Sacramento: poised to become ground zero of privatization

See the report below from Kate  Lenox of the Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education, a new affiliate of Parents Across America.

Sacramento parents and concerned citizens, please join their Facebook page,  or email Kate for more info at

The Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education is a group of parents, teachers, and community members that has been fighting the privatization of public education here in Sacramento for eight years. We formed when the board of Sacramento City Unified School District voted to close Sacramento High School, the second oldest public high school west of the Mississippi, and give it to a charter operator to run.

That charter operator is St. HOPE, an organization formed by former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who is now our mayor and is engaged to Michelle Rhee. We believe that Sacramento is poised to become the ground zero of the privatization movement. Michelle Rhee is setting up her lobbying group Students First here in town. Democrats for Education Reform has set up a chapter here in California with Gloria Romero, failed candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction has the public face of the organization.

The mayor tried to get “ed reform” friendly candidates elected to the school board and failed last November. He did succeed in getting one of the former school board members who turned the school over to him elected to City Council. We believe it’s essential that we link up with the national push back against the so-called “education reform” movement.

Meanwhile, Margaret Fortune, who was Johnson’s petitioner for the Sac High takeover, has made an end run around the local schools boards and gotten the go-ahead from The Sacramento County Office of Education Board of Trustees to set up a chain of charter schools in the county focused on the achievement gap and marketed to African-American students. Given the precarious state of some local school districts’ finances, this could put some over the edge, which is ironic considering that the County Office of Education has financial oversight of the local districts.

Our greatest accomplishment in the past eight years has been to change the election law so that Sacramento City Unified board members are elected by area instead of at large. We now believe we have a board that’s friendly to the idea of returning the Sac High facility to the community and reopening a non-charter high school for our kids. This will likely set off an unpleasant turf war. Kevin Johnson won’t hesitate to take this battle to a national arena.

We hope to enlist true education reformers and supporters of public education in this effort.

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10 Responses to Sacramento: poised to become ground zero of privatization

  1. CarolineSF

    A few years ago there was talk about St. Hope expanding to D.C. But there are so many scandals involving St. Hope that any time the snoozing press wakes up and pays attention, St. Hope has to scurry back into its hidey-hole — so maybe that’s why it never panned out.

  2. Matt

    I found this site as I approach these issues with an open mind as I try to understand the different perspectives. I am a parent of a public school student in NYC and I also co-organize a group for fathers in the New York City area.

    After reading this post, it seems to me that something is missing. Presumably, Sacramento High School was not doing serving it’s students if there was a need to take it over. As far as I can tell, Sacramento High was taken over by St. Hope in 2003. How well has St. Hope done in serving the students of Sac High in the last eight years? How can we decide whether St. Hope would be good for Sacramento students if we don’t know how they’ve done with Sacramento High School.

  3. Angel

    Talking about Segregation, anyone? Oh yes, that is what this people think MLK try
    to do… wait a minute!!! The go back to segregtion proponents need to go back to school and learn the great legacy MLK died for… in short study history! Stop thinking about your ego. If you really want to help your community stick to the same standards, and be accountable for your students not just get rid of them if they can’t make the grade.

  4. Kate Lenox

    You should go to the charter school scandal blog to read something about Sac Charter. They’ve had some very questionable financial issues. The school which as a district campus was once very diverse has become segregated. The enrollment at the site has dropped by almost a thousand students. They do send most of their graduates on the college. However, since they don’t give credit to those who earn less than a C in a class, kids who struggle are counseled out and sent back to district schools credit deficient and in danger of not graduating. There’s not enough room here to detail everything, but if you do some research on St. HOPE and Kevin Johnson you should find some interesting and disturbing information.

    • Kate Lenox

      I should also add that no one is trying to close Sac Charter. We’re hoping that the charter school will be moved to a smaller facility. Sac Charter has an enrollment of around 900, with only 700 or so of those district students. California charter school law states that districts aren’t obligated to house out-of-district charter school students. Our goal is that the Sacramento High facility, which can house up to 2300 students, can once again house a district comprehensive high school for the old attendance area.
      The bar for re-chartering a school is set very low. If the board had been aware of St. HOPE’s financial status at the time the charter was up for renewal in ’07, it might have been closed. Some months after the charter was renewed it was revealed that the charter owed the school district over 1.7 million dollars. We’ll never know how much exactly because the financial agreement between the district and St. HOPE included a clause that it would not owe any further amounts any audits might reveal. They have since paid the district back, but as far as I know St. HOPE has never paid back the US government for the misappropriation of federal funds from Americorps.

  5. Matt

    Thanks for the information Kate. I actually did read the Charter School Scandals blog and I see that they have many issues that should certainly be highlighted and addressed. Thanks to you and the other parent advocates, many of these issues are reaching a wider audience, and hopefully taken into account as charters are renewed and new schools are chartered.

    That being said, I’m trying to view these issues from the perspectives of the students that are being served. I’m wondering if you think Sac Charter High has changed the trajectory of the students who have graduated. I assume that the previous school did have a high graduation rate, and that more students are graduating and going on to college, even if you account for attrition. I’m not suggesting that it’s okay to counsel low performers out, but what about the opportunity the school has given to students who do take advantage of a longer school day, a safer environment, highly trained teachers, etc?

  6. Kate Lenox

    Matt, you are making a lot of assumptions here–that that Sacramento High and other district schools didn’t and still don’t have highly trained teachers and don’t provide safe environments. The environment at district schools is safe and they have highly training teachers. My daughter attended Sacramento High and graduated in the last class in 2003. At no time did she feel unsafe and she received a good education. At the time its charter was renewed Sac Charter had experienced a 85% turnover in teaching staff and a 100% turnover in administration in the four and half years of its existence. . The retention rate was not as high as district high schools.
    The question is whether the school is serving the neighborhood kids and those from the old attendance area. Overwhelmingly kids aren’t choosing the charter and are attending district schools instead. A former administrator of the school publicly stated that Sac Charter wanted to recruit in other areas of the district because the kids who were there “by default”, meaning neighborhood kids, didn’t always want to follow Sac Charter’s educational program which includes uniforms for the students.

  7. Matt

    Thanks for the response, Kate, and thanks for your patience. I’m sure you know what my next question is going to be. Why was Sac High closed in the first place? I’m glad to hear that your daughter got a good education there, but there must have been some justification for it’s closure. Certainly all students weren’t succeeding? Articles in your local newspaper seem to point to a “turnaround.”

    I agree that the purpose of a district school is to serve the students in the area, but I’m wondering if you’d agree that Sac Charter gives families a choice that they didn’t have before. They must be doing something right if families from outside the district are choosing to attend the school.

    Where are the students going if they choose to leave Sac High? Is there an overcrowding situation at other schools? Perhaps, as you suggested earlier in the conversation, is that Sac Charter should be in a smaller space? Or perhaps they could share the building with the one you are suggesting?

    I guess, my biggest question in the grander scheme of things is this: Why can’t charter schools exist alongside non-charter schools to serve families that make that choice?

    • Kate Lenox

      As I stated before we’re not seeking to close Sac Charter, just move it to a smaller facility so that a new neighborhood high school can be created to serve the old attendance area. Essentially, Sac High was closed in order to bust the teacher’s union at the school. The excuse was that Sacramento High had failed to raise test scores under a grant program that the school volunteered for. The school got money to design a plan to raise test scores but failed to do so after two years. The Superintendent told the public that the school was facing sanctions possibly even takeover by the state. In fact, the state department of Ed had already decided to send in assessment teams to do educational audits at the schools. The school was never going to be closed or taken over by the state, but Supt. Sweeney used this lie as leverage to get the board to close the school and the public to accept it. The Sacramento Bee decided that Kevin Johnson should take over the school and got behind the effort because the charter wouldn’t have union teachers. The Bee has repeated the lie ever since. Even though test scores went down that year Sacramento High still had better scores than two other district high schools. Kids even confessed that they failed the test on purpose because they were told that the principal could lose her job. They didn’t like her so many kids failed the test on purpose. That is as good an argument as any against high stakes testing. When the school closed we lost over 20 year old arts program with the largest art curriculum in Northern CA, a health careers program that was affiliated with UC Davis med Center and the MESL Academy that helped kids get into college.

  8. Bob Valiant

    Dump Duncan is an action-oriented group bringing together parents, teachers, university professors to oppose the current education “deform” efforts and return to sane development of school programs. We don’t pull punches and engage in substantive discussions so be forewarned should you choose to join us at