Parents at McKinley Elementary signed a petition to have their struggling school taken over. Critics say they were tricked. Who's telling the truth?
Were parents tricked into signing a "parent trigger" petition that sets into motion the takeover of a Compton, California, elementary school by a charter school operator? That claim, and a slew of other accusations, are bringing the drama to 497-student McKinley Elementary—and making it ground zero in the national education reform debate.
Takeover opponents claim that almost 60 parents have rescinded their signatures from the petition given to Compton Unified School District officials last week. Karla Garcia, a parent of two McKinley students, told the Los Angeles Times that representatives from the nonprofit organization behind the parent trigger movement, Parent Revolution, misled her to get her signature. "They told me the petition was to beautify the school. They are misinforming the parents, so I revoked my signature."
The number of signatures matter. According to California's "parent trigger" policy, if 51 percent of parents at a low-performing school sign a petition calling for change on their campus—change which can include conversion to a charter—the district must abdicate control. Although 61 percent of parents at McKinley signed the petition, if the signatures drop below the required percentage, the revolutionary takeover is off the table.
In a statement on their website, Parent Revolution says the petition, and the parents who signed it, are being smeared by "defenders of the status quo." They categorically deny that any wrongdoing or deception took place.
Parent Revolution, our non-profit organization which has been assisting the McKinley parents in their organizing campaign, has been completely transparent about our organizing techniques, tactics, and strategy from the start. We have invited both local and national media to observe every single aspect of our work. Organizations like the LA Times, LA Weekly, Fox Channel 11 news, The New York Times, and others have been invited into our organizing meetings, our staff meetings, and into parents homes and lives. In particular, an LA Weekly reporter was embedded with us and our organizing team – with completely unfettered access to every aspect our organization.\n
The Weekly was not present the entire time Parent Revolution organizers were working in Compton, but from what we observed, charges of deception and harassment do not seem credible. And if those things did happen on our watch, the Weekly would have reported it without hesitation.\n
Parent Revolution says intimidation tactics are being used to squash the takeover. Some parents at the predominately Latino school have been told they can be deported if they go through with the "parent trigger" move. Others report being told that they'll have to pay tuition once the school becomes a charter operated by Celerity Education Group.
McKinley supporters say the school is improving and managed to meet it's Academic Performance Index growth targets for the 2009 to 2010 school year. Even with those gains, it is still one of the worst performing elementary schools in the state. Last year only 24 percent of fifth graders were proficient in either reading or math on the California Standards Test.
Given those dire student achievement results, a host of politicians—including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and members of the Obama administration—have heaped praise on the parents who stepped up, filed the petition, and demanded change for their children.
Compton Unified is reportedly looking into their legal options, and McKinley's principal, Fleming Robinson, maintains that most parents are happy with the school.