Wednesday, September 30, 2009


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer| LA Newspaper Group/Daily News

Updated: 09/30/2009 08:15:54 PM PDT

A citizens panel slammed Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines Wednesday for his efforts to revamp the district's massive building program, saying it caused the district's construction chief to resign and threatens future projects.

In a special meeting of LAUSD's Bond Oversight Committee, panelists urged Cortines to reconsider changes he's made to the district's facilities department.

In recent years, the department has earned praise for successfully building dozens of schools with $20 billion in voter-approved bond funds and overcoming a history of problems with school construction projects in the 1990s.

Cortines has ordered changes to the department that include moving its staff into LAUSD's downtown headquarters and merging its previously independent legal counsel and communications staff with existing district departments.

Panelists said those changes directly threaten the independence of the facilities division, and ultimately caused the exit of Guy Mehula, the head of construction.

"We had the best construction manager in the country," said bond oversight committee member Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney. "The question is, why did he leave?

"The answer is it was a power struggle."

Mehula resigned from his post this weekend, entering the district's early retirement program. Mehula, who was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment, said in a letter to his staff that he was leaving to "pursue other opportunities."

Cortines publicly said that he lamented the resignation of Mehula and promised to work with the citizen's panel but also defended his changes.

"I believe this department needs to be independent and interdependent where necessary," he said.

Still, some believe that Cortines' changes could leave the agency vulnerable to the political whims and bureaucratic constraints that have plagued LAUSD and that are generally blamed for fiascoes like the Belmont Learning Complex project.

While the citizen's panel was unanimous in its criticism of Cortines, some attending the meeting in the audience said they were happy to see district officials get more involved with facilities.

Connie Oser, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters Union, said Mehula's exit could help address the issue that the facilities department has had with hiring expensive consultants - sometimes at two or three times the salary rate of eligible district employees. An audit by the district's Inspector General released in March recommended that the facilities department rein in its use of consultants and found that the district could have saved $77 million by using its own employees instead.

Oser said the Teamsters are currently in arbitration with the facilities department to address what they believe is an illegal use of consultants for district positions that include architects, project managers and construction inspectors.

"I say good riddance," Oser said. "This was cronyism. Mehula brought in his construction management friends and denied promotions to highly qualified district employees, bypassing the merit system completely."

James Sohn, currently LAUSD's deputy chief facilities executive, will step into Mehula's job after he retires on Oct. 23. Cortines said the district's current hiring freeze will not allow him to hire another deputy, so a position will be closed.


from the AASA Online Alert -

Advocates for healthier food in schools say schools need to start cooking fresh food to improve student health and stop reheating processed food. Little cooking actually takes place in schools throughout the country. A recent survey by the School Nutrition Association indicates less than half the entrees served in 80% of the country's districts are cooked from scratch. Aging ovens are often a problem. In New York City, only half the schools have enough equipment for school workers to cook over an open flame. The New York Times (free registration) (9/29)

LAUSD’s BUILDING PROBLEM: If the school board returns to micromanaging its building program after the departure of its construction chief, it can only be bad news for students and the city.

Los Angeles Times Editorial

September 30, 2009 -- The Los Angeles Unified School District does few things efficiently and competently. The big exception has been its construction effort of the last several years, guided by Guy Mehula. The facilities unit has built 80 schools and done most of the jobs well, on time and within budget. It's not a coincidence that Mehula's division has operated with an unusual amount of independence and freedom from school board politics and central office bureaucracy. Mehula's resignation on Monday, and the loss of a measure of that independence, are discouraging signs not only for the future of school construction but for the district as a whole.

Supt. Ramon C. Cortines may have felt compelled to act after a 2008 audit revealed that many of the consultants working for the facilities division were paid much more than district staff. Some of these consultants were also found to be underqualified for their jobs and had overstepped their authority by making decisions about the hiring and pay of district workers.

These are serious concerns, though the audit also said that some of the problems already had been addressed. But Cortines must make sure that he isn't being penny-wise and pound-foolish if he restricts consultant pay and moves more of that work under the district, as he reportedly intends to do. There is no money to be gained for classrooms this way; bond funding can be used only for construction, refurbishment and certain equipment. What's more, it proved worthwhile, under Mehula, to pay for top people who get the job done. History has shown that botched construction projects can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and deprive students in crowded schools of badly needed new campuses. The bungled Belmont Learning Complex, which helped lead to the creation of the more independent construction team, was the subject of a scathing audit that found the district had shown little regard for safety, law or accountability. It's not reassuring to think of a return to district oversight.

It is unclear how Cortines will shield the $20-billion construction effort from the political pressures that already plague other parts of the district. This page has criticized the district for handing the new Mendez Learning Center in East L.A. to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools without community input or public airing. Cortines told The Times that he was pressured into doing so by school board President Monica Garcia, a close ally of the mayor. What else will board members demand in the way of special favors on facilities?

L.A. Unified is seldom at its best when it micromanages -- a lesson worth remembering.


Unfortunately, right now [the governor] is holding most bills hostage to his demands for actions he couldn’t get through the normal legislative process, but it is my hope that California’s school children aren’t going to pay the price for such political gamesmanship.”

from assembly education chair julia brownley’s september constituent newsletter

As wild and exhausting as the all-night marathon budget negotiations were at the end, some good things happened this year, especially the success of my education bills.  I came to the Legislature in large measure to help reform the way that we structure education in California.  This year, I was very pleased in getting key education bills passed and sent to the Governor’s desk.  Unfortunately, right now he is holding most bills hostage to his demands for actions he couldn’t get through the normal legislative process, but it is my hope that California’s school children aren’t going to pay the price for such political gamesmanship. 

Here are a few of things of which I am particularly proud that came out of the 2009-10 legislative session and are on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.


“Race to the Top.”  Having already been appointed to chair the Assembly Education Committee last year, I was honored when Speaker Karen Bass announced the formation of the Committee on Education for the Fifth Extraordinary Session, which I will also chair.  This new committee will hold a series of hearings to develop legislation necessary to place California in a favorable position to compete for federal Race to the Top funds.  Speaker Bass calls this “a historic opportunity for California,” and has stated that “Chairwoman Brownley has my full confidence.”  The President has given us a challenge, and through this new committee we intend to meet that challenge, including bringing together teachers, parents, school leaders, researchers, and everyone with a stake in successful public schools.  More than $4 billion is available nationwide in Race to the Top funds.  California must be in a position to get our fair share. 

It was a particular honor to have the opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this month in a private meeting with Speaker Bass. 


l-r:  Speaker Karen Bass, Secretary Arne Duncan, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

His staff indicated that the preliminary guidelines for Race to the Top federal grants will follow review of over 1,300 public comments, thus application deadlines will likely be extended for the first phase into February.  While I intend to move quickly to ensure that California meets the President’s challenge to innovate, we must also move thoughtfully so that we don’t commit to programs we cannot sustain and that will not produce results.

I have scheduled Education Committee hearings to take place in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 29; Wednesday, October 28; and Wednesday, December 16.  I will also convene a hearing in Southern California on Wednesday, November 18.

AB 429, passed on a 69-0 vote and allows parents and teachers to track individual students’ year-to-year progress in a variety of academic areas as required in the Race to the Top guidelines.  It should help California gain a competitive edge, and allow students to gain confidence as they track their own successes over time.

AB 8, passed 64-0, is an important bill that would begin a process of developing a new school finance system to provide greater transparency and demand more accountability.  Years of court mandates and ballot-box revisions have had the unintended consequence of making a mess of the way we fund schools.  The current system is not logical, results in significant disparities between school districts with similar characteristics, and makes it difficult for teachers to respond to the needs of their students.

AB 851, passed 67-0, removes arcane sections of the Education Code pertaining to school district funding, freeing both state and local officials from having to consume their time doing cumbersome and unduly complicated calculations that impede efficient administration.

AB 487, passed 59-0, helps cash-strapped school districts recover some of the millions of dollars they spend annually on instructional materials.  Over the last four fiscal years, the Legislature has appropriated $1.3 billion to California’s nearly 10,000 schools to buy instructional materials for the classroom.  However, under current law, when materials become obsolete, districts can only donate to libraries, literacy projects or non-profits, or recycle or send them to landfills.  AB 487 allows school districts to sell their obsolete materials and thus put millions of desperately-needed dollars directly back into the hands of the schools.

ACR 54 is a joint resolution stating the intent of the Legislature to bring per-pupil education spending up to or beyond the national average and to a level that accounts for the actual cost of educating California’s diverse student population.  We are failing our youth by setting high academic standards but failing to devote the resources children need to meet those world-class standards. 

We have one of the highest pupil-to-staff ratios in the country, yet we spend significantly less per student than schools and districts in most other states.  We spend $46,000/year for each prison inmate, but less than $6,000 for each student in our K-12 classrooms.  The priorities we should be setting are self-evident.


AB 627 establishes a pilot program to fight an alarming rate of childhood obesity by setting nutrition and activity standards in licensed child care facilities.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 20% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are already overweight.  When the state licenses a child care facility, it has an interest in seeing that those facilities help establish healthy eating habits and promote regular physical activity.

Assemblywoman Julia Brownley serves as Chairwoman of the Education Committee, bringing a rich understanding of educational issues gleaned during her 12 years on the board of education of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, including three terms as board president.
After serving her community, Assemblywoman Brownley was elected to the California State Assembly in 2006 and re-elected to a second term in November 2008 from a district that spans from Santa Monica in the south to Oxnard in the north.


Adolfo Guzman-Lopez | KPCC

Sept. 30, 2009 | A Southland state legislator leads a hearing Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. in Los Angeles to encourage more parent participation in public education. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: State Senator Gloria Romero says parents these days are more likely to organize protests against cuts in the education budget than bake sales. Still, she adds, some parents still feel unwelcome at their childrens’ schools.

Gloria Romero: Schools need to invite parents and encourage parents and make it a warm atmosphere for parents to exercise their rights.

Guzman-Lopez: She wants to involve more parents – not because she wants to start a parent revolution.

Romero: We know from the research, from academic research, when parents get involved that student outcomes are better, we know that there’s increased student achievement, better school attendance, higher graduation rates.

Guzman-Lopez: She’s invited PTA members and parent leadership trainers to discuss the growth and challenges of parent involvement.

Note: Romero’s hearing is scheduled to start at Rosemont Elementary School in Echo Park, Wednesday night at 6.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Letters to the Editor: LAUSD’S KINGDOM

letters to the Daily News

Re "LAUSD board cuts back on public input" (Editorial, Sept. 24):

Isn't it amazing that those who supposedly serve us seem only to be able to find ways of cutting expenses by cutting at the bottom where it will do the most harm? Never in their wildest dreams do they ever look around their own kingdoms.

In case you've never been to LAUSD headquarters downtown at the Beaudry building, it is an eye-opener! Each floor is a virtual "sea" of desks and new computers in dozens and dozens of "feel-good" departments with hundreds of people milling around in air-conditioned comfort.

This has got to stop. The powers that be are acting like dictators, living the high-life while turning California into a third-world country. When will enough be enough?


West Hills

Hardly underperforming

Re "Valley middle school on list for takeover" (Sept. 26):

San Fernando Middle School's scores have been rising steadily over the past four years. Last year they went up 36 points. This year they dropped a mere three points. Thus, over the course of the past two years San Fernando's scores have risen 33 points!

This is hardly an underperforming school. However, political expediency coupled with lazy, sensationalistic journalism has produced a bastardized picture of the true accomplishments happening at this school. I challenge anyone, especially the members of the media, the school board, or the debutantes from the state and federal departments of Education, to visit San Fernando Middle School - at any time, on any day. They will see unbelievably talented and hardworking staff, teachers and students. Unfortunately, such a visit could take some actual time and thought, which may not be conducive to 10-second sound bites, attention-grabbing headlines or political agendas.


San Fernando

The letter writer is the gifted coordinator at San Fernando Middle School

smf: Mr. Koch descibes a situation where the noodles in the alphabet soup don’t align. The school’s API has gone up, but they’ve made their AYP in 0nly 9 of 21 criteria (you need all 21 to exit PI). 


The Scorecard for the Soup
  • API: Academic Performance Index; The California standard.
  • AYP: Annual Yearly Progress,:the NCLB/Title One standard  (isn't “Annual Yearly redundant?)
  • PI: Program Improvement.
  • NCLB: No Child’s Left Behind.
  • CTE: California Dept of Ed, keeper of the API flame
  • USDE: US Dept of Ed – the Title 1, NCLB torch bearers, Keepers als of the Race to the Top stimulus $ – California need not apply


CTE may be pleased wit SFMS;s progress, but NCLB isn’t. PI status is the result. In most states middle schools aren’t even subject to PI and NCLB, but CA needs the Title I money – so we subject ourselves to the NCLB Police. And takeover by outside operators.


…but it’s better in person because we can hear from you!

See here for previous msg, details and interesting factoids 


It may all come down to this.

An LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee Special Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday (tomorrow), September 30th at 2:30 pm.   The meeting will be held in the Board Room at the Beaudry Bldg.

The agenda has not yet been posted. There will be one agenda item, FSD Organization and Compensation.

Cortines Memo: RETIREMENT OF GUY MEHULA “…has decided to take advantage of the Classified Early Retirement Incentive Program….”


State of the State: K-12 EDUCATION

Op-Ed by David Plank |  The Daily Californian – the newspaper of the University of California/Berkeley


Related Articles:

<< Patricia Kim/Illustration

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 -- Two years ago, California spent significantly less on schools than most other states. Now we are making deep cuts in educational spending. Two years ago, California ranked nearly last in the nation in the number of adults per student in our schools. Now we are laying off teachers. Two years ago, California faced a severe shortage of college graduates in the coming decade. Now the UC and CSU systems are eliminating classes and restricting enrollments.

In 2007, the "Getting Down to Facts" (GDTF) studies provided a comprehensive diagnosis of the state of education in California and some guidance on the kinds of policy change needed to reform our state's education system (Shortly thereafter, the Governor's Committee on Educational Excellence (GCEE) published a report called "Students First" that laid out a comprehensive strategy to improve the performance of California's schools and students.

At the time, there was broad agreement on two key points:

  • First, California would have to spend more money-a lot more money-on K-12 education to accomplish the state's ambitious educational goals.
  • Second, new spending would have to be accompanied by dramatic reforms in the way California's education system is organized and operated. More money by itself would not produce better results.

Sadly, agreement on these points did not lead to action.

Now the state's economic and fiscal health has deteriorated dramatically. Despite the heroic efforts of public school teachers and administrators to sustain recent progress in the performance of schools and students, California is falling ever farther behind the goals we have set for our young people. Protecting the precarious and unsatisfactory status quo in California's schools now looks like a tremendous challenge. Achieving the lofty educational ambitions proclaimed by our state's political leaders defies imagination.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the fix in which we find ourselves, but the more important issue is how can we get ourselves out. Most obviously, we need to provide more resources for our schools, mainly in the form of more adults-teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians and others-to ensure that students receive the instruction and support they need to be successful, in school and after. We are now moving in the opposite direction, as we cut budgets and lay off teachers, so the challenge is growing bigger by the day.

We also need to use educational resources more efficiently and effectively, in order to maximize the impact of what we have now and to ensure that whatever additional resources may eventually appear on the horizon will produce the largest possible benefits for California's young people. Using scarce funds better means targeting available resources to the schools and students who need them most, increasing the autonomy and administrative flexibility of local schools and school districts and creating incentives for innovation and experimentation throughout the education system.

Why does all of this matter? California's cutting-edge industries and services depend on a well-educated workforce, as does the civic health of our state. Our K-12 education system currently prepares too few students for college and our colleges and universities produce too few graduates sustain the economic and social dynamism that make California a great place to live.

It was time to act on these challenges two years ago. Each day that we now delay in fulfilling the promises we have made to our children makes it less likely that California can recover from the damage we are doing to ourselves and our collective future.

David Plank

Dr. Plank is the Executive Director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) - an independent, non-partisan research center based at the University of California – Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and Stanford University. He may be reached at   (650) 721-2422

L.A. SCHOOLS CONSTRUCTION CHIEF RESIGNS: Guy Mehula, 56, who had been with the program since 2002, quits after an apparent power struggle with district leadership.

James Sohn is named interim facilities chief.

By Seema Mehta | Los Angeles Times

September 29, 2009 -- Guy Mehula, the highly regarded head of the Los Angeles Unified School District's massive school construction program, has resigned after an apparent power struggle with district leadership.

In a brief letter to subordinates Monday, Mehula gave no hint of discord, painting his departure as an opportunity to search for new challenges. "The work that we have done together and the investments we have made in our schools, community, and economy are significant," he wrote.

But critics say Mehula's resignation is fallout from a growing rift between his facilities services division and district headquarters, prompted by policy changes made by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines that threaten to dismantle the award-winning division.

"There's an old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " said Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant to the district's bond oversight committee, which is overseeing expenditure of more than $20 billion in voter-approved school construction and modernization funds. "This ain't broke. It's not perfect, but it is almost without any doubt whatsoever the best thing the district has done in decades."

For many years, the facilities division had been at the center of significant turmoil, cost overruns and other problems, most notably the construction of the Belmont Learning Complex atop an oil field. The project ended up taking 15 years and costing more than $400 million. About a decade ago, after the Belmont furor, there was a push to create a quasi-independent facilities division that was insulated from district politics and composed of professional construction managers instead of district insiders.

Mehula, 56, joined the district in 2002 after a long career in construction, including 25 years in the Navy, where he oversaw construction projects throughout the Pacific. As chief facilities executive, he earned $244,201 annually. Attempts to reach him Monday were unsuccessful.

Cortines praised Mehula's tenure at the district, during which 80 new schools were built. The superintendent named James Sohn as interim chief facilities executive.

"Because of Guy Mehula's leadership, thousands of our students attend new schools. As a result, most LAUSD students go to school during the traditional September-June academic year while a declining number remain on the year-round calendar," Cortines said.

Cortines noted that Mehula had tried to resign twice in the last month but said he had refused to accept. The superintendent said he did so after finding the latest resignation letter in his mailbox Saturday, but said the two men had worked well together and he had hoped Mehula would stay.

But critics said that several policy changes by Cortines contributed to Mehula's departure, including no longer allowing the division to act as a quasi-independent agency with its own in-house attorneys and procurement department. They also said recent moves, such as a resistance to offering salaries competitive with the private sector, would jeopardize the department's ability to attract qualified professionals.

"The history of the construction program . . . mandated that any successful school construction program would have to be independent of the district's inefficient, notoriously torpid bureaucracy," Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney who serves on the bond oversight committee, said Monday. "If you go back to the days of allowing an amateur board to micromanage in the professional management of the construction program, you're going back to the kind of mistakes that produced the Belmont fiasco."

Cortines said that such charges were false and that he has a duty as the district's leader to ensure that voter-approved bonds are spent carefully.

"Voters gave [the bond money] to us, and people in L.A. are struggling economically," he said. "I have a responsibility to see we use the money wisely."

CAL STATE STUDENTS, IT'S TIME TO STAND UP: Budget cuts are taking away the right to an inexpensive public education, depriving many of the right to move up.


Hector Tobar

Faculty, staff and students at Cal State Long Beach stage a mock funeral for higher education last week. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

By Hector Tobar | LA Times Columnist

September 29, 2009 -- I was invited to Cal State L.A. for a "Walk of Shame."

On a three-hour tour of the academic pride of L.A.'s Eastside, I met a laid-off sociology lecturer and saw overcrowded classrooms where students were being turned away from courses they needed to graduate.

I visited with a stressed-out librarian and counselor, both of whom described the effects of the latest round of budget cuts and fee increases.

"I've never seen it this bad," said the counselor, Larry Grijalva, a 23-year-veteran and graduate of San Diego State. "We can't even get kids into the remedial English classes because they're all full."

I like to think of Cal State L.A. and the 22 other campuses of the Cal State system as the workhorse younger siblings of the state public university system.

The richer University of California might win the Nobel Prizes. But it's the Cal State system that gives us most of our police officers, teachers, nurses, social workers and probation officers.

"This has always been a place where working-class people could get an education and contribute to society," said pan-African studies professor Melina Abdullah, who led the "Walk of Shame." "If you take this away, you're relegating them to jobs at Wal-Mart and fast food."

These days, the big budget shortfalls in Sacramento have left our Cal State brothers and sisters unprotected. All Californians should fight to protect them. But the students also need a few lessons in standing up for themselves -- or else they'll always be on the losing end of those Capitol funding brawls.

Five faculty members and students made this point on the first day of classes, as part of a day of protest at college campuses all over the state. They held up a series of five words on signs outside the main parking lot:

"When Will You Fight Back?"

The sense I got: not soon.

The thousands of students I saw rushing to classes on Thursday did not appear to be ready to rise up in revolt. The majority had managed to get into most if not all of the classes they needed. If they got into all their classes, where's the big prob?

Cal State L.A. is a commuter campus, for the most part. Only a handful of students have time really to mount any kind of organized resistance to higher fees, reduced faculty and shorter library hours.

"Every year they raise the tuition," Natasha Khanna, 24, told me. "But this year it was 32% instead of the 10% they usually raise it." Khanna, a second-year student, said this without irony. She's not old enough to know what it's like to get a college education without tuition and fees automatically going up every year.

The libraries at Cal State L.A. are closed on Sundays now and also on six Fridays a year. Professors and university employees have to take 24 unpaid furlough days this year.

Compare 2009 to 2008, and the situation at Cal State might not look like a catastrophe. Each year, the system bends a little but does not break.

To see how bad things have become, you really need to take the longer view.

Brush fires can descend upon a neighborhood in minutes, and an earthquake can change the city landscape in seconds. But that great, man-made disaster called the budget crisis is a slow-moving glacier that's been eating away at our educational dreams for years now.

The modern Cal State system took shape during that era of plenty when our state leaders crafted "A Master Plan for Higher Education in California, 1960-1975."

Under that plan, any student who finished in the top third of a public high school class got an automatic ticket to the Cal State system -- with the top one-eighth eligible for the University of California. The plan also pledged to stay true to "the long-standing principle" that state schools "shall be tuition free to all residents of the state."

It didn't matter if you were the son of a millionaire or a construction worker. If you got good grades, the state paid for a quality university education. Gratis. It was your right.

Back in the day, we called that a "meritocracy."

Fast forward to fall 2009 at Cal State L.A. The tuition is $1,342 per quarter, with an additional $205.90 in mandatory fees thrown in. That works out to about $5,000 per year. It costs twice as much to attend the University of California.

Maybe it's not enough to keep the average working person from getting a degree. But it sure ain't free.

Over time, people get used to a fee hike here or there, as well as the little indignities of a campus that doesn't have the resources to fulfill all the hopes of those enrolled.

Sandra Tapia, 19, paid her tuition without complaint, and sat Thursday in the front row of Chicano Studies 111, a course that earns her credits toward her general education requirement.

Tapia got there early because she knew the reality of today's Cal State: Don't show up for the first day of class and the instructor might give your space to someone else.

She had already been turned away from two other general education classes that were full.

Being the single mother of a 3-year-old and trying to go to college is hard enough without having to worry about the mad course scramble.

"I wasn't able to get into Math 102 or English 102," Tapia said. "I feel like I'm paying for classes that I can't even take."

Professor Ester Hernandez told me that she would be allowed to accept 40 students in Chicano Studies 111.

"But there are about 80 people in here right now," I said as I stood at the front of a classroom in which every seat was filled.

A similar situation faced Professor Kaveri Subrahmanyam in her Introductory Psychology class. "I have to call roll for 150 people and then see if I can make spots for more students," she said. Inevitably, she said, some would be turned away.

The Cal State system is considering plans to reduce enrollment by 40,000 students in the next few years.

I grew up in a California where my public-school teachers and public-university professors imparted to me certain ideals about equal access to education.

So the first-come, first-served, sorry-we-can't-teach-all-of-you logic I saw at Cal State L.A. made me angry.

I wished I could make a speech about fairness that would inspire the students to fight for what was rightfully theirs.

In Chicano Studies 111, I gave it a shot. I told the students that California's future depended on them, and they shouldn't surrender. When I was done, they clapped politely.

Then I closed the door to continue on my tour. And Hernandez began the difficult task of turning half of those in her classroom away.


By Susan Abram, Staff Writer | LA Newspaper Group/Daily News


Kids walk through the center of campus during lunch break. One week into the opening of LAUSD School of Visual and Performing Arts, and students are making themselves at home Los Angeles, CA 9-17-2009. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

LAUSD School of Visual and Performing Arts

9/29 -- She is here to learn to fly, to catch the moon in her hands.

Remember her name. "I used to be alone all the time in my other school," said Natalie Arias, a 14-year-old from North Hollywood who plays an intricate violin concerto as easily as most teens master Guitar Hero.

"I didn't talk much."

But at Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, Natalie and 1,200 other students - singers and dancers, musicians and actors - can free their inner Madonna and Baryshnikov, their Itzhak Perlman and Meryl Streep, without fear of ridicule.

Here, criticism comes without wounds. Fame comes after it is earned.

Built between the Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles Unified School District's landmark visual and performing arts school opened two weeks ago, nine years after construction began.

Dubbed by some the West Coast's "Fame" school, the $232 million complex contrasts sharply with the shabby campus depicted in the groundbreaking 1980 movie (an update debuted this weekend) about neighborhood kids looking for their big break at a performing arts high school in Manhattan.

Its exterior features a steel spiral sculpture that towers over the Hollywood Freeway. Inside, the sounds of the piano and drums ooze out from clean doorways and into wide corridors.

Students take physical education classes on a broad, open-air quad, in the shadow of the spiral. They study biology, calculus, music composition and English literature in a sunlit, circular library.

'A plethora of teachers'

A year ago, key backers worried about the project's cost and lack of progress. Philanthropist Eli Broad, an early supporter and financial contributor, hoped the school could serve as an entrance to the city's $1.5 billion Grand Avenue Civic Center development. Others expected an osmosis of sorts between the high school and the arts community. Still, many had expressed frustration with the lack of leadership and Broad even shopped it around to charter school groups. But for students and teachers, those concerns are in the past. The goal at High School No. 9 is to expand the excitement and energy within.

"The arts need to live on and they will live on," said Principal Suzanne Blake, who left Vista Middle School in Van Nuys to take on the job. Blake said she had "a plethora of teachers to choose from, because of the budget cuts."

Among them are English teachers who were once pianists and concert clarinet players, a biology teacher who also is a professional fencer and can help students master the body language needed to perform Shakespeare, and an assistant principal who also is a stage actor. A dancer herself, Blake said she entered into education because "I knew I wasn't going to be a ballerina." But on one recent day when she entered a dance class, Blake straightened her back and lifted her chin and in a no-nonsense way, joined the students who performed their warm-ups at the barre.

"Point your toes," she reminded.

<p>She and the teachers know they are being scrutinized amid concerns that students won't perform well on standardized tests. Students take eight classes a semester, including four core courses. The school also is divided into four academies: music, dance, theater and visual arts.

More than 70 percent of the students who attend the school are from the surrounding area. There are no auditions, though students must show a commitment to their interests.

"There are very high expectations on us as educators, which I appreciate," said Kyle Laughlin, a history teacher who heads the student body leadership council. The group is working on choosing a formal name for the school and presenting their choices to the community.

"We spend a tremendous time with them and every teacher stays an hour after school unpaid, voluntarily, because we want to," he said. "Every teacher feels an obligation, but pressure is good and keeps us on our toes."

Laughlin said he left a position he enjoyed at University High School for the opportunity to teach at the new campus. A troubled teen himself, he said drama class saved him. "I was a tough sell when I was a kid," he said. "My parents were supportive, but school didn't come easy to me. I needed something to spark my interest. My theater teacher saved my life."

Despite his enthusiasm, some national groups fear the school may not be able to remain public for long, as art grants and nonprofit organizations that provide funding shrink in a tight economy. As a result, the "Rolls Royce" of performing art high schools, as some have called it, may turn private.

To stay public, it needs a leader who not only has a deep appreciation for the arts, but has to run the school like a business, said Kristy Callaway, executive director for the Arts School Network, an organization formed in 1981 in Los Angeles. Of the estimated 1,700 arts schools nationwide, 500 of them are high schools.

"The more successful schools are open almost 24 hours," Callaway said. "They don't just educate but they have after-school programs and they eliminate elitism. Its goal should be a resource to the community."

Little data exists on the success of students who graduate from such schools, which is why a team from Indiana University has just launched the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, a 20-year study to find out where graduates have gone, if they are happy with their present professions, and what could have been better about their school experience.

"We want to be able to give the institutions that we're working with information they can use to support policy," said Sally Gaskill, associate director and project manager for SNAAP. "We also wanted to be able to inform external policy makers how to support the fledgling arts." 'All the way to the top'

Dominique Malone, 17, said she applied to the new school because her grandmother didn't like the scene at Locke High School. She and her grandmother and mother drove to the arts school and walked around before she decided to apply.

"It's different here because everyone is so polite and everybody feeds off everybody's energy," said Dominique, who was a cheerleader at her last school but admits she didn't like the pressure of popularity. At the new school, she can express herself freely through dance, but she said she is leaning toward writing.

Natalie, the 14-year-old violinist who also is learning cello, piano and bass, said the school has opened up possibilities she never thought existed. She aspires to someday perform at Disney Concert Hall.

"I'm so thankful that people trusted us with the responsibility of attending this school," she said. At 14, visual arts student Randy Rodriquez has already sold two photographs, one that shows the diversity of the visitors along the stone sidewalks of Olvera Street. But his real love is acting. After he graduates, he wants to go to UC Berkeley, then on to Julliard.

"My mom wanted me to be a neurosurgeon," he said with a smile. "I told her I didn't think I could handle it." So his mother drives him to school each day from Long Beach, he said. He is also on the yearbook staff, working on the premiere issue with the theme: "From blueprints to footprints."

"There are a lot of people who don't understand this school. They say it's a waste of money," Randy said. "But we're going to make it - all the way to the top."

Monday, September 28, 2009

L.A. UNIFIED TAKES HAMMER TO ITS BUILDING UNIT:The loss of the head of the LAUSD's construction division could be the beginning of waste, cost overruns, political contracts and worse.


Opinion By Constance L. Rice | LA Times

4:21 PM PDT, September 28, 2009 -- The construction unit of the Los Angeles Unified School District has successfully and cost-effectively built 80 new schools and won scores of awards. So how has Supt. Ray Cortines rewarded this efficient unit? By driving out its superb leadership.

Guy Mehula, the talented head of the construction division, resigned Monday after LAUSD leaders made clear their intention of dragging Mehula's quasi-independent team back under the tight control of the district.

Taking away the unit's autonomy would be a huge mistake. The district has tried micromanaging the construction of schools, and it failed miserably. If you need convincing, just think about the disastrous cost overruns and construction errors of the Belmont Learning Complex.

For those who don't remember the horrific details, the district began construction at Belmont (or the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, as it was finally called) without required environmental reviews or professional managers, ultimately building a $160-million high school that the state declared unusable for children. A scathing audit of the debacle concluded that the project had violated environmental and public safety laws, and that the uninformed district had "tolerated a culture remarkably indifferent" to standards or accountability. The audit referred several of its findings to the district attorney for criminal investigation.

With a pressing need for new schools, then-Supt. Roy Romer and a newly elected board of education were determined to avoid more Belmonts, so they established a facilities division that was independent, expertly run and free of the district's torpid bureaucracy. The new unit was staffed by construction professionals and experienced Navy engineers who were insulated from political and union pressures. Schools were built by carefully selected contractors who were closely monitored by an expert staff of auditors and managers.

The new division, charged with managing a $20-billion construction effort, quickly established a system of value-based contracting that permitted necessary -- but not political -- changes to contracts. And Romer was true to his word: The school board set policy and acquired land for schools, but otherwise stayed out of the way.

Now Cortines has rescinded key provisions that helped shield the facilities division from unwarranted interference. He proposes to remove the unit's specially assigned and quasi-independent lawyers and limit the hiring of contractors to 10-month periods -- something few competent construction professionals would agree to. Cortines and the board also want to set salary limits that are not competitive. Mehula resigned because these and other proposals would end the independence that has made the school construction unit a success.

Cortines' actions come as the construction program is also facing other threats.

Some school board members, in actions reminiscent of the group that brought us Belmont, have started pushing for expensive and wasteful changes to building contracts. They have tried to use bond funds for things that are prohibited by the bond measure. And they have increasingly questioned contract awards and dismissed the judgment of facilities professionals. Most discouraging, I have heard two school board members suggest that the facilities division needs to "look more like Los Angeles." Although diversity is important, it cannot be allowed to trump the expertise needed to manage a massive school construction program.

With Mehula's resignation, bondholders, taxpayers and contractors should be very worried. If his expert management team leaves, the successful phase of school construction is almost certain to end -- and bond money will once again be wasted.

It is time to consider creating an independent construction authority for building schools. Doctors don't build hospitals, and lawyers don't build courthouses. Why should educators who can barely manage the mission of education build schools?

Constance L. Rice is a civil rights attorney and a member of the School Construction Bond Oversight Committee.

TEXAS EDUCATION BOARD’S FUND MANAGEMENT FACES SCRUTINY – or – Where is Molly Ivens when we need her?

The Texas State Board of Education is being questioned about its fiscal management of the $19 billion Texas Permanent School Fund that pays for textbooks and school supplies. In the last year, the board has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring consultants against the advice of fund staff, fired the fund's general investment consultant and faced off with legislators, who tried unsuccessfully to wrestle control of the fund away from them. The Dallas Morning News (9/27) Texas education board's fund management faces scrutiny


Update: James Sohn has been appointed Interim Chief Facilities Executive.  Mr. Sohn was hired about two months ago as the Deputy Chief Facilities Executive.

From: Morris, Jim - COS
Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 12:55 PM

Message from Superintendent Cortines:

Subject: Appointment of James Sohn at Interim Chief Facilities Executive


Good Afternoon Board Members,

I met this afternoon with James Sohn, currently Deputy Chief Facilities Executive.  I offered Mr. Sohn the position, Interim Chief Facilities Executive and he accepted.  I am pleased that he will be providing continuity of leadership for the Facilities Services Division.  Mr. Sohn’s vision and guidance will ensure that our building and modernization programs continue to be the best in the Nation.  I am pleased to have him serving the schools, staff and families of the Los Angeles Unified School District in this new role. 

Ramon Cortines



Ramon Cortines, Superintendent                                               September 28, 2009

Los Angeles Unified School District

333 South Beaudry Avenue, 24th Floor

Los Angeles, California 90017

Via: Hand Delivery


Dear Superintendent Cortines:

Over the past several months, the LAUSD School Construction Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee (BOC) has become greatly concerned about the detrimental impact on the efficient management of Facilities Services Division (FSD) and smooth operations of the construction program posed by recent actions to reorganize and move FSD closer to District bureaucracy. The level of concern has increased to the level that I have had three meetings with BOC on this subject this month alone, plus several e-mails and phone conversations each week.

These proposals, set forth in detail below, will substantially reduce FSD’s ability to successfully carry out the mandate of the voters to complete the construction bond program as rapidly, cost-effectively, and successfully as possible. We are concerned that these proposals and the District’s recent decisions concerning FSD management compensation will adversely impact the Strategic Execution Plan and will contravene requirements of Measures Y and Q.

Accordingly, pursuant to section 7.6 of the BOC’s MOU with the District, as the proposals taken together constitute a major project affecting the expenditure of bond funds, we respectfully insist that the District present the BOC with adequate information for oversight regarding this project so that the BOC may recommend against any expenditure of bond funds if the project appears to be impermissible or imprudent.

As we understand them, your recent actions in regard to FSD organization, which we refer to as the “Single District Proposal,” including elimination of co-located dedicated legal counsel, the mandates for abbreviated

FSD manager contract periods and for “E-basis” hiring for new positions that only provides ten months a year of work and pay, and the uncompetitive management compensation levels that fail to comply with requirements of Measure Y not only contravene bond requirements but will damage FSD’s ability to manage the difficult transition currently underway and will preclude continuation of the successful management of the building program.

In short, these measures may be proposing to break the one operation in the District that is fixed.

The BOC understands your desire to move the District towards the Single District concept. While we find this an admirable concept, the BOC’s mission is to protect the bond program – and the Single District objective, as it is being implemented, appears to us to be having negative consequences for the bond program. Therefore, we respectfully request that you reconsider your recent actions impacting FSD organization and move FSD compensation in line with the market, the requirements of the bond measures passed by the voters, and the terms of the BOC’s Charter and Memorandum of Understanding with the District (the “MOU”).

We recognize that complying with these legal imperatives could cause a lack of compensation equity within the District employment pool and that this is generally something that should be avoided. However, compliance with the law is the higher priority that must be satisfied in this instance, plus promoting superior management and productivity of public funds by employing experienced, proven construction professionals to help assure the bond construction program is properly managed and the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent as wisely and productively as possible.


Our two primary concerns are bond construction team organization and compensation.

In the early years of the bond construction program, it was very clearly, failing, and failing badly. In many instances, it did not have proper top leadership, nor staff, nor organization, nor support from other District departments. The transition from a failed management structure, with no credibility in the construction industry, to a national model was due to many changes, but one of the most important organizational improvement was incorporating many vital support functions within the FSD team itself, where accounting, information technology, legal, personnel, procurement, and construction industry/intergovernmental/public/ press relations professional became dedicated components of the FSD team, working with their planning/ design/construction/maintenance peers on a daily basis, participating in management planning, oversight, and meetings, and helping the FSD team recognize, and act to cure or mitigate, issues early.

The BOC’s MOU with the District, the “contract” between the BOC and the District, contains section 6.5, part of Article 6 of the MOU articulating the District’s “Commitment to the Committee.” It is my fear that the District may be falling into a breach of its commitment to keep in place the necessary professional staff and management systems to keep the bond-funded program spending these limited funds wisely and efficiently.

Section 6.5 of the MOU provides as follows (emphasis added):

“6.5 The Committee will work with the District so that the District has in place the necessary plans, professional staff and management systems to build schools wisely and efficiently.

“6.5.1 The District agrees that responsibility within the District for implementation of the construction and modernization program funded by the bonds shall be vested in the Facilities Services Division, which shall be headed by a Chief Facilities Executive who shall report directly to the Superintendent.

“6.5.2 Managers of the Facilities Services Division shall have educational and employment experience comparable to that of persons with similar responsibility in the private sector.

“6.5.3 To ensure that the District employs managers of the Facilities Services Division who are so qualified, the District shall, no less than biennially, cause a survey of compensation of managers of major construction programs and managers of major public and private facilities in comparable locations across the United States in both the public and private sector, and the District shall make a finding that the managers of the District’s Facilities Services Division are being compensated accordingly.

“6.5.4 The District shall provide the Facilities Services Division with dedicated procurement, accounting, legal, information-technology, personnel, and other support services sufficient for implementation of the construction and modernization program funded by bond proceeds.”

We understand your desire for a Single District. However, we submit to you that perhaps the proper way to achieve high performance for the District, at least for some activities, is not through over-centralization of support activities, but rather by continuing your own decentralization initiatives by putting more support function staff where they can work directly with the managers and staffs of the prime functions that they support. We ask you to reject the historical District centralized decision model of decision-making – with its obvious poor results – and consider instead a shift to the most successful management model that the District has seen in decades, that of FSD.

Even if you do not wish to decentralize the entire District support functions in this manner, we ask you to not destroy the organizational framework that has allowed FSD to operate as one of, if not the, most respected units within the District for the last seven to eight years, when the transition to this management model was made.

In addition, the District must now plan and execute the transition from reducing the bond construction program as available bond funding is depleted to maintaining the necessary personnel, skills, and procedures until the ability to sell bonds returns in order to avoid the difficult ramping up activities of the late 1990’s – we do not want to replicate that long, painful, and expensive learning curve.

If the District does recentralize these support functions presently distributed within FSD, it must take care with charging staff compensation to the bonds, as their work will likely no longer be totally for bond-funded activities.

Our compensation concerns begin with the very clear mandate of the voters, in their approvals of Measures Y and Q, as well as, MOU sections 6.5.2 and 6.5.3 (supra), that FSD managers be paid at market rates, considering comparable positions in both the public and private sectors. The District has demonstrably failed to satisfy this requirement by the first deadline of November 2007. Our review of the District’s actions to come in compliance by the second deadline of November 2009 leads us to believe that compliance will again be existent, and we are now providing clear notice that a second failure to comply with these legal requirements will result in the BOC taking actions to highlight this illegal practice and, if necessary, to attempt to bring the District into compliance with the will of the voters and the law through other means.

Such failure to pay market rate is having significant negative impacts on the bond program. For two key positions, the Planning and Design Directors, your directive to set the compensation at the 75th percentile, rather than the 90th percentile as had been previously agreed to, has led to the best qualified candidates refusing the appointments because taking on these more challenging positions would have required them to take cuts in pay.

Further, there is no savings from underpaying top FSD managers. First, there is no savings to the “general fund” budget, no impact on funding for the classroom, because these positions (with a few exceptions) are paid 100% from bond funds that cannot be utilized for classroom or other non-construction bond activities. Second, there are no savings to the bond-funded activities because, in the absence of District employees in these roles, FSD instead engages contract professional managers – which OIG has found costs 75% more, on average, than employees. Third, being unable to pay at market to engage the highly capable people that FSD needs requires both FSD and Personnel Commission staff to do more work to try to find capable candidates – so far, without success. Finally, the greatest cost is not having skilled managers in place when they are needed.

Getting into the specifics of our concerns:

FSD ORGANIZATION Rationale for Independent, Dedicated FSD Functions

For the first years of the bond program, there is very little doubt that the management of the program was far less than it needed to be. While some of the direct planning/design/construction processes were often not well managed, the support functions, such as procurement, finance, legal, information technology (IT), personnel, and others were also causing great problems. Finally, beginning around 2001, there was a realization that the only way for the bond program to succeed was for FSD to directly control many of its key support functions.

These internal support functions were implemented and, for several years, have been doing a fine job of getting the support job done so that the construction program proper could succeed.

Recently, we have observed several actions to eliminate some of these support functions by consolidating them with non-FSD District functions that, we believe, may negatively impact the bond program. We understand that you want to move to a Single District and to break down walls, but, given that the bond program is almost undeniably one of the best things that the District has done for decades, we urge great caution in making such changes. There is an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – one that we believe should be applied to these support functions, where the existing organization should not be changed unless and until there is a great degree of assurance that the new function will support the bond program at least as well as it is currently being supported.

One matter that has been of particular concern to the BOC over the past several months is preparing for the Measure Q program. As you know, the downturn in the economy and reversal of the property valuation trend of the past decade will mean that the District will not be able to sell the $7 billion of Measure Q bonds, as well as approximately $700 million of Measure Y bonds, for several years. The existing new construction and facilities modernization programs will essentially run out of bond funding in approximately the 2013 school year, with no funding for renewal of these programs for another several years.

Our concern is, how will the District be able to restart the current program? We of the BOC are all-too-aware of the great pain that the District went through before the present, highly effective FSD emerged. Unless steps are taken soon, we run the risk of the total disbandment of the bond-funded programs of the FSD, its leaders, its technical skills, its processes, and its corporate memory.

We need to work together to develop a strategy to retain at least a minimum level of these individuals, skills, and capabilities during the down years. We have some preliminary concepts that we would like to discuss with you as to how this could be done, but we believe that the current issues, as discussed in this letter, must be tackled first – but, these must be undertaken with the understanding that we are planning not for three or four years, but for a decade and more, through some most challenging periods of transition.

Ideally, there should be a minimum level of facilities modernization projects being performed during the down period. The planning function must be maintained, both the planning for bond-funded construction projects and the normal planning activities that are independent of bond construction program proper, such as joint use, so that, when the District is able to again sell bonds, there will be projects that are ready to enter construction.

Also, the design function must be brought back up to speed approximately a year in advance of bond sales – again, so that there will be projects that are “shovel-ready” when there is funding to begin then. To accomplish this will require saving some bond funding and either delaying some projects or using program savings to fund added activities and projects during the down period.

Measures Y and Q Stipulations

As with FSD compensation, Measure Y, and now Measure Q, has very specific requirements for the organization and staffing of FSD. Measure Y states: “The Board shall provide the (Facilities Services Division) with dedicated procurement, accounting, legal, information-technology, personnel, and other support services sufficient for implementation of the construction and modernization program funded by the Bond proceeds.” As with the management compensation requirements discussed below, this is a voter-approved mandate that cannot be changed, or ignored, even by the Board of Education or the Superintendent. Moreover, the District’s MOU with the BOC makes the identical commitment at section 6.5.4 (supra). While the language above does not go into great detail as to exactly how these functions shall be organized, as this would not be appropriate for a voter referendum of this type, the clear understanding is that the status quo – or better – would be the standard and that reassignments that would reduce the effectiveness of the bond program are not allowed. That is also how the BOC understands the District’s obligations under section 6.5.4 of the MOU.


While having some of the following functions directly supporting the bond program, and working for the Chief Facilities Executive (CFE) is important, procurement is one of those functions that is absolutely vital. It is not only that, as the District has finally acknowledged, engaging major construction contractors is a very different matter from buying pencils, it is that the Facilities Contract Branch is very good at working with its clients to help them get what they require, when they need it, at the best possible price, and in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements – so good, in fact, that we are aware of at least two other, non-FSD, District departments that have asked Facilities Contracts Branch if it could take over their contracting. The physical placement of Facilities Contracts, close to and working side-by-side with other Facilities functions, is another key to the success of this function. The ability to successfully attract highly qualified general contractors to build new schools under Education Code 17406 (lease-leaseback) would have been impossible if the procurement/contracting person had not had extensive facilities experience and engagement.

Accounting – Finance

By 2001, the then-existing District financial team was totally unable to meet the needs of FSD for financial information. A function that was doing fiscal-year, budgetary reporting on a long-after the fact basis was totally unprepared to assist FSD with project-life-to-date, budget vs. actual reporting on a real time basis, let alone assist with other vital Facilities requirements such as project scheduling. The then-District CFO finally told FSD that FSD could do whatever it wanted to for its own needs; as long as it would get him the information he needed to close the books. Indeed, after FSD got done with improvements to the pre-existing financial reporting system it required, many of the features were taken District-wide. To this day, there are two entirely different sets of needs and, while the District-wide and the FSD financial functions certainly talk and work together, these are two entirely different functions doing very different things – and, again, the proximity of the FSD Finance Support Services Branch to the rest of the FSD functions are vital to its high degree of performance. It was the existence of this free-standing FSD financial planning function that led to the decision to engage the property tax base valuation consultant that highlighted the downturn in property tax receipts to enable the sale of bonds which, in turn, allowed the District to maximize the amount of bonds that can be sold to complete the BB, K, R, and Y promises to the voters and to provide significant additional time to plan for cycling down the level of activities during the years of no bond sales.

This independent Accounting-Finance Function within FSD is another not only important, but vital, component of FSD.

Accounting – Invoice Processing

By 2001, the inability of the District to pay facilities contractors’ bills was creating problem so serious that many contractors refused to work for the District – and, understandably so, as the District’s failure to pay had actually driven some of these into bankruptcy. In order to correct this situation, FSD had to establish its own Facilities Contract Invoice Unit (FCIU) to take over this function.

Payment of invoices in FSD is a very different process than elsewhere in the District. The contracts are of very different types, the administrative requirements for payment are far more onerous, and there needs to be constant communications – and mutual understanding – with the project-level field personnel who are responsible for project and contract management. The District’s ability to pay its contractors on-time, with the terms of the contract agreement, has made the District a preferred customer of many superior contractors, which has undoubtedly saved the District significantly in the costs of its projects because its contracts do not add in major cash flow costs under the all-too-common assumption that they will not be paid on a timely basis.

This specialized and dedicated level of support for the payment of FSD invoices cannot be allowed to end without severe consequences for the program. This is another vital internal FSD function.

On September 18th, you sent an e-mail throughout the District congratulating FCIU on its ability to process invoices for payment on non-delay basis.


The dedicated, and very well qualified, specialized FSD Legal team has been a major component of the success of the program. Having the in-house LAUSD lawyers assigned to FSD participate in not only the projectspecific issue meetings, but the general meetings, allows them to identify, prepare for, and respond to important legal concerns before they are problems. Being right down the hall from Facilities Procurement personnel allows the frequent and rapid resolution of issues with procurement and contracts, a constant and continuing process.

Rather than moving the in-house LAUSD lawyers assigned to FSD away from FSD, a better alternative could be to determine if the overall level of legal services might be improved by locating other in-house LAUSD lawyers to frequent-customer functions such as Human Resources, Personnel Commission, and the Procurement Services Group so that they, too, can receive the more efficient level of legal services that FSD has been receiving. For example, having the FSD Legal team co-located with Facilities Contracts Branch, FSD senior management, and other functions is regarded as a key factor in the very significant reductions in both processing construction claims and in reducing actual claim settlements and awards.

Increasing decentralization of support functions such as Legal would also be consistent with your decentralization initiatives, placing more resources closer to the decision-makers who are closer to the issues.

(BOC has not studied such reorganizations in detail, nor are we attempting to perform as consultants to the District. What we are saying is that the success of co-locating Legal, and other support services, with the FSD decision-makers indicates that studying similar support staff structures for other District functions may prove wise.)

Information Technology

FSD Facilities Technology Services (FTS) operates and supports the several vital software systems that are both vital and unique to FSD. These include COLIN (program management), EXPEDITION (budget management for New Construction projects, contract management, and change orders), MAXIMO (maintenance management and budgeting for Modernization projects), and P6 (project scheduling and control), as well as document control systems. FTS also does data extraction, manipulation, and report preparation not only from the FSD IT systems, but from the District-wide systems, in order to support decision making and control.

These functions are not supported by the District’s general IT function and, to be frank, it has neither the personnel nor the time to attempt to do so. The IT requirements of FSD are, for the most part, not found elsewhere in the system and the support is best done by dedicated FSD FTS personnel who work time in FSD, gaining a far superior understanding of the needs of their clients.

FSD IT is a vital function to have in-house within FSD.


While the majority of FSD’s human resources function work is performed by the Personnel Commission, as per the requirement of statute, having a small, dedicated staff to interface with the Personnel Commission and to assist in assuring that the many fine details required for personnel transactions are properly performed has been extremely useful to FSD. The size and activities of the FSD Personnel function are consistent with those of personnel functions in other major District functions, such as preparation of specialized position descriptions and coordinating interviews of employment candidates.

FSD Press/Public Relations

This is a function that, for the most part, works on all FSD matters, most particularly with a construction industry focus. Being able to get the FSD story out to A/E firms and construction contractors has been a very important part of making working for the District something that the superior providers now are very anxious to do, totally reversing the early years of the program when many contractors would not work for the District under any circumstances.

Press relations and crisis communications is certainly an important part of this position, but also included is this scope is preparing most of the CFE’s speeches and presentations to outside bodies, cultivating and maintaining relationships with various professional and civic organizations and trade publications, and writing and distributing newsletters, collateral material, and award documents highlighting FSD programs and activities. If the personnel currently in this office are removed from FSD, much of this work will not go with them, requiring it to be performed by other FSD employees, which would likely include some new faces and an extremely high learning curve.


We believe that you have made several recent decisions regarding FSD compensation to reduce District costs in a period of drastic funding shortages and budgetary challenges and for reasons of internal equity of compensation between FSD and non-FSD personnel. However, most FSD management positions are paid from construction bond funds that are legally separate from “general fund” revenues and reducing FSD compensation has no positive impact on general District finances. We recognize that compensation equity is a concern, but the District’s agreement with the BOC stated in section 6.5.3 of the MOU (supra) – one that has been ratified by the LAUSD voters – is that ensuring FSD management is compensated at the proper level is of greater importance. The BOC was the sponsor of specific provisions in two bond measures that make payment of FSD managers at market levels a legal requirement for the District that must be honored.

Measures Y and Q Compliance

Measure Y, passed by the voters in November 2005, contains very specific requirements for FSD compensation, which has also been incorporated into last year’s Measure Q bond issue and into sections 6.5.2 and 6.5.3 of the BOC’s MOU (supra). Measure Y states: Managers of the (Facilities Services) Division shall have educational and employment experience comparable to that of persons with similar responsibility in the private sector. To ensure that the District employs managers of the Division who are so qualified, the Board shall, no less than biennially, cause a survey of compensation of managers of major construction programs and managers of major public and private facilities in comparable locations across the United States in both the public and private sector, and the Board shall make a finding that the managers of the District’s Facilities Services Division are been compensated according.” The above is a binding requirement on LAUSD and cannot be overridden by the Board or the Superintendent.

LAUSD was required to be in compliance by November of 2007, it did not comply, it is still not in compliance, and, at this time, we are extremely concerned that the District does not intend to comply. The BOC is very troubled by this situation and, if there is not a true and factual finding of compliance by the Board of Education by the end of November of this year, we will be forced to reevaluate our options to ensure compliance.

There appears to be some belief that, since the economy is currently down, demand and compensation for such positions is less than it was before. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act alone has funneled well over $100 billion – not including county, state and local matching funds – into public sector works programs. State programs such as the $9.9 billion high speed rail bonds and local programs such as MTA’s Measure R one-half cent transportation sales tax have actually made this a very good time to be an experienced public sector facilities planning, design, and/or construction manager, particularly in Southern California.

In order to compete for, and to retain, the best people, there must be competitive compensation, or the program will suffer.

Recent Management Compensation Decisions

Earlier this year, as part of the reorganization of FSD, there were questions regarding the proper level of compensation for the “branch manager” positions. In your memo to Guy Mehula to May 11th, which you provided to the BOC Executive Committee Members as an attached to your letter of May 12th, you indicated that you would not approve paying FSD managers at the 90th percentile of the public sector survey that had been agreed to previous. After the meeting between you and BOC Executive Committee Members on this matter on May 15th of this year, we believed that we had reached a compromise acceptable to the BOC, i.e., that these positions would be advertised, the results would be observed, and if it was not possible to fill these positions at these levels of compensation, the levels of compensation would be reviewed. In fact, it has not been possible to hire for two of these positions, the Design and Planning Directors, at the reduced compensation levels and these positions were not filled as originally intended. This has also increased the cost to the construction bond program of recruitment, in terms of identifying and interviewing candidates, only to have the desired candidates refuse the positions because they would means actual reductions in compensation.

A-Basis vs. B/E-Basis Positions

In your memo of July 23, 2009, as a cost reduction measure, you instituted a process that new positions and vacancies would only be budgeted and funded on a “B-basis” or “E-basis” “school year,” or approximately ten months pay per year, rather than the full year “A-basis”. While this is certainly understandable and very common for school districts for two-semester school employees, the bond program is a year-round effort with no such standard vacation schedule. There are no FSD positions that can be left unstaffed for two months without backfilling with other employees, which increases the costs of personnel and/or does significant harm to the program from not having the right person at the right place when needed. Many of the impacted positions are at job sites, where there may only be three or four total FSD employees on a project of 24-36 months – and losing people for two or four months during this period is very poor staff management. Also, some projects are designed to be done while school is not in session to avoid inconveniencing the teachers and students. While BOC Staff informs me that there has been some loosening of this requirement in response to Guy Mehula’s arguments, we have noted that Mr. Mehula is spending an inordinate amount of time on making the case for year-round employment for positions where formerly he had to do little more than review the requirements and sign a form to have the hiring progress commence.

Management Contract Terms

The District has recently been reducing the contract terms of the more senior LAUSD positions, including, but not limited to, FSD positions.

Given the difficulty of retaining the best FSD personnel when they know that the program will be winding down over the next few years, this shift to shorter contract terms has sent a message that, not only is employment security significantly reduced, but these individuals are expendable, thereby reducing their motivation to remain at the District. We understand that this is a change that is being made throughout the District, but we view it a particular problem with FSD, where the District is attempting to retain many individuals until the program winds down to a point where they can be discharged without risk of major harm to the program.


Although bond funds are limited, the bond-funded program has not been as negatively impacted as the vast majority of the rest of the District’s programs. Also, by detailed projecting and modeling of the availability of future revenues, FSD has anticipated its downturn in funding and has instituted mitigations.

What this means in the short run is that, while most other District functions are forced to undergo major reductions in expenditures that are having major negative impacts on their programs – and, of course, the students – FSD has, at least to some degree, been spared from the worst of these reductions.

Because there is no fiscal necessity to cut, cut, cut, no matter how much it hurts, FSD has the ability to continue most of its programs and projects and has been able to schedule a “soft” landing a few years out when the bond funding will be temporarily cut off.

In fact, the greater danger to the construction and modernization program is in not spending money the bond funded program does have, resulting in unnecessary impairment of the program’s results.

As Superintendent, you should also be mindful of the fact that if the current dedicated FSD programs are organizationally and/or physically shifted away from FSD, then it will likely become inappropriate for all of the program expenses to be paid from bond funds. From what BOC Staff has learned, it appears that at least some of these currently dedicated FSD personnel will begin to do non-FSD bond-fund eligible work. This would mean that the amount of bond funding for these positions and functions would be reduced and their draw on “general fund” monies would increase. It could also require the completion of detailed time cards to keep the accounting straight. If not properly executed and documented, these changes could jeopardize the tax exemption of the bonds. Finally, we will note that having dedicated support functions has significantly reduced the District's exposure to claims that bond funds are illegally and improperly being utilized to subsidize the “general fund” activities of the District.

We would like to schedule a meeting with you at your earliest possible convenience to discuss several specific matters, as noted in the enclosure, and LAUSD’s ongoing bond related school construction and modernization program.




David Crippins, Chair

cc: Members of the Board of Education

      Bond Oversight Committee


Joseph '”Guy” Mehula has resigned as CEO of the LAUSD Facilities Division and the District’s building and modernization program – the largest public works program in the United States.

His e-mail announcing this to the Facilities Services Division (FSD) staff follows.

Whenever a major player in any program resigns, unexpected or no, there are questions and theories and speculation: What happened?

For several weeks, the Bond Oversight Committee and staff – as a committee and as individuals - been concerned about decisions made at higher levels within (and some us us believe, without) the District that are having negative impacts to the Bond program and FSD.  We have also been aware that these have become matters of contention between Guy and Superintendent  Cortines and some members of the Board of Education.  Some of these were discussed at our last BOC meeting on Sept 16 – BOC leadership has  been working to bring our concerns to Sup. Cortines for the past few weeks.

You will note that Captain Mehula’s ’s e-mail is short and gives no reasons for his departure other than “to explore new career opportunities.”  As a responsible leader who came up through the Navy, Guy sees his  highest duty is to protect his crew, even in resigning. As the son of a career Marine officer I respect this.

Questions will be asked and answers hopefully will be forthcoming.

In the meanwhile and into the future I personally thank Guy for his hard work …and wish him fair winds and smooth sailing in calm waters.

Onward! - smf

Subject: Message From LAUSD Chief Facilities Executive Guy Mehula
Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 8:33 AM


Dear Friends,

For the past seven years I have had the honor to be a part of the leadership for the Facilities Division of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)- - first as the Deputy Chief Facilities Executive for New Construction and then as the Chief Facilities Executive.  I joined the District because I am passionate about the mission and drawn by the challenges I knew we would face.   At that time, I had no idea how generous the voters would continue to be, and how much we would be able to achieve. 

The work that we have done together and the investments we have made in our schools, community, and economy are significant.  This Program is truly historical.  Eighty new K-12 schools, more than 83,000 new K-12 classroom seats and approximately 19,000 modernization projects have been completed.  There are 10,000 people working on the Program on a daily basis and $13.6 Billion of local Bond funds have been leveraged into a $20.1 Billion Program.  Our schools are healthier, safer and less overcrowded.   The New Construction Program is more than 60 percent complete and our Modernization Program is approximately 90 percent complete.  We are on track to provide every LAUSD student with the opportunity to attend a neighborhood school operating on a two-semester calendar.

We have turned this Division into a world class, award winning Program and developed a team of highly qualified construction professionals that are able to deliver projects on schedule and within budget.  After careful consideration, I have decided to retire from the District and explore new career opportunities.  I informed the Superintendent and Board of Education of my decision this weekend and wanted to personally let you know about my decision as well.  My last day leading the organization will be Friday, October 23rd.  

This Program and this team are second to none.  Thank you for all that you have done for the students of LAUSD.  I am proud to have been part of this spectacular team and am confident the future will bring many more successes.  It is because of your teamwork and commitment to excellence that we have been able to provide our students with safe and healthy neighborhood schools on time and within budget. 

Thank you,


Sunday, September 27, 2009

OAKLAND CAMPUS CATERS TO REFUGEES, IMMIGRANTS: The international high school provides an alternative to newcomers, some of whom have never been in a classroom.


Oakland International High School

Samuel Kanwea, 20, a Liberian refugee, walks through the cafeteria line at Oakland International High School. He started school when he was 17 and is now in his final year at the campus, which serves roughly 220 students. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / September 10, 2009)

By Anna Gorman | LA Times

September 27, 2009 -- Samuel Kanwea showed up for what should have been his freshman year in high school illiterate, malnourished and exhausted from years of living in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast. His family had never been able to afford the luxury of education, so he spent his early teenage years collecting firewood and selling fish.

When the Liberian refugee started school in Oakland at the age of 17, it was the first time he had set foot in a classroom.

"Everyone was speaking English and it confused me," said Kanwea, a lanky student with a wide smile. "And I felt scared because I think that I was the only one who didn't know how to read."

New immigrants and refugees have long posed challenges for educators in the United States, but Kanwea and others like him present unique problems because they are often strangers to traditional schools. Academic issues are only one facet of their adjustment. Not only must educators teach them English and move them toward graduation, but they also must counsel many students grappling with the trauma of wars, persecution or poverty.

"Their needs are emotional, political, economic and social," said Ingrid Seyer-Ochi, assistant professor of education at UC Berkeley. "When we say that we are the land of opportunity and we welcome all people . . . these kinds of students and their families really put us to the test."

While most school districts in California place newcomers directly into traditional campuses or short-term English-language programs, Oakland Unified School District offers them an alternative campus -- and the option to stay there until graduation. The Oakland International High School opened in 2007 to educate the city's recent refugees and immigrants, and now enrolls about 220 students from around the world, including from Yemen, Mongolia, Russia, Ghana and Honduras.

This month, Kanwea, now 20, entered his final year at the school with the routine of a typical student: attending classes, playing basketball and doing homework. He has also gained weight, frequently going back for second helpings of the free lunch.

Kanwea tells people his birthday is Jan. 1, a date assigned by the United Nations refugee agency, because he doesn't know the day he was born. He grew up in Liberia without electricity or running water and subsisted on the food his family grew: tomatoes, rice, peppers and cucumbers. The family fled the war-torn country in 1992 and, after many years in Ivory Coast, came to the United States as refugees.

The hardest part of adjusting to life here, he said, has been learning to read and write. Four years ago, he didn't know the alphabet. Now, Kanwea said, he can read "little kid books" and "some chapter books."

The accomplishments of this once illiterate student can be measured through the sentences he can now write. In history class, the teacher instructed the students to write in their journals about the places they've traveled to in the United States. Kanwea wrote, "There place that I been in called Sacramento. In Sacramento is very nice place. It is quiet and nice."

Learning English

On a recent day, art teacher Thi Bui instructed her students to write a poem about themselves and then read them aloud in groups.

Florinda Pablo Mendoza, 17, twirled her hair, chewed gum and fiddled with her purple hoop earrings as the teacher spoke.

Bui said, "If you don't understand, ask your neighbor."

When Bui stopped talking, Florinda turned to a classmate and whispered in Spanish, "What did she say?"

In one sense, Florinda -- who attended only two years of school in Guatemala before arriving in the United States in spring -- has an impressive gift. She speaks both Spanish and Mam, a Mayan dialect. But, like many new immigrants, she doesn't speak any English. Everything else in school -- geography, algebra, U.S. history -- will be out of reach until she learns the language. Classmates become both friends and translators.

Mendoza's friend, a 15-year-old Mexican immigrant, helped her spell out the words for the poem: Florinda. Happy, young, quiet, short. . . . Who lives to play music, dance. Who wants to see family, friends and sisters. Resident of Guatemala.

Florinda looked at the letters she had written. She couldn't read them.

"It's difficult for me," she said in Spanish. "I don't understand."

Principal Carmelita Reyes said intensive reading classes and after-school tutoring help, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. "If you are not literate in your native language, it's really hard to flourish," she said.

Despite that, Reyes said, students like Florinda make remarkable progress in a short time, in part because they are immersed in English at the school.

In Guatemala, Florinda lived on a ranch, where she passed the time cooking, working in the fields and weaving with her grandmother. The nearest school was a two-hour walk away, a distance too far to go alone. She came to the United States legally this year to join her parents.

Florinda said she feels sad when teachers and classmates are speaking English and she doesn't know what they are saying. But her friends, who have been there themselves, assure her she will start to understand more soon.

"I want to learn English," she said in Spanish. "Because if I want to work, I need to speak English."

Sticking it out

Hser Kaw, 15, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after his family fled Myanmar. He spent just a few years attending school in a bamboo building before coming to the United States as a refugee in 2007. Hser said he often skipped class at the camp.

When he first started at the Oakland school, Hser said, he felt intimidated because he couldn't read, write or speak English. He spoke some Thai and a little-known language called Karen.

"It was really, really hard," he said. "All the students were laughing at me. If a teacher told me to get something, I just stayed looking."

In his first year, he received mostly Ds and Fs. He said he considered quitting, but knew that he would be able to find a better job if he graduated. So he sought out extra help and completed his missing work, and he's now in 11th grade. Reyes said Hser is often the first student to arrive on campus in the morning.

For some immigrant and refugee teenagers, the tasks are too much and they drop out. But many students show an incredible drive to succeed, said Laura Vaudreuil, executive director of Refugee Transitions, an organization that provides tutoring and social services for the youths and their families.

"They need to work a lot harder to catch up," she said. "They absolutely do this. . . . They know they are given an opportunity that we take for granted."

Now, Hser can carry on conversations in English and understand most of what happens in class. After graduating, Hser said, he wants to go to college and get a job helping other refugees.

Because the school has been open only two years, it's too early to assess graduation and dropout rates. Students must pass the state's high school exit exam to graduate, but can stay until they turn 21.

"Little by little, I know more and I know more," he said. "I understand and I make friends."


During English class on a recent day, Kanwea and his classmates undertook a decidedly American lesson: They took turns reading aloud President Obama's recent speech on education. When it was Kanwea's turn, he read slowly and paused on a few unfamiliar words. His friends, from India and Nepal, helped him with the pronunciation.

Even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you, don't ever give up on yourself. . . . The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Even though learning to read has been a tremendous struggle, Kanwea said getting discouraged hasn't been an option. His mother, Jessie Kanwea, said she is relying on him and his sisters.

"If they don't go to school and get good jobs," she said, "how will they take care of me in my old age?"

So each day, Kanwea keeps taking the bus to school. And he keeps reading.


●●smf notes:

"LAUSD's project - called Bienestar*, for "Well-Being" - will target the emotional and behavioral health needs of immigrant students, who are at high risk for problems related to violence and trauma exposure, loss, separation from family members and dropping out of school. The project, co-led with UCLA's Health Services Research Center, will provide services at Belmont High School and will include general counseling for all recent immigrant students focused on the transition to high school in the United States, and targeted intervention for those experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms. The project will also enhance educational support services provided to students at LAUSD's Immigrant Student Assessment and Placement Center.

"Additional project partners include the Chinatown Service Center, Koreatown Youth and Community Center, Search to Involve Philippino Americans, Sin Fronteras, and Queenscare Health and Faith Partnership, all of whom collaborate to provide consultation and referrals for LAUSD's diverse recent immigrant population."

* - By all appearances BIENESTAR is  primarily a crisis and trauma intervention program – not a newcomer program.