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1962- Actress and future Soledad Canyon big-cat rescuer Tippi Hedren, "Hitchcock's New Grace Kelly," makes cover of Look magazine for upcoming thriller, "The Birds" [story]
Tippi Hedren


Commentary by Ron Bird
| Friday, Mar 6, 2015

Ron BirdA recent commentary by Ken Pfalzgraf focused on the costs of the current Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District superintendent and his board’s insistence on out-of-district charter schools, which is proving costly both to students and taxpayers.

Here, I focus on the “facts” that the Acton-Agua Dulce (AADUSD) superintendent pitches to justify his plan – most of which I find to be based in deception.

For example, on June 25, 2014, Superintendent Brent Woodard testified before the Assembly Education Committee regarding AADUSD’s sponsorship of 20 charter schools and the SB1263 legislation to curtail out-of-district charter approvals. You can watch this testimony [here].

Here are some excerpts.

Woodard: “Until yesterday, we really didn’t have the opportunity to get involved with the creation of this bill.” The facts: SB1263 was introduced in February 2014, with testimony taken and debated in the Senate Education Committee. Opportunity existed and was missed by Woodard. The bill passed the Senate committee and went on to pass in the full Senate before it was forwarded over to the Assembly. Finally, in the Assembly Education Committee, Woodard testified.

Woodard: “We are in fiscal crisis as many schools around the State of California are.” The facts: in June 2014 when this testimony was given, only seven districts out of more than 1,400 statewide were in negative certification, one of which was AADUSD.

Woodard: “(H)owever we are to the point of where we will be certified positive in a short amount of time exclusive of any kind of revenue or indirect costs associated with the charter schools.” The facts: As of March 2015, AADUSD still has not produced a budget that is balanced without the help of out-of-district charter school revenue. In December 2014, Woodard gave a PowerPoint presentation indicating AADUSD expects $800,000 in charter school revenue assuming it is charging 1 percent oversight fees to charter. The reality is that AADUSD charges 3.5 percent, generating far more than this projection.

Woodard: “I want to dispel this myth that we are a rogue district.” Hmm, why would anyone think that?

Woodard: “Our community was demanding they had a charter school opportunity and option.” I don’t remember any large local parental movement for charter schools. I don’t remember residents circulating any petitions at either of the Acton markets or Sweetwater Farms. Neither do I remember people attending school board meetings demanding local charter schools. Was a community survey conducted? Did the school board update its Strategic Plan to include charters? I don’t think so.

Regarding how many of the Agua Dulce elementary students are attending Einstein, Woodard said, “98 percent of those parents are attending that charter school.” At a December 2014 board meeting, Woodard happily stated that only 108 of our Agua Dulce kids attend Einstein. Given that 149 students enrolled there the prior year, then the real percentage is 72 percent, not 98 percent.

Regarding how Einstein kids were housed within AADUSD in 2013-14, Woodard said, “We had kids all over the district in order to do that.” The reality is, all Einstein students were housed in only two schools that year: Acton Elementary School and Agua Dulce Elementary. Now in 2014-15, with Einstein moving its Acton operation to Newhall, Acton Elementary is mainly used for storage. This creates an artificial shortage of in-district classroom space, forcing charters to find space out of the district.

Woodard stated: “We have authorized one seat-based program outside our district. All the other authorizations are independent study.” In addition to the Einstein Newhall seat-based charter, AADUSD sponsors three separate Valley Prep programs in the San Fernando Valley and the Scale Academy in Pasadena – all of which was authorized at the time of Woodard’s testimony – and all have students sitting in seats.

In regard to how many charters AADUSD approves, Woodard stated: “We have a very rigorous screening process. Only about half of those that apply actually even see a hearing before the board.” Since the AADUSD board has approved about 20 charters, I challenge Woodard to name the 20 charter petitions he has not brought before the board. Of the charters the board has approved, I have only seen one that specifies a physical address where the charter school plans to locate. Without an address, a charter petition is incomplete, and the board should not grant a public hearing on the charter. The Charter Schools Act is clear on this matter.

Woodard said, “We have multiple charter schools in our district that our kids are attending currently.” The only one I am aware of is Einstein-AD. Hope-Inspire independent program did have an office on Santiago Road, which since has closed. It claims an Acton Elementary School address and pays AADUSD $6,000 per year in rent. I suspect students don’t attend there, and they might just be using it for storage space.

Assembly Education Committee Chair Buchanan: “How many students attend charter schools in your district”? Woodard affirmed the number is “in between 300 to 350 and is probably growing.” The reality is that in 2013-14, Einstein enrolled only 14 AADUSD students that year. I’d like to see what charters the other 286 to 336 students were enrolled in.

Chair Buchanan: “Are you telling me that 50 percent of those students come from your attendance area? Is that correct?” Woodard: “Absolutely.” She further questioned the idea that 50 percent of the students in the schools AADUSD has chartered reside in the district when AADUSD has only 2,200 students (500 of those Woodard claimed attend the Hart District). Woodard then did a little stuttering dance. Chair Buchanan said, “It’s pretty unbelievable.”

Chair Buchanan: “What is the amount you are getting from these charter schools, both current and projected?” Woodard: “I’d have to go back and do a calculation.” In December 2014, Woodard released a number claiming $800,000 in charter school revenue going into the AADUSD coffers.

Chair Buchanan: “This is where I am on this: School boards are created for a reason, and school districts have boundaries, and the charter law was intended so that parents of children could form a charter. … I have a problem with a school district issuing charters the way you are in other school districts and making it a money maker, because in my opinion that is exactly what you are doing (by) charging 3.5 percent. That’s the price of admission to have a charter approved by your district. … In the long run, this is going to hurt all charters, because this is just not an ethical way to operate. … You may be shaking your head (gesturing to Woodard), but I’m sorry, I don’t buy what you are selling here, and I think these other districts have a legitimate concern.”

What Woodard is trying to sell is that AADUSD sponsoring 20 charters not for the money generated in oversight fees, but for providing charter choice. Just one month prior to Woodard’s education committee testimony, the AADUSD board president at the time publicly stated why they need charter revenue: “This is a mechanism for us to enter into collaboration with charter schools in order to create alternative budget capacity.”

SB1263 was passed by both houses of the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Brown. It would have stopped practically all out-of-district charters and truly was way too restrictive.

Now, I admit that some of Dr. Woodard’s testimony was more embellishment than deception, but much of it stretched truth beyond its limits.

What are the consequences? When your boss is the AADUSD School Board, apparently there aren’t any. Maybe they will find “it’s about the money” and give him a raise. And Pfalzgraf, my commentarial nemesis, thinks the Charter King’s salary should be cut, haha.

It is a new year, and new legislation in the form of SB739 has been submitted. I’m looking forward to Dr. Woodard’s testimony on the matter. Maybe he will have the opportunity and attend the Senate hearing this time.

 

Ron Bird is a former school board member in the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District.

 

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