Wednesday, March 20, 2013


New school to teach entrepreneurship is approved, location isn't

-- Teresa Watanabe, LA Times/LA NOW |

L.A. school board targets Garcia with term-limits vote

Howard Blume, LA Times/LA NOW |

March 19, 2013 |  6:35 pm  ::  A new school to teach middle school students about entrepreneurship was approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles Board of Education. But the board stepped back from original plans to place it at Venice High after several parents and students complained that they were told about the campus only last week and that it would siphon off needed space and resources.

Instead, under an amendment by board member Steve Zimmer, the district and Venice community will work together to seek a location.

That didn’t disappoint the school’s founder, Sujata Bhatt, now a teacher at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles. She said she felt “relief and joy” about the plan’s approval and would work with the community to find a suitable home.

“It’s about creating quality schools for kids,” she said. “I want students to be excited about learning.”

The Incubator School marks the latest effort in L.A. Unified to give more freedom and flexibility to principals, teachers and community members to create their own innovative programs. The new campus will be a "pilot" school, which allows educators to control their curriculum, staffing, schedule and other elements. It is seen as a way to give district educators some of the same freedoms to craft their own schools enjoyed by charter campuses, which are publicly financed but independently run.

But pilot campuses also give administrators greater power to transfer out educators than in traditional schools -- one reason United Teachers Los Angeles has looked carefully at each one approved. Teachers who choose to work at pilot schools must sign a one-year contract that does not place seniority as the top factor in job placement.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the union would review the board decision before taking a position on it. To control the quality of the educational plan, Fletcher said, the union believes that those proposing it should operate it for a year to “get the kinks out” before seeking pilot status and a shorter contract.

Aside from the Incubator School, the board also approved two other pilot schools, Francis Polytechnic High School and WISH Secondary Media Arts School. The approval brings the number of the district's pilot schools to 49.

Monica Garcia
March 19, 2013 |  5:20 pm  ::  A narrow majority of Los Angeles Board of Education members voted Tuesday to set a limit of two consecutive years for the school board presidency. Unless the new rule is rescinded later, the decision would end the six-year run of current President Monica Garcia in July.

The board president has no greater authority than others on the seven-member panel, but runs the meetings and frequently represents the nation’s second-largest school system. Both supporters and critics have said Garcia wields an outsized influence on district policy and the use of district resources.

The school board elects its president every July to serve a one-year term.

A similar run at Garcia narrowly failed last year, but political factors outside the board room have evolved. Last year, the swing vote against term limits and to reelect Garcia came from Steve Zimmer.

Since then, however, close allies of Garcia targeted Zimmer for defeat in his recent reelection bid. Zimmer won regardless, when the teachers union and other employee groups rallied behind him. The teachers union, for its part, has been critical of Garcia. It mounted a low-budget but sharply critical campaign against her; she won reelection earlier this month.

The term-limits vote Tuesday symbolized the waning influence of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as his own eight-year tenure in office ends. Although the mayor has no formal authority over the board, candidates he helped elect make up a board majority. Garcia is the mayor’s closest ally on the board, and yet a member of mayor’s bloc, Richard Vladovic, defected to favor the term-limits proposal.

The motion, which was approved on a 4-3 vote, was put forward by Bennett Kayser and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. Supporters noted that since 1985, the board president has come from the downtown area and environs a significantly disproportionate number of times.

“It’s geographical diversity,” said LaMotte, explaining her vote. She added: “It’s time for us to look at different leadership and a different style of management.”

Voting against the proposal were Garcia, Tamar Galatzan and Nury Martinez.

“You’ve devoted not only your time but your entire career to the kids of this district,” Martinez said to Garcia. “I think this is about something else.”

Galatzan questioned the merits of term limits, adding that it was “insulting” that a majority of four might not be able to elect the president of its choice.

“People who don’t like a decision should not be allowed to upend the system,” she said.

But Kayser said voters support term limits in general, noting that they had already imposed limits on how many times a person could be elected to the Board of Education.

Garcia took the rebuff without complaint, but also said she was voting no because “every July there’s a vote and no one board member commands anything.”

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