Tag Archives: LAUSD

LAUSD employee who partnered with Michelle Obama for healthy school lunches charged with embezzlement and perjury

david binkle and michelle obama

David Binkle and Michelle Obama/NBC photo

From CBS Los Angeles: The once-lauded leader of efforts to bring healthier meals to more than 600,000 Los Angeles school children was charged Tuesday with embezzlement, perjury and misuse of public funds.

David Binkle, 55, former food services director for the Los Angeles Unified School District, pleaded not guilty in L.A. Superior Court Tuesday to 15 felony counts and was released on $220,000 bail.

Binkle funneled $65,000 from LAUSD to a chefs’ club he ran and to his own bank account between 2010 and 2014, prosecutors said.

After joining LAUSD in January 2008, Binkle was suspended in Dec. 2014 , accused at the time of mismanagement and carrying a conflict of interest. He continued to draw on his $152, 000 annual salary while being investigated.

He resigned in Aug. 2015 following a scathing audit by the Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General that found over a period of four fiscal years, the district spent $40.6 million more on food — but served fewer meals.

Prosecutors accused Binkle of awarding contracts to organizations he was connected to and failing to disclose income from a private consulting business. He was also charged with forgery for putting someone else’s signature on an application to be a district vendor.

Binkle, who helped reduce fat, sugar and salt in school lunches and touted his successes at a White House event with former first lady Michelle Obama.

At the time of his suspension, he told the Los Angeles Times that he was “deeply disheartened, frustrated and baffled” by his removal.

“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide since my actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials, general counsel or the ethics office,” he wrote in an email. “I am confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.”

Read the rest of the story here.

h/t Breitbart


Ethnic studies projected costs pegged at $73 million for LAUSD

are you serious

SCPR.org: The Los Angeles Unified School District is looking at a bill of $73 million to cover course development, textbooks and teacher training in ethnic studies, a new high school graduation requirement approved last year.

LAUSD’s school board ushered in the mandatory coursework in November, believing the rollout would cost an estimated $4 million.

Officials later clarified that the original figure was the cost to pull together a pilot program of 30 schools. A draft report from an advisory Ethnic Studies Committee released this week concludes that sum wouldn’t even cover textbooks for the trial run.

A major portion of the latest $73 million estimate is needed for teaching staff. “We figured we are going to have to add at least one teacher per school site, and that’s an ongoing cost,” said Angel Barrett, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction and among the committee’s members.

The committee, which includes administrators, teachers and scholars, recommended postponing the ethnic studies requirement so that it takes effect for the Class of 2022 rather than the Class of 2019. The delay would give high schools three more years to train and recruit the 250 teachers needed to implement the new requirement.

The ethnic studies report, released Thursday, comes out as the school board takes up a looming problem with the college preparation graduation requirements known as A-G coursework. Starting with the Class of 2017, students must pass the slate of college prep courses that are required to qualify for entry into the University of California and Cal State University systems.

The district estimates about 45 percent of sophomores are still not on track to meet the A-G mandate.

The A-G requirement is criticized by some who say it will hold back students who otherwise would meet the state’s graduation qualifications. The ethnic studies requirement got the green light before the latest district estimate that many students may fail to graduate on time.

Ethnic studies explores race and racism as “powerful social and cultural forces,” according to a University of California at Berkeley definition adopted by LAUSD. Students can meet the graduation requirement by taking African-American history, Mexican American literature or similar classes.

Manuel Criollo

Manuel Criollo

“We think this builds a young person’s sense of self and empathy in others,” said Manuel Criollo with Community Rights Campaign who advocated for the new course requirement at the school board’s November meeting.

EL Rancho Unified in Pico Rivera was the first district in the state to require students to take classes in ethnic studies, catching the attention of ethnic studies advocates and school administrators around California.

San Francisco Unified pledged to offer ethnic studies at every high school less than a month after LAUSD required it for graduation.

Tamar Galatzan was the only LAUSD board member to oppose the ethnic studies requirement, voicing concerns at the November meeting about its financial impact and whether the added requirement would pack students’ schedules too tightly.

“I believe we should work these issues out first,” Galatzan said last fall. Galatzan lost her bid for re-election in Tuesday’s runoff.

From the Community Rights Campaign web site:

“We are told the only solution to the symptoms of urban neglect—drugs, violence, joblessness—is more prisons, more police, and more punitive and discriminatory laws to lock more people up. A racist re-enslavement complex and rising police state are enveloping entire Black, Latino, immigrant, and low-income schools, communities, and individual lives—and tracking them into prison cells. 

The Community Rights Campaign is organizing in L.A. high schools and among L.A.’s 500,000 low-income bus riders to build campaigns to push back the growing police/prison state and push forward an expanded social welfare state; push back the police/prisons/punishment approach to organizing society and push foward (sic) a resources/reparations/ redistribution approach.

We organize high school students in Take Action after school clubs to stop the school-to-prison pipeline and the schools-as-jails culture in favor of building a positive, empowered learning environment. We also seek to build broad coalitions to defeat local and state initiatives (such as Prop 6 and Prop 9 on the 2008 ballot) and police state programs (such as regional gang-databases) that criminalize our communities.  Real public safety will be achieved only by challenging the Prison/Police State — not allying with it.”

Some of their “demands”:

  • Schools, Not Pre-Prisons! Decriminalize tardiness, truancy and all student behavior issues.
  • Cut funding for Police and Sheriffs
  • End to the ICE Raids, Amnesty Now!
  • End the racist “War on Drugs”
  • Defeat and overturn reactionary “tough on crime” laws

End ICE raids and amnesty now? Well I hope they include these stories in their ethnic studies class. Maybe the the story of Kate Steinle will build a young person’s sense of empathy in others.


Setting the bar high: LA School District Lowers Minimum Grade Needed To Pass College Prep Classes


Daily Caller: The Los Angeles Unified School District Board (LAUSD) voted Tuesday to lower the minimum grade high school students needed to pass college preparatory classes, NBC Los Angeles reports.

Prior to the vote, students were required to earn at least a C average in these classes in order to pass. With the restriction removed, students earning failing grades according to most school systems will still be allowed to graduate.

During the meeting, a group of students and parents assembled outside to protest the lower benchmarks being set by the school district. Many believed that the lower grades are allowing students to graduate while still being unprepared for college-level classes.

The lessened restriction will be enacted starting with the class of 2017. Within this class less than half of students are projected to meet the C average. This statistic further bolsters the protesters argument that the school board appears to be taking the easy way out. Rather than trying to fix protocol, the school district appears to be turning its back on its students.



Within the next few months the superintendent of schools must present a plan to help these students achieve the new average. In an effort to help Superintendent Ramon Cortines, extra funding has been put aside for the sole purpose of pursuing higher success rates.

Those in the Los Angeles area will certainly be keeping a watchful eye on the L.A. school system as it attempts to improve the percentage of students meeting these goals.


LAUSD charter group gave food contract to an employee’s firm

Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo

Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo

LA Times: A Los Angeles-based charter group awarded food-service contracts worth millions of dollars to a company partially owned by one of the schools’ high-ranking employees, a state investigation has found.

The probe involved Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo, who is the director of business and development for PUC Schools and a part-owner in Better 4 You Meals, a company that has provided food to the charter group for the last five years. Investigators said the charter failed to demonstrate that the contract was “awarded properly despite the apparent conflict of interest.”

Late Saturday, the charter organization said in an email to The Times that Duvivier Castillo would no longer be an employee of PUC. “This move will allow her to focus on her business full-time and will remove any perception of conflict with our schools,” the PUC statement said. “While we in no way believe that Ms. Duvivier influenced our decision-making process, full disclosure and transparency are of utmost importance to us as an organization.”

The state Department of Education, which released emails and documents about its investigation to the Los Angeles Times under the California Public Records Act, also found:

  • Duvivier Castillo failed to properly report her financial interests in the company.
  • The company was ineligible for the food contracts because it lacked a health permit and relied on a subcontractor to prepare meals.
  • PUC Schools did not select the lowest-priced bidder as required.

The education department recently ordered PUC Schools to begin a new bidding process under state supervision. The charter group must also adopt stricter conflict-of-interest guidelines, the department said.

Duvivier Castillo did not respond to requests for comment.

The head of Partnerships to Uplift Communities denied wrongdoing, but said the charter organization is taking the state’s findings seriously and plans to comply.

“We have always run a competitive bid process that we believe is legal and is within the realm of how it’s supposed to be done,” said Chief Executive Jacqueline Elliot. “We were not aware of Jackie’s personal involvement in Better 4 You. All we were aware of was that the procurement process was done appropriately.”

better for you meals

No wonder they weren’t aware of Jackie’s personal involvement in Better 4 You: Their “Management Team” page states, “Coming Soon”.

The charter organization was co-founded by L.A. Unified school board candidate Ref Rodriguez. Rodriguez is on the charter group’s board of directors and works part-time as its treasurer. He is vying to unseat one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser in an expensive, hard-fought contest for a spot on the Los Angeles Board of Education. The election is May 19.

Candidate Ref Rodriguez

Candidate Ref Rodriguez

Better 4 You Breakfast, the company’s original name, contributed $2,200 to the Rodriguez campaign and Duvivier Castillo received $1,700 this year for work as an election consultant, according to campaign finance reports. The state investigation began before Rodriguez announced his candidacy.

Rodriguez declined to answer questions about the state investigation, but issued a statement saying that he backs the decision to terminate the agreement, particularly because he supports “public transparency around our schools and our decision-making.”

State officials did not determine who was at fault for the charter issues. Charter schools are publicly funded and independently managed. Most of PUC’s 16 schools are under the supervision of the L.A. Unified School District. Officials said Friday that the district had no record of PUC alerting it to the probe.

“I believe that PUC has a duty to report such an investigation,” said district General Counsel David Holmquist. “We look forward to reviewing those results as soon as they are available and will take the appropriate action.”

Elliot said Duvivier Castillo helped develop the charter group’s bidding process and oversaw food contracts at schools. But Duvivier Castillo had no role in deciding who received the work, Elliot said, adding that Duvivier Castillo’s job included making sure food vendors complied with legal requirements. Duvivier Castillo had made $96,597 annually.

“Just as Ms. Castillo failed to disclose her interests on the annual disclosure forms, she likewise has not recused herself from administration of the B4U contract. Henceforth, PUC will assign other staff to carry out this duty,” Elliot wrote to state officials in December.

Tax documents for 2010 list the company as a vendor in filings signed by Rodriguez or Elliot. PUC, the documents said, was “party to a business transaction” with a “key employee.” The charter’s tax returns for 2012, however, no longer listed the company as a vendor.

Company documents provided by the state show that Duvivier Castillo’s husband, Fernando Castillo, is a top official with the company, which provides meals for students at more than 100 charter and private schools. He could not be reached for comment.

Annual audits paid for by PUC and released by the state indicated charter officials knew of the alleged conflict of interest. “Additionally … PUC has signed a contract with a company that is one hundred percent owned by PUC’s director of business and development,” the PUC audit said. “PUC’s management believes that all transactions, including the bidding process, were done in arm’s length.”

According to these audits from PUC, the charter group paid Better 4 You Meals more than $339,000 in 2011, more than $947,000 in 2012 and about $970,000 in 2013. No figures were available for other years.

Charter officials reported to the state that Duvivier Castillo had a controlling interest in the company until 2014. She and her husband now have 19% stock ownership, charter officials said.

The company received several contracts from the charter organization, frequently failing to receive the highest score from panels reviewing the bids, according to a state analysis. Elliot said that other companies also received food contracts and that PUC hired Better 4 You because it had the best ideas and most complete understanding of how to run a breakfast program. The decision was not based on a track record; she said she was not aware of any work the company had done elsewhere and that it may have been a start-up.

The company did not make meals or have its own health permit until last year, instead partnering with another business that was responsible for food storage, handling and delivery. But Elliot said she was assured that the other company’s health permit would cover legal requirements.

L.A. Unified released an unrelated audit of a PUC school last week. The district’s inspector general found fault with financial operations and record-keeping at Lakeview Charter Academy.


College-readiness not keeping up in California


Sacramento Bee: Fewer than 4 in 10 California high school students are completing the requirements to be eligible for the state’s public universities, fueling worries of a shortage of college-educated workers when the value of a bachelor’s degree has never been higher.

To meet entrance requirements, high school students must complete 15 classes with a grade of C or better, including foreign language, lab science, intermediate algebra, and visual or performing arts.

At the current rate, educators and policy experts say, far too few students are finishing high school with the minimum coursework needed even to apply to a University of California or California State University campus. In 1994, 32 percent of public school graduates met the course and grade prerequisites, known as “A-G requirements” because they cover seven subject areas. For the Class of 2012, it was 38 percent.

“We need young adults to be successful in the future economy of our state, and to be successful, an increasing number of them will need to go to and graduate from college. And the A-G course completion share, while it’s going up, is not sufficiently high to meet that economic need,” said Public Policy Institute of California Senior Fellow Hans Johnson, who has estimated the state will have 1 million fewer college graduates than it needs in 2025, if current trends continue.

The sobering numbers do not tell the whole story, according to John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. Once students who drop out or do not finish high school in four years are removed from the equation, the proportion of public high school graduates who met the UC and CSU entrance criteria in 2012 drops to 30 percent statewide, 20 percent for Latinos and 18 percent for African-Americans, Rogers said.

“They speak to a huge gap between the expectations that parents and students have, which is that if they complete a rigorous high school curriculum they will be college-eligible, and the sorts of outcomes that are emerging from our K-12 system,” he said.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have made a push in recent years to prepare their students for college by updating their high school graduation requirements to include four years of math and English, the course of study that Achieve, a nonprofit education reform group based in Washington, considers essential to post-secondary success.

California’s high school graduation requirements, which have not been substantially revised in more than a decade, only require two years of math, three years of English and no foreign language or science labs. Students hoping to study at one of the state’s 32 public universities must opt into the courses that make up the more strenuous A-G sequence and repeat the classes if they do not earn a C.

For families without previous higher education experience or living in communities without enough guidance counselors, chemistry sections or money for private tutors, “that’s a big hurdle,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Campaign for College Opportunity. She said she often meets parents and students who are devastated to learn, in the child’s junior or senior year, that they do not meet the entrance requirements for the state’s public universities.

“I always tell folks that not everybody who works at a high school sees it as their responsibility to prepare your kid for college. They see it as their responsibility to get kids to graduate from high school,” said Siqueiros, whose group has examined the college achievement gap for blacks and Latinos in California.

With Latino children now a majority of California’s public school students, community groups increasingly are framing the problem as a civil rights issue and lobbying local school districts to put more young people on the college track by aligning their own graduation requirements with the A-G requirements.

Students in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and several other districts now are expected to complete the 15-course sequence, although they can still earn a high school diploma even if they earn D’s. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, this year’s 9th graders will be required to pass each of the prescribed classes with at least a C by graduation.

“We are not saying every student will be guaranteed of going into college because there are additional requirements the colleges have, a certain GPA being one, a certain score on the ACT or SAT are another,” said Nader Delnavaz, LAUSD’s administrative coordinator for college and career education. “What we are saying is we are not having a two-track or three-track high school diploma.”

In June, San Francisco Unified School District will graduate its first class that had to meet the minimum college entrance requirement. Jessica Hernandez, 17, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, had hoped to attend UC Berkeley but got a D in geometry in 10th grade, had to repeat it, got behind in some classes and saw her grades slide.

Hernandez now plans to attend community college and hopes to go to Berkeley as a junior and become the first in her family to earn a degree. Meantime, she has offered advice to her younger sister who will start at Lincoln next fall.

“I’ve already been telling her that if she needs help, there is help here,” she said. “I’ve told her it is stressful, but if you keep up with all your work, it will pay off.”

Administrators say the switch to college-prep for all involves more than doing away with low-level math and science and is not a magic fix. Before San Jose Unified adopted the A-G course requirements starting in 1998, about 37 percent of its graduates were eligible for admission to a UC or CSU school. By 2012, it had risen only to 44 percent.

Thousands of students throughout the state are missing out on being deemed “A-G eligible” by virtue of one or two D grades, says Linda Murray, who was superintendent in San Jose when it updated its graduation requirements and now helps other districts.

That phenomenon suggests the problem is not standards that are out of reach for some but inadequate “safety nets” for young people, said Murray, now superintendent-in-residence for The Education Trust-West, an advocacy group addressing racial disparities in education.

“The right question isn’t: ‘Should every kid go to college?’ The question is: ‘Who should decide?'” Murray said. “It just seems to me the right thing to do is to make sure the doors are kept open so they have good choices when they are 18 years old.”

The California Teachers Association must be so proud.



I hate brown rice cutlets too…

I prefer pizza too!

LAUSD Students Roundly Reject Healthier School Lunch Menu

CBS Los Angeles: The revamped school lunches at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have won awards, commending them for improving the menu at the second largest school district in the nation. Too bad the students don’t agree.

Rejecting healthful alternatives like vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles, students are throwing them in the trash by the thousands, bringing junk food from home and buying instant noodles and other decidedly unhealthy fare from the “black markets” that have begun to thrive at campuses across the district, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Now, cartons of plain milk are being thrown away en masse, unopened, along with uneaten entrees. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students, who are ditching lunch and are suffering from hunger-related ailments.

The complaints have been heard and LAUSD is planning changes to the menu, the Times reports. Burgers and (healthy) pizza are coming back, and dishes like quinoa salads and brown rice cutlets are out.

L.A. Unified serves 650,000 meals daily.

Ruh, roh…what is Queen Michelle going to say about this? Wonder if she’ll be okay with them serving french fries since that’s one of her favorite foods.

Just when is the government going to realize you can’t change people’s behaviors?  Shoot, parents have a hard enough time doing that with their own kids!  Thankfully the LAUSD will bring back food kids want to eat so they aren’t starving.  And you know LAUSD will be happier too when there’s more cash coming in from a higher lunch program participation!