LAUSD To Give More Info to Parents, But Parents Want More Power, Too

 LAUSD To Give More Info to Parents, But Parents Want More Power, Too

The LAUSD Board voted 6-1 for a resolution sponsored by Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) to increase district transparency by creating an Open Data Portal that puts far more information about LAUSD schools online for parents and community members to access.

Transparency was a key campaign platform for Melvoin and is also one of Speak UP’s top platform priorities. LAUSD will now hire an open data officer and provide parents with more information to choose school programs that are serving kids well and also to spotlight which programs and schools are under-performing so they can be held accountable.

“It’s important that we don’t just release data that makes us look good,” Melvoin said.

Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7), who co-sponsored the resolution, said that he hoped it would be a “change agent” that “shines a light on our perennially under-performing schools…The underperforming ones will not be able to hide like cipher in the snow and be quiet.”

Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6), who has spoken about her support for data-driven decision-making, voted against the resolution, citing concerns about the cost estimate of $1.2 million. Melvoin, however, pointed out how data analysis is projected to save the food services division more than $20 million and by opening up data to the public, more ways to save LAUSD money may be found.

During public comment, several Speak UP parent leaders implored the Board to give parents more formal power to help set policy at LAUSD. They asked for a seat at the table and a chance to represent their kids interests during LAUSD contract negotiations, which determine which teachers are qualified to be in the classroom with our kids.  

Parent Michael Segel shared stories from his youth of marching on the picket line alongside newly organized United Teachers Los Angeles teachers, who were asking to raise their salaries of $13,650 a year.

“However, it’s time that our children are also now represented,” Segel said. “Not as an addendum by a group that rightfully must protect their own interests first, but by parents, whose sole job it is to watch over our children’s needs…And I speak of the parents and guardians of every single child in LAUSD, including those with special needs, the more than 17,000 students that are temporarily or chronically homeless, as well as those one in four students that are undocumented or have a parent who is – many of whom have never had a voice in even school board elections.”

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National Search Expected After Ekchian Named Interim LAUSD Chief

National Search Expected After Ekchian Named Interim LAUSD Chief

The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to name Vivian Ekchian Interim LAUSD Superintendent Tuesday, less than a week after Michelle King announced plans to retire. The LAUSD Board, however, is expected to conduct a national search for a permanent new leader in coming weeks.

Ekchian has been serving as Acting Superintendent since Superintendent Michelle King went on medical leave last fall for cancer treatment, but she is receiving a new contract to reflect the increased responsibilities she has been handling. All the Board Members expressed confidence in her ability to lead during the transition.

“I am humbled and honored to serve the students, families, and employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District as interim superintendent,” Ekchian said. “I look forward to accelerating the transformative work that is occurring throughout the District, while maintaining our steadfast focus on 100 percent graduation that will guarantee college, career and life readiness for our shining stars.”

It’s unclear whether and how the new Board will seek stakeholder input into the superintendent search, given that a search was conducted less than two years ago. The current Board, which now has a more reform-minded majority, is expected to meet and discuss the process next Tuesday.

Also at Tuesday's charter-focused Board meeting, the LAUSD Board declined to renew the petition for Pathways Community charter school in San Pedro because of academic performance. The decision came after a discussion on the fairness of evaluating a charter high school’s performance based on only one year of SBAC test data.

Board Member George McKenna (BD1) questioned the fairness of the decision, given that the school has only been open for four years, and only one class of juniors has been tested. He ultimately abstained from the vote, while all the other Board members supported the staff denial recommendation.

“I’m not sure the school has had sufficient time,” McKenna said.

The one year of state test score data showed that Pathways performed worse than nearby residential schools, according to LAUSD Charter School Division Director Jose Cole-Gutierrez, but “we wish we had more data,” he said.

The issue is relevant to all new nigh school charters because 11th grade students are the only high school students tested, limiting the amount of data LAUSD has to consider. Several Board members expressed concerns that consistent criteria must be developed to fairly evaluate high school charter renewal petitions when the schools are still relatively new.

The Board also renewed petitions for Goethe International Charter and Ocean Charter after a discussion about ways to increase staff and student diversity at West Side schools. An official from Ocean charter, which gives a lottery preference to low-income kids, said the school would pass a racial admission preference to increase diversity if the law were to allow it.

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LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King Announces Retirement

LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King Announces Retirement

After months of medical leave while battling cancer, LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King announced her retirement on Friday.

“I have had the honor of serving as the superintendent of L.A. Unified for two years, although I have been challenged by medical issues for the last several months,” King said in a statement. “During this time, I have been undergoing treatment for cancer. Now, with the progression of my illness, I have made the incredibly difficult decision to retire by June 30. Until then, I will remain on medical leave.” 

Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude thanked King for her years of dedication to LAUSD students and for her historic term as the first African-American woman at the helm of the district. "We are grateful for King's years of service on behalf of kids and, along with parents throughout LAUSD, we send our heartfelt wishes for a quick recovery," she said.

King said in her statement that she appreciated “the outpouring of support” and “as I aggressively fight this illness, I ask that you continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers.”

Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who has been serving in King’s place, will remain in charge of the district for now, although the LAUSD Board is expected to launch a wider search for King’s replacement in coming months.  

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Short-Term Fiscal Fix Puts LAUSD Future In Peril

Short-Term Fiscal Fix Puts LAUSD Future In Peril

It was good news-bad news on LAUSD’s financial position at last week’s LAUSD Board meeting. The good news: LAUSD is no longer planning to increase class sizes in the next two years to balance the budget. The bad news: LAUSD is essentially robbing from future generations of children and teachers to balance its budget now.

LAUSD has certified to the County that it has a “qualified” financial rating, which means it may not be able to meet its financial obligations in the next two years without cuts. LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Scott Price said LAUSD is spending $650 more per student than it receives in revenues and is quickly eating through its reserves.

Because LAUSD is required by law to balance its budget, the district is apparently solving its short-term budget shortfall by further endangering its long-term fiscal stability. The district has decided to take away money that it had planned to set aside to help pay down its $13.6 billion unfunded health benefits liability -- promises made to retirees and current employees who will retire in the future.

That $13.6 billion unfunded liability threatens to “overwhelm the financial sustainability of the District,” according to a report from the Independent Analysis Unit (IAU), a research arm that reports directly to the LAUSD Board.

Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) warned the Board to keep the big financial picture in mind. “We can’t let short-term good news distract us from what we know to be the truth about the district’s overall fiscal health,” she said. “We have a structural deficit. Revenues from the state and the federal government are highly likely to decline over coming years, and our costs are rising…We need to plan and take serious steps now to improve our overall fiscal health and make sure we’re on strong financial footing for generations to come.”

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LAUSD Board Sets Calendar For Three Years With August Start

LAUSD Board Sets Calendar For Three Years With August Start

By a 4-3 vote, the LAUSD Board of Education approved a three-year school calendar plan Tuesday that will start school in mid-August and finish the semester before a three-week winter break. School will start Aug. 14 next year, but the start date will move back to the third week of August for the subsequent two years.

Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7) blasted LAUSD’s plan, saying that parents in his board district overwhelmingly supported a later start date. “I’m gonna vote with my parents,” he said. “People leave the district because we don’t meet their needs. When parents say they would prefer this, they have choices.” 

Nearby school districts have no problem starting after Labor Day and often have better academic performance than LAUSD, Vladovic added. Starting early was “more of a convenience for staff,” he said. “It does not help kids.”

But Board member Kelly Gonez (BD6) said parents in her district preferred an August start date and a three-week break. “There are a variety of opinions among our constituents,” she said. “No matter what decision we make, not everyone will be happy. That’s the reality.”

Several Board members criticized the quality of the $250,000 parent survey on the calendar, whose response rate was only 38 percent and whose design was so flawed, they said, that the data were hard to interpret.

One question, for example, showed that a plurality of parents (36 percent) wanted school to start after Labor Day in September. But in a separate question, 62 percent of parents selected one of a variety of options presented for an August start date, and only 18 percent said they did not want to start in August.

Because all the options were not presented in a single question, many parents expressed a preference for starting school in both August and in September – rendering their true wishes difficult to discern.

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LAUSD Board To Vote on School Calendar Tuesday With Mid-August Start

LAUSD Board To Vote on School Calendar Tuesday With Mid-August Start

Despite the fact that a plurality of parents surveyed preferred to start school after Labor Day, the LAUSD Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a school calendar for the next three years that includes a mid-August start date, five days off at Thanksgiving and a three-week winter break.

The proposal on the table is to start school on Aug. 14 next year, Aug. 20 in 2019 and Aug. 18 in 2020. School would end June 7 in 2019, June 12 in 2020 and June 10 in 2021.

Parents surveyed preferred to start after Labor Day by 36 percent to 32 percent. But most LAUSD parents also wanted a weeklong Thanksgiving break and a three-week winter break. Combining all three of those preferences would mean ending the school year in late June, which would hurt kids’ chances of pursuing summer jobs or summer college programs.

It would also require high school kids to take end-of-semester exams after the three-week winter break, which could hurt academic performance and chances of getting into top-choice colleges -- not to mention the chance to enjoy winter break without having to study. Adopting the current plan to start in mid-August would allow high school kids to take their exams before winter break.

While the needs of high school kids and younger kids differ, parents overwhelmingly (by a vote of 68 percent) said they did not want separate calendars for kids of different ages. “One of the things that surprised me was the consistency that parents wanted one calendar,” Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) told Speak UP. “That sort of cuts against local control.”

Board District 4, which Melvoin represents, and Local District West, were outliers in the survey. Parents on the West Side expressed an interest in starting either in late August or after Labor Day and having only a two-week winter break. But West Siders were the only parents that did not want a three-week winter break. Many LAUSD families are Latino immigrants that want three weeks to travel back to Mexico and Central America over the holidays.

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LAUSD To Parents: Better Student Attendance Would Save Millions

LAUSD To Parents: Better Student Attendance Would Save Millions

There’s one easy way parents can lift student achievement and help solve LAUSD’s financial crisis: Send your kids to school. If every child attended just one more day of school per year, LAUSD would have approximately $30 million more to invest in classrooms, according to a report from an Advisory Task Force of Los Angeles leaders presented at the LAUSD Board meeting Tuesday.

Because districts (and independent charter schools) receive funding based on the number of children who actually show up to school each day, student attendance really matters – and not only for the learning of the child attending.

A broad-based campaign to spread that message to parents and community members was one of the main recommendations of an Advisory Task Force made up of prominent Los Angeles leaders, including three who presented to the Board Tuesday: former Publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times Austin Beutner, former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and LA84 Foundation President and CEO Renata Simril.

Chronic absenteeism is a huge problem for LAUSD. In 2016–2017, more than 80,000 LAUSD students -- 14.3 percent -- were chronically absent, which is defined as missing at least 15 days. If you count the number of students missing 8-14 days, the percentage rises to almost one-third of LAUSD students missing significant amounts of school.

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Board Should ‘Push The Envelope’ To Help Kids

Board Should ‘Push The Envelope’ To Help Kids

Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7) said that he was “so depressed” by the dismal performance of LAUSD’s highest-need schools receiving School Improvement Grants that he’s willing to “push the envelope” and try some “crazy plans” in an attempt to make them work for kids.

“It’s such a tragedy,” he said at a special Board meeting last Tuesday. “I’m convinced it’s not all about money. The millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars we’ve spent, we made no significant difference. So it’s not what you spent, it’s how you spend it.”

Both Vladovic and Board Member George McKenna (BD1) suggested that quality teachers and accountability were crucial to raising student achievement. McKenna also said that seniority did not determine teacher quality and suggested it should not determine salaries.

“In my opinion, the quality of the teacher had little to do with the length of time the teacher had been teaching,” he said. “The big elephant in the room is student outcomes. Who wants to be responsible for student outcomes? We compensate ourselves for effort. Everybody’s trying, but trying doesn’t make you effective. Because you may not have the skill set. If you don’t admit that, you still keep saying ‘It’s not my fault.’ Well, it’s got to be somebody’s responsibility.”

Vladovic echoed his sentiments. “To deny accountability is to deny you make a difference,” he said. “Anyone who says, ‘I’m not accountable,’ then I don’t need you. I can hire a stick body because you don’t make a difference.”

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Parents Ask LAUSD Board For A Seat At The Table

Parents Ask LAUSD Board For A Seat At The Table

Several Speak UP members and Speak UP Board Member Shirley Ford were among the parents and community members who asked the LAUSD Board Tuesday to give parents a seat at the table with real power to advocate for kids’ needs during employee contract talks.

“There is much talk that kids are being put first but unfortunately the reality is not so,” said Ramona Gamzeltova, a parent at Taft High School and a board member of the parent organization at Portola Middle School. “There are many schools within the LAUSD that lack basic needs for our kids…My kids’ English teachers have to teach literature without any novels but rather a book full of short stories. Why? Because there is not enough money to buy books…There is a lack of clean, running water in a science class where labs are being conducted.”

Parents, she testified at public comment, have no interest except the success of their kids and need the power to represent them. “We parents donate time and money to our local schools to make up for the lack of resources, but we are given no power or voice in return to make sure the money LAUSD allocates actually goes to our kids needs. That needs to be changed.”

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LAUSD Strikes Deal To Save Charters, Update Policies

LAUSD Strikes Deal To Save Charters, Update Policies

With significant assistance from Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, LAUSD and charter leaders reached a compromise agreement to save 11 charter schools from denial because of a policy dispute over language the district requires all charters to place in their petitions for approval and renewal.

The deal will allow charters to negotiate multi-year lease agreements for campus space and to have more predictability and transparency in terms of the rules and policies they will have to follow on an annual basis.

“This was a group of adults coming together on all sides to put kids first,” said Melvoin (BD4), who helped broker the agreement. He added that he hoped the resolution of the dispute would return everyone’s focus to “student achievement and what’s happening in classrooms, and not adult process questions that can unmoor us from that mission.”

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In A Policy Dispute Between Adults, Just Put Kids First

In A Policy Dispute Between Adults, Just Put Kids First

Tuesday’s LAUSD Board meeting is turning into a showdown between more than a dozen charter schools petitioning for renewal or approval and LAUSD over proposed policy changes to language the district requires charters to put in their petitions -- some of which limits the ability of charters to make multi-year lease deals for LAUSD campus space.

The Charter Schools Division staff is recommending the denial of 11 charter renewals and three new charter school petitions at once – an unprecedented number. The vast majority of the denial recommendations have nothing to do with how well these high-performing schools serve kids but are instead a result of this policy dispute.

Schools from Alliance and Magnolia are on the chopping block, while schools from STEM Prep and Equitas Academy have new school petitions at risk. One new and six existing and high-performing KIPP schools are being recommended for renewal -- but only on the condition that they revert back to the original district language within 30 days, or else risk potential revocation of their charters.  

State law calls for student achievement to be the primary consideration in the approval process, and that does not appear to be the case with these denial recommendations. Instead, LAUSD is recommending denial because the charters are seeking changes to district rules that create uncertainty for schools and families.

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Despite Fairness Questions, Most Parents Support Wanding For Weapons

Despite Fairness Questions, Most Parents Support Wanding For Weapons

A significant majority of parents surveyed by LAUSD support the policy of randomly wanding students for weapons at school, despite vocal opposition from charter schools, civil rights groups and United Teachers Los Angeles, as well as questions about its effectiveness and fairness.

LAUSD Administrator of District Operations Daryl Narimatsu presented the survey data to the LAUSD Board Tuesday at a special meeting to explore the mandatory policy of requiring random daily searches with a hand-held metal detectors at all LAUSD schools.

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Rodriguez Vows To Stay After Board Members Call For Leave

Rodriguez Vows To Stay After Board Members Call For Leave

Hours after Board Member Ref Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to campaign money laundering charges, Board President Monica Garcia (BD2), Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) jointly called for him to take a leave of absence from the Board. Rodriguez responded with a refusal: "I'm am not doing so," he said.

The four Board members -- Garcia, Melvoin, Gonez and Rodriguez -- have made up a change-minded, majority-voting bloc in support of a Kids-First agenda since the new Board was seated in July. Rodriguez stepped down from his post as Board President last month, but since then, the allegations against him have expanded to include a financial conflict of interest complaint from the charter organization that he co-founded. The Fair Political Practices Commission has already closed the complaint, citing the pending criminal case.

His closest Board allies released a joint statement Tuesday calling his situation a distraction. “Nobody should be tried in the press or the court of public opinion without having a fair hearing. But in order to keep making progress towards our goal of 100% graduation, we have asked Dr. Rodriguez to take a leave of absence from the Board. As with any employee of the district who is accused of misconduct, this allows for a quicker resolution while enabling the District to continue its work.”

Rodriguez remained unbowed to the pressure from his colleagues. He appeared at the special Board meeting on LAUSD’s policy of wanding students for weapons Tuesday and released a statement on social media in the midst of the meeting. 

"In May 2015, I was elected by the constituents of Board District 5 to serve a five-year term on the Board," he said. "I have dedicated my life to provide better educational opportunities to all students in our communities...I am a dedicated public servant, and I have faith in the truth. I believe in the integrity of the justice system, where I will respond to the allegations."

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LAUSD Board Explores Policy of Wanding Students For Weapons

LAUSD Board Explores Policy of Wanding Students For Weapons

The Board will hold a special meeting Tuesday to study wanding, the practice of conducting daily, random student searches with hand-held metal detectors, which has been LAUSD policy since 1994.

Wanding began in response to a fatal shooting at Fairfax High School, and LAUSD currently requires the practice of all of its middle, high and adult schools, as well as at independent charters.

The topic became a hot-button issue last year when LAUSD attempted to tighten what it believed was lax enforcement of the policy and was met with resistance by a dozen Los Angeles charter organizations, United Teachers Los Angeles, civil liberties groups and a number of dissatisfied teachers, parents and students.

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Dual Language Programs Help English Language Learners

Dual Language Programs Help English Language Learners

The expansion of dual language programs is improving the academic outcomes of LAUSD’s English Language Learners, district staff told board members at the Committee of the Whole meeting at Fairfax High Tuesday.

While only 26 percent of LAUSD students overall are meeting or exceeding English language standards, 49 percent of students in dual language programs are doing so. Kids in dual language programs are also outperforming students in the general population at their same schools.

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Board Dispute Erupts As Enrollment Declines

Board Dispute Erupts As Enrollment Declines

LAUSD is losing enrollment at an even faster pace than projected, meaning $17 million less revenue this year and $18 million next year.

With a total of 501,271 kids enrolled this fall, LAUSD lost just over 13,000 students from last year, a decline of 2.55 percent, which was higher than the 2.1 percent expected.

“That’s like a small school district we’re losing every year,” said LAUSD CFO Scott Price during a presentation at Tuesday’s board meeting, which also exposed the difficult feelings of board members who are no longer in the majority voting bloc since the May school board elections.

“I feel disenfranchised,” said Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7). “I’m not being heard, and nobody cares … I don’t even feel like it’s worth coming to the meeting anymore because it’s like talking to the air … I know my vote doesn’t count.”

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Melvoin Calls Union Demands 'Magical Thinking'

Melvoin Calls Union Demands 'Magical Thinking'

As UTLA prepares to picket at school sites Wednesday, LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (ND4) offered some straight talk on union demands and what’s at stake for kids.

"Again, we all agree we need more revenue. I join UTLA and have been calling for more state funding since I launched the campaign. But if you have a finite pool of money, which we do -- unless there is money we don’t know about it, and if so, we hope the union will tell it where it is -- then if you decrease class sizes, then you have to hire more teachers. And that costs a lot of money. And then there’s less money for raises. So while both are noble goals, it is magical thinking unless we’re tying it to potential increases in funding. And that’s one thing I talked about on the campaign: Let’s look at more statewide funding, let’s look at a parcel tax, and let’s have some bargain where some of it would pay down the liability, some would be for class size reduction, and maybe some would be for art instructors. Those are conversations we should have. But this idea of we want class size decreases and more teachers without showing us where the money is, that’s magical thinking."

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Board President Monica Garcia: 'A Strike Would Definitely Be Bad For The Kids'

 Board President Monica Garcia: 'A Strike Would Definitely Be Bad For The Kids'

We spoke to Monica Garcia as on the eve of her first regular LAUSD Board Meeting as President. She talked about the new board that was seated in July, parent power, union negotiations and threats of a teachers strike.

"We have to do more. If the system stays the same, I think that’s where there’s a lot of crisis that we would inflict upon ourselves...Those are choices before us, and the choice to do nothing is a bad choice."

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Melvoin Pushes LAUSD Smartphone App For Parents

Melvoin Pushes LAUSD Smartphone App For Parents

LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) plans to introduce a resolution at the board meeting Tuesday directing the district to create a new app to better help parents access information about LAUSD and communicate their needs to the district.

Co-sponsored by Board President Monica Garcia and Board member Richard Vladovic, the Transforming Engagement via Communication Hubs, or TECH app resolution, will be voted on at the regular board meeting in November.

“One of the things I talked about explicitly on the campaign was a better way of communicating with our stakeholders, everything from emergency communications to two-way communications,” Melvoin told Speak UP. “It’s basically the one-stop for parents and stakeholders to be able to see what’s happening at LA Unified, how to navigate their school, how to get in touch with key people, how to give feedback. I imagine a survey piece of this. And also for the district to move beyond paper bulletins and Robocalls to do push notifications and update information in real time.”

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LA’s Only Hebrew Language Charter Denied Renewal After Communication Breakdown With Charter Schools Division

LA’s Only Hebrew Language Charter Denied Renewal After Communication Breakdown With Charter Schools Division

The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to deny the renewal of Lashon Academy, LA County’s only Hebrew language charter school Tuesday, despite strong and growing academic performance of its students. The school plans to appeal the decision to the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

The denial of Lashon’s renewal petition, which had nothing to do with how well the school serves kids, was a result of a breakdown in communication between the school and LAUSD’s Charter Schools Division after the school challenged language that LAUSD requires charters to include in their petitions. 

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