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Has The LAUSD School Board Lost Control?

The Charter School Division’s choice to provide SpEd services in closets and stairwells is not the only time it has acted without authorization.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 4 months ago 4 min read

The LAUSD School Board has not done nearly enough to hold the Superintendent accountable.”

– LAUSD BD1 Candidate Kahllid Al-Alim

The public witnessed in real-time as the members of the LAUSD School Board who were not elected with the support of the Charter School Industry learned that the Charter School Division had been lying to them for years. While they had been told that classrooms without a rostered teacher were considered “empty” under the rules for implementing PROP-39, Division Director José Cole-Gutiérrez admitted at that September meeting that this was a choice that LAUSD bureaucrats had made. Children with Special Education needs were receiving services in closets and stairwells, not because state law required it, but because Cole-Gutiérrez and his minions had voluntarily given away needed classroom space to charter schools.

At a candidate forum held by the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, current BD3 Board Member Scott Schmerelson revealed that this was not the only time that Cole-Gutiérrez and the Charter School Division had kept information from the members of the School Board. According to Schmerelson, they had been kept in the dark when the decision was made to forgive $7,678,022 in state-mandated over-allocation fees. This gift to the charter school industry was largely paid for by students in the public schools affected by the overallocation of space to charter schools who, according to District policy, were set to receive 90% of these funds. This would not have made up for the indignity of having to receive vital services in a closet, but it would have paid for desperately needed programs for our most vulnerable students.

Schmerelson also disclosed during this forum that the Charter School Division has told the Board that all past-due balances have been paid. However, this is impossible to verify as, despite assurances that updates would be provided monthly, the District has not revised its publicly available spreadsheet since June 30, 2023. At that time, charter schools owed District students $3,708,006 and this did not include a full accounting of the fees incurred during the 2022-23 school year.

In past years, Board Members supportive of LAUSD public schools had little recourse as Cole-Gutiérrez, a former employee of the California Charter School Association, gave away facilities and funds to these publicly funded private schools. At the forum, Schmerelson expressed frustration that former Board President Mónica García made sure that updates about the ever-growing overallocation balance were provided during closed-door sessions so that the Brown Act protected the information from being publicly disclosed. He knew not to cross this line as he had already been investigated over his previous public disclosure of the corrupt process used to hire former Superintendent Austin Beutner.

This preferential treatment for the Charter School Industry should have ended with the election of Dr. Rocio Rivas in 2022, giving public school supporters the majority. Unfortunately, while there have been some moves towards accountability, the pace of change has not met the urgency, especially with this year’s election threatening to upend the majority once again.

Cole-Gutiérrez has shown for years that he is either unwilling or unable to perform his duties of good governance. Instead of ensuring real reform by replacing him as the head of the Charter School Division, the majority with a mandate for change has allowed him to stay. Even after admitting his lies to the board over four months ago, he remains as the division’s Director, proudly partnering with Charter Schools instead of ensuring that they meet their obligations under the law for the public funding that they receive.

It is also not enough for Schmerelson to complain about not being informed about the status of overallocation funds owed to the District’s students; it is time to do something about forcing compliance. If the Board did not give its approval to forgive the debt owed by charter schools, then the action was not legitimate and it should be reversed. If the Board is not receiving accurate data, then the bureaucrats responsible should be replaced with competent staff.

When asked during the LAUSD Candidate Forum series if he agreed with the statement: “The elected LAUSD Board is responsible for setting policy. The job of the Superintendent is to ensure that the bureaucracy follows this policy”, Schmerelson did not answer directly. Instead, he gave a roundabout response about disagreeing with the current Superintendent about his moves towards recentralizing decision-making. The answer should have been an unequivocal “Yes!” The Board was elected to represent their constituents and is obligated to set policy. Otherwise, problems like the ones surrounding PROP-39 co-locations will degrade the District’s ability to fulfill an obligation to the hundreds of thousands of students whose parents have chosen to provide them with public education.


Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs, who serves as the Education Chair for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit Opinions are his own.


About the Creator

Carl J. Petersen

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with SpEd needs and public education. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Opinions are his own.

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Comments (1)

  • Alex H Mittelman 4 months ago

    Well, sounds like they could do better! Interesting issue!

Carl J. PetersenWritten by Carl J. Petersen

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