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Edible Education

David Binkle on LAUSD’s school lunch program

“In our school district more than 80% of our children qualify from circumstances of poverty. And that is a real challenge for our children just to get a good, healthy, nutritious meal every day. So our job is to really provide that healthy, nutritious option to the children.”

“Pursuant to Gov. Code §6254(f), the records you have requested are exempt from disclosure.”

-LAUSD, Office of the General Counsel (OGC)

The LAUSD Inspector General’s (IG) office seemed confident in their audit of the Food Services division when they stated in their draft report “that the program is currently at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused.” The fact that this was a “confidential personnel matter” did not stop the District from releasing this report to the press, which then said that the Food Services Director David Binkle had been suspended with pay. Actually, like those in “Teacher Jail” Binkle was actually “re-assigned,” literally under house arrest. During work hours he was forbidden by the District to leave his house as he waited for inspectors. He reports that those inspectors never showed up to hear his side of the story. It was unclear why these investigators had not concluded their investigation before writing a report and publically dragging an honored employee’s name through the mud. In February, the IG said they expedited the audit “to be completed by early summer.” With this deadline long past, the District said on Thursday that it is still “ongoing.”

Binkle showed a misplaced trust in District leadership when he told the Los Angeles Times that he was “confident the truth and facts will show the allegations are unsubstantiated.” Instead, his reputation has been besmirched as the LAUSD actively prevents the disclosure of information that could exonerate him. Binkle insists that his superiors, including Superintendent candidate Michelle King, approved of the allegations specified in the audit. Since August 4, they have been dragging their feet on a public records request that could provide documents backing Binkle’s claims, but the Office of the General Counsel decided last week that since “the Audit made references to Mr. Boull’t [Mr. Binkle’s supervisor] and to the LAUSD I’M In campaign” and “the Audit and its findings are the subject of an on-going investigation,” these records “are exempt from disclosure.” This decisions comes over a month after the legally mandated deadline to claim this exemption.

The LAUSD is refusing to comply with a Public Records Act request based on an exemption is meant to protect the integrity of investigations. However, that integrity was already compromised when the District publically released a draft report that they admit was based on an incomplete investigation. They have carefully orchestrated which information they will release in order to end the LAUSD career of someone who has been called “the good guy who was listening to parents’ concerns and not bringing Bic [Breakfast in the Classroom] to schools that were overwhelmingly against it,” but continues to block the public from seeing anything that could clear Binkle’s name. Conveniently, with Binkle removed from the picture, the District completed their rollout of BIC by forcing it on schools like the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies that  had fought long and hard to keep it from their campus.

The  OGC has already stated that are at least two emails that “have been found for the month of January 2013 related to the phrases ‘Request for Travel’ and ‘LAUSD I’M IN.’” If either of these was a “Travel Conference Attendance Request” initiated by Binkle and sent to Enrique Boull’t” that specified that “travel will be paid through the LAUSD I’M IN marketing funds,” it would be clear that Binkle was not trying to hide his actions. A marking of “approved” on this document would go a long way towards proving Binkle’s assertion that his “actions were approved…from senior district officials.” If Michelle King was  included in either one of these documents, then they would be relevant to her qualification to be Superintendent.

After the LAUSD threw Rafe Esquith into Teacher Jail, his attorneys filed suit against the District claiming that the “continued defamation by LAUSD knows no bounds. This is a slap at all hard-working teachers and it has created a declaration of war against LAUSD.” As Scott Schmerelson correctly pointed out during the 2015 Candidate Forum for Board District 3, “Teacher Jail” was misnamed because it also affected other types of employees and David Binkle’s ordeal proves his point. Schmerelson also promised during his swearing in ceremony that he would work to end bullying in the District, including the bullying done by adults.  This stance puts him in the best position to protect the LAUSD from a protracted, expensive legal battle by creating an environment that would end the hostilities. A good first step would be to force the release to the public of all the information about Binkle’s case.

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I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.

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“As required under California Government Code section 6253, the District will make a determination within 10 days as to whether or not a request is seeking records that are publicly disclosable and, if so, to provide the estimated date that the records will be made available.“

-LAUSD, August 4, 2015

While running for a seat on the School Board I had the opportunity to give voice to the victims of bullying by the LAUSD. I listened to the stories of those in Teacher’s Jail and repeatedly heard about the abuses of power within the District. Every time I wrote an article a voice in the back of my head reminded me that this could be the time that a teacher was actually at fault, but that never happened. In retrospect, that makes sense; clear cut cases of wrongdoing do not require an extended stay of paid leave while the district conducts an “investigation.”

One of the promises that I made to my supporters after the election was that I would continue fighting for change within the district. I have followed through with continued coverage of Teacher’s Jail, including the District’s ever expanding investigation against Rafe Esquith. As a result of one of these articles, I was contacted by David Binkle, who headed the LAUSD’s Food Services division. Mr. Binkle not only broke the news to me that he was retiring, he spent a couple of hours detailing how he had been micromanaged from the top. If what Binkle was telling me was true, it was clear that he had been set up as a scapegoat and the real fraud had occurred at the upper echelons of the district.

Verifying Binkle’s most basic claim should have been easy. The District’s leaked report accused him of illegally using marketing funds to travel to conferences, but Binkle told me, as he had stated previously in the press, that these trips and their funding source had been approved by his superior. Knowing exactly what I was looking for, I submitted a simple public records request on August 3, 2015:

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), I ask to obtain a copy of the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:

  1. Any e-mail, memo, interoffice correspondence or letter addressed to Enrique Boull’t that includes the phrase “Request for Travel.”
  2. Any e-mail, memo, interoffice correspondence or letter addressed to or sent by either Enrique Boull’t or Michelle King that includes the phrase “LAUSD I’M IN.”

The period of time covered by this request is the month of January 2013.

Unfortunately, my first attempt to deliver this request was thwarted by District’s blocking of my IP address which prevented me from sending e-mails to their server. After using a different computer and email address, I received confirmation of my request from the General Counsel’s office. The clock was ticking.

Given the fact that the information I was requesting was relevant to a supposedly ongoing investigation, it should have been recently accessed and, therefore, not stuck in some dust covered box in a remote warehouse. It should also be noted that I was only looking for correspondence from two employees during a one month period, so the request was not overly broad. Still, as the deadline approached, the district sent me letter stating that due to “unusual circumstances” they needed additional time to process my request. They expected to provide “a further response on or before August 28, 2015.”

I did not receive that response and on August 31, I asked for an update. On September 3, I was sent an email stating that “so far, only two emails have been found for the month of January 2013 related to the phrases ‘Request for Travel’ and ‘LAUSD I’M IN’” and they were still “working on this matter in an attempt to find additional emails, if any.” This was curious, because I had asked for not only emails, but also memos, interoffice correspondence or letters. Also, if they were only searching e-mails, why was this information not instantly available through an electronic search? In any case, I was told that they would provide me “with an update and final response on Tuesday, September 8.” I am still waiting for that response.

The questions left unanswered by the District’s stonewalling are not insignificant. Most importantly, Binkle deserves a chance to publicly prove his innocence after his character was publicly assassinated by the District.  Also, the taxpayers and stakeholders deserve to know why a District that constantly claims poverty was paying Binkle his $152,000 a year salary to sit home on paid leave if he was actually innocent of the charges leveled against him. Additionally, it has been widely reported that Binkle brought many positive changes to the food services program. If this is the case, have the students been unnecessarily harmed by his forced retirement?

This case also plays a role in the ongoing search for a new Superintendent. Steve Zimmer has called Michelle King “a ‘top candidate’ to replace Ramon Cortines,” but she sat above David Binkle on the chain of command. If the Inspector General is correct in his assertion that “the program [was] at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused,” then the public deserves  to know how this was allowed to happen by senior district staff, including King. This is especially crucial since  Binkle has stated that his actions were approved. A simple release of documents will prove if this is true.

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I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.

Life is Short. Investigate Wisely.

…investigations should be completed in a timely matter, nothing and I mean nothing, will stand in the way of making sure our students and school communities are safe.

-Ramon Cortines, LAUSD Superintendent

The fifth grade students of Hobart Elementary School have started the school year without award winning teacher Rafe Esquith in the classroom. They are also deprived of access to his nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans, and its proven record of allowing students to “move on to attend outstanding colleges.” Instead, Esquith continues to be confined to teacher jail as the five month investigation against him drags on. What started with a complaint about a joke told in the classroom has somehow expanded into “a complex investigation that requires painstaking, time-consuming work.”

David Binkle has been hailed as “an excellent leader who led several important nutrition initiatives for Los Angeles students,” but resigned from the LAUSD after being paid to stay at home for eight months. The District “placed Binkle on administrative leave in December so that he would be available to answer investigator’s questions,” but Binkle says that the investigators never contacted him during this time. While the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) accused him “of failing to report payments from vendors to attend school food conferences,” Binkle has stated that his “actions were approved and encouraged from senior district officials.” One of his superiors was Michelle King, who has been called a “‘top candidate’ to replace Ramon Cortines.” The investigation drags on as the public waits for a final report.

With all this and more on their plates, the OIG has now announced that it is now diverting resources to investigate “whether the teachers whose district emails appear on the Ashley Madison database violated district policy.” It is unclear why teachers are being singled out when the initial LASR story stated that the LAUSD e-mail addresses included in the database belonged to “principals, teachers, athletic directors, athletic coaches, administrators, cafeteria workers and at least one school police officer.” This investigation appears to be driven by internal forces as the LAUSD’s Director of Communications admits that she has “not heard any concerns from District parents.” It is also probable that the cost of the investigation will be higher than any actual harm to the district. While users may have provided their district email address, they “didn’t use school computers to access the dating website” as it has been verified as blocked by the District’s IT department.

If history is any indication, this investigation runs the risk of dragging the reputation of innocent people through the mud. For example, Jason Duchan filed a lawsuit against the LAUSD this summer after he was suspended for posting inappropriate messages to Facebook. After the District “sent memos, to students, teachers and parents, telling them that an employee had been removed for alleged misconduct,” the LAPD arrested a student for falsely creating the page. Interestingly “the one friend the page had turned out to be the student who was arrested for creating it,” but the LAUSD was still tricked into believing the existence of the page was reason enough to destroy a teacher’s reputation.

The risk is even greater with the Ashley Madison website. It should not surprise anyone that a site geared towards facilitating infidelity did not conform to very strong business ethics. In fact, only 1,492 of the 5.5 million women allegedly on the service had ever checked their messages. Therefore, the 31.5 million registered males on the site probably exhibited more bad intentions than bad behavior.  Furthermore, the site “doesn’t require email verification to create an account,” leaving people subject to office pranks and false profiles. Is this a rabbit hole the OIG really wants to go down?

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I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.

Still Stuck In Food Services Director Jail, David Binkle Retires

“I felt bad collecting my salary while being forced to sit home without doing the work.”

-David Binkle

Last December, David Binkle’s paid suspension was announced with typical LAUSD double speak. At the same time the press office was stating that he had “been temporarily reassigned pending the conclusion of an internal investigation into a CONFIDENTIAL personnel matter,” (emphasis mine) a leaked copy of the Inspector General’s draft audit stated that they “found that the program is currently at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused.” While the district initially stated that the investigation was likely to “wrap up in late spring or early summer,” last month they stated “they could not estimate when the investigation might be concluded.” In the meantime, Binkle was being paid his $152,000 salary not to work, a situation that was unfair to both Binkle and the taxpayers.

Like the many teachers who have been forced to quit after getting stuck in the purgatory of Teacher Jail, Binkle has filed his paperwork to retire. While this provides him with a way to move forward from the experience, he also pays the price of having an unresolved cloud over his name. Unfortunately for the stakeholders of the district, Binkle’s retirement may also give the district an opportunity to leave the investigation unfinished and the resulting unanswered questions will create a situation where the status quo will be allowed to continue.

If the Inspector General is correct in the assessment that there was mismanagement of the division, it is unclear why the buck stops with Binkle. It is not unreasonable to expect that senior district officials should know what is going on in the departments that they supervise. In fact, Binkle has stated that his actions “were approved by senior officials including [former Chief Operating Officer Enrique] Boull’t and Michelle King, chief deputy superintendent.” Of course, this is the same district where Ron Chandler was forced to resign for his role in the “premature” launch of the MiSiS system while his boss, Chief Strategist Matt Hill, continued with his job until failing upward by becoming Superintendent of the Burbank School District. Apparently, this is how accountability works in the LAUSD. Only continued pressure to bring the investigation to its full conclusion can prevent this same outcome in the Food Services investigation scandal.

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I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and author of the Parental Engagement blog.