Breaking News: Judge allows Magnolia charters to remain open

Ruling Magnolia LAUSD* UPDATED

A California Superior Court judge today ruled that two Magnolia Public Schools (MPS) charters can remain open, blocking LA Unified’s effort to shut them down over financial concerns.

The decision by Judge Luis A. Lavin enables Magnolia Science Academy 6 in Palms and Magnolia Science Academy 7 in Van Nuys to welcome students back next month as scheduled. And they can continue to operate as if their charters had been renewed by the district.

Lavin’s ruling hinged on the language of the conditional approval as it was articulated at a March district school board meeting, when the members voted to renew the charters, pending a review of the schools’ finances.

Records from the meeting indicate that the school board intended to review a staff investigation into the schools’ financial status, he wrote. But the decision to deny the renewals was based on staff findings of financial malfeasance, not the Board’s vote to renew or deny the schools’ charters, based on the staff report.

The judge effectively ruled that the district did not act properly in acting on a staff recommendation, rather than a Board review.

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Data now available on teacher pay, but not for LA Unified

Teacher pay transperant californiaIt just became easier to find out how much your teacher is paid — unless, that is, the teachers works in LA Unified.

A California non-profit, the California Policy Center, made available this week pay and pension data of individual employees from 653 school districts around the state in a searchable database. That adds to the information it had already compiled for other public employees around the state.

But state’s largest district, LAUSD, has stalled in providing information. According to Robert Fellner, research fellow with the Center, LA Unified is “the only agency in the state of California that we encountered in this process to issue a flat out denial. ”

More recently, the district told the center that the information would be available at a cost, Fellner says, and a lawsuit is possible. “Right now,” he said, “we are considering our legal options.”

The organization filed pubic record requests with the state and local agencies earlier this year, and Fellner said most agencies have been responsive. Another 500 school districts are in various stages of complying.

According to a story in the LA Times, the California Teachers Association supports the release of salary information, but does not support linking salaries to individual teachers.

That data for LAUSD had been released once before in 2008, linking salary to employees names, and made available by the LA Daily News.

LAUSD is getting back to us with a response.

A bigger team for teachers union but no agreement in sight

Alex Caputo-Pearl UTLA contract negotiations LAUSDThe latest LA Unified-UTLA bargaining session featured a change in tactics by the union but nothing close to an agreement.

The union brought all seven officers into negotiations yesterday, signaling a shift to what it calls “big bargaining.” And it’s likely to get bigger: The union said in a statement future bargaining sessions would include rank-and-file members as part of the bargaining team and parents and academics as observers.

Teacher unions in other cities, like Chicago and St. Paul, have used the tactic, ostensibly to demonstrate strength, unity and determination, in UTLA’s case, perhaps as prelude to a strike. For UTLA, the statement said, the idea is to put a focus on “smaller class sizes, full staffing, salary restoration and raises for educators, who have gone seven years without a raise, took furlough days and made other sacrifices during the recession years.”

“We know more money is coming into the district every year and there is no reason to maintain large class sizes,” the statement said. “The district wants us to be quiet on the class size issue. We will not. Nor will we drop our demand for fully staffed schools that provide social-emotional support for students and offer the arts and other electives that our students deserve.”

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy declined to comment on the change.

What it might achieve is unclear. The union is clearly unsatisfied with the district’s latest contract offer — a 2 percent bonus for last year, 2 percent salary increases for the coming year and the next and a 2 1/2 percent raise for the year after that, with the second two years conditional of the district’s financial situation.

The union has called that offer a “non-starter” and yesterday asked district negotiators “to explain their numbers in formulating the most recent offer.” The union is demanding a 17.6 percent salary increase over an undetermined number of years.

“In many ways, their offer represents a throwback to bad ideas the district had in past years that did not work,” Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in the statement.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for August 6th; a larger table may be necessary.

Previous Posts: LA Unified, teachers meeting today to discuss a contract; Teachers union calls district contract offer ‘a non-starter’; JUST IN: LAUSD sweetens contract offer to teachers union

Morning Read: English learner lawsuit gains support from Feds

Feds back English learner lawsuit against state
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has found an ally in the U.S. Department of Justice for its lawsuit charging that the state abdicated its obligation to ensure all students classified as English learners get extra instructional services to become fluent in English. EdSource

New tool for navigating federal privacy laws
Hoping to help districts prevent such alarming developments and apply best practices in educational technology, the Washington, D.C. based Consortium for School Networking has released two new resources to help school systems avoid violations of student privacy and vulnerabilities to their data systems. S&I Cabinet Report

Can a 4-year-old learn from online preschool?
Two new companies for online preschool are ABC Mouse and CHALK preschool online. Neither company was willing to share exact metrics on home-use of its online products, but both said their numbers are in the tens of thousands – and growing daily. KPCC

Judge tentatively allows 2 charter schools to keep operating
Two charter schools ordered shut down by L.A. Unified amid questions over their financial management will be allowed to continue operating for now, according to a tentative ruling made public Thursday. LA Times

JUST IN: Court adjourns with no decision on Magnolia charters

Magnolia Charter School Hearing LAUSD

A superior court judge adjourned for the day without ruling whether he would keep open two Magnolia Public Schools (MPS) charters for the start of the school year next month.

After hearing arguments from lawyers for LA Unified, which wants to shut them down, and from Magnolia lawyers, arguing to keep them open, Judge Luis Lavin said he would rule on the question by the end of the day tomorrow.

But during the hearing Lavin made it clear he’s leaning toward granting MPS a temporary injunction. He was emphatic about MPS’s right to due process and agreed with the charter school’s claim that LA Unified denied the charter organization the ability to address the issues uncovered in a forensic audit of the nonprofit’s finances. 

Lavin said district should have presented its findings to the LA Unified school board and allowed the schools’ communities to express themselves in a public hearing.

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LA Unified, teachers meeting today to discuss a contract

LAUSD Teachers' salaries

Negotiators for LA Unified and its teachers union, UTLA, had planned to meet today to discuss a new contract for teachers, based on the district’s latest offer. The district described it as an improvement over the initial offer, but days before the offer was officially made, the union dismissed it as a “non-starter” and continued the threat of a strike. Meanwhile, courtesy of the LA Daily News, here’s a look at the rate of salary increase for LA Unified teachers over the last 10 years.

Previous Posts: Teachers union calls district contract offer ‘a non-starter’; JUST IN: LAUSD sweetens contract offer to teachers union; UTLA could start another academic year without a contract

Magnolia Charter troubles in LAUSD highlight larger concerns

Magnolia Charter Schools governance LAUSDTroubles encountered by the charter school operator, Magnolia Public Schools (MPS), at two of its eight charters in the LA Unified School District highlight a murky governance issue that legislatures in California and elsewhere have been slow to address.

Should a parent company operate its charter school network as a single entity, as MPS does with its 11 California charters? Or should each school be run independently, with separate budgets and governance?

LA Unified last month closed two MPS schools, saying financial problems at the parent company rose to the “level of fiscal mismanagement.”  But by scrutinizing the financial health of the overall charter management organization, the district has tread into uncharted territory for an authorizer.

“This is an emerging issue, and my guess is a lot of legislatures will have to address this in the near future,” says Kathy Christie of the Education Commission of the States, which compiles research on charter school practices nationally.

The school closures followed a District audit that not only examined Magnolia Science Academy 6 and Academy 7, both high-performing schools, but also MPS as the parent group. The audit found among other things that MPS met the IRS definition of being “insolvent” as of June 2013, that it owed millions of dollars to the schools it oversees and that it transferred money between schools. It also found that it paid millions of dollars to a third party non-profit, Accord, for educational services with little accountability.

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Report: Poor induction programs lead to high teacher turnover


Teachers LAUSDVia S&I Cabinet Report | By Alisha Kirby

Much of the disproportionately high rate of teacher turnover in hard-to-staff schools serving high-poverty students can be attributed to a lack of quality induction programs for beginning teachers, according to guidance released earlier this month.

Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year – attrition that costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually – with 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leaving the profession after five years, according to research cited in On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers.

Read full article here

Morning Read: Judges rule against LAT on teacher IDs

Judges rule against letting public see LAUSD teachers’ performance
The public has no right to know the names of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers in connection with their job performance ratings, according to a court ruling issued Wednesday. LA Times

Gov. Jerry Brown resists unzipping school construction wallet
Commentary: There’s a school construction bond bill that has sailed through the Assembly and five committees with 122 “yes” votes — Democrat and Republican — and not a single “no.” But its chances of passing the Senate and making it to the November state ballot seem slim. LA Times

LAUSD, teachers’ union divided by pay raises, class sizes
Los Angeles Unified administrators and teacher union leaders will enter their first round of contract negotiations this afternoon divided by roughly $280 million per year for pay raises and even further apart on matters that directly affect classrooms. LA Daily News

Unions put teachers on streets — for votes
Teachers unions are struggling to protect their political clout, but as the midterm elections approach, they’re fighting back with their most popular asset: the teachers themselves. Politico

LA schools cutting budget for mental health for special ed students
Next school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District is cutting the budget for psychiatric social workers for special education students by 15 percent, raising fears among the special ed social workers that their numbers will be reduced. KPCC

Magnolia going into court to keep 2 of its charters open

Magnolia Charter School playground LAUSD

Magnolia Public Schools (MPS) is going into a Los Angeles superior court tomorrow to ask a judge to keep open two of its schools that LA Unified wants to close.

The district denied the renewal applications for Magnolia Science Academies 6 and 7 after an independent audit determined that MPS is insolvent. The audit uncovered a number of fiscal management violations.  

The hearing, before Judge Luis Lavin, involves Magnolia’s request for a preliminary injunction; lawyers for Magnolia are not seeking a decision on the merits of the District’s claims. Magnolia is asking the court to allow it to continue to operate pending the outcome of the case.

The court has scheduled an Oct. 14 hearing to consider setting a date for trial.

Meanwhile, the California Charter Schools Association says Magnolia parents are planning to protest at the courthouse tomorrow morning in support of keeping the schools open. Tomorrow’s hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Previous Posts: Magnolia charter troubles having an impact beyond LA Unified; JUST IN: LAUSD expands probe into Magnolia charter schools; ‘Fiscal mismanagement’ cited in closing 2 Magnolia charters

CWC charter finds yet another new home, at least for a year

St Joan of Arc School Los Angeles LAUSD

St Joan of Arc school, CWC’s new home


Citizens of the World Mar Vista has a new new home.

The charter school, which was forced to move from its co-location site at Stoner Elementary School after a tumultuous year, has turned down LA Unified’s most recent offer for classroom space and is moving onto a Catholic school campus. 

CWC finalized a one-year deal with St. Joan of Arc in West Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Archdiocese last week — it will remain an LA Unified charter school. 

“We are thrilled that we found a place where we can accommodate all of our students in one location,” Jana Reed, Chief of Schools for CWC Charter Schools, told LA School Report

In June, CWC officials agreed to split the K – 3 school between two district campuses in Westchester — Loyola Village and Kenwood Elementary — a situation Reed described as “far from ideal.” So CWC’s “very active parents” continued the search for an alternative school site. 

It was one of them who found the church property, formerly a private school that has gone largely unused for several years. 

“Our parents are really committed so they just kept looking,” Reed said. “We really didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.”

CWC’s 220 students will have the new campus all to themselves. Reed says it will be much more expensive to operate the school at a non-LAUSD site.

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Freedom Schools strengthen, empower LA Unified students

Freedom Schools lausd

17-year-old Dorsey High School senior Christian Moton, second from right, participates in a group discussion about a book on Nelson Mandela

Every morning for the last six weeks, Dorsey High School senior Christian Moton has been taking part in a highly charged and energetic morning ceremony when he sings, chants and cheers.

“They host Harambee here. Harambee really brings out people’s spirit,” Moton told LA School Report.

The daily Harambee, which means “all pull together” in Swahili, is part of a Children’s Defense Fund program called Freedom Schools, an educational curriculum that helps teach a love for reading and writing and builds self esteem through positive reinforcement.

“I think it’s great,” Moton said. “It’s a way for kids like me who grew up and raised in South LA, for us to get away from it for a good while and learn things that we don’t get to learn.”

Organized by the Community Coalition, a group that works towards improving south LA neighborhoods, the program serves nearly 120 African American and Latino youth from elementary, middle and high schools, mostly from LA Unified. The coalition has been running the program for the last four years.

“It’s all about encouraging them to build their critical thinking skills to give their opinion and really preparing them to engage in the classroom the way most of us don’t learn until we get to college,” Sandra Hamada, director of Youth Programs at the Community Coalition told LA School Report.

During the seven-week summer program, which has been expanding on the West Coast, students gather in groups and read for three hours a day. They also sing and discuss the book’s meaning, while at the same time gaining a sense of self worth.

“We read out loud here and it helps because I know later in life, in college, that I’m going to have to read aloud in groups and I know this is going to prepare me for it,” Moton said.

And thanks to the program’s high impact curriculum, Moton says he has grown more confident and has developed skills that will help him succeed in life.

“It built up my leadership skills,” he said. “I can speak in crowds now. I’m not afraid to express my opinion within groups or with people who are above me in power rank.”

Morning Read: Charter school in south LA damaged by fire

L.A. charter school gutted by fast-moving blaze
A charter school organization is scrambling to find an alternative location after a fire swept through the campus Tuesday. Animo South Los Angeles Charter High School served 600 students, but school was not in session and officials believe the structure was empty. LA Times

Gloria Romero: Too pretty for education policy?
Opinion: Before you read any further, glance in a mirror. Do you think you’re pretty? If you are female and answer yes, you might not be smart enough to understand education policy, so just stop reading. Sounds incredulous, right? Sounds downright sexist? Absolutely. LA Register

Child immigrants unlikely to flood any one school district
Despite growing concerns that the influx of unaccompanied child immigrants into the U.S. will overwhelm local government services in some communities, social advocates say public schools are not likely to be part of that turmoil. S&I Cabinet Report

Agreement reached on ‘willful defiance’ bill
After several months of negotiations, Gov. Jerry Brown and advocates for less punitive disciplinary policies have compromised on a bill that would limit schools’ ability to suspend or expel students for “willful defiance,” according to Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who is sponsoring the bill. EdSource

Speech therapy rebooted by use of online resource
Online speech therapy, once less favored than in-person treatment, is becoming a more commonly used resource as districts struggle to find and afford speech-language therapists. PresenceLearning, based out of San Francisco, works with schools across the country providing online speech as well as occupational therapy services for K-12 students. S&I Cabinet Report

2 LA Unified teachers selected as finalists for national award

Presidential Awards teachers LAUSDTwo LA Unified elementary school teachers are among six California educators selected as finalists for the 2014 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching or (PAEMST).

The two were selected in the science category: Kristen Johnson, a fifth grade teacher at low-performing 93rd Street Elementary School, where she has taught for 21 years; and Erica Rood, a third grade teacher at high performing CHIME Charter School in Woodland Hills, where she has taught for six years.

“The subjects these outstanding educators teach so well are part of STEM education, an area that is critically important to the success of our students and our state,” State School Chief Tom Torlakson said in a press release of all the finalists.

“From these early grades, and with such engaged and inspired instructors, we will be able to encourage more students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the building blocks of learning.”

The nominees must demonstrate a mastery of math or science, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, effective use of assessment strategies, lifelong learning, and leadership in education outside the classroom.

The California Department of Education (CDE) partnered with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program, which was enacted by Congress in 1983 and authorizes the President each year to bestow up to 108 math and science awards to teachers nationwide.

The awards are considered to be the highest honor for math and science teachers.

The full list of California nominees is here.

LA Times endorses George McKenna for school board


Logo_LATimesVia LA Times Editorial Board

Two candidates with different styles and viewpoints are vying to join the Los Angeles Unified school board, replacing longtime board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December. Both of the candidates also hold different beliefs than did LaMotte, who was a fiery opponent of most school reform. This is an opportunity for voters in District 1, which includes South Los Angeles and sections of West Los Angeles, to make themselves heard. That’s especially true, sad to say, because voter turnout on this one-race election day, Aug. 12, is expected to be below 10%. The only good thing that can be said about such low participation is that those who do turn out to vote will be making their ballots count.

Read the full endorsement here

Deasy joins President Obama in ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ update

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy joined other education officials at The White House yesterday as President Obama announced new partnerships to help young men of color gain greater access to programs offering support from pre-K through high school.

The program, which includes private companies, nonprofits and the NBA as participants, represents a $100 million expansion of My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative launched early this year.

LA Unified and dozens of other big school districts are involved in the program, which carries goals that been too distant for man black and Hispanic young men, including high attendance rates, fewer suspensions and expulsions and higher graduations rates.

Speaking to The New York Times, Deasy said improving learning and lifetime opportunities for boys of color is “a deep moral commitment issue.” In the video above, Deasy talks to Gwen Ifill of PBS.

CA low among states in children’s well-being, says new report

children's well-being Kids Count Data book LAUSDCalifornia ranks 40th among the 50 states in children’s overall well-being, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today in partnership with Children Now, a children’s health and education research, policy, and advocacy organization based in Oakland.

The Data Book ranks each state and the District of Columbia on 16 key indicators across four fundamental domains: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health and Family and Community.

In measures of children’s well-being, California highest ranking is Health (26th) and lowest is Economic Well-Being (48th).

“Knowing our vibrant and diverse communities, our incredible intellectual and financial resources and our reputation for leadership and innovation, there is no excuse for California to be ranked 40th in children’s well-being,” Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, said in an emailed statement. “We simply haven’t invested enough in our children in spite of much greater capacity to do so.”

California ranks 11th among the states in per capita state and local revenue yet much lower, 36th, in per pupil education spending. The state also ranks toward the bottom in Education, 39th.

“The good news is the State is already taking steps to improve,” said Lempert, citing the enactment last year of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and this year’s budget investment in public education. “These actions were critical, given that as of 2012, more than half a million children ages three and four (53 percent) were not attending preschool and 18 percent of high school students did not graduate on time.”

The 2014 Data Book highlights a bright spot for California, in a 63 percent decline in teen birth rate. In 1990, California’s teen birth rate was 71 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19; as of 2012 the birth rate had dropped to 26 per 1,000.

With a health ranking of 26th among the states, California has seen some gains in children’s health. In 1990, roughly 1 in 6 California children (17 percent) was uninsured. By the most recent estimates, approximately 1 in 12 children (8 percent) live without health insurance.

The complete report is available here.

Teachers union calls district contract offer ‘a non-starter’

teachers union raise salary UTLA Contract NegotiationsUTLA, the teachers union, has called LA Unified’s latest contract offer “a non-starter,” signaling a difficult resumption of bargaining when talks resume on Thursday.

“Just days before a scheduled bargaining session, LAUSD today presented UTLA with a revised contract offer that falls short of what is needed to achieve the schools that LA students deserve,” the union said in a statement issued late yesterday.

The union response came hours after LA School Report reported the district’s new offer — essentially a three-year deal with raises of 2 percent over the first two years and a 2.5 percent increase in the third year, with raises conditional on the financial state of the district.

The district’s first offer was a one-year deal with a 2 percent increase. Both offers included a 2 percent bonus for the 2013-2014 school year.

“Keep in mind educators have not had a salary increase in seven years and took what amounted to an eight percent salary reduction during the recession years,” the union said. “Throughout this period the cost of living has increased—putting an even greater burden on educators.”

The union’s salary demand has remained vague throughout, with leaders pressing for a 17.6 percent increase over an unspecified number of years. District officials say the pay raises offered amount to a compounded 8.6 percent increase over three years and, when factoring in health care coverage and other benefits, a 26.3 percent increase.

The new union president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, has also sustained his saber-rattling for a strike in recent days, urging teachers to start saving in case negotiators reach an impasse and union leaders call for a job action to gain leverage.

The union response, which dismissed other changes proposed by the district as not useful, including how teachers are evaluated, came only after details of the offer were made public. Union officials have had the contract offer for several days but remained silent.

Negotiators have scheduled a second bargaining session in early August, before the new school year starts, and another before the month is out. 

Morning Read: New political action committee joins board race

New political action committee forms in L.A. school board race
A new political action committee has formed to influence the outcome of Los Angeles school board races, filling a gap created when a group of civic leaders, which includes former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, decided to sit out next month’s key upcoming election. LA Times

White House honoring LAUSD cafeteria worker who fought for raise
A member of the union bargaining team that negotiated a $15-an-hour wage for Los Angeles Unified School District cafeteria workers, custodians and other school service employees will be honored at the White House today as a “Champion of Change.” Pasadena Stars-News

Setting the record straight on tenure
Opinion: when opponents claim this lawsuit is an attack on teachers and their rights, that argument is more than disingenuous. It is disrespectful to the parents. And it is dead wrong for our kids. It is time to stop seeing due process and due progress as competing goals. Here is the reality. NY Daily News

Six California districts join Obama’s initiative
Six California school districts are among 60 in the nation that are joining President Barack Obama’s initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which supports African-American and Latino boys, beginning in preschool. Edsource

UC Berkeley prof on teacher collaboration, future of LA schools
Teachers in charter and pilot Los Angeles public schools collaborate with and trust each other significantly more than teachers in L.A. Unified’s traditional large public high schools. KPCC

JUST IN: LAUSD sweetens contract offer to teachers union

Vivian Ekchian Betty Forrester LAUSD

From left: Negotiators Vivian Ekchian, LAUSD; Betty Forrester, UTLA

In a new contract proposal to the teachers union, UTLA, LA Unified is offering a three-year package with annual raises of at least 2 percent and a plan to re-hire 3,000 teachers who have been laid off in recent years.

The latest offer adds two years to the length of the contract initially offered to the union and mirrors the deal offered to AALA, the administrators union: a 2 percent lump sum for 2013-14, a 2 percent raise over each of the next two years, and a 2.5 percent pay bump in 2016-17. 

District officials intend to present the latest terms to the union officials, including the chief negotiator, Betty Forrester, at a bargaining session scheduled for Thursday. Two more sessions are scheduled for August.  

The district’s chief labor negotiator, Vivian Ekchian, told LA School Report that she is eager to resume contract talks after nearly a month of inactivity. 

UTLA rejected the district’s opening proposal on May 26 without any debate, calling it “insulting.” The union has asked for a 17.6 percent raise over an unspecified number of years, following seven years without a salary increase.  

Ekchian says the more robust offer is not likely to be dismissed as quickly. “The past rejection was based on new contracts for just two years,” she said. “This is a four-year commitment.”

When compounded, the pay increases add up to 8.5 percent over the next three years, which would cost the district more than $353 million, she said. Including health benefits and other costs, the district says the the new reflects a 26.3 percent increase over current levels. 

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