Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Town Hall Meeting Closed to the Townspeople

Keep the PUBLIC in public schoolsThis is my original submission of the piece that ran in Los Angeles Daily News after their editing and a title change to Why school choice plan is a bad idea for our district. Although the Daily News strongly endorsed the privatization plan, at least they had the integrity to publish dissenting views.

CSU Professor R. Shaffer had several people, myself included, submit Op-Eds to the Los Angeles Times just to see if they'd print any dissenting views. Especially considering the vast amount of ink the Times dedicated to cheerleading the resolution and school privatization in general. In an act of utter intellectual and journalistic dishonesty they rejected all of them (Diane Ravitch's piece notwithstanding, as it was a general Op-Ed without a direct connection to Los Angeles or the resolution). In a discourse between Prof. Shaffer and LA Times Editorial Pages Editor Jim Newton, Newton stated:

"We just want an honest campaign for it [the resolution]"

That isn't what they did! Far from it! Their servile, obsequious, Green Dot cheerleading went to the extent that even writers not on their education staff, like Steve Lopez, began writing privatization propaganda. Moreover, considering all the lavish lunches the Los Angeles Times education staff including Messrs. Blume and Song have enjoyed with the CMO elite, their objectivity is beyond suspect, they come off as shills for Eli Broad's nefarious designs for public education.

A Town Hall Meeting Closed to the Townspeople

How can you have an education "town hall" where the townsfolk aren't invited? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Green Dot Corporation's Ben Austin staged two such events last week touting LAUSD Vice President Yolie Flores-Aguilar's school privatization resolution, which is up for vote on August 25. Locking out those most concerned with the content of those meetings--parents, educators, and the community--is a harbinger of how public education may look should the resolution pass. In fact, the closed meetings stand as metaphors for how the majority of Charter Management Organizations (CMO) work: undemocratic, top down, run by non-educators, and unaccountable to the communities where they operate.

Noting widespread public opposition to Flores-Aguilar's resolution, particularly at town halls featuring LAUSD Superintendent Cortines, the Mayor and his Green Dot allies made sure their Boyle Heights and Venice meetings were town halls in name only. The first was held midday Tuesday. The Garfield Town Hall was hosted at Catholic Charities, instead of Garfield, notably because Garfield's parents, teachers, and community have vehemently opposed Green Dot's ongoing hostile take-over attempts for over a year. The community was locked outside while parents bused in from other locations comprised the audience.

Those locked out were told they would have been admitted had they called to RSVP. Obtaining the phone number to RSVP for the Venice event, many people called to RSVP. The number was paid Green Dot organizer Shirley Ford’s voicemail, but none of us were ever called back. Wednesday saw Austin and the Mayor host a second closed meeting in Venice.

Despite the fact that he’s a former Deputy Mayor, many people are unaware of who Ben Austin is. Austin poses as a concerned parent from an impacted community bravely fighting for school reform in public settings. Instead, Austin holds two six figure positions and lives in Beverly Hills. Austin’s day job is an Assistant City Attorney, his second job is Executive Director of Parent Revolution (née Los Angeles Parents Union). Surprisingly, this seeming conflict of interest goes unabated, despite his financial interest in passage of Flores-Aguilar's resolution.

Parent Revolution is an astroturf group founded by, share an office building with, and are funded primarily by Green Dot. Parent Revolution supplied the audience at these town halls, an audience vetted for its allegiance with the Mayor, Flores-Aguilar, and Austin's corporate charter school choice resolution.

Mayor Villaraigosa claims his town halls were closed for fear of disruption. It's far more likely the Mayor and Austin were afraid parents, educators, and community members would inevitably ask inconvenient questions:

There's a reason the Stanford Study, the disastrous aftermath of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's same policies in Chicago, and other serious questions regarding school privatization aren't being addressed. They're the same reasons why the Mayor's meetings locked the community out. While supporters of Flores-Aguilar's resolution claim it's "for the kids," an examination of facts, conflicts of interest, nefarious benefactors, opportunism, and political maneuvering shows they're doing it "for the cronies."

Students, parents, communities, and tax payers deserve better.

Robert D. Skeels is a technical writer and activist in Los Angeles


No comments: