When It Comes to School Absences, ‘Keep It Under Seven,’ LAUSD Says

When It Comes to School Absences, ‘Keep It Under Seven,’ LAUSD Says

If you think it’s no big deal to keep your kindergartner home from school, think again. Missing school early on can have a lifelong impact on your kids.

Students who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten and first grade are far less likely to read at grade level by third grade. And those who don’t read at grade level by third grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school.

If your child misses just one day of school, it actually takes three days to make up for the lost instructional time. These sobering facts were presented alongside some grim attendance statistics at LAUSD’s Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday.

With 70,000 LA Unified students missing more than 15 days of school last year, “that’s over 1 million days of instruction lost,” said Diane Pappas, senior advisor to the superintendent, who presented the data. “That is really significant.”

The situation is starting to improve this fall, as LAUSD’s new Superintendent Austin Beutner makes attendance a top district priority, but it’s not happening fast enough. So far, chronic absenteeism has decreased 1.5 percent this September compared to last year, while excellent attendance has increased by 2.2 percent.

This fall’s uptick follows three years of attendance getting worse. The percentage of chronically absent students grew from 13.6 percent during the 2015-16 school year to 14.7 percent last year. The biggest increases were among African American students (1.5 percent increase), kids with disabilities (1.5 percent increase) and socioeconomically disadvantaged students (1.4 percent increase) – the same groups facing the largest academic achievement gaps.

LAUSD’s short-term goal is to bring that chronic absentee number down to 9 percent so there’s still a long way to go.

Likewise, the percentage of students with excellent attendance (seven or fewer days absent) fell from 69.5 percent in 2015-16 to 66.9 percent last year.

“Our mantra for the year is seven days or less,” Pappas said. “Keep it under seven.”

Parents often underestimate by as much as 50 percent how much school their own kids have missed. A pilot program sending home mailers informing parents how many days their kids have missed will be expanded after Thanksgiving to 190,000 households district-wide. LAUSD is also offering attendance incentives such as Rams tickets to students and staff. A South Los Angeles pilot program offering Saturday makeup days will also be expanded.

The Board explored various reasons for chronic absenteeism, which include trauma, health and safety issues, poverty, homelessness, transportation challenges, immigration-related fears under the Trump administration, unwelcoming school climates, bullying, disengagement and negative interactions with teachers.

However, there are distinct pockets of hope demonstrating that poverty is not always destiny. Several schools serving at-risk kids have managed to buck the chronic absenteeism trend through an all-hands-on-deck approach that includes focusing on attendance not only for students, but also school leaders, teachers and staff.

Johnathan Chaikittirattana, one of three principals at Linda Esperanza Marquez High School, a pilot school in Huntington Park, said he and his staff model perfect attendance for their students. At the portion of the school that he oversees, chronic student absences have dropped from 14.6 percent in 2015 to 3.4 percent last year, while excellent attendance rose from 72.5 percent to 91.2 percent.

“It starts with me,” Chaikittirattana said. “If I have perfect attendance, the teachers are going to follow me. Six years later, I still I have perfect attendance, and 98 percent of our staff have excellent attendance. It starts there.”

At Charles R. Drew middle school, improving school leadership and instruction and raising academic expectations has also improved attendance. School leaders are in each classroom at least twice a week giving feedback to teachers and helping create joint lesson plans.

“We have to engage our students. That may not have been happening,” said Principal Maisha James-McIntosh. Test scores have also gone up as attendance has improved, and as expectations of students increased. “It’s no longer OK to get a D or an F. You must get a C or above.”

The 107th Street Elementary School, part of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, incentivizes good attendance with incremental rewards every 25 days. The school also asks the kids why they think it’s important to attend school in order to learn what motivates them, and leaders make an effort to make learning more fun.

A recent report by TNTP underscores the importance of instruction. In The Opportunity Myth, TNTP researchers examined student outcomes in a variety of public school systems and found that “Some of the biggest barriers are created by decisions very much within our control: whether students get the opportunity to work on grade-appropriate assignments, or are systematically assigned work that is appropriate for kids several years younger, whether they have teachers who ask them to find answers to challenging problems, or who think it’s acceptable to assign them the task of copying answers.”

Nearly all of the LAUSD school leaders who have succeeded in improving attendance spoke of a personalized approach, such as reaching out with phone calls or going into the community and to churches to show that the schools actually care about the kids and their families.

Parents sometimes complain about the impersonal nature of Robocalls, as well as pressuring and shaming of parents whose kids might be missing school for health or reasons beyond their control. Because school revenue is based on attendance, some say that the relentless focus on attendance makes them feel like their kids are treated like dollar signs instead of people.

It’s absolutely true that LAUSD is facing a financial crisis, and district officials estimate that its efforts to improve attendance will save LAUSD $17 million a year. However, simple kindness, caring and personal connections can go a long way toward making kids and parents feel welcome at school and more motivated to show up.

“Having a friendly, welcoming main office is very important,” said Board member Scott Schmerelson (BD3). “When they get smirks and frowns from the main office, they just want to turn around and leave…What’s free is a smile and a welcome. Our classified staff are so important.”

The bottom line for parents: Kids can’t learn when they’re not in school, so we need to take seriously our responsibility to make sure kids get to school on time every day. The bottom line for LAUSD: schools need to take seriously their responsibility to make sure school staff are welcoming, and instruction is excellent and well worth our kids’ time.

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As Mediation Fails, UTLA Marches One Step Closer to Strike

As Mediation Fails, UTLA Marches One Step Closer to Strike

United Teachers Los Angeles moved one step closer to a strike Friday, as mediation talks with Los Angeles Unified ended in failure, and LAUSD filed a new unfair labor practice charge against UTLA for refusing to bargain in good faith.

“By UTLA’s own admission, the only reason UTLA participated in mediation was to ensure that it could move quickly to a strike,” LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist said Friday. “After just one mediation session, UTLA was seeking to have the mediation process terminated and was openly inciting conflict.”

The two sides now move on to what’s called a fact-finding process. The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), the state agency that oversees the labor negotiation process, will form a three-member panel chaired by a neutral party that will have a hearing and issue a public report on the facts and recommendations for a settlement.

The process can take from a few weeks to a few months, according to LAUSD. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told teachers Friday that he expected the report in late November or early December. At that point the two sides can come back to the table to accept the recommended settlement, or the district can impose its final offer, and UTLA could go on strike.

With the process now unfolding in the middle of the holiday season, there’s speculation that a strike could now take place in January.

Caputo-Pearl has been making noises about a strike ever since he took over as UTLA president several years ago. So it’s no surprise that a settlement to avert a strike appears to be nowhere in sight. Both sides continued their heated rhetoric Friday, with LAUSD arguing that UTLA had been deceptive and intransigent, and UTLA attacking LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and saying he had attempted to “buy us off with a modest salary increase.”  

LAUSD has offered teachers the same 6 percent raises that other employee unions accepted in their recent contract talks. It also offered additional pay bumps for teachers who take courses in areas aligned with student needs, as well as smaller class sizes in some of the highest-needs schools. UTLA wants larger salary increases and class size decreases at all schools. Union demands would cost an additional $880 million per year, far more than LAUSD has in its budget.

“UTLA has distorted and mischaracterized the facts regarding the offer Los Angeles Unified has made to UTLA, the financial status of Los Angeles Unified, and the negotiation process – recasting the evidence to suggest Los Angeles Unified has been unyielding, when in fact, it is UTLA that has refused all efforts to work out a solution,” Holmquist said.

Holmquist reiterated that UTLA’s final demands would “bankrupt Los Angeles Unified and lead to the unprecedented layoffs of about 12,000 employees, including teachers.” 

In its unfair labor charge filed Friday with PERB, LAUSD said that UTLA had “trounced through the impasse procedure in bad faith, in order to have cover to initiate a strike. UTLA has made no genuine effort to consider alternative positions or to compromise its claims, and has interrupted and refused to attend proposed mediation sessions in order to shortcut the process and achieve its bad faith objectives.”

While some had hoped that the fact that there were multiple mediation sessions was a sign that progress had been made, LAUSD put that notion to rest on Friday. The district claimed in its charge that UTLA had “resisted returning for a second date of mediation, insisting that their position of no movement at all on any issue was a legitimate position.”

Then, after mediators insisted that UTLA attend a second session, which was held at UTLA headquarters at their request, the union “interrupted the second session for several hours in order to hold a press conference to critique various lunch meetings the Superintendent had attended.”

Meanwhile, Caputo-Pearl on Friday urged UTLA members to sign strike commitment forms, raising questions about the number of teachers who have actually pledged to strike themselves, rather than merely authorize UTLA leaders to call a strike. “We need to know that every single one of us will be on the line if we have to strike,” Caputo-Pearl said.

Caputo-Pearl said that UTLA would also focus on trying to build support for a strike among parents, who have expressed serious concerns about teachers walking out on their kids. A strike would deprive students of an education and force many parents to miss work and scramble for childcare or lose wages in order to keep their kids safe. 

A large number of LAUSD kids rely on schools to provide two free meals a day. A strike would have an outsized impact on these vulnerable kids, many of whom are already struggling academically and way behind grade level and their more affluent peers.

“On behalf of all of our children and families, I am disappointed mediation has ended,” said Board President Monica Garcia (BD2). “I acknowledge the hard work of our employees and the need to continue to find a solution. We all have a responsibility to resolve issues without risking further harm and stress to our students and families.”

Caputo-Pearl in UTLA’s weekly address also reiterated its false claim that “the money is there” to meet UTLA’s demands for class size decreases, larger teacher raises and more hiring of permanent employees. Those claims fly in the face of warnings from an Independent Financial Review Panel, as well as county and state overseers that have threatened to rescind Board authority if LAUSD gives in to UTLA’s demands.

In an FAQ sheet released Friday, LAUSD addressed UTLA’s repeated claims that LAUSD has $1.8 billion in reserves sitting in the bank that could go toward UTLA’s demands. “About $500 million of that is already committed for federal and state required programs such as resources used to support students in poverty with tutoring and intervention programs.”  

The rest of the $1.3 billion will be spent to cover LAUSD’s deficit. The district currently spends about $500 million more per year than it receives in revenue. LAUSD is required by law to show a balanced budget not only this year but for the subsequent two years, while maintaining a 1 percent reserve. Nearly all of what’s in the bank now will be used just to keep the district in the black over the next two years.

“If L.A. Unified exhausts its savings, the school district will be placed into state receivership,” LAUSD said in its FAQ. That means the state would start making unilateral budget cuts that could include slashing teacher salaries and benefits, laying off employees and increasing class sizes. “L.A. Unified has proposed to UTLA that the parties bring in an independent auditor to examine the financial records of L.A. Unified in order to make certain both parties are working from the same set of facts. UTLA has refused this offer.”

In addition to financial demands, UTLA is also demanding that LAUSD make it harder for charter schools to find classroom space under Prop 39, a state law guaranteeing public nonprofit charter school students equal access to facilities. UTLA wants to create panels of UTLA members and district parents to help decide how school space will be used, while excluding charter parents entirely from the process – essentially codifying contractual discrimination against charter school families.  

UTLA is also making demands that would curb the number of magnet school options for families.

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) decried the failure of mediation and urged everyone to come together to lobby for more state funding, which would be necessary to meet UTLA’s demands.

“I’m disappointed, because in my over three dozen town halls with parents and teachers over the last few weeks, I’m convinced there’s more that unites all of us than divides us—that there’s more common ground than we’re seeing at the negotiating table,” Melvoin said. “I’m hopeful that fact-finding will elucidate our financial situation so we can settle this contract, avoid a strike that would be bad for kids and families, and collectively go to Sacramento to demand fair funding for our schools, teachers, and kids.”

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Huge Achievement Gaps Persist Amid Tiny Test Score Gains

 Huge Achievement Gaps Persist Amid Tiny Test Score Gains

Fewer than one third of Los Angeles Unified students met state standards in math and only 42% in English, trailing statewide averages on standardized test results released Tuesday. While growth in LA Unified student scores slightly outpaced minuscule statewide growth, large racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain a blight on both the state and the district. 

Economically disadvantaged African American students in Los Angeles, in particular, don't appear to be getting nearly enough support. Only 16% tested proficient in math, flat from the previous year. Economically disadvantaged students of every ethnicity also trailed their wealthier counterparts. 

“The student performance data serves as evidence that we as a District must look for better ways to meet the needs of our student populations,” said Board President Mónica García (BD 2). “Approximately 82 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch, and over 80 percent are Latino or African American students. The identified gaps in proficiency levels are unacceptable. We have taken a step in the right direction with the Equity is Justice 2.0 movement, and we will keep fighting to close the existing achievement gaps.”

Parents from Speak UP and Parent Revolution have been calling on LAUSD to create a comprehensive plan to increase student achievement in LAUSD’s persistently under-performing schools. While LAUSD will no longer force the lowest 25 percent of schools to receive must-place teachers that principals don’t want to hire, most LAUSD schools above that 25 percent threshold also serve kids who need more help.

“We need to do more to lift the achievement of our city and state’s most vulnerable children,” said Speak UP executive Director Katie Braude. “We are still failing the vast majority of kids of color in LAUSD, and the pace of change is not quick enough. We simply have to do better.”

A full 68 percent of LAUSD students are failing to meet state math standards, compared to 61 percent failing statewide. Fifty eight percent of LAUSD students are not meeting English standards, compared to 50 percent statewide. LAUSD’s test score gains did outpace statewide gains, which were just a fraction over 1 percent in English and math. The percentage of LAUSD students meeting standards grew almost 3% percent in English and 2% in math compared to last year.

However, the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain a persistent problem across the entire state. For example, 54% of White students in California tested proficient or better in math, compared to 27% of Latino students and 20% of Black students. In English, 65% of White students tested proficient or better compared to 39% of Latino students and 32% of Black students.

While it was not all bad news, the minor improvements in state and LAUSD test scores came mostly from 3rd and 4th graders, while 11th graders fared worse across the board, signaling that college readiness may remain elusive for many California high school graduates. In LAUSD, 3rd graders made the greatest gains in English, with the number of proficient or better scores climbing by nearly 6%.

However, 11th grade scores plummeted, reversing what had been slow progress and falling below scores from 2015, the first year the Smarter Balanced tests were scored. The number of LAUSD juniors meeting English standards fell 3.5 percent compared to last year.

These results do not include independent charter schools, though scores for individual Los Angeles charter schools, which are public and not-for-profit, are available on the state’s website (https://caaspp.cde.ca.gov/sb2018/default).

One comparison that may be of particular interest to LAUSD parents is the performance differential between students at LAUSD magnet schools and all other LAUSD schools, especially since the application window for the 2018-2019 school year recently opened for magnet schools. (The window runs through Nov. 9.)  A full 61% of magnet school students met or exceeded state standards in English, compared to only 38% of their non-magnet peers. And 49% of magnet students met or exceeded state standards in math compared to 28% of students in other LAUSD schools.

Magnets have traditionally served fewer economically disadvantaged students and English learners than either charters or traditional district schools, and some gifted magnets require kids to test in so a head-to-head comparison is not entirely fair. The bottom line, though: magnets are doing significantly better, and that’s one reason the district opened 36 new magnets this school year. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner would like to see continued growth in magnets, but United Teachers Los Angeles in its ongoing contract talks is demanding measures that would limit the growth of magnets.  

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Parents of Color Are Speaking Up and Telling The Next Governor To Focus on Education

Parents of Color Are Speaking Up and Telling The Next Governor To Focus on Education

Parents of color in California want the next governor to place a higher priority on improving K-12 public schools than expanding access to health care or addressing the lack of affordable housing, according to a new poll conducted by Goodwin Simon for  The Education TrustWest and UnidosUS.

About nine out of 10 Latino, Black, and Asian Pacific Islander parents say improving K-12 education should be a high priority for the next governor, with more than half saying it should be an extremely high priority. Black parents, whose kids face the largest achievement gap, placed the highest priority on improving public education, with roughly three out of four naming it an extremely high priority.

“Parents of color really want educational justice in California, and they expect the next governor to prioritize that,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, co-interim executive director of Education Trust—West, which released results from polling 600 parents of color, evenly split between Black, Asian and Latino.   

“A lot of the research on parents and students doesn’t reflect the demographics of our state,” said Smith Arrillaga. “We wanted to make sure this poll reflected the parents of students that are in California’s K-12 schools, and right now, seven out of 10 students in our K-12 schools are Black, Latino or Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.”

The poll also found that parents of color are speaking up in their schools but don’t always feel heard. Nine out of 10 Black and Latino parents, and eight out of 10 Asian Pacific Islander parents say they are likely to offer feedback to their child’s school. And nine out of 10 Black and Latino parents, and seven out of 10 Asian Pacific Islander parents feel comfortable pushing their child’s school to make changes.

However, just over half of Black and Latino parents, and just one out of three Asian Pacific Islander parents think it’s very possible for parents to make a difference in improving school performance.

“We found parents felt like they could offer feedback, but they just weren’t often sure how to turn that feedback into action or who they should be talking to [in order] to activate the feedback that they did give,” said Smith Arrillaga.  “Parents are ready to be engaged, and there are so many parents already engaging, but there’s a lot of variance in how heard those parents feel their voices are.”

Speak UP’s mission is to empower parents to make their voices heard so they can collectively speak up to help improve public education. Half of Latino parents, and just under half of Black and Asian Pacific Islander parents polled say K-12 schools are headed in the right direction.

That mirrors the slight progress in state standardized test scores released Tuesday. However, racial achievement gaps remain wide, and progress remains slow.

 “Those assessments show that we’re a long way off from preparing all of our students to be college and career ready,” said Smith Arrillaga. “The 11th grade test scores actually showed a decline. We know there’s a lot more work to do. But we also know there are schools across the state that are closing gaps with low-income students and students of color.”

The percentage of Black students meeting state math standards increased .72%, while the percentage of Latino students went up 1.45% from the prior year. In English Language Arts, the percentage of Black students meeting standards increased 1 percent and Latino students 1.88 percent from the prior year.

 “Overall, there is a slight change in the scores, and the changes are more significant in the earlier grades, like 3rd grade, than in the later grades, but those increases are still quite slow,” said Smith Arrillaga. “At this current pace of change, we won’t see all Latino students proficient until 2051 in English Language Arts.”


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LAUSD Offers Teacher Raises, Class Size Reductions But Avoids Tough Teacher Quality Issues

LAUSD Offers Teacher Raises, Class Size Reductions But Avoids Tough Teacher Quality Issues

As LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles enter contract mediation Thursday, the district plans to make a final offer to give teachers 6 percent raises and reduce class sizes by four students at 75 elementary schools and 15 middle schools serving high-need kids.

The final offer would also address one issue that a recent Speak UP working group of parents and teachers called for: changing the types of classes that teachers can take to move up the pay scale to better address student learning needs. As it stands now, teachers can get pay raises for taking classes that have nothing to do with what they are teaching. LAUSD’s offer would align those classes to district priorities such as STEAM, bilingual education and early literacy.  

But despite calls from parents to focus on improving the quality of teaching that kids receive, the final offer does not attempt to change any of the policies surrounding how often teachers are evaluated or policies that protect ineffective teachers, such as forcing schools to hire “must-place” teachers they don’t want.

“Unfortunately, this contract offer does not do enough to ensure that every student has a quality teacher in front of the classroom,” said Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude. “It would lock us into the status quo for another two years, leaving intact the parts of the contract that value seniority over teacher performance. Teachers and parents agree that regular and meaningful evaluations improve teacher quality and effectiveness. Teachers we work with feel unsupported when they don’t get that regular feedback. Teachers should not go five years without being evaluated, and no school should be forced to hire a teacher against their will. No one benefits from that situation.” 

Parents showed up at the LAUSD Board meeting in force Tuesday, calling on the LAUSD Board to demand a teacher contract that addresses the issue of teacher quality, but also to avoid a strike. Board District 2 parent Vincenta Martinez said a strike “will be a crisis. Already in Los Angeles, too many children in our communities don’t get the education they deserve. This strike will only make things worse.”

While LAUSD has asked to add a fourth tier to evaluations recognizing highly effective teachers, parents pushed the Board to make bigger changes that would improve teaching quality. “Every child deserves great teachers, no matter the community they live in, but to make that happen, we have to have a contract that puts that goal as its core principle,” said Vickey Vaughn, a parent in Board District 1. “We want great teachers who get recognized for their work and who will go into the schools that need them the most. We want to make sure that ineffective teachers don’t stay in classrooms with kids. We want teachers to be evaluated in a real way, and if they need support, to get support.”

Speak UP Director Of Operations Daphne Radfar presented to the Board preliminary findings from its parent-teacher working group that collaborated on a vision for a contract that values teachers and puts kids first.  

“Teachers and parents agreed that seniority alone should not be the single most important factor that determines compensation scales, displacements and layoffs, school and classroom assignments, or leadership roles,” Radfar said. “The parents and teachers in our group believe that LAUSD teachers should be evaluated and given constructive and meaningful feedback at least once a year…We agree that teacher compensation should be tied to performance, and that excellent teachers should be rewarded for their excellence.”

Judging from the LAUSD final offer, however, the district appears to be shying away from pushing the envelope on big issues related to teacher quality. The class size reduction would lead to the hiring of additional teachers in some of the highest-need schools.

The district offer is for 6 percent raises (3 percent retroactive to last school year and 3 percent this year). The contract would be in effect until 2020. The LAUSD offer would also align the eligibility requirements for free lifetime health benefits with the other employee unions, making employees eligible when their age and years of service add up to 87 rather than the current 85.

One additional provision that LAUSD is putting on the table in its final offer: for LAUSD and UTLA to work together to provide a summary of what’s in the contract in plain enough language for parents and community members to understand.  It’s an attempt to provide the public with an agreed-upon set of facts, which have been hard to come by during the negotiations, and to allow parents to have greater access to the negotiation process.

Hours after LAUSD released details of its offer, UTLA rejected it outright, calling it “insulting,” which means a painful strike could be weeks away.

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Vladovic Says LAUSD Should Apologize To Parents For Destroying Kids’ Lives By Keeping Ineffective Teachers

Vladovic Says LAUSD Should Apologize To Parents For Destroying Kids’ Lives By Keeping Ineffective Teachers

Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7) said LAUSD should apologize to parents for ruining their kids’ lives because teachers at the lowest-performing schools are so rarely evaluated, and it takes at least three years to dismiss a teacher who consistently receives poor performance reviews.

“Where’s the apology letter to parents? It takes three years, and we’ve destroyed the lives of 150 kids,” Vladovic said at the Board meeting Tuesday. “I just want to see the apology letter to the parents that says ‘we’re sorry, you’re child’s life has been messed up.’ Because one year of a bad teacher can hurt…Where’s the apology letter for our evaluation system that allows our children to be suffering, and they do. Three years to fire somebody!”

Under terms of the United Teachers Los Angeles contract, a teacher can go five full years without any performance evaluation. About 400 LAUSD teachers have not been evaluated in the last five years, Deputy Superintendent Vivian Ekchian told the Board Tuesday.

“We recognize that there’s no other place that we’re aware of, in private industry in particular, where someone’s evaluation process is every five years,” Ekchian said.

Vladovic was also incensed that there’s no requirement that it be put in writing when and why a principal and teacher agree that a teacher does not need to be evaluated. If a new principal arrives and tries to evaluate a teacher, the teacher can cry foul and claim there was some prior “handshake” deal excusing the teacher from evaluation for five years, Vladovic said. “We don’t have any evidence,” he said. “We don’t really know who’s been excused.”

Ekchian clarified that principals are supposed to make that decision annually so a new principal absolutely has the right to evaluate every teacher on staff once in any given year. However, that’s not happening, in part because the process is so arduous and time consuming, she said.

Vladovic, who worked as a principal and evaluated every teacher on his own staff when he was new to a school, said that LAUSD should identify which principals are evaluating their teachers infrequently.

“If the principal is saying five years to every individual on their staff, and their school is one of the lowest performing schools in the district, somebody’s wrong,” Vladovic said. “I want it in writing who’s being evaluated annually, who’s being evaluated every other year because a principal waived them, and then I want to start looking at the school. If a principal waived 20 percent of their staff and they’re the lowest performing school in the district, what’s going on? Nobody is checking that.” 

Last year, only one third of LAUSD teachers were formally evaluated. “I want to know where the other 20,000 of employees are and why they aren’t being evaluated,” Vladovic said.  

Board members also questioned the accuracy of the evaluations. According to a recent analysis by the advocacy organization Parent Revolution, nearly all the teachers who were evaluated at low-performing schools — 96% — were deemed to meet or exceed performance standards, even though just 27% of their students met or exceeded the state’s standards in English and only 20% in math.

That’s partly because the union contract limits how a teacher can be evaluated. Out of 61 elements that make up LAUSD’s teacher evaluation framework, the union contract specifies that LAUSD can select only three criteria. Parent feedback and student growth are not among the factors considered. Parents also have no access to teacher evaluations and no way of learning how often teachers at their school are evaluated.

When teachers do receive a poor performance evaluation, “our job is to help the teacher,” said Board Member George McKenna (BD1). They receive about 80 hours of support and coaching to help them get better. “We must improve them before we remove them. That should be our mantra.”

But when a tenured teacher does not improve, the dismissal process is so lengthy and difficult that principals often don’t bother to go through all the steps required for a teacher to be removed. Teachers typically file union grievances against their principal, which takes more time and creates even more paperwork. 

Vladovic questioned whether the current evaluation system was actually making things better.

“Does it result in better teaching?” Vladovic asked. “No, it hasn’t made a difference. The perennial schools are still failing. It hasn’t produced the results we want. It has not produced improved student achievement. It hasn’t made us more accountable. And it’s killed off our principals who are now gun shy from doing it.”

The bottom line, Vladovic said: “I believe we’re failing our community and our children.” 

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‘Instead of fighting each other, we should be fighting together to increase funding for our students,’ LAUSD superintendent says

‘Instead of fighting each other, we should be fighting together to increase funding for our students,’ LAUSD superintendent says

Quality teaching, more equitable funding, a focus on the most disadvantaged students and making it easier for parents to volunteer. These were among the top policy priorities that LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner outlined during a speech in the library of Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Thursday.

“Low-income students, students of color, English Learners, LGBTQ youth, children who lack healthcare, students exposed to violence in their neighborhoods or homes, and students with special needs are being left behind at an alarming rate,” Beutner said. “These students are not provided with the same opportunities as their peers in different neighborhoods and communities where families earn more money.”

Beutner called for a change to the way states fund schools based on student attendance rather than enrollment, saying it hurts the kids who need the most help. “In Watts, the kindergarten population is chronically absent almost one quarter of the time, which means that those schools are getting less funding than a school might in Beverly Hills where chronic absenteeism is less than ten percent. We need to fix a funding system that is not equitable and penalizes the very students most in need.”

Two weeks after United Teachers Los Angeles members authorized a strike, Beutner also encouraged teachers, parents and the district to come together to push for more state funding. “We want smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and additional counselors, librarians and support staff in every school – but we will need more money to pay for it. We can only spend what we have,” he said. “Instead of fighting each other, we should be fighting together to increase funding for our students. $16,000 per pupil is simply not enough.”

Without that collaboration, his prognosis for the district was bleak. “We’re facing a fiscal cliff. It’s not theoretical and it’s not debatable. If nothing changes, we are headed for insolvency in the next two to three years,” he said. “If that happens, a fiscal advisor will be appointed by the state and we’ll no longer have local control over our schools. Budgets will be slashed, class sizes will rise, and decisions won’t be made in the best interest of our students and families. Los Angeles Unified is not too big to fail, and no one is coming to save us if we do.”

Despite that ominous tone when discussing the finances, Beutner’s overall message was what he called a “true progressive vision” for education.  He reached out directly to parents, touching on much of the Speak UP platform, including quality teaching, equity, transparency, accountability, collaboration and responsiveness to parent concerns.

He tackled the number one priority of Speak UP members surveyed: making sure we have effective teachers in every classroom, saying we need more support, professional development and pay for hard-working teachers. LAUSD wants to create a new evaluation category recognizing highly effective teachers so they can become models to help their fellow teachers improve.

“Our best teachers are literally changing lives. We need to make sure they feel appreciated, are rewarded, and are committed to a long career at Los Angeles Unified,” he said. “They need more support. We need to pay our teachers more and provide necessary support so that every teacher has the chance to develop and truly excel in their classrooms.”

Beutner expressed his support for teacher tenure but said he wants to find a way to make sure students are not stuck with teachers who are “not up to the task.”

“The reality is that a few people in the teaching profession are not helping students succeed,” he said. “An ineffective teacher can cause students to lose more than a year of learning, which is setting students up for failure. While more than 80 percent of effective teachers maintain standards for good attendance, more than 40 percent of ineffective teachers do not. We need a transparent, efficient, and fair process to manage ineffective teachers out. In the same way that we need to support teachers, we need to support students and make sure that they have great teachers in their classrooms.”

Speak Up parent Rosa Elena Andresen, who attended the speech, appreciated Beutner’s focus on teacher quality. “As a parent, this is exactly what I want to see,” she said. “I think we should reward those great teachers. We have great teachers in our district. But then again, we need some consequences for teachers who are no longer performing because they are affecting our children’s education. It’s not fair to students to have a teacher not performing where they need to be.”  

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Speak UP's Executive Director Katie Braude Calls For More State Education Funding

Speak UP's Executive Director Katie Braude Calls For More State Education Funding

Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude called for more state education funding at Tuesday’s LAUSD board meeting. Her comments came in support of a resolution from Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) and Richard Vladovic (BD7) to endorse the Schools and Communities First Funding Act, a 2020 ballot initiative to reform Prop 13 so that all commercial and industrial property owners pay their fair share of taxes, which will generate revenue for education funding. The resolution passed unanimously Tuesday. The full text of Braude’s remarks follow:

Good afternoon Board President Garcia, Vice President Melvoin, Superintendent Beutner, and board members. My name is Katie Braude, and I’m the executive director of Speak UP. I’m here today to express our support for this resolution because we absolutely must find a way to increase state funding for our LAUSD students, teachers and schools.

How is it that California, one of the wealthiest, most progressive places in the nation, is not at the top of all 50 states in terms of school funding? Our schools should be models for the nation and the world. We’re nowhere near where we need to be. 

LAUSD is facing a serious financial crisis. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the district is on the brink of insolvency and faces the very real possibility of a state takeover, which will only make matters worse.

We agree with our teachers: Class sizes are too high. We don’t have enough librarians and counselors. Teachers are underpaid. Kids with special needs are not getting the services they need, in part because the federal government is not pulling its weight. And that’s not going to get any better under the current administration.

At the same time, our civic institutions cannot continue to operate in silos. A well-funded public education system is essential to changing the lives of the 80% of LAUSD students who live near or in poverty. But when housing is unaffordable, and parents lack the skills to qualify for higher paying jobs, academic success does not eradicate the hunger, health problems, housing instability, or fear of losing a parent to deportation facing children at home.

 We must work together to address the whole picture. One step is to create community schools with wrap-around services, language and job training classes for parents, and early childhood education. But we need full funding and community and governmental partnerships to make that happen.

Speak UP and our parents join with LAUSD teachers in calling on the state of California to do more. We need a strategy to bring in more state revenue. Prop 13 has starved our schools, and wealthy commercial property owners must pay their fair share. We cannot go on like this, fighting over scraps. We urge you to vote yes on this resolution.

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As County Orders Budget Cuts, McKenna Warns ‘The Worst Thing In The World’ Is Coming If UTLA Forces LAUSD Off Fiscal Cliff

As County Orders Budget Cuts, McKenna Warns ‘The Worst Thing In The World’ Is Coming If UTLA Forces LAUSD Off Fiscal Cliff

With the state superintendent’s office adding its voice Tuesday to the chorus of warnings about LAUSD’s finances, longtime allies of the teachers union are now among those saying that the union’s demands – under threat of a strike – could send LAUSD over the fiscal cliff.

“We can’t bargain ourselves into insolvency,” Board Member George McKenna (BD1), whose candidacy was backed by UTLA, said at the Board meeting Tuesday. “They can strike, and at some point we’ll settle the strike, but at what cost to the parents, to the children? I’m absolutely opposed to a strike. I’ve been through a strike. I know how hard it is for staff, parents, the children. It’s terrible.”

A strike could even deal a fatal blow to the district, which is already losing 16,000 students a year, said Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7). “When they go on strike, another 4000 parents are going to leave this district and go someplace else, and we’re going to lose the money for that,” he said. “And when they do that, it’s a self-fulfilling cycle of despair. Bad things are going to happen if there’s a strike, and I’ll tell you, you will never, ever recover.”

The dire warnings from Vladovic and McKenna came in response to remarks from Candi Clark, Chief Financial Officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), and Nick Schweizer, Deputy Superintendent of the California Department of Education.

Clark said that LACOE is giving only “conditional” approval to the LAUSD budget, and she directed the LAUSD Board to pass a resolution specifying $72 million in budget cuts by Oct. 8. Without those cuts, LAUSD will be insolvent within three years, she said. If that happens, state takeover will follow.

“I am concerned that the window of opportunity is closing to address the district’s fiscal challenges,” Clark said. “It’s imperative that the governing board step up its efforts to stabilize the district’s fiscal operation. The district cannot continue to go down the path of simply just drawing down the reserves.”

Schweizer spoke on behalf of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson -- a strong ally of the statewide teachers union -- and backed up Clark’s dire assessment. “We certainly share [LACOE’s] concerns about the deficit spending,” he said. “We support their conditional approval of the budget and their recommendation that the district begin addressing the deficit in a time sensitive manner.”

Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) asked Schweizer point blank whether his presence at the meeting was a “warning flag that you’re watching, and these issues are serious?”

Schweizer’s response: “Yes. My presence is indicative this is serious,” he said. “We are hoping that the district works with all of its partners to address solutions to this problem. This district needs to be strong and robust.” While “LAUSD is not alone” in facing financial pressures, it’s in “worse condition than many others,” he said.

Clark warned LAUSD not to use its reserve funds to cover ongoing salary increases, calling it “a key indicator for risk of potential insolvency.” Instead, she said that LAUSD must address its structural deficit. “It’s very clear that you’re living off the reserves. That’s not wise.”

LAUSD is currently spending more each year than it receives in revenues, and even after identifying an additional $72 million in cuts, LAUSD’s reserve fund will be a paltry $1.5 million within three years. If LAUSD does not bring its deficit spending under control, Clark said for a second time that LACOE may take financial control away from the LAUSD Board.

“We do believe in local control,” Clark said. “However, when the state’s early warning system necessitates our intervention in a school district, we are prepared to respond. Should the district continue to incur expenditures and erode the fund balance, our office is left with no other choice but to respond.”

LACOE recently rescinded Board authority at another school district, and McKenna, for one, took Clark’s warning to heart. “I was a superintendent in Inglewood, and they sent us a fiscal advisor because the Board continued to spend because of demands from unions saying ‘we want our money, we want it retroactive,’” he said.

Ultimately, it led to salary cuts and loss of local control. “A fiscal advisor will come and sit at the horseshoe and make all decisions that have to do with budget,” McKenna said. “The board will have nothing to say about it. We won’t be able to vote, nor will the superintendent.”

McKenna has also lived through the next step: state takeover. “It’s the worst thing in world,” McKenna said. “I was in Compton when it was in receivership. Our salaries don’t exist anymore. We don’t get paid. We’re now volunteers. The superintendent position disappears.”

Such comments from the union’s traditional allies marked a strong rebuke to union representatives that continue to deny the reality of LAUSD’s financial woes. The three-year budget process is designed as an early warning system so LAUSD can make budget cuts in time to prevent bankruptcy. Because LAUSD has been responsible enough to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff in the past, UTLA leaders accuse the district of crying wolf.

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Kids Should Not Be Collateral Damage In Teachers Strike

Kids Should Not Be Collateral Damage In Teachers Strike

With talks between United Teachers Los Angeles and LAUSD at a tense impasse and teachers voting overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, there’s one group caught in the middle that’s largely been left out of the discussion: L.A.’s kids.

A strike would have a dramatic impact on the kids and families of Los Angeles, where 84 percent of students are from low-income families that rely on schools to provide two free or reduced priced meals a day.

As the adults fight over salaries and district finances, there’s a simple fact that should not be forgotten or discounted: LAUSD kids would be deprived of an education during a strike. They are the innocent victims of these adult battles.

Last year, 70 percent of LAUSD students failed to meet state academic standards in math, and 60 percent failed to meet standards in English. Only 56 percent of LAUSD kids graduated eligible to even apply to a state four-year college. Clearly, our students cannot afford to lose more school days during a strike and fall even farther behind.

Nor can we ignore the burden on parents. How will parents ensure their kids are safe during a strike? Will parents have to take time off of work and lose wages to care for their kids? That would be a huge imposition for the families in Los Angeles.

Parents and kids love their teachers and want them to be well compensated. The average LAUSD teacher salary is $75,000, and rises to $110,000 with benefits, including free lifetime health care for teachers and spouses. However, the cost of employee pensions and healthcare is taking up an increasing portion of the education budget every year and will eat up 50 percent of the funding by the time this year’s kindergarteners graduate.

Most parents agree that California schools are underfunded, and we need more money for smaller class sizes, nurses and librarians – and to fund the promises made to retirees.

Given the current occupant of the White House, his education secretary and their frightening proposals to arm our educators, it’s perfectly understandable that teachers are in a fighting mood. I think we all are. But teachers and parents must join together to take that fight to those who actually have the power to increase funding: state lawmakers and the governor.

Strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, where average teacher salaries stalled at $45,000, were statewide strikes that led to more state funding. A local strike in Los Angeles will not have the same effect. In fact, the California state legislature just adjourned for the year on the same day UTLA authorized the strike. Lawmakers won’t be around to act even if they wanted to get involved.

LAUSD has budgeted in 6 percent raises for teachers, the same raises it is giving its other employees, whose unions have managed to finalize deals with LAUSD without a strike. But the district does not have enough money for those raises and UTLA’s other demands, totaling nearly $3 billion.

LAUSD is required by law to stay within its budget or risk state receivership. If that occurs, like it did in Inglewood, then draconian cuts will surely follow. Class sizes will increase even more. Teacher salaries and benefits may be cut. We will have fewer nurses, librarians and counselors. And the exodus of families fleeing LAUSD will accelerate. Just the threat of a strike is already prompting some parents to make contingency plans to move their children out of LAUSD schools mid-year.

It’s unfortunate that parents have had no voice in these contract talks because the negotiations have a direct impact on how their kids are educated. UTLA’s demands, for instance, would curb the number of new magnet schools, which are popular and successful options within LAUSD. With long waitlists at many LAUSD magnets, parents clearly want more quality magnet options, not fewer.

But no one is listening to families, and that’s part of the problem. Kids don’t have a union, and parents who represent kids’ interests have no seat at the negotiating table. Their only power is to walk away, and 12,000 students a year are doing just that — and taking their state education funding with them as they go.

Kids and families should not be an afterthought in labor talks. In fact, families would make the best natural allies for teachers in their fight for more state education funding, if we could all come together and collaborate to put the interests of kids first at LAUSD.

So before calling a local strike that will do nothing to stem enrollment loss or increase education funding, we urge UTLA leaders to please think about the kids. Students have done nothing wrong, but they are the ones who will pay the biggest price for a strike. Kids’ futures should never be collateral damage in this war between adults.

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LAUSD Charges UTLA With Bad-Faith Bargaining, Saying Union Has Wanted A Strike All Along

LAUSD Charges UTLA With Bad-Faith Bargaining, Saying Union Has Wanted A Strike All Along

Despite a pledge by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to do all he can to prevent a teachers strike, peace between L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles remains elusive.

On the same day LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner accepted Garcetti’s offer to intervene and facilitate a settlement, UTLA rejected the help and filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district. That prompted LAUSD to file its own charge accusing UTLA of bad-faith bargaining.

"UTLA engaged in take-it-or-leave-it bargaining, making virtually no compromises toward reaching an agreement for the better part of 16 months, LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist said in a statement. "UTLA talked openly about a strike long before the parties even began negotiations, let alone reached an impasse. It is now conducting a strike vote even though the parties have not even held their first mediation session.”

In fact, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has been talking about a strike ever since he became president of UTLA. Two years ago, he told his members that “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.”

That prompted one commentator in LA School Report, Caroline Bermudez, to take Caputo-Pearl to task: “Threatening to strike should be an absolute last resort, not the first order of action.”

Two years before that, during an earlier UTLA contract negotiation, Caputo-Pearl mentioned a possible strike to a group of bewildered parents at Back to School Night, prompting Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez to write the piece “Is the L.A. teachers union tone deaf?”

“The union has shown little flexibility: not on salary negotiations, tenure, student testing, teacher evaluations or anything else. How do you negotiate with that?” Lopez wrote. “UTLA's political strategy is borrowed in part from the Chicago Teachers Union, which led a strike two years ago that won pay increases for teachers but left bitter feelings all around…Hey, I understand the purpose of union rhetoric in the middle of contract negotiations…But a strike would be disastrous for students, parents and even teachers. And it could drive even more families out of the district or into the charter schools the union so despises.”  

Garcetti, in his remarks last week, also emphasized the importance of avoiding a strike, which will deprive kids of an education. "We need to make sure teachers are in schools and that children have teachers,” he told reporters Friday. “I will do anything that I can to make sure there is not a strike, or, if a strike is called, to directly intervene in negotiations.”

Meanwhile, UTLA claimed in its own unfair labor practice charge that LAUSD’s quick response to a Public Records Request from a KPCC reporter seeking  Caputo-Pearl’s employee disciplinary record was somehow an attempt to interfere with its strike vote. That’s despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times already published a story in 2014 based on those records, showing that Caputo-Pearl faced discipline for allegedly leaving campus during the school day to campaign for the union presidency, missing hours that added up to 17 days. 

An LAUSD spokeswoman said that the legal process for responding to a reporter’s request for public records “has nothing whatsoever to do with negotiations.”

However, one district source speculated that UTLA might be attempting to lay the groundwork for what’s called an “unfair practice” strike in order to bypass mediation and hold a strike on its preferred timeline. 

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, UTLA representative Glenn Sacks said “the strike is scheduled to begin Oct. 3,” even though the first mediation session between the two sides won’t happen until Sept. 27. UTLA is required by law to go through mediation, followed by a fact-finding process, before it is legally allowed to strike, making a legal strike on Oct. 3 almost impossible.

UTLA has been infuriated by the late September mediation start date, which makes a strike in October more difficult, and UTLA lawyers have complained to the Public Employee Relations Board, which oversees the bargaining process. LAUSD believes all of this is evidence that UTLA is not engaged in good-faith bargaining, and the goal all along has been to strike rather than reach a deal.   

”Upon Commencement of The Impasse process, UTLA Issues Histrionical Demands That The Mediation Process Wrap-Up Quickly So That It Could Commence Its Strike In October,” LAUSD wrote in its unfair labor practice charge. “When the schedule was not swift enough, UTLA went around the assigned mediator, writing to the Chief mediator, and demanding that mediation be bypassed, and the matter certified to fact finding, so that UTLA could strike as soon as possible…When that request was denied, UTLA, in violation of PERB rules, wrote directly to the PERB General Counsel and the Board itself, demanding that the process be expedited.”

Because of UTLA’s take-it-or-leave-it final offer, with $3 billion of demands that Beutner has said would lead to instant insolvency, Holmquist said, “it is clear that UTLA wishes to coerce the district into making what would be irresponsible financial decisions.”

The LA County Office of Education (LACOE) Chief Financial Officer, Candi Clark, made a surprise visit to the August 21 LAUSD Board meeting to underscore the serious fiscal situation facing LAUSD. Clark reminded the board that LACOE, which oversees the LAUSD budget, has the power to rescind the board’s decision-making authority if LAUSD spends more than laid out in its fiscal stabilization plan.

Garcetti, according to the Los Angeles Times, said that he empathized with teachers but also realizes that the district is in danger of going “off a cliff” financially, which would lead to “larger class sizes, possible layoffs, etc. So I think that it’s very important to live inside the means that we have.”

UTLA’s strike authorization vote is expected to conclude Thursday. Holmquist said that UTLA’s conduct throughout the bargaining process, including the timing of the strike authorization vote, “violates the Educational Employment Relations Act. The District has requested an expedited hearing and looks forward to presenting all the evidence."

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Speak UP's Katie Braude To LAUSD Board: Parents Should Not Have to Sleep On The Sidewalk To Speak To You

Speak UP's Katie Braude To LAUSD Board: Parents Should Not Have to Sleep On The Sidewalk To Speak To You

I am writing to share the collective dismay of parents and community members who attended the board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

In particular, I am writing on behalf of the parents who went to great lengths to arrange for childcare, organize transportation to travel long distances, and some of whom took off time from work to make their voices heard in a public forum on an issue of paramount importance to them and their children: the process for filling a vacant board seat so they can have representation.

After following the first-come, first-serve rules established by the Board of Education, which entailed arriving many hours in advance to secure a place in line for a speaker card, parents were shocked and dismayed to find that other individuals could walk in at the start of the board meeting and be assured of a speaking spot.

To what do they owe that privilege?

The board’s decision to expand the number of speaking spots to 25, and its brief consideration of shortening the speaking time of the parents who had played by the rules to accommodate the last-minute speakers, made a mockery of the democratic process required by the Brown Act.

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With Strike Vote Looming, LACOE Warns It May Rescind Board Authority If LAUSD Does Not Keep Financial House In Order

With Strike Vote Looming, LACOE Warns It May Rescind Board Authority If LAUSD Does Not Keep Financial House In Order

The Chief Financial Officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which oversees LAUSD finances, made a surprise appearance at Tuesday’s LAUSD Board meeting with a stern warning: LACOE is closely monitoring labor negotiations and could remove decision-making authority from the LAUSD Board if it does not keep the district’s precarious fiscal house in order.

“LACOE has the authority to assign a fiscal expert or a fiscal advisor with stay and rescind authority over board actions in order to stabilize the district’s financial situation,” LACOE CFO Candi Clark said at public comment. “I am sure that everyone agrees with me that local control is in the best interest of the students and parents of LAUSD. The fact is that LAUSD is ‘not’ too big to fail, so it is up to all of us to resolve the district’s fiscal challenges.”

Her comments come just as LAUSD teachers begin to vote Thursday on whether to authorize United Teachers Los Angeles leaders to call a strike. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner has warned UTLA that its $3 billion take-it-or-leave-it demands would immediately lead to insolvency and state takeover.

But UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has repeatedly given his teacher members the false impression that the district’s financial health is fine.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Clark reiterated what LAUSD CFO Scott Price has been telling the Board for months -- that LAUSD has a structural deficit that will eat through all the money that it’s is required by law to keep in the bank unless cuts are made.

“The only thing standing between the district and a qualified budget right now is $3.9 million dollars, which is next to nothing,” Clark said. “This is a major concern as we review the district’s budget, considering the fact that the district is declining in enrollment, has uncapped health and welfare benefits for all staff and dependents, and the fact that [UTLA] negotiations are still unsettled. We are carefully monitoring negotiations and we urge the district to continue to make progress towards implementing with fidelity the fiscal stabilization plan.”

All six LAUSD Board members released a joint statement Tuesday opposing a strike, which they said  "pits adults versus adults when students and their families will bear the brunt of a strike action.”

Speak UP wholeheartedly agrees that a strike will harm kids unnecessarily by depriving them of their right to an education and possibly supervision during school hours. Families may have to find alternative childcare and face lost wages as a result. The burden will be the greatest on low-income families that make up a large portion of the district.

“We hope the shared responsibility to put students first will lead to a common sense resolution that acknowledges the hard work of our employees while addressing the safety and instructional needs of students and the financial solvency of L.A. Unified," the statement from all six Board members said.

Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) read the statement aloud at Tuesday’s LAUSD Board meeting at which the Board unanimously approved labor agreements with the administrators union, AALA, and the union for office workers, CSEA. Those agreements, along with the agreement approved for SEIU, means LAUSD has been able to settle on a contract with 60 percent of its workforce.

All of those employees will receive about a 6 percent raise over the course of their contract terms, and Beutner has said repeatedly he’d like to make a similar deal with a similar salary increase for teachers.

In a statement released Sunday, LAUSD also sought to address misinformation that United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl has been sharing with his members in order to gin up support for a strike, which he has been calling for publicly for two years.

“UTLA leadership has claimed the District ‘is trying to dodge the mediation question’ and [is] ‘refusing to meet’... However, L.A. Unified has accepted September 27, 2018, which is a date offered by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) mediators in accordance with California labor law to resume bargaining,” the statement said.

The statement also explained why strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky would differ from an LAUSD strike. Those strikes were statewide teacher strikes that led to increases in state funding.

“Funding for school districts in California is set at the state level in Sacramento, not by the L.A. Unified Board of Education,” the statement said. “A UTLA strike at the local level will do nothing to increase funding for L.A. Unified.”

We urge parents to talk to their teachers and encourage them to vote no on a strike and make a fair deal with LAUSD.

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Parents Still Hold Out Hope For Consensus Appointee To Fill District 5 Board Seat Until March 5 Special Election

Parents Still Hold Out Hope For Consensus Appointee To Fill District 5 Board Seat Until March 5 Special Election

It was good news, bad news for parents in Board District 5 on Tuesday.

The good news: A special election will be held March 5 to fill the vacant seat formerly held by Ref Rodriguez, and an attempt by the teachers union to rush through a single appointee, Jackie Goldberg, failed on a 4-2 vote. 

That was thanks, in large part, to the powerful testimony of a group of Speak UP parents from the Southeast part of the district, who spoke passionately about their desire to be heard.

“Do you care about my civil rights? Do you care about democracy and my right to vote?” asked Raquel Toscano, a Speak UP parent from Bell with two kids at Maywood Center for Enrichment Studies, an LAUSD magnet school in BD5. “It is completely undemocratic to rush through this appointment without giving the community – especially Latino families from the Southeast -- a chance to consider other potential candidates. That shows no respect for us and our rights.”

The bad news: An effort by Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) to allow the community to nominate multiple candidates to fill the seat until an election is held, also deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, meaning that BD5 parents may go unrepresented for an entire school year.

Even though the city charter was recently changed at LAUSD’s request to allow an interim voting appointee to fill a seat until a special election is held, Richard Vladovic (BD7) was the lone Board member who opposed the concept of an interim appointee altogether.

He argued that families did not need representation during most of the 2018-19 school year because LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, the local superintendents and BD5 staffers could take care of their needs. 

“I will not support appointing anyone,” Vladovic said. “That superintendent of that district is responsible for every child. In the next few months, nobody’s going to get hurt. Nothing’s going to go wrong. I’m not worried.”

Board Members George McKenna (BD1) and Scott Schmerelson (BD3) both voted to appoint Goldberg. McKenna made threats that while Goldberg had promised not to run for the seat if appointed, she might actually decide to run if the board did not appoint her. Then Board members who don’t want her could get stuck with her longer, he argued.

Goldberg said after the meeting that she has not decided whether to enter the race, which is expected to be a crowded field.

Melvoin and Board Members Kelly Gonez (BD6) and President Monica Garcia (BD2) all supported a more open and transparent process allowing anyone to volunteer or nominate an interim appointee that the Board would then consider on Sept. 11.

While both measures on interim appointees failed, it’s still possible that a consensus appointee could emerge and win support both from the reformers and at least one of the two labor-backed Board members, McKenna or Schmerelson.

Speak UP urges the five Board members who supported the concept of an interim appointee to put aside any differences and work together with all the stakeholders in BD5 to find a less polarizing person to serve all stakeholders and constituents. 

McKenna, who himself was willing to be appointed when the BD1 seat last became vacant, spoke powerfully about the need for representation during a crucial year in which the district is expected to be restructured. He was the sole Board member who voted against a March special election because he wanted an election right after the winter break in January.

While families argued that a January election would get lost in the holiday season, would not allow them time to get to know the many candidates and would likely depress parent voter turnout, McKenna pushed for the earlier election time. “I’m not OK with letting the seat go so long without being represented,” McKenna said.

Neither are we. Given the desire of both parents and five of six Board members to make sure families are represented during the 2018-19 school year, there is still an opportunity for the Board to transcend the divisive politics of the past and to put the needs of the kids first. We hope that happens.

We urge the Board to do the right thing and to revisit Melvoin’s more open and transparent process allowing the community to help find an interim appointee for the sake of the kids. With a fair and open process, we believe the right interim representative can be found.

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Speak UP Urges LAUSD Board to Support Open, Democratic Process to Fill BD5 Seat

Speak UP Urges LAUSD Board to Support Open, Democratic Process to Fill BD5 Seat

The LAUSD Board has a chance to vote for democracy, transparency and diversity Tuesday as it considers two resolutions to fill the Board District 5 seat that’s been vacant since Ref Rodriguez resigned last month.

Speak UP strongly supports the resolution introduced by Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) and Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) calling for a special election on March 5 to fill the seat. First and foremost, parents believe it’s critical to hold a democratic election and allow voters to choose their representative, and a March election will maximize voter turnout.

There’s already an election scheduled in one of the southeast cities within BD5 that day, and a March election gives parents time to get to know the many candidates expressing an interest in running for the seat. Voters are accustomed to voting in city elections in March, and an election any sooner could depress voter turnout.

Valley Republican Scott Schmerelson (BD3) has introduced a second resolution to appoint Jackie Goldberg to the seat. Goldberg is a career politician, endorsed by the teachers union, who served on the school Board and in the state assembly years ago.

She opposes school choice and has spoken out harshly at the Board against the hiring of Superintendent Austin Beutner, whom she called “unqualified.” She also stood before the Board that she is now asking to appoint her and accused both Melvoin (BD4) and Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) of selling their souls “to the devil.”

Speak UP urges a no vote on Schmerelson’s resolution as it’s currently written. While Speak UP’s BD5 parents support the concept of choosing a short-term appointee to fill the seat for the 6 ½ months until the special election is held, parents want a more open and transparent process that allows them to bring multiple candidates forward and weigh their individual merits.

Melvoin is expected to propose an amendment to Schmerelson’s resolution that would create an “urgent, open, and transparent process to ensure that the constituents of Board District 5 are adequately represented by an interim, appointed, voting member of the Board.”

Melvoin’s amendment would allow anyone in the community to nominate candidates to fill the seat during an interim period before an election is held. Nominations will be accepted until Aug. 28, and applicants must submit resumes, proof of residence in the district and statements on why they should be appointed, why they would best serve constituents in BD5 and how they see themselves working with other members of the Board. The Board would then consider appointing candidates from the list on Sept. 11.

Melvoin’s amendment is excellent news for parents in the southeast cities, who have expressed a strong interest in considering some Latino candidates who are in touch with the needs of the majority Latino population in Board District 5.

BD5 includes the northeast neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, Los Feliz, Mount Washington and Echo Park, as well as predominantly Latino communities of Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate, Vernon and Bell in the southeast.

Political Consultant Mike Trujillo was appointed by Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7) to sit on LAUSD’s redistricting commission, which drew the current boundaries of Board District 5. The seat has historically been a “majority Latino seat,” Trujillo said, and when they redrew the boundaries, the Voting Rights Act required them to draw BD5 as a majority Latino district to maximize the chances of Latino representation.

“The seat was specifically drawn to help elect a minority, in this case [from] the Latino community,” Trujillo said. “You can obviously elect anyone you want. We live in a democracy, but this is a civil rights-inspired, Voting Rights Act-required seat we drew in LAUSD.”

Appointing a non-Latino candidate like Goldberg to the seat, even temporarily, “is definitely not in the spirit of the law,” Trujillo said. “It would seem contrary to what LAUSD’s own commission did” when it drew the district. 

While a special election is likely to get the support of four members, Board members Melvoin, Garcia, Vladovic and Gonez are expected to vote no on appointing Goldberg to the seat. Vladovic has indicated that he opposes the appointment of any candidate.

It’s unclear whether Melvoin has the votes for his amendment creating an open and transparent process for an appointment, but Schmerelson, Board Member George McKenna, Melvoin and Garcia have all expressed interest in interim appointments either now or in the past.

It also remains to be seen whether the Board can eventually find a consensus candidate to serve as an interim appointee. Any appointee would need support from both reform-minded and labor-backed Board members.  

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UTLA Rejects LAUSD Olive Branch As Board Examines Healthcare Cost Crisis…Again

UTLA Rejects LAUSD Olive Branch As Board Examines Healthcare Cost Crisis…Again

LAUSD is making it clear to United Teachers Los Angeles that it wants to avert a painful strike by offering teachers the same 6 percent raises that other employees are getting. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, however, continues to shoot down the notion that such a deal is possible.

After a five-hour LAUSD Board retreat Wednesday exploring the district’s healthcare cost crisis, Beutner met with Caputo-Pearl and sent him a follow-up letter mentioning the raises that administrators, bus drivers and others are getting, saying he wanted to reach a “similar agreement” to give teachers raises and was willing to meet any time to work out a deal.

“We must do everything possible to keep our schools open so our students don’t miss the opportunity to receive the best education possible,” Beutner wrote. “We want to minimize any disruption to students, their hand-working families and the communities we serve. We hope UTLA shares this goal. I am reminded of an old adage, ‘when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.’ It is a responsibility we share, despite our differences, to make sure students are protected.”

UTLA is asking for 6.5 percent raises retroactive to 2016-17, one year earlier than LAUSD is willing to apply any increase. Nevertheless, with just a half-percentage point separating UTLA’s salary demands from what LAUSD has budgeted and seems willing to offer, the differences between the two sides on teacher raises hardly seem insurmountable.

Even so, UTLA recently declared an impasse in talks, sending the two sides to mediation. While Beutner said that he and the union had “found common ground” in the Wednesday meeting, Caputo-Pearl later dismissed the idea that a deal is possible.

“There is not the outline of a deal,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Caputo-Pearl’s comments lend credence to suggestions that he wants a strike no matter what LAUSD offers teachers – in order to bolster his own career and land a bigger job once he terms out.

Such a move would clearly harm kids by depriving them of their right to an education. And for the many LAUSD families who rely on schools for breakfast and lunch, and who will lose wages if forced to take off work to care for their children, the burden of a strike is potentially devastating.

The district-union deadlock is especially puzzling given that UTLA negotiated a deal in the spring to maintain LAUSD’s extremely generous health benefits for all employees for three years. While no changes to health plans are on the table in these contract talks, the cost of retiree healthcare remains one of the biggest reasons LAUSD is teetering on the brink of insolvency.

LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Scott Price told the Board Wednesday that LAUSD spends more on retiree healthcare benefits and offers far more generous plans to retirees than other districts in the state, including San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, Oakland and San Jose.

Other districts offer either no health program for retirees or a more limited program for retirees, and they require retirees to make a contribution. LAUSD offers free lifetime healthcare for retirees and their spouses after a certain number of years of service.

There are three main causes of LAUSD’s financial problems, Price said: healthcare costs, pension costs and employee salaries. Pension costs are set by the state, and there’s nothing LAUSD can do about it. So LAUSD is left with only two choices without the increased state funding that the superintendent believes all stakeholders should fight for: either rein in retiree healthcare costs, or start laying off many current employees (which would likely lead to big class-size increases, too).

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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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