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Well-Intentioned Whistleblower or Opportunist?

Has LAUSD candidate Dan Chang exposed “a $1 million problem” in the District or a principal’s $600 petty theft on behalf of her students?

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 24 days ago 4 min read

I want to believe that you're telling the truth

But something tells me don't trust you

– Agnostic Front

When a family enrolls a child in a school, the district immediately starts incurring expenses. Space must be reserved for each student and teachers assigned to those classrooms. The district must ensure that textbooks and other supplies are available. These costs are constant and do not change when a child misses a day of school.

While efforts have been made to change California’s funding of schools to an enrollment-based model, districts are currently paid based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA). This incentivizes schools to pressure students to attend every day, even when doing so jeopardizes public health. According to School Board candidate Dan Chang, the system has also resulted in the LAUSD engaging in fraud.

To pump up his resume before running for office, Chang left the worlds of Charter School administration (after failing to turn Locke High School around) and astroturf organizations to teach. Unlike his opponent, incumbent Scott Schmerelson, who spent decades paying his dues in LAUSD schools, Chang sees teaching as a stepping stone to a political career. This is the same career path that Charter School industry-supported Board Members, Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez, and Tanya Ortiz-Franklin have taken. Chang is assigned to James Madison Middle School, which is located in Gonez’s Board District 6.

According to claims made by Chang in an article by Ross Palombo with the sensational headline: “Allegations of fraud at an LAUSD school: Are you paying for students who aren't there?” the principal at James Madison instructed him to falsely mark his eighth-grade students “present” even though they had not shown up for the last scheduled day of school. When he disobeyed, Chang says the records he submitted were changed to say the children had attended school on the day following their culmination ceremony.

Chang maintains that fraudulently recording attendance “is a $1 million problem” that results in the LAUSD receiving more funding than it should. He claims taxpayers were fleeced approximately $25,000 in this year-end incident alone. If this allegation is true, it is very damaging to the District. Chang says the need to fix the system is why “he’s now running for the school board.

If the allegation is true…

In responding to the report, LAUSD officials confirmed that they had completed an investigation into Chang’s allegations and found “this was not a widespread practice, it was isolated to Madison Middle School, and administrative action has been initiated with those involved.” They also stated that the fraudulent “reporting did not impact the Average Daily Attendance funding.”

For the headline to ask if taxpayers paid for students who did not attend school when the answer is contained in the article seems to breach journalistic ethics. State regulators confirmed to the reporter that ADA “is calculated from the beginning of the school year to April. This means that the last day of class in June wouldn't be in that sample and wouldn't, for technical reasons, affect funding.” Strangely the phrase “for technical reasons” was included in that sentence as it is not a technicality; the rules define the dates used and this does not include the end of the year.

The LAUSD also confirmed that because the attendance was fraudulently reported the amount of lottery money the District received was improperly inflated by approximately $600. This is considerably less than the “$25,000 of taxpayer money” that Chang calculated and was financed by people playing the lottery, not taxpayers.

The LAUSD should set a better example of ethical behavior for its students. Instead of asking Chang “to lie, to participate in a scheme”, the District should have adjusted the schedule so there was not an unrealistic expectation for children to return to school after their culmination ceremony. Hopefully, his complaints to the Inspector General will ensure this change is finally made.

By bringing his complaints to the media, Chang risks portraying his actions as a grab for free publicity to advance his candidacy, especially since he was wrong about the basic facts. He complains in the article about not receiving a response from the Inspector General even though results of investigations are only sometimes shared with the informant, and confidentiality is usually maintained when an investigation results in personnel actions. Has the media coverage he initiated fixed a $600 problem at a cost to his students, school, and principal?

While insisting that “the District owes a full public accounting of this” incident, Chang is less willing to hold himself accountable to the voters. As of publication, he has not responded to the following six questions that were sent to him and his campaign on April 10th:

  • Did you report this incident to Scott Schmerelson or anyone in his office?
  • Did you report it to the Superintendent or anyone in his office?
  • Do you think that school funding should be based on ADA?
  • Does basing funding on ADA encourage children to go to school when sick?
  • Are there any students who will receive a failing grade if the attendance records are changed?
  • Are you concerned that these allegations will ultimately hurt the students at the school?

Similarly, Board Member Scott Schmerelson was also asked questions about the incident:

  • Did Dan Chang report this incident to you or anyone in your office?
  • If he did, what did your office do with the information?
  • Do you think that school funding should be based on ADA?
  • Does basing funding on ADA encourage children to go to school when sick?

Neither Schmerelson nor his campaign responded to these questions. The voters deserve better from both candidates.


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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