Zimmer still angry about Rodriguez campaign but vows to work together

Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

Drinking too much at a work dinner or hitting on a co-worker’s spouse can make things truly uncomfortable at the office. But what about publicly damning a future colleague before his first day on the job?

That’s the situation LA Unified school board Vice President Steve Zimmer faces, now that Ref Rodriguez has defeated his good friend, Bennett Kayser, for the District 5 board seat.

“If there ever was a relationship there with Rodriguez, it has been seriously damaged,” Zimmer said a day before Tuesday’s election, piqued by the tenor of Rodriguez’s campaign.

Zimmer accused Rodriguez and his backers of crossing “new frontiers of depravity” and “using a type of lies and distortion, that lowered the entire moral climate of political discourse” throughout the campaign, even if much of the nastiness was orchestrated by groups working on Rodriguez’s behalf, not the candidate himself. Anyway, Zimmer said, the candidate ultimately bears the responsibility for the tone and scope of the campaign.

His position now?

“I meant what I said, and I stand by it,” he told LA School Report today.

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More ‘Good Food’ brings compostable plates to LAUSD

compostable-cardboard-plate-2015LA Unified will begin phasing out polystyrene trays this month, replacing them with environmentally friendly compostable plates.

The change comes as part of the district’s membership in the Urban School Food Alliance  (USFA), along with New York, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando. The cities have banded to implement healthier and more environmentally sound food choices while using their combined purchasing power to keep costs down.

The move to compostable trays is just the latest change at the lunch table at LA Unified after the passage of the school board’s “Good Food” resolution in 2014, which called on the district to team with the USFA and only buy antibiotic free chicken, reduce the amount of salt, fat and sugar in student meals and only use vendors that meet certain environmental standards, among other new guidelines.

Schools across the nation typically choose polystyrene trays because they are cheaper — at an average of four cents per tray — than compostable ones, which are around 12 cents, according to an press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council. But by combining forces, the alliance was able to purchase the compostable trays for less than a nickel apiece.

“The American-made molded fiber compostable round plate is produced from pre-consumer recycled newsprint. It is FDA-approved and manufactured in Maine by Huhtamaki North America,” according to a USFA. “The Alliance round plate has five compartments, with the beverage compartment strategically placed in the middle to balance the weight of a typical meal. The innovative design prevents hinging or bending and is easy to handle.”

The USFA estimates that the change will save 225 million polystyrene trays from landfills every year.

“This news is a game changer,” said Alliance Chairman Eric Goldstein and chief executive officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education in a statement. “As leaders in school meals, we’re proud to create a product that students will not only find easy to use, but one that also protects the environment for many years to come.”

Coming next in the 2015-16 school year for LA Unified: compostable cutlery.

Commentary: To improve LAUSD graduation rates, let’s revisit A-G

graduationBy Martin Blythe

In a commentary last week, four LA Unified students demanded that the district retain the A-G college-prep graduation requirements —  Cs or better for a diploma — despite warnings that it would lead to tens of thousands of students not graduating in the years ahead.

While more money and resources often solve problems, they will not address the core issue here, which I believe is the A-G requirement itself. The A-G requirement was designed to fix one problem, but it was far too simplistic, and we are now seeing the unintended consequences: it is hurting too many students.

It is now time to ask whether every one of the A-G courses has to be a requirement for high school graduation.

Advanced algebra? Two years of a language?

This quickly becomes a zero-sum game, I know, but couldn’t we offer several different pathways to graduation – some semi-academic ones in addition to the specifically academic one? Instead of throwing money at remedial summer school, a better choice would be spending on oversight for assuring true choice and for tutoring, options that have not been available for some college-aspiring students.

I am not arguing for a return to the segregation of the vocational track. I am arguing for flexibility.

Why not take the non-required “electives” that are worth 25 credits and boost them to 40 credits, and allow students to take more ROP (Regional Occupational Program) and CTE (Career and Technical Education) and Linked Learning courses — agriculture, automotive, technology and other specialized trades — on the way to 210 total credits?

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Minimum wage boost could decrease affordable child care

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By Deepa Fernandes

The higher minimum wage in the city of Los Angeles may harm the very poor families it is intended to help, according to members of the child care planning committee that advises the county.

The L.A. City Council voted Tuesday to raise the minimum wage from the current $9 an hour to $10.50 on July 1, 2016 and then in annual steps up to $15 on July 1, 2020.

City leaders proposed the increase to address California’s income inequality and its high cost of living. But there may be unintended consequences for both child care providers and the low-income earners many of them serve.

Most people in the child care field agree that preschool teachers and child care workers, among the lowest paid professions, need the higher pay. However, administrators of child care centers say they don’t receive enough money per child to cover the scheduled wage increases.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: Demonstrators call for removal of South LA principal

Demonstrators call for removal of principal at John W. Mack Elementary 
The emotions were raw outside of John W. Mack Elementary School in South Los Angeles Thursday. ABC7

New California teaching credentials decline for 10th successive year
At the same time, the number of teachers given short-term and provisional permits, and so- called “intern” credentials, rose sharply. Ed Source

Plan unveiled to bring computer science into high schools nationwide
Code.org has teamed up with The College Board. iSchoolGuide

Study: Cell phone ban linked to rise in test scores
None of the schools surveyed had cell phone bans in place in 2001, 50% had them in 2007. By 2012, 98% did not allow them on school grounds. Education News

California unveils new student score reports
For California students, it’s new standards and new tests. For their parents, it’s new score reports. Monterey Herald

Will Bernie Sanders take on K12 education issues?
As we enter the campaign for the 2016 presidential race, educators and students are looking for a candidate willing to buck some very powerful trends. Living in Dialogue

LAUSD officials in Sacramento to talk trans-k, adult ed and budget

sacramento_state_capital_houseLA Unified officials are in Sacramento today lobbying for adult education and transitional kindergarten programs. Oh yeah, and the budget, too.

Among those joining in on the road trip are Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King, Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly and board members George McKenna and Steve Zimmer. They planned to meet with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and “other key legislators,” according to district officials.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced plans to eliminate funding for a pre-school program serving about 13,000 four-year olds, called the School Readiness and Language Development Program. SRLDP costs about $26 million annually and is the only pre-school program financed exclusively with district general funds.

As a result, the board approved a resolution to explore the idea of expanding existing transitional kindergarten programs, which are partially paid for with state funding.

Adult education programs were among the first to be slashed throughout the the recession years, and it has yet to benefit from recent state revenue increases. Further, more cuts are planned. The district issued layoff notices to hundreds of adult education teachers in April.

The latest budget projections from the state’s legislative analysts office estimate the district will receive $710 million dollars above what it had initially expected.

Rodriguez win a reform anomaly, AALA opens ‘me too’ negotiations

school report buzzRef Rodriguez is an anomaly not only for becoming the first candidate backed by the state charter schools to win a seat on the LA Unified board. He’s an anomaly for winning at a time of mayoral disengagement with public education.

That’s the view of Ben Austin, political director for Students Matter, the Vergara people, and founder of Parent Revolution, the trigger law people.

“The politics of education reform in Los Angeles the past two decades largely rises and falls with the politics of the sitting mayor,” he said. “When you have a reformer in a mayor like Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, you have a stronger reform movement. When the mayor is disengaged in education, like Jim Hahn and Eric Garcetti, the movement tends to go into hibernation.”

And that’s why, he said, “the stakes are high” for Rodriguez, founder of a charter school and the antithesis of the incumbent he defeated, Bennett Kayser, UTLA’s closest ally on the board, who generally voted against charters for spooling money out of traditional public schools.

“If Ref hadn’t pulled this out, the reform movement would have gone back into political hibernation for the rest of Garcetti’s term,” Austin said. “He showed that it’s possible to win against UTLA without a reform mayor.”

LAUSD reaches deal with clerical employees

LA Unified has reached a three-year contract deal with the union that represents its clerical and office workers.

The deal with the California School Employees Association Local Chapter 500, covering 3,900 employees, includes a 2 percent salary increase in 2014-15, a 2 percent increase in 2015-16, with a living wage adjustment to $13 an hour for those who make less than $13 an hour; and a 2.5 percent in 2016-17, with a living wage adjustment to $15 an hour for those who make less than $15 an hour, according to a district press release.

“I want to thank CSEA for their professionalism and dedication to our students. This agreement continues to honor our joint commitment to serve the students in our District while at the same time respecting the rights of our employees,” Vivian Ekchian, LA Unified’s chief labor negotiator, said in a statement

The deal requires ratification by union members and the school board.

AALA to start “me too” negotiations

Speaking of union negations. . .

just because both the school board and UTLA have ratified their three-year contract agreement that includes a 10.4 percent salary raise, that doesn’t mean negotiations connected to the issue are over.

The district has several “me too” agreements with other unions that require the district to improve their contracts. The district reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) last year that includes a “me too” clause.

In its weekly newsletter, AALA told its members that negotiations with the district would begin next week and that it expects “that AALA will receive comparable treatment, not necessarily, the same treatment as another group of employees. Therefore, AALA members will not automatically be granted what was negotiated with UTLA. We must return to the bargaining table and work out an agreement that is comparable. We anticipate that our negotiations will be complete by the end of the school year.”



No charges in Venice High sex assault case after 15 arrested

lapd_logo_carpet_inset Venice HighA high-profile LAPD raid on Venice High School that made international headlines after 15 male students were arrested on charges of sexual assault has resulted in prosecutors’ decision not to prosecute anyone in the case.

The large number of students arrested in mid-March and the high number of law enforcement personnel that descended on the school’s campus and led students away in handcuffs drew widespread attention on the case. But now, over two months later, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office cited “insufficient evidence” as the reason that no charges would be pursued, the Los Angeles Times reported.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the LAPD “stands by our decision to make arrests based on the information we had and circumstances at that time,” according to the Times. All of the alleged suspects and victims were minors.

The students arrested, some of whom were athletes at the school, worked together to pressure girls into having sex and made verbal threats to pressure them to have sex, the LAPD said at the time of the arrests.

Eight students were arrested on campus during the March 13 raid and the others were arrested off campus. The investigation began when school officials notified the LAPD about the allegations, and the LAPD said at the time it moved quickly on the school to prevent further incidents.

LA Unified declined to comment on the decision.

“As soon as the Los Angeles Unified School District learned of the alleged incidents, we informed the proper authorities as required by law,” LA Unified said in a released statement. “The District completed its required administrative review and evaluation of school safety and campus climate and facilitated the required Education Code due process of involved students. Since the review is confidential, we can’t comment on specific actions. This process is unaffected by the District Attorney’s decision not to press charges.”




‘Opt out’ of testing movement spreads across New York state

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By Elizabeth Harris and Ford Fessenden

It started with a speech in the fall, to parents who had gathered in the auditorium to learn what to expect during the nascent school year.

“I spoke at the open house and said, ‘We hope you’ll opt out of the tests,’ ” said Heather Roberts, vice president of the Bennett Intermediate School parent teacher association. Last year, 92 percent of eligible students in the Catskill Mountains district that includes Boiceville took their standardized English tests. “Jaws dropped.”

Soon there were forums, T-shirts with snappy slogans and fliers translated into Spanish. During pickups and play dates, in classrooms and at lunch, parents and students would ask one another: “Are you opting out?”

By the first day of testing in April, two of every three students in the district who were expected to take the exams were refusing to lift their pencils.

Across New York State, a small if vocal movement urging a rejection of standardized exams took off this year, maturing from scattered displays of disobedience into a widespread rebuke of state testing policies.

Click here to read the full story.

Morning Read: Charters get a seat at LAUSD board table

L.A. school board seat is a pivotal win for charter school movement
The win gives the district’s 211 charter schools a key ally they never had before. Los Angeles Times

L.A. School Board wins/losss are like mirror images
Rarely do voters demand change while simultaneously reaffirming the status quo, but that’s exactly what happened in the May 19 LAUSD elections. Jewish Journal

Budget proposal is mixed for foster students
Although advocates for foster youth say they are disappointed that Gov. Brown did not increase funds to expand Foster Youth Services. Ed Source

Panel backs fee hike for teacher misconduct backlog
The Commission on Teacher Credentialing processes some 5,500 complaints each year about the actions of teachers and principals. SI&A Cabinet Report

It is Head Start’s 50th anniversary
The program was meant to attack poverty at its roots by helping to give disadvantaged kids some of same educational opportunities as affluent ones. Huffington Post

Editorial: Back to work at L.A. Unified
Voters — few though they were — sent some strong messages to the Los Angeles Unified school board Tuesday. Los Angeles Times

Galatzan’s loss? Blame it on iPads, anti-incumbency and Galatzan

Tamar Galtatzan

Tamar Galtatzan

Tamar Galatzan, now an out-going LA Unified board member for District 3,  congratulated the career school administrator who defeated her yesterday, Scott Schmerelson, issuing a statement in which she expressed “great respect for my colleagues on the school board and what we have been able to accomplish during difficult financial times.

“I’m grateful to them for their commitment and dedication in helping our students succeed,” she said.

But she was not available for any questions about the campaign, her board office said.

Of results in the three LA Unified board elections yesterday, Galatzan’s loss seemed the most unexpected. In the primary, she fended off five challengers and out-polled Schmerelson by 2-to-1. Yesterday, Schmerelson beat her with 55 percent of the low turnout vote —  they drew just 9.1 percent of District 3 voters to the polls.

Or maybe the outcome was foretold, after all.

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Mixed reactions to mixed results of LAUSD school board election

Supporters of Ref Rodriguez celebrate his victory in the LAUSD school board District 5 race. (Facebook)

Supporters of Ref Rodriguez celebrate his victory in the LAUSD school board District 5 race. (Facebook)

Anyone who is staunchly in the pro-reform or pro-union camp on LA Unified school board issues is probably feeling a little ambiguous today.

Despite two new faces coming to the board, the ideological balance of power remained the same, and reactions from the major players and supporters in the election has been mixed.

Here is a sampling of reactions:

  • From Students Matter: “Yesterday’s elections demonstrate once and for all that a ‘kids first’ agenda isn’t just smart policy, it’s also smart politics. We congratulate Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member-elect (Ref) Rodriguez and Board Member (Richard) Vladovic for their resounding victories in the LAUSD Board races.”
  • SEIU Local 99: “We are disappointed that Tamar Galatzan and Bennett Kayser will not continue their tenure on the school board. They have led the school district through difficult and changing times. We appreciate that their decisions were often made with an understanding that education extends beyond the walls of the classroom. We are hopeful that many of the issues they championed – including early education, technology, student nutrition, family wellness, and community outreach – will continue to be central and important issues addressed by the new board.””
  • Ama Nyamekye, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence: “The three seats on the LAUSD Board of Education up for election could lead to sweeping change in the nation’s second largest school district. The successors of this election will need to work together towards a collaborative, forward-looking agenda without being weighed down by past political battles.”
  • Ref Rodriguez: “This is a historic victory, as Los Angeles embraces positive change for our schools. The message of transforming middle schools and supporting innovation really resonated with voters. I am incredibly grateful for the support of so many parents, teachers, and students, who rallied to support our effort. This was a community effort and is a community victory.”
  •  Tamar Galatzan: I want to congratulate Scott Schmerelson on his successful campaign. The students and schools he will serve are among the best, brightest and most innovative in LAUSD, and I’m very proud to have represented them for the last eight years. I have great respect for my colleagues on the school board and what we have been able to accomplish during difficult financial times. I’m grateful to them for their commitment and dedication in helping our students succeed. Graduation rates and student achievement are improving, and our students are gaining the skills and knowledge to prepare them for college and the workforce.”
  • Gary Borden, executive director, CCSA Advocates: “In board district 5, we were proud to see the community, including so many charter school families, teachers and supporters, commit so much time and effort in this election. The community has clearly said they want a board member who understands all public school students and will work for all of them. It’s also clear that ideological extremism has no place on the school board. We’re confident that Ref Rodriguez will champion the rights and needs of students and families and will work tirelessly to improve the quality of all public schools – whether they’re charters, pilots, magnets, or traditional schools. In board district 3, we’re very disappointed to lose Tamar Galatzan, a trusted, highly respected, independent leader for schools in the San Fernando Valley and across the district. Given the particularly strong performance of charter schools in board district 3, we look forward to working with Mr. Schmerelson to ensure those schools continue to receive the support they need to keep excelling.”


Analysis: For the LAUSD board, changes in faces but not balance

Bennett Kayser LAUSD* UPDATED

Voters wanted change, but the changes came from opposite directions.

For the first time since 2009, two seats on the LA Unified school board turned over at the same time in elections yesterday that proved once again how little Angelinos care about the people setting policy for the 643,000 kids attending city public schools.

Two incumbents lost — Tamar Galatzan in District 3 and Bennett Kayser in District 5. But each winner hews more closely to the views of the incumbent who lost in the other race, making the day’s results a political wash.

Scott Schmerelson, the primary runner-up who won with 55 percent of the vote to beat Galatzan, is a career LAUSD school administrator who had heavy backing of the teachers union, UTLA

Ref Rodriguez, the primary winner who won with 54 percent of the vote to beat Kayser, is a charter school co-founder who had heavy backing from the state’s charter schools association and other reform interests.

The charters did everything they could to defeat Schmerelson. The teachers union did everything it could to defeat Rodriguez.

Where that leaves the board in terms of ideology is probably not much different than where it was on Monday, with Schmerelson replacing Kayser as the pro-union member and Rodriguez replacing Galatzan as the pro-reform member.

At the very least, the results brought the board its only Republican, in Schmerelson, and its only openly gay member, in Rodriguez.

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Vladovic breezes to a third term with largest margin of board races

LAUSD school board President Richard Vladovic

LAUSD school board President Richard Vladovic

LA Unified Board President Richard Vladovic successfully held his District 7 seat last night, winning a third term by the largest margin of the day’s three elections in a race with the lowest turn out.

He won with 56 percent of the vote to Lydia Gutierrez’s 44 percent.

Mike Trujillo, a campaign consultant to Vladovic, told LA School Report, that Vladovic’s appeal lies in his ability to strike the right balance on a range of issues.

“Dr. Vladovic’s educational career has always been about putting students, parents and teachers first, Trujillo saids. “His political career is much like that of Goldilocks where the porridge is never too hot, never too cold, always just right.”

Apparently, the mix also appealed to political action committees on the reform and union sides.  Vladovic was the only candidate in all three of the races to receive endorsements from pro-charter advocates, including the California Charters Schools Association PAC and labor groups UTLA and SEIU.

Gutierrez had no major endorsements and little campaign money throughout the election.

Despite that she made an impressive splash in the March primary race finishing only five percentage points behind Vladovic. And as recently as April, an internal poll of District 7 voters by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates and Great Public Schools: Los Angeles, showed Gutierrez, leading by 37 percent to 34 percent, with 29 percent undecided, in a statistical tie. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

Last night’s defeat marks her fifth failed bid for public office since 2008. In her most recent before now, she came in third in a run for state superintendent last year against Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck.

Vladovic was first elected to the board in 2007 and became president in 2013. Over most of that time the board slashed billions from the district budget.

But with more than $700 million in extra revenue coming in next year, he says he wants now to focus on leading the district into more prosperous and efficient times through priorities that include proper distribution of money to schools that need it most, a MiSiS system that works, a teacher evaluation system that’s fair and a better use of best practices districtwide.

Buoyed by millions, Rodriguez beats Kayser for District 5 board seat

Ref Rodriguez

Ref Rodriguez

In the most of expensive and vitriolic of all three LA Unified board races, Bennett Kayser lost to Ref Rodriguez in the battle to represent District 5.

Shortly after polls closed Rodriguez cemented an early lead, and Kayser, who had hoped for a second term, was never able to catch up.

“This is a historic victory, as Los Angeles embraces positive change for our schools,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

“The message of transforming middle schools and supporting innovation really resonated with voters,” he wrote, adding words of gratitude for the “community victory.”

The win is a game changer for the California Charter Schools Association, which contributed several million dollars to Rodriguez’s campaign through its political action committee. The organization paid for television, radio and direct mail advertisements championing the charter school founder and railing against Kayser. It marks the first time the CCSA successfully turned over a pro-union seat.

But it is only a partial triumph for the education reform group which was counting on Tamar Galatzan to hold on to her seat in District 3. In that scenario, charter school supporters would have regained control of the board with a 4-3 majority.

That is not what happened.

Scott Schmerelson, a former teacher, counselor and school administrator beat Galatzan by more than 10 percentage points. And although, Schmerelson resists the pro-union label, he acknowledged that he couldn’t have won it without UTLA’s support.

While UTLA campaigned aggressively for Kayser in the March primary races, the teachers union changed strategies for the general election.

“It became a different kind of race at that point,” Marco Flores, a member of UTLA’s political action committee told LA School Report.

“We were just trying to fend off racist and toxic accusations,” he said, referring to the attack ads directed at Kayser. “If we had more money maybe we could have been more effective.”

Kayser is expected to release a statement later today, according to his campaign manager Susan Burnside, who spoke to LA School Report from Schmerelson’s party. Burnside also worked on his campaign.

Schmerelson stuns Galatzan to deny her third term on school board

Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson

In a stunning upset, Scott Schmerelson handily defeated two-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan in the race for LA Unified’s District 3 seat.

Schmerelson beat Galatzan with more than 3,000 votes, 55 percent to 45 percent.

“I am very happy, very excited, and I’m ready for my five-year term,” he told LA School Report late last night, referring to the extended term school board members will be serving following a voter approved measure aligning local elections with state and federal races.

While many observers predicted the outcome of the election in District 5 — between Bennett Kayser and Ref Rodriguez — would determine the future ideological balance of the seven member board, it is Schmerelson’s victory that ensures the so-called “reformers” will remain in the minority despite Kayser’s loss.

“I intend to be perfectly fair,” Schmerelson said, unwilling to describe himself as either pro-charter, pro-union, or pro-anything specific.

“I am not a vehement anti-charter person,” he explained, then launched into a lengthy speech about how many charters engage in deceitful practices dumping students with disciplinary problems or before important testing. His conclusion: “They really need to be closely monitored.”

The teachers union threw its support behind the veteran educator after the primary race in an effort to elect “anyone but Galatzan” according to UTLA PAC official, Marco Flores.

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Morning Read: CA ready to send out Common Core report cards

CA readies new student report cards on Common Core testing
State officials say they are moving forward with the new student report cards despite potential conflicts with the No Child Left Behind Act. SI&A Cabinet Report

San Pedro mother claims school police officer used excessive force on son
Andres Munoz, 11, said his wrist injury came as a result of being handcuffed by a school police officer. ABC7

School districts struggling to get reserves cap repealed
Last week, on a party-line vote, the majority Democrats on the Assembly Education Committee rejected Assembly Bill 1048. Ed Source

Girls via online petition stand up against ‘sexist’ school dress code
Students from New York to California have lodged similar protests against dress codes, which include bans on tight-fitting clothes. San Jose Mercury News

A vow to veto a schools bill in Minnesota
Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, had advocated universal prekindergarten for the state’s 4-year-olds. New York Times

Mobile program reaches students to help fill gaps in arts education
As arts programs have been cut back in some districts, nonprofits and community groups have stepped in to fill the gap in school arts education. KPCC