MAIL from PALI Charter: Building A "Pool To Nowhere", Nepotism, Waste

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A few people in the know at PALI Charter dropped us a note a little while ago... something about a "swimming pool to nowhere", piss-poor spending choices and a well-connected
daughter-in-law that somehow became CEO of the whole thing.

Several former teachers from Palisades Charter sent this:

When Palisades Charter High School became an independent charter several years ago, it was anticipated that the school would achieve a huge multi-million dollar windfall by shedding the bloated LAUSD bureaucracy that Palisades would no longer have to support. It was promised by those supporting the independent charter status that the money gained from this windfall would then be used to implement critical priorities for improving education, not the least of which was lessening teacher to student ratio, which had already ballooned 40 to 1 under LAUSD.

Instead, what took place is that Richard Held and his business partner Jim Suhr, who both sat on the Pali Board, made Mr. Held's daughter-in-law the chief executive officer of the school in an action that was clearly an undisclosed conflict of interest. Over the next few years, what Mrs. Held created, with her limited elementary school teaching and LAUSAD clerical experience, was a mini-LAUSD, where the money attained by going independent charter went to creating another bloated LAUSDesque bureaucracy, instead of lessening class size.

Initially, the teachers of the school were brought along in this then reform model by giving them a pay raise or out-of-classroom assignments for less that stellar programs. To pay for this, more students were enrolled and older teachers were encouraged to leave. Five years after becoming an independent charter, when teachers no longer have the option of returning to LAUSD with any of their seniority, things have changed considerably. The affirmative action program which had seen three generations of African American students bused in from the Crenshaw area and other communities with traditionally poor and de facto segregated and low performing schools has been significantly curtailed in favor of increasing the White population of the school. This is a total turnaround from what the faculty and parents initially agreed on when they choose to become an independent charter 5 years ago.

Most of the important actions have been decided behind the closed door in total derogation of the Brown Act, which clearly requires that the business of public entities like Palisades Charter High School be conducted in meetings open to the public where the agenda of these meetings is open to the public and capable of being added to by all parties concerned and not just Ms. Held and her crony Mrs. Rodman who presided over the board until October 2009.

Presently, a clear example of what the contempt for democratic process produces is the new pool construction. The old YMCA pool, just across Sunset Blvd. from the school, could have been refurbished with a fraction of what the new pool costs. However, the Pali leadership has allowed this ever more costly boondoggle to proceed under the less than qualified oversight of Maisha Perry, who was hired more for her friendship with Ms. Held than for her objective qualifications that have not as yet culminated in a college degree. There were a NUMBER of highly qualified people who applied for the position. The original estimate of the construction was $2.8 million. Two years and many manipulations later, its cost is approaching $5 million. Although the school veteran Rose Gilbert gave $2.3 million to fund this project, its present price risks putting the school behind the financial eight ball during these very difficult economic times.


A pool right across the street? Who else knows about this?


anthony@perdaily.com


flickr:sacks08

30

01 2010

12 Comments

Martin, you are on the right track. However, there are other noteworthy situations that need to be corrected at PCHS. The math department needs to be completely replaced. Hire teachers who have complete command of the English language. Math is tough enough to understand without placing added barriers to its acquisition. Stop keeping the math tutors in business. While you are it, how about cleaning up the physical education department? Students need role models that they can emulate. The bulls in the girls physical education are not at all what young ladies need. Regardless of what the fashion gurus say, tatoos are not glamorous. You know the Executive Director had a hand in hiring these guys.

Way to go, Martin-

Thank you for speaking out about the corruption and cronyism that has permeated PCHS!! The unqualified "stooges" need to go!!

There is truly only one way to save PCHS from itself. Start over from the beginning. Re-examine the charter to make sure that the flaws are removed. Hire an Executive Director who has some administrative experience/credentialing, and has no ties to PCHS whatsoever. Pay that person $100,000 per year instead of wasting $135,000 on a person who is not qualified to raise a cent for the school. Hire a Principal who has worked at a high school and can come in on Fridays. Hire some minority Assistant Principals who have administrative experience working at other high schools with minority students. The Couseling Office needs more minorities that just the one token male Asian and one token female Hispanic. Eliminate the positions of Director of Learning and Operations Manager, due to the fact that they obviously don't know what to do. Hire an accounting firm to keep the books instead of paying bonuses to the Chief Financial Officer and Financial Manager. Hire more minority coaches to increase the amount up from one token male Afro-American.
Instill the belief of integrity. Eliminate the backdoor deals. Disclosure of everything is a must in this transparency of school business. The Board must have more than just the two token female and male Afro-Americans. The Executive Director must not have ultimate control but must answer to a strong Board of Directors who does not fear the Executive Director. Heaven help you!

What a pathetic response by a member of the "inner circle" at PCHS!
Most of the "shapers" mentioned are financially set due to their "insider" status and relationship with the Executive Director.
Moving "ghetto portables" onto campus is not forward thinking-Dr. Beamish (a "real" principal and leader) fought against these during his tenure.
Since the school is not a "machine that builds robots for college" why were Industrial Education programs dropped and the equipment scrapped instead of being sent to "less fortunate" schools in need of these resources? Another example of "I got mine...."

Palisades Charter High School is a progressive institution. The new change in direction was spearheaded by the Executive Director, however, there are many on this campus who have helped in shaping this direction. While most teachers live in their comfort zones within their classrooms, a few of them are trying to make a difference. Many teachers are in fear of retribution/retaliation should they attempt to speak out. Hence, they suffer in silence and go along with the process. People like, Richard Simon, Ruth Mills, Sandra Martin, Maggie Nance,Maisha Cole Perri,Greg Wood, Kevin Olsen, Patrice Fisher, Jennifer Eustess, Rene Rodman, John Reilly, and Vickie Francis are only a sprinkling of those that have "drank the kool-aid". They are not afraid to speak-out about the issues and complaints that weak minded people use to attack the progressiveness of PCHS. Character assination is only a tool for those that are not strong enough to stand up on their two feet. Recall attempts are not healthy for building the strength of the Board. PCHS is just not a machine that builds robots for college. College is not for everyone. Ask Bill Gates! Please leave the building of a great school to those who work hard at it. PCHS is no place for wimps. Sometimes in a pinch you have to get aggressive and make some decisions that are not popular with everyone. Live with it. Only the strong survive!

Putting your daughter-in-law into a position while sitting on the Pali Board with your business partner in an undisclosed conflict of interest- it is not character assassination. It is a statement about the violation of a fiduciary duty that is also a violation of law.

Deciding what is "worthy" being allowed on the agenda for the Pali Board behind closed doors and feeling that only a self-anointed elite know what is best for Pali is not only a violation of the Brown Act, but fundamentally anti-democratic.

On the other hand, ad hominem arguments against anybody who has the guts to challenge the greedy self-dealing that has been rampant at Pali for far too long now by people who clearly do not have the will or expertise to run and create an honest 21st century model of AMERICAN education is truly repugnant.

Finally, an expose of the greed and corruption that has taken over this school during the last 5 years.
The original charter was pushed through by having non-permanent teachers (subs) vote and not having certain teachers who questioned sections of the charter vote at all in a controlled election.
Now the "thugs" are really in charge along with their unqualified "stooges"!!
I taught for 33 years at this school and it sickens me to see what it has now become!!

To say that I have drank the kool-aid is a gigantic understatement. I've always felt that the constant verbal abuse and complaining about the actions of the Executive Director were quite overdone and would cause her to leave PCHS and where would we be? Yes, I realize that if you are part of her inner circle, that you will reap the benefits of substancial power. If are one of those fun loving members of the group that ventures with the Helds to Disneyland then the sky is the limit. Teacher of record classes are given to you, even if you are not qualified to teach that class. Important positions are handed out for loyality and comradeship. The requirement for a Bachelor's Degree is ignored for this generous loyality. The Human Resources Position, the Operations Manager, and the Athletic Director do not meet the qualifications necessary to hold their present positions except for the fact that they are loyalists to the Executive Director. I am still waiting for the Fund-Raising Company to contact us. The Executive Director was suppose to hire such a company to help her; instead a parent-friend was paid to help raise funds for the pool, and there is still a great shortage of funds needed to pay for the pool. Open up the $2 million reserve funds to finish this project. I am still very concerned that since PCHS became a charter, there have been 4 different Principals,3 different Directors of Learning, 4 different Athletic Directors, and now I understand, 3 Varsity Head Football Coaches. The constant that I don't understand is the same Executive Director who did not meet the qualifications.

While I respect everyon's opinions, and admittedly no school is perfect, I am confident that the PCHS Board, its Administration and community work faithfully and diligently to achieve what is best for the staff and students at PCHS. The job of the Adminisration is to execute Board policy and manage the day-to-day operations of PCHS. To assist the Board, the Adminmisration often provides valuable advice and recommendations to the Board so that it may reach wise and informed decisions. With the hard work of its employees and under the tremendous leadership of its Executive Director, PCHS has accomplished significant achievements in the past few years:

-Increasing API scores
-Academic Decathlon Championship
-California Distinguished School
-Six-year renewal of WASC Accrediation
-Upgraded technology and phones in every classroom
-New artificial turf field and synthetic track
-New bungalows for increased classroom space and lower class sizes
-Balanced budget in every year with reserve funds in excess of $2 million
-Higher salaries than LAUSD
-Bonuses for merit performances by employees
-State of the art swimming pool for the community
-Restructuring of the hiring policies to include the diabled and handicapped

Consistent achievements such as these do not happen by accident or in the absence of incompetent leadership. An Executive Director's job at a charter school is a very difficult position. The Executive Director is required to manage a host of complex problems and attempt to find solutions acceptable to the parties involved, while simutaneously maximizing the multiple interests and goals of the Board.

The vision of the future for charter schools is one that is coming all too fast for LAUSD. PCHS is a model example of how people outside of the "old guard" who have run the traditional school setting and now find themselves unable to meet the needs of a ever changing society. It is quite evident that teachers cannot govern themselves in a charter atmosphere. The executive director must charter a course that can elevate the position of PCHS in the community. Every major corporation has a CEO that is responsible for the ultimate direction of that organization. PCHS is no different. The Executive Director must have the full control of every element accessible to her in order to compete with the other private schools within the Palisades and surrounding areas. The community is abundant with local students who are being denied a great public education simply because PCHS is not visualizing the future of education. Education is a business and PCHS is in the business of educating. The charter management structure provides that the Executive Director has the complete and ulimate control over the school. By this document alone, the Exectutive Director should have the office in the Main Office where the Principal sits. The need to visualize a progressive attitude in improving the standards must be taken by all teachers at PCHS. PCHS is a frontrunner in the establishment and growth of the charter system of the future.

Amy,
You are a good representative of the "old guard" that is constantly trying to maintain the oppressive and racist public education system of the past while calling it something new and fresh- this is not educational reform. Having your father-in-law and his partner sitting on the Palisades Board of Directors with an undisclosed conflict of interest, based on his familial relationship with you, is a violation of his legal and fiduciary duty to Palisades Charter High School. This is precisely the kind of corruption that is bring this country to its knees economically, when being a member of a club is valued more than ability. What experience do you have in your limited career in education "to meet the needs of a ever changing society." Was getting rid of half the Black population of the school anything but moving back to a pre-1954 reality that you would seem to prefer? Or how about building an unnecessary swimming pool for over $5 million and counting. What about lessening teacher to student ratio, which was promised when the school was taken independent charter, but somehow, money is spent on everything else.

Teachers would have a better chance of governing themselves than an autocratic approach that you have instituted, which is in total derogation of the democratic notion that: a majority consensus of an organization have a better chance of arriving at a viable institutional truth then the failed top-down model your czarist tendencies seem to be pushing out of your own insecurity and inexperience. Try taking a course from the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, which studies the "two-way accountability" model of leadership. There is a certain irony to the fact that you attack the "old guard" and then propose using their same failed top-down model. When I was walking down the streets of Florence, Italy with your father-in-law Dick Held, he turned to me and seriously asked, "What's this Renaissance that everybody is talking about?" Ignorant people having "ultimate control," now that really scares the hell out of me.

The problems at PCHS began five years ago when teachers became brainwashed by the executive director whose Hitler-type behavior has the faculty believing that they are in paradise. Better yet, the image of Jim Jones comes to mind for all of those who have "Drank the kool-aid". The belief that, "We are a charter, we can do what we want" will be the downfall of PCHS. Teachers believe that they can teach what they want and not have to follow the curriculum guidelines set down by LAUSD. We are teaching to the state standards the last time I looked.
The executive director does not understand any of this due to the fact that she does not have an administrative credential, nor teaching credential for that matter; no teaching experience, and has never worked in a school setting. Being a "go-fer" for board members does not qualify you to be an executive director. Now that things are going a little sideways, some people are beginning ask questions. The once proud boast that PCHS had 2 million dollars in reserve is now being tapped into by the school and bonuses are being paid when there is no money for teachers raises and of course, don't forget the the swimming pool that Rose Gilbert is paying for. The executive director is responsible for raising funds for PCHS, however, her abilty to do so is suspect. Ask the Booster Club on how to raise funds; they do a great job.

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