LACOE Appoints Fiscal Experts To 'Compel' LAUSD To End Deficit Spending, As UTLA Denies Reality Of Fiscal Crisis

LACOE Appoints Fiscal Experts To 'Compel' LAUSD To End Deficit Spending, As UTLA Denies Reality Of Fiscal Crisis

With LAUSD showing “signs of serious signs of fiscal distress that cannot be ignored,” the Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, who oversees LAUSD's budget, has appointed a team of fiscal experts to "compel the district" to end its deficit spending and right its financial ship. The move brings LAUSD one step closer state takeover and the loss of local control over its budget.

In a press release and a letter sent to LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia, LACOE Superintendent Debra Duardo expressed concerns over the risk of district insolvency, calling into question whether LAUSD’s latest offer to UTLA is affordable. Among the concerns were:

* Inability to consider long-term impacts of collective bargaining agreements

* Staff unrest and/or low morale

* Deficit spending and failure to maintain adequate reserves and fund balance

* Lack of control and monitoring of total [employee] compensation as a percentage of total expenses 

* Inattention to the district’s $19 billion unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities. 

Despite the sternly worded warnings, the United Teachers Los Angeles continues to deny the reality of LAUSD’s fiscal crisis. When asked to produce a single independent expert who could back up the union’s interpretation of the district’s financial health, UTLA President Alex-Caputo Pearl cited UTLA’s own forensic experts and those from the statewide teachers union. This begs the question of whether UTLA understands the meaning of the word “independent.”

Instead of taking LACOE’s warnings to heart, UTLA continued to attack the credibility of the county overseers and falsely claimed that the district has no deficit spending. The union’s rejection of the consensus of county and state overseers, two independent financial review panels and a neutral state-appointed fact finder —which confirmed the district’s deficit spending — are drawing comparisons to climate deniers who reject the consensus of science. 

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UTLA Delays Strike Until Monday, As LAUSD Pleads With State Leaders For More School Funding

UTLA Delays Strike Until Monday, As LAUSD Pleads With State Leaders For More School Funding

UTLA delayed the start of a potential teachers strike until Monday, Jan. 14, as LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia headed to Sacramento to plead with state leaders for more school funding to meet teacher demands and avert a strike.

“Los Angeles Unified is doing everything possible to avoid a strike,” Beutner said. “We are working with state leaders to find more resources to better support our students and all who work in our schools.”

LAUSD and UTLA resumed talks Wednesday at LAUSD headquarters, and the strike delay may give the two sides more time to reach a deal that would spare parents, kids and teachers the pain of a walkout.

UTLA’s decision to delay came after the Los Angeles Superior Court declined to rule on the legality of a Thursday strike until Thursday morning. "We do not want to bring confusion and chaos to an already fluid situation," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement sent to teachers.

The district’s meetings with state leaders Wednesday underscored LAUSD’s difficult financial challenges. LAUSD sweetened its offer to UTLA in talks Monday, adding $75 million to the $30 million prior offer to lower class sizes and hire more nurses, counselors and librarians. UTLA called that offer “inadequate.”

Beutner has said that he would like to meet all of UTLA’s demands, but they would cost billions and would lead instantly to insolvency and state takeover. About 90 percent of the funding LAUSD receives comes from the state. 

The question on everyone’s mind is, where is Governor Gavin Newsom? Newsom was elected with help from the statewide teachers union and in recent days has highlighted plans for more preschool and college funding, but he has remained notably silent on K-12 education funding, as teachers in the state’s largest district prepare to strike.

Newsom is expected to release a detailed budget proposal in coming days but has made no comment on the financial crisis in Los Angeles. Other school districts in California are also facing a funding crunch because the required district contributions for teacher pensions are rising dramatically. Sacramento Unified recently had its budget denied by the county, and cuts were ordered. Teachers in Oakland are also on the verge of a strike.

“We remain committed to providing every student in Los Angeles Unified a great public education,” said Board President García. “Today is a first step in working with state leaders to achieve this goal.”

UTLA and LAUSD are both expected to hold press conferences at the end of the day, and we will update this story with any new developments.

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Strike FAQ For Parents

Strike FAQ For Parents

Strike FAQ For Parents

When Will A Strike Start, and How Long Will It Last?

If Los Angeles Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles do not reach an agreement, a strike will start Monday, Jan. 14.  There is no telling how long a strike will last. The last strike was in 1989 and lasted nine days.

Will the Teachers Be On Strike At My School?

UTLA and LAUSD are still in talks, but if they don’t reach an agreement, teachers at all LAUSD neighborhood schools, magnets schools, pilot schools, dual language immersions schools and affiliated charters will go on strike. Teachers at independent public charters authorized but not operated by LAUSD will be working and will NOT be on strike, but parents may still face picket lines if the charter co-locates with a district school where teachers are striking. If your child attends a charter school, and you are not sure whether it is independent or affiliated, you can check this list.

Will Schools Be Open During A Strike?

LAUSD says all schools will be open during normal hours, meals will be served and some form of instruction will take place. Principals will be working and most likely so will some other school staff. LAUSD has hired substitute teachers and will send administrators with teaching credentials to schools. But kids may be learning in large groups in auditoriums or cafeterias. Ask your principal for your school’s plan.  

If I Keep My Kids Home During A Strike, Are Absences Excused?

Absences will be unexcused unless you can provide a note saying that your child is ill. LAUSD receives funding based on attendance so keeping your child home will mean less funding for your child’s school and less money for LAUSD to meet teacher demands. California law calls more than three unexcused absences truancy, and parents can be fined. It’s unclear how strictly truancy laws will be enforced during a strike. Some principals are signaling that kids may come to school for attendance taking at the start of the day and have parents bring them home shortly afterward without being penalized. Check with your principal. 

May I Volunteer To Help At School During A Strike?

Yes, as long as your principal approves, extended family members may volunteer. LAUSD has waived requirements for fingerprinting and TB testing during the strike but will still check parent volunteers to make sure they are not in the sex offender database.  

Will My Child Be Safe?

LAUSD says yes. However, schools will not have the normal ratio of adults to kids, and nurses will also be on strike. LAUSD has expressed concerns about the safety of some of its highest-needs kids with severe disabilities. Parents of high-needs kids are welcome to attend school with their kids, if your principal permits it. Police officers will be at every secondary school throughout the day, and officers will be at elementary schools during drop-off and pickup to help keep kids safe. 

Will Afterschool Programs Be Open?

Yes, afterschool programs will be operating. Students who participate in fee-based after-school programs on LAUSD campuses may be allowed to attend, even if they are not in school. Those in Beyond the Bell programs cannot. Please check with your principal for details.

Why Doesn’t LAUSD Just Meet UTLA’s Demands?

LAUSD says it wants to meet UTLA’s package of demands for salary increases, class size decreases and more hiring. The entire package, however, would cost billions, and unless we get more state funding, meeting the demands would lead to insolvency and a state takeover of LAUSD. Superintendent Austin Beutner and Board President Monica Garcia traveled to Sacramento Wednesday to ask state leaders for more funding to meet the demands and help avert a strike.

*This document will be updated as new information arises.

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LAUSD Makes It Easier For Parents To Volunteer During A Strike, As Date of Potential Work Stoppage Remains Uncertain

 LAUSD Makes It Easier For Parents To Volunteer During A Strike, As Date of Potential Work Stoppage Remains Uncertain

While the question of whether a strike can legally begin Thursday remains up in the air, the LAUSD Board passed a policy Tuesday to make it easier for parents, guardians and other family members to volunteer at schools during a strike and other emergencies.   

Talks between LAUSD and UTLA are scheduled to resume Wednesday morning after some movement between the two sides Monday. However, a court decided not to hear arguments Tuesday on whether a strike can begin this week, which means that any work stoppage could still be delayed until Monday if no resolution between the two sides is reached. 

Strike preparations, however, are underway, and the Board voted 4-1 Tuesday to allow family members who have been checked against a sex offender database to volunteer -- with a principal’s permission – during times of crisis, without having to get TB tested and fingerprinted, as long as they are supervised at all times by school staff. Board Member Scott Schmerelson (BD3) voted no, and George McKenna (BD1) was absent.

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More Talks Scheduled For Wednesday After LAUSD Sweetens Offer On Hiring and Class Sizes

More Talks Scheduled For Wednesday After LAUSD Sweetens Offer On Hiring and Class Sizes

LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles failed to reach an agreement during talks Monday, despite the district sweetening its offer on new hiring and class size reductions from $30 million to $105 million. The two sides will meet for more talks Wednesday, in hopes of averting a strike that UTLA has threatened to begin on Jan. 10.

The district and the union will also be in court Tuesday to argue whether UTLA has a legal right to start a strike Thursday. LAUSD claims that UTLA failed to give the proper technical 10-day written notice so if UTLA does go on strike, it might have to wait until Jan. 14.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl both attended Monday’s talks at LAUSD’s Beaudry headquarters, which Caputo-Pearl describes “diplomatic but tense at times.” Each side made some concessions.

 LAUSD’s offer went above and beyond what the neutral state-appointed fact finder recommended. Nevertheless, Caputo-Pearl called said it was “inadequate,” adding, “We don’t think there was a lot of progress made today.”

LAUSD then said in a press release that it was “extremely disappointed and frustrated that the union has turned down our offer and – once again – failed to put forth any proposal to try to resolve the issues of class size and salary.”

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Judge Rejects LAUSD Effort To Protect Kids With Special Needs During Strike, As UTLA and LAUSD Set Last-Ditch Monday Meeting

 Judge Rejects LAUSD Effort To Protect Kids With Special Needs During Strike, As UTLA and LAUSD Set Last-Ditch Monday Meeting

While confirming that a UTLA strike could make it hard for LAUSD to meet the needs of more than 60,000 disabled students, a federal judge has nevertheless rejected LAUSD’s attempt to file a preemptive complaint to stop teachers and special education services providers from going on strike Jan. 10.

If UTLA strikes, special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers would be unavailable to meet many of the legal requirements specified in students’ Individual Education Plans.

“The Court acknowledges that a strike could burden [LAUSD] in its ability to provide services to students,” the judge wrote in his decision. However, the Court “cannot act on mere speculation that if the strike occurs [LAUSD] will fail to meet” requirements of a 1996 class-action lawsuit settlement called the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree, which installed an independent monitor to oversee LAUSD’s compliance with kids’ IEPs.

All of the legal wrangling comes days before a last-ditch meeting between LAUSD and UTLA to attempt to avert a strike set for Thursday, three days after student return from winter break. LAUSD has offered UTLA members a 6 percent raise and $30 million toward smaller class sizes and more hiring of nurses, counselors and librarians. LAUSD has also offered to eliminate a contract provision that allows the district to unilaterally to raise class sizes and to instead create a working group to decide new class size limits.

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LAUSD Takes Legal Action To Stop UTLA Strike From Harming Kids With Special Needs

 LAUSD Takes Legal Action To Stop UTLA Strike From Harming Kids With Special Needs

Parents of kids with special needs who fear for their kids safety during a strike are cheering LAUSD’s decision to ask a federal judge to allow it to file a lawsuit to stop at least some members of UTLA from striking.

The complaint argues that a strike would harm LAUSD’s ability to meet federal and state laws requiring the district to educate and provide services to more than 60,000 kids with special needs.

“I think it’s really great, and I am supportive of a federal judge blocking this if it means supporting kids with special needs,” said Ada Amaya, mother of a 20-year-old son at Pacific Blvd. who has cerebral palsy and needs 24-hour supervision. Her son cannot feed himself or change his own diapers. “He’s completely dependent upon care. I’m very worried about this [strike]. I would like to see the teachers and the district come to an agreement and not have a strike.”

The move comes just as LAUSD and UTLA have agreed to sit down Monday to continue contract talks in an attempt to avert a strike that UTLA has threatened for Jan. 10 unless all its demands are met. While LAUSD made a new offer Dec. 28 in line with the neutral fact finder’s recommendations, UTLA rejected it, and Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference Thursday that a strike is “all but inevitable.”

Many UTLA members, including teachers, nurses, counselors and psychologists provide educational services to kids with special needs that are required by the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Those legal requirements do not go away in the event of a strike. LAUSD students are also protected by a federal court order called a Modified Consent Decree.

“To protect more than 60,000 special-needs students, Los Angeles Unified is seeking approval to move forward with a complaint to prevent UTLA leadership and its members from engaging in a denial of services to special needs students during a strike,” said LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist about what may be an unprecedented legal move. “A strike would be detrimental to students with disabilities and their families, depriving the students of the special-education support and services they rely on each day.”

In a filing with the United States District Court, Central District of California,  LAUSD “seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against UTLA, enjoining UTLA, its officers, and representatives from causing, encouraging, condoning, or participating in any strike, slowdown, or other work stoppage by any UTLA bargaining unit member who provides educational services to LAUSD special education students.”

The injunction would be “limited to services being provided to students with disabilities,” because “students with disabilities [should] not be deprived of legally-mandated services” during a strike. However, it’s not clear whether the injunction would apply only to special education teachers or to any teacher who has kids with special needs in class – a far larger number.

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UTLA Refuses To Return To The Table, Sets Jan. 10 Strike Date

  UTLA Refuses To Return To The Table, Sets Jan. 10 Strike Date

One day after a neutral, state-appointed fact finder recommended that United Teachers Los Angeles accept LAUSD’s offer to raise teacher salaries 6 percent, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl refused to return to the negotiating table and instead set a strike date for Jan. 10 “unless there are dramatic shifts.”

That last phrase left the door cracked open for a settlement, but it’s unclear how such a shift might take place while the union is refusing to negotiate. If the strike takes place on Jan. 10, students will be back in class for three days after winter break before losing their teachers to a walkout.

“I definitely don’t want them to go on strike,” said Rosa Elena Andresen, a parent of a child with severe special needs at Pacific Blvd. in Huntington Park. “I want the teachers to get a raise, but I’m worried how the strike will affect me and my daughter. They won’t be working on her goals during a strike.”

UTLA also disputed the neutral fact finder’s contention that LAUSD has “financial limitations,” including a structural budget deficit, and should raise the requirements for new employees to qualify for for free lifetime health benefits, which would “free up more money for salaries as opposed to diverting so much money to retiree health benefits.” 

“We do deny the district has real problems in their budget,” Caputo-Pearl said. That means UTLA is now rejecting the findings of the county, the state, two independent financial review panels and the neutral state-appointed fact finder.

Legal wrangling between UTLA and the district continued on Wednesday with the California Public Employee Relations Board filing a charge against UTLA for  refusing to bargain in good faith. PERB’s charge means the agency that oversees the labor dispute has found sufficient evidence to move forward with the unfair labor complaint charge that LAUSD brought against UTLA in October, according to LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist.

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Fact Finder Says UTLA Should Accept LAUSD’s Salary and Class Size Offers To Prevent Strike

Fact Finder Says UTLA Should Accept LAUSD’s Salary and Class Size Offers To Prevent Strike

In a stunning rebuke to the United Teachers Los Angeles union, the state-appointed neutral fact finder appointed to help resolve LAUSD’s labor dispute has endorsed most of the major details of LAUSD’s recent offers on salary and class sizes as the path forward to prevent a strike.

The fact finder confirmed that LAUSD is facing a large deficit and suggested that UTLA accept LAUSD’s offer of a 6 percent raise, as well as LAUSD’s September offer to devote additional funds to lowering class sizes and hiring more nurses, counselors and librarians. LAUSD has offered $30 million to do that at the highest needs schools, but UTLA has instantly rejected all of LAUSD’s offers to date.

“The report says Los Angeles Unified’s offer of 6 percent is appropriate,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who suggested that UTLA agreed because the union’s representative on the fact-finding panel wrote “I concur” with the recommendation. “The rest of the report confirms what Los Angeles Unified has already offered UTLA...We believe the path forward is clear, and the neutral fact finder has told us the path forward is clear. Six percent is fair.”

The neutral fact finding report also said UTLA’s class size “demands at this point are expensive." The report endorsed part of LAUSD’s October offer to work together with UTLA to develop a new class size plan.

Beutner agreed that class sizes are too big but pointed out that things are even worse at all but one of the 10 largest districts in the state. “Class size is an issue across California,” he said. “In comparison with the other 10 large districts across the state, we’re not so bad.”

After dissecting the neutral fact finder’s report, Beutner called on UTLA to cut a deal and settle the dispute now without the pain of a strike, which UTLA has threatened for mid-January unless all its demands are met. Beutner said he would be available “24-7” over the holidays to reach a settlement agreement to protect LAUSD’s kids. “We hope UTLA will join us at the bargaining table to resolve this.”  

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Parents Want School Rating System to Focus on Student Academic Growth

 Parents Want School Rating System to Focus on Student Academic Growth

Student academic growth tops the list of parent priorities for a school performance framework, according to a Speak UP survey of 200 parents across LAUSD, which was presented to the LAUSD Board on Tuesday.

Speak UP conducted focus groups and surveyed parents this fall from all types of schools representing the geographic, socioeconomic, racial, and needs-diversity of the district. The results demonstrated that regardless of the type of school, the geographic location, or the socio-economic makeup of the school, parents want the same things from a school report card.   

A full 73% of parents rated student academic growth as “very important,” more than any other measure of performance. Overall academic performance of students came in a close second, with 69 percent of parents rating it as very important, while principal effectiveness and teacher qualifications came in third and fourth.

“What this tells us is that parents clearly care most about outcomes for their kids,” Tom Creery, a former teacher who now works as a Speak UP parent engagement coordinator, told the Board at public comment. “They want their students to progress and succeed, and they want to know how well a school is delivering on those measures.”

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Protesters Shut Down LAUSD Board Meeting After Abysmal Financial Report

Protesters Shut Down LAUSD Board Meeting After Abysmal Financial Report

After hearing a harrowing financial report from LAUSD’s chief financial officer, UTLA-aligned protesters shut down the LAUSD Board meeting early Tuesday, preventing the Board from considering two resolutions to help increase revenue and state funding for education.

UTLA’s build-up to a teachers strike may prove counter-productive. The union’s strategy to claim the district is hiding or hoarding money might prevent the state from providing LAUSD with the very funding increase we all need.

After all, why would the state provide more funding if LAUSD were flush with cash, as UTLA claims?

Parents, who are tired of being caught in the middle of all this noisy labor unrest, are looking forward to the report from the neutral fact finder, which will be given to LAUSD and UTLA by this Friday. The district then has two weeks to make the report public.  

LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Scott Price outlined the details of LAUSD’s fiscal stabilization plan at Tuesday’s meeting, which the county required in order to address the district’s “qualified” budget rating. Without cuts or more revenue, LAUSD will dip below its required 1 percent reserve within a couple years, and it will fall $500 million in the hole by the 2022-23 school year.

In order to satisfy county overseers, who have threatened to rescind Board authority if LAUSD doesn’t shape up, 283 jobs in 175 different categories are expected to be cut, for a total of $35.5 million a year in savings. The least senior teachers are likely to be the ones who lose their jobs first. That’s because many central office administrators have right to return to the classroom and bump teachers out of their jobs when their administrative positions are eliminated.

Among the jobs the division heads proposed would be cut as part of the 15 percent reduction are: LAUSD’s chief of police, the executive director of special education, five parent educator coaches and the senior executive direct or the arts education program.  

Parents are all for cutting pricey bureaucrats, but the chief of police? That sounds like a fairly important position. Should parents start worrying that things are so bad financially that student safety will be compromised?

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Unions Finally Come To The Table With Parents To Explore Healthcare Cost Savings

Unions Finally Come To The Table With Parents To Explore Healthcare Cost Savings

Nine months after agreeing to come to the table, LAUSD’s employee unions are finally sitting down with parents for the first time Friday to explore ways to rein in the soaring cost of retiree healthcare, which is eating up a larger portion of education funding every year.

There’s now a $15 billion price tag for the promises LAUSD made to current and future retirees for their free lifetime healthcare, and the Independent Analysis Unit has warned that LAUSD cannot afford to “pay as you go” for these promises and still have enough money left to educate kids. Unless something changes, half of LAUSD’s education funding will go toward retiree pension and healthcare costs before this year’s kindergarten class finishes high school. That means LAUSD is in the process of morphing into more of a retirement agency than an institution dedicated to educating kids.  

The employee unions prioritized the preservation of free retiree healthcare benefits over every other need by negotiating that portion of the contract first. In February, they pressured LAUSD to put $3.3 billion toward employee healthcare alone – leaving less money now for lower class sizes, teacher salaries, and more counselors, nurses and librarians. 

Current working teachers are already feeling the slow-boil pain of the problem and demanding lower class sizes under threat of a strike, but it’s too late now for LAUSD to meet those demands. The money has already been committed to cover healthcare costs for the next two years, so LAUSD can no longer afford class size decreases and demands for more counselors without tipping into insolvency.

The good news is, teachers can look to their own union to help solve the problem. LAUSD is in the unusual position of having no control over its employee health benefit plans. While the amount LAUSD pays for healthcare is negotiated, the unions themselves control the details of plans through an entity called the Health Benefits Committee. Each employee union has one voting seat at the table, and the district has one seat.

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LAUSD Must Tell Parents About Lead in Water

LAUSD Must Tell Parents About Lead in Water

Key Developments:

·   Speak UP called for district transparency about lead in water and other health and safety issues.

·   The LAUSD Board passed a resolution to waive the fee it charges parent volunteers for fingerprinting. 

·   The LAUSD Board passed a resolution from Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) to explore using LAUSD properties to house homeless students and their families.

·   Local District West elementary schools show the worst math growth in LA schools, and huge racial gaps in growth persist, according to data presented by CORE Data Collaborative.

·   UTLA rejected well-respected candidates to chair fact-finding panel and continues to deny facts of financial crisis.

Summary:

Speak UP Director of Operations Daphne Radfar criticized LAUSD’s failure to inform parents when water at their kids’ schools have high lead levels and called on the district to be more transparent with parents about health and safety issues.

Nearly a quarter of Los Angeles Unified’s water outlets tested above five parts per billion, according to a recent report in EdSource, and some schools tested much higher, including Miramonte Elementary, Audobon Middle School, and Los Angeles High, where Michelle King’s Girls Academic Leadership Academy is located.

Lead can permanently damage developing brains and lead to both learning and behavior issues in kids. It may even contribute to low student achievement at LAUSD schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics says there is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and is urging legal levels be lowered to one part per billion. 

“This is a really serious health issue, and yet LAUSD has done nothing to proactively inform parents at the schools where the water can permanently damage kids’ brains,” Radfar told the Board at public comment. “This is simply unacceptable.” 

It may also be illegal. While LAUSD claims that it’s complying with the law because there’s an obscure website where parents can look up the lead levels, the website is not easy for parents to find, navigate or interpret. It’s “absurd” to claim that this qualifies as informing parents, said Radfar, who pointed out that schools sends flyers home in backpacks or make Robocalls when they truly want to communicate important information.

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Transgender Activist Among Many Parents Vying For District 5 Board Seat

Transgender Activist Among Many Parents Vying For District 5 Board Seat

While there are currently no parents of school-age children serving on the LAUSD Board, at least seven of the 17 candidates who have filed to run in the District 5 special election on March 5 are parents, and most have included that fact in their ballot designations. One parent, Justine Gonzalez, would be the first transgender person elected to office in Los Angeles if she were to win.  

The BD5 seat has been empty since the resignation of Board Member Ref Rodriguez earlier this year. Former BD5 Board Member Bennett Kayser, whom Rodriguez defeated in the last race for the seat, has decided to run again, as has Jackie Goldberg, another former Board member and state lawmaker who failed in her attempt to get appointed to the seat after parents objected to a closed process that excluded their input.

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LAUSD Wants Parents To Send Kids To School During A Strike, But Many Questions Remain Unanswered

LAUSD Wants Parents To Send Kids To School During A Strike, But Many Questions Remain Unanswered

LAUSD expects parents to send their kids to school during a strike, but parents are still uncertain exactly what will happen once they get there. Will they have to parade their young children through picket lines of shouting teachers? How many adults will be supervising their kids, and what will they be doing at school all day? These are just a few of the questions district parents are asking two months before a strike may take place.

The district recently published a Family Resource Guide to help families better understand what’s happening with labor negotiations and what plans the district has in place for kids during a strike. For instance, schools will remain open, and kids will be expected to attend school as usual. Those who receive breakfast in the classroom and free and reduced lunch will continue to be fed, and “instruction will be provided by qualified L.A. Unified staff, which includes certificated and classified staff, qualified substitute employees, or reassigned administrators,” the guide says.

Beyond those basics, however, district officials are providing few details on how many employees will cross the picket line, what the ratio of adults to students will be at each school and what kind of learning will take place and where. 

Elmer G. Roldan, director of civic engagement for the superintendent’s office, recently held a conference call with representatives from about three dozen afterschool providers and parent and community groups to help get the word out to parents about the possibility of an impending strike.

“Our goal,” Roldan told the groups on the call, “is to make sure that students have a safe place to go to, they are fed, and that we are able to provide some of the basic academic programs.”

The Division of Instruction has created strike plans that have been shared with principals, but they are “only as good as the number of bodies that we have in the schools to help carry them out,” Roldan said. While LAUSD is making a list of employees with teaching credentials it can deploy to school sites, Roldan acknowledged that there’s still uncertainty over how many people will be willing to cross the picket lines to help. 

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WISH Pushes Admissions Preference For Kids With Special Needs, As LAUSD Parents Decry Failed Inclusion Attempts

 WISH Pushes Admissions Preference For Kids With Special Needs, As LAUSD Parents Decry Failed Inclusion Attempts

WISH Academy high school, which was approved two and a half years ago over the objections of then-LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer, just became the first charter school in Los Angeles to push for a lottery admissions preference for kids with moderate to severe special needs.

WISH’s elementary, middle and high schools, located in Westchester and known for their fully inclusive model serving kids of all abilities together in the same classrooms, were renewed for five years Tuesday. The charter petitions added a preference at all grade levels for kids with moderate to severe needs, but the state will have to agree to a waiver before the preference can be included in the schools’ lottery applications.

Allison Buchner, who has two children at WISH elementary, one of whom has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, pushed the school to add the preference to the charter petitions.

“I brought it up with WISH when my child in second grade asked where the other kids in chairs were and why weren’t there more kids in chairs at WISH,” she said. “Inclusion doesn’t just mean that kids with special needs go to school with kids with typical needs. Everyone wants to look around and see others who share the same challenges they do. There’s a lot of comfort in that. I think this is a really positive step, and I’m really excited about it.”

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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.

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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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