Wednesday, December 01, 2010

THE NEXT ROUND OF SCHOOL REFORM IS ON TAP: Wednesday is application deadline to run 13 LAUSD campuses.

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer – LA Daily News |

12/1/2010 - After gaining control of just a handful of campuses during the inaugural run of Los Angeles Unified's "Public School Choice" plan, charter leaders vow to fare better during the second round of the reform effort.

Approved in the summer of 2009, the plan lets independent charters, nonprofit agencies and community organizations compete against district teacher- and administrator-led groups to run new and underperforming public schools.

Final applications are due Wednesday from those interested in competing for the 13 Los Angeles Unified campuses up for bid.

Charter advocates say they have developed a more cohesive and strategic approach to the contest this time around, which they think will earn them support from parents, community members and school board members.

"The charter community is aligned behind an approach that, unquestionably, is bringing great quality operators (and) terrific applications," said Jed Wallace, president of California Charter Schools Association. (It's an approach) that will engage the community and parents at a whole other level.

"Should the results of this round not be significantly different, then I think it would lead many to question whether public school choice is the revolutionary force many were hoping it would be."

When first approved, Public School Choice was touted by charter operators as a bold reform effort, while district employee unions blasted the effort as a "giveaway" of schools.

Under the plan, parents, school employees and community members get to select the school plan they believe best fits their campus. LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines recommends the winners, which must be approved by the school board.

The first round of Public School Choice drew nationwide attention and some 200 initial applications for the three dozen new and underperforming schools that were up for grabs.

Charter operators, though, won full control of three campuses and partial control of a fourth. The district and teacher's union kept control over the rest.

"Round one really put into focus what the issues are and what the power dynamics are with these decisions," Wallace said.

According to several charter leaders and advocates, strategy sessions were launched within days of the final votes to figure out what went wrong in round one.

Wallace said the charter community realized that, to win more schools, they would have to become a more unified group.

So this time, fewer charter operators are bidding on schools, to ensure that more support is given to the strongest candidates, Wallace said.

Also, a parent-led organization, "Families that Can," is canvassing the neighborhoods surrounding the available schools.

"There is a need for us to be proactive about shaping the narrative around our success and what we're doing well," said Brian Bauer, executive director of Granada Hills Charter High, whose operators are applying for a new school available in the West Valley.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could also become an important player in this latest round of the choice contest. The mayor has advocated for more charters to be approved within LAUSD boundaries and he's called news conferences to scold the district for being too light on reform.

"The mayor will be key to a lot of this and he is poised to play a much bigger role in round two," said Ben Austin, a California School board member and school reform advocate.

The teachers union has largely fallen out of favor with the Mayor - a former teachers union organizer - but the 40,000-member group has its own allies lined up for the school control battle.

Julie Washington, elementary school vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said national teachers union affiliates have and will be providing advice, and resources, to the local labor group.

"Our national affiliates have been very supportive of us in this process," Washington said.

"They understand that the economy is tough, that our members are taking furloughs and facing layoffs and that the union has limited resources."

Washington said most resources are being poured into helping teachers produce winning plans to gain control over auctioned campuses.

Schools in the second round of public school choice will open in the fall of 2011. Final bids will be submitted by the end of today and the LAUSD school board will make its final decisions in February.

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