Flavored milk, high-speed rail, a name change and more LAUSD board decisions


The school board wore their college logos.

It wasn’t all about charters at the 13 hours of meetings held Tuesday by the LA Unified School Board.

They also made decisions on possibly bringing flavored milk back to schools, encouraging more water access, discouraging a high-speed rail rumbling past some schools, a name change to a school with a titled deemed racist, plus more.

Other school board actions:

• LAUSD school board approves one new charter school and three renewals; those recommended for denial to be voted on later today

• Charter school scorecard: How the board voted Tuesday night

• A balanced job or ‘they want to kill our charters’? Debate rages after a day of tough charter decisions

Griffith Middle School

One of the easiest decisions came in a consent agenda item renaming the David Wark Griffith Middle School to simply Griffith Middle School. Parents and activists at the Eastside school of 1,400 followed a wave of the national trend of renaming schools last year and a 2015 summer petition pointed out that the filmmaker that the school was named after created “Birth of a Nation” which celebrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

This year a film of the same name was released but didn’t portray the Klan as heroes. According to a report by Superintendent Michelle King, the school was named in 1957 and “has a rich legacy of graduates, the students and staff, who after being educated about Mr. Griffith’s true history, were in favor of the name change.”

The district held multiple meetings and in June the parents voted. The final tally was 93 votes for D.W. Griffith Middle School, 110 votes for Felix Gutierrez Middle School and 1,220 votes for Griffith Middle School. In support of local school autonomy and the desire of the stakeholders, Griffith Middle School was the prevailing option, and that’s what the district recommended.

“We don’t want the school to be named after a filmmaker who glorified the Ku Klux Klan and espoused white supremacy, even if many of us didn’t know about the history,” said Rosalio Munoz, who pushed for the name change.

Most of the parents and students thought the school was named after the man who deeded Griffith Park to the city and had the observatory named after him. That was Col. Griffith J. Griffith, who is no relation to the filmmaker. So the school will use the name Griffith without anyone specified, and D.W. is removed.

Chocolate milk and water

The school board debated nearly an hour over a resolution brought by Monica Ratliff and Scott Schmerelson asking for a voluntary pilot program to reintroduce flavored milk to schools to get data for possibly opening it up to all schools again.

Five years ago the district stopped serving strawberry and chocolate flavored milk because of the high sugar content. Gabriella Charter School teacher Brent Walmsley, who formed an activist group called SugarWatch, spoke to the board and said, “I’m very very concerned that there is an additional 11 grams of sugar in flavored milk, added to the 11 grams already in milk and that alone is almost the total suggested amount of sugar that children should have.”

Continue reading

Parent centers proliferating at LAUSD, leading to better test scores, attendance and engagement


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the most popular classes at 20th Street Elementary School has 43 dedicated students who come twice a week.

They’re all parents.

The parents of this 600-student school just south of downtown Los Angeles come here to learn English. They do projects for teachers. They discuss school issues. Their children even help them with their English homework. And it’s all taking place at one of the most active rooms on campus: the parent center.

LA Unified officials, board member Monica Garcia and about 50 parents gathered Tuesday to dedicate the new parent center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and student performances. The ceremony also marked a healing of sorts among divided parents who had twice moved to use a “parent trigger,” a California law that allows parents to take over a failing school.

District officials and the school board have come to realize that encouraging more parent centers on school campuses leads to more community engagement, higher attendance and eventually better test scores and higher graduation rates.

Nearly half of the school sites — more than 500 — at the nation’s second-largest school district have at least one classroom dedicated specifically as a parent center. Many of them have computers, Internet, desks, materials, copy machines and other supports for parents to use during and after school and sometimes on weekends.

This year alone, 70 parent centers opened at district schools and 40 more will open before the end of December, said Rowena Lagrosa, senior executive director of parent, community and student services. The district has a request before the school board for 155 more centers.

The Parent Center

The 20th Street parent center.

“These centers are a game changer, and it results directly in improved classroom attendance,” Lagrosa said. “Getting our parents involved with the school is integral to getting our children college-bound, and as we see here, it starts at the elementary level.”

The costs per school for a new parent center run from $65,000 to $100,000, according to Lagrosa, who added, “Some of our schools need a little more TLC.” The district provides a cart with 20 Chromebooks, like those already provided to schools for testing.

“This is a great space for parents to come together and work together now,” said Karla Vilchis, who is on the English Language Advisory and School Site councils. She recalled the contentious years when parents tried to take control of the school. “Everyone has the desire to get the best education for our children.”

The school’s principal, Mario Garcielita, welcomed the parent center and acknowledged the difficult period with different factions of parents. For the past year, parents met at nearby homes to figure out how to force improvements at the school. Now they can meet on campus to voice their issues and talk among themselves.

“This was a tough year this last year, and I respect that past and the issues that came up, but I’m so excited about the future,” Garcielita said. “Parents are now coming together and sharing their vision for the school. This is a great new beginning.”

In June, the parents, teachers and the district agreed to move 20th Street into the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which now operates 19 schools in South LA, Boyle Heights and Watts. With Partnership, the school remains under district control but is granted more educational autonomy. It also benefits from the nonprofit organization’s many community connections and resources. Partnership CEO Joan Sullivan attended Tuesday’s dedication and pointed out the importance of parent centers.

“Investing in adults, who are the primary teachers of our children, is a centerpiece of what Partnership believes,” Sullivan said. “Equal access to quality education is the biggest civil rights battle going on, and it’s more important than the suffragette movement or integration or abolition, and the movement will look to parents to lead the way.”

Although the parent center was in the planning stages before Partnership came on the scene, Sullivan said they have helped with equipment and supplies for the center.

“Sometimes parent centers are second thoughts and put off in the corner of the school somewhere,” Sullivan said. “But these are important spaces where parents come together and feel empowered. They learn together and strategize. It is a space where parents can raise their voices and realize they are true partners in the education of their children.”

This is the best way to start turning around the school, said Central District Administrator of Operations Eugene L. Hernandez. “This is the beginning of turning this into a top-notch school,” he said. “Parents need to be engaged.”

Continue reading

Resolutions as the LAUSD board’s work-around: Too many with too little impact on classrooms, some say


Resolutions are listed on the LAUSD.net website.

Some frank talk among the LA School Board members recently led to questions about how many resolutions the board creates and how effective they are. But they’re also one of the best ways to get things done, members said.

Every school board meeting at LA Unified has a flurry of resolutions: It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Let’s recognize “No One Eats Alone Day.” How about “Be Kind to Animals Week” or “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” or the “Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.”

Those are some of the 102 resolutions presented by the LA Unified school board in the past 15 months. Sure, most of them get approved unanimously without discussion. And yes, many have nothing to do with anything that goes on in the classroom.

But a candid discussion last week among the seven school board members and the superintendent revealed that some of them believe resolutions are the only way to get anything done at the district.

The discussion at the Committee of the Whole led to board members contemplating whether there are too many resolutions. Superintendent Michelle King agreed that perhaps there are too many and that the process could be streamlined.

“I’m not sure anything we do in these resolutions has any impact on what actually goes on in the classroom,” said board member Monica Ratliff. “If they celebrate everything we tell them to celebrate, they’d be celebrating all the time. Sure, they had to do breakfast in the classroom because we decided on that, but they had no choice. School reform has to happen in the classroom, but it’s not related to what we do here, I wish it would be.”

Sometimes the resolutions reflect a board member’s passions or pet causes. Monica Garcia introduces “Celebrating Latino Heritage Month” every year and has resolutions against bullying and honoring LGBT Pride. The board’s only African-American member, George McKenna, every year commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black Heritage Month in separate resolutions.

Ref Rodriguez presented a resolution for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month to introduce instructors working at the district who are living with the disease. Scott Schmerelson showcased teachers and students who are overcoming their issues when recognizing Dyslexia Awareness Month. But inevitably, those recognitions can add an extra half hour or hour of discussion to already long board meetings that can stretch to eight hours or more.

Since the new configuration of the school board was seated in July 2015, the number of resolutions introduced by each board member or the superintendent has topped 100. This does not include the board members who signed on to co-sponsor the resolutions, which many of them do.

Continue reading

School board concedes they don’t have much to do with what goes on in the LA classroom, considers changes


Monica Ratliff places a sticker on a list to identify dysfunctional school board characteristics.

Some school board decisions get ignored, all board meetings are too long and most decisions have nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom.

That’s some of the conversation that came out of an all-day session Tuesday with the LA Unified School Board and superintendent. The meeting, led by a private facilitator, was held to discuss the strategic plan and vision of the nation’s second-largest school district.

They didn’t make any binding commitments, but the discussion could lead to some major changes in the way the school board deals with the public, and how the superintendent deals with the board.

“Everybody knows low-performing schools should not exist, everybody knows this, so why does it still keep happening?” asked board member Monica Ratliff. She noted that the school board doesn’t have much to do with what goes on in the classroom and then answered her own question with: “There’s this giant bureaucracy and layers of bureaucracy and you can get help from one layer and then get stifled by another layer. And sometimes you have to go to a school board member and have that member advocate for them, but it should not have to be that way.”

Ratliff said that even the agreements made at board meetings seem to go nowhere. She said a few members nod in agreement, but sometimes nothing gets done unless she writes a resolution forcing them all to vote on it.

“I see some people (on the board) throw out the same ideas over and over and we all nod our heads and it doesn’t go anywhere,” Ratliff said.

Board member George McKenna agreed and said, “When we throw out an idea, who is supposed to pick up on it? The superintendent? I hope others can pick up on it and will come up with something.”

Superintendent Michelle King admitted that she has to prioritize what the board throws at her. “There are great ideas, but we can’t take the focus off of where we have to go,” King told the board. She noted that if there are five new things for her to do that are suggested by the board, and money is already allocated for other things they must do, she has to “clear the must-haves and stay centered and focused on what is aligned to our mission and where we are trying to go.”

King said she preferred that school board members come to her directly with issues. “I prefer direct contact and we can talk about issues, that works best for me,” she said. “I appreciate clear expectations and where it will go, and that is how I operate. The more the specific the better.” That way, board members can avoid so many resolutions.


Facilitator Jeff Nelsen

McKenna said to King, “I’m concerned what stimulates your office is a private meeting with a board member. You start doing something because a board member is asking.”

The issues brought up were not supposed to lead to direct solutions, said facilitator Jeff Nelsen, of Targeted Leadership Consulting. A coach to more than 2,000 principals and school leadership teams over the past decade, Nelsen said the exercise with the board is to identify dysfunctions, and he said, “some underlying issues naturally surfaced.”

For example, the board members and superintendent were to put dots next to items on a board that had a list of dysfunctional characteristics. Most of them put dots next to: “Disagreement among members on goals and processes,” while others pointed out “Unfocused agenda that wastes time on unimportant, peripheral issues.” A few noted: “Disagreements get personal in public” and “Members represent special interest groups or only certain areas of the district.”

Continue reading

Strategic plan lacks clear mission, so board agrees to champion ‘100 percent graduation,’ but how?


School board members and facilitator Jeff Nelsen (far right) at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center for a special committee meeting.

LA Unified’s three-year strategic plan lacks a clear mission statement.

That was the consensus of an all-day school board session Tuesday. So the seven board members decided to fix it, landing on the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate. Yet the draft of the strategic plan remains light on exactly how to accomplish it.

Because even with every teacher and principal knowing that 100 percent graduation will be the ultimate goal for the district, the three-year plan presented by Superintendent Michelle King offers targets that expect only 81 percent graduation by 2018-2019, and only 52 percent of students getting a C or better in the A-G classes required for graduation. Board members agreed that while a 10-point increase in the graduation rate to 75 percent from the 2010-2011 school year was significant, it wasn’t enough.


Draft of strategic plan targets.


The strategic plan does not directly address what King has previously acknowledged as two of the most pressing issues facing the district: the decrease in enrollment and a serious financial deficit, which she addressed last spring when she held a series of meetings before the budget was approved to discuss major challenges.

During Tuesday’s discussion at the Committee of the Whole at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center, school board President Steve Zimmer said a number of times, “I would argue that people don’t have a sense of mission” in the district. He insisted, “This discussion today is so important. We’ve got to coalesce about something.”

In a brainstorming session Tuesday that was described in the agenda as discussing “vision elements and core values” rather than specifics of the strategic plan, the school board was led by Jeff Nelsen of Targeted Leadership Consulting who has coached more than 2,000 principals and school leaders over the past decade.

“I will argue today that we should revisit the goals,” Zimmer said. “None of us is OK with 75 percent graduation, and we are being dishonest if we think so.”

Zimmer’s preferred goals are to eradicate the school readiness gap and have every graduate be bilingual and bi-literate. “We can lead the state and the nation with this,” he said.

But Zimmer was willing to let go of his ambitious goals to allow for one singular goal that the board agreed on that could encompass other goals. “We can really make real that we don’t give up on a single kid,”  Zimmer said. “We can lead in that area too.”

Zimmer told his fellow board members, “I don’t think we have a mission sense right now, and I think it’s our role to create it. And it has to be big, and the strategic plan should fall behind it. The strategic plan should be about implementing a broad mission.”

Continue reading

Exclusive: New health benefits help push LAUSD into debt, document shows


LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King signed off on new health benefits for teachers assistants and playground aides even though the agreement stated that it will help push district reserves into the red by half a billion dollars within two years.

And the question in the document asking how the district would replenish those reserves was left blank.

The collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 99 signed Aug. 10 by King notes that “the district will have to identify additional balancing strategies to address the cost of the agreement,” and that “program adjustments are needed to accommodate the additional costs.”

According to the agreement, the superintendent acknowledges that the impact of the agreement will cut existing unrestricted reserves in half next year, then result in a $506 million deficit in 2018-2019. The unrestricted reserves meet the state minimum reserve requirement for this school year and next year, but then a “NO” box is checked for the 2018-19 school year.

The new health benefits, which will cost the district an additional $16 million a year, was approved unanimously last week without discussion by the school board and helps 4,197 employees who make an average of $28,000 a year pay for their health benefits. The total cost for the certificated and classified salaries is $117 million a year before the agreement.

Some of the costs of the health benefits will be absorbed by the state’s Local Control Funding Formula and soften the blow to about $5.7 million a year, according to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the union and the district.

Beginning next school year, teachers assistants who work 800 hours or more a year will get their medical, dental and vision benefits paid for, valued at $506 per month per worker. They will be able to enroll in the Kaiser Permanente plan or a comparable plan.

SEIU Local 99 union protest

SEIU Local 99 members protest during negotiations over the new health benefits.

Playground aides who work 1,000 hours or more a school year will get half of their medical, dental and vision paid for, a benefit of about $253 a month.

Family members, who are fully covered in teachers benefits, are not insured by this agreement for these employees. This also does not involve retirement benefits.

In the district’s original counter-proposal, the superintendent and school board referred to the findings of the Independent Financial Review Panel, which suggested cutting health benefits and decreasing staff by nearly 10,000. Administrative staff increased this year.

In the document signed by King, “specific impacts” of the agreement were listed as: “This agreement impacts the purchasing power of school sites, especially for limited, restricted funding sources. Positive impacts could be claimed in improved quality staff and organizational climate.”

It adds, “The district will have to identify additional budget balancing strategies to balance the one-year deficit” of $5.7 million.

In the section titled “concerns regarding affordability of agreement in subsequent years,” the agreement states: “The out-year impact of this agreement compounds existing budget imbalances brought about by increases in fixed costs as well as decreased revenues due to enrollment decline.”

Teacher assistant Andrea Weathersby, who was on the bargaining team for Service Employee International Union Local 99, told the school board last Tuesday that the agreement is going to be a big help for her. She is an LA Unified parent, as are many of the other workers getting the new benefits. “Unfortunately, there have been times when my children have had to skip the arts classes they love because I need to pay for their health care instead. How can you tell a child, ‘You can’t’?”

It may not go as far as the union wanted, but the agreement helps, SEIU Local 99 executive director Max Arias said at the board meeting, and added, “These are the mothers and fathers of district students, educators committed to keeping our children safe and learning, LAUSD graduates, future teachers and members of our Latino and African-American communities who have historically suffered from unequal access to quality health care.”

School board President Steve Zimmer heralded the deal, pointing out that these workers have direct interaction with the children on a day-to-day basis, and the decision is making up for past staff and budget cuts. “I am proud to support the action which ensures that our workers, and their families, will have access to expanded health care options,” Zimmer said in a statement. “We need to make sure that the women and men who take care of LAUSD’s children by day can care for their own families by night.”


Michelle King and Steve Zimmer.

Board member Monica Garcia said, “I am proud to stand with every employee – from our bus drivers to our cafeteria workers, from our maintenance professionals to classroom support staff. You help make Los Angeles great, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

And school board member George McKenna added, “Providing health and welfare benefits to our employees is the right thing to do and will further strengthen the relationship with vital members of our school families.”

King, who is working on a budget plan that she said she hopes will off-set the additional expenses in the upcoming years, said, “We are pleased to be able to extend health and welfare benefits to support more of the hard-working employees of SEIU Local 99.”

SEIU Local 99 represents nearly 30,000 employees throughout Southern California in public and non-public organizations in early education, child care, K-12 and community college levels and includes maintenance workers, gardeners, bus drivers, special education assistants, custodians, playground workers and cafeteria workers. Nearly half of the union members are parents or guardians of school-aged children, the union said.

King added, “We believe it is in the best interest of the district to support the teacher assistants and playground aides who are committed to providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for our students.”

2 more candidates enter LAUSD school board races


Two more people this week entered the March 7 race for LA Unified school board.

Gregory Martayan will join Nick Melvoin in challenging board President Steve Zimmer for his District 4 seat. And Joanne Baltierrez-Fernandez joins one other challenger in seeking an open seat in District 6.

Martayan and Baltierrez-Fernandez filed with the city Ethics Commission on Tuesday an intent to raise money for their respective races. Candidates officially file to run for the seats in November.

Zimmer has represented school board District 4, which includes the Westside and Hollywood, since 2009. In his latest re-election bid, he won with 52 percent of the vote.

Melvoin has taken a wide early lead in fundraising. The latest campaign finance records show Melvoin has raised $124,344 from Jan. 1 through June 30. Records show that Zimmer raised $7,304 in the same period.

Melvoin touted grassroots support for his campaign.

Zimmer said he has been focused on statewide ballot measures in the Nov. 8 election, including Prop. 55, an extension of income taxes on the wealthy for public education, and Prop. 58, which would repeal a law that prohibits non-English languages from being used in public schools. Zimmer said he is also working to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.

Martayan did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the board District 6 race, where Monica Ratliff is not seeking re-election as she is running for Los Angeles City Council, Baltierrez-Fernandez joins Araz Parseghian in running for the seat. The district encompasses the east San Fernando Valley.

Neither candidate has reported any fundraising or spending to the Ethics Commission. Both just filed their intentions to run this month.

Baltierrez-Fernandez unsuccessfully ran for the 39th District state Assembly seat occupied by Patty Lopez. She came in fourth in the June primary.

Baltierrez-Fernandez, who served on the San Fernando City Council from 1994 to 1999, said Friday that as she was campaigning for the state Assembly seat, many LA Unified school district issues came up.

She is a mental health clinician and said she sees that there is a need for more mental health services in the public school system.

“Children can’t learn if they’re angry, depressed or worried,” she said.

The other seat up for election is in board District 2 occupied by Monica Garcia since 2006.

Four candidates have filed paperwork with the Ethics Commission to raise money to run for the seat, which covers East LA, Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Garcia has dominated early fundraising, the latest campaign finance records show. Seeking her third term on the seven-member board, Garcia collected $119,858 in donations between Jan. 1 and June 30. One challenger, Carl Petersen, raised $805 in the same period.

Other candidates for the seat are Berny L. Motto, Walter Bannister and Manuel “Manny” Aldana Jr., who all filed their paperwork within the past two weeks.

LAUSD’s graduation rate a record 75 percent, Michelle King announces at her first State of the District address

Michelle King announced a record 75 percent graduation rate at her first State of the District address as superintendent of LA Unified, “a district on the move,” she proclaimed Tuesday.

King noted that the 75 percent rate is based on “preliminary data” as she addressed 1,500 principals, assistant principals and district administrators at the annual kick-off to the school year, held at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

“We are a district on the move,” King said after her speech, when asked what she wants the general public to know about the second-largest school district in the country. “The movement and trajectory is from the earliest youth, pre-K and not just stopping at high school but through college. Right now our preliminary data shows that the class of 2016 is at 75 percent graduation. It Is supposed to be as high as we can get it. It is better than we’ve done in the past. Last year was 72 percent, and we’ve exceeded that.”

The graduation rate jumped nearly 3 percentage points over last year despite a new requirement that students pass a rigorous college-prep curriculum in order to earn a diploma. The slate of classes known as the “A-G curriculum” qualifies students to attend California’s public universities.


Michelle King at her first State of the District address.

She added, “This is exceeding expectations of those who said our students couldn’t do it. Today we say our students can and will thrive to meet the standards to be college-ready.”

The theme of King’s address was “A District on the Move,” and she introduced a promotional video of the same name showing the district’s successes. She also emphasized that “we’re in it together,” and she peppered her speech with more than a dozen names of principals and administrators in the audience that she congratulated for their successes.

Among those she called out included: California’s National Distinguished Principal Marcia S. Reed of 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena; teachers Anthony Yom and Sam Luu and Principal Jose Torres of Lincoln High School who helped every student pass the demanding Calculus Advanced Placement examinations; and Hesby Oaks Leadership Charter Principal Movses Tarakhchyan who required all of his staff to learn CPR and then saved a cafeteria worker when she collapsed this year.

“Together we are turning the tide in a district on the move,” King said. “We are at our best when we are unified and working together as a team.”

All of the school board members except Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic attended the speech, held one week before the Aug. 16 start of school. School board President Steve Zimmer gave a rousing introduction, calling King “not only the best but most qualified leader in public education in the United States.”

Zimmer thanked his fellow board members, school police and principals for their response to the terrorist threat that closed down the schools on Dec. 15. “We hope that never happens again, but if it does, LA became the model on how we all come together and work together and be strong together in the face of danger.”

DSCN0568 (1)

Marcia Reed, in white sweater, was one of the principals honored by Michelle King.

King noted safety as a top priority. “As I talk to parents, one topic that continuously emerges is school safety in this time when the headlines are dominated by tragedy and violence. Our students, families and employees want to feel safe, and I am committed to ensuring that they do.”

King also announced:

• Preliminary results of last year’s Smarter Balanced Assessments show that some math and English scores have improved by as much as 7 percent.

• Nearly 200 Title III coaches for English learners have been added.

• 1,000 classrooms in bungalows will be replaced this year with new, modern classrooms.

• Linked Learning will expand to 20,000 students.

• 16 new magnet schools will start this year, including firefighter academies at Wilson and Banning high schools and the very first robotics magnet at Mulholland Middle School.

Continue reading

School board elections heat up with 4 more candidates jumping into race

MonicaGarcia1Four more candidates have entered the race to run for two school board seats in the March 7 election.

Three people in the last 10 days have filed with the city Ethics Commission an intent to raise money to challenge Monica Garcia for school board in District 2, and one person has entered the race for the vacant seat in District 6, which is held by Monica Ratliff, who is running for City Council.

Manuel Aldana Jr., Walter R. Bannister and Berny Motto have joined Carl Petersen in challenging Garcia.

Araz Parseghian will run in District 6 and is the only candidate to declare an intent to do so.

Campaign finance reports show Garcia dominating in early fundraising. She raised about $120,000 in the first six months of this year. Petersen, who ran unsuccessfully in 2015 for the District 3 seat, raised $805 in the same period.

District 2 covers East LA, Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods and is heavily Latino. Garcia, who was board president for an unprecedented six consecutive years, was first elected in that district in 2006.

District 6 covers the east San Fernando Valley. Ratliff was elected in 2013. She filed an intent to run for a City Council seat in March.

Parseghian filed an intent to run for the seat on Aug. 2.

The primary election will take place on March 7. Also running are Board President Steve Zimmer in District 4, who is seeking re-election against challenger Nick Melvoin. Melvoin has raised about $124,000, compared to Zimmer’s $7,300, according to city filings.

School board candidates officially file for the race in November, but they can begin to raise money and declare their intent to do so with the Ethics Commission.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the March 7 primary, the top two vote-getters go on to compete in the May 16 general election.

L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia dominates fundraising in re-election bid

Mónica García

Mónica García

Seven months out from the primary, L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia has already raised nearly 150 times more money than her opponent, including donations from former L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy and both charter school and L.A. district employees.

Garcia, seeking her third term on the seven-member board, collected $119,858 in donations between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to the latest campaign finance documents filed with the city Ethics Commission. She has spent about $18,000.

Challenger Carl Petersen has raised $805 and spent $412. Neither candidate responded to requests for comment.

Garcia’s 2013 re-election bid and the two other contested school board races that year received national attention for the large amount of money — $6.16 million — poured into the campaigns by independent expenditure committees, which are not subject to fundraising limits.

About $1.2 million of the independent expenditure money went into Garcia’s race to support her. Independent expenditure committees meanwhile spent $113,000 trying unsuccessfully to defeat her.

She received support in 2013 from a coalition formed by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that donated money to all three school board races and received backing from outside donors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She raised $504,224 on her own that year and spent $507,032, according to city finance documents. Her closest competitor in the five-way race, Robert Skeels, raised and spent $19,000.

This year, in addition to donations from Deasy and charter and L.A. Unified school educators and officials, Garcia’s contributors so far include philanthropists, film executives, the Los Angeles School Police Management Association PAC, several employee unions, Eli and Edythe Broad, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

Garcia, who was board president for an unprecedented six consecutive years, from 2007 to 2013,  has been an advocate of charter schools and sweeping reforms to low-performing schools. She has called for “Diplomas for All” with a goal of 100 percent graduation rate in the district.

Continue reading

Overall enrollment is down, but LA Unified has the same number of kindergarteners as 9 years ago, data show


As those inside the district voice a repeated refrain that declining enrollment will likely plunge LA Unified into bankruptcy, new data show it still attracted nearly the same number of kindergarten students last year as it had nine years earlier when it had 133,000 more students overall.

The data come as a surprise amid declining enrollment as the county’s birth rate has dwindled and parents have opted to send their kids elsewhere as charter schools proliferate and many suburban school districts continue to outperform LA Unified.

In 2006-07, the district had 49,896 kindergarteners enrolled as of the October “norm day” an enrollment count used to allocate resources and funding from the state. Nine years later, 49,289 students were enrolled in kindergarten at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the data show.

School board member Monica Garcia highlighted these numbers at the last special meeting the board held aimed at tackling its long-term financial situation. She expressed hope that the district can hang on to those students through graduation.

“Let’s keep them,” Garcia said of the kindergarteners.

But the data show, so far, the district isn’t.

The class of 2006-07 kindergarten students, has turned into 36,876 ninth-grade students in 2015-16, a 26 percent decrease. The students will graduate in 2018-19.

And the data show the decline is happening as early as first grade. The number of district kindergarteners who have gone on to first grade has decreased over the past five years, plummeting 17 percent just last year.

In a memo to the Board of Education, Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter, whose office compiled the data, wrote that the increases in kindergarten enrollment “may not be a true indication of future enrollment growth.” He said transitional kindergarten has led to an increase in kindergarten enrollment.

Transitional kindergarten students are included in the kindergarten data, although district officials did not say how many of those students were in transitional kindergarten. So it is unclear how much transitional kindergarten has affected the numbers.

Transitional kindergarten was established by the state Legislature in 2010. It essentially created a two-year kindergarten program.  Teachers must have a credential, the curriculum is a “modified” version of the kindergarten curriculum and students are generally in school for a full day. Since implementation in 2012, the state rolled back the eligibility date one month each year from Dec. 2 to Sept. 2. Now students can be enrolled in transitional kindergarten if their 5th birthday falls between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. If a student turns 5 on or before Sept. 1, the student enrolls in kindergarten.

“It increases the total pool of children that are counted to be in kindergarten,” said Rena Perez, director of the district’s Master Planning and Demographics.

Continue reading

LAUSD administrative staff jumps 22 percent even as enrollment drops

AdministratorStaffLevels05-17 at 11.25.42 AM


Despite projected budget deficits reaching nearly half a billion dollars and steep enrollment declines, LA Unified’s certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.

The number of teachers has dropped 9 percent in the same period. And teachers and certified staff are aging toward retirement, heading toward a possible teacher shortage.

The report was presented to the LA Unified school board Tuesday at a special budget meeting at USC to discuss ways of lowering a looming budget deficit.

The administrative staffing level increase surprised some of the board members.

“How is it possible that administrators went up so much when we have a decline in enrollment?” asked board member Ref Rodriguez, shaking his head.



According to the report presented by Superintendent Michelle King and her staff, certified administrators increased from 2,146 in 2011-2012 to 2,628 positions in 2015-206, a 22 percent increase.

Over the same period, K-12th grade teachers decreased from 27,208 to 24,863, a 9 percent drop.

Concerned that the chart could be “misconstrued,” King explained that many of the administrators are hired for programs located at individual school sites and involve staffing for restorative justice and foster programs that the school board chose to focus on in the past. Also, with the Local Control Funding Formula, schools asked for more local programs requiring administrators, not teachers. Of the administrators, 1,723 are school based while 905 are not.

“We invested in administered accounts, such as more restorative justice and foster programs where the ratios are one person to 100 foster youth,” King said. “You can see how that starts to expand when you’re talking about training for restorative justice coordinators and such. It is important to remember what we invested in and why this is the outcome to where we put our dollars.”

Continue reading

High stakes over ‘parent trigger’: Closed session discussion tries to avoid 20th Street lawsuit


20th Street Elementary School

The LA Unified school board broke into a surprise closed session for several hours Tuesday afternoon in the middle of their public meeting in order to head off a potential “parent trigger” lawsuit over 20th Street Elementary School.

All morning, the school board was in closed session to discuss employee actions, contract renewals and pending litigation. Then, in the middle of the 1 p.m. public meeting, school board secretariat Jefferson Crain said they were going into closed session again to discuss the potential litigation involving the elementary school.

Board member Monica Garcia, who has worked with the 20th Street parents to try to solve the issues, said Wednesday that the closed-door session wasn’t merely to stop the threatened lawsuit.

“We are making every effort to listen to all of the concerns, the dreams and aspirations of all the players and give energy into making that a better school,” Garcia told LA School Report.

Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution — a nonprofit group that helps parents organize and take over a failing campus through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act — said the attorney representing the parents “made it very clear that there’s pending litigation and that’s why in the closed sessions they went in to see what the settlement would look like. The parents expressed clearly there’s no plausible deal without a significant shift in who’s managing the school.”

But the district didn’t offer enough, Rose said. “The parents need autonomy and without the necessary changes, they will go the legal route and be successful. The district never did any of the things they promised, so of course there’s a lot of hesitation on the part of the parents.”

One of the parents, Omar Cavillo, who helped file the trigger against the district, said the parents are trying to work on a deal with Partnership for Los Angeles Schools that could offer a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools in the South Central LA area.

“We like the Partnership, but the deal the district offered still had them completely in charge of our school,” Cavillo said. “The attorneys are negotiating, and that’s probably what is going on in the closed session.”

No one seems to want to go to court. “We don’t want a lawsuit, it’s not good for the district or school or community,” Cavillo said. “We care for LAUSD, there are some great teachers. We want to work with the district.”

Continue reading

‘We can’t do this alone.’ LAUSD board votes to seek outside help to fund successful schools

Monica Garcia

Almost without comment Tuesday, the LA Unified school board voted unanimously to seek help from outside the district to replicate high-achieving schools.

The resolution was introduced by Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez and asks the district staff to “seek outside support for the funding” to replicate successful school programs in areas of high need in the district.

The resolution, Offering Families More—Promoting, Celebrating and Replicating Success Across LAUSD, asks the superintendent to report back to the board within 60 days on the progress of identifying the successful programs and potential funding sources.

“I am glad to see the board supporting our multiple levels of seeing what works,” Garcia told LA School Report. “I was pleased and encouraged by behavior that is focused on moving to high-quality education.”

The resolution points to specific kinds of schools, and their successes, that could head off the decline in enrollment — and losing students to charter schools — by beefing up magnet, pilot and dual language schools.

• Read more: Are magnets the answer to LAUSD’s enrollment problem?

The resolution was proposed by the two board members most vocally supportive of charter schools (Rodriguez co-founded one), and they can see collaboration with philanthropic groups that others view as threatening to the district.

Rodriguez said he envisions collaboration with all sorts of philanthropical organizations, including colleges and even NASA. “I believe there is a lot of philanthropy for this and there is still a way to engage philanthropy to this district rather than just give to charters,” Rodriguez said.

By identifying the best programs, he said, “We can work with foundations and support these programs.”

Great Public Schools Now, which receives funding from philanthropic groups Rodriguez cited, issued a statement about the passing of the resolution and said, “We are encouraged by the LAUSD resolution seeking to replicate high-performing district schools. One of the best ways to bring additional educational opportunities to Los Angeles students is to expand the schools — charter, district or magnet — that are already succeeding. We look forward to working in partnership with LAUSD on this effort.”

Continue reading

Apology for involvement in police weapons program not enough for protesters

Protest1033student-union-meme The Fight for the Soul of the Cities, which has disrupted school meetings with calls to end the militarization of school police and reduce their forces, said they are not satisfied with the response from the LA Unified school board.

After students and activists protested Friday afternoon outside LA Unified’s Beaudry headquarters, school board members Steve Zimmer, George McKenna and Monica Garcia issued statements about the 1033 program that allowed school police to get excess military weapons from the federal government.

Only one response, from Garcia, seemed to come close to the apology the group had demanded. She wrote: “I regret that LAUSD’s participation in the 1033 program may have caused a lapse in the trust LAUSD was building with many community partners including the Dignity in Schools Campaign. I apologize for any misunderstanding caused by this participation and the perception among some that LAUSD seeks to perpetuate policies of division instead of creating communities that are safe, supportive and successful.”

Eric Mann, executive director of the protest group, said Garcia’s statement “is a start, but it’s not enough.” He added, “We want the school police to be cut by half, it will save the district money. And the statements from Zimmer and McKenna were just insulting.” At the demonstration, Mann thanked Garcia and said, “I believe her letter is a true first step of good faith and is in sharp contrast to the misleading and hostile letter that Steve Zimmer and George McKenna wrote.”

On Friday in anticipation of the protest, school board president Zimmer and McKenna issued a statement reading: “The district has publicly stated numerous times that the Los Angeles School Police Department is no longer in possession of any weapons or equipment acquired through the Military Excess Property Program, commonly referred to as the 1033 program. We respect the many different views surrounding this important issue. We also understand that there has been confusion about this issue and so it is important to reiterate: LA Unified has ended participation in this program.”

The school police have returned the automatic weapons, three grenade launchers and small tank they acquired through the program.

McKenna was chairing the Committee of the Whole meeting last month when the group disrupted it for half an hour. In the statement, McKenna said, “The district will always respect the rights of organizations to peaceably assemble and protest, and we look forward to continuing our important work with all community groups on the many issues of civil rights, immigrant rights and education equity that affect the lives of our children and families every day.”

Mann said, “It’s safer for the schools to not have a school police that has military weapons.” He added that their protests are not yet over.

LAUSD moving more kids from juvenile camps to graduation

Randy Dwayne May Jr student probation

Randy Dwayne May Jr. talks about meeting graduation requirements after being in three juvenile camps.

LA Unified is expanding a Camps to College program that helps students coming out of juvenile detention camps get back into school and graduate.

Since the program launched two years ago in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department and the Los Angeles Probation Office, it has served 1,189 students. Most of them have come from the South District (299); the fewest have come from the Northwest District (73).

The Camps to College program is currently located at the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center. In August it will open at the Harris Newmark Continuation School just west of downtown LA, and the district hopes to replicate it in more locations.

“We are not opening a new school, but creating a model that is changing the face of youth transitioning from juvenile camp so they can reintegrate to school and get all the services they need to stabilize,” said Jesus Corral, senior director of the Los Angeles County Probation Department who is working closely with LA Unified on the transitional program. “This is a model we have been working on for quite some time. We are transitioning youth into another school or alternative school based on their needs in a very individualized basis.”

More than half of the students in juvenile youth detention camps are from LA Unified schools. “It is more important now than ever to work together and divert youth from the juvenile justice system and open doors for youth coming out of the juvenile justice system,” said Corral, who on Tuesday addressed board member Monica Garcia’s Successful School Climate Progressive Discipline & Safety Committee.



“We can replicate this in all the other local districts to help these students be successful,” said Erika F. Torres, director of Pupil Services and Drop-Out Prevention and Recovery in LA Unified’s Student Health Services.

When the program expands to Harris Newmark in August, it will include probation department support, mental health experts and Public Service & Attendance counselors as well as other school support.


Jesus Corral, LA County Probation Department

“I see this like a triage,” Torres said. “We will assess their needs and put in place the supports they need for successful graduation. It’s a pathway for youth to welcome them back.”

One of the recent students helped by the Camps to College program who spoke Tuesday was Randy Dwayne May Jr., a senior at the William J. Johnston Community Day in San Pedro. He talked about being sent to multiple camps for multiple parole violations and a burglary charge.

“I remember a time when I saw five different judges and had five different probation officers, it was crazy,” Randy said. “It was the bad influences in my neighborhood that got me making bad choices. People who were supposed to be my friends just weren’t looking out for me.”

Continue reading

Board to consider pair of resolutions to expand successful schools

(From L): LAUSD school board members Monica Ratliff, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic

LAUSD school board members, from left, Monica Ratliff, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic.

Members of the LA Unified school board are taking the lead in identifying, encouraging and replicating successful schools with two resolutions that will be discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting.

One, sponsored by Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez, called Offering Families More – Promoting, Celebrating and Replicating Success Across LAUSD, asks that the district identify best strategies to replicate high-performing schools.

The other, sponsored by Monica Ratliff, Richard Vladovic and Rodriguez, titled Supporting Quality Educational Options for Students and Families Through the Development of Magnet Schools, asks for the district to break the backlog of applications for new magnet school programs and start approving more.

Both resolutions will ask Superintendent Michelle King to act within a short period of time to figure out how to duplicate the best schools in the district.

“These resolutions happened completely parallel to each other and yet they have some great connections because we are talking about how to replicate best practices,” Rodriguez said. “We do not have an incubator of ideas or innovation, and replicating best practices is one of the common things both of these resolutions propose.”

Garcia said in an emailed statement: “I am excited that the board is interested in being more intentional and strategic on resourcing and creating success. I hope there is a board majority that wants to be public about their support for a superintendent Plan of Action to increase achievement, creates excellence and supports equity and high-quality schools in every community.”

Garcia said her resolution involves all the different learning models, including dual language, linked learning, pilots and small-themed schools. She said, “My resolution is about creating diverse options for families to choose the district, stay in the district and celebrate 100 percent graduation with this district.”

King stated when she took over in January that identifying and encouraging successful schools was one of her top goals. The district is seeking to boost enrollment and graduation rates as well as stave off a predicted $450 million budget deficit in three years.

The Development of Magnet Schools resolution, which Ratliff asked to fast-track for a vote Tuesday, points out there are 22 applications for magnet schools in the 2017-2018 school year and 47 other schools interested in opening such programs, but the Office of Student Integration Services is “unable to support additional interested schools in their efforts to open a magnet program.”

There are now 210 magnet schools in the district serving 67,000 students, and most of those have higher testing performance levels than traditional and charter schools.

Read more on magnet schools: Are they the answer to LAUSD’s enrollment program? 

LA School Report was told there is some fine-tuning going on with some parts of the resolutions, including financial implications, but both will give the superintendent some direction to explore what it would take to get them done. The magnet schools resolution asks that King’s staff come up with addressing the backlog in a report to the board by June 30.

Continue reading

Parents fear for dual-language Mandarin program if charter joins campus


Castelar Street Elementary School backers protest against co-locating with a charter school. (Credit: Martin Wong)

Angelica Lopez Moyes is amazed that her 1st-grade son can speak Mandarin. But she is concerned that his dual-language immersion program at Castelar Street Elementary School could  be jeopardized if a charter is co-located on the campus.

Castelar, founded in 1882 and the second-oldest school in Los Angeles, has 570 students and is at about 75 percent capacity. Under Proposition 39, passed in 2000, the remaining space can be given to a charter.

Some of the rooms at the Chinatown school identified for charter use include two science labs and a room used for special education students. The parents at Castelar have gathered more than 2,400 signatures in a petition and lobbied to keep those classrooms from being shared.

“I have nothing against charter schools, and I don’t have a problem with sharing space that we don’t need, but there is a problem in this district with the process of designating an under-utilized classroom and allowing a charter school to take it over for their use,” Moyes said. “We have poor students who do not have access to computers, and taking over our labs will hurt the school and affect our future programs.”

The district deems classrooms that aren’t assigned to a specific full-time teacher as under-utilized space and therefore eligible for Prop. 39 charter use. The dual-language program wants to expand, and has the demand for it, but needs qualified teachers who can also speak Mandarin.

Angelica Lopez Moyes By Martin Wong

Angelica Lopez Moyes with the #SaveCastelar campaign.

Martin Wong, who started an online petition, said, “If children from the charter school want to attend Castelar, they should come. We have awesome kids, excellent teachers, and that amazing Mandarin dual-language program which actually needs the extra space to grow.”

Wong and his wife Wendy don’t consider themselves activists, but they grew up in the neighborhood near downtown LA where they ate dim sum with their families and went to see cool punk bands. Their daughter Eloise has thrived at the school, and they said they were shocked by the “insane idea to have a charter school occupy the unused classrooms at our daughter’s campus. Most of the space is utilized by Chinatown children for music, art, science and P.E. Two schools on one campus would be a logistical nightmare, as well as an unhealthy environment in which the school and students on either side would be in constant measurement and competition against each other.”

Prop. 39 requires school districts to make “reasonably equivalent” facilities available to charter schools upon request. In past years, the California Charter Schools Association has had to sue LA Unified to comply with the state law. That has led the district to determine that essentially if the classroom is not assigned to a full-time teacher, it is considered under-utilized. CCSA continues to closely monitor LA Unified’s use of Prop. 39 to make sure it is fair and equitable toward charter schools.

• Read more about Prop. 39 from CCSA and United Teachers Los Angeles.

Castelar is one of three LA Unified schools offering a Mandarin-immersion dual-language program. It has a 50-student waiting list but not enough qualified teachers for the classes, which are also taught in Chinese. Other classrooms are used for art, dance and P.E. programs.

Continue reading

How LAUSD plans to dodge its financial crisis: boost enrollment but not cut staff


Megan Reilly, Michelle King and Monica Ratliff at Tuesday’s special board meeting.


With LA Unified heading toward financial crisis within three years, Superintendent Michelle King on Tuesday kicked off a series of special board meetings to detail her plans for fiscal solvency. Topping that list is keeping kids in the district. Notably absent was cutting staff.

King’s initiatives would initially cost the district — roughly $20 million. But the programs, if successful, would bring in about $40 million, her staff estimated. The district’s deficit is expected to be about $100 million by the 2017-2018 school year and hit $450 million in three years.

“It sounds like a lot to spend, but if we get double our investment back, or we may even get higher than that, it sounds good,” board member Scott Schmerelson said.

Key to King’s plans is boosting enrollment, which has declined by 100,000 in just the last six years. Her suggestions include: increasing attendance by one percent; creating a unified enrollment process to make it easier for families to enroll in local district magnet schools; adding magnet, dual language and International Baccalaureate programs; making more use of marketing campaigns to highlight district successes; scheduling more professional development for teachers, and increasing parent involvement.

Some of those projects are already in the works, while others King presented to the board Tuesday and asked for their guidance — and eventually their vote to fund them when the budget is approved in June.

“We need to prioritize when we know our resources,” King said. “We can’t do 20, not even do 10, but we can determine six of these are good and let’s do two.”

King’s plans were drafted in response to a blue ribbon Independent Financial Review Panel, commissioned by former Superintendent Ramon Cortines to outline problems and possible solutions for the district, and the first part of Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to where the budget is headed and why revenue is expected to decline. The panel had recommended that staff be cut to adjust to declining enrollments, but King is rejecting that, opting instead to decrease staff through attrition, retirement and leaving vacancies open, as well as a concerted effort to renew grants that have run out.

“We have to align ourselves to what the student population is, and we’re able to shrink the overhead by right-sizing,” King said.

Besides, she noted, the panel’s recommended staff cuts would have saved the district only $36 million, while the revenue loss due to declining enrollment is projected at $127 million in 2016-2017.

However, according to the review panel’s report, a loss of 100,000 students means district staff would need to be reduced by about 10,000 people, for a savings of about $500 million per year. The report pointed out that the district has instead grown its staff — to 64,348 full-time equivalent positions — increasing its costs for both salary and benefits.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said that increasing student enrollment alone will not solve the deficit projections. Board president Steve Zimmer noted, “We have had these discussions for six or seven years now. Declining enrollment, well, we can’t do anything to affect that.”

Board member Monica Ratliff said, “I’m a little bit concerned that the outcome of this report is dark. If there’s a loss of 100,000 students, we lose 10,000 staff, administrators and teachers and more.”

Continue reading

Restorative Justice program drastically lowers days lost to suspensions in LAUSD


Days lost to suspensions have dropped 92 percent.

LA Unified posted a 92 percent decrease in the number of days lost to suspensions as a result of its Restorative Justice program and the district’s new approach to discipline.

In the 2007-2008 school year, a total of 74,765 days were lost to suspensions, but that number plummeted to 6,221 in the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report issued last week to the Successful School Climate committee of the LA Unified school board. Expulsions were down by nearly half, from 141 in 2011-2012 to only 77 in 2014-2015, according to the district data.

“This is incredible news, and it shows that our approach to Restorative Justice and a new look at discipline is working, even though there were many people who were very skeptical about it,” board member Monica Garcia told LA School Report. Garcia, who chairs the committee and sponsored the program, added, “We want to get this to all the schools as soon as we can.”

The district voted in 2013 to bring Restorative Justice into all schools by 2020. The data now show that the plan is working, according to Associate Superintendent of School Operations Earl Perkins.


Earl Perkins introduces the 45 Restorative Justice teachers.

“We are aggressively training school site staff to implement this in more sites,” said Perkins, who asked the 45 full-time Restorative Justice teachers to stand at the board meeting. They started off working at 150 schools (paid for by Local Control Funding Formula money) and now have trained staff at 423 schools (nearly one-third of all district schools). “These are still baby steps, nothing can be fixed overnight,” he said.

Other district teachers and staff remain skeptical, because ultimately the new approach makes it harder to remove problematic students from the classroom. Keeping students in class, however, saves the district money that would be lost if they don’t attend.

“When this thing first unrolled there was a lot of skepticism, especially on our end,” LA Unified police chief Steve Zipperman said to the teachers. “These numbers we are seeing here would not be possible without your involvement. The data show it’s working.”


Suspensions and referrals over the past four years.

Restorative Justice has been catching on across the country, particularly in urban areas, and takes an approach to discipline that moves away from punishment. It involves restoring a sense of harmony and well-being for those affected by a hurtful act and provides families, schools and communities a way to solve problems as opposed to the student being tagged as the problem that adults must fix.

“We have stopped sending kids home,” Garcia said. “We understood when we started this that we helped create a better solution, there was more learning and guess what? Our budgets were better.”

Continue reading