In June I received a massive set of really revelatory emails from Green Dot Charter Schools via the California Public Records Act. There’s a summary of what’s happened since then in this linked post. I have been working on organizing them to publish and at the same time telling stories based on them, and today’s post is another installment in that project.
The California Charter Schools Association sponsors a group of about 20 local charter school leaders, called the Los Angeles Advocacy Council, which meets regularly to plot and plan various pro-charter lobbying activities in LAUSD and a few other districts.1 The LAAC’s workings have hitherto been deeply buried. They don’t issue press releases for the most part, and they’re not really written about very much. As of right now, this blog is the top Google hit for them.
One thing revealed by these emails is that the LAAC is in no sense an egalitarian institution. There are about 20 members, but there is also an inner leadership group, consisting of Cristina de Jesus of Green Dot, Emilio Pack of STEM Preparatory Academy, and a bunch of CCSA flacks.2 This behind-the-scenes cabal shapes the activities of the group through weekly “check-ins,”3 at which they discuss their progress on their most cherished goals, which they call “North Stars”.4
And some of the most revealing records in this set are the leadership’s weekly updates. These are written by CCSA staff and show past progress and future plans for each of the North Stars. These, along with the monthly minutes of the meetings of the full LAAC expose all manner of wrongdoing, weirdness, and supervillainry, and are well worth your time to browse. They’re available on Archive.Org here:
And there are a million stories in those records, of which I can only tell one at a time. Today’s is about LAUSD’s charter school division, CSD in the vernacular. This office, headed by Jose Cole-Gutierrez, is charged with overseeing charter school operations in the district. And the charters don’t like it one bit. They don’t like being overseen, and they don’t like their overseers. And they would like to see Jose Cole Gutierrez fired and replaced with someone they see as more sympathetic to their cause.5
Some degree of antipathy between the overseen and the overseers is to be expected, of course. But CCSA’s antipathy, as exposed in these records, goes far, far beyond a bunch of charterites griping to the choir around some metaphorical cyberspaced water cooler.6 Whatever you as a sane person may think of privatizers, no one ever accused them of lacking initiative or imagination. In fact, CCSA has been trying to get Jose Cole-Gutierrez fired from his position at least since February 2018, using, at a minimum, the following tactics:
★ Surveying charter schools for stories about Cole-Gutierrez’s inconsistencies and putative incompetencies.
★ Meeting with LAUSD board members Ref Rodriguez, Monica Garcia, Kelly Gonez and Superintendent Austin Beutner to discuss how and why to fire Cole-Gutierrez and, egregiously, accepting concrete advice from Garcia about what kind of evidence the Board would need to be able to move forward on firing him.
★ Compiling a list of acceptable candidates to replace Cole-Gutierrez once they’d succeeded in having him fired.
So far Cole-Gutierrez has managed to hang on to his job in the face of this onslaught, but it’s not clear that he’ll be able to indefinitely. It’s possible that the only reason they haven’t been able to move in on him is that with Rodriguez’s ignominious departure they just don’t have the votes to finish the job.
I don’t have evidence that would explain Cole-Gutierrez’s survival, at least not yet. I am seeking it, of course, but the going is quite slow. It may well be years before we learn the rest of this story. And read on for links to documents and transcribed selections that tell this story in all the detail.
The first mention of the issue that I’m aware of is found in the minutes of LAAC’s February 2018 meeting. CCSA flack Keith Dell’Aquila apparently led a discussion on oversight, and the minutes state that “Over the past few weeks, we have heard frustrations from many on oversight in practice. Not necessarily consistent.” An unattributed comment followed, asking “Is this retaliation behavior?” and another comment asked “Can we change CSD leadership/staff? “
Lest, by the way, you think it’s possible that these privatizers had some kind of legitimate complaint, it’s worth noting another comment made at this time, that “There has been a shift over the past few months. They hired forensic accountants who are brought in, in some cases. They will find things no matter what. “ I don’t know about you, but I can say that in my experience it’s not actually true that forensic accountants “will find things no matter what” if there’s actually nothing to find. Of course, the privatizers’ problem is that there is plenty to find.
Moving on to May 20187 we find in the May 11 weekly LAAC Leadership Update. At this time Ref Rodriguez had a board resolution about oversight pending but being delayed from meeting to meeting.8 By May the LAAC folks were beginning to realize that Rodriguez wasn’t going to be able to solve their problems by fiat, so that they’d better focus on what they could do for themselves, including firing Cole-Gutierrez: “At this time we are focused on big picture changes instead of tweaking the existing policy: focusing on staffing at the CSD and updating renewal criteria so Authorizing and Oversight can reflect those improvements.”
Not that Rodriguez had abandoned them. He was still perfectly happy to advise them and attend carefully to their needs and desires regarding LAUSD oversight: “However, Ref’s office has asked us to think about what from his resolution isn’t in policy and can get done without a resolution.” It’s not entirely clear what that means, but the context suggests strongly that it at least includes firing Cole-Gutierrez.
Now we move along to the June 2018 LAAC meeting, described here in the minutes. Keith Dell’Aquila was still CCSA’s lead representative on the issue, and he raised the following question: “How many CSD employees engage in oversight? Are we talking about nit-picking individuals? This might be the elephant in the room – are we going to have a conversation with senior leadership about changing CSD leadership?” CSD leadership, of course, means Jose Cole-Gutierrez.
And then Emilio Pack, supreme commander of STEM Prep Charter School, sounded a rare cautionary note: “I think we need to work with the existing team on making changes. If no changes are made, perhaps having conversations about staffing. That’s a sensitive issue to tread.” But Mark Kleger-Heine of Citizens of the World Charter Schools was ready to charge on into the China shop: “I think there’s an opportunity for new leadership and new board to change the direction of the charter division.”
The plot underwent a quantum conspiracy leap at the very end of June, as explained in the June 29 weekly leadership update. It seems that board member Monica Garcia was not only meeting with CCSA lobbyists and LAAC flacks, which of course she does regularly, but she was actually giving them concrete actionable advice on how to help her help them by getting rid of Cole-Gutierrez: “We heard from Monica that we need more clarity on facts and specific violations to help board members and the Superintendent identify where the issues are if we want to make a case for leadership change.”
And by July 20, as explained in the weekly Leadership Update, they had begun putting Garcia’s advice into action by compiling results from a survey and announced their plans to “use the results to develop a narrative frame around the need for changes in CSD for the LAAC to consider in its strategic priority setting over the next weeks.” They also widened the discussion, presumably at least in part to help them get to where Monica Garcia had told them they needed to be: “We will begin soliciting feedback on possible CSD leadership change from select LAAC members next week.”
But most importantly, most arrogantly, evidently CCSA and LAAC were so sure they were going to succeed at getting rid of Cole-Gutierrez that they decided to get busy hiring his replacement: “We’ve begun compiling a candidate profile and list of possible candidates in the event that there is a CSD leadership change. … We will focus on candidates and experiences from inside and outside the charter / LA education space.”
And by August 2018 we learn some more details on this CCSA/LAAC shadow search committee to replace Cole-Gutierrez who, don’t forget, actually still had9 his job. Here in the August 3 weekly leadership update it’s revealed that they “continued to source candidate profiles and specific candidates for CSD leadership with a focus on identifying possible candidates outside of LAUSD / LA charter world. We are looking closely at other high-quality authorizers, including DC, Indianapolis, Denver, New Orleans, and Massachusetts.”
That’s not all, though. Later in August, at the full LAAC meeting as revealed by the minutes, CCSA flack Cassy Horton summed up the group’s efforts to scuttle Cole-Gutierrez’s career: “This year’s suggested objective is securing structural and personnel reforms at LAUSD to improve the authorization and oversight experience as well as the authorizing relationship. We’ve laid the groundwork for this work.”10
And the comments from the hoi polloi11 non-elite members of the LAAC, like Pali High Supreme Commander Doctor Pamela Magee, are exceedingly confirmative of the CCSA’s thoroughly creepy ability to pander to the unholy desires of its constituents: “I’m glad it continues to be a priority. Would love to see some personnel changes. “12
And there’s plenty more of the same in there, folks. I’m going to skip over most of it, but let’s just end on a note from the Weekly Update of February 22, 2019. This not only shows that LAAC was still working, a year after they started the project, on replacing Jose Cole-Gutierrez with their hand-picked sock puppet, but that Monica Garcia was still involved, joined by this time by Austin Beutner and Kelly Gonez. And at that point, in February of this year, they were about to initiate an “eight week push” to get rid of the guy:
• Fleshed out plan for 8-week push forthcoming this week. Will you take information back to Austin informing him that there appears to be willingness to make changes? Will you take it back to MG?
• Our strategy is to build the case that CSD fails to efficiently and competently implement existing authorization and oversight policy and support a call for systemic structural and personnel within CSD.
• The LAAC met with Superintendent Beutner to reaffirm its authorizing priorities and received feedback from the Superintendent that we will incorporate into our planning.
• LAAC leadership also met with Board President Monica Garcia and Board Member Kelly Gonez to discuss authorization and oversight and heard their thoughts on potential personnel and/or structural changes.
As I said, Cole-Gutierrez is still in his position, but nevertheless, it can’t be comfortable for him to know that this whole industry, this whole gang of zillionaire thugs, is focusing its considerable resources, both social and financial, on getting him fired. And that a significant fraction of his bosses are in on the plot.
And it’s certainly no way to run a public agency like LAUSD, where we expect, probably under the law, for that matter, that hiring and firing will be done on a rational basis. Worst of all, though, it can’t be hard to understand that there are no circumstances under which the regulated, the overseen, should even be able to choose their head regulator, let alone to get him fired because they don’t like being regulated. It’s bad, yes. It’s not surprising.
Image of beleaguered head of LAUSD’s charter school division, Jose Cole-Gutierrez, is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and you know, there is always one of these hanging around.
- The Los Angeles Advocacy Council is one of a number, as yet undetermined, of other Advocacy Councils around the state. There’s an Orange County Advocacy Council, probably a Ventura one, and some up north. Since the CCSA is not subject to the CPRA the only way to get info on these Councils is through the member schools, and I just don’t have time to study the situation outside of Los Angeles, at least not right now. If this is something you’re interested in, though, I know how to learn everything. If you want to work on it but don’t know where to start get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can help you get going on it. It’s not hard, it just takes time and tenacity.
- At least that was the leadership group for the most part during the time covered by this post. As I said, it’s hard to track every detail of the doings of this shadowy crew.
- And other abominably named get-togethers, like “step-backs” and “whip arounds” and “kool-aid socials” and so on. OK, I made the last one up, but you had to think about it, didn’t you?!
- Because to this gang of geniuses leading their people out of the bondage of public oversight and political responsibility to the promised land of Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law is exactly the same as escaped slaves making their way to Canada. I’m not going to continue to put the phrase “North Star” in scare quotes in this post, because scare quotes get irritating fast, but as you read, remember it has all the scare quotes. Every last scare quote is there.
- I’m not in any way agreeing with the charter people that Cole-Gutierrez is their enemy, or even that he’s not sympathetic. I have no idea. I do know that he’s been criticized from the sane point of view as well as from the charters’. For instance, here’s the incomparable Carl Petersen mounting an entirely evidence-based attack on the poor quality of CSD’s oversight.
- Although there is indeed plenty of griping amongst them out there in the various spaces in which they congregate.
- Despite the sheer, overwhelming quantity of records released by the Dotters, there are still gaps in them, so I don’t know if nothing happened between February and May or if I just don’t have the evidence.
- It would ultimately be withdrawn. This is a complex and different story that I hope to get to eventually.
- And has.
- There’s something deeply creepy in the way that these CCSA/LAAC refer to their projects as “the work” or “this work.” Not that every aspect of the grand privatization agenda isn’t deeply creepy. It is. But this particular phraseology puts it on the level of overly smiling teens selling flowers in airports and later dying with a cup of kool aid to their lips. These people are weirdos on every possible level.
- H/T to the guy who taught me Greek in college for pointing out that yes, “hoi” means “the,” so in some technical sense it’s “wrong” to say “the hoi polloi” like a bunch of irritating galaxy brains will point out in certain circles. On the other hand, said he, and this is a lesson I have carried with me and been comforted by ever since, when we’re speaking English “hoi polloi” is an indivisible lexical unit. Just a word in itself. Which is why “the hoi polloi” is correct in English and “hoi polloi” is correct in (Attic) Greek. Don’t know much about modern Greek, sorry to say.
- The rest of the comments, from a luminous list of LA charter elites, is very worth reading. This post is getting lengthily out of hand, though, and I have to start skipping stuff or I will never get through it. In the same general area as Pam Magee’s pronouncement you’ll find some remarks about LAUSD’s Office of the Inspector General. This is/was another oversight arm, utterly hated and feared by the local privatizers, which they actually did succeed in neutralizing to a fairly great extent. This is another story I hope to get around to telling, and there’s a lot of interesting information in here on that.