Sunday, June 04, 2006

More School Funds Sought

Teachers union officials, students and parents say proposed $36 million is not enough, but want a role in how to spend it at L.A. Unified campuses.

By Jack Leonard, LA Times Staff Writer

June 4, 2006 - A coalition of teachers union officials, students and parents Saturday demanded more money for Los Angeles Unified School District's lowest performing schools, describing a plan to inject $36 million into 17 high school campuses as a welcome start but not enough.

Complaining about large class sizes, crumbling buildings and a shortage of counselors, speakers at a rally near Los Angeles High School also called on district officials to allow the schools, rather than the district, to decide how to spend the extra money.

"We applaud the district and think this is a step in the right direction, but we are concerned, and we would like to make it clear that these 17 schools should get a lot more than $2 million each," said Edgar Sanchez, a history teacher at Washington Preparatory High School. "Parents, students and teachers must have more autonomy to the make the decisions on how the money is spent."

The news conference, attended by about 75 people carrying placards reading "Quality Schools Now," came two days after schools Supt. Roy Romer said he would allocate money to struggling schools for more teachers and counselors as well as physical improvements, such as computer labs and libraries.

The 17 schools that will benefit from the extra funds are Banning, Bell, Belmont, Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fremont, Garfield, Huntington Park, Jefferson, Jordan, Locke, Los Angeles, Manual Arts, Roosevelt, Santee, Washington Prep and Wilson.

Several students from those schools complained at Saturday's rally that a shortage of equipment, teachers and counselors has had a disruptive effect on their education.

Lucy Soto, a junior at Dorsey High School, said the two or three computers in her class are regularly broken. And students frequently have to rely on substitute teachers because of a shortage of instructors, she said.

"How are we supposed to learn anything when we have a new teacher every week?" she asked.

Saturday's event was organized by United Teachers Los Angeles, which is the local teachers union, and the Coalition for Educational Justice, a group of parents, students and teachers that advocates for improved funding for schools in low-income areas.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy said the union will continue to work with community groups to push for dramatic reductions in what he called the district's "bloated bureaucracy" and an increase in decision-making power for local schools.

In response to criticism that the district employs too many managers, Romer said in a phone interview that it has fewer administrators per teacher than do Chicago and New York. He called the $36-million proposal an "important step" before more money arrives from the state, starting in 2007, as part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's promise to spend an additional $2.9 billion on education.

"Obviously, I'd like to spend more in this way," Romer said, "but we've got pressures to meet a whole lot of new demands. New buildings. Wage increases."

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