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Charter Schools: Looting Public Schools and Milking Taxpayers

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"The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good."

-Gordon Gekko, "Wall Street"

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In 2014, the salary for the highest paid Secondary Principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was $159,503.88. In fulfilling their "desire to make the GHCHS [Granada Hills Charter High School] Executive Director position one of the top compensated positions in Los Angeles", Brian Bauer was paid $211,188 that year for fulfilling the duties of Principal. This was up from $185,000 in 2013. His retirement and health costs added $33,187 in 2014 and $27,122 in 2013 to the school's expenses. In 2014, this was almost three times the health and retirement cost for the school's average employee.

It is possible that the school could argue that, because it is a charter, the Principal has additional responsibilities that justify inflating the title to Executive Director and paying a salary that was over 32% higher than the highest paid LAUSD Secondary Principal. However, this would demand an explanation as to why the school also needs to employ a Chief Business Officer with a salary of $158,853 and Chief Operating Officer at a salary of $141,435. Retirement and health costs for these two positions add another $64,215 to the school's costs. These are job titles that are not found in public schools and the only possible explanation for their existence is that they are handling responsibilities that are uniquely required of charters. If this is the case, why is Bauer's pay not in line with his public school counterparts, including those at the affiliated charters?

The third-highest paid employee at GHCHS in 2014 was their Chief Academic Officer with a salary of $150,792. In comparison, the LAUSD's Chief Academic Officer was paid $158,531.98 for overseeing a district of 640,000 students and all grade levels.

Knowing how the school worships at the altar of standardized testing, it is not surprising that they are willing to pay a Testing Coordinator $108,540 a year. What is left unanswered is why that generous salary was not enough to attract someone who was qualified enough to understand that under the law parents can opt their children out of these tests without incurring a penalty. Someone earning that much money should also have enough common sense not to argue that it is important for a tenth grader to take the PSAT again to improve her score after revealing that her previous results were better than the vast majority of the students in all grades.

While taxpayers pay these salaries, they have no say in establishing them. The GHCHS Governing Board is an unelected body. Instead, "Board Members will select and approve by a majority vote, new or continuing Board members." They "do not necessarily have to reside within the GHCHS boundaries" but must "support the School's goals, mission and vision." These Board Members who have been selected by the school they are supposed to oversee go into closed session, away from the prying eyes of stakeholders, to conduct their "public employee performance evaluation" of the Executive Director.

The ability of GHCHS to use taxpayer money to pay inflated salaries without public input provides another example of the LAUSD's failure to provide oversight of the charter schools. As the authorizer of the charter school, the District is supposed to make sure that the school is complying with both their charter and the law. Unfortunately, the LAUSD seems to be unable to do their job. The last GHCHS charter renewal that was approved by the LAUSD School Board included a Governing Board that included teachers elected by their peers. However, after this renewal GHCHS removed these teachers from their Governing Board and replaced them with at-large members that were appointed by the Board. The LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) ruled "that [this] did not constitute a material revision requiring LAUSD Board approval." When pressed for an explanation, the CSD stated that the change was made due to IRS concerns. However, when asked to provide copies of the correspondence from the IRS regarding this issue, the school's representative responded that they did not exist. The only exchange between the school and the CSD occurred when the school informed the District of the change without giving any explanation. Several members of the LAUSD Board have been made aware that they were not given the opportunity to approve this change but they have yet to make a move to protect the rights of their constituents. With Eli Broad threatening to increase the number of charter schools within the District, the Board needs to make it clear to the CSD that usurping their power is not acceptable and that they must vote on all material revisions to the charters that they have authorized.


I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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