Analysis: Graham lawsuit poses serious questions for LAUSD board

LAUSD Superintedent Ray Cortines

We’ve all seen this in person or on TV: One lawyer says something provocative or inappropriate, and the opposing lawyer leaps to his feet, saying “Objection, your honor.”

“Sustained,” says the judge. “The jury will disregard that last remark.”

After yesterday, we’re now all in the jury box, trying to figure out what to make of Scot Graham’s third and latest lawsuit against the district with his descriptions of sexual misconduct by Superintendent Ramon Cortines and the atmosphere of intimidation and sexual intemperance inside LA Unified headquarters.

We also have to decide whether unseemly remarks Graham attributes to Cortines about Monica Garcia and the rest of the board deserve to be carefully considered or summarily disregarded.

Sadly, though, in the confines of LA Unified, a school district that seldom gets out of its own way, it really doesn’t matter.

Whether true or false, the images shaped by Graham’s characterizations are hard to shake: Cortines, as a sexual predator; Cortines, describing Garcia as a “fat slovenly lesbian”; Cortines, regarding the board as a group of special interest ciphers.

Only a court can decide the veracity of such claims as they create a hostile work environment. But the possibility than even some of it might be true will linger, undermining whatever trust parents, teachers and board members have in a man who led the district as superintendent twice before, making him the board’s singular choice to succeed John Deasy last year, paying him $300,000 for an eight-month contract. 

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Analysis: A big week for the teachers to demonstrate what they want

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

“Most of our early escalation tactics are about building solidarity among members, because a 35,000 member union can’t win a fight against the corporate education ‘reformers’ lined up against us with anything less than 35,000 members active in the fight.”

That’s what it says on the UTLA website, which makes this a critical week for teachers in their fight for a bigger raise than LA Unified is offering so far.

Scheduled for Thursday is the latest of the teacher union’s “escalating actions,” a rally planned for downtown called, “Making Our Stand at Grand,” a reference to the downtown location. It’s a chance for the union to stand up to the district with a show of unity and resolve.

But it represents something else, as well, coming at a time negotiations for a new contract have gone nowhere, with both sides calling in a mediator and Superintendent Ramon Cortines, as he did on Friday, affirming his belief that closing a $160 million deficit takes preference over giving UTLA more than the 5 percent raise on the table.

Thursday is a also referendum on the Union Power leadership team led by President Alex Caputo-Pearl, whose ascension to office last year was built on the possible need of a final showdown, of sorts, with a district that has made teachers collateral damage in the nation’s long recession.

For nearly eight years, teachers have soldiered on, enduring layoffs and furloughs without so most as a Christmas turkey, let alone a cost of living raise.

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LAT endorses only 2 incumbents for LA Unified school board

Los-Angeles-Times-logoBy the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

The LA Times weighed in today with its endorsements for the LA Unified school board, backing two of three incumbents in the March 3 elections but both with language that suggests moderate misgivings.

The editorial board recommends Tamar Galatzan for board District 3 although the support “comes with misgivings.” Board president Richard Vladovic gets the endorsement for District 7 with the admonition that “he has not been the leader we had hoped for.”

In District 5, the editorial board bypassed the incumbent, Bennett Kayser, calling him “easily the weakest of the three contenders.” Instead, the paper picked Andrew Thomas for his “expertise in such areas as school software programs and program effectiveness.”

The editorial is available here.

 

Commentary: The anti-Kayser flyer ‘a new low in campaign tactics’

Board Vice President Steve Zimmer

LAUSD school board Vice President Steve Zimmer

By Steve Zimmer

The vicious lies contained in the California Charter School Association (CCSA) mailer represent a new low in school board campaign tactics. They attack not only Bennett Kayser’s service to his district but his heart and his soul as well. I know these attacks.  They were leveled at me, my life work and my person. So I don’t expect them to have any concern for Mr. Kayser or his family. But I expect them to have a modicum of concern for Los Angeles.

The racially incendiary content of the mailer was about more than just a school board election or control of the District. It was an intentional effort to further destabilize public education and ignite a tinder box of ethnic hate in a city reeling from decades of inequity and institutionally racist school, public safety and economic systems. There are real issues. There are open wounds. The power systems that oppress directly and indirectly are still intact.

The intensity of issues that intersect race and public education in Los Angeles require authentic introspection and intentional action. When we are able to identify the instruments of institutional racism, we have a moral obligation to blunt the instruments and dismantle the structures through which they operate.

That is what the Board of Education did when LAUSD became the first large district in the nation to discontinue the use of suspensions that were disproportionately affecting students of color and institute restorative justice as the progressive discipline policy in every school.

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Analysis: LAUSD board contemplates enrollment drop

George KcKenna Dec. 8, 2014

LAUSD board member George McKenna at Tuesday’s board meeting

“Forty years ago we were in competition with private schools. Now, we’re in competition with charters.”

That was LA Unified board vice president Steve Zimmer yesterday, speaking at a board committee meeting where the issue at hand was district enrollment. The number of kids attending the district’s traditional schools has been declining since 2003, now hovering around 650,000, from a high of about 750,000, according to a presentation to the committee.

The dip reflects, in part, a slowing birthrate in the district that began in 1996 and is projected to increase only slightly over the next few years or so.

But the rise of independent charters is an unmistakable factor, as well: Data from the California Charter Schools Associations shows that the number of independent charters within LA Unified rose to 206 this year from 132 in 2009.

And more are on the way. KIPP, for example, has opened two of nine planned for the district.

The impact of charters on LA Unified is something of an evergreen debate among board members, faced with the district’s losing revenue for every child who forsakes a traditional district school for a charter. It’s a trend with heavy ripples, as lower enrollment leads to fewer dollars, fewer dollars lead to flat wages, flat wages lead to fewer and angry teachers, and angry teachers are now talking about a strike.

But this week, the discussion of charter impact took on a slightly different tone, as board members at their meeting on Tuesday and again yesterday turned introspective, questioning themselves over how to mitigate some of the enrollment trends.

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Analysis: LAUSD offer to UTLA a march to progress or a strike?

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School on Nov. 20, 2014

LA Unified’s latest offer to the teachers union, UTLA, represents either a hint of progress in negotiations for the teachers’ first contract in more than seven years or fertile ground for moving toward a strike.

Here’s why the uncertainty: The 6 percent package includes the same salary increase that the district has offered all its other bargaining units —  2 percent, and for just one year.

It also includes the same lump sum payout of 2 percent for last year that was included in previous offers. The sweetener is an additional lump payout of 2 percent for next year, with an offer to negotiate the out years, starting with next year.

Depending on what the sides might agree upon for 2015-2016, the sweetener is, indeed, a bonus. It becomes something less than that if the raise for 2015-2016 fails to reach 2 percent. The district calculates that every 1 percent increase amounts to $24 million in spending, which makes the 6 percent package equal to $144 million in budget impact at a time the district says it’s facing a $326 million deficit.

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Commentary: Please, school board, focus on our children

Hispanic children LAUSD school board

By Michelle Crames

My daughter started Kindergarten this year, and part of why I enrolled her in public school was that things were getting better, and my belief that our family’s energy and resources could contribute to bettering our community. Two months after her start, we learn that Superintendent John Deasy, who has provided leadership during this turnaround, turned in his letter of resignation to the school board.

As a parent of three young children, I know it takes at least two parties to fight. Regardless of what you think of Deasy’s resignation, we all want to minimize the impact and distraction inevitable with such a leadership change. Can we please refocus our energy on what matters most, our children’s education?

I believe Deasy achieved a lot, but he certainly made mistakes. However, during the last several months, like many parents. I am most disappointed that our focus has shifted away from what is important, which is the kids. As an outsider, I feel that more time is being spent bickering and politicking than working to provide students with the best possible education.

The parents’ voice was largely absent in the recent feud between the school board and Deasy, but now needs to be heard. Lets put this behind us and get back to work on what matters.

In a city where 80 percent of LAUSD students live around or below the poverty line, the American dream requires great schools for our children. America is a land of equal opportunity, and access to quality education is the basis of that.

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Commentary: Ray Cortines, the once and future

work begins zoneProbably no one has flunked retirement worse than Ray Cortines.  At 82, he’s signed on to steer the Los Angeles Unified School District for the third time.

Twice before he served as an interim superintendent, and he held the post for three years immediately before John Deasy’s tenure.

Cortines understands big city school systems.  In addition to Los Angeles, he was superintendent of New York, San Francisco, Pasadena and San Jose.  But why Ray again?

The answers are straightforward: peacemaking and getting things done.

The school board and the education policy elites (maybe) are tired of toxic warfare.  Cortines has a reputation of someone who can have a constructive relationship with the teachers and administrative unions without being a doormat.  He both charmed and bludgeoned the school board, threatening to resign if they misbehaved.  (Unlike most superintendents, he had a 30-day contract, which he would periodically threaten to not renew.)

And then there is the craft and politics of getting things done.  Most politicians, and most journalists, ignore the politics of implementation.  To them, reforming schools is about getting the right law passed or achieving a favorable court decision.  But as past school reform efforts in Los Angeles illustrate, the heavy lifting starts after decisions are made, not before.

Holding the school board together, implementing an agreement with the union when some teachers balk, attracting administrative leadership: all this is part of the political kitbag of seasoned superintendents.  Cortines is one of them. Continue reading

Commentary: On a momentous day, where was Vladovic?

Richard Vladovic

Richard Vladovic

What a momentous day it was. One superintendent out. Another steps in.

The LA Unified community and social media were alive with chatter — people sorry to see John Deasy go, people celebrating his departure, people happy to see Ray Cortines return for a third deployment, people wondering what the school board was smoking in bringing him back.

So many comments, opinions and responses.

But one person was conspicuously absent.

Board President Richard Vladovic had nothing to say.

Apart from whatever contribution he made to the district’s “joint statement” from the board and Deasy, he issued no press release. He made himself available for no interviews. He made no public appearances to talk about the day’s events.

He appeared to be missing in inaction.

At times of crisis and change — in a family, an organization, even a public agency — constituents want a comforting word that everything will be okay, that problems will be solved, that divisions will be closed, even if it’s more hope than certainty.

In the case of the LA Unified family, teachers deprived of raises for years might like to know there could be better times ahead, parents might like to hear that their kids’ schedules will be straightened out, students might appreciate encouragement to stay the course despite the messes created by the grownups.

If there were ever a moment for a leader to step forward at a critical time from within a bureaucracy wracked by divisiveness, technological dysfunction and public discontent, this was it. And the logical person to utter those soothing words would have been the school board president, the elected face of the school district, second-biggest in the country.

But in this case, the school board president had nothing more to say beyond the joint statement, or so his office advised.

Other board members were quiet, too, but they don’t set the board agenda. The board president does. Continue reading

Analysis: A deal between Deasy and the board? No real surprise

Superintendent John Deasy LAUSD

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy

So now we have a hint of what the LA Unified board members were discussing during the four hours they met in private Tuesday night.

Part of the conversation dealt with finding a way to reach a financial settlement with Superintendent John Deasy to remove him from his post, as the LA Times reported this morning.

Who could be surprised?

The talks suggest that a majority of board members want Deasy gone, and Deasy himself has told people he has grown weary of dealing with incessant criticism — some deserved, some irrational — from board members who do not share his vision for the district and from a teachers union that views him as the embodiment of evil.

Setting aside all that toxicity, what the board doesn’t want is for Deasy’s employment to come down to a show of hands. That’s the plan for now. His performance review scheduled for Oct. 21, and a negative vote could start the countdown.

It seems apparent by the talks that the board would prefer a swifter resolution. Why? Lots of reasons.

Let’s start with the most obvious: Each member of the board would have to defend the vote he or she casts. Four of them are facing re-election early next year, and voters in their districts might not have the same feelings toward Deasy as a board member who follows him blindly or as a member who parrots the teachers union.

Yes, Deasy has ultimate responsibility for the disruptive events in the iPad and MiSiS programs. But he has also presided over improved academic performance and steadily rising graduation rates.

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Commentary: Deasy’s impatience eclipsing accomplishments?

Logo_LATimesVia LA Times | by Jim Newton

There’s a storm cloud gathering over Los Angeles politics these days, and the man at its center is schools Supt. John Deasy.

In office since 2010, Deasy has fenced with his bosses, the seven-member school board, almost from the get-go. Lately, however, the situation has deteriorated: United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents teachers in the L.A. Unified School District, has sharpened its critique of the superintendent, calling for him to be held “accountable” in his upcoming evaluation. A recent election to fill a vacancy on the closely divided board went to the candidate, George McKenna, considered less friendly to Deasy.

Deasy has made matters worse by some admittedly sloppy handling of a deal intended to put iPads in the hands of students. The board is scheduled to deliver its performance evaluation of Deasy next month, and that could turn into a major confrontation.

Read the full commentary here.

Editorial: Pre-Deasy days weren’t as great as you thought

Logo_LATimesVia LA Times | by the TImes Editorial Board

At L.A. Unified, tensions are high and crisis is in the air. The relationship between Supt. John Deasy and the school board that oversees him is at what is perhaps an all-time low. Deasy is again muttering about quitting; others are grumbling that he should be fired.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union, is practically giddy. The union has regularly lambasted the superintendent, calling his performance “anything but satisfactory,” suggesting he be placed in “teacher jail” like a teacher accused of misconduct would be, and making it clear that it would like him to resign. If Deasy resigns, the leadership no doubt figures, it can go back to the good-old days.

Read the full story here.

Editorial: LA Unified schools won’t get better if leaders fight

Logo_LATimesVia LA Times | Editorial Board

This would be a difficult period for Supt. John Deasy and the Los Angeles Unified School District even if he and the school board were intent on working together for the benefit of students. But these aren’t the most cooperative of times, to put it mildly. The questions surrounding the superintendent’s 2012 emails with Apple and Pearson, well before the companies were picked as the winners of the contract to provide thousands of iPads for the district’s students, have further damaged the already tenuous relations between Deasy and the board. Nothing is likely to get better until the matter is resolved by further investigation.

Read the full story

Commentary: Vergara could be a win-win for students and teachers

EdWeekVia EdWeek | by Carl Finer

As a veteran urban educator and career union member, I care deeply about both my students and building the systems to ensure that all students and teachers have what they need to be successful. In the legal precedent laid out in the controversial Vergara decision relating to teacher tenure in California, I see a potential window of opportunity opened for all of us to rethink our current conceptions of accountability and advocate for something that will serve both students and teachers better.

Registration is required, but you can read the full story here.

Commentary: The problem with teacher tenure

NYT logoVia NY Times | by Frank Bruni

There are perils to the current tenure talk: that it fails to address the intense strains on many teachers; that it lays too much fault on their doorsteps, distracting people from other necessary reforms.

But the discussion is imperative, because there’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about.

We need to pay good teachers much more. We need to wrap the great ones in the highest esteem. But we also need to separate the good and the great from the bad.

Read the full story here

Commentary: Teaching and business do not mix

NYT logoVia NY Times | by David Kirp

Today’s education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

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Commentary: To those who live with Parkinson’s, you’re not alone

Bennett Kayser LAUSD

Bennett Kayser, representing district 5 on the LAUSD board of education

By Bennett Kayser

As we learned yesterday that Robin Williams had been in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, I felt the need to step forward and share my story, and perhaps let others know they are not alone, that there is hope and that life with the disease can be joy-filled.

I was recently honored to be the guest speaker at a Parkinson’s conference in Pasadena and delivered the address, which follows below.

The sad loss of Mr. William has caused me to recommit my energies, as a member of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, to serving children and adults, burdened with seen and unseen physical and mental challenges. I am here to help, as are others, never give up.

My speech was called, “What Parkinson’s Has Done For Me”

     About seven years ago, my right hand would occasionally tremble, and then it would stop. I attributed the shaking to cold weather and air conditioning. When the frequency of my hand’s shivers increased, I decided it was time to see a doctor. He told me that it was likely Parkinson’s Disease and referred me to a neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis.

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Opinion: Teachers unions oppose change — why?

wsj-wallstreetjournal-convertedVia Wall Street Journal | By Antonio Villaraigosa

President John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” This message has apparently been lost on some people in our teachers unions who used their recent national conventions in Los Angeles and Denver to argue against desperately needed changes in our public schools.

At a time when only one in 10 low-income children is earning a four-year college degree and two out of three jobs of the future will require one, change is needed. At a time when more than half of young people attending community college need to retake high-school classes because the education they received was not rigorous enough, change is needed. At a time when American 15-year-olds trail their counterparts in 30 countries in math, 23 in science and 20 in reading, change is needed.

For some time now, teachers, elected officials, community, business and nonprofit organizations have advanced bold changes in education. America is raising standards, investing in teachers, rewriting curriculum, bringing technology into the classroom and exploring new learning models like public charter schools that are getting results in higher graduation and college-enrollment rates.

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Commentary: When educational options reverse fate of location

New OCRcom logo final 3

Via OC Register | by Jalen Rose

Many young people in America today face a harsh reality. Their fate in life is determined by their ZIP code. For an overwhelming number of African Americans and other minorities, having the wrong ZIP code keeps you from a high school diploma, a college degree, and a future that offers you opportunities that match your talents.

That’s wrong. And it’s entirely avoidable.

We are not assigned to certain grocery stores or restaurants based on our ZIP codes, which is why it makes no sense that between K-12, children are required to attend a school solely based on where they live.

The fact of the matter is that the high school graduation rate for African American males is just 52 percent – 26 percentage points below the national average of their white counterparts. In other words, more than half of all African American children in America will never have the basic skills to compete in the 21st century workforce. Odds are many of those children will turn to crime, violence or drugs, causing problems for every single American who pays taxes or simply seeks to live in a society that allows people to realize their full potential.

There is an obvious solution at hand to deal with this chronic crisis – educational choice.

Read the full story here

Commentary: Vergara decision on tenure — and our union

Teacher tenure LAUSD Vergara

Cartoon by David Granlund

By Ron Taw

I came to education out of the business world. Before entering the classroom, I was making my way up the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company. But then, over 15 years ago, I realized that I wanted a job where “success and advancement” would mean changing more lives, not just earning more money.

That’s why I came into teaching, and why I stay. So as someone who deeply loves his job and his students, I am disappointed in the reactionary response of many of my colleagues to the ruling in Vergara v. California, in which California’s teacher tenure laws were ruled unconstitutional.

Rather than an attack on teachers, Vergara has given us an opportunity to completely rethink the systems of teacher tenure, support, evaluations and lay-offs. When I received tenure, it was the result of an arbitrary and opaque process, divorced from my work in the classroom helping students. At the moment, tenure remains the only official milestone for most teachers’ careers. So rather than an empty stamp, we want tenure to be meaningful, impactful, and part of a career-long system of professional development.

This ruling presents a rare opportunity for actual classroom educators to own our profession and lead the nation in creating an innovative, student-focused and teacher-driven system for how we hire, evaluate and retain educators.

The impending wave of retirements and decline in new teacher credentials being issued means we have to do something new to ensure that we are not facing understaffed classrooms in the coming years. Changing tenure is not the silver bullet, but it can be a key part of the solution.

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