Several Speak UP members and Speak UP Board Member Shirley Ford were among the parents and community members who asked the LAUSD Board Tuesday to give parents a seat at the table with real power to advocate for kids’ needs during employee contract talks.
“There is much talk that kids are being put first but unfortunately the reality is not so,” said Ramona Gamzeltova, a parent at Taft High School and a board member of the parent organization at Portola Middle School. “There are many schools within the LAUSD that lack basic needs for our kids…My kids’ English teachers have to teach literature without any novels but rather a book full of short stories. Why? Because there is not enough money to buy books…There is a lack of clean, running water in a science class where labs are being conducted.”
Parents, she testified at public comment, have no interest except the success of their kids and need the power to represent them. “We parents donate time and money to our local schools to make up for the lack of resources, but we are given no power or voice in return to make sure the money LAUSD allocates actually goes to our kids needs. That needs to be changed.”
With significant assistance from Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, LAUSD and charter leaders reached a compromise agreement to save 11 charter schools from denial because of a policy dispute over language the district requires all charters to place in their petitions for approval and renewal.
The deal will allow charters to negotiate multi-year lease agreements for campus space and to have more predictability and transparency in terms of the rules and policies they will have to follow on an annual basis.
“This was a group of adults coming together on all sides to put kids first,” said Melvoin (BD4), who helped broker the agreement. He added that he hoped the resolution of the dispute would return everyone’s focus to “student achievement and what’s happening in classrooms, and not adult process questions that can unmoor us from that mission.”
Tuesday’s LAUSD Board meeting is turning into a showdown between more than a dozen charter schools petitioning for renewal or approval and LAUSD over proposed policy changes to language the district requires charters to put in their petitions -- some of which limits the ability of charters to make multi-year lease deals for LAUSD campus space.
The Charter Schools Division staff is recommending the denial of 11 charter renewals and three new charter school petitions at once – an unprecedented number. The vast majority of the denial recommendations have nothing to do with how well these high-performing schools serve kids but are instead a result of this policy dispute.
Schools from Alliance and Magnolia are on the chopping block, while schools from STEM Prep and Equitas Academy have new school petitions at risk. One new and six existing and high-performing KIPP schools are being recommended for renewal -- but only on the condition that they revert back to the original district language within 30 days, or else risk potential revocation of their charters.
State law calls for student achievement to be the primary consideration in the approval process, and that does not appear to be the case with these denial recommendations. Instead, LAUSD is recommending denial because the charters are seeking changes to district rules that create uncertainty for schools and families.
A significant majority of parents surveyed by LAUSD support the policy of randomly wanding students for weapons at school, despite vocal opposition from charter schools, civil rights groups and United Teachers Los Angeles, as well as questions about its effectiveness and fairness.
LAUSD Administrator of District Operations Daryl Narimatsu presented the survey data to the LAUSD Board Tuesday at a special meeting to explore the mandatory policy of requiring random daily searches with a hand-held metal detectors at all LAUSD schools.
Hours after Board Member Ref Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to campaign money laundering charges, Board President Monica Garcia (BD2), Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) jointly called for him to take a leave of absence from the Board. Rodriguez responded with a refusal: "I'm am not doing so," he said.
The four Board members -- Garcia, Melvoin, Gonez and Rodriguez -- have made up a change-minded, majority-voting bloc in support of a Kids-First agenda since the new Board was seated in July. Rodriguez stepped down from his post as Board President last month, but since then, the allegations against him have expanded to include a financial conflict of interest complaint from the charter organization that he co-founded. The Fair Political Practices Commission has already closed the complaint, citing the pending criminal case.
His closest Board allies released a joint statement Tuesday calling his situation a distraction. “Nobody should be tried in the press or the court of public opinion without having a fair hearing. But in order to keep making progress towards our goal of 100% graduation, we have asked Dr. Rodriguez to take a leave of absence from the Board. As with any employee of the district who is accused of misconduct, this allows for a quicker resolution while enabling the District to continue its work.”
Rodriguez remained unbowed to the pressure from his colleagues. He appeared at the special Board meeting on LAUSD’s policy of wanding students for weapons Tuesday and released a statement on social media in the midst of the meeting.
"In May 2015, I was elected by the constituents of Board District 5 to serve a five-year term on the Board," he said. "I have dedicated my life to provide better educational opportunities to all students in our communities...I am a dedicated public servant, and I have faith in the truth. I believe in the integrity of the justice system, where I will respond to the allegations."
The Board will hold a special meeting Tuesday to study wanding, the practice of conducting daily, random student searches with hand-held metal detectors, which has been LAUSD policy since 1994.
Wanding began in response to a fatal shooting at Fairfax High School, and LAUSD currently requires the practice of all of its middle, high and adult schools, as well as at independent charters.
The topic became a hot-button issue last year when LAUSD attempted to tighten what it believed was lax enforcement of the policy and was met with resistance by a dozen Los Angeles charter organizations, United Teachers Los Angeles, civil liberties groups and a number of dissatisfied teachers, parents and students.
The expansion of dual language programs is improving the academic outcomes of LAUSD’s English Language Learners, district staff told board members at the Committee of the Whole meeting at Fairfax High Tuesday.
While only 26 percent of LAUSD students overall are meeting or exceeding English language standards, 49 percent of students in dual language programs are doing so. Kids in dual language programs are also outperforming students in the general population at their same schools.
LAUSD is losing enrollment at an even faster pace than projected, meaning $17 million less revenue this year and $18 million next year.
With a total of 501,271 kids enrolled this fall, LAUSD lost just over 13,000 students from last year, a decline of 2.55 percent, which was higher than the 2.1 percent expected.
“That’s like a small school district we’re losing every year,” said LAUSD CFO Scott Price during a presentation at Tuesday’s board meeting, which also exposed the difficult feelings of board members who are no longer in the majority voting bloc since the May school board elections.
“I feel disenfranchised,” said Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7). “I’m not being heard, and nobody cares … I don’t even feel like it’s worth coming to the meeting anymore because it’s like talking to the air … I know my vote doesn’t count.”
As UTLA prepares to picket at school sites Wednesday, LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (ND4) offered some straight talk on union demands and what’s at stake for kids.
"Again, we all agree we need more revenue. I join UTLA and have been calling for more state funding since I launched the campaign. But if you have a finite pool of money, which we do -- unless there is money we don’t know about it, and if so, we hope the union will tell it where it is -- then if you decrease class sizes, then you have to hire more teachers. And that costs a lot of money. And then there’s less money for raises. So while both are noble goals, it is magical thinking unless we’re tying it to potential increases in funding. And that’s one thing I talked about on the campaign: Let’s look at more statewide funding, let’s look at a parcel tax, and let’s have some bargain where some of it would pay down the liability, some would be for class size reduction, and maybe some would be for art instructors. Those are conversations we should have. But this idea of we want class size decreases and more teachers without showing us where the money is, that’s magical thinking."
We spoke to Monica Garcia as on the eve of her first regular LAUSD Board Meeting as President. She talked about the new board that was seated in July, parent power, union negotiations and threats of a teachers strike.
"We have to do more. If the system stays the same, I think that’s where there’s a lot of crisis that we would inflict upon ourselves...Those are choices before us, and the choice to do nothing is a bad choice."
LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) plans to introduce a resolution at the board meeting Tuesday directing the district to create a new app to better help parents access information about LAUSD and communicate their needs to the district.
Co-sponsored by Board President Monica Garcia and Board member Richard Vladovic, the Transforming Engagement via Communication Hubs, or TECH app resolution, will be voted on at the regular board meeting in November.
“One of the things I talked about explicitly on the campaign was a better way of communicating with our stakeholders, everything from emergency communications to two-way communications,” Melvoin told Speak UP. “It’s basically the one-stop for parents and stakeholders to be able to see what’s happening at LA Unified, how to navigate their school, how to get in touch with key people, how to give feedback. I imagine a survey piece of this. And also for the district to move beyond paper bulletins and Robocalls to do push notifications and update information in real time.”
The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to deny the renewal of Lashon Academy, LA County’s only Hebrew language charter school Tuesday, despite strong and growing academic performance of its students. The school plans to appeal the decision to the Los Angeles County Board of Education.
The denial of Lashon’s renewal petition, which had nothing to do with how well the school serves kids, was a result of a breakdown in communication between the school and LAUSD’s Charter Schools Division after the school challenged language that LAUSD requires charters to include in their petitions.
The LAUSD Board of Education will vote on four charter school renewal petitions Tuesday at the monthly LAUSD Board meeting dedicated exclusively to charter school issues. Three are recommended for approval. But one Hebrew language charter elementary school, Lashon Academy in Van Nuys, is recommended for denial, despite the fact that student achievement in math and English were far above the LAUSD resident school’s median average, including among low-income and Latino kids, and had improved since the prior year.
LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King announced that high school graduation rates topped 80 percent in 2017, a record-breaking increase from last year and hitting a benchmark goal ahead of schedule.
· The LAUSD Board unanimously passed a resolution intended to make graduation rates more meaningful, by ensuring that graduates are ready for college and careers. The resolution calls on the district to collect data on indicators of college readiness, college application and graduation rates. And it asks the district to consider having every student take PSATs and SATs and providing access to a college counselor and online counseling portal for every student.
· The Board unanimously passed a resolution to support passage of a state bill, AB 621, which would create a summer bridge fund to help classified employees who have summers off and often suffer during those months without income. Some board members, including Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, however, voiced opposition to paying for this out of the general fund.
Getting free labor from students and calling it “College and Career Readiness” strikes us as an outrageous inversion of the Kids-First ethos the new LAUSD Board is attempting to instill at the district. Instead of teachers being there to serve the low-income students trying to prepare for college, the students in the class are there to serve the needs of the teachers.
Health, welfare and pension benefits for LAUSD employees and retirees will take up more than half of the district’s attendance revenue within 15 years unless we see drastic change. That was the stark reality laid out in a presentation to the LAUSD Board at a retreat Tuesday in which the board set goals for the year and explored options for cutting benefit costs.
Putting so much money toward retiree health and pension costs means “less money in classrooms,” saidDistrict 4 Board Member Nick Melvoin. “That’s what provokes the urgency.”
The new kids-first majority on the LAUSD board voted 4-3 against a resolution by District 1 Board Member George McKenna to oppose a new state-authorized STEM school in Los Angeles.
The vote was largely symbolic because the state legislature will decide on the fate of the bill that would create the school, AB 1217. But that didn’t stop the board from spending an hour and a half debating the resolution, much to the chagrin of District 4 Board Member Nick Melvoin.
“I don’t think this debate about this resolution is an effective use of board time and resources,” Melvoin said. “This bill has limited impact on LAUSD’s programs and students and is unfortunately an example of divisive politics as usual. It is not kids first and rehashes the same disputes that distract this board from doing its job.”
The resolution against this proposed school, which would be located in Los Angeles and operated in partnership with UCLA, demonstrates a reflexive opposition to innovation and ignores the desperate need for underserved kids to have more high-quality school options in math and science.
Parents who worked hard to elect a new kids-first majority to the LAUSD Board congratulated the new and returning members sworn in earlier this month -- Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez and Monica Garcia -- in this Speak UP video tribute. We also spoke in depth to Kelly Gonez, the newly elected representative for Board District 6, about her priorities for the district and the ways Speak UP members can help. Her message to parents: “The most important thing is to hold us accountable.”
They cheered. They celebrated. After months of knocking on doors, calling voters and mobilizing their fellow parents and friends, Speak UP parents welcomed new Los Angeles Unified School Board member, Nick Melvoin - the candidate they helped to elect. Like Melvoin, newly-elected Kelly Gonez and incumbent Monica Garcia, were sworn in as LAUSD board members during a ceremony last week in downtown Los Angeles.
The mission of Speak UP is to engage, educate and activate parents and community members to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their children’s schools, in their communities, with elected representatives and at the ballot box.