Union To Ask LA Unified Board for a Stay On Dismissals*

UTLA President Warren Fletcher

UTLA President Warren Fletcher

The Los Angeles teachers union will ask the LA Unified Board of Education to temporarily suspend the two most recent rounds of teacher dismissals, which the board approved in closed sessions this month and last month.

“Teachers want to make sure that if there are any bad guys in the classroom, that they stop being in the classroom,” union President  Warren Fletcher, said in an interview. “But this system leads to many innocent educators being scooped up in the dragnet.”

Every time a teacher is fired in California, local school boards meet behind closed doors to review the dismissals. These meetings are often pro forma; the LAUSD board routinely votes unanimously to approve all of the recommended firings.

A group of UTLA activists is up in arms over the Sept. 17 board meeting, when, according to Fletcher, the dismissal of over 30 teachers was approved. UTLA activists have taken to calling the day “Black Tuesday.”

“The teachers did not know that their names were coming up,” said, Scott Mandel, a member of the UTLA board. “None of them had gotten previous notification at all. And the board accepted their dismissal recommendation without comment, and nobody questioned anything. They didn’t see the other side, they didn’t see any defense.”

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LA Unified Suspension Rate Accelerating Down, to 1.5 Percent

artworks-000048315362-fx84rf-cropThe suspension rate in LA Unified has fallen to 1.5 percent — an impressive drop from the 8.1 percent of the 2007-08 school year. The rate of decrease has been even more pronounced since John Deasy was appointed Superintendent in 2011. In his first full school year in charge, the suspension rate fell to 3.7 percent from  5.4 percent; in his second full year, it fell by more than half.

“It’s something that I moved really quickly on,” Deasy said. “I’ve placed an emphasis on it. We’ve tracked it school by school.”

The number of instructional days lost due to suspension began to drop before Deasy took over. In 2007, the school board passed the Discipline Foundation Policy, which aimed to lower suspensions by “using effective classroom management and positive behavior support strategies by providing early intervention for misconduct and appropriate use of consequences.”

But as he has on many fronts, Deasy has taken a more aggressive approach to lowering suspensions.

“Dr. Deasy has been very diligent on conducting performance dialogues with instructional superintendents and looking at data,” said Zsuzsanna Vincenze, Director of School Operations. “It’s been very data driven.”

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Gov. Brown’s Veto Leaves Teacher Dismissal in Limbo*

Assembly member Joan Buchanan, left, and State Senator Alex Padilla, right

Assembly member Joan Buchanan, left, and State Senator Alex Padilla, right

Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of AB 375, a bill that would have amended California’s teacher dismissal process, doesn’t mean the effort is dead.

“The governor still wants to do something,” LA Unified’s chief lobbyist, Edgar Zazueta, told LA School Report. “I do see there will be one, if not several, efforts to do this next year. Hopefully we’re able to find somewhere in the middle, where more stakeholders can embrace final product.”

Zazueta added that Brown “always wants to make sure that all the stakeholders are on board. With 375, it was unbalanced. None of the folks who do dismissals were part of process.”

Gloria Romero, who just left California Democrats for Education Reform to start her own organization, the Foundation for Parent Empowerment, also sees a pathway forward, even if it remains uncertain who’s leading the effort.

“The stars are aligned,” she said. “There will be a very bright public spotlight on this. The legislature will have to act. The question is, who carries it this time?”

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Kayser is New LA Unified Board Budget Committee Chair

Tamar Galatzan

Tamar Galatzan

Bennett Kayser has taken over as chairman of the LA Unified School Board budget committee, replacing Tamar Galatzan, who stepped down after two years.

Galatzan said that she saw no reason for the budget committee — formally, the Facilities, Audit and Budget Committee — to meet at the moment, now that the district is conducting a a number of community meetings to address spending priorities.

“There are dozens of budget meetings being held throughout the school district,” she explained in an email. “In addition, many of the board committees are addressing budget issues, and board motions impacting the budget are introduced monthly. Until there are new procedures established to manage these multiple directions, I do not think a separate budget committee is effective or necessary.”

Kayser’s view is quite different.

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Vladovic Apologizes, Escapes Further Board Action — For Now

Richard Vladovic

Richard Vladovic

After a tense, four-hour closed meeting with his LA Unified Board colleagues, President Richard Vladovic opened a brief public session admitting that he had violated the district’s code of conduct and apologizing to employees he may have harmed.

“I did get upset at people,” he said. “I did tell them things I shouldn’t have told them.” He said he has a “passion for the district, and I believe in my passion I crossed the line, and I intend to never do it again.” He also conceded he has sought “professional help.”

Vladovic suggested that some on the board were reluctant to accept his mea culpa: “I’m saying it publicly, so that this issue doesn’t cloud other issues affecting the board. And I know all of my colleagues don’t agree with that. But I must accept responsibility.”

The sudden admission came two weeks after an outside firm concluded an investigation into allegations of verbal and sexual harassment against Vladovic, some of them from years ago. Details were kept out of public view until Monday night, when district officials released documents involving two accusers. One case described events that could be interpreted as sexual harassment; the other, verbal.

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Board to Review Vladovic Charges in Closed Session

Board President Richard Vladovic

Board President Richard Vladovic

The LA Unified board is expected to review findings of an investigation into harassment charges against Board President Richard Vladovic when it meets today in closed session, according to people familiar with the meeting agenda.

The agenda makes no explicit mention of the investigation, which was concluded two weeks ago. While board members were individually briefed on the case after the report was completed, details emerged last night when the district released partial accounts through a public records request. The accounts appear here and here.

Vladovic has denied all charges against him. His spokesman, Mike Trujillo, told the L.A. Daily News that both of the cases made public were “unactionable.”

He told LA School Report: “We categorically deny the allegations in these complaints. What we have admitted to is Dr. V using his outdoor voice indoors, which makes him as guilty as every football coach in the district.”

It is unclear what action, if any, the board might take if members believe there is sufficient cause to respond. By a majority vote, the board can strip Vladovic of his presidency and censure him; it cannot remove him from office. Whatever it does would most likely be done publicly, and the day’s open agenda includes “Report on any actions taken” in the closed session.

Censure of a school board member by colleagues happens in rare instances. The most recent LA-area school board member to be censured is Joseph Chang of the Hacienda La Puente school board, whose colleagues took the action last month over allegations that he accepted trips from a private company and urged administrators to accept unqualified international students.


Previous posts: Vladovic Investigation Concluded; Board Members are Briefed*Cleared On One of Two InvestigationsBoard President Hires Reform-Affiliated ConsultantRules Allow Board Members to Censure Colleagues

Service Workers Union Looking to Expand LA Unified Role

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 4.14.18 PMFor years, the SEIU Local 99 has been “the other union” in LAUSD. Representing custodians, cooks, bus drivers and other “classified” workers, the union is just as politically influential, if not more so, than the teachers union, UTLA. And yet its voice is rarely heard in policy debates.

That might be about to change.

In a presentation to the LA Unified School Board on Tuesday, SEIU local 99 Executive Director Courtni Pugh laid out a vision to better connect community services to schools. Dubbed OASIS, for Optimizing Access to Services, Inspiring Success, the plan aims to turn local schools sites into a hub of community services, such as park space, libraries, health care providers and technology.

“Not everyone enters the classroom in the morning with the same experiences the night before,” Pugh told LA School Report. “We have to recognize that a child’s day does not start and end in the classroom.”

It is, by her own admission, not a new idea. Earlier this year, the Youth Policy Institute launched an initiative called Los Angeles Promise Neighborhoods, which aims to fuse a variety of anti-poverty services into one program centered around a school. (The idea was inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.)

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Caputo-Pearl Kicks Off Money Drive for Union Presidency

Caputo-Pearl, left, phone-banking for Steve Zimmer in March

Caputo-Pearl, left, phone-banking for Steve Zimmer in March

The first step of running for office is raising money, and the UTLA Presidential election is no exception. In an email to would-be supporters this week, candidate Alex Caputo-Pearl set a fundraising goal of $100,000 by the end of the year for his slate of seven candidates, dubbed “Union Power.”

“The Union Power slate has the kind of broad-based support that gives us a real opportunity to win this election,” he said in the email. “It is, however, going to take major funding to do it.”

The email was sharply critical of the current wave of “school reform” thinking, or what Caputo-Pearl calls the “run schools like businesses” approach, “with test scores being viewed as the bottom line.” The email makes no mention of his chief rival and incumbent, Warren Fletcher, viewed by many as the slight favorite to be re-elected for a second three-year term.

Outsider candidate David Garcia said in a recent interview that he will not raise or spend any money. He contends that spending $100,000 has become typical in recent UTLA elections, and that, “for last five cycles, the slate that has spent the most amount of money has won.”

Anyone can contribute to a candidate for UTLA office, although only UTLA members vote. The elections are set to take place in February.

Previous posts: Another Candidate Emerges to Challenge for UTLA PresidencyUTLA Factions Lining Up to Oust Fletcher as President; ‘Political Season’ Starting with UTLA Leadership ConferenceUnion President Likely Faces 2014 ChallengersUnion President Volunteers for Pay Cut

Gloria Romero Leaving One Ed Reform Group to Start Another

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero is stepping down from her position as Director of California Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) to start a new organization, the Foundation for Parent Empowerment.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with DFER, but believe that it is time to move past party politics and focus my skills and organizing with parents who form the true base of any education reform movement,” she said in a statement.

In 2010, as a California State Senator, Romero authored the country’s first “parent trigger” law, which allows a majority of parents to replace a school’s leadership. But the fiercely independent Romero hasn’t always agreed with the tactics employed by Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has helped organize every parent trigger campaign in California to date.

Romero’s new organization will focus on empowering parents to affect change at their children’s schools.

“A myriad of federal and state laws exist which, when combined, offer parents greater opportunities to become more actively involved in helping their children pursue the American Dream via education,” she said.

Romero’s independence and unpredictability have earned her many enemies. Last year, she even broke with DFER’s national organization to support LA Unified and seven other California school districts in their quest for a No Child Left Behind waiver.

Nevertheless, DFER Executive Director Joe Williams lent a quote to Romero’s goodbye press release, saying, “We are extremely grateful for all the great work Gloria has done for children and families in California as an elected official in the California Legislature as well as her leadership of DFER in California.”

Previous posts: Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSDMayor Overreached Against Zimmer, Says ReformerHow Prop. 32 Could Affect LAUSD

No Race to Top for Teachers Union, ‘Travesty,’ Says Galatzan*

Superintendent John Deasy, left, UTLA President Warren Fletcher, right

Superintendent John Deasy, left, UTLA President Warren Fletcher, right

The Los Angeles teachers union said today that LA Unified’s application for a federal Race to the Top grant had “so many glaring problems” that the union could not support it.

This was the second straight year the union refused to sign off on the district’s application, which was unanimously approved by the school board. Union participation is a federal requirement for submission.

Tamar Galatzan, an LA Unified Board member, called the union’s decision “a travesty,” adding: “This district is still woefully short of funds,” she said in a statement. “To turn down millions in funding for our neediest and most at-risk students at a time like this is inexcusable. Our mission is to serve students above all else, and this action did not do that.”

Board member Monica Garcia agreed, saying, “Children lose when leadership stands in opposition rather than finding solutions to work together for the benefit of our children and communities.”

A statement from the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, said union officials last month expressed concerns with the district about the grant proposal and said the district “did not collaborate” with union president Warren Fletcher, who was only presented the proposal a day before the deadline.

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Brown Signs AB 484, Ending Old Standardized Tests in California*

Via Governor Jerry Brown's twitter feed

Via Governor Jerry Brown’s twitter feed

The old California Standardized Tests are a thing of the past.

Governor Jerry Brown just signed Assembly Bill 484, which immediately suspends the old tests and funds a trial run this year of the new Smarter Balanced Assessments, which will be taken on computers and are aligned with the new Common Core curriculum.

“I’ve said from the beginning, California needs tests that measure how ready our students are for the challenges of a changing world,” State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a statement.

A number of groups, including Ed Voice, Educators 4 Excellence, Teach Plus, and Parent Revolution, had urged Brown to veto the new law on the grounds that it would leave school districts with a year of missing test data, which is often used to gauge the effectiveness of teachers, administrators and schools.

“At this critical juncture in our transition to Common Core, the public needs a thoughtful, rational middle approach that both gives teachers, students and parents space to adapt to new standards, and also maintains transparency for all our stakeholders,” Ama Nyamekye, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence, said in a statement. Unfortunately, AB 484 does not deliver on this important second task. By signing this bill, Governor Brown has created a black hole of information for students, parents and teachers.”

Superintendent John Deasy had also been deeply critical of the bill, on the grounds that it only funded either the math or English parts of the new Smarter Balanced Assessments. Deasy had been urging lawmakers to fund both tests.

Deasy now says that LAUSD will cover the costs of the test that the state doesn’t pay for and that he will try to find a way to use the Smarter Balanced testing data to gauge student performance.

*This adds statement from Educators 4 Excellence.

Previous posts: Coalition Calls on Gov. Brown to Veto Testing Bill, AB 484; CA Has a Plan for Using Test Scores — Even With No Tests (Updated); Superintendent Deasy Not Happy With Latest Testing BillCalifornia Could Face Year With No Meaningful Testing Data

Board Turns a ‘Retreat’ into a Special Meeting on iPads

Board member Monica Ratliff

Board member Monica Ratliff

Responding to incidents of iPad misuse at district schools and widespread public criticism over problems with the rollout, the LA Unified board yesterday approved setting a special meeting later this month to “publicly grapple” with iPad issues.

The 5-2 vote on a resolution from Monica Ratliff, who chairs a committee that oversees the iPad initiative, turned a planned “retreat” for board members on Oct. 29 into a meeting specifically devoted to one of the district’s biggest policy initiatives, getting an iPad into the hands of every student and teacher by the end of next year. The retreat was pushed back to November.

“It’s not that I don’t believe district personnel is working on these issues,” Ratliff said after raising several iPad issues that have burst into public view. “I think that the board needs to weigh in.”

In promoting a separate meeting on iPad issues, Ratliff said she was dismayed to read newspaper accounts of “security breaches” before board members were briefed on the incidents.

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LA Unified Board Confronts the Pinch of a Tight Budget

IMG_2712Is the Los Angeles Unified School Board finally coming to terms with harsh fiscal realities of a post-recession world? That’s what it seemed like yesterday, when the members met for one of the shortest meetings in recent memory, only four hours.

A combination of declining enrollment, federal cuts in special education and this year’s Federal sequestration has put a big pinch on big plans. While the district managed to close a $450 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, thanks in part to one-time funds from the state, it faces a $350 million deficit in 2014-15.

If the board didn’t understand that before yesterday, it seems crystal clear now.

Months ago the members directed Superintendent John Deasy to devise a spending plan that included a laundry list of wants, needs and programs, including rehiring employees laid off during the recession and bringing back student-to-teacher and student-to-counselor ratios to 2007 levels.

The presentation Deasy and LAUSD Chief Operating Officer Megan Reilly made to the board brought the fiscal reality into the open, leaving the unmistakable message: We can’t afford what you want.

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Another Candidate Emerges to Challenge for UTLA Presidency

David Garcia

David Garcia

The election campaign for president of the teachers union, UTLA, has expanded with a third candidate entering the race, joining the incumbent, Warren Fletcher, and a previously-announced challenger, Alex Caputo-Pearl, a member of the Progressive Educators for Action caucus within the union.

The new candidate, David Garcia, is a former Navy corpsman and veteran of the first Gulf War who was a high school art teacher until he was laid off in 2010 because of budget cuts.

Now a substitute teacher, Garcia has begun sending emailing flyers with a 14-point campaign plank, which includes promises to lower union dues, to make all officer and board meetings open to the public and to prohibit consecutive terms for UTLA officers.

He’s also pledging to do the job for only $10 an hour, which calculates to about $18,200 a year, about a fifth of Fletcher’s annual salary.

As a frequent speaker at school board meetings, wearing black wraparound sunglasses, Garcia has been deeply critical of LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy. And now he’s taking shots at his campaign opponents.

Everyone knows that LAUSD is wanting to privatize the school district,” Garcia told LA School Report. “That’s fine, it’s phenomenon that’s going nationwide. Everyone wants to vilify LAUSD, but it takes two to tango. The union hasn’t been doing a good job defending our teachers.”

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Vladovic Willing to Meet with Groups on Spending Plan*

Board President Richard Vladovic

Board President Richard Vladovic

Richard Vladovic, president of the LA Unified School Board, has agreed to meet with a coalition of community groups that claimed Vladovic was ignoring their requests to meet over spending issues.

The meeting has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 18, and it follows a sequence of events that began with a letter the coalition, known as CLASS, sent to Vladovic last Friday. In an interview with LA School Report on Saturday, Ryan Smith of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, a coalition organizer, elaborated on the group’s concerns, saying Vladovic appeared uninterested in consulting with school communities on spending priorities.

But Mike Trujillo, a spokesman for Vladovic, said the board president responded to Smith the day after receiving the letter, telling Smith to call his chief of staff to set up a meeting.

“Our office is extremely confused,” said Trujillo. “Dr. V responded positively to meeting with CLASS. It may have taken us one business day. Unfortunately, unlike Dominos Pizza, we may not deliver within the first 30 minutes, and for that we sincerely apologize.”

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LA Unified Budget Wars Return with the Usual Competing Visions

DeasyCompeting visions for future spending will be on grand display again Tuesday when the LA Unified Board of Education meets to put Superintendent John Deasy’s budget plan to a vote (or not) and consider a competing resolution (or not) that would tell him how to spend the money. (See the agenda here.)

Confusing? Welcome to Budgeting 101, LAUSD style.

Deasy’s presentation prioritizes addressing the debt, giving new money to campuses with high concentrations of low-income and English language learning students and raising the salaries of all LAUSD employees. It’s largely an update of the version he proposed back in June.

But the board voted 5-2 to send him back to the drawing board to put re-hiring teachers and staff — an idea backed by the teachers union — at the top of the list, along with a laundry list of its own wants and needs. Deasy effectively said, well, OK, but it’ll cost you something in the $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion range. And that includes expunging a $341 million deficit.

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LA Unified Begins Job Search to Replace Jaime Aquino

Jaime Aquino

Jaime Aquino

The Los Angeles Unified School District has begun the search to replace Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Jamie Aquino, who announced a week and a half ago that he would resign at the end of the year.

The job posting seeks to find “an accomplished and visionary educator with considerable experience aligning student and school needs with the resources that ensure academic success.” The annual salary for the job is $250,000 a year plus benefits, about what Aquino was making.

Superintendent John Deasy said that he expects the job search to take months. Deasy has final say on the candidate, but the board retains the right to reject the choice.

Shortly after Aquino resigned, the teachers union’s twitter account tweeted that the opening represented an opportunity “to revisit the instructional direction of the District.”

Previous posts: Analysis: Aquino’s Resignation Turns a Spotlight onto DeasyAquino’s Resignation ExplanationDeasy Deputy Jaime Aquino Resigns (Updated)Senior District Employee Gives to Garcia

Vladovic Investigation Concluded; Board Members are Briefed*

Dr. Richard Vladovic makes his case for why he should be Board President

Dr. Richard Vladovic

LA Unified’s chief lawyer said today the investigation into harassment charges against School Board President Richard Vladovic was complete, and board members were briefed on its findings.

“We have concluded the investigation, which was conducted by an outside firm. We are in the process of providing individual board members with the findings of that investigation,” LAUSD General Counsel Dave Holmquist said in a statement.

For now, the “document is privileged due to the potential threat of litigation,” according to Sean Rossall, a spokesman Holmquist, meaning that it’s at School Board’s discretion when and if the results of the investigation are released.

A spokesman for Vladovic, Mike Trujillo, said Vladovic would not comment on the investigation.

The LA Daily News first reported the harassment investigation in June. The specific charges were never made public, but sources have said they included bullying, intimidation, and one instance of sexual harassment. Vladovic denied the charges, and a source close to him had told LA School Report that the charges were “politically motivated,” intended to derail his bid for the board presidency.

Board members contacted for this story declined to comment.

If the investigation found truth in the charges, the school board has the option to remove him from his role as president or censure him. It does not have the power to force him off the school board.

*An earlier version said the findings could be released tomorrow; the board decides when or if to make the results public.

Previous posts: Update: Vladovic Cleared On One of Two InvestigationsBoard President Hires Reform-Affiliated ConsultantRules Allow Board Members to Censure ColleaguesHow Vladovic Won (& Zimmer Went Un-Nominated)Harassment Allegations Could Hurt Vladovic’s Chances

LA Unified-UTLA Talks on Labor Charge is Postponed

mediationAn informal conference to discuss a possible settlement in one of the teachers union’s unfair labor practice charges against the LA Unified School District has been postponed; it was supposed to have taken place Thursday. It’s not clear when the sides will meet.

The union filed the action in June with the Public Employee Relations Board (or PERB), objecting to the new teacher evaluation system set up by Superintendent John Deasy, which will, in part, use student test scores. (Of course, there may not be any test scores this year, but that’s a different story.) If the two sides don’t reach a settlement, the case will move to a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The teachers union filed two other unfair labor practice charges in September, over teachers that were separated from their classrooms at Crenshaw High School and City of Angels Independent Study School.

Previous posts: UTLA Files Action Against District Over Teacher Evaluations*Teachers Union Files Two More Unfair Labor Practice Charges*District Urges Board to Dismiss Union’s Unfair Practice Charge

Deasy’s D.C. Trip Yields ‘Less than Positive News’ on Federal Budget

Steve Zimmer, left, John Deasy, right

Steve Zimmer, left, John Deasy, right

Superintendent John Deasy and School Board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff flew to Washington D.C. last week, not for a relaxing getaway but to meet with lawmakers to discuss the impact of federal budget cuts is having on the district. Known as “sequestration,” the cuts are costing the district hundreds of millions of dollars in Title I money for school districts with high percentages of low-income students.

The trip was “marked mostly with less than positive news on the fiscal front, for sure,” Deasy told LA School Report today. “There was no evidence whatsoever that the sequester is going to go away.”

As Deasy begins to prepare next year’s budget, he’s faced with a school board that favors hiring more teachers and support staff at a time the electorate has voted to raise taxes to fund public education. In other words, expectations are high. But federal cuts threaten to plunge the district further into debt, even as new money begins to flow from the state.

“Do we take new money and [fill] the hole? It’s going to be a very big dilemma,” said Deasy.

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