Kayser, Rodriguez, Thomas make closing arguments for themselves

Bennett Kasyer (L), Andrew Thomas and Ref Rodriguez at last night's District 5 candidate forum

Bennett Kayser (L), Andrew Thomas and Ref Rodriguez at last night’s LA Unified District 5 candidate forum

Together for the final time before Tuesday’s elections, the three candidates for LA Unified’s Board District 5 seat were determined last night to set themselves apart from each other.

In a small church in a residential neighborhood in South Gate, incumbent Bennett Kayser, and his opponents, Andrew Thomas and Ref Rodriguez, spoke only to the small crowd, rarely acknowledging the others’ statements or accusations. Another forum is scheduled for tonight at the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Sandra Cisneros campus in Echo Park, but only Thomas and Rodriguez have agreed to participate.

In last night’s forum, Thomas sharply criticized his opponents for the financial support their respective campaigns have received from outside interests, either the teachers union, UTLA, (Kayser) or the California Charter Schools Association (Rodriguez). Thomas’s campaign has received no outside support.

“The interests that have put people on the school board have spent over a million dollars so far beating each other up,” Thomas told the audience of about 30 southeast LA residents. “And they’re going to continue that fight onto the board when they’re elected.”

Later in the debate he returned to the same theme, arguing “The priorities of the other two candidates are not the same as the priorities of people who are funding their campaigns.”

Thomas also accused Kayser of supporting inefficient spending of new state money available to the district. Looking ahead at future growth, Thomas said, “I’m worried that money is going to be frittered away on programs that already exist and aren’t very effective.”

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California, GOP in sync on reducing federal role in education

Los-Angeles-Times-logo

The Los Angeles Times | By Teresa Watanabe

California may be a blue state, but a Republican-led effort to scale back federal intervention in educational reform is drawing support here.

As the House of Representatives moves to vote this week on reauthorizing a 50-year-old education reform law, Republicans are pushing to sharply curtail what they see as federal overreach in prescribing testing, setting achievement goals and imposing sanctions on schools that fail to improve. Instead, the House bill would shift authority for such decisions to states and school districts.

And that suits many in California just fine.

That’s because California has outpaced the nation in developing its own reform measures, including a pioneering school finance system that gives more money to needy students and an effort underway to craft a more complex measure of achievement than simply test scores. The federal prescriptions, many say, too often have interfered with California’s approach.

Click here to read the full story.

Thousands of LA teachers rally downtown for new contract

It was dubbed the “Stand at Grand,” and while it may not have drawn as many as the “Thrilla in Manilla,” it was an impressive turnout of thousands of Los Angeles Unified teachers at Grand Park last night as they rallied to demand a new contract.

With City Hall behind him and a massive crowd of teachers and supporters in front of him, Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the teachers union, UTLA, took the stage at the end of the rally, but before he even spoke, his point was already made: the show of force and size of the crowd as the whole point of the gathering.

Caputo-Pearl claimed there were 15,000 people at the park. A group of police officers assigned to the rally told LA School Report they estimated the number at 8,000 to 10,000. Whatever the number, the downtown park was filled with teachers eager to show their willingness to go on strike if asked.

“The goal today is to show that we are not afraid to go out on strike, that if we don’t meet an agreement that we will go out on strike,” said Monica Multer, a teacher at Melvin Avenue Elementary.

The rally comes as the first major event in the wake of an impasse in negotiations between the union and LA Unified, which the two sides declared earlier this month. Negotiations have dragged on for months, with the union rejecting the district’s latest offer of a five percent raise, an increase in starting salary and millions of dollars to reduce class size.

The sides remain an estimated $800 million apart as the union is seeking the first raise for its members in eight years. UTLA’s last demand before the impasse was for a 8.5 percent raise. The district has said that meeting the demands would mean large cuts to other areas of the budget as well as layoffs.

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LA Unified, trades union reach agreement on three-year deal

LAUSDlogoThe Los Angeles Unified School District has reached agreement with the union on a new labor agreement.

No, not that union

The district and Unit E, Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Trades Council, which represents 1,300 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers and other skilled workers, have agreed to terms on a three-year deal that includes a lump-sum payment of 2 percent for the 2013-14 school year and salary increases of 2 percent in 2014-15, 2 percent in 2015-16 and 2.5 percent in 2016-17.

“I want to thank the Building and Trades Council for their professionalism and dedication to our students,” Roger Finstad, LAUSD’s Director of Maintenance and Operations, said in a statement. “This agreement not only allows us to attract and keep the very best and well-trained employees, it strengthens and prioritizes maintenance and repair services to those school communities who need it the most.”

Chris Hannan, Business Representative for the Trades Council, said the deal “brings in a fair and competitive wage structure to our members and will attract high-quality apprentices to the District. It is a true win-win and we look forward to bringing this tentative agreement to our membership for ratification.”

The agreement will go into effect upon ratification by unit members and adoption by the Board of Education.

     

Groundbreaking on new school; Chang finalist for Boston job

school report buzzLA Unified broke ground Saturday on South Region High School #8 with a ceremony attended by district and community leaders. The school is the last of 131 to be built under the district’s current $27 billion bond program.

The school will be on a  9.24 acre campus consisting of three learning communities, according to LA Unified. Facilities will include classrooms, science labs, a library, a multi-purpose building, a food service area, lunch shelter, administration offices and a gymnasium. The school is scheduled to open for students in 2017.

Take a look at the below video for a computer-generated tour of what the new school should look like.

Tommy Chang finalist for Boston superintendent

Tommy Chang, LAUSD’s superintendent of the Intensive Support and Innovation Educational Service Center, is one of four finalists to become the superintendent of Boston  Public Schools.

As part of the process, Chang participated in a forum this week where he answered questions from the public, according to the Boston Globe. The public forum is one of the last steps in the process, and the school board will select a new superintendent on March 3, according to the report. Take a look at video from Chang’s public forum here.

KLCS director wins award

Alan Popkin, KLCS’s director of Television Engineering and Technical Operations, was presented this week with the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) 2015 EDGE Award. The EDGE Award is “given to an individual who has excelled in the use of technology, groundbreaking partnerships and other pioneering work to advance public television’s public service mission.”

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A snapshot look at Kayser’s positions on major LAUSD issues

Bennett Kayser

Bennett Kayser

While the LA Unified’s District 5 board incumbent, Bennett Kayser, did not make himself available for an interview with LA School Report as part of our candidate profile series, he has nonetheless played a high profile role on issues before the school board during his term in office.

With strong support from the teachers union, UTLA, Kayser is running for reelection against two challengers, Andrew Thomas and Ref Rodriguez, in what has become the nastiest of the school board races, heading into next Tuesday’s elections.

Here is what we know about Kayser, based on his voting record on major issues and his stated positions since he was first elected to the board in 2011:

Charter Schools

Kayser and his wife co-founded one of LA Unified’s charter schools, but over the years he has turned his back on them. When once they were akin to scrappy start-ups launched by community members with an interest in pioneering new teaching and learning techniques, he now contends they have become cookie-cutter, money-making operations run by corporations.

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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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Morning Read: Charter group flexes muscle in LAUSD election

Charter school group is political force in L.A. Unified board election
California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a political action committee, has put its muscle into a race it considers crucial. Los Angeles Times


After recession cuts, LAUSD reconnects with community art groups
Los Angeles Unified’s arts education leaders took steps to renew long-dormant community partnerships with arts organizations Wednesday. KPCC


Starting early on college and career
Efforts to prepare students for college and careers are taking hold earlier and earlier, expanding beyond high school. Ed Source


LAUSD reopening libraries after recession closings
More than 200 Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school libraries have reopened in just two months, according to district officials. KPCC


Doubts raised about test for severely disabled
Some of the state’s most severely disabled students begin field testing an alternate academic performance assessment this spring. SI&A Cabinet Report

JUST IN: New lawsuit charges Cortines with sexual misconduct

Ray Cortines

Ray Cortines

Old accusations of sexual misconduct by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines resurfaced today in a new lawsuit that includes explosive new assertions sure to cause anger, embarrassment and disruptions at district headquarters.

Scot Graham, who was hired by Cortines in 2000 to be the district’s Director of Real Estate, renewed his charges that Cortines, 82, made unwanted sexual advances toward him and that the district retaliated against him for bringing the matter before district lawyers. Graham, who is 58, made similar accusations in two previous lawsuits, based on incidents during Cortines’ first two stints as superintendent.

But this latest complaint filed in a downtown California Superior Court goes well beyond the previous lawsuits, making liberal use of graphic language in characterizing Cortines as a sexual predator who openly made derogatory and sexually-tinged comments about a number of past and present district leaders, including the district’s current chief lawyer, David Holmquist. Graham also alleges that Cortines described board member Monica Garcia as a “fat slovenly lesbian” and that senior district officials routinely had “sexual side arrangements.”

The complaint also raises a new allegation that the district failed to investigate Graham’s claims before rehiring Cortines last year to run the district for a third time as superintendent. That failure, Graham charged, has created a work atmosphere in which Graham says he feels “ongoing fear of Cortines” who “would use his power to terminate Graham for refusing Cortines’ sexual advances.”

“These matters have already been adjudicated by the court in favor of the school district and Mr. Cortines in two separate lawsuits,” Holmquist said in a statement, speaking for Cortines and the district. “This is simply a frivolous refiling of the same allegations. The details included in this complaint are intended to do nothing more than generate sensational headlines, and needlessly subject current and former leaders at the district to baseless personal attacks. The District will vigorously defend against these claims as it has done with the last two lawsuits alleging the same causes of action.

“Ensuring a hostile free work and learning environment districtwide is very important,” he added. ” We take these types of allegations seriously, and we act in accordance with the law. Courts have already determined that these claims are not actionable.”

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District 7: LAUSD school board race snapshot

LAUSD District 7 map

School board District 7, runs up a narrow swath from San Pedro at its southern tip to South LA as its northern boundary (see map here).
On the way, it encompasses parts of Wilmington, Harbor City, Carson, Harbor Gateway, Lomita, Gardena, Florence, and Watts, and is home to some of LA Unified’s historically troubled high schools including Fremont High, and Jordon High, which have undergone recent massive restructurings, and Locke High School, which underwent a major turnaround 2008. The district also includes some of the highest performing schools in LAUSD, including highly-ranked Harbor Teachers Prep Academy and many of the city’s highly-effective charter schools. In all there are 99 elementary schools, 36 middle schools and 54 high schools in LAUSD’s District 7. (See list here). Three candidates are vying for this seat.

CANDIDATE SNAPSHOTS

Richard VladovicRichard Vladovic (Incumbent)

A veteran educator, Richard Vladovic is a former social studies teacher, principal and Superintendent of West Covina Unified School District with two terms under his belt on the LAUSD school board. He was first elected to the school board in 2007 with the help of then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. While he maintains strong ties with reform-minded players he won the support of board members allied with the teachers union to ascend to the position of school board president replacing reform advocate Monica Garcia 18 months ago.

Organization endorsements: SEIU-99, CA Charter School Advocates, AALA, LA Times
Cash Raised: $96,764 [reporting as of 2/14]
SuperPAC $: $82,977 [reporting as of 2/14]
Age: 70
Education: B.A. Los Angeles Harbor College; M.S., Pepperdine University; PhD, USC Rossier School of Ed, 1980 (source, smartvoter)
Ballot Designation: School Boardmember/Educator
League of Women Voters Questionnaire: What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? The most important issue facing LAUSD today is increasing academic achievement. Full answers here
Website: http://www.vladovic4schoolboard.com/

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Which way LAUSD? A look at the future of digital learning

KCRWs-Which-Way-LA-300x300

By KCRW’s “Which Way L.A.?”

There won’t be an iPad for everyone after all, and School Board incumbents running for re-election are being asked to explain a massive debacle.

But, in this economy, digital education is mandatory to take proficiency tests, apply for college admission—or qualify for a lot of blue-collar employment. Can LA Unified find the money to try again, and make teachers part of the planning?

Click here to listen to the show.

 

Morning Read: LAUSD could lose $782 million under federal bill

L.A. schools could lose $782 million under federal bill
Republican-led effort to revise a federal education law could slash $782 million for disadvantaged students in Los Angeles Unified over six years. Los Angeles Times


Jeff Bridges encourages eating breakfast at local schools
Elementary School students in Winnetka got a visit from Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges. KAB7


High-schoolers’ excitement about voting is uplifting
In a city that hibernates through local elections, Miriam Antonio told me she couldn’t wait to vote next Tuesday. Los Angeles Times


Bid to move L.A. elections faces growing opposition from candidates
The campaign to combine Los Angeles’ elections with state and federal contests has been hailed by backers as a way to lift the city’s dismal turnout. Los Angeles Times


LA Unified’s teachers union faces test of organizing strength
The print shop below UTLA’s headquarters cranked out 7,500 signs for protestors to carry when they descend on downtown Thursday. Los Angeles Daily News


In LA, Missing Kindergarten Is A Big Deal
In Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, kindergarten absence is a big problem. New England Public Radio

Gonzalez files complaint with City Ethics against Galatzan campaign

Tamar Galtatzan

Tamar Galtatzan

One of Tamar Galatzan’s challengers in the LA Unified District 3 board race said today he has filed a complaint against her with the City Ethics Commission, charging that she improperly used her board office as part of her campaign.

Filiberto Gonzalez, a former Los Angeles City planning commissioner, cited two specific instances: the use of what he believes is campaign material at a Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meeting on Feb. 13, and the use of the district’s robocall system to notify thousands of parents about a community meeting on the budget on Feb. 17 — a date too close to the election, he argues, although he could not cite any specific law that would have prohibited it.

Gonzalez first made the robocall charge at a District 3 forum on Feb. 17 when Galatzan skipped the event to hold the community meeting.  

“As candidates, we are all required to participate in campaign ethics training,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “She cannot say it was an oversight. Even worse, as a prosecutor with the City of Los Angeles, she should know better and hold herself to a higher standard.”

A Commission spokeswoman said she could neither confirm nor deny “the existence of any complaints or investigations due to strict confidentiality rules mandated by the City Charter.”

Galatzan’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The District 3 race is the most crowded of the three contested school board elections on March 3. In seeking a third term, Galatzan is facing five challengers, most of whom have been sharply critical of her years on the board.

Gonzalez, who voted for Galatzan eight years ago, has been especially critical of her role in supporting the district’s iPad program, insisting in an interview, “She was a great supporter of the iPads even when it did not have support in our neighborhoods. It was wrong headed from the very beginning and yet she was the number one champion on that.”

District 5: LAUSD school board race snapshot

LAUSD District 5 Map LA Unified’s school board District 5, runs a tortured, ear-muff-shaped path from Los Feliz in the north, following a narrow band south, and expanding in the south to Lynwood.

Along the way it reaches parts of Echo Park, Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Bell and South Gate.

With an Hispanic population of 74 percent, District 5 was originally carved in 1978 as a Latino seat, but has only been held by an Hispanic school board member four of the last 15 years. The district includes the newish $239-million Sonia M. Sotomayor Learning Academies, as well as Jefferson High, focus of the recent troubled computer overhaul known as MiSiS. The district is home to 37 charters, including US News ranked Alliance Marc & Eva Stern Math And Science. In all, there are 120 elementary schools, 42 middle schools and 41 high schools in LAUSD’s District 5. (See list here).  Three candidates are vying for this seat.

CANDIDATE SNAPSHOT

Bennett Kayser (Incumbent)

Bennett KayserA former middle school science and health teacher, Bennett Kayser was first elected to represent District 5 in 2011 in a narrowly won race with help of $1.4 million spent by the teachers union super PAC. He is considered one of the teacher’s union staunchest allies on the board.

Although Kayser and his wife co-founded of one of the district’s earliest charter schools, over the years he’s become reliably anti-charter, voting against new applications and renewals at nearly every opportunity. He was also a relentless critic of the reform policies of former superintendent John Deasy. Kayser had to recuse himself on some of the votes regarding the controversial iPad initiative because of a conflict of interest involving his ownership of Apple Inc. stock.

In his re-election bid he has once again won the support of the teachers union, which is spending big money to defend his seat while the California Charter School Association PAC has spent even more to ensure his defeat. As a result, Kayser has been the target of some odd and arguably racist ads.

Bennett Kayser declined to speak LA School Report about the election.

Organization endorsements: SEIU-99, AALA, UTLA, CSEA – 500, and the local chapter of the AFL-CIO

Cash Raised: $81,121.35 (through 2/14)

Super PAC $: $374,375.25 spent by outside groups supporting Kayser or opposing his challengers (through 2/14)

Age: 69

Education: B.A., Cal State Long Beach (1969); MA, Biology UCLA (1980)

Ballot Designation: Teacher/School Boardmember

League of Women Voters Questionnaire:  What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today?  Did not respond.

United Way Questionnaire: Did not respond

Website: Bennett2015

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LA Unified’s computer test run encounters — surprise! — glitches

computer-errorIf you thought LA Unified’s practice-run of the Smarter Balanced test last week would go smoothly, think again. But district officials insist the blame is not entirely the district’s fault.

The state “Readiness Test” site, which was specifically designed for students to access the practice exam, crashed Thursday when state personnel tried logging into the system.

“It just couldn’t handle the volume,” Ellen Morgan, a district spokeswoman, told LA School Report.

That’s troubling, considering only a fraction of LA Unified students attempted to take the practice test last week. The so-called “dress rehearsal” only required one class per school to take the test. About 340,000 students are expected to take the exam in the spring.

But the state’s web site failure is no cause for alarm, says Cynthia Lim, head of LA Unified’s Office of Data and Accountability.

“Students will be taking the real test on a secured browser,” she told LA School Report.

Lim said the district is not concerned about the testing web site because “students will be accessing the test via the secure browser and there were few glitches during the field test last year.”

In a similar trial run last year, several schools reported problems connecting to the internet and accessing the test questions. Few students were able to complete either the English or math section of the test.

Schools were asked to complete a survey after the test last week but district officials say the results have not been tabulated.

“We will have statistics later in the week on the number of schools that were able to access the practice test,” Lim said. Overall, she added, the goal of the  practice test was to test to our capacity and to allow our students to obtain more familiarity with the SBA. This dress rehearsal as a good trial for the district.”

 

District 3: LAUSD school board race snapshot

LAUSD District 3 Map

*UPDATED

School board District 3 covers most of the western San Fernando valley from the Ventura county line to the 405 on its eastern boarder, with a cutout to include some of the tonier neighborhoods in the east valley. The district includes Chatsworth, parts of Woodland Hills, Northridge, Granda Hills, parts of Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks.

In all, there are 120 elementary schools, 42 middle schools and 41 high schools in LAUSD’s District 3. (See list here). Six candidates are vying for this seat.

CANDIDATE SNAPSHOTS

Tamar Galatzan at Tuesday's LAUSD school board meeting

Tamar Galatzan (Incumbent)

Tamar Galatzan was first elected to the board in 2007 and has also worked as a prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles since 2002. She is a parent of two LAUSD students. While she has a reputation as a pro-charter, pro-reform movement board member and strong supporter of former Superintendent John Deasy, she also has a fiery independent streak, which was noted in her endorsement by the Los Angeles Times.

Organization Endorsements: California Charter School Association, the local chapter of the AFL-CIO, LA Times, SEIU Local 99.
Cash Raised: $35,714 (through 2/14)
SuperPAC $: $206,836.54 (through 2/14)
Age: 45
Education: J.D., University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1994);     B.A. in political science, UCLA, magna cum laude (1991)
Ballot Designation: School board member/Prosecutor
League of Women Voters Questionnaire: What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? The budget is unquestionably the most critical issue. Full answers here
United Way Questionnaire: Full answers here.
Website: Tamar2015.com


Elizabeth Badger ThumbElizabeth Badger

Elizabeth Badger is a parent of two LAUSD students, and this is her third run at public office in two years. She owns an automotive business in the San Fernando Valley and is CEO/Founder of Minority Outreach Committee, Inc. a nonpartisan non-profit. She is also a member of the Winnetka Neighborhood Council, the Los Angeles African American Women Political Outreach and was a delegate at the 2008 and the 2012 Democratic National Conventions.

Organization Endorsements:  None
Cash Raised: $14,804 (through 2/14)
SuperPAC $: None
Age: not stated
Education:  BA and MA in Political Science from CSUN; Graduate of USC’s Public Policy Institute
Ballot Designation: Children’s Advocate/Businesswoman
League of Women Voters Questionnaire: What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? Failing Education System. Full answers here.
United Way Questionnaire: Full answers here. 
Website: http://elizabethbadger.net

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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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Morning Read: Task force wants big changes to special ed

Sweeping change set for special education services
A blue ribbon panel shared 44 specific recommendations aimed ultimately at improving academic outcomes for students with disabilities. SI&A Cabinet Report


Critics say EPA played dual role in recycled tire controversy
The EPA has terminated its longtime campaign to promote the use of recycled tires on artificial turf fields and playgrounds. San Francisco Chronicle


Expelled in preschool
Preschoolers are expelled at three times the rate of their older peers. The Hechinger Report


More students snub standardized exams
The backlash is kicking into high gear this spring as millions of students start taking new, more rigorous exams aligned with Common Core standards. Huffington Post


Infants to return to SaMo High School daycare after measles scare
More than a dozen infants exposed to a baby with measles at a Santa Monica day care center will be allowed to return to the facility Monday. CBS Los Angeles


Miramonte teacher resigns in advance of hearing over job
A teacher who became a figure in the Miramonte Elementary child abuse case resigned Friday from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Los Angeles Times

Cortines says deficit is cutting programs, jobs and teacher raises

Ramon Cortines Dec. 9, 2014LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines had a stern warning today for the LA teachers union as well as for the district, itself:

Not only are teachers not getting the salary increases they have been demanding in the now stalled contract negotiations, he said, but with a remaining budget deficit of $160 million, he has already begun cutting programs for next year. Layoffs, he said, are next.

What’s most likely to be cut? “Everything!” Cortines said. “I have been meeting with all of the divisions to reduce our expenses.”

Cortines’s announcement came in a rare meeting with reporters who cover LA Unified. It was a startling message, given the steady insistence by the teachers union, UTLA, that new state money coming into the district this year would be enough to give teachers a sizable raise after none for nearly eight years.

But Cortines was having none of it: Just hours earlier, he said, he approved a 10 percent cut in a single department although he would not say which one. He also repeated his expectation that LA Unified students will have access to technology but not necessary through the one-to-one program created by former Superintendent John Deasy designed to give every student a laptop or digital tablet.

“As I have stated before publicly, we are committed to providing technology to our children—whether it be desktop computer labs, laptops or tablets—to help prepare them for the 21st century,” Cortines said in a statement hours later issued by the district to amplify his position. “However, as we are reviewing our lessons learned, there must be a balanced approach to spending bond dollars to buy technology when there are so many brick and mortar and other critical facility needs that must be met.”

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‘Do the Write Thing’ winners tell tales of bullets and bullies

Do the Write Thing Challenge winner Destiny Lopez (L) and Lori Vollandt

Student Destiny Lopez (L) and Lori Vollandt at Tuesday’s LA Unified school board Committee of the Whole meeting

Those attending this week’s meeting of the LA Unified school board’s Committee of the Whole got a sobering reminder of the horrific levels of violence some of the district’s students live with as Destiny Lopez, a 9th grader at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, stepped to the microphone and read from her winning Do the Write Thing Challenge essay.

“My father, as a result of being a gang member, became a quadriplegic, meaning he can’t move from the neck down as a result of him having been shot three times — once in his eyebrow, once in his upper lip and once in his arm, which is the one that did the most damage,” she said.

But the violence “didn’t stop there. There’s no one in the world who can stop all the violence in the world,” she added, explaining that her uncle, who was also a member of the same gang, was shot and killed. (See the full video of Lopez reading her essay below.)

Lopez and 8th grader David Berecca were the 2014 challenge winners chosen from LA Unified. Thirty communities across the country participated in the essay contest, which was launched in 1994. As part of the National Campaign to Stop Violence, it asks middle school students to write about how violence impacts them.

Two “national ambassadors” from each community visited the Library of Congress in Washington D. C. last summer to read their essays, which were printed and entered into the record.

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