Patricia Rucker, Teachers Union Lobbyist and California Board of Education Member, Accused of Conflict of Interest
By Simone Wilson | la wEEKLY | http://bit.ly/nPQMPV
Thu., Jul. 7 2011 3:00 PM - One of the first things Governor Jerry Brown did upon taking the wand from Schwarzenegger -- aside from woo the people on a Southwest flight -- was sweep out the Governator's entire State Board of Education, a full house of radical reformists and stakeholders in the burgeoning charter-school business (pretty much the same thing).
Brown's replacement picks drew immediate ire from said new-schoolers. Especially from the staff and supporters of non-profit org Parent Revolution -- who was, at the time, trying to seize an elementary school in Compton from the failing district through a "Parent Trigger" law passed under Schwarzenegger. The regulations for the Trigger had yet to be approved by the board, and Revolution-ers were scared the new blood might stand in the way of their bold efforts.
However, despite their fears, Brown's board has since proven itself to be excellently bipartisan, if you will. Save for one member: California Teachers Association lobbyist (er, "legislative advocate") Patricia Rucker.
PHOTO: California Teachers Association Rucker, to the right.>>
Don't get us wrong. Rucker is an extremely smart woman and, in her time with the teachers' union, has funneled her energy into progressive efforts like teacher training instead of election campaigns and the highly political resistance to any sort of change that has given the CTA its notoriety.
But her actions over the last few months, in regard to the under-construction Trigger regulations, have been questionable, to say the least.
When the new board's first draft of Trigger regulations went up for public comment, it included a new stipulation: that teachers be given the right to veto any effort by parents to seize their children's school.
Which would, of course, undermine the entire purpose of the Trigger, as teachers have an obvious investment in keeping their jobs.
Though that gem has since been removed from the working draft, four California parents -- Lydia Grant, Bruce Wasson, Monica Jones, and Carolynn Martin -- have decided Rucker needs to go. As of today, via email and snail mail, Grant says she has filed a "conflict of interest" complaint against Rucker with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
Linda Serrato, spokeswoman for Parent Revolution, says the filers aren't directly tied to the Compton operation, but "they've been involved for quite some time on the outskirts."
Like the Revolution staff, they're all regulars at Board of Education meetings. In April, Martin even stood up and asked the board's lawyers if Rucker needed to recuse herself from the discussion, given her teacherly ties. (The lawyers decided not to comment.)
The next meeting on the regulations will take place July 13. But time is running out.
Parent Revolution is worried that, if Rucker keeps "dirtying the water" -- aka, swaying fellow board members -- the regulations won't be done by their October deadline, and the board will be forced to start over completely.
Which would definitely get in the way of the next round of charter-school takeovers they're clearly planning for more failing California schools (Compton 2.0!). Education reform, after all, pays their bills -- just like the teachers union pays Rucker's.
We've contacted the accused for comment.
Complaint against State Board member: Recusal demanded of CTA's Patricia Rucker
7/08/11 • Patricia Rucker, a State Board of Education member whose day job is lobbyist for the California Teachers Association, is facing a conflict of interest complaint by supporters of the Parent Trigger law that the CTA wants to gut.
The complaint is a preemptive strike by parents affiliated with the nonprofit group Parent Revolution. It was filed Thursday with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, less than a week before the State Board is scheduled to take a crucial vote on Parent Trigger regulations that the Board has been reworking for nearly a year. In a Parent Revolution press release, the parents said they would “happily withdraw their complaint” if Rucker recuses herself from participating in all Parent Trigger discussions and votes – something she has declined to do so far. It would be fascinating to see what the FPPC would do if she doesn’t.
A spokesman for the CTA said it had not been notified of the complaint and therefore would not comment. The FPPC has 14 days to decide whether the complaint warrants a formal investigation.
CTA’s ’seat’ on State Board
Rucker was among the seven nominees that Gov. Brown proposed when he cleaned house on the State Board after his election in November. While a dividend to the union that helped elect Brown, Rucker’s nomination continued a de facto tradition of designating a CTA seat on the 11-person Board. Joe Nunez, the associate executive director of Governmental Relations for the CTA, previously held that position.
Nonetheless, Rucker’s nomination raises conflict of interest questions, with her obligation as a public official to serve the greater good of K-12 students potentially clashing with her loyalty as a CTA employee to take its line on issues before the Board.
This was evident with the Parent Trigger, a first-in-the-nation law, passed in January 2010, that permits a majority of parents at an underperforming school to demand radical changes including, as one option, a conversion to a charter school, with the loss of union teaching jobs. The CTA unsuccessfully fought the law, and its chief lobbyist before the board, Kenneth Burt, has threatened to sue over various versions of Parent Trigger regulations CTA didn’t like.
Parent Revolution parents questioned Rucker’s conflict of interest at the April 21 State Board hearing on proposed Parent Trigger regulations. She declined to respond, and the Board’s lawyers, leaving it up to her, didn’t venture an opinion. Later in the day, picking up on a legal argument Burt made, Rucker suggested an amendment requiring a majority of teachers to approve a Parent Trigger petition for a conversion to a charter school. This would essentially give teachers the power to void the parents’ action. Board President Michael Kirst expressed doubt at the time whether this would be wise or necessary, and the provision is not in the final draft that the Board will consider on Wednesday.
The Board will be on a tight timetable. If it approves the regulations without serious objections, it can take a final vote in September. But if a new, substantial issue is raised, forcing more public comment delaying a vote until October or later, the Board will have to start the entire year-long process again from scratch. Fearing Rucker might stall the process, parents want her out of the way.
Wanting to please unions and corporate interests – and perhaps enrich discussion with different points of view – governors have sought balance on the State Board; there has traditionally been a “business seat” as well as a CTA seat.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger changed the makeup by naming a number of charter school advocates and executives, including Yvonne Chan, a principal of the state’s oldest conversion charter school; the late Donald Fisher, a funder of KIPP schools; Ted Mitchell, CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, which finances charters; and Rae Belisle, former CEO of EdVoice. After the Senate refused to approve Belisle’s nomination, Schwarzenegger named Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution. This also led to charges of conflict of interest – this time by the CTA and the California School Boards Association. But the difference here is that Austin recused himself and left the boardroom during discussions of Parent Trigger. And Mitchell reports that he recused himself on any vote that involved an organization on whose board any NewSchools representatives sat. He also recused himself during the Board’s decision to grant Aspire Public Schools, which NewSchools funded, a statewide charter.
While not familiar with the specifics of the current complaint, Dan Schnur, the former chairman of the FPPC and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, suggested the perception of a conflict increases when an official is not just an advocate but a full-time lobbyist, who then may gain access to other decision makers because of his or her position. Brown could have appointed a teacher or retired teacher to represent teachers’ views. Appointing a lobbyist to the Board “sends an unfortunate message,” he said.
smf: One of the “four California parents”, Lydia Grant, was the Parent Revolution Community Organizer of the Month for Oct 2010.
Parent Revolutionary-in-chief, PR Executive Director, Parent Trigger author, former Green Dot and Mayor Riordan staffer Ben Austin (whose ‘day job’ is Assistant LA City Attorney @ $119K per year) was removed from the State Board of Ed (Can you say ‘Conflict of Interest?’) in Brown’s ascendency. Austin lobbied for the Parent Trigger Law in the State Board of Ed and also in the legislature.
But, hey - it’s not personal!