Dear Editor- Let’s Not Lose Sight of the Best Interests of the Children

Dear Editor,

David Mielke’s opinion piece reminds us that it is the union’s job to advocate for its members. That’s a good thing and he should continue.   However, it is our job as parents to advocate for our children.  And that’s a good thing too.  Hopefully, the School Board too will keep its focus on what is best for our children throughout this process.

So, I would like to acknowledge that Mr. Mielke writes an interesting piece and raises important questions.  I am responding to Mr. Mielke’s questions from the parents’ perspective of what is best for our children.

To begin with, I would like to point out that although Mr. Mielke focuses largely on the El Marino language adjuncts, those are not the only volunteers at risk in this district.  As has become abundantly clear, any volunteer performing work a union believes should be done by their members is at risk.  This includes many different kinds of volunteers, at many different schools performing many different tasks.

Earlier this year, the ACE union complained about the donated services that Lin Howe parents provided for their children (which resulted in a dramatic cut to the level of services provided to those children).  Now, ACE complains about the El Marino adjuncts.  Every school has volunteers and many have donated services –no one knows which services will be targeted next.  That is why parents across this district, representing every school in this district, want the school board to adopt a policy that protects all donated services to the maximum extent allowed by law.

With that in mind, here are Mr. Mielke’s questions and my answers:

1.  Does a regular paycheck change someone’s status from a “volunteer” to an “employee”?
The real issue here is not what label you put on those working for our children, but whether we want to enhance their education by providing supplemental services the District cannot afford.  You can use “volunteer” to mean someone who is not paid or you can use it to mean someone whose services are free to the District.  Either definition is legitimate.  If you use the more limited meaning, then you will need a new term for when Sony, parents or other local businesses send their employees to the schools to help at no charge to the District.   But in the end, arguing semantics is silly and distracts us from focusing on the children.  Whatever you want to call them, we know they do not cost the District anything and they are also NOT District employees.  If it bothers you to call them “volunteers,” try using some other phrase, like “donated services.”  Labels aren’t important.  They’re the same people providing the same service to our children at no cost to the District.  The real question is why would anyone want to change that?

2.  When parent groups fundraise and place people in our classrooms, should they retain control over those employees or should the district be the employer of record?
Instead of getting wrapped up in hyperbole, again, the central question we parents ask is: what is best for our children? I think both morally and legally parents have every right to expect to control how their donations are used. But again this misses the point.  Is there really any doubt that parents give more when they know they retain control of how their hard-earned dollars will be used?  Is there really any doubt that a parent (or anyone for that matter) gives more when they know that their hard-earned dollars go directly to helping children instead of being diverted to overhead such as administration, supervision and program implementation, all of which is a significant cost if done by the District?  Simply put, parent control in this situation means parents provide the overhead at no cost and therefore more resources go directly to the children.  The question is not who gets bragging rights for writing a pay check.  The question is how can we make sure our hard-earned charitable contributions provide the most benefit for the children in the classroom to supplement what the District can afford?  Parent control means more resources in the classroom.   I think that answers the question.

3.  Who is legally responsible for the actions of these employees:  the parent groups or CCUSD?
The parent groups supervise, hire, fire, pay insurance and issue payroll.  We do the work, take the responsibility and incur the risk.  In all my research and discussions on this I can’t find even one instance of the District being held legally liable.  My question:  who thinks it’s a good idea for the District to increase its risk of liability by inserting itself into a program that has cost $0 in liability to the District in over 25 years?

4.  Will parent groups continue to fund-raise if control of these programs shifts to CCUSD?
As someone who has been involved with the fundraising for these very activities for more than 10 years, I can tell you unequivocally the answer: fundraising will diminish substantially.  Ask any parent on the ALLEM board or any parent who fundraises for or donates to these programs.  They will all tell you the same thing.  Parents give because they know that all of their money goes into providing a classroom service that the District cannot provide.  They count on the fact that their money goes directly to the kids in the classroom instead of administrators, supervisors or other non-classroom overhead costs.  That is a huge selling point of the program.

Many donors have expressed deep reservations about turning control of their hard-earned money over to bureaucrats because they know that will result in the children getting fewer services at an increased cost.  In fact, every single major donor asked so far has said they will no longer donate at all to the program, if it is taken over by the District.  Parents and donors don’t want to “trust” that their money will be well spent.  They want to know that it will provide the absolute most that it can for the children, before they give.  Also, the program has been in existence for over 20 years, so nobody can explain to any donor why their costs should increase to provide exactly the same services, especially in these hard economic times.

5.  Does CCUSD need a consistent set of rules for all parent groups, or can policies be set site by site according to each school’s particular issues?
Our schools are all different and each one already has site-by-site differences, depending on their particular issues and areas of emphasis.  We need to consistently provide each school with the widest array of choices, programs and solutions to their problems.  This is not a one-size-fits-all district.  Nor do I want it to become one.  That is why parents from all schools are asking the school board to protect and provide every single volunteer option legally available, for use by every single school in this district.

No solution should be taken away from any school.  No solution should be denied to any school.  Each school’s needs also evolve over time.  So, each school should be able to pick and choose from a variety of solutions to address its particular needs at any given time.  I think one of the strengths of our District is that it allows each school to address its individual needs.  Now, the school board needs to adopt a policy that supports and protects the largest variety of parent-provided solutions, so that the right solution is available when a school needs it.
Besides, if one is only focused on consistency, rather than flexibility, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the longest-running, highly successful and academically-proven donated services program in the District (the El Marino adjuncts) as a model, rather than trying to tear it down?

6.  When does it become an educational fairness issue when students at School A have classroom aides while students at School B do not?
This is a false choice.  I refuse to try to create “fairness” by taking the classroom aides away from School A and I refuse to believe that CCUSD is all about finding the lowest common denominator of school support and aiming for that.
Mr. Mielke’s question suggests that this debate is about equal access, but the facts indicate otherwise.  For example, the District provides aides for Lin Howe students because Lin Howe parents reimburse the district for them.  Lin Howe will get as many classroom aides as they pay for and no other school will get an aide because Lin Howe parents pay for one —  and the union is fine with that (and so am I, by the way).  In other words, the debate is not about whether some schools get what others do not; it’s about how many members the union gets to have.  (And if the issue was fairness, or helping the schools with fewer resources, then why did the union choose a low-income, Title I school as its first target in taking over parent-supported programs?)

Fairness in general, though, is a difficult issue.  But it should never be used to tear down or destroy what any school has built up.  El Marino receives less money per student than other schools in the district.  Is that fair?  El Marino has 1/2 day Kindergartens while every other elementary school has full-day Kindergarten.  Is that fair?  At La Ballona, parents can choose between an immersion or English curriculum; other schools offer one or the other.  Is that fair?  El Rincon has a science lab better than those at the middle school.  Is that fair?  The list goes on and on.  I don’t view these things as inequities.  I view them as marvelous examples of the differences, opportunities and varied strengths of our schools.  Let’s not try to create “fairness” by taking things away from students, whether it be classroom aides paid for by parents, programs or equipment.  Just the idea is abhorrent.

Instead of asking whether any particular, isolated circumstance is fair to one group or another, ask yourself, “what is fair to our children?”  I think the answer is: maximizing the resources in their classrooms, especially when it costs the District nothing.

Regardless whether you agree with my comments, I hope everyone will stop the name calling and focus on the best way to support our children’s education.  I don’t appreciate being called ‘anti-union’ just because I disagree with what a particular union in a particular situation is doing.  I hope we can keep the debate thoughtful, the tone respectful and the arguments focused on making sure the District provides the best education possible for our children.

We should all also be able to agree that our common goal is to make all Culver City schools the best they can be.  Let’s take all the energy going into this miserable turf grab and direct it to supporting all of the parent groups at all the schools, in all of their diversity of programs. Let’s assist and support all of them in becoming powerful advocates for and allies of their kids and schools. There is plenty of proof this is possible. Instead of attacking success, let’s replicate it.  In that spirit, I urge you to support those parents from every school in the District who are trying to get the school board to pass a policy protecting all parent-supported programs, in whatever form, to the maximum extent of the law.  We do not want our Board to choose one.  We want them to support all of our schools’ programs.

Sandi Levin
Parent Advocate

www.culvercitysymphony.org

1 Comment

  1. –The legal definition of “volunteer” is someone who provides services for free. One of the main purposes of ALL-EM is to pay the adjuncts to work in the classroom; the adjuncts would probably not provide that service without remuneration.

    –Under the Federally-mandated “No Child Left Behind Act,” Title I requires that all “paraprofessionals” (instructional aides) are requird to have a minimum amount of training and experience.

    –Title I funds are provided to schools based on the number of students whose families have lower incomes.

    –There are eight schools in CCUSD; six of those schools are Title I schools. Farragut and El Marino are not Title I schools and do not quality for Federal funding.

    Those are facts, not semantics.

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