Friday, July 28, 2006

PTA in LA Speaks out on AB 1381

On Thursday evening July 27th PTA District Presidents Linda Ross of Thirty-first District PTSA and Scott Folsom of Tenth District PTSA addressed the Assembly Education Committee hearing at Washington Irving Middle School re: AB 1381

SCOTT: Honorable members of the Committee, Mr. Mayor, Governor Romer, Members of the Board of Education and fellow stakeholders in the education of the children of Los Angeles.

I am Scott Folsom, President of Los Angeles 10st District PTA, representing PTA and PTSA units in local Districts 3 through 8. – all of LAUSD south of Mulholland.

We (note that first person plural pronoun) will hear a lot about LAUSD tonight, but we all need to agree on one fact: LAUSD IS ALL OF US: parents, educators, students, taxpayers, citizens and non-citizens, PTA members and not, mayors, politicians school board members — until we can get beyond the "us" against "them" we are stuck in neutral.

Linda Ross, from 31st District and I have been asked to give PTA's perspective in AB 1381. We have divided up the duties - but we are not playing good cop, bad cop. We are parents and parent leaders, not policemen. I am going to describe PTA's position on the legislation and Linda is going to give our vision of how we get from where we are to where we think we need to be.

Both PTA Districts – with 60,000 PTA independent volunteer members in LAUSD have taken an OPPOSE position on the legislation. California State PTA with over a million members up and down the state has also taken an OPPOSE position. It isn't that PTA doesn't welcome the mayor's ideas and innovation - or his passion and engagement – because we do. It isn't because we embrace the status quo, because we certainly don't. We just don't like the legislation as written.

The bill presents a number of areas of concern:

§ Meaningful Parental Involvement – The Bill presents no specifics on involving parents in decision making other than saying parents will be engaged. We welcome parent involvement and engagement – and admit that it is lacking in the current regime – but without specifics and a true commitment we fear more of the same.

§ School District Governance – The plan, while claiming to simplify and decentralize governance, complicates it with added bureaucracy and chain-of command and org chart that boggle the mind.

§ Accountability – Accountability is a worthy goal if somewhat of a buzz word in the current debate. But the Mayor–Council-of-Mayors–Superintendent–UTLA–Board of Education model of AB 1381 presents a nexus of accountability with an extremely vague delimiting of authority — who-reports-to-whom is a spider web with invisible lines of authority in one of the graphic representations — and nowhere in the scheme of accountability does the word "parent" appear.

- Someone has to be accountable to parents, as – and, we agree with the mayor here – parents need to be accountable to someone.

- Additionally it is unclear to whom the Superintendent – with increased power and authority – reports.

- I also serve on the Citizens' School Construction Bond Oversight Committee, with constitutionally mandated oversight of the District's 19 Billion Dollar construction and modernization program. I have real concerns that AB 1381 changes by legislative fiat the constitutional authority, contract and memorandum of understanding between the Board and the Oversight Committee — and amends voter approved bond language about how and for what the bond funds are to be spent. At the worst bond funds might be misspent. At the very least the District's excellent bond ratings could be imperiled – bringing higher interest rates, less construction and a shortfall in the building program.

§ Constitutionality – The State Constitution is pretty specific that only constitutionally recognized educational entities hold authority over public schools and also that the legislature doesn't just lack the authority to target legislation at single school districts - it is forbidden to do so. This is a leftover from the reforms of 1912 when the legislature was seen as meddling in local school districts; it was a good idea then and it still is. Additionally, Los Angeles is a Charter City and the governance of the school district is a matter for the city charter.

§ Equity Issues for all Students – Beyond the equity issues for Special Education, Adult Education and Magnet Programs – unaddressed in AB 1381 – we have an additional troublesome concern: The Bill proposes to create a separate and unequal sub-district – The Mayor's Community Partnership for School Excellence - administered separately by the Mayor and others - for underperforming schools and to focus additional recourses on those schools without regard to the impact on other schools and students outside the pilot. The mayor is authorized to raise additional funds for these schools – again at the expense of schools and students not selected.

Even though AB 1381 addresses School Governance issues only in the Los Angeles Unified School District, California State PTA believes that there are state-wide implications. At the June 28, 2006 Senate Education Committee hearing, State Senator Denham attempted to amend the Fresno City School District into AB 1381 but was not successful.


LINDA: Honorable members of the Committee, Mr. Mayor, Governor Romer, Members of the Board of Education and fellow stakeholders in the education of the children of Los Angeles:

I am Linda Ross, President of 31st District PTA in the San Fernando Valley, Sunland and Tujunga.

As Scott said: This evening this Committee and the good people in the audience will hear from a number of well-meaning folks with the best interest of kids at heart. Make no mistake: Every speaker from every perspective on the issue of AB 1381 speaks to you with kids in their hearts.

Some of us are supporting Mayor Villaraigosa and AB 1381. Some of us believe the LAUSD School Board and Superintendent work well just as they are. Most of us fall somewhere in between. But all of us would welcome everyone to the dialog – and to the mission of making our schools the best they can be by working together.

Let me describe where I think we all agree:

· Whatever our position, we are sure that having “winners” and “losers” in this contest of wills is not in the best interest of our children and our schools.

· We see merit in an outside force, the Mayor, bringing his energy and drive to the complex issues facing our schools.

· Serious and prolonged under-funding has hurt our children; and while the challenges ahead cannot be answered by money alone, we want all the help we can get in reversing this systematic lack of resources.

· We are proud progress has been made.

· But too many students drop out, and too many are unprepared for a productive life in our communities in the 21st century.

We are not in agreement that AB 1381 is the only way to resolve this battle; much of the current rhetoric shortchanges progress made and lessons learned. Even if implemented –and if it survives the inevitable legal challenges - we are concerned that the new law will come too late for the Mayor to have input on the selection of the new Superintendent.

If AB 1381 doesn’t become law we don't necessarily want to lose Mayor Villaraigosa’s idea of trying innovative ideas on clusters of schools where student achievement remains very, very low. That is dialog that has merit and needs to be fully discussed.

Some of us, PTA among them, believe that an elected Board of Education is critical for parental and community input to decisions that affect our children.

What we are asking for is for Mayor Villaraigosa, the School Board, UTLA and the bargaining units representing educators, administrators and classified employees, along with us - parent and community organizations – to sit down at the table and negotiate a settlement.

We don’t want lawsuits, and we don’t want fighting and rancor for one or more years to come. We think that continued fighting is not going to help our children, especially when it seems to us that there is more agreement than disagreement among the parties. We think that some leadership, from all sides, is critical.

We know that feelings have been hurt. Many harsh and nasty things have been said on all sides. But as parents, we tell our children that, as grown-ups, we must put aside hurt feelings in the best interest of our children. We are urging all involved in this conflict to meet together and resolve their differences, for the children.

No one will get all that they want. But we think everyone can get what we need to go forward and make a difference in the lives of our children and in our communities. We need everyone to work together for our children.

We do not believe that anything will be served by continuing attacks on each other. And we think that resolution is possible if everyone, on all sides, put the children first.

Thank you.

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