Parent Trigger: State Lawmakers Ask Attorney General, D.A. to Look Into Possible Fraud at Adelanto School District
The Adelanto Unified Elementary School District, located a couple hours east of L.A. in tumbleweed country, has a huge and historic decision to make tomorrow.
Either they verify a "Parent Trigger" petition signed by over 50 percent of parents at Desert Trails Elementary, the district's most poorly performing school, to restart the campus under new management -- or they deny it.
If they go for the latter, they might have some angry politicians to deal with:
Gloria Romero, former Senate Majority Leader for the Democrats and co-author of the Parent Trigger law, just announced on a conference call that she has joined in-office Republican senators Bob Huff and Sharon Runner in a plea to both the San Bernardino County District Attorney and the California Attorney General.
Romero says the group of politicians is urging D.A. Michael Ramos to "conduct a swift investigation" into a signature-rescission campaign at Desert Trails that has threatened the success of the radical reform effort.
The Weekly has contacted Senator Runner, who represents the Adelanto area, for confirmation. [Updated at the bottom with her letter to the D.A.]
Senator Huff's office, however, is happy to confirm. Spokesman Bill Bird says the senator has called on both the D.A. and the A.G. to investigate "possible fraudulent activities involved in the petition rescission campaign" in Adelanto.
The Trigger law, authored by Romero and Huff, was "written to empower and protect those who need protection" -- and should not remain vulnerable to "special vested interests" who consistently challenge it, says Romero.
As we learned in the first-ever Trigger attempt in Compton last year, opponents are often backed by district officials (who have a financial stake in each of their campuses) and teachers unions (whose members stand to lose their jobs if new management finds they don't meet higher educational standards).
Parent Revolution, the non-profit organization that has helped guide parents at Desert Trails, again suspects that the California Teachers Association and its local union chapter is behind the drive to unravel this second-ever Trigger petition.
Pat DeTemple -- a director for Parent Revolution -- says parents and lawyers have examined the rescission documents, and has found them "riddled with forgery and fraud."
The ironic part is that the Desert Trails Parent Union, as organizers call themselves, is trying to collaborate with district officials to create a "partnership school." Its board would consist of representatives from the district, parents, outside educational experts and teachers. They'd work together to structure a more successful model for Desert Trails.
Yet opponents are using the same old argument: that Parent Revolution and the Trigger are merely a front for private charter-school operators trying to seize educational capital from the public sector.
"If [district officials] choose to make a decision against us ... they're just in complete violation of our constitutional rights," says Doreen Diaz, a mom on the parent union. "And if our rights can be so blatantly violated, what chance do our children have for their future?"
No one with an interest in turning these kids' lives around as soon as possible wants this to turn into a messy, drawn-out court battle, like it did in Compton.
But there's a large possibility, if history repeats itself, that Adelanto Unified will find another reason to reject the Trigger tomorrow evening.
That's where Superwoman Harris and the San Bernardino D.A. come in.
Rescission campaigns that misinform parents are illegal under the recently passed Trigger regulations -- and the shadiness of this one in particular, including the district's undiscerning OK of apparently fraudulent documents, will hopefully make it a slam-dunk for state regulators, should they choose to accept the challenge.
Update: Here is Senator Runner's letter to the D.A., in full.
Dear District Attorney Ramos:It has been brought to my attention that there may be due process violations and possible fraudulent behavior with respect to a petition rescission drive targeting parents of students at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto. In January, parents signed a petition to "trigger" changes at Desert Trails. This is their right under Senate Bill X5 4 (Romero, Huff, Alquist, and Wyland, 2009), the bipartisan law that allows parents of a low performing school to petition their local school board to implement specific reform and requiring the school board to do so.Unfortunately, Desert Trails meets the profile of a low performing school set forth by the Legislature. From all accounts, it appears the petition process followed the law and was presumptively valid; if so, the school board is required by law to implement specific reform.The law does not by its own terms authorize a revocation process so it would appear that the group hoping to rescind the petitions is operating on a "self-help" basis. While Californians are famous for finding creative solutions to problems, the state operates under the rule of law. I would hope that those who challenge the law would do so in court or through the legislative process. Most disturbing are allegations of coercion.As the former Assemblywoman representing Adelanto for 8 years, the current Senator representing the 17th Senate District, and the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, it is my sincere hope that you will give consideration to investigating these charges. Allegations of impropriety and possible criminal conduct should not be ignored. I realize that this is not a typical investigation and may be an appropriate subject for your grand jury.If you feel your office does not have the means at this time to investigate, please advise. Perhaps, the Secretary of State or the Attorney General would have the resources necessary.