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LA teachers planning campaign to oppose charter expansion

Mike Szymanski | August 26, 2015

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Alex Caputo Pearl LAUSD Board meeting-9.9.14 charter

UTLA President Alex Caputo Pearl


UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said the teachers union is planning an aggressive campaign to oppose Eli Broad and other wealthy foundation leaders who have announced plans for a major expansion of charter schools in LA Unified.

In a wide-ranging interview that focused on the state of charters in the district, Caputo-Pearl was highly critical of the effort, asserting that charters are undermining the ability of traditional district schools to maintain a quality education for all students.

“We’re going to make every effort that we can to organize against the expansion of what are essentially unregulated non-union schools that don’t play by the rules as everybody else,” Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report. “So we’re going to take that on in the public, take that on in the media, engage the school board on it. We’re going to try to engage Eli Broad. We’re going to try to engage John Deasy because we understand he’s the architect of it. It will be a major effort. It is a major concern.”

The charter expansion plans involve three major foundations that have been active for years in education reform across the country: the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the W.M. Keck Foundation. They said they intend to create enough charter schools in eight years to serve as many as half of LA Unified students.

The California Charter School Association has consistently denied that there are separate rules for charters, pointing to the fact that charters have to demonstrate academic achievement and financial stability to remain operating. Many charters do employ non-union teachers, but UTLA in recent years has succeeded in unionizing a number of them.

Caputo-Pearl’s targeting of Deasy evolves from Deasy’s association with Broad before and after he served as LA Unified’s superintendent. Before he was hired in 2011, Deasy attended the Broad Academy, which prepares senior executives for roles in urban education. He resigned as superintendent last year after problems with the iPad program, leading to a federal investigation of the bid process. Currently, he is a consultant for The Broad Center, a separate non-proft organization that helps train future education leaders.

Deasy was replaced as superintendent by Ramon Cortines, who says he intends to step down in December.

“It turns out (Deasy) is involved here with Eli Broad and and this effort, but what really offends us about Eli Broad is that he has been two-faced on issues of public education,” Caputo-Pearl said. “He publicly supported Proposition 30, which was arguably the most important thing in public education in decades in terms of restoring the system. Yet privately was funneling his cash in efforts to defeat it.”

Proposition 30 was a state measure approved by voters in 2012 that raised taxes to support public education.

The Board Foundation did not immediately respond to a message, seeking comment.

Caputo-Pearl and other teacher union leaders, local and national, have fought against the rise of charter schools, asserting that they undermine public education by draining financial support from public education systems and creating an educational caste system that favors some demographic groups over others.

For Caputo-Pearl and UTLA, Deasy personified the challenge for his open support for alternatives to traditional schools.

“We are concerned about these flavor-of-the-day interventions in the school system by billionaires who think that they know things, but really don’t,” Caputo-Pearl said. “The last major intervention that Eli Broad did at LAUSD was making John Deasy superintendent. That didn’t work out too well. We’re under an FBI investigation because of John Deasy. We finally, finally have begun to make improvements to the MiSiS system that spent tens of millions of dollars and had kids out of class for weeks. We of course had the iPad fiasco. We had the beat down of moral of (Deasy’s) autocratic style across the district. Our members are telling us we don’t need another intervention from Eli Broad in LAUSD.”

So strong is UTLA’s animus toward Deasy that Caputo-Pearl said he has urged the school board in its search for Cortines’s replacement to find someone “not out of the Broad Academy.”

“John Deasy was out of the Broad Academy. A lot of the people that he brought in were out of the Broad Academy,” Caputo-Pearl said. “Broad has 120 different people across California that have come out of the Academy who are in high management positions, clearly that’s part of the game that’s being played here.”

While the foundations are formulating their charter expansion plans and UTLA is devising its counter-measures, Caputo-Pearl said he would try to establish a productive working relationship with charter school advocates, such as newly-elected board member Ref Rodriguez, a former charter school executive. He and Rodriguez have met several times.

“One of main issues I raised with him is was that we feel a big part of our strategic plan is around public school accountability and sustainability,” Caputo-Pearl said. “I told him that we want to engage him this issue that all publicly-funded schools need to have common standards we need to adhere to, in terms of equity and access to all students, opportunities for parents to be genuinely involved, adherence to conflict of interest standards, financial transparency, basic common sense apple pie stuff.”

* Corrects John Deasy’s current role with the Broad Center

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