Wednesday, February 12, 2014

UPDATED: TUESDAY’S BOARD MEETING: Six votes in search of a consensus.

Now with more stories …and less consensus!

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I watched Tuesday’s festivities from the comfort of my couch and my fuzzy slippers, consuming mass quantities of NyQuil and drinking glass after glass of water. (Drown a Cold/Bore a fever.) 

The phone kept ringing with successively bad-to-worse news. The goings on at Beaudry made nothing any better. The Kleenex supply dwindled.

The frightening thing is that the LA (dis)Unified dysfunction is televised – for all the world (including children) to see.  They got the library piece right  ….thought Ms. Garcia opposed it vigorously – she was the sole dissenting vote - and continued in her vitriol toward boardmembers disinterested in following her “leadership”.  There was the usual stonewalling. smoke+mirrors and obfuscation re: the long overdue Arts Education plan+budget. When the subject is Arts Ed and nobody from that branch presents …or School Libraries and nobody from Library Services staff  presents -- the board should be asking “Why?”. The perspective from the 24th floor is very limited indeed.

When it was over KLCS returned to their regular programming – in this case ‘Dinosaur Train’ followed by ‘The Cat in the Hat”. A vast improvement in programming.

L.A. school board rejects proposal to put a caretaker in vacant seat

By Howard Blume, LA Times |

L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer

L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer developed a plan for a vacant board seat, but it failed to win majority support. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / July 2, 2013)

February 11, 2014, 10:12 p.m.  ::  A proposal to appoint a caretaker to a vacant Los Angeles Board of Education seat failed Tuesday when a majority of the remaining trustees refused to support it.

The decision means that the office formerly held by Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December, will remain unfilled until the results of a special election.

Balloting is scheduled for a primary in June; a runoff election, if necessary, would be held in August.

LaMotte had represented District 1, which stretches across much of South and Southwest Los Angeles. She was the board’s only African American member and held a seat that has been occupied by black elected officials since it was established.

How to handle the vacancy became the subject of intense debate within the black community, with many advocates concerned that key decisions were looming while the seat would be unfilled.

The board first decided to hold a special election rather than to appoint a replacement. At the time, board member Steve Zimmer asserted that an appointee with full voting powers should hold the office in the meantime. But a board majority sided with district legal counsel in concluding that an appointee with full powers would be illegal once the election had been scheduled.

Zimmer then came back with a proposal for an appointee who would sit with the Board of Education, make proposals, participate in public discussions and cast nonbinding votes as well as manage the District 1 office.

He also envisioned an open application process, in which people could apply and submit a statement, with the board eventually voting on a choice in early March.

But board President Richard Vladovic immediately put forward a counterproposal. He suggested that L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy should choose the caretaker and that person should report directly to Deasy. In addition, the elected successor would have six months to reopen discussions on policy decisions made since LaMotte’s death.

Joining Vladovic in voting for this alternative were Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan, Deasy’s closest allies on the board. But with a 3-3 tally, the measure failed.

Deasy remained silent except to answer a question by saying he had no one in mind as an appointee.

The board then immediately voted on Zimmer’s original proposal. It failed by the same 3-3 tally, with Monica Ratliff and Bennett Kayser siding with Zimmer.

Ratliff wanted to know why her colleagues asked Zimmer to develop a process, but then voted down his proposal without any discussion.

“I don’t think this dialogue is a good process to justify our votes,” Vladovic replied, adding that he had been a history teacher and believed in the electoral process.

Galatzan and Garcia remained silent. In previous meetings, they had made it clear that they would not necessarily support whatever plan Zimmer developed.

“We’re going to move on,” Vladovic said.

LA school board launches new library task force

Annie Gilbertson | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC

Fancy Jantzi/Flickr

February 12th, 2014, 5:30am  ::  The Los Angeles Unified school board approved a task force Tuesday to address the hundreds of school libraries that have closed due to a lack of specialized staff.

There are only 98 librarians in a district 768 school libraries. Many elementary schools opt for library aides instead - a lower-pay, part-time position. But even with aides, 332 school libraries do not have staff.  State law says only librarians or aides can run school libraries.

"We all know that one immediate solution is the staffing of all our libraries," said board member Monica Ratliff, who authored the task force resolution. "Few are openly opposed to the concept of staffing all our libraries and many are currently interested in addressing the current system of inequity in which some students have access to library books and others don't."

Board member Monica Garcia was the only one to oppose the motion and dismissed the discussion as a union issue. She argued that if librarians and library aides have a task force, all other employees would need one, too.

"This is a 2014-2015 strategy for only one of the bargaining units or one of the classifications that took hits with every other classification -  no one got away without sacrificing," Garcia said.

The issue of library closures quickly gained steam early this school year when KPCC reported that Lorne Street Elementary had a library full of books and no one to check them out.

The district did not provide the number of library closures at the time, but Ratliff said she "hounded them" until they provided staffing records. Those records showed about half of schools are without library staff.

The task force is expected to outline the current state of staffing and outline a plan for funding. Members will have 90 days to present recommendations for the budget.

LA school board nixes non-voting advocate position for south district

Annie Gilbertson | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC

February 11th, 2014, 6:32pm ::  The Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education has changed its mind about appointing an advocate for District 1.

Last month, the board voted to allow member Steve Zimmer to figure out the responsibilities and legal parameters of a temporary, non-voting board member. But a proposal to move the appointment forward failed in a 3-3 vote Tuesday.

"I - as a former history teacher - believe very much in the electoral process," said board president Richard Vladovic, who voted in favor of the position in January, but against moving forward on Tuesday.

When Marguerite LaMotte passed away in December, stakeholders stood dozens deep and spoke for several hours during public comments about how the board should replace her.

The community was split: some wanted an election; others, an appointment.

The school board voted to hold an election, and Zimmer proposed appointing a non-voting advocate until those proceedings conclude and a new member joins the board.

After the failed vote Tuesday, some board members started talking about their reasoning.

"The constituents in District 1 need to know why people voted against an appointment and this process," board member Monica Ratliff  said.

But Vladovic cut the discussion short.

"I don't think this dialog is a good process to justify our votes," he said, and called the next item of business.

After push by LA school board, another deadline for Arts budget

Mary Plummer | | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC

Mary Plummer/KPCC

February 11th, 2014, 3:48pm  ::  The Los Angeles Unified school board discusses the district's arts education plan during a meeting Feb. 11, 2014.

The Los Angeles Unified school board Tuesday had its most detailed public discussion yet on the future of arts education in the district - with many board members asking an administrator pointed questions about whether instruction was equitably distributed and what it would cost to expand it.

"This is a tough piece," said board member Monica Garcia, who is politically in line with Superintendent John Deasy.  "I think this is an example of something that everyone supports and yet - as you pointed out - we're better, but we're far away from where we want to be."

"I want to know: what's the dollar investment that it takes," she added.

Steve Zimmer, a teacher and moderate member of the board, said he was worried about fairness and wanted something like an "equity report card" on arts access for students.

"I think we need to just be a little bit more direct and explicit about who's got access, who doesn't," he said. 

After a 30-minute discussion, the board reached a consensus that administrators should provide an arts-related curriculum budget for a first look in April.

"We're going to be doing a budget, but we've got to wait until that Governor unwraps everything in May to really, really be more definitive," said school board President Richard Vladovic.

The district's new arts education plan, released last summer, is a result of former school board member Nury Martinez's Arts at the Core resolution in October 2012, which sought to restore arts education access and funding after extreme budget cuts hit the district after the recession. Martinez's resolution called for a detailed funding strategy to be delivered by July 1, 2013. When that deadline came and went, Zimmer called for a new deadline of Dec. 3, which was also missed.

Tuesday's discussion started as a report on the status of arts education in the district.

Gerardo Loera, L.A. Unified's executive director of curriculum and instruction, said the district has made progress implementing the new plan. He said teachers are being trained in arts integration, more than 70 arts organization are helping deliver instruction and every elementary school in the district got a traveling arts teacher this school year, up from 78 percent last school year.

But as KPCC has reported - traveling arts teachers only see a fraction of students at each school, and many schools in Los Angeles Unified only receive one semester of arts access, not an entire school year.

Loera also said the district's music repair shop, which KPCC reported on in October, has drastically reduced its backlog of broken instruments from 2,679 in November 2012 to 485 now. He said the backlog will be cleared by May 2014. The average repair time for instruments sent over now is two weeks, down from several months. Some instruments had been stranded for years.

The district added two new instrument repair techs and posted four additional job openings after KPCC's story; it has also been increasing the use of outside contractors.

School board member Bennett Kayser called the report "very encouraging." Garcia and Zimmer were the most critical.

Zimmer said he was surprised that the district had such a "tiny" number of arts teachers - and the high bar schools had to meet to get any time at all on their schedule.

"I was really struck that you had to get to over 700 students in a elementary school to even have half of an FTE for an arts instructor," Zimmer said, referring to a full-time equivalent arts teaching position.

He said that was particularly near-sighted, when a recent report found that one in seven full-time jobs in Los Angeles County are directly or indirectly part of the creative economy.

"It seems that there's an economic driver as well to making our investment," he said.

Board member Monica Ratliff took the lead on pushing for a deadline for the arts education plan's budget.

But Loera at times countered the idea of a discrete budget.

"Ultimately I believe the superintendent will package that with the rest of the budget that the board will ultimately act on and decide on during that regular process," he said.

The board ordered the arts budget to go before Ratliff's curriculum committee all the same.

LAUSD board denies renewal for two high-performing charter schools



Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

School board member Bennett Kayser voted against renewing two charters in his district

Posted on February 12, 2014   ::  In an unusual move, the LA Unified School Board voted yesterday to deny the renewal of two high-performing charter schools.

<< School board member Bennett Kayser voted against renewing two charters in his district

The two schools, Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy, a K-6 school, and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy, a 6-12 school, are located in southeast Los Angeles, and both serve predominantly low-income, Latino students. Together, they serve over 770 students.

During a heated board discussion Superintendent John Deasy did not mince words in his support of the schools. Of Antonio Maria Lugo, one of the highest-ranked schools in the district, he said, “the trajectory of achievement in [this] school is unquestionable and unassailable.”

Acknowledging the schools’ strong academic records (see report cards here and here), a number of board members found fault with the Aspire schools for just one reason: their refusal to provide special education to its students by going directly through the LA Unified-administered plan.

Board member Steve Zimmer said the same issue was raised last year. “We need to be assured that all charters are under this SELPA – and that is my only objection,” he said, adding, “We are taking the advantages that are allied to us by state law in the renewal process to raise questions that have to do with the oversight, which is totally within our bounds.”

The district is required to provide special services to schools through what’s known as a SELPA – Special Education Local Planning Area — with state money for services flowing through the district to the local service providers and specialist.

But since 2010, the state has given charter schools the right to seek services from an outside SELPA, in effect, going around LAUSD, depriving the district of funds and oversight. As one of the few charter operators that uses an outside SELPA, Aspire runs 12 charter schools within the district, five of which do not participate in LA Unified’s special education plan.

“Participating in the district’s SELPA is uniquely expensive for us,” James Wilcox, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire, told LA School Report. “It doesn’t give us the same flexibility or allow us to use all of our resources. It’s the same reason the LAUSD wants us to be part of their plan.”

Board member Tamar Galatzan argued that because charter schools are not required to adopt the district’s plan, the board is in effectively punishing successful schools based on an objection to statewide policies. Monica Garcia joined her in advocating for the schools, but they found no allies among the other four members.

As it became clear the schools would be denied, Galatzan simply said, “This disgusts me.”

The renewals were denied with a vote of 4-2.

After the first vote, Garcia challenged Bennett Kayser on his position: “For the record, Mr. Kayser, will you tell us why you chose to deny this for your neighborhood?” Kayser declined to answer. Both schools are located in his district.

The charter school chain plans to appeal the decision with the LA County Office of Education within 60 days.

Earlier in the day the board approved the renewals of eight other charter schools: Academia Moderna, Community Preparatory Academy, Equitas Academy, PUC Community Charter ES, Valor Academy Charter, Granada Hills Charter High School, TEACH Tech Charter High School, and View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter.

LA Unified board votes against a caretaker (twice) for vacant seat

by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

President Vladovic: His vote doomed caretaker

Posted on February 12, 2014   ::  The LA Unified school board on Tuesday quashed any chance for temporary representation for the 110 schools and nearly quarter million students in board District 1, twice defeating measures that would have appointed a non-voting caretaker.

<<President Vladovic: His vote doomed caretaker

It was just the latest example of the inability of a school board, paralyzed by the absence of a potential tie-breaking vote, to push past personal differences for sake of unity.

The decision means that the seat, which has been vacant since Marguerite LaMotte died more than two months ago, will remain empty through a special election scheduled for June 3 or through mid-August if a runoff is needed.

The path to failure began when board president Richard Vladovic delayed action on a proposal from Steve Zimmer with an an idea of his own, which he called an amendment — directing Superintendent John Deasy to select and appoint an “executor” for the seat. Before the vote, Monica Ratliff asked Deasy if he knew whom he would appoint.

“I don’t,” he said.

The amendment failed on a 3-3 vote.

That brought the members back to Zimmer’s proposal, a carefully worked measure that would have allowed residents of District 1 to participate in the appointment process by nominating candidates for the position.

Zimmer had led the campaign to appoint a non-voting advocate, devising a set of duties and responsibilities that might “walk right up to the line of what’s legal,” as he said. But the board failed to pass it, again at 3-3.

Oddly, Vladovic, who considered himself a good friend of LaMotte’s who had spoken passionately about making sure that District 1 students and families had an interim voice on the board, voted against Zimmer.

That spurred a strong reaction from Ratliff, who cried when the board met for the first time after LaMotte’s death.

She referred to the board’s agreeing to have Zimmer lead an ad hoc committee to find a way to bring a District 1 caretaker to the board. Zimmer held a public meeting last week, and no other board member attended.

“He was sent on a task and nobody supported him,” Ratliff said before turning to the three who voted against his solution — Vladovic, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia. “Why did you vote against his report when you voted for the process to find a caretaker?”

She pressed them for an answer, saying “Constituents in District 1 deserve to know.”

But Vladovic insisted, “They only have to justify their votes to their constituents.”

Garcia said she voted against ZImmer’s proposal “because of my respect to the process and the people.” Yet she had voted in favor of Vladovic’s approach.

Minutes after the second vote, Garcia told LA School Report that one reason she opposed Zimmer’s motion is because “I don’t have the confidence in the ability of the board to select a caretaker.”

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