Random Thoughts by Diana L. Chapman | CityWatch, an insider look at City Hall
21 August -- I remember it clearly.
It was a pupil free day for Los Angeles schools and my son and his friends wanted to play a pick-up game of soccer. As other parents had done before, I drove them over to Bogdanovich Park in San Pedro and left.
As soon as I got home, Ryan was calling to come back and get them. The soccer field, despite it being a public Los Angeles park, could not be used unless the non-profit, AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) cleared it. No one was allowed to play there, accept for organized soccer games.
We left sadly: and a soccer field sat virtually empty for the rest of the day – despite thousands of children being out of school across Los Angeles.
As I wrote before, this same issue nags at me with the resolution to pack off our LAUSD schools to other organizations, such as charter schools, and non-profits – including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s partnership for schools.
Despite repeated steps upward in test scores, our public schools – in order to remain in charge– will now have to compete with these other organizations.
This will include all newly built campuses and any school that has failed to make the state/nation standards.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines should have a defined resolution by the Aug. 25, a school official said, to take to the school board that will clarify some of the concerns.
I’ll confess right up front. I’m nervous – and so are many others who emailed me after I wrote about the proposal.
Only two emailed support of this plan, and that was from LAUSD Board Member’s Chief of Staff, David Kooper and surprisingly, Former School Board Member Mike Lansing, who believes it’s time for change.
But many others, mostly parents, sent in a variety of concerns.
I know fear is not a reason to turn down a potential concept – but more than ever – I believe this needs a good, healthy debate.
My fear is that we will give away the store?
And if it doesn’t work, what do we have to do to get schools back?
Here are a series of comments I received:
“Thank you for your article on the resolution before LAUSD,”emailed Zella Knight, a parent of a gifted 16-year-old. “I have found that LAUSD has the tenacity with its varied leaders to author plans for change.... all of which still emphasize that "Houston we have a problem.
“The core element to this plan is that parents will not have a viable mechanism for input and accountability. LAUSD remains a program improvement district, with schools in varied areas that are not improving in their programs.
We still have a disconnect with the parents relative to addressing their needs
and alignment with the law for parent involvement. We can develop or morph plan after plan, the question and challenge is when will parents take charge with their children and what happens to them?”
John Mattson, who is fed up with the city after living initially in El Segundo where he felt his needs were met and later moved to San Pedro, said the resolution confirms what he already believed – both the district and the city need to be broken up.
“Right on the mark,” wrote Mattson, an advocate for all the suburbs to secede from LA, or at least splitting it into boroughs. “I compare LA and LAUSD to Frankenstein’s monster. It was created as a “good idea,” but turned into something with a mind of its own which no one can control. …It’s very scary to think that NY seems to run better than LA.
“It is time that local government is returned to the locals.”
Teresa Feldman, a parent whose children attend LAUSD schools and who serves on the Mid City West Neighborhood Council and works as a district aide, contends that the district was not mandated to build new schools through ballot measures to hand them over to charters and non-profits. Bond measures were passed to construct new schools for some of the neediest populations and she wonders if this action is even legal
Charters, she argued, may refuse some students who live in surrounding neighborhoods and are likely to “cherry pick” and “skew data.”
If the district votes for the proposal, they should force the charters to serve all neighborhood children first – and if the district had intended to hand the newly constructed schools over to charters, they should have spelled that out in the bond measures.
“I never voted to take prime sites away from the neediest and give them to a group that just "wants" the space,” Feldman wrote. “This is a terrible disservice to the neediest families in the district.
Imagine being a child in one of these neighborhoods; you watch the construction for years, and then you find out that it's being given away to some outside organization, and they may or may not take you.”
Further, Feldman argued, Cortines should go back to an initial plan that existed when he first worked for the district and had a report done to break the district up into smaller, autonomous divisions.
Lastly, Neal Kleiner, a former LAUSD principal who, in a contentious campaign ran against but lost to Vladovic in the school board race, said he too has many concerns about where this resolution is headed.
“I sincerely believe it's not whether the school is a "charter" or not, that makes the difference. It is the leadership at the school and the willingness of the stakeholders to work together for the benefit of the students. Yes, there are failing schools (and failing charters) and there are some excellent schools (and charters). You can spend time walking through a school/classrooms and you can tell if the place is functional or not.
“The School Board turning over 50 new schools to a variety of charters/mayor's schools, etc. is just a way to placate the mayor. It is NOT in the best interest of the public.”
(Diana L. Chapman was a journalist for 15 years with the Daily Breeze and the San Diego Union. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org)