Sunday, May 17, 2009

PARENTS UNITED: LAUSD moms and dads are mad and not going to sit it out anymore



5/12/2009 - IF there is a bright spot in the otherwise dark picture of public education and the Los Angeles Unified School District, it is the burgeoning activism of parents fed up with budget cuts that continually diminish the quality of schools.

A growing army of parents has begun to organize in response to the latest round of LAUSD cuts totaling $600 million, including planned layoffs of 3,000 teachers. They were moved by the prospect of what those cuts will mean to their children's education - larger class sizes and further reductions to physical education, music classes, field trips and all those other programs that round out a child's education.

Worse, seniority rules mean administrators and veteran teachers can bump newer teachers out of a job - meaning many schools will see an upheaval in staff next year.

Yet parents - and by extension, students - have had little say in budget discussions despite their obvious interest. No wonder they're angry.

But they've done something smart - turned their anger into action by staging protests, initiating letter drives and organizing marches. More rallies are being planned, including one on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento.

Right on.

School district leaders and politicians only seem to take the concerns of ordinary people seriously when they become persistent and noisy.

It's about time parents demand a greater role in L.A.'s public schools. Right now, administrators and public employee unions call the shots. It is essential that the strongest advocates for children - their parents - have an equal opportunity to influence decision-makers.

Too often parents have been passive participants in public education, content to let the bureaucrats, board members and teachers union decide how to run our schools.

And school districts have done little to encourage parental involvement, particularly at the LAUSD, where parents are forced to deal with a monster government agency and a maze of red tape. Even those dedicated parents who schlep downtown to LAUSD board meetings aren't guaranteed an opportunity to address the board.

Fortunately, there are signs that parents are beginning to hold greater sway in these important budget choices. School-site councils, made up of staff and parents, will make decisions on how to spend federal stimulus dollars. Parents will be able to decide whether to hire back teachers or reinstate certain programs with the money.

School districts and teachers should welcome greater parental activism. These moms and dads can be the best allies - they want more funding for schools and they want to keep good teachers in the classroom, and they're willing to march on Sacramento to make it happen.

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