California Educator

May / June 2017

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On the first day of school this year, hundreds of students withdrew from Livermore Valley Charter School and Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School. TriValley Learning Corporation (TVLC), which operates the two campuses along with two in Stockton, is under inves tigation by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office for fraud and criminal charges, including: • Recruiting high school students from China and charging their fam ilies thousands of dollars for tuition and housing. • Uprooting exchange students from Livermore with little notice and bus ing them to TVLC's Stockton schools. • Using taxexempt bond proceeds intended for schools, to purchase an expensive home and sports car for former CEO Bill Batchelor, and to open a private school. • Assault and battery, child cruelty, and failure to report child abuse by three employees connected to the Livermore schools. In the beginning, Livermore Valley Char ter School was a wonderful place to work, say former staffers Emily Wafler, Dayana Albornoz and Laura Morgan, who left midyear to teach at Livermore Valley Joint Unified's Satellite Campus, an "overflow" district school that absorbed an influx of former charter students. Founded by a grassroots group of ed ucators, parents and community members in 2004, the TK8 charter school initially offered a fun, innovative and collaborative environment where teachers had a voice in how the school was run. Teachers suspected something was wrong when the school relocated to a nicer facility — and their directdeposit paychecks were no longer deposited in a timely manner. They were told that the Stockton schools kept them afloat. Then a parent suggested using Google to look up Batchelor's home — a newly pur chased mansion. "We heard that the bond proceeds paid for several new houses and cars," says Morgan, who teaches transitional kinder garten. "Many of us who worked along side him were not surprised. Some of the programs going on seemed fishy." The principal was accused of "over spending" and resigned. Layoffs ensued. Teachers unionized, and those who remain belong to the Livermore Charter Education Association. But many left. "Toward the end, there was no money for toilet paper," says Albornoz, a fifthgrade teacher. "We started school in August, and our bathrooms hadn't been cleaned over the summer. Parents came to clean our school. There was no janitorial service, and there were mouse droppings." Morgan hated to see her son leave during his senior year, but when she learned that accreditation for the high school was being withheld, she felt there was no choice. "Lifelong friendships got torn apart, and having a doover senior year was devas tating for my son," says Morgan, one of the school's founders. Wafler, a fifthgrade teacher, urges other charter educators to take heed. "Stay involved," she cautions. "Attend board meetings. Ask questions. If you get the brushoff, demand accountabil ity. If you are standing by yourself, find likeminded allies also interested in trans parency. And if you feel you aren't being listened to, go to your charter authorizer. Make your voice heard." LIVERMORE A CAUTIONARY TALE Clockwise from top: Dayana Albornoz, Emily Wafler and Laura Morgan all left the Livermore charter schools midyear to teach at a district school. Those who remain have unionized. 30 FEATURE

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