Two candidates file to seek Galatzan school board seat

Carl Petersen LAUSD

Carl Petersen

Whether LA Unified board member Tamar Galatzan runs for reelection or not, voters in her District 3 will have two other candidates to consider in the 2015 board election.

Carl Petersen, Director of Logistics for a Glendale manufacturing company, and Elizabeth Badger, owner of an auto repair company in Canoga Park, have filed to run, according to the LA City Ethics Commission.

Galatzan, who is also an assistant city attorney, has not yet filed with the commission to run for reelection.

Petersen’s candidacy represents his first run for public office.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a year,” he said in an interview, explaining that his prime motivation was encountering obstacles in his quest for help for two of his daughters with autism.

“It’s such a bureaucratic process with all the hoops they make you jump through,” he said. “There’s a feeling throughout the district that the board doesn’t listen to parents. You see it in Breakfast in the Classroom, the iPads. They have a deaf ear to parents. Parents are speaking, but the board doesn’t listen.”

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Californians support changes in school funding, curriculum

Los Angeles Times logoVia the Los Angeles Times | By Teresa Watanabe

In a broad consensus across racial, political and economic lines, most Californians support two historic changes in how academic subjects are taught and state dollars are allocated to schools, according to a statewide survey released Wednesday.

More than two-thirds of Californians surveyed support new national learning standards known as Common Core, which are currently being rolled out to better prepare students for college and careers with a deeper focus on critical thinking over rote memorization. California’s support is in marked contrast to growing resistance to the standards in New York, Indiana, Oklahoma and several other states.

And 70% of Californians back a new education finance system that gives more money to school districts for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care. The new funding system is supported across all income levels and by 77% of Democrats, 65% of independents and 60% of Republicans, according to the survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Read the full story here.

SEIU 99 president — and board candidate — a union concern

Courtni Pugh SEIU Local 99 Executive Director

Courtni Pugh SEIU Local 99 Executive Director

Barbara Torres, president of SEIU Local 99, the local school workers union with 45,000 members, is raising alarms within the union over her intention to run for an LA Unified school board seat.

The potential conflict is over her role as a member of the union’s bargaining committee, which is negotiating a new labor contract with the district and school board, while she is simultaneously launching a campaign against Bennett Kayser in the 2015 race for the board’s District 5 seat.

“We’re going to launch an investigation and ask our lawyers to find out if this is even allowed,” Courtni Pugh, the union’s executive director told LA School Report. “This is unchartered territory for us and something we’ve never dealt with before, so we just don’t know.”

“But I can assure you,” she added, “that we aim for the highest ethical and transparent behavior at every level of the local in order to serve the members of Local 99.”

Making this more difficult, Pugh said, is that Local 99 has not received formal notification of Torres’ candidacy. As of today, Torres remains an official candidate in the race, according to the City Ethics Commission.

Repeated efforts over several weeks to reach Torres and her campaign manager Lewis Myers of Casitas Strategic for comment have gone unanswered.

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LACES (No. 112) ranks as top LA Unified school in US News survey

US News Ranking Best SchoolsDespite being the nation’s largest state, with the second-largest school district in the country, California placed only one school in The U.S. News and World latest rankings of public high schools, Oxford Academy near Anaheim, made it to the No. 10 spot.

The highest ranked school in LA Unified, the nation’s No. 2 district to New York’s, was the Los Angeles Center For Enriched Studies, which placed 19th in the state and 112th nationally.

Overall, the district had 11 of California’s top 100 schools. Five are charters, four are magnets and two are traditional schools.

Here’s the list of schools, which span all regions of the district, from Wilmington to Reseda:

Five takeaways from Supreme Court affirmative-action ruling

imgres-5Via Politico | By Josh Gerstein

The Supreme Court’s decision upholding Michigan’s affirmative-action ban was far from a shock, but it generated considerable strife on the high court, producing five different opinions in which the justices traded charges and countercharges on the polarizing issues at stake.

Tuesday’s splintered, 6-2, ruling continued what appears to be a steady march toward the demise of the use of race in higher education and offered new insight into just how eager some justices are to accelerate — or resist — what appears to be an inexorable trend.

In the panoply of opinions, the justices assumed various roles. Some acted as rhetorical bomb throwers, either for left or right. Others sought to mediate and moderate — or perhaps just gave the appearance of doing so in order to calm others’ fears. And one liberal justice defected from his ideological cohorts, to their chagrin.

Read the full story here.

LAUSD board approves multi-year contracts for senior staffers

imgres-4In another sign of improving financial fortunes for LA Unified, the school board today approved multi-year contracts for many of the district’s most senior staff.

In a break from previous years, when high level administration staffers worked on one-year contracts, several of Superintendent John Deasy’s most senior aides were given contracts of two and, in some cases, three years.

Deasy declined to comment on the board’s action but insisted that none of the 52 contracts approved by the board included a raise, but specific salaries were not announced.

Among those who will remain on Team Deasy for three years, through June 30, 2017, are Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill, Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly, the district’s chief lobbyist, Edgar Zazueta and LA Schools Police Chief, Steven Zipperman.

Deasy’s contract only runs through June 2016.

The contract renewals for staffers come at a sensitive time for the district as it embarks on negotiations with all of its labor partners, including UTLA, the teachers union. In general, LA Unified employees have not had raises over many years.

In the case of UTLA, teachers have been working under the conditions of an expired contract for three years.

School board member Monica Ratliff abstained from voting on all the contracts, which otherwise were approved unanimously.

“My abstention on every one of the senior management contracts is unequivocally not a reflection on the work of the numerous dedicated, extremely hardworking employees whose contracts were up for renewal today,” she told LA School Report.

“My abstention was based on the fact that I cannot, in good conscience, support very public performance metrics for our Superintendent, a publicly available multi-faceted evaluation template for our teachers, and then vote for senior management contracts that do not include publicly available accountability standards or metrics on which to evaluate performance.”

An effort to reach UTLA President Warren Fletcher for comment was unsuccessful.

LA Unified board issues warning to CHAMPS over theft

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 2.43.00 PMDespite hearing assurances that there are no longer fiscal mismanagement problems at Charter High School of Arts – Multimedia and Performing, better known as CHAMPS, the LA Unified school board voted unanimously today to issue a Notice of Violations, usually the first step in revoking a charter.

At issue is how the school responded to an employee misusing a school-issued credit card.

Appearing before the board to clarify the district’s action, Robert Perry, Administrative Coordinator of LA Unified’s Charter Schools Division, told the members that the CHAMPS staff should view the decision as “an opportunity to remedy, with clear documentation.”

If it’s provided by a May 2 deadline, he said, efforts to close the school could stop.

Several people from CHAMPS, including Joanne Saliba, the out-going executive director, tried to convince the board members that the episode was an anomaly and actions have been taken to make sure it would not happen again.

In September 2013, school officials discovered an employee who was hired as a fundraiser used a school-issued credit card to charge $27,000 worth of personal items. When the theft was discovered, the school’s board of directors took no disciplinary action and tried to contain the problem internally.

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A new $33,600 grant is music to LA Unified’s ears

images-1Music is returning to LA Unified, at least in some schools, thanks to a grant from the SoCal Acura Dealers Association and EcoMedia, a company that helps provide financial support for underfunded projects.

The grant, totaling $33,600, will help national nonprofit Little Kids Rock to expand its music education programming to more than 8,400 music students in LAUSD.

As part of the donation, musical instruments will be delivered tomorrow to Pio Pico Middle School’s Modern Band music program, which is part of Little Kids Rock’s free programming.

“With this donation, many more children will have the opportunity to unlock their inner-music makers,” said David Wish, Little Kids Rock founder.

The grant will help Little Kids Rock provide additional training, professional development and add more than 600 music instruments including guitars, drums, bass guitars and keyboards to the program.

Rachel Johnson using experience to boost District 1 chances

Rachel Johnson

Rachel Johnson

Beginning today, LA School Report is taking a longer look at each of the seven candidates running for LA Unified’s vacant South LA, District 1 board seat. The series starts today with Rachel Johnson and will continue over the weeks ahead.

After three decades as a LAUSD elementary school teacher and nine years as a member of the Gardena City Council, Rachel Johnson is hoping her extensive teaching and fiscal policy-making background will help her secure a seat on the LA Unified school board.

As one of three teachers among the seven candidates running for the District 1 board seat, left open by the passing of the board’s only African American member, Marguerite LaMotte, Johnson, 54, believes she has the practical and administrative expertise to make a difference.

“Since I put in the time in LAUSD, and I saw how policy that school board members implement and how it directly affects my practice, I said ‘you know, I think I can do better, I think I can contribute, I think I have a voice that would be valuable,’ ” she said in an interview with LA School Report.

Johnson, who teaches kindergarten at Purche Avenue Elementary school, wants to empower educators by raising awareness on several issues impacting District 1, such as why there are so many charter schools in the district.

Johnson believes low-performing traditional schools would greatly benefit if they were allowed to invest in a similar teaching model used by charter schools, giving administrators the flexibility to craft an innovative curriculum that she says would invigorate learning and motivate students to achieve.

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LA County Fed decides not to endorse in the school board race

afl-cio_logoDelegates of the LA County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, which represents 600,000 workers in the Los Angeles area, decided last night not to endorse any of the seven candidates for LA Unified school board after a motion to endorse candidate Alex Johnson failed to carry a required two-thirds majority vote.

The decision mirrors that of SEIU Local 99, the LA Unified support staff union, which also voted not to endorse anyone in the special election for the South LA seat, left vacant by the death of longtime school board member Marguerite LaMotte.

The vote was a reversal of sorts. Last week, the County Fed’s political action committee, COPE had voted to recommend “no endorsement” in the race, a decision made after interviewing four candidates: Alex Johnson, and the three teacher union-backed candidates, Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, Rachel Johnson and Hattie McFrazier. But a day later, that recommendation was trumped by the Federation executive board, which recommended Alex Johnson’s name be put before the delegates for a vote.

Johnson, an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and a product of the LAUSD school system and American University Law School, is the top fundraiser in the election but has little name recognition.

The other three candidates, including George McKenna, considered by insiders to be a front-runner, were not involved in any round of the process because they failed to obtain a required letter of recommendation from any one of the 300 labor affiliates in the federation.

McKenna, a retired administrator, was the subject of a made-for-TV movie and has the backing of the prinicipal’s union, AALA.

LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s LAUSD school board meeting

school board meetingThis morning, the Los Angeles Unified School Board meets at 9 a.m. with an agenda that includes a discussion about the future of CHAMPS, a charter high school which has recently been under investigation on allegations an employee misused school funds.

Other items include a resolution by school board members Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff to proclaim April as “Parkinson’s Disease Awareness” month; a resolution by school board members Monica Garcia and Richard Vladovic to request a report on autism from the Superintendent each April for “Autism Awareness Month”; a resolution from Garcia, Ratliff and Vladovic declaring “Teacher Appreciation Week” for a week in May; a resolution by Garcia to recognize and celebrate “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”


Click here for board materials

Committee as a Whole starts at 3:00 p.m.

CHAMPS in jeopardy of losing charter over credit card theft

imgres-2The Charter High School of Arts – Multimedia and Performing, better known as CHAMPS, is at risk of losing its charter after school administrators failed to act aggressively last year when learning that an employee used a school credit card for her personal use.

As a result, the LA Unified School Board has put the Van Nuys school on notice that if could lose its charter if school administrators have not properly remedied the violations.

According to a Notice of Violations by LA Unified’s Charter Schools Division that will be presented at the school board tomorrow, CHAMPS’ Director of Fund Development allegedly made $27,000 of unauthorized credit card charges on a school credit card, and the school’s board of directors sat on the information for four months before reporting the theft to police or taking any disciplinary action against the employee.

Meanwhile the director continued to work at the school until resigning in January. It was only then that the school reported her to police, launching an investigation.

A police report outlined in the document found that the director had previously been arrested for grand theft.

The “Notice of Violations” calls into question the school’s fiscal mismanagement and “material violation” of the terms of the school’s charter.

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Tutoring center busted for scamming millions in fed dollars

imgres-1A tutoring company billing itself as “The trusted name for specialized tutoring” may not be so trustworthy after all. Unless, that specialty is in defrauding the federal government.

The Academic Advantage, whose website is endorsed by The Governator himself — Arnold Schwarzenegger – and former LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, was busted scamming millions from federal supplemental-education services funds intended for needy students in under-performing public schools, according to a report in the New York Post.

The tutoring center, which has offices in Pasadena and Manhattan, forged student signatures on attendance sheets in New York for years, receiving $14 million from the government between 2010 to 2012, the report said.

The feds found out, sued the company and nine of its staffers, and now the they’ve agreed to pay back $2 million.

Schwarzenegger’s endorsement is pretty generic on the web site, but Cortines gets specific:

“I have yet to come across an after-school educational program that is more effective at equipping children with the tools they need to succeed in their schooling and beyond,” he says. “It’s no wonder The Academic Advantage has risen to become one of the nation’s leading tutoring programs.”


A telephone message left for Academic Advantage in Pasadena was not returned.

LA Unified district 1 candidate forum scheduled for 6 tomorrow

imgresCandidates for LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat are gathering again tomorrow for a community forum at the West Adams Church of Christ, 4959 W. Adams Blvd.

So far,  said one of the organizers, Rashad Trapp-Rucker six of the candidates have committed to participate — all but Alex Johnson — with a moderator kicking things off at 6 p.m. with a series of questions about Common Core, Local Control Funding and other issues that will affect the district.

The session continues at 7, with questions from the audience.

The seven candidates are competing in a June 3 special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Marguerite LaMotte, who represented District 1 for 10 years through her death in December.


Vision to Learn helping students with eye exams and glasses

Vision to Learn Eye TestHow can students excel in the classroom — much less learn — if they can’t see what their teachers are writing on the whiteboard? It’s a problem that afflicts approximately 15 percent of elementary school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But one organization is working toward a solution.

Today, Vision to Learn, a local nonprofit created by the Beutner Family Foundation, is partnering with nursing services for the District’s Education Service Center – East to provide 70 elementary school students and seven early education students with eye exams, and if necessary, eyewear.

“Our vans visit 250 schools across the school district throughout the year,” Yolanda Lasmarias, field coordinator for the District’s Education Service Center – East, told LA School Report. “At the schools, the certified school nurses administer an eye screening to see if the students need eyewear, and if they do, they send them out to one of our vans to see our optometrist who give the an eye exam.”

Since its inception in 2012, Vision to Learn has equipped over 14,000 students with eyewear and other forms of ocular assistance. Since last January, the group has been helping pre-K students to acquire the eyewear they need.

“If our optometrists see that a child has special eye-related needs, like for glaucoma, we will connect them with our hospital partners and arrange for the child to have surgery,” said Lasmarias.

Part of the logic behind offering on-site care is that in many cases, parents and/or guardians aren’t able to take leave from work to obtain the glasses for their children. Vision to Learn, however, can administer the screenings and exams, and set up the children with eyewear so long that parents and/or guardians give consent.

All of these services come at no cost to the parents.


Effort underway to eliminate CA schools’ English-only law

Senator Ricardo Lara

Senator Ricardo Lara

Since the late 1990s the debate over bilingual education in California has been, ¿como se dice . . . controversial?  And it seems it’s an issue voters will be taking up again soon.

State Senator Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, has proposed new legislation to overturn Proposition 227, a 1998 initiative that banned bilingual education in public schools.

“English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce,” Lara said in announcing his measure.

Lara’s bill, SB1174, would put the question to voters once again, as an initiative on the November 2016 ballot. It would effectively repeal Prop. 227, giving parents the option of enrolling their children in bilingual education or dual immersion programs.

“In an increasingly interconnected global economy, we have to prepare our students for a future in which their success depends not only on an ability to understand diverse perspectives and cultures, but also on an ability to communicate in different languages,” said Lara.

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Charters win $1.5 million in grants to improve kids’ health

imgres-2Via KPCC | By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Sixteen California charter schools have been awarded more than $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education to improve the health of school-age kids.

The biggest local winner, 4,000-student ICEF charter school group, said it’ll use its $845,000 grant to give students more nutrition education during the school day and integrate academics with physical education.

“It feels great to be recognized,” ICEF CEO Parker Hudnut said, “but also to have the funding now to do what we have wanted to do to really try to improve the physical fitness of students and connecting that with nutrition.”

Read the full story here.

Report: Brown decision at 60, what have we learned?

images-5Via Economic Policy Institute | By Richard Rothstein

May 17 is the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision that prohibited Southern states from segregating schools by race.

The Brown decision annihilated the “separate but equal” rule, previously sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1896, that permitted states and school districts to designate some schools “whites-only” and others “Negroes-only.” More important, by focusing the nation’s attention on subjugation of blacks, it helped fuel a wave of freedom rides, sit-ins, voter registration efforts, and other actions leading ultimately to civil rights legislation in the late 1950s and 1960s.

But Brown was unsuccessful in its purported mission—to undo the school segregation that persists as a central feature of American public education today. This issue brief highlights key elements of the American education system that have evolved in the wake of Brown.

Read the full report here.

A plan to add more meaning to CA computer science class

Sen. Alex Padilla, sponsor of  computer science bill

Sen. Alex Padilla, sponsor of computer science bill

Few students would likely take advanced computer science just for fun, even though the course is considered an elective in nearly all California high schools.

But a new bill, SB 1200, from State Senator Alex Padilla of Pacoima, would change that, developing guidelines for the course to count toward graduation by fulfilling a math requirement. And the UC and CSU systems would set academic standards for the computer course to apply toward undergraduate admissions.

The bill passed the Senate Education committee yesterday and is now headed to the Appropriations Committee.

“More high school students will take advanced computer science courses if the classes qualify for undergraduate admissions as a core subject like math,” said Padilla.

Only one high school in California offers advanced computer science courses that have been approved by the UC and CSU, and “not surprisingly,” said Padilla, the school is in San Jose, where most computing-related jobs are located.

He added, “Most college-bound students do not have the time to take an advanced computer science course that is not required for college admission.”

Fourteen states have implemented policies allowing computer science to count as core requirements toward high school graduation.  Where this happens, enrollment in computer science classes is 50 percent higher.

Parent panels now reviewing LA Unified’s next spending plan

images-3Parents involved in setting spending priorities for LA Unified have a lot of homework to do over the next two weeks.

Members of the Parent Advisory Committee and the District English Learner Advisory Committee have been instructed to “take home and live with” Superintendent John Deasy’s proposed Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) before providing feedback in time for the school board to adopt the 2014-2015 budget on June 17.

The two groups, which include more than 100 parents and guardians elected onto the committees by other parents, met with district officials last week.

It brings the district one step closer to fulfilling the state’s requirement for local participation in drafting the final LCAP — essentially, a budget explaining how LA Unified will disperse funds from Gov. Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Rowena Lagrosa, executive director of the district’s Parent Community Services Branch, said the committees met over two days for 10 hours. But they’re not ready to weigh in on the budget just yet.

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