by School Boardmember Tamar Galatzan in the Galatzan Gazette | http://bit.ly/uyHS8v
Monday, November 7, 2011 at 5:02PM - On November 1, LAUSD launched a new program to fill out 2012-2013 magnet applications on-line. To my great frustration, just days into the application process, major glitches plague the system.
Traditionally the application, known as the Choices brochure, is mailed out to the family of every student enrolled in the district. Hard copies are also available in school offices and libraries. This year, for the first time, families received a post-card in the mail directing them to the LAUSD website, where they can fill out an on-line application. A few copies will still be available at schools and libraries, for those who do not have internet access, or who do not have children currently enrolled in LAUSD.
While I applaud the cost-saving initiative that was behind the move, if the program doesn’t work, it’s not worth anything. Whether it be student handbooks, applications, or school lunch menus, moving on-line saves the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in copy, paper and mailing costs. In this case, district officials estimate the shift on-line will save the district close to a million dollars.
But, in the rush to get the new program up fast, it appears no one tried it. When I logged on myself to fill out applications for my two sons, who are enrolled in LAUSD, I received an error message. When friends logged on, the same thing happened. It turns out that if clerks at the school site didn’t enter all of the correct data, the application process sends an error message, with no advice on how to correct it. Deep cuts in clerical and office staff at school sites left many offices behind schedule in uploading the necessary student data. If that process has not been completed, families cannot log on. In addition, even a tiny error-missing a digit or mistyping, for example-will cause the system to send an error message.
I am troubled by the disconnect between well-intentioned district policies hatched in downtown offices, and life on the ground at our schools. Why wasn’t this system tested before it launched? Why didn’t anyone talk to school-based staff to see if all the necessary data had been entered? And why, now, when schools are short on staff, on paper, and often stuck with old, malfunctioning copy machines, are we leaving overworked school staff, once again, to explain, make copies, and fill in the gaps?
On Tuesday, after trying to log into the system with every combination of email address and phone number that I know, I expressed my concerns and frustrations to the Superintendent's office. They promised to make a ConnectEd phone call to the home of every LAUSD student guiding them to the internet portal that works. (eChoices). From there, families can print out the application, or file on-line. Those who have trouble on-line are encouraged to call 213-241-4177 to get assistance. Those without printers can go to their schools and ask for the Choices brochure, and if those are gone, ask the school to print them out a hard copy.
I, more than anyone, am impatient for change. But when the district launches a new way of doing things, we have an obligation to do it right.
You are a bright woman, an attorney – which means you have a high school and college and post grad education. You have a state-of-the-art laptop computer that the district gave you – with a T-1 connection at Beaudry and a high speed connection – either cable or DSL - at home. You have a Wi-Fi Blackberry or an i-phone. You have IT support. You are, in two words: well connected.
Now imagine you are a recent immigrant with an eighth grade education who has more than one job - not because you choose to but because you need to. English is not your first language. You have a five -year-old PC with dialup connection – or maybe you have a twenty minute block of time reserved at the library.
This part you don’t have to imagine: You want the best for your kids – and that opportunity is at one of LAUSD’s excellent magnet schools. The magnet application process is difficult and arcane, you need to accumulate points and bank the points so your child has a chance.
And now this.
Because someone was impatient for change and driven by urgency. Because someone didn’t learn the lesson of the payroll fiasco. Because someone rolled out a program districtwide without testing it out on a small scale first. Because someone cut a corner.