Commentary: Too much ambiguity in plan for LAUSD charters

Eli and Edythe Broad

Eli and Edythe Broad

Another charter war is brewing in LA Unified. But the early warning shots are taking aim at ambiguity, not facts.

The flashpoint was two sentences in an Aug. 7 story in the LA Times that described a meeting at which three major foundations discussed plans to expand the number of charter schools in the district. The participants are the usual bete noirs of teacher unions for their roles in the education reform movement — the Broad, Walton Family and W.M. Keck foundations,

Here is what the story said:

“One person who attended a meeting said the goal was to enroll in charter schools half of all Los Angeles students over the next eight years. Another said there was discussion of an option that involved enrolling 50% of students currently at schools with low test scores.”

The story did not discern which observation hewed closer to the truth, leaving the impression that an all-out assault (the first sentence) was entirely possible, and maybe it is.

The LA teachers union, UTLA, certainly thinks so. It has repeated the assertion in a recent wave of material from leadership to rally the troops in the name of unity and union survival.

In an email to members, UTLA referred to “Broad the Billionaire” (Eli Broad), saying, “He is attacking public education with the likes of John Deasy and has plans to take 50% of students out of LAUSD and put them in unregulated, non-union charters. Deasy works for the Broad Foundation and is leading Broad’s attack on LAUSD.”

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Commentary: Challenges await for wave of new LAUSD charters

Eli and Edythe Broad charters

Eli and Edythe Broad

It was a bombshell of a story on Saturday, the LA Times reporting that a group of foundations is exploring plans to expand the number of charter schools within LA Unified to serve many beyond the 100,000 students who now attend charters in the district.

What would that mean exactly? Unclear for the time being. No details were included, and charter officials talked about the effort only in the most general terms. As close to specifics was an unidentified source telling the Times that the goal was to enroll half of LA Unified’s 650,000 students in charters within eight years.

Today, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, one of the participating groups along with the Keck and Walton Family Foundations, said the guiding force behind the effort was to satisfy parents of children in low-performing schools who desire more and better educational choices.

“L.A. families still want more high-quality public school options in their neighborhood,” the foundation said in an email to LA School Report. “Too many of our school children still aren’t getting the quality of education they deserve, which is why tens of thousands of students are currently on public charter school waiting lists. We are in the early stages of exploring a variety of ideas about how to help give all families—especially in low-income communities of color—access to high-quality public schools and what we and others in the philanthropic community can do to increase access to a great public school for every child in Los Angeles.”

What the public response will be when any official announcement is made is unclear — but from some sectors, it’s not hard to guess.

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Commentary: LAUSD board meeting lost in transparency

LAUSD school boardFor more than a year, students, parents, community groups and even LA Unified members, themselves, have demanded greater transparency in how the board conducts the business of the nation’s second-largest school district.

Too often, critics say, the board moves with no apparent effort to broaden the conversation or even allow the public to watch the process unfold, let alone participate.

And now it’s happened again.

Maybe it’s only a small example, but it’s a perfect metaphor that illustrates the sometimes cavalier approach the school board takes to informing the public, thus strengthening community participation, input and trust.

The LAUSD board had a meeting last night — an open session, followed by a closed session. The agenda went up early in the week, along with the reminder that the open session would be televised on KLCS and live-streamed over the internet. Closed sessions remain private.

But when 6 pm came, time to start, screens stayed blank.

No video. No audio. Nothing.

A parent, a student, a community member who might have wanted to see what the members were up to were shut out. And so they missed an update on the federal government’s efforts to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. They missed a flurry of committee assignments.

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Commentary: Ravitch’s view on charters polarize rather than help

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Editor’s note: In the LA Times yesterday, Diane Ravitch argued passionately that the future of public education in Los Angeles depends on whom the LA Unified board selects as its next superintendent.

She wrote, “The ideal superintendent would have the courage, and the support of the board, to resist those who seek to undermine and privatize public schools.” The entire commentary, which was included in yesterday’s LA School Report, can be read hereIn a response, Sarah Angel, the California Charter Schools Association Managing Director, Regional Advocacy—Los Angeles, offers a different view. 

In a recent L.A. Times op-ed, pundit Diane Ravitch called on the LAUSD board to hire a superintendent who would prevent new charter public schools from opening. Vilifying charters as an enemy of public education, Ravitch hurls her usual accusations against the charter school community, including its teachers and students. But just because she repeats the same incendiary messages over and over again, that doesn’t make them true.

Ravitch accuses charter schools of excluding students, but the data here in Los Angeles says otherwise. Independent charters in LAUSD serve 1 percent more English learners and 2 percent fewer students with special needs than traditional schools do. In other words, there’s basically no difference in the students being served. It’s also worth noting that both English learners and students with special needs perform better in local independent charters than in traditional schools.

Ravitch laments charter schools’ lack of accountability, but charter schools are held to greater accountability standards than other public schools. How? Each charter school has to petition for renewal every five years using data that shows how well it is educating its students; if it has failed to perform, it gets shut down. No other type of public school has to prove that it is actually helping students learn.

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Commentary: Reflections on my final day of covering LAUSD

Vanessa-RomoOn my last day with LA School Report I’d like to take a minute (or ten) to do some navel gazing — reflect on the things I’ve learned as an education reporter covering this behemoth school district, a job for the most part I have truly enjoyed.

First, the things I won’t be missing about the daily beat: Without a doubt, I will not miss the stuffy, windowless press room at LA Unified headquarters, a room outfitted with a television set made sometime in 1982 and only two electrical outlets. The fact that reporters celebrated when a district consultant (shout out to Sean Rossall) brought in a power strip gives you an idea of how bleak it is in there. Not to mention cockroaches so brazen that they actually crawled up a reporter’s leg. Not this one, thank goodness, although rumor has it a colleague has video of me screaming like a little girl as I squashed one under my shoe.

The endless board meetings that go deep, deep into the night will be also be easy to skip. Sometimes they went on because board members took turns pontificating on the fundamental human right of a good education. A worthwhile exercise, to be sure, but not always appropriate considering the day’s agenda. Other times the board was simply confused over process — is this a vote for the resolution or the amendment to the resolution? And if so, does it change the timing of the original resolution or can we come back to vote on the modified resolution next month? Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Meanwhile, I’d curse myself for not packing a Cliff bar. “Why don’t I just buy a box and put it in the trunk of my car?” I asked myself time and time again. I never remembered.

Finally, the rigmarole involved in getting access to the 24th floor of LA Unified headquarters. Are you on the list? Does so-and-so know you’re coming? What time is your appointment? Are you sure it’s today? What’s your credit score? Perhaps, I’m showing my own hand here, and maybe other reporters had an easier time of it, but I wish it wasn’t complicated to pop-in for quick conversations to catch up on ongoing stories or simply avoid a six-email-exchange on what turned out to be pretty straight forward set of questions.

Still, I will miss it.

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Commentary: The long goodbye, the no goodbye, the tears of Cortines

LAUSD school board CrotinesThat was quite a board meeting yesterday, with more emotion on display than Nixon or LBJ ever showed in announcing their decisions to leave the White House.

The first wave came in The Long Goodbye to Bennett Kayser, whose bid for a second term was thwarted by a member of the group he most detests, a charter school executive.

For more than 90 minutes, a parade of admirers praised Kayser as the conscience of the board — for standing up to former superintendent John Deasy, for supporting teachers no matter what, for opposing charters no matter what, for holding to his principles and for demonstrating how a neurological challenge, Parkinson’s disease, is no barrier to public service.

All well and good — although spending more than a third of a four-hour meeting on good-byes seemed a tad excessive, even for this board.

Maybe the farewell would not have seemed so gaudy were it not for the polar-opposite manner in which his colleague Tamar Galatzan finished her day.

She, too, lost last month, ending eight years of service on the board, twice as long as Kayser. She had requested no public ceremony, due in part, perhaps, to the lingering animus of members who could not abide by her loyalty to Deasy. She was as faithful to him as Kayser was to UTLA, the teachers union.

But political sympathies aside, it was stunning to see her disappear without anyone at least acknowledging her public service over the years, if not for holding to her principles.

No one from the board, including the other Deasy acolyte, Mónica García, said a word. Nor did anyone else in the room.

Poof . . . Gone . . . What was her name, again?

The other passion play was Superintendent Ramon Cortines’s weepy, halting speech — about the 2016 budget!

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Commentary: LA Unified schools finding hope, help in ‘Circles’

Los Angeles School Police Department LA UnifiedBy Araceli Morfín and Raúl Ruíz

Tomorrow, the LAUSD school board will ratify the 2015-16 budget, along with the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), increasing an investment in restorative justice to $7.2 million from $4.2 million. This increase is timely, as the work of restorative justice has been immensely impactful in our LAUSD schools at reducing disciplinary incidents that have for years disparately affected students with special needs.

This disparity, as well as national trends toward disproportionate numbers of suspensions for African American and Latino students, led LAUSD to reexamine school discipline policies in 2013 with the School Climate Bill of Rights. It also led the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to formalize an approach to school climate through restorative practices.

The Partnership, a nonprofit organization that manages 16 LAUSD schools in Watts, South LA, and Boyle Heights (including Roosevelt High School), embraces Restorative Justice under the umbrella of Restorative Communities — training teachers and other school staff in how to implement restorative practices in their classrooms while supporting Restorative Justice Coordinators in a handful of schools.

It is this work that inspired us, as a teacher leader and parent leader in the Partnership network, to establish Parent Restorative Justice Circles at Roosevelt for special needs families. To those unfamiliar with the concept, “Circle” is the safe haven we create in our restorative practices in which we sit in a circle while following guidelines that ensure mutual respect, emotional safety and the strictest of confidence.

Our first  Circle — “Putting Ourselves in Their Shoes” — had low attendance but was so worthwhile that we vowed to continue: we learned about Specific Learning Disabilities and had the opportunity to experience them through thoughtfully planned activities. 

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Commentary: LA Unified should keep A-G curriculm in place

GRADUATIONBy Michele Siqueiros

How does the daughter of a seamstress with a sixth grade education get to college? 

For me, it was luck. As a good student I worked hard in school, but had I not been lucky in high school to be assigned the A-G high school courses required for consideration to the University of California, the California State University and most private colleges, I would not have had the ability to make the choice.  And as the first in my family to go to college, neither my mom nor I would have known any better.   

Today, that is still true for many students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. This is why in 2005 a multi-racial and citywide coalition joined forces to demand that an LAUSD high school diploma’s requirements be linked to the college prep A-G courses. To not do this, meant then, as it does today, that adults are making decisions affecting the college opportunity of hundreds of thousands of students.

The original resolution has resulted in more college prep courses across all LAUSD high schools, higher graduation rates and more students completing A-G than 10 years ago. Despite this progress however, two-thirds of the Class of 2017, the first class required to graduate having completed the A-G curriculum with a C or better, is poised to not graduate without radical intervention.

As LAUSD reviews this policy Superintendent Ramon Cortines told Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times that while the policy was laudable, it may need to be reconsidered. Twelve years to put this policy in place successfully should have been enough time. And if it is not, the answer isn’t to reward LAUSD by simply allowing them to eliminate this policy. 

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A toast to the survivors of LA Unified’s wild and crazy year

LA Unified

UTLA rally at Grand Park

The end of another school year this week brings to a close one of LA Unified’s most crazy, controversial and dysfunctional academic years. It’s a real testament to students, teachers and other school personnel that they persevered through so much disruption and tumult.

So, a tip of the hat to the nation’s second-largest school district as it navigated through a Hit Parade of memorable moments. Here are 10 of them, in no particular order of consequence:

The MISIS Meltdown

Even before the first day of school, the MISIS debut was a debacle. Summer school teachers who tested out the district-developed software, which was supposed to streamline and centralize all student data including scheduling, grades, attendance records, and disciplinary files, did their best to sound the alarm about the program’s myriad problems.

But under the direction of Matt Hill, Chief Strategy Officer, and Ron Chandler, Chief Information Officer — both of them now working elsewhere — the district plowed ahead with the district-wide roll out assuring anyone who asked, “We got it!”

While the original budget allocated for MISIS was $29 million, spending is likely to top $133 million next week when the board is expected to approve after another $79.6 million in bond funds. Meanwhile, the district’s IT team is working alongside Microsoft employees on continued repairs that will last through 2015-16.

Superintendent John Deasy Resigns

Superintendent John Deasy was at ideological odds with three, then four members of the school board throughout most of his tenure. But it was the one-two punch of the MISIS failure that left thousands of students across the district class-less for several weeks combined with the continued scrutiny over the terrible iPad deal the district struck with Apple and Pearson that ultimately lead to his departure in October 2014.

His aggressive policies — such as the iPads-for-all program, reconstitution of consistently low-performing schools and his anti-tenure stance — kept him at odds with board members, teachers and the public at large.

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

graduationBy Martin Blythe

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

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

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

Advanced algebra? Two years of a language?

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

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

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

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Commentary: A plea to the LAUSD board to make us all college ready

GRADUATIONAn open letter from four members of the Community Coalition Youth Leaders to the LA Unified school board, which is considering a resolution tomorrow from Mónica García and Steve Zimmer to enhance support for improving the district’s college-ready graduation rate. 

Dear Board Members:

On behalf of the thousands of students in South Los Angeles, we are frustrated and angry. We can’t believe adults are still debating whether or not we should be college-ready.

We can’t believe adults are still saying that “A-G” college-prep classes are too much for us to handle.

We are writing to let the district know, that our “Equity on A-G” resolution, is a step forward towards bringing quality education for all.

Ten years ago the LAUSD school board took a bold step forward by agreeing that all students should be prepared for college. The members’ decision helped move the school district in the right direction, and there has been progress towards this goal. But we shouldn’t give up now, just because the task seems challenging.

You have the opportunity to reaffirm this goal and can implement solutions to accomplish it. Students in school districts across the country receive this college prep curriculum, and there is no reason why we can’t also receive these same opportunities! We strongly urge you to make the right choice on this resolution and allow L.A. Unified to continue moving forward on a path towards equity.

We look at our stories and reflect on how our path towards college has been a fight for justice.

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Commentary: A message from McKenna that he has nothing to say

George McKennaClose readers of LA School Report might notice how infrequently LA Unified board member George McKenna is quoted in any story, apart from comments he makes at board meetings.

There’s a reason for that, as I was reminded again yesterday in an email from him, and it’s a reason that both saddens me and, I believe, deprives the public.

Let me start from the beginning.

About a year ago, in the closing days of his campaign for the school board, McKenna was questioned at a candidate forum about his level of support for then Superintendent John Deasy and his overall performance. He declined to answer.

As reporters approached him after the forum, LA School Report pressed him under the assumption that voters might want to know his position, just as appointments to the Supreme Court and the cabinet undergo questioning on key issues prior to confirmation.

Again, he wouldn’t answer, saying, “I cannot tell the voter what my position is on John Deasy. I’ve never supervised him, I never have.”

That was the beginning and the end of LA School Report’s access to the newest board member. Weeks later, another of our reporters approached his chief of staff in hopes of establishing a line of communication, and she was told that neither McKenna nor his staff would ever speak to us again.

In the months after the election, McKenna moved seamlessly into his role as a board member, revealing himself to be a studied, compassionate, and thoughtful contributor on a wide variety of subjects. Listening to his observations on contentious and complex issues, I’ve been impressed by points he made and questions he raised that have elevated the debate, adding perspectives unseen by other board members.

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Commentary: Let’s not perpetuate the cycle of poverty

Passport parent's education portalBy Misti Kemmer

I grew up around drugs and alcohol.  At nine years old, I manned the kegs at weekend barbecues for my aunts and uncles where I was surrounded by a cloud of marijuana smoke.  But even at that early age, I knew that I wanted something more.  I was determined to be the first person in my family to attend college.

I applied to several California universities and was denied at every single one. There were requirements that I didn’t know about, like Advanced Placement courses and minimum SAT scores. When I told my family that I wanted to enroll in a community college, it was suggested that I apply to beauty school to save me the trouble. I followed my family’s tradition and became a teenage mom instead.

Eventually, I made it to a major university in California where I learned about something called the cycle of poverty. I understood for the first time that I had been part of a cycle that was incredibly hard to break, but had managed to struggle through. I made the decision then to become a teacher in urban schools, in the poorest areas, so that kids who grew up like me would know a different way. And I wanted to teach in “Title I” schools, because that’s where kids with stories like mine go to school.

When I read that Title I funds under the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act might be funneled away from areas like the one where I teach in south Los Angeles, I was appalled. In fact, LA Unified would experience the largest reduction in Title I funding, losing $80.6 million dollars, for a cut of 23.8 percent under a bill the U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on later this month. If it becomes law, it could lead to significant teacher layoffs, and up to 1,000 LAUSD teachers could lose their jobs. These layoffs most often disproportionately affect children in the poorest neighborhoods, like my students who attend an urban Los Angeles school.

Children in schools like mine fall directly under the criteria to receive Title I funds. These are the kids from homes with drug and alcohol abuse. These are kids who live in severe poverty — one child told me that his home has dirt floors….dirt floors! They are the kids like my own fourth graders, who hear gun shots and see gang violence and have, on a regular basis, homeless people wander into their yard.

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Analysis: Primaries over, LAUSD races now seeking voters and money

Red Rodriguez supporters

(Credit: Twitter @Casey_Horton)

Now that the primaries are over, it’s time to ponder a few issues they raise. And perhaps nothing is more ponderous than turnout.

Los Angeles is growing notorious for the pathetic number of voters who show up at polling places. But if you thought Tuesday’s less-than-10 percent turnout was bad, just wait until the May 19 runoffs, when Angelinos have only one City Council race to decide and three LA Unified board seats, in Districts 3, 5 and 7.

This poses enormous challenges for political action committees that may need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for the handful of votes that would translate to victory.

Already, the school board District 5 race shows the certainty of another big spend. The California Charter Schools Association’s political arm put out $421,000 to help Ref Rodriguez, who finished first, while the PAC for the teachers union, UTLA, spent about $463,000 to support incumbent Bennett Kayser, who was second.

Together, they polled fewer than 16,000 votes. 

The challenge for all political action committees is how much more to spend in an 11-week general election campaign, with the charter group sure to write checks, as well, to support the incumbents in District 3, Tamar Galatzan, and District 7, Richard Vladovic.

The charters, of course, have the deeper pockets, drawing on help from such beloved/reviled education reformers as Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. The teachers union has to decide how much from dues of 35,000 members aching for a pay raise it needs to remain competitive.

The expectations of a big spend in District 5 reflects the importance of the seat to both sides, and the winning effort could well reverberate beyond LA Unified.

This is the latest showdown between the polar opposites in American education policy, pitting those who support charters as a preferred option to traditional public schools against those who believe the charters contribute to the challenges in traditional schools by bleeding them of human and financial resources.

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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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