Don’t go away: Big LAUSD headlines are on the way for 2015
Vanessa Romo | December 19, 2014
As LA School Report prepares to shut down for the year — and gear up for a long holiday Tamale Fest and Eggnog-a-thon — we’d like to take a moment to look ahead at the big stories awaiting us in 2015.
So grab your snow globe, give it a good shake and look into the future with us. Here is a handful of headlines you can expect in the new year:
Teachers are growing (more) angry
The teachers union, UTLA, is approaching teach-or-cut-school time.
Despite months of fruitless negotiations, in which the district has held to a 2 percent salary raise offer while the union has bounced from seeking 17.6 percent over two years to 10 percent over one year to 9 percent over one year, the sides remain on AM and FM bandwidths.
All fingers are now pointing to Alex Caputo-Pearl, the hard-charging new union president who has been threatening a strike since long before he won office last summer. Is the time finally approaching? Will teachers walk out in 2015?
Caputo-Pearl has shown himself to be the George Washington/Fidel Castro (you decide) revolutionary of UTLA, providing cogent arguments for why it’s time teachers get a break — and a hefty raise. But does he have any Menachem Begin in him? In other words, can the revolutionary cut a deal?
Maybe the bigger question is: how will teachers react to whatever deal he can cut?
With four board seats up for grabs this spring, it’s conceivable that one or two board members will disappear from view, bringing in new faces and philosophies on education.
Most vulnerable may be full-time prosecutor, board member, school reformist and mom, Tamar Galatzan. She’s in the most crowded race, facing off against five hopefuls for the valley’s District 3 seat.
The list of candidates includes: Ankur Patel, a former candidate for LA City Controller, who has become a familiar face at school board meetings, often addressing the board during public speaking periods; Elizabeth Badger, owner of an auto repair company in Canoga Park; Social media consultant Filiberto Gonzalez; LAUSD school principal Scott Schmerelson; and Carl Petersen, who works for a Glendale manufacturing company.
The leading contender will be the challenger UTLA gets behind with money and ground support.
School board president and newly-goateed Richard Vladovic is running for a third term against two challengers in District 7: Euna Anderson and Lydia Gutierrez. But it’s Gutierrez, a Republican born and raised in San Pedro, who is likely to be Vladovic’s biggest competition. She ran for State Superintendent in 2014 and, nearly passed Marshall Tuck for second place. She got close to a million votes and according to one of her campaign managers, came within 1,000 District 7 votes of the total Vladovic received in 2011.
In District 5, one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser will fight to keep his seat against Ref Rodriguez, the co-founder of the PUC charter school group, and Andrew Thomas, a college professor who teaches statistics, research methods and educational policy. Kayser is the union’s surest vote on the board; it’s doubtful any successor would be so loyal.
With no official challengers on the ballot, it’s fairly certain recently elected George McKenna will be around for another term although it’s theoretically possible a write-in candidate could swoop in and pull the rug out from under him. Possible, but doubtful.
And we love the prospect of more McKenna-isms at future school board meetings. Gems like this: “It’s like an airplane with no wings, it’s not an airplane.” Not sure what he means? Allow him to expand: “It’s like a square circle. You can say it but it doesn’t exist.”
Sometimes, when writing about the district’s student data management system, MISIS, it’s helpful to keep a thesaurus on hand.
After all, Cortines has taken great pains to stress that it’ll take another year (fingers-crossed) and approximately another $45 million to get the — please take a breath –botched/plagued/troubled/bungled/disastrous/straight-up messed-up software program to function properly.
Having said that, the superintendent is making sweeping changes to ensure MISIS personnel is “more accountable and responsive to all stakeholders.”
Earlier this week, he announced a new effort to recalibrate the district’s strategy and organization of the MISIS recovery effort.
In a letter to the board Monday, Cortines wrote, “MISIS personnel are now organized into five teams to concentrate on the issues that people from the field have currently identified as top priorities: grades, testing, enrollment, state reporting, and master scheduling.”
From now on, he says, each MISIS team will manage “every aspect” of its priority area.
That, of course, takes money. At its most recent board meeting, the seven members unanimously approved his request for $12.1 million in bond funds to carry the plagued MiSiS software through the end of January. He expects to come back in February, seeking more money. No word yet on March, April, May . . .
Oof. What more can we say?
The district is making another round of iPad and Chromebook buys for students to take the state mandated Smarter Balanced test this spring. Those should arrive in classrooms by February, giving students about two months of practice before the big test. But Cortines says that’s not enough time and has asked the state to ignore student test results as a measure of academic growth or improvement next year. The California Department of Education is thinking about it, and it’s up for discussion at its next meeting in January.
In the meantime, about 45,000 of the district’s 90,000 devices are locked up in a storage facility still waiting to be delivered. Bernadette Lucas, head of the Common Core Technology Project, told LA School Report the tablets will be delivered by the end of January. Lucas’s first ETA for delivery was November.
All of the controversy over the iPads has left the one-to-one computer crusade, which seemed so urgent under John Deasy, dead in the water for now. The district plans to restart the entire bidding process for new device and software makers who’d like to get a piece of the highly lucrative business “early next year.”
As for the past and how the district and Deasy handled the bidding process with Apple and Pearson, the Inspector General expects to release a final report at some point early in the new year.
And, oh yeah, a federal grand jury is looking into it, too.
Search for a new superintendent — or not
It’s looking less and less likely that school board will take up the search for a new leader anytime soon.
Cortines, a sprinter in his younger years, seems to have hit the ground running when he came back on the scene in October. And to hear some board members and even labor leaders tell it, after only two months on the job, it’s like Daddy’s finally home.
“I see a level of commitment, vigor, passion and expertise that I don’t think that we could find anywhere else in the nation,” board member Steve Zimmer told LA School Report, adding that Cortines “has more focus and energy than the last time we worked together.”
While Cortines has made it clear that he would stay through the school board elections, Zimmer says it would be disruptive to have him leave at the end of the school year.
“I certainly don’t see the need for us to start that process before July 1 of next year,” he said. Then, he says, it will take the board at least nine months to a year to find the right candidate to lead the nation’s second largest school district.
“We don’t want this to be a decision that is overly drawn out but we certainly don’t want to have a sense of immediacy around this. I think we want to have the healthiest timeline possible,” Zimmer said.
That would leave Cortines at the helm until the end of the 2015-16 school year, just before his 84th birthday.
* Removes reference to Valley Democratic party endorsement for Filiberto Gonzalez.