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Dubious Plan B: LAUSD’s Latest Corporate Reform Scheme being Lobbied by Insiders

EDUCATION POLITICS-This is the third post in a series. We’ve been deep diving into a Unified Enrollment scheme, a top priority of the charter lobby, that’s being pushed on LAUSD officials without a discussion of policy implications and almost no public input. 

In the first post, we laid out some of the scholarly research that finds Unified Enrollment systems exacerbate inequitable access to schools. They’ve been funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation in New Orleans and Denver. 

In the second post, we revealed a process that looks a lot like the iPad scandal, complete with secret meetings to lobby board members and slick, pseudo-public presentations. Policy implications are not on the agenda. 

In this post, as promised, we’ll introduce the privatizers who have infiltrated the school district to advance the interests of the charter lobby. 

Conspiracy theory? Hardly. This just looks like the new business model. Since the iPad scandal, privatizers have had to find new ways to move their agenda. The scandal made direct corporate lobbying behind the scenes too risky. But there’s no need, if you have managed to plant your sales force inside the school system itself.  

The District personnel pitching the Unified Enrollment scheme are not just any LAUSD employees. They are Broad and Walton acolytes, trained and placed in the school system to move the corporate reform agenda forward from the inside. 

Ani Bagdasarian Packard started working at LAUSD while corporate reform poster boy John Deasy was Superintendent. For two years, she worked in LAUSD as a Broad fellow, just as Broad’s education empire shifted its focus. Previously a training academy for Superintendents, it would now focus on lower level staff “to make it easier for superintendents to define policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reforms on the ground,” according to a Washington Post article from that time. 

Bagdasarian Packard is now “advancing bold reforms on the ground” as Program Policy Development Advisor for LAUSD. 

In her presentation to LAUSD’s Early Education and Parent Engagement Committee on February 28, 2017, Bagdasarian Packard explained that after the technology scandals that led to John Deasy’s ouster from LAUSD, “…my colleague and I decided to move forward with this, and we worked with IT to go with solution B, Plan B.” 

Her colleague? 

Maybe she was talking about Jodie Newbery, who presented with her at that meeting as well as at last week’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) to try to get the secret project funded with $24 million in school construction bonds. 

Newbery was also hired when Deasy was Superintendent, in October 2011. 

Where did she come from? Her three previous positions were in charter school promotion, according to her LinkedIn profile. First for the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence and then for the California Charter Schools Association. Her most recent job was as "Senior Manager, Walton Family Foundation Grant and Los Angeles School Development." Then she made the jump to LAUSD as Program and Policy Advisor, Portfolio Management. That doesn't require a conspiracy theory. How much more explicit could you get? 

So a couple of low level co-workers inside LAUSD are behind a major policy shift for the District? 

That is bold. And could be great, if it meant that LAUSD was truly becoming receptive to bottom-up innovation. But the dynamic seems to be about something other than welcoming diverse input. 

At the BOC, District administrative staff balked when BOC member Rachel Greene asked what Board policy the project was advancing before approving its funding. The answers were vague at best. District staffer Diane Pappas said the policy was Board approved in the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan. She neglected to mention that the Board has refused to vote on the Strategic Plan. Anyway, she said, they'd been meeting privately with individual board members to get buy-in. 

I have found no evidence that a policy decision about Unified Enrollment has even occurred. 

The BOC agenda materials claim that the Unified Enrollment System falls under the catch-all “School Upgrade Program” which is for “upgrading, building and repairing school facilities to improve student health, safety and educational quality.” Seems like a stretch in this case, as it did when Deasy used the same rationale to use bond funds to pay for the iPad Common Core Technology Project. 

Just as with the iPad scandal, District staff is pushing hard. When BOC member Stuart Magruder, largely credited with first putting the brakes on the iPad boondoggle, asked if they were sure the District could meet the short timeline for Common Enrollment, Pappas answered, “We’re ready.”

Bagdasarian seemed more than ready. “These are just some snapshots of what it will look like” – she stopped herself -- “What it ‘may’ look like,” she said in the February presentation. 

And what multi-million dollar “reform” would be complete without a PR campaign? 

Reports of a new coalition to advocate for the inclusion of charters.  

Cue PEAPS-LA, a coalition of nonprofit education reformers to champion Unified Enrollment. The Partnership for Equitable Access to Public Schools Los Angeles includes Parent Revolution (of Steve Barr and Ben Austin acclaim) and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (of Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck acclaim), among others. 

So once again, all the pieces are in place, and the public only gets a seat to watch the result. With the iPads, the scandal surrounded alleged private lobbying efforts by corporate execs at Pearson. This time, the lobbying is hidden in plain sight, by LAUSD staff themselves. All they need now is the School Board's green light. No discussion necessary.

 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.