Crafty Camino Nuevo Charter Charlatans

Over the weekend USPS delivered an expensive looking, glossy, four color marketing brochure from Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA) chock full of misstatements, spurious data, and outright lies. CNCA is trying to pilfer a new school from my neighborhood ((Central Region Elementary School 14 (CRES 14))) under the cover of notorious Gates Foundation employee, and outgoing LAUSD board member, Yolie Flores’ corporate charter industry handout resolution — PSC.

Before looking at the details of the school in question, and why Camino Nuevo shouldn’t get its corporate claws on more public property, let’s take a quick look at what type of operation Camino Nuevo runs.

One of Camino Nuevo’s slick marketing phrases is “We are College Ready, College Bound!” The latter may be correct, due to nefarious arrangements corporate charters have with many colleges and their deceitful method of getting students placed in such institutions. The former on the other hand, is beyond disingenuous, it’s just plain dishonest.

According to the Fall 2009, CSU Freshmen Admits database ((California State University First-Time Freshmen from California High Schools Regular Admits, Fall 2009 *We need to temper this data with the understanding that the sample size is 16 for math and 17 for English. My rationale for quoting the data with the sample sizes in this footnote are twofold. First, the sample size is clearly stated on the CSU database site. Secondly, the charter industry consistently uses similar statistics without mentioning any confounding factors or standard deviation that would interfere with their marketing claims. I feel using the CSU data as is was actually more honest than CMOs boasting about APIs without mentioning their attrition rates and other confounding factors.)) the number of Camino Nuevo High School Charter students that were NOT proficient in mathematics was an absolutely astonishing 94 percent. This almost unfathomable statistic is all the more glaring when compared to its peers.

Mathematics Proficiency
Camino Nuevo High School Charter 06%
All County High Schools 51%
All California High Schools 62%

One would hope that a charter company capable of producing such captivating marketing materials would at least make a better showing in English proficiency. Nope. According to same source cited above, the number of Camino Nuevo High School Charter students NOT proficient in English was also a dubious 94 percent.

English Proficiency
Camino Nuevo High School Charter 06%
All County High Schools 40%
All California High Schools 51%

What is that charter supporters say about market forces and competition producing better education results again? When more than nine out of ten high school graduates from a high profile Charter Management Organization have to take remedial courses at college, that’s proof positive market solutions don’t work period! Less than one out of every ten Camino Nuevo graduates don’t have to retake high school level courses. So much for market efficiency. College ready, indeed! What CNCA is doing here is beyond unethical, it should be criminal to take public tax dollars and produce results like that.

CNCA’s slick flyer boasts of a 96% graduation rate and a 73% college placement rate,  there’s no mention of sporting some of most abysmal remediation rates of all of the CMOs in Los Angeles on their flyer. ((You don’t need a PhD in Education from Loyola Marymount University to know that the marketing numbers Camino Nuevo claims are fraudulent after examining the data from the California State University System.)) That said CNCA only runs one high school, the rest of its schools are K-8.

This brings us to Camino Nuevo’s designs on Central Region Elementary School 14. CRES 14 is a beautiful new school paid for with taxpayer money to relieve overcrowding from Union ES and Rosemont ES. The school is on the Western edge of the Echo Park/Historic Filipinotown area, and by virtue of being located on the West side of Alvarado Street, is in Board District 5. While community forums ((I attended the forum held on Friday November 12, 2010 at Echo Park United Methodist Church.)) in the area overwhelmingly saw many parents upset that there wasn’t going to be a new middle school in the region (like LAUSD’s board cares what the community wants), many were also vexed at the idea of another disruptive charter being opened. You see, the horrors created by the colocation (read occupation) by Gabriella Charter School on the location of a real public school — Logan Street ES — had many Echo Park parents fuming. Instead of listening to the community, LAUSD board members Monica Garcia and Yolie Flores haven’t only decided on CRES 14 being an elementary school, they’ve also made sure it was up for grabs for their wealthy friend Ana F. Ponce.

At another forum, where the CRES 14 Community Plan was presented in opposition to CNCA’s slick marketing blitz, Ponce tried to convince the audience that her well funded operation was a community organization. Of course, people that live in the community saw right through that.

Ana Ponce, a slick businesswoman, whose only education experience prior to boarding the Camino Nuevo gravy train was a three year stint at TFA, feigned shyness and self deprecation at the presentation. She mentioned to those gathered that she “didn’t have much public speaking experience,” as if this woman who deals with the privileged staffs and even founders of The Annenberg, Broad, Eisner, and Gates Foundations and her affluent Board of Directors doesn’t have any experience talking to groups.

At the end of the presentation, during the question and answer session, noted public school teacher and social justice activist Jessica Kochick asked Ponce directly “how much decision making power do parents have at CNCA schools?” Ponce’s agonizingly patronizing answer was, “we just love input from parents.” Input, not decision making.

Like all corporate charters Camino Nuevo humors parents by listening to their input, but all decisions are made by their unelected boards stacked with bankers, hedge fund and investment managers, and other well heeled business types. Unlike public schools, where parents have real input and decision making on School Site Councils, ESBMM, or Governing School Councils at Pilot School, parents and community members are shut out of the privately managed mechanizations of charter schools. A perfect example of this is when Green Dot Public Schools closed Ánimo Justice by fiat, despite the parents’ desperate pleas to keep the school open.

One of the most disgusting things on the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy flyer I received said was the bullet point that stated:

Camino Nuevo schools: are run by, and designed, for each local community;

Run by the community? Camino Nuevo has an unelected board of directors comprised almost exclusively of investment management executives, high powered lawyers, and other wealthy business types that hold their meeting in private. With nary an exception, these rich board members do not live in the neighborhoods their charter company ostensibly serves. Parents, much less the community, have no real tangible input into how Camino Nuevo operates on any level. Like all corporate charters, there is a dearth of information about Camino Nuevo’s finances. By all accounts outsiders with no connection to our neighborhood. Despite all this, CNCA executives constantly try to paint themselves as part of the community:

“Charters have been serving the same communities for years and are a part of the community tapestry already — we are not outsiders,” Ana F. Ponce, executive director of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, wrote to Cortines. ((L.A. groups bid to run 30 schools))

Someone should explain to Ms. Ponce that there’s a wide gulf between being self-serving and serving the community. Her note to Superintendent Cortines couldn’t have been more reprehensible in either content and tone. In fact, Ana Ponce’s bloated six-figure compensation package is OVER FIVE TIMES THE AVERAGE INCOME of the the community members that she claims to be part of the same “tapestry.” ((Comparison made using $26,757 median household income for S. Burlington Ave, 90057 on (CNCA’s Burlington K-8 Campus) Los Angeles Times Mapping LA Project versus Ponce’s whopping $140,639 compensation package CNCA Form 990 (2008) Part VII Section A. Ana F. Ponce’s recent fortunes by the numbers: $140,639 (2008 990), 129,900 (2007 990), 135,312 (2006 990).))

While we’re talking about six figure salaries, let’s not forget the President of the CNCA Board, Philip Lance, who has found a way to pull down money from his board gig. Simultaneously operating Pueblo Nuevo Development, another 501c3 “non-profit,” Lance is shown making off with a cool $140,000 in association with CNCA. ((CNCA Form 990 (2008) Part VII Section A.)) Perhaps we’re starting to see how Ponce’s “tapestry” analogy works: there’s a rich tapestry woven from gold and silver threads, held by the parasitic management and board of CNCA; and there’s also a threadbare “tapestry” left to the rest of us in the neighborhood, as our public school resources are drained to feed the maw of the corporate charter cash-cow.

To better illustrate the class character and outsider status of Camino Nuevo’s fourteen member Board of Directors, let’s look at its composition.

Camino Nuevo’s Board of Directors
0 Actual Educators
4 Hedge Fund/Investment Managers, Venture Capitalists, Brokers, Bankers
3 Business Executives
2 Education Product Vendors/CMO Executives
1 Practicing Lawyers
4 Other

While several of these well-to-do CNCA Board Members have found crafty ways to make money off of education, not one of them is an actual educator, and none of them have been teachers or principals in a K-12 setting. Furthermore, for an organization that claims community roots, there sure doesn’t seem to be anyone representative of the community on that board. If they are to wrest CRES 14 from the public, we will have no input over how the school is run.

CNCA has nothing like School Site Councils or Governing School Councils found at public schools. Parents, students, teachers, and community members will have to be content with the decision making of the wealthy elites discussed above.

While Ponce is quick to attack anyone associated with public schools, she has no problems backing her fellow well heeled members of the CCSA and other charter-voucher industry shysters. When DFER‘s Gloria Romero used her corporate charter insider status to rake in an incredible amounts of funding from the usual corporate sources, Ponce chipped in money towards Romero’s failed efforts to place yet another public office (Superintendent of Public Instruction) under the vested interests of charter schools. ((How to Buy a Candidate: Gloria Romero for CA Superintendent of Public Instruction Did I mention that Romero is DFER?))

CNCA marketing materials also boast of their bilingual programs. Yet judging the information from everyone I spoke with, this is somewhat misleading. These aren’t bilingual immersion programs that are designed to empower and provide a superior education. Instead CNCA’s bilingual programs are used to bring their students up to English proficiency and then move them over to English only classes.  Moreover, there isn’t a bilingual program for monolingual English speakers to learn another language like many public schools have. In addition, there is no option not to participate in the bilingual program. Parents don’t have a “choice” to whether they enroll or not. We’ll look a little more closely at this in a future article.

Furthermore, while Camino Nuevo’s special education numbers are a little better than other corporate charter-vouchers schools, they’re still not stellar. ((Pilot Study of Charter Schools’ Compliance with the Modified Consent Decree: The executive summary of the report, and the data tables from the report.)) There’s more. According to a long time activist for special needs children and ELL rights:

On special ed – At Cres 15, I was told by the principal that there were no “special day” classes. The services that they provide for students with IEP’s are speech and RSP.  These are considered mild needs in the special ed world. They are not expensive compared to providing services for autistic children, severely emotionally handicapped children or others with serious needs. These children, evidently,  do not attend CRES 15 (Jose Castellanos Charter Academy)

It’s more than likely that the children discussed are “counseled out” ((What does counseling out look like in practice? I wrote about this recently:

What charter-voucher schools usually do is tell parents “your child is welcome here, but we don’t have the facilities to provide them with everything they need, we will do our best but…” At this point parents make the only rational decision they can make, and that is to place their child in a public school — a school where the obligation to educate every child comes before profit and executive salaries. The cynical charter-voucher operators are then able to say “the parent voluntarily withdrew their child, they chose to return to the district.”

CNCA brays about being a “school of choice” of their website. Perhaps the above is what they mean.)) of the school. This in turn is related to how expensive it is to provide services for autistic children, severely emotionally handicapped children or others with serious needs. Following their corporate model, anything that cuts into the bottom line of a CMO has to go. If corporate charter-voucher schools were obligated, like public schools, to educate every child, we would see the proliferation of charters disappear almost overnight. Take the profitability out of the equation, and charter schools would return to their original mission.

So there we have it, Camino Nuevo, for all its boasting and glitzy marketing, doesn’t perform all that well academically, has a bilingual program in name only, and short changes children with special needs. There is one thing CNCA is very good at, and that’s creating a very lucrative opportunity for its executives and several board members. Well, their marketing department is quite good too.

At the end of the day, I wonder if the fancy brochure I got in the mail was produced using public funds. As corporate charters vie for ever more market share,  budgets for advertising, marketing, and presentations escalate and funds that should be used for education are wasted in that way that only markets can. Of course, the greatest waste would be for LAUSD to hand over our brand new public property over to this nefarious private Charter Management Organization. Remember, a charter is a contract between a public entity and a private company — like Steve Neat says “‘Public charter’ is an oxymoron.” Please reject Camino Nuevo Charter Academy dubious designs on our new school. Please support the local school plan for CRES 14, which includes a wonderful bilingual program, will be run by the community and teachers, and so much more. Let’s keep CRES 14 a public school and demand that there be no more outside takeovers.

Robert D. Skeels is a social justice writer, public education advocate, and immigrant rights activist. He lives, works, writes, and organizes in Los Angeles with his wife and cats. Robert is a U.S. Navy Veteran, and a proud member of Veterans for Peace. He attended Glendale Community College and is currently attending the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), majoring in Classical Civilization. Robert is a committed member of CEJ, PESJA, SCIC, and the Trinational Coalition To Defend Public Education. In addition to advancing working class struggles, Robert is an adherent of Liberation Theology. He devotes much time towards volunteer work for 12 step, church, and homeless advocacy. Robert’s articles and essays have appeared in publications including Schools Matter, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Daily Censored, Echo Park Patch, and The Los Angeles Daily News. In 2013 Robert ran for the LAUSD School Board against a billionaire funded corporate reform candidate, finishing second in a field of five, with over 5,200 votes. Read other articles by Robert, or visit Robert's website.