-elementary-school/

Parents and Children Win The Right to Start a Public Charter School at Palm Lane Elementary

Yesterday (July 16, 2015), after a seven day trial, Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Banks issued his decision awarding the parents and children who wished to convert their failing public school Palm Lane Elementary into a public charter school under the Parent Empowerment Act (also known as the Parent Trigger Law). To read the Court’s ruling go to: CJC5thflr@occourts org_20150716_144242

In brief, the Judge found that the parents had complied with and substantially complied with all of the requirements of the law and that the Anaheim City School District and its Board of Trustees had neither complied with the letter nor the spirit of the law.  Judge Banks ordered that the Board reverse its February 19, 2015 finding that the parents had not gathered enough signatures (he ruled they had) and their erroneous finding that Palm Lane Elementary was not a “subject school” that was eligible to be converted to a public charter school.

What does this mean?  First assuming the School District does not appeal (or that the Appeals Court rebuffs any such appeal), in the fall of 2016 Palm Lane Elementary will re-open under Charter School management rather than under the failed management of the Anaheim City School District, its Board of Trustees and their union partners.  I should note at this juncture that Palm Lane Elementary has been on a “failing school” list for over ten years.  If the District had not denied the parents’ petitions on February 19th, Palm Lane would have opened as a public charter school this fall. But due to the District’s delays, including filing a lawsuit against the lead parents, the children of Palm Lane Elementary must live with another year of poor performance and mismanagement.  A year of their education they can never get back.

Space here does not allow me to go into details about the manner in which the District handled this affair (which is likely not over yet) but it is telling that Judge Banks stated in his ruling: “I find the rejection [of the petitions] to be procedurally unfair, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”  By rejection he was referring to the District’s February 19th decision.  By this finding and statement the Judge was not just finding that the District was wrong but that their actions were anything but the “cooperative working with the parents” the Judge ruled the law required.  In the Judge’s words: “Clearly, the Respondents [the District] did not meet their obligations of good faith cooperation with respect to this issue and as mandated by the Act. [the Parent Trigger Law].” [additions mine].

As one example the Judge noted that Dr. Linda Wagner, Anaheim City School District’s Superintendent, did not know even on the day she testified in Court who the lead Petitioners were (i.e. the Lead Parents who submitted the Petitions to convert Palm Lane to a public charter school).  He also noted that the author of the Parent Trigger Law, former State Senator Gloria Romero, issued a letter to the District offering to assist the District in coordinating with the lead Parents who Sen. Romero was working with, and the District never responded to that letter.  Since Dr. Wagner authorized the District’s attorney to file a lawsuit against those very parents (who they specifically named in the lawsuit) a couple of months prior to the trial, in my opinion either she was willfully ignorant or incredibly disingenuous.

It is said that elections have consequences.  Maybe this trial court ruling will have election consequences to the Board of Trustees of the Anaheim City School District.

Kudos to the legal team of Kirkland & Ellis who represented the parents and Gloria Romero’s organization in the lawsuits, to the California Policy Center, Inc., Arturo Garcia, the lead parents and their supporters and a lot of others I do not have space here to list who also supported the parents.  Mega Kudos to Senator Gloria Romero for her unwavering support of the parents both in being the Parent Trigger Law author but even after leaving the legislature, helping the very people she wrote the law for!

Note: I call the charter school a “public charter school” because a charter school is still a public school, just one that is not dominated by public employee unions.

About the Author:  Craig Alexander is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over twenty five years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding construction defects, insurance coverage, personal injury, property damages, business litigation and general civil litigation matters and professional liability cases. Craig is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s School of Law and he was admitted to the California State Bar in December of 1987. This article originally appeared in OC Political, and is republished here with permission.

Report From Palm Lane – Court Battle Over Parent Trigger Begins

The Palm Lane Elementary School parents and their attorneys squared off against the Anaheim City School District and Anaheim City Board of Education on June 15th in Courtroom C11 in the battle to determine whether the parents will succeed in their efforts to restart the academically troubled school as an independent charter school. The parents are attempting to invoke the Parent Trigger Law, enacted in 2010, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts to get the district to respond to their petition, the parents sued the district, asking the Court to order ACSD to grant their petition or show good cause for its denial.

The initial court proceedings concerned the district’s rejection of the parent’s petition. Mandated by law to verify the authenticity of the parent signatures, based on the initial testimony, ACSD apparently hired an inexperienced young woman to do the job and failed to train or supervise her. In his questioning, lead counsel Mark Holscher, partner in Los Angeles-based Kirk and Ellis, built a strong argument that the woman assigned by the district to verify the signatures did not understand the importance of the job she had been assigned, or what was at stake for the youngsters.

68% of the parents signed the “restart” petition, far more than the 50% required by the Parent Empowerment Law. It appeared evident from the testimony that the district had disqualified a significant number of valid signatures, enough to justify a denial of the parents’ petition. Equally apparent was the school district’s bad faith. Their failure to train the woman assigned to verify the signatures guaranteed the negative outcome.

After two days of initial witness testimony, the proceedings have been put on hold for two weeks. They will resume June 30th. We will follow the case in our updates.

Kirkland and Ellis should be commended for the number of attorneys they have assigned to the pro- bono legal team. Their dedication to a better future for the Palm Lane students and their parents speaks volumes. It was heartening to watch them in action.

The teachers’ union is well aware of the importance of the Palm Lane lawsuit. A win for the parents represents a serious threat to the union’s hegemon in public education. The lawsuit is being vigorously defended as befits the high stakes at risk.

Stay tuned.

After Parent Trigger – A Success Model for Palm Lane Elementary School

If the parent activists at Palm Lane Elementary School are successful in their battle to invoke SB54, the Parent Trigger Law, they would be well advised to study the network of high-performing charter schools in New York City founded by former teacher and City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz as the template for the school it must design to replace the current failing institution.

Aptly named Success Academy, each of the 46 schools serves disadvantaged youngsters from minority communities (66% Black, 30% Hispanic) who had been failing academically in their neighborhood public schools. Today they are among the highest performers on New York state achievement tests. 96% pass the math exam (compared to a 38% citywide average). 68% pass the English Language Arts exam, more than double the 29% citywide average.

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Founded in 2006 in a poor Harlem neighborhood, the schools 2013 lottery drew 2,478 applicants for 122 slots at one campus. Guided by Moskowitz’ firm hand, the rigorous structure and strict rules closely resemble some training programs for athletes and military cadets. The results of this classical disciplined approach have been remarkable. The same approach to education guides the leadership at the most successful private and parochial schools.

There are longer school days and a lengthier school calendar. Classes begin at 7:45 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m. (4 p.m. for kindergarten). Weekend workshops are held to prepare for state exams and to provide extra help for students who are lagging behind their peers. Students wear uniforms, learn chess and follow a strict code of conduct. They are expected to behave or face disciplinary measures if they don’t. Compliance is striking.

A key to Moskowitz’ success is the strong sense of family that defines the school’s ethos. She is the ideal loving parent whose primary interest is the success and well-being of her offspring and the development of their character. The school becomes a therapeutic community that provides a much-needed corrective emotional experience that has profound psychological and intellectual benefits.

Teachers function a bit like surrogate parents. They instill shared community values and a dawning sense of personal pride in the youngsters. The transformation inspires genuine hopefulness in them for the future and their success in it.

Moskowitz’ philosophy is imbued in the curriculum, code of conduct and expectations for each child. It also guides her selection of teachers. They are bright, young in spirit, enthusiastic and dedicated to their students.

None of the teachers are union members. Freed from the shackles of union rules and restrictions, they arrive early, stay late to work with students who need extra help and meet with parents on a regular schedule to address their concerns and discuss their child’s progress. They are rewarded with promotions and pay raises for their efforts.

Success Academy students receive daily classes in science and math, instruction in chess and can choose among a long list of electives that include drama, chorus, speech and debate, journalism and robotics. There are outings to museums, concerts and major league baseball games, but the emphasis is squarely on the Three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Mastery of grammar, composition and elocution is expected.

Students read for one hour each day in class and at home after school. They are expected to read 22 books per month. Surprisingly, they often read far more than the minimum requirement. Since 2006, the 2400 students at SA schools in Harlem and South Bronx have read one million books outside of school, an even more impressive accomplishment given the dismal reality of their first days at the academy.

Teachers are held to the same high standards as their students. They receive regular evaluations and can be fired for not performing well. Attendance is mandatory at an annual weeklong training workshop before the commencement of the academic year. New hires spend their first year with a senior master teacher as a mentor, a common practice in Asia and Europe that sharpens professional skills and classroom competence.

With its lengthened school day and school year, by the end of the 8th grade, Success Academy graduates receive the equivalent of two extra years of instruction. [1] California educators would be well advised to emulate this practice.

Eva Moskowitz calls her young students scholars. It is a label they have earned. She has created a program that stands as a model of excellence for everyone interested in establishing a charter school. Success Academy provides a roadmap to success. Palm Lane parents should give her a call.

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About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

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FOOTNOTE

(1)  California schools, in contrast, have a 175-day, 840-instructional hour calendar year. This ranks behind 30 other states in number of days and 35 states in number of instructional classroom hours. In his book Measure of a Nation, author Howard S. Friedman noted a 90% correlation between number of hours at middle school and scores on international achievement exams. Students from the top performing schools in China spend 1000 hours in class each school year and in South Korea, attend school for 220 days each year.

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Palm Lane: Right vs. Might

Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, a failing school for at least the past decade, has become a battleground in the war against union power and its unconstrained efforts to retain absolute control over public education. At stake may be America’s future itself.

Palm Lane parents, disheartened by the school’s abysmal academic record [1] and the governing district’s resistance to change, sought relief by attempting to exercise the Parent Trigger Law, an option that enables them to petition the school district to transform the failing institution into a newly created public charter school.

Their efforts triggered a well-organized, bare-knuckles campaign by the unions and their representatives to undermine and defeat the mounting groundswell. The tactics included delays and obstructionism, intimidation and disinformation.

The parents organized and doubled down in their efforts. They issued a legal challenge to their powerful opponents in the form of a Writ of Mandate, asking the Orange County Superior Court to order the Anaheim City School District to grant their petition to become a public charter school.

The Parent Trigger Law, a bipartisan effort passed in 2010, allows failing public schools, hobbled by union rules that include controls over teacher performance, work schedule, curriculum, administrative duties and requirements, to be transformed into independent public charter schools.

Charter schools are exempt from the existing union stranglehold on public education. They are able to exercise independent control in the vital areas of hiring and firing of teachers, tenure, administrative duties and curriculum content. Most importantly, charter schools are exempt from the mandate requiring union membership for all California teachers.

SB 54 represents an existential nuclear threat to the union hegemon. The ability to end union control in even one public school is the ability to end union control over public education itself. The reality is apparent in the sometimes questionably legal tactics, outright thuggery and other desperate measures the unions have taken since the parents became activists.

The ability of unions to exercise their power and influence explains why Adelanto is the only public school to have successfully invoked the Parent Trigger Law. Palm Lane hopes to be the second and to inspire other parents to follow their lead.

No system is perfect. Inherent in the democratic process are structural flaws that weaken it. These are the endless legal challenges that drain time, energy and funds. The mechanics enable Might to triumph over Right. That is the union’s goal at Palm Lane.

The Palm Lane parents and their supporters, allies and advocates held a public press conference April 24th in an effort to address these issues, counteract the disinformation campaign and highlight the critical importance of their efforts for all of California’s public school students. The ramifications of the Court’s ruling on the Writ cannot be overstated.

Unions currently function like a politburo. They represent a clear and present danger to the values and traditions that have led to American exceptionalism, the education of the country’s future citizens. They must be defeated.

Palm Lane, Vegara and Friedrichs represent efforts to reassert the legal right of citizens guaranteed by the United States Constitution to determine their own destiny. This quality has defined the American character since our founding and stands in direct opposition to union goals. The Palm Lane parents deserve our admiration and support.

Union Watch will monitor the proceedings closely. We hope Right triumphs over Might.

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About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

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FOOTNOTE

(1) Palm Lane currently has 38% proficiency in English, 53% proficiency in math. This represents four-fold and two-fold improvements in the respective subjects since 2002. Current rankings are unavailable because the state elected not to test students for the 2013-2014 academic year.
The school provides a totally stripped- down curriculum that offers no courses in US or world history, science, geography, social studies, music, art, foreign language or of the traditional liberal arts subjects that are standard fare in private, parochial and first-tier public schools in most middle-class and affluent neighborhoods.

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Union Controlled Anaheim School Board Forces Parent Activists to Fight in Court

Over 40 years ago, California’s Supreme Court recognized that a child’s access to an adequate education – regardless of race, ethnicity or wealth – is a fundamental right of the highest order. In Serrano v. Priest the Court affirmed “education is a major determinant of an individual’s chances for economic and social success in our competitive society”, “the lifeline of both … individual and society.”

Resolved to secure a better education for their children, parentsof Anaheim’s Palm Lane Elementary School united. On January 14 they became the first Orange County parents to use California’s Parent Trigger law to bring meaningful reform for the school by restarting it as an independent charter school. They filed their Parent Trigger petition – signed by almost 70 percent of school parents – on the eve of the national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a symbolic gesture of their pursuit of education as the cornerstone of the American Dream.

Palm Lane had been classified as a failing school for over a decade. Sixty-two percent of Palm Lane students are not proficient in English-language arts, and 47 percent are not proficient in math. The school suffered from the constant reshuffling of principals, causing disorganization and disruption of student learning extending beyond the elementary years.

Indeed, Anaheim’s city schools were even cited in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU seeking dismantling of its at-large electoral system. The lawsuit underscored growing acknowledgment that the foundation of great cities and economic prosperity begins with great schools and student achievement.

But a quality education is precisely what Anaheim City school officials have denied Palm Lane students for over a decade. Rather than accept the parent’s petitions, the District rejected 133 signatures as “invalid” or “unverifiable,” leaving parents an mere 12 names short of the 50 percent threshold. But the District’s inability to verify petitions does not make them invalid. Despite clear requirements that the District reveal which signatures were found to be invalid or unverifiable so that parents can correct and resubmit, they purposefully withheld details – either in an insidious attempt to delay determination that the law’s legal requirements had already been met, or to deprive the parents of their right to correct and resubmit the petitions.

Hence, last week Palm Lane parents filed for court intervention to enable them to transform the school. Explained attorney Mark Holscher, “at every turn the district has done everything it can to try to block the petition in violation of the law.”

Not only do the parent actions open a new chapter in the parent empowerment movement nationally, but they follow in the footsteps of another set of parents who, eight decades ago, similarly filed in an O.C. courthouse demanding equality of educational opportunity. That case, Mendez v. Westminster, was the precursor of Brown v. Board of Education.

The Anaheim District officials are behaving shamefully – at taxpayer expense – and shortchanging their own pupils. They initially tried to prevent parents from gathering the needed signatures, but when that tactic failed, they subsequently concocted a claim that their school is not even subject to the law. In claiming exemption, the District negates clear precedent from federal and state authorities. Ironically, they now seek to ignore their own admission to the contrary in a letter they mailed to parents last October – prior to the parents’ petitions – informing them that the school is not performing well and even writing that “Parent Empowerment” is an option that parents, “dissatisfied with their children’s struggling schools,” may employ to affect change.

Apparently, District officials thought parents would not understand or care. Not only did they understand, they cared enough to act – in the proud tradition and history of the Mendez parents preceding them.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the director of education reform for the California Policy Center. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Parent Trigger & Open Enrollment – Ways to Cope With Union Controlled Schools

In January 2010 the California’s legislature passed into law, perhaps uncharacteristically, an excellent new law. Entitled “Public schools: Race to the Top,” SB 54 created two mechanisms for parents to exert greater control over the education of their children.

There are two components:

(1) The Open Enrollment Act mandates that the California Department of Education to annually create a list of 1,000 schools ranked by their Academic Performance Index. Parents whose children are enrolled in these schools have the right to transfer them to a better performing school.

(2) The “Parent Trigger” Law, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

Open enrollment has had an immediate benefit to California’s parents in poor schools, both because individually parents have been able to get their children out of poor schools, and also because the mere ability of parents to remove their students from poor schools provides a powerful incentive for school management to try harder to improve. From the California Dept. of Education, pursuant to SB 54, here is the list of the bottom 1,000 schools in California (Excel spreadsheet):  Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16. To view this list in PDF format, here is the the same list as posted by former state senator (and co-author of SB 54) Gloria Romero’s California Center for Parent Empowerment (PDF file)Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16.

The parent trigger law has a potentially much greater impact, because it literally empowers parents to take over management of an underperforming school if a majority of them sign a petition. It is important to clarify that the criteria for an “underperforming school” is not the same as the criteria used for the 1,000 K-12 schools with the lowest Academic Performance Index scores. Here is how these lists are compiled:

Open Enrollment List:

Every year the results of standardized academic achievement tests, administered to every K-12 public school student, are compiled by school and by school district. In the most recent academic year, the composite score for these tests for all K-12 students in California was 790. The open enrollment list was supposed to be the 1,000 schools with the lowest scores. For example, on the current list, the lowest score belongs to Oakland International High School with an API of 374. But in the compromises made in order to pass the bill, among other things, the published list of open enrollment schools cannot include more than 10% of the schools in any given school district. This gives the worst school districts in the state a pass, and actually leads to some schools getting onto the list that probably don’t deserve to be there. Nonetheless, at least those parents whose children attend these 1,000 schools have choices, and that is a very good thing.

Parent Trigger Eligible List:

The parent trigger list is compiled according to a more complicated formula. In summary, the criteria is as follows: Any school that has an API lower than 800, AND has failed to improve its API score in each of the last four years, is a parent trigger eligible school. The process of accurately compiling this list is tedious, requiring the analyst to research multiple CA Dept. of Education reports for multiple years while navigating several exclusions that complicate the selection process. But there aren’t carve-outs that prevent, for example, 90% of the schools in an underperforming district from any accountability, such as is the case with the open enrollment list. Here is a list of Parent Trigger Eligible schools in Orange County, compiled by the organization Excellent Educational Solutions (PDF file): Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County. The entire list is also posted on the table below – note that Palm Lane Elementary is not on this eligibility list because they have already been “triggered.” Also, some schools on the Orange County list have 3 year API averages that exceed 800. This can be because their most recent API has fallen below 800 even though the three year average is still above 800, or due to other complexities in the actual formula.

The parent trigger eligible list is a powerful resource that ought to be prepared and posted online every year by the California State Board of Education. As can be seen, there are 125 schools just in Orange County where the management of these schools can be potentially taken over by parents if 50% or more of them sign a petition. Imagine how many thousands of schools in California must be on a statewide list?

To-date, parent trigger has only been tried three times in California. In Compton, the effort ultimately failed. In Adelanto, the effort was successful (ref. Wikipedia “Parent Trigger” – Compton, Adelanto). Now the battle has moved to Palm Lane Elementary School in Orange County, where on January 14, 2015, petitions representing over 50% of the parents of the enrolled students were turned in.

When one examines the political consensus that was forged in the California Legislature back in 2010 by Democratic senator Gloria Romero and her Republican co-sponsor Bob Huff, what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. When one considers the parents who recently turned in petitions to transform Palm Lane Elementary School, and the broad spectrum of community activists who support them, again what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. SB 54 triggers not only parent empowerment, but alliances that transcend conventional politics. It is something to be watched and nurtured.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.