The Santa Clara County Board of Education has a new President: Leon Beauchman. Beauchman has been a member of SCCBOE for 13 years and previously served as SCCBOE President in 2002 and 2005. He was re-elected in Nov. 2012 in an uncontested race for the Area 3 seat—unfortunately, resembling a single-party election.*
Beauchman has been on SCCBOE continuously since it forged the BCS-LASD conflict in 2003. Prior to the county board’s approval of the Bullis charter, only one charter school operated in Santa Clara County. As of now, SCCBOE has approved 38 charters. Beauchman has been a driver of this aggressive pursuit of charters, an approach the county board calls “bold” and “courageous.” Others call it “reckless” and “privatization.”
I had an opportunity in May 2013 to speak in person with now-President Leon Beauchman and then-President Grace Mah after a public meeting on charter school issues in my community. The dialogue was intimate, including just Beauchman, Mah, one or two other people and myself.
Our conversation naturally, eventually turned to the BCS-LASD situation, and I mentioned the LASD community’s perception that SCCBOE didn’t perform proper oversight of BCS. I said the LASD community had, over time, communicated to SCCBOE some troubling BCS policies and practices, but rarely (if ever) did the community receive any response or action.
I mentioned specifically that a citizen had inquired about a $250K personal loan made by Bullis Charter School to Principal Wanny Hersey. (It’s illegal for a public school funded with public tax dollars to make a personal loan to an administrator, yet…) In BCS’ annual Form 990 filings across multiple years, a $250K loan was reported as a “personal loan.”
This issue had been raised via email repeatedly to every member of the SCCBOE and the county Superintendent (with a good deal of supporting information) in the months prior to my conversation with then-President Mah & Beauchman, yet Mah said she did not remember receiving any such inquiry.
During this conversation with Mah, she acknowledged and agreed:
- There is no aspect of a charter school operating under SCCOE/SCCBOE authority over which the county board lacks jurisdiction
- As the elected SCCBOE representative for Area 1 (which includes LASD), Mah is an appropriate person to receive citizen inquiries and make sure they are followed up
- When such legal/financial/regulatory public education issues are brought to Mah and SCCOE/SCCBOE, they would be addressed and/or investigated appropriately
- Results/findings from such investigations would be made public (to us and our community) by Mah or through Superintendent De La Torre
Within days of this conversation with then-President Mah the original email thread (with detailed enclosures) was forwarded again to the entire SCCBOE with my notes from our conversation, substantially the same as the bullets above.
In the seven months since, I’ve never received any acknowledgement of the information, nor am I aware of any response Mah, SCCBOE or De La Torre made to the original petitioner. So much for oversight. Fooled again.
In the context of our energetic discussion about the LASD community’s desire for greater BCS oversight and responsiveness to citizen inquiries, I also raised the issue of apparent inequity and discrimination at BCS. I specifically mentioned allegations of BCS enrollment discrimination contained in sworn declarations filed in support of the district’s counter-claim in one of many lawsuits filed against LASD by BCS.
Imagine my shock when Beauchman said—and I paraphrase,
“Discrimination is everywhere. You’re never going to get rid of it.”
I croaked in reply,
“Separate but equal isn’t the law of the land.”
It’s not like SCCOE wasn’t aware of allegations of discrimination by charter schools before members of the LASD community raised them in the BCS case. Former SCCOE Superintendent Charles Weis wrote to me in an April 2012 email,
“Racial segregation in schools has one been one outcome of the charter school movement in many places in the state according to a recent Stanford study.” [sic]
So let me get this straight: you’re an elected public education administrator and someone brings to your attention information suggesting there is discrimination in the schools under your authority. This someone might even be your county Superintendent. What do you do?
Well, if you’re now-President Beauchman or then-President Mah, maybe nothing. In fact, Beauchman pretty much dismissed it, even rationalized it.
On its face, wouldn’t you be stunned (as I was) to hear SCCBOE Presidents dismiss allegations of discrimination? Fooled again.
I see two failures of public policy administration here:
- Failure to respond to petitions/inquiries from constituents.
- Failure to enforce the law.
SCCBOE might not be the best at following up on inquiries re: oversight, but they’re famous for being quite responsive to a certain other class of petitions brought by citizens, namely charter school applications. In fact, at the SCCBOE’s direction, an entirely new department was recently created under the County Superintendent: “The Office of Innovative Schools,” to make even unapprovable charter applications approvable. It is also, apparently, responsible for charter oversight. According to the SCCOE website:
“The Office of Innovative Schools coordinates the programmatic and fiscal oversight for charter schools approved by the SCCOE Board of Education. The office also serves as a resource for Santa Clara County’s charter schools, school districts, state and local agencies, parents and communities.”
So how is this new department doing?
- If the Office of Innovative Schools is supposed to be a resource for school districts, why does San Jose Unified feel so under-supported, even set-upon by it?
- If the Office of Innovative Schools is supposed to provide charter oversight and be a resource for parents, why are parent inquiries about charters’ questionable financial dealings and discrimination in enrollment going unanswered?
- If the Office of Innovative Schools is supposed to be a resource for communities, why won’t SCCBOE fulfill a commitment to meet and help heal the LASD community because, as BCS authorizer it’s “been part of the non-healing“?
If SCCBOE can’t manage to resource their oversight function appropriately or work diligently to ensure that basic matters of law, equity and civil rights are enforced and defended, shouldn’t SCCBOE members be recalled and replaced?
When will citizens of Santa Clara County say, “We won’t get fooled again“?
* – For democracy to work, voters should choose between at least 2 candidates. Having multiple candidates stand for election to school boards and city councils leads to policy debates and higher community engagement. Beauchman’s SCCBOE seat going uncontested is an ironic signal of how disengaged voters are from this county board that imposes itself on school districts and communities throughout Santa Clara County.
THIS is where discussions about CHOICE in public institutions matter. We have monopoly public institutions by design, not by accident. There is only one President, one Governor, one Mayor, one Congress, one Legislature, one City Council. Determining who leads our public institutions is a matter of citizen choice, which we call Democracy.
Creating separate, parallel, ‘competitive’ public institutions like a system of charter schools makes no sense unless they are known to fill educational gaps in the traditional system. Which, we now know, charters do not do. They merely provide ‘choice for choice’s sake.’