Community vote eliminated, streamlined contracts
By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | http://bit.ly/mmOzFi
5/11/2011 - Los Angeles Unified officials Tuesday approved a series of changes to the landmark Public School Choice program, including eliminating a community vote and limiting the new campuses that can be included.
New LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, who recommended the changes, also proposed streamlining the teacher contracts at the School Choice campuses that are run by internal district-based teams.
The streamlined contracts grant school management more flexibility and local control but could also reduce some workplace rules favored by unions.
The changes are the first major overhaul of the School Choice program, which was approved in 2009 and allows nonprofit groups, charter operators and district teachers groups to compete to run some public campuses.
Deasy said his changes are essential to maintaining the success of the reform effort, in which some 50 schools have already participated. Union critics, however, argued that some of the new rules would actually limit choice.
"These changes restrict voice and choice from a process that was supposed to be all about that," said Betty Forrester, secretary of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Forrester said the "thin contracts" were created by the union to apply only to a small number of pilot schools and should not be forced upon teachers at the School Choice campuses.
Pilot schools are smaller district campuses that have charter like freedoms to control their budgets, schedules and hiring. Educators who work at pilot schools agree to the streamlined contract, which reduces some workplace rules and can make it easier to fire teachers.
UTLA also opposes the elimination of the community vote in the School Choice program, which Forrester said is the only way for parents to have a say in the reform process.
The community vote aspect of School Choice, which allows parents, students and staff to cast nonbinding votes for who they think should run the schools, has been criticized as being rife with irregularities and subject to manipulation. It allowed some voters to cast more than one ballot and had dismally low participation rates from parents.
Some board members celebrated Deasy's proposal to eliminate the vote, including School Choice author Yolie Flores.
"Over the last two years we've learned what works and what doesn't for this program, and clearly the advisory vote was not working," Flores said.
"It became a political manipulation process."
smf: What is a vote, what is democracy if not a "political manipulation process"?
Deasy said he may return with an alternative proposal to gather community input.
Board member Steve Zimmer said he would "pitch a battle" if no alternative community vote process was brought to the board in the near future.
"That is non-negotiable," Zimmer said.
Other changes approved Tuesday included:
Limiting the new schools that can be selected to only those surrounded by low-performing schools with test scores that rank below 800 on the state Academic Performance Index, which uses a scale of 200 to 1000.
Encouraging more parent participation through increased workshops and outreach.
Providing more staff and resources for schools that are selected to participate in the process.
Granting the superintendent more power to decide what happens to a participating campus that receives no qualified bids.
Some 37 new and existing schools have been selected to participate in the third round of the Public School Choice process. Those campuses, which include six in the San Fernando Valley, will open in fall 2012 under their new leadership.