Austin Beutner Promises Less Bureaucracy and Red Tape in Annual Address to District Administrators

Austin Beutner Promises Less Bureaucracy and Red Tape in Annual Address to District Administrators

Austin Beutner tapped some of his famous friends to rally the troops at what was his first Superintendent’s Annual Administrators’ Address. The event, held at Hollywood High School on Thursday morning, drew hundreds of principals and assistant principals as well as some support staff from throughout the district. The board members were also in attendance, including Kelly Gonez (BD 6) with her days old infant son.

Rousing band performances set a festive tone. Jim Hill, the familiar CBS 2 sports anchor, served as Master of Ceremonies. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers introduced attendees to the word and concept of Ubuntu, which he defined as, “a person is a person through other people, I can’t be all I can be unless you are everything you can be," crediting Desmond Tutu, and urged audience members not to shy away from challenge. “Hard is good,” he said. “If it’s something worth attaining, it should be hard.”

Beutner began by sharing how he met fourth grader Brian Enriquez-Barron, who led the pledge of allegiance, on his first day on the job several months back when he was touring schools. When he asked the students what they wanted to be when they grow up, the Napa Street Elementary School student told him a school superintendent.

Then Beutner began his address in earnest. “We have much work to do,” he said. “But this chapter is going to be built on simplicity and focus, not on quick fixes and new programs… We’re going back to the basics."

It was Beutner’s promise of change that drew the most applause.  "I don’t want you spending your time on managing bureaucracy and compliance, but in getting results for the kids,” he said. “So together we need to rebuild this district with schools and classrooms at the center, not Beaudry.”  Effective immediately, he said, the plan is to cut in half the number of emails and directives administrators receive from the district.

He talked about boosting attendance “because we know attendance matters. Every classroom suffers because the state is not paying you [when a student doesn’t show up].”  In the past, Beutner said, the district generally dealt with attendance issues after the fact. But this coming school year, the district is going to turn that approach “on its head,” he said, starting with robocalls from well-known Los Angeles sports figures on Monday, August 13, the day before traditional district schools begin. “The message is love and inclusion,” said Beutner. “It’s a new season. Join us.”  In addition, attendance counselors will work more closely with schools. “Many have been wrapped up in our bureaucracy,” he said. “They need to be in schools doing the work.”

“Finally, I’d like to invite you to be a rule breaker and help change the status quo,” Beutner said. “Leadership matters. Be bold. Don’t wait for me or someone at Beaudry. We don’t have the answers. The answers are in your classrooms. They’re in your schools. So, start doing what it takes to improve results for your students. I’ve got your back. I’m challenging you to lead and you can’t do that without talented teams which you need to be able to hire and inspire the best. All great schools start with one simple thing which is a great leader. And I’ve never met a great leader who asked for permission to lead.”

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LAUSD Superintendent: ‘We need parents in that room with us, making more informed, better choices’

LAUSD Superintendent: ‘We need parents in that room with us, making more informed, better choices’

SU: It sounds like they want to strike, and that is going to impact kids. How are you going to deal with that?

AB: It goes back to community values. Does a strike benefit students? Does a strike benefit parents? Does a strike benefit the community? Does a strike benefit the members? My mom was a teacher for many years, part of strike votes at different points in her career. And one should always ask the question, what is the strike about? Is it about the series of economic demands, which couldn't be met even if Santa Claus came down and said, "Santa Claus can bargain for the district." Santa's sleigh does not have a billion and a half dollars in it.

SU: Is there a chance they're trying to force the state to provide more funding?

AB: The last time I looked, the state’s not in this bargaining. What we have proposed, and what we have agreed to with all of the other bargaining units, is together, let's go to the state. We should be working together, so that by 2020 we have made the case to the public at large, to the voters, that we need additional resources. This will wind up being something on a ballot in 2020. And we should be working to build support for it.

I fail to see how a strike builds support for that. It’s pretty clear to me the interests of the students, the parents, the communities we serve and every one of our employees – teachers included  – that we’re all better off if we can avoid a strike. We have settled on a fair basis with our other bargaining units for approximately 6 percent [raises]. We hope we can reach a fair resolution with UTLA.

SU: Kids are obviously greatly impacted by these contract talks. Why aren’t parents given a seat at the table to represent the interests of kids?

AB: That's a good question. I view this table we're sitting at – everyone belongs at this table. We should be open, and a parent  – they should sit at this table. If parents tell us we want fewer magnets, we will have fewer magnets. If parents tell us we want more, then we will fight like heck to make sure we have more. So they should be engaged with us, and anything we can do to better inform parents about what's working and what's not working, we think we’ll have a better outcome.

SU: Parents often feel like they're shouting into the wind. They have no systemic power that gives their voices any weight.

AB: They do have power. They can vote. They should vote. 

SU: Definitely, although undocumented parents cannot vote in LA school Board elections, and we have a lot of undocumented parents in L.A. Unified.

AB: Undocumented parents have friends, neighbors, colleagues who are voters. So their ability to influence the outcome is making their voice heard loudly and consistently. We think they have a good message, which is they're advocating for their child, the student. We’re going to try to do a better job of sharing what we think is important in the contract and how we can change things. We need parents in that room with us, making more informed, better choices.  

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Teachers Move Closer to Strike With Demands to Curtail Magnet School Options For Kids

Teachers Move Closer to Strike With Demands to Curtail Magnet School Options For Kids

Despite the fact that LAUSD has budgeted in raises equivalent to those recently negotiated by unions for administrators and classified employees, UTLA has declared that it’s at an impasse in labor negotiations, increasing the likelihood of a teachers strike later this fall.

UTLA is asking for salary increases greater than the 6 percent being given to other LAUSD employees. If LAUSD met all the demands in UTLA’s take-it-or-leave-it final offer made last week, the district “would immediately become bankrupt,” LAUSD’s Director of Labor Relations Najeeb Khoury wrote in a strongly worded letter sent to UTLA Friday. “The consequences of bankruptcy would be harmful for students, employees, including UTLA members, and the communities we serve.”

In addition to salary demands, UTLA is threatening to strike, in part, because it wants to limit the number of new magnet school options offered to kids in the future. And UTLA also refuses create a new “highly effective” teacher evaluation category to recognize the best and highest-performing teachers, which would allow LAUSD to study their methods and replicate them to help more kids.

Khoury’s letter to UTLA Friday claimed that the union has been “unwilling to negotiate” in good faith. “The District is disappointed that UTLA, within a span of three weeks, declared impasse, withdrew that request, and has now declared impasse again, after having given the District forty-eight hours to accept or reject its ‘Final Offer,’” the letter said. “Between the two declarations, UTLA did not change its proposal” substantially and has not done so since April 2017.

The union based its original strike threat on protecting healthcare benefits. But UTLA was able to ink a three-year deal earlier this year to maintain healthcare contributions at the present level for three years and keep free lifetime healthcare benefits for employees and spouses without any monthly contribution –- even though the deal threatens the solvency of the district.

Given that status-quo healthcare deal and salary raises the district is offering, it’s unclear what exactly would make UTLA stand down from its strike threat. It’s widely believed that UTLA is intent on striking regardless of what LAUSD offers and regardless of how it may harm kids who won’t be educated while teachers walk off their jobs.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who is terming out and may be eyeing his next job, made his intentions explicit two years ago. “The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl told an audience in July 2016.

Khoury in his letter said that the teachers union in its final offer was insisting upon multiple provisions that would harm kids’ ability to have the “right teachers” at the “right schools.” The union, for instance, wants to make it harder for district schools to convert to magnets and “limit the district’s ability to select teachers with special skills or talents for new magnet schools.”

Currently, when schools convert to magnet status, teachers must reapply for their jobs. This makes sense because a STEM magnet, for instance, may need specialized math, science and engineering teachers that a traditional district school does not have. But UTLA is insisting that all teachers would remain at schools that convert to magnets, making those conversions in name only rather than in substance –- which does not benefit or improve options for kids.

“Parents place a high value on the availability of magnet schools for their children, which is demonstrated by a 35 percent increase in student enrollment in magnet schools over the last seven years," Khoury's letter said. "Student achievement in magnet schools is amongst the highest in LA Unified.”  

In another demand that could harm kids, UTLA wants to get rid of any district flexibility to protect certain teachers from layoffs based on a school's needs. They want teachers laid off strictly based on seniority at all times -- regardless of the school's needs or the quality of the teachers.

UTLA is also insisting upon class size decreases, which, when combined with its salary demands, would increase LAUSD’s deficit by more than $800 million, tipping the district into immediate insolvency and state takeover. Sources say LAUSD is willing to offer to reopen contract talks to reduce class sizes if the state increases its funding to the $20,000 per pupil that LAUSD and UTLA have both been seeking. It is unlikely, however, that there will be any movement on a funding increase anytime soon.

LAUSD said it is willing to negotiate and still has room to move on its latest salary offer, but sources say it makes no sense to do so if UTLA refuses to move from its demands. Mediation is the likely next step for UTLA and LAUSD. Since this process usually takes two-to-four months, observers do not expect a strike to take place before October or November.

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Board Debate Four Years Ago Suggests Broad Support For Interim Voting Appointee to Fill BD5 Seat Until Election is Held

Board Debate Four Years Ago Suggests Broad Support For Interim Voting Appointee to Fill BD5 Seat Until Election is Held

Flashback to 2014: After the sudden death of LAUSD Board Member Marguerite LaMotte (BD1), the Board debated whether to hold a special election or make an appointment to fill the seat so that families in South LA would not go for months without any representation.

 Bennett Keyser, who held the seat in Board District 5 before Ref Rodriguez defeated him, was a staunch supporter of an appointment. He argued that a special election would cost too much: “For two to three million, how many librarians could we bring back? How many nurses?” he asked.

Also favoring an appointment was George McKenna, who was not yet on the Board but who was willing to accept the appointment to the seat himself – a move that was supported by prominent lawmakers such as Congresswomen Karen Bass and Maxine Waters.

 The head of the United Teachers Los Angeles union at the time, Warren Fletcher, also supported an appointment, as did his successor, Alex-Caputo Pearl, whose name was also floated as a possible appointee for the seat. “We share the community’s concern that students and parents in District 1 will be voiceless as these crucial votes are taken,” Fletcher said.  

Unfortunately, the City charter in 2014 only allowed for two options: the appointment of a voting member to fill out the entire term or a special election. Some members wanted to make sure voters would decide. But then-Board President Steve Zimmer advocated fiercely for a third way: the appointment of an interim Board member to represent constituents only until a special election could be held.

“I am rarely as adamant about something as I am about this,” Zimmer said. “I favor interim voting representation.”

LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist also supported the idea but advised Zimmer and the Board that the City charter did not allow it. It’s just not right, Holmquist said in 2014, that existing laws keep the District 1 board seat vacant until after a special election, denying families equal representation for months.

Fortunately, as a result of this 2014 debate, the City of Los Angeles in 2015 changed its charter to handle just such a situation that we face again in the wake of Board Member Ref Rodriguez’s (BD5) resignation. The charter was changed to allow for the appointment of an interim voting member to fill out the term until a special election is held and a new member is elected.

“We reached out to the city and asked for them to make this change,” Holmquist told Speak UP. “I assume the fact that we had that meeting, and our Board expressed that desire, and we heard from the constituents that they wanted that… I believe that was the basis for the change.”


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As Ref Rodriguez Resigns, Parents Worry Vacant Seat Will Leave Them Unrepresented

As Ref Rodriguez Resigns, Parents Worry Vacant Seat Will Leave Them Unrepresented

LAUSD Board Member Ref Rodriguez (BD5) resigned from the Board Monday after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy and reimbursing campaign donors with his own funds. His departure leaves parents and kids in Board District 5 without representation at a critical moment of change under the leadership of LAUSD’s new Superintendent Austin Beutner.

Speak UP joins the parents in District 5 to urge the Board to rapidly appoint a voting member to represent the needs of parents and kids –- at least until a special election can be held. “To leave them without a voting member disenfranchises these parents. It would create an enormous inequity for the students in Board District 5,” said Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude, who called it “a sad day for the kids of Los Angeles.”

Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) and Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) released a joint statement saying they “hope to convene the Board in the coming weeks to collaboratively decide” what to do. “While we would like to ensure no break in representation for District 5 by appointing a temporary voting representative as soon as possible, we would also like to call a special election to fill the vacancy as soon as we can. A Board majority will have to agree to a plan.”

The Board has 60 days to call a special election, and filing deadlines make it unlikely that an election could be held this November in conjunction with the midterms. Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6), who is on maternity leave, released her own statement saying that questions about what happens next “will be answered in due time. In the meantime, I hope we can work to restore the public’s trust in the process, and each rededicate ourselves to strengthening public education for all kids in Los Angeles.”

But parents in Board District 5 were not happy to be left in limbo. Huntington Park parent and Speak UP member Gloria Rodriguez (no relation to Ref Rodriguez), has one child attending a traditional LAUSD school and one at a charter school. She cried when she heard the news of the resignation.

“We’ve never had anybody support us the way that he did,” she said. “Ref had an open-door policy. He really listened and acted, and that’s something that we’ve never had before. He did it for everybody. Kids first – all kids, period. The parents at my parent center are really upset. We’re just wondering, so now what? We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Ref Rodriguez released a statement apologizing to his constituents after appearing in court Monday and receiving probation, community service and a $100,000 fine. “It has been the honor of my life to serve the communities of Board District 5 as their L.A. Unified board member. My life’s work has been to serve others. It will remain the same — I will just pursue that work from a different position. Today, I resign from the L.A. Unified Board to resume my role as a private citizen and community advocate. Thank you to the parents, students, community members, my staff, and everyone who has given me their unwavering support. I am sorry for the mistakes I have made.”

While a small group of parents showed up in court to demand his resignation, many parents continued to support Rodriguez in spite of his legal troubles because of their direct experiences with him as a Board member and champion for LAUSD’s most vulnerable kids.

Rodriguez was an openly gay pioneer for LGBTQ students and was responsible for moving the district toward more compassionate restorative justice discipline model-- interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. He was also the Board’s strongest proponent of early childhood education, passing a Birth to 8 Roadmap to improve early literacy.

“We certainly don’t condone unlawful actions, and we appreciate that Ref Rodriguez has taken responsibility for his mistakes,” Braude said. “During his time on the Board, however, Ref was always a champion for the rights of kids and parents. His first action as president of the Board was to pass the Kids First resolution, which mandated putting the needs of kids before the needs of adults. Ref and his staff were always responsive to the needs of students in his district and the parents who reached out to him. The families of Board District 5 deserve a representative who will continue to put kids first, respect parent choices and respond to parent concerns.”

Rodriguez was especially welcomed by the parents in the southeastern portion of BD5, where the primarily low-income Latino parents have felt disenfranchised compared to wealthier northern parts of the district such as Silver Lake. “Not only did he have the same story as many of us, but he spoke Spanish,” said Gloria Rodriguez. “We haven’t had that in so many years.”  

She’s also grateful that Rodriguez personally supported her lesbian daughter after she faced insensitive treatment from school staff and that he sponsored a resolution to add more sensitivity training and other help for LGBTQ kids. “He helped my daughter and many others,” she said.

It’s not yet clear how Rodriguez’ departure will affect the politics on the Board. With only six voting members, the potential for gridlock certainly increases. But while Rodriguez voted reliably to put the interests of kids before the interests of adults and supported efforts to reform LAUSD, there’s been no consistent voting bloc on the Board, and alliances have often shifted in unpredictable ways.

Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7), for instance, has proven to be a key swing vote. He was one of the strongest proponents for hiring Beutner to lead the district through its current financial crisis, and he supports Beutner’s plans to “disrupt” and radically decentralize the district.

With the departure of Rodriguez, Vladovic has emerged as one of the most powerful members – if not the most powerful member — on the entire Board. With his support, Beutner retains the backing of the Board majority even without Rodriguez there, which is crucial to his job security.

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LAUSD Board Punts On Parcel Tax After Superintendent Suggests Success More Likely In 2020

LAUSD Board Punts On Parcel Tax After Superintendent Suggests Success More Likely In 2020

LAUSD will not place a school parcel tax on the November ballot after the Board deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, following Superintendent Austin Beutner’s request to delay the effort until 2020 so the district will have more time to launch a successful campaign.

“Proper planning for a ballot initiative like this takes months and years, not weeks,” Beutner said. “And the district has not done planning on how the parcel tax would be implemented or how the money would be spent. Nor has the district done the preparation necessary to run a successful campaign so the taxpayers would support it.”

Board President Monica Garcia (BD2), Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and Ref Rodriguez (BD5) sided with Beutner and voted no, while Board Members George McKenna (BD1), Richard Vladovic (BD7) and Scott Schmerelson (BD3) voted yes. Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) was out on maternity leave and did not attend.

Everyone on the Board agreed the district is in the midst of a financial crisis and needs more revenue. The debate centered on the best strategy and timing for achieving that goal, as well as the issue of who would benefit if the parcel tax passed.

Independent charter school parents testified that the parcel tax resolution specifically excluded them and their kids’ schools.

“Stop separating us and treating us like bad guys because we want good schools for our kids, too,” said Fenton Avenue charter parent Roxann Nazario. “We need to start working together and seeing ourselves as one and stop letting all this political B.S. separate us.”

But even after Vladovic offered to add language clarifying that charters should be included and should get revenue proportional to their population, the resolution was still rejected. That was, in large part, due to the district’s own recent polling, which showed that a parcel tax large enough to close LAUSD’s projected deficit was likely to fail in November but could succeed in 2020, when voter turnout in a presidential election year is far higher.

“The data from recent polling, the lack of preparation make it clear the district is not likely be successful,” Beutner said. “I believe a better option is to properly do this by 2020 when we can be successful.”

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LAUSD Board To Vote on Resolutions to Reunite Immigrant Families and Place Parcel Tax On November Ballot

 LAUSD Board To Vote on Resolutions to Reunite Immigrant Families and Place Parcel Tax On November Ballot

The LAUSD Board votes Tuesday on a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s “inhumane and irresponsible” separation of immigrant children from their parents and calling on the district to help reunite families and provide mental healthcare and potentially legal help to any forcibly separated children attending LAUSD schools.

“What we are seeing is barbaric,” said Board President Monica Garcia (BD2), who is co-sponsoring the “Putting Kids First Means Keeping Families Together” resolution with Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6). “Our country is better than what we see in this moment in time…The immigration experience is a central identity element for many of our employees and families. We have a responsibility to speak out to demand an end to this trauma.”

Speak UP, which organized and co-sponsored the “Keep Families Together: Rally and Toy Drive” protest against Trump’s family separation policies at the Federal Building in Westwood last month, strongly supports the resolution. Speak UP parent leaders Annie Hall and Gloria Rodriguez spoke at the rally, as did Melvoin.   

“We’ll be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us, by how we treat our children. And let me be clear: These are all our children,” Melvoin told the crowd gathered at the Westwood rally. Two members of Melvoin’s staff also recently traveled to Washington, D.C. and risked arrest during peaceful acts of civil disobedience protesting family separations.

Tuesday’s resolution vote takes place on the same day that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has ordered Trump to reunite the youngest children under age 5 with their parents – a deadline the Trump administration has said it is unable to meet for nearly half the children because it has lost track of many parents, including some the administration deported without their children.

While the federal government has shared very little information with LAUSD about the children it has separated from their parents and how many might be attending LAUSD schools, the resolution directs the Student Health and Human Services division “to seek out and ensure that any student identified as having suffered forcible family separation receives necessary health and mental health services” and to address the “emotional, mental, and physical trauma caused by forcible separation policies.”

The office of Foster Youth will also create a plan to identify LAUSD youth placed in foster homes that were forcibly separated from their parents and will make a concerted effort to help reunite them with their families “until every possible avenue for doing so is exhausted.”

Finally, the resolution directs the district’s chief lobbyist to advocate for a permanent end to immigrant family separation policies and for quick reunification of separated families, as well as LAUSD’s lawyers to investigate the creation of a program to provide free legal services to any district families who have suffered from forcible separation.

Also on the agenda is a proposal from Board Members George McKenna (BD1) and Scott Schmerelson (BD3) to place a parcel tax on the November ballot to close LAUSD’s projected budget deficit looming in 2020.

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LAUSD Superintendent's New Chief Of Staff: 'A Really Large System Can Serve Every Single Child'

LAUSD Superintendent's New Chief Of Staff: 'A Really Large System Can Serve Every Single Child'

Rebecca Kockler, whose work as Louisiana’s head of academics increased student academic achievement and teacher effectiveness, has been named Chief of Staff to LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner.

With a strong track record during six years at Louisiana’s Department of Education, Kockler brings a depth of experience in education that the teachers union has criticized Beutner for lacking.

“I have been a career educator from the moment I graduated college,” she told Speak UP. “I’m part of a family of career educators. My mother’s a principal. My brother’s a principal. We sit around the dinner table and talk about curriculum implementation. This is what I do. I am an academic person through and through.” 

Kockler, a graduate of the prestigious education leadership fellowship at the Broad Academy, has also worked for Teacher For America as a vice president and senior managing director of its Teacher Support Team, and as a middle school teacher in Newark, New Jersey. During her tenure as Assistant Superintendent of Academic Content, Louisiana become the fastest-improving state on several national metrics including Advanced Placement exams and 4th grade NAEP English tests.

“Rebecca is a terrific addition to our team,” Beutner said. “Her work in Louisiana helped narrow long-standing achievement gaps, resulting in the state’s highest ever graduation rate, while increasing standards and course requirements, and improving ACT scores for all students. As a career educator, she will help our district deliver on our promise of providing every student with a high-quality education.”

Having turned around a large system of 700,000 students, which had been failing, Kockler believes she can help do the same for LAUSD. “People don’t believe that our big systems can serve kids. I think that’s completely wrong, and we have to prove that a really large system can serve every single child, including our most struggling students. Louisiana was historically one of the lowest-performing states in the country, and, in fact, it’s [now] the fastest improving on most metrics.”

Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) said she was inspired “by her commitment to serving all kids, and her experience in closing opportunity and achievement gaps in large public school systems.”

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Superintendent Says LAUSD’s Next Budget Must ‘Look A Lot Different’ 

Superintendent Says LAUSD’s Next Budget Must ‘Look A Lot Different’ 

The LAUSD Board approved an $8.2 billion budget Tuesday for the 2018-2019 school year that failed to set aside any money to pay for future retiree healthcare liabilities that top $15 billion. But Superintendent Austin Beutner suggested change is coming.

While next year’s budget was largely crafted before he took the job, the 2019-2020 budget “has to look a lot different than this budget,” Beutner said, adding that the structural deficit “threatens the district’s long-term financial viability.”

LAUSD is spending about half a billion more dollars every year than it generates in revenue and is burning through its reserves. Nevertheless, it managed to budget in employee raises, in part, by planning to cut its central district staff by 15 percent.

“This budget is irresponsible and does not put the needs of the kids first,” Speak UP’s Jalisa Johnson, a former teacher, told the Board. “In this budget, more money is actually going to pay for retired teachers’ pension and healthcare than to pay for math and English instruction for LAUSD students. This is unacceptable. The purpose of education is to teach our kids. If that’s not our top priority, we’re doing something wrong.”

The annual per pupil cost of employee health benefits has grown from $1500 in 2009 to $2966 in 2021, the final year of the three-year budget the district created, according to CFO Scott Price. The total liability stands at $26,000 per pupil, more than twice that of San Francisco Unified and far above the $1500 average for other districts in the state.

The district’s own Independent Analysis Unit has warned that it cannot afford to pay as it goes for these liabilities and still have enough money left to educate kids in the near future. The next budget has to do more for students most in need, Beutner said.

It should also focus on decentralization, and “the entire system has to be transparent and accountable at every level,” he said.

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LAUSD Plans To Cut Bureaucracy To Balance Short-Term Budget, But Structural Deficit and Retiree Healthcare Liabilities Remain Ongoing Threats To Kids

LAUSD Plans To Cut Bureaucracy To Balance Short-Term Budget, But Structural Deficit and Retiree Healthcare Liabilities Remain Ongoing Threats To Kids

The LAUSD Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a plan to balance the LAUSD budget by slashing the central district staff by 15 percent next year and taking back unspent money from some school-site budgets. The good news for students is that class size increases are not on the table. Teachers also have reason to celebrate. The budget factors in raises for them.

On the down side, however, LAUSD isn’t planning to set aside any money to pre-fund its $15.2 billion retiree healthcare liability, which continues to grow worse and is taking up a larger percentage of the $7.5 billion general fund every year – ultimately at the expense of kids. The district’s Independent Analysis Unit has warned that LAUSD cannot afford to pay as it goes for retiree healthcare and still have enough money left in a few years to educate kids.

The ongoing structural deficit at LAUSD also means that without increased funding or structural reforms, problems are continually looming. LAUSD is already spending about $500 million more per year than the revenue it brings in, eating into its reserves, “which is problematic,” said LAUSD CFO Scott Price.

LAUSD’s new Superintendent Austin Beutner, is expected to look at ways to save money through potential school consolidation and other means, some of which may require negotiations with employee unions.

Board Members George McKenna (BD1) and Scott Schmerelson (BD3) are also introducing a resolution that will be voted on Tuesday authorizing the Superintendent to submit language to the County for a parcel tax to appear on the November 2018 ballot. The $150 million a year parcel tax would eliminate the projected 2020 deficit.

The Board also votes Tuesday on two resolutions co-sponsored by Board Members Kelly Gonez (BD6) and Nick Melvoin (BD4) to help more LAUSD students attend college. One resolution calls for LAUSD to administer the SAT or ACT to all high school juniors during the school day, at no cost to students. It also calls for sufficient test prep for students.

The resolution directs the superintendent to seek philanthropic funding to pay for it and to work with the mayor’s office and local businesses to provide paid internships for high school students. The second resolution would have LAUSD explore creating a Children’s College Savings Accounts program for students enrolling in first grade in all public schools within District boundaries.


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To Close Achievement Gap, LAUSD Board Says No Must-Place Teachers At Struggling Schools

To Close Achievement Gap, LAUSD Board Says No Must-Place Teachers At Struggling Schools

LAUSD's lowest-performing schools will no longer be forced to accept "must-place" teachers against their will, as part of an ambitious “Close The Gap” resolution the Board passed Tuesday to help ensure that every student in LAUSD is prepared to meet state academic standards and qualify to attend a 4-year university.

The resolution, sponsored by Board President Monica Garcia and championed by Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS), a coalition Speak UP is a part of that operates under the auspices of United Way, also takes significant steps to help English Language Learners by exempting kids in EL development classes from being stuck with a series of short-term substitutes when teachers take long leaves of absence, which disrupts consistent learning. It also called for Long-Term English learners and those at risk to participate in an individualized reclassification plan, similar to an IEP for kids with special needs, to be sure they meet certain benchmarks. 

Speak UP member and Moms in Action Founder Mary Najera, however, called for the Board to follow through with added accountability. “How are we going to make sure these goals are met, and what happens if they’re not?” asked the mom whose son was identified as gifted but who nevertheless graduated from an LAUSD middle school reading at a third grade level and only caught up after moving to a charter school. “It’s not enough just passing resolutions. We need to make sure our teachers and our schools really implement it. Change isn’t happening fast enough for our community.”

While debating the resolution, LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) attempted to end the district policy forcing any school to accept must-place teachers that no one wants to hire.

“What is the purpose of not placing these teachers in the lowest-performing quartile [of schools]? The same logic would apply to all classrooms and all students,” Melvoin said. “I’d like to see us work to not have them in any schools.”

Melvoin’s effort ultimately fell short when Board members raised concerns about costs, but a revised version of the resolution did pass unanimously with watered-down language directing the superintendent to “work to eliminate the pool of teachers displaced one year or more via training, help with replacement or exit from the district.”

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Close The Gap Resolution Sets Ambitious Goals, But Who Will be Held Accountable For Results?

Close The Gap Resolution Sets Ambitious Goals, But Who Will be Held Accountable For Results?

Imagine if every third grader in LAUSD aced the state assessments, and if every high school graduate met the requirements to apply to a California four-year university. Board President Monica Garcia’s new “Close The Gap” resolution aspires to reach these and other high lofty goals within just five years.

The Board is set to vote Tuesday on the resolution from Garcia (BD2) and co-sponsor Richard Vladovic (BD7), which also calls for 100 percent of students identified as English Learners in kindergarten or first grade be reclassified as Fluent English Proficient by the end of sixth grade and 100 percent of high school students to successfully complete at least one Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or one semester of community college courses before they finish high school.  

The United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS), which operates under the auspices of United Way, championed the Close The Gap resolution. Speak UP is one of over 70 network partners in the CLASS coalition, which represents over 150,000 constituents.

“We think that the Board has done some amazing work in the last few months to really double down on their commitment to equity and to rigorous classes for our kids,” said Sara Mooney, Education Program Officer at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “The Close the Gap resolution is another opportunity to build on that momentum.”

The resolution is intended to tackle persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps that plague LAUSD and the entire state. While Speak UP supports this resolution as a great first step, we believe the Board also needs to take additional steps to make sure schools and teachers are held accountable for achieving these goals if the resolution is going to work.

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Board Resolution Could Be Huge Help For LGBTQ Students

Board Resolution Could Be Huge Help For LGBTQ Students

Speak UP member Gloria Rodriguez testified before the Board in March about the discrimination her lesbian daughter faced last year at her LAUSD school, where teachers and staff asked invasive questions and told her that she was not allowed to hold hands with her girlfriend at school.

Inspired in part by her story, as well as his own experiences growing up Latino and gay, Board Member Ref Rodriguez (BD5) has co-sponsored a resolution to be voted on Tuesday to significantly increase support for LGBTQ students through sensitivity training, celebrations of LGBTQ History Month, more inclusive and representative textbooks, a web portal with resources and an analysis of all-gender bathrooms at district schools.

“I’m very grateful for Dr. Rodriguez because he stepped up for my kid,” Gloria said. (The two share the same last name but are not related.) “I feel very happy about someone actually doing something for the LGBTQ youth and community in our schools.”

The resolution will affect an estimated 27,000 LAUSD students who self-identity as LGBTQ or gender non-confirming. According to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey, 75.2% of LGBTQ students in schools with an inclusive curriculum said their peers were accepting of them, compared to 39.6% of those without one. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that LGBTQ high school students have significantly higher risk of being bullied (28% versus 11%), suicide attempts (26% versus 6.5%), feeling sad and hopeless (66% versus 27%), and dating violence (17% versus 3.4%).

Aside from Gloria’s advocacy, Dr. Rodriguez said he was also moved to bring this resolution by East Los Angeles student members of the Latino Equality Alliance. “What I found in these young people was bravery that I did not have at their age,” Dr. Rodriguez told Speak UP. “I was not like that when I was in high school.  I did not come out until I was in college. A lot of it had to do with leaving home and fully defining myself in college away from all the expectations of my family and friends. So to see these young people in high school be sure of who they are and advocating for the things that they know are right — it moved me.”

The students argued for better implementation of California’s FAIR Education Act of 2012, which requires that LGBTQ people be included in social science curricula. According to Gloria, when her daughter asked her history teacher why her school was not teaching LGBTQ history, she was told, “it’s going to be offensive for other people.”

Latino Equality Alliance students also argue that many LAUSD schools only have single-stall, all-gender bathrooms in school offices, and for a student to ask for a key can be stigmatizing and can out students against their will. This resolution directs the district to examine whether additional multi-stall, all-gender restrooms can be opened in areas accessible to everyone. 

One of the most important components of the resolution – and the one Gloria focused on the most – involves competency training on LGBTQ issues for teachers, staff, administrators, and parents. “That’s very important to me and that’s something that to this day has not been done in my school,” Gloria said. “This needs to happen, especially in our communities where it is still [considered] weird and odd to see a girl with a girl walking down the street.”

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Task Force: LAUSD Pays Employees More, Gets Less Than Other Districts

Task Force: LAUSD Pays Employees More, Gets Less Than Other Districts

Despite a structural deficit that threatens to bankrupt the district within three years, LAUSD pays its employees more in salary and benefits than workers at comparable school districts and gets less return on investment for what it spends. That was the conclusion of a new report titled “Hard Choices” from LAUSD’s Advisory Task Force, which was co-chaired until recently by LAUSD’s new superintendent, Austin Beutner.

LAUSD’s average teacher pay is 17 percent above the median for comparable districts when adjusted for cost of living. Nevertheless, LAUSD gets less for what it spends -– both in terms of teacher time and in terms of student achievement -– because LAUSD’s instructional days are shorter and because teacher pay increases are often tied to taking courses that may not benefit students, the report said.

“We are trying to be truth tellers in this report,” said Task Force Co-Chair Wendy Greuel, who presented the report to the Board Tuesday at the first meeting with Beutner attending as superintendent. “Hard choices can no longer be avoided. We have known this day would come for a long timeBottom line is [LAUSD] needs to develop a long-term plan that outlines how fundamental investments in student learning and teaching, professional development and school leadership can be made to ultimately benefit the students and increase student achievement.”

The Task Force hired an outside nonprofit organization, Education Resource Strategies, to analyze how LAUSD allocates “people, time and money” compared to other school districts with similar student demographics, including rates of poverty, English Learners and special education. Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland and Denver were among the comparison districts.

The report, which comes in the midst of contract talks with employee unions such as United Teachers Los Angeles, outlines some of LAUSD’s biggest financial challenges and poses a series of pointed questions about how to solve them, which stakeholders will be asked to consider. A second, more detailed report from ERS with more specific potential solutions was also presented to the Board.

Many of the problems – and their solutions – can only be achieved through negotiations with LAUSD’s employee unions, which have so far resisted such change. Employee unions have questioned whether the district’s financial position is truly as dire as the district claims. This report from an outside third-party is an attempt to establish a clear set of facts, and it was unequivocal about the financial disaster that’s looming.

“The budget deficit is large and growing. Unless something does change, L.A. Unified will exhaust its savings, and students, employees and the community as a whole will be harmed,” Beutner said after the report was presented. “The debate should no longer be about whether these challenges exist, but how we can work together to solve them. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion on how best to solve these problems, we need all to start with the same set of facts.”

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DA To Review Allegations of Brown Act Violation Against Board Member Scott Schmerelson

DA To Review Allegations of Brown Act Violation Against Board Member Scott Schmerelson

What appeared to be an attempt to delegitimize the LAUSD Board’s selection of Superintendent Austin Beutner may have unwittingly placed Republican Board Member Scott Schmerelson (BD3) in legal peril. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office is reviewing allegations that Schmerelson broke the law when he revealed details of closed-session Board meetings while criticizing Beutner’s selection.

Breaching the confidentiality of closed-session Board meetings can be a violation of the Brown Act, and Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) told Speak UP he believes that Schmerelson did so when recently speaking to the Northridge East Neighborhood Council.

“Our office will review allegations that LAUSD board member Scott Schmerelson violated the Brown Act,” said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Schmerelson denied allegations that he broke the law but also told Speak UP that he would adjust his behavior in the future.

“I do not believe I violated the Brown Act, that was certainly not my intent when speaking to my constituents last week,” he said in an email statement. “Since the Superintendent had already been officially selected and hired, I believed I was free to offer my opinions and answer questions about the hiring process…Nevertheless, it has been brought to my attention that my discussion and characterization of Mr. Beutner’s hiring process could have a chilling effect on conversations held in Closed Session. I will be more careful in the future.”

The website K-12 New Networks The Wire reported on the recent meeting during which Schmerelson allegedly described details of the Board’s closed-session interview with Beutner during the hiring process.

“In describing Beutner’s conversations with the Board prior to his being hired, Schmerelson states that ‘It was the worst interviews [that] I have ever seen in my entire life. Not one question was answered about education.’ Every time Schmerelson ‘asked a question about education, [Beutner] couldn’t answer because he really didn’t know,’” the site reported.

A video of Schmerelson’s comments that appeared on that site and on changelausd.com website has been removed, but Melvoin confirmed that he viewed the video before its removal. In a press release issued May 1, Schmerelson also revealed how many and which Board members agreed to enter contract negotiations with Beutner during closed session on April 20.

“He’s revealing closed-session stuff. In the video, he talks about Austin’s answers,” Melvoin told Speak UP. “I’m not a Brown Act expert, but my understanding from our general counsel is that the revealing of confidential information is a violation of the law. What happened before we publicly voted: who wanted Austin, who didn’t, what Austin said, is confidential.”

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Speak UP Moms Plead With LAUSD to Change How It Treats Parents

Speak UP Moms Plead With LAUSD to Change How It Treats Parents

In tearful testimony before the LAUSD Board, more than a dozen Speak UP parents from Pacific Blvd. elementary school and the Alexander Science Center school pleaded with LAUSD to fundamentally alter its relationship with district parents.

“I am begging LAUSD’s new superintendent to please overhaul the way LAUSD engages with parents,” said Jennifer Redekopp, a parent whose kids attended the Science Center school for five years. “Talk to us, work with us, hear what we have to say. Treat us as partners, not enemies. And as you consider changes, please include us at the start. Don’t just inform us later what you’re doing and call it parent engagement. Without big change, more of us will continue to leave.”

Redekoop said an administrator at her school called police on parents when they created a flyer to inform parents that LAUSD had eliminated the sibling admission priority.

“A teacher at the school for whom I volunteered to assist struggling students told me she couldn’t believe how I was characterized – as a troublemaker -- during an emergency staff meeting that followed,” she said. “What I didn’t realize at the time was that this episode is just one story in a pattern of indifference and hostility to parent partnership at LAUSD. Since then, I’ve heard from many other parents, teachers, and staff who feel scared to speak up about this hostile behavior.”

Matilde Bernadino also spoke up about similar disrespect toward parents at the Science Center, an affiliated charter. Specifically, she felt she and her son were harassed after she asked the school to assess her son for a learning disability.

“They kept insisting it was a big, big expense to the district to assess my child,” she said. “They told me if I continued to push for an assessment and there were no problems with him, I would then have to take my child to our resident school.”

Bernadino had been volunteering at the school for four years, but after her son was assessed, she said administrators kicked her out of the school and refused to allow her to volunteer. “I was taken out as if I were a criminal, when I was just cutting paper,” she said. “What hurt the most is she did it in front of my kids…I was crying and my kids were asking me, ‘momma, what did you do wrong? Why were you kicked out?’”

Bernadino also pleaded with the district to listen to and address parents’ concerns rather than getting defensive. “Sometimes we don’t come here to complain because we’re intimidated,” she said. “We’re afraid of being harassed.”

Speak UP’s Sheyla Menzie, another a parent at the Science Center, said she faced retaliation after speaking up at the Board a few months ago. “This needs to change,” she said. “And I hope the new superintendent brings a new attitude toward parents to the job. So far I have stuck with LAUSD…I do not want to move to a charter school, but I need to see change.”

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May 15 Strike Canceled As LAUSD Reaches Deal With Union Repping Bus Drivers, Cafeteria Workers

 May 15 Strike Canceled As LAUSD Reaches Deal With Union Repping Bus Drivers, Cafeteria Workers

Four days after declaring that labor talks were at an impasse, LAUSD struck a three-year deal with the union representing bus drivers, cafeteria workers and special ed assistants, and as a result, SEIU Local 99 called off its planned May 15 strike.

“There was a path forward so we tried one more shot, and we got there,” said Najeeb Khoury, LAUSD’s Director of Labor Relations.

Bus driver Tanya Walters, vice president of SEIU Local 99, credited “the power of organizing” and said members were, for the most part, celebrating this deal that will increase their wages. “We had to take a stand.”

The deal reached Tuesday night, which still must be ratified by the union and approved by the LAUSD Board, makes it harder for new workers to qualify for free lifetime health benefits, which employees currently receive after working 25 years continuously and when their age and years of service add up to 85.

Tuesday’s deal would raise that eligibility for new employees to 30 years of continuous service and would kick in when age and years of service add up to 87. In exchange, SEIU members got some wage increase concessions, some of which are based on the financial health of LAUSD, which will be decided by an outside arbitrator rather than the district itself.

While Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) indicated the deal did not go far enough, and he may vote against it, this is the first time any of the bargaining units have budged on healthcare, which is a significant source of financial distress for LAUSD.

At the Board meeting Tuesday, LAUSD’s Interim Chief Risk Officer Mampre Pomakian presented a report showing the present value of retiree benefits –  the amount of money LAUSD would need today to pay for current and future retiree healthcare – has reached a staggering $22.6 billion.

The unfunded health benefits liability is growing worse – by 5 percent a year -- taking more and more money away from current employees and kids in the classroom. Unless dramatic change happens, about half of LAUSD’s budget will be going out the door to retirees in less than 15 years.

“We’ve got a major problem,” said Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7). “We’ve got to deal with it. We can’t hide.”

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How California Can Tackle Persistent Achievement Gaps

How California Can Tackle Persistent Achievement Gaps

California is failing many of its black, Latino and low-income students, according to recently released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s report card. NAEP results show that 85 percent of the state’s black 4th graders tested below proficient in math, a number that actually worsens over time. By 8th grade, 90 percent of black students tested below proficient in math.

The figures aren’t much better for Latino or low-income students. Reading results for California’s students of color are also dismal, and the racial achievement gap remains a startling blight on our state. A full 81 percent of Latino 8th graders test below proficient in reading.  And in every category, white students performed at least 25 percent better than their black, Latino and low-income counterparts. Asian students made an even stronger showing across the board.  

LAUSD Board Member Monica Garcia (BD2) is introducing an ambitious resolution Tuesday to close the achievement gap at LAUSD, where nearly two-thirds of 3rd to 8th graders, as well as 11th graders, are failing to meet standards in both English Language Arts and math on Smarter Balanced exams.

The resolution sets high goals for all kids: It calls for 100 percent of 3rd graders to meet or exceed standards on state tests, and 100 percent of high school graduates to be eligible to apply to a California 4-year university, which means receiving a C or above in A-G college-prep courses. The resolution also calls for all kids identified as English Language Learners in kindergarten to reclassify by the end of 6th grade.

As LAUSD attempts to close the gap, Speak UP spoke with Ryan J. Smith, Executive Director of The Education Trust-West, an advocacy organization, about the sobering NAEP results. He said it’s not all bad news, and there is reason for hope. An abridged version of that conversation follows.

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As LAUSD Declares Impasse with Union Repping Bus Drivers, Cafeteria Workers, One-Day Strike Planned For May 15

 As LAUSD Declares Impasse with Union Repping Bus Drivers, Cafeteria Workers, One-Day Strike Planned For May 15

LAUSD has declared an impasse in labor talks with the union representing bus drivers, cafeteria workers and special ed assistants, which is planning a one-day strike on May 15, just as the LAUSD’s new Superintendent Austin Beutner starts his job.

“After 16 months of bargaining, SEIU Local 99 has provided notice on Friday, May 4, that they are terminating their labor contract with L.A. Unified,” LAUSD said in a statement Sunday. “The District issued a declaration that we are at impasse in our negotiations, which means that the differences between our position and SEIU Local 99’s position are too large to resolve through further negotiations.”

A union spokeswoman disputed the notion of an impasse, but fired back with charges of unfair labor practices. The heated moves and rhetoric on both sides signal an increased likelihood of a longer-term strike in the fall, as LAUSD attempts to address serious fiscal challenges under the leadership of Beutner, a finance expert.

“Enough is enough,” said Tanya Walters, an LAUSD Bus Driver and Vice President of SEIU Local 99. “We’re trying to work with the District to address issues that impact our students. But instead of listening to those of us who work with students on the frontlines every day, they have bullied and harassed workers who speak up. And they’ve made staffing cuts and changes without speaking with those of us who do the work. We don’t want to strike, but we will move forward on May 15 if the District continues to disrespect our voices and disregard our work.”

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LAUSD’s New Leader, A Man of Substance Over Flash, Says ‘Change Must Happen’

LAUSD’s New Leader, A Man of Substance Over Flash, Says ‘Change Must Happen’

LAUSD’s new superintendent, Austin Beutner, is the son of an immigrant factory supervisor who fled the Nazis and a mom who was a reading teacher. In high school, he washed dishes at a restaurant, worked at a detergent factory and drove a delivery truck for a florist.

His family moved five times, and each time, his parents chose the neighborhood with the best public schools. Armed with an excellent education, Beutner worked in finance and at 29 became the youngest partner at his private equity firm. He subsequently founded his own investment banking firm, but a life-changing event a decade ago altered his priorities.

“I had a bad accident mountain biking. I broke my neck,” he said. “Oddly enough, the part I remember most was them picking gravel out of my knuckles.”

It took him a year to get back on his feet, and “during that time I decided I wanted to spend the next chapter of my life working to make our community better,” he said. “To make sure others in the community had the same opportunities I did. And the best opportunity I was ever given was a great public education.”

Beutner opened up at his first press conference Wednesday at Belmont High, where he acknowledged that he was an “unconventional choice” to lead the second-largest school district because his professional background is in business and finance rather than education.

“But the district is at a crossroads,” he said. “We face some tough issues. Hard choices are just that, hard. But our school Board is capable of making hard choices. I know, for example, it was not easy to choose me.”

With a serious and sober demeanor, he laid out the case for why the district needs change. “LA Unified is making progress,” he said, “but the status quo is not good enough.”

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