My objection to Martha McClatchie’s candidacy for LASD Trustee is based on my personal experience with her. I’m certainly not accusing Martha of being a bad person. To the contrary, she’s a tireless volunteer for causes she supports, which is admirable.
I know for a fact that Martha has performed many great services for children in her community, but this does not necessarily qualify her for the LASD Trustee role she seeks.
Martha has lots of passion and amplitude, but passion and amplitude can be either an asset or a liability.
I think Martha is ideologically poorly suited to be an LASD Trustee, and some of her projects and tactics over the past few years raise questions about her judgement. Because of choices she has made, Martha’s passion has become a liability, and the truth about her choices and allegiances are obscured from voters in this election.
Some background: Martha is my neighbor, our kids attended the same neighborhood elementary school. Martha volunteered as a PTA leader during the years I volunteered for LAEF. I collaborated with Martha during the financially lean “Great Recession” years when staff and program cuts were common and parent donations were crucial for closing budget gaps. Many times, I met with Martha to discuss school issues, including district administrative and budget issues, which obviously rolls into politics and ideology.
On some topics, Martha and I generally agreed:
- Losing enrichment programs that make an LASD education well-rounded, whole-child and exceptional was tragic. Defending and adding programs was top priority.
- LIFO staffing and tenure were causing our school(s) to lose some great young teachers each year during ‘pink slip’ season, which recurred annually for a few years.
- The more parents are asked to voluntarily donate to supplement district revenues the more influence over the educational program parents will expect, especially if increased donations don’t yield program improvements.
On other topics, we disagreed:
- Martha was strongly against LASD’s ‘consistent program across all schools,’ favoring school-level autonomy in program design, meaning if a community of parents at an LASD campus wanted a new program and was willing to pay for it, they should be allowed by the district leadership to do so. Volunteering for LAEF, I worked closely with the district leadership and had better insight into the district budget and program design. I accepted that a consistent program across all elementary schools offered both educational and operational advantages.
- Martha was strongly opposed to our teacher’s union because she felt it protected ‘bad teachers,’ forced us to lay off young vibrant teachers first and created resistance to new programs. While I sympathized in principle with some of Martha’s pain, I was’t ready to throw staff under the bus in an anti-union protest. I accepted that staffing is contracted by the district through a collective bargaining process that would take time to influence, but believed that, on the whole, LASD staff is hardworking, dedicated, experienced and highly trained—with very few ‘lemons.’
Fast forward a couple years.
Martha was so unhappy with LASD that she gave BCS a try. She liked it and quickly became one the BCS community’s most active parent volunteers. All the passion she previously showed FOR the district was now being directed AGAINST the district.
On a personal level, it was still the same Martha McClatchie, so this was not surprising per se, but it was certainly disappointing. No one likes to see so much raw energy reverse itself, from being helpful to harmful.
In subsequent meetings, when I asked what she liked about BCS, she said:
- Mandarin – language instruction was the single biggest programmatic difference Martha pointed to, it seemed to be the clear ‘winner’ in terms of “Why BCS?”
- Choice – BCS is an opt-in program, meaning everyone chose to be there, which creates a culture on campus unlike that at LASD neighborhood schools
- Rigor – she felt BCS was ‘skimming’ some of LASD’s higher-achieving students, so she described it as a GATE program
- No union – meaning BCS can fire at will based on performance and pay less
- Longer day – more spending per student and more enrichment programs means more time at school each day, which working parents appreciate
Now here are some troubling “anti-LASD” ideological downsides I uncovered in my discussions with Martha:
- She seemed more a voucher proponent, advocating school choice for the sake of choice alone. This is the essence of the quasi-privatization movement in public education today, rooted in Milton Friedman’s “consumer sovereignty.” This approach to “school choice” is anathema to the LASD model.
- She spoke of eliminating the LASD “small neighborhood schools” model and turning every LASD school into a choice program with open enrollment, even converting LASD schools one by one into charters operating under the BCS flag.
- She didn’t seem to appreciate that the BCS financial model was not scalable across the district, since per-student spending at BCS is up to 20% higher than LASD, in spite of (presumably) lower cost of staff.
- She wasn’t bothered by enrollment bias or ‘skimming’ effects seen in BCS student demographics, something Francis LaPoll called, “A core aspect of the program.”
- For all the talk of hiring great staff, she maintains the “parent sovereignty” mindset that undermines respect for teachers and professionalism in teaching. Her strong anti-union ideology would surely make waves in Board deliberations.
These are a few of the ideological reasons I cannot support Martha McClatchie’s candidacy for the LASD Board of Trustees.
There are also specific actions she has taken that cast doubt on her judgement and ability to put the interests of LASD students first, which I will cover in another post.