Tuesday, October 27, 2009

LAUSD PLAN TO HAVE OUTSIDERS RUN 36 OF ITS SCHOOLS NEARS REALITY: Application for outside entities to operate schools readied

 Today's  Board of Education Meeting  10/27/2009 - Start: 1:00pm 

By Connie Llanos | Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

10/27 -- Pushing aside the threat of lawsuits and complaints about the process, Los Angeles Unified officials today will begin finalizing a controversial reform plan that allows the outside operation of three dozen schools.

The school board will meet today to finalize an application that could be released Wednesday to charter operators and other nonprofit organizations seeking to run 36 new and under-performing campuses.

Locally, Gardena and San Pedro high schools - two of the lowest-performing schools in the South Bay and Harbor Area - are targeted for takeover by outsiders.

District leaders said they refused to see their reform effort derailed by the threat of lawsuits by employee unions and concerns of charter school advocates.

"No one is ever satisfied, no matter how hard you try to involve people and make the process inclusive," Superintendent Ramon Cortines said. "This plan is about improving the education system for our boys and girls. It is not about giving away schools."

The 11-step application process crafted by Cortines requires applicants to have nonprofit status, as well as the financial capability and skills to successfully operate a school.

Plans call for LAUSD to begin receiving applications by Nov. 15 and the board to make a final decision by February.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he is concerned about the timeline.

"This process is too quick and was designed that way by board members as a political favor to charter schools and other entities," Duffy said.

"I would like teachers to get at least six more months to work on their proposals."

UTLA and other employee unions are exploring whether to file suit to block the reform effort. The unions maintain the district is breaking promises it made to voters, who approved the bonds that funded the construction of the schools that will now be up for bid.

"We are still questioning whether it is legal for the district to gift school sites that were approved by voters to relieve overcrowding," said Adrianna Salazar, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters union.

In addition to the structural and operating requirements, the district is also mandating that operators of the 36 schools enroll all children within the campus' attendance boundary.

This runs contrary to a basic tenet of the charter school movement: Giving parents the right to choose a campus outside their neighborhood if they are dissatisfied with their local school.

Charter schools traditionally rely on an enrollment lottery and do not restrict admission to geographic boundaries. They receive grants based on this admissions policy.

"It is clear that the original spirit and intent of this resolution intended for charters to have the kinds of flexibility and autonomies they need to be successful with students," said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter School Association.

"But as we have gotten further through the process, a number of things have emerged that threaten the autonomy of charter operators, who are now wondering if it's even wise to participate at all."

School board member Yolie Flores-Aguilar, who authored the school choice plan, said she understands the ongoing debate over the application process but hopes that educators can move past the rhetoric.

"Everybody is going to have to give a little for kids to gain a lot," Flores-Aguilar said.

"I am putting my faith on people being adults and being student-centered and hope they can move out of their hard position and think about what is in the best interest of the students."

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