Board Passes School Rating Resolution, Directs More Funds To Needy Schools

 Speak UP's Daphne Radfar and parents Michael Jimenez, Anna Parks and Tanisha Hall testified at Tuesday's meeting

Speak UP's Daphne Radfar and parents Michael Jimenez, Anna Parks and Tanisha Hall testified at Tuesday's meeting

Parents will have a new rating system to evaluate how their schools are performing, and LAUSD’s highest-need schools will receive an infusion of cash next year as a result of two resolutions the LAUSD Board passed on Tuesday.

The school rating resolution, co-sponsored by Board Members Kelly Gonez (BD6) and Nick Melvoin (BD4), will create a working group that includes parents, teachers, community organizations and other stakeholders to develop a holistic system to evaluate all Los Angeles public schools with a single summative rating.

"We are thrilled to see the Board take action to give parents better information about school performance,” said Katie Braude, executive director of Speak UP. “It's an important first step toward ensuring that all Los Angeles children receive an excellent education. This resolution will provide a platform for parents to better understand how well their schools are performing and for the district to identify the schools most in need of support. It's important to assess whether a school is able to lift achievement of students most in need."

The Board voted 6-1 for the resolution, with Board Member George McKenna (BD1) casting the sole no vote. McKenna had originally co-sponsored the resolution, but then he abruptly reversed position, saying he opposed any “ranking” of schools and had not realized what the resolution entailed until he read comments from his colleagues describing it.

The Board amended the resolution to clarify that schools will not be ranked in numeric order or even graded, and Gonez said she envisioned rating categories such as “exceeding,” “meeting,” and “emerging.” But despite attempts to address McKenna’s concerns, he clung to his opposition.

Several Speak UP parents testified in favor of the resolution, including BD1 parent Anna Parks, whose kids attend LACES and the Alexander Science Center. Parks and her husband supported McKenna in his last election, but “now we feel let down,” she said.

“Do you ever consider how much damage it does to our trust in LAUSD when you withhold or hide or ban important information from us?” she asked. “You shared that you don’t want kids to know if their schools perform poorly because it might make them feel bad. This is like a doctor refusing to tell a patient she has cancer because it might hurt her feelings.”

 Board Members George McKenna and Scott Schmereleson

Board Members George McKenna and Scott Schmereleson

Board District 1 parent Tanisha Hall, whose children attend Washington Preparatory High School, Bret Hart middle and 95th street elementary, said students in her South LA community lack basics such as textbooks, paper and pencils.

“It’s not good enough to just rate the schools and stop there. We need a plan to improve the schools that are under-resourced,” she said. “We need to make sure that after we identify schools that are struggling, we also take a second step and actually do something about it…We can’t just slap a grade on a school and walk away.”

In fact, the Board on Tuesday also took one significant step toward directing additional resources to high-need schools by approving a resolution from Board member Monica Garcia (BD2) to adopt a new School Equity Need Index 2018 to identify the highest-need students and send $25 million to them during the next school year.

The Equity Index, which will be hashed out in detail by a working group, will consider community factors such as gun violence and asthma rates, incoming student academic test data, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, as well as the percentages of homeless students, foster kids, English language learners and low-income students with disabilities.

In the future, this formula will be used to allocate additional state funding that’s provided for vulnerable student groups. The Board amended the resolution to ensure that poor school performance is not being incentivized and to measure whether the money provided leads to increased student achievement. It was also amended to guarantee that parents serving on LAUSD’s Parent Advisory Committee and other parent committees are included in the working group.

Several parents on the PAC who commented on the item were furious that the resolution was being voted on the same day it was introduced and without hearing their input in advance. Late Monday night, the Board called for a separate special meeting in the middle of its regular meeting just to vote on this resolution, a technical procedure that allowed the Board to skirt the usual rules requiring more public notice.

Board member Scott Schmerelson (BD3) nearly voted against the resolution because he said the parents on the PAC, who should be consulted before Local Control Funding Formula money is allocated, were being disrespected.

“It’s not fair to those people who have spent so much time,” Schmerelson said. “For years and years and years, PAC committee parents are ignored completely. They talk and talk and talk, and nobody listens to them...What is my guarantee that you are going to honestly involve them, take their input and not treat them like they’re nincompoops? They are not nincompoops. These are people with brains, people who have spent time working for the district for free, working on behalf of children.” 

Garcia said the resolution was pushed through Tuesday so that schools could factor the additional funds into their school budgets, which are being developed this month. After parent committee members were guaranteed a seat on the working committee, the resolution passed with a unanimous vote. The vote on a separate resolution to update charter school authorizing procedures was postponed. 

“This has been a day of compromise,” Melvoin said at the end of the meeting.