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Commentary by Ken Pfalzgraf
| Sunday, Feb 8, 2015

KenPfalzgrafI am an Acton resident, an observer of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District board, and a parent of an Albert Einstein Academy secondary school student who has flourished after leaving the Acton-Agua Dulce district (AADUSD).

I am responding to the AADUSD superintendent’s comments on Feb. 6 regarding the recent superior court ruling in Newhall School District v. AADUSD.

The AADUSD superintendent’s statement, while being one of the best collections of buzzword-laden rhetoric I have seen in a while, is nothing more than the arbitrary lip-service response one would expect, given the recent superior court ruling. Here’s why:

First, I have challenged AADUSD several times to produce a budget that would, without income from its out-of-district charter schools (e.g., ADA cut, oversight fees), be positively certified by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

AADUSD continues to ignore this challenge. AADUSD’s out-of-district boundary charter school plan is not about “choice” at all. Instead, it is a “unique” way to create income for the fiscally struggling district. The AADUSD’s past board president admitted it when the strategy was conceived.

AADUSD’s most recent fiscal status letter from the County Office of Education documents the anticipated loss of another 20 percent of the district’s already sinking enrollment and the funding that goes with it, which will trigger the need to drop another 20 full-time-equivalent staff positions in the next two years.

Read it for yourself [here].

Next, educational “choice” is not a reality for the students left in AADUSD’s own schools as the resources meant to support their education are milked off to fund the defense of an ill-conceived plan, rooted in desperation.

Approximately 5 percent of the district’s budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 has been set aside for legal fees. The AADUSD spin is that some of this is for the new high school being built as we speak and for special education legal matters, but we know another district is seeking attorney fees in an amount exceeding $200,000 – and that’s just for what occurred up to October 2014.

By the statements of its own board members, AADUSD intended from the onset to open charters outside of its own boundaries, namely in the Santa Clarita Valley, where there are students to be had. The legal fees and court actions are a direct result of that decision.

Furthermore, in the interests of protecting the district’s own funding from further enrollment-related loss, AADUSD intentionally limits access (i.e., “choice”) to its own students who seek continuous AEA placement as they advance through the grades.

For example, during the most recent AADUSD school board meeting, while discussing the Medal of Honor program, one board member inquires if the local students who attend the Agua Dulce AEA Partnership (former AADUSD Agua Dulce students who shifted to AEA after AADUSD closed their school) would have access to the AADUSD Medal of Honor program. After being advised by the superintendent that the placement for the local kids goes to “fifth grade,” the board member said, “you want those kids to continue going to the junior high” (time mark 7:15 in this audio recording).

The plan is clearly to keep the local (Acton-Agua Dulce) fifth graders “local” by limiting their access to the AEA’s SCV campus as they transition to sixth grade. This is the reason there are two distinctly separate AEA charters operating currently at AEA Agua Dulce.

How is limiting access to your own students to preserve your own fragile enrollment providing the “choice” in education the AADUSD superintendent speaks of?

Everybody has a spin on Newhall v. AADUSD; here’s mine. I was in the courtroom on Feb. 5, having the words from Judge Chalfant go from his mouth directly across the room into my ears. The reality is that there is no legal AADUSD AEA SCV charter, and there is also no illegal AADUSD AEA SCV charter. The matter is in limbo until an appellate court judge rules.

The Newhall appeal seeks to have a judge take another shot at the Oct. 14 decision in Newhall v. AADUSD. That means the judge will either validate the approval of the AADUSD AEA out-of-boundary charter while recognizing how this decision stands to impact education across the state, or deny and revoke the charter – but certainly not both.

Just last week, a judge in San Diego made it pretty clear what he thought about an out-of-district charter school in a case that mirrors Newhall v. AADUSD [Click here.]

Looking ahead, there might be some problems on the horizon for AADUSD if the Newhall School District’s take on AADUSD’s “redo” of the AEA SCV charter is accurate. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions as you read the Newhall statement to the court [here].

Ironically, the AADUSD superintendent’s treatise on choice holds no meaning for the kids of his own district. AADUSD’s decision to venture afar for out-of-town capital has left its own students in Acton and Agua Dulce bearing the brunt of the battle though the loss of their teachers, curriculum and resources.

As an Acton parent of a flourishing AEA secondary school student, I can only hope AEA will engage in a process to find a fiscally stable and administratively mature sponsor which will allow AEA to flourish in an unchallenged environment.

I’ll close by asking yet once again for AADUSD to produce a budget that the County Office of Education could positively certify that does not rely on out-of-district boundary charter school income. Please print that in your next statement, superintendent.

 

Ken Pfalzgraf is an Acton resident.

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9 Comments

  1. Judy says:

    From what I have read, you have embraced parent choice. Seems odd that you are so opposed to your own home district that supports your very decision.

    I just had some fun and did a little web research to learn more. You fail to even recognize the improvements within the Acton-Agua Dulce School District. Test scores are up, despite reduced state funding with the LCFF formula. (See the state website) The new high school is finally being built and got a 6 year WASC accreditation,( See Facebook and Website) the middle school is a “Schools to Watch”, ( Listed on the STW Website) the elementary school is a “California Distinguished School”.( Again, listed) In my mind those are all accomplishments to be proud of. As with any school district there room for improvement on all campuses and I am sure like most districts are just starting to recover from the years of underfunding by the state. AADUSD made improvements, not perfection, under this administration. (That is the goal, right??)

    AADUSD recognizes that not all traditional schools are what is best for every child. As a parent, I can appreciate that this district embraces the facts that parents need to make the educational choices for their children. AADUSD DOES have charters within thier boundaries. AADUSD has embraced educational competition and choice.

    I agree, its all about the money. AADUSD is working to be creative and improve upon their small district with this new model. They have no alternative. If it were up to the state AADUSD would have been underwater and taken over. They are just not diverse enough under this new funding model.(See the SARC report.) Why would you not want a model, even if bold an creative, in your own home town that would work to improve your schools?

    While Newhall is doing……… what?? How is this fight doing anything for the students they serve? How is this fight improving upon their program for their students?

    The court will battle out the legality, but from what I know about the area and the current law; Why would Newhall offer portables to AADUSD if there was space within the school district to run the ENTIRE program? The current law allows for out of district charters…period.

    Nothing is free in the world ,Mr. Pfalzgraf, except for your freedom of choice. AEA tried several times to get approved by SCV School Districts and they chose NOT to. I say Bravo AADUSD for being brave and bold and in the very least working to improve their program by seeking to have parent choice within their boundaries. That cannot be said for Newhall, because their program is already perfect…… right? Then why have so many Newhall students chosen to leave? Maybe, just maybe, even in the SCV parents want choice as well.

    I am sure you will come back with some creative reasons why I am all wrong. I question why you would discourage a school district to be as brave and bold as you are? You stand up for your beliefs as I have read many of your editorials.( Did a quick name search.) You seem to not care what people around you think and act within the confines of the law. Why would you expect anything less from your home district? In fact you seem a lot a like.

    • Ken Pfalzgraf says:

      Judy,
      You are 100% correct. I truly appreciate your opinion as it is full of truth. I don’t mind being called out if it is perceived that my personal experience with the AADUSD administration might be clouding my judgment. I take it you may have found some of my more vivid special education editorials, each based in my AADUSD reality. When I write, I make sure that I include links to let people fact check. Click on any of them?
      The thing that we still have to agree on is why the kids in the town I live in and the one next door (Acton/Agua Dulce) deserve to have 400K taken out of their educational funds to fund a legal battle over the leadership’s choice to play a guinea pig game under the guise of innovation in education that will somehow change the face of education in the future. The problem for these kids is that their education is happening NOW.
      Once again, take the out of district boundary charter school income out of the AADUSD budget and if it still holds a positive certification then I’m good with it. I can’t buy the end justifies the means logic. If it is not legal to start charter schools in other districts for the sake of money and the superior court judge agrees, then that’s pretty much the end of that. I can’t see someone saying it’s ok to rob a bank if the robber declares that they will give the money to charity.
      This could all end overnight if AEA SCV packs up and heads back to Acton School. Maybe SCV parents will make the same 30 mile each way drive we make each day getting our child to AEA in Valencia. Newhall has no case then, the legal battles and attorney fees stop, the money goes back to the kids and my child goes right down the street to a local AEA campus. That’s something she cannot do now because the same system that is rigged to protect AADUSD enrollment is the same system that precludes her from having a local AEA campus to attend. Therein lays my problem.
      As far as AADUSD not being able to compete with the big dogs, I know the megastore killed the country store story. The only thing that would change if AADUSD went into receivership is the board and the leadership. We get a state assigned superintendent and no frills budget management. Maybe that expedites the recovery process. Maybe that keeps my child in town and off the freeway. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the superintendent of a 30,000 student system. If that’s your goal, apply at a big district and go to it. But please don’t sit back and let someone else do the work while you take 3 cents on the dollar and leave the kids in your own district sinking, teachers laid off and the attorneys eating up five percent of the budget.
      I think there would be less rhetoric to pitch about if AEA had followed the charter rejection appeal process all the way through during their difficulties finding a sponsor in the SCV. I would hate to think that the conspiracy theory includes that LACOE and the California Department of Education are in the SCV districts pocket and would not have overturned a proper petition. Maybe there wasn’t enough time or money to see things through back then. What say AEA tries again? Maybe now. Maybe for this fall even.
      Fire away Judy.

  2. Why is Ken pointing at me? I didn’t do anything.

  3. I wonder what kind of blue tooth he is wearing?

  4. Ed Montoya Ed Montoya says:

    “You talkn to me?”

  5. Ken Pfalzgraf says:

    No I’m not pointing at y’all. I,m pointing to the people behind you.
    The blue tooth is Mototrola H730. Got it at K-Mart, 400 Elm St. Cincinati OH

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