A resolution designed to empower school principals to hire the best candidates for open teaching positions at their schools, rather than be saddled with so-called “must place” teachers, failed on a 2-4 vote at Tuesday’s LAUSD board meeting.
Despite enthusiastic support from district parents, the Empowering Schools and Teachers resolution from Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) seemed doomed from the start of the meeting. It was only minutes in when co-sponsor Richard Vladovic (BD7) asked that his name be removed. Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) added her name as co-sponsor in his place, but she was the only other yes vote.
“I’m supporting this resolution because I feel like local control matters,” Garcia said.
Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) said she was “philosophically in support of this resolution,” but she had too many questions about cost and potential conflicts with the current United Teachers Los Angeles contract.
Speak UP parents were among those who made impassioned pleas for the resolution’s passage.
“No principal should be forced to hire from a must place list,” said Roxann Nazario, a parent from Board District 6 who is considering enrolling her daughter in a district middle school but has reservations because of the policy. “There has to come a point when an ineffective teacher can be let go.”
Raquel Toscano, BD5, told of a family member abused by a teacher. “If you vote no, how many more children will be victims and will go through the same?”
Both Nazario and Toscano expressed pointed frustration and disappointment with Vladovic, who made a conspicuous exit immediately before the public speaking period on the resolution.
Vladovic had walked out of the meeting soon after Melvoin raised concerns about renaming a school after an administrator who had been accused of failing to properly “share sufficient details regarding allegations” of employee sexual abuse, according to an investigative report by a law firm LAUSD hired, which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Vladovic was so upset that Melvoin did not support the school being named after his friend that he withdrew his co-sponsorship of Melvoin’s resolution in response, one source said.
Last fall, Vladovic told the Board that the district should apologize to parents because ineffective teachers had ruined their kids’ lives. But on Tuesday, Vladovic made it clear that his post-strike allegiance was now firmly with the teachers union. “We ought to do it collaboratively with UTLA,” he said. “I think UTLA and the district have the same interest. We want to have the best in front of our children. I think we can work it out as a family.”
Not coincidentally, the lone dissenting voice urging the Board to vote no on the resolution was UTLA Vice President Juan Ramirez. “I agree we should have the best teachers in every school. But this is not how we do it,” he said. “This is not a charter school. We have rules and agreements.”
In the end, the vote was not close. Board Member Scott Schmerelson (BD3) called the resolution “an unworthy gesture towards our teachers union,” even though the resolution was also designed to give teachers greater power in deciding where they want to work.
Vladovic suggested that giving teachers the ability to choose where they want to work was tantamount to sanctioned racism. “Teachers should want to work with all children,” he said. Board Member George McKenna (BD1) also raised questions about “what happens to a tenured teacher who does not want to work at any school with an opening?”
Several board members voiced support for some kind of differentiated pay model that would help attract and retain teachers where the need is greatest. There also seemed to be interest in rewarding successful principals and encouraging them to stay and support success rather than rushing to move them to other schools.
Questions of cost also dominated the debate. But as Melvoin pointed out, “there is a cost to not doing this. And it is a cost that’s borne by students, and by our employees and by our families.”
Melvoin also asked the audience to question why there would be a cost to not hiring a teacher at a school. “That is a contractual issue. It is a state law issue, and it’s one that this board alone cannot solve,” he said. “But I hope that everyone who is listening to this conversation is scratching their heads saying, ‘wait, if a teacher doesn’t want to go to a school and a school doesn’t want a teacher, it costs the district potentially hundreds of millions of dollars?’”
That’s money that could be spent on class size reduction, teacher salaries, nurses, counselors and mental health support.
“This should cost nothing,” he added. “In other professions this would cost nothing. If you’re not hired, if you don’t want to go to a place of employment, you don’t. And it doesn’t say that your employer or the district has to rake up millions of dollars in costs, potentially. So I hope that you who are following these discussions are saying, ‘this is crazy.’”
Also at the meeting, Schmerelson’s resolution calling on LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner to be more transparent and responsive to requests for information passed on a 5-1 vote. Garcia voted no because of the resolution’s tone.
Beutner also called for a special meeting next Tuesday to develop a comprehensive revenue strategy to increase funding for the district.
— By Leslee Komaiko with additional reporting from Jenny Hontz