Your attention is directed to Item B,¶3 in the Closed Session Items:
Superintendent of Schools
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Your attention is directed to Item B,¶3 in the Closed Session Items:
Superintendent of Schools
Teachers College Community School opened in 2011 with Jeanene Worrell-Breeden as its principal. Credit Michael Appleton for The New York Times
JULY 27, 2015The principal of a popular elementary school in Harlem acknowledged that she forged answers on multiple students’ state English exams in April because the students hadn’t finished the tests, according to a memorandum released Monday by the Department of Education.
On April 17, the same day that someone made a complaint about the cheating, the principal, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, of Teachers College Community School, jumped in front of a subway train. She died on April 25.
The accusations of cheating, and Ms. Worrell-Breeden’s suicide, have been previously reported, and the three-paragraph memorandum released on Monday offered a few new, if scant, details on the events preceding her death.
According to the memorandum, the Special Commissioner of Investigation, an office that investigates misconduct in the city’s schools, received an email complaint on April 17 that Ms. Worrell-Breeden had told someone that she had forged answers on multiple students’ answer sheets because they had not finished the tests.
The name of the person who made the complaint was redacted from the version of the memorandum that was released. It was not clear if it was the same person whom Ms. Worrell-Breeden had confided in, or a third person. Nor was it clear whether Ms. Worrell-Breeden forged answers just on the first of the three days of English tests, April 14, or on subsequent days, as well; and whether she knew a complaint was being made before she took her own life. A department spokeswoman declined to answer further questions.
The complaint was referred to a different office, the Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations, and on May 18, Robert Small, an investigator from that office, went to the school and conducted one or more interviews. The accusation of cheating was substantiated, according to the memorandum, which was written by Mr. Small. But because Ms. Worrell-Breeden had died, he recommended the case be closed.
As a result of the cheating, the city invalidated several dozen English test results for the school’s third grade. Those pupils were the oldest students at the school, which opened in 2011 with Ms. Worrell-Breeden as principal, and the first to take standardized exams. The invalidated results did not affect any student’s promotion to the fourth grade, the Department of Education said.
According to an obituary published by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the city principals’ union, Ms. Worrell-Breeden had degrees from Penn State University, City College of New York and Fordham University and worked briefly on Wall Street before following her mother into education. She began teaching at Public School 18 in the Bronx, where she became principal in 2005.
JULY 26, 2015 :: The results of several dozen standardized tests taken by third graders at a sought-after public elementary school in Harlem have been invalidated amid allegations of testing improprieties by the school’s principal, according to city education officials.
The principal, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, 49, killed herself soon after the testing was completed at Teachers College Community School, adding a tragic note to the episode and raising questions about whether the allegations had factored into her death. She jumped in front of a B train near 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue on April 17, and was taken to Harlem Hospital Center, where she died on April 25, the police said.
The allegations against Ms. Worrell-Breeden were made the same day that she jumped, and a day after the city’s public school students in grades three through eight completed three days of English exams as part of a high-pressure state testing program.
It was the first year that Teachers College Community School, which opened in September 2011 with kindergarten, had children old enough to take the tests. Though this round of testing would serve as the school’s first official appraisal, many community members believed it was prospering.
“The tragic irony here is that by all accounts this school is a runaway success,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, who represents much of Harlem. “I’ve visited a number of times and am in regular communication with the parents. They seem to be thriving.”
Still, Ms. Worrell-Breeden took a proactive approach to preparing students for the exams. The school had begun incorporating elements of the standardized tests into the curriculum one year earlier, and offered an after-school academy five days a week for the second graders. During exam week in April, students began each day with a pep rally meant to ease anxiety.
It was this steadfast devotion to her students’ success that made Ms. Worrell-Breeden a popular figure among the school’s active parents.
“Aside from being inspiring and supportive, Jeanene was a visionary leader,” Laurie Kindred, who served as co-president of the parent-teacher association during the previous school year, said. “She was an impassioned, dedicated principal who stood by what she believed on behalf of the kids.”
Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Education, issued a statement on Sunday that confirmed that Ms. Worrell-Breeden “was the subject of allegations of testing improprieties.”
“An investigation substantiated these allegations, and we closed the investigation following her tragic passing,” the statement said. “This is a difficult time for the T.C.C. school community, and we will provide ongoing support to students, families and teachers.”
Ms. Kaye did not provide further details, saying that a report would be released on Monday. The investigation was reported on Sunday by The New York Post.
Teachers College Community School is run by the Education Department in partnership with Teachers College at Columbia University. The school offers many programs for students, including violin lessons for all third graders.
In the 2014-15 school year, there were 218 students enrolled in prekindergarten through third grade, nearly two-thirds of them black or Hispanic. The school, which admits students by lottery, has become one of the most popular in Harlem, drawing applications this year from 464 families for 50 kindergarten spots, Jim Gardner, a spokesman for Teachers College, said.
City education officials said the department’s Office of Special Investigations had substantiated the allegations against Ms. Worrell-Breeden, who was not interviewed during the investigation. They noted that the decision to invalidate the results of the 47 English exams would not negatively affect the students’ promotions to fourth grade.
Stephanie Castro, 8, middle, joins her fellow students in phonics exercises during class at Achieve Academy in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 17, 2015. Two Education for Change Public Schools charters and two traditional Oakland district schools are participating in a K-2 pilot literacy program called "Springboard" that provides incentives for children to read and trains parents to read to their children. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group) ( Laura A. Oda )
07/25/2015 01:24:25 PM PDT :: The spread of charter schools throughout the East Bay and California is often viewed as a blessing or curse, depending on whom you ask.
In West Contra Costa County, where charters are still fairly new, some school district officials consider them unwelcome invaders that drain students and funding. But in Oakland, which has a long history of charters and a few highly successful schools that are considered models of the movement, district officials and charter school operators are finally settling into a more collaborative and symbiotic relationship.
As parents dissatisfied with schools in both districts flock to charters, the debate continues: What is their impact on public education, and can traditional educational models amicably coexist with an alternative movement that shows no signs of abating?
Teacher Holly San Miguel works with students in small group guided reading at Achieve Academy in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 17, 2015. Two Education for Change Public Schools charters and two traditional Oakland district schools are participating in a K-2 pilot literacy program called "Springboard" that provides incentives for children to read and trains parents to read to their children. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group) ( Laura A. Oda ) >>
California's charter law, created in 1992, gives more flexibility to charter schools than to traditional public schools, creating a two-tiered system of education that has at times led to animosity and division. It doesn't help that new charters must seek approval from the very districts that stand to lose students, along with the state money those students bring in.
"I think it would be good if we could get a shared sense of direction about what might be the right complement of charters to district schools," said Todd Groves, president of the West Contra Costa school board. "Under present law, people are free to float as many charters as they want, without really taking into account the impact on the district system, which at this point is serving higher-needs students in disproportionate representation."
Oakland has seen its charter enrollment grow from about 8.1 percent of the district's total student population a decade ago to more than 23 percent this year. West Contra Costa lags behind -- 10 years ago the district had two charters serving 1.3 percent of the district's students -- but is picking up the pace.
While district enrollment in traditional West County schools has been on a slow but steady decline, enrollment in charters has jumped. In the most recent academic year, eight charter schools educated 8.6 percent of students, and that number is predicted to reach 14.7 percent of total district enrollment -- 4,485 students -- in 2016-17.
<< Kimberly Cardenas, 7, left, and Karolina Castillo, 8, work together on a worksheet during guided reading at Achieve Academy in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 17, 2015. In Oakland, where the charter movement has a long history, district and charter officials are starting to work more collaboratively. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group) ( Laura A. Oda )
As Oakland has shown, that number will likely grow as more parents seek alternatives to the district's low-performing schools. Although a few charters have failed to measure up, both districts are bracing for more of the schools to open in the coming school year, and others with long waiting lists are planning to expand.
The trend is leading some district officials to fret about the long-term effects on their traditional public schools, including loss of students and state funding, and competition for high-quality teachers. It's also prompted some residents to ask the school board to consider closing or merging half-filled district campuses.
Kelly Garcia, executive director of Summit Charter in El Cerrito, which opened last year, said the school's 117 seventh-graders came from 28 elementary schools and reflect district demographics.
In Oakland, charters serve a smaller percentage of African-American and white students than district schools and a much higher percentage of Latino students, according to an analysis by this newspaper. In 2014-15, 53 percent of charter students in Oakland were Latino, compared with about 44 percent districtwide.
That reflects the growing push by Latino families to improve their children's education without turning to pricey private schools, said Noel Gallo, a school board member representing the Fruitvale district for two decades before being elected to the City Council three years ago.
"The ultimate goal for me is: 'Who can provide the best education for our children?' " he said. "Certainly, Oakland Unified as a district has done a below-basic job, if you look at the graduation rates. And that's why parents have chosen to take their children to charter schools."
From the beginning, Gallo said, the board and district administration focused more on the flow of district money going to charters as students left, rather than addressing lackluster academic quality that led parents to seek alternatives.
Often, friction erupts as soon as districts learn a new charter petition is in the works. If district school boards deny the petitions, charters can appeal to their county boards of education and then to the state Board of Education. Three of West County's eight operating charters were approved by the county, compared with six of 38 schools open for business in Oakland.
In Contra Costa, Summit's charter petition was approved by the county board over the objections of some community members who alleged that the schools skim "cream" from the top by taking high-achieving students.
Garcia, however, said only 20 out of 125 students who applied to Summit's El Cerrito campus last year performed at grade level before the school year began.
"We span the spectrum, from kids reading at first-grade level through high school," Garcia said. "I would say if we're 'creaming,' then I am terrified about what's going on at other (district) middle schools."
Parent Michael Ray Wisely, whose daughter attends Summit, said he became disillusioned with a district school board that was more focused on building flashy new facilities than on academics. Summit, he said, holds students and staff to higher academic standards and fosters a college-going culture.
"I felt public charters will force (district) public schools to get better just because charter schools will show them what success looks like," Wisely said.
Many people have misconceptions about charters, said Carol Lloyd, executive director of the GreatSchools national online rankings database. Some are high-performing, some are low-performing, some are run by large management organizations, and some are very small. There are schools that focus on STEM or performing arts, or have alternative instructional philosophies such as Waldorf and Montessori schools.
"The reality is that charter schools are more diverse as a group than (traditional) public schools, so you will find everything under the sun -- even a student who basically stays at home and works on a computer," Lloyd said.
The California Charter Schools Association recommends closing charters that don't meet expectations for student achievement and other standards.
One such school in West Contra Costa closed after test scores fell. But others are bucking the trend. Making Waves Academy, a charter middle school that opened in 2008, saw its Academic Performance Index score rise from 702 that first year, on a scale of 200 to 1,000, to 822 in 2013, far above the district's score of 717.
A study released in March by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, found that most urban charter students in the Bay Area outperformed traditional district students in both English and math.
Oakland's American Indian Public Charter Middle School is a good example. The school scored 971 on the API in 2013, far exceeding California's proficiency target of 800. The average API score for district schools in 2013 was 742, compared with 809 for charter schools.
Oakland's charter movement can be traced to 2003, when the state took over the financially troubled district and concerned parents clamored for more choices for their children, according to Gary Yee, a self-described charter skeptic and a former school board member who was interim superintendent before Antwan Wilson took over as superintendent.
The distrust and acrimony that characterized charters' explosive growth has subsided somewhat with the June 2014 arrival of Wilson, who emphasized collaboration, not friction.
As a result, the district is working with charters "to exchange information and expertise and systems and to collaborate with them so we develop the best knowledge base and the best operation to support all our students," said spokesman Troy Flint.
As further proof, the Measure N parcel tax approved by Oakland voters last November will be split with charter schools on a per-pupil basis for students in grades 9 through 12, Flint said in an email. Approximately $2.8 million a year will go to charters, he said.
In contrast, the West Contra Costa school district has refused to share its parcel tax proceeds with charter schools, prompting a lawsuit from the California Charter Schools Association.
Although West Contra Costa school officials continue to say charters are hurting the district financially, Flint said the Oakland district doesn't really know how to calculate the impact on its budget.
"There is some financial impact, but really, the obligation of the local school district is to provide the highest-quality education for all students -- all public school students -- and not to let ideology interfere with our goal," he said.
"It's to our benefit to spend less time parsing the financial impacts of charter schools and as much time as possible making all the educational options available to kids better. That's a better use of our time."
●●smf's 2¢: When Great Schools.org and The CCSA are the primary sources, it’s safe to assume you are reading a “puff piece”.
What Is a charter school? Charters are free public schools that receive state funding, but are operated independently. In California, most charter schools are nonprofits and are not legally considered to be public agencies.
SOURCE: California Charter Schools Association
More information about charter schools in California is available by calling the California Charter Schools Association at 916-448-0995 or by visiting www.calcharters.org.
To see online rankings and reviews of local schools, including charters, visit greatschools.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
DISTRICT CHARTERS ENROLLMENT DIST. ENROLLMENT PERCENT DIST. ENROLLMENT
Oakland 38 12,084 52,008 23.2
West Contra Costa 8 2,630 30,596 8.6
SOURCE: California Department of Education
July 22, 2015 8:03 AM ET :: Both houses of Congress have now passed versions of the bill that would update the largest federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, for the first time since 2001. They are big, meaty and complicated, and now they have to be reconciled into one messy Dagwood sandwich of a bill to go to the president.
There's one slice in the pile that hasn't been widely discussed. The Senate version of the bill contains several amendments aimed at addressing one of the hottest issues in education: standardized testing. "This bill would ... reduce the burden of testing on classroom time," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in his official statement about the Senate bill.
At first glance that seemed to me like a surprising claim. After all, the bedrock federal requirement remains in place: testing every student, every year, in math and reading, from grades three through eight and once in high school.
However, while the law required, and still requires, annual testing, it doesn't specify how much or for how long. While the federal testing mandate remains, the new bill would encourage states to reconsider how that testing is implemented.
In other words, "test every kid every year" might not necessarily mean testing them for weeks on end.
Moreover, as we reported last year, the vast majority of standardized tests that students are taking in school are mandated by states and districts, not federal law. It's these tests that the Senate bill is especially trying to tackle, specifically through amendments introduced by two Democratic senators: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Baldwin's amendment, based on a bill she had previously introduced known as the SMART (Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely) Act, would grant cash to states to audit their current testing program, soup to nuts:
Furthermore, the amendment would provide funds for the creation of new, better tests, to improve reporting of the data that come from tests, and to support teachers in using that information. And the money could be used to help teachers develop their own assessments that are "formative" and aligned to state standards. Formative is a technical term that implies tests that give useful, timely feedback for learning, as opposed to summative assessments that simply give students a stamp of approval or disapproval at the end of the year.
"This commonsense provision gives us the tools and resources to work with states and districts to reduce unnecessary assessments, especially by targeting redundant and low-quality tests," Baldwin told NPR.
You may have gone to school in an old building where the walls were sagging and peeling coat after coat of paint. If the wall is never properly stripped, the new paint can't go on smoothly. The same kind of years of buildup is apparent in district testing requirements at schools across the country.
A survey of states last year found at least 23 distinct purposes for tests, including: state and federal accountability, high school graduation, grade promotion, English proficiency testing, program evaluation, teacher evaluation, diagnostics, end-of-year predictions or fulfilling the requirements of specific grants. That can add up to 10 to 20 tests a year, or an average of 113 tests by the time students graduate.
Various groups, including the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools, have been trying to encourage states and districts to review and cut back on tests; the SMART Act would put funds behind that idea. It's been acclaimed by data and accountability-focused groups like the Education Trust and Teach Plus.
Sen. Bennet, a former district superintendent in Denver, added two more focused overtesting amendments to the bill. These would require states to cap the percentage of instructional time spent taking assessments required by federal law, the state or the local district. Districts would then have to notify parents if their district exceeded the state testing threshold.
The amendments would also require districts to publish more information to parents about testing.
"This is precisely what the Obama administration asked Congress to take on, and it is an important step to help reduce overtesting and shift to fewer — but better — tests," Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said of both Bennet's and Baldwin's proposals.
Cutting back on tests deemed "unnecessary" is one idea that has support from a broad range of education watchers. If these amendments make it through reconciliation, they're likely to have the president's support. Will they make anti-test and opt-out groups happy?
Not completely, but it's a start. Marla Kilfoyle is a teacher on Long Island, New York, a center of the opt-out movement, and the general manager of the Badass Teachers Association, a national group that opposes standardized testing. Hundreds of its members will be on Capitol Hill this week lobbying senators and the Department of Education to halt standardized testing, among other ideas aiming to empower teachers.
Kilfoyle spoke positively of the new flexibilities that would be granted to states in both the House and Senate versions of the bill. However, her group is adamant "that annual testing will NOT close the widening achievement gap."
They support testing students only once each in elementary, middle and high school, and using random sampling rather than testing every child in a grade. Bottom line? "We are disappointed that high-stakes annual testing still exists."
Monday, July 30, 2015 :: “Schools 5 or 10 years ago couldn’t get to the market”
The Children’s Aid Society sold municipal bonds on July 9 to raise money for its charter school, joining a record borrowing spree for such educational institutions across the U.S.
The New York charity will use the $40.7 million from the bond sale to build a six-story building to house its charter school in the South Bronx, says Chief Financial Officer Dan Lehman.
“The best and most reliable path out of poverty for children is educational achievement,” he says.
The school will also serve as a community center where students can take part in after-school programs. Source: FXFOWLE via Bloomberg>>
Charter schools have issued $1.2 billion of municipal bonds so far in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and they are on pace to break last year’s record $1.9 billion.
Muni bond sales by charter schools have more than doubled over the past four years, setting records every year since 2012, according to a survey by Local Initiatives Support, a New York nonprofit that focuses on revitalizing neighborhoods. Federal rules allow nonprofits and private companies to sell tax exempt “public purpose” municipal bonds to raise money for projects that benefit the community. Charter schools, which are independently run and provide an alternative for parents of children in poorly performing districts, receive public funding based on how many students they serve.
Enrollments across the country climbed to 2.9 million in the school year 2014-15, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, up from 350,000 in 1999-2000.
“Schools 5 or 10 years ago couldn’t get to the market because they were too new,” says Wendy Berry, a financial adviser to charter schools and former Moody’s Investors Service analyst who wrote the Local Initiatives survey.
Even so, the debt is among the riskiest in the $3.6 trillion muni market because schools can close if enrollment drops or they lose their charter for poor performance. Of 818 charter school bond offerings since 1998, 41 issuers have defaulted, a rate of 5 percent, according to the survey. The average default rate for nonhousing muni bonds rated by Standard & Poor’s since 1986 is 0.03 percent.
To compensate for the risk, a 30-year charter school bond can yield as much as 5.6 percent, compared with 3.4 percent for AAA-rated muni bonds with the same maturity.
Susan Courtney, head of the muni bond team at Prudential Investment Management, looks for large charter schools with a proven record.
“You want to see steady enrollment trends, you want to see a decent waiting list,” says Courtney, who doesn’t plan to buy the Children’s Aid bonds. “Obviously, we’re also focused on the management and the board.”
Children’s Aid, founded in 1853, had never sold bonds before. Its school opened in 2012 and has about 280 students. Filling new classrooms should be easy: Enrollment in New York City charter schools has increased tenfold in the past decade, to more than 80,000 students, according to the New York City Charter School Center, an advocacy group. Almost 50,000 children are on waiting lists.
Unlike most charter schools that rely on revenue from enrollment to repay bondholders, Children’s Aid has promised to fund the debt regardless of how much money the school takes in. That led Standard & Poor’s to rate the bonds A+, based on the charity’s long record of successful operations and favorable fundraising trends.
The charity is paying 4.18 percent interest on the bonds. Similarly rated 30-year municipal debt yields about 3.4 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Children’s Aid receives grants from more than 150 corporations and foundations and has more than 140 government contracts that brought in about $75 million of revenue in fiscal 2014, according to a presale presentation for the bonds. The contracts include administering health and fostercare programs.
The charity had about $300 million in cash and investments at the end of April. It will make bond payments 90 days before the due date and has promised to keep enough investments and cash on hand to pay off the bonds, which will mature from 2017 through 2045.
Putting Children’s Aid’s credit on the line shows the organization’s commitment, says Lehman, the CFO.
“This was something that we have proposed and put out there so that everyone would recognize, ‘Hey, we’re serious about this, and we’re going to make good on our money.’ ” Martin Z. Braun
The bottom line Charter schools are on track to sell more than last year’s record $1.9 billion in municipal bonds.
Also see: New York Charity Joins in Record Bond Binge for Charter Schools - Bloomberg Business http://bloom.bg/1IvIDQM
Friday 07 24, 2015 :: The US House of Representatives has voted to pass an education bill that would place a ban on funding for sexual education courses that “normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior.”
The bill, known as the Student Success Act, is included as a portion of the Republican rewrite of the No Child Left Behind initiative created by President George W. Bush. The rewrite has been the subject of much debate over issues including the use of standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, and how large a role the federal government should play in education in comparison to state governments.
However, the measure in question includes language that appears to take away funding for evidence-based sex education in schools.
According to the bill, funding for programs “directed at youth, that are designed to promote or encourage sexual activity, or normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior, implicitly or explicitly, whether homosexual or heterosexual” would be prohibited.
The bill goes on to state that funding cannot be used to hand out materials considered to be “legally obscene” or that “normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior”on school grounds.
In addition, funding would also not be allowed for the distribution of contraceptives on school grounds or for sex education or HIV-prevention education programs that do not teach “the health benefits of abstinence.”
Advocates feel that this approach is ineffective, arguing that sex education is more beneficial when it discusses how normal teen sexual behavior is, considering 61% of teenagers have had sex by the time they turn 18 and 95% of people in the United States have had sex before marriage.
According to a report from Advocates for Youth, effective sex education “should treat sexual development as a normal, natural part of human development.” It is only through this method that children learn to make smart decisions concerning sex, relationships, and bodily autonomy, they say.
“Our young people deserve medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education so they can live healthy lives and have healthy relationships,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told RH Reality Check. “Sadly, this bill goes in the exact opposite direction by prohibiting funding for proven health and sex education curriculum that keep young people healthy.”
In order to combat the bill, Lee introduced a separate bill, known as the REAL Education for Healthy Youth Act that would offer more comprehensive sex education.
Sex education is currently not standardized across the United States, with fewer than half of states requiring that it be taught and no federal mandate in existence that would test students on the subject. Many of the schools that do teach sex education focus on anatomy and the basics of pregnancy and disease prevention, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
However, a 2013 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost 75% of 12th graders in the US have had sex, and 10% of female high school students reported being forced to have sex when they did not want to. Many such assault survivors said would like to see better sex education classes offered in high schools, believing that doing so could prevent sexual violence.
Still, some parents believe that sex education creates a blurry line between teaching about sex and instilling an expectation in students concerning casual sex.
Music teacher and former principal Carl Schafer has logged about 1,700 miles during his three-year quest to get arts taught in California's public schools. Mary Plummer/KPCC
July 23 2015 :: There’s a little-known law that requires California's public schools to teach dance, theater, visual arts and music. Most school districts ignore it. Carl Schafer is on a mission to change that.
Schafer has spent the last three years lobbying to get arts instruction to every student in the state.
His journey began a few years back, when Schafer discovered words in California’s education code that mandate arts instruction for 1st through 12th-graders.
"When I first started doing this and bringing it up, there were lots of people in very important positions in education who were not aware," he said.
Since then, Schafer has made it his personal crusade to ensure the law is enforced. He's had meetings with state Sen. Carol Liu; Rick Pratt, the chief consultant to the state Assembly Committee on Education; and California Congressman Ted Lieu.
Schafer's made some progress. State Sen. Ben Allen is considering calling for an informational hearing to tackle the subject of arts instruction in the education code. The California Arts Council has also agreed to discuss the education code at a September meeting in Santa Cruz.
Schafer thinks all schools can offer arts instruction as mandated by the state.
"I think it’s attainable," he said. "It’s really, I think, a matter of learning how to do it."
The 83-year-old Schafer describes himself as semi-retired, but his voicemail hints at his busy life. His message lists five organizations for which callers can leave messages.
The former principal and teacher has spent almost six decades working in education. Recalling how the arts and music first became his focus, Schafer says it was a traveling salesman who set the course of his life.
At age six, a knock at the door led to violin lessons.
In high school, he offered to carry the string bass of a pretty girl. It was the fall of 1948. By 1952, they were married, and still are today.
Schafer joined the Army a few years later for which he played the clarinet and cymbals. After he left the military, he entered college in Santa Barbara and practiced for his music degree on a pre-war piano that still sits in the living room of his Upland home.
Schafer wants the same artistic opportunities he enjoyed to be made available to young people across California. He’s taken a dozen flights to Sacramento and logged about 1,700 car miles lobbying across California — all trips he's paid for himself.
At his home, Schafer’s converted a small walk-in closet into desk space. Crammed between his office supplies and his suits, he works on getting the arts education laws enforced.
"It needs to be universal, and this is the only way it’s gonna get universal," he said.
Nationwide, 42 states require the arts be taught from elementary to high school. But in recent years, the recession and an emphasis on standardized testing led to arts funding cuts in many school districts.
Joe Landon, executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, said Schafer has earned a reputation for his persistence.
"He’s somebody who is just pushing the envelope constantly, saying what you're doing isn't enough," he said.
Schafer seems to reach out endlessly until he gets what he wants, Landon said.
"We don’t necessarily agree with everything that Carl is espousing, but we really appreciate and recognize the importance of his point of view," he said.
Like Schafer, Landon wants all kids to have arts instruction. But he and Schafer differ on the best tactics to get there. Landon said there are several mandates in the state's education code that don’t get enforced.
Decisions about whether to provide arts instruction often come down to money and priorities: school districts will say they don't have enough of the first and sometimes don't think of the arts for the second.
But Schafer points to a recent lawsuit settlement that forced schools in California to provide physical education which, like arts instruction, is explicitly required under the state's education code.
At a recent Ontario-Montclair School District board meeting, Schafer took to the lectern to talk about his favorite subject. The school district is where Schafer spent most of his career. Yet it, too, does not fully abide by the arts instruction mandate.
“We have been conditioned to believe that arts education is something that can be eliminated or that it's optional," he told board members. “What I want you to know is that in the education code, it is not optional.”
As he talks, the buzzer that limits each speaker's time goes off. “Stop that thing!” he shouts over the noise... and keeps on speaking.
7/19/15, 4:52 PM PDT | More than a year after completing the first draft of an audit that questions cozy relationships with contractors and multi-million dollar deals, Los Angeles Unified’s inspector general can’t say whether there was criminal wrong-doing.
The final audit was released last week, but the inspector general’s office continues to classify the issues uncovered as an “open investigation” not yet prepared for the review of criminal prosecutors in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
In November, the inspector general’s investigation unit was called-in to begin reviewing allegations that could rise to criminal activity, but more than six months later “it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome” of that review, according to a written statement from the school district.
District officials said they could not estimate when the investigation might be concluded.
But if the inspector general, “determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that an employee has engaged in illegal activity, the nature and details of the activity shall be reported on a ‘timely basis,’ to the DA or attorney general” according to a district statement that cited state law.
In the meantime, the man at the center of allegations made in the audit, Food Services Director David Binkle remains on paid leave.
Binkle, who earns $152,000 a year, has been on leave since December 4. The district declined to comment on why Binkle has neither been sent back to work or dismissed.
A high-profile proponent of healthy eating, Binkle has appeared at the White House alongside first lady Michelle Obama and starred in Tedx Talks.
Inspector General Ken Bramlett clarified one of the claims made in the audit.
According to the audit, “it is not clear why” the district agreed to pay an extra 15.5 percent for every dinner it served under a five year $50 million contract.
The meals could have been purchased directly from LAUSD contractor Five Star Gourmet, according to the audit.
But instead, Binkle met with another contractor, Gold Star Foods, and it was decided that the district would buy Five Star Gourmet dinners through Gold Star, increasing the cost of each meal from $1.20 to $1.48.
In response to questions, Bramlett explained the increased cost was charged for transportation costs, as Five Star Gourmet sold the dinners to Gold Star, which transported the meals.
Gold Star’s role, transporting the meals, was not mentioned in the audit.
Another deal brought into question by the audit was an agreement with a public relations firm. According to the audit, Tatum Wan Co. collected $108,518 more than it was entitled to receive under contract.
The additional charges, Tatum Wan said, covered the cost of expenses for numerous events, including a culinary competition in Washington, D.C., called Cooking up Change. The fees collected by her company for services, she said, did not exceed the $200,000 permitted by the subcontract her company was working under.
The audit also brought into question the relationship between Binkle and the two contractors.
At Binkle’s request, Five Star paid the airfare and lodging for two employees to attend a conference.
The trip is being investigated, because “asking a contractor to pay for airfare and hotel accommodations is clearly in violation of the Employee Code of Ethics and state’s Contractor Code of Ethics.
While Binkle contended the trip was part of the contract reached with Five Star, the legal agreement simply states the company would “train district food services staff on food safety, food handling, storage, recalls, ordering billing and accounting,” according to the audit.
In 2011, Binkle was given near complete control of contracts, under a decision that was supposed to cut the administrative costs by skipping standard vetting processes, according to the audit.
The audit also described massive waste, as food services’ operating deficit more than tripled over three years leading up to the $78.6 million shortfall in 2013.
But even as the budget ballooned to $341 million, the district served nearly 900,000 fewer meals in 2013 compared with the 2010 fiscal year.
The increased budget reflects a 41 percent increase in the cost of food bought by the district. While the rising cost can partially be attributed to buying healthier food, the lax contracting practices led to a lack of competition and likely higher prices, according to the audit.
Jaime Escalante (1930 – 2010)
In this 2003 file photo, Rafe Esquith, a fifth-grade teacher at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, leads an innovative after-school group in his classroom. (Jonathan Alcorn/For The Washington Post)
July 19, 2015 :: Fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith’s worst nightmare began March 19, during a puzzling meeting in his principal’s office. Hobart Boulevard Elementary School’s principal indicated something had happened, but Esquith says that he was told he had nothing to worry about.
That was wrong. I consider Esquith to be America’s best classroom teacher. The Los Angeles educator’s annual Shakespeare productions, real-life economics lessons, advanced readings and imaginative field trips are phenomenal. Yet he has been removed from his classroom since April and told by his school district to say nothing about what is going on.
Fortunately, his attorneys have prepared a detailed account of the administrative incompetence and wrong-headedness that created this situation as Los Angeles Unified School District investigators continue to search for anything they can use against their most-celebrated teacher.
At that March meeting, according to their account, the principal told Esquith: “You have nothing to worry about. This is a bump in the road. I need to counsel you that you need to be careful what you say in front of students.” Esquith said fine, still not knowing was they were talking about. He went back to teaching and preparing for “The Winter’s Tale,” as acted, danced and musically accompanied by his students, mostly from low-income Hispanic and Korean families.
Three weeks later, Esquith learned that the district had forwarded a complaint to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, but the teacher still didn’t have details. Esquith said the principal told him he had nothing to worry about and that “this is about nothing.”
The next day, Esquith learned the truth: A school staffer had reported to administrators that Esquith made a joke about nudity that she thought might offend students and their parents. Esquith had read to his students a passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in which a character called the king comes “prancing out on all fours, naked.” Esquith reminded the students that the district did not fund the annual Shakespeare play, and if he could not raise enough money “we will all have to play the role of the king in Huckleberry Finn.”
Esquith was told that the district was pressuring him for an apology. Esquith wrote and signed one: “I am deeply and sincerely sorry that any comment someone heard, or thought they heard, has anyone uncomfortable.” Nonetheless, two days later, April 10, the district removed him from his classroom — giving no reason — and sent him to an office for disciplinary cases commonly known as the teacher jail. (He was later allowed to stay home, with pay.)
On May 27, the state credentialing commission rejected the district’s complaint. That same day, investigators met with Esquith and asked him bizarre questions, such as did he know any teachers who didn’t like him and which women he dated in college.
Investigators eventually said they found a man who said Esquith had abused him when he was 8 or 9, during a time when Esquith was a teenage counselor at a Jewish summer day camp. The alleged incidents happened 40 years ago. The man told the Los Angeles Times that he reported this to a Los Angeles school board member and the police in 2006, but nothing came of it. Esquith has denied wrongdoing.
Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume revealed recently that cases like Esquith’s had previously been left up to principals, but after a 2012 molestation scandal, the district began to suspend and investigate hundreds of teachers for even small alleged infractions.
Esquith is being treated like a Wall Street cheat. On July 8, the district’s investigators asked him for all of his tax returns, loan and bank records since 2000, giving no reason. Many other teachers being similarly targeted are asking Esquith’s lawyers for help.
This is an investigation gone rogue. If it continues, the Los Angeles school district — previously devoted to helping its students — is at risk of not only losing an exceptional teacher, but also its very soul.
●Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.
WaPo columnist Mathews is not some Washington Beltway pundit opining on LAUSD from three thousand miles away. He knows of who+what+where+when+why he speaks. Mathews is the journalist who ‘discovered’ Jaime Escalante: JAIME ESCALANTE TURNS STUDENTS INTO CALCULUS WHIZZES (Dec. 12, 1982) http://wapo.st/1JeGmYX
From Mathews 2010 obit for Escalante: “From 1982 to 1987 I stalked Jaime Escalante, his students and his colleagues at Garfield High School, a block from the hamburger-burrito stands, body shops and bars of Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. I was the Los Angeles bureau chief for The Washington Post, allegedly covering the big political, social and business stories of the Western states, but I found it hard to stay away from that troubled high school.
“I would show up unannounced, watch Jaime teach calculus, chat with Principal Henry Gradillas, check in with other Advanced Placement classes and in the early afternoon call my editor in Washington to say I was chasing down the latest medfly outbreak story, or whatever seemed believable at the time.” | http://wapo.st/1DsWS13
Mathews’s 1988 book ESCALANTE: THE BEST TEACHER IN AMERICA traced Jaime Escalante’s career from his native Bolivia to Garfield High School in East Lost Angeles, where he taught advanced mathematics courses to disadvantaged high school students, mostly Latino. Escalante’s story was the subject of the film STAND AND DELIVER (1988), which starred Edward James Olmos.
Los Angeles Unified's newly elected school board president, Steve Zimmer, speaks during a board meeting on July 1, 2015 at LAUSD headquarters. Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Zimmer, who has held a seat on the school board since 2009 and served as a teacher and counselor at Marshall High School for 17 years, takes the helm of the seven-person board in the midst of ongoing troubles with the district's student data system, a burst of new state education funding, and questions about expansive, wasteful spending in the district's food services division.
Those are just a few of the items on a long to-do list for the school district, which is charged with educating over 540,00 students and is the country's second largest.
Education reporter Mary Plummer sat down to speak with Zimmer on Friday at KPCC's studios. The Q&A below has been edited for length and clarity.
The most important task that the school board has in the coming school year is the search for the next superintendent of LAUSD. This search, both in process and outcome, is in many ways an assessment of the board and our ability to work together collaboratively, our ability to ensure that we have genuine public input into the process.
We are at a defining moment in public education. The definitional battles of the last five or six years about the role of public education, the role of democratically elected school boards, I think have largely been played out. I think that there is a collaborative sense of mission around public schools and particularly around our school district. We need to capture this moment. We can't transform outcomes fighting over different agendas. We can only transform outcomes by coming together and working collectively on behalf of kids. Our process has to really capture that.
The board will meet on July 30 to start just the technical part of the [search] process. I can't say for sure what the calendar will be until the board meets and is able to discuss it together. But I can, in broad strokes, outline that there will be a period of listening, there will be a period of search, there will be a period of winnowing down from that search.
And then there will be the deliberation over the group of finalists. All of whom I hope will be consensus builders, collaborators, and will have the proper balance of urgency and periphery to understand that to move forward it has to be all of us together. There's no shortlist.
I don't have hard and fast deadlines. What's really important to me is that we kind of listen to the soul of the process, that we're not thrust forward artificially but that we are exacting in our work, that we are professional and that we understand the urgency at hand.
We know roughly the first part of 2016 is when we need to be at a final stage. If we're able to arrive there sooner, we'll know it. If it feels that we need more time and we're truly listening while moving, we'll know it. I expect that the type of transparency we're hoping to have will lend a certain confidence to finding the right mix of velocity and care.
That number has gone way down, I don't have a precise number. There were problems. There has been some trouble producing transcripts where students took courses at institutions other than LAUSD institutions. There have been some cases where certain tabulations were off. We're trying to understand how that happened and rectify that.
The problems weren't only due to MiSiS [the district's student data system]. In this instance, it really allowed us to do a deeper dive into oversight around transcripts and diplomas and critical end-of-school-career documents that I think is going to help us a lot moving forward.
That's not to say that any mistake is forgivable. These are kids' lives, and we're doing everything we can. We really put a team in place this summer to rectify the situation. I'm confident that by the time school starts this part of the situation will be resolved to the point that we will be sure it won't happen again next year.
This is not a full blown catastrophe or crisis. This is a fixable situation and I'm confident that we've got a team in place and that team together, I think, has really done some great work to resolve this over the summer.
Do I wish this never happened? Of course. We're trying to understand exactly what happened, how much of this was purely system error, how much might have been for whatever reason human error, and how much of it is kind of a hybrid of the two.
Superintendent [Ramon] Cortines has assembled the right team to understand what we need to learn to move forward and make sure this doesn't happen again.
I don't use words like resolved. I use words like progress. I use phrases like we are really working on this and are attentive to it. I don't think it's going to perfect. I still think there are going to be struggles. There is no way we will see what happened last year.
I'm not going to comment publicly on the food audit until I have the chance to meet with the entire board, other than to say it is something that is very serious and we're taking [it] very seriously.
What I will say in general is that our oversight and accountability actually affects the credibility of this district. Whether it is food services, construction management, instructional technology, our processes for procurement and our outcomes under that procurement are not at all separated from instructional outcomes.
It's an important thing to clear the fog around procurement processes and raise the level of stakeholder understanding of what these processes are. Only positive things will happen for kids when we do that.
I want to make sure that I continue [former school board president Richard] Vladovic's style of making sure that all voices are heard.
In terms of running things differently, I think that there's always a desire for kind of the nexus of greater efficiency, but also for the board to really perform the collaborative oversight role that we're charged with.
We are going to try and make committee work and the board meetings focused but also effective in terms of making sure that every minute that we spend is about children, about our schools and about the necessary roles that the board has to play to make sure that LAUSD is able to function.
That is a responsibility that's both awe-inspiring and awesome. I think each of us really has a sense of the weight of that and every indication that I've had so far is that there is a definitive collaborative spirit on this board and we understand that our work on the tasks at hand has to match the power of the dreams that every family in our school district has for their children.
It turns out that the “winner” wasn’t exactly the first winner!
Ivan Rojas, a 35-year-old security guard (center left), is the winner of a $25,000 voter participation drawing sponsored by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. (Los Angeles Times)
Rhymes with Bingo, Gringo!Call me old fashioned, but I like to read my news on the news pages and get other peoples’ opinions on the Op-Ed pages.
But the Times Editorial Board got the outcome they advocated-for (The election of upstart Ref Rodriguez) …even if they didn’t like the process. And there was a lot more than the ‘gimmicky lottery of sorts’ not to like!
Here we find – for the first time – that Mr. Rojas was the first runner-up in the ¡Lotteria!
It's not just noteworthy, its newsworthy that the first winner threatened to call the FBI because she didn't believe the contest was legitimate. Eventually, she turned down the money when told that her name would be made public.
The questions of the contest’s legitimacy persist.
21July2015 :: Perhaps the leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles will learn a lesson from the May election defeat of school board incumbent Bennett Kayser, whom they backed, by upstart Ref Rodriguez. Unfortunately, that lesson may well be that they must back up their next candidate for office by offering voters a cash prize to entice them to come to the polls.
That's the problem with the Voteria, a gimmicky lottery of sorts run by the Southwest Voter Registration Project. The organization, which works to boost voter turnout, especially among Latino voters, dangled a $25,000 prize to anyone who voted in the Kayser-Rodriguez election. Late last week it was announced that the prize went to Ivan Rojas, a 35-year-old security guard.
Rojas was the second person selected for the prize. It's noteworthy that the first threatened to call the FBI because she didn't believe the contest was legitimate. Eventually, she turned down the money when told that her name would be made public.
That's an understandable reaction. The civic act of voting for elected representatives doesn't readily mix with cash prizes and lotteries. It's true that too few people vote, especially in local elections, and more should be done to help potential voters understand what they stand to win or lose at election time. But bribing them is a bad idea; and as pure as the contest organizers' motives may have been, there is too much about the Voteria that is redolent of bribery.
After all, when every voter is automatically entered, every voter has a shot at winning, and a monetary value can be assigned to that chance. The Voteria organizers weren't promoting any particular candidate, but the Southwest Voters Registration Education Project does have a constituency — Latino voters. The organization is adept at communicating with those voters, some of whom, presumably, were on the fence about bothering to cast their ballots but did so after they heard of the contest. In this election, the Latino candidate defeated his non-Latino opponent. Voters who were aware of the prize were more likely to vote for Rodriguez by 2 to 1, according to the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
Suppose that next time the organization offering cash payments to lucky voters is indeed pushing a particular candidate and does its outreach among voters likely to back that particular candidate. Suppose it's UTLA, for example. Or the police union, a real estate developer, a political party or anyone else. Or all of them at the same time.
Cash contests like the Voteria leave too much space for mischief and require careful examination and perhaps rule-making. That's something the Legislature should consider during the remainder of its term.
15July2105 :: The Los Angeles school district’s massive food services program is riddled with mismanagement, inappropriate spending and ethical breaches, according to an internal audit released Wednesday.
The 33-page audit by the district’s Office of the Inspector General reviewed L.A. Unified’s revamped food procurement system, which was introduced five years ago to supply the nation's second-largest school food operation. Eight major vendors were awarded $750 million in food contracts spread over five years.
Under the new system, auditors found increased food prices, bloated inventories, incompatible computer systems to order food, a “haphazard” menu development process and insufficient controls over spending. The audit also found increased meal participation and greater innovation and flexibility.
L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon Cortines said district officials have already moved to tighten fiscal controls and spending oversight.
“The district takes these findings very seriously,” he said in a statement with Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, head of the educational services office.
Cortines said he was particularly concerned about the lax oversight of a school meal marketing program funded by food vendors. The program was created in 2010 by Dennis Barrett, the former food services director who now works for the New York City Department of Education.
To win the contracts under the new system, vendors agreed to contribute more than $1.5 million to promote the district’s healthful food initiatives and educate students about nutrition.
The marketing efforts helped draw national attention to the district’s cutting-edge efforts to shift to healthier school food with lower fat, sodium and sugar — including praise from First Lady Michelle Obama.
But the audit raised questions about some of the vendor payments: $117,500 to philanthropist Meg Chernin’s Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, $65,000 to place Los Angeles Dodgers photos on school milk cartons, $6,800 for employee travel and conferences, and $581,000 to two Los Angeles public relations firms, RL Public Relations and Tatum Wan Co., among others.
The district axed the marketing program this year. Officials have also strengthened its supervision of food services staff members, improved oversight of purchasing and new menu additions and returned to competitive bidding, among other changes, the Cortines statement said.
Board of Education President Steve Zimmer said he would withhold comment until the board could meet to review the findings.
Fallout over the program has ensnared David Binkle, the district’s nationally known food services director, who has been removed from his post and ordered to stay home. Auditors found potential ethical breaches involving a private consulting firm he runs and a failure to report vendor-paid travel to food conferences.
Binkle has denied any wrongdoing and said all travel and marketing activities were legal, specified in the vendor contract proposals and approved by his superiors.
He declined to comment Tuesday until he could review the audit.
Binkle, a professional chef who joined the district in January 2008, helped adopt cutting-edge menus lower in sodium and fat, introduced breakfast and supper programs, increased meals served by 76,000 daily and promoted directives from the federal government and L.A. Unified Board of Education for healthier food.
In an earlier interview, George Silva, L.A. Unified’s procurement chief, said the district would no longer ask vendors to directly contribute money to promote school food. Instead, they would be asked to provide opportunities for student class projects on the food industry, field trips, workplace tours, online exchanges and other activities combining academic study with occupational training through the district’s “work-based learning partnership” program.
The vendors included Tyson Foods Inc., Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales, Goldstar Foods, Five Star Gourmet Foods, Driftwood Dairy and Don Lee Farms. The district is reviewing bids for a new set of contracts to replace those that expired this year.
L.A. Unified's $354-million food program serves 716,000 meals daily to 615,000 students at 1,200 locations.
July 15, 2015 :: A prestigious nonprofit support group affiliated with the nation’s second-largest school district, with a high-profile staff and blue-ribbon board of directors, found itself in the middle of a scandal over waste in Los Angeles Unified School District’s food program.
An audit of L.A. Unified’s food services program, released by the district’s inspector general, reveals “swanky hotel stays, cozy relationships with contractors and millions of dollars in waste,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
The audit singles out the food services director, who has been collecting an annual salary of $152,000 while on paid leave for more than five months. David Binkle established a reputation as a promoter of healthy eating, appearing at the White House with first lady Michelle Obama.
According to the audit, the $341 million-a-year program had problems that can be traced back to the district’s decision to let food services forgo standard contracting practices in 2011, on the belief that administrative costs would be lowered. That gave Binkle almost complete control over millions of dollars in contracts, and the paper reports that he used that power to give preference to contractors who showered him with perks.
Those perks were not reported on forms mandated by state law. In addition, Binkle failed to disclose his food consulting company, which made more than $950,000 per year, according to the audit.
Money was spent from the district’s marketing fund to pay key executives at the nonprofit L.A. Fund for Public Education $117,500 to promote the district’s controversial breakfast program, which it features prominently on its website. The Fund is a blue-chip support group for L.A. Unified, whose board includes the mayor, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times and a number of entertainment industry bigwigs. The group says on its website that it “builds innovative partnerships to create solutions that will improve the educational, health and wellness outcomes for students in Los Angeles.”
Binkle denied authorizing the payment, claiming that the nonprofit was authorized to spend tax dollars without his permission. The Fund denied that, and said it had no direct involvement with the program because the individual executives worked directly for the district.
The audit also revealed that the district overpaid for meals provided by one favored contractor, which paid for airfare and hotel costs for district employees to attend a food conference, a violation of the district’s ethics policy.
The Daily News reports that LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines says he has taken steps to prevent future ethical breaches and mismanagement. The audit also says that the food services department’s operating deficit more than tripled between 2010 and 2013, even though the district served 900,000 fewer meals, meaning that the cost of food increased 41 percent.
Some of that is due to buying the healthier food Binkle and the L.A. Fund promoted, but the inspector general said that the bulk of the increase was due to lax contracting practices, ordering too much food, duplicating orders and carrying excessive inventory. At the same time, the paper reports that about one-fifth of food served was wasted, even though food offered free by the USDA wasn’t ordered on time.—Larry Kaplan
Posted: 07/15/15 :: Swanky hotel stays, cozy relationships with contractors and millions of dollars in waste were uncovered by an audit of Los Angeles Unified’s food services program, which was released by the district’s inspector general on Wednesday.
At the center of the audit is Los Angeles Unified Food Services Director David Binkle, who has been collecting an annual salary of $152,000 while on paid leave for more than five months.
A champion of health eating, Binkle has appeared at the White House alongside first lady Michelle Obama and starred in Tedx Talks.
But according to the audit, the $341 million a year program under his direction was anything but healthy. Problems can be traced back to the district’s 2011 decision to let food services forgo standard contracting practices with the expectation that administrative costs would be lowered.
The decisions to forgo standard practices left Binkle with near complete control over millions of dollars in contracts. He used that power to grant price increases, change orders and modify menus for contractors who paid for him to stay at a swanky hotel in Beverly Hills and, at his request, covered the cost of airfare and lodging for a conference, according to the audit.
Those costs went unreported by Binkle on forms that are mandated by state law. Binkle also failed to disclose his food consulting company, which he formed after starting work for the district in 2007. His company made more than $950,000 per year, according to the audit.
The audit said the company Gold Star Foods covered Binkle’s costs for a night at the Hotel Palomar in Beverly Hills. The money was later reimbursed through the district’s marketing fund, a $1.6 million fund with little oversight or documentation to show why money was spent.
Gold Star Foods was given a 15.5 percent cut of every dinner served by the district for no apparent reason, according to the audit.
The district could have bought meals at a 15.5 percent savings directly from FiveStar Gourmet Food, but after a discussion between Binkle and Gold Star Foods representatives, it was decided the district would pay 23 cents more for each dinner, raising the price of every meal from $1.20 to $1.48.
The district spent $12.1 million on serving dinner in 2013, according to the audit.
FiveStar Gourmet, meanwhile, shelled out $8,831 in airfare and hotel costs for two employees to attend a food conference. The payment was made at Binkle’s request and in violation of the district’s ethic’s policy, according to the audit.
The inspector general couldn’t figure out why other money was spent from the marketing fund. For instance, staff members of the nonprofit, The LA Fund, collected $117,500 to promote the district’s controversial breakfast program.
Binkle denied authorizing the payment, claiming The LA Fund was able to sign off on the spending of tax dollars. The LA Fund denied the claim, saying it had no involvement with the program and thought individual employees were contracted by the district.
In another instance, a company volunteered to print Dodgers players on milk cartons free of charge but later collected $65,000 for it. Binkle said he thought it was free of charge and the audit doesn’t state who agreed to the payment.
In written statement, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said steps have already been taken to prevent future ethical breaches and mismanagement.
“The district takes these findings very seriously,” Cortines said. “We have alerted the Board of Education of these reforms, and will continue to provide updates.”
The audit also describes massive waste, as the food services department operating deficit more than tripled over three years leading up to the $78.6 million shortfall in 2013.
But even as the budget ballooned to $341 million, the district served nearly 900,000 fewer meals in 2013 compared with the 2010 fiscal year.
The increased budget reflects a 41 percent increase in the cost of food bought by the district. While the rising cost can partially be attributed to buying healthier food, the lax contracting practices led to a lack of competition and likely higher prices, according to the audit.
District officials also ordered too much food, duplicating identical orders and carrying inventories that were more than three times the recommended value of $3 million. Part of the problem was contracts that guaranteed a minimum purchase, according to the audit.
Meanwhile, up to 21 percent of food served went to waste, with an average of more than 9 percent over a three-week observation period, according to the audit.
While food the district was buying went to waste, vegetables, canned goods and other food offered free by the USDA weren’t ordered on time, compounding the cost of meals and waste, according to the audit.