Tuesday, December 13, 2005
John Fund's shallow reporting: John Fund has a blurb in today's OpinionJournal.com Political Diary (fourth item) on the Grossmont Union High School District here in eastern San Diego County.
If you want to know what's going on in that district, Fund's piece is a horrible place to start. Let's start with the factual errors.
Nonsense, says Ron Nehring, the chairman of the local elected school board and a booster of charters.
Ron Nehring is not chairman of the school board. He's chairman of the county Republican Party. The sentence also implies that Nehring was elected -- he wasn't. He was appointed by the board majority when one board member left the state.
The rest of Fund's piece is also largely wrong, because he is counting on Superintendent Terry Ryan -- a man who wouldn't know the truth if it bit him in the butt -- to tell him what's really going on.
Let's get to the rest of the misimpressions.
Despite Big Labor's success in defeating California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's reform initiatives last month, a few brave officials are still willing to challenge the public employee unions at the local level. Take the burgeoning charter school movement, which now has 570 schools in the state serving about 3% of the state's public school enrollment. They are about to be joined by one of the state's largest high school districts, fast-growing Grossmont in San Diego, which wants to convert all 10 of the high schools serving its 25,000 students into self-governing charter schools.
The district does not want to convert all of its high schools to charter schools. It looks good on paper, but it's really just another ploy in a 2-year-old labor dispute between the District and the teachers' union.
Proof? How about this from a Union-Tribune editorial from last week.
Helix Charter High School has a side agreement with the district to negotiate its own labor contract. Yet, trustees refused to grant a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment negotiated at Helix, unsure of whether they could or should honor their district's own commitment to the charter school.
So much for the trustees' support for charter schools' independence. The Helix case is also instructive because the charter school's budget shows that it can afford that 3.5 percent COLA, yet the district claims that it can only muster 1 percent.
Bruce Seaman, the president of the local teachers union in Grossmont, calls the idea "the first step toward the privatization of public schools." Nonsense, says Ron Nehring, the chairman of the local elected school board and a booster of charters. "The schools would be governed by a board elected by the parents which would report to the school district's trustees," he told me. "What can be more democratic and sensitive to what parents actually want?"
Democratic? Hardly. Back to the U-T editorial.
[Jim] Kelly, the departing board president, tried (unsuccessfully) to stifle someone with a signed speaker's card from getting up to endorse Priscilla Schreiber for president for the coming year. Then, only Kelly's name was allowed to be placed into consideration, although Schreiber has served two years as vice president and two years as board clerk. A parliamentary challenge produced an appalling result: Neither board members nor the attorney serving as board counsel, Chris Keeler, knew whether meetings were governed by Robert's Rules of Order. (Kelly was re-elected 3-2.)
You want more democracy? How about district Superintendent Terry Ryan?
Parent Wayne Zakarias said he was offended by a comment attributed to Ryan in a story about the teachers' plan that appeared recently in the East County Californian. The superintendent was quoted as saying: "No one that I'd have any respect for" backs the proposal. . . . "I'm not certain that parents would want their children to be guinea pigs."
No respect for those guinea pig voters in the District offices.
And then Fund has Ryan pulling a John Kerry -- he's for charter schools...
The proposal has been praised by Grossmont Superintendent Terry Ryan, who told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Mr. Nehring "is calling for a full discourse on charters, and that's really what should be happening."
After he is against them ...
A letter from Ryan to parents of Steele Canyon High School students a mere month before Nehring's all-charter proposal warned parents against having that school go charter because Helix (allegedly) now has "gang activity because of admissions from outside their boundaries." Ryan was rightly pilloried by the La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid and others for his appeal to racism.
In fact, even the supporters of the status quo are pushing a plan to convert one local high school in the district to charter status, although half of the seats on the board governing that school would be guaranteed to be filled by teacher union representatives.
Why the push to make Steele Canyon High School a charter school? Because the parents and teachers want out from the tyranny of the school board Fund is praising. Steele Canyon uses a unique quarter system -- and the district administration doesn't like it.
Fund finishes with:
The debate over reforming public education in California is increasingly between those who want real reform and those who recognize the public is demanding change but still want to have the new system controlled by the status quo behind the scenes.
This is true, but the school board in Grossmont isn't interested in improving kids' education.
I encourage everyone to read the complete U-T editorial, because unlike the impression left by Fund's piece, this isn't a school board making a daring move toward charter schools -- it's a dysfunctional disaster that appears to want to destroy the teachers' union at any cost and run the district's schools like they were Soviet central planners.
An all-charter school district may sound good if you all you see is the press release, but Fund has done a disservice to his readers by not looking more deeply into what is going on in the Grossmont District. He's allowed himself to be used, and some corrections and better reporting would be in order.