UTLA pulls back campaign spending on Kayser in shift to Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson

Scott Schmerelson

Despite only modest spending on behalf of Bennett Kayser in the race to represent LA Unified’s board District 5, the teachers union said today it’s not abandoning him in the May 19 run off against reform darling, Ref Rodriguez.

According to the latest data from the LA City Ethics Commission, the political action committee connected to the California Charter Schools Association has spent $468,126 and a student canvassing group, Students for Education Reform Action Network, has spent $38,126 in support of Rodriguez. That total — $506,252 — dwarfs the amount spent by UTLA and SEUI Local 99, the service workers union, for Kayser. They have invested $13,893 and $33,105 respectively, for a total of $56,998.

Overall, the pro-Rodriguez groups have outspent the pro-Kayser groups by almost 9-to-1, with the charter group outspending the union by nearly 34-to-1.

Union officials say they believe Kayser is well known enough as an incumbent that they can shift their spending away from District 5 and use funds to back Scott Schmerelson, the long time administrator opposing incumbent Tamar Galatzan in the valley race for District 3.

“The decision to spend in District 3 was made from a strategic standpoint,” Oraui Amoni, UTLA’s political director, told LA School Report.

“Since we didn’t endorse Schmerelson in the primary, we knew we needed to get his name out there sooner rather than later,” Amoni said. “Whereas with Kayser we’ve been campaigning for him all along, so the need to get his name out there isn’t the same.”

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Alliance officials deny illegal ‘anti-union’ accusations of UTLA

UTLA-graphicThe LA teachers union, UTLA, released documents today that it says proves the administration of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools has been illegally blocking a unionization attempt by its teachers. Alliance, in turn, acknowledged the documents were real and said that they prove nothing.

The documents outline a clear strategy by the administration to win the hearts and minds of teachers and parents over the union, but UTLA insists they also support a complaint it took earlier this month to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). accusing Alliance of illegally interfering with efforts to unionize teachers.

The administration of Alliance has made no secret of the fact that it opposes its teachers’ joining UTLA. Alliance said in a press release yesterday that all of its actions have been legal, it has “nothing to hide,” and “in fact assume that all our documents related to the unionization campaign will end up in outside hands.”

The complaint to PERB came weeks after a group of 67 Alliance teachers announced a plan to mobilize the organization’s 600-plus teachers to join UTLA. Alliance operates 26 LA Unified charter schools, and its teachers currently work independent of any union representation.

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Anti-Rodriguez ‘issue’ flyers draw complaints from charter group

anti-Rodriguez flyerThe California Charter Schools Association political action committee says it has filed complaints against the teachers union PAC for not reporting spending on material attacking Ref Rodriguez, the charter school executive who is challenging school board incumbent Bennett Kayser in LA Unified’s District 5 runoff on May 19.

The charter group, which is spending heavily on Rodriguez’s behalf, says it has taken its complaints to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, focusing on mailers and flyers from the UTLA “issue advocacy” committee. UTLA is supporting Kayser.

A spokesman for state commission, Jay Wierenga, confirmed that a complaint was filed, saying, “We have received it and it is under review.” The commission would determine “in a week or two” if it would open an investigation, he added.

A spokesman for the city ethics commission said it routinely does not comment on complaints, including whether they have been filed.

Under state law, spending for so-called “issues” material is not required to be declared as campaign material. In response to a question when the flyers first appeared several weeks ago, the union said, “This is an issues piece. Not political. Not reportable.”

The charter group is contending otherwise.

“Not only is the timing of the distribution of these mailers and flyers – less than a month before the election – suspect, but they are also almost identical in look and content to mailers that were reported by UTLA’s campaign committee in February,” Gary Borden, Executive Director of CCSA Advocates, the political action committee, said in a statement. “In addition, the flyers and mailers single out Dr. Rodriguez but do not mention any other individual or school operator.

He added, ”This is a clear ethics violation.”

The union did not resepond to several messages seeking comment about the complaints.

The flyers at issue can be seen here, here and here.

LA Times endorses Rodriguez, Galatzan, Vladovic

Los-Angeles-Times-logoBy the Editorial Board

On May 19, when Angelenos head back to the polls for runoff elections, there will be three L.A. Unified school board seats in play. Technically, four seats are being decided, but incumbent George McKenna is running unopposed.

This is an especially important election because it is the members of the new board who will pick a permanent superintendent to replace former Supt. John Deasy. They must find someone who shares Deasy’s sense of urgency about improving the future of impoverished and minority students, but who also is a pragmatic and collaborative leader, which Deasy often was not. They then must empower the new superintendent to do great things, while providing wise and informed oversight.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Morning Read: If not iPads for all, LAUSD looks to what is next

LAUSD developing next steps after iPad-for-every-student troubles
The school district is rethinking the future of the $1.3 billion technology initiative. KPCC


Fight against vaccination bill finds ally in ACLU
An attorney for the ACLU wrote a letter to the bill’s two Democratic authors raising alarms about the bill’s constitutionality. Los Angeles Times


New CPS boss suspends $20.5 million contract that is part of federal probe
Board President David itale said the school system followed specific procedures for reviewing a “sole-source” contract. Chicago Tribune


Only alternative for some students sitting out tests: Do nothing
Richard Hughes, the superintendent of Central Valley School District in upstate New York, is being haunted by two minivans and an S.U.V. New York Times


CA bill would require union buy-in for teacher evaluations
The degree to which student test scores in California could be used to evaluate teachers’ job performance would be decided in union negotiations. Huffington Post


Commentary: A credible threat to California’s transgender bathroom law
What makes the Personal Privacy Protection Act worthy of attention at this early stage is that it is a credible effort from a determined organization. Los Angeles Times

Deal with teachers puts LAUSD on track to new evaluation plan

teacher_evaluation_satisfactoryLost in the focus on double-digit salary increases in the tentative deal between LA Unified and UTLA is an agreement to overhaul the process by which the district’s 30,000 teachers will be evaluated.

Under the new plan, which begins next year, both sides agreed to an interim three-tier final evaluation system, with three ratings: “exceeds standards,” “meets standards” and “below standards.”

The new system replaces a two-tier final evaluation system that rated teachers as “meeting standards” or “below standards.”

The district and the union also agreed to form a joint task force to re-write the Teacher Growth and Development Cycle, a series of protocols that form the basis of the final evaluation rankings, by 2016-17.

Those procedures came under fire during Superintendent John Deasy‘s tenure when UTLA argued that Deasy was trying to lay the groundwork for merit-based pay when he added a new ranking of “highly effective” to other evaluation metrics. The union took the issue to the state labor board, PERB, and a judge ruled in its favor.

That decision ultimately forced the district to eliminate the added ranking and revert to the previous system. But it still left teachers and their supervisors — school principals — frustrated and confused. Principals especially complained that the system had become too burdensome with a backlog of paperwork, leaving little time to conduct multiple class observations and to provide meaningful feedback. Continue reading

UTLA says it has proof Alliance officials are blocking union efforts

UTLAThe LA teachers union, UTLA, said today it intends to release documents to support its claim that administrators at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools have worked to block a recent unionization movement of Alliance educators.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, Assembly Member Mike Gipson, the executive secretary-treasurer of the LA County Federation of Labor, Rusty Hicks, and teachers from Alliance schools are scheduled to hold a press conference at 6:30 am tomorrow outside Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High School to release the documents, according to a UTLA press release.

“We are disappointed that Alliance would deliberately claim to their educators and parents that they would not pressure teachers on the one hand and then on the other hand run an intentionally divisive anti-union campaign against us” Oliver Aguirre, English teacher at Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High School, said in a statement.

On April 7, UTLA filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board, saying administrators were interfering with the union’s right to organize teachers in the 26 Alliance schools.

“The educators at Alliance are trying to assert a democratically protected right to organize a union, and the Alliance management is interfering in an illegal way,” Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report earlier this month.

A group of 67 teachers announced in March their intention to organize Alliance’s teachers to join ULTA, which would require approval from 50 percent-plus-one of the charter’s teachers, a group of about 600.

Alliance officials have argued that they are simply countering UTLA’s claims and, in turn, said that UTLA is harassing teachers in its effort to unionize them.

“We’ve heard from a number of teachers that they feel harassed by UTLA’s communications tactics to strong arm them to join a union that they have no interest in being a part of,” Alliance said in a statement earlier this month.

 

Transgender restroom rights for students an issue, sort of

All-Gender-Restroom-SignThe issue of transgender students and the restrooms they use has been all over the news lately, both in California and elsewhere.

The Nevada Assembly this week rejected a bill that would have required students to use restrooms corresponding to their biological sex.

The so-called “bathroom bill” had been heavily criticized by transgender rights advocates, and LA Unified’s experience with transgender students was repeatedly cited in media stories about the issue.

Supporters argued that some students could pretend to be transgender just to spy on members of the opposite sex, and that segregation is needed to prevent sexual assaults.

But the Reno Gazette-Journal reported:

Judy Chiasson can attest to that in Los Angeles Unified School District, having overseen the integration of transgender students into the bathroom of their choosing for a decade.

Chiasson said the district of 700,000 students has not received one report of sexual misconduct by transgender students: “If anything, the transgender student is going to be the victim.”

Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, a Nevada Democrat, said the bill is “in search of a solution to a nonexistent state problem.”

By allowing transgender students to use the restroom that aligns with their identity for over a decade, LAUSD has been on the progressive forefront of the issue, allowing students to use the restroom of their preference. But two Alliance Environmental Science and Technology High School students want further action and have started a petition asking that all Los Angeles public schools create or designate at least one gender-neutral restroom.

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Housing for LAUSD workers; Dorsey High a Green Ribbon winner

school report buzz

LA Unified dusted off its giant ribbon cutting scissors today as Board President Richard Vladovic and officials from Bridge Housing, a property development company, unveiled a 90-unit apartment complex in Gardena that will be home for some lucky district employees who essentially are living in poverty.

According to a press release sent out this morning, “Of the 90 apartments, 62 have been rented by LAUSD employees” earning 30 to 60 percent of the median income. That’s between $14,177 for a single person and $28,355 for a family of four, according to City-Data.com.

While the goal of providing affordable housing to low-income district employees deserves to be lauded, the housing project was originally pitched to the school board as a future home for teachers who cited as a reason for quitting the district is that they live too far from where they work.

This project, and two others in the pipeline, were supposed to solve that problem. But, as LA School Report reported here, it turns out teachers make too much money to qualify to live in any of the units.

Dorsey High a Green Ribbon Schools award winner

Dorsey High School in south Los Angeles was among 58 schools, 14 districts, and nine postsecondary institutions honored by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week as a Green Ribbon School.

The winners were chosen for their “progress in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“They demonstrate how sustainability concepts allow students to expand their traditional learning into the real world and to create change for the betterment of communities. This authentic learning engages students in all subjects, and bolsters their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving capacities,” Duncan said in a statement.

Check out the below YouTube video featuring Duncan:

Registering students to vote

The United Way of Greater Los Angeles has launched an LA Youth Vote campaign aimed at registering 3,000 high school students. The campaign has received the support of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez, who helped kickoff the campaign on April 18.

Check out  LAYouthVote on twitter for photos, video and more information about the voter drive.

Gutierrez turns a pro-Vladovic campaign letter against him

Lydia Gutierrez Vladovic

Lydia Gutierrez

Lydia Gutierrez, a teacher from Long Beach Unified who is mounting a vigorous campaign in LA Unified’s District 7 to unseat board President Richard Vladovic in the May 19 elections, is turning a campaign message for Vladovic against him.

A letter supporting Vladovic’s election circulated to voters this month and paid for by the teachers union political action committee, argues, “We need to provide the parents, educators and community a stronger voice so that we don’t have a rerun of the iPad fiasco.”

Gutierrez responded with a press release yesterday, pinning the “iPad disaster” squarely on Vladovic. She reminds voters that the FBI and now the Securities and Exchange Commission are looking into various aspects of the program, which rolled out with support of the entire board. Vladovic has served on the board since 2007 and as president since 2013. 

“It was Vladovic’s responsibility to obey the law and use your tax dollars wisely,” she says in the release. “As president, he set the agenda and voted twice for what turned out to be a billion-dollar failure.”

The iPad program was originally designed as a $1 billion effort to get a digital device in the hands of every LA Unified student and teacher as a tool for instruction. It went bust as glitches and problems plagued it from the beginning. Superintendent Ramon Cortines finally ended it early this year as unsustainable.

It has endured, however, as a campaign issue in at least two of the three board races, as Vladovic and Tamar Galatzan in District 3 have been criticized for their support of it.

Gutierrez’s press release was off-base on a few other things, however. Her contention that the FBI “discovered that buying iPads with bond money may have been a violation of federal law” is wrong on two counts: The FBI has not announced it has discovered anything, and the agency’s interest was not the use of bond money but the procurement process as it related to the district’s relations with Apple and Pearson.

Despite Vladovic’s winning the support of the teachers union and the state charter schools association, Gutierrez has waged an aggressive campaign against him. One internal poll last month conducted by the charters and another group found that she was leading Vladovic though the difference was within the margin of error.

Commentary: Reform movement should refocus on early ed

New York Times logo

By Nicholas Kristof | The New York Times

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has dropped for the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, blood-soaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

Click here to read the full commentary.

Morning Read: Many CA parents in the dark on Common Core

California parents are ill-informed about school reforms, poll finds
Fifty-five percent of parents surveyed had never heard of the new computer-based tests. Los Angeles Times


California vaccine bill approved by committee on second try
Legislation requiring vaccinations for nearly all California schoolchildren revived Wednesday, winning the approval of a Senate committee. Sacramento Bee


LAUSD teachers could collect 14.3 percent of salary in back pay and raises 
The tentative agreement gained the school board’s unanimous support earlier this week and faces final approval May 12. Los Angeles Daily News


Cost-saving options offered for GED exam
California officials announced this month an agreement with CTB/McGraw-Hill to offer the firm’s general education test. SI&A Cabinet Report


More quality time: Schools’ best weapon in the battle against poverty
Expanded time and learning schools are meeting the needs of kids in high poverty schools. The Hechinger Report

LAUSD deal with teachers means fingers crossed for more state money

Alex Caputo-Pearl teachers

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl at a press conference yesterday

LA Unified’s ability to pay for a new teacher contract that gives the union’s 35,000 members a 10.4 percent raise — their first in eight years — relies on two factors: One, a stronger than expected boost in tax revenues from the state. And two, a solution to the systemic problem of declining enrollment.

That, or the district faces program cuts and budget deficits.

If approved, the new deal will cost a total of $633 million over three years, plus an additional $31.6 million for three labor groups with “me too” clauses, also over three years, according to LA Unified officials.

The district had initially allocated $353 million for UTLA, which means the additional money from the state and from enrollment increases could be crucial to forestalling deficits in the years to come. Superintendent Ramon Cortines told board members that the district faces potential deficits as much as $559 million over two years through 2016-2017 if the additional state money is only a one-time occurrence.

The district has been crying poverty for months, but board members yesterday attempted to assuage concerns that implementation of the agreement would bring LA Unified to its financial knees by expressing their faith in the continued growth of the state economy.

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Students Matter goes on offensive against ‘anti-Vergara’ bills

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

Student plaintiff Elizabeth Vergara at a press conference

The non-profit group behind the Vergara lawsuit, Students Matter, went on the offensive today against three bills introduced recently in the California legislature that the group says are “anti-Vergara” as well as unconstitutional.

The bills, AB 753AB 575, and SB 499, all work in direct opposition to the landmark Vergara v. California decision, Ben Austin, who leads policy development and advocacy for Students Matter, said on a conference call with reporters today.

“We are seeing bills debated on the floor, like Assembly Member [Jose] Medina‘s bill, and we see Assembly members who are wholly uneducated about the constitutional, legal and moral implications of the Vergara decision,” Austin said.

In the Vergara decision in June 2014, 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, especially those from poor and minority families. In essence, Treu ruled that it’s too easy for a teacher to get tenure in California, too difficult to fire a bad teacher and too harmful to students to base teacher layoffs on seniority.

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Commentary: Time to turn that iPhone off, kids

Los-Angeles-Times-logo

By Steve Lopez | The Los Angeles Times

A rare event took place recently on a family trek across Los Angeles, when my wife and I noticed an unusual sound coming from the back seat.

Our daughter was talking to us.

It was like being in a time warp. Free, unsolicited conversation has pretty much become a thing of the past, but the girl was in a chatty mood. And then I realized why.

She didn’t have her smartphone.

There was no way for this 11-year-old social butterfly to text or Instagram. There was no music, no video and no connection to the hypnotic shower of unfiltered digital dust that coats the brain, glazes the eyes and renders captives mute.

So she spoke to her parents.

Go ahead and call me a horrible dad for letting her have the phone in the first place. I really don’t have much to say in my defense, and I definitely underestimated the addictive powers of an increasingly ubiquitous device that has transformed and often degraded how we relate to one another, adults included.

Click here to read the full commentary.

Morning Read: California vaccine bill coming to a committee vote

After delay, lawmakers to vote on California vaccine bill
A contentious bill that would require California schoolchildren to be vaccinated faces a critical vote Wednesday. Contra Costa Times


Fight over renewal of Obama’s school lunch rules creates unlikely alliances
The Healthy School Meals Act was seen as a landmark nutritional achievement for the most health-conscious White House in recent memory. Los Angeles Times


Duncan: Chicago Public School students deserve stability
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, called it “sad” that CPS now has its fifth chief executive since 2010. Chicago Sun Times


7 middle school students splashed by diesel fuel from disabled bus
About 40 LAUSD fifth grade students and two teachers were aboard the bus at the time. CBS Los Angeles


A head start implementing the new science standards
The new standards –are a companion to content goals already established under the banner of Common Core. SI&A Cabinet Report


Are the Common Core tests a big success or a resounding failure?
Will the Common Core survive technical issues and the opt out movement? The Hechinger Report

Just In: LAUSD board approves teacher deal, valued at $607 million

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl outside Dorsey High School

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl outside Dorsey High School

* UPDATED

The 10.4 percent salary increases LA Unified has agreed to in its deal with United Teachers Los Angeles will cost the district $607 million over three years, according to an analysis Superintendent Ramon Cortines circulated to board members today.

Later, the board voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve the deal.

The final salary figure for the teachers includes $254 million above an amount the district had earlier set aside for the teachers, $353 million, and it does not include an additional $31.6 million that the district will need to pay to other labor union partners who have so called “me-too” clauses. They obligate the district to keep union pay scales on par with each other.

Those expenditures, plus the costly health benefits package approved by the board last week, “will result in two of the district’s out-years having deficit ending balances,” Cortines wrote in his memo. By the end of the 2015-16 the district expects to be $140 million short and about $419 million in the red in 2016-17 for a total deficit of $559 million.

However, Cortines said he expected Gov. Jerry Brown‘s revised budget, due next month, combined with “ending balances” for the current school year would “meet this deficit.”

“The first priority for any new undesignated funds are first to cover the terms of the health and welfare multiyear contract and then to cover the salary agreements and deficits created in the out-years by both,” he wrote. “If the May revise includes one-time funds, the out-years will likely remain in a deficit status that we will have to address accordingly.”

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Why we are closing down comments on our site (for now)

Screen shot 2015-04-19 at 6.34.30 PMReaders of LA School Report may notice that we are no longer providing an option for posting comments, following in the footsteps of other news outlets recently.

While our comment section sometimes served as a lively place for informed debate with differing opinions on education issues in Los Angeles, it has increasingly become a repository for diatribes, name-calling, politicking and personal attacks.

As a group of social scientists pointed out in a study called “The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies”:

“Much in the same way that watching uncivil politicians argue on television causes polarization among individuals, impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users based on value predispositions utilized as heuristics when processing the blog’s information.”

Reuters ended comments on news stories last fall, following Popular Science, which had grown weary of science skeptics. Others, like the Huffington Post now offer comments only through Facebook.

Here at LA School Report, we have asked our readers many times to tone it down. In many cases, it has not worked. While other sites have the capability of vetting comments sections, we have neither the staff nor the technology, and in those instances we have taken down uncivil comments, we are accused of being censors.

With apologies to our readers who have contributed to the healthy debate around education issues, we will be posting our stories without comments — at least for now.

A deal that lets LAUSD and the teachers union proclaim victory

teachers unionViews of an agreement:

The salary raises agreed upon in the deal between LA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA, is a win for both sides. Of, course, each side can spin the results in a different way.

For the teachers, they can legitimately say they got a double-digit boost, 10 percent over two years.

The district could say the breakdown reflects a 4 percent bonus for all those (eight) years when teachers got nothing, 2 percent to come from extra money the state will send the district’s way through revised state budget projections and 2 percent a year for each of the next two years, which is basically what the district’s other labor partner unions got.

The teachers unions also got a “reopener,” which means the contract can be reexamined at its conclusion to calibrate additional money for teachers in the years that follow. Assuming there is additional money. The challenge for the district is figuring a way to find new revenue.

One way is through increasing enrollment, which has been steadily declining for years, costing millions of dollars.

There’s also a ballot initiative that goes before voters in November 2016 that would alter the state taxing scheme under Prop 13, making it easier to raise rates on commercial property. Passage would improve the changes the district would consider a schedule of more raises.

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Report urges ending ‘cruel summer’ for CA classified school workers

cafeteria workerSupporters of a state bill aimed at making classified school employees eligible for unemployment benefits over the summer are touting a new report that found an overall economic benefit, should it become law.

Introduced by Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Assembly Bill 399 would make over 248,000 classified workers eligible for benefits over the summer months when they are not working in their schools. Classified workers are school employees that do not require certification for employment such as cafeteria workers, teaching assistants, bus drivers and others. LA Unified employs over 29,000 classified workers.

In a phone call with reporters today, supporters of the bill discussed a new report from the nonprofit Economic Roundtable titled “Cruel Summer: Economic Impacts of Extending Unemployment Benefits to Public K-12 Classified Workers in the State of California.” The report highlighted the economic hardship many classified employees currently suffer during the summer and said passage of the bill would generate economic benefits for the state.

“The least we can do is provide a respite for the cruel summer,” Ridley-Thomas said.

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