Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Following ‘other people’s money’: Do billionaires get what they pay for?

LAUSD gets $6 million in grants to help with school reform

Los Angeles Daily News - Connie Llanos – 16 Dec

The Los Angeles Unified School District has received more than $6 million in grant funding this year to pay for 13 new ...

The Los Angeles Unified School District has received more than $6 million in grant funding this year to pay for 13 new executive positions designed to help reform local schools, according to district documents released Tuesday.

Most of the funds come from two foundations. The Wasserman Foundation, founded by entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, gave $4.4 million to LAUSD, and the Walton Foundation, started by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen, contributed $1.2 million.

Officials said the fundraising effort is part of an overall push to continue education reform even as the district faces a massive budget deficit that could leave more than 5,000 people out of work next year.

But none of these funds can be used to plug the district's budget hole, officials said. Critics are concerned that some foundations that have supported independent public charter schools and anti-union initiatives will push their agendas on the district.

"(Superintendent Ramon Cortines) has been able to attract organizations that historically have not invested in the district," said Matt Hill, Cortines' administrative officer, whose $160,000 salary is currently paid for by the Eli Broad Foundation.

"This is not about charters, this is about benefiting all students in all schools."

Most of the 13 positions are considered senior management, reporting directly to the district's top officers and the superintendent. The positions are involved with implementing LAUSD's "School Choice Plan," a reform effort that allows outside operators to apply to run district campuses.

According to district documents, the majority of the 13 positions earn salaries above $100,000 and officials said these employees are also receiving LAUSD's full benefits package (emphasis 4LAKids) . District officials said the positions will run only as long as foundation grants will fund them.       

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Key LA Unified staff positions are funded privately: The practice is a financial boon to the district but poses issues of transparency and the donors' stances on reform.

Los Angeles Times - Howard Blume – 16 Dec

Private money is paying for key senior staff positions in the Los Angeles Unified School District -- providing needed expertise at a bargain rate, but also raising questions about transparency and the direction of reformsin the nation's second-largest school system.

The highest-level outside-funded position belongs to Matt Hill, whose salary is covered by the foundation of billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. Hill is overseeing the district's high-profile effort through which groups inside or outside L.A. Unified could take over new and low-performing schools.

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