By Elena de la Cuevas
UPDATED 5-13-17 TO ADD California Department of Education denial of Duarte Unified’s Waiver #35-12-2016 (scroll to bottom of the post to view pdf file)
The expansion of the Orange County School of the Arts (OSCA) to a sister site in the San Gabriel Valley has led to an complicated mix of charter and public monies. Rebuffed in San Diego, OCSA found a home for a satellite school in a small district in Duarte, California, a community northeast of Los Angeles.
Faced with declining enrollment, new Superintendent Allan Mucerino asserted that the best fix for this was to convert all elementary schools to K-8 and lease the only middle school, Northview, to OCSA. This new school, CS Arts, San Gabriel Valley, would occupy the middle school thus displacing an entire staff. The opening of CS Arts was pitched as a way to make Duarte a destination district as students from all over southern California would enroll in a 9-12 high school and hopefully have parents enroll K-8 students so they could prepare for charter acceptance (curiously, it was given the name of the valley it is in, San Gabriel, rather than being called CS Arts Duarte).
OCSA had tried to do this in San Diego but a teacher-parent alliance successfully averted this.
Initially the entire school board in Duarte liked Mucerino’s plan and it easily passed with all 5 board members voting yes. The money given by the state of California to OCSA for each pupil present per school day (Average Daily Attendance, or ADA) would be divided with Duarte Unified receiving 3% of the charter’s total ADA.
Soon it became apparent that superintendent had more than a high school in mind. He then proposed that 7th-8th graders be allowed to enroll in the charter, be taught by Duarte’s public teachers, and attend the charter’s conservatories after regular classes. The new charter did not have room for middle schoolers and could not accommodate them.
Mixing charter and public education money is not allowed by the state but Superintendent Mucerino rosily assured all who asked that the district would apply for a waiver and all would be right with the world.
Unsurprisingly the state said no; the district withdrew the waiver but did not reveal this. It was resubmitted and officially denied. Board members were not informed about the details of the waiver.
Construction at one elementary, Royal Oaks, where the bulk of new students would attend, continued. Even when the denial of the waiver came to light Mucerino assuredly presented a back up plan: Duarte Unified would ask the home district of non-Duarte students to release them to be enrolled as Duarte students.
There is also the issue of conservatory fees (“donations” to OCSA that skirt unlawful mandatory fees which public schools are not allowed to charge) that OCSA students need to raise. These “donations” run from about $1500 to $4000 dollars per student, per year.
Mucerino was proposing that Duarte pay for the conservatory fees of Duarte middle schoolers attending the charter. Since the waiver to enact all these highly unusual financial dealings was rejected by the California Department of Education, Duarte will now enroll all OCSA middle school students and Duarte Unified will receive all ADA for them.
Why is Mucerino such a fan of OCSA? He hails from south Orange County and is a friend of OCSA CFO Steve Wagner. Superintendent Mucerino painted the charter as a partnership between Duarte and OCSA and sent drama, chorus and band teachers to see OCSA. At first it seemed like a great opportunity to grow arts programs.
Instead Duarte’s grade 9-12 students will attend the charter draining the talent from DUSD. (Given the uncertain status of the California Department of Education waiver, it is unclear if Duarte Unified will still receive 3% of OCSA’s Average Daily Attendance money.) Teachers were shocked that the union leaders called and encouraged high school band members, art and chorus students to try out. Getting the union on board for this presented no problem. The anti-charter union secretary spoke out against it but was harshly rebuked by her superiors and three union leaders eventually resigned over the issue.
The union representing the classified staff was against the charter but could not get the teacher’s union to back them. Teachers who spoke out at board meetings could expect Mucerino to drop by for a class visit the next day.
Duarte, a community of about 22,000, has struggled to keep its students. The wealthy city of Bradbury, which abuts it to the north, sends few students going to Duarte. Occasional shootings plague the south of the small town, which is unincorporated. Both the high school and the middle school have seen a succession of principals in the last 10 years and Mucerino is the district’s 3rd superintendent in the same period. It is not surprising that many residents see the arrival of the charter as a huge asset.
For the teachers of Duarte it is the opposite. Among the lowest paid in the area, they now find themselves sold out by their own union. Board member Cheryl Taylor, former teacher and union president, advocates mightily for her brethren and soon changed her mind about the charter. She and board member Tom Reyes have been unable to stop Mucerino as they are outvoted by members Ken Bell, Reyna Diaz and Doug Edwards. It is not known if these board members have any outside connections to the charter.
Many community members dislike Mucerino, and what he has done in Duarte, but for now he is looking like the savior of declining enrollment. He probably won’t want too many people to know about OCSA’s ties to Betsy DeVos and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. His philosophy about education can be found at his website allanmucerino.com where his blog outlines some of his visions.
Number 5 is “permitting obstacles to block the new vision”. In this case, it’s public schools getting in the way of a charter.
Supplemental materials (public record):
Regular Meeting of the Board of Education,
Duarte USD, June 30, 2016