"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Guest Post: Citizen Jack responds to LA Weekly's fluffing Ref Rodriguez

“That’s not exactly investigative reporting or a critique of the powerful. But it represents the kind of contrarian, screw-you mentality that fits the New Times worldview now evident at the LA Weekly.” — Professor Jon Wiener

Citizen Jack responds to LA Weekly's fluffing Ref Rodriguez

"Jack," a frequent commenter on Professor Diane Ravitch's site, sent me the following critique of Joshua Emerson Smith fluff-job of charter school profiteer Refugio "Ref" Rodriguez. The fact-free ham-fisted Smith piece appeared in that trashy porn and masseuse ad pennysaver known as the LA Weekly (aka Weakly)—a bastion of Jill Stewart's brand of Ayn Rand Libertarianism.


To Joshua Emerson Smith, (the author of the above L.A. WEEKLY article):
As with someone else who just posted, I'm also utterly shocked that you didn't mention the troubling and shocking revelations about Ref Rodriguez that emerged from a recent state audit---the same audit that Ref's ally Monica Garcia pulled out all the stops to keep sealed, but ultimately failed to do so.  (See the video of Monica and Ref standing side-by-side at last year's California Charter School Association shindig---this video is posted elsewhere in the COMMENTS section.)
Seriously, dude, writing an article about the Kayser / Rodriguez 2015 election, and not mentioning "Food-gate" even once is akin to... oh, I dunno... 
... writing about the 2004 Presidential election and not mentioning Bush's ill-advised invasion of Iraq, and most importantly, the fact that no WMD's were found... therefore the entire justification for taking us into that war was all a  manufactured hoax...

... writing about the 2010 Brown / Whitman gubernatorial election, and not mentioning "Maid-gate"...

What's up with that?  

To get you (and others) up to speed, here's a recap:

In a May 2nd Los Angeles Times' article, reporters Zahira Torres and Howard Blume detailed the troubling corruption and outrageous malfeasance that a state audit uncovered operating within Ref Rodriguez' charter school organization, "Partnership to Uplift Communities"(PUC).  Mr. Rodriguez founded this charter chain, and currently serves as its PUC's CEO and Treasurer.
Check it out here: 
or here, ( if, like me, you're too cheap to subscribe to the Times on-line site;-) ) : 

Employing a wealth of documentation, the state auditors cite systemic wrongdoing and illegal misuse of taxpayer funds on the part of PUC’s Director of Business and Development, Ms. Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo, and by extension, on the part of Founder / CEO, Mr. Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Elliot, PUC's other Chief Executive.  

After all, Ms. Castillo---it should be noted---was hired by Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Elliott, and works under their direction.  As such, Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Elliot bear ultimate responsibility, and gave ultimate approval to the problematic purchases and decisions that that both the state audit condemned, and that the May 2 Times' article exposed to the public.
And exactly what did Ref & Co. at PUC perpetrate? 

Ms. Castillo willfully chose to misuse her position to award PUC's multi-year, multi-million-dollar food contract to "Better 4 You Meals", a company that, to quote the audit, is "one hundred percent owned" by Ms. Castillo (!!!).  In the process, she enriched both herself and her husband Fernando---a top executive in that company, "Better 4 You Meals."  

While the charter school laws technically require Ref to run PUC as a "non-profit", so as to prevent such profiteering by charter officials, Ms. Castillo (and perhaps Ref?) evaded this by contracting out their food service to a for-profit company that she and her husband own.   (This is a common shabby practice within the charter industry... by the time such shenanigans are uncovered, that taxpayer money that these crooks pocket is gone, baby, gone... never to be recovered... as is the case with Ref's / PUC's "Foodgate" imbroglio.)

Again, this is all detailed to the state audit report, quoted and reported on by the reporters in the Times' article.

The Times' article further states:

"The state Department of Education, which released emails and documents about its investigation to the Los Angeles Times under the California Public Records Act, also found:

" --- Duvivier Castillo failed to properly report her financial interests in the company

" --- The company was ineligible for the food contracts because it lacked a health permit and relied on a subcontractor to prepare meals.

" --- PUC Schools did not select the lowest-priced bidder as required."

So, in addition to the gross impropriety of the process itself, and to the heinous misuse of the taxpayer money that funds charter schools like the PUC chain, Ms. Castillo's company, "Better 4 You Meals", operates in a substandard fashion, and thus delivered a demonstrably substandard product, as the food preparation, delivery, storage, etc. "lacked the required health permit."

Since Mr. Rodriguez hired Ms. Castillo to work at PUC, he almost certainly knew of her business holdings and interests---i.e. her and her husband's ownership of "Better 4 You Meals." 
Might Mr. Rodriguez have profited from any secret kickback from Ms. Castillo in exchange for approving the "Better 4 You Meals" contract?  Perhaps.  We do not know.  If the answer is "No" and he knew that Ms. Castillo owned "Better 4 You Meals", then why did he approve a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract for this same company ?  To quote "THE SOPRANOS", do you really think that Ref (or Ms. Elliot) didn't "get a taste" of this?  If not, what was in it for him to do so?

Furthermore, even if you assume that Mr. Rodriguez is criminally "innocent", and really did NOT know of Ms. Castillo's conflict of interest, then, at the very least, Mr. Rodriguez most certainly SHOULD have.   That's a key part of his freakin' job, for God's sake!!!  His failure to know this, and his failure to do the due diligence necessary to discover it, and to remain aware of this when making relevant decisions reflects poorly on his abilities as an administrator.  He also should have asked and required that Ms. Castillo produced the required health permit.  At the very least, Ref is most certainly "guilty" of gross administrative incompetence and negligence.   All of this renders Ref unfit to manage LAUSD's $7-billion-dollar budget. 

To date, Mr. Rodriguez himself has refused to comment on this scandal---hoping to just lay low until the election is over, as he squeaks through to an ill-gotten victory.  Such silence on his part speaks volumes.

To paraphrase Harry Truman, "the buck should stop" with Mr. Rodriguez, as he is PUC's Founder, CEO, and Treasurer.  
Bennett Kayser's constituents (like me) can tell you that "the buck" most certainly DOES stop with Bennett, as evidenced by his diligent responsiveness to their concerns (i.e. his opposition to the I-pad purchase and resulting debacle.)  
The students, parents, and citizens of LAUSD District 5 can ill afford to have someone like Mr. Rodriguez to be one of only seven individuals (the seven Board Members) in charge of LAUSD finances, a solemn responsibility that Board Member Kayser---a 30-year teacher and school administrator, by the way---has approached with the utmost care and seriousness.  

In the last four years---and in contrast to Ref's record---neither Kayser nor anyone on his staff, nor anyone connected to him in any way has benefited financially from any action that Board Member Kayser has taken.  Nor has anyone been involved in any corruption of any kind while he has been fulfilling the oath that he took in July 2011.  Profiting or enriching himself is most certainly NOT why Bennett is serving on the board.  Just as in his teaching and school administrator career, it's not about him;  it's about the well-being of 670,000 students, their parents and the community as a whole for which he is responsible.  
Unlike Rodriguez and others, it's not a fear of being caught that drives Board Member Kayser to avoid financial impropriety, eschew personal enrichment, and remain on the "straight and narrow";  it's Bennett's own conscience and moral code.  I can vouch for this, as I've known him personally for years.  That's all part of the solemn vow that an LAUSD Board Member takes when he is sworn into office.  If re-elected, Bennett's track record on this score, of course, will continue for the next four years, and for as long as Bennett serves as a public servant. 
Mr. Rodriguez' actions, as detailed in the May 2 Los Angeles Times' article, call into serious question his own ability to do likewise.

Indeed, a key part of Bennett's job as the incumbent District 5 Board Member these last four years on LAUSD's board has been to manage LAUSD's budget, and know in as great detail as possible where every penny of that $7 billion goes.  This truly is a task on a par with memorizing the phonebook, but it is a job that a School Board member must be willing and able to take on. Bennett has overseen and balanced three consecutive budgets of $7 billion each, and one that services 670,000 students and the adult staff that serve them!!! Top that, will you?
How does Ref's track record compare to this?
Well, according to writer and activist Robert Skeels, "Ref Rodriguez couldn’t keep one school, with only 100 students, balanced for nine years (9) straight! This 'insolvent' bad apple is Lakeview Charter, part of the Rodriguez/PUC charter chain. Ham-handed attempts by Rodriguez’s supporter to hide the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) audit of the Rodriguez-run PUC Lakeview Charter School, and affiliated enterprises, have been exposed."  

Read more of Robert Skeels' article at:

Again, the state audit's report clearly calls into question Mr. Rodriguez' capabilities in this area.  

Once the audit hit the news, Ms. Castillo quickly left PUC, with PUC executive Ms. Elliot making the only public comment on the matter... stating that they didn't know about the conflict of interest, and that there was no wrongdoing on anyone's part.

What about Ref's response? So far, incredibly, there's been RADIO SILENCE FROM REF RODRIGUEZ HIMSELF.  I am sorry, but the Mr. Rodriguez and the folks at PUC cannot have it both ways.  They cannot, on the one hand, fire Ms. Duvivier Castillo (or pressure her to resign), and then, on the other hand, claim---as Ms. Elliot has---that there was no wrong-doing on her or anyone else's part.  
If Ms. Castillo--and by extension, Ref and Ms. Elliot--- truly did nothing wrong, as PUC officials claim, there is no reason for Ms. Castillo to leave PUC, and no reason for Ref to clam up about the whole sordid affair.
Innocent people do not run away (like Ms. Castillo has);  guilty people do.
Innocent people don't clam up (like Ref has); they speak out and clear their name.

If you've got nothing to hide, you hide nothing.