Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Whistle-blower Rodger Hartnett wins against SDCOE, Lora Duzyk, Diane Crosier/Luther Burbank school/Bob Watkins

Looking for other posts? Here are some links:
Bob Watkins posts
Luther Burbank School
Josh Stepner

See all posts about:
Rodger Hartnett
Lora Duzyk
Diane Crosier

Judge Denton's ruling in favor of Rodger Hartnett against San Diego County Officials Lora Duzyk and Diane Crosier has been upheld by the California Court of Appeal. Hartnett complained that Crosier bypassed other attorneys on the SDCOE-JPA's defense panel to give about a million dollars of work each year to Daniel Shinoff's lawfirm.

Education officials still in lawsuit

Ruling backs up whistle-blower
By Jeff McDonald
San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer
October 3, 2009

...Former claims coordinator Rodger Hartnett alleges that administrators Lora Duzyk and Michele Fort-Merrill fired him for sounding an alarm about office corruption...

The ruling orders [Lora] Duzyk and [Michelle] Fort-Merrill to pay Hartnett's legal bills for the appeal.

Duzyk is the assistant superintendent for business services and Fort-Merill supervises the human resources department at the Office of Educati
on, which operates as a kind of umbrella agency providing a variety of services for dozens of school districts in San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties.

Hartnett sued the office, the two administrators and other employees, claiming he was fired in 2007 after questioning billing practices.

RODGER J. HARTNETT, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. LORA DUZYK et al., Defendants and Appellants.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Steven R. Denton, Judge. Affirmed.

Rodger Hartnett sued his former employer, the San Diego County Office of Education and its superintendent Dr. Randolph Ward (collectively SDCOE), and several SDCOE employees. Two of those employees, Lora Duzyk and Michele Fort-Merrill, moved to strike the claims against them under the anti-SLAPP statute.

...Duzyk argues this case is "exactly" the same as Dible because Hartnett sued her because she informed Hartnett's employer of the " 'cause' for plaintiff's termination." The argument is not factually supported...

Fort-Merrill also relies on Dible, arguing that Hartnett was similarly attempting to rely on appellants' bad motives to show the case falls outside of the anti-SLAPP statute's protection...Fort-Merrill sent written communications to Hartnett pertaining to the hearing procedures, these communications did not trigger anti-SLAPP protection because the lawsuit is not based on these documents.

Finally, appellants devote a substantial portion of their appellate briefs to challenging various statements made by the trial court during the hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion. We do not reach these arguments because we apply a de novo review
standard...In conducting an independent review, we examine the correctness of the court's ruling, and not its rationale...

If appellants believe the allegations are unsupported, they are free to bring a dispositive motion such as a summary judgment motion or a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hannah Giles will just have to get in line: she's got plenty of competition on Fox News

See video on youtube.com.

Who says conservatives don't help the environment? These women make sure their fabric footprint is as small as possible.

Photo at left is Carrie Prejean.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why did it take a half-naked 20-year-old to create interest in ACORN?

ACORN's Overdue Unraveling
By Kathleen Parker
Washington Post
September 23, 2009

No one was more delighted by the recent ACORN pimp 'n' prostitute, hidden-camera sting than Marcel Reid, the former ACORN board member who was booted in summer 2008 when she tried to examine the organization's books.

"If we'd known all it took was a half-naked 20-year-old, we'd have done this a year and a half ago," Reid said from the rented desk in a church that she calls her office...

[The videos] are a long way from the Arkansas kitchen table where, in 1970, a group of impoverished mothers sat trying to figure out how to buy school supplies for their children.

That kitchen klatch was the seed that became ACORN with the help of the now-infamous Wade Rathke, better known recently for resigning from the group's board after he covered for his brother Dale, who embezzled almost $1 million in ACORN funds in 1999 and 2000.

Despite ACORN's history of corruption, it took sex to seize the attention of the nation's leadership. In the past couple of weeks, ACORN has been stripped of $1.6 million in federal funding and been dropped by the U.S. Census Bureau as a partner in conducting the nation's headcount.

Reid, who has been reviled by the left as an apostate, can only shake her head at the sudden interest. A gallows sense of humor helps her through her days now as head of ACORN 8, a group of former ACORN leaders and board members in 15 states trying to reform the community group. Their mission is the same one that first attracted Reid to ACORN 10 years ago -- to help the poor.

What pains her is that the videos that have conservatives in stitches have helped bolster negative attitudes toward those she aims to help.

"Look at those poor ladies. I was so embarrassed. You cannot be operating on any cylinder and do what they did. Unfortunately, they reinforced the idea that poverty is your fault because you're not smart." ...

Marjorie Cohn says George Bush, Dick Cheney and their lawyers should be tried for crimes

Morning Report: The Anti-War Warrior

If local law professor Marjorie Cohn had her way, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would be on trial. And not just them.

Cohn wants to see some of the Bush Administration's attorneys face justice too. After all, she says, they helped the president to break the law.

It's a tough stand, and one that's helped her become one of the nation's leading leftist voices on war crimes and torture.

In this weekend's Q&A, Cohn talks about the nation's two "unlawful" wars, her work defending members of the military who seek to avoid service, and the value of international diplomacy:

Morning Report: The Anti-War Warrior
Voice of San Diego
by Randy Dotinga
September 26, 2009

Can someone be prosecuted for merely having a legal opinion?
They would be prosecuted for advising the president on how he can break the law and get away with it. There were lawyers who were prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity after World War II advising Hitler on how to deport people to secret camps "legally" and get away with it.

What do you think should happen to the lawyers in this case?
They should be investigated and prosecuted under U.S. statutes.

Should they go to prison?
If convicted, yes, they should go to prison...

Washington Post Interviews D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee

Looking for Michelle Fort-Merrill? Click HERE.

Her image is of a tough-talking schools chief who's out to sack every last veteran teacher in D.C.'s failing system. The reality is not so simple.

Wash Post Interviews D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee

In The Washington Post’s new Magazine, veteran local reporter Marc Fisher offers a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Described as both harsh and caring, reckless and dynamic, Rhee granted Fisher unprecedented access to sit in on meetings and spend time with her.

During their conversations, Fisher gets Rhee to reveal stories of her Korean upbringing, how she feels she is perceived and her general philosophy (Rhee says, “I don’t mind firing people because I know it is going to benefit kids.”) She even talks about whether she thinks her relationship with a prominent black man has helped her win over Washingtonians who view her as an outsider disconnected from black culture.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Schools Suits Against Students Who Mock Them Online

Schools Suits Against Students Who Mock Them Online
September 24, 2009

...In the latest such lawsuit, the Salon Professional Academy -- a cosmetology school in Elgin, Illinois -- is suing student Nicholas Blacconiere and a John Doe in Kane County Circuit Court. The Academy seeks $50,000 for emotional damages that it alleges were caused by defamatory comments on a Facebook page Blacconiere created. On the page, Blaconniere solicited students to post their comments on the school and its teachers, with the following message: "Dont be afraid to post comments on whats going on, this is yor voice too." (Errors in original.) Blaconniere also himself posted crude messages about teachers.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 15. Since the law in this area is unsettled, the court's ruling could have far-reaching effects on how free students are to create virtual soapboxes on the Internet...

The ACLU Successfully Defends a Student's Parody of a Principal

In the case of Layshock vs. Hermitage School District, the ACLU filed suit against the Hermitage School District for suspending high school senior Justin Layshock for ten days because he created a MySpace parody of his principal. In addition, the school administration ordered Layshock to finish high school in the Alternative Education Program, and forbade him from attending his own graduation.

On July 10, 2007, a federal district judge ruled that the school's suspension violated Layshock's First Amendment rights, and ordered a jury trial to determine whether Layshock is entitled to compensatory damages. The district court found that "[t]he mere fact that the Internet may be accessed at school does not authorize school officials to become censors of the World Wide Web. Public schools are vital institutions, but their reach is not unlimited."

In reaching its decision, the court looked to the Supreme Court's 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., which held that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," but crafted a test that allowed school administrators to punish student speech in some instances. Notably, the court found that the Tinker test applied even to off-campus behavior like Layshock's that targeted a school or its teachers. -..

Why So Many Black Children Are Dubbed 'Emotionally Disturbed'

Why So Many Black Children Are Dubbed 'Emotionally Disturbed'
Voice of San Diego
September 25,2009

Buried in all the documents for the school board meeting next Tuesday is a disturbing report on why San Diego Unified identifies so many black students and English learners for special education.

This isn't a surprise: Another expert studied San Diego Unified two years ago and found that black children are disproportionately likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed and English learners also make up a disproportionate part of special education classes. Harvard professor Thomas Hehir worried that students shunted into separate classes might be underserved compared to if they had stayed in mainstream classes and been given extra help.

But the report sheds light on why, exactly, this seems to be happening. The "current system focuses on identification rather than prevention and punishment rather than support," wrote Jaime Hernandez, a consultant hired by the school district to examine the problem. His findings include:

# The school district doesn't have good ways to help children with behavioral and academic problems in ordinary classrooms. It relies too heavily on punishments to discipline kids, instead of methods that reward and teach children how to behave, like this one used at Edison Elementary.

# Kids are identified remarkably early for special education, which Hernandez believes shows that schools are relying too heavily on special education to intervene when kids struggle...

# There aren't enough options for places to educate children with emotional disturbance, especially places that are less segregated and restrictive. The high number of kids with emotional disturbance that are sent to separate classrooms and schools indicates to Hernandez that the process of identifying children as emotionally disturbed is "driven by placement" -- where the child is sent.

Hernandez recommends that San Diego Unified expand programs such as the one at Edison Elementary (read our article for more details) and develop more ways to intervene and help children before they are diagnosed with a disability to prevent "inappropriate referrals."...

Pass or Fail Jorge? A Teacher’s Dilemma

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

September 22, 2009
Pass or Fail Jorge? A Teacher’s Dilemma

...Holding back children in the early grades often leads to increased absenteeism, troublesome behavior in later grades, and eventually dropping out. If the purpose of retention-in-grade is to help students improve academically, researchers have found few such benefits.

But such research findings mean little to the new sprinter-like superintendent and her school board: social promotion, they say, will produce unskilled graduates. Schools must separate achievers from non-achievers. Flunk Jorge.

Is there no other way out of this dilemma?

Some schools have gotten around this bind facing Jorge’s teacher by grouping children by age rather than grade. Instead of kindergarten, first and second grades, a primary unit of five-to-eight year olds gives students time to catch up on their academic and social skills over a three-year period rather than forcing a yearly promotion decision. Such faculties know what every decent gardener knows: all daisies don’t grow at the same rate. Some need more time and care to flourish.

Still students move from elementary to middle school and then on to high school. What to do with students still below district academic standards? Some school districts help students not yet ready for the next level of schooling. Other districts ungrade upper-level units. They believe that it is not only intelligence but also time and student effort that count.

But Jorge is in a district that doesn’t have such ungraded units and continues to cut back on services. His teacher still faces the dilemma. She knows in her heart that Jorge has fine personal qualities that might shrivel were he to repeat the grade. Yet the boy is far behind academically. With a shrug of helplessness, the teacher puts a check in the column marked “retain” next to Jorge’s name.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Bob Watkins disclosure problem: he failed to report property he owned on SDCOE conflict of interest forms

See all posts re Bob Watkins.

More Watkins Disclosure Discrepancies
Voice of San Diego
September 24, 2009

When Bob Watkins, the airport authority chairman, clears up problems with his conflict-of-interest disclosures -- as he promised Mayor Jerry Sanders today -- he'll also have to address disclosure issues during his service on the San Diego County Board of Education.

His disclosures to the [San Diego County] board of education raise other questions. One year's report he filed with the county board doesn't jive with the report he sent to the airport authority the same year.

His annual disclosure to the county board submitted Feb. 1, 2007 said he had nothing to report -- no businesses, stock or property. But in his disclosure to the airport authority two weeks later, he said he owned a business, that he was its CEO, and that he owned property and more than $100,000 of stock.

Watkins hasn't returned a call seeking comment.

Bringing Teaching for the Gifted to All Kids

Bringing Teaching for the Gifted to All Kids
Voice of San Diego
Sept. 21, 2009

Sandra Ruvalcaba isn't sure if she would have tapped Dominic Satterfield as a gifted child before. His reading was a little weak and he struggled with writing last year at Cabrillo Elementary in Point Loma. But when the teacher began to use strategies for gifted children with all of her students, Dominic suddenly seemed to stand out. He flourished.

His mother Sadie said it was "100 percent different" than the way she was taught as a child, and she liked what she saw. Dominic relished getting into debates with other children about the ethics of playground squabbles. He is a pint-sized philosopher with a karate T-shirt and a frank and surprisingly adult manner, who readily picks out what his teachers call the "Big Ideas" -- one of the buzzwords that mark the new strategies -- in classic stories such as the Tortoise and the Hare.

"The turtle was slow. The hare judged him. No one really thought that the hare wouldn't win -- he's the fastest living creature in the universe," Dominic, now in 2nd grade, explained after school. "So the big idea is, 'Don't judge a person.'"...

SDCOE's Randolph Ward refuses to turn over Bob Watkins' conflict of interest statements

See all Bob Watkins' posts.
See all Randolph Ward posts.

Click on the link directly below to see Voice of San Diego's links to other stories.

Who's Wrongly Keeping Information Secret?

Voice of San Diego
September 24, 2009

As we reported recently, Bob Watkins, the airport authority chairman, didn't disclose property he owns near the airport on his annual conflict-of-interest reports the authority keeps.

Watkins, who's scheduled to meet today with Mayor Jerry Sanders about that issue and others we've raised, previously served on the board of the County Office of Education. I went to its office today to see what Watkins listed on the disclosure forms he submitted during his tenure.

State law requires public agencies to produce the forms for anyone who wants to see them. During regular office hours. At any time of the day.

While many public documents require a written request to be disclosed, the conflict forms don't. State law says "no conditions whatsoever" can be imposed on members of the public who want to see the documents. The agency can't ask for identification or any information from a requestor.

But Leo Cole, the assistant to county Superintendent Randy Ward, told me to file a written request for the forms when I arrived at the office today. She said the office would follow up as soon as possible. Three people have access to the disclosure forms, Cole said. All were out of the office, she said.

Cole told me that she'd talked to Ward, who was out of the office but had given her those instructions.

I read the relevant section of state law to her and asked her to call the superintendent back and tell him that his instructions violate state law.

So she called Ward, then called me at the front desk, where I was waiting.

File a written request for the forms, she told me again.

Violating the state law can bring fines as high as $5,000 per incident from the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces disclosure laws.

It's the second time the county office has done this. The office required another voiceofsandiego.org reporter to file a legal request for the same documents last year.

I called Roman Porter, the FPPC's executive director, to tell him about the problem.

"The Political Reform Act specifically bars agencies from asking for any identifiable information from requestors or requiring a request to be submitted in writing," Porter told me.

Bob Stern, a former FPPC attorney who wrote the section of the law requiring public agencies to immediately disclose the records to any member of the public, said the county office's refusal to provide the documents was "highly unusual."

"It's totally inappropriate," Stern said. "The FPPC should tell them that they can't do this. Most agencies know the rules -- particularly when you show them."

I've just heard back from the office of education. They're making the forms available. "We fully intend to comply," Jim Esterbrooks, a spokesman, told me.

Transcript shows what ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera really said to Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe

See all ACORN posts in this blog.
See all ACORN posts in CVESD Reporter blog.

[From the transcript:

Juan Carlos: "...[Th]is is you say private... because we work before with the lawyers."...

O'Keefe: You're working with the prosecutors?

Juan Carlos: Yeah.

O'Keefe: Well then that's not good.

In the dozen pages at the beginning of the transcript of the Giles-O'Keefe-Vera conversation at the National City ACORN office, the fake pimp-prostitute pair did all the talking about prostitution, and ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera responded with "yeah" and "okay," as if he were taking it all in. But Juan Carlos' English isn't so great, and when he finally seemed to understand what was going on, he said he would consult with lawyers and contact the visitors by email. He even mentioned that he worked with prosecutors.

Throughout most of the conversation, Juan Carlos spoke at cross-purposes to the visitors, giving information about ACORN seminars.

On page 12 O'Keefe prompts Juan Carlos with suggestions about tax fraud. Juan Carlos continues to say "yeah", but his understanding of the questions is in doubt because he clarifies the issue by saying, "Because you need a house."

O'Keefe tries again to get Juan Carlos to agree that O'Keefe's tax fraud ideas are good, and Hannah also tries to get Juan Carlos to repeat what James has said. Juan Carlos responds, "I think it's good, too, because we have two lawyers working for our program--and if you're interested come to our seminar" (pages 12-13) Clearly, Juan Carlos is not on the same page as James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles.

On page 13 Juan Carlos goes on, "If you have your own business you need to prove your income."

On page 13 O'Keefe to Hannah, "...and the tax form is something so I'm explaining to him [Juan Carlos] is something you can classify not as prostitution but as performing arts. That way we can clear that first hurdle. We can declare all income."

Juan Carlos, as is his habit, responds with "yeah." But did he understand? Did he agree? Or was the "yeah" actually a reflex response to acknowledge that O'Keefe had said something and Juan Carlos was trying to keep up with the conversation? Fortunately, Juan Carlos explains his position clearly in the next exchange.

O'Keefe: Do you think that's something we can do?

Juan Carlos: The problem first time buyers is good because you never have a house before.

Clearly, we now know what Juan Carlos is trying to tell O'Keefe. He's trying to tell him how to buy a house.

Page 14

O'Keefe: Can this be a legitimate business? This prostitution?

Juan Carlos: You need to check...You need to check. You need to check. Because the program for first time buyers is for the people that never have a house.

O'Keefe says there will be 12 underage girls. [I doubt that a limited speaker is going to understand the word "underage." It's not usually found in your beginning English instruction. The word was probably Greek to Juan Carlos. Also, I don't remember seeing the word "prostitution" in beginning English instruction.]

Juan Carlos says: they gonna be probably 4 or 5 persons. [Juan Carlos is clearly not in sync with the idea of twelve girls.]

Hannah asks, "Could they be like my sisters or something like that?" [Of course your sisters can live with you, Hannah!]

O'Keefe: Could we get a child tax credit for them? Claim them as dependents?

Juan Carlos: Yeah. [My guess is that Juan Carlos thought they were talking about actual siblings.]

For the next few pages Hannah and O'Keefe do all the talking again, and Juan Carlos responds with his usual rote response of "okay."

Page 19

Juan Carlos understands that El Salvadoran girls are coming: "What day are they coming?" He is told they'll come on Saturday.

But Juan Carlos has a feeling that these people have wandered into the wrong office.

Juan Carlos: So you never heard for this organization? ACORN?...Okay, let's do this. Let me see, let me see anything about it. See and let me contact to you. Because this program is, this Saturday happen?

But O'Keefe doesn't want to be contacted later, he wants to talk about it now. Juan Carlos tries to get an email address, but doesn't succeed until page 23.

On page 21 the talk turns to where each of them comes from. O'Keefe is from back east, which, Juan Carlos notes, is too cold. Juan Carlos is from Mexico City, and he is a lawyer in Mexico.

On page 24 Juan Carlos says, "...I want to call you tomorrow." [I think that's what I'd say, too, in an effort to get rid of these bizarre people.]

Pages 25-26

Juan Carlos wants to explain that lawyers will be involved: "...dis is you say private...I ah because we work before with the lawyers."...

O'Keefe: You're working with the prosecutors?

Juan Carlos: Yeah.

O'Keefe: Well then that's not good.

Juan Carlos:...I think we want to send an email to you.

Hannah: Honestly I don't feel very comfortable right now. I just gave you a bunch of information and I don't know if we trust you like...

Juan Carlos: No, we help people. [Juan Carlos is trying to get information about Hannah and O'Keefe, not scare them away.]

Page 27

Juan Carlos tries to get a location for where the girls will be on Saturday. He recommends that the girls go to Tijuana where Juan Carlos has a lot of contacts. [My guess is that he wants to help the girls, to prevent them from falling under the control of unscrupulous people like Hannah and O'Keefe.]

Page 28

[Now we find out how much Juan Carlos understood of the earlier conversation.]

O'Keefe: There's twelve girls but they're like there's like thirteen to fifteen years old.

Juan Carlos: Oh, yeah?...I want to contact you now only for email.

Hannah and O'Keefe keep talking, but Juan Carlos no longer responds with his reflexive "yeah". Instead he repeats, "I going to contact you by email."

O'Keefe apples pressure: Just give me your cell phone number.

Juan Carlos complies, but says, "Well it's better I can send you an email."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

San Francisco School District v. Keenan and Associates

See all posts for Keenan & Associates.

See web articles re San Francisco School District v. Keenan and Associates.

See post re Santa Clara County v. Keenan and Associates.

Victoria Richart revisited: Will the Court of Appeal let her keep her $1.6 million from MiraCosta taxpayers?

North County Times does a pretty good job covering education in North County. They don't tell everything, but they cover a lot of interesting stories.

See all MiraCosta College posts.

OCEANSIDE: Judges mull MiraCosta settlement appeal
Must rule by mid-December
September 15, 2009

An appeals court heard oral arguments this week over whether former MiraCosta College president Victoria Munoz Richart should return thousands of dollars in cash and benefits she received from the college in a 2007 settlement agreement.

The lawsuit over Richart's $1.6 million settlement was filed by local activist and Carlsbad resident Leon Page. He sued MiraCosta and Richart in August of that year, saying the college erred in the agreement because state law caps executive payout packages at no more than 18 months salary and benefits.

On Sept. 23, Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Nugent rejected that argument and ruled that Richart would not have to return the settlement as the lawsuit demanded.

Page appealed the ruling, alleging the lower court judge misinterpreted certain aspects of state employment law.

Both sides in the case made oral arguments before the appeals court Monday.

Page said Tuesday that he thought the judges' questions indicated they understood the issue.

"They'd clearly done their homework," Page said. "It's a 2,000-page record, and they seemed like they had read it."

Attorneys representing MiraCosta and Richart did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Richart's settlement came after two years of rancor at MiraCosta. The saga started with the illegal sale of a few palm trees by several members of the colleges generally-well-respected horticulture department and ended with the college on warning status from a state accrediting agency.

That warning has since been lifted, and several seats on the board of trustees have turned over, infusing the college with a new atmosphere of collegiality. MiraCosta has more recently seen record enrollments as laid-off workers seek new skills.

In reaching the settlement with Richart, attorneys for the college said the $1.6 million payout was warranted because Richard had a valid claim for damages against the school. They said those claims stemmed from public comments some board members made about her leadership during a tumultuous saga that started with palm trees and ended with her departure.

In his 10-page ruling in September, Nugent stated that state law limits cash payouts only for legal claims "arising out of the contract being terminated." The ruling said Richart still probably had other valid claims against the college separate from her contract.

"It is the finding of this court that the decision of the board to pay settlement monies to Richart was not arbitrary, capricious, entirely lacking in evidentiary support, contrary to established policy, unlawful or procedurally unfair," Nugent wrote.

In his appeal brief Page and his attorney Ron Cozad, accused Nugent of "uncritically accepting" the fact that Richart had a valid claim for damages against the college and its elected leaders...

May students fail to graduate because their high school or college is too easy

The article below is about students overqualified for their college. There is also research that shows that the average high school dropout has a higher IQ than the average high school graduate.

Student-to-College 'Mismatch' Seen as Graduation-Rate Issue
By Debra Viadero
Education Week
September 21, 2009

An important new book on improving the stagnant graduation rates of the nation’s public colleges and universities suggests that one reason so many academically talented students leave college without a diploma may be that they enroll in schools for which they are overqualified.

Authors William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson propose that counterintuitive idea, which they call “undermatching,” in Crossing the Finish Line, published this month by Princeton University Press. The book’s findings are drawn from a new study of 68 public colleges and universities, including 21 flagship schools, in four states...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

ACORN Worker in Video Reported Duo to Police

See all ACORN posts.

ACORN Worker in Video Reported Duo to Police
September 22, 2009

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — Police say a worker with the activist group ACORN who was caught on video giving advice about human smuggling to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute had reported the incident to authorities.

National City police said Monday that Juan Carlos Vera contacted his cousin, a police detective, to get advice on what to with information on possible human smuggling.

Vera was secretly filmed on Aug. 18 as part of a young couple's high-profile expose.

Police say he contacted law enforcement two days later. The detective consulted another police official who served on a federal human smuggling task force, who said he needed more details.

The ACORN employee responded several days later and explained that the information he received was not true and he had been duped...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Couple illegally records conversation and is charged with a crime--but it's NOT Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe

Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe aren't the first to secretly and illegally record a conversation involving someone they disliked politically (ACORN workers). The big difference between this couple and Alice and John Martin is that the Martins didn't set up the conversation. They just happened upon it accidentally.

See all ACORN posts.

Florida Couple Are Charged In Taping of Gingrich Call

April 24, 1997

The Justice Department today filed charges against a Florida couple who said they had intercepted and recorded a conference call last December among Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders.

The Federal authorities in Jacksonville, Fla., announced this afternoon that the couple, John and Alice Martin, had been charged with an infraction, violating the Communications Privacy Act by using a radio scanner to intercept the radio portion of the conversation. It is the mildest criminal charge the couple could face in the case and carries a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine.

The Government said the Martins had agreed to plead guilty to the charges, and said the couple would cooperate with a continuing investigation into how a recording of the conversation wound up in the hands of a New York Times reporter.

The conversation the Martins taped took place on the same day Mr. Gingrich admitted he had violated House ethics rules by failing to get adequate legal advice on the use of tax-exempt money and then giving the House ethics committee inaccurate information in its investigation. During the call, the Speaker and several colleagues discussed how best to handle the political fallout of the ethics charges.

After it was made public, Democrats complained that the call had violated a plea bargain of sorts that Mr. Gingrich made with the committee, in which he had agreed not to rally opposition to the committee's decision to reprimand him. Republicans said a transcript of the call shows just the opposite, that the Speaker was keeping the agreement.

A Republican leader at the center of the case said he was pleased with today's action, but called Mr. and Mrs. Martin ''patsies.'' Republicans have said they believed that the Martins, who are Democrats, had been used by their party's leaders for partisan purposes. ''I won't be satisfied until every guilty party is brought to justice regardless of their political affiliations or position of influence,'' said Representative John A. Boehner, the chairman of the Republican Conference. ''Anyone who knowingly accepted the tape and passed it along to the press is also guilty.''

Mr. Boehner was driving in Florida on Dec. 21 when the Martins' police scanner picked up signals from the cellular telephone he was using in a call with Mr. Gingrich and other Republicans, including the House majority leader, Dick Armey of Texas, and Representative Bill Paxon of New York.

Charles R. Wilson, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said there was no evidence that the Martins intended to use the conversation for illegal purposes or financial gain.

Mr. and Mrs. Martin said at a news conference on Jan. 13 that they had taped the call when they recognized Mr. Gingrich's voice because they had a feeling it was historic. The couple said their Congresswoman, Representative Karen L. Thurman, a Democrat, suggested they give the recording to the senior Democrat on the House ethics committee, Representative Jim McDermott, and that they did so.

The tape caused an uproar on Capitol Hill after The New York Times reported on Jan. 10 that a couple had intercepted the conversation and that a Democratic House member who was hostile to Mr. Gingrich had made the tape available to the newspaper.

Newt Gingrich, like ACORN workers, was secretly recorded in 1997; the result was charges against couple who made recording

If you illegally record Newt Gingrich talking about his deal with the House ethics committee, you get charged with a crime. Alice and John Martin found this out in 1997.

But what happens when you illegally record ACORN workers? We'll have to wait and see.

See all ACORN posts.

At the New Frontier of Eavesdropping

The New York Times
January 19, 1997
By John Markoff

If only Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio had
prevailed upon his wife to buy a digital cellular phone
instead of a conventional analog model. Then, while
cruising past the waffle shop in Lake City, Fla., John and
Alice Martin would have merely heard static on their Radio
Shack scanner instead of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Florida janitor and his wife, whose recording of the
Speaker's conversation with Mr. Boehner and some other
Republican colleagues set off a fight in the House ethics
committee last week, inadvertently drew national attention
to the ease with which it is possible to eavesdrop in the
information age. They also wrote a new chapter in the
high-tech spy-vs.-spy war that is as old as American
communications technology itself...

Alice and John Martin were charged with illegal recording of a conversation they overheard of Newt Gingrich discussing a deal he made with the House ethics committee. McDermott was on the ethics committee that investigated Newt Gingrich.

Speaker Phone

Jim Lehrer News Hour
January 14, 1997

...ALICE MARTINE: ...Mr. McDermott... we told him we had something to turn--we told him we had something to turn over to the Ethics Committee, and he asked us who we were. He took the envelope in his hand and he felt where the tape was, and he said he would listen to it. And then he asked if there was any way to get in touch with us. And so my husband gave him one of his STPNEA cards, and he said, thank you, and we said, thank you, and we left.

KWAME HOLMAN: Two days later the contents of the tape were on the front page of the "New York Times." The tape potentially could cause problems for Newt Gingrich, who had made a deal with the Ethics Committee not to orchestrate a response to its charges. But the tape might cause problems for McDermott as well because federal law prohibits intentionally intercepting telephone calls or intentionally disclosing their contents. Late this afternoon McDermott announced he will recuse himself from any further work on the Gingrich ethics matter. As for the Martins, they too could be prosecuted for their actions...


...DAVID BANISAR: It's not only illegal to intercept the conversation but it's also illegal under a different provision of it to disclose that conversation once you listen to it.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean to turn it over to somebody else?

DAVID BANISAR: Right. To make a recording and to give it to somebody, or to even repeat what was said on that conversation is a violation.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And to record it--



DAVID BANISAR: That's also a violation.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And what about the people who receive the contents of it, are they covered under this law as well?

DAVID BANISAR: There's not a specific provision that prohibits you from receiving an illegally recorded phone call, but if you disclose it again, you're then also covered under the law.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In effect, the person who receives it, if he then or she then discloses it, that's also illegal?

DAVID BANISAR: Right. If you throw it in the garbage, it's probably not a violation, but if you were to say give a transcript of it to the "New York Times," it would probably be a violation...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Good news for Net Neutrality: big companies won't be able to eliminate voices

FCC 'Net Neutrality' Rules Expected to Advance on Vote
By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission's proposal of new rules to prevent companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deliberately blocking or slowing certain Web traffic is expected to advance with three votes out of the five-member agency, according to sources...

Annie Le Was on Fast Track, Suspect Ray Clark Cleaned Cages; Did Worlds Collide?

Noted Criminologist Says Suspect, if Guilty, Might Have Exhibited 'Relative Deprivation'
Sept. 20, 2009

She has been described by friends as a "brilliant" student, eager to pursue a research career in medical anthropology. He was responsible for cleaning mouse cages in a university lab.

Police say when the worlds of Ray Clark, the 24-year-old lab worker, and Annie Le, the 24-year-old graduate student, collided in a Yale University laboratory this month, the result was murder.

Authorities have not yet pinned down a motive for the killing -- in which Clark was accused of murder after Le's body was found hidden in a laboratory wall on Sept. 13, the day she was to be married.

New Haven, Conn., Police Chief James Lewis told The Associated Press officials may never know why she was killed.

"The only person who knows the motive is the suspect," Lewis said. "It's true in many cases. You never know absolutely unless the person confesses, and in this case it's too early to tell."

Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent and an ABC News consultant, said the fact that Le was found strangled may hint at a motive in the case.

"People who kill other people and strangle them is a very personal thing because they are actually looking at you as they are dying," Garrett told "Good Morning America Weekend." "Think about what anger and rage anyone would have to have."

'Relative Deprivation'

If Clark committed the crime he is accused of, a criminologist told ABCNews.com his actions might be explained by what sociologists call "relative deprivation."
Only One Suspect in Annie Le Case, Cops Say
PHOTOS: The Murder of Annie Le
WATCH: Garrido Yard Searched for Cold Case Clues

That psychological mind set can be triggered "when you are measuring your own self worth against others and you come out on the bottom," according to Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin, who has been following press accounts of the case.

"[Ray Clark] worked in an Ivy League school where most of his co-workers were potentially successful and had advanced degrees and were looking forward to a fulfilling and happy life," said Levin. "He was cleaning cages."

Le's research on enzymes could have had involved breakthroughs in cancer, diabetes and muscular dystrophy. Clark's work, on the other hand, tidying floors and cages, was more janitorial in nature.

Ann Turner, executive director of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, told the Hartford Courant "there is a gulf" between technicians and the researchers they interact with, but that gap would not necessarily led to tension.

"If there is a culture of trust and a culture of respect, the researchers will respect the animal care technicians, and vice versa," Turner said.

Since his arrest Sept. 17, Clark has not entered a plea and neither he nor his lawyers have not spoken, but police say evidence is mounting against the suspect in what they are calling a case of workplace violence.

Some friends told ABCNews.com said they could not imagine Clark -- "a nice guy" -- committing a crime. Others who knew him, however, described him as a "control freak" who was competitive in sports, compulsive about his work habits and controlling in his romantic relationships.

One law enforcement official who talked to the AP on condition of anonymity said this week that Clark's co-workers said he was territorial about the mice whose cages he cleaned.

La Mesa/Spring Valley's Rick Winet continues to amaze: he sees a death threat in Emerson quote

This post is a follow-up to this story about the banning of President Obama's speech in La Mesa-Spring Valley School District.

San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial
A school board polarized by politics
September 17, 2009

“Resign, resign, resign!” The chant rolled through the auditorium.

On Labor Day, the La Mesa/Spring Valley School Board met to ban live broadcasts of President Barack Obama's nationwide speech to students. It was a meeting called in haste, little publicized and attended by virtually no one. And it angered many. Eight days later, parents packed the auditorium at Parkway Middle School in La Mesa, intent on retribution.

Board President Penny Halgren apologized profusely for her motion to bar the presidential speech. Bob Duff apologized for being the swing vote, and a still-defiant Rick Winet acknowledged only that the board could have done better...

Then the board effectively undid its apology.

Winet seized upon the words in a union official's e-mail (“If you are going to challenge the King, you'd better kill the King” — an often-mangled quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson) to see a death threat. The board authorized use of all legal means against anyone making a personal attack, be it verbal or physical...

Maura Larkins' comment: I don't know who wrote the above editorial but I'm sure it was someone other than the confused and anonymous individual who wrote the following editorial for the same newspaper. This unethical pundit clearly blames the minority trustees for the banning of Obama's speech--when they voted against the measure.

What was the writer of the following editorial thinking?

School board's holiday meeting
San Diego Union Tribune Editorial

September 12, 2009

Mark Twain had some choice words about them: “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

It's not certifiable that the La Mesa/Spring Valley board members — Penny Halgren, Bob Duff and Rick Winet, the majority, or Emma Turner and Bill Baber, the minority — are idiots, but they sure left themselves open to second-guessing.

[Blogger's note: Shame on the San Diego Union-Tribune for adding the two minority trustees, who, as most school board members across the country, did NOT forbid showing Obama's speech to students. Only the first three people on the list--Winet, Halgren and Duff--left themselves open to "second-guessing."]

...Ami Adkins of El Cajon, parent of an eighth-grader, is unhappy. “Just to put this into context,” she wrote us, “two weeks ago my daughter was taken out of class during school (without my permission) to attend a district-sanctioned sales presentation given by a private corporation, where she was strongly ‘encouraged’ to sell cheap and useless junk (crap) from a magazine in order to pad the school's budget.”

So yes, we were not enthusiastic about the poorly timed broadcast. Neither do we support government censorship decided in a near-empty room on a holiday.

Dunce caps for the electeds do seem in order.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Dunce caps for Winet, Halgren, Duff and the Union Tribune are in order. Emma Turner and Bill Baber are the only board members who behaved well in this matter.]

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's okay to commit a crime and use deceit to prove that ACORN workers sometimes don't know how to handle prostitutes and pimps

See detailed analysis of transcript details.
See all ACORN posts.

ACORN videos from National City, San Bernardino cause stir

September 17, 2009
LA Times

The chairman of the Republican Party in San Diego County and a Republican member of the Board of Supervisors have joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in calling for an investigation into ACORN.

Tony Krvaric, chairman of the local GOP, and Supervisor Bill Horn said they are particularly suspicious of the group's voter registration efforts in a local Assembly race and a San Diego City Council race, both won by Democrats.

An undercover video shot at the group's office in National City purports to show workers willing to help someone interested in setting up a prostitution ring, possibly with girls from Tijuana. The video has been shown nationally on commentator Sean Hannity's Fox News program.

"Coverage by the national media has put a black mark on our region and we have an obligation to find the truth," Horn said. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has introduced a motion in Congress calling for the government to deny all federal funding to ACORN.

Meanwhile, the debate about another video purporting to show an ACORN worker in San Bernardino offering advice on how to set up prostitution businesses intensified today.

Conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles pose as a pimp and a prostitute, respectively, in a hidden-camera video released Tuesday that depicts a woman who O’Keefe says is an ACORN worker in San Bernardino saying she could show them “how not to get caught.” On the video, which is edited, she also discusses killing her ex-husband and says she “laid some groundwork” beforehand by going to domestic violence shelters and saying she was abused.

But Christina Spach, the office supervisor at the ACORN office in San Bernardino, told the San Bernardino Sun that the woman on the tape knew the pair were joking but went along with it in part because she was alone in the office and was concerned for her safety. "Just to be clear, ACORN is not in the prostitution business," Spach told the Sun. "She was in an office all by herself. She felt unsafe in their company."

ACORN called on the activists to release the full tape, but declined to make the worker on the tape available to speak with reporters. A spokesman for the ACORN offices in National City and San Diego said the brief clips shown on the Hannity show were out of context and misleading. He promised a fuller explanation in two days after ACORN has a chance to interview its workers about the incident.

O’Keefe and Giles have previously released similar videos in Baltimore, Washington and New York that have appeared on websites and Fox News. In a letter to Brown released to reporters, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said the reports “concerned me greatly."

"I believe it is appropriate that your office launch a full investigation into ACORN’s activities in California,” the governor wrote. “My administration stands ready to assist in any way necessary.”

Brown spokesman Scott Gerber said in a statement that his office would review the video, "and if we think there's any wrongdoing, we'll look into it or refer it to the local" district attorney.The U.S. Senate voted Monday to block federal housing grants to the group, which has also come under fire in voter registration fraud cases, particularly during last year’s presidential campaign.The group registers voters for Democrats.

[Updated at 9:43 p.m.: In San Diego, an ACORN organizer was fired for "unacceptable conduct" in answering questions from the undercover couple posing as a prostitute and pimp. Spokesman David Lagstein made the announcement just hours after saying no action would be taken against the organizer, Juan Carlos Vera. Still, Lagstein referred to the two who came to the National City office as "unscrupulous partisan videographers."]

-- Tony Perry in San Diego and Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento

Post a comment

It's about time the tide turned in favor of good, tax-paying citizens...

Posted by: karen kelly | September 17, 2009 at 01:00 PM

The subliminal, racist undertones of Supervisor Horn's statement(s) in this article are incredulous!

Posted by: Arnette | September 17, 2009 at 01:10 PM

While folks are getting out their vigilante ropes to hang ACORN members and their sympathizers, let's all cheer California Penal Code section 632(a). It appears that conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles may have violated criminal law by making secret recordings of conversations. However, if their guys violate criminal law, it seems OK with Congressman Darrell Issa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Posted by: Richard Ivey | September 17, 2009 at 01:59 PM

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We need better evaluation for teachers--and doctors. Constant evaluation by professionals would be better than having jury trials re medical problems

#1 Doctors cover up for each other too much, allowing incompetent doctors continue to practice.

#2 Good doctors sometimes get sued for unpreventable tragedies, and juries who don't understand the complexities of these cases are asked to decide of the doctor acted properly.

As we talk about reforming medical the medical malpractice tort system, maybe we could solve problem #1 at the same time as problem #2.

Perhaps doctors who are currently evaluated as good could be given lower insurance rates.

But capping medical malpractice claims would only serve to encourage incompetent doctors. Insurance companies would have little to lose by insuring them.

Bob Watkins failed to report his conflicts of interest as airport authority chairman

This story makes me wonder if there is perhaps a whole lot of information, other than mere yearly updates, that Bob Watkins has failed to report. And it also makes me wonder if Watkins charged San Diego County Office of Education for Charger games or airplane tickets. What was the grand total of his expenses at SDCOE?

See all Bob Watkins posts.

Watkins' Interests Not Disclosed
Voice of San Diego
by Rob Davis
Sept.16, 2009

When Bob Watkins, the airport authority chairman, took office in 2006, he reported owning his consulting business, property near the airport and more than $100,000 in stock. He reported the investments on his annual conflict-of-interest report.

In the two years since, Watkins hasn't disclosed anything on the annual forms. He has ticked a box that says he has nothing to report. The airport authority's conflict of interest code requires board members such as Watkins to disclose "all investments, business positions, interests in real property and sources of income."

But county records show that Watkins still owns property near the airport as well as a home in Alpine. His business, R.J. Watkins & Co. is located at 2515 Brant St., eight blocks from Lindbergh Field. He listed its fair market value at being more than $1 million when he took office. He stopped reporting it in 2008.

The lack of disclosure is potentially problematic. The property sits in an area that the airport authority's board has land-use planning powers over, giving Watkins the power to influence future land uses there. And Watkins signed the annual disclosure forms under penalty of perjury. Such disclosures are made to alert the public about potential conflicts of interest. Officials who fail to fully report their interests can be fined up to $5,000 per violation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission...

East Side Union HSD gave over $80,000 to ex-San Jose councilwoman--and got little in return

Former San Jose councilwoman Cindy Chavez

East Side Union High School District hired ex-San Jose councilwoman to start an education foundation
By Dana Hull
Posted: 09/15/2009
When East Side Union High School District trustees wanted to start an education foundation to raise much-needed funds, they turned to Cindy Chavez, a former San Jose councilwoman with charisma as vast as her Rolodex.

The school district paid Chavez a total of $79,000 in consulting fees, plus an additional $5,572 to its law firm to establish the foundation's non-profit status.

But two years later, the foundation has no Web site, few board members and just $4,470 in its bank account.

The revelations come as the sprawling 26,000-student district endures an audit of its finances and an independent investigation into Superintendent Bob Nunez's spending habits. Paying an outside consultant sharply contrasts with how most school foundations get started — with parents and community leaders volunteering time and expertise. That's the grass-roots approach "Save Our Sports" used to raise $115,000; the East Side parent group bypassed the foundation altogether when it felt the foundation was too ineffective to rely on.

"I am very concerned that $85,000 has been spent on a foundation that is bogus as far as I'm concerned," said board president Patricia Martinez-Roach, who was not on the board when Chavez was hired in 2007. "This whole thing was a big mistake. The board should never have tried to set up a foundation by using district money. Maybe it was well intentioned, but it stinks."

Earlier this spring — as the district laid off teachers and staffers and scrambled to save sports —Martinez-Roach said she was shocked to discover the foundation did not even have a bank account. (A bank account was opened in June of this year.)...

Researchers Try to Promote Students' Ability to Argue

When asked what to do when they and a peer had a disagreement over a project, 6th graders replied:
28% Defer to another
28% Discuss

SOURCE: Deanna Kuhn

Researchers Try to Promote Students' Ability to Argue
A little-developed skill gets fresh recognition as essential for school, life
By Debra Viadero
Education Week

In a back-to-school commentary published this month in The New York Times, Gerald Graff, the well-known University of Chicago scholar, offered some advice to college students. “Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good,” he wrote, “unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.”

Indeed, researchers say, the ability to argue is getting fresh recognition as a skill that is vital to success in college and the workplace.

That students need to learn how to argue may come as a surprise to parents of strong-willed children. More than ever, administrators and educational technology leaders need reliable information and resources to guide the technology decision making process. But logical arguments differ from the kinds of emotional arguments families experience, experts say, and most students possess only weak knowledge of how to recognize, understand, and construct one.

A small spate of studies—13 financed since 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, or IES—is beginning to offer some clues, though, on how students’ argumentation skills can be improved in the right kind of educational setting.

“The good news is that a little bit of instruction seems to help,” said M. Anne Britt, an associate professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb. “It’s not like the problem is so bad that you need drastic measures.”

While educators have espoused the virtues of skilled argumentation at least as far back as Socrates, schools typically don’t spend a lot of time teaching students how to make a reasoned case for or against a particular position.

Innovative math program boosts scores at O.C. schools

Innovative math program boosts scores at O.C. schools
Computer games and interactive visuals developed by a Santa Ana nonprofit are used at 64 elementary sites.
By Seema Mehta
LA Times
September 15, 2009

In the airy computer lab at Romero-Cruz Elementary School in Santa Ana, 11-year-old Davis Nguyen quickly completed math problems. Each correct answer let an animated penguin named JiJi take steps across a bridge. The computer game looked simple, but backers say it is part of an innovative and powerful new way to teach math, and standardized test results released Tuesday appear to back up their claims.

Across the state, schools saw a 4.5% increase in the number of elementary students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" in math. But 64 Orange County elementary schools that took part in a math program created by the nonprofit MIND Research Institute saw a nearly 13% increase in the number of students scoring in those top levels.

The achievement buoyed the schools' rating as well.

At Romero-Cruz Elementary, more than two-thirds of students speak limited English and nearly nine of 10 qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a measure of poverty. The school was in its fifth year of facing sanctions because it failed to meet federal achievement goals. But it gained nearly 90 points in the Academic Performance Index -- the state's key measure of schools based on standardized test scores -- reaching a score of 759 and "safe harbor" from sanctions this year.

Such gains show that "demographics and background have nothing to do with kids' success," said Santa Ana Unified School District Supt. Jane Russo. "It has to do with the strategies we use, the teachers that are working hard and this wonderful partnership."

The MIND institute used neuroscience research to create a way to teach math based on spatial-temporal reasoning.

"It's thinking in pictures," said Matthew Peterson, co-founder of the Santa Ana-based institute.

Using computer games as well as interactive visuals in the classroom, students are taught fractions, equations, comparisons and other math processes. Later, they learn the vocabulary and symbols that go with the subject matter. It's a high-tech version of the paper money and metal coins that instructors have long used to teach about currency.

"It's teaching math without a lot of added complexity that doesn't need to be there," said Andrew Coulson, president of the institute's education division...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Hostile, authoritarian environment ...disrespect, intimidation and the appearance of retaliation"; Luther Burbank school sounds just like my school

Grand jury blasts San Jose's Luther Burbank school board
By Sharon Noguchi

With seven years of climbing test scores, wild success in teaching reading and a record of lifting the most struggling students, Luther Burbank School District has been hailed as a model for educating poor and immigrant children.

Now the tiny San Jose district is getting noticed for something that could threaten that progress: a grand jury report that blasts Luther Burbank for a crisis of leadership and an intimidating board that may have run afoul of the law.

In a scathing report, the Santa Clara County civil grand jury awarded the five-member Luther Burbank board an F for mishandling its duties, among them firing a popular superintendent and hastily hiring a replacement without vetting.

The jury singled out board President Antonio Perez for creating a "hostile, authoritarian environment characterized by disrespect, intimidation and the appearance of retaliation." It suggested he step down as president.

The report concluded gloomily that the one-school district, which serves primarily low-income immigrant families in San Jose's central Burbank district, may not be able to change the board's systemic problems. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is looking into the findings, spokeswoman Amy Cornell said, and Santa Clara County Schools Deputy Superintendent Cary Dritz is naming a committee to review and respond to the report.

The Luther Burbank school board is scheduled Tuesday to discuss the grand jury's 33-page
report, which has done little to change the tenor at the school: Two secretaries have taken stress leaves, a principal and five teachers have complained of harassment and parents say they are terrified to speak out.

"I'm afraid of what might happen to my children," said Maria Uribe, mother of three. Even though her youngest just finished eighth grade and will move on to high school in a different district next year, she said she and other parents fear unspecified retaliation.

Since the report's publication in June, Perez has been a frequent visitor to Luther Burbank's only school, strolling on the playground, walking into rooms or sitting in the school office.

A parent who works as a school crossing guard said Perez reported her to her boss for allegedly talking with parents about the grand jury report while on duty.

Perez said he visits school because his son is in kindergarten there. "One thing I did notice is a lot of employees expressing their First Amendment rights during working hours. I'm sure there (are) a few laws against political activities using public resources," he wrote in an e-mail to the Mercury News.

The grand jury report, culminating a yearlong investigation by the civilian watchdog, alleged multiple failures, among them:

# The board summarily fired Superintendent Richard Rodriguez and on the same evening hired an interim superintendent without proper notice or vetting.

# Perez appears to be intimidating employees who supported the former superintendent and who were summoned to speak to the grand jury.

# Layoffs and demotions, while budget related, seemed to single out those considered hostile to Perez and the new administration.

# In a potential conflict of interest, Perez voted to award district contracts to a company that his woodworking company does business with.

# The district has violated open-meetings and public-notification laws.

In a lengthy interview with the Mercury News, Perez, in his seventh year on the board and third as president, said the jury was brainwashed by Rodriguez, whom the board ousted in November. Perez said he had to bring in a new administration to clean up a fiscal mess in the district office.

Rodriguez said he left the district with a $2 million surplus. He's distressed at recent events and says the board lacks ability and "has no business whatsoever overseeing a school district."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

California Dept. of Education protected fraud, retaliated against whisteblower

Whistleblower Sues State Over School Fraud
Operators Of Language Schools Stole Millions, Man Says
December 14, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Auditors found that some locally run language schools were fleecing the State Department of Education out of tens of millions of dollars.

Whistleblowers said top department officials not only looked the other way, but harassed and retaliated against them.

One of the whistleblowers sued the state, which twice appealed and has lost, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Efforts to settle the case in Sacramento this week went nowhere, meaning taxpayers may have to foot the bill for a third trial against a former employee who says the state ruined his life.

There are dozens of adult education schools in California teaching recent immigrants to speak English.

They are funded by the state and operated by community-based organizations.

In an investigation that began 12 years ago and is still dragging through the courts today, auditors found widespread fraud involving some schools.

Whistleblower Robert Cervantes said they engaged in flat-out corruption, and yet the public does nothing.

Cervantes, a former high-ranking officer in the Department of Education, said some of the operators of these schools were ripping off millions of taxpayer dollars.

Cervantes said what he and colleagues found the sites of some alleged schools were boarded-up gas stations, empty fields, drug houses and warehouses that were locked. His group found very few facilities that indicated that in fact classes were being conducted.

Cervantes said he and department auditor James Linberg blew the whistle.

Lindberg said if they had stopped it right then, it would have been about $3 million to $4 million.

This tale of intrigue began in the mid-1990s when the state Department of Education directed more than $23 million in federal funding to community-based organizations in California to teach English as a second language to immigrants.

But when Cervantes and Lindberg took a closer look, they found that community-based organizations flat-out told them they didn't have a program. The community-based schools felt totally immune, Cervantes said.

Cervantes said if he had persisted in investigating them and didn't continue funding these operations, they said they would get him. And by getting him, meaning, trying to kill him.

Cervantes said then Superintendent of Education Delaine Eastin and other department supervisors told him it was still his job to get the money out the door. He pointed out to them that this was fraud. They said it didn't matter, then Cervantes indicated he simply wouldn't do that.

Cervantes and Lindberg said the department retaliated, sending them to dead-end jobs where they did nothing for months on end.

The stress took a toll on Lindberg. He suffered two heart attacks.

Lindberg said the first heart attack came shortly after meeting with Eastin when he confronted her with questions such as "Why are you retaliating against me?"

Unable to work, Lindberg sued the department and Eastin. The case went to trial five years ago. A Sacramento jury awarded him a $4.5 million judgement, finding the state and Eastin liable...

Capistrano teachers union objects to Keenan & Associates as insurance carrier

See all blog posts re Capistrano Unified School District.
See all blog posts re Keenan & Associates.

Union Questions Trustees' Vote on Insurance Carrier
Beyond the Blackboard

The Capistrano Unified Education Association, which represents CUSD's teachers, is questioning whether trustees acted properly when they rejected staff's recommendation on an insurance broker and went with another.

The problem: Trustee Anna Bryson announced the staff-recommended firm, Marsh USA, had been sued in another state for alleged kickbacks and other issues. It would irresponsible, she said, to give them CUSD's business. But she didn't note that the company the board went with instead, Keenan Associates, had also been sued, in California, for alleged kickbacks and other issues.

That lawsuit, which also named Driver Alliant Services, was filed by attorneys representing the county of Santa Clara, San Francisco City College District, the SF Unified School District and Tuolumne Joint Powers Authority in 2006, reportedly settled for $3.2 million.

Another problem: John Stephens, a senior vice president of Keenan, donated $1,000 to the CUSD Recall Committee in May of 2008. Nothing illegal there, of course, but the whole CUSD-contractors-giving-political-donations-to-trustees thing was often cited as an example of the alleged "corruptness" of the old board.

The CUSD Recall Committee backed and financially supported all seven trustees in office.

On the campaign disclosure form, Stephens is listed as an insurance consultant. I called Keenan's San Clemente office today and verified he works there. Additionally, Stephens was a speaker at an event that Keenan co-sponsored on Internet safety for children.

That event was a month before the trustees voted on the insurance deal. Looking at the photographs from the event here, you can see Anna Bryson attended.

The teachers' union also raises questions about whether trustees gave the issue enough thought and consideration. In the May 19 letter, the union is calling on the board to rescind the contract.

I emailed each of the trustees today asking for their response, especially in light they'd run on the platform of integrity and openness, and have yet to receive a reply. I will post them verbatium when I do.

(As a sidenote, I have in the past and continue to offer any and all trustees the opportunity to write columns in our papers. Those would run as they wrote them with no filtering. None are taking me up on it.)

Here's a copy of the CUEA letter

Here's a copy of the Keenan lawsuit (21 MB file)

Here's a copy of the campaign-disclosure form.


From Trustee Ken Maddox:
I believed Keenan and Associates provided the superior proposal. I disagreed with the staff's recommendation. For the record, I spent five years on the State Assembly's Insurance Committee as Vice-Chair and was the Republican Caucus lead on a bi-partisan committee to reform the workers compensation system.

My vote was cast solely on what I believe to be in the best interest of the district. Effective risk management is a critical component of maintaining our financial position as a District. I have every confidence the Board made the right selection.

Ken Lopez-Maddox

Friday, September 11, 2009

Joe Wilson, who yelled "You lie!" during Obama address to Congress, is no Winston Churchhill

Joe Wilson uses presidential address as heckling opportunity. President Obama did not lose his cool.

"If we become accustomed to hearing people call a politician a liar everywhere else — for example, in town halls — suddenly it seems more natural in a place where it's never been acceptable," says Jamieson.

Heckling of president is rare in American history
Sept. 11, 2009

...And then there was the 1838 pistol duel in which William Graves of Kentucky shot and killed fellow congressman Jonathan Cilley of Maine over words spoken on the House floor. (He wasn't even expelled.)

Given those breaches of congressional protocol, it would seem that a mere shout of "You lie!" from a 21st-century South Carolina congressman [Joe Wilson to President Obama during Obama's address to congress] would be small potatoes...

Yet there's little if any historical precedent for a U.S. congressman individually challenging a president during a speech to Congress — let alone accusing him of lying — which is just one reason why some longtime political observers were stunned by Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst...

"Occasionally, members of the opposing party have been known to boo and jeer as expressions of dissent on a specific point," says Beuttler, citing instances during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. But before Wednesday, he says, "expressions of individual opposition of members to a president's speech had not been recorded."

Some have compared Wilson's outburst to those that occur routinely in Britain's House of Commons, when the prime minister is answering questions. But one political analyst says this is vastly different, because the prime minister isn't the head of state.

"Our president is the head of government and also the head of state, the combination of the country and the government," says Steven Cohen, professor of public administration at Columbia University. "We expect a certain amount of deference to the president, in the same way as we would for the queen. Here, we combine the two roles."

To another political analyst, it's the nature of the accusation — an elected official calling the president a liar — that is not only a serious breach (accusations of lying are forbidden under House rules) but also extremely rare in politics.

"Accusing someone of lying is impugning their integrity," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political communication at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "It was done in print a lot in the 19th century. But it is not routinely done in political discourse."

Congress is a place of deliberation, Jamieson adds: "If you call someone a liar, you've ended the deliberations. This is such a strong norm that it's been in the House rules since Jefferson."

...Winston Churchill was more subtle about the charge of lying, once describing a statement by another lawmaker as a "terminological inexactitude," now a commonly accepted euphemism for a lie...

Bob Watkins repays Charger tickets after true purpose of outing is revealed

It turns out that Bob Watkins, formerly of SDCOE and now airport authority chairman, did not take a member of parliament to a baseball game as he claimed.

See all posts about Bob Watkins.

Watkins Repays Chargers Tickets

Voice of San Diego
by Rob Davis

Bob Watkins, the airport authority chairman, has reimbursed the authority $1,200 for the Chargers-Saints game he attended in London last October, an authority spokeswoman announced today.

Watkins didn't attend the game with the person he said he had. When I talked to him in July about the expense, he told me he'd taken a member of the British Parliament. He said they sat on the 5-yard line. At the time, he said this:

The tickets that I got were for myself and a member of Parliament over there who essentially is involved in airport security and as a result of that particular activity, we then met with a number of other people who were involved in England’s -- Great Britain’s airports -- Stanstead and Heathrow, so it was a business expense, not a junket.

Diana Lucero, an authority spokeswoman, said that Watkins actually took James R. Burrows, then the CEO of Litelogic, a British company that puts LED advertisements on buses and that had interest in doing business in San Diego...

Watkins Took Niece's Husband to Chargers Game
Voice of San Diego

by Rob Davis
Sept. 15, 2009

In early August, Bob Watkins, the airport authority chairman, told me that when he went to the Chargers-Saints game in London last year -- with tickets paid for by the airport authority -- he took a member of Parliament involved in airport security issues.

The authority corrected Watkins last week, saying he'd actually taken James Burrows, then the CEO of Litelogic, a British company that puts LED advertisements on buses and that had interest in doing business in San Diego. Watkins repaid the $1,200 tickets in late August after our coverage highlighted that expense and others.

What the authority's correction didn't say: Burrows is part of Watkins' extended family.

Burrows is married to Watkins' niece, Gwynneth, said Peggy Fainelli, Watkins' ex-wife.

In an interview Monday, Watkins refused to confirm the relationship. He later acknowledged that his brother, who now lives in San Diego, had lived in England and still has family there. Watkins said he contacts them when he's overseas...

Emily Alpert's Bright and Early

Emily Alpert's Bright and Early column is jam-packed with links to stories I wouldn't come across if I didn't read Voice of San Diego. Here is a sampling from today's column.

Bright and Early
September 11, 2009

...# The North County Times reports that the future of a controversial reading program is uncertain in Vista schools. Schools will use similar strategies after class, but will not use the consultants who are supposed to oversee the program.

# Schools historian Diane Ravitch blogs at Education Week that the reforms boosted by the stimulus may not be so hot: "What is extraordinary about these regulations is that they have no credible basis in research," she writes. "They just happen to be the programs and approaches favored by the people in power."

# The Washington Post reports that the D.C. teachers union may be nearing a deal with firebrand Superintendent Michelle Rhee on a contract. Rhee has relinquished the idea of a two-tiered salary schedule with higher pay for teachers who give up key job protections, but the nascent deal could still give D.C. schools more power to fire ineffective teachers.

# And the USA Today zeroes in on a Kentucky school district where a football coach took players on a voluntary trip to be baptized in church. He used a school bus -- but another coach paid for the fuel. Is that a problem? Their superintendent says no. The American Civil Liberties Union says yes.

La Mesa-Spring Valley trustee Rick Winet says Obama speech was "assault on constitution"; Halgren and Duff are sorry they voted with Winet

Board members Bill Baber (left) and Emma Turner (right) tried to defend openness and honesty in La Mesa-Spring Valley. They voted to allow students to hear President Obama's speech. Penny Halgren and Bob Duff now agree with them, and Rick Winet stands alone in his opposition.

Statements from La Mesa-Spring Valley school board members
San Diego Union Tribune
September 10, 2009

The La Mesa-Spring Valley school board voted 3-2 to prevent teachers from showing President Barack Obama's education speech to students on Tuesday. The three board members issued the following statements later this week:

Statement issued by Rick Winet on Sept. 8:

...My personal objection to the proposed presentation and curriculum by the President and the Secretary of Education centered on 2 areas:

1. This was a direct assault on The Constitution of The United States of America.
U.S.C. code 3503 clearly states that Congress prohibits the Executive Branch from overriding local school boards and local branches of government of control of public school curriculum..I would not and will not ever support this sort of selfish, socialistic message as public school curriculum.

2. The President's speech and lesson plans were, in the end, clearly focused to deliver a message to high school age students... this message was not appropriate for a vast majority of our students...

Statement issued by trustee Penny Halgren on Sept. 10:

I apologize for my vote to delay showing President Obama's speech to the children in our school district. If I could roll back the clock and do it again, my vote would have been to show the speech live in our classrooms.

My intent was purely to create a rich and personally meaningful educational experience for each child in our district. Because of that narrow focus, I missed completely the value of the group experience gained by having all children listen to the speech at the same time.

Statement issued by trustee Bob Duff on Sept. 10:

After seeing the President's speech, I now believe the message should have been viewed live and I regret I was responsible for the delay. All should had the opportunity to have seen it live. For this I truly apologize.

Trustee Penny Halgren

'If I Could Roll Back the Clock'
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert
September 10, 2009

I just got an e-mail from La Mesa-Spring Valley school board member Penny Halgren, apologizing for her vote to delay showing President Obama's speech to schoolchildren.

The East County district decided to make schools wait to show a recorded version of the speech until Wednesday so that it could be reviewed, barring them from turning on the live speech on Tuesday.

Halgren wrote:

If I could roll back the clock and do it again, my vote would have been to show the speech live in our classrooms.

My intent was purely to create a rich and personally meaningful educational experience for each child in our district.

Because of that narrow focus, I missed completely the value of the group experience gained by having all children listen to the speech at the same time.

... She explained that she hadn't understood that the group experience -- not the exact content of the speech itself -- was part of what made the event important. Two teachers who talked with her about it convinced her that it should have been a collective experience. "There are certain things that you do in life that bring us together as a community and as a nation," she said...

Conflicts of Interest Alleged at Guajome Park Academy

See all Guajome Park Academy posts.

Although Dan Shinoff is not mentioned in the story below, he was present to advise board members at the Vista Unified School District meeting last night.

Conflicts of Interest Alleged at Vista Charter

by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego
September 11, 2009

A Vista charter school's practice of having employees, particularly the superintendent, serve on its board creates "potential and/or actual conflicts of interest, according to lawyers hired by the Vista Unified School District to investigate complaints about conflict of interest at the school.

The fact that Bob Hampton, who became the superintendent of Guajome Park Academy this summer, sits on the school's executive board is problematic for several reasons, said Dina Harris, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, the firm retained by the district.

In the past, employees felt nervous about questioning decisions made by their leader because the superintendent had to authority to terminate employees and sat on the board, Harris wrote. They also "felt there was no one to turn to ... because the same individual held position(s) at three levels of the complaint process." And the executive board also handles the superintendent's contract.

Harris recommended that Guajome Park remove employees from its board and instead create an advisory board for employees. She singled out the superintendent in particular as a problem. Hampton wrote in a statement that "we respectfully may not agree with some of their commentary and conclusions."...

The report also included a slew of other findings, including that Guajome Park approved a contract four years ago that a board member had a financial stake in. It also found "some occasional violations of the Brown Act" which mandates that meetings be open to the public, and that the school violated its own rules by choosing an interim superintendent who didn't have the credentials listed in its founding charter...

Silvia Peters, a Vista parent who once sent her child to Guajome Park, called the report "watered down," alleging that it didn't reflect other complaints about the school curriculum and how it handles special education. "I think you're trying to play the patsy," Peters said...