(Update: See note regarding Gloria Romero, below.)
A group of parent activists on Thursday filed a complaint with California's Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging state Board of Education member Patricia Ann Rucker has a conflict of interest because of her work as the California Teachers Association's top paid lobbyist.
(Click here to download the text of the complaint: 11.07.07 parents FPPC complaint.pdf)
What is this all about? The parents who've made the complaint are affiliated with the Los Angeles Parent Revolution, which has worked tirelessly over the past 18 months to implement California's landmark parent trigger law. The state board of education next week will consider (yet again) permanent regulations governing the law. To say the rule-making process has been mired in controversy would be an understatement. As CTA's chief lobbyist, Rucker opposed the original parent empowerment legislation in 2010, and has been a critical voice on the board.
Rucker at April's board meeting proposed a small but portentious amendment to the draft regulations that would essentially require parents to get permission from teachers if they want to use the trigger to convert a school into an autonomous charter. Several parents at the time questioned whether Rucker had a conflict of interest, but she refused to recuse herself. According to a Parent Revolution press release, "State lawyers present at the meeting demurred, refusing to take a position on Rucker's conflict."
As John Fensterwald at Thoughts on Public Education notes today, the complaint is a "preemptive strike" in advance of next week's meeting. The FPPC has 14 days to respond, but parents said they would be more than happy to withdraw the complaint if Rucker steps away from the proceedings next Wednesday.
"We're hoping she does the right thing and recuses herself. If she doesn't, we hope she's held accountable," said Lydia Grant, a parent from Sunland-Tujunga who is gathering signatures to make administrative changes at her local middle school.
Rucker is a Jerry Brown appointee, one of seven to receive a seat on the board just one day after the governor took office in January. She holds the teachers union seat. (Fensterwald, in his post, has some useful background on how recent governors have appointed board members with special interests in mind.) The timing of her appointment wasn't coincidental. The previous board, which included several pro-charter/pro-trigger members, was days away from approving regulations that were far more parent friendly.
Former State Sen. Gloria Romero, who authored the parent trigger legislation and now heads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, issued a statement yesterday calling on Rucker to recuse herself from any future deliberations on the parent trigger: "The honorable--and the lawful--thing to do is for Ms. Rucker to recognize her inherent conflict of interest and to recuse herself immediately from any matter that deals with the Parent Trigger as a member of the Board. Ms. Rucker is a respected lobbyist in Sacramento. I have every hope that she and her employer, the California Teachers Association, will recognize this conflict of interest, and do the right thing."
(Romero herself has run into some trouble lately with the FPPC, which claims she violated the state's Political Reform Act by lobbying against AB 203, a bill aimed at "cleaning up" the parent empowerment law. "I didn't think writing a letter would qualify as lobbying," Romero explained.)
Simone Wilson at L.A. Weekly's "The Informer" blog makes the charitable case:
Rucker is an extremely smart woman and, in her time with the teachers' union, has funneled her energy into progressive efforts like teacher training instead of election campaigns and the highly political resistance to any sort of change that has given the CTA its notoriety.
But her actions over the last few months, in regard to the under-construction Trigger regulations, have been questionable, to say the least.And how.
In other parent trigger news, parents in Buffalo have been watching California carefully and came up with their own version of the law. As I write at City Journal's website today, the law has some advantages over the California model -- and some disadvantages -- but for anyone who doubts that the parent empowerment effort has staying power, look to upstate New York.
Update: Gloria Romero writes to correct me on a crucial point, noting that in her case, she reported herself to the FPCC that she had written a letter to the Assembly education committee. "So I self-reported and they issued a warning, giving me credit for calling this to their attention when no one even knew." I'm happy to correct the record.
I should also note that when Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin served on the state board, he recused himself from all deliberations concerning the parent empowerment rules -- and did so without ever being asked. Rucker actively lobbied against the original parent trigger bill, and now sits on the board charged with setting the rules governing the law. The point of the law, it practically goes without saying, is to give parents power to effect changes that local education agencies would otherwise oppose. Adding a proviso giving the teachers union a veto over parents wishes would undermine the spirit and the letter of the law.