Orange County Labor Federation Joins Effort to Misinform School Parents

Santa Ana Unified is California’s sixth-largest school district. Only 28 percent of SAUSD tested students scored at basic levels of reading proficiency – and just 19 percent in mathematics. SAUSD has more failing schools – and a higher percentage of failing schools – than any other Orange County district.

Increasingly, parents are leaving SAUSD and enrolling their children in independent, public charter schools. Entrenched special interests are mobilizing to suppress these parents’ choices because, when a student flees a district, money from the state “follows” the student, leaving the district with less money. SAUSD’s teachers union is demanding more pay – and more enrollment equals potentially higher raises. No need for testing to be proficient in political math.

It appears SAUSD officials are collaborating with the Orange County Labor Federation to suppress parents’ knowledge of the 2010 Parent Empowerment Act, which Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and I worked to enact. The law grants parents rights to reform underperforming schools, including restarting them as charters.

In 2014, Anaheim parents became the first in Orange County to use the “parent trigger” law – only to be sued by their own elected officials. The parents won in court, but the district is appealing, spending almost $1 million on legal fees. The OCLF actively aided Anaheim officials in resisting the parents and the law.

Last month, SAUSD Board Member Cecilia Iglesias visited SAUSD’s Parent Advisory Committee’s monthly meeting. Iglesias, who also works for Huff as a representative and who champions parents’ rights, was not only shocked by the false information being fed to parents at the meeting, but that the presenter was Gloria Alvarado – the OCLF’s organizing director. Alvarado, who opposes the Parent Empowerment Act, is a declared 2016 school board candidate against Iglesias.

“SAUSD has an obligation to be truthful to our parents about California laws written for them,” Iglesias said. Added parent Mayre Tapia, “We attended the meeting to learn about the Parent Empowerment Act. Instead, we got a union organizer posing as our partner who opposes the very law that gives us rights.”

While Alvarado might be a good labor organizer who helps elect board members like Valerie Amezcua, who posted support for Alvarado on Facebook, she is no expert on California’s budgetary and parents’ rights laws.

Alvarado’s 21-page PowerPoint presentation told parents that the OCLF is their education “partner,” highlighting that there are 4,654 SAUSD workers. SAUSD has 58,000 students – creating a ratio of 12 students per employee.

After explaining California’s Local Control Funding Formula, Alvarado’s presentation purported to explain the Parent Empowerment Act, while not accurately identifying the law. She dwelled on alleged “effects” of the law, claiming that the law’s supporters fail to provide appropriate explanations and that the law creates “division,” leaves people out and has been unsuccessful. She didn’t acknowledge that she’s paid to organize opposition.

SAUSD is rewarding Alvarado by including her as its representative at an upcoming education conference.

Sen. Huff and I are demanding answers from SAUSD Superintendent Rick Miller.

Miller says he had no responsibility for Alvarado’s presentation. He sent us a complaint form to file – even while staunchly defending Alvarado’s credentials and blaming the presentation on the “independent” parent committee. But an SAUSD email contradicts Miller, revealing Alvarado’s presentation was directed by Miller’s assistant, Deputy Superintendent David Haglund. Who else knew?

Falsifying information about California laws to deceive parents is pathetic. Siphoning taxpayer dollars toward that end should be grounds for firing. Will SAUSD officials now tell the truth to their own parents?

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.

Election Lessons for Education Reformers

Results from the Nov. 4 yielded both hits and misses regarding prospects for advancing education reform in the Golden State, along with a few immediate lessons:

Understand your fight

You can’t buy elections – especially the obscure post of superintendent of Public Instruction, a constitutional office created seemingly to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the California Teachers Association, on the taxpayer’s dime.

Money is the mother’s milk of politics, and an obscene amount of it was dumped into efforts to elect former investment banker/school operator Marshall Tuck. Wealthy backers spent millions of dollars to win the seat – clearly understanding the role of money. But their Achilles heel was failing to understand machine politics and the formidable role they play in statewide elections. Buyers, beware: this isn’t just a Chicago story. Welcome to the underbelly of California politics.

Astute observers understood that there was never doubt current Superintendent Tom Torlakson would prevail. Tuck’s backers tried the “unleash the money” strategy; one backer alone contributed $3.4 million. Their view was simply “money versus money.”

But CTA is the biggest political special interest in California, with moneybags, and manpower to match – an organized army tethered to the Democratic Party and its political operation. Together, they ensured the victory for CTA’s guy, Torlakson.

Tuck’s camp threw money at the race – without also building the ground game needed to take on the machine. Critical to that ground game is recognizing that this can no longer be done from the top; the era of rich white men pontificating on reforms needed for overwhelmingly minority communities is past (see next lesson).

A new strategy is needed, including a focus on disrupting the machine. Hence, the lawsuit, Friedrichs vs. CTA, a challenge to the mandatory union dues that fuel the machine, could become a game-changer if decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Coupled with the next two lessons, real reform could now be envisioned.

Remember Nixon went to China 

In the race for the Bay Area’s 16th Assembly District, many of us parked our party affiliations and willingly crossed the political aisle to elect a candidate not beholden to CTA: moderate Republican Catharine Baker. She upset Democrat Tim Sbranti, a former chairman of the CTA’s Political Involvement Committee.

Baker understood that smart coalitions matter, joining independent-minded Democrats like me, Steve Glazer and others fed up with CTA’s stranglehold on weary voters. She galvanized women, Democrats, Republicans and Independents to defeat CTA’s heir apparent in the district.

In a politically blue state, education reformers, particularly Democrats, need to willingly cross the aisle to elect reform candidates not from our own party. Nixon left the political comfort zone and, in going to China, unfurled a whole new world. We must, too.

Latino parents are not a Democratic Party debit card.

Latino candidates tethered to CTA moneybags lost by decisive margins, including Orange County candidates Jose Solorio (state Senate), Sharon Quirk-Silva (state Assembly) and Jose F. Moreno (Anaheim City Council), who ignored pleas from Anaheim Latino parents to help them reform their children’s failing schools by using California’s Parent Empowerment Act.

Public opinion polls continue to reflect strong support among Latinos for school choice and opportunity. Democrats, funded by CTA, have blocked school choice reforms, providing an opening to Republicans to fight for the hearts, minds and votes of Latinos (coupled with getting their act together on sensible immigration reform).

This election illustrated that Latinos, as well as Asians, are free agents in an otherwise special-interest-dominated political system. Coalescing these communities will provide dynamic, winning combinations for education reform in California.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Parent Trigger Law Empowers Parents to Stand Up to Teachers Union

The names Doreen Diaz and Bartola Del Villar appear nowhere in the text of the Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger, that I wrote in 2010. The law empowers parents to bypass the political paralysis of our education bureaucracy that is responsible for perpetuating the status quo failure of our schools.

Today, Doreen and Bartola personify why the law was written: they were leaders in using it to become the first parents in California to successfully transform their neighborhood school – which had been state-identified as failing for years, having the lowest academic performance record in the entire Adelanto School District.

Now, with a motto of “be the change we want to see,” the two have become a Thelma and Louise of the election cycle, taking their fight for reform “from the outside” to seeking reform of the beast itself by seeking seats on the five-member elected Adelanto school board that is still dominated by the status quo interests they battled.

Undoubtedly, the law has given credence to the view that parents should be the true architects of their children’s educational futures.

Increasingly, parents are mobilizing to “trigger” change at failing schools. Most recently, parents in Anaheim challenged their own school board members to transform a school languishing in “Program Improvement” need for 10 years. They understand it is no fairytale to want quality schools and are willing to fight for it.

Doreen and Bartola made national headlines when they and other Adelanto parents became the first to trigger the change at their school. Today, they are satisfied with initial academic performance results of the newly established Desert Trails charter school which is showing increased performance for students. Previously, three out of four students at the school weren’t even reading at their grade level.

I joined them last Friday to walk precincts on their behalf under a hot Adelanto sun, talking to voters we encountered about why they now want to bring the message – and reality – of parent empowerment to the entire board. A victory for Bartola and Doreen would ensure that a new reform majority prevails.

“Enough is enough,” said Doreen. “Parents are tired of the same old, same old. We don’t just want to sit on the board, we want to mobilize parents to take back their school district – establish a new culture of leadership and a belief that every school can succeed.”

Not surprisingly, the teachers’ union has endorsed a slate of union-friendly candidates, hoping to defeat Doreen and Bartola and their questioning of a proposed sweetheart contract granting teachers a 5 percent retroactive pay increase and 8 percent pay increases for the next several years.

“Adelanto is bankrupt,” explained Doreen. “Most teachers don’t even live here, yet want pay compatible with high cost-of-living regions. But it will be Adelanto parents – mostly working class – who will pay the bill. Teachers are even refusing to consider working 60 minutes more in exchange for substantive pay increases. No reforms are tied to the demands.”

What will boost achievement is a restructuring of the board in its entirety so that parent voices – not the interests of special groups demanding pay increases despite anemic student outcomes – predominate. Doreen and Bartola recognize that transforming one school is not enough: Districts need systemic change to ensure they serve students first.

“When that happens, the spirit of Parent Trigger and the legacy of our Desert Trails school will be truly understood,” Doreen said.

Few Californians will ever read the California Education Code. But many more will meet Doreen and Bartola – mothers who give life to the law I wrote. Their win will be a win for us all.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Race for California Governor Should Emphasize Education Reform

On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will face off against Republican challenger Neel Kashkari in their only scheduled debate. Although Kashkari asked for 10 debates, Brown chose to do just one.

Undoubtedly, a slew of issues will be discussed, from economic policy, including taxation and tax credits, to border security and immigration, earthquake preparedness, California’s death penalty and even the ethical lapses of legislators.

Somewhere in that one-hour debate the candidates also will be asked about their views on education policies and practices in the Golden State. After all, education consumes almost half the state budget, and a new funding formula has recently been enacted. The Legislature has also suspended its testing of students as California prepares to adopt the Common Core curriculum, amid some public souring on its implementation.

The perennial debate over the quality and expansion of independent public charter schools continues to dominate discussion. An increasing number of local education agencies are tying to curtail their availability, even though at least 50,000 children remain on waiting lists to get into a quality charter school.

Like many other Californians, I will, most likely, watch the debate on television. Not all questions can be asked – much less thoughtfully discussed – in the scant allocated time of 60 minutes. Nonetheless, let me suggest a few questions:

(1) Nationally, we’ve seen a parent empowerment movement demanding greater parental rights in school choice options. Do you support ending school assignment by ZIP code, enabling parents to bypass their “local” school, particularly if it is chronically underperforming?

(2) In 2010 the Legislature enacted the Parent Empowerment Act, which allows parents to turn around chronically underperforming schools if 50 percent of the parents sign a petition choosing a transformation option, such as converting to a charter school. Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District shocked many when it claimed “exemption” from the law due to a federal Department of Education waiver combined with suspension of state testing. Do you concur that these “reform” districts are exempt from the law, and can any district self-proclaim exemption from state laws?

(3) In a school near Disneyland, a group of mostly Latino mothers are using the Parent Trigger law to transform their school, which has chronically underperformed for 10 years. They are being met with resistance from the teachers union and some elected officials. If you could meet with them, what would you say you could do to help realize their educational dreams for their children?

(4) Nine students sued the state of California, claiming that teacher employment and dismissal laws, including tenure and seniority, deprive students of equality of educational opportunities. L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu sided with the kids, ruling the statues unconstitutional, and the decision is being hailed nationally as a significant education and civil rights victory. What is your position on the Vergara ruling, and do you support an appeal of the decision or settling it and calling the Legislature into special session to rewrite these laws?

Many more questions could be asked of the candidates. But these are worth posing to Brown and Kashkari, for one of them will govern California’s 6 million public school kids, impacting their parents and utilizing half the state budget for the next four years.

Of course, one hour to debate all the issues is not enough time. Another debate is needed. Democracy thrives when the citizenry is educated. Californians deserve to know.

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. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.