Thursday, December 03, 2009

TENTATIVE DEAL ON PILOT SCHOOLS SET WITH UTLA: LAUSD, teachers union agree to pact that would call for 20 to open next year

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

Dec 3, 2009 -- Los Angeles Unified announced a tentative deal Wednesday with the teachers union that would allow the opening of 20 more semi-independent "pilot" schools next year.

If approved, the deal could help LAUSD retain control of more campuses under the district's reform plan that allows teachers and nonprofits to compete to run public schools.

Pilot schools are district-run campuses that give staff and parents more decision-making power and have teachers working under more flexible contracts. They have become an attractive option to charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run and are not required to hire union workers.

The deal between LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles still has to be finalized by union leaders and the Los Angeles Board of Education, but if approved could bring the number of innovative pilot schools in the district to 30 by next year.

"The purpose of establishing pilot schools is to provide additional models of educational excellence that will promote positive learning environments, help students improve test scores and foster widespread reform," said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

The tentative deal comes as the district decides who will operate 36 new and underperforming schools that are up for bid under the district's ambitious "School Choice" plan.

The district and UTLA now only have an agreement for 10 pilot schools. But the small campuses have grown popular as a progressive reform option and more than 40 schools across LAUSD have already expressed interest in converting to the new model.

At least a dozen of those schools are in the San Fernando Valley. Some teachers and community members want to launch a pilot campus at San Fernando Middle School - the region's only underperforming campus up for bid.

"UTLA supports several reform models, of which pilot schools are one," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

"Pilot schools, like the other reform models we support, put teachers and other stakeholders at the center of decision making about how money is spent at schools, curriculum and professional development."

For months the district and the teachers union had been unable to agree on a plan to expand the number of pilot schools.

Rumors surfaced that some UTLA members were interested in having a moratorium on pilot schools because they were concerned that the streamlined contract could weaken all teacher contracts.

If the tentative deal is not approved by February, the popular district-run and union-supported option could be removed as a choice for applicants vying for district schools.

UTLA is scheduled to host a special meeting next Thursday. If union leaders do not approve the deal, the agreement could be sent to a vote of all union members.

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