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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: One Small Victory for Anti-School Choice, One Giant Opportunity for Einstein Academy | 10-25-2012
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Kevin D. Korenthal

After eight years of working in government affairs and association public relations, I thought I’d seen how low an adversary can sink in order to score a victory. I was, after all, advocating against the most powerful special interest group of all time, Big Labor. And in that respect, my work remains the same. But instead of the well-funded private unions of the building trades, my most recent opponent was the politically powerful and often-maligned, public employee union, the California Teachers Association.  It is noteworthy that Mitt Romney took the time in the last debate to point out that it is the teachers’ unions, not the students, parents, and teachers who are the real beneficiaries of our education system.

The California Teachers Association wields its power silently but effectively in our K-6 elementary school system here in the Santa Clarita Valley. They claim that Santa Clarita has great schools that are not in need of reform or competition and that we have them to thank for that. In reality, SCV schools have been slashing course offerings and drastically increasing class sizes for decades, all the while, they send each class off to college less prepared than the last. Certainly, our schools are not failing but they are based on the increasingly unpopular premise that an ever greater amount of money and a very powerful and well-paid administration is the key to successfully educating children. They argue that education reform, especially in the form of competition is unnecessary and counterintuitive. Were this all true, California would not be ranked 47th in schools in the nation despite having the 23rd highest per pupil spending in the country.

So we have an education system with a clear conflict of interest in the position of deciding whether or not the charter proposed by the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts & Sciences is approved or denied. By the reaction Einstein Academy has received from the education establishment, you’d have thought that they were proposing some never-before-heard-of plan to completely reform our schools. Actually, the California State Legislature chose charter schools over school vouchers in an attempt placate the unions that wanted nothing to do with any sort of reform or competition. And the reaction to Einstein’s charter petition continues to provide evidence that the resistance remains. From the very beginning of the process, the unionized administrators for the local school districts began colluding to keep charters (especially Einstein) out of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger has gone as far as to insinuate that charters would be ruinous to the local education system we have here in the SCV. He’s indicated by his actions, allegedly with the support of the school board trustees at whose pleasure he serves, that he will stop at nothing to prevent charters from becoming a part of the K-6 districts.

Despite this, I am still surprised at the lengths that the Saugus Union School District went to deny Einstein Academy’s well-polished and significantly detailed charter petition. Rather than making a reasoned and convincing case that charter schools are, for whatever reason, unneeded in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Saugus administration chose to use obfuscation and deception to paint a negative picture of the Einstein charter.

Having the background in these matters that I do, I possess the ability to assess the accuracy and suitability of claims made by staff in these types of documents. Never before have I come across so many untrue statements and omissions.  Issues I found ranged from numerous claims by the district that voluminous answers to basic questions were just one sentence in length, subjective determinations on enrollment expectations that completely ignored supporting data contained in the petition, and the use of outdated and irrelevant data in cases where updated information was made available through the proper channels.  Additionally, there was a claim by the district that it actually possesses the same authority as the California Office of Education, as well as a baffling instance of the district staff being unable to identify the difference between liability insurance and Workers Compensation coverage.

The Saugus Union School District and their handlers in the local chapter of the California Teachers Association won a brief but costly victory here. Having had a clean and technically proficient charter school petition turned down by the district, Einstein Academy now qualifies to take its case to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) for a review of the SUSD findings. Upon denial at SUSD, Einstein immediately began the process of applying to LACOE to have the denial overturned on the basis that its petition was not evaluated fairly and according to the letter and intent of the law. With that documented in the form of the SUSD staff report and numerous white papers analyzing the errors and omissions contained therein, it is very likely that the LACOE will see things from Einstein’s perspective and approve the charter.

And a charter approved by LACOE will have some very distinct advantages over one SUSD should have approved. The LACOE-approved Einstein would have access to the average daily attendance tax increment from the Saugus district but would not be subject to the district’s oversight. It would also not be bound by the geographical limitations of the district. Einstein would be able to set up its charter school anywhere in the county and expansion would be significantly easier under the county’s supervision. Most ruinous from the eventual perspective of the district is the loss of revenue that Einstein would have returned to the district. Einstein would have been dependent in part on services that it would be provided with (at a handsome cost) by the district. Instead, a LACOE-approved Einstein will contract with private entities or another more willing district for these services.

So in the very short term, the K-6th school districts in Santa Clarita held off the wave of school choice and educational reform that is sweeping across the nation in the form of charter schools. But by doing so, it placed itself in further economic jeopardy and made itself a target for larger, better funded and completely privately run charter school corporations like Green Dot and Kipp. These very experienced and well-funded charter school companies relish the idea of smashing the doors wide open to school choice at throwback districts big and small. They’ll come with the talent and organization as well as the money to litigate when they don’t get the results they are looking for.

 

Kevin D. Korenthal is a Santa Clarita resident and the owner of KORE Communications, a marketing firm that represented Einstein Academy before the Saugus Union School Board. His commentary reflects his own views and not necessarily those of Einstein Academy or any other party.

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4 Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    Per Mr.Korenthal, “it is very likely that the LACOE will see things from Einstein’s perspective and approve the charter”
    And if they don’t, (because LACOE also might have a vested interest against charters, Einstein, etc.) then what?

    • I believe LACOE has a vested interest in ensuring that the charter schools that come before them meet the legal obligations set before them for approval. Though SUSD had that same obligation, I believe, their policy of preventing charter schools from entering the K-6th districts biased them in this process.

  2. Robin says:

    Well written, Mr Korenthal. During this ongoing debate two things in particular have been especially disturbing:
    1. The net effect of Winger’s blanket opposition to charter schools? No child in his district will ever have the opportunity to begin learning a foreign language at a reasonably early age.
    2. Signal commentator Tim Myers made an outrageous claim against
    Einstein Academy parents, that they “had their hands in the public
    till”. This inflammatory language met The Signal’s writers’ guidelines?
    Best of luck with the LACOE.

  3. TBF says:

    As the parents of a special needs child, we know full well how low the District can get in their self-serving interest to protect the District’s interest (namely save money and preserve themselves) and avoid providing appropriate services to the special needs child (and the general education child).

    Denials, lies, deception, continual intimidation of the parents with the threat of Due Process (paid for by the Taxpayer’s money), defamation of the child and their family, nothing is too far for the District.

    I know too well what Einstein must have gone through in their pursuit for their charter. I wish you luck in your pursuit.

    Time for education reform has come in the Santa Clarita Valley and in California at large:

    1) The class size has gone up to a level that is unacceptable and inappropriate for free and appropriate education.

    2) Class curriculum such as the arts, PE, languages., etc. have been stripped away to a level that is unacceptable and inappropriate for free and appropriate education.

    3) Great teachers who are so deserving are let go, while undeserving teachers (who do the bare minimum, who bully their students, and/or who have personality issues) are kept on (because of tenure).

    4) Certain demongraphics such as the ESL students, the economically disadvantaged students, the students with disabilities are not being served appropriately (they continually fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress as mandated).

    5) The public schools should not have a monopoly of the public education funds when they are not doing its job appropriately. Competition (in the form of charters or vouchers to private schools) should be allowed to give the child a choice to appropriate education.

    The parents have to rise up and stand up and fight for the rights of their Civil Rights to a Free and Appropriate Education for their children. Even if it means standing up to the intimidation of the local District and lobbying for laws to a free choice in education.

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