Pali Charter... The Rich Getting Richer

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Here's a little something that we received from an ex-teacher of Palisades Charter High School describing their never ending quest to be financially irresponsible...

Ex-Teacher:

"At the meeting of the Board of Directors of Palisades Charter High School on June 5, 2010, the outgoing Executive Director Ms. Dresser-Held presented a new salary schedule for school administrators. Now their salaries will grow by $ 5,000 each year plus the same annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) raise that the faculty might subsequently receive. Thus, in five years, an administrative salary from a starting amount of $ 99,000 goes to an impressive $129,000, after which regular career increments and COLA will continue to apply. Isn't it a betrayal of the charter goals in the school that proclaimed that it would change the LAUSD paradigms, focus on the needs of classrooms and teachers, set new priorities, and generally do things differently? If you truly want to change the long failed paradigm of public education from the presently dysfunctional top/down model that has never worked in creating educational equity among our students, there must be a greater parity between what teachers are paid and what administrators are paid if we seek a two-way accountability that has a greater likelihood of assuring that all students get the best education possible.

When one of the board members, Mr. Schugalter called the proposal unreasonable - teachers have the same expenses in this city but start their career at a salary, which is 45% of the starting administrator's salary, another member of the board opened a personal attack on him. The board demonstrated its inability to address his well thought out arguments: if all administrators receive contracts for two years, then an administrator whose performance is deemed unsatisfactory will still get a salary increase in the second year even though he or she will have to leave the school at the end of the contract.

As an outside observer I can see no rationale for allowing the outgoing Executive Director to solely establish recklessly high salaries for the administrators without the input of a committee specifically constituted to dispassionately look at the market value of highly qualified educational administrators that could analyze salaries based on a clearly defined work expectation with which to ultimately assess their success in a matter ultimately submitted to the board for their decision. It looked and sounded as if the whole thing had been predestined to be rubber stamped by the inept board. To have the lame duck Executive Director Ms. Dresser-Held make decisions that she will in no way have to live with is an indefensible process the recognition of which should have got Mr. Schugalter praise instead of scorn- no wonder he has decided to leave the Pali Board which seems to feel unfettered by the necessity to be able to rationally defend its actions.

On June 8, 2010, there was another board meeting at Palisades Charter High School. This time, the board had to approve the new budget with a deficit of more than $360,000. Last year, the deficit was over $ 250,000. In this case, the majority of the Pali Board members seemed unconcerned with what is clearly the carrying of an unnecessary deficit that could easily have been balanced if they had not abdicated their responsibility to sound fiscal policy. Reserves that were the source of funding this deficit, should be used for exceptional expenses not to establish an unsustainable fixed cost of doing business in bad economic times.

Although concrete recommendations where those cuts could be done without affecting the classroom performance were put forward, they were ignored without offering any justification. This is not the deliberative process that the Pali Board in furtherance of it fiduciary duty to the school should have engaged in. This school budget took no cognizance of the fiscal health of California, poor prospects of getting more revenues next year, and a serious drop of revenues coming to the school in the last two years and most likely next year. The school expenses have grown dramatically this year due to the transportation cost. And yet the board blindly voted to approve the new budget with the new deficit of more than $ 360,000 despite Mr. Schugalter's motion to return the budget to the Budget Committee where it could have easily have been balanced at the expense of out of classroom positions of questionable value to the school. Next year, when the school budget is even deeper in the red and the state revenues drop even more, the board will have to reduce personnel salaries, cut school days back, and resort to other dramatic measures, while having radically depleted necessary financial reserves, but the board members who made these irresponsible decisions a week ago will never admit that they wasted school resources while they still had a chance to save money. It is reminiscent of Schwartzenegger cutting taxes for the rich and cutting state fees when he came into office without ever looking to the future budgetary problems that were just on the horizon and which we are all now painfully aware of.

The school administration prefers to hire younger teachers in order to pay them less, increases class size steadily every year, and takes loving care of their own salaries. When I left Pali several years ago, it was clear to me that no individual would be able to reverse the trend of self-aggrandizement of those on the in at Pali unless the majority of teachers, students, and parents finally say we have had enough. The story of Palisades Charter High is the story of fanfares, nepotism, inefficiency, and selfishness of those who grabbed the helm. The school API rating is better because the number of students from poor and uneducated families went down while the number of white kids from more educated families went up. This obviously has little to do with improving public education.

The more I learn about the board that runs the school, the more I understand that the school is another disappointing replica of LAUSD with the same typical malaise. The school board members' priorities are not in classrooms: they cut field trips for students and allowed more bureaucrats in the offices; they increase class size every year and pay sky-high salaries to numerous administrators but the faculty salaries are only a few per cent higher than those in the LAUSD system; they hire a UCLA team to formulate the school leadership vision that costs over $ 40,000 and closed the summer school program because there was no money; their cafeteria budget has been in the red for years, yet nothing has ever been done to make it efficient. There are four counselors in the College Center, whereas all other public schools in California have only one. Their Human Resources Department has two specialists without any justification. The board allowed massive mismanagement in personnel and fiscal issues one of which is the pool that never really needed to be built in the first place with another pool across the street that could have been brought up to snuff for a fraction of the cost.

I believe the local community needs to know what is happening at Pali and how taxpayers' money is being wasted in this public school in the same manner as when it was in LAUSD.

I hope you will find it possible to post my letter because lack of information only exacerbates the problem.

Thank you,

Former teacher

PS Could your site e-mail this letter to the school personnel also? I don't have access to their site.

Contact us: tips@perdaily.com

10 Comments

Certainly at least some people like the Helds and Leonard do care about universal education as a human right. Screw LAUSD administrators! They are the just like how the LADWP with Brian D'Arcy own Los Angeles and always drive it into the ground.

This school uses students for more funds, not to help them learn and get persistent tutoring instead of administrators who are overpaid, underwork, and are RUDE to students. Meisha Perry, Aileen Scibetta all of you should not be proud of what you've all caused.

The insatiable greed of the charter-voucher sector leaves me dumbfounded.

Helene,

I in no way meant to disparage the job that you and your colleagues are doing at Pali. Rather, I think some of the following factors should also be part of the discussion as to how Pali can best suit the needs of all of its students:

1. The initial decision to make Pali an independent charter, which I was initially a part of, had to do with using the windfall from getting rid of LAUSD's bloated administration and use this windfall to lessen class size. Not only has this not been done, but Pali has created a mini-LAUSD bloated bureaucracy which has more than consumed the money Pali received by going independent.
2. Your situation and that of your colleagues without reasonable salary and benefits is indicative of a privatized view of public education that gives inflated salaries to top administrators while degrading the benefits of professionals like yourself.
3. Continued deficit financing of Pali that has eaten up 3/4th of the over $4 million reserve is just not good business practice. It is totally unnecessary to run deficits during the last 2 years if inflated compensation packages are not given to some administrators of little experience in a process in total derogation of the Brown Act.
4. The pool and these other expenditures of questionable academic justification with a perfectly good pool across the street, that could have been made serviceable for far less than $5 million plus, have the clear possibility of impacting the academic budget of the school by creating untenable debt.
5. Pali went independent charter with the promise that minority enrollment would not be changed and teachers benefits would remain the same or better than LAUSD. Neither of these promises were maintained with the doubling of White enrollment, the changing of teacher benefits after the 5 year limit of teachers being able to return to the District was reached. API improvement has more to do with the socio-economic level of Pali's increased White population than the still too large classes that are not lowered in size because of the perks given to the cabal that continues to control Pali administration.
6. It is not hard to preach to the choir, but Black graduation at Santa Monica College still represents only 3% because the endemic problems that minorities bring to education- LAUSD or Pali Charter- are not addressed.
7. I agree with you that a "District norm" is not desirable, but would point out to you that a great deal of what administration does in low functioning schools is deal with behavior issues causing by unrealistically trying to teach unprepared students with major deficits that cannot be resolved by single-subject credentialed teachers with no skill set to address their needs. Toney suburban schools administrators do not spend 90% of their time dealing with behavior issues, but rather spend their time dealing with post secondary liaison the way you and your other 3 colleagues are forced to do, because Amy and Co. are always in meetings and do little work to justify their inflated salaries.
8. If one looks at the neighborhood that Pali is in as an indicator of how well Pali students should be doing and compare it to other toney suburbs, Pali does not compare favorably.
9. As for the "dreadful state of higher education," this will not be turned around by the creation of a de facto segregated high achieving Pali.

This summer I am trying to construct a pragmatic platform for real public education reform with specific planks that clearly address what continues to be wrong in public education in Los Angeles and elsewhere. It would be very much appreciated if you and your colleagues share your firsthand experience. If educators propose our own vision of public education we will have a tool to organize rank-and-file educators to take control of LAUSD et al which up until now has no consequences for its continued failure. lenny@perdaily.com

97% go to college from Pali? What is the percentage that goes to SMC or WLA?
Please, give us all a break!!
Many graduates have had help from their parents and alumni getting into 4-year universities.
The advice from the College Advisor is very basic, at best.
Also, the scam of AP and Honors classes inflating the GPA does nothing to prepare a student for what awaits them in college-many schools are now granting elective units only for these HS courses.
If Pali is so "special" why don't they invest more resources into this College Advisor office rather than job creation for more administrators?

About half our students go to community college, the vast majority to SMC, because it is the #1 transfer institution. A few attend WLAC, Trade Tech, LA City, Valley, etc. Many of them were admitted to CSU, UC or private colleges, but choose community college because it costs less (middle class has been hammered by increases in tuition and usually don't qualify for extensive financial aid), or because they are aiming higher on the "food chain" (ie, got in to CSUN or UCR, but want UCLA or UCB). For students with low GPA's or incomplete A-G course pattern, community college is really their only option, and many enter vocational programs once they get there.

You are correct that many students get help from parents, which is a good thing! It frees us up to work in more detail with the first generation students whose parents don't understand the college admissions process. As for the advice being "basic at best," students who are not UC/CSU eligible have a very simple college application process. It takes only minutes to file a community college application, no SAT's, essays or recommendations required. For students who are applying to four year colleges, many spend countless hours in our office; we call them our "frequent flyers." Some students take full advantage of our services and advice, and some don't. Some schedule an appointment three times and never show up for it. Others are daily visitors.

Alumni play a negligible role in admissions; unless they are big donors, universities don't place much stock in an alum's efforts on behalf of an applicant.

Regarding your "give us all a break!!" statement: Are you implying that community colleges don't serve students well? For many students, it is the chance to wipe the slate clean and apply their new-found maturity to their studies. Students come back to see us all the time and tell us they weren't serious about their education in high school, and that once they got to college they realized they had to kick it up a notch. College isn't for everybody, and we could debate for decades the value of a bachelor's degree, but the unvarnished truth is that it is a ticket to the middle class.

I don't quite follow your statement about AP/honors, inflated GPA and preparation for college. There is ample research indicating that students who have taken at least one AP course in high school have higher rates of college attendance and college graduation, even if they did poorly in the class and/or fail to pass the AP exam. I'd be happy to share it with you, but you'd have to identify yourself.

If our advice is "basic at best," I don't imagine it would be a good investment for Pali to spend more on our office.


About 60% of the students going to LACC are not at college level and require significant remediation, which is difficult at best the older a student is. The brain according to neuro-biologists develops in a time-sensitive manner and once the windows of opportunity are missed, they are not usually recoverable. Ask Mary Redclay how main students she has had in her English career that ever caught up if they entered her class in the 9th grade significantly behind. The Black student graduation rate from SMCC was 3% the last time I looked several years ago. You are correct about the correlation between AP classes and college success, but this says more about the socio-economic class pressure for certain students to take the exams and subsequently work harder than it does about how well they are educated in reality. Again, the recent rise in Pali API scores has more to do with getting rid of low achieving populations of color- something the school solemnly promised it would not do when it went independent charter- than it does with Pali's academic program that does little to enhance the class advantage that local students have from just what they are exposed to that inner city students haven't a clue about. When compared to a comparable socio-economic suburb schools like Ojai or Laguna Nigel Pali comes up short because of the obscene amounts of money it pays for unnecessary non-academic staff- Miesha Perry $85,000 a year plus perks without a college degree- and projects that do little to improve Pali student achievement- $5.2 million and counting pool. Watch what happens in the next few years as the debt load more and more impacts the academic budget of the school as the reserve fund continues to be plundered. lenny@perdaily.com

Leonard:

I am one of the four "college counselors" you refer to in your post. Actually, there are 3.25 of us; one is retired and working half-time (with retirement covered by the District), and one is a 3/4 employee. We also have a part-time financial aid advisor and a part-time athletic advisor.

Two of the "counselors" are paid far less than a "counselor" salary, as they are not credentialed, even though they have completed a college counseling certificate program offered by UC, and participate in extensive professional development every year. I receive no benefits and as I came to this profession late in my professional life, it is unlikely that Pali will ever have to fund my retirement. All in all, I consider my team quite a bargain for Pali.

We pride ourselves on the work we do with the diverse student body at Pali; 97% of this year's seniors have plans to go to college? What is the District average? Pali's faculty prepares the motivated student well for college, and my office provides one-on-one advising that only the most elite high schools in Los Angeles offer. We are particularly proud of the work we do with first-generation students, for whom the college application and financing process is a mystery, as they are often the first in their family to finish high school, let alone attend college.

And, yes, you are correct, in LAUSD, most high schools have only one college counselor. In some districts, even very affluent ones, the position has been eliminated altogether. Are you saying that the District norm is desirable? Your many other posts about LAUSD do not indicate that you consider "LAUSD norm" to be a best practice. Given the dreadful state of higher education in California, it is more important than ever that we help students navigate the morass it has become.

There are a small handful of people at Pali who think the resources invested in my office are a waste, but they are not people who have ever spent five minutes in our office. We enjoy strong working relationships with many, many teachers who regularly refer students to us for guidance, and the foot-tall stack of thank you notes from former students and parents that I keep in my bottom drawer motivate me every day to try to help every student make a plan for life after high school.

Helene Kunkel
College Advisor
Palisades Charter HS

The "thugs" are still in charge at Pali High - how long will this school
exist as a Charter?

Until those running the school who continue to saddle it with debt and invade the contingency fund for exorbitant salaries and unnecessary programs annual expense are stopped. Usually what happens is the debt load becomes so great that the academic budget is compromised to the point of the school no longer being able to function on the more than adequate money the state is giving. Already, they have taken a more than $4 million windfall for going independent charter and depleted it to $1.5 million. When the reserves are gone and the real costs of their bad continually expensive decisions come home to roost, the school will fall financially leaving the State of California and the taxpayers holding the bag. Special thanks to Amy Dresser-Held and her family for making all this possible.

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