Vergara-inspired lawsuit turns to federal courts

Press conference after Vergara decision LAUSD

David Welch, StudentsMatter founder, speaking at a press conference after a Vergara decision.

The attorneys involved in Vergara v. California, a landmark case that challenged teacher tenure laws, announced Tuesday they have filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut challenging that state’s laws that they say restrict school choice options.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the California Supreme Court’s decision Monday to decline to review an appellate court ruling that overturned Vergara v. California, effectively putting an end to that case’s four-year journey through the courts. The battle now moves to the California Legislature.

In the new case, Martinez v. Malloy, the plaintiff attorneys argue that the state laws violate equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit names 11 students and parents as plaintiffs. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and other state leaders are named as defendants.

“These inner-city children are compelled to attend public schools that the State knows have been failing its students for decades—consistently failing to provide even a minimally adequate education,” attorneys write in the lawsuit. “Yet, at the same time, Connecticut has taken steps that prevent these poor and minority children from having viable public-school alternatives— knowingly depriving low-income and minority schoolchildren of the vital educational opportunities available to their more affluent and predominantly white peers.”

The attorneys cite three categories of laws that are being challenged: the state has put a moratorium on new magnet schools, “arcane and dysfunctional” laws that govern public charter schools and the state’s inter-district open choice enrollment program that penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts.

“Federal courts have a proud tradition of recognizing and protecting our most cherished fundamental rights — particularly when our children’s futures are at stake,” said Joshua Lipshutz, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “It is time for the federal courts to step in and stop states, like Connecticut, from forcing inner-city children to attend failing schools.  Under the U.S. Constitution, every child deserves a chance to succeed in life.”

“As urban parents, we have to work ten times as hard, be ten times as engaged, and be ten times as savvy about the system to give our children even a slim chance of getting into a quality school,” said Jessica Martinez in a statement, the mother of one of the plaintiffs. “Connecticut’s laws hurt and impede, rather than help us.”

StudentsMatter is sponsoring the lawsuit. They say tens of thousands of poor and minority students in Connecticut are harmed by the laws.

“Every child deserves access to a quality education and the opportunities it provides, but the state is effectively limiting that access for some children — a direct violation of their Constitutional rights,” said StudentsMatter founder David Welch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. “This case is about parents standing up and demanding answers for a broken and harmful system.”

With Vergara’s demise, heat’s on California Legislature to take up teacher tenure

ShirleyBonillaSplit

Assemblymembers Shirley Weber, left, and Susan Bonilla.

In the wake of a crushing defeat for a landmark challenge to California’s teacher tenure laws, the battle for change has shifted from the courts to the state Legislature.

While most parties agree that the inequities brought to light during the Vergara v. California trial must be righted, there’s a difference of opinion from those inside and outside the Legislature about whether that’s possible in the current political landscape in Sacramento, where teachers unions are among the most powerful lobbying groups.

Marshall Tuck, a former Los Angeles charter schools executive who ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent in 2014, credited Vergara and its nine student plaintiffs for the change he’s seen in the halls of the capitol.

“There’s real momentum that’s been built around these kids and the support they got,” Tuck said. “I believe that the momentum will hopefully continue and that we’ll get these changes.”

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, takes an opposite view.

“There’s no momentum. It’s the reverse,” she said. She pointed out that the California Teachers Association has racked up three wins since spring, with the appellate court’s unanimous ruling to overturn Vergara, the Supreme Court’s decision this week to decline to review the case and the thwarting of her own bill that would have made changes to teacher tenure and dismissal procedures.

“That’s the reality. It gets harder with every defeat,” she said.

Bonilla agrees it’s the Legislature’s job to make these changes.

“That’s why I carried my bill. The Legislature needs to take action. They shouldn’t abdicate their responsibility to the children of California.”

Even though Bonilla’s AB 934 was defeated after initial backers withdrew their support and lobbied against the final watered-down version, Tuck said the bill showed that the Legislature has made progress.

“Really for the first time, you saw a Democrat introduce meaningful legislation that addressed a lot of the areas that Vergara sought to address,” he said. “That, to me, really shows progress.

“Four years ago, there was zero dialogue about improving these laws,” he said.

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Astronaut Ellen Ochoa pays return visit to namesake school

Ochoa-and-Huerta-1

Dr. Ellen Ochoa is greeted by Local District East Superintendent Jose Huerta at her namesake school in Cudahy. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

By Samuel Gilstrap

Visiting her namesake school never gets old for Dr. Ellen Ochoa.

The former shuttle astronaut, who now heads NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, recently paid a visit to the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy, the fourth time she has returned since the 800-student school was named in her honor a decade ago.

“It’s fun to come back, and see what’s going on,” said Ochoa, the first Latina to be chosen as an astronaut. “There is a great staff, and I’m always impressed with their dedication. More importantly, it’s great talking to students.”

Ochoa spoke to students during two assemblies, sharing a video about her work as a mission specialist and flight engineer during four trips aboard the Discovery and Atlantic shuttles. She said her favorite part of being an astronaut were the spectacular views of Earth from the International Space Station. She also talked about her present-day duties overseeing the operation of the Space Station, a football-field size satellite that weighs nearly 1 million pounds and orbits 250 miles above the Earth.

Click here for the full story from LAUSD Daily.

Commentary: UTLA head should seek to avert state crisis, not create one

Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLABy Caroline Bermudez

Nearly two years ago, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez posed a question in an op-ed worth revisiting.

Is the L.A. teachers union tone deaf?

Based on a recent speech given by Alex Caputo-Pearl, the head of United Teachers Los Angeles, the answer is a definitive yes.

The juvenile world of heroes and villains Caputo-Pearl described, one where evil corporations and billionaires look to profit from public education while scrappy, earnest underdogs try to stop them, bears no semblance to reality.

Teachers unions in California comprise one of the most powerful political forces in the state.

Rather than admit this, Caputo-Pearl issued a battle cry worthy of a Bugs Bunny cartoon in his speech given at the UTLA Leadership Conference:

“With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for Governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018. There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

What is glaring in Caputo-Pearl’s speech is that aside from mentioning his own two children, the word “children” was said only once. This speaks volumes as to the rationale behind his leadership, a role serving the interests of adults before those of students. Threatening to strike should be an absolute last resort, not the first order of action.

It calls to mind a classic paradox.

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.

The unstoppable force is the rising cost of health care and pensions in this nation. As a result of these sharply increasing costs, LAUSD faces a staggering amount of debt, to the tune of more than $11 billion, that threatens to cripple the entire system because the district is on the hook, per demands made by UTLA, to provide lifetime health benefits and retirement pensions to its employees.

According to a report written by an independent financial review panel that was commissioned by LAUSD, the district owes more than $20,000 per student for unfunded liabilities (see page 44) although per pupil expenditure in California is less than $10,000 per student. Placed in further context, the liability for retirement benefits LAUSD is obligated to pay for is four times that of other large urban school districts. Twenty-seven percent of state funding LAUSD receives goes to paying pension and health care costs before factoring in teacher salaries, school supplies and textbooks.

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Morning Read: LAUSD tried to discredit student sex assault victim, attorneys say

Attorneys say LAUSD tried to discredit girl after sexual assault claim
Attorneys for a former Los Angeles Unified School District student on Monday expressed outrage over the LAUSD’s alleged attempts to discredit the girl, who said she was sexually assaulted in a bathroom at her elementary school. In April 2012, the then-12-year-old girl said the assault occurred at 95th Street Elementary School in South L.A. No one was ever arrested in the alleged attack, and the girl’s family filed a lawsuit against the school district. By Chelsea Edwards, ABC7

JUST IN: Vergara ends — California Supreme Court refuses to take up teacher tenure case

Just In - Breaking Vergara Trial Ruling LAUSD

*UPDATED

In a split decision, the California Supreme Court on Monday declined to review an appellate court ruling that overturned Vergara v. California, a landmark case that challenged teacher tenure and declared some school employment laws unconstitutional.

The court was split four to three, with two of the dissenting judges issuing lengthy and forceful statements that laid out why action is needed on the state’s tenure laws.

Ted Boutrous, an attorney for StudentsMatter, the nonprofit that supported the nine California public school student-plaintiffs and asked the state Supreme Court to review the appellate court ruling, said in a call with reporters that he has never seen dissenting statements like the ones given Monday in previous Supreme Court denials, “Until today.”

“These are two scholars, legal scholars, brilliant scholars, who have explained why these issues are so important, why the statutes are so bad, why the court should have taken this case,” he said.

Boutrous said the justices’ opinions will be a “launch pad” to a possible federal case.

“We have been exploring possible federal challenges based on very similar theories and other theories” as related to the Vergara lawsuit, he said.

Justices Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, who wrote the dissents, were nominated by Gov. Jerry Brown and reportedly on President Barack Obama’s short-list as possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees this year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“As the state’s highest court, we owe the plaintiffs in this case, as well as schoolchildren throughout California, our transparent and reasoned judgment on whether the challenged statutes deprive a significant subset of students of their fundamental right to education and violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. I respectfully dissent from the denial of review,” wrote Justice Liu.

“The nine schoolchildren who brought this action, along with the millions of children whose educational opportunities are affected every day by the challenged statutes, deserve to have their claims heard by this state’s highest court.”

Justice Cuellar wrote in his dissenting statement: “Beatriz Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs raise profound questions with implications for millions of students across California. They deserve an answer from this court. Difficult as it is to embrace the logic of the appellate court on this issue, it is even more difficult to allow that court’s decision to stay on the books without review in a case of enormous statewide importance.

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Key excerpts from judges’ dissents in the Vergara ruling

Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara

Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara, student-plantiffs in Vergara v. California.

The California Supreme Court today declined to review an appellate court ruling that overturned the landmark Vergara v. California teacher tenure case.

Here are key excerpts from the dissenting opinions of State Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and State Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu:


The nine schoolchildren who brought this action, along with the millions of children whose educational opportunities are affected every day by the challenged statutes, deserve to have their claims heard by this state’s highest court.


The Court of Appeal’s treatment of Group 1 is more problematic. In overturning the trial court’s judgment with respect to this group, the Court of Appeal said the group is not “an identifiable class of persons sufficient to maintain an equal protection challenge” because “to claim an equal protection violation [citations], group members must have some pertinent common characteristic other than the fact that they are assertedly harmed by a statute.” On this point, the Court of Appeal likely erred.


The two cases involve different yet complementary claims concerning the importance of resources and reform to improving the education system. Both cases ultimately present the same basic issue: whether the education clauses of our state Constitution guarantee a minimum level of quality below which our public schools cannot be permitted to fall. This issue is surely one of the most consequential to the future of California.


Despite the gravity of the trial court’s findings, despite the apparent error in the Court of Appeal’s equal protection analysis, and despite the undeniable statewide importance of the issues presented, the court decides that the serious claims raised by Beatriz Vergara and her eight student peers do not warrant our review. I disagree. As the state’s highest court, we owe the plaintiffs in this case, as well as schoolchildren throughout California, our transparent and reasoned judgment on whether the challenged statutes deprive a significant subset of students of their fundamental right to education and violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. I respectfully dissent from the denial of review.


Nothing in California’s Constitution or any other law supports the Court of Appeal’s reasoning.


When a fundamental right has been appreciably burdened, we apply strict scrutiny. The appellate court did not. Instead it erected a novel barrier — not only for Beatriz Vergara and her fellow student plaintiffs, but for all California litigants seeking to raise equal protection claims based on a fundamental right.


Beatriz Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs raise profound questions with implications for millions of students across California.They deserve an answer from this court. Difficult as it is to embrace the logic of the appellate court on this issue, it is even more difficult to allow that court’s decision to stay on the books without review in a case of enormous statewide importance.


These findings instead failed to justify a remedy, according to the Court of Appeal, because there was no identifiable group explicitly targeted or uniquely burdened by the statutes. This conclusion is, at best, in stark tension with settled law.


The harmful consequences to a child’s education caused by grossly ineffective teachers — the evidence for which the trial court found compelling — are no less grave than those resulting from a shortened period of instruction or financial shortfalls. In considering this case, we must respect the role of the representative branches of government and the public itself in shaping education policy. But our responsibility to honor the court’s proper constitutional role makes it as important for us to review a case that merits our attention as it is for us to avoid a dispute beyond the court’s purview. This case is the former. It squarely presents significant questions of state constitutional jurisprudence that our court, rather than the Legislature or the executive branch, is best suited to address.


There is no right without an adequate remedy. And no such remedy exists without review by a court of last resort when the decision of the appellate court, the importance of the case, and the question presented so clearly merit review. Denying review in this case leaves in place a decision that is in considerable tension with existing law and accepts with little explanation the notion of material interference with the fundamental right to an education – interference that the trial court here found was caused by the challenged statutes


There is a difference between the usual blemishes in governance left as institutions implement statutes or engage in routine trade-offs and those staggering failures that threaten to turn the right to education for California schoolchildren into an empty promise. Knowing the difference is as fundamental as education itself. Which is why I would grant review.


Read the full dissenting statements here.

LAUSD board takes up health benefits, teacher hiring, school calendar, charter considerations

SchoolBoardHiring more teachers, moving the school year to start after Labor Day, training workers to fix air conditioners and offering health benefits for teachers assistants and playground aides are some of the items on the list for the Tuesday afternoon’s LA Unified School Board meeting kicking off the new year.

The school board will also be considering fixing playing fields at some schools, making other schools more accessible to disabled students and taking the first steps to opening an all-boys school.

The school board begins its day in closed session at 9 a.m. on Aug. 23 where they will discuss employee evaluations, labor negotiations and existing litigation, including the $1-billion class-action lawsuit brought by fired teacher Rafe Esquith and others who were in teacher jails.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. at the Beaudry Avenue Headquarters, and the agenda notes that the school board will discuss important policy issues such as:

More hiring. The school board is being asked to hire 1,632 more classified, certificated and unclassified employees. There are also 1,077 retirements, 1,153 resignations and 2,388 separation/non-resignations. The district is asking for approval of 537 new hires that are mostly teachers and counselors, 51 of them with provisional intern permits.

School calendar. Three school board members are proposing a resolution to change the school year start to after Labor Day to save money.

• Health benefits. The Service Employees’ International Union, Local 99 hammered out an agreement that will allow certain teacher assistants and playground aides to get health insurance who couldn’t previously.

Boys school. The board is being asked to approve nearly $700,000 to upgrade some classrooms at Washington Preparatory High School for the upcoming Boys Academic Leadership Academy (BALA).

• College savings. Another resolution asks the district to unite with plans by Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu to look at how to implement college savings accounts for LA Unified students to help with college tuition.

• Family survey. Board member Monica Ratliff introduces a resolution asking the district to survey families to determine causes of declining enrollment.

Prop 56. Board member George McKenna is asking for the district to support the tax on tobacco for research and prevention.

Prop 58. School board President Steve Zimmer and Ref Rodriguez ask for support of Proposition 58: LEARN (Language Education, Acquisition and Readiness Now) to prepare students for a multilingual economy.

Measure M. Zimmer and board member Monica Garcia ask for support of Measure M, a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot to fund transportation services.

Workforce housing. Board members Ratliff and Zimmer are asking the district to explore options for workforce housing in Sun Valley.

• UCLA Mental Health Fellows. Acknowledging that the cost for a full-time psychiatrist is cost prohibitive, the district is asking to spend $78,000 on UCLA Fellows in a continued partnership with the LA County Mental Health Department to create the nation’s first blended-funding, full-scope, school district-based Medi-Cal child and family psychiatric clinic.

Stacked parking. Staff is asking for a three-year contract with Modern Parking Inc. for $1.1 million to continue to stack their cars across the street from the Beaudry headquarters. The stacked parking allows for 270 more spaces per day for a total of about 1,620.

Some of the new business involves construction that is funded through bond money. Among the projects being considered are:

• 13 schools will have accessibility enhancement projects totaling nearly $24 million.

• Four critical athletic programs will cost $9.8 million for turf replacing and seismic retrofitting.

• 12 architectural and engineering contracts for about $36.5 million.

• One proposal is asking for $60,120 for the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Training Center, which has helped staff keep the aging HVAC systems going.

The charter schools division of the district has on the agenda for the school board, which controls the approval of independent charters in the district:

• A hearing of violations by El Camino Real Charter High School for “procedures that were sorely inadequate and numerous, seemingly exorbitant, personal and/or improper expenses were incurred without scrutiny and proper documentation.” The school plans to address the concerns, and there will be a public hearing.

•  Material revisions for the Citizens of the World 3, KIPP Comienza Community Prep, KIPP Philosophers Academy, KIPP Vida Preparatory Academy, N.E.W. Academy of Science and Arts, Port of Los Angeles High School and City High School.

• There are also public hearings for new charter schools and renewals from Citizens of the World Westside (1,020 students for K-8 grades); Equitas Academy 2 (400 for 5-8 grades); Fenton Avenue (741 for TK and 3-5 grades); Fenton Primary Center (804 for TK-2); Monsenor Oscar Romero Charter Middle (375 for 6-8); Synergy (940 for TK-6), and Synergy Charter (480 for K-5).

For more details, see the Meeting Materials and the Board Agenda.

The meeting begins Tuesday at 2 p.m. at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. in the board room and will be broadcast live (check LA School Report for the link).

Commentary: Why teachers are burning out — reimagining the American education system

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.00.17 AMBy Jane Mayer and Jesse Soza, Ed.D.

This is the second in a five-article series about teacher sustainability in Los Angeles and California public schools and the available solutions to reversing teacher turnover. Read the first article here.


Teacher turnover, otherwise known as burnout, is a multi-faceted and complex problem currently plaguing the public education system in our country. And it’s one that hits relatively close to home. Education is a unifying element of American society—we’re hard-pressed to find many institutions that have influenced the lives of every citizen.

Because there are approximately 3.5 million to 5.5 million teachers in our country, which amounts to 1-2 percent of the population (reports vary based on categorization of administration, grade levels, etc.) almost everyone knows and loves a teacher. And 40-50 percent of them are leaving our schools within five years of entering, unable to sustain careers within the current education system.

On the whole, teachers are passionate, compassionate, innovative and intelligent members of our society. Ask any teacher why he or she got into teaching, and almost everyone will give you some variation of wanting to mentor young people, pass along a passion for a subject, serve the way a childhood teacher had served him, or—in no uncertain terms, “change the world.” No one gets into teaching because of the prestige, the easy work or the money. Teachers go into teaching because they are called—and because they have a vision of themselves as change agents in the world.

So, the question becomes (and rightly so, as pointed out by several comments on the first article), why are these passionate, committed and bright people, who set out to serve our communities, leaving at such astounding rates?

The knee-jerk response often revolves around poor salaries, though the answer isn’t as simple as giving people a raise (but with a national starting salary of $35,672, raises wouldn’t hurt). There are places in our country where the increased cost of living dramatically outpaces teacher salaries (like Los Angeles and San Francisco) and actually dissuades people from becoming teachers at all.

But despite pay, many of our nation’s teachers would happily continue working in schools if other conditions that lead to burnout were changed. And the other good news is that there are concrete and effective ways to address the conditions that are driving our teachers out of classrooms across this state and our country.

So, back to the question at hand—if it’s not simply money, why are they leaving?

Richard Ingersoll, one of the foremost experts on teacher attrition and a former teacher himself, reflected on this question personally in an interview with The Atlantic: “‘One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,’ Ingersoll says. ‘But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect. Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.'”

Could it really be so simple that all teachers need to stay in the classroom is to feel heard, respected and empowered?

Yes.

When there is a workforce that is intelligent, well-educated, compassionate and committed to service, the best way we can honor them is to trust them to do their jobs. Trust them to teach what needs to be taught, trust their experiences in the classroom are valuable sources of information, trust that they are experts at teaching.

Unfortunately, the educational system we have today is not set up to honor teachers as experts—and it actually prevents them from speaking their voices, experiencing personal power and having agency to affect change. Complicated federally mandated testing, district-mandated behavior systems and ineffective school-wide policies affect every teacher in every classroom. As I have heard again and again from teachers around our city and state, our current education system actually keeps them from the being best versions of themselves as educators.

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Morning Read: LAUSD public schools look to marketing to help enrollment

As enrollment declines, L.A. public schools borrow a tactic from the charters: marketing
As enrollment in traditional public schools around the city has declined and charter schools have mushroomed, principals are having to compete for students or risk school closure. To do this, they are turning to marketing tactics long employed by charter schools: handing out glossy fliers and creating Facebook pages to promote their after-school activities. By Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times

PUC’s annual CSUN week for sixth-graders: The near-disaster that turned into a blessing

PCU

Incoming PUC sixth-graders participate in a soccer clinic on Wednesday during the charter school group’s annual CSUN week.

*UPDATED

The first day of middle school can be a pretty nerve-racking experience for almost any kid. You don’t know anyone, you have no friends, you don’t know where your classes are, you don’t know your teachers, you don’t know the rules and you don’t know what is expected of you.

But PUC Schools, an independent charter organization that operates 14 schools at LA Unified, has taken a different approach to the start of middle school aimed at calming those anxieties while also inspiring students to set a goal of going to college. All incoming sixth-graders at PUC’s five San Fernando Valley middle schools spend a week on the campus of California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in a summer camp-like environment while getting to know their teachers and fellow classmates before school begins.

CSUN week dates back to the founding of the school in 1999 and came out of a desperate move by PUC’s co-founder, Jackie Elliot. After spending a year preparing, Elliot was set to open her first school.

But there was one problem, and it was a big one. The school building wasn’t ready.

Elliot was an alumna of CSUN and had been using an office at the college during the year she was preparing for the school’s opening.

“There was a critical moment when LAUSD told me I had 48 hours to find a temporary facility or we would not be able to open the school that year,” Elliot said. “So I went to the facilities person at the dean’s office and begged him to give us temporary space. All I needed was four classrooms for 100 students, four teachers, me and an office manager. He didn’t know if he should do it, it was unconventional, but he had gotten to know us through the course of the year and it just tugged on his heart strings and he didn’t want us to not be able to open, so he said yes.”

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So the group of incoming sixth-graders — most of them from low-income, minority families — spent their first weeks taking classes on the CSUN campus, and what was to be two weeks turned into six weeks because the building was still not ready in time. But before long, Elliot said she started to notice that the college campus was having a positive impact on the kids, and what initially looked like a disaster was turning into a blessing in disguise.

“The students came to feel at home at the campus. Most of them had never been to a university campus. The majority of their parents had not taken a college course or graduated high school. They became like part of the campus and would play frisbee on the lawn with the college students and eat lunch out there,” Elliot said. “The students were surrounded by many university students, and if you asked them, ‘Are you going to go to college?’ they would say, ‘Well yes, I am already in college.’ So I realized this was having a very positive impact and instilling in them the desire to go to college.”

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Commentary: Los Angeles is losing good teachers because of this policy

teacher (blonde) at blackboardBy Benjamin Feinberg

Teachers unions often argue that the “last in, first out” policy is the only fair way to lay off teachers. Reformers say that LIFO protects bad teachers while indiscriminately getting rid of young and creative new teachers.

The way we lay off teachers will become more important as Los Angeles Unified School District enters yet another budget crisis.

Let’s ignore the policy argument for a moment and instead focus on LIFO’s effect. Ironically, this policy supported by teachers unions ends up benefiting charter schools.

To get a good understanding of LIFO’s impact, we should look back to 2009, when LAUSD laid off 1,806 teachers.

THE YEAR I WAS LAID OFF

This happens to be a very personal subject for me because I was laid off that year.

I started my teaching career in 2008. Three weeks after the first day of school, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the economy went into a tailspin. At first, this didn’t really hit the teaching sector hard, but by February it became clear that layoffs were coming. And then, on May 15, 2009, 5,618 LAUSD teachers received layoff notices.

Many of those layoffs were rescinded, and those whose notices were not rescinded were told that we could sub for ourselves and stay at our schools. But from a more personal perspective, getting a layoff notice makes you panic.

That is exactly what I did. I. Freaked. Out.

As a relatively risk-averse person, I chose to apply for a new teaching job.

And who was hiring?

Charter schools. Oodles and oodles of charter schools.

I was hired at Aspire Public Schools, one of the fastest-growing charter networks in Los Angeles. My girlfriend was hired at Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC Schools). My friends got jobs at Green Dot, Synergy, Para Los Niños, Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools (ICEF), the list goes on.

In fact, of my Teach For America (TFA) cohort who received layoff notices that year, only 21 percent were rescinded, 18 percent decided to sub for themselves, and 57 percent headed to charter schools. LIFO took a bunch of young, excited teachers who already had a year of experience under their belts and pushed them into charter schools.

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Morning Read: Well-known charter high school faces revocation by LAUSD board

LA charter school faces possible closure over ‘fiscal mismanagement’

Alleging fiscal mismanagement and “fatal flaws in judgment,” Los Angeles Unified staff will ask the district’s Board of Education on Tuesday to issue a “notice of violations” to El Camino Real Charter High School — the first step to revoking its charter, according to the district. The west San Fernando Valley school, which converted to an independent charter in 2011, would have until Sept. 23 to remedy all the alleged violations if the notice is issued. If the school fails to make the corrections, the board could issue a “notice of intent to revoke” the school’s charter and then hold another public hearing. The public hearing is Tuesday at 1 p.m. By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News

Hot topic: Would a later start to school year really save money? LAUSD data are mixed

Heat

Despite temperatures hovering in the 90s for the rest of the week for many LA Unified schools, calls for air-conditioning repairs haven’t gotten out of hand.

Yet a proposal being introduced by three LA Unified School board members next week could change the start of the school year until after Labor Day, and one of the biggest reasons given for that change is because many believe it costs too much to cool the 30,000 classrooms in the summer heat. But is that really the case?

For the past three years when school started in early to mid-August, service repairs for school air-conditioning HVAC units cost more in September than they did in August, according to a report from LA Unified facilities made last year.

For September in both 2014 and 2015 the costs for repairs were about $1.4 million, while the cost for repairs in August were far less: $987,000 in 2014 and $1.2 million in 2015.

And some of the most dangerous heat waves over the past few years have taken place during September, including last year when some schools recorded 112 degrees and in 2014 when outdoor athletic activities were canceled both in September and early October due to triple-digit heat waves.

The facilities report notes that when “more occupants are on campuses this will cause more service calls to be generated.” So, for example, when the school year was first moved to an August start date in 2012, the district experienced its highest costs for service over a six-year period at $4.3 million, while the second-highest year was when school last started in September, which was in 2011.

Another facilities report by the district reported electricity consumption costs in June and August. That report showed that electricity costs rose after the school start was moved to August.

HVACAirconditionerRepaircosts
Considering both the reduction of school days in June and the additional days in August, electricity costs increased about $772,000 in 2013 and $1.9 million in 2014 compared to 2010, before the early start was introduced. The report notes that the temperatures were unusually excessive in both 2012 and 2014.

After an intense study and requests for input, the school board in January agreed to approve the calendar for only one year, against the recommendations of Superintendent Michelle King, who wanted a three-year commitment.

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Despite district rules, Haddon Elementary increases enrollment and decreases absenteeism with unique programs

RichardRamos703

Principal Richard Ramos with Dominga Verduzco.

Haddon Elementary Avenue School is so in demand that families want to drive their children across the San Fernando Valley from Granada Hills to attend the Pacoima school.

Haddon is not a charter school, it’s not a new pilot program and it’s not a magnet school (yet). It’s a traditional Title 1 district school in a low-income Latino neighborhood that has been there since 1926.

But it wasn’t always growing. And in fact it had to fight district rules that prohibited families from moving to the school.

Five years ago, parents were so fed up with the school that they initiated a “parent trigger” to try to take over the school from the district. The trigger was never pulled, and a new principal came in who brought programs students wanted, like a Mariachi class, a robotics program and an award-winning speech and debate team.

“We are certainly an anomaly in the district, and I’m learning now that part of my job is to figure out how to be competitive and promote the school,” said Haddon Principal Richard S. Ramos, who has worked with the charter school group Partnerships to Uplift Communities and on dozens of successful electoral campaigns, most recently for Robert Gonzales to the San Fernando City Council in 2012. “We have to figure out better ways to get the word out about what we’re doing that’s good in our schools.”

Soon students were clamoring to transfer to the school — a welcome change especially as without the new enrollment, the school faced a loss of teachers.

Then came the curve ball. District administrators said “No!” to the families who wanted to transfer to Haddon.

The district wouldn’t allow students to transfer because it wasn’t a pilot or magnet or charter school. Families weren’t allowed to leave their home schools to attend Haddon. One family was pleading to get in because their daughter loved robotics, and the parents were willing to drive nearly an hour every day to bring her to the school.

“They have parents wanting to come in, and I don’t understand why it’s not allowed?” school board member Monica Ratliff said at a board meeting this spring after she heard about the issue.

District administrators listened to Ratliff. They worked it out so that applicants could say they wanted to transfer to the school because similar programs were not offered at their home schools. Parents’ requests needed to include a waiver form that explained the programs offered at Haddon were not offered elsewhere.

Removing that roadblock resulted in unprecedented growth for the school unlike any other school in the area. The principal noted that Haddon has had increased enrollment for the past two years. In fact, he said that 39 of the new students he has this year are transferring from charter schools.

“We are in a time now where the entire district is seeing declining enrollment,” Ramos said on the first day of the new school year on Tuesday. For the past decade, the school enrollment was on a steady decline. The school now has an enrollment of more than 900, with a capacity of 960.

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Morning Read: Could school start after Labor Day next year?

Three LA board members will push for school to start after Labor Day

Three Los Angeles school board members will begin a push next week to start the following school year after Labor Day. The traditional academic year began Tuesday, a full three weeks before Labor Day, which falls on the first Monday in September. The resolution, to be introduced at next Tuesday’s meeting, is sponsored by George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic. By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Search enrollment data for LAUSD middle schools and charter schools

Source: gagespartans.org

Gage Middle School had the biggest enrollment drop of district middle schools from 2011-12 to 2015-16. (Photo: gagespartans.org)

Middle school enrollment has consistently declined over the past 10 years in district schools. One school lost 858 students. But charters and magnet programs are growing. 

LA Unified is attempting to quell the enrollment drop-off as 133,000 students have left the district since 2006-07 and middle schools have emerged as a key battleground.

During the past 10 years, the district lost more than 41,581 students from fifth to sixth grade. Even after accounting for the growth of charter schools, nearly 15,000 students simply vanished from the public school system.

LA School Report obtained enrollment data for each district and charter school since 2011-12. The data on district and charter middle schools can be downloaded and searched here. Check out your own school’s enrollment change over the last five years.

Read more: Exclusive: Where have all the middle school students gone? The key battlefield in LAUSD’s enrollment drop

Here are some highlights from the data:

DISTRICT SCHOOLS

The district middle schools with the largest enrollment declines from 2011-12 to 2015-16 (not including enrollment in magnet programs):

  1. Gage Middle School lost 858 students
  2. Obama Global Preparation Academy lost 613 students
  3. Nightingale Middle School lost 570 students
  4. South Gate Middle School lost 558 students
  5. Wilmington Middle School lost 548 students
  6. Peary Middle School lost 532 students
  7. Gompers Middle School lost 528 students
  8. Sutter Middle School lost 525 students
  9. Virgil Middle School lost 512 students
  10. Stevenson Middle School lost 481 students

Just 12 of 83 comprehensive middle schools increased enrollment in the five-year period. Three middle schools opened during the timeframe: Walnut Park Middle School STEM Academy, Walnut Park Middle School School of Social Justice and Service Learning, which both opened in 2012 and last year enrolled 544 and 491 students, respectively, and Studio School, which opened in 2013-14 and enrolled 264 students last year.

The district middle schools with the largest enrollment increases from 2011-12 to 2015-16 (not including magnet programs) were:

  1. Nava Learning Academy School of Business and Tech gained 134 students
  2. Nava Learning Academy School of Arts and Culture gained 131 students
  3. Edison Middle School gained 120 students
  4. Hale Charter Academy gained 62 students
  5. Orchard Academies 2B gained 49 students
  6. Kim Academy gained 47 students
  7. Northridge Middle School gained 47 students
  8. Orchard Academies 2C gained 34 students
  9. Madison Middle School gained 29 students
  10. Nobel Charter Middle School gained 27 students

MAGNETS

One magnet program at Wright Middle School in Westchester closed after the 2012-13 school year, which had enrolled 479 students. The school reinvented itself in 2013 as a STEAM magnet school, which enrolled about 700 students last year.

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State supreme court could decide today whether to take up Vergara teacher tenure case

Press conference after Vergara ruling LAUSD

The California Supreme Court’s decision on whether to take up Vergara v. California, a landmark ruling that challenged teacher tenure and declared some school employment laws unconstitutional, could come as early as this afternoon. Today is the court’s last scheduled conference before the Monday deadline to say whether it will review an appellate court’s ruling in the case.

The plaintiffs, a group of nine California public school students represented by StudentsMatter, asked the state Supreme Court to review the appellate court ruling in May.

• Hear audio highlights from the Vergara appeals hearing.  

• Read previous Vergara coverage from LA School Report, which covered the 2014 trial.

The lawsuit has captured the attention of the nation and ignited a debate about teacher tenure laws and job protections that make it difficult to fire tenured teachers. It has fiercely divided education reformers and teachers’ unions.

In an April 14 decision, a three-judge appellate panel said it found the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California didn’t present enough evidence to show that minority students were more often subjected to ineffective teachers than other students. It unanimously reversed the lower court ruling.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry. The trial court’s judgment declaring the statutes unconstitutional, therefore, cannot be affirmed.”

California’s teachers unions characterized that ruling as a “win.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that giving administrators the power to fire bad teachers more quickly would improve student achievement, especially for students of color. They argued the laws that make it difficult to fire teachers and allowed ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms — teaching mainly minority and poor students — and harmed student learning.

The judges acknowledged many problems in the school system, but couldn’t find the laws themselves to be unconstitutional.

“In sum, the evidence presented at trial highlighted likely drawbacks to the current tenure, dismissal and layoff statutes, but it did not demonstrate a facial constitutional violation. The evidence also revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools. The evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs sued the State of California and several state officials, seeking a court order declaring various parts of state’s Education Code unconstitutional. After an eight-week trial in 2014 with more than 50 witnesses, LA County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled in favor of the students. The state quickly filed an appeal.

Similar lawsuits have been subsequently filed in Minnesota and New York.

State lawmakers have been unsuccessful in attempting to make changes to teacher tenure laws at the legislative level. The California Teachers Association is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Sacramento.

Most recently, a bill that would have extended the probationary period for new teachers from two to three years, among other changes, was defeated in June by the Senate Education Committee, even after the bill became so watered down that initial backers revoked their support.

Morning Read: New law allows high school students to take community college classes at their school

More high school students starting the year as…community college students

Pasadena Unified is one of the first Southern California school districts that have taken advantage of a new law that allows high school students to take community college classes on a high school campus during the school day. “When students earn college credit when in high school, over 90 percent of them [not only] go to college, but complete it,” said Pasadena Unified Assistant Superintendent Marisa Sarian. By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, KPCC