ACSD Superintendent Undermining Efforts By Palm Lane School Parents Seeking Charter School Status

Linda Wagner


Government bureaucracies tend to resist change and defend the status quo, and none more vigorously than public education bureaucracies. In the Anaheim City School District, a group of parents is utilizing the state Parent Trigger Law in an effort to convert Palm Lane Elementary School to charter status – and the school district is fighting them.

Earlier this month, ACSD Superintendent Linda Wagner, acting in her official capacity, sent a letter and recorded a robocall to parents making false claims about the Palm Lane School signature gathering effort. Wagner’s letter is inflammatory and contains untruths, half-truths, and exaggerations. It presumed intent and effect is to actively (if tacitly) discourage parents from signing the petition by using the district’s institutional prestige to cast doubt on the motives and ethics of the parents group.

“Recently, it has been reported to us that there are people in the community who have been paid by an organization to gather signatures for a petition that could completely change the way some of our schools are run. We have been told that these people are promising free iPads and tutoring for students in exchange for a signature on their petition. What they may not be telling you is that signing the petition could change our schools in dramatic ways.” [emphases added.]

Note the repeat use of the caveat “we have been told.” Wagner is relying on hearsay about to make parents suspicious of the Palm Lane parents group. This group has a name – Parents of Palm Lane Elementary United (PPLEU) – which Ms. Wagner never uses in her letter.

Wagner falsely claims the petition “could completely change the way some of our schools are run” and “could change our schools in dramatic ways” when in fact it pertains only to one school: Palm Lane Elementary.

“If they wish to do so, the law allows parents to sign petitions that cause one of several things to happen. The petition could cause your child’s school to become a charter school; it could force the closure of Palm Lane Elementary; and it could result in a complete change in the faculty and staff of the school.”

Classic public education establishment scare tactic: “if these reformers succeed, your school will close and the teachers you like will be fired.” Unions and administrators push this line on school employees, who in turn tell parents they’ll lose their jobs if a charter school is established.

Furthermore, Wagner claims signing the petition could lead to closure of Palm Lane Elementary or even lead to firing the Palm Lane staff – gross misrepresentations.  Rather, the petition explicitly states the goal is “to transform PALM LANE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL in the ANAHEIM CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT into an independent charter school using the RESTART MODEL as described in CA Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 5, section 4804.

It could be Wagner knows this and chose to needlessly alarm parents, or she didn’t know the petition specifies the re-start model and misled parents about a petition she hasn’t read. Neither explanation reflects well.

Wagner letter

Despite claiming the ACSD “will not advocate on either side of this issue,” Superintendent Wagner is unmistakably positioning the district in opposition to the charter school petition. Notwithstanding some tactically inserted camouflage language, a reasonable person can see Wagner’s letter is intended to discourage parents from signing the petition.

And it  could well violate state law governing the petition process, which  states that “School or district resources shall not be used to impede the signature gathering process pursuant to this section.” The letter and robocall were paid for with taxpayer dollars and their calculated effect is to “impede the signature gathering process.”

Wagner Letter & Robocall Cames As D.A. Asked ACSD To Address Petitoners’ Complaints
According to a December 5 article in the OC Register, PPLEW and its allies had already voiced complaints about intimidation tactics by the district and unions. They went to the OC District Attorney’s office, which sent a letter to the ACSD asking for those complaints to be reviewed and asked to be notified of improper conduct by either side of the charter question.

Then ACSD Board President Jose F. Moreno dismissed those complaints as “fabrications.” Wagner denied any wrongdoing in the December 5 OCR story. Her letter to parents about the Palm Lane Elementary charter petition is dated December 4. Since Wagner “had been told” of the alleged offers of free iPads, did she comply with the request from the District Attorney’s Office and let them know?  Palm Lane charter proponents – who vehemently deny the allegations in Wagner’s letter to parents – have heard nothing from the DA’s office.

Palm Lane Charter Proponents on Allegations in Wagner Letter: “Complete and Total Lie”
I reached out to some of those involved in the Palm Lane Elementary charter school drive and asked about the allegations in Wagner’s letter, especially claims of offering free iPads and tutoring as inducements to sign.

“A complete and total lie,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero. She noted that the district had already been contacted by the DA and Wagner had ample opportunity to present her claims of petition signature gatherers bribing parents.

“She can’t just yell ‘fire’ and then walk away.”

Another charter petition drive leader made the same point, saying Wagner and the district “ignored the direct and clear instructions from the DA’s letter to them to report any wrongdoing on either side. Instead, she just made false allegations to intimidate parents from signing petitions.”

Where’s Wagner’s Warning About Union Politicking on Palm Lane Charter Petition
ACSD unions haven’t been idle while Palm Lane Elementary parents work to re-start their school as a charter school, as Superintendent Wagner states in her letter, telling parents that the charter petition “is of special importance to our dedicated employees. We have been informed that their organizing bodies have and will likely continue to communicate independently of us on this issue.”

On one hand, Wagner thinks it necessary to use school district resources to communicate with parents about the Palm Lane Elementary charter petition, on the basis of unattributed hearsay, in a manner prejudicial against signature gatherers. Are we to believe the ACSD union have engaged in strictly fact-based communications with parents that Wagner feels no need to correct? Given the misleading, unfactual nature of her letter, one has to question the district’s capacity to even make such a judgment.

What Parents of Palm Lane Elementary United is Seeking
In a letter to parents, PPLEU explain what they want:

School administrators and elected board members have had tools to turnaround chronically failing schools. Yet, they have failed to do so. Our children can no longer wait -­‐- 10 years of waiting for “Program improvement” status is simply unacceptable. Parents of Palm Lane Elementary United demand a new vision and immediate change for our school that includes: 

  1. Strong school leadership

  2. Effective teachers that are accountable to All Students

  3. A Culture of High Academic Expectations

  4. A School that Nurtures the Participation, Support, and Involvement of all parents and the Community

Boy – real radical stuff.

How can ACSD parents rely on the district to be a fair and neutral party in the Palm Lane Elementary charter petition process when the district superintendent is using taxpayer resources to mislead and misinform them? Palm Lane Elementary parents have organized to exercise their right to seek a quality. Rather than stay neutral, the district has been adversarial.

Wagner Acting Alone or At Behest Of ACSD Board Members?
It’s reasonable to ask if Superintendent Wagner is acting on her own, or at the behest of Board of Education members. The letter and robocall were distributed prior to the departure of Jose F. Moreno, who has stated explicitly that he opposes charter schools in principle and wishes the state had never authorized them in the first place. ACSD Board member Jeff Cole is also extremely hostile to charter schools. I’ve been provided with e-mails sent by Cole in which he expresses his contempt for charter schools:

“ACSD continues to be threatened by charters. I am the only board member that stood up for teachers and kids. I repeatedly voted no on all charter votes. Let’s win in November and protect our district.”

“I am worried about continous(sic) charter attacks. This scam is just getting started in Anaheim.”

If and when they are successful in garnering enough signatures, the ACSD Board of Education will vote on the Palm Lane charter application. Given these statements, and the superintendents interference in the petition process, does anyone think these parents will receive a remotely fair hearing for their charter application?

At the very least, Superintendent Wagner and the ACSD owe an apology to parents for giving them false and misleading information about the Palm Lane Elementary charter petition, and to PPLEW for abusing taxpayer resources to undermining these parents exercise of their legal rights under the Parent Trigger Law.

Superintendent Wagner also owes the public an explanation of who “reported” the free iPad accusations and whether of not she received any communication from board members or union leaders urging her to send out the letter and robocall.


  1. Gloria Romero and senator huff are part of a group that tries to use parents to turn public schools into charters. They lie and manipulate parents into signing petitions. The two schools that they were actually successful in taking over have both filed lawsuits because parents were misled and even duped. The only Proven correlation between a school and low test scores is the socio economic area. Stop blaming the schools and the teachers.

    • @Debbie…yup! One of Huff’s Latino [characteristically stupid and gratuitous insult deleted] staffers swooped in when he saw the opportunity and here we are with the [characteristically stupid and gratuitous insult deleted] Romero throwing herself in the mix.

      • Matthew Cunningham

        Hey – it’s the go-to local commentator for that Cuban-Venezuelan government-funded “news” channel!

        • Couldn’t even bring yourself to publish my original reply, eh? Truth hurts, don’t it!

          • Matthew Cunningham

            Like you would know anything about truth, Gabriel. I edited out a weird, racialist insult.

            You’re not a reporter. You’re a political activist with a keyboard.

  2. Matthew Cunningham

    Where to start?

    No one, least of all me, is “blaming teachers.” We can all agree it is impossible to provide children with a quality education without good teachers. So let’s toss aside the “stop blaming teachers” red herring.

    Parents are, by right, the primary educators of their children. The Parent Trigger Law gives parents to right, given the existence of certain circumstances, the petition to convert their children’s school to charter status. Palm Lane Elementary belongs to the public, and these parents are the public.

    Debbie, you insult these these parents by claiming they are only petitioning for charter status due to lies and manipulation. You seem to think they cannot think for themselves or make adult decisions about what is best for their children.

    The implication of your clam that poverty is the “only Proven correlation between a school and low test scores” as a cop-out. The implication is that a poor child cannot learn from a good teacher, or that a good school cannot operate in a poor area. This is refuted by charter schools, voucher schools and Catholic schools in inner cities all over America (and they are drawing from the same pool of children, not taking the cream off the top). Stop blaming the children.

    Besides, what sort of thing is that to tell these parents: “Sorry, you’re poor. Your kids won’t get a good education. Not our fault.” At the end of the day, public schools should serve children and their parents, first and foremost. If the parents of Palm Lane Elementary want to convert their school to charter status in an attempt to provide their children with a better education, then let them. They can’t freeze-dry their children waiting for the experts to deliver on long-awaited promises of better schools.

  3. Hello Matt,

    I commented last on your blog concerning the hoopla at Palm Lane School after the transfer of Principal Roberto Baeza from Juarez to Palm Lane (I’m the Library Media Assistant there.) You can refresh your memory about this by going back to check the contributions by the pseudonymous “Heather,” around May of 2012 (yes, it’s been going on that long,) who posted slanderous and malicious statements about Baeza’s fellow principals, as well as attacks on brand-new Superintendent Wagner and School Board member Jose F. Moreno.

    What does this old history have to do with the current effort to gather signatures at Palm Lane to convert the school to a charter? Everything, say I. There’s a big story here, of personal vendettas,
    partisanship, abuse of power, and politics of the dirtiest kind. Remember the “butterfly effect” and chaos theory? Well, here we are.

    The citizens and taxpayers of Anaheim (as well as the parents and children of Palm Lane Elementary) are being sold out to billionaire hedge fund managers, courtesy of the Republican Party and sell-out Democrat Gloria Romero. It will be a cold day in Hades, indeed, when I agree to pay my California tax money into the coffers of some cousin of the fine folks who gave us the mortgage meltdown of 2008.

    Perhaps there still exists in the USA one trustworthy investigative journalist who is willing and able to thoroughly research what is happening here and give an unbiased, factual report. It won’t be the Orange County Register, which has been noticeably silent on this matter and which publishes the column of charter school champion Gloria Romero.

    I’ve been trying to figure out whom to trust to investigate and give me (and all of us who care about our community) the best, most truthful, account of what has been going on in the little patch of country my family has called home since 1965. I think I’ll try the Christian Science Monitor first, and if they can’t send someone to investigate and report quickly, I’ll try CBS 60 Minutes, CBS 48 Hours, and the Los Angeles Times.

    It must be some kind of psychiatric condition that causes politicos to decide that our little city of 300,000 or so is some kind of big-time political arena, or a place they can practice their political maneuvers. It’s not. It’s a small town type of place. We’re decent people, diverse, accepting of differences, maybe a bit stand-offish (I don’t know all my neighbors, after all these years, at least, not the newcomers of 20 years or less…)

    I really don’t know who the hell all you political people are who are causing problems at our school district and in our neighborhoods. Why don’t you all just back off and let us Anaheimers deciide for ourselves who we want to run our school district and who we want on our City Council.

    Tell Curt Pringle for me that I’ll have a few choice words for him the next time I run into him at Cortina’s.

    Terry O’Brien
    Loara HS Class of ’66

  4. I for one think the parents should have a voice and clearly that isn’t happening. Hopefully, this effort at the minimum leads to increased attention and greater involvement of parents in their children’s education. For anyone to think the concerns raised are without merit then please explain how you intend to improve the quality of education and resources in the classroom for the worst performing schools in the county. I’ve also lived in Anaheim for decades and I for one want to see things change for the better. The status quo is failing our kids and neighborhoods in Anaheim.

  5. Parents do have a choice. It is called open enrollment and it allows you to send your child to any school you want. Matt offering parents who do not speak or read English free tutoring and a ipad for their children by just signing up when the actual paper is a parent trigger petition is duping and misleading parents. And do you honestly believe that all the best teachers happen to only work in schools in high income areas? Do some research…low performing schools are found in low income areas. And before you defend parent triggers version of parent choice why dont you look up how those transitions to charter school worked out in Compton and adelanto where those same parents are suing because what they were told is not what happened.

    • Matthew Cunningham

      “Matt offering parents who do not speak or read English free tutoring and a ipad for their children by just signing up when the actual paper is a parent trigger petition is duping and misleading parents.”

      Debbie, can I ask if you are the unnamed source for the unsubstantiated accusations in Superintendent Wagner’s letter? I asked Parents of Palm Lane Elementary United about those accusations, which they categorically deny. Do you have any evidence to back up your allegation?

      Are parents who don’t speak English, or don’;t speak it well, incapable of making good decisions for their children? And you do realize the charter petition and supporting materials are in Spanish, as well as English?

      Open enrollment is great – but tell us why parents should NOT have the right to petition THEIR school district to convert THEIR school to charter status if they believe that is best for THEIR children? Why do you and the teachers union oppose expanding parental choice?

  6. @ Debbie what have you been smoking. The parents at Palm Lane School know what they are signing. Oh can you tell me where i can get my free iPod? Even better tell me who told you that lie. Also lady, you’re talking about open enrollment so why can’t i send my daughter to Stodder? All the good schools in the district we cannot send our children to those schools. They stopped taking transfers. Just so you know Debbie some of us do read english and what we are signing is clear. Tell us where you teach we might just start going to that school and inform parents of the parent trigger law. Dont blame what is happening on the trigger law blame it on the board and on Wagners choices to run the school.

    • “Also lady, you’re talking about open enrollment so why can’t i send my daughter to Stodder?”

      You cannot send your child to Stodder because ACSD does not have a school named Stodder in its district. There is a school named Stoddard Elementary. Stoddard is unable to accept transfers because the school is not large enough to accommodate all of the students that live in its attendance area. Schools must first offer enrollment to the students within their boundaries before opening enrollment up to those outside of its boundaries. At the time that transfers were open, Stoddard was already at capacity thereby closed for open enrollment.

      • In other words, Cara, what “Concerned” is trying to say is you’re SOL. Sorry. “Concerned” kind of school choice is on the establishment’s terms. Like it or lump it.

  7. Theresa you nailed it. Gloria Romero doesn’t care about the parents or the children…it is about the money. Cars did you know that if palm lane becomes a charter they do not have to let your child attend? In fact most parent trigger charter schools don’t accept those students who had low test scores (I hope your your child was proficient) or special ed or behavior problems…no those children will not attend their neighborhood school they will be hissed elsewhere so that the charter can prove it is successful and keep making money.

  8. Matthew Cunningham

    “Cars did you know that if palm lane becomes a charter they do not have to let your child attend?”

    Debbie, apparently you and other opponents of expanding parental choice and control over their children’s education have employed that deception enough that PPLEU has a response. This is from one of their handouts:

    Q: If Palm Lane becomes a “Community Charter” not all kids will be able to attend, or there will be a lottery, or it won’t serve special needs students, or it will charge money or only high-performing students will go, etc..?

    A: All lies. Under that “Parent Trigger” law a school that is converted through the petition process MUST serve all of the children who were there last year and all of the children in the attendance boundary. All children will be served, that is both the law and the goal the campaign.

    And its amusing to hear a teachers union activist wag her finger and falsely claim this is “all about money.” It is not, but that is an especially ludicrous claim when it is the California Teacher Association and its local affiliates that are all about money. The CTA is arguably the most powerful special interest in the state. From January to October of this year alone, it spent $15,000,000 on political campaigns. CTA is all about protecting and expanding its claim on money – the taxpayers’ money.

    So for the teachers union to attack as “all about money” an effort by a group of parents to give their kids a chance at a better education is grotesque.

  9. Open enrollment is not a choice. A parent may request their child be accepted into a school outside their boundary, but that acceptance is not only contingent on the school they apply to, but they also need to be released from the school they’re assigned to. Hardly a choice. Essentially you’re saying parents have a choice, but that choice is still up to the district, not the parent.
    The teachers have a union that is there to,protect them and their interests. The kids don’t have a union. But they do have parents and those parents should be able to exercise some level of control over their children’s education.

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