Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE VOTE AND RECOMMENDATIONS: Teachers claim victory in school-reform elections but results may have little impact

by Howard Blume and Jason Song | LA Times LA Now blog

February 10, 2010 | 12:25 am

Teachers won a nearly clean sweep over charter schools and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in elections for school-reform plans that were held last week. The Los Angeles Unified School District released the election results Tuesday, packaging them with separate professional evaluations of each reform plan that sometimes resulted in a different verdict.

Neither the election results nor the evaluations are the final word on who will run 12 persistently low-performing schools and 18 new campuses under a school-reform strategy adopted in August. L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines will issue his own recommendations, and the school board is scheduled to make a final decision Feb. 23.

The main competitors for the campuses have been groups of teachers -- frequently allied with district administrators -- and charter schools. Charters are independently run public schools that are free from some restrictions that govern traditional schools, including district labor contracts. Teachers, in effect, were fighting to maintain more than 1,000 union jobs as well as for a chance at real local control over school sites. With support from United Teachers Los Angeles, the district’s teachers union, teachers launched vigorous grassroots campaigns for their homegrown reform proposals.

Charter operators decried misleading claims by some teachers and alleged voter intimidation as well as inconsistent or unfair voting practices. The League of Women Voters of Los Angeles conducted the election.

Voters cast ballots by category. It was no surprise, perhaps, that school staffs voted almost unanimously for internal district proposals.

So did high school students and public school parents.

In the run-up to the election, one of the most contested schools was the new campus east of downtown named for former Congressman Esteban Torres. It will house five small high schools to relieve overcrowding at Roosevelt and Garfield high schools. On the ballot were five teacher-led plans and five charter-school proposals. 

Garfield and Roosevelt students favored the teacher plans by an average margin of about 536 to 31. Among parents, the average margin was 86 to 13. Public school parents with children who will reach high school age next year favored teachers by a margin of 2 to 1. Among public school parents of younger children, the margin was 3 to 1.

There were also categories for “community” and “unverified parents,” but these tallies could be manipulated by interest groups so the league regarded them as essentially meaningless.

The professional evaluators, for their part, could reach no consensus regarding the Torres campus. They gave a thumbs-up to every plan.

At Jefferson High in Central-Alameda, Villaraigosa was trying to add to the 12 schools already run by his education nonprofit. But the mayor made little public relations headway, losing to the internal Jefferson proposal among students by 239 to 4, among current parents by 116 to 9 and among parents with students in schools that feed into Jefferson by 36 to 15.

“It’s fun the way we learn,” said senior Chris Harris, 17, on the day he voted for the internal Jefferson plan. “If we go charter, we’re not going to be able to play sports. We’re going to have to wear uniforms. And we’re going to be getting out 4:18 every day.”

The mayor’s plan did not, in fact, call for a charter school -- he’s willing to abide by district labor contracts. Nor did he contemplate ending sports, but uniforms have indeed been part of the mayor’s schools.

Margarita Duran, who has a daughter in 9th grade at Jefferson, declared herself “very satisfied” with the school: “I believe the structure that we have is great and the school is working the way it is.”

The mayor did win the plurality among feeder parents at Carver Middle School, but only 70 voted.

His highest vote total among parents was 61 at Griffith-Joyner Elementary, but the internal proposal claimed 417. The district is looking into allegations that the principal violated a district neutrality directive by having students write letters home urging parents to “save” the school.

The evaluators gave the mayor’s team good marks, but also blessed at least one other plan for three existing schools and one new campus that the mayor sought.

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