Anaheim Councilman Jose F. Moreno recently spearheaded the city council’s adoption of a “Sunshine Ordinance,” which included a partial lobbyist registration requirement. He declared it “seeks to affirm that the business of the people is being done in an open and transparent way.”
Apparently, he doesn’t think the business of the people of the Anaheim Elementary School District needs to be conducted in an “open and transparent way,” as evidenced by back-room machinations to influence who will be the operator of the Palm Lane Elementary charter school.
As readers know, a group of Palm Lane parents spent nearly three years battling to convert their school into an independent charter school via the state’s Parent Trigger Law. began while Moreno was still a member of the Anaheim Elementary School District (AESD) Board of Education. They faced ferocious opposition from school employee unions, as well as from the AESD leadership, which spent nearly a million dollars fighting the parents in the courts.
The district’s war of attrition ended when the California Supreme Court to refused to hear the AESD’s appeal of lower court rulings upholding the parent trigger petition and ordering to district to proceed with the charter conversion.
The next phase in the conversion process is for the Palm Lane parents who signed the Parent Trigger Law petition to review proposals from interested charter school operators and make a selection, which would then be submitted to the AESD Board. The legislature, when it passed the Parent Trigger Law limited participation in selecting the charter operator to parents who signed the petition.
The AESD Board cannot reject the charter operator application simply because its members don’t like charter schools; there has to be cause. If the board votes against the parents’ selected charter operator, the parents can presumably appeal to the Orange County Board of Education.
On July 27, Moreno and Mayor Tom Tait met with a senior member of the Lincoln Club of Orange County who has been working with the Palm Lane parents, to discuss a deal on the Palm Lane issue – an encounter arranged by Tait. Moreno said holds influence over members of the AESD Board, which he offered to use to secure their approval of a charter school operator – but on two conditions: (1) parents who did not sign the petition must be allowed to participate in selecting the operator; and (2) only locals could serve on the charter operator’s board of directors.
An e-mail detailing the content of the meeting was provided to this news site; following are relevant excerpts:
As I told you yesterday, I was approached last Thursday by City Councilman Jose Moreno with what he characterized as a settlement offer to resolve Palm Lane. The meeting was set up by Mayor Tom Tait, a longtime friend of mine. Moreno began the conversation by reciting some history, which began with the fact that he was president of this school board when this controversy began at Palm Lane. Moreno has remained involved from the sidelines and claims that he holds influence over some of the members of the Board. My eye contact with Tait told me that Tait confirms this, though I would have confirmed it more firmly if events had not made that unnecessary.
Moreno came to the meeting with a specific proposal, which he said was “subject to negotiation”. He hoped that I would take it back to people who are in touch with the parents making the decisions.
Moreno offered to use his influence with the School Board to gain their approval of the charter school operator and its proposal at the next discretionary phase in exchange for two things: (1) non-petitioning parents play a role in the process of selecting the operator; and (2) the operator’s board of directors be local.
Moreno is no friend of charter schools. He regularly posts anti-charter school articles and links on his Facebook page. In a 2014 e-mail to Democratic Party of Orange County members, Moreno wrote “I am NOT a supporter of the overall Charter School movement which is clearly a veiled effort to undermine education as a public entity,” and stated “It is indeed unfortunate that over the past 20 years our legislature and State Board of Education has established and expanded Charter school laws.”
Two months before his undisclosed meeting with the Lincoln Club member, Moreno (and Tait) shot down an effort by Councilwoman Kris Murray to have the city council recognize the Palm Lane parents.
But he can credibly claim influence over the AESD Board of Education. Four of its five members — Ryan Ruelas, Jackie Filbeck, Jose Paolo Magcalas and Jeff Cole – are political allies of Moreno. The AnaheimBROS student political clubs started by Ruelas in Anaheim high schools supply campaign volunteers for Moreno-supported causes (including his council candidacies).
Moreno’s offer was ultimately rejected: the Palm Lane parents group preference is to work through the process independently, make their case to the AESD Board of Education and rely on the board to set aside its ideological antagonism and give the parents fair consideration per the law.
The timing of Moreno’s intercession is interesting, and it’s difficult to believe he has the parent’s best interests in mind. If he did, he would have used his influence to persuade his AESD allies their wasteful, divisive litigation against the parents, which delayed the inevitable by two years and burned $800,000. It was clear from Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks scathing July 2015 ruling in favor of the Palm Lane parents that an appeal by the district would be doomed. Why didn’t Moreno use his influence to dissuade his allies from pursing a vindictive legal battle? That would have saved all concerned a great deal of time, energy and emotional distress – not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone into the classroom.
Instead, we have a cynical, behind-the-scenes attempt by Moreno to insert himself into and gain control of the charter conversion process. Take, for example, his demand for non-signatory parents to participate in selecting the charter operator. For starters, that isn’t permitted under the Parent Trigger law: that issue was considered when the legislature passed Parent Empowerment Act. It was decided the fair course was reserving charter operator selection to those parents who supported charter conversion by signing the Parent Trigger petition. It would be unjust and unfair to give parents who didn’t support charter school status for Palm Lane an equal voice with parents who signed the petition – and in the face of hostility from the district.
It only makes sense from the perspective of Moreno’s allies, who utilized the two-and-a-half-years of litigation to organize their own anti-charter conversion parents group. Giving Moreno’s play to involve this group in the selection of a Palm Lane charter operator would give the unions and the district a back-channel for influencing (or sabotaging) the selection process.
As for his other demand that a Palm Lane Charter School’s board consist of “locals only” – why hamstring the school in that manner? Shouldn’t that be left up to the parents, teachers and charter operator? Why prevent the school from reaching out and including board members who may not be local, but who believe in the mission of the school and able to bring resources to bear for the benefit of the students?
If Councilman Moreno wants to wield his influence over the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education in a positive, pro-parent way, he can do so by openly, transparently asking them to set aside their animosity and assent to the Palm Lane parents’ choice of charter operator.