First published on Schools Matter 2011-08-06
"Parents having decision making power over a budget is not a sustainable model." — Ana F. Ponce (CEO, CNCA Corporation)
One of Los Angeles' most lucrative and fastest growing corporate charter chains is Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA) Corporation. Led by the corporate executive tandem of the slick businesswoman and former TFA missionary Ana F. Ponce, and Hoa Truong, a MBA courtesy of the vile Broad Residency in Urban Education , CNCA Corporation has nearly doubled their number of school sites in just eighteen months. Before getting into the duplicity and double dealings that account for their staggering growth in market share, I want to share a chilling email I received late last week from a neighborhood parent regarding Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Central Region Elementary School #14 (CRES #14). Names and any other identifying information have been redacted to protect the innocent.
Hello All. Well I never applied to Camino Nuevo or gave them any information about my [CHILD] outside of attending the informational meeting at Rosemont. YET! Today I got a letter from them that [CHILD]'s name was put in the lottery and is #[NUMBER] on the waiting list to attend their school! They said in the letter I filled out the enrollment interest form. But to my knowledge all I did was sign in at the meeting with my child's information. What they are poaching from other schools in the neighborhood by any means. I wonder if other kids in my hood got these letters. I will ask around. I know for sure my neighbor who lives in my area a couple door down on Sunset was told she was in the attendance boundary (but she is not) and they already enrolled their child. WTH? This is CRAZY.
Let's look at what this parent is discussing. CRES #14 was recently awarded to CNCA Corporation by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employee and former LAUSD Board Member Yolie Flores under her deceptively named Public School Choice (PSC) resolution. PSC was conceived and created to speed up the rate in which Los Angeles public schools were given away to corporate entities and private institutions. PSC is making the wholesale privatization of our entire school district happen exactly the way The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace's arch-reactionary Andy Smarick spelled out in his Milton Freidman-cum-Ayn Rand dystopian vision Wave of the Future.  Here's a little more on PSC:
From the get go, the PSC process pits CMOs and charters with budgets bolstered by billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, The Walton fortune heirs, Reed Hastings, and more against underfunded public schools. It pits charters with professional marketing teams against overworked schoolteachers, scattered community members, and exasperated parents. It pits the corporate reform cheerleading media, happy to write pro-charter applicant team articles, against design teams with no access to publicity. The so-called Public School Choice resolution has never been about public schools, and now that the advisory vote is about to be ditched it should be clear to everyone that it's never been about "choice" either.
In a word, PSC is divisive, elitist, and antidemocratic. Its primary aim from the beginning was to provide the lucrative charter-voucher school industry with market share growth beyond their wildest dreams at the expense of our communities and tax dollars...
Flores gave our newly constructed school to her well heeled friends at CNCA Corporation despite (read "in spite") the explicit recommendation by then LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines for the facility to become a community run public school, and the fact that the community itself voted for the public school plan by an over two to one margin.
After being awarded the school, CNCA Corporation was supposed to enroll students within their attendance boundary , which included relieving ostensible overcrowding at nearby schools including Rosemont Avenue Elementary School and Union Avenue Elementary School. As part of PSC's provisions for charters, they are allowed to use their elitist lottery method for any students wanting to enroll other than those within the attendance boundary.
However, despite all their slick marketing and boasting about how popular their corporate run factory schools are, they are severely under-enrolled.
Since CNCA Corporation were outsiders from the very start, our community never took to them. Moreover, their one size fits all language program has been considered problematic by many Echo Parque and Historic Filipino town residents. We'll get back to the language issue shortly. Additionally, many of the parents with children enrolled in Rosemont and Union don't want to disrupt their children's education or break siblings apart by sending them to a new school. This was evidenced by the extremely low turn out at CNCA Corporation's "informational" meetings that the public schools were forced to hold at their campuses by former California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) employee José Cole-Gutierrez, who now inexplicably holds the head charter position as LAUSD. These public schools were forced to hold the privately operated charter's meetings despite the fact that they stand to lose resources if their students are siphoned off to the outsiders. The turnout at those meetings were so sparse, , there were nearly as many CNCA Corporation staffers present as there were attendees.
Poaching Parents, Stealing Students, and Possible Privacy Law Violations
So what was Camino Nuevo Charter Academy Corporation to do now that they've occupied a multi-million dollar facility paid for by the public, and whose construction had displaced dozens of homes, but they couldn't fill with enough students student to satisfy their board's bottom line? They've seemingly turned to nefarious methods to try and increase enrollment. In other words, they're poaching parents to try and meet their enrollment goals. In addition to the email reproduced at the beginning of this essay, here's a portion of an email from a well regarded local activist describing another incident:
One, a parent at Logan says she received a phone call from a woman at Camino Nuevo telling her that she needed to come to a meeting at the school because her daughter was registered to attend. She told them that she had not registered her daughter there and that the child would definitely not be attending CN. She was told that she would have to attend CN because she was in the enrollment area. She currently attends Logan.
In both cases the families in question are definitely not in the attendance boundary of the privately managed charter school. I personally verified their addresses versus the attendance boundary map, and unless it has been secretly redefined, they are outside of it. We have a few more reports of similar situations, but haven't had the opportunity to check the attendance boundary situation in those cases. Clearly CNCA Corporation shouldn't be harassing these families, and the fact that they obtained their personal contact information begs the question: where did they get these families private data? A very serious question indeed. It's possible that the district's so-called "innovation and charters division," which functions as a de facto arm of the CCSA, might have provided the personal data on these families. This would constitute a serious violation of privacy, and one would hope that LAUSD's José Cole-Gutierrez didn't have a hand in such a scandal.
In addition to possible pilfering of parents' personal information, there are also rumors that the district is putting a great deal of pressure on administrators at local public schools not to inform parents with children currently enrolled, but now within CNCA Corporation's attendance boundary, of their rights under The Education Code of California Section 47605.5(f):
"The governing board of a school district shall not require any pupil enrolled in the school district to attend a charter school."
Wonder why they wouldn't want to let families know that it is their right to demand their children attend a public school instead of a privately operated corporate charter?
Language Program Intransigence
"Improving education is not the goal. Privatization is the goal... Private interests are just that — private." — Bruce A. Dixon (Managing Editor, "Black Agenda Report")
When former LAUSD Vice President Flores awarded CRES #14 to CNCA Corporation contrary to the wishes and express votes of the Echo Parque community, and against the explicit recommendation of the then Superintendent, she promised she would address the grievously problematic issues with CNCA's proposal regarding their exclusive and inflexible language program. However, to this day nothing has been done to resolve this major point of contention between the corporate charter school operator and our community. Here's a quote from one of my essays on this issue:
Let's be clear. We're not asking CNCA Corporation to replace their transitional bilingual education model. We're asking them to commit, in writing, to offering several different language models — including Mainstream English. I don't think we're asking too much.
CNCA Corporation's hallmark is their singular Transitional Bilingual Model. They have indicated that in the short term they will offer an English track as well, but under some very onerous conditions. From their own FAQ :
Will you be offering an English Only option for parents who don't want their child to be in the bilingual program? How will that work?
Yes, families will have the choice to enroll their kindergartener in the bilingual program or the English Only program by noting their preference on the Camino Nuevo CRES #14 student enrollment form. The English Only program will focus solely on the development of academic English skills, whereas the Bilingual program will focus on developing and strengthening both academic English and Spanish. In the 2011-2012 school year, the bilingual program will only be offered for students in kindergarten. Therefore, the English Only option is available only for kindergarten students this incoming school year. Students in 1st grade and beyond will automatically receive all of their instruction in English. It is important to note that in order for Camino Nuevo to provide an English only track in kindergarten, there must be a minimum number of students selecting this program option. (emphasis mine)
Many community members have been curious to know who determines the minimum number of students. More than likely we're discussing CNCA Corporation's unelected board of directors that is composed exclusively of investment management executives, high powered lawyers, and other wealthy business types. Not one of them is an actual educator, and none of them have been teachers or principals in a K-12 setting. Furthermore, not one of them lives in Echo Park or Historic Filipinotown. Doesn't take much to realize that a "minimum number of students" will be determined by CNCA Corporation's board as whatever adds or subtracts to their bottom line.
Community activists have complained to the district at length about this contemptuous heavy-handedness, and I personally have sent several letters to my board member to no avail. Given that our community is a multicultural and diverse one, not guaranteeing English instruction, or even considering offering other locally important languages like Tagalog, seems like a clear violation of civil rights.
In fact, I would encourage any families that feel that CNCA Corporation and LAUSD's Innovation and Charter Schools Division are violating their privacy or their civil rights to file a formal complaint with the district. Send a written letter of complaint to:
Sue Spears, Director/Compliance Officer
Los Angeles Unified School District
Educational Equity Compliance Office
333 South Beaudry Avenue - 20th Floor
Los Angeles, California 90017
Pushing Back Against Privatization
The power politics played by the privatization minded Mayor Villaraigosa and his cabal of school board members funded by the billionaire astroturf group Coalition for School Reform are nothing short of breathtaking. There seems to be nothing that can prevent them from turning public schools over to privately run organizations featuring charter executives whose sole preoccupation is stuffing money into their pockets. The wanton destruction of communities, flagrant disregard for families, educators, and fleecing of taxpayers has been prominent in the give away of Clay Middle School to the Green Dot Charter Corporation, the high handed dismissal of the principal at Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy, and the ongoing disrespect CNCA Corporation displays towards the neighborhoods it occupies. That said, in each of those cases, communities have been mobilized against privatization and parents have been radicalized by the . We need to begin linking these struggles into a broader based social justice movement that opposes the privatization of public schools and demands that more resources be spent on fighting poverty in our communities!
 I've written many times about Broadytes being graduates of the plutocrat's privatization boot-camp — otherwise known as The Broad Residency in Urban Education. It's sorta like the School of the Americas for poverty pimps and privatization pushers.
 Most telling of the vicious and discriminatory charter privatization agenda is this line: "The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will still require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education" (emphasis mine). Charter schools have been documented repeatedly for discriminating against children with special education needs in Los Angeles.
 FAQ accessed on 2011-08-05 http://www.caminonuevo.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=192&Itemid=228#Will%20you%20be%20offering%20an%20English%20Only%20option%20for%20parents%20who%20don’t%20want%20their%20child%20to%20be%20in%20the%20bilingual%20program?%20%20How%20will%20that%20work?