Viramontes criticized, Common Core confusion, 5K Challenge

school report buzz

Earlier this month, Arnold Viramontes, an outside expert hired by former superintendent John Deasy, issued a report to LA Unified that was a scathing indictment of the new MiSiS system, finding that “red conditions” arose early and should have signified “No Go.”

This week, in it’s weekly newsletter, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) expressed disappointment with Viramontes’ homework, with a suggestion that he has been copying off AALA’s earlier assessments.

The newsletter reads:

What we do find disconcerting, however, is that Viramontes, who was hired by former Superintendent Deasy and who has a contract with the District through February 2015, actually comes up with little new information and regurgitates much of what we have previously written, albeit using more organizational management semantics. For example, “The Help Desk had not been tiered to handle the call load or have the level of expertise needed.” Hmmm…we said that last spring. Also, “There appeared to be a significant lack of input from the community of personnel that would eventually use the applications.” Gee, didn’t we say that too? In fact, for AALA members and those on the MiSiS Committee, there is really little new information in the seven-page report.”

Following the Board

LA Unified board meetings have always been interminably long. Now, they’re growing interminably disjointed. Take this week’s meeting on Tuesday, for example.

The members met in five different settings: open session, closed session, open session, closed session, open session. The festivities began at 10 a.m., rather sometime after 10 am because they never start on time, and they concluded at 8:30 p.m.

That’s bad enough. But the open sessions have devolved into a spaghetti plate of disorder. Simply following the agenda as written is futile.

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Morning Read: LAUSD spending $22 million for more iPads

iPad contract resurrected: LAUSD to spend $22 million on tech
LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines is planning to spend $22 million in bond money to buy more than 20,000 iPads for standardized tests in the spring. KPCC


Obama’s immigration plan will affect students of undocumented parents
President Barack Obama will announce on Thursday night his plan for executive action on immigration. The Huffington Post


Stock market surge gives big boost to school revenues
The state’s minimum funding guarantee to schools would grow from $63.2 billion in 2014-15 to $74.5 billion by 2019-20 under a revenue forecast. S&I Cabinet Report


Inglewood teachers lash out at schools chief for insensitive remarks
Inglewood Unified School District teachers, staff, and parents blasted schools trustee Don Brann Wednesday night following his remarks that he felt unsafe in the city. KPCC


Obama: U.S. needs to bring schools into 21st century
President Obama called on local school officials Wednesday to help meet his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to virtually every American student. The Huffington Post

Long-awaited LAUSD report calls MiSiS ‘grossly inadequate’

computer-errorThe long awaited Inspector General report on LA Unified’s botched MiSiS program found the development and implementation of the student data management system “grossly inadequate,” lacking sufficient resources, oversight and management.

While the report, requested by board member Tamar Galatzan, took three months to complete, the overall findings by the district’s Inspector General, Ken Bramlett, largely echoed observations made in an analysis by Arnold Viramontes, issued two weeks ago.

Bramlett’s report did, however, exceed the Viramontes’ work by providing many more details of flaws and mistakes, occasionally revealing facts unknown before.

For example, Bramlett said that in July, Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill attempted to postpone the rollout by a year, after he “became sufficiently alarmed by the problems that surfaced from the rollout at the summer schools and Bell High School.”

But by that point, “it was concluded that by then it was too late to switch back to the legacy system for the August school opening,” Bramlett wrote.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement late this afternoon Bramlett’s report “validates concerns over rolling out the student record system . . . and lays bare the work ahead for the District.”

He added, “Though seeing improvement, the problems will take more time to fix, perhaps the rest of the school year. That period is required to create the system that L.A. Unified deserves. Toward that goal, we continue to make steady progress.”

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Jury selection, settlement talks ongoing in Miramonte case

Miramonte Elementary SchoolJury selection resumed today in the Miramonte Elementary School sex-abuse civil case against LA Unified while settlement proceed but not yet with any results.

The district school board met in a closed session yesterday reportedly to discuss a settlement offer that was made by the plaintiffs, who are former students and parents at Miramonte suing the district over the actions of former teach Mark Berndt, who is now in prison.

With no settlement reached, about 75 prospective jurors were brought in Tuesday, with roughly two dozen advancing in the selection process, according to the Long Beach-Telegram.

Attorney Brian Claypool, who represents three plaintiffs, told ABC7 that a settlement offer had been made and that they were waiting to hear back from the district. He also said he believed the district had been dragging its feet on the case.

“We’re forging ahead, we’re moving forward with the trial, we’re not going to be side-tracked anymore,” Claypool told ABC7. “There’s not going to be any more detours in this case because we feel like that’s what this was.”

LA Unified has already settled 65 claims for about $30 million in civil cases related to Berndt, and there are dozens of other plaintiffs waiting to go to trial.

Previous stories: Jury selection, settlement hearing to begin in Miramonte civil trialFirst Miramonte civil trial scheduled to begin on Wednesday

 

Teachers to petition Supreme Court in case vs. CTA over 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)

In a case that has implications for millions of public employees in more than two dozen states, a group of California teachers is planning to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against the California Teachers Association (CTA) over union dues.

The case involves a state’s right to require public employees to pay dues to a union, known as “agency shop” laws. California and 25 other states currently require public employees to pay union dues. The teachers, with lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs and co-plaintiff Christian Educators Association International, are arguing that agency shop laws in California violate their freedom of speech.

The plaintiffs were cleared to petition the Supreme Court following a ruling yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found in favor of CTA, based on previous Supreme Court precedent, according to the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which is representing the plaintiffs.

CIR has worked to expedite the proceedings through District Court and the Court of Appeals by asking that they decide the case quickly without trial or oral argument. Essentially, they elected to lose the case in the lower courts and have argued that the only court with the authority to “grant them the relief they request” is the Supreme Court, CIR stated on its website. 

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LAUSD board votes to add Ethnic Studies to schools’ curriculum

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @ManuelCriollo)

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @Manuel Criollo)

The LA Unified school board last night took the first step in making ethnic studies a required course for graduation by 2019, making it the second district in the country to adopt such a measure.

The resolution, proposed by board members Bennett Kayser, George McKenna and Steve Zimmer passed with Tamar Galatzan casting the only vote against the measure, after a lengthy and (somewhat) confusing discussion on what the addition of the new subject might entail.

It was a rousing victory for hundreds of students, teachers, and community activists who were at the board meeting supporting the resolution even as the final version of the proposal passed with little specificity.

What the board did agree on is that the curriculum will be phased in over the next three years, beginning with a pilot program in at least five high schools. It will become compulsory for the class of 2019. The board also charged Superintendent Ramon Cortines with overseeing a committee responsible for making recommendations on how to implement the curriculum, as early as next semester.

Among the questions that remained unanswered is how much it will cost to implement the course across all 124 high school campuses in the district; how it fits into the existing curriculum; which ethnic groups will be studied; and, what if any existing required courses it may displace.

“My concern is that there’s no money attached to the resolution,” Board Member Monica Garcia said before she voted in favor. “Whether it’s $3.4 million or $30 million, an action without a budget is nothing.”

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Morning Read: LA Unified board discusses Miramonte settlement

L.A. Unified discusses possible settlement in Miramonte case
The LA Unified board discussed a possible settlement offer Tuesday involving a former Miramonte Elementary teacher accused of abusing students. Los Angeles Times


LAUSD head Cortines to ask for $53 million in bonds to repair MiSiS
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he plans to ask the school board next month for an additional $53 million in bond funding to fix MiSiS. KPCC


Woodland Hills residents protest plans for alternative school
Woodland Hills residents spoke out Tuesday against El Camino Real Charter High School’s plan to relocate its alternative education school. Post Periodical


LAUSD takes away 14 cases from law firm after remarks on lawsuit
LA Unified is reassigning 14 lawsuits it is fighting to different outside counsel after severing ties with a firm it has worked with for years. KPCC


Price tag to fix MiSiS could reach $98 million
The price tag for fixing Los Angeles Unified’s disastrous new computer system could more than triple, reaching nearly $98 million. Los Angeles Daily News


Can LAUSD learn from Long Beach in addressing teacher performance?
Officials with Long Beach Unified School District say their counterparts in L.A. could learn some important lessons from the way they run their schools. KPCC

Cortines tells LA Unified board MiSiS fix needs another year

Ray Cortines Oct 21, 2014LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the school board today that the beleaguered MiSiS program will need at least another year of remediation before it functions properly.

“The MiSiS project isn’t going to be a quick fix,” he said, as if that came as much of a surprise. “It’s estimated that it will take a minimum of a year to fix it.”

Cortines said he has taken steps to expedite work on the issues, including bringing in a squad of experts from Microsoft and dozens of retirees to help out in schools. He also said he would make efforts to seek help from “all who use it,” such as teachers and administrators.

The MiSiS program, a student data tracking system rolled out this year with considerable difficulty, has resulted in students placed in the wrong classes or no classes at all. It has also morphed into a big issue with the teachers union, UTLA, whose president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, blasted it in remarks before the board, calling it one of former Superintendent John Deasy‘s “autocratic decisions.”

Caputo-Pearl said MiSiS was “looking sexy but hurting students.”

95 LAUSD schools on state list of 1,000 underperformers

LA Unified's Fremont High School

LA Unified’s Fremont High School

The California Department of Education released its annual list of 1,000 underperforming schools earlier this month. The list includes 95 from LA Unified, and students attending them can now apply for an open enrollment transfer to any other public school in California for the next academic year.

The list is compiled each year as a result of the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, which created the “Parent Trigger” act and the Romero Open Enrollment Act. 

Until recently, it looked as if the list would be irrelevant to parents at LA Unified looking to use it to enact their parent trigger powers, after former Superintendent John Deasy proclaimed over the summer that the district believed it was not subject to the Parent Trigger act this academic year.

However, Deasy’s replacement, Ramon Cortines, has reversed course and said the law would apply to the district this year.

The act allows for parents to make sweeping changes at an underperforming school if over 50 percent of them sign a petition. The changes can include firing the principal, replacing 50 percent of the staff and converting to a charter school.

The schools on the underperforming list apply to transfer requests for the 2015-16 academic year. The list is comprised primarily using API scores, but since California did not calculate 2014 API scores as a result of the state transitioning to Common Core testing, the list was based on 2013 API scores.

The new list is not the same as last year’s list, which also used the 2013 scores, as it was adjusted based on schools’ opening or closing, schools that converted to or from charter status and schools that changed to or from a school type excluded from the Romero Open Enrollment Act.

The state list includes 687 elementary schools, 165 middle schools and 148 high schools, and does not apply to charter schools.

Among the high schools this year is Jefferson High, which has been in the headlines as a result of major scheduling problems the schools has experienced, leading a judge to order the state to intervene. The ACLU and Public Counsel, which represent the plaintiffs in the case, are currently seeking state intervention at Fremont High and Dorsey High, which are both also on the list.

Ratliff resolution for more school police money meets resistance

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff

Board member Monica Ratliff’s effort to quantify how much LA Unified spends on legal defenses to redirect the funds toward student safety improvement programs, ran into a barrage of opposition this morning as the district board began a long day of meetings.

Ratliff introduced two resolutions in an open session meeting. One seeks to add an adult to every district classroom and the second would add police officers to any school that requests extra security. But it was the latter of the two met with heavy criticism from several community groups.

“This resolution is extremely troubling for us,” Zoe Rawson, a lawyer with the Community Rights Campaign told the board. The non-profit group has worked closely with the district to implement restorative justice programs.

“This is a step backwards in terms of the work that we have done together over many many years…It’s a passive response to school safety to just assign a police officer to an elementary campus when we know that there’s more proactive intervention strategies,” she said.

Manuel Criollo, an organizer with the same group, said he is confused by Ratliff’s motion. “Just last year she was against expanding the budget for school police,” he said, referring to her efforts to block an increase in school police funding and reallocate the money to expanding the district’s janitorial staff.

The board will take up the vote when it comes back from closed session later today.

LA region sees fastest charter school growth in state

Grand opening of the Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School in San Pedro (Credit: CCSA)

The Los Angeles region has seen the largest increases in the state in new charter schools this academic year, with 33 new charters opening, according to data released today by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

With the growth in LA and elsewhere, California remains the state with the most charter schools and students in the nation.

Across the state, 87 new charter have opened this school year, 34 have closed, and enrollment has grown by seven percent, resulting in an estimated 547,800 students enrolled charter schools in California, the data showed. There are also 91,000 students on the waiting list of charter schools in California, according to the CCSA.

“Year after year, we see parents demanding high quality school choice options for their children. This year is no exception,” Jed Wallace, president and CEO of CCSA, said in statement. “And more new schools are opening as independent charter public schools, making the most of the flexibility and autonomy that charters offer by doing whatever it takes to meet the individual needs of their students.”

LA Unified oversees about 250 independent and affiliated charter schools serving over 130,000 students, about 20 percent of all district students, making it the largest charter school authorizer in the nation, according to the district’s website

 

LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s LA Unified school board meeting

livestreamGrafix250Today, available by LIVESTREAM, the seven members of the LA Unified school board will gather for a triple-header meeting beginning at 10 a.m. that will include a closed session and two open sessions. 

At 10 a.m., the board is set to address two resolutions from Board Member Monica Ratliff seeking to increase student safety by reducing the cost of litigation. The agenda, including closed session items, is here.

During the board’s second session, set to begin at 1 p.m., the board will hear a motion about Good Foodpurchasing guidelines, as well as the possibility of adding ethnic studies as a curriculum requirement for graduation. The board will also consider the renewal of six charter schools as well as the approval of three new charters. The agenda is here.

Scheduled for 5 p.m. is a special board meeting that will include a closed session where the board will confer with legal counsel. The agenda is here. 

 

Morning Read: Study shows high-poverty schools lose learning time

California students in high-poverty schools lose learning time, study says
California high schools with high-poverty students lose nearly two weeks of learning time, according to a new UCLA study. Los Angeles Times


How strict is too strict?
Hundreds of schools have embraced an uncompromisingly stern approach to educating low-income students of color. The Atlantic


Plaintiff attorney in Vergara in Twin Cities to talk about teacher tenure
Could Minnesota – a state lawmakers routinely skirmish over the issue of teacher tenure – be a state to see a case similar to Vergara? Star Tribune


Number of homeless children increases in Southern California
The number of homeless children across the Golden State rose last year according to results of a national report released Monday. Los Angeles Daily News


Work starts on school performance measures
Work has begun in earnest on a new system for measuring school performance. S&I Cabinet Report

LA Unified guaranteeing teachers the pay raise already offered

teachers union raise salary UTLA Contract Negotiations LA UnifiedLA Unified said today it has altered its salary offer to teachers by eliminating any contingency on a package that includes raises of 2 percent for this year, 2 percent for next year and 2.5 percent for the year after that.

The district’s previous offer to the union, UTLA, had been with the same percentage increases, provided funds were available.

“The removal of this language is very significant,” Vivian Ekchian, the District’s chief labor negotiator, said in a statement. “It assures our teachers of the District’s long-term commitment to providing them with the compensation they deserve, in addition to sustaining a robust health benefits package for them and their family members.”

The district is still including a 2 percent lump sum payout for last year.

In negotiations last week, the district said subjects discussed covered a range of subjects, including teacher evaluation, student discipline, grievance procedures, teacher transfers, small-learning communities, campus safety, shared-decision making, school-based management and the student records system known as MISIS.

Neither side has reported any agreement on anything.

Zimmer calls on Obama to help undocumented immigrants

Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

As President Obama considers an executive order on immigration that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., LA Unified board member Steve Zimmer is calling on Obama to bring “relief” to undocumented immigrants.

“[Obama] must do what’s best for our children — native born and immigrant alike — by ensuring that their parents can focus on raising their kids, instead of being distorted by the terror of being deported,” Zimmer said in a commentary he submitted to immigration policy groups for their use, according to the board’s communication director, Tom Waldman.

Zimmer also noted that during his long career in education, he has seen top students unable to go to college because of their immigration status.

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‘Good Food’ guidelines on LA Unified board meeting table

LAUSD students eating lunchBoard Member Steve Zimmer has food on his mind.

When the LA Unified school board gathers again tomorrow, Zimmer will be seeking a detailed and comprehensive look at how the district spends more than a $100 million to buy food and deliver meals to students throughout the district.

He is proposing a wide ranging resolution to adopt “Good Food” purchasing guidelines that “can support a regional food system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible.”

“Of all the issues that I’ve brought to the board, this is in the top five,” Zimmer told LA School Report.

“It’s probably the first time that we will, with meaningful implications, say that we are going to hold ourselves to the highest standards for the ethical treatment of the people who work on the food chain from beginning to end, the humane treatment of animals, and the extent of the stomping of the environment that we do as a result of serving this many meals every day,” he said.

The district spends upwards of $120 million a year on feeding students. The board renews food procurement contracts every five years.

In 2012 the board adopted a resolution co-sponsored by Zimmer and former board member, Nury Martinez, establishing “Good Food” guidelines, but he says, at the time, “there wasn’t this imminent major procurement process. Now it’s game on. It’s where the rubber hits the road.”

Under the new guidelines the district would seek to negotiate with local, small to mid-sized agricultural and food processing operators, source from environmentally sustainable food producers that use little to no synthetic pesticides or hormones, pay employees a fair wage, and provide healthy and humane care for livestock.

“I expect it to be a pitched battle,” he said.

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Community groups that liked Deasy are OK with Cortines so far

Ryan Smith United Way LA

Ryan Smith

It’s only been about a month since former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy resigned, but leaders of two organizations that strongly supported his focus on low-income students are saying they like what they see from interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines so far.

Los Angeles Urban League President and CEO Nolan V. Rollins, who strongly supported Deasy due to his stance on issues like getting rid of “willful defiance” suspensions that disproportionately impact students of color, said he believes Cortines has so far followed Deasy’s focus on helping students from economically-strapped families.

“We do think that he has done some bold things early on that, should we continue down this road, that these things can ultimately be helpful to our children,” Rollins told LA School Report.

Ryan Smith, former United Way of Greater Los Angeles director of Education Programs and Policy, said that he believes Cortines has always had a strong focus on poverty.

I know Ray from previous years when he served. Ray always does what is best for children, and his long career really exemplifies that,” said Smith, who left United Way in October and is now executive director of Education Trust-West.

The United Way, Urban League and several other organizations had co-signed two letters to LA Unified school board President Richard Vladovic in the weeks before Deasy’s resignation as the board prepared to give the former superintendent his annual evaluation.

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Jury selection, settlement hearing to begin in Miramonte civil trial

miramonteJury selection is scheduled to begin today in the civil case stemming from the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School by former teacher Mark Berndt.

Also set for today is a settlement hearing, which was scheduled by the judge in an effort to settle the case before it goes to trial.

Assuming no settlement arises out of today’s hearing, opening statements at trial are expected in early December.

Berndt plead no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child between 2005 and 2010 in a case that made nationwide headlines. Berndt is currently serving a 25-year sentence in prison for crimes that included feeding students cookies containing his bodily fluids. 

LA Unified has already settled 65 claims for about $30 million in civil cases related to Berndt, and there are dozens of other plaintiffs waiting to go to trial. The case heading into jury selection today involves 16 former Miramonte students and 27 parents who plan to argue that the district knew Berndt was a danger to students but kept him in the classroom, according to the Los Angeles Times

The district had asked for a gag order which would prevent any attorneys involved from talking publicly about trial details, but the Superior Court judge in charge of the case dismissed the motion on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

 

Commentary: More study needed on LAUSD ethnic studies

LosAngelesDailyNewsLOGO

By Tamar Galatzan | Via Los Angeles Daily News

At first glance, the proposal to increase the number of ethnic studies classes in Los Angeles Unified schools sounds like a good idea. After all, students would undoubtedly benefit from a deeper understanding of their neighbors and themselves.

However, the resolution scheduled for a school board vote on Tuesday would also make Los Angeles Unified only the second district in the state — after tiny El Rancho Unified in Pico Rivera — to require ethnic studies for high school graduation. While this would be a big deal for students, the district has yet to study its impact on schedules, hiring or even its always-precarious finances.

Two years ago, the school board reduced the number of credits needed to graduate to 210, a change that ramped up the difficulty of academic courses and slashed the number of electives. With 150 credits now required for academic courses, 20 credits for physical education and five credits for health, there’s room in a typical schedule for just a handful of electives — the kinds of classes that many kids say are the main reason they stay in school.

Read the full commentary here.

Morning Read: LAUSD board to consider $22.4 million repair bill

LAUSD eyeing more bonds as funds for school repairs dwindle
The school board is scheduled to consider a $22.4 million request to address repairs needed at seven schools. KPCC


Residents Wary of Plans to Convert Old Elementary Schools
Plans to redevelop four Valley elementary school campuses and reopen them as charter schools have received mixed reactions. Post Periodical


Parents lie on school survey to identify as English speakers
California education officials say it’s tough to know how many parents lie on the home language survey. Fox News Latino


New LAUSD chief Ramon Cortines prioritizes school maintenance
LA Unified faces a half-a-billion-dollar price tag for critical maintenance and a backlog of 48,000 requests for repairs. Los Angeles Daily News


Educator says he was left in ‘teacher jail’
Steven J. Lang sued LA Unified this week, seeking punitive damages and costs for civil rights violations. Courthouse News Service


LA groups model of community engagement
Under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts and schools are expected to involve local communities in determining how to spend their funds. Ed Source