Heavy rains caused little disruption across LA Unified

rainLA Unified escaped major disruptions because of the rainstorm that swept across the region last night and this morning.

Mark Hovatter, the district’s Chief Facilities Director, told LA School Report today that power was reported out in only four schools, and three were back to normal by mid-morning with one remaining to be rectified by this afternoon.

He also said the district got 203 calls about leaky roofs, which the district immediately placed into three categories: emergency, for those needing immediate repair; urgent and routine.

He said the 40 calls classified as urgent have been repaired, the 121 “urgent” calls would be addressed by the end of the day, and the 42 “routine” problems would be fixed within 30 days.

One benefit to the rain: Fixing roofs, Hovatter said, “is one of our priorities, on the top of the list.”

Cost to modernize every LAUSD school? Think $40 billion

Crumbling building* UPDATED

Members of an LA Unified board committee were told today that the district would need 10 times current funding to address the capital needs of all district schools.

The board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee was shown a power point presentation that said the cost of capital improvements necessary to modernize every district school would exceed $40 billion.

Impossible, of course, leaving LAUSD officials an alternative approach, developing a priority list of needs. Those highest on the priority list would include schools with “failing” buildings systems and those that need improvements to insure earthquake safety.

The presentation — from Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter and Krisztina Tokes, Director of Asset Management — showed that more than a quarter of the needed spending of $4.3 billion, 26 percent, would be earmarked for buildings in “critical condition” and 21 percent for those in need of earthquake upgrades.

In the first group, the problems in need of attention are anything from replacing air conditioning systems to upgrading fire safety equipment to constructing permanent buildings in place of portables.

Hovatter said the money for the upgrades would come from the $7.8 billion in bond authority the district has, based on the $7 billon Measure Q sale and the unsold bonds remaining from measures Y and R.

“It is not exactly ‘money in the bank’ because we have not sold the bond yet and we haven’t collected taxes from our tax base to pay off the bonds, but we do have voter authority to sell the bonds as long as we fall within our debt ceiling capacity,” he told LA School Report. “We are currently projecting it will take us 10 to 15 years to sell all of the bonds we are currently authorized to sell and still be within our debt capacity limits.”

Aging but operational buildings would likely not addressed under the plan, the committee was told.

* Corrects upgrade needs to $40 billion. A previous version said $80 billion.

LAUSD invests in teacher prep, MLK Jr. Elementary at 100 years

school report buzz

At its meeting this week, the LA Unified board directed Superintendent Ramon Cortines to expand the teacher prep Career Ladder program, which helps supports district employees who want to become teachers.

The resolution opens the program by another 300 participants, beginning next July. According to statistics cited in the resolution, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across California has been declining, to fewer than 20,000 in 2012-13 from a high of 77,700 a dozen years ago. This had led to a shortage of bilingual, mathematics, science and special education teachers.

“This is how we build the next generation of teachers and of leaders, and who our teachers are matters. It is just as important to know your student as it is to know your subject and nothing, nothing is as important as shared experience,” board member Steve Zimmer, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said in a district press release.


State gets D+ grade in teacher prep

And speaking of teacher preparation … just as LAUSD is looking to invest in teacher prep comes a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality that gives California a D+ grade in teacher preparation.

Among the problems the “State Teacher Policy Yearbook” found is that “with no minimum GPA or test of academic proficiency required for admission to teacher preparation programs, California sets a low bar for the academic performance of the state’s prospective teachers.”

Click here to read the full report.


Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School celebrates 100 years

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Exposition Park is celebrating its 100-year anniversary today at 1:30 p.m. with an event that includes student speeches and performances, alumni presentations, attendance of former teachers and administrators and school board member George McKenna, according to a LAUSD press release

The school, formerly called Santa Barbara Avenue Elementary School, was renamed in 1984 a year after the street was also named after the famed civil rights leader.


LA Unified seeks volunteers for Young Men of Color initiative

LA Unified is hosting a dinner and training session for potential volunteers looking to join the district’s Young Men of Color Initiative. The event starts at 4:30 p.m. today at the auditorium in the LAUSD Parent Community Services Student Services building at 1360 West Temple St.

Another training session is scheduled for Jan. 20.

According to a district press release, volunteers will meet monthly at a local high school with younger men who need help to succeed in class, and in life. For information, call LA Unified’s Parent Community Services Branch at (213) 481-3350.


LAUSD hires outside lawyers to help with grand jury probe

grand juryLA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said today the district is hiring outside lawyers to assist in any matter that might arise out of the grand jury investigation of the district’s procurement of digital devices.

Cortines said the lawyers would provide legal advice should the authorities seek to interview or subpoena district officials as part of the investigation.

“I am advised that such investigations typically take a very long time and that we may not hear back from the federal agencies for months,” Cortines said in a brief statement, issued by the district. “However, when we hear back, they may request to interview individuals or subpoena them to testify before a grand jury.  They also may decide not to proceed if they determined that there were no grounds to move forward.

Grand jury investigations are generally conducted with great secrecy, which means it remains unclear whether the focus of the probe is LA Unified or any of the companies involved in the procurement process.


LAUSD offering Chromebooks as iPad option, but not a test run

Google ChromebookIf the LA Unified School Board tomorrow approves another $13 million in bond money for digital devices for Smarter Balanced exams next spring, school principals are likely to get a choice of Apple iPads or Google Chromebooks.

Chromebooks are about $100 cheaper, and some principals may prefer them. But there’s one problem: Even as Superintendent Ramon Cortines is urging school leaders to decide which device is better for their students, the district has done little to educate principals on the benefits of the Chromebook, let alone offer training.

“I’ve never even held a Chromebook in my hands,” Steve Martinez, principal at John Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park told LA School Report.

Martinez is one of 27 principals who were promised iPads in Phase 2B of the one-to-one program, only to be told twice that they’d have to wait a little longer. He says he’s received ample professional development training on “all of the capabilities of the iPad” both in the classroom and for the Smarter Balanced test.

But he can’t say the same for the Chromebook, leaving principals to make a choice between a product they know and one they don’t.

“I need a demo. The district needs to have a demo day so we can see the differences between the products in action,” he said, adding that if that doesn’t happen, he plans to buy one or two Chromebooks using the school’s discretionary funds. “That can give us a little extra time with them before we have to make our decision. We only get once chance at this.”

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JUST IN: LA Unified increases salary offer to UTLA

teachers union raise salary UTLA Contract Negotiations* UPDATED

LA Unified today increased its salary offer to the teachers union, UTLA, offering a one-year deal with a 6 percent increase.

The district said in a press release the money would be distributed through a 2 percent ongoing salary increase retroactive to July 1; a 2 percent lump-sum payment based on 2013-14 earnings; and a 2 percent one-time payment for the 2014-15 school year to be paid at the end of this school year.

The union did not directly respond to the district proposal, which is not far off its original offer of a three-year package that included the lump sum of 2 percent for last year, 2 percent for this year and next and 2.5 percent for the following year, with the last two years contingent on the district budget. The contingency was later dropped.

Both versions were flatly rejected by the union, which moved from a 17.6 salary raise demand over three years to a one-year deal at 10 percent.

The new wrinkle in today’s district proposal is that the combined 6 percent would be paid within a period of a few months, with an agreement to continue negotiating raises for 2015-16 and 2016-17.

As UTLA pointed out on its website, “the District is still only offering a 2% salary increase.”

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LAUSD reaches tentative agreement with Teamsters 572

UTLA contract proposal to DeasyLA Unified and Teamsters Local 572, the union which represents school administrative assistants and several other school supervisory staff groups, have reached a tentative new agreement.

The three-year agreement includes a number of items, including changes to some food service practices, allowing employees to participate in a semi-monthly pay cycle, the creation of an advisory committee on “respectful treatment” and inclusion of religious creed language to the non-discrimination article, according to a LA Unified press release.

“This supplemental agreement provides important job protections and opportunities for the members of Unit S,” said Vivian Ekchian, chief labor negotiator for LA Unified, in the release. “Both teams worked diligently and efficiently to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion.”

The two sides had previously reached an agreement on salary. The new agreement still needs to be approved by unit members and the school board.

“We are looking forward to presenting this tentative agreement to our members for ratification,” Adriana Salazar Avila, business representative from Teamsters Local 572, said in the release. “Although we did not reach an agreement on every proposal, the committee members were confident they are working with an organization that is committed to continue working on these items without the need for a contractual requirement to do so. We are confident that our membership will feel the same.”


LA Unified makes new hires — despite an on-going hiring freeze

LA Unified's Ruth Perez

LA Unified’s Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Ruth Perez

While LA Unified officials yesterday dealt with the FBI probe into the district’s controversial iPad program, the school board approved a wave of new instructional hires and promotions despite an on-going hiring freeze.

The personnel changes continue a shake-up at the highest levels of the organizational chart that began when Superintendent Ramon Cortines arrived just over a month ago.

Justo Avila, Chief of Human Resources, described it as a “realignment” of the instructional and curriculum arm of the district under the leadership of Ruth Perez, who was also recently hired. Her post sat vacant for more than seven months, following the abrupt resignation of Jaime Aquino.

“[Perez] is organizing her staff in accordance with a plan she has to deliver better instruction to the kids,” Avila told LA School Report.

In all, the board approved six changes, doling out raises ranging from $4,700 to nearly $25,000 annually — this, despite the hiring freeze announced by Cortines at the end of October.

At the time Cortines wrote in a memo, “Although initiating a more stringent hiring freeze is not something that I wish to do, I feel that it is not only necessary but a prudent approach to an inevitable reality.”

He cited a “significant deficit” as the reason for the freeze, which was set to begin Dec 1 and continue through Jan 30.

But when asked if the recent hires conflict with Cortines’s edict, district spokesman Thomas Waldman said no.

“These are not new hires, which is what Mr. Cortines addressed in his statement about a hiring freeze,” Waldman said.

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LA Unified board returning momentarily into public view

Richard Vladovic elected as LAUSD board president for 2014-2015 yearThe LA Unified school board, gathering again tomorrow, will appear in open session long enough to hear the introduction of a largely symbolic measure, a resolution to support President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

Then, the members will disappear into a closed meeting to review the usual subjects of closed meetings — personnel moves, litigation and the status of labor negotiations, which is now largely focused on the teachers union, UTLA, which remains without a contract.

So far, it’s hard to discern whether the district and UTLA are making any progress toward a new agreement, which would be the first since George W. Bush was still president. For the most part, negotiating sessions have been defined by position-taking, with little effort by either side to find a middle ground.

With that as a backdrop, union president Alex Caputo-Pearl has been asking his members, “Are you ready for a fight,” which taken to its logical conclusion would suggest a strike. A strike would appear to remain some distance off, inasmuch as the district and union have not gotten down to the business of “bargaining” in the conventional sense.

But a strike would seem a perfect denoument to this academic year in LA Unified, already buffeted by the languid pace of digital device distribution, the inept rollout of the student data tracking system known as MiSiS and a turnover in the superintendent’s office.

Anyway, negotiators for the union and the district are scheduled to meet up again on Thursday. One can only hope for the best. Or, at least, progress.


For LAUSD, more Chromebooks, iPads means more confusion

la-1418303-0426-me-0428-lopez-ipads1-mam-jpg-20130426Announcing the next phase of the digital device program to buy more iPads and Chromebooks was the easy part. Carrying it out is another issue.

While LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines was pretty clear on how he expected it to proceed, others in the district are not so sure.

The district’s Chief Facilities Director says the choice of devices might not be so wide as Cortines suggested, and at least one board member is uncertain how it will all play out.

Last week Cortines gave the go-ahead to spend capital improvement funds to outfit 27 schools with tablet devices and 21 schools with laptops — the so-called Phase 2B. The so-called Phase 2A authorized devices for 11 schools.

In a written statement, Cortines said school principals “will be key in determining which educational tools are best for their school communities” and added that this round would include “more options than previous phases.”

But Mark Hovatter, the facilities director whose department oversees the procurement of devices, says school leaders will only have two choices: iPads pre-loaded with Pearson curriculum or Chromebooks with content developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Those are the only two that are within the budget that the board has authorized,” Hovatter told LA School Report. “They already approved Phase 2B under that contract.”

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Just In: LAUSD settles Miramonte civil cases for $139 million

LA UnifiedThe Los Angeles Unified School District has just announced a settlement today in civil cases stemming from the actions of a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School. The school district resolved the remaining Miramonte litigation at issue for a total of $139,250,000.

“There is nothing more important to us than the safety of the students we serve,” said Superintendent Ramon Cortines. “Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements. Given these circumstances, we believe we struck a balance between those objectives.”

Check back with LA School Report later for more details.

LAUSD bond panel OKs another $25 million for MiSiS, devices

Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill

Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill

The LA Unified Bond Oversight Committee today agreed to approve another $25 million in bond fund spending to help the district fix MiSiS problems and equip schools with computers for standardized testing in the Spring.

A team of district officials, including Superintendent Ramon Cortines, made lengthy presentations to the nine member committee, insisting that in both cases the district would fail to comply with state and federal mandates without the additional financial help.

About $12.1 million of the money approved today is intended to provide a series of temporary “band aids” for MiSiS that will cover the costs of fixing bugs, stabilizing district servers so they can handle high volumes of traffic, and adding customer support and help desk staff. It will also pay for the implementation of MiSiS at the district’s charter schools, which the district has delayed doing despite a legal obligation.

“That part has been really difficult to do,” Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill told the committee, referring to computer systems that would prove incompatible with MiSiS. “What we found is that the charter systems have bolted on other applications and tools to their data management systems and given the number of charters we have, it’s very difficult to get them into MiSiS.”

Hill estimates it will cost about $1.3 million to integrate them into the student data management system.

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Long-awaited LAUSD report calls MiSiS ‘grossly inadequate’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LAUSD board votes to add Ethnic Studies to schools’ curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cortines tells LA Unified board MiSiS fix needs another year

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

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

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

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

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

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.

‘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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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.

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.

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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