By Connie Llanos, LA Daily News, Published Online in Education Week: May 4, 2011 | http://bit.ly/kcRCRk
(Published in LA Daily News: May 3, 2011)
May 3, 2011: Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy is proposing to overhaul the district's Public School Choice reform program, eliminating a controversial public vote and limiting the campuses that can be included.
Deasy also wants to streamline the teachers contracts at schools in the program that end up being run by internal district-based groups.
That would give school management more flexibility, similar to charter schools, but is likely to be opposed by unions because it could eliminate some hard-fought workplace rules.
Public School Choice, launched in 2009, allows outside groups to compete with LAUSD-based teams to run some of the district's lowest-performing and newest campuses.
The process allows the community to vote on its preferred bidder, a nonbinding ballot that was criticized for being too open to manipulation. Deasy wants to do away with that vote.
"Through this process we have opened the doors to a variety of innovative school models in order to accelerate the learning and achievement for students across the district," Deasy wrote in a memo to the school board drafted earlier this month.
"As we move into the third round of this process, it is important that we pause and analyze where we are...with that in mind I offer the following recommendations, which I believe will improve the Public School choice process."
Deasy is in Washington, D.C. this week and was unavailable for comment but in previous interviews he stressed his support for the program and said his changes were simply a way to ensure its success.
His proposed changes, scheduled for a school board vote May 10, also include:
• Limiting the new schools that can be included in the process. This would avoid including campuses that draw children from high-performing schools.
• Increasing parent participation in the process through more district-led workshops and more involvement with community groups;
• Providing more district staff and resources to Public School Choice campuses when they open
• And giving the superintendent the power to decide what happens at a school that only receives one application.
At least some of Deasy's changes could lead to tensions with the teachers union.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he couldn't comment on Deasy's proposed changes until he had more opportunity to analyze them.
But he reiterated the union's opposition to the overall reform effort, calling it "destructive to public education."
Duffy also criticized the district's fascination with the streamlined teachers contract, which Deasy wants to make a requirement of all in-district applicants.
The so-called "thin contract" is a 70-page document that was created to grant pilot schools more local control.
These district schools are usually smaller and have charter-like freedoms that let them control their own budget, calendars, professional development and staffing decisions.
The streamlined contract is considered thin because the traditional LAUSD teacher's contract is some 300 pages long.
Emphasis on Reform
The thin contracts also make it easier to let go of teachers or administrators, although that individual would still have rights to a job somewhere else in the district.
"I think there is too much emphasis on contracts and not enough emphasis on successful education reform and how we bring that about," Duffy said.
Many of Deasy's changes however, have already earned the strong support of some board members including Tamar Galatzan, who represents a large portion of the central and West San Fernando Valley.
Galatzan said she withdrew two resolutions she planned to introduce to the school board which mirrored several of Deasy's recommendations.
"This is a tweaking and a cleaning up of Public School Choice."
While 55 LAUSD schools have gone through the Public School Choice process in its first two rounds it remains unclear how much change this has brought to these campuses.
Galatzan is one of several who have voiced concerns about the community vote element of the process, which is advisory.
In its first round, the election had loose voting guidelines that allowed many voters, especially school employees, to cast more than one ballot and electioneering tactics included threatening undocumented parents with deportation if they didn't vote to support a certain plan. The second round showed some improvements, but parent participation remained at just 1 percent.
"This vote became exactly what I thought it would, a mini political campaign that brought out the worst in everyone involved," said Galatzan.
Raquel Beltran, executive director of the League of Women Voters, which has been contracted by LAUSD to handle the vote, said she did not see the elimination of the election as a problem.
However, she said the school board should make its decision quickly to ensure it comes up with a new plan to gauge community sentiment in time for the third round of school choice.
A total of 38 schools have been targeted for the third round of the reform process, including 22 existing and 16 new campuses. Among those are three new schools in the San Fernando Valley: Valley Region Elementary #13, Valley Region Span K-8 #1 and Porter Ranch Community School.
The list also includes four existing local schools: Maclay, Sun Valley and Vista middle schools and Fulton College Prep, a grade 6-12 campus.
In October 34 initial applications were submitted from local teachers, nonprofits and charter school operators for these seven sites, which are expected to open under their new leadership in fall 2012.