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


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

LAUSD report says nearly 5,000 students affected by MiSiS issues

MiSiSThe outside consultant hired by LA Unified to help fix the district’s new data tracking system is reporting that, through yesterday, nearly 5,000 students had been affected by flaws in the MiSiS computer system.

In a breakdown the district released today, the Viramontes Group found that 2,580 students were without schedules, 1,251 had duplicate IDs and another 1,136 were missing their district IDs — for a total of 4,967 students suffering issues linked to the system.

In addition, the report identified 229 “programming bugs” through Nov. 10, a list of problems affecting more than two dozen categories of data, such as attendance, grade books, state reporting and transcripts.

The seven page report also includes a section of “observations,” which lists problems found, steps taken to eliminate them and further work that needs to be done.

The report lists 30 issues to be dealt with, 29 of which require additional work.

UTLA adds to contract demands in latest talks with LA Unified

teachers union raise salary UTLA Contract NegotiationsLA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA, met in another bargaining session today, but from the union’s perspective, not much happened to draw the sides closer.

The union announced late this afternoon that it was “rounding out” its list of demands, to include supports for displaced educators, improved UTLA representation for substitute educators facing termination, clean and safe schools, improved grievance procedures to deal with unfair treatment by principals and increased school-based decision-making regarding Breakfast in the Classroom.

As far as salary increases, nothing’s changed. The district is sticking to its offer of 2 percent; the union wants 10 percent.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for December 4.

JUST IN: LAUSD board members favor a delay in CA testing

Steve Zimmer, Board Meeting March 4, 2014

Members of the LA Unified school board as well as several administrators suggested today that the district should delay using the results of the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced computerized test as means of measuring academic growth next year.

Their views came a day after officials from statewide educational organizations told the California Board of Education that it should postpone using the outcomes of this year’s reading and math tests to establish base scores for schools and districts. According to EdSource, the officials argued that many districts need more time to implement the state’s new Common Core curriculum while others do not posses the technological infrastructure to carry out the exam.

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the board’s Common Core Technology Committee, said today she agrees with them.

“I support delaying the use of [Smarter Balanced] results to make judgements not because of any lack of adoption on our part but because of the lack of experience students have had with the technology and testing platform,” she told LA School Report.

Ratliff said teachers are successfully using the Common Core standards to guide instruction and that they’ve received sufficient professional development, which she herself has attended. But, she says, the district is not yet technologically equipped for the test.

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LAUSD cuts ties with lawyer after remarks about a student

W. Keith Wyatt* UPDATED

LA Unified said today that one of its long-time outside lawyers, W. Keith Wyatt, would no longer represent the district in legal matters after comments he made regarding a student’s sexual relationship with her math teacher.

“As a school district building and maintaining a strong sense of mutual trust with our students and their families is at the core of being able to provide a safe and productive learning environment,” LA Unified chief counsel, David Holmquist, said in a brief statement issued by the district. “Respect and empathy must be at the core of how we approach these cases, and Mr. Wyatt’s remarks did not reflect that commitment.”

Wyatt’s remarks were made in interview with KPCC referring to a civil suit brought by a 14-year-old student who claims the school district was negligent in not protecting her from former Thomas Edison Middle School teacher Elkis Hermida, who was convicted of committing lewd acts and sentenced in July 2011 to three years in prison.

Wyatt was quoted as saying that “making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’”

The comments received wide attention from media outlets around the country.

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LA Unified under fire for saying girl consented to sex with teacher

Los Angeles Times logo

By Teresa Watanabe | Via The Los Angeles Times

L.A. Unified officials are coming under fire for allowing their attorneys to argue that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to sex with her middle school math teacher.

The arguments were made in a civil case that was filed last year by the student, who was seeking financial compensation from the district. She said she suffered emotional trauma from a five-month sexual relationship nearly four years ago with her teacher at Edison Middle School in Los Angeles.

District officials, defending their legal strategy Thursday, said they needed to rebut the student’s claim with evidence that she was a willing participant who had a prior history of sexual activity.

Click here to read the full story here.

Morning Read: State school groups want to postpone API scores

School groups ask to delay API scores
Organizations representing school administrators and school boards say that many districts aren’t ready to appraise schools’ performance with API scores. Ed Source

Universal Studios Hollywood holds 10th annual ‘Day Of Giving’ event
Universal Studios played host to 250 young homeless students who were bused in from over 30 LAUSD elementary and middle schools. CBS Los Angeles

Education secretary checks in on Common Core
Education Secretary Arne Duncan toured a school in San Diego on Thursday to get a firsthand look at the new Common Core academic standards. U-T San Diego

District LCAPs must include student input
Districts must seek student input in developing their Local Control and Accountability Plans under regulations being considered by the State Board of Education. Ed Source

How an El Sereno charter won the right to teach in an indigenous language
Anahuacalmecac International Preparatory High School has been teaching teenagers about their indigenous roots and culture for five years. KPCC

Ratliff asking for review of LAUSD litigation costs over last 5 years

Monica Ratliff 2013-11-12

LA Unified Board Member Monica Ratliff

Building on her success investigating LA Unified’s controversial iPad program, Board Member Monica Ratliff is now asking for an overall examination into how the district allocates support for legal matters as a way to find added funding for improving school safety.

In two resolutions set to come before the board next Tuesday, Ratliff is calling for a report on litigation expenses, awards and settlements over the last five years arising out of child abuse accusations against district employees and in cases where criminal actions occur on school campuses.

The idea, according to Ratliff, is to redirect these funds toward boosting school police or other security measures and adding a second adult to all classrooms.

“Both resolutions call for analyses and plans to be done with all deliberate speed so that the Board and Superintendent can determine what, if any, logical and effective next steps in school security and safety need to be implemented as quickly as possible,” Ratliff said in a statement.

In recent years the district has paid out millions of dollars in child abuse or molestation settlements, some of which are still ongoing. The Miramonte Elementary School case in which a veteran teacher, Mark Berndt, was found guilty of lewd acts on 23 children, sending him to prison, is still in civil court, after $30 million in settlements for 65 victims. More plaintiffs are waiting their turn.

Although the district employs 41 attorneys in house, all of the Miramonte cases were outsourced to two high-level law firms, Andrade Gonzalez, LLP and Sedgwick LLP.

“Cases are outsourced when there is a capacity issue and/or specific legal expertise is required,” Chief General Counsel David Holmquist explained in an email to LA School Report.

“The vast majority of legal work is handled in-house, and the General Counsel’s office is continually increasing that amount. That said, outside counsel will always be needed,” he added.

If the resolutions are approved, Ratliff expects the reports to be completed by Jan. 16.

Court ruling allows LAUSD to keep redacting teacher scores by name

Judge Rolf Treu affirm vergara decisionThe California Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a case that allows LA Unified to redact teachers’ names before publicly releasing a statistical ranking based on their students’ standardized test scores, according to Metropolitan News-Enterprise.

The lawsuit was brought by the Los Angeles Times against LA Unified, as the paper has been seeking for several years to get the district to release the unredacted names of teachers connected to their Academic Growth Over Time (AGT) score. An AGT score is calculated by comparing students’ California Standardized Test scores with the scores the students were predicted to achieve based on some socio-economic factors.

The district had crafted the AGT scores in an effort to use them in official teacher evaluations, but under a 2012 agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the district does not use individual AGT scores in teacher evaluations and only uses school-wide AGT scores. UTLA, in following with other major teacher unions, objects to the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers, arguing that test scores do not give a complete picture.

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Magazine ranks Los Angeles School Police Department No. 1

(Credit: LASPD)

(Credit: LASPD)

The Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) has been named No. 1 in Security magazine’s rankings of the K-12 education sector for the fifth straight year.

The magazine analyzed key factors such as active shooter training, asset and theft protection and cyber security in assessing the security forces around the nation’s schools.

“This honor could not have been achieved without the incredible work of the men and women of the LASPD and the unwavering support of the Office of School Operations and all our LAUSD partners,” LASPD Chief Steve Zipperman said in a statement.

The LASPD is the largest independent school police department in the United States, with over 350 police officers, 126 school safety officers and 34 civilian support staff that protect 1,300 schools and buildings over 710 square miles, according to the LASPD. It is also the fifth largest police department in Los Angeles County and the 14th largest in California.

“Congratulations to LASPD officers and staff for this richly-deserved distinction,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement. “The department works tremendously hard every day to provide safety and security to the students of the nation’s second-largest school district.”