United Parents of Culver City – Jump Start the (R)evolution

As the Interim President of United Parents of Culver City, Steve Levin stood on a chair at the May 24 meeting and spoke to a crowd of almost a hundred people. “We are just getting organized, so now is the time to sign up and get involved.”

The unforeseen offspring of the recent conflict between the parent-funded booster clubs, the Association of Classified Employees and the Culver City Unified School District, the UPCC is putting forth a Political Action Committee (PAC) with the motto of ‘students first.’
The organizers of UPCC, Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin, Scott McVarish, Steve Levin, Scott Kecken, Paul Blechner, Anne Burke, Dan and Beverly O’Brien, Bryan Tjomsland, Tom Crunk, and Jenny Manriquez have quickly put together a tool kit with all the needed elements; a mission statement, a website, and as of May 24, a list of members.

Many in the crowd were enthused and committed. El Marino PTA President Alisha Martin was outspoken in her support. “We need everyone to pull together.”

Three successive years of Associates for Language Learning at El Marino leaders were also present, with Jamie Wallace, Sara Kocher and Gina Marie Walker in attendance. Parents from the Middle Schools Panther Partners and Farragut Foxes were present, along with La Ballona leaders Heather Moses and Scott Kecken and several Lin Howe families.

The mission statement; “United Parents of Culver City (UPCC) gives parents a voice in the political process in order to positively impact the lives of Culver City families. We promote an educational culture that places the interests of students before those of adults. UPCC’s Political Action Committee (PAC) organizes the financial and political power of parents to support candidates and issues that promote a student-first agenda in our city and school district.”

But not everyone in attendance was impressed. “Sure, I’ll join,” commented George Laase, “but let’s see if I re-up when it’s time to renew.”  Chris Ferreira, an AVPA parent and long-time school volunteer noted, “I want more information first. I’m going to wait and see what’s going on before I sign up.”

The proof that UPCC already has gravitas were the people present outside of the parent-activist demographic. Councilman Jeff Cooper was one who came and stayed, as well as  Chamber of Commerce President Goran Eriksson.

School Board members Kathy Paspalis and Laura Chardiet were present; while they both qualify as politically active parents, they also personify the move toward a school district that is more responsive to families than to rules.

Eriksson thought the idea of a parent’s PAC was a brilliant strategy. “This is so unifying, so across-the-lines, it’s a great way to get things done.”

Former Mayor Sandi Levin, although not in attendance, posted this thought on the UPCC site ”As parents, regardless of our politics, regardless of which schools our children attend and regardless of how many years we have been in the District, we have a common purpose: to provide the best education possible for our children. That common purpose should be the most powerful force in the District, yet sometimes our individual voices are drowned out by all the other groups and special interests who lobby for attention. United together, speaking with one voice, we can be sure we will be heard.”

The political significance of UPCC may prove to be revolutionary for Culver City.

When the school district’s legal ruling on the ACE lawsuit offered to “grandfather” in the El Marino adjuncts, removing that school from the union’s conflict with parent booster groups, it might have been a moment to spread those parent booster groups farther apart. Instead, the parents involved in the conflict choose to reach out on a higher level, and create this PAC as a way of growing their activism in the district on a stronger and more effective level. Fostering connection, rather than competition, the group could prove itself a role model for parents in other districts as well.

The three motions put to the newly-minted members for a vote were to urge the district to allow after-school use of facilities at no or low cost; to urge the school board to pass the new language (originally proposed by Chardiet at the Feb. 28 school board meeting) for parent groups, having the right to place aids into educational programs; and lastly to urge the district to get the solar power system installed before the next school year starts in September of 2012.

How effective will UPCC be ? Time will tell. The hundred people who came to the meeting last night, both the committed and the hesitant, will be thinking about what to do next.

The Actors' Gang


  1. A few comments:

    –Chris Ferreira sounds like one of the more thoughtful parents.

    –It sounds like a conflict of interest for two school board members to join a group whose main purpose is to try and influence School Board elections.

    –Goran Eriksson? Gravitas? I do not think one can forget his failed attempt to smear Meghan-Sahli Wells’s campaign two days before the City Council election. An attempt, by the way, that appeared to backfire. In any case, this is a great opportunity for the Chamber of Commerce to keep its right-wing thumb on our city.

  2. There was a fourth motion passed last night with overwhelming enthusiasm. “UPCC will actively engage in parent voter registration and get out the parent vote at elections.” An issue close to your heart! Motion made by Alan Elmont and seconded by 30 or 40 people.

  3. Note that the meeting had two parts: the first hour was a “social”; the second hour was the PAC meeting. I stayed for the first part, and left prior to the second part commencing.

    I did not join UPCC precisely because of the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest. Although, as a parent Board member, I certainly support their efforts to focus on our kids first and foremost, and had many, many friends present at the meeting.

    It is interesting to read a comment fearing that this group will be too far to the right, because I spoke with others who feared it would be “too leftie.” By my observations last night, the group is – and intends to be – neither by design; it is simply a vehicle for the parents of the district to have a stronger voice in what goes on at our schools.

    Sincerely, Kathy Paspalis

  4. United Parents of Culver City has members and supporters from all Culver City Schools, including El Rincon.

  5. Chris–I think there is one parent from El Rincon. I spoke to some parents from El Rincon at Tuesday’s board meeting; they and others do not believe that UPCC’s main founders (El Marino parents) have any interest in the needs of their children.

    Ms. Paspalis–no one said anything about UPCC being too far to the right; the comment was about the Chamber of Commerce. In any case, no matter how you slice it, UPCC is designed to give parents a voice by electing school board members who only agree with a group that thinks it knows what is best for approximately 6500 school children from diverse backgrounds. I wonder how much diversity there was at UPCC’s kick-off meeting.

  6. Mr. Elmont–Make sure that the people who register to vote show I.D. Oh, wait, that isn’t the law in California yet.

  7. “In any case, no matter how you slice it, UPCC is designed to give parents a voice by electing school board members who only agree with a group that thinks it knows what is best for approximately 6500 school children from diverse backgrounds.”

    How dare parents attempt to actively participate, in an organized fashion, in the electoral process in their local community?! Who do they think they are, citizens in a democracy?!

    Parents need to sit down, shut up and accept whatever it is their elected officials decide.

    Patrick Meighan
    Culver City, CA (and a Lin Howe parent)

  8. Patrick-

    Your penchant for sarcasm clouded your ability to comprehend the point I was making.

  9. Re: Ms. Frank’s quote: “I spoke to some parents from El Rincon at Tuesday’s board meeting; they and others do not believe that UPCC’s main founders (El Marino parents) have any interest in the needs of their children.”
    Dear Ms. Frank,
    I am confused and disheartened by your comment that you believe that the UPCC founders do not have any interest in the needs of the children of El Rincon. How did you come to that conclusion? Every CCUSD parent should have a vested interest in ALL of CCUSD students, regardless of which elementary school they attended. They will all be classmates in Middle School and High School. Unless I am seriously misinformed I have no knowledge of any parent, from El Marino, Farragut, La Ballona, Linwood E. Howe, the Middle School, or High School promoting any actions that go against or devalue the interests of the wonderful families at El Rincon. What is the basis for your claim of deliberate divisiveness between the schools? We can and should all work together to make CCUSD an even better district than it already is.
    As to the statement that the founders of UPCC are El Marino parents…last time I checked Steve Levin’s kids go to Farragut, Scott Kecken’s go to La Ballona, Jeannine Stehlin’s attend EM and Middle School, Alan Elmont’s attended Farragut, MS (and perhaps HS by now?); Paul Walsleben’s attend LinHowe. Are there a number of EM parents, yes, but there are parents from each of the other schools too. Please enlighten me.
    Jamie Wallace (former EM parent, current MS parent)

  10. Ms. Paspalis,

    I cannot speak to whether or not you “joined” UPCC, but I know people who attended the second half and verified that both you and Laura Chardiet were present. Your statement, “I stayed for the first part, and left prior to the second part commencing”, is false. UPCC’s website states that people had to join in order to attend the second half; therefore, I must conclude that you either joined or got free access.

    I find it quite disturbing when a member of the School Board blatantly lies in a public forum. Not only does this kind of behavior reveal a lack of character, but it exposes poor judgment.

  11. For the record- I spoke to parents from all the schools except El Rincon- This was not an intentional over-site on my part,I just did not happen to speak to any El Rincon parents. No disrespect was intended. (I am a huge El Rincon fan, for many reasons, only one of which is Reggie.) As stated in the post, there were about a hundred folks present – I did not get to talk with all of them.

    If UPCC says there were El Rincon parents there, then they were there. There were dozens of people that I did not personally speak with, and I have no need to doubt the accuracy of the records.

    Also, Kathy Paspalis made a point of leaving before the “membership only” second part of the meeting. I did personally speak to her on her way out the door, and she stated that as her reason for going. To say that she is “blatantly” lying in public forum is unreasonable. Since you were not there, Susan, why doubt the veracity of those who were ?

    Culver City Crossroads (and all my work) is dedicated to truth. I am not omniscient, but I am very observant, and I don’t lie. It’s a religious principle for me, I won’t go into further detail, but know that it’s rock-solid.

    Why seek information and then doubt it?

    If you want outrageous bias, inaccurate and misleading information, or slander, there are a host of other Culver City news sources you can access that feature them regularly.

    If you can’t use this forum for civil exchange, you will find yourself banned from commenting. Please consider this fair warning.

  12. Just for the record, while we had planned to restrict the second hour to members only, we did not do so. During the first hour, one of the non-members asked us to reconsider that plan, so we took a vote of the members by show of hands, and decided to invite everyone to stay and listen.

    By the end of the night, about 80 people had joined UPCC. As of this writing, we have over 100 members, and I look forward to the day when nearly every parent in Culver City is a member.

    -Steve Levin
    (Farragut and CCMS parent)

  13. Kathy Paspalis walked out with me when the actual meeting started. We chatted for a while and then went to our respective cars. She drove away before I did.

  14. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what troubles me about this group – which, on the surface touts parent involvment…never a bad thing! Then I read this quote from an attendee(on another online newspaper):

    “I do wonder why only two School Board members – the two this group supports – were present. If I were one of the group’s targets, one of the other three Board members, I would have shown up.”

    Is there an anti-union, anti-teacher/board member agenda? Feels that way. I hope not.

  15. Jane,

    From my involvement & perspective, the answer is no, no & no. I am assuming that you were not able to attend, otherwise I think you’d have less questions.

    As Scott McVarish said at the meeting, “Your cause is our cause.” Paraphrasing, he basically said that if you are a member of UPCC and you want to raise an issue, just ask. If the democratically elected representatives from all of our schools agree that the issue should be supported, then UPCC and its PAC will get behind it.

    At the meeting, there were three issues that the founding members presented to the new group of 80+ people, and the article above talks about them. And as Alan Elmont stated in a comment above, a fourth issue was raised from the floor and voted upon. It passed as well. Democracy!

    The entire meeting was extremely open and positive. If you were there, I think you would have at a minimum felt less troubled – you might possibly have even joined.

    Dan O’Brien
    El Marino & CCMS parent

  16. I was at the mixer, and I am still troubled by one thing. I do not understand how UPCC can claim to represent me if I have no access to UPCC other than paying my $20. That simply does not seem democratic. I could attend a PTA meeting or a Booster Club meeting, and I could talk to the leadership of those groups if I had a concern with their position on issues. I am a CCHS parent and I have no idea who the UPCC members are for the high school or what proposals they are likely to bring up for discussion. Thus, they cannot claim to speak for me.

    I believe that it is a wonderful idea for all the schools to have an organizing council so that issues are discussed and understandings are reached among the various schools. For those discussions to be in any way representative of the broad base of parents at each school however, all parents should have a right to choose their representatives, not just those who happen to be in the email loops or read the local rags or our community websites like this one.

  17. Christine,

    No system is perfect. UPCC is making every effort to get the word out to all parents. However, your argument could hold true for lots of organizations within our schools: the PTA is an example of that – not everyone pays dues, yet they make decisions that affect all students at a given school. Our school unions are the same – I’ve spoken to teachers who don’t agree with everything their leadership does. However, the teachers union does claim to represent all teachers.

    Also, I don’t think we’re claiming to be the voice of ALL parents, either.

    You are correct that paying for the right to vote is not a pure democracy. However, the organization needs to raise money to advocate for issues and candidates that it supports. We felt that $20/year is an affordable amount to pay. And within our organization, we do operate under democratic principles.

    Ultimately, our goal is to grow the membership to a large enough number that there will be a true cross-section of voices from all the schools and demographics. So far, we’ve spread the word through the online blogs, the Yahoo! groups, and by word of mouth. We also plan to do more things on the ground, but truthfully, I assume it’s unlikely that every parent will know about us.

    Less than 15% of our community votes during the school board election, so you could question whether they truly represent the views of the community, too.

    One thing is for sure: If you do join, you will have a voice in deciding the course that we take.

    Dan O’Brien
    El Marino & CCMS parent

  18. I share the same concerns as Jane because I also read the same quotes on another online website. Jessica Jacobs, who is seeking to start a charter school – the Innovatory School for Professional Youth – in Culver City, attended the kick-off meeting of UPCC. She allegedly made the following comments:

    “As an outsider, I do wonder why only two School Board members [Laura Chardiet and Kathy Paspalis] – the two this group supports – were present.”

    “If I were one of the group’s targets, one of the other three Board members, I would have shown up.”

    If Ms. Jacobs did indeed make these comments, I wonder how it will affect her organization’s chances of establishing a charter school. In any case, I am grateful to her for sharing what many suspected.

    While I am on the topic of public comments, I would like to share something that Kathy Paspalis wrote on May 23, 2011 (a year ago) on Culver City Crossroads:

    “You may or may not like or agree with Michelle Rhee (or even know who she is), but I borrow this quote from her because it is the spot-on truth, and hits at the core difference between what the CC teachers’ union (sometimes) says it is doing, and what the CC school board (of which I am a member) actually does and holds as its main responsibility and mission:

    “The job of a teachers’ union is to protect the pay and privileges of its members. They are doing exactly what’s expected of them. The problem, though, is that the unions have such an excessive influence over our schools. In contrast, the voices of kids and families are sometimes barely audible. Think about it — a lot of the policies and practices that govern our educational system are there because teachers unions secured them to benefit the adults in our school system, not the kids. I believe there has to be another voice advocating just as hard for the rights and needs of children.”

    It is enlightening to read what others write on public forums; it often provides insight into a person’s core beliefs. However, in this age of digital wide-open communication, it is imperative that we think about the unintended consequences of our words.

    Susan Levy
    Culver City High School Parent and Volunteer

  19. Jane, many of the members are members of other unions, myself included. UPCC is not anti anything. UPCC’s agenda is based on one guiding question: “What is best for the students?”

    To clear some things up: Some of the school board members as well as union leaders told us in advance that they were unable to make the meeting, for scheduling reasons.

    UPCC is still in its infancy, there’s still much to do. I hope that you consider joining!

  20. Jeannine WS–

    No conspiracy was ever considered, but thank you for the clarification. It was kind of you to respond to Sofie.

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