'Parent Trigger' Petitioners Fend Off Accusations From Compton Unified, McKinley PTA -- Not California Board Of Education
Over the last few days, a lightning storm of hear-say and hyperbole has lit up the sky over two groups of Compton parents. Major media outlets reporting the conflict have tended toward one side or the other, creating a tug-of-war effect beneath the mass confusion.
One group supports the Parent Trigger petition, which -- unless over 50 parents retract their signatures -- will take McKinley Elementary from the Compton Unified School District and convert it to a Celerity charter school (still state-funded, but independently run). The other insists that McKinley is better off in the familiar hands of the district.
Both sides are claiming the other lied and used intimidation tactics to recruit supporters.
Yesterday morning, Los Angeles Times reporter Teresa Watanabe wrote that the California Board of Education had stepped in, asking the attorney general to "examine charges of misconduct in a petition drive to convert McKinley Elementary into a charter school."
No matter which side you fall on, the article is extremely misleading.
In reality, says Board President Ted Mitchell, both sides will be equally scrutinized, but the interest in an investigation was initially sparked by accounts of misconduct as told by those in the Parent Trigger camp.
"I think the Times got it backwards," he says.
So what if some mainstream rag skews its facts a little? Problem is, the nation relies on this West Coast giant like an up-to-the-minute encyclopedia. Take a look at the fallout:
An Associated Press article entitled "Calif education board wants Compton charter probe" has been regurgitated onto news sites across the country. It reads:
"The California Board of Education wants a state investigation into alleged Compton charter school petition drive misconduct. ... There have been allegations of signature-gathering deceit and intimidation since they were turned in. ... Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that he will ask the California attorney general to investigate the complaints."
Other top Google hits for "Parent Trigger" include news-blog kudos to the Times for uncovering the real story and scoffs at Governor Schwarzenegger for still supporting the cause, even after corrupt petitioners had been outed by the board ("He seems not to have read the newspapers in his own state of California.")
Schwarzenegger in fact agreed soundly with the board
this yesterday afternoon, sending a similar investigation request to Attorney General Brown and declaring his support for petitioners' "effort to ensure that their children get the quality education that is a constitutional right."
In terms of the accusations, Mitchell says hard evidence is needed to guarantee legal sway -- and only Parent Trigger has so far presented any such proof of foul play on the other side.
"There is evidence that employees of the district intimidated parents," he says. "And that's unacceptable, if not reprehensible."
So smitten was serial reformer Michelle Rhee with said evidence that she showed up to a Parent Revolution press conference in Compton on Tuesday to declare her love for all things charter. In a rustic church setting, four McKinley parents showed news reporters their incident reports of "lies and intimidation" by staff and PTA members at McKinley. Org leaders also unveiled the YouTube account of teacher Victor Tellez -- and it wasn't pretty.
In addition to gay-bashing in front of his son, Tellez comments on a short YouTube documentary about the Parent Trigger volunteers. Among other misinformed threats, he posts: "You will regret having supported Celerity when your child is rejected by them" and "If your child is Special Ed, your child will be rejected."
According to board-drafted regulations currently up for public review (Mitchell expects they'll be passed by January), any charter opened via Parent Trigger must have identical admissions standards to the school it replaces. Celerity founder Vielka McFarlane told the Weekly that no McKinley-area student would be excluded from the school.
All eyes on McKinley
The other side's claim is that organizers told them the petition was only to beautify the McKinley campus.
After the initial moment of Parent Trigger history-making, the Times was first to report the return "fire" of parents who felt they had been tricked into signing the petition and wished to shift their allegiance to CUSD.
District board members and McKinley staff have kept out of the public eye since this thing dropped. The select few McKinley parents quoted in articles that slant away from the Trigger: PTA President Cynthia Martinez, Karla Garcia (always close by Martinez' side), Pastor Lee Finnie and Jessy Herrera (both involved in the PTA).
It is very much worth noting that the 'T' in PTA stands for Teacher, and that all McKinley staff and faculty would have to re-apply to Celerity for hire.
From what we can gather, the rest of the documented opposition comes in the form of anonymous speakers with outrageous claims that don't line up with anything the Weekly observed in the days leading up to the Trigger turn-in.
At the rowdy Compton Unified board meeting on Tuesday, while everyone was waiting for board members to emerge from closed session, Garcia told a row of confused-looking parents slated to speak that all they had to do was "just say how good it is" -- referring to the school. The entire front of the room was filled with unionized teachers.
Executive Director Ben Austin says Parent Revolution has only received word of 12 petition drop-outs so far -- minus six add-ons they've pulled over to the Parent Revolution side since then.
Unless the parents retract their signatures, according to Mitchell, this will probably be McKinley's last year as we know it.
Update: We must be a bunch of conservative dopes over here at the Weekly, because our very own Patrick Range McDonald, who happens to also be our hero, was on Fox last night. They only allowed the man a few words, but wiser ones were never spoken. (For many, many more words on the subject, read the original Parent Trigger saga.)