Friday, June 25, 2010


Mayor wants to change how LAUSD chooses outside operators

Daily News Wire Services

06/25/2010 -- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants Los Angeles Unified to change how it chooses organizations to put in charge of new schools and troubled campuses, but his recommendations weren't embraced by the superintendent.

Under the district's Public School Choice program, groups of teachers and administrators, charter operators and a nonprofit organization controlled by the mayor can compete against each other for a chance to run schools within the LAUSD.

Villaraigosa said the current selection process is "not good enough" and called for several changes, such as giving more weight to an applicant's track record and requiring innovative governance structures as part of the reform strategy.

In a letter to Superintendent Ramon Cortines dated June 9, Villaraigosa submitted a list of recommendations, the first being: "If there is no satisfactory application for a focus school, then reconstitution of the school should be the default action."

Cortines deflected each of the recommendations. In his reply, dated June 18, he said, "I believe that reconstitution or restructuring should be the last resort, not the default. Our goal is to support our schools so that they may improve the outcomes for our students. I will use all available options to improve a school under No Child Left Behind, if necessary."

Still, Cortines added, "We agree ... there are areas of the Public School Choice process that could be strengthened; with this in mind, staff has worked and continues to work diligently to ensure that all issue raised and others that might be raised are addressed so that this round of the process is far more effective than the previous."

In February, when LAUSD decided to turn over control of 18 new schools and 12 troubled ones to outside operators, the teacher-administrator groups backed by United Teachers Los Angeles claimed the vast majority of them.

Charter operators were awarded four of the schools, while Villaraigosa's nonprofit ended up with one.

The mayor said the selection process "doesn't stand the test of transparency, accountability, commonality of standards, the governance models, a track record that demonstrates a plan is more than just a piece of paper."

Cortines' decision to "summarily dismiss" his recommendations was "frankly, just unacceptable," Villaraigosa said, and called for changes before another set of schools is turned over.

When asked whether he would withdraw support for LAUSD officials who rejected his recommendations, Villaraigosa said, "I'm absolutely committed to seeing this process through, and I won't let anyone who opposes transformative reform get in the way."

LAUSD board President Monica Garcia said: "We welcome today's call by Mayor Villaraigosa and representatives of the charter and higher education communities to continually strive for reform, innovation and excellence."

"We appreciate the feedback we received today, and we invite all community members and stakeholders to partner with us to do more, better, and faster," she said.

Letters of intent to participate in the Public School Choice program are due Wednesday. Full applications are due in December.


Villaraigosa backs charter school bids, rips Cortines

The mayor says L.A. Unified didn't give charters a fair chance in an earlier bid for control of new and low-performing campuses.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

June 25, 2010 -- The mayor of Los Angeles sided publicly with local charter schools Thursday in their latest bid to take over new and low-performing campuses, while sharply criticizing the L.A. schools superintendent, his onetime deputy.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke one week before a deadline for applicants to submit bids for nine new campuses and eight low-performing ones in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In the first round of the groundbreaking competition, groups of teachers in February defied early expectations to claim the vast majority of campuses. Charters, which are independently run and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools, emerged with only four successful bids.

Villaraigosa castigated L.A. Unified for giving schools to groups from the very campuses that were up for bid because of poor performance. This time, he said, an organization's track record should be paramount.

"You can write a great plan, but if you don't have a history ... of proven results, that plan is just a piece of paper," Villaraigosa said.

The teacher groups, which had only weeks to put together proposals, received logistical support both from the district and United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union. The union then rallied local support behind teacher-led plans to dominate nonbinding community balloting over rival plans.

Villaraigosa said outside groups never had a fair shot at access to resources and parents.

In February, the mayor lobbied vigorously only for bids submitted by the nonprofit group that runs schools on his behalf, district officials told The Times. In its final decision, the school board majority he helped to elect gave him most of what he wanted, but favored even fewer charters than Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.

At the mayor's side Thursday were representatives from charter groups knocked out in the earlier round: one from ICEF Public Schools and three with ties to Green Dot Public Schools. Shane Martin, dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Education, chairs the Green Dot board; Ben Austin heads a charter-allied parents organization spun off from Green Dot; and Steve Barr started Green Dot and headed it for years.

For schools with inadequate reform plans — and no competing outside bids — Villaraigosa called for reconstitution, a process in which all members of the staff are replaced or must reapply for their jobs.

Cortines called reconstitution a last resort rather than a default option. This year, he required staff at Fremont High School in South Los Angeles to reinterview, but he said such efforts fail unless handled with persistence and care. The example of Fremont, he said, was enough to move other schools into reform mode.

The teachers union has vigorously opposed the Fremont initiative, calling it unfair and unsupported by research.

Villaraigosa accused Cortines, a former deputy mayor and top education advisor, of dismissing his suggestions and straying from their shared reform fervor.

"Frankly, that's unacceptable," the mayor said. "We've got to stop biting around the edges.... We've got to be transformative."

Cortines said he found the mayor's suggestions, which Villaraigosa outlined in a June 9 letter, helpful, but added, "I don't think we would have given the mayor additional schools based on a track record."

"I looked at this process as an incentive to motivate and challenge and raise the bar for teachers and parents and administrators in this district, and they stepped up to the plate," Cortines said.

●● smf's 2¢: Mayor Tony is entitled to his opinion. But the courts  - the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal and the California State Supreme Court – ruled in Mendoza v. California /aka/ LAUSD v. Villaraigosa that he is not entitled to run the schools. Unconstitutional they said.

  • The best board of education (his) money could buy has given him some schools to run anyway,   And he has …poorly.
  • The same board has given him the superintendent of his choosing; who is now dismissive of Mayor Tony’s suggestions and questioning of his track record. 

Somehow this experience  and investment and fervor has made him an expert and an authority

   …or maybe picking on the schools might take the public’s attention off the fact that he’s gone to all those sporting events, concerts and award shows without paying for the tickets. Ya think?

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