By Connie Llanos Staff Writer | Daily News/Daily Breeze | http://bit.ly/oDiogY
07/12/2011 07:12:57 PM PDT - Los Angeles Unified officials and school board members Tuesday proposed two key changes to the district's landmark Public School Choice reform effort, which some parents and community members fear could water down the ambitious plan.
The reform initiative, approved by the LAUSD board in 2009, allows outside groups to compete with LAUSD-based teams to run some of the district's lowest-performing campuses and new schools.
To date, some 55 LAUSD schools have gone through the competitive process, hailed by some as one of the most promising reform efforts ever undertaken by the district and sharply criticized by others as a giveaway of public schools.
On Tuesday, district officials proposed altering the way that parents and students select their preferred bidder for a campus, after the school board eliminated a nonbinding community vote criticized for being too open to manipulation. Also Tuesday, a school board member proposed giving in-district educators first choice when applying to run new schools.
School board member Steve Zimmer said he proposed the changes to encourage charter operators, which are public schools that operate independent of LAUSD mandates, to bid on existing low-performing schools while also providing more support to district teachers.
"This is morally right," Zimmer said.
"If teachers have been struggling for years at an overcrowded school ... they should at least have a chance to submit an outstanding plan for the new school that is relieving their campus first. ... Private organizations do this all time, looking at their talent within first before recruiting outside."
Zimmer said to date only two charter operators have applied to take over existing LAUSD campuses, but representatives of several parent and community groups, as well as charter school advocates, blasted the idea as just a political move to thwart the competitive spirit of the reform plan.
"This resolution strikes at the heart of what made the Public School Choice plan so powerful and aims to give us limited public school choice," said Corri Ravare, executive director of Families that Can - a nonprofit group that represents parents of charter school students.
"This is returning this district to an era of closed-door meetings. ... Give parents respect they deserve."
But just how parents and other community members will give their feedback is also being changed.
On Tuesday, Superintendent John Deasy presented the school board with a new plan to gauge community input, after the board eliminated a nonbinding vote that allowed students, parents and staff to vote on its preferred bidder.
Under Deasy's proposal, the vote would be replaced with a process where parents, students and community members review all applications for a particular school and then measure them against a series of benchmarks created by district officials. The proposed plan did not include a process for teachers and administrators to voice their opinions on which bidders they preferred for a campus. However, after hearing concerns from board members, Deasy said he would come back with a plan for that by next month.
School board member Nury Martinez also questioned whether the district could get parents to show up for a series of lengthy meetings, and have them stick around for lengthy application review sessions, when to date parent and community participation in the Public School Choice process has been minimal.
"The litmus test will be if you can get authentic and lasting parent engagement," Martinez said.
Both proposed changes are scheduled for a vote in August.