The School Board member talks about Prop. 39, Redistricting and District plans to relax minimum credits for high school students to boost graduation rates.
By Ajay Singh | HP/MtW PATCH | http://bit.ly/JyTiGi
Photos (click below for larger)
21 April 2011 :: If your child goes to an LAUSD school—or if you have an interest in the nation’s second-largest public school network—there are three things to note about Bennett Kayser, the newest member on the District’s Board of Education.
The first is that he opposes Proposition 39, the 2000 ballot initiative that, among other things, allows charter schools to share unused public school property. The second thing about Kayser is that he does not agree with the new Redistricting maps that sever in half several of the communities in our local District 5. And finally, Kayser opposes any lowering of the bar for high schools students to graduate without meeting the grade requirements to gain admission into a four-year university or a two-year state college.
Kayser openly displayed those views at a meeting of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council on Thursday evening. (He acknowledged to Patch that he might have missed the meeting were it not for a Patch story that informed him he was scheduled to speak at the monthly forum—evidently the HHPNC failed to tell him about the event.)
Kayser opened his talk to a packed audience at the Highland Park Senior Citizens’ Center on Figueroa Street by denouncing Prop. 39—but at the same time admitting that as a public servant he had no choice but to follow the law that stems from the approved ballot measure.
When he himself voted for Prop. 39 in the aftermath of the 2000 stock market crash, “it seemed like a really good way to help the schools that were struggling with budget cuts and the poor economy,” Kayser said.
“Well, in fact, if you’ve read the fine print—which, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t—the Proposition says that charter schools can take empty classroom space for their own use in public schools in California.”
That, said Kayser, has been a highly contentious issue at Highland Park’s Benjamin Franklin High School, with which a Hermon-based charter school wants to share campus space, under Prop. 39 laws. The school, called Los Angeles International Charter High School, wants to use 12 vacant classrooms at Franklin, where the staff opposes any such sharing.
“As far as I know, at this point an [LAUSD] offer has been made to the charter school, and there hasn’t been a reply yet as to whether they’re going to accept the offer,” Kayser said. “I’m not a supporter of Prop. 39 by any means, but it is state law,” he added. “But sometimes there are alternatives, and I’m trying to find them to support the community.”
Tony Torres, the director of planning and development at the Los Angeles International Charter High School, told Kayser that the charter school would respond to the LAUSD offer on May 1. He then asked Kayser to clarify his position on Prop. 39. “Prop. 39 offers have been made all across the School District, not just in Highland Park,” he said, adding: “Am I correct?”
Kayser responded that that is indeed the case. “I find that Proposition 39 generally was a mistake,” he said. “But it was approved and therefore I’m supportive of it—I took an oath of office to support the laws of the State of California.”
Kayser told the audience that about a dozen years ago he chaired a charter reform committee that rewrote that Constitution of Los Angeles. “We changed the rules somewhat on reapportionment,” Kayser said, referring to the Redistricting process that occurs every 10 years in keeping with new U.S. Census data.
One of the rules was for Redistricting to keep communities whole and not split them, Kayser said. “The next thing was to have the districts compact, similar to the state of Wyoming, if at all possible, like a rectangle.” He added: “As the redistricting has gone on this year, that’s not being honored, at least not in District 5.”
Pointing to a map whose copies were distributed to attendees, Kayser noted that LAUSD District 5 doesn’t look very compact. “Several people have said it looks like a snake,” he said, adding: “It cuts off Atwater Village in half. Los Feliz is cut in half. Griffith Park is gone from the District. It also removes Marshall High School and Garfield High School from District 5.”
He and his staff, said Kayser, are fighting hard to get the new Redistricting maps changed. “We’ve presented an alternative map that meets all the requirements,” he said. “It better shows diversity than the new map that was drawn by the Redistricting Commission, the majority of which was appointed by the mayor.”
Lowering the Graduation Bar
Kayser wasn’t quite finished talking about the LAUSD’s new redistricting maps when he was interrupted by an audience member who asked him about the LAUSD’s recent plan to relax the so-called ‘A to G’ grades for high school students starting in the fall, as a way of boosting graduation rates.
“I want to know how that is going to be effective in helping our students get into the UCs and the Cal States,” asked Violeta Mendoza, an upward bound academic coordinator at Occidental College.
“That’s exactly what I’ve been saying at the Board meetings,” Kayser responded, inspiring a brief applause from the audience. “I am opposed to the new UC and Cal State standards of the reduction of 30 percent of the credits required.”
As a member of the LAUSD curriculum committee, Kayser said he’s hoping to get that changed. “What I’ve been suggesting is that we keep the number of units required so that the students can have electives and a well-rounded education,” he explained. “
Kayser said he is proposing that LAUSD adopt a two-tier graduation in which the first tier would require students to meet the less stringent requirements that were proposed last week. The second tier would allow students to opt for the full A to G program.
“So when students graduate, their diplomas would have a gold seal on them that says they made the extra effort and have the extra grades—much in the same way we do with students who have 4.0 or higher on their grades,” Kayser said. “If you agree with me and want to send some letters and e-mails to the Board [of Education] that would be great.”