A day of pomp, circumstance and politics awaiting new LAUSD board

New LAUSD school board member Monica Ratliff is sworn into office by her mother Yolanda Asenjo Padilla Ratliff at Monday's school board meeting.   Photo by David Crane/Staff Photographer

LAUSD school board member Monica Ratliff is sworn into office by her mother in 2013

Get ready for some pomp, circumstance — and politics.

The first half of tomorrow’s LA Unified school board meeting, starting at 10 am, will be a swearing in ceremony for four newly elected board members by people or, in some cases, groups of people, of their choice.

Scott Schmerelson, Ref Rodriguez, George McKenna and Richard Vladovic — will be taking an oath, each committing the next five years to the district.

Voters recently approved a measure to align school board elections with other statewide races in order to boost voter turn out. That means the four board members will sit on the board until 2020.

2020!

The ceremony and brief reception afterward are taking place at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center Gymnasium, just a few blocks from LA Unified headquarters.

Following the festivities, the full board will convene at 1 pm for the first meeting of the new fiscal year to elect a new president, a process that in recent years has not provoked much public debate but this year may prove to be different. A lot different.

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Councilman LaBonge honored with square at former high school

LaBonge

Councilman Tom LaBonge honored at his former high school

Outgoing Los Angeles City Council member Tom LaBonge now has a square named after him in front of the school he graduated from, John Marshall High School.

The plaque also names the other public schools that LaBonge attended locally, including Ivanhoe Elementary School in 1963 and Thomas Starr King Middle School in 1968.

The councilman, who is being termed out of office this year after serving from 2001, attended Marshall High in 1971. The school is at Tracy and St. George streets in Los Feliz.

When the high school’s Gothic style main building was slated for demolition after the Sylmar earthquake in 1971, LaBonge fought to save the structure.

LaBonge is also known for helping LA Unified fund and build the school’s new Mike Haynes Stadium and Hugh Boyd Field that are used for football games and track meets.

In-coming LAUSD board members getting their priorities in order

Scott Schmerelson LAUSD

Scott Schmerelson

* UPDATED

Ref Rodriguez is in the market for new friends. Specifically, friends on the LA Unified school board, which he’ll officially join tomorrow for a five-year term ending in 2020.

“I know I need to build some relationships with certain communities that may not trust me because of the campaign,” he told LA School Report.

He and the other 2015 board election winners — Scott Schmerelson, George McKenna and Richard Vladovic — will be sworn in at a special ceremony tomorrow, prior to a board meeting to select a board president.

Rodriguez, who trounced Bennett Kayser in the District 5 race, has been accused of being behind one of the nastiest campaigns for a school board seat in LAUSD history. Neighborhoods across the city, from Highland Park down to South Gate, were papered with fliers accusing Kayser of racism and opposing good schools for Latino children. Others intentionally misrepresented Kayser’s voting record on the district’s iPad deal.

And while Rodriguez has always insisted that his team had no involvement with negative ads paid for by the California Charter Schools Association, he now concedes that it’s weighing heavily on his mind as he thinks about the year ahead.

“There is a lot of repair that I have to do and I plan to do that in my first year,” he said, adding that some of that work has already started. Rodriguez had lunch with Steve Zimmer last week, a small gesture that represents a willingness of both men to move past the election and things said over those heated months.

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Supreme Court to hear case of teachers vs. CTA over union dues

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

The Supreme Court announced today it will hear a case that could deal a major blow to the financial power of public sector unions.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, involves 10 California teachers who say their being forced to pay union dues violates their right to free speech.

The teachers are asking the court to overturn its 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allows unions to collect dues from non-members for collective bargaining efforts on their behalf.

Forcing public employees to pay union dues — known as “agency shop” laws — as a requirement for employment is in place in California and 25 other states. Although not required to join the union, employees still have to pay dues but can opt out of the one-third that goes toward political action. The other two-thirds goes toward collective bargaining.

The case has far-reaching implications as it could deprive public sector unions of millions of dollars in revenue. The National Law Journal described the case as “a potential union-breaking challenge,” while a group of union leaders said the case would not just be a blow to unions, but “threatens the fundamental promise of America.”

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Commentary: Vaccine opponents sincere yet misleading

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By Robin Abcarian 

Despite all the noise around mandating vaccinations for schoolchildren, most California adults — some 67 percent, according to a recent poll — think it’s a good idea.

We will soon know whether Gov. Jerry Brown agrees. On Monday, the Legislature sent him a bill that would end the personal belief exemption, a routinely abused loophole that has seriously eroded the immunization rates in many of California’s school districts. Children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons would be allowed to attend school.

Even if Brown signs the bill, you can bet the kicking and screaming on the other side will not stop. This week, opponents have launched a ferocious social media campaign directed at him, using the hashtag #HearUs.

Click here to read the full commentary.

Morning Read: State’s alternative schools have little oversight

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7 solutions that would improve graduation rates
This month we reported the findings from our nationwide investigation into the forces driving the nation’s rising high school graduation rate. NPR

LAUSD teacher elected as CTA secretary-treasurer

David Goldberg-CTA

David Goldberg (credit: CTA)

* UPDATED

LA Unified elementary school teacher David Goldberg has been elected as secretary-treasurer of the California Teachers Association.

Goldberg, 43, spent most of his 19 years at Murchison Elementary, where he is a bilingual teacher who is fluent in Spanish and American Sign Language.

He was one of dozens of educators who spent a night in jail in 2011 after participating in civil disobedience at the State Capitol. That demonstration was part of the CTA’s State of Emergency actions to protest funding cuts.

He joins the leadership team representing 325,000 educators statewide, along with Pittsburg elementary teacher Eric C. Heins as president and Cal State Northridge professor Theresa Montaño as vice president.

“What excites me the most about taking on my new role are the opportunities before me to give back to all those students and educators who have made an impact in my life,” Heins said at his induction ceremony on June 26.

“Working together with my fellow officers and colleagues we will focus on what matters most, and that is ensuring that every student has the quality education they need and deserve, and that educators are working with parents and our communities to lead education change in California.”

In the past, Goldberg worked on the budget committee for the State Council of Education and served as a liaison to the Teacher Evaluation and Academic Freedom committee. He leads the CTA Strategic Planning Workgroup, and plans to work with the CTA Budget Committee and State Council to make sure that the fiscal priorities match up with the organization’s strategic plan.

Activism is part of Goldberg’s family history. His aunt is former Los Angeles City Council member and state assembly representative Jackie Goldberg, who also served as chair of the state Assembly Education Committee and as president of the LA Unified school board. As one of the first members of UTLA, his grandmother participated in a strike that helped give birth to the union in the 1970s.

His wife is Karla Alvarado-Goldberg, an LAUSD middle school psychiatric social worker and a member of the State Council of Education.

After a short stint as a professional basketball player, Goldberg earned his teaching credential through an LAUSD intern program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in community studies from University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives with his wife and three children in Echo Park, his home for most of his life.


*Updated to reflect Goldberg was elected to the position, not appointed

 

LA Unified schools soon to come alive with the sound of music

LA Unified students-violin-artsLos Angeles’ schools are alive with the sound of music, or at least, they will be come fall when LA Unified’s new-and-improved arts budget is put into practice.

Last week, the school board approved the district’s 2015-2016 spending plan, which allocates $26.5 million to arts education, said Rory Pullens, executive director of arts education for the district. This funding represents a $4 million increase from last year and an overall vast improvement from the “years of decline that we’ve been existing in since the economic downturn,” he told LA School Report.

Some of this money will go toward hiring instrumental music teachers so schools that already have instruments can bring them out of storage and put them into the hands of students, he said. Locations that aren’t so lucky will get money to purchase violins, cellos, guitars and other pieces need to put together an orchestra, as well as to provide teachers the professional development they need to be effective.

“The most important factor in a child’s education is who that teacher is and how qualified and equipped they are,” Pullens said.

The upcoming school year also marks the beginning of the Industry Adopt-A-School program, established by Pullens to connect LA’s robust arts and entertainment businesses to LAUSD students.

“It is our students who are ultimately going to be their workforce of the future,” he said.

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Editorial: California school district reserve cap is ‘bad policy’

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By The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

Despite broad bipartisan support, legislation to repeal an onerous cap on school district reserve funds didn’t have much of a chance in the Democrat-controlled California Legislature. The bill by Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) died in the Assembly Education Committee faster than you can say “opposed by the California Teachers Assn.”

But good ideas with broad support have a way of persisting, even in the toxic environment of partisan politics. The repeal bill may be dead, but in its place is a new campaign — backed by school districts, the state PTA, the League of Women Voters, education policy groups and others — to “modify” the cap in order to get Democrats on board. Hey, if that’s what it takes to relax the irresponsible rule that prohibits schools from socking away extra cash during boom years, that’s fine with us.

Click here to read the full editorial.

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7 more states, District Of Columbia receive No Child Left Behind waivers
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Does Vladovic get a third term leading LAUSD board? Ask Vladovic

Richard VladovicOK, so let’s play this out.

One of the Mónicas — Ratliff or García, or maybe both — offers a resolution next week waiving the rule that sets term limits at two, enabling Richard Vladovic to serve a third one-year term as the LA Unified board president.

The effort needs four votes to pass. How do the members vote? Here’s a guess:

Mónica García:  Already indicating she’s in favor of a one-year suspension of current rules, she votes yes.

Mónica Ratliff: Ditto.

Newly-elected Ref Rodriguez: He votes for it. Why? The last person he wants as board president is Steve Zimmer, the current vice president. Zimmer trashed Rodriguez for standing by as Rodriguez surrogates trashed Bennett Kayser in the election campaign.

Newly-elected Scott Schmerelson: He favors term limits so he’s a no vote.

George McKenna: On Tuesday, he voted against Ratliff’s resolution to waive the rule, so he’s a no. Unless he flips.

Zimmer: No.

That makes it 3-3, with Vladovic’s vote decisive.

Vladovic voted for term limits in 2013. On Tuesday, he abstained (along with Kayser), leaving Ratliff’s effort one vote short of passing. Does he abstain again, thereby assuring that the gavel passes into new hands? 

It comes down to how badly he wants to serve another year as president. It also comes down to how active a role he wants in the search process for who succeeds Ray Cortines as the next superintendent.

Vladovic has become much more assertive in recent months as board president. He’s appeared more energized and engaged.

If he votes no or abstains, he would appear consistent to his position, respectful of the board rules as they are, and the board will have a new president.

A yes vote would require an explanation.

The members vote in alphabetical order. If this speculation holds, it would be 3-2 in favor of the one-year waiver when it’s Vladovic’s turn, which means Zimmer will know the outcome before it’s his.

Investigation into acclaimed teacher includes sexual abuse allegations

Rafe Esquith, sexual abuse allegations

Rafe Esquith

The investigation by LA Unified officials into acclaimed elementary school teacher Rafe Esquith includes allegations that he sexually abused a child 40 years ago.

Esquith, a best selling author who has also received national awards and media attention for his work at Hobart Avenue Elementary School, was removed from the classroom in April in response to a complaint that he made a joke about nudity while referencing Mark Twain. His removal from the classroom made headlines around the country this week after his attorney, Mark Geragos, announced plans for a lawsuit.

The abuse allegations, reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times, stem from Esquith’s time working at the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles during the 1970s. A man, Marc Bennett, who is now 49, claims he was physically and sexually abused by Esquith at the center when he was 8 or 9 and Esquith was a teenager.

“At that point in my life my parents had been divorced. Rafe was charismatic and I looked up to him a bit as kind of a father figure,” Bennett told the Times. “I had a fair amount of adoration for him, but it was this really weird thing where it was full of humiliation and a lot of fear. It was very chaotic.”

Bennett, who reportedly lives in New York City, reached out to police about a decade ago with his accusations, and also wrote a letter to a LA Unified school board member but cannot remember which one, according to the Times, which also said LA Unified officials interviewed Bennett this week.

Geragos denied the accusations to the Times.

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Morning Read: Panel recommends NCLB waiver for LAUSD, CORE

Panel recommends continuing districts’ waiver from NCLB
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LA Unified board contemplating rule changes on vote for president


VladovicIf Ref Rodriguez and Scott Schemerelson had any hope of a slow and easy introduction to LA Unified board politics, they’re in for a jolt. Shortly after they’re sworn in as the board’s newest members next week, they might be asked to cast votes on a rule that determines who can or can’t be board president.

As it stands now, a resolution spearheaded by Mónica Ratliff earlier this week to eliminate term-limits for the presidency failed. But immediately following the vote she and Mónica García suggested they might seek to waive the board rule enforcing the two-consecutive year cap — even before it would go into effect the first time. (Check out the video below to see the full board discussion on term limits). 

Richard Vladovic, board president since 2013, is required to step aside, by the rules as they now exist.

“So, if I wanted to, possibly on that day, I might try to waive that rule?” Ratliff asked David Holmquist, the district’s head attorney.

Garcia followed up with, “If I was to bring a motion while [Superintendent Ramon Cortines] is chairing the meeting, that says I want to consider eliminating term limits for the president, can I do that?”

The answer to both questions from Holmquist: Yes.

And here’s how: A memo sent to board members late today said members can either vote to waive the term limit rule for one year, or they could nominate Vladovic for a third term with the stipulation that the term limit rule is being suspended for one year only.

If Ratliff or Garcia follows through with her plans, it could be a big win for Vladovic, who would likely have the four votes needed to keep him in the post, even if he abstains, as he did when Ratliff’s effort came to a vote on Tuesday. 

Vladovic had voted in favor of implementing the two-year rule after six years of García at the helm. But now, Chris Torres, his chief of staff, says Vladovic would welcome a third term.

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LAUSD assistant superintendent is honored by local NAACP

Earl R. Perkins

Earl R. Perkins

Earl R. Perkins, LA Unified’s assistant superintendent for school operations, was recently honored by the  Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Perkins was one of eight given the Youth Council Men of Valor Award at a ceremony at the Double Tree Hilton in Torrance on Saturday. According to a district press release, the award “recognizes those who are: helping others by acting as positive role models; and achieving and contributing to society, especially to African Americans.”

“I am very honored to have received this award, especially from the NAACP, one of the longest tenured civil rights organizations in the nation,” Perkins said in a statement. “Today, we must focus on our young people who will be the professionals and voters of tomorrow. If changes will happen for African-American folks, we must educate and prepare our youth to meet the challenge.”

Perkins has been working as an educator and administrator with the district for 40 years, and has served in his current role since 2007.

“You are helping to make positive differences in the lives of others,” said a letter from Los Angeles NAACP officials to the award winners. “Your achievements are motivators for others. You are a role model for those yet to achieve and your contributions to society are immeasurable.”

Morning Read: Who will replace Cortines at LA Unified?

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Improved credit for Magnolia schools opens door for expansion

Magnolia-Charter-schools-2Just one year after LA Unified attempted to shut down two of Magnolia Public Schools campuses over fiscal mismanagement, the embattled organization received a positive credit rating from Standard & Poor’s.

The largest credit agency in the country lifted Magnolia’s rating to BB and revised its outlook from “negative” to “stable.”

“This is wonderful news for us that means we’ll be able to serve more students and get access to more resources,” Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia, told LA School Report. Young took over the troubled network of schools in January.

Magnolia operates eight schools in LA Unified and another three elsewhere in California. It plans to use its new borrowing power to buy facilities for schools that currently lease space from local school districts and to expand existing campuses.

“In the immediate future we want to get into facilities that will allow all of our existing schools to grow above 400 students,” Young said. “Because that will allow us those schools to become financially stable.”

At the top of the list for improvements are Magnolia Science Academy 1 in Reseda and another in San Diego.

“Both of those schools have long waiting lists,” Young said.

The school board voted on March 10 to renew two Magnolia charters whose renewal the members had rescinded last year as well as one charter whose renewal they had denied and to settle a lawsuit filed by Magnolia subsequent to the denials of the schools in 2014.

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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Vergara appeal moves forward, but final decision may be 1 year away

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

An appellate court ruling in the landmark Vergara v. California case moved closer to an end date today with the attorneys for the nine student plaintiffs filing their appeal brief.

The brief is a response to the appeal arguments made by the defendants in the case, the State of California and its two largest teacher unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association.

The defendants lost the case last June when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s laws regarding teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissals by saying they deny students access to a quality public education. Treu stayed his ruling and left it up to state lawmakers to fix the problems he cited, making the outcome of the appeal a potential tectonic shift in education should the ruling stand.

The defendants now have 20 days to file additional reply briefs, unless they are granted an extension. Once the briefs are all filed, the court will schedule a date for oral arguments, but there is no timeframe on when the court must schedule it, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., the plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, explained in a phone call today with reporters.

The plaintiffs in the case have been financially supported by the organization Students Matter.

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LAUSD board approves $7.8 billion budget, providing gain and pain

Ramon Cortines Dec. 9, 2014, budgetThe LA Unified school board yesterday approved a $7.8 billion budget that includes raises, pension increases, sustained health benefits, more money for school maintenance and expansion of programs for targeted students that nearly became extinct over the recession years.

But in doing so, the district broke its one-year streak of no layoffs.

Despite an increase of about $850 million over last year, 382 teachers will lose their jobs and several popular programs are being eliminated.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines choked back tears as he detailed how the surplus in funding still leaves the district in a “tenuous” position.

“So many issues, so little time,” Cortines said, breaking down. “But together, we can make progress,” he added, grabbing a tissue.

Among those getting pink slips are 9 psychiatric social workers, 19 foreign language teachers, 27 social studies teachers and 41 math teachers, which the district often has a difficult time hiring due to so few qualified candidates.

Another 227 employees who also received layoff notices earlier this year were spared the axe, including 104 elementary school teachers, 59 counselors, and 54 psychiatric social workers.

“Not only were [layoff notices] rescinded, but we’re going to be hiring about 20 new positions,” Debra Duardo, executive director of the district’s health and human services department told LA School Report. Some of those new hires will include pupil services and attendance counselors and nurses.

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