Saturday, June 16, 2007

The State of the Schools, Bunker Hill & Watergate

4LAKids: Sunday, June 17, 2007
In This Issue:
DWP v. LAUSD, LA County, MTA, the State of California, the Community College District & UCLA
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY IN 1775 The Battle of Bunker Hill took place as part of the Siege of Boston during the American Revolutionary War. On their third assault, the British forces overran the revolutionaries' fortified earthworks on Breed's and Bunker Hill. Afterwards, British General Henry Clinton remarked in his diary that "A few more such victories would have surely put an end to British dominion in America."
(Among historians, it is debated whether General Putnam or anyone else gave the order, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!")

ALSO ON THIS DAY IN 1972 police apprehended five men attempting to break into and wiretap Democratic Party offices in the Watergate office complex. A number of them and their accomplices in what President Nixon styled "a second rate burglary" were from the "White House Plumbers Unit", originally set up to "plug leaks," and some of them were former members of the CIA. Nixon endured two years of mounting political embarrassments, the court-ordered release in August 1974 of a "smoking gun tape" about the burglaries brought with it the prospect of certain impeachment; Nixon resigned four days later, on August 9, 1974, the only U.S. President to have resigned from office. -from Wikipedia

THE LONG AWAITED STATE OF THE SCHOOLS SPEECH by Superintendent Brewer is similarly history. Unlike the Battle of Bunker Hill or the Watergate Burglary Brewer's speech has been eagerly anticipated and could not have possibly lived up to the advance billing or level of breathless expectation: "Brewer Gives Speech, Turns LAUSD Around! Film at Eleven!!"

I told the admiral Thursday morning before he spoke we were expecting him to hit it out of the park. Friday afternoon I told him I thought he did. I didn't say that because I feel a need to kiss up to the superintendent; neither of us covets the other's approval. I just think he said some of the right things at the time they needed saying. But to drive the sports metaphor into the ground -- his home run was a solo shot in the early innings. There's a lot more of the game to be played, more runs to score the ways runs are scored -- by playing "little ball': hitting it where they ain't, getting on base, advancing runners to scoring position. Playing defense and making outs. And it's not about the game, its about the entire season.

The Times headline on Friday "SCHOOLS CHIEF UNVEILS BROAD AGENDA" seemed complimentary, though the inside jump head "Schools address is long on ideas, short on details" is less so. On the Op-Ed page the editorial board (whose interview with Brewer was covered on page 2 as a news item, what's with that?) puts on the other flip-flop in asking where the superintendent's fire has gone. The word "urgency" has become the School Reform/SAT word o' th' day -- used whenever/whether it fits or not -- a mantra at the Times and City Hall!

And maybe the admiral is just waiting 'till he sees the whites of their eyes. that a broad agenda? Or a Broad agenda? Help -- I need a scorecard! -smf

â–ºSCHOOLS CHIEF UNVEILS BROAD AGENDA: Supt. David L. Brewer advocates longer school days, same-sex campuses and the creation of an innovation unit to effect change in L.A. Unified.

By Joel Rubin and Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writers

June 15, 2007 - Arguing for longer school days, single-sex academies and more parent involvement, Los Angeles Schools Supt. David L. Brewer on Thursday portrayed the school system as one dotted with pockets of excellence but plagued by a deeply ingrained culture resistant to change.

In his first "state of the schools" address before Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, school board members and a roomful of business and community leaders, parents and students, Brewer also discussed a return to the future: more localized decision making and less top-down management.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, has experimented previously with "school-based management" and other techniques designed to give teachers, campus administrators and parents more authority, but has shifted back in recent years to a more centralized structure. Brewer's predecessor, Roy Romer, for example, believed that educational policy needed to be standardized across the district and overseen by downtown administrators.

The centerpiece of Brewer's hourlong speech, delivered at the new, not-yet-open John Liechty Middle School west of downtown, was the superintendent's formal unveiling of the Innovation Division for Educational Achievement, which he said would fast-track school improvement across the district.

"We have 77,000 employees and 38,000 teachers, many of whom are bursting with excellent ideas - but they don't work within a system that allows them to realize those ideas," Brewer said. "They are too often burdened with outdated bureaucratic rules, arcane requirements and 6-inch-thick contracts."

Under discussion since shortly after Brewer took over in November, the new office, he said, would allow parent groups, teachers, community organizations - and the mayor - to propose and launch reform plans at schools in a system that has long resisted meaningful change. To earn the newfound freedoms, however, Brewer cautioned that reformers would have to adhere to strict accountability measures.

During his speech, however, and at a meeting afterward with reporters and editors from The Times, he offered few details about how reform proposals would go from paper to practice.

Some remained dubious of Brewer's talk about giving increased autonomy to teachers, parents and others at the school level, noting that it struck a familiar note.

Former school board member Caprice Young, who now heads the California Charter Schools Assn., said that earlier efforts to spread power to school sites largely failed because top district officials refused to let go of real authority over budgets and other decisions.

"What's going to be critical to making his idea work is whether the programs created and empowered through the innovation division have real authority, access to resources and facilities, and a fair process for accountability," she said of Brewer's plan. "Whether he has the guts to do that, we'll see."

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, was blunt: "Been there and done that, over and over and over again," Duffy said. "I've seen change happen every three and a half or four years�. How the innovation division unfolds will be an indication of [Brewer's] resolve."

Sitting directly in front of Brewer in the third-floor classroom that couldn't hold the overflow crowd was Villaraigosa, who said Brewer "laid out a vision for the future that [the school district] can take and run with." But the mayor indicated that he was dissatisfied with what Brewer has been able to accomplish so far � a sluggishness he laid at the feet of the current school board, which opposed the mayor's efforts to gain authority over the school system.

Board President Marlene Canter disagreed: "I think that for the seven months that he's been here, to have done the work he's done to assess what's needed and to have a plan of how to move forward is exactly what you think about in the first year."

Villaraigosa also reiterated his desire to lead specific reforms at a cluster of schools - as envisioned in the measure that he had shepherded through the state Legislature last year. The courts have since ruled that law unconstitutional, and Villaraigosa last month abandoned his appeal. He instead focused successfully on electing an allied school board majority, which takes office July 1.

"I want to see the new board in July focus on the cluster of schools, which the superintendent spoke to, and I was heartened to see that," the mayor said, adding that his staff has had ongoing conversations with district officials that he expects to be "fruitful."

The mayor's senior education advisor, Ramon Cortines, however, said it was premature to say what role Villaraigosa might play in assisting specific schools.

"I don't want to use the phrase 'cluster of schools,' " he said. Do "we want to run a group of schools alone and independent? No, we're past that. We've got to put the city back together. It's good that we're all talking about education, but it cannot be a divisive conversation."

Brewer did not, in fact, address the question of the mayor directly overseeing a group of schools, but spoke repeatedly of wanting to work in partnership with Villaraigosa. Later, at the meeting at The Times, Brewer elaborated somewhat.

"I think the mayor understands this: He doesn't own a cluster of schools," he said. "The community owns [its schools]. I think the mayor realizes he is going to have to work with the community on any schools he wants to partner with."

Giving a nod to the high-profile, contentious debate over control of the district and the constant scrutiny by city power brokers, Brewer acknowledged that he's been on a crash course in city politics.

"I have learned there are few new ideas, but a whole lot of opinions about how to provide a world-class education. I have learned that politics in Los Angeles is a contact sport," he said. "Often we get distracted by adult issues, like governance, winners and losers, who has the juice or power, or who lacks the influence, but the bottom line is this: These are distractions from the core mission of providing high-quality instruction in that classroom."

The superintendent once again talked of plans to hire top administrators to oversee a new employee training initiative and a unified parent engagement effort. But there was no mention of his recently announced intention to hire a chief academic officer. Last week, talks broke down over salary between Brewer and his first choice for that position. In an interview, he said, he still expects to fill the post.

Brewer also announced plans to convene in coming months a "summit" of experts in instruction for students struggling to learn English. And he discussed the possibility of replicating single-sex academies such as the program for boys at Jordan High, and encouraging schools to consider longer school days consisting of eight periods rather than six.

Bill Davis, who watched as his daughter's success as a Los Angeles student was highlighted, said he was impressed with Brewer's message and apparent command of issues facing L.A. Unified.

"I'm waiting to hear more," he said.


â–ºCULTURE SHOCK FOR LAUSD Superintendent planning to revamp school structure

by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

06/14/2007 - In his first State of the Schools address since taking the helm of Los Angeles Unified, Superintendent David Brewer III unveiled an ambitious, wide-ranging strategy Thursday to radically revamp the culture and structure of the nation's second-largest school district.

Presenting a unified front with the mayor and school board, Brewer outlined five guiding principles that will form the backbone of efforts to boost everything from achievement and community involvement to parental support and curriculum.

Brewer conveyed a spirit of hope and optimism and said he's learned that improvements in safety, student achievement and graduation rates can only be achieved through partnerships with the city, cultivating relationships and engaging the community.

"Often we get distracted by adult issues like governance, winners and losers, who has the juice or the power, or who lacks the influence," he said.

"But the bottom line is this: These are distractions from the core mission of providing high-quality instruction in that classroom to improve student achievement so that our students eventually graduate from high school college-prepared and career-ready."

Brewer said the five principles are making decisions based on research and data, providing all employees with professional development, encouraging innovation, engaging parents and community, and ensuring the safety of students.

"The time for commitment, action and unity is now," he said. "Work with us, lean on us, bicker with us, keep us in check - because we are indeed family."

District leaders acknowledged the massive job ahead, however, in trying to overhaul a system that has become disjointed and dysfunctional after years of complacency.

"Change is really hard and we're all working to overcome decades of neglect, overcrowding and low achievement," board President Marlene Canter said. "We are poised right now to accelerate the changes that need to be made and to replicate all the successes that exist throughout the district."


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he was heartened that the superintendent's goals aligned with the education reform blueprint he unveiled months ago.

And he applauded the superintendent for bringing a "sense of hope and optimism," telling Brewer after the speech, "You're a preacher, man."

Still, Brewer faces significant funding obstacles for his plans and he emphasized that he will look to the mayor for help lobbying Sacramento and funds for joint-use projects.

Villaraigosa said he campaigned for a $4 billion school bond last November that includes $90 million LAUSD can tap for joint-use projects. On Thursday, the mayor said the city would kick in 20 percent of the cost of each project.

"There is a pot of money that can be used for capital projects like YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, libraries and parks together with the schools," Villaraigosa said. "Those are the kinds of synergies I've talked about for a long time and I'm glad to see that the superintendent agrees it has to be a priority."

And Villaraigosa said the city is willing to talk with the district about funding more joint-use projects.


Eight months after taking his post, Brewer focused his message Thursday on promising systemic changes that would change the culture of the system.

He said a newly created innovation office would provide a venue for employees, teachers and others to "unleash their creativity," to drive "substantial and sustainable organizational change."

Autonomy coupled with accountability will lead to change, Brewer said.

"(Those with ideas) are often burdened with outdated bureaucratic rules, arcane requirements and a six-inch (thick) contract," Brewer said.

Brewer said he also is currently in talks with the mayor, the teachers' union and Loyola Marymount University, among others, to create innovative programs particularly at low-performing schools.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy called the speech bold but said two proposals - making decisions based on data, and the need for longer school days - raised concerns.

Duffy said that public-education data revolves mainly around test scores, which could lead to teaching kids strictly on how to take tests. And while Brewer also touted cutting the central office by 14 percent, Duffy said the new divisions Brewer is setting up offset any cost savings.

"He covered a lot of ground. He was probably presented with the dilemma that you need to be bold, but you need to make sure what you're talking about is attainable," he said.

School board member Julie Korenstein applauded Brewer for his passion but questioned whether he is overextending himself amid a lean financial outlook.

"New superintendents are always very ambitious, then with time, reality sinks in, especially in a year where we have to cut the budget, which makes it more difficult," she said.

Korenstein said rather than "over-innovating" she would prefer to see the district focus on replicating and expanding concepts they have already dedicated energies on such as small learning communities and the magnet program.

"I'm concerned about too many innovations. You can't spread yourself too thin that you lose the progress you're making," Korenstein said.

"You have to be selective and pick and choose, looking at programs that are working now and replicating it. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we should be replicating exemplary programs."


STATE OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT: Supt. David L. Brewer came into office promising reform. Where has the fire gone?

LA Times Editorial

June 15, 2007 - WHEN LOS ANGELES schools Supt. David L. Brewer was on his honeymoon tour of the city, the former Navy admiral's glaring lack of education experience was offset by his charismatic determination and encouraging sense of urgency. He understood that the L.A. Unified School District is a disaster and that he had no time to lose in implementing big ideas and big plans. He hit the right notes, speaking of troubled middle and high schools, the dropout rate and incompetent teachers.

It was only a matter of time before the complexities of the district would temper his can-do attitude. The superintendent gave his first "state of the schools" speech Thursday, and although he still hit some of the right notes, most notable was what was not said.

Brewer spoke of using research to guide reform, of involving parents and creating an innovation division, of improved professional development for teachers and managers and of school safety. Asked how he would grade the district in those areas, he gave out mostly Cs � generous marks, given that the record reflects more failure than success. Admirably, he noted that the charter school movement is creating new impetus for innovation, a force for change in a district that needs more of it.

Yet neither in his speech nor in a subsequent meeting with Times reporters and editors did the superintendent offer any substantive discussion of instruction or convey any sense of urgency at righting his district. In fairness, he has always been clear that his skills are managerial � not educational � and he plans to hire a chief academic officer. But his emphasis on organization is hollow without reference to educational goals.

Brewer's acquiescence to L.A. Unified mores is the deeper cause for concern. When he arrived, he was passionate about removing ineffective teachers from the classroom. Now, apparently stymied by union opposition, he talks of moving failing teachers from school to school, but he has resigned himself to keeping them on the payroll - and thus subjecting new students to their failings.

Brewer inherited a school district in dire shape, but he also inherited a gift, thanks to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In the mayor's struggle to take over the district, he made the entire city understand the crisis. What's troubling is that as the city has awakened to that catastrophe, Brewer seems less convinced of it. Here, then, a reminder: Los Angeles schools are failing, and taking with them the lives and futures of hundreds of thousands of children. It is a crisis deserving an urgent response, not a call for research.

MORE OF THE STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The Times Editorial Board Interview and Highlights

DWP v. LAUSD, LA County, MTA, the State of California, the Community College District & UCLA
â–ºDWP ORDERED TO PAY $224 MILLION: Judge finds agency overcharged other civic entities. Ruling has dire implications for city budget, which relies on transferred funds.

By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer

June 13, 2007 �The city of Los Angeles' already shaky budget outlook took a potentially ominous turn Tuesday after a judge ruled that the Department of Water and Power intentionally overcharged other government agencies for electricity for nearly two decades, and owes them more than $200 million.

In a decision issued late Monday after a six-week trial, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John P. Wade held that the massive city utility must pay nearly $224 million in damages for its illegal conduct.

"The court finds that the DWP and the city have, for many years, since at least 1988, intentionally ignored the plain language" of the California Government Code and failed to determine how much it should legally charge, Wade wrote in his ruling.

The judge also criticized "the lack of a sense of responsibility to good government exhibited" by the city and the DWP.

Ron Deaton, the DWP's general manager, said all the plaintiffs "have benefited from electricity rates that are far below those charged to other government entities by investor-owned utilities across the state. We believe these extremely favorable rates were fair and appropriate and in full compliance with the law."

City officials immediately said they would appeal.

The Los Angeles Unified School District would be the largest beneficiary of the ruling if it stands - garnering $94.7 million. But the decision potentially has serious implications for the city of Los Angeles, which for years has counted on revenues from its municipal utility to help balance its more than $6-billion annual budget.

The city, by law, must balance its budget each year - even though its expenses currently outpace revenues. One way of doing that over the years has been to take revenues collected by the DWP and transfer them to the city's general fund.

About $175 million was transferred in the current fiscal year between water and power revenues, and the city expected to transfer $184.6 million in the budget adopted for the coming year.

But city revenues are also threatened on another front. The city is facing a lawsuit over its right to collect up to $270 million in cellphone taxes each year. A state appeals court ruled against the city in May.

The news could be bad for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as a sapped budget could harm his ability to accomplish goals � such as greatly expanding the Police Department � as he prepares for a 2009 reelection campaign and potential gubernatorial bid in 2010.

Villaraigosa could also find himself in an uncomfortable position with the new majority on the school board, which he helped elect. A successful appeal could save the city from a devastating financial blow, but would deny L.A. Unified a huge influx of cash. Since taking office, Villaraigosa has made reforming the district a cornerstone of his administration.

The prospect of extending the court fight drew the ire of veteran school board member David Tokofsky. "I hope City Hall will not send us into two to three years of appeals but instead will look at a child- and city-centered settlement immediately," Tokofsky said.

In addition to the $94.7 million earmarked for L.A. Unified, Los Angeles County would receive $45.2 million under Wade's decision; the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, $39.4 million; the Los Angeles Community College District, $7.8 million; UCLA, $5.3 million; and several state agencies, $31.3 million.

"DWP boosted its revenues at the expense of schools and county taxpayers for years," said Eric R. Havian, a San Francisco lawyer with the firm of Phillips & Cohen who was the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "It's unfortunate that the county, the school district and others had to sue the DWP to get the money they are owed."

The lawsuit asserted that the DWP was charging the plaintiffs up to 60% more than their legitimate share of capital costs. Havian said that evidence presented at the trial showed the DWP was aware it was acting unlawfully from studies it conducted. However, he said the school district and other government agencies did not know that they were being overcharged until a whistle-blower came forward in 2000.

Originally, the case was filed under seal. After an investigation, several governmental entities joined the lawsuit, and it was unsealed but drew little attention because the case was conducted in San Bernardino County. State law provides that when there is litigation between government agencies from the same municipality the case must be heard in another county.

Wade concluded that the plaintiffs were entitled to compensation because the DWP violated California statutes and the DWP had unjustly enriched itself.

But DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said the state statute at issue in the case had been modified last year. That change in the law appears to give the agency greater flexibility, but there has been no definitive court interpretation of what the change means, legal experts said.

For now, Ramallo said, "we can continue to charge in the manner we have been�. In the intermediate term, this decision does not have any impact on the transfer of funds from the DWP to the city budget."

Wade denied the DWP's attempt to have the case thrown out in April, rejecting the agency's assertion that the plaintiffs could not prove that it was knowingly overcharging. The judge said there was ample evidence to conclude that the city had violated the law.

Both sides said settlement negotiations were held during the last year, but they would not provide details.

"It was insane for the DWP not to settle" after the judge rejected the agency's summary judgment motion, said former Los Angeles City Atty. Ira Reiner, who worked with the plaintiffs. After that ruling, it was only a question of how big the damages would be and the judge who would make that decision was the same person who already said he had found ample evidence to rule against the DWP, Reiner said.

The two sides presented competing experts on the damages issue and Wade concluded that the plaintiffs' expert was more reliable. He said the defense expert had improperly "included the annual transfer of revenues to the city as a cost to the DWP."

The ruling was hailed by state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, whose office represented 11 state agencies, including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Department of Transportation and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

"It is a little shocking that the city would try to fund its programs on the backs of other taxpayers who are equally hard-pressed," Brown said.

DWP board President H. David Nahai, who was appointed by Villaraigosa, said he was troubled by what he considered sweeping conclusions in the judge's six-page ruling without a detailed analysis.

But San Francisco attorney Wayne Lamprey, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said that Wade's decision was in line with rulings by other courts in the state who had interpreted the section of the state government code that was at issue in this case.

Times staff writers Steve Hymon and Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

â–ºDWP'S GREATEST RIP-OFF: Utility ordered to refund $222 million to LAUSD, other entities

by Kerry Cavanaugh, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

June 13, 2007 - The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power overcharged the school district, county and other government agencies for more than a decade and now must return more than $220 million, a judge has ruled.

Six government entities sued in 2000, saying that under state law the DWP can only charge them for the cost of producing the electricity they use - less than what the utility had billed them.

Among their concerns was that the DWP was overcharging them and using the funds to essentially subsidize the city budget through an annual transfer that this year totals $185 million.

In his ruling Monday, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John P. Wade agreed that the DWP ignored state law and he ordered the utility to refund $222 million in overcharges from 1997 through 2006.

"Basically (the DWP) ripped off a number of agencies," said California Attorney General Jerry Brown. "It was a political move. This way the City Council gets more money to spend on their special projects. This takes money away from the schools, the colleges, the Highway Patrol."

Brown's office joined the lawsuit on behalf of state agencies in Los Angeles that were overcharged $31 million by the DWP.

The ruling is a significant loss for the DWP - and potentially Los Angeles ratepayers - if the utility has to dip into its savings to repay the public agencies named in the judgment.

But DWP officials said they will appeal, and they disputed the judge's ruling and assertions that the utility was bilking customers.

"We are a public agency. We're a municipal utility. We're not a profit-making entity," said Board of Water and Power Commission President H. David Nahai, adding that the DWP's rates are among the lowest in the state.

"The suggestion that we were somehow engaging in profiteering is offensive."

Nahai called the ruling preliminary.

"Immediately, we don't think it will have an impact," he said. "If the courts ultimately determine that DWP has to pay these amounts, we'll abide by the courts' decision."

The $222 million would be a one-time payment. Last year former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, passed legislation that allows the DWP to maintain its current rates for public-agency customers.

If the decision is upheld, the payment could have a one-time effect on the DWP's annual cash transfer to the city's general fund.

"Because this affects a proprietary agency, any effects on the city budget are limited," said Thomas Saenz, counsel to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Still, attorney Eric Havian, who represented the six agencies that sued the DWP, said the judge's ruling appears to limit how much the utility can charge its public customers going forward.

In particular, the judge prohibited the DWP from charging its public-agency customers for the power revenue transfer to the city's general fund, an annual cash hand-over worth $185 million this year.

Public-agency customers had complained that the DWP ratepayers are essentially being taxed and subsidizing city government through the transfer.

"You're not allowed to charge more for electricity and then turn around and use it for parks and the city budget. The law requires you to be very straightforward about that," Havian said.

Los Angeles Unified School District board member David Tokofsky has battled the city over the DWP reimbursement and said Tuesday he was pleased with the ruling.

"I hope that City Hall will not pursue its fantasies of appealing, and instead dedicate these resources immediately to the families and children of LAUSD, the county, UCLA, and the other educational and public agencies victorious in this litigation," he said.

Last year, the DWP tentatively agreed to pay $900,000 to the LAUSD under a proposed settlement over a similar lawsuit related to water rates.

LAUSD General Counsel Kevin Reed said he hoped the two agencies could settle again rather than pursue an appeal.

"But once we get this money, it's general fund money. It goes straight to the classroom," he said.


â–ºCLEAN UP THE DWP: Latest scandal demands drastic action to protect public


June 14, 2007 - NOW we know that the politicians in Los Angeles City Hall are so insatiable for ever more money to squander that they'll even cannibalize our schools to get it. Indeed, they've been doing so for a decade.

Does it get any lower than this?

On Tuesday, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John P. Wade ruled that the city's Department of Water and Power overcharged the Los Angeles Unified School District and other public agencies between 1997 and 2006 - to the tune of $222 million, which the DWP must repay.

Under state law, the utility was barred from charging these agencies more than cost for electricity, but that didn't stop the DWP from making a profit on the service.

That's because the utility has served as City Hall's piggy bank, a slush fund for the politicians.

Every year, the department transfers a huge pile of cash to the city general fund. This year the transfer will amount to an astonishing $185 million.

Which is to say, City Hall uses the DWP to suck money out of the LAUSD and the public and funnel it into its own coffers.

Or as California Attorney General Jerry Brown put it: "It was a political move. This way the City Council gets more money to spend on
their special projects. This takes money away from the schools, the colleges, the Highway Patrol."

Worse yet, it takes money away from all of us. It is taxpayers who pay the bills for these agencies, and taxpayers who will bear all the costs of the litigation of this trial. DWP ratepayers - that is, all residents of L.A. - are also going to be stuck with paying back the $222 million.

It's not enough that the DWP needs to repay those it overbilled. Every public official involved in this rip-off must be held accountable.

If the mayor and the City Council don't clean up this mess, they don't deserve to hold public office. It's as simple as that.


â–²Letters to the Daily News: (6/14)

Re "DWP's greatest rip-off" (June 13): "�Because this affects a proprietary agency, any effects on the city budget are limited," said Thomas Saenz, counsel to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa."
Saenz seems to be speaking as an authority on the L.A. city budget. As Saenz is attorney to the mayor and a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education - with ultimate oversight over the finances of the Los Angeles Unified School District - his interests are obviously conflicted.
One would hope that he would resign one post or the other (or both), state publicly that he has a conflict of interest and recuse himself - keeping his opinions to himself.

Scott Folsom
Mount Washington

THE DWP RULING: Sordid details and Letters to the Editor

by Gary Walker - Marina del Rey Argonaut

Thursday, June 14, 2007 - A community meeting hosted by the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation Thursday, June 7th, to discuss the concept of autonomy for Westchester area schools took a contentious turn after several area educators complained that they had not been properly informed of the proposed reform.

Education advocates, parents, teachers and key members of the Los Angeles Unified School District addressed a packed auditorium at the community room at the Westchester Municipal Building regarding establishing "zones of autonomy" at area campuses, which they feel would improve the level of education, particularly at Westchester High School.

The concept of giving members of the community whose children are currently attending schools in the Westchester neighborhoods more local control, direct community involvement in school policies and a stronger voice in decision-making is an idea that Kelly Kane is excited about exploring.

"Autonomy is coming to Westchester," Kane proclaimed prior to the meeting. She is director of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the enhancement and advocacy of public schools in Westchester.

"This is just the beginning," Kane continued. She said that she was "inspired and encouraged" by what she called "enthusiastic" support for the possibility of creating zones of autonomy from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) superintendent David Brewer and LAUSD board member and president Marlene Canter, whose district includes Westchester.

The school district, by outward appearances, seems to be receptive to the plan outlined by Westchester parents and some area teachers, unlike the proposal by Green Dot Public Schools, an organization that is seeking to wrest control of Locke High School away from LAUSD and transform the inner-city school into several charter schools, independent of district oversight.

"Everyone who has a stake in making our schools better is being invited to participate," said Kane.

The Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council approved a motion to back the autonomy plan, which is still in its nascent stage, on Tuesday, June 5th. Terry Marcellus, a Neighborhood Council director who heads the council's education committee, said that his organization supports the concept of self-rule in principle, with certain conditions.

One of the most important considerations for Marcellus is having governing councils for the schools.

"In my mind, a governing board that has broad representation of all of the stakeholders is essential," he said.

The Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council also believes that any autonomy plan should include "best practices of charter schools or another autonomy model."

At the community forum, which was the regular meeting of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation, Kane repeatedly asked the audience to "open your minds, open your hearts," and "think big."

"We're going to move away from fear, and into beautiful, wonderful, amazing education," she proposed. "Nothing is written in stone, and every voice here will be heard. All of us are on the precipice of greatness, and we can only get there together."

Kathy Littman, who will head LAUSD's new Innovation Division, which has been created to "develop and implement educational models to support effective educational practices," according to the district, spoke in favor of the concept of autonomy zones.

"It's time to do something different," she said. "This is a magic moment that we can take advantage of."

While Kane and Littman spoke in positive tones about the possibilities of self-governance, several teachers in the audience appeared disgruntled about the reform proposal.

At least three times during comments by Kane, teachers interrupted her to inquire why they had not been notified about the meeting, which several of them learned about at the last minute via word of mouth or from representatives of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the union that represents the majority of the school district's educators.

Various teachers also alleged that parent volunteers have threatened to replace them if the autonomy reform is successful.

A.J. Duffy, the president of UTLA, said that by not notifying the educators in the Westchester area schools, Kane's organization had "scared the hell out of the teachers," which drew applause from many of the assembled faculty members.

"I made it as clear as I could possibly make it to teachers that if they do not want to be in an autonomy zone, they do not have to be in an autonomy zone," Duffy continued. "I believe passionately in autonomy, and the idea of a family of schools was a concept that we developed at UTLA in agreement with [Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa].

"All of those concepts were about percolating from the bottom, not putting it down from the top."

Kane told the angry teachers that the district had promised to send out a letter to all area school principals informing them of the meeting and highlighting the specifics of the autonomy plan.

She also attempted to assuage the angry teachers' fears that her organization had any ill will toward them.

"What happened is, the information didn't get (distributed) at the right time by the right people," she reiterated. "That is why this meeting tonight is a little tense.

"I'm hoping that we can all step over that, and get to the place where we know where we can be; which is, let's make our schools the best that they can be, for the kids that are in them," she added.

Barbara Stern was one of the teachers who challenged Kane during and after the meeting. She and some of her colleagues took issue with what they believe is the foundation's attempt to squeeze them out of the reform process, and impose its standards on both the faculty and students.

"I specifically asked [Kane] why the teachers had not been invited to this meeting," the teacher told The Argonaut. "Pretty much every teacher that is here came only because they heard about it through word of mouth."

Stern also wanted to know why Kane did not acknowledge elementary school educators if the scores at those schools have improved.

"The teachers feel like this is coming down from the top, and being thrust upon us," Stern asserted. "As a veteran teacher, I've seen a lot of these programs, and we've been through all of these different reforms, and then the board has dropped nearly every innovation.

"They stop funding them, dissolve them or they just drop them."

Kane said she believes that a lot of the "panic and rumors" that were on display at the forum were the result of misinformation that emanated from teachers union circles and the failure of the school district to distribute the letter that would have explained the plan in more detail.

"We felt that they dropped the ball," the foundation director contends, referring to the fact that the letter of explanation to the school principals about the community meeting and the autonomy proposal was not mailed.

"It was important that the letter come from the LAUSD chain of command. They left it up to us to tell the community."

Kane said that Canter, who also spoke at the foundation meeting, agreed to make sure that the letter was distributed, and denied telling any member of her group that teachers might be replaced if the proposed reforms take place.

Kane stated that her organization later heard that the letter had been "held back" by the school district.

"Principals were told by our district leaders to not distribute the information," Kane alleged.

During an interview subsequent to the community forum, Kane repeatedly stated that she and her advocacy group believe that teachers are invaluable to their mission of improving Westchester schools.

"We love our teachers," she reiterated. "How can we expect to have good teachers without good schools?

"To be accused of trying to take away teachers' benefits makes me absolutely irate."

Duffy says that he has great respect for Kane and other parent volunteers.

"I believe that they are pure of heart, and want what's best for their kids," he acknowledged. "But even though they say that they have no desire to force people to go along with their plan, [not being included in discussions about autonomy] makes it appear to the teachers that it is mandatory."

He took umbrage at what he felt was an attempt by Brewer and Canter to hijack an idea that he says his union initiated.

"They have talked about a 'family of schools' that doesn't exist," he said.

"It has to be created, and teachers have to play a critical role in any kind school reform, and I will not allow that family to be created for another top-down organization," Duffy vowed.

He alleged that Brewer and Canter brought forth "an amalgam of ideas, none of which were theirs."

"(Duffy and I) agree that our ultimate goals are the same; that we want better schools and more local control, so that our kids can have the best education possible," said Kane.

However, she said she was surprised that Duffy would make the statements that he did at the community meeting.

"I think that Duffy does not like the speed at which I travel," Kane speculated.

The Neighborhood Council's Marcellus, a longtime education advocate and a graduate of Westchester schools, concurs that teachers are a valuable part of any new reform.

"Teachers are one of the key stakeholders in this autonomy plan," said Marcellus, who attended the gathering. "They want to make sure that they get the benefit of their seniority and the benefit of their contract."

Loyola Marymount University (LMU), which is involved in an educational partnership with Westchester High, plans to be an important participant of any reform plan that is created, said LMU's dean of education Shane Martin.

There will be additional forums on the topic of autonomy zones and education reform throughout the summer. LMU will host a community discussion Saturday, June 16th.

From Kane's point of view, school autonomy is not a matter of how; it's a matter of when.

"Autonomy in this generation started on May 18th with Admiral Brewer," Kane asserted. "The autonomy train is coming to Westchester."

â–²READER'S COMMENTS - Ann McConnell wrote on Jun 14, 2007 3:22 PM:
" AJ Duffy seems to be concerned that he would lose power in this new family of schools. He stated "I will not allow". This is not for him to allow or not allow. This is for the teachers and the students. It doesn't seem that he has good intentions, but rather self-promoting intentions. If this is not the case, then he should reconsider if his PR skills are high enough to be a leader of the Teachers' Union. "

â–ºsmf opines: There's some interesting thinking here, it takes more than thinking of course - but it's a start. I worry that our championship of neighborhood schools doesn't pit one neighborhood against its neighbors and promotes "us" to the exclusion of "them".

"One of the most important considerations for Marcellus is having governing councils for the schools." If Mr. Marcellus knows of a school without a School Site (governing) Council he needs tell someone about it: SSCs are mandated by the Ed Code. Admittedly most are undertrained, uninformed and ineffective - but that is pretty much true of neighborhood councils too.

And Duffy: "I believe passionately in autonomy, and the idea of a family of schools was a concept that we developed at UTLA in agreement with [Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa]." That was hardly UTLA's finest hour! The autonomy preached by AB1381 was more akin to autocracy - with city hall pulling a tangled web of strings. "Families of Schools" are hardly the creation of UTLA and the mayor; Googling the term produces 20,600 hits - mostly in Britain!

There will be a farewell ceremony commemorating the end of David Tokofsky's term on the Board of Education on June 26, 2007 at 11:00 AM. during the regularly scheduled board meeting @ 333 Beaudry.

A brief reception will follow in the lobby.

smf: This is truly the end of an era.

David's contributions to the board and his commitment to the schoolchildren of LA have been truly extraordinary; meetings may start on time and end sooner without him there - but he will be missed!


KCET & The Los Angeles County Office of Education
Invites High School History Teachers and Students
to a Special Preview Screening
A Ken Burns Film
Directed and Produced by
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Wednesday July 11, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Reception and screening
followed by a moderated Q & A with director Ken Burns

Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd. L.A.
(located on Veterans Administration Campus)

Join Ken Burns and KCET for a special preview screening event of his epic new documentary, THE WAR, as it follows the fortunes of a handful of ordinary men and women caught up in one of the greatest cataclysms in human history, World War II, one of the pivotal events of the 20th Century.

Admission is free
Reservations are required.
Space is limited.
To register, please contact:
Sara Jones at KCET


For more information about the documentary, The War,
please visit


*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-893-6800


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: - 213-241-6387 - 213-241-6180 - 213-241-6388 - 213-241-6382 - 213-241-6385 - 213-241-6386 - 213-241-6383

...or your city councilperson, mayor, 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.
• Register.
• Vote.

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is President of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or governance council member at three 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. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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