rvc

Say No to Billionaire Bullies!

“The definition of bullying is when there’s a power imbalance and there’s repeated harm against those who are less powerful… (At a) macro and policy level…the billionaires and the technology companies who have the power...are attacking public education… If you look at who’s getting attacked, (it’s) women and children... in communities of color… the least politically powerful and most disenfranchised in our community… and teachers…(which is) primarily a female profession… Easy targets…”
— Dr. Roxana Marachi, NAACP, March 12, 2018

As the Ross Valley community reels from the continuing and ongoing disruptions instigated by the Ross Valley Charter (which filed suit against our public schools for the second time, on March 16, 2018), it is appalling to learn that the charter’s continued malfeasance and hijinks are being financed to the tune of a $150,000 grant. The grant was given by The Hastings Fund, which is financed by the deep pockets of Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, who also had a direct role in the creation of the public education wrecking ball, Proposition 39. Hastings, his Fund’s CEO, Nareev Kingsland, RVC Board member, Kristi Kimball, and other powerful operators (explained more fully here and here), are not only running roughshod over the Ross Valley community and its kids; by continuing their attacks on our excellent and highly-rated public schools, they are supporting a group of operators with a proven record of discrimination, about which the ACLU expressed “grave reservations.” Despite their claims to the contrary, RVC is a true astroturf group.

For those who are new to the charter school and public education/privatization debate, Mr. Hastings looms large. After a successful career in the tech industry, he decided that the free-market ideals of competition, disruption and consumer “choice” (i.e., shopping), needed to be applied to public education. He’s gone on to become one of the most powerful education “Deformers,” applying his billions of dollars and his outsize influence to reduce supports and resources for neighborhood public schools, hurting vulnerable children and educators along the way.

Mr. Hastings was appointed by then Governor, Gray Davis, to the California State Board of Education (SBE) in 2000, becoming its President in 2001, where he remained until 2005, when he resigned after some in the legislature questioned his policy directives. The SBE proved an excellent perch from which to begin his assault on public education. In November of 2000, while sitting on the SBE, he spent $1 million to ensure the passage of Proposition 39, which ostensibly lowered the bond threshold for passage of public school facility construction (from 66% to 55%). As local residents are probably well aware, Prop 39 contained a trojan horse requiring public districts to house charters. According to this article from 2000, “the agreement between two of the state's fiercest Proposition 39 proponents -- Hastings and the teachers union -- has given charter operators a significant boost unseen in many other states.” Mr. Hastings has not been shy about his disdain for democratically-elected, local school boards, and his stated desire to do away with them entirely. In addition to his own fund, Mr. Hastings serves on the board of KIPP, a controversial and highly profitable “non-profit” charter chain which recently won approval at the State Board of Education for new charters in San Francisco and San Jose, over the objections of locals, the NAACP, and overriding the votes of those communities’ democratically elected boards (sound familiar?). He also has financially enabled Rocketship, another highly contested charter chain (link).

Despite The Hastings Fund’s purported intention to, “expand educational opportunity,” because, “too many children do not have access to amazing schools,” and “to partner with communities” to “increase… access to rich and holistic educational experiences,” Mr. Hastings and his cronies are actually reducing our 2,000 kids’ access to our already amazing schools and teachers, all in support of a new charter based on a 20-year program with a proven track record of discrimination against the very children he professes need saving from public education. The very undemocratic way RVC came into being, and the lack of regard they continue to show for the larger Ross Valley community, is the polar opposite of “partnering with.”

Via its CEO, Mr. Kingsland, the Hastings Foundation is closely linked to RVC Board member, Kristi Kimball, who works for billionaire Charles Schwab, doling out his billions to charters across the country (including KIPP). Both Mr. Kingsland and Ms. Kimball sit on the California Charter Schools Association’s (CCSA) Board, one of the biggest lobbying groups in California (here). Mr. Kingsland cut his teeth helping to transform 90% of the New Orleans School District into charters, in a stunning example of what Naomi Klein has dubbed, “The Shock Doctrine.” According to this study from Stanford’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, these changes have "created a set of schools that are highly stratified by race, class, and educational advantage, operating in a hierarchy that provides very different types of schools and to different types of children. While some have choice; others do not." Mr. Kingsland casually concedes (here), that despite the these radical changes, and the firing of thousands of mostly African American female educators, "the school system is far from excellent".  Nonetheless, Mr. Kingsland and Ms. Kimball had a conversation here, comparing “the charter sector” to Uber (spoiler alert: charters are “1000 times more difficult than Uber”), and this one, where he likens public school districts to “greedy corporations,” and closes with this statement, “...shout out to Kristi Kimball for ideas that this post was built upon.” Good to know that Ms. Kimball believes districts, staffed with educators who have heeded a call to teach and work with children, are “greedy corporations.” That attitude toward our excellent public schools explains a lot of RVC’s actions, doesn’t it?

The Ross Valley community is dismayed that its kids and excellent teachers are being bullied by those who use their billions to exploit undemocratic policies, which have already decimated many urban districts (New Orleans, Detroit, Oakland and Los Angeles). We cannot remain silent as these ill-conceived laws are applied to our small, underfunded, and high-performing school district. For those who insist we are a wealthy district and can afford a pet-project charter school advocated for by the privileged (with a history of discrimination) please take note: California’s per-pupil funding comes in 41st in the country and Ross Valley School District’s per-pupil funding is at the bottom 10% of state funding. Despite this, our neighborhood district schools perform in the top 7% of the state. We have no choice but to Stand up to these bullies and their assault on our excellent, democratically-governed schools; a fight against the privatization of public education that threatens to run our schools - and so many other underfunded public schools - into the ground.

Go Public, Not Charter!

RVC - Temper Your Antagonism, Please?

As many of you may know, in Sept and Oct. of 2017, the charter went on a campaign to secure signatures for their "Intent to Enroll" (ITE) forms for the 2018/19 school year. These forms are the basis for the projected enrollment numbers used for RVC’s Prop 39 facilities request to RVSD.

Stand discovered that this “recruiting” included emails to private school parents asking for signatures on ITE forms, whether or not they intended to enroll their children at RVC. The email, from an RVC parent who is on RVC’s Leadership Council, specifically stated, "This is a legal hoop we have to jump through for space for next year."  Additionally, we know RVC representatives were regularly stationed at local (and not local) farmers’ markets and parks asking people to sign ITE forms for "more information," and making it clear it wasn’t a commitment to enroll.

Despite these dubious tactics, on 1/31/18 RVSD accepted the charter’s ITE-based forecast of 144 in-district students for the 2018/19 school year in good faith.  Based on this projection, RVSD offered six classrooms/teaching stations, which equates to approximately 24 students per class, the equivalent to district class sizes. RVSD also offered a reduction in the use of the Multi-Purpose Room, gym, outdoor space, etc. from 20% to 17% as RVC’s enrollment forecast is 45 fewer students than this school year.

On 2/16, the charter sent a threatening letter in response to RVSD’s offer. In this letter, the charter demanded that RVSD revise its offer by 2/21 and claimed they would take legal action -a circumvention of the legally binding timeline laid out in the Prop 39 law, which is the very law the charter themselves invoked.  On 2/17, after the demand letter was sent by RVC to the district, the charter had a special closed session board meeting, where the board voted unanimously to sue the district if they didn't get what they wanted by 2/21. 

On 2/21 RVSD replied to the charter’s demands, essentially saying that they would continue to follow the Prop 39 timeline and advised the charter to "temper its antagonism as litigation at this point is entirely premature."

On 2/23 the charter responded to the district, stating that they are well within their rights to sue because they believe RVSD is not providing enough classrooms to the charter. They closed this letter stating they would be sending their "formal" reply to RVSD's offer of six classrooms soon.

On 3/1, this time following the legally prescribed timeline, the charter sent its formal reply to the district demanding ten classrooms for their “projected” 144 in-district students.  Six classrooms for teaching stations and four classrooms for art, music, and specialized space. In the letter, they also requested the following: 

·      More allocated parking spaces, despite a lack of available parking at White Hill.

·      Upgraded outdoor lighting – None of the RVSD elementary schools have what would be deemed “upgraded lighting”. 

·      Better/mended fencing.

·      Shared use of the White Hill picnic tables, in addition to the picnic tables designated solely for the charter.  Will White Hill students, likewise, get to use the RVC tables and space?

·      And, more...

Recently a charter supporter (and former MAP board member) claimed in a social media post that RVC does not have to use the classrooms the way they are allocated.  Meaning, they can demand classrooms for art and music and use them instead as homerooms, likely to accommodate more out of district students. This despite the fact that Prop 39 law clearly states that district facilities allocated to the charter through Prop 39 are for IN-DISTRICT children only.

None of these actions – (illegally?) inflating enrollment projections in order to secure more space; demanding RVSD revise their offer, under threat of legal action and outside of the Prop 39 prescribed timeline; demanding classrooms for art and music for in-district students but then using the rooms to house out-of-district students - lead to a peaceful co-existence with RVSD. Nor is RVC being a good neighbor to their neighbor's children or to the teachers at White Hill, as they claim they wish to be.

If, in its negotiations, the district does offer more classrooms than the preliminary offer of six, will the charter still sue RVSD to get more classroom space for out-of-district students? Can the community trust that the charter will only ask for what it really needs to serve its in-district students, as the law prescribes?  Taking much-needed district classrooms and filling them with out-of-district kids is morally wrong and not the intention of Prop 39.  We join other voices in our community and ask RVC to do the right thing - take only what is needed for your in-district students.

Who is Really Backing Ross Valley Charter?

If you want to know the truth, follow the money.

Despite the privately managed, taxpayer funded Ross Valley Charter’s claims that it is “the creation of local public school teachers and public school parents,” some of their high powered maneuvers and litigation begs the question - who is really behind Ross Valley Charter and what do they hope to gain from this? If you want to know the truth, follow the money (click here).

Through various Public Records Act requests (click here to read them) submitted by community members who wished to gain a better understanding of the charter school’s resources and motivation, it has become clear that the Prop 39 charter school is not just a group of local citizens seeking to form a school. What we now know is that two charter school leaders have connections to wealthy special interests, which are very interested in seeing this charter open its doors in our Ross Valley. The following heavy hitters are funding and fueling their local effort: The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA); their favored law firm, Young, Minney and Corr; and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Holland and Knight, a high-powered lobbying and legal firm from Florida has provided pro bono work to the charter.

Why should we be concerned about these deep-pocketed backers of the Prop 39 charter school? If the current charter school leaders succeed, these special interest groups will have taken root in our small community and Marin County, and we might never be free of them. With the opening of the charter, the groundwork will have been successfully laid for the opening of more charters within the Ross Valley, potentially further eroding our community, weakening our public school district and removing local governance and control. Given the militant tone and approach of the charter’s backer, CCSA (Click here to read about their recent conference entitled “COMBAT WARFARE: LEGISLATIVE THREATS TO CHARTER SCHOOLS”), we need to prepare for this eventuality and STAND together.

The CCSA is funded by billionaires such as Charles and Helen Schwab, the Waltons (WalMart), Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, among others (click here and then click on each billionaire’s name to see their donations to CCSA, and here to read about these “power brokers”). These donors fund charters and pro-charter school board candidates across California and the country, in order to break and take our public schools while turning them into profit making ventures. They have even helped to fund a recent lawsuit seeking to gut the teachers’ union (click here to read the final outcome of that lawsuit). Because this is so-called “dark money,” it is difficult to illuminate all they fund, but a simple google search is telling.

Kristi Kimball, a local resident and member of the Ross Valley Charter School Board is also on the CCSA board, although her bio on the charter board website does not disclose this connection. Though apparently never an educator herself, Ms. Kimball has overseen the distribution of millions of dollars of charter school funding through her work for billionaire foundations such as the Hewlett Foundation and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Click here to see the list of organizations her current employer, the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation supports, including the CCSA.

The Prop 39 Charter School was represented by the charter industry law firm Young Minney and Corr in the recent lawsuit against our public schools (read the Marin IJ article here). But how could this local group of parents and teachers afford such expensive legal services?

A recent Public Records Act request helped illuminate how the charter has been able to fund such expensive legal actions. In their December 23, 2016 emailed response, Sharon Sagar, Charter School Board President wrote, “We want you to know that All YMC work on Prop 39 was pro bono, paid by CCSA, so we do not have any records for that work.” In other words, the Prop 39 Charter School’s legal assault on our district is being funded by CCSA which pays the costs of its legal services in order to maintain the fiction that the charter school is a local grassroots group. Further, the CCSA wrote a blog entitled ”Ross Valley School District’s Efforts to Thwart Families’ Right to Education,” about the suit, but it has been subsequently removed. This pro bono work is on top of the $40,000 loan the charter accepted from CCSA to cover the costs of litigating against our district around enrollment issues. Click here to read the letter from our Superintendent, which explains how the CCSA, Ross Valley Charter and Young Minney and Corr have a “tripartite agreement.”  Click here to read our blog about the loan.

Andrea Sumits’ involvement in the charter and in the MAP program has been extensive, yet her official role remains unclear. She served as the leader (“Facilitator”) of the MAP board, and then went on to serve as a member of the charter school’s board. Her spouse is the co-lead petitioner, and as local residents know, her comments appear all over social media. Additionally, Ms. Sumits was the named plaintiff (with another parent, on behalf of the charter) in the aforementioned lawsuit against our public school district, which has since been dismissed.

Perhaps more interestingly, Florida based law firm Holland and Knight employs Ms. Sumits, and has provided $80,000 in pro bono work to the charter. It is unclear whether Ms. Sumits is the attorney of record for the Prop 39 Charter School, but according to invoices from Holland and Knight obtained under a Public Records Act request (click here to read them), Ms. Sumits billed for 62 hours of work at a rate of $620 per hour as “Consulting Counsel.” Holland and Knight is a massive legal operation, employing over 1,000 attorneys across the nation. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, Holland and Knight was paid $14.5 million dollars as a result of their extensive lobbying work.

Rather than a “grassroots” effort we might better refer to the charter school as another “astroturf” group fronting for powerful corporate interests with its sights set on taking and breaking our children’s public school and transforming it into yet another private corporate venture.

As we take stock of the recent actions of Donald Trump and his appointment of anti-public school billionaire Betsy DeVos to Education Secretary, who are seeking to remake the Department of Education into a “school choice” promoting machine, it stands to reason that our public schools are under attack. We can expect greater pressure from the federal government and deep pocketed corporate groups such as CCSA to dismantle our public schools and replace them with more publicly funded and privately managed charters. The fight we face in Ross Valley to protect our schools is the fight happening all over the country to prevent the destruction of public education in America. With the end of public education, so goes our democracy.

We believe in true public education. Stand with us!