Friday, July 23, 2004

4LAKids: Saturday, July 24th, 2004

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4LAKids: Saturday, July 24th, 2004
In This Issue:
READING TO KIDS. Be a Volunteer Hero the second Saturday of every month!
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
4LAKids Book Club for June & July –CHOOSING EXCELLENCE: “Good Enough” Schools Are Not Good Enough
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
THE 4LAKids ARCHIVE - Past Issues and added features
FIVE CENTS MAKES SENSE FOR EDUCATION- Target 5¢ from every federal tax dollar for Education
• I feel a little uneasy reporting the news when I am part
of the story. But the news media missed this one — and I
don’t think you’ll be hearing a lot about this from the
LAUSD PR office!

Last Wednesday the Bond Oversight Committee took up
the superintendent’s recommendations on using school
construction bond funds to defray costs in the LAUSD
budget. As part of its budget cutting efforts the
superintendent has proposed and the Board of Education
is considering making up some operating fund shortfalls
using the Prop BB and Measure K and R Bonds. This
opens a potential slippery slope — the upside is
short-term financial relief, the downside is a compromise
to the mission of building, modernizing and maintaining

• About $150 million in construction and modernization
debt financed through securities called Certificates of
Participation (COPs) - originally set to be paid back
though general fund revenues - will be moved into the
bonds. The Bond Oversight Committee approved this; it
is a legitimate use of bond funds and it was in the ballot
language presented to the voters.

• $5.4 million in election costs — the cost of printing
the ballots and running the election (NOT the campaign!)
billed to the District by the City of LA — was approved.
The BOC did request that in future elections the District
include these projected costs in the ballot language.

• The Bond Oversight Committee balked at approving
some other costs – including one million dollars to
implement the initial rollout of Full Day Kindergarten.
The BOC favors Full Day K - and indeed the voters
approved $100 million to implement it districtwide in
Measure R. However neither the BOC nor the Board of
Education has been presented with a long term plan and
budget to implement FDK and we cannot pre-approve
any expenditure of bond funds.

We remain attentive and cautious of the District’s
operating budget crisis, we respect the difficult challenges
the school board and the superintendent face. But do not
believe long term bonded indebtedness approved by the
voters for capital improvements can be used to pay
day-to-day operating costs. And we cannot approve any
expenditure absent a strategic execution plan and full
accountability. This restraint is our fiduciary responsibility
under our Charter and Memorandum of Understanding
and also according to the California law that mandated
bond oversight under Proposition 39.

• Our three-point litmus test before approving any
expenditure of bonds funds are these:

1. Is it a legal and legitimate use of bond funds?
2. Is there a plan in place with full transparency and
3. It is in the best interest of the taxpayers, the voters, and the schoolchildren of Los Angeles?

— smf

INVESTIGATED: A federal grand jury is examining L.A.
Unified's $74.5-million acquisition of a downtown
high-rise, document shows.

By Cara Mia DiMassa - Times Staff Writer

July 23, 2004 - A federal grand jury is investigating the
Los Angeles Unified School District's much-debated
$74.5-million purchase of a downtown high-rise that is
now its administrative headquarters, according to a
district document.

In a memo sent Thursday to the board of education, the
school system's inspector general, Don Mullinax, wrote
that his office was cooperating with the federal
investigation at the request of the U.S. attorney's office in
Los Angeles. Reached by telephone, Mullinax said he
could not comment on the matter.

The 29-story structure, located at 333 S. Beaudry Ave.,
just west of the Harbor Freeway, had a history of disputes
over alleged construction defects before the district
purchased the building from Bank of America in 2001.
With an additional $73 million spent on improvements
and repairs for roofing problems and poor ventilation, the
district has spent about $147 million on the new
headquarters, a sum that the teachers union and other
critics allege has been a waste.

Last year, the Los Angeles County district attorney's
major fraud division launched an investigation into
whether the district overpaid for the Beaudry building to
bail out its past investors, which included the financial
services company pre- viously owned by billionaire Eli
Broad, who has been a force in school district politics.
That county investigation is continuing but is expected to
be resolved "in the not-too-distant future," said Sandi
Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

The school district financed its purchase through
certificates of participation and, as part of the acquisition,
paid $15 million to investors who held subordinated
bonds tied to the building, similar to second mortgages
issued by banks.

One of those secondary investors was Sun America, the
company previously owned by Broad. Before the
purchase, one real estate expert advised the district that it
did not have to pay all of the investors who held the
subordinated bonds, advice that district officials rejected.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the
federal investigation or to say which aspects in the
purchase of the 24-year-old building the grand jury is

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer said he was
surprised by the federal investigation. "I don't know of
anything that was illegal or inappropriate," he said of the

District officials, while pledging cooperation with the
investigation, have denied that they made any special deal
for Broad or anyone else.

They said that, without the payments to all of the
bondholders, the deal could have collapsed or been
waylaid or canceled by lawsuits. Any delay in the
purchase, officials said, would have required the district
to pay more for other office space while it was turning its
old offices downtown into a school site.

But others have criticized the choice of the triangular
concrete and glass structure, citing problems with the
building's construction and location, just west of the
central part of downtown and away from major mass
transit corridors.

A previous tenant, Security Pacific Bank, had sued the
builder over alleged construction defects; that suit was
resolved in an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.

In the fall of 2001, Mullinax raised concerns about the
building's structural condition, particularly the strength of
its floors. In an internal report, he raised concerns that the
floors were uneven and too weak to support file cabinets
or other heavy equipment.

Board of education President Jose Huizar, who abstained
from the original vote on the purchase of the building,
said he was still convinced that, "from a financial and
location criteria, this wasn't the best possibility" for a
district headquarters.

He said he expects that members of the school board and
district staff will "fully cooperate" with the grand jury.
"I'm looking forward to the outcome," he said.

School board member David Tokofsky, who cast the sole
vote against the purchase financing in October 2001, said
he still had doubts about that deal and a new $40-million
plan to build additional parking space for the
headquarters. The property value has gone up, he
conceded, but so has all property in downtown Los

"The question is, did we pay the right price, and was all of
the information transparent and presented [to the board]
in a truly clear way?" Tokofsky said.


By Jennifer Radcliffe - Staff Writer

Thursday, July 22, 2004 - A federal grand jury has
opened an investigation into the Los Angeles Unified
School District's controversial purchase of its downtown
Beaudry Avenue headquarters, a $74.5 million deal
pushed by Superintendent Roy Romer despite questions
about the high cost and the high-rise's structural integrity.

LAUSD Inspector General Don Mullinax, who raised
concerns about the building when it was bought three
years ago, disclosed the investigation in a memo to school
district officials Thursday.

"I am writing to inform you that at the request of the U.S.
Attorney's Office, Central District of California, the Office
of the Inspector General is providing assistance in a
federal grand jury investigation regarding the purchase of
the Beaudry building."

Neither Mullinax, an independent watchdog over the
district's finances and operations, nor a representative of
Central District U.S. Attorney Debra Yang would
comment further.

"This is a very serious situation," said board member
David Tokofsky, who cast the sole vote to oppose the
Beaudry building. "The U.S. attorney and the Board of
Education share a mutual concern for the public interest
against those who might or did take advantage of the
public's funds."

The LAUSD bought the 29-story, 928,000-square-foot
high-rise at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. for $74.5 million, with
an additional $80 million budgeted for renovations. The
district had to issue a total of $180 million in bonds to
fund the project, including the purchase price, repairs and
moving costs.

This month, the school board was set to consider
spending $40 million to build a parking garage for
workers in the building, but several board members on
Wednesday moved to put that on hold.

Built in 1982, the structure has serious problems,
including sagging concrete floors, poor ventilation and
seismic trouble leading some to refer to it as a "walking
dead" building.

A Daily News investigation in 2001 also raised questions
about a possible conflict of interest in the deal. The
building's owner, Beaudry I Investors, a
Connecticut-based corporation, was at one time
represented by attorney Cole Finegan, a friend of Romer's
from Colorado, where Romer served as governor. The
LAUSD's general counsel ruled that it was not a conflict
of interest.

Despite structural concerns, Romer insisted that the
building was safe and a great deal for the city.

On Thursday, he again defended the purchase.

"There was great, great attention given to this choice,"
Romer said. "I know of nothing improper. If anyone else
does, I'm very interested in knowing."

The school board voted 4-1 with two abstentions to
approve money for the Beaudry building. Jose Huizar,
who had just joined the board, and longtime member Julie
Korenstein abstained.

"I'm not in a position to know whether there was some
wrongdoing; however, I did think, from financial and
location criteria, this wasn't the best possibility," Huizar
said. "I'm looking forward to the outcome. I opposed and
continue to oppose the purchase of this building."

The LAUSD bought the Beaudry building to make room
for new high school academies at its former headquarters
at 450 N. Grand Ave. and its Third Street Annex building.

At the time of the purchase, Romer and Mullinax had
heated exchanges during public hearings over the merits
of the plan. In one letter to the district, a prominent real
estate developer noted that the building had twice won
the Lemon Award from a downtown business group.

Backed by the district's own engineering consultants who
vouched for the structure, Romer grew increasingly
frustrated over delays to approve funding for the new

Seventeen months after the deal went through, District
Attorney Steve Cooley's staff began an investigation of
the Beaudry purchase that should be completed "soon,"
Cooley spokeswoman Jane Robison said.

"All I can say is we are in the latter stages of this
investigation," she said, declining to elaborate on the
investigation or whether Cooley was working with the
Los Angeles-based U.S. attorney.

John Perez, president of United Teachers Los Angeles,
applauded the investigation.

"The whole thing is a mess. I don't know if there was
anything illegal about it, but it's a bad building, and it was
a bad decision. ... You can get seasick walking in that

TO 2007: Action is hailed as giving L.A. Unified stability.
His salary will stay at $250,000.

By Cara Mia DiMassa & Duke Helfand - Times Staff

July 23, 2004 - In a vote of confidence for Los Angeles
schools Supt. Roy Romer, the Board of Education on
Thursday extended his contract as leader of the nation's
second-largest school system until 2007.

Board President Jose Huizar said the action "brings
stability to the district, which this district very much

Since he joined the Los Angeles Unified School District in
2000, Romer has launched a massive school building
program and has pushed to improve academics.
Elementary and middle schools have shown significant
rises in standardized test scores, although high schools
have lagged behind.

Most details of the superintendent's contract will stay the
same, including his annual salary of $250,000 and a
$30,000 expense account for meals and entertainment.

The former governor of Colorado and chairman of the
Democratic National Committee, Romer turns 76 in
October. He said he did not want to retire yet and was
eager to finish his work in Los Angeles schools.

"My mind is active and my body is active," he said.

"It's tough work," he added. "But I happen to have
satisfaction in doing tough work these days…. And we
have really made remarkable gains in four years."

Romer's current contract, which expires in June 2005, will
be replaced by a new contract through June 2007. As part
of a compromise, either party can terminate the pact
before its third year.

That arrangement addresses some concerns expressed by
board members in previous weeks that an extension to
2007 would leave them little flexibility. Some trustees,
including Huizar, originally wanted to add a year at a time
to Romer's contract. But a 6-0 vote Thursday approved
the extension, with board member Marguerite
Poindexter-LaMotte abstaining.

Romer has been widely credited with refocusing
instructional programs, spearheading the aggressive
construction effort and energizing a bureaucracy long
ridiculed as inefficient — even as he drew the ire of
teachers who accused him of pushing centralized reforms
without listening to their concerns.

Romer hired experienced professionals to run the district's
key operations, such as facilities and procurement. He
pressed for centralized reading and math curriculums that
standardized instruction. And he launched two successful
bond campaigns, raising $14 billion for building new
schools to ease severe overcrowding.

At the same time, state budget crunches have meant that
Romer has presided over nearly $1 billion in cuts in the
last two years, reluctantly raising class sizes in grades 4
through 12 and slashing many support services.

In an interview Thursday, United Teachers Los Angeles
President John Perez said the superintendent would
succeed only if he included teachers in decisions that
affected classrooms.

"Most people like Romer tend to view teachers as
grown-up children who are best not heard," Perez said.
"We are going to try to continue educating the
superintendent about what goes on in the classroom.
We're not going to stop."

Former board President Caprice Young called the
contract extension a smart move, saying that "we'll all be
better off with three more years of Roy Romer." Young,
who was on the board when it hired Romer and now runs
a charter school organization, said the superintendent had
brought credibility to the district.

LAUSD PACT: 3rd year to be linked to goals

By Jennifer Radcliffe - Staff Writer

Thursday, July 22, 2004 - Despite recent disagreements
over money and the organization of the Los Angeles
Unified School District, the school board Thursday
extended Superintendent Roy Romer's contract in a move
that could keep the former Colorado governor at the helm
until 2007.

School board President Jose Huizar said that while he is
thrilled with the progress the LAUSD has made during
Romer's first four years, the board plans to hold the
75-year-old to tougher standards.

Romer will only be granted the third year of his
$250,000-a-year contract if he meets goals that the board
plans to set for him by mid-September.

"We're going to be more demanding in the coming years,"
Huizar said. "We want to continue the progress and we're
asking our superintendent to accelerate the progress."

The board voted 6-0-1, with board member Marguerite
LaMotte abstaining. LaMotte would not comment on
why she abstained.

Romer did not ask for and was not offered a raise from
his current $250,000 annual salary. His expense account
was also kept at $30,000 annually and he retains the
lifetime health care for himself and his wife.

He also has a personal driver, but that is not part of his

Romer's biggest accomplishment has been overseeing a
$14 billion construction program to build 160 new
schools. Elementary test scores have also increased under
Romer's tenure, in part because of the district's switch to
a phonics-based reading program.

Over the next two to three years, Romer said, he wants to
build more schools, improve test scores and lower the
high school dropout rate.

"I'm here because it's important work. It's not something
you do for recreation ... but I happen to have satisfaction
in doing tough work these days," he said. He joked that
he also isn't ready to leave Los Angeles. "I haven't learned
to surf yet."

Romer has faced tough opposition this year from teachers
union leaders, who pushed him relentlessly to cut the
LAUSD's local bureaucracy to reduce the district's $500
million shortfall.

John Perez, president of United Teachers Los Angeles,
complained that Romer refuses to partner with teachers
on professional development programs and consistently
tries to make them pay more of health care costs.

"The superintendent has to be more serious about dealing
with the people who make him look good. He turns his
back on us," he said.

But Perez said he's impressed with Romer's dedication
and energy, and plans to continue to try to work with the

READING TO KIDS. Be a Volunteer Hero the second Saturday of every month!
Reading to children and reading with children is the most
important step in promoting literacy. Two weeks ago I
participated in a program called Reading to Kids that
does just that: Reads to kids - in inner city elementary
schools on Saturday mornings.

R2K reads every second Saturday morning. Join us! Be

It’s fun! It’s rewarding. There are free donuts! The big

Reading to Kids is an organization committed to helping
children become better readers. Children who learn the
joy of reading have the potential for a brighter future, and
our hope is to spark that interest.

Reading to Kids gathers children and volunteers -
teachers, parents and college students - into reading
groups on the second Saturday of every month at
elementary schools near downtown Los Angeles and in
the Valley. We combine reading aloud with intellectual
games, craft projects, and social interaction. These
Saturday reading clubs utilize the well established
read-aloud program.

In conjunction with the program for the children, teachers
at the schools hold workshops for the parents on how
they can be good readers at home to their children.
Reading to Kids also donates books purchased for the
Reading Clubs to the school libraries and donates prize
books directly to the children. Since its inception,
Reading to Kids has given over 20,000 books to children
who attend the reading clubs and donated approximately
3,200 books to school libraries.

At the school level, the teachers and administrators are
essential in running the reading clubs. The principals,
assistant principals, teachers, and literacy coordinators
recruit the students each month, select the books that are
used in the program, and provide overall guidance as to
the needs of the schools. Teachers at the schools also lead
the training provided for volunteers and parents.

Several of the volunteers of Reading to Kids began a
relationship with Gratts Elementary School by organizing
periodic carnivals at the school. Looking to start an
additional program with the school that would emphasize
learning, the volunteers, teachers, and administrators
came up with the idea of the "Gratts Reading Club." This
reading club began in May 1999, and its success led to the
formation of Reading to Kids.

In March 2000, Reading to Kids expanded its program to
Esperanza Elementary School, and in March 2001, it
expanded again to Magnolia Elementary School. In 2003
R2K started at Noble Elementary in the Valley. In the
future, Reading to Kids hopes to expand this successful
program to other elementary schools in the greater Los
Angeles area.

Participating Schools:

Esperanza Elementary School (first reading club: March
680 Little Street
Los Angeles, California 90017

Gratts Elementary School (first reading club: May 1999)
309 S. Lucas Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90017

Magnolia Elementary School (first reading club: March
1626 S. Orchard Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90006
(213) 748-6281

Noble Elementary School (first reading club: April 2003)
8329 Noble Avenue
North Hills, California 91343

• SAVE THE DATE: The next reading clubs are:
Saturday, August 14, 2004 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
(always the second Saturday of each month)

For more info and to sign up to read go to

• In the opening of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”
we are treated to the raw news footage of President Bush
continuing to read to second graders after a staffer
informs him that the second airliner has crashed into the
World Trade Center on November 11th, 1991. Moore
plays this for pathos: The President of the United States
completely lost as to what to do as the two airliners still
aloft make their terrible final approaches.

When I first viewed the scene my heart sorta went out to
George W.

• He obviously didn’t know what to do ....and we now
know beyond a doubt (as he must’ve suspected all along)
that any intelligence he had – and any information he was
being fed – was wrong.
• I personally believe that reading to kids is the most
important thing anyone can do on any given day! (see:
Reading to Kids [above])
• ....and at least he wasn’t calling the Strategic Air
Command and ordering then to dial in the target codes for
The Axis of Evil! Not yet.

However, upon reading the following from this week’s
“New Yorker” I have had second thoughts. In all mock
seriousness we just may have uncovered the smoking gun
that ties the Bush Family to the Terrorist Attacks, No
Child Left Behind, the giant textbook cartel and the Open
Court Reading Program. Sure, five bad ideas in a row do
not add up to a conspiracy ...but they are still bad ideas!

by Daniel Radosh
The New Yorker/Talk of the Town 7/26/04

Although you do not know his name, Siegfried (Zig)
Engelmann is one of the most talked-about authors in the
country right now. His most prominent work, which you
have not read, is a story for second graders. It begins, “A
girl got a pet goat.”

Engelmann’s story is the one that George W. Bush was
reading in a Florida classroom on the morning of
September 11, 2001, at the moment he learned of the
terrorist attacks. A videotape of the President holding the
book open while staring blankly into space for seven
minutes provides the most memorable scene in Michael
Moore’s movie “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Engelmann has not
seen the film, but when he heard about his secondhand
cameo he reread his story. “I don’t remember writing it,”
he said the other day from his office at the University of
Oregon, in Eugene. That may be because it is one of more
than a thousand he has written in the past thirty years.

Curious viewers of Moore’s film who have tried to track
down the book “My Pet Goat” have been unsuccessful,
for two reasons: Moore, in his voice-over, got the title
wrong—it is “The Pet Goat”—and it is not a book but an
exercise in a workbook called “Reading Mastery 2.” This
much was sussed out last month by a resourceful blogger
named Peter Smith after he studied the raw footage from
the Emma E. Booker Elementary School. Noticing that
the teacher repeatedly cued the class with the same
precise language (“Get ready to read these words the fast
way”), Smith guessed that some particular pedagogical
theory was at work. That’s what led him to Direct
Instruction, a controversial teaching model that
Engelmann developed in the nineteen-sixties.

“The whole idea is to do an efficient job with every single
kid,” Engelmann, who is seventy-two and is a professor
of education, said. His basic principle is that if a child isn’t
learning it is always because the teacher is doing
something to confuse him. Direct Instruction aims to
eliminate that problem by introducing bite-size concepts
that build directly on ones that have already been
mastered, and by scripting every word of every lesson,
including which words of encouragement teachers may
and may not use. As the D.I. Web site puts it, “The
popular valuing of teacher creativity and autonomy as
high priorities must give way to a willingness to follow
certain carefully prescribed instructional practices.”

“We don’t give a damn what the teacher thinks, what the
teacher feels,” Engelmann said. “On the teachers’ own
time they can hate it. We don’t care, as long as they do
it.” Engelmann claims that Direct Instruction is one of the
few teaching methods that have been consistently shown
to improve student achievement, especially among
disadvantaged children. “Traditionalists die over this,” he
said. “But in terms of data we whump the daylights out of

For years, Direct Instruction’s impressive performance in
large-scale studies did little to win over his critics, who
call his techniques “controlling” and “robotic.” D.I.’s
phonics-based reading curriculum—Engelmann has also
applied his principles to math, science, social studies, and
handwriting—sometimes requires children to chant words
in unison while a teacher snaps her fingers to keep time.

D.I.’s fortunes began to change in 2001, when Bush
introduced his No Child Left Behind legislation, which
mandated that only “scientifically based” educational
programs be eligible for federal funding. And here’s
where Michael Moore missed an opportunity. No Child
Left Behind has meant big profits for the publisher of the
D.I. curricula, McGraw-Hill. So it’s easy to imagine one
of Moore’s hallmark montages, spinning circumstantial
evidence into a conspirational web: a sepia-toned
photograph from the thirties of, say, Prescott Bush and
James McGraw, Jr., palling around on Florida’s Jupiter
Island; a film clip from the eighties of Harold McGraw,
Jr., joining the advisory panel of Barbara Bush’s literacy
foundation; Harold McGraw III posing with President
George W. Bush as part of his transition team; and, to tie
it all together, former McGraw-Hill executive
vice-president John Negroponte being sworn in as the
new Ambassador to Iraq.

One person who wouldn’t be included in such a
conspiracy is Zig Engelmann. Engelmann calls himself a
“political rebel,” but his inclinations are hard left. He
hasn’t decided if he will vote for John Kerry, Ralph
Nader, some alternative progressive party, or nobody at
all. He is not fond of Bush. “For whatever it’s worth, I
think Iraq is a total circle jerk,” he said. “I couldn’t think
of how to do it worse.”

• smf postcript: Normally I would have edited the comment
above to make it more suitable for student readers and
those easily offended. However I was so offended by Dr.
Engelmann’s “We don’t give a damn what the teacher
thinks....” quote I felt it should be left alone.

SRA, the McGraw Hill imprint that publishes the Reading
Mastery series also publishes Open Court Reading — the
officially mandated LAUSD flavor in the Direct
Instruction® curriculum offering. Perhaps it says
everything there is to know about the DI/scripted
block-reading methodology that the teacher was not
permitted to deviate from the curriculum even for a
classroom visit by the President of the United States!

The article on the New Yorker website

• smf notes: Allowing non-citizen parents in vote in
school board elections in LAUSD could make a huge
difference in races where turnout is usually abysmally
low, especailly in light of the demographic reality of
LAUSD’s large enrollment of recent immigrants.
Noncitzen parents in Chicago, the nation’s third largest
school district vote. It might make sense here.

• S.F. Voters to Decide if Noncitizens Can Vote: Ballot
measure would affect only school board elections. A legal
challenge is expected.
By Robert Hollis, Marisa Lagos and Megan Garvey
Special to The LA Times

July 21, 2004 - SAN FRANCISCO: Testing state law for
the second time this year, San Francisco city leaders
approved a controversial ballot proposal Tuesday that
could allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections.

The proposal, the first in the state but not the nation,
would permit any adult with a child in public school —
parent, guardian or caretaker — to vote regardless of
citizenship status. Backers of the measure acknowledged
that it probably would face legal challenges since state
law limits voting to citizens. But they said a local
exemption was allowable because San Francisco is a
charter city that can set its own laws.

"Every time you're on the cutting edge of any issue you're
going to have legal issues," said Supervisor Matt
Gonzalez, a Green Party member who introduced the
proposal. "This body has taken a strong position on things
like gay marriage, domestic partnership…. I don't think
this is any different."

The city made national headlines in February when Mayor
Gavin Newsom allowed thousands of same-sex couples to
receive marriage licenses.

The state Supreme Court halted those unions; the issue
remains in the courts.

Even in this consistently left-leaning city that is
accustomed to pushing the boundaries on social issues,
the school matter has stirred strong opinions. Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor,
issued a statement this week saying that "under no
circumstances" should noncitizens be allowed to vote
because it would discourage immigrants from becoming
citizens. Local Chinese American elected officials are
divided over the measure, while Latino leaders have
mostly remained silent.

Still, the Board of Supervisors' decision to put the matter
before voters on Nov. 2 passed 9-2, with little discussion.

The San Francisco Unified School District has 60,000
students, more than half of whom come from homes
where English is not their first language. Students of
Chinese heritage make up 31% of the student population,
the largest ethnic bloc, and 21% of students are Latino.

David Chiu, an early proponent of the ballot proposal,
said that at least one in three students in San Francisco's
public schools has an immigrant parent. Chiu, co-founder
of the public relations firm Grassroots Enterprise, said his
organization had pushed for voting rights in part because
long waits to become citizens had left immigrant parents
disenfranchised when their children were in school.

The push to allow noncitizens a say in the makeup of
school boards is viewed as a first step to broader voting
rights — both by those who say it is a good move that
will increase public participation and by those who argue
that it violates the spirit of American democracy.

The concept of noncitizen voters is not new. Limiting
voting privileges to American citizens has occurred only
since World War I. Noncitizens can vote in school board
elections in a few cities, including Chicago.

Gonzalez has said that he would like to see noncitizens
allowed to vote in all municipal elections, a practice in
place in Takoma Park, Md., and a few other cities.

Jim Rivaldo, a veteran San Francisco political consultant,
said the proposal would "obviously play well in liberal and
immigrant-heavy areas of the city."

"If it can succeed anywhere in California," Rivaldo said,
"it will be in San Francisco."

In a state where many cities have increasingly large
numbers of immigrants, legal and illegal, any extension of
voting privileges could have significant political

"If you give noncitizens the right to vote it has partisan
implications," said Steve Camarota, of the
Washington-based Center for Immigrant Studies, a
nonpartisan think tank that supports strict enforcement of
immigration laws. "You aren't going to see it proposed at
the statewide level in a bitterly divided state or in a city
closely divided on partisan lines."

At Tuesday's board meeting, Gonzalez took issue with the
perception that he backed such rights to expand the likely
voting base for progressives.

"First-generation immigrants tend to be more
conservative," he said.

In San Francisco, the proposal has pitted some on the far
left against relatively more conservative officials, with the
city attorney reportedly advising officials that such a
measure was unlikely to pass court tests even if put on the
November ballot.

Newsom had no comment on the issue.

There has been growing sentiment in some communities
for noncitizens voting in local elections. In New York,
where noncitizens voted in school board elections from
1968 until last year when Republican Mayor Michael
Bloomberg reorganized the school board, some
politicians have pushed for noncitizens to vote in all local

Those opposed to allowing noncitizens voting rights say
to do so would erode the meaning of citizenship.

Feinstein, in her statement, said that a better solution
would be to speed the process by which immigrants can
become citizens.

School board President Dan Kelly, who opposes the
proposal, said it has little to do with giving parents more
say in schools.

"It's not an issue about education. The issue is about
voting rights and citizenship," Kelly said. "The question
of who has the right to vote is ultimately tied to
citizenship, legitimately so."

He said he was "mystified" as to why school board
elections had been singled out. Kelly said the school
district sued to overturn Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot
initiative that had sought to prohibit illegal immigrants
from public services such as schools and medical care.

Kelly said the school district has avenues for participation
for noncitizen parents such as PTAs and school
committees. The district also provides Mandarin and
Spanish translators to keep parents informed and to help
them address school officials, he said.

But state Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco)
supported the measure and said he would campaign for its

"About half the children in San Francisco are white yet
barely 10% are in public schools," he said. "It's clear to
me whites left the public schools and the only ones left
are minorities…. [Noncitizens'] children's future is in the
public schools and I think we should give them a voice."

San Francisco Supervisor Fiona Ma, however, opposed
the ballot proposal after repeatedly speaking against it.
Ma, whose parents became citizens after immigrating to
the United States from China, said "voting is a privilege
reserved for citizens."

Ma said she believed that her colleagues went ahead with
the measure, despite legal advice that it would not hold
up in the courts, because they hope that substantial
support for the proposal in November would put political
pressure on the state Legislature to change the state
Constitution. Further, she said she suspects that it is
intended to spur similar movements in Los Angeles and
other cities.

A broader move in San Francisco to allow noncitizens to
vote in all local elections fizzled out in 1996 after
then-city attorney Louise Renne persuaded a state judge
to block the initiative from appearing on the ballot,
arguing that it violated the state Constitution's
requirement that voters be citizens.

Renne has opposed the recent proposal, asking if it meant
Osama bin Laden could vote.

Others said the restriction should be challenged.

"More and more as the demographics of California are
shifting and there are more and more noncitizens who
comprise our communities, it is important that we allow
those persons an avenue to have a voice in the policies
and how they are formed — especially when it relates to
their children," said Steve Reyes, of the Los
Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and
Education Fund.

• Rare Town Where Voters Don't Have to Be Citizens:
Few in the Washington suburb know that immigrants can
vote in municipal elections.
By Kathleen Hennessey - LA Times Staff Writer

July 22, 2004 – TAKOMA PARK, Md.: More than a
decade ago, this left-leaning suburb's decision to allow
noncitizens to vote made news across the country. Today
the fact that noncitizens here can vote is news to many

"Is that true?" said Israel Martinez, who moved seven
years ago to this leafy suburb just across the District of
Columbia line. "Really?"

In 1992, the City Council amended the city charter to
allow immigrants — regardless of documentation — to
vote in municipal elections. Of the six Maryland
communities where U.S. citizenship is not a requirement
for voting, Takoma Park, with more than 17,000
residents, is the largest.

A similar proposal, limited to school board elections, was
approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on
Tuesday night. It is to go before voters this fall.

The Takoma Park City Council made its decision after a
well-organized campaign, a lengthy and heated public
debate about citizenship and the dangers of voter fraud, a
nonbinding resolution and threat of legal challenges.
Now, residents and experts who have studied Takoma
Park's voting experiment say the effect has been

"The sky didn't fall. You haven't had a huge influx of
immigrants moving to take part in elections. You haven't
had voter fraud. Nothing happened," said Lisa Garcia
Bedolla, who teaches political science at UC Irvine and
has studied immigrant voting initiatives.

"I think the major impact of the noncitizen voting change
has been to transmit the message that Takoma Park is
welcoming to people who are not U.S. citizens," said
Mayor Kathy Porter. "In terms of practical effect, I don't
think there's been any election where a huge number of
noncitizens have voted."

In November 2003, 14 of the city's 494 registered
noncitizens voted in the local elections. Voter
participation for noncitizens matched those of citizens in
the elections just after the charter was amended, but the
statistics declined over the years.

"In one sense, the results have been kind of disappointing
for some of those who advocated for the change," said
Ronald Hayduk, assistant professor of political science at
Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York
and immigrant voting rights supporter. "Over time there's
just been a lot less education and mobilization."

Porter said her city had made an effort to reach out to its
foreign-born residents, who make up nearly one-third of
the population here, according to the 2000 census.
Organizers went door-to-door, speaking to residents in
their native languages, and the city hosted informational
meetings about the voting laws.

Although the notion of immigrants casting ballots sparks
controversy today, at several points in U.S. history
citizenship and enfranchisement were not so closely

In the 19th century, Congress allowed several Western
states to offer suffrage to immigrants as a way to entice
them to move to the territories, said Garcia Bedolla.
Suffrage was withdrawn in a wave of anti-immigrant
sentiment around the start of the 20th century. By 1928,
the vote was limited to U.S. citizens in federal and state

Maryland's constitution, however, does not require U.S.
citizenship for local elections, which is why communities
like Takoma Park and the village of Barnesville
(population 161) can legally allow noncitizens to vote.

"We've just never had a citizenship requirement," said
Barnesville Mayor Peter T. Menke. "I've heard the
pundits on TV and the talk shows blasting all of us, and I
get very infuriated. I have different feeling about a
statewide or national election, but in a local election
where you're directly involved and you're a taxpayer, it's
different. I have no problem with anybody who's
interested in the town and wants to cast a ballot."

Residents in Takoma Park said they felt the same way.

"This is were you live, this is where you spend your
money," said Duwa Mutharika, a Zimbabwe native who
had lived in Takoma Park for four months.

Mutharika, like several noncitizens here, was not aware
that she could vote. When told that she could, she
responded enthusiastically, "When you are here, you have
a responsibility to be part of the community."

Demographics play a part in the low turnout rate for
noncitizen voters in Takoma Park, said Garcia Bedolla.
"Most of the immigrants are poorer and less educate," she
said. "So even if you give them voting rights, you're not
going to have hundreds of thousands of immigrants
pouring into the polls."

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• TUESDAY, JULY 27, 2004

• Central Region Elementary School #15 Phase II Site Selection Update Local District 4

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

• THURSDAY, JULY 29, 2004

• Miramonte Elementary School Addition
Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

Please join us to celebrate the completion of your new classroom building!

Ceremony will begin at 10:00 a.m.

Miramonte Elementary School
1400 E. 68th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90001

• Menlo Elementary School Playground Expansion
Pre-Construction Meeting
6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Menlo Avenue Elementary School
4156 Menlo Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90037

• Central Region Elementary School #13
Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District 3

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 8:00 p.m.
Pio Pico Span School
1512 S. Arlington Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90019

• South Region High School #4
Phase II Presentation of Recommended Preferred Site
Local District 8

At this meeting we will present and discuss the site that will be recommended to the LAUSD Board of education for this new school project.

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Dominguez Elementary School
Multipurpose Room
21250 Santa Fe Avenue
Carson, CA 90810

• Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District 2

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 8:00 p.m.
Arminta Elementary School Auditorium
11530 Strathern St.
North Hollywood, CA 91605

*Dates and times subject to change
Phone: 212.241.4700
Phone: 213.633.7616


4LAKids Book Club for June & July –CHOOSING EXCELLENCE: “Good Enough” Schools Are Not Good Enough
John Merrow - the documentary filmmaker and
corespondent behind the Merrow Report series of
education broadcasts on NPR and PBS - spoke to the
California State PTA convention last month about his take
on public education issues. Much of what he said was
reported a month ago in 4LAKids (see: May 9th: “NOTES

Merrow’s thinking is further developed in CHOOSING
EXCELLENCE (Scarecrow Press, 207pp) — first
published in 2001 but is still very applicable today. Some of
his thoughts re: charter schools (which at the time were
totally unproved) probably need reworking as the data
becomes clearer – but his take is 98% on!

(‘Choice’ in LAUSD means particpation in the magnet
school program - the ultimate choice is often made by a
lottery – ‘choice’ becomes a matter of chance!)

“Choice” has become a political buzzword in education,
often it really means school vouchers and the privatization
of public education. Not here. Merrow’s call is for
nothing-less-than excellence in education, and his mantra
that “‘Good Enough’ Schools Are Never Good Enough”

His critique of multiple choice standardized tests, his
description of the roles of parents, students and educators,
and his premise that excellence is a choice parents must
make – and his step-by-step guide on how to make the
choices – are well worth the read.

This is good stuff! —smf

Get CHOOSING EXCELLENCE 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

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is Vice President for Education in Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and governance council member at two LAUSD schools. He is also the elected Youth & Education boardmember on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited.
• This and past Issues are available – with interactive feedback — at