So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

California elections watchdog opens investigation into Inglewood school district spending

Inglewood Unified School District

Grant Slater/KPCC

The Fair Political Practices Commission said Friday it’s begun to investigate whether public funds meant for Inglewood Unified students were used to carry out political campaigning, as reported by KPCC last month.

“The FPPC enforcement division opened an investigation into the case,” commission spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed.

He wouldn’t reveal details of the investigation.

As KPCC reported in July, court records show a private investigations firm billed the Inglewood Unified School District nearly $5,000 to distribute fliers critical of a candidate challenging an incumbent school board member in 2009.

The commission began looking into the matter soon after the story aired.

“An investigation is not opened unless there is sufficient cause to believe that, in general, a violation of the Political Reform Act may have occurred,” Wierenga said.


With new technology struggling, LA school teachers taking manual attendance

Transitional Kindergarten

Grant Slater/KPCC

In this file photo, students at Stanley Mosk Elementary School in Winnetka line up to sing a song for their parents. As the Los Angeles Unified 2014/2015 school year got underway, some kindergarteners were mistakenly placed on high school roll sheets due to problems with a new attendance system.

An art teacher assigned more than 70 students in a single period. Kindergarteners listed on high school roll sheets. Students roaming the halls without assigned classes.

These are just some of the problems teachers reported Friday, as Los Angeles Unified's new grading and attendance recording system — known as MiSiS — continued to cause challenges during the first week of school. Teachers were told not to use the system until problems were resolved. 

RELATED: Computer glitches make back-to-school a hassle at some LA campuses

Sun Valley Middle School visual art teacher Bradley Greer said the problems were preventing teachers from getting the school year underway. 

"Taking roll in a class of 70 takes almost the entire period," he said. He knows things will ultimately get resolved but said "it's frustrating to start the year this way."   


Teachers have big hopes for LA schools' new arts leader


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Rory Pullens, the new head of arts education for the Los Angeles Unified School District, speaks to teachers during an introduction meeting at George Washington Carver Middle School.


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Elementary arts teachers listen to Rory Pullens during an introduction presentation at George Washington Carver Middle School.


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Rory Pullens previously led Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Judi Garrett, right, the K-12 theater specialist for Los Angeles Unified School District’s arts education branch listens to Rory Pullens speak with Steven McCarthy, the district's K-12 arts coordinator. McCarthy previously led the district's arts efforts until Pullens started the new position July 1.


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Rory Pullens speaks with dance teacher Ruth Torres at George Washington Carver Middle School. "After listening to him I am truly inspired," Torres said. "He makes you want to go and do something better."


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Los Angeles Unified School District arts teachers talk in the hallway of George Washington Carver Middle School after listening to Rory Pullens speak.

The standing ovation lasted 35 seconds.

Rory Pullens stood in the auditorium of Carver Middle School in South Los Angeles getting cheers from Los Angeles Unified arts teachers — his new staff.

"I love it, I love him," said Julie Pritikin, a longtime elementary music teacher. "He sounds like he's for all the things that I would like for our district."

RELATED: Excitement, questions as news of LA Schools arts hire spreads

Superintendent John Deasy recruited the well-known arts educator from Washington, D.C., where Pullens led the high-achieving Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Pullens opened the first week of the new school year in Los Angeles by energizing arts teachers with his plans to collaborate — and help boost funding for arts education in his new position as executive director of the arts education program. It was music to their ears. After years of lackluster budgets, these teachers are eager for change.


California state auditor probing LA's Magnolia charter schools

money dollars bills change coins

Photo by Bill Dickinson via Flickr Creative Commons

Reading an explanation of benefits is confusing.

The California State Auditor is investigating Magnolia Public Schools, a Southern California-based charter network that has been accused by L.A. Unified of misusing funds. 

"Magnolia Science academies, like all other charter schools in the state, are public schools; as such they receive tax payer dollars for their operations," Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian of Sherman Oaks said in his request for the audit.

The state's audit will cost $320,000 and scrutinize a minimum of four of the network's 11 schools, sifting through vendor and payroll records, truancy and test score data and fundraising practices. 

Magnolia Public School officials said they welcome the evaluation. 

"Our school leadership has always embraced a policy of transparency and accountability when it comes to the fiscal solvency of Magnolia Public Schools and our commitment to superior student achievement," said Mike MeCey, a spokesman for Magnolia.


With Tuesday's school board loss, charter advocates recalculate


Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Poll workers await voters at Angeles Mesa Elementary school during a special run-off election for the Los Angeles Unified School District board of education seat in District 1.

After Tuesday's defeat of another of their candidates to the Los Angeles school board, charter school advocates are rethinking how to support local candidates.

"The area where I would like to see us continue to make strides is reliably marshalling a grassroot support of voters," said Gary Borden, executive director of the California Charter School Association Advocates.

Alex Johnson garnered 13,153 votes, losing George McKenna by less than 2,000 votes during Tuesday's runoff. District One being home to about 15,000 charter school students.

Johnson ran on a message of reform, advocating for the expansion of charter schools and tying test scores to teacher evaluations, amongst other criteria. He was much more successful in attracting independent expenditures, garnering $860,000, more than four times the outside financial support as McKenna.