A unanimous vote by the Compton school board rejects McKinley Elementary parents' petition seeking to turn the struggling campus over to a charter operator.
By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/h0LdOw
Children play at McKinley Elementary in Compton, where parents petitioned to turn the school over to a charter operator. The school board has rejected the petition. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / December 7, 2010)
February 23, 2011 -- After two months of controversy, the Compton school board Tuesday rejected a petition by parents aiming to use a groundbreaking state law to turn over their struggling elementary school to a charter operator.
Board members with the Compton Unified School District voted unanimously, 7-0, to return the petition to parents at McKinley Elementary , saying it failed to include information required by state regulations. District officials also found that parents cited the wrong education code section and failed to provide evidence that they had selected their desired charter operator, Celerity Educational Group, after a "rigorous review process" as required by state emergency regulations.
"The petition is materially non-qualifying and is being returned as insufficient," the board found.
McKinley parents, whose school ranks in the bottom 10th among all California elementary schools, expressed outrage over the board action at the packed school board meeting.
"I'm very angry and disappointed because they threw away our petitions and destroyed our dreams for a better education for our children," said Marlene Romero, whose third-grade son attends McKinley.
But other parents and teacher union representatives spoke out against the petition, saying the school is making progress.
The closely watched case represented the first test of a new law giving parents the power to petition for major reforms of low-performing schools, including shutting them down, changing staff and programs, and turning the campus over to a charter operator. Charters are independently run, publicly financed schools.
Under the law, valid signatures representing parents of half the school's students are required to trigger the reforms. In Compton, the petition campaign was organized by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based educational reform group and charter school ally. The group said it submitted parent signatures for 275 of 438 McKinley students, or 62%.
Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, said the group would challenge the action in court and that the board "has decided to throw away the futures of McKinley's children."
But the petition campaign was plagued by charges and countercharges of deceit, harassment and lies and created bitter campus divisions. The district drew fire — and a class-action lawsuit — for requiring parents to verify their signatures in person with photo identification. More than 60 parent supporters refused to participate in the process and won a temporary restraining order barring the district from continuing those requirements. It is unclear how the board's decision to reject the petition will affect that legal action.
Compton officials reported Tuesday that they were unable to verify parent signatures representing 50% of the 442 students they said were officially enrolled at McKinley at the time the petition was submitted Dec. 7. The district said it could confirm only 250 of the 275 students named on the petition as actually enrolled at the time.
Among those students, district officials found potential problems with the parent signatures for more than 70. In 26 cases, the district had no school records to compare the signatures of the petitioner and the parent of record. In 29 cases, the signatures "appear to be inconsistent" with the school file, the district said. In addition, eight signatures belonged to someone other than the student's legal parent or guardian, and 10 parents indicated they would not participate in the district's verification process.
COMPTON (KTLA) -- School Board Members in Compton did not approve a historic petition Tuesday that would allow parents to have an upper hand in their children's education. The school board claimed that the McKinley Parent Trigger petition, ...
Lawyers and Settlements (blog) -
Lawyers Giving Back looks at a side of lawyers you don't hear too much about—the side that gives back…pays it forward..and shares the love. We've found quite a number of attorneys who log non-billable hours helping others—simply because they believe ...
One Response to “Star Litigator Jay Lefkowitz Goes Pro Bono in California School Reform Case”
February 23rd, 2011 at 1:53 am Caroline G Says:
It’s fascinating that the entity Kirkland & Ellis is representing pro bono is actually not a group of low-income parents at all but a well-funded organization representing charter school operators, Parent Revolution, which has funding from the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and other high-net-worth backers.
Parent Revolution researched statewide in search of a school to target, then pre-selected the charter school operator that would take over McKinley Elementary, before ever making contact with a single McKinley Elementary parent. Then it sent paid operatives out door to door in search of parents to sign its petitions.
Jay Lefkowitz may support that deception, and that’s his right. And of course he may well wish to see the law followed scrupulously no matter whether the client is as Astroturf as all getout. But it’s just surprising to me that a major law firm is willing to provide pro bono services to an organization that has ample funding from billionaires and corporate titans.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat - Feb 22, 2011
DAMIAN DOVARGANES / AP Parents in Compton were the first to use California's trigger law to petition for conversion of a failing public school to an independent charter school. For the first time, a group of California parents has petitioned to convert ...