District alters policy to allow teachers and administrators priority in submitting plans, instead of charter groups and other outsiders. Any group can still compete for existing, low-performing schools.
LAUSD approves changes in Public School Choice plan
By Connie Llanos Staff Writer |Daily News/Daily Breeze | http://bit.ly/q0gTVA
L.A. Unified gives insiders first chance at new charter campuses
By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/qXRSKp
8/30/2011 07:43:16 PM PDT - The Los Angeles Unified school board on Tuesday approved changes in its Public School Choice plan that give an edge to internal, district-based teams that compete to run new schools.
School Choice was designed to improve education through competition by allowing outside groups and internal teams to bid on the management of new and under-performing schools.
But the motion approved unanimously Tuesday changes the rules of the program for its upcoming third round by allowing district-based plans to be submitted first, as long as they meet a series of conditions.
Those changes include performance-based evaluations for educators at new schools, giving administrators more flexibility to hire and fire staff based on school needs, and more freedom to craft work hours and rules for teachers and principals.
Originally proposed by board member Steve Zimmer and later amended by Tamar Galatzan, the new rules allow the district to search internally first, to seek the best talent to open new schools while paving the way for more LAUSD campuses to adopt charter-like reforms, board members said.
"New schools are our schools that have not opened yet ... they don't have a track record," Galatzan said. "What better place to start growing reform than at our new schools."
These changes would be nullified, however, if the teachers and administrators unions don't agree to the key contract changes by Nov. 1.
All of the changes being required of educators at the new schools participating in Public School Choice have been publicly listed by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy as amendments he'd like to see for the teacher and administrator contracts districtwide.
Deasy said he was hopeful that "at a minimum" the unions would agree to make these changes at the new campuses, but he said he was hopeful that similar reforms could be negotiated for all LAUSD sites.
"This is an opportunity to take the energy around Public School Choice and hopefully leverage it, into dramatic reform for the whole district," he said.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said he could not comment on any specific requests being made of the union by the new board policy because negotiations must be kept private.
"The fact the district is asking us to come to the table to discuss these items, though, is promising," Fletcher said.
In the third round of Public School Choice, 37 schools are up for grabs, including 15 new schools.
Of the three South Bay and Harbor Area campuses set to undergo Public School Choice this fall - Carson High, the new Harry Bridges K-8 span school in Wilmington and a new elementary school in Playa Vista - only the latter generated bids from outside organizations.
The three local campuses that went through the process previously generated little interest from charter groups compared to schools in other parts of LAUSD.
Recent state test scores have shown mixed results for schools in Public School Choice. Charter schools have bucked that trend, with a majority outperforming their neighboring district campuses.
Charter school leaders said these changes could discourage many operators from participating in the district's process in the future and slow down the pace of reform at LAUSD.
"Public School Choice was a bold step forward for education reform that emphasized quality and competition as key to achieving better schools but this diminishes that concept greatly by focusing on the affiliation of an applicant, not their quality," said Sara Hernandez, policy director for the California Charter School Association.
Zimmer said he hoped this plan would encourage more charter operators to focus on overhauling low-performing schools.
During the first two rounds of Public School Choice, four charter operators submitted bids to take over existing campuses, while 39 applied to run new schools. In the third round, though, charter school interest in existing schools increased, with charter operators submitting initial applications for 12 campuses.
Charter school leaders have complained that applying to run existing schools has been challenging because school workers and community members tend to resist the outside interest, but Zimmer questioned that statement.
"If charters were concerned with resistance, then we wouldn't have 80,000 kids in LAUSD next year attending charter schools."
August 31, 2011 - The Los Angeles Board of Education made a major change in its controversial, 2-year-old policy allowing charter groups and other outsiders to take over new campuses. The board unanimously agreed Tuesday to give teachers and administrators first chance at those schools.
If inside groups' plans are unacceptable, then charter operators, who mostly run schools that are nonunion, and others can apply.
The rules remain the same, however, for existing, low-performing schools; any group can compete for those campuses.
The district was preparing to accept new proposals for 15 new campuses by mid-October; that deadline has been changed to Nov. 18. Since the policy began, 11 charter schools won bids to run new district campuses and one existing campus is being operated by a charter organization. About 40 campuses are operated by inside district groups, mainly led by teachers.
Tuesday's unanimous board action also attempts to require the teachers union to be more flexible with the new schools. The board set a Nov. 1 deadline for the teachers union to agree to whatever performance evaluations, job requirements and other conditions the school staff are seeking in their plans, district officials said.
If the Los Angeles Unified School District and union cannot come to a deal, L.A. Unified reverts to the initial policy in which any group can compete for a new campus.
Teachers union leaders said the district could not force them to accept any conditions.
"It's all bargainable," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Charter schools are independent educational groups that are funded by public money and generally employ a younger workforce. Supporters say they give parents another option besides traditional public schools, while critics contend they cherry-pick the best students and avoid serving children with special needs.
Tuesday's vote came after a series of last-minute amendments and unusual public deal-making during a contentious board meeting. The board considered two other resolutions before finally approving the final version offered by Tamar Galatzan and amended by Richard Vladovic.
The board was initially set to consider a proposal by board member Steve Zimmer that would have given district groups the first opportunity to bid for new schools but it did not include the requirement that UTLA agree to teachers' proposals.
Zimmer questioned why charter organizations have shown little interest in bidding for existing campuses and instead focused on new schools.
"If choice is held with this almost religious fervor at our new facilities, how could it be so unimportant at our schools with the greatest need?" he said.
Board member Bennett Kayser tried unsuccessfully to get the board to go further: he proposed that all new campuses be excluded from the Public School Choice program.
The teachers union, which counts Kayser, Zimmer and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte as allies, has long been opposed to charters winning control of new campuses. The union sued the district last year to try to block charters from those schools but was unsuccessful.
Four other board members, Monica Garcia, Nury Martinez, Galatzan and Vladovic, have been supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa whose nonprofit has gained control of three campuses under the Public School Choice policy.
Charter operators were disappointed by the board action. "It's pretty much the death of Public School Choice as a collaboration with outside partners," said Judy Burton, the president of the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools.