Parent panels now reviewing LA Unified’s next spending plan

images-3Parents involved in setting spending priorities for LA Unified have a lot of homework to do over the next two weeks.

Members of the Parent Advisory Committee and the District English Learner Advisory Committee have been instructed to “take home and live with” Superintendent John Deasy’s proposed Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) before providing feedback in time for the school board to adopt the 2014-2015 budget on June 17.

The two groups, which include more than 100 parents and guardians elected onto the committees by other parents, met with district officials last week.

It brings the district one step closer to fulfilling the state’s requirement for local participation in drafting the final LCAP — essentially, a budget explaining how LA Unified will disperse funds from Gov. Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Rowena Lagrosa, executive director of the district’s Parent Community Services Branch, said the committees met over two days for 10 hours. But they’re not ready to weigh in on the budget just yet.

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Bus crash update: LAUSD offers no names of dead and injured*

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy Bus Crash


LA Unified officials had no additional information by mid-day on the fate of 19 students from 16 LAUSD high schools who were on the bus involved in a fatal crash yesterday, heading to Humboldt State University.

Superintendent John Deasy met with reporters at a noon press conference but couldn’t offer much beyond reports of earlier in the day.

The authorities confirmed that 10 people died, five of them students, but LAUSD has been unable to say whether any of them were from the district’s schools.

The district identified the students’ high schools as San Fernando, Grant, Dorsey, Fremont, City of Angels, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, Manual Arts, Banning, Carson, Chavez, Diego Rivera, Belmont, Wilson, Chatsworth, Jefferson High and Middle College.

The district has set up a support fund to help LAUSD families affected by the crash. The website is here.

*Adds information on family support fund.

LA 2020 Commission calls for ‘bold steps’ to improve LAUSD

imagesAn LA City Council commission charged with providing a blueprint for the future of the city released its second report today, this one offering recommendations to move Los Angeles toward fiscal solvency and greater job creation.

The Los Angeles 2020 Commission’s report, “A Time for Action,” largely focuses on issues related to jobs, budgets and transportation. But it also has a few critical words to say about public education even though the Los Angeles Unified School District is outside the purview of city government.

In its overarching view, the commission found, “Public education falls far short of the mark, yet there continues to be a lack of support in the community for the bold steps that need to be taken to prepare kids in our community to succeed.”

It further concludes, “We cannot continue to fail to educate so many of our young people. Our community must begin to recognize education is the civil rights issue of our time, and do more, much more, to support those working to bring about meaningful change in our public education system.”

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LAUSD board approves a student voice, but not how to get it

Steve Zimmer LAUSD Board Meeting 4-8-2014

Steve Zimmer LAUSD Board Meeting 4-8-2014

A grand plan by Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser to put a student voice on the LA Unified School Board hit a road block today when the board accepted the idea in principle but delayed adopting a plan for how to do it.

In a 50-minute debate, board member Tamar Galatzan was the first to lead the charge against their Student Engagement and Empowerment resolution, which would have required Superintendent John Deasy to develop a plan that included a seven member student advisory board and a district-wide student Congress.

But the effort went down in a 4-2 vote over objections to doing anything more than acknowledging the certainty of creating a student advisory position for the board something during the 2014-2015 academic year.

“I don’t know why we need to create this giant bureaucracy of student advice when the education code is much simpler,” said Galatzan, who voted with Monica Garcia, Monica Ratliff and Board President RIchard Vladovic to defeat the resolution.

Garcia quickly proposed an alternative approach: Accept the petition presented to the board — 1,500 student signatures calling for the addition of a student representative, as required by the California education code — and authorize Deasy to recommend within 120 days the best way to accomplish the effort.

That was passed, 5-1, with Zimmer as the holdout.

After the board meeting, Zimmer told LA School Report, he was disappointed in his colleagues who chose to meet only the minimum standards required by the state.

“I hope that the students who participated in the process don’t feel deflated by democracy,” he said. And he encouraged them to view it as a partial victory.

“The good news,” he said, “is that there will be a student here and that’s going to make this a better board of education.”

LA Unified board to Deasy on budget: ‘go further, faster’

Superintendent John Deasy, explaining the budget

Superintendent John Deasy, explaining the budget

Months in the making, LA Unified’s $6.8 billion budget, along with an extra $332 million through the Local Control Funding Formula, finally reached the school board today, as Superintendent John Deasy walked the members through its highlights, pointing to dozens of areas where the new money is going.

His presentation was the featured attraction at a monthly meeting that included Sylvia Rousseau addressing the six members for the first time in her capacity as temporary, non-voting representative for the board’s District 1. She gave an overview of the needs of her district as guidance for the budget negotiations ahead.

Overall, the board members appeared reasonably receptive to Deasy’s approach to using the new money for three specific groups of students, as required by California law — those from low-income families, foster youth and English learners.

The budget, he said, “will restore and improve targeted resources for the youth who need the resources the most,” he said.

But members’ questions, although laden with compliments for such a massive undertaking, reflected a consensus that they want to see him go further faster.

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6 LA Unified schools sharing grant for industry-related courses

imgresSix LA Unified high schools are splitting a $7 million Youth CareerConnect grant to expand career pathways in health care, biotechnology, and business.

The district is one of the first in the nation awarded funds from a collaboration between the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. It is designed to help schools provide more industry-related knowledge and skills.

“These pathways provide additional routes to success for students as they prepare to graduate college-ready and career-prepared,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement from the district. “This grant recognizes the caliber of instruction in LA Unified, and represents Washington’s faith in our ability to deliver.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti called it “another huge victory for our city and our students”

“I’m very pleased this grant will benefit students in Westlake and from South Los Angeles to Sylmar and from the Harbor to Hollywood,” he said in a statement.

The six schools are:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) pilot at Helen Bernstein High School
  • Sylmar Biotech and Health Academy
  • Health Information and Technology at Manual Arts Senior High School
  • Business and Tourism at Miguel Contreras Learning Center
  • International Business and Trade at Phineas Banning Senior High School
  • Responsible Indigenous Social Entrepreneurs (RISE) pilot, which encourages neighborhood and small business development, at Augustus Hawkins Senior High School

Students will benefit from specialized instruction linked to these fields, through work experience, internships and mentoring.


Unions have lukewarm response to Deasy’s new budget proposal

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy unveiling budget

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy unveiling budget

The budget proposal LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy will present to the school board tomorrow has won lukewarm responses from three of the district’s biggest labor partners — the teachers union (UTLA), the principals union (AALA) and the support workers union (SEIU Local 99).

After reviewing documents the district released on Friday, each group expressed cautious optimism that Deasy’s fiscal vision for the next three years — boosted by new money from the state — is heading in the right direction but with more that needs to be done.

In short, because the proposal includes new hires and at least a suggestion of raises for current employees, the unions viewed the proposal as potentially good news for their members.

“Superintendent John Deasy’s proposed 2014-2015 budget does not go far enough to help the District’s students or educators, but it is a start,” UTLA said in a statement that seemed to capture the consensus response.

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents principals and other school administrators, said, “Based on the limited information AALA has to date, it appears the superintendent will bring budget recommendations to the board that will begin to restore services and personnel which are in support of schools and students which were markedly reduced and eliminated over the last six years.” Continue reading

Deasy releases draft of LAUSD’s next budget, with new money

Superintendent John Deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy made public today the first draft of a $6.8 billion budget for the 2014-15 school year, a presentation that offered the first glimpse of how the new Local Control Funding Formula is going to work.

The budget will be formally presented to the school board on Tuesday, after which the six current members are expected to engage in a lively debate over how to tweak, change or blow-up Deasy’s initial foray into this year’s budget negotiations. At the same time, interest groups around the city who have already been lobbying the members, are expected to intensify their efforts.

The district is required to have its final version in shape — the Local Control Accountability Plan — for the board’s final approval on June 17.

The budget proposal includes spending plans for an extra $332 million in state funds, which has been the object of intense lobbying from interest groups because much of that money is earmarked to serve students in high needs categories: those from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

That additional money includes $137 million above the state’s standard per pupil spending.

The district current serves 11,604 children in foster case and 154,110 who are English learners. Overall, 80 percent of all LA Unified students are from low-income families.

While Deasy’s proposal reflects more money for lots of programs and people, including more teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors — it’s probably not enough to satisfy most.

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Battle lines forming in LA Unified for ‘Local Control’ spending

imgres-4The battle over the new money coming into LA Unified from the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula starts in earnest tomorrow when Superintendent John Deasy lays out his plan for the 2014-15 budget.

Deasy is meeting with reporters to unveil his spending priorities plan for an estimated $390 million the district will receive in extra resources, before he presents it to the school board on Tuesday.

It’ll be the first glimpse of how well (or how poorly) competing interests have lobbied for a piece of the pie, and it’s likely to kick off of an intense debate over dollars as the district — like all school districts in California — formulates its Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) over the next couple of months.

A preview of the pressures came into view today when Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) and various constituencies outlined their wish-list for some of the districts’ neediest schools.

Under the new plan, districts will receive a base grant per student. Beyond that, students who are either low-income, foster youth or English learners earn supplemental money. Additionally, schools with more than 55 percent of low-income students get concentration grants.

Elmer Roldan, education program officer at United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said the group is calling on Deasy to allocate 80 percent of the supplemental and concentration funds for use in educating students with the highest needs.

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Deasy at USC: Vergara is the next big civil rights case

John Deasy, with fellow panelist, Susan Estrich

John Deasy, with fellow panelist, Susan Estrich

More than two months ago LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy took the stand as the first witness for the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, a lawsuit challenging teacher protections. He testified for three days, laying the foundation of their overall case.

Now that the trial has ended, the head of the largest school district in the state continues to make his case to the public, positioning Vergara as a civil rights issue.

Speaking yesterday on a panel called “Rights, Writs and Rulings: Where does a student go for redress?” sponsored by the USC Rossier School of Education, Deasy characterized the Vergara trial as the next point on the civil rights continuum seeking to strike down segregation in public schools: A major focus of the plaintiffs’ case is that low-income and minority students are more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than children from more affluent families.

He spoke at length about Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education, both historic cases that challenged the Fourteenth Amendment. And Deasy drew parallels between more the recent public education battles of Williams v California, Serrano v Priest, and Butt v California, as well as the peaceful protests lead by African-American students in the 1960s.

Deasy said a group of well-dressed black students sitting at a segregated Woolworth’s counter in Greenboro, North Carolina decades ago, politely asking to be served is not unlike a group of nine California students asking for a better education today.

“I would like a cup of coffee. I want to go to a good school,” he said. “We are still struggling some 60 years later to enact the promise of Brown v Board of Education. I am troubled how today we can witness such unequal, non-protected classes of youth at a single institution called public education. Our work is not done.”

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Casillas replacing Jaime Aquino as interim Deputy of Instruction

John Deasy and Maria Casillas

John Deasy and Maria Casillas

Former head of School, Parent and Family/Community Services, Maria Casillas, is coming out of retirement on Tuesday to serve as LA Unified’s interim Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, a post left vacant by the sudden resignation of Jaime Aquino last year.

Casillas, who resigned from the district last June as Chief School and Family/Community Services, was appointed by Superintendent John Deasy last week. It is unclear if he consulted the school board on his choice.  An interim appointment does not require a vote by the board.

“I’ll just be assisting Deasy in making sure that the major initiatives that are already on the agenda get through by the end of this fiscal year,” Casillas told LA School Report.

She doesn’t plan to hold the position for very long — just a couple of months — and will be working “somewhat part-time,” she said.

“There’s nothing that I’m going to be able to start or complete,” she said. “I’m very aware that I’m pinch-hitting. I’m not there to review and say, ‘Oh, I have a better idea.’ ”

Casillas said she has yet to outline top priorities with Deasy, but expects to tackle the continued implementation of Common Core standards, overseeing the district’s first round of [Smarter Balanced] testing and carrying out the next phase of the iPad program.

Another major initiative, and the one she seems most enthusiastic about, is working on the English Learner Master Plan, the 2012 overhaul of the district’s academic curriculum to move English learners into mainstream classes.

“That is just a huge, major initiative that got underway,” she said.

Casillas said Deasy is “interested in bringing on someone of a very high caliber to replace Aquino. (Interested? Click here.)

“And it’s not that I’m not high caliber,” she insisted. “It’s that I’m retired.”

Stanford report shows advantages for LAUSD charter students*

CREDO logoIn its first analysis of LA Unified schools, Stanford University found that the typical student in a charter school made greater academic gains than a counterpart in a traditional school.

“Charter School Performance in Los Angeles,” a report from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), found that a student in an urban LA charter gains 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 more days of learning in math, compared with a peer in a traditional district school.

In suburban LA charters, the report said a student gains about 65 more days in reading and 101 additional days in math.

The results were especially significant for low-income Hispanic students in charter schools, according to the report’s co-author, Dev Davis.

“The gains for Hispanic students in poverty at charters amount to 58 additional days of learning in reading and 115 more days in math compared to their district school counterparts,” he said in announcing the study.

The report is based on data from 2008-2009 to 2011-2012 from the California Department of Education. Currently, LA Unified has jurisdiction over 248 charter schools  – 52 affiliated and 196 independent — serving over 136,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

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Deasy says principal who ok’d campaign leave was disciplined

Superintendent John Deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said a principal who gave Alex Caputo-Pearl permission to take unpaid time off to campaign for president of the teachers union, UTLA, has been disciplined.

The action came in response to accusations that the leave, a violation of district’s contract with UTLA, provided Caputo-Pearl an unfair advantage over other candidates by allowing him to campaign during school hours.

Caputo-Pearl is one of nine men challenging Warren Fletcher, who is seeking a second three-year term.

“First neither I nor any administrator at Beaudry approved any leave for Mr. Caputo-Pearl or any other UTLA candidate. I believe his principal may have done such,” Deasy said in an email. “A letter was sent to Mr. Fletcher notifying him of the situation. And the principal has been disciplined. The letter further clarified that our interpretation (long standing) of the contract was that such a practice is prohibited.”

While Caputo-Pearl defended his campaigning, pointing to Fletcher’s ability to do the same as the incumbent, the district finally ordered him to stop.

Yet as tomorrow’s deadline approaches for UTLA members to mail in their ballots for elective positions this year, accusations of cheating persist.

Several of the candidates for president have suggested that Deasy granted Caputo-Pearl permission as a way to influence the election — never mind that Caputo-Pearl has been as critical as any candidate of Deasy and his policies.

No candidate has focused more attention on the issue than David Garcia, whose campaign is aimed at rooting out “corruption” by ousting Fletcher and all who serve with him.

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LA Unified board votes to pay Deasy for unused vacation*

Superintendent John Deasy: Little time for vacation

Superintendent John Deasy: Little time for vacation

Superintendent John Deasy works too much.

So much so, that he rarely takes time off for vacation. As a result, the Los Angeles Unified School board voted at its monthly meeting yesterday to pay him for up to 24 days of unused vacation time, the equivalent of nearly $30,000 added to his annual salary of $330,000, according to Megan Reilly, the district’s chief financial officer.

School board member Bennett Kayser alone objected to what he said is a salary increase for Deasy, who threatened to quit four months ago. Kayser said it was inappropriate especially, “while we have employees who have not gotten a raise in years.”

It is the kind of perk that is sure to anger union leaders on the eve of contract negotiations after years of drastic budget cuts. Warren Fletcher, president of the teachers union, along with many of his nine challengers in UTLA’s current election campaign, are making pay raises for teachers a big part of their campaigns.

“I know a lot of teachers who would love to get their vacation days paid out. It’ll be interesting to see if they can get the same thing,” a union insider told LA School Report.

In one of its shorter meetings — under five hours — the board covered a lot of other territory, with discussions on Cesar Chavez, Armenian genocide, water conservation, Women’s History Month, National Library Week and figuring out a way to encourage district employees to get health coverage. The members also spent a few hours deliberating the future of a handful of schools, based on their fiscal viability.

Conditional charter renewals for Magnolia Science Academy 6 and 7 were approved in a five to one vote, with Kayser, again, as the only dissenter.

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Rally to keep LA Unified school open despite fewer students

imgresAnother LA Unified school is under threat of closing.

The Academy of Environmental and Social Policy (ESP) is hosting a Back to School/Save our School event tonight to help fend off efforts to shut it down or relocate it because of shrinking enrollment,

As one of the district’s Partnership for Los Angeles schools, it is affiliated with Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, on the campus of the East LA Skill Center.

In a letter to ESP’s principal Brendan Schallert, Superintendent John Deasy said, “The space does not allow ESP to grow its enrollment to the size that is needed to be fiscally viable; and, transportation and recreation/PE facilities are ongoing issues.”

With 260 students this year, enrollment is at the lowest point in the school’s seven year history. At its highest point, in 2012, enrollment was 351.

In Schallert’s opinion, that is the outcome of “too much school choice.” A proliferation of charter schools in the area has been siphoning off students from traditional public schools.

The district has given ESP two options: Return to Roosevelt as a linked learning pathway, meaning the students would be absorbed into the school’s regular student population, or move to the Abraham Lincoln High School campus as a small school, while continuing pursuit of magnet status. If neither of these options is acceptable, the only other option is to disband, Deasy said in his letter.

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LA Unified Names Ekchian chief labor negotiator

Vivian Ekchian

Vivian Ekchian

The Los Angeles Unified Board voted 6-0 today to appoint Vivian Ekchian to the newly created position of chief labor negotiator. The district’s chief human resources officer since 2007, she will be responsible for negotiating agreements with all labor unions that hold contracts with the District.

She begins her new job immediately.

“I congratulate Vivian on her new position,” said Superintendent John Deasy. “Her vast, extensive knowledge of employment issues and excellent personal skills will be a tremendous asset in advocating on behalf of all our employees.”

Ekchian started working for the L.A. Unified as a teacher in 1985. During her nearly 30- year career with the district, she has also served as a principal, director of instruction, and administrator of secondary instruction.

“I’m grateful to the Board for the confidence and trust they have shown in me,” said Ekchian. “I’m eager to get started continuing the negotiating process with all our labor partners.”


Christmas returns to the stand as the Vergara trial resumes

Troy Christmas, of Oakland Unified

Troy Christmas, of Oakland Unified

Testimony resumes this morning in Vergara v California, with Troy Christmas of the Oakland Unified School District returning to the stand to face cross examination by lawyers for the defendants — the state and its two big teachers unions.

Christmas, the Director of Labor Management and Employee Relations for his district, has largely plowed the same ground as LA Unified’s Superintendent John Deasy did at the start of the trial last week. They both testified that state laws governing teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority make it difficult for school districts to weed out those who are ineffective.

Lawyers for the defendants have tried to show that school administrations have managed their teaching staffs just as well, with the laws in place.

After Christmas, lawyers for the plaintiffs — nine public school students — intend to examine the issues through a witness from yet another part of the state, Jonathan Raymond, the former superintendent of the Sacramento city schools.


Vergara trial expert witness: ineffective teachers hurt students

Raj Chetty, Harvard Economist

Raj Chetty, Harvard Economist

And so begins the battle of the expert titans.

In the landmark lawsuit, Vergara vs. California, the winner may ultimately be the side that had the more persuasive expert witnesses.

The first came to the stand today as lawyers for the nine students bringing the suit called Harvard professor Raj Chetty, a renowned expert in public policy economics whose judgements, he said, are relied upon by President Obama and Congress.

The case hinges on whether five statutes written into the state constitution protect ineffective teachers, thereby violating students’ constitutionally protected right to a quality education. The defendants — the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the state — say they do not.

Armed with mounds of empirical data, documents and exhibits, the 34-year-old professor offered testimony supporting the plaintiffs’ key points: that teacher quality has a direct impact on students’ achievements and that the current dismissal and seniority statutes have disparate impact on minority and low-income students.

Drawing a few laughs from the courtroom, Chetty testified that he believes elementary teachers are, in fact, even more consequential than college professors. But under questioning from Ted Boutrous, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, he quickly got down to business, explaining results from his research, notably that teacher effectiveness can be measured, and long term gains for students are the direct result of effective teachers.

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Vergara lawsuit: Deasy testifies on ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers

Supt. John Deasy in second day of testimony

Supt. John Deasy in his second day of testimony

Under cross-examination today, LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy faced pointed questions from attorneys representing California’s biggest teacher unions and the state in a controversial lawsuit that could turn the practice of teacher tenure on its head.

At issue in the landmark case,  Vergara vs. California, are five statutes that the nine students bringing the case contend protect ineffective teachers, thereby violating their constitutionally protected right to a quality education.

Under less friendly questioning than earlier in the day, Deasy responded in detail to questions posed by Jim Finberg, attorney for the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), who attempted to chip away at the argument that the current tenure and dismissal statutes hurt students, and that removing ineffective teachers is quite possible now.

Using statistics that showed the number of dismissals in LA Unified rose to 99 in 2011-2012 from 10 in 2009-2010, Deasy’s first full year as superintendent, Finberg suggested that the number of teachers offered tenure during that period decreased, reducing the number of grossly ineffective teachers who receive permanent status.

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Deasy tells court: teacher dismissal can cost district ‘millions’*

LA Unified Supt. John Deasy

LA Unified Supt. John Deasy

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy told a packed courtroom today that it can cost the district “millions of dollars” and can take “slightly less than 10 years” to get rid of an ineffective teacher.

Deasy was the first witness to testify in the long-awaited start of Vergara v California, a battle over state laws that govern what to do with ineffective teachers. Beatriz Vergara and eight other students from around the state want to get rid of the laws that make it difficult to dismiss the teachers. As defendants, the state and its largest teachers unions want to preserve them, arguing that school districts not state laws are responsible for the dismissal of ineffective teachers — and some districts manage quite well in carrying out the challenge.

The day began with lawyers for both sides giving their opening salvos before Judge Rolf Treu in a state superior court in downtown Los Angeles.

The thrust of the students’ case is that five state statutes make it difficult and expensive to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. In the opening statement for the students, Ted Boutrous argued that every child has a constitutional right to a quality education — a right that has been violated due to the current teacher employment statues that he claimed handcuffs administrators in weeding ineffective teachers out of the classroom. Those statutes involve tenure, seniority and the dismissal process.

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