LAUSD rejects 20th Street parent trigger, says no triggers valid in state


Former superintendent Ramon Cortines with 20th Street families over the summer. (Photo by Omar Cavillo.)

LA Unified has rejected a parent petition to take over a failing elementary school in South Central Los Angeles, reversing district policy and essentially asserting that no California school qualifies under the state “parent trigger” law.

Parents of 20th Street Elementary School were informed of the district’s rejection in a letter late Saturday, the last day the district had to notify the parents. They had hoped to be able to take over the school and possibly create a charter through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, or parent trigger, which has been used twice to help under-performing LA Unified schools.

“We are so disappointed, all the parents are really upset,” said Guadalupe Aragon, one of the parents who started the petition drive. “We just want our children to have the same opportunities to get to college that other children in the district have, and this was our only way to do it. We are very angry.”

After two years of trying to get changes at the school, and dropping the threatened trigger by the parents at least once, the 20th Street Parents Union filed again last month to take over the school with 57 percent of the families (the parents of 342 students) signing a petition.

“This is shameful,” said former California state senator Gloria Romero, who authored the law, after reading the district’s letter. “They have a brand new superintendent and she is harking to the past, in a sense. Where is the leadership? It’s supposed to be a new game with LA being unified. This does not bode well for the spirit of the law.”

The law was passed in 2010 and used at two LA Unified schools in 2013. That year, statewide tests were suspended in anticipation of computerized tests based on the Common Core State Standards. The following year former Superintendent John Deasy argued that the district was exempt, for one year, from the parent trigger by a federal waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law that allowed LA Unified and seven other California school districts to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards.parent trigger

One of the first things interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines did when he took over was to reverse Deasy’s edict and lift the ban on parent triggers. King worked under both Deasy and Cortines.

King and her staff met with parents only five days before the letter was sent out rejecting their petition. The meeting last Monday, held at district headquarters, was called by King and also attended by representatives of Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which was brought in by the district to see if it might be a solution for the parents.

Joan Sullivan, CEO for Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, said she was invited to attend the meeting at the district to offer some sort of solution for 20th Street. Partnership was offering a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools over the past eight years in the South Central LA area.

“Parents are asking for a choice, and we could offer a good option,” said Sullivan said. “We take on whole schools and support them with the current student body and most of the staff and use the parent involvement and voice.”

At last week’s meeting, the district “never told us that our school may not be eligible or that there was any problem with our petition,” Aragon said.

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Romero pressing for LAUSD hearing on ‘trigger’ waiver

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, the former state senator who authored the California Parent Trigger law is asking LA Unified board president Richard Vladovic to schedule a public discussion on the district’s legal opinion that the law does not apply this year.

District lawyers say the Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards, sets the law aside.

“Of course, I dispute the legal interpretation and I am in the process of seeking a state opinion on the matter,” she wrote to Vladovic. “Nothing that I have seen lends support to the legal opinion of LAUSD.”

She adds that none of the other districts granted a waiver has made such an interpretation.

Vladovic’s chief of staff, Chris Torres, said in an email that Vladovic intends to help arrange to put her request on the agenda of a future meeting.

The district’s legal interpretation is important, so far as parent groups who want to enact changes this year through the state law, which permits parents to initiate action at their children’s school if they can secure signatures from a majority of school parents.

The district is contending that without state-approved metrics for measuring academic performance while Common Core testing is phasing in, the law cannot apply because action through Parent Trigger requires two years of data to show a school is failing.

In her letter, Romero questions several aspects of the district’s decision, including whether the board was aware of such an exemption and why the legal decision was made without public discussion or announcement.

She also asks Vladovic that if the district was certain in its legal analysis, why did the district negotiate with parents at West Athens Elementary School for changes in exchange for their assurance not to use the Parent Trigger law, when in the absence of the law, the parents would have had no such leverage.

Finally, she asks, “Perhaps even more importantly — how could a District simply erase away a law and make a pact to keep this information away from the public?

Outside group challenging LAUSD’s view of ‘Parent Trigger’

Gloria Romero, CA State Senator

Gloria Romero


Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents petition for change at poor-performing schools, is disputing an LA Unified legal opinion that says the state law that gives parents that right is invalid this year.

The conflict came to light in an LA Times story this morning, citing an opinion from a district lawyer sent to Gloria Romero, the former California lawmaker who wrote the 2010 “Parent Trigger” law.

Romero, who founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment last year, said in an interview this morning she felt “angry and betrayed” by a legal decision that was reached last fall by the district but not shared with her until she learned about it three weeks ago.

“I’m not saying LAUSD is wrong on the legal interpretation; I just don’t know, and that’s why I’m seeking another legal interpretation from the state,” she said, “But LAUSD’s decision violates the spirit and intent of the law.”

“What I want to know,” she added, “is why did they keep this quiet all this time.”

The district’s opinion stems from a Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards — measures used to determine whether a school is failing.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said in an interview that the metrics used by LA Unified and the other districts granted the waiver still give parents the right to use the Parent Trigger law, so long as a school has been deemed in need of improvement for two consecutive years, ending with the 2014-2015 school year.

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Gloria Romero Leaving One Ed Reform Group to Start Another

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero is stepping down from her position as Director of California Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) to start a new organization, the Foundation for Parent Empowerment.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with DFER, but believe that it is time to move past party politics and focus my skills and organizing with parents who form the true base of any education reform movement,” she said in a statement.

In 2010, as a California State Senator, Romero authored the country’s first “parent trigger” law, which allows a majority of parents to replace a school’s leadership. But the fiercely independent Romero hasn’t always agreed with the tactics employed by Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has helped organize every parent trigger campaign in California to date.

Romero’s new organization will focus on empowering parents to affect change at their children’s schools.

“A myriad of federal and state laws exist which, when combined, offer parents greater opportunities to become more actively involved in helping their children pursue the American Dream via education,” she said.

Romero’s independence and unpredictability have earned her many enemies. Last year, she even broke with DFER’s national organization to support LA Unified and seven other California school districts in their quest for a No Child Left Behind waiver.

Nevertheless, DFER Executive Director Joe Williams lent a quote to Romero’s goodbye press release, saying, “We are extremely grateful for all the great work Gloria has done for children and families in California as an elected official in the California Legislature as well as her leadership of DFER in California.”

Previous posts: Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSDMayor Overreached Against Zimmer, Says ReformerHow Prop. 32 Could Affect LAUSD

Update: Teacher Dismissal Bill Heads to State Senate


A controversial bill aimed at ensuring teachers accused of sexual misconduct and other immoral acts can be more easily removed from the classroom is now awaiting referral in the Senate Rules Committee before its eventual hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Given the array of allies and opponents focused on teacher misconduct — especially after reports of ongoing sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary School shocked LAUSD — the bill’s next step will be closely followed and hotly debated.

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Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSD

Gloria Romero

Earlier this week, a number of civil rights and school reform groups including Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) sent a letter to United States Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan opposing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver that LAUSD and eight other California school districts had applied for.

But the next day, Gloria Romero, head of the California chapter of DFER, sent her own letter to Secretary Duncan in support of the LAUSD waiver request.

So what happened?

According to an initial account in Education Week, Romero described the dueling letters as the unintentional result of miscommunication between the state and national divisions.

Commenting on the waiver issue at EdSource, Romero wrote that the national letter “reflected the DC branch and was, unfortunately, submitted without input from the CA DFER office which has long supported the CORE waiver request.”

“I understand the national [DFER organization] is looking at this and saying, let’s be consistent federally,” Romero told LA School Report. “But I think, locked in the bowels of Washington DC, they weren’t privy to the real issues on the street. They didn’t understand — these are the reformers.”

“The CORE group came together to overcome the political obstacles at the state level,” said Romero.  “We need to reward the guys willing to reform by any means necessary.”

“It probably is unusual, but I felt strongly that this was a state issue,” she said — adding later, perhaps a bit jokingly: “I might be out of the job tomorrow. Who knows?”

Previous posts: Civil Rights Groups Oppose LAUSD Waiver;  New Concerns About LAUSD “Waiver”District Waivers Worry State Education Chiefs

Just How Connected Is Antonio Sanchez?

When District 6 runoff candidate Antonio Sanchez showed up to the UTLA endorsement interview last year, he was accompanied by Miguel Santiago, an old friend of Sanchez’s as well as a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees and — more importantly — State Assembly Speaker John Perez’s District Director.

Santiago’s appearance with Sanchez was interpreted by some within UTLA to mean that Sanchez carried the Assembly Speaker’s stamp of approval.

“In no uncertain terms, it was made clear to us that Sanchez is protected all the way up and down the power structure of the State,” said a highly placed source within UTLA.

This was one of the reasons that UTLA endorsed Sanchez in the primary — and one of the reasons the union leadership and members may struggle tonight when the House of Representatives reconsiders the union’s District 6 endorsements.

But it is not entirely clear whether pulling Sanchez’s endorsement would have any political consequences, in Sacramento or in Los Angeles — or even how it might affect the runoff.

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Mayor Overreached Against Zimmer, Says Reformer

Last week’s School Board primary outcome wasn’t a win or even a mixed result for Mayor Villaraigosa and his merry band of reformers, according to former state senator Gloria Romero. It was a big loss.

Romero has had public disagreements with Villaraigosa in the past, and she first made her negative assessment of the outcome in an LA Times piece last week.

Now, in a new Orange County Register commentary, the head of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) – California writes, “The balance of power on the school board has shifted away from the mayor, who overreached, and from the broader reform community.” Continue reading

Analysis: Endorsements & Funding No Guarantee

Gloria Romero, the former Democratic state legislator who is now heading the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), announced her support for School Board President Monica Garcia last Wednesday, urging supporters to contribute to Garcia’s campaign.

The pro-charter, pro-accountability group issued a report card on Garcia and incumbent Steve Zimmer on Thursday morning. However, DFER-California isn’t providing any of its own funding, according to Romero, and a quick look back at advocacy group endorsements and outside funding reminds us  that resources are no guarantee of victory.

Money is great — everybody wants it, and it’s always good to have more than the other person.  (We’ll find out the latest fundraising figures Friday.)  But in LA and elsewhere, a big cash advantage doesn’t  always translate into a victory speech.

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Reformers Split From Labor – Again

Former Democratic state legislator Gloria Romero isn’t the only education reformer who’s taken a position that’s being described as anti-labor. (See: Proposition 32 Divides California’s Education Reformers Huffington Post.) 

Sacramento-based StudentsFirst (headed by Michelle Rhee) has given $500,000 to oppose Proposal 2, a Michigan state constitutional amendment codifying collective bargaining rights that has been backed by labor groups, according to Michigan Live. (StudentsFirst PAC donates $500,000 to campaign against union-backed Proposal 2.)

These kinds of splits between Democrat-affiliated education reform groups, elected officials, and teachers unions are still relatively few, but can no longer be considered rare.  Other examples include Mayor Villaraigosa’s support for the parent trigger and President Obama’s refusal to support the striking teachers in Chicago.

Democratic Education Advocates Split Over Prop. 32

“I think it’s a huge blow to the [Democrats for Education] brand,” says Green Dot Public Charter Schools founder Steve Barr in this new Huffington Post story about the controversial endorsement of Prop. 32 by Gloria Romero, former state legislator and current head of Democrats For Education Reform California.  “I don’t want to have much to do with an organization with ‘Democrat’ in its name that’s in bed with the Koch brothers and Karl Rove.”

Morning Read: Zimmer Withdraws Evaluation Plan

LAUSD Board’s Martinez Wants To Restore Arts Funding In Schools
She also wants a commitment to make arts a component of the new Common Core curriculum, integrating skills like drama, drawing and dance into the teaching of math, English and science. The national standards are set to take effect in Fall 2014, and the district is slowly phasing in the lessons. Daily News

Portrait In Numbers Of LAUSD’s Decline In Arts Education
In the last three years, Los Angeles Unified has had to cut nearly $1.5 billion from its annual operating budget, which is now roughly $6 billion. “Arts education is one of the most impacted components of LAUSD instruction as a result,” according to the district. KPCC

Teacher evaluation resolution pulled from LAUSD agenda
School board member Steve Zimmer has pulled his controversial resolution on teacher evaluations from Tuesday’s board agenda because of concerns it could interfere with sensitive negotiations between the district and its teachers’ union. Daily News

Schools Urged To Use Up Technology Vouchers
About $66 million, including $10 million for LAUSD, remains from a state antitrust settlement with Microsoft, and officials want districts to use the vouchers before they expire during 2013. LA Times

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Don’t Forget The “Teacher” Trigger

You might be surprised to find out that “Won’t Back Down” — a screening of which I snuck into the other night — isn’t actually the fictionalized story of Desert Trails, site of the real-life still-unfolding parent trigger attempt outside of Los Angeles, or the CA parent trigger law that allows parents to vote to revamp their schools.

It’s actually the fictionalized story of Locke High School, the struggling South Central LA school that in 2007-2008 was wrestled away from the Los Angeles public school system (and the teachers union) by a vote of teachers.

Green Dot founder Steve Barr always said there might be a movie about Locke. Now there is — sort of.

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State Teachers Beef Up Prop 32 Opposition

Yesterday, the CTA dropped another $6.9 million into the fight against Proposition 32, which would, among other things, prohibit unions from taking money automatically deducted from their members’ paychecks and spending it on political activity. (See LA Times:  Teachers union gives another $6.9 million to Prop. 32 fight.)

“This is a huge priority for us, for unions,” David Goldberg, a teacher in Los Angeles and an elected CTA board member, told me yesterday. This morning, the CTA also released a new web ad entitled “Meet a SuperPAC Billionaire who supports Prop 32.”

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Morning Read: Romero Vs. Villaraigosa

Gloria Romero to Antonio Villaraigosa: We’re not removing you from Prop 32 ad SFGate: LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was ticked that the pro-Prop 32 folks were using his name and comments “out of context” in an ad. He asked them to remove his name/comments from the ad promoting the measure on the November ballot that would ban unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions to fund political campaigns. On Monday, the pro-32 folks responded to his request: Uh, no.

Miramonte lawsuits are on hold, attorneys hope to settle KPCC: Attorney Luis Carrillo is the one who pushed for the stay. He says the temporary delay gives his clients a chance to engage in settlement discussions with the school district. The talks would be facilitated by a mediator and could begin as early as November.

Charters draw students from private schools, study finds LA Times: The study by a Rand Corp. economist found that more than 190,000 students nationwide had left a private school for a charter by the end of the 2008 school year, the most recent year for which data was available.

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Morning Read: LAUSD Restructured

LAUSD restructures district offices Daily Breeze: As of this school year LAUSD no longer consists of eight geographical district offices by number, but instead is composed of four “educational service centers” designated by direction — north, south, east and west — and a fifth at-large center that is based not on geography but school type.

Most local school districts ignore state’s anti-gay bullying law Daily News: None of the six Long Beach area school districts has complied with AB 9’s July 1 deadline, and only one, Long Beach Unified School District, has since met the requirements, a Press-Telegram investigation has found.

Why rush this gutted education bill into law? Modesto Bee (opinion):  In Doe v. Deasy, the judge found that the Los Angeles Unified school district had never obeyed the Stull Act in evaluating teachers.

Gloria Romero’s Revenge NBC/Prop Zero (blog): California’s public employee unions have long prided themselves on their toughness. If a Democratic politician stepped out of line, they would move to punish that politician.

Cortines’ accuser details long friendship that went bad LA Observed:  Scot Graham, the LA Unified leasing chief who has sued ex-superintendent Ramon Cortines for sexual harassment and filed $10 million claim with the district, says he first met Cortines in San Francisco’s gay community in the 1980s.

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Lawmakers Won’t Comment On Sex Abuse Vote

You might enjoy (or be appalled by) this Thursday night segment from the CNN Show Anderson Cooper 360 including footage of reporter Kyung Lah chasing the four SB1530 abstainers around the statehouse.
It’s a little heavy-handed, but three of the four legislators play right into CNN’s hands by ducking interviews and issuing terse “no comments” while waiting for the elevator to arrive.  (Special Interests Over Child Interests?)

Furious Debate Over “Pupil Progress”

Rumors are flying fast and furious about Assembly Bill 5, a proposed amendment to the Stull Act offered by San Fernando Valley Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes.

The latest word from EdSource is that AB 5 is being revised slightly to try and mollify opponents and also to help make the state eligible for a No Child Left Behind waiver (see: Fuentes agrees to compromises on AB 5: Are they enough?). If approved, the amended bill could go back to the State Senate education committee early next week. But it’s not clear that’s going to happen without further changes. Romero, EdVoice and other education reformers are still strongly opposed to the law — as is LAUSD’s John Deasy.

What is AB 5? Why do ed reform groups, not to mention Deasy, hate it so much? And what is Fuentes offering to change?

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How Prop. 32 Could Affect LAUSD

Gloria Romero (photo by Celeste Freemon)

Prop 32 would have huge implications for LAUSD politics, drastically limiting the amount of money unions could spend on local races. In 2011, UTLA spent over $2 million on school board races. And at first it seems like a straightforward, partisan issue– Democrats and Unions vs. Republicans and rich guys.

But one Democrat has stepped forward to support prop 32: Gloria Romero, California Director of Democrats for School Reform:  “Unless we’re willing to tackle how the money flows,” says Romero, “we’re not going to ever see education reform in California.”  This raises the question:  will other Democrats and school reformers follow Romero’s lead? Or will they be fearful of pissing off the Democratic establishment? Turns out the politics of prop. 32 — and the implications for LAUSD — are not as straightforward as they may seem.

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