Excelencia Charter Academy is yet another creepy little charter school run by yet another shockingly unqualified creepy little galaxy-brained grifter, this one known as Ruben Alonzo, going about the place making creepy little announcements of delusionally impending disruptive excellence while lining his creepy little pockets with public money1 at the expense of the actual human children that the state legislature, for reasons they’re going to have to answer for eventually, has seen fit to place into his care.
In this regard Alonzo is much like Sakshi Jain, shockingly unqualified founder of the ill-fated GANAS Academy, whose plan to co-locate on the campus of Catskill Elementary School conjured up such a monumental hurricane of activist opposition and scorn that, it appears, she has had to put her school’s opening on hold while she slinks back to her lair to soothe her metaphorical wounds with a salve made of equal parts boorish self-pity and Walton family megabucks.
Unlike Jain, though, Alonzo did actually manage to open his school. In the Fall of 2018 as it happens and, like Jain’s fiasco, co-located, in this case on the campus of Sunrise Elementary School in Boyle Heights. And like Jain’s folly Alonzo’s weirdo little project conjured up some opposition, most publicly from Sunrise Elementary teacher Mimi Guzman-Duncanson.
Duncanson famously parked her SUV out in front of the school covered in flyers advertising the appalling lack of qualifications of Excelencia’s teachers, let alone Ruben Alonzo, the self-proclaimed founder. Duncanson’s protest was covered in the Los Angeles Times and by Jason McGahan, writing in The Baffler.
You can see a picture of Maestra Duncanson2 with her minivan somewhere near this sentence.That picture and another like it came from a huge set of emails released to me recently by Alonzo pursuant to the California Public Records Act.3 And if it looks like hostile photography, like surveillance, well, that’s because that’s precisely what it is. It turns out that aggressively callow hellbaby Ruben Alonzo just could not deal with the fact that anyone at all dared to question his galaxy-brained 29 year old self.
These emails reveal that Alonzo hated and feared the truth to such an extent that not only did he stalk and surveill her, take hostile photographs of her, not only did he whine about her to every reporter who’d sit still long enough, but he tried to convince police to tow Duncanson’s protest van, although they refused.
He also arranged for police presence at his school for the first few days of operation because of his hatred and fear of protesters. He almost certainly also violated the Brown Act by emailing information about firing two teachers to his board of directors in advance of the meeting, explicitly stating that he was doing so in order to keep Duncanson from learning it. You can find PDFs of the relevant emails here, and read on for quotes and links!
The story begins on August 14, 2018 when Ruben Alonzo emailed his board members with information about an impending meeting:
Subject: Board Meeting – Location and Protesters
From: Ruben Alonzo <email@example.com>
Date: 8/14/18, 11:28 AM
BCC: Ana M Lasso <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Rodolphus Bethea <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, Marco Ramirez
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, Noramay Cadena <email@example.com>, Cristina Lowry <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Matt Gethers <email@example.com>, Ben McLean <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Good morning ECA Governing Board,
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Wednesday’s Board Meeting. Attached is a campus map. Since our admin office is quite a distance from where visitors enter, we will need to host our meeting by Excelencia’s entrance (see yellow star in attached map). This will ensure we keep the meeting open to the public. There are two tables as soon as you enter where we can sit and meet. I will be there by 5:45pm.
As I mentioned in my previous email, based on current enrollment, we will have to release two teachers. Essentially, we are overstaffed for the amount of students we have. Employees have already been informed and we will implement a plan to minimize the impact this will have on school culture and academics.
During the Board meeting, Stephen will present an updated budget reflecting this decision. During budget updates, I will keep my language general and concise. This isn’t for lack of transparency to the Board, but rather to provide the least information possible to the protester who attends. We will be communicating with families regarding these changes and I don’t want the news coming from Noemi Guzman-Duncanson (the lead organizer from our protests). In the attached images, you can see her parked out front during our morning arrival. She did so for the first three days of school.
Thanks for understanding. The team and I will continue working hard each day for our scholars!
Ruben Alonzo | Founder | Excelencia Charter Academy |
And attached to this email were two photos of Mimi Duncanson, one of which appears above. You can get full resolution copies here and here if you have a need for them. But the fact that Alonzo is out there taking photos of protesters and distributing them to his board members for unstated but clearly creep-as-all-heck reasons is not by far the most appalling revelation here.
That would be instead Alonzo’s statement to the board that he’s going to fire two teachers but that he’s not going to say so out loud at the board meeting because he ” will be communicating with families regarding these changes and I don’t want the news coming from Noemi Guzman-Duncanson.” Now, let’s talk about the Brown Act for a moment.
There are a lot of subtleties in this law, and it’s taken me a while to feel like I have a working understanding of it, but in essence it’s meant to accomplish only one simple thing: That the public’s business be done in public. Any action by a body subject to the law, like Excelencia’s governing board, that hide the conduct of business is likely to be a violation.
In particular, this email, which informed the board of crucial information related to impending action having to do with the school’s budget, falls under the law at §54957.5 as “[a writing] distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body”. Such writings must be, according to the law, “made available for public inspection at the meeting if prepared by the local agency or a member of its legislative body.”
But if the purpose of the email was, as announced, to hide the information about the firings from Duncanson and if Duncanson was expected to be at the meeting, which she must have been or why is Alonzo plotting to hide information from her, then clearly no one distributed this email at the meeting, even though the law requires it.
And at that meeting, therefore, whatever the board did about that budget, like approve it, deliberate over it, and so on, well, they did it in violation of that provision of the law which requires the email to have been distributed. Now, like many, many laws likely only to be violated by zillionaires and their minions, the Brown Act is not very punitive. There are very few consequences for violating it and none of them are serious.
The worst is basically that the legislative body has to hold a new meeting and redo its approval of an action item. Sometimes they have to solemnly promise never to violate the law again. But there is one exception. One shining exception, and that is found at §54959, which states:
Each member of a legislative body who attends a meeting of that legislative body where action is taken in violation of any provision of this chapter, and where the member intends to deprive the public of information to which the member knows or has reason to know the public is entitled under this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
And don’t we have all the elements of this crime here? Or anyway, at least probable cause to suspect that the crime has been committed? Members of the board attended the meeting. Action was (probably) taken in violation of a provision of the chapter. The members intended to deprive the public of the information.
Did they know or have reason to know that Duncanson was entitled to this information? Well, sure. The organization they control has a contract with LAUSD stating that they will comply with the Brown Act. That’s reason to know.
Interestingly, under every corrective provision of the Brown Act, action must be taken within nine or fewer months. Except this one. The generic statute of limitations for misdemeanors in California seems to be two years, so this one can still be prosecuted. I’ll get back to you if I think of a way to encourage that to happen!
Also included in this release of records is a fascinating series of emails between Los Angeles Times education reporter Howard Blume and our creeptagonist Ruben Alonzo in which Blume interviews Alonzo in preparation for his blockbuster article about co-location.
I wish I had time to discuss the masterful technique on display in this exchange, in which Blume, through a combination of curiosity, sympathy, feigned ignorance, and so on, leads the callow Alonzo through a series of revelations, none of them devastating in itself, but which together paint a picture of the absolute incompetence of this self-proclaimed school founder.
And it’s not just Blume’s reporting skills that valorize these emails. There’s a ton of important info in here as well. I will be returning to this little cache of gems over the next few days, but meanwhile read them and learn how journalism is done, and here are links to them all:
And finally we made it around to the car-towing episode as teased above! One of Blume’s questions to Alonzo was as follows, checking on a statement made by Duncanson:
also says that you attempted at one point to have her car towed from that spot in front of the entrance (not that I blame you), but that the car could not be towed because there no enforceable violations.
And Alonzo confirmed this in his reply:
I did ask police officers about towing her vehicle. She yelled at them when they approached her. They chose not to tow despite clearly posted signs saying No Parking weekdays starting at 7am. We open our doors at 7am.
Not only that but Alonzo revealed that he called the police in for at least three days at the beginning of the school year:
Police officers were present for first three days of instruction. I wanted them there as a precaution in case protesters became as hostile toward my families as they have been towards me at various community events and board meetings.
So yeah, that’s the kind of people that are running these putatively public charter schools. People who hate democracy, who hate freedom, and for whom it’s not enough that the police enforce laws which facilitate the antisocial extractive practices through which they grow rich, but they want the police to also stop people from hurting their feelings.
One of the oft-proclaimed purposes of public education is to form children into good citizens. This episode shows pretty clearly what good citizenship means to Alonzo, which is not what it means to the rest of us, not on the zillionaire payroll, who depend on actual freedom to defend against the depredations of Alonzo and his ilk. I really wonder what the civics classes at this school are like. Maybe we’ll find out soon!
Image of Excelencia Charter School Founder and all-round whiny little hellbaby Ruben Alonzo is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and has purty much fuck-all to do with this thing here.
- Man, have I got a story for you about the actual mechanics of Ruben Alonzo’s pocket-linery! And the actual pocket-lineristic mechanics of his creepy little criminal co-conspirators! Much more detailed than the usual handwavery one sees in the usual anti-charter school polemics! Not today, though, because there’s still a bunch of info I have to assimilate, but soon, soon, soon!
- As she’s pleased to style herself on Facebook and maybe elsewhere too!
- You can get MBOXes here on Archive dot Org, and I will publish PDFs sporadically as I find time and inclination to prep them.