Thursday, July 7, 2011

California Parents File Conflict of Interest Complaint Against Board member/Paid Lobbyist Patricia Rucker

LOS ANGELES –Today, parents from across California filed an official ethics complaint against current lobbyist and State Board of Education member Patricia Rucker for a conflict of interest stemming from her inappropriate participation in crafting and voting on the State Board’s final implementing regulations for California’s historic Parent Trigger law. Ms. Rucker is currently both a top paid lobbyist for the California Teachers Association (CTA) and a voting member of the California State Board of Education (SBE).  Parents made clear that all they want is for Ms. Rucker to correct her mistake and recuse herself moving forward, and will happily withdraw their complaint if she does so.

Since 2009, Ms. Rucker has been a top paid lobbyist of CTA as they opposed both the original Parent Trigger legislation as well as the State Board’s nearly yearlong attempt to craft implementing regulations for the law. Parents first expressed their concern about Ms. Rucker’s conflict of interest during the public comment section of the April 21 SBE meeting, making clear their concerns about her dual roles as paid lobbyist and Board member. Ms. Rucker refused to respond, either in public or any other forum, to the parents’ concerns, sitting silently as they inquired as to whether she would recuse herself and declining to approach parents afterward to resolve or further explain the issue. Furthermore, just several hours after this issue first surfaced – but after parents had already left the room – Ms. Rucker proceeded to offer an amendment to the regulations that would effectively repeal the entire Parent Trigger law by forcing parents to gain permission from teachers at their school in order to exercise certain transformation options.  State lawyers present at the meeting demurred, refusing to take a position on Rucker’s conflict.

After having their initial requests ignored, parents from across California - Lydia Grant, Bruce Wasson, Monica Jones, and Carolynn Martin – filed an official ethics complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to flag Ms. Rucker’s conflict of interest. These same parents will also be returning to the State Board to request in person, once again, that Ms. Rucker recuse herself.

“Ms. Rucker is sending a mixed message as she works as a paid lobbyist on behalf of the CTA and votes against my rights as a parent,” Lydia Grant, a parent in the San Fernando Valley, said. “Her dual role as a paid lobbyist and a public official voting on these regulations presents a serious concern for all parents in California as they take what should be the final votes on the law. In April, we asked Ms. Rucker to recuse herself and she ignored us. Next week we will be back at the SBE to look her in the eyes and ask her to do the right thing.”

“All we want is for Ms. Rucker to recognize her mistake, do the right thing, and recuse herself moving forward on this vital issue,” Bruce Wasson, a southern California parent, said. “We look forward to working collaboratively with Ms. Rucker and the entire California Teachers Association on other crucial issues such as school funding and support for our teachers. This has nothing to do with Ms. Rucker personally -- we simply want to preserve the integrity of this process. It is impossible for her to exercise her duty as a public official while she is being paid to lobby for an organization that opposes this law and these regulations.”

“We believe Ms. Rucker has made a significant mistake by acting as both a paid lobbyist opposing these regulations as well as a State Board member voting on them,” Monica Jones of Sacramento said. “How are we supposed to know when she is CTA’s paid lobbyist or when she is an unbiased member of the Board? That being said, we would be happy to drop this complaint if she simply admitted her mistake, preserved the integrity of this process, and did the right thing by recusing herself from the rest of the process.”

Just yesterday, the California State Senate Committee on Education passed the much improved clean up legislation after Assm. Julia Brownley, Sen. Alan Lowenthal and other leaders worked collaboratively to ensure the legislation empowers parents and protects their rights. Additionally, Governor Brown's State Board, lead by Board Pres. Mike Kirst, released a fair, thoughtful, pro-parent draft of Parent Trigger regulations that will be reviewed by the State Board at the July 13 SBE meeting. The State Board will, once again, be deciding whether or not to finalize this pro-parent draft of permanent implementing regulations for this historic law. Failure to do so will force the entire process to reset since it cannot go on for more than one year, wasting over an entire year of work by parent activists, the State Board, and others. Next week’s meeting represents a defining leadership moment for Governor Brown, as he works to line up votes on his own appointed board in the face of intense opposition from CTA and other defenders of the status quo. Parents from across Southern California will be joined by parents in Northern California to testify in support of the most recent copy of Parent Trigger implementing regulations.

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