Sunday, December 16, 2007


4LAKids: Sunday, Dec 16, 2007
In This Issue:
LAUSD PARENTS PASS UP THE VOTE: Low turnout in the recent vote on school reform shows the apathy the mayor is up against
SCHOOLING ANTONIO: The mayor learns to settle for less than a total takeover of L.A. Unified
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

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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.
• Mayor Villaraigosa in the LA Times: "We've got to have the vote first; you can't put the cart before the horse."

• A Roosevelt HS Parent in KPCC radio: "I'm voting for his plan because his wife - his ex-wife - whatever - is a teacher and he knows from pillow talk and experience how to change things".

Leaving the Beaudry Building Friday night with another parent activist we ran into a central office staffer we both know. Our mutual friend is an outspoken fellow activist/curmudgeon, an insider to our outsider. During the elevator ride she tore into us at the lack of parent turnout in the parent part of the mayor's partnership elections - where the partnership will take over a couple of schools in a demonstration project to prove not exactly what I'm sure.

Perhaps that an influx of charisma, a place in the media spotlight and an infusion of outside money can make a difference in public education? Or that a small group with a small focus is better at the small picture than a big one at the big one? Duh and double duh.

Parents did not turn out en masse to validate or repudiate the mayor's plan - that's for sure. It would have been a more authentic vote had more parents voted - but that doesn't mean that parents don't care; it means they didn't get the word that it was important that they do vote. Because there was no requirement - as there was with the teachers - that a certain number of parents vote no number was too few. So it wasn't in anyone's interest to get out the vote. And it's very hard to get out the vote when - if as alleged - both LAUSD and the partnership were encouraging a YES vote.

Our friend's argument is echoed in the Times Editorial ("Parents pass up the vote" -immediately following) - though one could suggest that the "apathy" was engineered.

Steve Lopez ("A shaky start on a huge agenda" - also following) points out that only 10% of eligible parents voted. But let's put that statistic in perspective: Only 1% of registered Iowa voters - all of whom are entitled and welcomed - will attend that State's caucuses next month …an event of cosmic significance.

Other questions remain.

• The first are what exactly were the rules for the election, who made them up and were they ever agreed to by everyone?

Boardmember Korenstein says the Board of Education wasn't involved in the decision "…we never had that discussion."

The last time I looked the BdofEd is the governing authority of the District. If the Daily News has it right and the voting was "for divorcing the governance of the schools from the LAUSD and putting the schools under the control of Villaraigosa's education-reform initiative" it seems to me that the state constitution as affirmed by LAUSD v. Villaraigosa prohibits exactly that. UTLA disputes what the rules are in the teacher's election and how they are counted and what the outcome was. Those are pretty basic differences.

• Who decided that all teachers must vote but that only those parents who would/could or knew-to-show-up-on-the-day would vote?

Good grief - neighborhood councils, the most local of local government - mail ballots to stakeholders.

• Did parents of 12th graders (who have no interest in the outcome) get a vote? Did 5th grade parents - who have more of an interest than anyone in the outcome because their kids will be in the program longest - have a vote?

• Whatever happened to the mayor's partnership taking over "clusters" or "families of schools" - K-12 - including elementary schools?

The current thinking holds that the low performance of middle and high school students is attributable to the fact they didn't learn to read at grade level and the other basic skills (multiplication tables anyone?) in elementary. You read it here: Is the mayors partnership being short-changed?

That no one could foretell that ⅓ of Santee High School teachers - C Track at a year 'round school - would be off-track boggles the mind!

• Did the mailings, fliers, phone calls and get-out-the vote information sent to parents favor one side or the other in the election? Did anyone from any side electioneer at the polls? The wrong answers here would seem to invalidate everything.

• And who ran the election?

The answer here seems to be the LAUSD Innovation Division with assistance from the Facilities Division Community Outreach Department. Herein lies the appearance of a conflict of interest. And I note: The appearance-of and an actual C-of-I are two different things!

The I-Division - which apparently made up the rules for the election and administered it - has an interest in the outcome: If the partnership efforts - whether from the mayor or Loyola Marymount or anyone else aren't accepted by teachers and parents the I-Division loses its very reason for existence. Complicating matters: Both the I-Division and the Community Outreach Dept receive funding from the school construction bonds -- but this election is far, far outside that purview and all costs MUST be accounted for in the district's general budget.

The Daily News suggests that the Partnerships should be paying for the elections - and the I-Division says that future elections will be run by the League of Women Voters.

The last question becomes: "When exactly is it too late?"

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! - smf

▲Unquestionably the Best News of the Week:



December 12, 2007 -- LOS ANGELES -- A Superior Court judge has ruled that Los Angeles Unified School District administrators do not violate state law by considering the ethnic backgrounds of students when selecting them for admission to magnet schools.

The American Civil Rights Foundation sued the district in October 2005, alleging the district policy is unconstitutional and violates Proposition 209, which forbids racial preferences in government hiring and public school admissions.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Gutman says the district's practices are in line with a 26-year-old court order to desegregate the school district.

MORE QUESTIONS about the role of mayors in schools: The EdWeek Chat on the Book: THE EDUCATION MAYOR: Improving America's Schools

LAUSD PARENTS PASS UP THE VOTE: Low turnout in the recent vote on school reform shows the apathy the mayor is up against
LA Times Editorial

December 15, 2007 — If the votes at seven Los Angeles campuses are an indication, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to revamp a group of low-performing schools. A strong majority of the teachers and parents who voted Tuesday favored having the mayor and his partnership run the three high schools and four middle schools. (The teacher vote at Santee Education Complex might need to be redone, though, in part because a large number of teachers at the multitrack school were on vacation.) With the mayor behind them -- his skill at raising money and hiring smart leaders, his ability to pull community and city resources together -- these schools stand their best chance in years of a real turnaround.

But a strong majority of a very small minority is an even smaller minority. After more than two months of outreach through schools, churches and community groups, less than 10% of parents voted in the advisory ballot. Let's face it, voter turnout in the last school board election was just about as bad. But the school board is remote, its reach amorphous and the likelihood for imminent change small. In this case, parents had the chance to speak out on transforming their children's schools, bringing in new management, new financial resources and even new teachers. Instead, they stayed home in droves.

The implication is that the task of getting parents involved in education might be tougher than foreseen, even for a mayor with a legendary ability to galvanize grass-roots excitement. Villaraigosa's school team plans to require, as most charter schools do, that parents sign contracts promising to be active in their children's schooling, from volunteering to making sure the kids attend. His commitment to bringing parents into the mix is unwavering and praiseworthy, but he also might have new insight into what teachers have been struggling with all along.

Parents whose children attend low-achieving schools cannot just fume and hope things will get better. They have to be part of the transformation. That's a lesson we hope they learn the easy way.

by Steve Lopez | LATimes columnist

December 16, 2007 - Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he's trying to fix public education, and for that, he deserves a pat on the back.

But his attempts so far don't always inspire confidence. And I'm not just talking about his sloppy legislative power grab that was laughed out of the courts earlier this year. The latest example was last week's banana republic-style elections at seven campuses the mayor wants to control.

Roughly 90% of the parents at the schools skipped the election. And that was despite enticements that included raffle tickets for Jordan High parents who came to hear the mayor speak. Hizzoner himself picked the winning tickets for a TV, a camera and a Target gift certificate.

It's not clear whether the low turnout was due to all the usual reasons for parental disengagement, or if parents simply couldn't tell exactly what the mayor was trying to sell. But either way, the numbers are a little scary.

Meanwhile, some teachers were still contesting the voting rules days after last Tuesday's elections, and results were in dispute at more than one school. By week's end, the mayor's claim of a clean sweep was shakier than his assertion that he knows how to make low-performing schools better.

To give him his due, he seems to have won clear control of at least five schools that were desperate to get out from under the control of the Los Angeles Unified School District. That's amazing when you consider that the mayor never explained what he'd do differently, other than vague promises of more autonomy and resources.

"It's all these wonderful things about doing more for the children," said Jordan High's Miranda Manners, who teaches English as a second language. "But there are no nuts and bolts involved."

I spoke to Manners in the classroom of art history and French teacher Audrey O'Keefe, another veteran who thought the pitch by the mayor and his team deserved a grade of Incomplete.

They voted against Villaraigosa's Partnership for Schools, a nonprofit that would take over management of Jordan and the six other schools from L.A. Unified. Although Villaraigosa eked out a 54-51 win at Jordan, the teachers union is crying foul. It claims more than 50% of all certificated employees had to vote yes, not just 50% of those who voted.

Conveniently enough for the mayor, there doesn't appear to be any provision in the election rules for contesting the results. Jeez, even Florida had an appeals process.

Manners and O'Keefe say the campaign at their Watts school seemed all but rigged, with the mayor's minions bringing free Starbucks and pastries to pitch meetings and pro-mayor paraphernalia adorning the polling place on election day.

"I was furious," O'Keefe said of the shenanigans.

But her bigger concern was the absence of a clear plan to help teachers overcome disengaged parents, students who aren't up to snuff after years of social promotion and gang violence so prevalent that the high school is occasionally in lockdown.

Allowing teachers to help manage their own school is intriguing, they said.

"But who will do all that work, and how do you decide who's directing it?" asked O'Keefe.

On Friday morning I went to Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights to get some answers. I was hoping to meet with the mayor, but his office sent me Marshall Tuck, executive director of the partnership.

Tuck, a bright young do-gooder with a Harvard MBA, spoke passionately about the shameful mediocrity of urban public education in America. At Roosevelt in 2003, he said, there were 1,800 freshmen and 786 seniors, meaning the dropout rate was astronomical.

Understood, but how's the mayor going to change that?

Tuck answered in generalities for the most part. Being vague was part of the mayor's political strategy all along, because a specific plan might have alienated those whose support was needed. And besides, the mayor was selling the fuzzy idea that each school would design its own plan.

Sounds good in theory. But when Tuck talked about handing control over to a council of teachers, parents and administrators, I found myself wondering how they'd ever reach consensus on anything. It's an exciting proposition, but frankly a terrifying one, as well, given the different agenda each party will bring to the table, not to mention the possibility of opposition to specific reforms by the teachers union.

But let's say they get it together at Roosevelt, where faculty and staff voted 152-62 in favor of the mayor. How will the school change?

Hopefully, Tuck said, the energy level will get a boost when beaten-down teachers and parents who've lost faith become reengaged. Maybe a few of the small-learning centers at Roosevelt can be moved off campus to ease overcrowding. There could be more money for teacher training and computers, and with stronger connections to businesses and service agencies in the area, Roosevelt students might find new ways to prosper.

"We don't pretend to have all the answers," Tuck admitted. But it is time for a bold change, he said, and any success the mayor's team achieves can be a model for the rest of the district.

It could also help Villaraigosa in his lust for higher office, and don't think that isn't part of the calculation. Get a few benefactors to pour money and resources into a handful of schools, bump up test scores a bit and take your bows.

Meanwhile, students at roughly 1,000 other schools in the district will be looking on like kids whose house got missed by Santa.

For one Roosevelt teacher, voting for a new direction was a no-brainer.

"I don't trust the district," he said flatly, giving me his frustration, his logic and everything but his name.

The teacher wanted a say in what to teach his students. And the bureaucracy is a nightmare in every way, he said, telling the story of his broken classroom door. It took weeks to get someone to look at it, he said, and it'll take weeks for a second person to come and actually fix it.

In the meantime, he waited so long for someone to fix a broken window, a second window was broken. A repairman showed up, fixed the first window and left without fixing the second one. He said he didn't have a requisition order for two windows.

The teacher said the mayor's team didn't do a very good job of explaining its plan, but he voted for "the lesser of two evils" because he saw nothing to lose.

It would have been better all around, I think, if teachers and parents voted for something new and specific rather than against something old and broken. For the sake of the kids, though, let's hope the mayor's promised improvements materialize someday.

In the Roosevelt courtyard, Tuck spotted a supportive teacher named Jorge Lopez and they shook hands to celebrate the victory. Lopez then said something the mayor should take to heart.

"Now comes the hard work."

by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

Los Angeles Unified officials have sent thousands of fliers urging parents and teachers to let Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa manage some district schools in what critics decried Monday as a biased campaign that misuses taxpayer funds.

The district paid for the fliers and automated calls to remind parents about today's vote at seven schools, but critics say the information is essentially an advocacy campaign for the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

One flier obtained by the Daily News from the district's innovation division lists the benefits of a yes vote to join the partnership but makes no mention of any potential drawbacks.

"Any time a government official or the government itself has a stake in the outcome of an election, it's unfair to use public money to influence that election," said Tim Bittle, director of legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

"It sure sounds like the mayor has a stake in the outcome of this election, because if he can persuade the parents and the teachers to approve this plan and then he pulls off some positive reform, it's going to be a publicity opportunity for him and his quest perhaps for higher office."

But Kathi Littmann, executive director of the LAUSD's innovation division, said her office is working with the mayor to develop the reform effort and did a thorough job informing communities about the issues in a limited amount of time.

The district and the mayor's nonprofit partnership will tally costs of the campaign later this month, but Littmann said district funds are being used appropriately because students - not the mayor - will ultimately benefit.

"I think what would have been irresponsible was to ask the community to make a decision without having the information," Littmann said. "It's an LAUSD initiative and to not put out that information would have violated everything the (innovation) division is about - which is informed decision-making at the school-site level.

"We put lots of information out there of what this is and what it's not."

Littmann said each school was responsible for generating the content of the automated calls to parents, so what some may have said is unclear.

Officials at the Mayor's Office said the partnership had no connection to the fliers that were issued, and that the $200,000 in community outreach efforts was funded by grants.

School board member Julie Korenstein said she has not seen the fliers, and that the board has not been involved in decisions with the mayor's partnership.

But she said voters should know all the facts - including that the mayor's schools will not be under the local district's jurisdiction anymore.

"I'm not exactly sure why L.A. Unified is putting up the money to sell this," she said. "I don't know if this board ... would have been wanting the superintendent to spend taxpayer money this way because we never had that discussion.

"I might want my money to go to books and supplies for the classroom rather than putting out fliers trying to sell an unknown entity to people."

The push comes as the partnership and the district have agreed to give Villaraigosa a role overseeing at least two groups of underperforming schools starting in the 2008-09 school year.

But teachers and parents at the school have to agree, so today those at Santee, Jordan and Roosevelt high schools will vote on the plan. Teachers and parents at Hollenbeck, Stevenson, Gompers and Markam middle schools also will vote.

The district hopes to announce the results Wednesday, assessing support for the mayor's plan through a majority vote - 50percent plus one - of parents and certificated staffers.


Daily News Editorial

Dec. 11, 2007 -- Officials in the Los Angeles Unified School District are right to want to support Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's reform plan for L.A.'s worst-performing schools. But in their zeal to get the word out to parents voting on the reform plan Tuesday, they misused district money.

The district paid for thousands of fliers and automated calls to urge parents at seven schools to support the mayor's initiative. Officials defended this action, saying they were merely trying to inform people of Tuesday's vote. But their efforts went beyond merely disseminating information and into electioneering.

A majority of teachers and parents at Santee, Jordan and Roosevelt high schools and Hollenbeck, Stevenson, Gompers and Markam middle schools must agree before the mayor's reform plan can be launched. That means voting for divorcing the governance of the schools from the LAUSD and putting the schools under the control of Villaraigosa's education-reform initiative.

And support the plan they should. The district has failed these schools. An infusion of attention and money from the mayor's supporters can only help students, teachers and parents build a better learning community.

But the LAUSD has no business spending education money on blatantly political purposes - worthy or not.

Ironically, this inappropriate financial support points to what's wrong with the LAUSD: It's an essentially political entity that uses too many resources on noneducational

Besides, the mayor's initiative hardly needs financial support from the LAUSD; Villaraigosa has raised millions from supporters who share his vision.

Even though Villaraigosa didn't sanction this expenditure on his behalf, it would be the gentlemanly thing for him to have his reform fund reimburse the district's expenses.


▲LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re "LAUSD pays for fliers backing mayor's plan," and "$4.7 million more may go to fixes of payroll system" (Dec. 11):

Many weeks ago, the LAUSD spent millions fighting the mayor's takeover of the L.A. schools. Now, it is helping him do it?

Does anyone in the Los Angeles Unified School District know what they are doing, except spending money? Were not the teachers getting paid before LAUSD decided to spend $21million on a new payroll system?

The LAUSD is too big and is just wasting our kids' money? All you have to do is look at the above and Belmont High School to see that! Whatever happened to Belmont, by the way? Are we still wasting money there?

- William Conroy, Northridge

SCHOOLING ANTONIO: The mayor learns to settle for less than a total takeover of L.A. Unified
by Ayse Arf | LA City Beat

Dec 12, 2007 - Teachers and parents of students from one Los Angeles high school and its feeder campuses voted Tuesday to join Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Excellence in L.A. Schools.

The Partnership – the latest iteration of the mayor’s push for school reform – calls for the takeover of low-performing Roosevelt high school and the web of middle and elementary schools that feed it. In beating the drum for the Partnership, both Villaraigosa and community groups stressed the idea of autonomy for parents and teachers. The vote itself made a marked statement on self-determination, allowing parents of students at the schools in question to vote alongside teachers regardless of immigration or voter-registration status.

Maria Brenes, executive director of the Boyle Heights education non-profit Inner City Struggle, agrees with the mayor’s oft-repeated claim that one of the biggest problems these schools face is L.A. Unified itself: “They feel that this partnership is a way to really cut the bureaucracy and get the most resources and funding to our local schools.”

That Villaraigosa can bring in the dollars is not in question. But details on how schools will be run under the Partnership are vague at best, and intentionally so. Under the banner of autonomy, teachers, school administrators, and parents will be responsible for any detailed plans for school governance and budgeting, the rationale being that local stakeholders can better determine what’s best for their students. With hundreds of teachers and staff and thousands of students at each of the schools in question – several thousand at Roosevelt and Santee – developing a cohesive plan could present some serious bureaucratic challenges in and of itself.

As bold as this plan may be, it was originally to be even bolder.

Honeymoon Cut Short

Villaraigosa took office July 2005 with all the fanfare of a 4th of July block party – complete with a personal theme song (inspirational chorus: “Villaraigosa!”) – and the adoration of a city ready for action. And the first priority was public schools. As a former United Teachers Los Angeles union organizer, the spouse of a public school teacher, and with his own history as an almost-led-astray L.A. Unified success story, his credibility on the issue was sterling.

Despite the campaign bluster, Villaraigosa’s first mayoral forays into education were relatively benign – he even balked at supporting an early version of legislation (introduced by state Senate ally Gloria Romero) that would have opened the door to mayoral control of L.A. Unified. The new mayor instead chose to focus on social issues closely related to student success, such as school safety and health care.

But Villaraigosa soon made good on his broader campaign promises. His initial volley in a string of escalating City Hall-School Board hostilities came shortly after his first 100 days in office, formally asking for an audit of L.A. Unified management to “root out inefficiencies.” The Board responded in-kind, sending City Controller Laura Chick a gift basket of hundreds of previous audits and studies of school district operations.

Round One

Villaraigosa pushed the issue with friends in Sacramento, particularly Sen. Romero and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez – demanding a state audit of L.A. Unified on the basis of Chick’s assertion that “millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted.”

Weeks later, another Villaraigosa-state legislature joint venture was introduced – Assembly Bill 1381. The final version of the contentious bill, passed in August 2006 and signed into law by a glowing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave the mayor less direct control than originally sought, but handed him a Council of Mayors in which Villaraigosa’s vote alone would count for 80 percent. Villaraigosa theoretically could have exerted significant pressure on future superintendents.

Skeptics asserted the law’s division of power would make the superintendent’s job more complicated and politicized, not less. Mike Kirst, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, has recommended mayoral takeover in Oakland, but remains unsure about L.A. “It’s not as clear cut,” Kirst says. “All of the other cities that have mayor control have contiguous boundaries between the school district and the city. Not one of them gets into even more than one school entity, let alone 26,” referring to the 27 cities served by L.A. Unified. He also notes that unlike AB 1381, the plan in Oakland required a citywide vote, and then-Mayor Jerry Brown couldn’t get the bill past City Council and onto a ballot.

Villaraigosa bypassed city-level politics for similar reasons, and eroded much of the goodwill from district educators and parents, with the notable exception of School Board member Monica Garcia, a staunch Villaraigosa ally. Even longtime friends at UTLA were faced with an embarrassing dilemma when union membership voted to repudiate AB 1381 in a blatant contradiction to statements of support from union leaders.

In his rush to push through reforms in education, which Villaraigosa calls “the civil rights issue of our time,” according to press secretary Janelle Erickson, the mayor neglected the need for local political finesse: He failed to give the School Board and outgoing Superintendent Roy Romer enough credit for improving elementary test scores and what Claremont Graduate University Education professor Charles Kerchner called a “political tour de force” by Romer in raising construction dollars for the district.

Round Two

Rumblings of a legal challenge began almost immediately. The constitutionality of the bill had been brought into question even before it was passed, and Villaraigosa’s push to assert his new authority in the search for Romer’s replacement months before the law took effect did little to placate school board members.

Days after the mayor left on a trade mission to Asia, L.A. Unified filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the bill in Superior Court. The board also took advantage of the mayor’s absence to announce the appointment of former Admiral David L. Brewer III as superintendent. Villaraigosa responded with a statement reiterating displeasure at being excluded from the superintendent search, and subtly questioned Brewer’s qualifications in a jab at a selection process he had previously insinuated was rushed and secretive.

One appeal and two hostile rulings later, Villaraigosa finally conceded defeat on AB 1381. The mayor had already turned his attention to another potential inroad for school district influence – school board elections.

Villaraigosa’s endorsements pitted him against an old ally, the teachers union, in almost all of the races, with the exception of District 1, where he shied away from endorsing Marguerite LaMotte’s opponent for fear of alienating South L.A.’s black voters, even though LaMotte was a vocal opponent of AB 1381. Of four Board seats in contention, three went to candidates endorsed by Villaraigosa after extensive stumping and fundraising by the mayor – pushing the price tag on two of the most contentious races above $1 million.

The Bell Rings

While the mayor touts his takeover of the cluster of schools as an issue of accountability, some parents have expressed skepticism about the plan, calling it little more than a political ploy and worrying that students under the plan will suffer if the mayor loses reelection in 2009 or runs for governor in 2010. Villaraigosa press secretary Janelle Erickson insists the mayor took his term limits into consideration: “That’s why the Partnership has been designed to go beyond his tenure and that’s why he stresses the importance of local control and accountability.”

by Paul Clinton, Staff Writer, Daily Breeze

Dec 12, 2007 -- In a rare override, the Los Angeles school board on Tuesday rejected board member Richard Vladovic's attempt to reduce the size of a planned K-8 Wilmington school.

Board members said Vladovic's plan - which would instead erect an elementary school on the site - would imperil $37 million in matching state funds and fail to relieve crowding at Wilmington Middle School.

Altering the plan would also cause a two-year delay, pushing the opening of the school to the fall of 2014.

After a two-hour discussion, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the K-8 span school.

"As much as I'm interested in looking out for the community, I'm more interested in making sure Wilmington has a school," trustee Yolie Flores Aguilar said.

Vladovic and President Monica Garcia said they favored reducing the scope of the project to help save a bank and Latino market at the site.

After the vote was taken, Vladovic said the board ignored community protests.

"This is another example of bureaucracy winning out over community," he said.

In October, a board majority gave Vladovic a two-month window to get more community input on the controversial project. The district hosted two subsequent meetings.

Vladovic was asking the district's Bond Oversight Committee, which oversees LAUSD's $20 billion building program, to further research the change.

Connie Rice, the committee's chairwoman, said overturning the current plan would
threaten "the integrity of the school construction program."

In July 2006, the district approved a 1,278-seat school for a commercial block at Avalon Boulevard and L Street.

Building the school would return the 1,385-student Gulf Avenue Elementary to a traditional calendar from a year-round schedule. It would also relieve crowding at Fries Avenue and Hawaiian Avenue elementary schools, as well as Wilmington Middle School.

The district spent $4.3 million on the project and hosted 20 community meetings.

By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer

Dec. 15, 2007 — Ten months after installing a new computerized payroll process that has been roiled by glitches, Los Angeles Unified officials now say costs for fixing the system and completing its rollout could top $210 million.

The system, with an original price tag of $95 million, has underpaid or overpaid thousands of employees, and last week district officials said hiring consultants to fix it has already ballooned the cost to $132.5 million.

And some officials are questioning the district's transparency on all the costs associated with the system, noting that at least $6 million will be forfeited by allowing some overpaid teachers to keep the money.

Some are also questioning why the district has not yet sued the company that rolled out the system. The state Legislature has begun to lean on school officials to recover at least $10 million that Deloitte Consulting has spent to hire a consultant to address the problems.

"There's going to be a Judgment Day when all of this is over," school board member Richard Vladovic said.

"There's been more spent than we know, and I'm sure there are other ancillary costs such as the overtime, the additional processing and the communications.

"It's bigger than we all believe. We need to look at it totally. I want an accounting of everything - every nook and cranny," Vladovic added.

Some say many of the school board's closed sessions in recent months have been dominated by discussions trying to get to the bottom of who is to blame for the fiasco.

It's "imperative that the district seek cost recovery against this vendor," Assemblyman Kevin de Le n wrote in a letter to Superintendent David Brewer III last week.

De Le n urged LAUSD officials to "aggressively pursue compensation from Deloitte Consulting," which was paid $55 million to roll out the system smoothly.

Officials at de Le n's office could not be reached for comment.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said he thinks it's the "nature of a dysfunctional organization that prevents (LAUSD) from moving forward."

Under terms of the various contracts for the payroll system, third parties, including teachers, cannot sue Deloitte directly for breach of contract. Instead, UTLA sued the district over the problems, but the case was thrown out of court. Arguments in an appeal are to be heard next month, Duffy said.

Some members of the LAUSD's police officers association have also filed a suit that's still pending against the district.

"Even if the case gets thrown out, you make the attempt on behalf of the organization and on behalf of the employees. You do it because it's the right thing to do," Duffy said.

"The district is foolish if they're not going ahead with the suit because they hold the strongest chip in the game: They can destroy Deloitte & Touche in the court of public opinion, and they should because Deloitte has destroyed lives and hasn't delivered what it promised to deliver - accurate checks on time."

But LAUSD general counsel Kevin Reed said district officials are working with Deloitte to resolve the issues and have not yet reached the point of suing.

A lawsuit could tie up the process in court for years without any immediate resolution to the problem, officials have said.

"We have not reached a moment in which it's become clear we have to sue them to get the problem fixed," Reed said. "We're still at a moment where we're entitled to presume the good will of the folks at Deloitte and try to make sure the district is going to be made whole and given the benefit of the bargain we have in the contract."

Meanwhile, however, costs for the payroll system are continuing to balloon, and the school board continues to approve consulting contracts to fix the problem.

LAUSD's new chief information officer, Tony Tortorice, who rolled out the same type of electronic system for his former employer, the Los Angeles Community College District, predicted hiring consultants will not stop "for a while."

Tortorice had told the board last week that LAUSD's original budget was underestimated for implementing a system of such size and complexity.

As a general rule, he said, an organization should expect to spend 1 percent to 1.5 percent of its annual budget for each year of implementation.

"Over a three-year period, $300 million is not unusual for these types of organizations to experience," he said. "You can try to spend below that."

The district still has to roll out the third phase of the system, which involves computerized purchase orders.

"Much of the problem you're facing right now is you're underbudget(ing). Quite frankly, you need to spend this money to have these people on board for remediation. They need these resources," he told the board last week.

But board members questioned the efficiency of spending money for consultants with no stake in the project, no loyalty to the LAUSD and no assurances that they're doing a good job.

"I'm really worried. I'm not an expert, but I think we can do it for less. I can't agree to $300 million for three years. I'm not sold on that just because someone tells me I need to be," Vladovic said.

"This is supposed to support instruction, not drain it."

School board member Tamar Galatzan said the district has taken a piecemeal approach, reacting to each problem with a "never-ending stream of these contracts" and no way to measure success.

"I keep questioning all of these costs," Galatzan said. "I've never seen a plan that included all of the consultants, all of the costs, who's responsible for what, where the money's coming from, how long it's going to take.

"Nothing exists that resembles a transparent, cohesive plan."

But district administrators maintain the system will be stabilized in January. They say errors related to flaws in the system have been worked out and now just human errors remain as employees adjust to the system.

The overall district error rate in October was 5.91 percent, which dropped to 1.27 percent in December.

A good indicator of progress is a drop in the number of people going to assistance centers about their checks, administrators said.

In early November, 759 people went to a help center, but the number in early December was 237, and most of them did not claim system-generated problems, said Dave Holmquist, LAUSD's interim chief operating officer.

"That's a good sign that things are well on the road to recovery," he said.

Errors on other employees' checks have been less than 1 percent for months, but problems remain for teachers and other certificated personnel.

But Tortorice said the district will not be able to reach its error-rate goal of about 0.5 percent on the certificated payroll if it does not simplify the process - namely by eliminating annualized pay.

The district is still negotiating with the union to eliminate the process in which LAUSD spreads teachers' pay for 10 months of work over 12 months so they receive a check year-round.

"We know what the defects are, and we continue to work on them, but we need that simplification (of eliminating annualized pay) to have the long-term health of payroll," Tortorice said.

"We'll never get it to sub-0.5 percent without simplification."

The teachers union fought for annualized pay for 25 years, and the district made the decision to roll it out in February along with the new system.

"They never should have instituted annualized pay the very moment they brought on a new system," Duffy said.

District administrators also insist that the production of end-of-year tax forms, or W-2s, will go smoothly.

They claim LAUSD's gross overpayment is about $53 million, with about $15 million currently outstanding.

About 60 percent of people contacted for overpayment have either paid back the district or agreed to pay it back, totaling about $14 million.

But the district has already lost about $6 million in waiving payment for employees who owed $250 or less because it would cost the district that amount to recoup the money, Tortorice said.

And LAUSD officials are also scrambling to correct faulty reports to the California State Teachers' Retirement System so there is no negative effect on the retirement accounts of current and retired employees.

Holmquist said the district has learned it "rolled this out too fast."

"We didn't spend enough time preparing for (the) rollout," Holmquist said.

"We did it too quickly, and we risked a lot, and we went live all at once, and we've been playing catch-up ever since."


By Susan Sandler | Opinion in the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, December 13, 2007 - What grade would you give a student who has all the knowledge he or she needs to succeed but repeatedly fails to act on that knowledge? California's government is that kind of student when it comes to making our school system work for students of color. The knowledge is there, but policy makers don't act on it.

Now is the right time to issue grades on the job our policy makers are doing in serving students of color. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dubbed 2008 the Year of Education. Major studies have been completed, and the governor's Committee for Education Excellence will soon be issuing recommendations for how to fix our broken school system.

We actually know what it takes to provide a high quality education to students of color that enables their success in college, career, and community leadership. Some schools are already doing it. Justice Matters, a research and policy organization focused on racial justice in education, recently collaborated with the Stanford University School Redesign Network on a study of such schools. High Schools for Equity: Policy Supports for Student Learning in Communities of Color examines five California high schools that successfully provide students of color with high quality learning. In the words of a student at one of these schools, they are learning "how to learn, not just what is in the textbook." "I developed into an intellectual at this school," explained another student. These schools provide students with an engaging, relevant learning experience that is intellectually rigorous, and they give students the support they need to succeed. They send more than 80 percent of their students to college, more than twice the state average.

Unfortunately, there are very few such schools. Our research sheds light on the reason why. Educators in the High Schools for Equity schools have to contend with a policy environment that provides them with little support and creates many obstacles to the kind of work they are doing. The state's uneven teacher preparation system turns out too few teachers with the skills to carry out these school's sophisticated teaching practices. Once teachers get to a school, they are not given the time to do the kind of quality planning and ongoing learning that is needed to provide learning that is exciting, challenging, and supports the success of all students. The standardized high-stakes tests do not get at the more challenging skills the schools are teaching, and preparing for the tests takes a lot of time away from quality learning. The schools do not have enough funding to implement the practices they know will make the most difference for their students. And on and on.

The discussion of California policy needs to be informed by knowledge of what it takes to provide high quality learning. This is a general issue for California schools, and it is also a racial justice issue. When policy makers talk about the education of students of color, they often set the bar especially low - if students of color develop minimum competency in basic skills, that is good enough. It is thought to be too much to ask that students of color have an opportunity to think deeply, find the connections between academic subject matter and relevance to their lives, or learn the problem-solving skills that will make a difference in addressing the complex challenges our society faces.

Justice Matters has developed a Racial Justice Report Card on California Education Policy based on the High Schools for Equity study. We will be issuing grades for the recommendations of the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence. We will also be grading what both the governor and state Superintendent Jack O'Connell propose to do in 2008. We need to see whether their rhetoric about improving education translates into the kind of bold action that we need to give California students of color the education they deserve but have not had.

• Susan Sandler is president of Justice Matters.

C MINUS - Racial Justice Report Card on California Education Policy

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Tuesday Dec 18, 2007
SOUTH REGION MIDDLE SCHOOL #3: Project Update Meeting
6:00 p.m.
Walnut Park Elementary School
2642 Olive St.
Huntington Park, CA 90255

*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: • 213-241-6383 • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• 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.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is immediate past 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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