Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Commentary: The long goodbye, the no goodbye, the tears of Cortines

by Michael Janofsky, LA School Report |

Emotional board sendoff for Kayser, but not a word for Galatzan

by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

LAUSD school board Crotines
As Bennett Kayser takes his seat for the last time, Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan are not in the room.

Posted on June 24, 2015 12:12 pm  ::  That was quite a board meeting yesterday, with more emotion on display than Nixon or LBJ ever showed in announcing their decisions to leave the White House.

The first wave came in The Long Goodbye to Bennett Kayser, whose bid for a second term was thwarted by a member of the group he most detests, a charter school executive.

For more than 90 minutes, a parade of admirers praised Kayser as the conscience of the board — for standing up to former superintendent John Deasy, for supporting teachers no matter what, for opposing charters no matter what, for holding to his principles and for demonstrating how a neurological challenge, Parkinson’s disease, is no barrier to public service.

All well and good — although spending more than a third of a four-hour meeting on good-byes seemed a tad excessive, even for this board.

Maybe the farewell would not have seemed so gaudy were it not for the polar-opposite manner in which his colleague Tamar Galatzan finished her day.

She, too, lost last month, ending eight years of service on the board, twice as long as Kayser. She had requested no public ceremony, due in part, perhaps, to the lingering animus of members who could not abide by her loyalty to Deasy. She was as faithful to him as Kayser was to UTLA, the teachers union.

But political sympathies aside, it was stunning to see her disappear without anyone at least acknowledging her public service over the years, if not for holding to her principles.

No one from the board, including the other Deasy acolyte, Mónica García, said a word. Nor did anyone else in the room.

Poof . . . Gone . . . What was her name, again?

The other passion play was Superintendent Ramon Cortines’s weepy, halting speech — about the 2016 budget!

Conceding that the board can no longer pay for everything it wants — which it was willing to do under Deasy — he choked up through his remarks and bawled openly at the end after reminding listeners, “There are no more presents under the Christmas tree.”

It was odd in a way. This was the district’s most robust spending plan in years, nearly $8 billion worth, with thousands of teachers and other employees getting a raise for the first time since the Big Bang. Abandoned and neglected programs would be blooming back to life. New money to spruce up schools. More than 125 countries don’t have that much to spend annually.

Yet the prospect of looming deficits and scores of unavoidable layoffs left him visibly shaken, so much so that he suggested he could serve only another six months, not the year he had agreed to.

More than a few observers watched him break down at the end, dabbing his eyes with tissue, and wondered if he were ill. Discrete questions brought an answer: No, he wasn’t suffering; he had just worked so hard on the budget and he really felt bad about the inability to rescind more layoff notices and the possibility, however remote, that the budget would not be approved.

The members loved him for it. Cortines, after all, is the the district’s protector, the father figure, the un-Deasy. They missed no opportunities to thank him for his hard work, his collaborative management style, his willingness to take on the hard issues of running a bureaucracy as large and unwieldy as LA Unified is.

Imagine how long his farewell will be. Better bring a sleeping bag. And tissues

Bennett Kayser

Posted on June 23, 2015 7:02 pm  ::  Two members of the LA Unified school board, losers in last month’s elections, joined their colleagues for the final time today, as Bennett Kayser got a 90-minute heartfelt and emotional sendoff and Tamar Galatzan walked away without so much as a goodbye or thank you from any of the remaining five members, including the out-going president, Richard Vladovic.

Kayser, a one-term from District 5 who lost in his reelection bid last month, was lauded for his unwavering loyalty to labor groups and his role as a constant champion of early and adult education programs. The long parade of speakers — 13 in all — offered praise, hugs, handshakes, a stream of I-love-yous, lots of tears — and a brass school bell as a gift from the district.

Board members Mónica Ratliff and Steve Zimmer wept as they said farewell. Ratliff presented Kayser with a jumbo sized certificate for his service to the district then choked up, saying, “I am so sorry to see you go.”

Zimmer wrapped his arms around Kayser.

“Thank you for being our conscience when we wavered,” Zimmer said, gently rubbing Kayser’s back.  “We’ve been through a hell of a time here. Not one day on the school board has been easy but you served with dignity.”

Others wishing Kayser bon voyage into his post-school board life, included former school board president and California State Assembly member, Jackie Goldberg, and the past and present presidents of UTLA, the teachers union, Warren Fletcher and Alex Caputo-Pearl.

“What you saw was what you got and what he said was what he meant,” Goldberg said, lamenting what she called a loss of an “honest man” on the school board.

Judith Perez, president of the administrators union, AALA, who is retiring at the end of the month, called Kayser a “mensch” and thanked him for being “most responsive to the needs of bargaining units.”

Perez was also the first of many speakers to touch on the nasty campaign tactics employed against Kayser throughout his reelection bid against charter school backed, Ref Rodriguez, who joins Scott Schmerelson as the board’s two newest members when they’re sworn in July 1.

“I received the hideous onslaught of marketing materials that were sent out against you,” she said.

Kayser was accused of being racist against minorities in a flyer paid for by the political arm of the California Charter Schools Association.

At the request of Caputo-Pearl, the current UTLA president, all of the teachers in the audience rose to thank Kayser.

“Bennet Kayser, UTLA loves you!” he exclaimed.

The man himself also had a turn on the floor, listing the achievements he is “most proud of” during his four year stint. Among them: adding Ethnic Studies to the high school curriculum, the return of board member lead committees, hiring classified teachers to teach health classes, saving early childhood and adult education programs, and the continuation of two outdoor field trip programs.

Before returning to his seat, Kayser got a standing ovation.

By contrast, Galatzan, who completed eight years on the board, left the meeting just before its adjournment without any member acknowledging that she was even there.

She was conspicuously absent from the horseshoe for the entirety of the Kayser pageantry and sat through the remaining hours of the meeting unaccustomedly quiet. She had declined any public sendoff, according to her office, and was gone by the time Vladovic gave Kayser the honor of calling the meeting to an end,

LAUSD board approves $8 billion budget with priority on salaries, restoring cuts

Annie Gilbertson with Sarah Monte | KPCC |




  • salary increases
  • 42 percent growth in arts education to $32 million.
  • 86 percent increase in instructional materials to $295 million.
  • 151 percent hike in ongoing and major maintenance to $201 million.
  • Future increase in full-day preschool
    • Many layoffs remain in force, especially in adult ed.
    • 20 percent decrease in parent involvement funding
    • 65 percent drop in special education counselors
    • 50 percent decrease in gifted and talented program
    • The board agreed to cut about 3,000 half-day preschool seats
    June 24, 05:30 AM  ::  The Los Angeles Unified's latest budget includes an infusion of new funds from the state, but rather than increased spending for high-need students, the money will go to cover costs deferred during the recession. Ken Teegardin/flickr Creative Commons

    The Los Angeles Unified school board blessed Superintendent Ramon Cortines' $8 billion spending plan Tuesday, funneling a $820 million increase in state funding next school year into teacher raises, maintenance and other programs cut during the recession.

    As California's education budget grows to $53 billion, L.A Unified is one of many school districts using its share to shore up operations after years of recession-era cuts, among them layoffs of thousands of teachers, librarians and nurses from district schools.

    Those employees who survived the lean years saw the buying power of their paychecks shrink after the district deferred cost of living raises. Students sidestepped broken toilets, leaky water fountains and falling ceiling tiles after the district raided funds previously earmarked for maintenance and repairs to keep teachers in classrooms.

    This year, the district received an infusion of new funds from the state, which the school board celebrated at its budget meeting Tuesday.

    "This is by far the best budget we have seen in many years," said board member Monica Garcia, who presided over the board during the recession.

    But advocates chide the district for failing to seize the opportunity to seed new and improved services for the district's more than 500,000 high-needs students, those who are English learners, foster youth and children from low-income families.

    California's new public school funding formula called the Local Control Funding Formula allots additional cash for these high-need students, but the district is using much of the new money to cover growing special education costs.

    Diana Guillen, a parent of English learners in Pico Union, said the district is misallocating the cash designated for kids like hers.

    "They buy things like electronics that go in the trash," said Guillen, speaking in Spanish. "They have money, but they don't spend it on the necessities."

    Superintendent Ramon Cortines told a board room packed with teachers he wished he could do more. "So many issues, so little time, but together, we can make progress," Cortines said, choking back tears.

    The 2015-2016 budget marks a turn away from former Superintendent John Deasy's priorities, most notably the district's $1 billion iPad program. Deasy resigned last October, in part because of problems with the rollout of the program that aimed to place a tablet in the hands of every student.

    Cortines' budget cuts technology expenditures by more than 30 percent to $3 million while growing the technology support staff to $5 million.

    The superintendent also oversaw negotiations with the teachers union and signed off on a 10 percent raise and large pension and healthcare packages. The cost of employing the district's more than 250,000 teachers is ratcheting up $124 million to more than $2 billion next year. 

    ●●smf: More than 250,000 teachers? Houston, I think we have a problem.

    Other notable program increases include:

    • 42 percent growth in arts education to $32 million.
    • 86 percent increase in instructional materials to $295 million.
    • 151 percent hike in ongoing and major maintenance to $201 million.

    Declines in program funding include:

    • 20 percent decrease in parent involvement funding to $17 million.
    • 65 percent drop in special education counselors to $2 million. 
    • 50 percent decrease in gifted and talented program to $1.3 million.

    District officials gave no explanations for these cuts during the board meeting.

    The board also agreed to cut about 3,000 half-day preschool seats as a means to grow a full-day program for four-year-olds in greatest need.

    Right after he took the helm as superintendent, Cortines warned that the district was suffering from a “structural deficit” as operational costs ticked up and enrollment declined.

    More than 600 teachers and other staff received layoff notices last spring, but the growing state revenue is more than enough to balance the budget. So the board asked the superintendent to “attempt to ensure” the notices are rescinded.

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