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

Nick Melvoin

Nick Melvoin

*UPDATED

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 5 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

Michelle King LAUSD

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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Vergara reactions pour in as appeal to state Supreme Court is planned

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Raylene Monterroza, one of the plaintiffs. (Courtesy of Students Matter)

The day after the state Court of Appeal ruled that the job protections for teachers do not predominantly harm minority students, the key players in the case said they feel confident the California Supreme Court will take up the issue.

The three-judge panel reversed a landmark 2014 ruling by Superior Judge Rolf Treu, who struck down five of the state’s tenure laws. The case is being watched nationwide and has sparked similar lawsuits in other states.

One of the nine students who filed the lawsuit, Raylene Monterroza, now 18, expressed her disappointment in a Friday conference call. “We deserve better. All of us, in every school, in every grade, in every ZIP code, so even with this decision, we will keep fighting.”

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., attorney for the students, said the appeals court decision is “divorced from reality.” He said in the call, “We took a hit but have dusted ourselves off and are ready to fight the next round for the students who have been our inspiration from Day One.”

He is ready to appeal to the California Supreme Court and added, “We feel very good about our path going forward.”

School board president Steve Zimmer, who was on a jet and traveling when the ruling was released, said in a statement late Thursday: “Today’s important court decision allows us to return with laser focus to the real question facing our public education system: how will we recruit, train and support a new generation of teachers who will give their lives to the ideal that the American dreams of every child can come true in the schools of our state and our nation.”

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten heralded the decision and said it will help with the teacher shortage problem facing the state. “It is vitally important that every single child, particularly the kids who brought this case, receive a great public education. That starts with recruiting, retaining and supporting teachers, not blaming educators for societal problems or stripping away their voice.”

Weingarten said in a statement, “The clear lesson from Vergara is that we need to solve the very real teacher shortage problem—not make matters worse by bashing and scapegoating the dedicated educators who teach our children. … When it comes to tenure and due process, these are essential protections for teachers to do their jobs, but they should never be used as a cloak for incompetence or an excuse for managers not to manage.”

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$40 million more OKd to fix MiSiS, then it will cost at least $12 million each year to maintain

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Monica Ratliff questioned how much MiSiS will cost.

Another $40.3 million was approved to repair and run the beleaguered MiSiS computer system for the next year, but the big question at Tuesday’s LA Unified School Board meeting was how much it will cost to maintain once all the repairs are done.

The answer came late into the nearly six-hour meeting when board member Monica Ratliff asked Diane Pappas, CEO of strategic planning and digital innovation, “So, how much will it cost to maintain MiSiS?”

Pappas said, “We are estimating this at $12 million, but that is just an estimate, it could be more. I don’t want to tell you 100 percent it’s that, but you should be budgeting a minimum of $12 million to maintain the system.”

Ratliff, while acknowledging Pappas for providing a complete report of the MiSiS progress, said she was still concerned. “I don’t know where we’re going to get that from, and I just want to put that out there that we need to find it.”

The repair funds come from bond money, but the $12 million to maintain the system every year will have to come out of the general fund.

“This is actually a big deal,” Ratliff said.

MiSiS, whose formal name is My Integrated Student Information System, was created to combine student data throughout the district. Its initial cost was $29.7 million. That has risen dramatically since the board approved it in 2013, as additional expenses were required for desktop computers and for repairing major glitches in the system. The system will now also include information from independent charter schools.

When the system launched in 2014 it was glitchy and malfunctioning, assigning students to courses they had already taken or to no classes at all during some periods, and required an influx of extra money to help stabilize it.

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

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

*UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commentary: Cirque du LAUSD

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Representatives from charter schools line up outside LAUSD headquarters for this month’s board meeting.

By Nick Melvoin

Last week’s Los Angeles Unified School Board meeting was a political circus. Scores of parents, students and advocates in a packed boardroom vied for a chance to speak as the board debated their futures in real time. And while the politics may interest an arm-chair social scientist—“everyone is in such a bunkered battleground” as board President Steve Zimmer put it, before climbing back into his bunker and abstaining on the most contentious vote of the day—our children deserve better than a trip to the circus. Putting aside the merits of the issues discussed, the manner in which the board makes its decisions—and, superficially at least, invites community input—is absurd.

Parents, students and teachers waited more than eight hours to be given a chance to speak. And their futures were left to a process by which the board “cobble[d] together a plan, concocting at least half a dozen proposals and amendments during a lengthy and at times contentious discussion.” And this comes months after the school had to submit their petition.

Unfortunately, dysfunction is the norm, not the exception, for school board meetings. When schools are up for renewal, parents—many of whom have to take hours if not the entire day off work to advocate for their children—often line up starting at daybreak. In many cases, they don’t speak until late in the day, if at all. Parents and community stakeholders are left outside for hours or are relegated to an “overflow” room where they can watch the board meeting (unless, of course, the live stream doesn’t work). And despite stories of parents who are unable to speak after hours of waiting, board members at times let their supporters speak even when resolutions are postponed or abandoned.

Democracy is messy, but it doesn’t have to be dysfunctional. And despite lip-service about the need to engage parents and the community, nothing says “we don’t want your input” more than making parents line up at 5 a.m. to maybe, just maybe, get two minutes to speak before midnight.

When I was a teacher, I streamlined processes to ensure instructional time wasn’t lost and my students and I had a clear understanding of what was expected of us. I encourage the school board to do the same.

Here are a few ideas for new processes that could increase parent engagement and allow for more productive board meetings.

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Fight over weapons in LAUSD not over, group says

 

A civic group protesting the military-style weapons once held by LA Unified police said they will continue to disrupt meetings and hold demonstrations until they get answers and action.

The group, Fight for the Soul of the Cities, took over a committee meeting at the LA Unified school board headquarters last month, and this week held a loud protest of about 50 students, parents and teachers outside Tuesday’s board meeting shouting chants and banging drums.

“We do not believe that the district has taken away all the weapons, and we are asking for more,” said the group’s director of organizing, Manuel Criollo. “We will not stop the protests and disruptions.”

1033FightforSouloftheCitiesThe group is protesting the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which allowed surplus military equipment to be used by the schools. It was a solution for unused equipment by President Obama’s administration to help small police agencies.

“We do not believe that they sneaked the guns away in the middle of the night, we need proof of that,” said Criollo, who doesn’t believe the district’s answer that they are no longer involved with the program.

At one point, under Superintendent John Deasy, the school police force had a small tank (more accurately, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) and automatic weapons as well as three grenade launchers.

LA Unified Police Chief Steven Zipperman stated that on Feb. 5, “the last remaining ‘1033’ equipment items within the LASPD inventory (rifles) were returned to the inventory of the Defense Distribution Depot.”

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, P.J. Webb, president of the Los Angeles School Police Management Association, said, “Your police department is completely out of the Department of Justice’s 1033 program, the chief has returned the last of the equipment, and we are done with this.”

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