Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Budget², Inspections, A ‘Dream’ Realized & Congratulations²

The Budget Battle is On
This week the Battle of the Budget will be joined in
the board room at LAUSD. When the dust clears there
will be no winners, the budget will be slashed and the
education of our children will be compromised. And
it’s not all the fault of the superintendent, school
board, local districts or the legions of faceless
bureaucrats. I know some of these people ....they all have faces and most have good intentions!

But cut we must. And if we must lay blame we must
look to the economy and to Sacramento and the most
bizarre, arcane and utterly incomprehensible and
un-comprehensive funding mechanism imaginable.
Actually ‘unimaginable” is the adverb I was seeking!

Superintendent Romer’s latest proposed round of cuts
widely misses the mark... and the collateral damage is to
the students of this district.

For the third year in a row some cuts are directed
squarely at the student in the classroom — this year
every principal is being asked to ‘give back’ $50 to the
District for every student in their school. Working
dangerously from memory and without notes I recall it
was $60 last year and $30 the year before that. These
numbers are cumulative, so its really $140. taken this
year from every student, K-12 in the District. A
hundred and forty dollars per student NOT spent in the
classroom or at the school, NOT spent on teachers or
paper or pencils or books or custodial staff.

Three years is also how long this experiment with
‘local districts’ has been underway. The reform that
was supposed to bring us increased local control and
accountability has brought us eleven different
bureaucracies, eleven different ways of doing things,
eleven differing measures of success and eleven chains of command that all lead downtown. I ‘ve yet to see the
eleven ‘best practices’ and eleven success stories — I
certainly haven’t witnessed much improved local control and accountability.

Tenth District PTSA will be joining with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) in requesting downsizing, collapse or total abandonment of the eleven local districts in this budget go round.

• If principals are to be held accountable then we need
to empower them also.
• Let’s eliminate a couple of rungs in the ladder,
reconfigure back to Cluster/Complex/‘Families-of-
Schools’ (the Elementary Schools that feed to Middle
Schools that feed to a High School comprise a ‘family’)
• with the cluster administrator reporting directly to the
superintendent. This is a method that will complement
and support the mission of acoountabiity, local control and small learning communities. All the other layers of support – coaches and trainers and food service, business
managers, etc. would be logistical.

Is this a big change? You bet, it’s a paradigm shift - an
expression that used to make my eyes glaze over in
business school! But wait a minute: Educating children is not a business; kindergartners are not raw materials, graduates are not widgets for the marketplace! I’ve said it to anyone who will listen: Students and Parents are not the District’s clients, they are its partners!

But that being said, LAUSD is huge colossus of an
organization and seeing as it’s now the twenty-first century it’s probably time for some late twentieth
century management innovation! And leading the list:
Some lean (but-not-mean) restructuring and a flatter
management structure.

I’m a middle-aged fat white guy, steeped in denial —
but the paramedics are putting away the defibrillator
and the ER Doc is looking grave. Even I can see it’s
time to reduce some of the bloat around the middle!
Collapse the pyramid. Reduce the local districts to
three regional support centers. Empower principals
and then hold them accountable.

We still need to hammer on the folks in Sacramento,
but we can’t just wait for them to ride in and save our
kids! William Ouchi in “Making Schools Work” says it
may take a crisis to trigger true school district reform.
If this budget isn’t the crisis, what will it take?


• Wednesday April 21 in the Board Room @ 10AM,
The Bond Oversight Committee will discuss using
capital funds and long term bonded indebtedness to
pay operational costs. Illegal? Or just dumb?

• Thursday April 22 starting @ 1PM the Board of
Education will discuss and are scheduled to vote on
the final LAUSD budget for school year 2004-05.

Click for map. The Board Room is on the ground floor at 333 South Beaudry. Follow the signs for free validated parking.

Daily News: L.A. One of Many Districts Cutting School Budgets + Opinion:City Inspections of Schools a Success

By Daily News Staff and Wire Services

April 8, 2004 - California's enormous K-12 public school system is mired in the worst funding crisis in its history, forcing districts throughout the state to impose cuts so deep that academic achievement likely will suffer.

Practically every state faces daunting school funding challenges, but the situation is particularly severe in California, which has the nation's largest public school system, educating one of every eight students in the country.

Educators point to a confluence of economic and political constraints at the federal and state levels that have forced schools from tiny rural communities to the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District to slash school programs, lay off staffers and increase class size.

L.A. Unified cut $427 million from its budget last month, and is about to announce $61 million more in cuts both to balance its budget and show the Los Angeles County Board of Education that the district is fiscally solvent.

Nearly 500 positions were eliminated, including some nurses, clerical workers and administrators. Workers' hours were cut and debt was refinanced to save money.

Still, the problems aren't expected to end. The LAUSD already is projecting a $200 million deficit for next year.

The problems facing most districts include a struggling state economy and state budget deficit, projected to be $14 billion next year; declining student enrollment in some places and explosive growth in others; spiraling health care and workers' compensation costs; and intractable state and federal spending mandates.

The situation has led to student walkouts and mass protests, including a 70-mile march to the state Capitol by parents and teachers pleading for more money for the troubled West Contra Costa School District.

California's public schools were among the nation's best funded before voters in 1978 approved Proposition 13, slashing the property taxes that provided key revenues. Today, California ranks about 44th in average-per-pupil spending.

A voter backlash led to Proposition 98 in 1988, which guaranteed minimum funds for K-12 schools. But California's school spending has declined in recent years to about $6,500 per pupil per year, while other large, diverse states like New York and New Jersey spend close to $11,000.

The biggest problem, many say, is a political environment that pays lip service to the importance of education but doesn't deliver the resources needed for even basic services.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004 - Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo must be just itching to say "I told you so" to school officials who fought his plan for outside inspections of city schools.

It turns out that the first joint city-school inspection proves his hypothesis, that LAUSD needs outside help to meet health and safety rules.

The pilot inspection program uncovered more than 130 safety or building hazards at five schools across the city -- even though the schools had up to two weeks to prepare. They included peeling paint, chemicals stored improperly, and no soap in the bathroom, as well as unsafe seismic conditions.

The inspections happened only after much kicking and screaming by LAUSD officials who wanted the city to leave the school inspections to school inspectors.

But reports from parents about bathrooms so broken they were unusable, toxic exposures and other hazards in the classroom, indicated that the district can't do it all alone.

In every way, it seems the program was a success. Even the school principals were grateful.

"It calls it to their attention, and it gets cleaned up. For too long, these things haven't happened," said Norm Isaacs, the principal of Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks.

When it comes to keeping our kids safe, it's everyone's responsibility.

• smf note: I am a Mount Washingtonian; it was the
dream described in the following article that first got
me involved in LAUSD. This story is one of community involvement, vision and sheer tenacity. In the end it produced a paradigm of best practices for the future: For intergovernmental cooperation, joint use, community engagement and all the rest of the buzzwords frequently uttered and rarely observed.

Quoting the article: "According to district officials, this
is the first time in Los Angeles Unified's history that a
parents group helped design and raise funds for a
project of this kind."

That is just plain wrong. Not just ‘wrong’ as in ‘the way things ought to be’ – but historically incorrect.

The true story is that the original Mount Washington
School – built at the turn of the last century - was
raised by this community. When the community was a
few children short of LA City Schools’ bureaucratic
quota for a school, we conspired amongst ourselves.
The Mount Washington Hotel advertised-for and hired
a cook with five kids. Voila!

The District may have forgotten that history – but
Mount Washington never did. It has always been ‘our

For schools to be ‘centers of community’ the
community must be invested in the school; especially
in a system like LAUSD where the ‘District’ is so far
removed from the school site. And never forget: Every
day every community invests its greatest treasure in its
schools - its Children and its Future.

When Mount Washington wanted to go even further
than that - when we wanted to go beyond bake sales
and filing homework - when we wanted to build our
own building (“You want to WHAT?”) we were not exactly welcomed with open arms as partners! Anyone who ever read one of Jack Smith’s columns about Mount Washington knows how we can be: Questioning, Independent, Difficult, Opinionated ...a ‘half-bubble-off-plumb’. But in outlasting the nay-sayers everybody wins: The Community, LAUSD and The Children!

By Cara Mia DiMassa
Times Staff Writer

April 17, 2004

There was one word that the students, parents, teachers and community members gathered at Mount Washington Elementary School on Friday heard repeatedly. That word was "dream."

As in, "a dream is finally coming true," spoken by fifth-grader Raymond Metoyer. He marveled that he and his fellow students soon would be able to eat lunch inside when it rained, perform on an auditorium stage and study in a spacious new library.

As in, "a dream that started in the minds of all of you," words used by Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa to praise a neighborhood coalition that had struggled for more than 10 years to get a multipurpose facility built on the campus.

Friday marked the groundbreaking for the Jack and Denny Smith Library and Community Center — a 10,890-square-foot, $6.6-million building that is scheduled to be completed in fall 2005.

It was, however, a bittersweet sort of reverie. Longtime Mount Washington residents Jack and Denny Smith, the Los Angeles Times columnist and his wife, had agreed to allow the building to be named after them "from the beginning," said Warren Christiansen, the building chairman for the nonprofit group, called the Friends of Mt. Washington.

But neither lived to see Friday's groundbreaking. Jack Smith died in 1996 at the age of 79; Denny, 83, died Monday.

Instead, their sons, Doug Smith, a Times reporter, and Curt Smith, accepted accolades for their parents' devotion to Mount Washington and praised the citizens who pushed the school district to build the facility.

According to district officials, this is the first time in Los Angeles Unified's history that a parents group helped design and raise funds for a project of this kind.

The Friends of Mt. Washington endured years of political wrangling over how to get the building constructed. They even tried to get the project funded through a special, $3-million school bond issue, which was narrowly defeated.

Eventually, they raised $1.5 million and helped convince City Councilman Eric Garcetti to procure a $1.6-million community development block grant. Other funding will come from two school bond measures: BB and K.

"From this seed has grown a movement," said school board member David Tokofsky. All new schools built by the district now include "core buildings" such as multipurpose rooms, Tokofsky said.

Audree Cabrera, the Mount Washington PTA's historian and a mother of a third-grader, said students now cram into a space called the "rotunda" for school assemblies. They eat lunch outside on even the rainiest days.

The new building will solve those problems, she said, and also will be an important gathering place for her and her neighbors.

Congratulations! El Camino Real Wins National Academic Decathalon
Associated Press and LAUSD

LOS ANGELES - Students from El Camino Real
High School won the Academic Decathlon national
championship Friday, marking the school's third win in
six years.

The team from Woodland Hills scored 50,656 points
out of a possible 60,000, beating a team from Arizona
by less than 300 points, said Cliff Ker, competition
coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The competition was held in Boise, Idaho.

Team members are Cassidy Ellis, Gary Fox, Jonathan
Lin, Patrick Liu, Eric Rasyidi, Adam Singer, Chris
Taylor and Adrian Wittenberg. Their coaches are
Melinda Owen, Mark Johnson and Rebecca Gessert.
The El Camino Real High School students received the
Robert Peterson Trophy, which is awarded annually to
the winning team. They also received 21 individual
medals and two members of the team were honored
for top scores in their respective competition
categories. The Academic Decathalon is not just a
contest for gifted students — the rules require team
members be representaive of the school community
and be composed of “A”, “B” and “C” students.

Winning the national competition made it a clean
sweep for El Camino Real High School. On March 13,
the school won the 2004 California Academic
Decathlon in Sacramento, California, and in February,
El Camino Real High School captured first place in the
2004 LAUSD academic decathlon.

Congratulations to 3 LAUSD Student-Artists for their Truly Outstanding Entries in the National PTA Reflections Competition

Every year young artists nationwide are asked to submit works of Literature, Music Composition, Photography and Visual Arts based on a theme; competition is each discipline is between Primary grades (K-2), Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8) and High School (9-12) - with judging held at school, local district, state and national levels.

This year’s theme was: “I am really happy when...”

• Mount Washington Elementary School second grader
Langston Hill won this year’s national and California state competition in primary grade photography with his
outstanding photograph of his brother riding his
bicycle (...while wearing a helmet!),

• Walter Reed Middle school seventh grader Sharon Ko won the California state competition for Middle School Visual Arts with a whimsical self portrait at the beach, and

• Balboa Elementary school second grader Nicole Kim won the California state competion for Primary Literature with a moving essay about her grandfather.

The National PTA Reflections Program is an arts
recognition and achievement program for students.
The Reflections Program provides opportunities for
students to express themselves creatively and to
receive positive recognition for original works of art
inspired by pre-selected theme, while increasing
community awareness on the importance of the arts in

The Reflections Program was established in 1969 by
National PTA board member Mary Lou Anderson.
Since that time, more than 10 million students have
participated in the program. The program's longevity
and participation figures attest to its strength. The
excitement and enthusiasm that the program generates
for children, parents, schools and communities is

Participation and appreciation for the arts is the
Reflections Program's goal. Although the Reflections
Program follows a "contest" format, winning is not the emphasis. Participation in the Reflections Program is a great way for students to explore and learn about various art forms. Creating art is a valuable learning process that challenges students to use their critical thinking skills as well as their creative talents to create art that supports a specific theme.

• 2004-2005 Theme: A Different Kind of Hero

EVENTS: Coming up next week...

Phone: 212.241.4700


Phone: 213.633.7616

Tuesday Apr 20, 2004
• Maywood New Elementary School #5
Groundbreaking Ceremony

Please join us to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new community school!

Ceremony will begin at 1 p.m.

Maywood New Elementary School #5
5200 Cudahy Ave
Maywood, CA 90270

• South Region Elementary School #2
Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District I

Your participation is important! Please join at this meeting where we will review:

* Criteria used to select potential sites
* Sites suggested by community and by LAUSD, and
* We will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project

6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Miramonte Elementary School
1400 E. 68th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90001

• Magnolia Elementary School On-Site Addition
Pre-Construction Meeting

6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Magnolia Elementary School
1626 S. Orchard Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90006

• Valley Region High School #4
Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District A

Your participation is important! Please join at this meeting where we will review:

* Criteria used to select potential sites
* Sites suggested by community and by LAUSD, and
* We will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Henry Middle School
17340 San Jose Street
Granada Hills, CA 91344

Wednesday Apr 21, 2004
• Central Los Angeles Area New High School #2
Project Update Meeting

6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Manual Arts High School
4131 S. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90037

• Central Los Angeles High School #11 & Vista Hermosa Park
Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Meeting

Please join us at this meeting for information about the Draft Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the Vista Hermosa Park Phase.

The purpose of this meeting is to:

* Obtain comments from the community on the RAP
* Provide information on the environmental investigation and proposed method of clean-up of the Vista Hermosa Park site

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Plasencia Elementary School
1321 Cortez St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Thursday Apr 22, 2004
• Belmont New Primary Center #12
Groundbreaking Ceremony

Please join us to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new community school!

Ceremony will begin at 12 p.m.

Belmont New Primary Center #12
135 N. Lake Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

• Park Avenue Elementary School Remediation
Project Update Meeting

6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Bell Elementary School
5027 Live Oak Street
Bell, CA 90201

• South Region Span School K-8 #1
Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District K

Your participation is important! Please join at this meeting where we will review:

* Criteria used to select potential sites
* Sites suggested by community and by LAUSD, and
* We will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Wilmington Middle School
1700 Gulf Avenue
Wilmington, CA 90744

• Valley Region High School #6
Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District C

Your participation is important! Please join at this meeting where we will review:

* Criteria used to select potential sites
* Sites suggested by community and by LAUSD, and
* We will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Sutter Middle School
7330 Winnetka Ave.
Canoga Park, CA 91306

*Dates and times subject to change.


4LAKids Book Club for April & May – LETTERS TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT: What We Can do about the Real Crisis in Public Education Carl Glickman, Editor, Prologue by Bill Cosby,
Epilogue by The Late U. S. Senator Paul Wellstone (Teachers College Press, 2004 Paperback: 272 pages)

- from the prologue by Bill Cosby

Dear President-to-Be,

I'm looking at the junkiest room I've ever seen. It is a classroom in an American public school; it is public education in America today. A child did not make the room junky; generations of litterers — legislators, school board members, superintendents, principals, taxpayers, teachers and presidents did.

Given the mess, it is a wonder that our children are able to do even as well as they do. We must be grateful that there always have been talented and determined teachers who find their way through the maze of rules and special interests and do what they became teachers
to do: help their students shine.

Our neighborhood schools are cluttered and
crumbling. Of course, I'm assuming that anyone
applying to be president probably never went to a poor and neglected public school where books have missing pages, walls have peeling paint and children have nothing to write with. Wealthy people comfort themselves that money is not the issue. But nothing dear to America was ever maintained without it. We need money to secure great teachers, money to update
teaching methods, money for technology and supplies, and money for time.

Time is a precious commodity and teachers need it to plan lessons and meet with students, parents and administrators.

When the junk is cleaned out of that junky room, its structure is sound: Public education is a good foundation on which to build a better life for each of us. And if we want to prove to these children who never made the mess in the first place that education is worth the trouble, our schools have to inspire them so they can do what they ought to do.

A young teacher, returning to college to hone her
skills, asks herself why she wants to teach children who do not have a safe environment to learn in and who lack resources and support from administrators and family. Besides her intrinsic love for teaching, we need to give her a reason to stay.

We must make firm commitments to educators who can show us the way, and learn from the many clear examples of their success. The media constantly focus our attention on the very worst schools when we should really have before us, like shining examples, these school success stories. Why do we accept failure as an example when we can demand that the successes be made visible?

School leaders have to be seen to be heard and to be supported. And we ought to pay them livable salaries, at least enough to afford the chalk and crayons and countless other supplies they buy out of their own pockets. I invite you to look into this room. You can say to our nation, "We must begin — we cannot wait
for someone else to clear out the mess."

• This stellar collection of more than 30 letters speaks to the heart of public education, the future of American students, and the need for an educated and engaged citizenry. Contributors include students, parents, teachers, prominent educators, and public
leaders who write to our next president, and to all fellow citizens, in an honest and direct way about the dangerous shortcomings of current state and federal policies. The letters provide provocative answers to
critical questions such as:

• What kind of education do we want for all of our children?
• What changes must we make to achieve that goal?
• How do we ensure that the voices of parents,
teachers, students, and citizens who care deeply about public education are heard at local, state, and national levels?

This timely volume provides a strong response to government intrusions that have resulted in thousands of pages of simplistic directives and under-funded requirements for local schools and districts. It offers practical and just solutions for guaranteeing higher standards with comprehensive assessments, allocating
equitable resources with responsible local control; attracting and retaining good teachers; improving school choice and the promise of small schools; providing for universal high quality early childhood education, and ensuring a rich, academically sound and engaging curriculum-both inside and outside of school—for all students.

Get LETTERS TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT from your local library, bookstore - or order it by clicking here.

What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member. Or your city councilperson, mayor, assemblyperson, state senator, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think.
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• Vote.

Contact your school board member