Board Member Steve Zimmer
For the second year in a row, LA Unified is losing fewer teachers, and district projections indicate that the trend will continue through the current school year.
Vivian Ekchian, the district’s Chief Human Resources Officer, told a committee meeting yesterday that the trend is largely due to more diligent work at the front end of the hiring process. She said the district has revamped the interview system to include a lesson observation and an essay, and the district now requires that applicants have a degree in the subject matter they plan to teach.
Teachers leave their jobs for a variety of reasons, including retirement, dismissal and jobs in other districts.
Ekchian was one of several speakers at a meeting of the Committee of the Whole that was devoted to new strategies for training, hiring and retaining better teachers and including among new recruits teachers whose diversity more closely aligns with the diversity of district students.
Another long day for LA Unified board members is gearing up tomorrow, with their regular meeting at 10 a.m., followed by two committee meetings.
Only one item at the board meeting is open to the public: a motion to urge the US Army Corps of Engineers to adopt a new plan, called Alternative 20, to revitalize the LA River.
The rest of the session will take place in private, with board members and district lawyers discussing ongoing litigation, union contract negotiations and matters involving student discipline. District officials have declined to elaborate on any of it.
The Committee of the Whole will tackle the future of teacher preparation, training and education. Chairman Steve Zimmer has lined up several speakers including Barnett Berry, founder of the Center for Teaching Quality and author of “Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don’t Leave.”
LA Unified School board member Tamar Galatzan had hoped to sway her colleagues to change the way the district distributes Title 1 funds for low-income students. But her motion, co-sponsored by Monica Ratliff, failed to get majority support at yesterday’s board meeting.
The vote was split, 3-3, with Galatzan, Ratliff and Steve Zimmer, all of whom represent districts with mixed income levels, supporting the measure. Monica Garcia, Richard Vladovic, and Marguerite LaMotte, whose schools are located in high poverty communities, voting against.
Bennett Kayser assured defeat when he abstained.
“This is a really tough one,” he said, explaining that his district would suffer no matter which side he took.
Kayser represents schools from Eagle Rock, where the median household income is above $67,000, to Bell where it’s about $37,000.
After federal dollars were reduced by 9 percent in 2011, the district raised the threshold for eligibility for Title 1 funds to schools where 50 percent of students were from low-income families, with schools with 65 to 100 percent low income students getting additional money.
iPads — for now.
The LA Unified school board re-calibrated its push for technology in the classroom last night, voting to continue into a second phase of its iPad plan but also to launch a pilot test of laptops among high school students. Further technology plans will depend on the outcome of a study.
The decision — approved by a 6-1 vote with Tamar Galatzan as the dissenter — culminated a long and impassioned debate about how fast to get computer devices in the hands of students who really need it. The 2 1/2 hour discussion, which ended an 8-hour board meeting, reflected sharp divisions between members who think it’s better to move swiftly, with iPads, and members who argue that different students require different devices. Members also expressed discomfort with the district’s deal with Apple and called for a reexamination of terms for future purchases.
The final resolution, adopted at 9 p.m., represented a merger of a plan offered by board member Monica Ratliff, which called for a more thorough evaluation of the iPad program and a delayed rollout of devices, and the scaled down Phase 2 rollout that Superintendent John Deasy submitted to the board several weeks ago.
Over the next several months, the district will distribute about 40,000 tablets across 35 elementary and middle school campuses. Another 30,000 will go to the district’s teachers, principals and administrators. And the administration’s procurement team will purchase keyboards for all elementary and middle school students so they can take the Smarter Balanced assessments in the spring.
Two issues that have the drawn LA Unified school board into unanticipated controversy move into the spotlight tomorrow when the board convenes its regular meeting for November.
One is the public profile of Board President Richard Vladovic, as he awaits a consideration of a censure motion from Tamar Galatzan – the first motion of its kind in LA Unified board history. Vladovic has been accused of verbal and sexual harassment by former co-workers. He has publicly apologized for being abrasive toward colleagues but has denied all other charges.
The motion requires support from at least one other board member to move to a full vote, otherwise the resolution falls, and a similar measure cannot be brought forward for six months. So far, Galatzan has no co-sponsor.
The other big issue is the future of the billion dollar iPad program, with conflicting resolutions from the board’s two Monicas – Ratliff and Garcia – that could go a long way toward determining whether district’s Common Core technology project extends Phase 1 of the iPads with iPads or other digital devices.
A third approach has been offered for consideration by deputy superintendent Jaime Aquino.
Ratliff’s resolution aims to prolong the first phase of the tablet rollout through the end of the school year, while evaluators assess the usefulness of the devices and their impact on learning. It also urges the district to launch a new pilot program, distributing laptop computers to ninth graders while conducting studies on the use of other devices and software curriculum in the district.
Board member Monica Ratliff
Over eight hours today, in another tedious LA Unified board meeting, members one-by-one pledged to forge ahead with the district’s ambitious technology program to bridge the digital divide for some of the nation’s poorest students.
But for the first time, some board members signaled that the way forward may not include Apple iPads.
The meeting featured a parade of staff reports supporting the Common Core Technology Project, as district officials painstakingly worked their way through a 95-page presentation for the board. They recapped the nearly-complete first phase of the troubled iPad program and projected what may or may not follow.
While board members refrained from badgering officials as they have done in previous meetings, and the six members in attendance committed to continue with new technologies – Tamar Galatzan was absent – questions arose as to how and when future phases of the technology program would play out.
Monica Ratliff, the newest board member and chair of the Common Core Technology Project Committee, was the most outspoken about switching gears. She had not yet been elected when the previous board voted to approve a billion-dollar program to give all the district’s 650,000 students a digital device.
Ratliff offered a resolution that would delay the board’s vote on the second phase of the iPad roll-out by six months to evaluate the instructional effectiveness of iPads as well as laptops and other digital devices used in district schools.
Supt. John Deasy
John Deasy‘s tenure as superintendent of LA Unified School District is continuing as the school board today gave him a ”satisfactory” performance evaluation and extended his contract to June, 30, 2016.
The announcement, after nearly five hours of a closed door meeting at the district’s downtown headquarters, ended five frenetic days of uncertainty that began with a leaked report suggesting that Deasy was resigning.
To the contrary, when he and the seven board members emerged from their meeting, both the board’s president, Richard Vladovic, and Deasy spoke of “frank and honest discussions,” as Vladovic described them, and they vowed to collaborate on the challenges ahead.
“We’re going to work together to continue to lift our youth out of poverty,” Deasy said in his brief statement. “I’ve very proud of the work we’ve done for students and what we’re going to continue to do for students.”
David Holmquist, the district’s chief legal counsel, who announced the contract extension, offered no other details. Officials said specific terms of the arrangement would be made public once a final document is signed. If any vote were taken in the private session, the results were not released, although by terms of Deasy’s original contract, a “satisfactory” evaluation triggers an automatic extension.
Neither Holmquist, Vladovic, Deasy nor other board members took questions, and Vladovic gaveled the meeting adjourned, despite loud protests of people in the audience who wanted to address the board.
Board Member Steve Zimmer
In anticipation of what’s sure to be a long and dramatic school board meeting tomorrow, LA Unified board member Steve Zimmer says he’s optimistic that the board can convince Superintendent John Deasy not to resign as head of the nation’s second largest school district.
“What I know is that I want to continue to work with John Deasy as superintendent and I believe that a majority of the board wants to continue to work with him,” Zimmer said at a meeting with reporters earlier today.
Zimmer said he is still not clear on what precipitated rumors that the embattled superintendent intends to retire from the district — whether it is the public scrutiny of the troubled iPad program or Deasy’s impending performance evaluation, which many had speculated would trash him — but Zimmer says neither the board nor the superintendent has a “reached a point that we can’t find a remedy.”
“There was never going to be a move to remove him, squeeze him out, or force him out,” Zimmer said, adding, “The overall evaluation will be positive. There will be points for improvement, and we should expect that. Because that’s how we improve.”
Asked if the board has thought about finding a replacement for Deasy or an interim leader he said, “We are prepared for something we do not seek.”
Zimmer also disputed any suggestion that the board was forcing him out. “That might be a compelling narrative, but it’s fiction,” he said.
Board member Marguerite LaMotte: ‘We’re as angry as you are.’
One parent wanted more counselors. Another wanted more security personnel. A student came forward with a friend and said, “You’re spending all that money on iPads. We’d prefer you spend it on nurses and librarians and can you please fix the bathrooms.”
This was Tuesday night, in the auditorium of Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park. Parents, students and teachers took their concerns to a microphone, suggesting ways to slice up a $7 billion budget that includes $230 million in new revenue from Prop 30 taxes. District officials and three LA Unified Board members were there to listen.
It was democracy in action, ordinary citizens speaking to power, as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula plan for getting districts more money. But it was sad, too, as everybody seemed to know there is only so much a district can do and so many demands for so many needs.
“A lot of anger, a lot of frustration, the reality of six years of non-stop keeping schools open and everything running with fewer and fewer resources,” Megan Reilly, the district’s chief financial officer, said in an interview yesterday.
Is the Los Angeles Unified School Board finally coming to terms with harsh fiscal realities of a post-recession world? That’s what it seemed like yesterday, when the members met for one of the shortest meetings in recent memory, only four hours.
A combination of declining enrollment, federal cuts in special education and this year’s Federal sequestration has put a big pinch on big plans. While the district managed to close a $450 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, thanks in part to one-time funds from the state, it faces a $350 million deficit in 2014-15.
If the board didn’t understand that before yesterday, it seems crystal clear now.
Months ago the members directed Superintendent John Deasy to devise a spending plan that included a laundry list of wants, needs and programs, including rehiring employees laid off during the recession and bringing back student-to-teacher and student-to-counselor ratios to 2007 levels.
The presentation Deasy and LAUSD Chief Operating Officer Megan Reilly made to the board brought the fiscal reality into the open, leaving the unmistakable message: We can’t afford what you want.
At least one LA Unified school board member was hardly shocked to learn that students piloting the district’s iPad program had found a way to break through the firewall.
“Of course it happened,” Steve Zimmer told LA School Report, throwing his hands up in the air as he left an event at Hollywood High School. “Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. What has it been, a few weeks?”
The LA Times reported today that nearly 300 students at Roosevelt High School hacked the new iPads, reaching such off-limit sites — or so district officials thought — as YouTube and Facebook. Their digital dexterity could delay further distribution of the devices, beyond the 30,000 or so given out in Phase 1 of a near $1 billion effort to give every LA Unified student an iPad.
Introducing Ravitch: Steve Zimmer and Matt Damon
LA Unified board member Steve Zimmer, who just spent a weekend with Superintendent John Deasy talking education policy in Washington D.C., is getting another side of the story next week when he hosts Diane Ravitch at Occidental College. Zimmer is an adjunct instructor in Urban and Environmental Policy.
Ravitch is in town to promote her new book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” She will be speaking and taking questions with a book signing to follow. Details here.
Once a stalwart of education reform — she served as an assistant education secretary under President George H.W. Bush and was a firm supporter of No Child Left Behind — Ravitch has soured on the ideas of charter schools, vouchers and other choice initiatives. She’s also turned her back on standardized test-based accountability systems.
Steve Zimmer, left, John Deasy, right
Superintendent John Deasy and School Board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff flew to Washington D.C. last week, not for a relaxing getaway but to meet with lawmakers to discuss the impact of federal budget cuts is having on the district. Known as “sequestration,” the cuts are costing the district hundreds of millions of dollars in Title I money for school districts with high percentages of low-income students.
The trip was “marked mostly with less than positive news on the fiscal front, for sure,” Deasy told LA School Report today. “There was no evidence whatsoever that the sequester is going to go away.”
As Deasy begins to prepare next year’s budget, he’s faced with a school board that favors hiring more teachers and support staff at a time the electorate has voted to raise taxes to fund public education. In other words, expectations are high. But federal cuts threaten to plunge the district further into debt, even as new money begins to flow from the state.
“Do we take new money and [fill] the hole? It’s going to be a very big dilemma,” said Deasy.
LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy and two board members spent a few days in Washington, where they met with officials and lawmakers about the impact of federal budget cuts on the district.
Deasy and members Monica Ratliff and Steve Zimmer met with Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from Concord, Assistant Education Secretary Deb Delisle and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, according to the LA Daily News.
The News quoted Ratliff as saying, “What I just realized is how Dr. Deasy has worked to cultivate relationships here in Washington that allows us to talk about what needs to be done for our district.”
The LAUSD School Board today finally approved a $113 million budget for transitioning to the Common Core curriculum. The 6-1 vote marked the end of a tumultuous and seemingly directionless process that led to the resignation of Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jaime Aquino, an LA Times editorial calling the Board “dysfunctional,” and finally to Mayor Eric Garcetti wading in to Board politics for the first time.
Aquino was conspicuously absent from the proceedings. As Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, he has been a chief architect of the Common Core transition. He said on Friday that he would resign at the end of the year because of what he sees as school board meddling.
“Due to the announcement of my resignation, I have decided not to do any public engagement during my transition period,” Aquino told LA School Report in an email, when asked why he wasn’t at today’s board meeting. “My focus will be to work behind the scenes to ensure a smooth transition.”
Board President Vladovic
Today is expected be another long day for LA Unified School Board members.
Last week’s eight-hour session — only the second board meeting of the school year –was not long enough to hash out the details of the district’s Common Core implementation plan, so they’ve sandwiched in a Special Board Meeting between two others that were already on the calendar.
The first meeting, starting at 10 a.m., will have a short window for public comment but, will then become, for the most part, a closed session for the board, legal counsel and labor contract negotiators. This is also when the board will take up personnel issues, a discussion which will now include the unexpected resignation on Friday of Jaime Aquino, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction and Superintendent John Deasy’s right-hand man. A routine evaluation of the superintendent’s performance is also on the closed-door agenda.
Jaime Aquino‘s surprise announcement Friday that he’ll resign from Superintendent John Deasy‘s staff at the end of the year has sent shockwaves throughout LA Unified. Tomorrow, the district school board will take up the matter in closed session.
It’s unclear what they’ll discus – but his impending departure has exposed the district and its fractured board to a number of sudden and burning questions, not least of which may be:
Is Deasy Next?
On election night in March, just as it was becoming clear that Steve Zimmer was going to hold off a tough challenge by Kate Anderson, I got an email from a semi-prominent school reformer, offering three bold pronoucements: there would be a new board president (there is), there would be a new makeup of the board (there is) and Deasy would be on his way out. My correspondent told me: “Enough board interference makes his job really unfun and he leaves for greener pastures.”
They were unusual predictions, coming as they did months before Monica Ratliff pulled off a shock upset against Antonio Sanchez. Deasy’s staff is certainly frustrated by the new makeup of the board, as evidenced by Aquino’s departure. When asked last Friday if he was thinking about resigning, Deasy declined to comment – an ominous response coming from the man who told LAUSD administrators little more than a month ago, “I and this administration are not going anywhere.”
And that’s just the first question awaiting resolution:
Board President Vladovic
When Richard Vladovic was elected by his colleagues as President of the LA Unified school board in July, observers predicted a much slower moving agenda. Judging by Tuesday’s board meeting, that’s exactly what’s happened.
The meeting lasted about 8 hours and wrapped up a bit after 9 pm. That’s not an unheard of duration; some meetings under the previous president, Monica Garcia, lasted that long. And prior to Garcia, they went even longer.
“When I very first got on the board in 2001, we used to have meetings that went until midnight,” said Marlene Canter, a former board president. “Board members were really tired.”
But not only was Tuesday’s meeting long; many of the day’s important agenda items, such as approval of the district’s $113 million Common Core budget and a plan to set budget priorities for the next two years were postponed. In fact, the Board spent over an hour simply debating whether or not to postpone the Common Core budget debate before scheduling a special two-hour meeting next Tuesday.
Sometime in hour five of yesterday’s marathon LA Unified school board meeting, the board approved a new set of guidelines to help principals, teachers and parents navigate the complex Parent Trigger process.
That’s the state law allowing parents to take over a failing school and force a complete overhaul, so long as a majority of parents have sought change through a petition drive.
But just as school board member Steve Zimmer – who won approval of establishing guidelines back in June – led a 5-2 board vote to approve the guidelines, a new set of concerns became evident.
The School Board yesterday approved a motion by Steve Zimmer to ask state lawmakers to clarify the use of Proposition 39, a 2000 law mandating that public school space be shared equitably with charter schools. That law has lead to legal disputes between district schools and charters forced to share campuses as well as a lawsuit between LAUSD and the California Charter School Association (CCSA).
Zimmer’s proposal also seeks to set up rules restricting the “solicitation of LAUSD pupils for the purposes of attending charter” schools, which charter executives deny takes place.