By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
5/12/2010 -- Los Angeles Unified officials said Tuesday they have learned lessons from the first year of the landmark School Choice reform plan and intend to make key changes as they prepare to launch the next round later this month.
The School Choice plan, which lets outside operators bid to run new and low-performing schools, was approved by the school board last summer.
It drew fierce opposition from district employee unions that called the effort a "giveaway" of schools, while some of the bidders complained they had little time to prepare.
This year, however, district officials said they will have fewer schools go through the process, and applicants will have more time to develop proposals and get community members involved.
"Throughout this process we've collected feedback on ways to improve the process and ensure parent and community engagement," said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
Officials said they will release a list of new participating schools May 24 that is expected to include nine newly built schools set to open in fall 2011 and about a dozen existing schools.
Last year, 36 campuses were selected in late September to go through the bidding process – giving many little time to plan and prepare.
Educators and other applicants will also have more time to set up community meetings to get parents involved, since initial applications for schools will not be accepted until late June and then final applications – after parent and teacher feedback – will not be due until December.
Last year the bidding process also allowed school employees, parents and community members to vote for their favorite plan, but few parents participated while teachers and outside applicants raised accusations of foul play in the voting.
LAUSD board member Nury Martinez said she hopes changes would also be made to the voting process, which was handled by the League of Women Voters at a cost of about $100,000.
"That was … a mess," Martinez said, referring to the vote itself.
District officials said they intend to change the voting process but could not offer details yet.
"We will get better and better every year," said Matt Hill, a special assistant to Cortines in charge of implementing the School Choice process.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the union still opposes any reform effort that allows nondistrict operators – who are not required to hire union workers – to take over district schools.
But district teachers and administrators were able to keep control of 28 out of 36 participating district schools last year and the union leader said he intends to continue that trend this year.
"I'm still not happy with the giveaway of schools … but we will participate because I know that with teachers and parents coming together we will bring about sustainable change."