Sunday, March 29, 2009


Ana Kasparian | LA Politics in Education Examiner |

March 25 -- The Los Angeles Unified School District was under much scrutiny three years ago when it was discovered that two of its high schools had dropout rates above 50 percent. In fact, Jefferson High in South Los Angeles had a dropout rate of 52.1 percent, with Belmont High following at 51 percent. In response to this, members of the school board decided to launch a program dubbed the "Diploma Project," that aimed to prevent potential dropouts.

The $10 million project assigned counselors to 49 middle and high schools that suffered the highest dropout rates. These counselors would encourage at-risk students to continue their education by providing one-on-one interaction and academic attention. For instance, those who were intimidated by the high school exit exam could depend on the counselors for guidance to pass the graduation requirement.

Although the program has proven to be relatively successful, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines is putting a stop to it. In fact, Cortines characterized the district's overall counseling program as wasteful. With 9,000 layoff notices sent out to LAUSD employees, it's obvious that budget cuts are really beginning to strip away the quality of the country's second largest school district.

Another example of Cortines' money-saving strategy is to issue one librarian to all secondary schools. If a particular school wants more than one librarian, or if an elementary schools wants a librarian at all, the school must purchase library services at the expense of something else. Art programs will also have to compete for a very limited amount of money.

What I find interesting is that Barack Obama's economic stimulus package gives $130 billion to education in the United States. That is a great deal of money, and although schools in California are going through a severe budget crisis, Obama's stimulus includes a $54 billion State Stabilization Fund. This money is meant to specifically alleviate any immediate deficit issues the country's school districts may have.

Cortines obviously has a difficult job in front of him. It is not easy to be in charge of a large school district that is facing a historical budget crisis. But in his aim to cut wasteful spending in the LAUSD, he is targeting components of education that are essential for academic success. Why doesn't Cortines put a stop to flat screen TVs at the LAUSD headquarters in Downtown L.A? How about lowing the ridiculously high salaries of top officials and administrators within the school system. This isn't something I'm making up. The LA Daily News wrote an article exposing the unbelievable amount of money the LAUSD spends on unnecessary administrators and flat screen TVs. Daily News staff writer Beth Barret writes:

"District and union officials said some of the bureaucratic buildup may have come at the expense of teachers' compensation even as LAUSD continues to lag in statewide test scores and grapples with a 33.6 percent dropout rate that is far higher than the statewide average of 24.2 percent."

The school system needs to stop laying off teachers and librarians and start getting rid of assistants to assistants in the Downtown office. There is so much wasteful spending in the LAUSD, and as soon as money is tight, officials immediately target anything that could potentially make education BETTER for students.

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