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Commentary by Ken Pfalzgraf
| Monday, Apr 27, 2015

KenPfalzgrafPreface: I am an Acton resident and Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District (AADUSD) school board observer. My last piece [here] gave readers an inside look at the struggles one has in breaching the wall of attorneys that the school district has set up to keep its future course secret as it invades educational communities throughout Southern California. This time, we’ll look at AADUSD’s boldest move yet: taking a shard off of a petition for a charter school that never opened due to a lawsuit, and attempting to use a doctored-up version of that same petition, and a buried process, to tiptoe in for a 3-percent cut of the 90210.

 

I sent an email request to the Acton-Agua Dulce school superintendent and the board president on the morning of April 22 for the board meeting packet for the April 23 meeting. I requested documents for agenda items 10.1 and 10.2, specifically: “Petition/material revision/enclosures/staff reports/verification of permission to open charter in Beverly Hills from Beverly Hills Unified School District for AEA (Albert Einstein Academy) Odyssey charter school.”

I was notified by email at 5:12 p.m. on the 22nd that the packet was ready and that I would be able to pick it up after 9 a.m. the next day. Paging through the packet, I found none of the information I had requested for the agenda items, even though it clearly listed “Enclosure Odyssey (material revision).” (See April 23, 2015 agenda [here]).

Was I surprised the school district was providing absolutely no information for its constituents to inform themselves before having the “opportunity” to participate in a public hearing? No. Transparency is in short supply in Acton-Agua Dulce.

Luckily, I had a bit of information to go on. I knew the Albert Einstein Academy “Odyssey” charter petition began its life when it was approved by the AADUSD board on June 12, 2014. At that time, it was to be located in the San Fernando Valley.

That Odyssey charter never opened because the Los Angeles Unified School District filed suit against the Acton-Agua Dulce district for venturing into LAUSD boundaries without approval.

Fast-forward to just a couple of weeks ago. In closed session, the Acton-Agua Dulce school board approved a settlement in the LAUSD vs. AADUSD charter school lawsuit. Included was a stipulation that the charter school would not open in the San Fernando Valley.

I’m betting AADUSD had to pick up the legal fees for all parties in the lawsuit (Los Angeles Superior Court case No. BS149062). I guess that I’ll have to do a records request to find that out.

Wait a minute, Pfalzgraf. Don’t tell us you’re saying the new Beverly Hills-Einstein Odyssey charter is the same charter petition for the LAUSD site that the LAUSD sued over? And that Acton-Agua Dulce, instead of vetting a new petition for the Beverly Hills site, is trying to pawn it off as a “material revision” to keep it under the radar?

FYI: A material revision to an existing charter petition typically means minor changes have been made. I guess moving the whole school, which never really existed, 25 miles from a school district, which has just sued you, into yet another school district is of those “minor changes.” Maybe that’s why I wasn’t given any of the documents I requested before the meeting, especially the “verification of permission to open charter in Beverly Hills from Beverly Hills Unified School District for AEA Odyssey charter school” part of my request.

Next, I found it odd that agenda tabs 10.1 and 10.2 were stacked on the same agenda. 10.1 was for a public hearing during which the Acton-Agua Dulce board would have the opportunity to consider input from its constituents and/or from representatives of the district where the charter would be sited, and factor that input into the board’s decision. Yet, tab 10.2 suggests that “the board approve Resolution No. 14-15.10 AEALAS-Odyssey’s material revision as presented.”

Apparently, the superintendent is psychic, knowing what the public input would be, how the board would factor that input into its decision, and what the outcome would be, that the board would be ready to approve the charter within minutes of the public hearing – all three days before the meeting occurred. That’s impressive. Remind me to call the superintendent’s office on Tuesday night for Friday’s Powerball numbers.

Ring, ring. “It’s Pfalzgraf.” “Have the attorney answer it.”

With absolutely no information coming from the Acton-Agua Dulce district, I decided to see if the Internet could tell me anything about how Beverly Hills feels about the “materially revised” charter school coming into the 90210. Just my luck, there it was: an article on the front page of the April 24 e-edition of the Beverly Hills Courier, loaded onto the web already.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District superintendent was quoted as saying: “Normally, a charter school would come in through a local governing board. Unfortunately, they’re coming in and establishing a charter school in our district boundaries without BHUSD consent.”

The article went on to say: “Board of Education VP Howard Goldstein said the district originally entertained the idea of Odyssey coming into Beverly Hills but changed its tune once it became known that it was unlikely to be cost-neutral, as it was originally proposed.” (See “ Odyssey Charter School Prepares Move Into Beverly Hills Amidst Controversy” pages 1, 18 [here]).

Acton-Agua Dulce's superintendent and a board member peruse the Beverly Hills Courier article on their attempt to charter a school in 90210 land.

Acton-Agua Dulce’s superintendent and a board member peruse the Beverly Hills Courier article on their attempt to charter a school in the 90210.

From what I had read, the Beverly Hills crowd wasn’t too excited about what was about to happen at the Acton-Agua Dulce school board meeting. I arrived just in time to catch the board members coming out of closed session. Being the good citizen I am, I handed my home-printed copy of the Beverly Hills Courier article to the board president, just in case the board had not checked in with Beverly Hills Unified before approving a charter in that district. A cake break at the conclusion of the Acton-Agua Dulce Teacher of the Year celebration (good job MVO!) provided an opportunity for the now sullen-faced superintendent to have a couple of ad-hoc conversations with several less-than-jovial board members who each had their turn pointing at my Courier printout [here].

I finished my cake and turned in my speaker card for agenda item 10.1. I intended to comment on the origin and legal history of the Odyssey petition as I knew it and would finish out my three minutes by speed-reading the Courier piece into the record. I looked up to find the past president of the board leaning over the chair in front of me and advising me that items 10.1 and 10. 2 had been pulled from the agenda during closed session.

Were the items really pulled in closed session? We’ll never know. One thing is for sure: That Beverly Hills Courier article sure took attention away from the cake. Good job on helping everyone on the dais limit their carb intake, reporter Laura Coleman.

So why does this matter to me? First, school districts are assigned a fiscal “certification,” based on a district’s ability to meet its current and foreseeable fiscal obligations. Certifications are “positive” for schools that are fiscally sound, “qualified” for those having some trouble and “negative” for districts that cannot meet their fiscal obligations. When a district falls into “negative” certification and stays there for a couple of quarterly budget reports, the superintendent is relieved of his or her post and the school board dissolved. An appointed superintendent and board representative come in to guide the district back to solvency. No muss, no fuss, no charter plans and no education money being spent on charter boundary lawsuits while the local students bear the fiscal brunt of someone’s ill-fated “plan.”

Acton-Agua Dulce fell into negative certification in January 2014. On June 25, 2014, its superintendent appeared in front of the California Assembly Education Committee to speak to Senate Bill 1263, which was aimed directly at stopping Acton-Agua Dulce’s practice of sponsoring charters in the boundaries of other school districts strictly for the cash it generates.

At that hearing, the Acton-Agua Dulce superintendent was filmed saying: “The truth of it is that we are in a fiscal crisis as many of the schools, if you will, around the state of California are. However, we’re in the process of that remedy, and we’re to the point where we are going to be positively certified in a very short amount of time exclusive of any kind of revenue or indirect cost associated with the charter schools.” (See it for yourself [here].) The full SB1263 session can be accessed here: http://scvtv.com/?p=22219 (the fireworks starts at the 38 minute mark).

Apparently, “a short amount of time” is more than a year, because the AADUSD budget still requires $800,000 of charter school cut to maintain a positive certification. Acton-Agua Dulce budgeted nearly 5 percent of its 2014-2015 budget for special education and charter school-related lawsuits; that’s nearly $500 of educational resources being taken from each student who remains at home in Acton-Agua Dulce. With unsettled lawsuits and SB 739 aimed directly at the district’s charter “plan,” who knows how stable AADUSD’s skim off of out-boundary charter schools really is?

And still, the district is willing to recycle a legally defeated charter petition to another school district and risk yet another round of lawsuits and legal fees. Is this anything more than a self-fulfilling prophesy aimed at keeping a paycheck coming in that should have been cut off when a promise made a year ago could not be kept?

Is this what you envisioned when you made your choices in the ballot booth?

What does a school district 52 miles away that can’t be self-sufficient have to offer Beverly Hills?

So hey there, Jed, I wouldn’t be loading up that truck just yet. Maybe Jethro’s got a bit more cipherin’ to do because right now, it’s kind of looking like it’s going to be 9021-NO.

What about an Albert Einstein Academy in Beverly Hills? If I’m AEA, I’m petitioning Beverly Hills Unified directly. Why not keep the Beverly Hills district’s educational economy local?

And yes, my child continues to do well at the AEA campus she attends, which is sponsored by the district in which the campus is sited. Thanks for asking.

 

Ken Pfalzgraf is an Acton resident.

 

 

Comment On This Story
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10 Comments

  1. Keep up the awesome work!

  2. Chris Hulse says:

    Way to go you rock!!! Enough is enough.

  3. I guess if these folks see this picture they are going to avoid all contact. Man, you are a very angry person just looking for a fight. Maybe Don Tellers sign |/ is true ;-)

  4. K Pfalzgraf says:

    Blame SCV TV for the picture. They had several to choose from including one with me dressed as an angel for Halloween, bedazzled halo and all. I even had some $5 aftershave on. Shame on SCV TV.

  5. K Pfalzgraf says:

    OK SCVTV you win.

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