JUST IN: School starts one week later next year, then inches toward Labor Day, LAUSD decides

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Student school board member Karen Calderon spoke against the change, then voted for the compromise.

The LA Unified school board decided Tuesday night to start school one week later next year, moving the start date to Aug. 22, then to Aug. 28 the following year.

After passionate debate on both sides, five school board members voted for the change, and two voted against it.

The number of days of instruction remains at 180. But the Thanksgiving break will be reduced next year to three days, instead of the whole week off, as students have had the past four years. Winter break will also be cut, from three weeks to two weeks. Unassigned days, such as for Jewish holidays, will not change.

Overall, it falls short of the initial proposal spearheaded by board member Richard Vladovic to move the start of the school year to after Labor Day, which he has tried four separate times but was out-voted. He seemed satisfied with a compromise of inching toward Labor Day over the next two school years.

But Superintendent Michelle King made it clear that school cannot start after Labor Day because a full semester could not be completed before winter break.

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Parents in a previous survey said they wanted a post-Labor Day start.

“The next school year will be August 22 and the subsequent year school will start August 28, which is the week before Labor Day, and the first semester will conclude before winter break,” King said.

Student board member Karen Calderon won some applause from the audience when she explained how her peers didn’t want the calendar to change because it affects their college exams.

“The three-week difference may not seem so large, but to do that before the AP exam will have a negative effect for so many students,” Calderon said. “By changing the start date you are limiting our future and limiting our success, and I am against starting after Labor Day.”

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School board pays emotional tribute to Orlando victims and LGBTQ students

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Ref Rodriguez (right) gets emotional while reading Orlando victims names.

All seven of the LA Unified school board members, along with Superintendent Michelle King and Executive Officer Jefferson Crain, read the names of the 49 victims of the Orlando shooting massacre at the opening of the school board meeting Tuesday afternoon before each board member then read part of a resolution re-emphasizing their commitment to LGBTQ pride and anti-bullying.

The moment was particularly difficult for school board member Ref Rodriguez, who choked up while reading his section of the victim’s names. At the roll-call vote he said, “Yes, I am gay. Yes, I am out. Yes on this resolution.”

Most of the school board members were wearing a rainbow colored sticker reading “Orlando” that was handed out at the entrance of the meeting, and board president Steve Zimmer also had a “Stonewall” sticker.

“Love wins,” Zimmer said, when casting his vote.

The resolution called “Celebrating and Affirming Our Students and Families with Pride Month” specifically mentioned lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning members of the community and school safety for them all. The resolution said, “No one should ever be the target of bullying, harassment or violence.”

The resolution also reminded them that a 2012 act called for the inclusion of the contributions of LGBTQ Americans in the school district’s social studies curriculum. The resolution ultimately declared June 2016 Pride Month, but the school year is all but over for the district.

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Steve Zimmer wears symbols showing sympathy with Orlando.

And so, speaker Ari Gutierrez, of the Latino Equality Alliance, a network of LGBT Latino community leaders in Boyle Heights, suggested that the pride month be moved earlier into the school year.

“We need to do a little more on mental health outreach for students and families and need to be open and proud within our schools,” Gutierrez said. “Next year we can maybe move this up and do true celebrations in our schools.”

Superintendent Michelle King issued a statement about the Orlando massacre assuring LGBTQ students and staff that they are “part of the LA Unified family.” She stated, “I want to repeat that no violence of any type is acceptable in this district, nor is discrimination of any kind. This is a sad time for our country. It is also a sad time for L.A. Unified as we learned of the deaths of two students in a domestic, murder-suicide that occurred over the weekend.”

She pointed out that crisis counselors are available to provide support where needed, although most of our schools are on summer vacation.

“Again, I offer my condolences to everyone affected in Orlando, and my assurances to our L.A. Unified family that safety remains our number one priority,” King noted.

A recipe for teaching from LAUSD board member George McKenna, who’s been at it 55 years

Windsor Hills Elementary Principal Aresa Allen-Rochester, Cheryl Hildreth, George McKenna and Michelle King018

Principal Aresa Allen-Rochester, Superintendent Michelle King and George McKenna at a January visit to Windsor Hills Elementary Math/Science Aerospace Magnet.

George McKenna is going into his 55th year as an educator, and he has a lot to say about it.

In fact, he declares: “Give me a school that’s supposedly poor-performing for three years and I guarantee you no charter school would be able to snatch any kids from that school, and no kids will want to leave that school. Now, I’m not bragging, but I can do it.”

Of course, he adds, “I’d have to have the flexibility to be able to do what charter schools do and be able to get the right teachers in there, but it can be done.”

McKenna, who started teaching math at LA Unified in 1962 and now sits on the school board of the second-largest district in the country, said he has some common-sense ideas for making schools better. His style is peppered with homespun anecdotes and folksy humor, sometimes referred to as McKenna-isms, but they also offer solid solutions.

McKenna remains critical of some structures of the institution that he now is a leader of, and he is skeptical of Common Core and and various district policies. He has succeeded in implementing some solutions, and he has failed at others. But at 75, he is still trying.

“You have to figure out what will make the students interested in coming to school,” McKenna said in an interview with LA School Report. “Why did kids like to come to my trigonometry class? I had jokes, and I try to show them the practical side to what they’re learning. I would have them figure out the height of a fence that they would have to jump if a dog was chasing them over it, things like that. I keep them entertained.”

Not all of his ideas succeeded. He wrote a bill for the California legislature to consider that would permit parents to take time off from work to visit schools and sit in classrooms. The measure didn’t get out of committees, but he still thinks it’s an important idea.

George McKenna

George McKenna talks with a parent.

INVOLVING THE PARENTS

“Parental involvement is one of the most important elements to a successful school,” McKenna said. He disagrees with the use of automated robo-calls or sending home flyers because parents rarely respond to them. Teachers need to call the homes of their students if they’re not coming to school, and if necessary the principal needs to make those calls too. “Parent involvement is crucial, and I believe if you have somebody sitting in the back of every classroom, smiling, education would improve 500 percent. That’s why I asked the business community to release parents to their schools for two hours a month to do that.”

When he took over a failing high school and turned it into Washington Preparatory High School, he had parents sign contracts with students and teachers that outlined specific goals and expectations. He implemented a dress code, cleaned up the graffiti and gang tagging and created an air of respect for each other and among the staff. That’s the model that became the subject of a movie, “The George McKenna Story” in which he is played by Denzel Washington.

Mandating homework was a challenge for both the teachers and the students, but it helped them create a structure. McKenna said he wanted to nationalize homework throughout the U.S. “That way no parent would ever have to ask, ‘It’s Monday night, do you have any homework?’ because Monday will be national Math Homework Day and maybe the TV stations will have instructional shows that night.”

SHARING WITH CHARTERS

One of the things McKenna said needs changing in the system is to share practices that work and are replicable. He said that would solve a lot of the problems between charter and traditional schools.

“We have more charter schools in my little pocket of District 1 than any other in the whole state. There’s a big concentration. It does keep traditional schools under-enrolled, and I wished that weren’t the case.”

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Exclusive: It’s ‘all hands on deck’ as LAUSD says nearly 1 in 2 seniors not on track to graduate

LAUSD graduation rateOnly roughly one in two LAUSD high school seniors is currently on track to graduate, and the district is scrambling to get extra assistance to an estimated 15,000 students in danger of being left behind this June.

According to internal district reports obtained by LA School Report, an estimated 54 percent of seniors are on track to meet their “A through G” requirements. The actual graduation rate could be even lower as there are several other requirements to graduate.

While the estimate is a stark drop from last year’s all-time high of 74 percent, it has been known for years that the district was facing a steep decline this year, when stricter graduation requirements went into effect.

But while the drop was anticipated, the recent internal reports showing a 27 percent plunge from last spring’s rate elicited an alert from the superintendent directing urgent new steps, including weekly updates from staff and letters sent monthly to parents, starting in February, informing them of the necessary courses that need to be completed.

The district would not disclose how many seniors had received “off track” letters this month. According to data available in October, the district had 33,420 seniors in the 2015-16 school year, meaning an estimated 15,373 would currently be off track for graduation.

The new estimate does not reflect progress by a $15-million credit recovery program begun last fall that puts students in specials classes after school and during breaks to help them pass classes they previously failed. District leaders in November had reported an extremely high participation rate in the program and predicted a high pass rate, which if proves true could land the 2016 graduation rate close to last year’s.

Still, despite the optimism over the ongoing credit recovery program, Superintendent Michelle King wrote in a January email to local district superintendents, “This is ‘all hands on deck.'” The email was sent a week after she was installed as superintendent, and King also created a timeline that calls for regular updates to her office as well as benchmarks for the district to meet between now and the end of the semester.

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Just in: Winners, losers and a surprising existential charter debate at school board meeting

lasr logo squareGoing into Tuesday’s LA Unified school board meeting, three-for-three was the Charter School Division’s recommendations against two new charters and a renewal. In the end, it went the other way, with two votes going in charters’ favor (a new school plus a renewal for the Partnership to Uplift Communities) and one vote postponed (a new charter for WISH Westside Innovative School House Academy High School).

Another winner was a district performing arts school, which won the go-ahead to pursue expansion onto a long-shuttered school site in the west San Fernando Valley. But it came at the expense of a charter school’s plan to move onto that site. Read about that here.

And then there was the existential, heated debate over whether the board has moved toward an anti-charter slant, as put forth in an open letter to the district from the California Charter Schools Association, in which 23 charter operators said they see increased scrutiny of charter schools. For more on Tuesday night’s school board debate, come back to LA School Report Wednesday and we’ll tell you all about it.

Surprise tribute to Cortines interrupts school board session

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Curtiss Middle School performs for Ray Cortines.

Outgoing LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines got a series of big surprises this afternoon with a long-planned tribute that included a group of students singing for him and old friends stopping by district headquarters to honor his legacy.

The school board auditorium was packed for the event, which Cortines knew nothing about. The seven school board members sat in the front row, interrupting a closed meeting in which they were discussing who is going to replace him.

The event was not publicized, and apart from the invitees, it might have only been discovered by someone inadvertently stumbling onto the district’s live-stream feed at 1:30. In thanking people, Cortines choked up.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 1.34.54 PMSteven McCarthy, the district’s K-12 arts coordinator, introduced about 40 singers from Curtiss Middle School, who were directed by Wendy Walsh, their new music teacher.

Jackie Padilla, an 8th grader from the school, thanked Cortines for bringing music back to her school and others, adding, “I am more confident and I am more courageous, and I have something to look forward each and every day at school.”

A pre-school class from San Pascual Elementary performed, as did members of the Carlos Santana Arts Academy and the school named for the superintendent, the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.19.53 PMFormer school board member, now Los Angeles City Council member Nury Martinez presented a dedication from the city, and a video tribute from students, teachers, former colleagues and national figures was played for the crowd.

Cortines grew emotional in his remarks as he talked about how the school board and all his staff worked to improve the district. (The video is available online at the LAUSD Daily.)

Cortines recalled his dream of becoming a teacher and said, “This may have been a difficult year, but we fixed so many things and we have miles to go, miles to go.”

It’s not the superintendent’s last day, but only the beginning of what promises to be a lengthy period of tributes and celebrations. He has said that next board meeting Dec. 8 will be his last in his official capacity.

 

Zimmer, other LA Unified board members offer their thanks

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Steve Zimmer joins a pre-Thanksgiving meal.

Several members of the LA Unified board are using their websites to reflect on what they’re thankful for with the long Thanksgiving weekend just ahead.

Board President Steve Zimmer focused on education in his newsletter.

He writes: “The recent attacks on liberty and peace in Paris, Mali, and across the Middle East shake our hearts and our spirit. Here at home, the violence that has afflicted South Los Angeles also gives us pause and reflect. We remember each young soul lost in the terror that has become so commonplace that it rarely makes the news. But every life is sacred and for the school children who awaken to yellow police tape and altars in the streets the toll is every bit as devastating.

“Even as we remember and as we reflect, we are grateful for the blessings of family, community and of mission. Our children’s dreams demand that we look all around us and recognize the many who support and elevate hope in these difficult times.”

He thanks teachers and the entire LA Unified family, with a special shoutout to the outgoing superintendent, saying his “return to LA Unified at 83 years young is one of the greatest acts of public service this generation has seen.”

Board member Mónica García collected Thanksgiving messages from others for her newsletter, including one from Cortines. “I’m thankful for all of the progress that we at LAUSD have made together over the past year. There is much to celebrate and much to get done,” Cortines said. She collected messages from three Local District superintendents, chief deputy superintendent Michelle King, principals, parents, teachers and even a school bus driver.”

She also includes a message from a district school bus driver Orlando Perez, who said, “As we come to the holidays we tend to realize how life can be so precious. At this time I start realizing on all the matters I should be thankful for, one of these is my family. I can always count on them. Secondly, my job, not only has it provided me with a stable life, it is now giving me the opportunity to get a greater education so I can promote, and last but not least my friends.”

Board member Richard Vladovic has a cartoon of a wise old owl offering a “Happy Thanksgiving” that vaguely resembles him on his Facebook page.


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LAUSD board has mixed views on foundations’ charters expansion plan

 Some think it is a threat to the public education system. Some welcome it. Members of the LA Unified school board have reacted quite differently to the announcement that the Broad, Keck and Walton Family Foundations are planning to expand the number of charter schools in the district to serve well beyond the 101,000 students (nearly 16 percent) now enrolled in the district’s 211 charters.

The role of charters has been a long-running battle among board members, and now it’s sure to intensify with so many more in the planning stage. Issues involving charters, such as applications for new ones, renewals for existing ones and operational transparency, are part of almost every monthly board meeting, and even before the first meeting of the new year, opinions remain divided, based on interviews with LA School Report and other media outlets.

The foundations revealed their expansion plans several weeks ago but provided few details. One unnamed source told the LA Times that the goal was to enroll as many as half of LA Unified’s students in charter schools within eight years.

One of the two new members, Ref Rodriguez, a charter school founder, said, “I believe we need to offer every family a high quality option in public education, and that can be a LAUSD school or a charter school. I also believe that we need leaders in this district to advocate for transformation. I always welcome ideas around innovative and life changing approaches to creating quality and excellence in every single school across this district.”

Rodriguez added, “Is this plan a bold idea? Maybe. I don’t know the particulars.  But, I want to stay open to hearing about bold options and ideas to get to excellence in all of our schools. And, I want those bold ideas to come from the grassroots – communities, students, and parents.  I want to hear directly from our communities about what they need, what they want, and what they deserve.”

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Ratliff: Fiscal stabilization highest priority for LA Unified in year ahead

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff

No longer the newest member of the LA Unified school board, Mónica Ratliff has now had two years to immerse herself in the intricacies of district policies and politics.

As a former lawyer and teacher, she has established a reputation as a stickler for detail who is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom if it benefits teachers and their students.

With the new school year just days away, she sat down with the LA School Report at her district office on the campus of Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Sun Valley to discuss the year ahead and critical issues facing the district.

LA School Report: What do you think are some of the major challenges for the new school year?

Ratliff: Well, I think the continuing priority for LAUSD has to be fiscal stabilization. I think that can’t be understated because just because we have more money now in terms of Prop 30 and so forth, there’s no guarantee that that funding will stay where it is, in terms of the levels.

The governor has a plan of how much we’re going to get every year, but the reality is that current projects that are fixed costs will exceed our ADA (Average Daily Attendance) and funding by 2020. If we don’t do anything about that obviously there’s going to be a little bit of a problem for the district.

To me priority number one is to get the word out and try to get solutions for that.

LASR: You’ve been pretty a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility; how did that evolve?

Ratliff: When I first ran, and I was out there campaigning, and people would tell me, “Why isn’t $7 billion enough?” and I would say “Yeah, why isn’t $7 billion enough?” I mean it should be enough.

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LAUSD to start school one week later in move that pleases few

Tamar Galatzan

Tamar Galatzan

The LA Unified school board decided to start school one week later for the 2015-16 academic year in a compromise that board member Tamar Galatzan — who voted in favor it — summed up as “the worst of both worlds.”

The 5-1 vote means students will begin classes on Aug. 18 next academic year.

The district first bucked tradition in 2012 when it moved the beginning of school from early September to early August, citing a potential benefit to high school students who would have more instructional time to prepare for tests and college admissions. It also prevented the district from having to split the first semester around the winter break.

LA Unified started the current school year on Aug. 12. The move to one week later was meant to address concerns that have been raised since the change, but based on comments from the board, it seems a safe bet it will debating the issue again come next year.

Critics of the early start date have pointed to the intense heat that students must endure in August, which is sometimes too hot for outdoor activities. The early date has also put extra pressure on some schools’ air conditioning systems, pushing up the district’s electrical bills and causing some systems to fail on hot days.

Several board members also said they had yet to see any reports or studies that proved that the early start date had been beneficial.

“One, I don’t know if it is academically beneficial, because I have seen no results,” said Board President Richard Vladovic, the lone dissenting vote, when outlining his reasons for opposition. “No. 2, to have our youngsters come during the heat, and they don’t get P.E. because it is too hot outside, the additional cost of the air conditioning and the loss of instructional time and the impact on special ed.”

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The race is on for 4 LA Unified board seat elections in 2015

George McKenna LAUSD CandidateThe deadline for would-be LA Unfied school board candidates to submit nominating petitions passed yesterday, and so far, the City Clerk’s office has qualified nine for the four open seats in 2015.

As of today, all of the incumbents are officially in the running — Board President Richard Vladovic, George McKenna, Bennett Kayser, and Tamar Galatzan. But Manuel Montilla of the LA City Ethic Commission, told LA School Report the office will continue to verify petitions over the next 10 business days.

That means a presumably longer list will be finalized by Dec 17.

“You’ll see a lot more names that qualified as we go through the petitions,” he said, adding that most candidates filed their paperwork just before yesterday’s deadline.

As for McKenna, it looks like he will be running unopposed since the only candidate who filed an initial petition to run against him, Daymond Johnson, did not submit any of the final paperwork by yesterday’s deadline. The City Clerk’s office confirmed that Johnson had not met the deadline, leaving McKenna unopposed.

McKenna only recently joined the board after winning a special election over Alex Johnson in August to replace late board member Margueritte LaMotte, who died in December of 2013.

Here are the qualifying candidates so far:

District 1
George McKenna

District 3
Elizabeth Badger Bartels
Tamar Galatzan
Ankur Patel

District 5
Bennett Kayser
Ref Rodriguez
Andrew Thomas

District 7
Lydia A. Gutierrez
Richard Vladovic

Viramontes criticized, Common Core confusion, 5K Challenge

school report buzz

Earlier this month, Arnold Viramontes, an outside expert hired by former superintendent John Deasy, issued a report to LA Unified that was a scathing indictment of the new MiSiS system, finding that “red conditions” arose early and should have signified “No Go.”

This week, in it’s weekly newsletter, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) expressed disappointment with Viramontes’ homework, with a suggestion that he has been copying off AALA’s earlier assessments.

The newsletter reads:

What we do find disconcerting, however, is that Viramontes, who was hired by former Superintendent Deasy and who has a contract with the District through February 2015, actually comes up with little new information and regurgitates much of what we have previously written, albeit using more organizational management semantics. For example, “The Help Desk had not been tiered to handle the call load or have the level of expertise needed.” Hmmm…we said that last spring. Also, “There appeared to be a significant lack of input from the community of personnel that would eventually use the applications.” Gee, didn’t we say that too? In fact, for AALA members and those on the MiSiS Committee, there is really little new information in the seven-page report.”

Following the Board

LA Unified board meetings have always been interminably long. Now, they’re growing interminably disjointed. Take this week’s meeting on Tuesday, for example.

The members met in five different settings: open session, closed session, open session, closed session, open session. The festivities began at 10 a.m., rather sometime after 10 am because they never start on time, and they concluded at 8:30 p.m.

That’s bad enough. But the open sessions have devolved into a spaghetti plate of disorder. Simply following the agenda as written is futile.

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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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LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s LA Unified school board meeting

livestreamGrafix250Today, available by LIVESTREAM, the seven members of the LA Unified school board will gather for a triple-header meeting beginning at 10 a.m. that will include a closed session and two open sessions. 

At 10 a.m., the board is set to address two resolutions from Board Member Monica Ratliff seeking to increase student safety by reducing the cost of litigation. The agenda, including closed session items, is here.

During the board’s second session, set to begin at 1 p.m., the board will hear a motion about Good Foodpurchasing guidelines, as well as the possibility of adding ethnic studies as a curriculum requirement for graduation. The board will also consider the renewal of six charter schools as well as the approval of three new charters. The agenda is here.

Scheduled for 5 p.m. is a special board meeting that will include a closed session where the board will confer with legal counsel. The agenda is here. 

 

JUST IN: LAUSD board members favor a delay in CA testing

Steve Zimmer, Board Meeting March 4, 2014

Members of the LA Unified school board as well as several administrators suggested today that the district should delay using the results of the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced computerized test as means of measuring academic growth next year.

Their views came a day after officials from statewide educational organizations told the California Board of Education that it should postpone using the outcomes of this year’s reading and math tests to establish base scores for schools and districts. According to EdSource, the officials argued that many districts need more time to implement the state’s new Common Core curriculum while others do not posses the technological infrastructure to carry out the exam.

LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff, chair of the board’s Common Core Technology Committee, said today she agrees with them.

“I support delaying the use of [Smarter Balanced] results to make judgements not because of any lack of adoption on our part but because of the lack of experience students have had with the technology and testing platform,” she told LA School Report.

Ratliff said teachers are successfully using the Common Core standards to guide instruction and that they’ve received sufficient professional development, which she herself has attended. But, she says, the district is not yet technologically equipped for the test.

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17 in the running for four LAUSD school board seats next year

School BoardIt’s shaping up to be a furious campaign next year. With a few late additions at Saturday’s filing deadline, four incumbents plus 14 other people are now competing for the four LA Unified school board seats coming up in 2015.

The latest to enter the race are two more challengers in District 5 — James C. O’Gabhann III, a teacher, and Benjamin Luis Jimenez, a storekeeper — and one more in District 3 — Mario Burrell, a teacher — making those two districts the most populated for the March primary.

To sum up: George McKenna has one challenger in District 1 Tamar Galatzan has six in District 3; Bennett Kayser has four in District 5, and board President Richard Vladovic has two in District 7.

The complete list is available here.

Previous posts: School board races coming into view as filing deadline approaches

School board races coming into view as filing deadline approaches

LAUSD School Board Candidate George McKenna with Bernard Parks and Jan Perry

George McKenna, flanked by Bernard Parks and Jan Perry

With tomorrow’s noon deadline approaching to file for next year’s LA Unified school board elections, the races are coming into view.

Seats in four of the board’s seven districts — 1, 3, 5 and 7 — are up for grabs, making the elections hugely influential on future district policies.

All four of the incumbents are running again and facing challengers, with the primary scheduled for March 3 and the general election on May 19. Here is a district-by-district breakdown of the school board races:

District 1

District 1 includes South Los Angeles, Palms and Baldwin Hills.

For the moment, this is the only race with a head-to-head contest. The incumbent, George McKenna, is the newest board member, having won a special election in August to fill the seat vacated by the death of Marguerite LaMotte last year.

McKenna’s victory was key in determining the current balance of power on the board, as his election shifted it to a 4-3 majority owing their seats, in large part, to financial support by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). McKenna ran against a reform-backed candidate, Alex Johnson, and his victory was the latest in a string of pro-union wins against pro-charter, reformists in LA Unified school board elections.

McKenna holds a doctorate of education degree from Xavier University. He is a former LAUSD teacher and principal at George Washington Preparatory High School, where the academic turnaround he oversaw at the school was the subject of a 1986 TV movie starring Denzel Washington.

McKenna’s challenger is Daymond R., Johnson, president of the Amino Classified Employees Association, which represents the employees at Green Dot Public Schools.

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Deadline approaches for candidates to file for LAUSD school board

Monica Ratliff is sworn in to the LA Unified school board  by her mother

Monica Ratliff is sworn in by her mother

Would-be candidates for next year’s LA Unified school board elections have until noon on Saturday, Nov. 8 to file a Declaration of Intention to run with the Los Angeles City Clerk. 

Only those candidates who meet the deadline and submit a qualifying nominating petition will appear on the March 3, 2015 primary ballot. The deadline for filing nominating petitions ends at 5 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

The deadlines affect any remaining candidates for school districts 1, 3, 5 and 7. Already, one challenger has filed to oppose George McKenna in 1, four are challenging Tamar Galatzan in 3, two are challenging Bennett Kayser in 5 and and two are taking on Board President Richard Vladovic in 7.

Cortines promises fixes for LAUSD’s flawed computer program

updates1In his first open address to the LA Unified school board since he was rehired as superintendent last week, Ramon Cortines promised accountability, transparency and constant communication.

“I know the buck stops here,” he told the seven members during a brief address that included an update on the district’s flawed student data software program, MiSiS.

Cortines, who got an early start on the job Monday morning and spent the day in intensive meetings with the district’s top leadership, quipped, “I’ve been here two days going on 10 years.”

Then he outlined a series of changes to MiSiS that will be effective immediately.

At the top of the list is a two-month extension to Dec. 1, from the previous deadline, Oct. 23, for schools to submit the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced meal program, which determines the allocation of federal dollars to individual campuses for low-income students.

A school is eligible for Title I money only if at least half of the student body is enrolled in the federal meals program. A school receives even more money per pupil if at least 65 percent of low-income students qualify. When a campus reaches a threshold above 85 percent combined free and reduced lunch it becomes exempt from collecting applications for four years.

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Embezzlement, Poisoning, Murder? Welcome to LAUSD, Mr. Cortines

Law_&_Order_LA_Title_CardIn case there were any chance LA Unified‘s new superintendent, Ramon Cortines, had forgotten just how bizarro school board meetings can be, his first one back today as head of the district included accusations of embezzlement, murder and sexual harassment.

Welcome back, Mr. Superintendent.

While the school board voted unanimously to approve the $300,000 a year contract Cortines was offered to shepherd the district out of its current troubled state — $50,000 less than what his predecessor earned — a handful of speakers criticized him for the sexual harassment lawsuit that followed his departure in 2011.

During the public speaking portion of the brief meeting — during which anyone can have three minutes to address the board on any topic they please — Patricia McAllister, who identified herself as a substitute teacher who was fired, took it a step further.

She hurled a litany of accusations at the board, saying former Superintendent John Deasy “embezzled” billions of dollars from the district and claiming Cortines was guilty of sexually harassing district employees. Then in a Law & Order-type twist, she accused unknown persons of poisoning or murdering the late board member, Marguerite LaMotte, and recommended that an autopsy be performed.

Another speaker, Lady Cage Barile, addressed the board to oppose the return of Cortines. She also cited the circumstances under which he left his previous tenure as superintendent and called him “a disgrace these kids are to look up to.”

The sexual harassment case against Cortines was thrown out twice by a judge, and a $250,000 settlement that was to be paid to his accuser, fell apart.

Cortines, sitting beside board President Richard Vladovic, looked on impassively as the speakers criticized him and did not comment.