Thursday, July 16, 2009


LA Daily News Editorial

16 July 2009 -- HERE'S an apparently controversial statement: Communities should decide how to operate their local schools.

Those of you who thought that's how school districts already work - within the confines of federal and state standards, of course - are forgiven for your overly rosy view of public education. This is L.A., after all, a town so politicized that state pols regularly dump their Sacramento jobs for a piece of municipal governance.

As such, the proposal to let communities decide how their schools operate is such an obvious and simple idea that it has come under fire.

It figures that when something innovative and exciting finally comes out of the LAUSD leadership, it's instantly set upon by the naysayers like a pack of angry dogs.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education was set to adopt a schools of choice plan created by board member Yolie Flores Aguilar. Supported by school board President Monica Garcia and another board member, Richard Vladovic, it should have passed easily on Tuesday. But then union leaders started pulling out the big guns, the plan was dropped like a hot potato.

What the plan would do isn't revolutionary; it would create a process in which stakeholders of the schools - parents, teachers, administrators, businesses and anyone else who cared - could submit plans for how one of the district's new schools would run. Outside organizations, such as Green Dot that recently took over some existing LAUSD schools, could also make a bid for how the school should be operated.

These wouldn't be charter schools, but the plan is intended to accomplish the same thing - develop schools that cater to community needs and diverge from the failed programmatic approach that the district still employs.

No wonder it terrifies the teachers' union and the so-called "progressive" members of the board. Adopting this policy opens the doors to change and academic evolution of a sort that threatens the current power structure.

Technically, the vote was just delayed until the Aug. 25. But in the political world, a "delay" is often code for either relegating it to a bureaucratic death or watering it down until it offends no one and accomplishes nothing.

The last thing the LAUSD can afford right now is to do nothing. It's a district in freefall, with a deserved bad rep as a district that caring parents want to avoid. It's the reason that entire existing schools, such as Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa, are simply opting out by going charter.

The district and the board can bow to the unions who want the status quo, as bad as it is, or it can model the charter movement by embracing the academic excellence and choice that the communities want. If the district doesn't evolve it will continue to lose control of education in Los Angeles anyhow, student by student, school by school.

Flores Aguilar said she's not giving up and not going to weaken her proposal. We strongly support her and hope the rest of the board, including Garcia, do as well.

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