The parents want preschool classes, a longer school day, a computer lab, every teacher to have a master’s degree, a full-time librarian and clean, working restrooms, among other things.
The district can’t afford those demands, said Superintendent Darin Brawley, adding that state education funding is down 20 percent this year. “There’s no way we could do all those things at Desert Trails without making cuts elsewhere, from other students in the district,” he said.
Brawley says the school is no worse than scores of others in San Bernardino County.
Pro-trigger parents say they want Desert Trails to remain part of the Adelanto school district but to be given autonomy, so the principal hasfull control over hiring, firing, curriculum and spending.
The political fight has quickly turned personal.
Last year, Ramirez and Chrissy Alvarado were best friends. With their daughters in the same class at Desert Trails and their homes within walking distance, the women bonded over coffee and errands.
Ramirez became a leader of the trigger group, believing it is the best way to improve her daughter’s education. Alvarado is opposed and calls it a hijacking of the public school by outside interests.
Their daughters stopped having sleepovers; the women no longer chatted.
Then Alvarado sent a series of text messages to Ramirez announcing that their friendship was over. “This is going to get big quick,” Alvarado wrote about the coming divide in the community. “I never thought you would become one of them.”
Alvarado’s suspicions stem from Parent Revolution’s first, unsuccessful attempt to use the trigger law last year. It paid canvassers to collect signatures on a petition demanding that a Compton elementary school be shut down and reopened as a charter school run by a company selected by Parent Revolution.
That effort collapsed under a legal challenge.
Parent Revolution learned from Compton, said Ben Austin, the organization’s executive director and a Democratic operative who worked in the Clinton White House. “We were the ones who picked the charter school, the transformation model, collected the signatures,” he said, adding that those decisions should be made by parents. “We are learning in real time.”
Austin was working for the Green Dot charter network, based in Los Angeles, when he developed the idea of a parent trigger. It squeaked through the California Legislature by one vote in each chamber, part of a reform effort to compete for federal Race to the Top funding. California didn’t win the grant, but the parent trigger was law. Since then, Parent Revolution has been helping trigger efforts in other states.
At Desert Trails, Principal David Mobley is trying to focus on children and keep controversy out of the classroom. It’s not easy.
“You’ve got all these outside entities with bigger political agendas,” said Mobley, who became principal in October, unaware of the tempest that was brewing. “Parents here are sincere. But I worry that they’re pawns in somebody’s big chess game.”