Zimmer, King, Garcetti, U.S. Education deputy kick off LA Unified school year with positive message

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LA Unified is fresh, clean, safe and on the upswing.

That was the message Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, school board President Steve Zimmer, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr. and board member George McKenna delivered at a news conference from the library of John C. Fremont High School in South LA this morning to help kick off the first official day of classes at the district.

The location of the library was strategically chosen, as it is brand new.

“We are so excited that this district and this city and our voters have given us the resources to do this, to take a school district that just a decade ago was literally falling apart and now has some of the most shining examples of what we should make our campuses feel like and look like,” said Garcetti, referring to the district’s $27 billion bond program to build 131 new schools, the last of which are set to be completed next year.

All of the leaders who took to the podium highlighted various positive aspects of the district, in a coordinated effort to project LA Unified as a place with a bright future — and not one facing serious budget shortfalls, potential labor unrest and continued declining enrollment.

Zimmer started off, setting the tone. “We have an unprecedented and I would say best-in-the-nation partnership with the city of Los Angeles.”

Garcetti took the opportunity to highlight the numerous ways the city and the district partner together and how the city directly aids LA’s youth. The programs he highlighted included the family source centers and other shared facilities, a summer jobs program called Hire LA’s Youth, anti-gang efforts like Summer Night Lights, an initiative to get LA Unified students signed up for library cards and efforts to boost graduation like Student Recovery Day. He also discussed a new program, Los Angeles College Promise, in which the city has partnered with the Los Angeles Community College District and LA Unified to offer a free year of community college to district graduates.

Referring to a group of high school students who were lined up behind the podium, Garcetti said, “So for our seniors here today, this is our promise to you. When you graduate, community college will be free this next year.”

Garcetti also had high praise for King, who took over as superintendent in January. Referring to her recent efforts to cool relations between the district and charter schools at the “Promising Practices” forum, Garcetti said King is “building a bridge” between reformers and teachers.

During her turn at the podium, King also spoke of the library card program, saying the district and the city are working together “for each and every LA Unified student to have a library card. There are applications in each and every enrollment packet.”

Cole, who said he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago, praised LA Unified for its leadership in the nation on issues like LGBTQ student rights and restorative justice. He then remembered a high school teacher who encouraged him to “dream big” and get a college degree. Speaking to the students, he said, “So what I encourage each and every one of you to do is to find a teacher, find a coach, find a mentor who can help you along the way and help you do great things while you are here at Fremont.”

All in all, the message was clear, and perhaps best summed up by Zimmer in his remarks: “Fremont, this library, the enrollment today, and what you can see in the classes here and the amazing young people that stand with us today represent what is possible when dreams come true though public education.”

2 more candidates enter LAUSD school board races

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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LAUSD’s ‘Promising Practices’ forum: Just ‘good vibes’ between district and charters or a new era?

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LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King at the “Promising Practices” forum on July 23.

There were plenty of kumbaya moments at the July 23 “Promising Practices” forum, called by LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, leaving charter leaders cautiously optimistic it can lead to a new era of cooperation.

More than 200 people from the LA Unified world attended the forum, which featured a series of workshops and discussion panels aimed at sharing best practices between the district’s charter schools and traditional schools. Another forum is planned for next spring, and while it is too early to tell, some charter leaders said they hoped the sharing would continue.

“I’m so excited about what Michelle King is doing, because for the first time since I was on the board, we have a superintendent who is saying, ‘Hey, we can learn from each other,'” said Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools and a former LA Unified school board member. “And it’s not like charters have the answer or traditional schools have the answer, it’s that we can all learn from each other. And she is supporting her internal innovators like pilot schools and magnet schools.”

Young said it is too soon to tell if there will be more tangible evidence of increased cooperation beyond the forum, but “good vibes are not to be underestimated, particularly in a place where there has been so much conflict. The fact that there are good vibes matters.”

Jason Mandell, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, said the focus on learning as opposed to politics was refreshing.

“I think it was a very healing event because it did provide an opportunity for teachers and the elected officials and the appointed officials to all focus on instruction and learning and say regardless of the issues that sometimes cause conflict, this is what we are here to do. This is why charters are here,” Mandell said. “They are here to innovate and to try and do things and share what’s working with district schools. There is so much time that could be spent on solving those problems that aren’t.”

Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, who attended the forum, also said it is not yet clear what will come of it.

“The teachers and I were pleasantly surprised when they got their session surveys back to find out that most of the people in the seminar were district teachers and not other charter teachers,” Hudnut said. “It was amazing that the LA Unified teachers came to us. Now there needs to be a follow-up. I’ve not heard what they are doing with what was heard at the sessions, or what people came away with, but there could have been a goldmine of ideas that were shared.”

Perhaps the crescendo of the good vibes at the forum was a speech by LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who spoke about breaking down barriers and working together. The speech turned heads due to Zimmer’s sometimes incendiary comments about charters schools and their proliferation.

“Steve Zimmer gave a wonderful heartwarming speech. Michelle King was very positive. The vibe in the room seemed very positive,” Hudnut said. “I see the day as positive, but LAUSD and charters still need to work to improve our relationship. It should be more of a partnership, not a compliance culture. How strong can that relationship be when one day we are working together to better educate children and then the next day we get a notice to comply that is pretty silly. There needs to be positive celebration that stands shoulder to shoulder.”

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.

Challenger Nick Melvoin raises more than incumbent Steve Zimmer early on in school board bid

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The candidate challenging LA Unified board President Steve Zimmer for school board has raised more money early on in the March 7 election campaign than the incumbent did in his entire re-election bid three years ago, according to city campaign finance records.

Nick Melvoin announced this week that as of the June 30 filing deadline, he has raised $124, 344. Records show that Zimmer raised just $7,304 in the same period.

“I’m grateful to all the individuals who have supported this campaign so far,” Melvoin said in a statement. “I’ve just begun to share my vision for improving public education in Los Angeles, and I look forward to working on behalf of all the communities in the 4th District to turn those plans into real change.”

Melvoin noted that many of his campaign contributions were $100 or less, but about 30 percent of the donors who gave more than $100 live outside California, records show.

The early filings indicate that money will likely be pouring into this race, as it has in previous elections for school board seats.

But money wasn’t the deciding factor in Zimmer’s previous reelection bid. He won with 52 percent of the vote even though he was outspent by his opponent.

Zimmer said he is “very focused” on November, specifically the passage of statewide ballot measures Prop. 55 and Prop. 58 and the election of Hillary Clinton as president. Prop. 55 is an extension of income taxes on the wealthy to fund public education under Prop. 30 that was passed by voters in 2012. Prop. 58, the California Multilingual Education Act, would repeal a law that prohibits non-English languages from being used in public schools.

“There will be plenty of time to talk about the looming battle for control of the school board and the obscene amounts of money that will be raised and spent on that struggle,” Zimmer said in an email. “For now, as Michelle Obama said this week, ‘We have important work to do.'” 

It is early in the citywide election season. The primary is March 7. The general election will be held May 16. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the primary, the top two vote-getters will compete in the general election.

Melvoin launched his campaign in February. So far, no one else has entered the race. Candidates officially file for the race in November but can begin to raise money.

In his previous reelection bid in 2013, Zimmer raised a total of $122,000. His opponent, Kate Anderson, brought in $263,603. Independent expenditure committees poured nearly $2.7 million into the race.

The school board races that year received national attention and money from outside donors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave $1 million to a coalition formed by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that donated money to the three school board races and supported a slate of candidates. Villaraigosa’s group opposed Zimmer.

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Two other school board seats are up for reelection next spring. Longtime board member Monica Garcia, who was first elected in 2006, is seeking reelection in board District 2. She is being challenged by Carl Petersen. Petersen ran in 2015 for the school board District 3 seat and came in 5th place in the primary. (Scott Schmerelson won that seat.) The city Ethics Commission has not posted campaign finance reports for Petersen or Garcia on its website.

School board member Monica Ratliff will not seek reelection and has opted to run for City Council. No one has announced an intention to run for the open board District 6 seat in the East San Fernando Valley.

So far no independent expenditure committees have spent any money in the school board races.

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Charter chiefs applaud Zimmer’s summit speech

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Steve Zimmer at Saturday’s “Promising Practices” summit.

LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer offered a rousing speech at Saturday’s “Promising Practices” forum that was praised by charter leaders because of his inclusiveness.

“We understand that a narrative that blames charter schools for all that is wrong in public education may serve short-term organizing goals but is counterproductive and doesn’t help every child,” Zimmer said. “Equally, a narrative that perpetuates the notion that LAUSD schools are failures may increase the short-term goal of increasing charter schools and reinforces deficit mindsets. It’s an immoral narrative. Both of these narratives are not factual, both goals have the effect of dividing us artificially and not really serving the needs of kids and their families and why we got into this work.”

Zimmer, who was on his way to catch a plane across the country, stayed only for the first hour of the forum, but people were talking about his speech all day.

“We haven’t yet figured that out with LAUSD and charter schools how to share promising practices, and this is a beginning,” Zimmer said to the room of about 200 teachers from traditional and charter schools. “We have things that we can learn from each other, we have ways that could get over the barriers … and work together to make those dreams come true.”

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The “Promising Practices” forum was held at the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies campus.

“Wow, I feel like we charter schools don’t have cooties anymore,” quipped Caprice Young, chief executive officer of Magnolia Public Schools, who was also a panelist at the forum. She joined with Granda Hills Charter School to discuss “Communities of Practice: Special Education Innovation.” “I think Steve Zimmer’s speech was wonderful and this forum is giving all of us a chance to share and discuss. It’s very good energy all around.”

Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools, said he was also pleased. “Steve did an excellent job setting the stage for collaboration through his vivid imagery. He reminded us that we each got into this work to fortify future generations and to be successful, we must all collaborate across adult divisions.”

Hudnut pointed out that two of his ICEF teachers gave a lecture titled: “Moving Away from Sage on the Stage Teaching: Targeted Group Structure” attended by 15 LA Unified district teachers. He said, “To me, that is the entire point of the gathering. Here were educators focused solely on how to teach students better: two charter teachers sharing their learning with 15 LAUSD teachers. That is beautiful to me!”

Zimmer, who is running for re-election, has tempered his comments about the proliferation of charter schools in the second-largest school district in the country.

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Sold-out crowd expected at King’s best-practices sharing session on Saturday

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A groundbreaking summit that plans to share best practices between LA Unified traditional school and charter school educators is at capacity with more than 350 people signed up for the Saturday event planned by Superintendent Michelle King.

From the moment she was appointed to the position in January, King said she planned to find ways to share best practices between educators at magnet, charter, pilot and traditional schools resulting in this Promising Practices Forum scheduled all day at the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Cypress Park. But don’t expect to just drop in to attend.

Although the event was free and open to the public for registration of 350 seats in early June, the registration closed on July 8. According to district spokesperson Monica Carazo, “We are at capacity and cannot accommodate any other participants.”

The event will kick off with school leaders such as King, school board President Steve Zimmer, board members Ref Rodriguez and Monica Ratliff as well as Local District South Superintendent Christopher Downing and Local District Northwest Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. They also expect Antonia Hernandez, president of the California Community Foundation, 
Yvette King-Berg, executive director of the Youth Policy Institute, and other LA Unified and charter school leaders.

Rodriguez and King plan to lead a panel discussion at the beginning of the event. Rodriguez spearheaded a resolution recently asking the superintendent to report back to the board after identifying successful programs and potential funding sources.

The forum is a culmination of King’s seven-month “listen and learn” tour as superintendent, and she is well aware of the divisiveness and conflicts that have occurred between traditional and charter schools with issues involving student safety, school choice, charter co-locations, teaching assessments, equitable funding, union disputes and general distrust among parents.

The forum will feature more than two dozen breakout sessions where school experts plan to share ideas and successful strategies for improving learning, parent engagement and school climate.

Results from this and other meetings will form the basis of King’s three-year plan for the district.

“We are all LA Unified school students,” King said at a previous forum with parents when asked about what she thought of charter schools. “It is unfortunate we have labels, saying that this one is better than that one. It’s not us versus them.”

LA Unified school board approves $7.6 billion budget, including a 14 percent hike for school police

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Superintendent Michelle King and board President Steve Zimmer at Tuesday’s meeting.

The LA Unified school board on Tuesday unanimously approved a $7.6 billion balanced budget for 2016-17, with some of the most passionate objections devoted to the 14 percent increase for school police.

The passing of the budget became much simpler after the state notified the board last week that it would have an extra year to sort out an issue over the district’s spending of state funds designated for students who are in the foster care system, low-income or English language learners.

Before the notification from the state, the district had expected it would have had to change its funding for high-needs students and spend an additional $245 million, which could have resulted in the loss of 2,000 teacher and administrator jobs by next spring and increased class sizes.

The board found out last week it would have one year to work with the state. District officials disputed the state’s findings from the beginning and still plan to appeal the decision.

While this year’s budget — a $700 million increase over last year — was balanced, the district faces continued declining enrollment and increasing costs in retirement benefits. Next year, the district expects a decline of 13,728 traditional and affiliated charter students, while independent charter enrollment will increase by 5,984.

The district’s financial experts predict that next year’s budget will also be balanced, but a deficit is forecast for the 2018-19 budget year.

In crafting the budget, Superintendent Michelle King said her staff listened to comments from the community, as required under the new state funding formula, about what programs they would like to receive funding.

“Are we there? No, we’re not there, but we are on a path moving forward in the right direction,” King said.

Some budget highlights:

  • a $4 million increase to arts programs
  • a $9 million increase in resources for magnet schools
  • a $6 million increase for dual-language immersion programs
  • one extra teacher at each of the district’s high schools for elective courses and 55 elementary schools with high-needs students
  • hiring additional restorative justice counselors in middle and elementary school sites
  • more support for homeless students and foster youth

Some public speakers who addressed the board Tuesday called for more funding for restorative justice, the district’s new approach to discipline, and less funding for school police officers.

“Oppose is a mild term,” Zoe Rawson, a legal advocate with the Labor-Community Strategy Center, told the board. “We feel outraged. We feel demoralized that there is yet another increase to the school police budget.”

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JUST IN: Teacher jail numbers rise to 181, costing LA Unified $15 million

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Latest numbers of those reassigned as “housed” employees from LA Unified.

A year after LA Unified pledged to expedite employees “housed” in teacher jails, district numbers show that there are more now than there were at this time a year ago.

According to numbers requested by LA School Report and released Wednesday, 181 LA Unified staff members are being paid to essentially do nothing while awaiting internal investigations about alleged misconduct, while the district has to hire substitutes to do their jobs.

Questions came up when school board members questioned the $15 million that was set aside in the superintendent’s budget that they approved Tuesday evening.

“So these are individuals we’re paying salaries to, and also paying for subs? They are not in the classroom?” asked board member Ref Rodriguez, turning to page 40 of the budget proposed for the next school year and pointing to the line item “Personnel with Pending Cases.” He said that $15 million “is too much, and we have to figure out how to keep moving that forward so that the taxpayers aren’t paying for someone to sit in a room, and if they are innocent they should go back to the classrooms and the money should go back to our kids.”

According to the district, as of June 22 there are 144 teachers and 37 classified employees (such as teacher’s assistants, playground supervisors, bus drivers and janitors) in what the district calls a “housed” situation, but more commonly known as the much-maligned “teacher jails.” The employees are not allowed to do any work, call anyone or be on a computer. They must report for their full day of work and then can go home. Some employees are allowed to serve their time at home as they wait for their names to be cleared. Forty-five of the cases are more than a year old.

Most of the cases (40 percent) involve sexual abuse or harassment allegations, 29 percent involve accusations of violence, and 13 percent involve “below standard performance.” The appropriate cases are referred to Los Angeles police if it’s determined a crime has been committed, and district officials said they try to expedite the cases as quickly as possible.

Last year, the numbers totaled 174 employees — 151 teachers and 23 classified employees — with 37 percent involving sexual harassment or abuse allegations and 32 percent cited for violent behavior.

The district has 26,800 teachers and 30,500 certified employees.

A 15-member Student Safety Investigation Team investigates the cases and either clears the employees or refers them for dismissal. The average length of an investigation is 75 days.

“We are constantly trying to streamline the process and complete the cases as soon as possible,” said Barbara Jones from the LA Unified communications office. “Most of these are new cases that have come up.”

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Ref Rodriguez, Monica Ratliff and Richard Vladovic at the board meeting Tuesday night.

When the issue came up three and a half hours into the discussion of the budget at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, even school board President Steve Zimmer seemed shocked.

“Wait, I want to make sure of this, $15 million is the amount expected that will be centrally housed?” Zimmer asked.

Board member Monica Ratliff pointed out that the number is $5 million less than the $20 million budgeted for this past year.

LA Unified attorney David Holmquist said he thought the last number he heard was 162 cases left in that situation, which Rodriguez said “at least showed that the numbers were going down and being settled.”

But that’s not the case, according to the district’s latest accounting.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly explained that the $15 million is the anticipated costs “for our housed employees who are not designated to a school and we are paying for substitutes while there is pending personnel action.”

UTLA, the teachers union, has regular seminars for teachers in this situation and sought to combat the practice. The union has assigned a staff member to assist them.

Noted Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Geragos has an ongoing class-action case against the district on behalf of teacher Rafe Esquith, who was in a teacher jail and then dismissed. The case involves hundreds of teachers who found themselves in teacher jail.

The teacher jail numbers ballooned under former Superintendent John Deasy, when any teacher accused of misconduct was immediately taken out of the classroom. The practice began after the Miramonte Elementary School sexual abuse lawsuit involving former teacher Mark Berndt, which cost the district nearly $140 million. Both succeeding superintendents, Ramon Cortines and Michelle King, vowed to expedite teacher jail cases. Meanwhile, the numbers continue to grow.

What Pamela Anderson’s night visit to the LA Unified school board was all about

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Pamela Anderson speaks at the school board.

Sometimes staying late at the LA Unified school board meetings has its benefits. Particularly when quirky things happen in only-in-LA moments.

About 8:45 p.m. Tuesday late into the meeting, most of the audience members had cleared out of the school board auditorium and the 200 or so protesters outside were gone. There were almost as many people up on the horseshoe dais as there were watching.

Board President Steve Zimmer kidded about seeming a bit loopy because his cold medicine was kicking in. Then, the school police officers stirred, the board members stopped talking and a blur of diverse people marched down the aisle of the auditorium.

Up front was blonde bombshell Pamela Anderson, looking as stunning as she did in her “Baywatch” days two decades ago. In a tight black top and flowered skirt, she brushed back her characteristic blonde locks and prepared herself to address the school board for the first time.

In the pressroom watching on closed-circuit TV, reporters were surprised and snickering about why she was there. The LA Unified communications team didn’t have any idea.

Along with the actress, there were TV journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell and 9-year-old actress Felix Hemstreet, as well as a triathlete, a cardiologist, a best-selling author, a dietician, a doctor of 40 years and Torre Washington, who bills himself as “a professional vegan bodybuilder.”

The circus of presenters was inspired by 14-year-old Lila Copeland from Paul Revere Middle School who wants to have a regular vegan option on the menu in the nation’s second-largest school district. It appeared she had an impact on the board, and she had already met with Laura Benavidez, of the district’s Food Services division, who seemed open to the idea.

“This school district is at the forefront of offering good nutritious food for the students, so we just want them to be aware of allowing vegan options for the students too and helping us have a healthy future for this planet,” Copeland said. “We want the district to provide a vegan option.”

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The experts spewed statistics and anecdotes. They brought up methane caused by cows, the drought, global warming, childhood obesity and ethical reasons for being vegan. They talked about how eating meat can cause heart disease and strokes, they detailed the outmoded federal nutritional standards and brought in packets of vegan meal samples for each of the seven school board members prepared by plant-based protein company Gardein’s chef Jason Stefanko.

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‘Doomsday scenario’ cutting health benefits and increasing class sizes at LA Unified may be averted

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How the district was planning to off-set budget shortfalls.

The self-described “Doomsday scenario” laid out by LA Unified’s chief financial officer at Tuesday’s school board meeting could have resulted in the loss of 2,000 teacher and administrator jobs by next spring, an increase of up to nine students per classroom, and a halt to saving for teacher retirement benefits.

But then, like the cavalry coming over the hill, a letter from Sacramento arrived during the meeting and saved the district from the dire budget battle.

“This letter literally just came in as we were presenting this today,” said Megan Reilly, who for years has been pointing out a looming severe deficit. “We will have to have our legal department look at it, but it’s a reprieve of sorts.”TotalBudget 2016-06-14 at 7.12.04 PM

The letter, from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, said, “Unfortunately, there has been considerable misunderstanding” of a California Department of Education report released May 27 that said LA Unified had not explained how it was funding high-needs students. “Respectfully, the CDE decision does not require LAUSD to identify $1 billion in programmatic cuts.”

The letter adds that “some media reports were not accurate. It was not the finding of the CDE that LAUSD inappropriately expended $450 million or that it ‘shortchanged’ unduplicated students. Instead, CDE reviewed the complaint and concluded that LAUSD did not provide an adequate explanation of how $450 million in special education funds met the proportional spending requirements for services for unduplicated students in Local Control and Accountability Plans.”

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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.

Will LAUSD bring back chocolate milk?

ChocolateMilkWhile discussing cost-saving measures and reducing waste in LA Unified food services, some school board members said they wanted to bring back flavored milk.

Superintendent John Deasy banned chocolate and strawberry milk from the school menu five years ago after the school board voted it was too sugary for students.

But now LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer said he was concerned that there is a waste of a lot of milk that students are served but don’t drink.

“Kids really do want water, they don’t drink milk. Largely in high school they want water,” Zimmer said at a special board meeting Tuesday to discuss district finances. “I suspect the waste of milk is fairly phenomenal in high school.”

That was confirmed by Laura Benavidez, of LA Unified Food Services, who added that federal standards do not consider water to have any nutritional value, and therefore “that will be a direct cost to the district” if milk is replaced with water, she said. Benavidez said that school cafeteria managers have long agreed that students would drink more chocolate milk if it was brought back to the menu.

Board member Ref Rodriguez pointed out that there were many low-calorie and low-sugar alternatives for chocolate milk today that weren’t as available in 2011. Some charter schools serve flavored milk that is low fat.

“Let’s bring chocolate milk back!” declared board member Monica Ratliff, who pointed out that the decision to ban it was made before she joined the board.

In fact, only Zimmer and Monica Garcia were on the board at the time, and they both voted to ban flavored milk. Former board members Tamar Galatzan and Marguerite LaMotte voted against the ban, citing findings from the American Pediatrics Association and the American Heart Association that showed flavored milk is not excessively harmful to children.

One of the newest board members, Scott Schmerelson, said, “As a school principal who monitored the cafeteria a lot, I saw children line up to get their chocolate or strawberry milk first in case it ran out, and inevitably, it ran out. Can we please get it back?”

Zimmer asked the district staff to look into getting the federal government to pay for water or see how the district can get it at low cost.

Benavidez also pointed out that they are piloting hydration stations at Marina Del Rey Middle School and Jefferson High School to have flavored water with strawberry and lemon added to it. “They are enormously popular,” she said.

She wrote down the board’s ideas and said, “Those are some of the things we can look at.”

Affiliated charters: A successful model on its way out?

CarpenterSignLA Unified has so many different kinds of schools it’s hard to keep them all straight. With such varied terms as affiliated charter, independent charter, magnet school, pilot school, continuation school, option school and others, it can be a challenge to understand what they are, what they offer and how they differ.

This is the next part of an LA School Report series taking an in-depth look at the different categories of schools that exist within the massive LA Unified school district. 

Today we examine affiliated charter schools.

(Read more on affiliated charters: Does ‘charter’ make you look smarter? Principal of LAUSD’s newest affiliated charter says yes and The elementary school-turned-affiliated charter that became so popular parents fake their addresses)

(Read more about magnets and their expansion in our series, including profiles of Bravo and King/Drew medical magnets.)


One of the most successful school models in LA Unified is also one of the most under-used, and it’s becoming even more scarce. Only one school in the last two years has even applied to become one.

The unique “affiliated charter” schools — coined and developed locally at the nation’s second-largest school district — achieve higher test scores than either the district’s prized magnets or independent charter schools. They also have lower absentee rates than the district average.

But only 53, or 4 percent, of LA Unified’s 1,274 schools use the affiliated charter model. The schools are located in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods — nearly half of the student population is white in affiliates—and exist in communities where parent involvement has pushed the school administrators into more creative and innovative methods of teaching.

“Some may see it as the best of both worlds,” said Jose Cole-Gutierrez, the executive director of the district’s Charter Schools Division that oversees all charter schools connected to the district. “They are semi-autonomous schools of the district very much connected to the district’s collective bargaining, district staff and more, but each school also has its own governance council.”

Affiliated charters can choose their own curriculum, opt to reduce class sizes or adjust classroom scheduling, offer more professional development and exercise more control over budgeting, hiring and school site decisions. But they adhere to all district collective bargaining agreements. And the district receives most of the state money that goes to an affiliated charter and funnels it to pay for teacher and administrator salaries, although there’s some spending freedom with the rest of the money. A school, for example, must teach basic standards and can buy its own textbooks that are different from what the district uses, but must figure out how to pay for them.

In the past year, affiliated charters have ranked significantly higher in the English and math scores than either magnet or independent charter schools. And their California Office to Reform Education’s (CORE) scores from the past year have averaged 79.8 while the district average is 60.

Yet this successful school model is on the decline in LA Unified because fewer school principals are choosing the model.

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LAUSD administrative staff jumps 22 percent even as enrollment drops

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From LAUSD

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.

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From LAUSD

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.”

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Special ed: a big drain on the district’s budget, but a potential for attracting more students

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Estimated cost per special education student, from LAUSD.

Special education students present one of the biggest costs for LA Unified, but administrators are considering ways to capitalize on the district’s successes with that population.

Half of the school board’s all-day special budget session at USC on Tuesday was spent discussing the costs of dealing with students with mild and severe disabilities.

Special ed is identified as one of the three major deficit drivers on the school budget, along with pension costs and retiree benefit costs. The discussions included better methods of labeling students with disabilities, how to lower costs working with those students and possibly suing the state and federal governments to help pay for them.

The estimated annual cost to educate a student with disabilities is $8,275 more than a general education student. A general education student costs $11,798 per year, so a student with disabilities costs a total of $20,073.

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Michelle King with special education students.

The second-largest school district in the nation also has the largest population of special education students in the country, at 72,973 students, excluding those in independent charters.

“We face issues and challenges for this population with inadequate funding from the federal piece and the state piece,” said Superintendent Michelle King.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said that only 60 percent of the $1.5 billion in costs is covered by the federal and state money. She said, “There is a perception we have the money to cover all our special education students, but we don’t.”

School board President Steve Zimmer, who has personally lobbied both Washington, D.C., and Sacramento politicians for a more fair share of the special ed money, said the district is at the forefront of trying to get the necessary money to cover the costs.

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District puts renewed emphasis on required ethnic studies courses

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Nolan Cabrera of the University of Arizona.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric going on in presidential politics and a potential state law have added a renewed emphasis on developing required ethnic studies classes in the LA Unified curriculum.

An expert from the University of Arizona spoke to an LA Unified school board committee this week to explain the importance of ethnic studies in education. He brought in some statistics to show the benefits.

“This is a very pressing educational issue,” assistant professor Nolan Cabrera told the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee on Tuesday. “We need to know how to get along across differences. People like to knock these courses like it’s an easy class, such as basket weaving, but it’s not.”

In Arizona, pilot schools targeted low-performing students and gave them Mexican-American studies courses. The schools saw that attendance, class scores and graduation rates all improved, Cabrera said. Attendance went up by 21 percent, grade point averages went up by 1.4 points and students added 23 credits to their curriculum, Cabrera said.

School board members Scott Schmerelson, Steve Zimmer and George McKenna at the meeting all expressed support for the ethnic studies courses.

“I’m am continued to be troubled about politics in this country,” said McKenna, the only African-American on the board. “People who are running are running anti the concept of ethnic inclusion, and anti ethnic contributions and they are being celebrated for it. Now they have someone espousing with all the bombast that some people should be kept over here and some kept over there, and I know how that feels like because I rode at back of bus for the first 25 years of my life.”

McKenna said that he hoped that the Ethnic Studies Task Force starts meeting again, and asked to district to support the programs.

Derrick Chau, the director of Secondary Instruction for the district, said they are now developing a strategic plan for implementing ethnic studies across the district and are revising three English language arts classes to align with ethniic studies. Chau said the district is planning professional development for teachers, too.

Chau pointed out that the ethnic breakdown among the roughly 650,000 students at LA Unified is now 74 percent Latino, 8.4 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian. He said, “I turn to my own children who are of Asian and Latino decent and I think how beneficial it would be for the children of LAUSD and my own children to have access to these courses.”  Continue reading

Renowned educator warns that LA Unified’s future is ‘dire’

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Pedro Noguera presents his recommendations to LA Unified board members and superintendent.

Internationally renowned education expert Pedro Noguera warned members of the LA Unified school board and superintendent that unless more serious measures are taken, the nation’s second-largest school district is destined to lose more students.

“The future is dire,” Noguera told the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday afternoon. He pointed to entire neighborhoods in Philadelphia with abandoned schools. “It’s not there aren’t enough kids, they lost the commitment to education. I hope that doesn’t happen in this city.”

The challenges LA Unified is facing, he said, include declining enrollment because of the growth of charters and demographic shifts, chronically under-performing schools, structural budget deficits and the need to increase public support for schools.

Noguera has written 11 books and more than 200 articles about education and focuses his research on how economic conditions impact schools. He served as a school board member at Berkeley Unified and is now a Distinguished Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA.

Committee chairman George McKenna invited the professor to make a presentation to offer advice and give examples of what other schools do.

“I appreciate you coming to tell us the truth, even though we may not want to hear it,” McKenna said. “We have to take this situation seriously, really seriously.”

School board president Steve Zimmer attended the committee meeting although he was on his way to Washington, D.C., for the rest of the week to help lobby for the district. He told Noguera, “There is no more important city in this world for you to be in, and I’m glad that you’re here and work with us.”

Zimmer noted that Noguera discussed the district’s concerns about competition for students between traditional and charter schools. “As you spoke,” Zimmer said, “it was actually quite emotional because I think we have been through a time where we have misunderstood the role of competition and in that misunderstanding have caused some injury and caused it to be potentially more difficult to build the foundation of trust.”

Nearly 16 percent of LA Unified’s students are enrolled in 211 charter schools, and that number would grow significantly under a plan to increase charter enrollment in the district, which the school board unanimously opposed in January.

Noguera said, “Like it or not, schools are competing for kids, and public schools don’t even realize it. Like it or not, that’s the set-up.”

He pointed out his granddaughter goes to a traditional LA Unified school where the parents are only allowed to drop children off between 7:45 and 8:15 a.m., while the charter school around the corner allows drop-offs as early as 7 a.m.

“For a busy working parent, like her mom is, and in a city like this where transportation is a big issue, that is not a small factor,” Noguera said. That alone could be a reason for a family to choose a charter school over a traditional school.

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Dissecting success: Middle school teacher who sets science to rap music is honored

Middle school science teacher Tunji Adebayo was honored by Teach For America at Monday night's benefit.

Middle school science teacher Tunji Adebayo was honored by Teach For America at Monday night’s benefit.

Science lessons set to rap music. Aspirations in envelopes pinned to the ceiling. And a commitment to live alongside students.

Tunji Adebayo, who teaches 7th and 8th grade science at Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter Middle School, was honored Monday night for his innovation and dedication at Teach For America’s “Celebrating Changemakers in Education.”

“Tunji’s dedication to his students is limitless, especially to young black males,” Lida Jennings, executive director of TFA LA, told the 350 guests at the Petersen Automotive Museum gathered for the group’s third annual benefit dinner.

Adebayo, 25, who was born in Nigeria one month before TFA was launched, is in his third year of a profession he hadn’t planned on. A TFA representative reached out to him while he was studying dietetics and nutrition science at the University of Georgia, and he’s never looked back.

“I’m staying in education no matter what,” he told LA School Report before receiving his award Monday night.

After his first year teaching and commuting into South LA from Long Beach, Adebayo moved to the neighborhood, around 51st and Vermont. For him, “It’s essential to live in the community,” he said.

He often sees his students in the area, particularly on weekends when he is at the farmers market, which is near a mall with a movie theater.

“It’s a blessing to live and understand some of their struggles on a daily basis. It makes it more real, to become a part of the community.”

The middle school, one of 12 operated by the Inner City Education Foundation, serves 264 students in grades 6-8, and 74 percent are African Americans, compared to 8.4 percent in LA Unified. The school’s student population identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged stands at 77 percent, the same percentage as LA Unified students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. And 13 percent have disabilities.

His commitment to helping other African Americans started in college, where he noticed that other “young black males didn’t accomplish what I did because the expectations and support weren’t there.”

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