Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Public School Choice - CORTINES TO CHOOSE BETWEEN MAYOR TONY AND UTLA: He used to work for one, he’s in contract negotiations with the other


Villaraigosa, teacher groups vie for 4 schools: Jefferson High is one of the campuses that both Los Angeles' mayor and groups backed by the teachers union have bid to run. Supt. Ramon Cortines will decide.

L.A. schools

10th-grader Dalila Zuniga, left, listens as teachers and parents attend a UTLA news conference at Jefferson High. A group backed by the teachers union submitted an application to run the school -- and so did the mayor. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / November 16, 2009)

By Howard Blume | LA Times

November 17, 2009 - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and groups of teachers backed by the Los Angeles teachers union will compete for control of four campuses, including Jefferson High School, as part of a groundbreaking reform initiative.

The impending face-off emerged Monday as groups inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District scrambled to meet a 5 p.m. deadline for applications to run 30 district schools. In separate news conferences, the union and the mayor lauded their own education records as they marked a milestone in the widely watched reform effort.

After filing "letters of intent" for their targeted schools, the bidders, including charter school operators, now have until Jan. 11 to develop full-fledged proposals.

Backers say the school-control plan, approved in August, will spur rapid progress at 18 new and 12 low-performing campuses in the nation's second-largest school district.

In 2005, Jefferson High, in the Central-Alameda area south of downtown, was the setting for racially tinged brawls involving black and Latino students. In the wake of the unrest, Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, pushed unsuccessfully to have his charter school organization take over Jefferson. Green Dot later opted to open charter schools near Jefferson instead.

Jefferson has become notably calmer in recent years, but academic growth has remained sluggish and the dropout rate high. The new principal, Michael Taft, was handpicked by L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who has said he was impressed by Taft's success at a small academy that is part of the Jefferson campus.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, the nonprofit overseen by Villaraigosa, took over management of 10 schools in July 2008 and gained control of another, a new high school, this fall. On Monday, the mayor made the case that his nonprofit deserves more campuses by saying that his schools, all historically low-performing, had demonstrated more progress than either L.A. Unified or the state's schools as a whole.

Such comparisons have annoyed Cortines, who will choose among the competing applications. He has characterized the performance of the mayor's schools as mixed. For its part, the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has repeatedly called on Villaraigosa to replace his school management team with more inclusive administrators.

Besides Jefferson, Villaraigosa's partnership said it would seek control of Carver Middle School in South Park, Griffith Joyner Elementary in Watts and a new elementary school south of downtown. The idea is to nurture a feeder pattern for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, officials said.

The proposal from Jefferson's teachers, meanwhile, involves building on the school's incremental progress, said social studies teacher Nicolle Fefferman. The plan is to make courses more rigorous and the school's small academies more autonomous and responsible for individual students.

The Jefferson group, which includes parents, students and administrators, also wants to expand the school's ties to organizations such as the city's Museum of Contemporary Art, which offers internships to Jefferson students.

A final list of all bids was not available Monday, but union leaders said teachers were planning to vie for every available school, which would put them in competition with charter-school operators.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently managed and exempt from the district's union contracts, as well as from some state and district regulations. Some Jefferson teachers have persistently criticized charter schools, and the message has stuck with some students, including student body President Rosa Hernandez, who said she aspired to become a teacher but not at a Green Dot school.

Green Dot was the only charter to bid for Jefferson, but Chief Executive Marco Petruzzi said his nonprofit has no takeover plans but seeks to work collaboratively with either the mayor or Jefferson's teachers.

Another charter group, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, plans to seek control of Burbank Middle School in Highland Park, according to the California Charter Schools Assn., which compiled information on charter bids. Another organization, ICEF Public Schools, submitted a bid for Hillcrest Drive Elementary in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. For the most part, however, charter operators bid for the new schools.

No charter signaled interest in East L.A.'s Garfield High, the subject of earlier contention among community factions. But the adjacent Montebello Unified School District did submit a surprise entry for Garfield.

Montebello's staff would be eager to team up with Garfield's faculty but could not provide funding for the effort, Associate Supt. Art Revueltas said.

Instead of a run at Garfield, several charters chose instead to bid for five small high schools at the neighboring, soon-to-open Esteban Torres campus. That move sets up a potential legal battle over whether charters can hire their own faculties or whether Garfield teachers have the right, under the district's union contract, to follow former Garfield students who are transferred to the new schools.

At his news conference, Villaraigosa, surrounded by charter operators and allied community groups, declined to dwell on the likely turbulence ahead. Instead, he chose to praise competition and invite all comers.

"Everybody's got to be welcome and step up to the plate," he said. "Hold all of us accountable."

Charters, teachers union among those bidding for control of campuses

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

Updated: 11/16/2009 08:21:39 PM PST - Dozens of charter school operators, non-profit groups and even the teachers union have made it clear that they think they can do a better job running L.A. public schools than Los Angeles Unified bureaucrats.

All met a Monday deadline to submit bids to operate some or all of the 36 schools up for grabs under an ambitious reform plan that lets outsiders - and insiders - take daily operational control of public schools.

"Today we have finally stopped talking about reform and we've taken a deliberate and strong step towards ending business as usual at this district," said LAUSD boardmember Yolie Flores-Aguilar, who authored the School Choice plan.

"By opening up the opportunity to external entities, we also create the pressure needed to push us all to do better."

The final list of applicants is expected to be released today, but as of Monday afternoon more than 15 charter operators, including Green Dot and Alliance for College Ready public schools, as well as the Mayor's Partnership of Schools and non-profit organizations like Youth Policy Institute, had expressed interest in the selected schools.

The district is expected to select operators of the 36 schools by February, and the groups will begin running them in fall 2010.

Most outside bidders were interested in the 24 new schools that will open next fall, as opposed to the 12 chronically underperforming campuses that were also available.

Still, United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union, teamed up with LAUSD staff to submit proposals for every one of the 36 sites.

Of the 24 new schools, five will open in the Valley. San Fernando Middle School was the only Valley school among the existing schools eligible for takeover.

While many charter operators, which run public schools independent of the district and free of most state mandates, have complained about the district's process for implementing the School Choice plan, at least 15 of them had bid for some of the 36 campuses by late Monday.

Charters oppose a district requirement to admit students based on attendance boundaries - a process that violates charter law and could limit access to federal funding. They also worry they could be forced to use LAUSD campus services - like cafeteria and custodial services - at the 36 campuses.

"There is much work yet to be done, but there is a strong sense of momentum building," said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association. "I think that will allow this reform to stand a chance while allowing charters to maintain the flexibilities they need to remain successful."

Charter school operators, who have fought with LAUSD for years to get more access to facilities, could finally get access to brand new schools - something many desperately need to meet demand.

For example, Ivy Academia, a Woodland Hills-based charter school, is applying for a new elementary school opening next fall in Winnetka.

The charter has its students spread over three West Valley school sites, but if Ivy wins its bid, it could combine all of its elementary classes on one site.

At a Monday morning news conference, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also celebrated the launch of LAUSD's reform plan that, just four years after his failed attempt to take over the school district, could give him control over more campuses.

"We are celebrating a major milestone today," Villaraigosa said. "I have said from the beginning that the only way to turn around a district of this size - the second-largest district in the nation - we have to do it as a community."

The Mayor's school team has applied for four schools, including Carver Middle School, Griffith Joyner Elementary School, a new elementary in South Los Angeles, and Jefferson High School.

At Jefferson, though, the mayor will be competing against United Teachers Los Angeles and parents, who have submitted a plan to keep control of the South Los Angeles campus. Green Dot Charter public schools also wants to take over Jefferson, after failing to take over the low-performing school six years ago.

Jefferson staff, parents and union officials hosted a 7 a.m. rally, and at the mayor's press event spoke out against any outside entities taking over their school.

"We are going to war," said Jefferson High teacher Nicole Fefferman. "Not just to war against a charter, but to war against the dropout rate and sagging academic achievement."

The competitive fight for Jefferson could be replicated at schools like San Fernando Middle School. At least four different proposals have been submitted for the only underperforming San Fernando Valley campus on the takeover list.

That includes competing plans by teachers at the school, a proposal by the Youth Policy Institute, a non-profit that currently operates two charters in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, and Synesi Foundation, an Illinois-based education consulting firm that specializes in turnaround services for schools and districts.

One sign of the intensity over school control was a flier distributed earlier this month to Latino parents in the Pico Rivera [smf CORRECTION: Pico-Union] area that threatened them with deportation if they signed a petition supporting a charter school.

"Things have gotten ugly," Flores-Aguilar said.

"I do expect for people to behave like adults, though, and be respectful. This is about future of young people, and we need to be modeling for them."

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