Sunday, June 06, 2004

4LAKids: Sunday, June 6th, 2004

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4LAKids: Sunday, June 6th, 2004
In This Issue:
THE CRISIS IS OVER! ...Everyone May Return to Their Homes?
THE BATTLE OF THE OP-EDS: The Budget + The Minidistricts
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
4LAKids Book Club for June & July –CHOOSING EXCELLENCE: “Good Enough” Schools Are Not Good Enough
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
THE 4LAKids ARCHIVE - Past Issues and added features
FIVE CENTS MAKES SENSE FOR EDUCATION- Target 5¢ from every federal tax dollar for Education
THE CRISIS IS OVER! ...Everyone May Return to Their Homes?
To read Saturday’s LA Times article (see: “TEACHERS
UNION PREVAILS IN L.A. DISTRICT PLAN”, following) it’s all over but the rubber-stamping! The budget impasse, the contract negotiations, the local districts — all behind us — a done deal!

To quote the unquotable source: “We just can’t talk about
it right now!”

A certain number of local districts have been saved. Place
you bets on the number 8. It’s business as unusual at the ol’ LAUSD.

• The good news is that the $50 per student “tax” has been
restored to the schools.
• Counselors, psychiatric social workers and nurses’ positions have been preserved.
• The egregious “Learning Walks” (which were promising
initially) and “Red Team Visits” are gone.
• Best of all: We no longer calling each other names! The
war of words carried out in the media (see: “BATTLE OF THE OP-EDS”, following) has been thankfully adjourned.

Make no mistake about it, progress has been made.
Nobody expects union contract negotiations in a fishbowl,
but where was the give-and-take with parents, taxpayers
and the community — the community that our schools are
supposed to be centers of? Where exactly is all the
transparency and accountability?

Students are mentioned twice in the article; once as a
adjective modifying ‘achievement’ and once as part of an
adjective modifying ‘payment’. Just when exactly do we
become concerned about students as nouns?

— smf

By Cara Mia DiMassa - Times Staff Writer

June 5, 2004 - Even though it could cost millions, the Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to back off from a confrontation with its powerful teachers union and is offering a contract proposal that would leave health benefits unchanged and restore some funds for classrooms and counseling programs.

According to a letter obtained by The Times, the package would resolve some of the stickiest contractual issues for the 2004-05 school year by dropping previous demands that teachers pay higher deductibles and other health costs. If accepted, it also would eliminate two controversial teacher evaluation programs that United Teachers-Los Angeles wants killed.

Some familiar with the negotiations said the district's decision to acquiesce on those issues was driven in part by rosier-than-expected budget numbers from the state.

Recent figures from Sacramento suggested that the district is $25 million to $30 million better off than it thought in January, when it projected a budget gap of about $500 million in its operating budget of $5.7 billion.

In previous rounds of negotiations, the district had asked UTLA and its 45,000 members to shoulder between $25 million and $35 million of those costs by, among other things, increasing co-payments for doctor's office and emergency room visits, doubling some healthcare deductibles and changing benefit packages for new teachers.

UTLA officials confirmed that they had received the offer but said they had not yet decided whether to accept it.

Teachers did not get a pay increase this year, and the district was not offering one for next year.

However, the union was awaiting final state budget figures to see how hard it could push for pay hikes, according to several people familiar with the negotiations.

In a June 1 letter to the union, Richard Fisher, the district's representative in the contract negotiations, said the new offer would "respond to the most critical issues facing the parties … at this time when the board must effectively resolve the budget crisis, and in the spirit of bringing the negotiations to a speedy resolution."

But Fisher also noted that the plan could cause an unspecified temporary deficit.

The offer includes restoring $12 million in funds for counselors and $4 million for nurses and psychiatric social workers, positions that had been eliminated or reduced in earlier budget negotiations; putting back a $50-per-student payment to schools for classroom supplies; and closing two evaluation efforts that the union has said are universally disliked by teachers.

In recent speeches to the board, UTLA President John Perez has said that the Red Teams — an audit program for schools that do not meet certain annual progress goals — demoralize schools and that Learning Walks — a district program of classroom evaluations — do nothing to improve instruction.

Fisher wrote that the district would close both programs, but would not abolish teacher and campus evaluations altogether.

In an interview Friday, Supt. Roy Romer confirmed that he had recommended to the board last week that the district make the union a comprehensive settlement. He said that the board had approved it, but that he could not comment on the specifics.

"I want to honor the fact that everybody in negotiations needs to be free to move with the issue," Romer said.

"I can't comment on that letter," he said. "I am sorry; it's the only way."

Five members of the seven-member Board of Education have received at least some financial support for election from the teachers union.

Granting the items detailed in his letter, Fisher wrote, would financially "leave the district in a projected interim negative position."

According to a district spokeswoman, Fisher would not comment on the letter Friday or on whether the higher state revenues would cover the offer's costs.

Others said the full financial picture would not be clear until next week, when the district releases an interim budget report.

Perez said that he too was not at liberty to discuss the proposal. "We do not negotiate in the press, and we don't negotiate in a fishbowl," he said. "The district asked us to keep it confidential, and I have kept it confidential." The package made no mention of another union issue: the district's system of 11 administrative subdistricts, which Perez has said he wanted to see eliminated.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles school board will consider whether to reduce the number of subdistricts, and it was unclear Friday whether the contract settlement offer would help to preserve them.

Romer has said the geographic subdistricts have helped boost student achievement and are aiding the district's massive construction program.

But Perez has said the local districts represent a waste of money that could be better spent in the classroom.

THE BATTLE OF THE OP-EDS: The Budget + The Minidistricts
• LA Times: COMMENTARY - June 5, 2004

LAUSD Is in Serious Need of Counseling
By Sue Pascoe

Los Angeles Unified School District officials have axed
counselors for middle grade and high schools next year, or,
as they put it, they "approved a $12-million cut in
counselor allocation." This information was contained in a
May 5 district memo to principals that found its way to me.

When I've read in the past that counselors were being cut, I
was upset but knew that budgets had to be met. Outrage
set in this time, though, when I found out what "counselor
allocation" means. The Board of Education is proposing
one counselor for up to 1,999 middle school students. If a
school has between 2,000 and 3,299 students, it qualifies
for two counselors. Currently, the districtwide ratio is one
to 700, and that is already too high.

Unbelievable. One counselor for 1,999 students.

Even if a counselor spent eight hours a day for a week on
students' files, she'd have less than a minute per student — without breaks for phone calls, going to classrooms or
actually talking to kids.

The futility of what these counselors are being asked to do
is beyond absurd. It's criminal.

A friend transferred her children from the Manhattan Beach
Unified School District to the LAUSD. Her daughter was
put in a set of classes where the work was far too easy and
the math almost remedial for the girl. After many calls and
much coordination with an overworked and understaffed
counseling department, my friend was able to meet with
teachers and a counselor to see whether her child shouldn't
be in different classes. They eventually agreed the daughter should be in advanced classes, but by then it was May. That meant a whole school year had gone by and the girl would be playing catch-up this summer. If the mother hadn't taken an active role, there's a chance this girl would have been put in the wrong classes again next year.

What about the other students who need help, who may be
in the wrong classes and whose parents aren't as persistent? How can guidance counselors with a ratio of 1 to 1,999 even hope to catch an error? Balancing the budget by
cutting counselors is not the place to go.

Rather, greater accountability in the LAUSD is the first
place to start. ExED, a nonprofit organization that supplies
business services, technical and consulting advice for
charter schools, has estimated that the LAUSD receives
from local, state and federal governments an estimated
$9,000 per pupil each year. That is a conservative estimate; some sources think it may be as high as $11,000 a year.

A year ago, our local high school received roughly $3,900
per pupil per year, leaving $5,100 for the board. Some of
the money that the district keeps is for legitimate budget
items like administration and transportation services. Even
if the district spends $2,000 per pupil for those services,
that leaves roughly $3,000 per pupil that is unaccounted

ExED tried to trace where that money went but couldn't
find out. More amazing, a district representative told ExED
the district didn't know either. A certain portion of the
funds targeted for students appears to have disappeared, as in a magic act. A good magician, though, knows where
things are going; the LAUSD doesn't. A magician isn't
accountable to the people of the city; the LAUSD is. The
pity is, when the LAUSD isn't accountable, it's the students
who suffer. One counselor for 1,999 students is a tragedy
that shouldn't be allowed.

• LA Times: LETTER TO THE EDITOR - June 5, 2004
Teachers Union Pushes Hard to Cut Subdistricts

"L.A. Teachers Union Chief Pressures Supt. Romer to
Dissolve Subdistricts" (May 30) portrayed the current
debate over the L.A. Unified School District mini-districts
as a battle of wills between Supt. Roy Romer and me. It is
not about us. The issue is where to find the money to
restore badly needed student services that have been cut
from the budget. The school board faces a clear choice:
cutting an administration that consumes more than 10% of
the district's $12.3-billion budget or restoring $50 per
student per classroom, retaining nurses and counselors and
not increasing class sizes in grades nine through 12.

Some of the same critics had no problem when United
Teachers Los Angeles threw its full political weight behind
the last three school bond measures. UTLA opposed the
previous board because it increased class sizes instead of
reducing the mini-districts. Voters agreed. The public
understands that smaller classes, not more bureaucrats, are the main reason test scores have improved.

John Perez
President, United Teachers Los Angeles

• Los Angeles Daily News Editorial:
UNION MADE: School Board Puts Special Interests
Above Needs of Students, Parents and Teachers

Tuesday, June 01, 2004 - For all the hype about
minidistricts, the war between United Teachers Los
Angeles and LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer isn't
about bureaucracy. It's about power.

For 25 years, the UTLA ran the Los Angeles Unified
School District -- straight into the ground. Despite a
swelling student population, the union-controlled board
built no schools. It fought accountability, and watched as
the academic reputation of a once-proud school district
crumbled. Eventually, public disgust (aided by piles of
former Mayor Richard Riordan's campaign cash) caught up
with the school board. Reformers took over, and named
Romer as superintendent.

And though Romer has made some mistakes, there can be
no quibbling about his overall achievements. He's won over
public support for $10 billion worth of bond measures,
launching a massive school-construction program that is
actually delivering on its promises. He's extended teacher
training and oversight, and presided over a steady
improvement in test scores.

But now the UTLA is back in power, and the union wants
to show Romer who's boss -- or more likely chase him out
of town.

The situation now is looking worse than ever.
UTLA-backed school board members are taking orders
from their union overlords -- sometimes in the form of hand
signals at board meetings -- working to make their
special-interest agenda the law of the land.

So teacher accountability is under assault. So is Romer's
minidistrict system, and -- as usual -- the UTLA is looking
to siphon yet more public money away for its members.

The union makes a fair point when criticizing Romer for his
failure to aggressively scale back the LAUSD bureaucracy,
of which minidistricts have regrettably become one more
useless layer. Yet there's a certain irony to this complaint --
the district's bureaucracy never grew faster, bigger or more
onerous than the previous time the UTLA was in control.

Moreover, the union's real motivations become all too clear
in how it proposes to spend the money it seeks to save
from slashing the bureaucracy. The wish list notably
includes increased benefits for its members, when the
district has far greater needs, including further teacher

The UTLA also seeks to scale back programs used to
create some semblance of teacher accountability -- putting
the interests of the hacks within its ranks over those of the
professionals, to say nothing of parents and students.

Through it all, union-backed board members stand to drive
Romer, who has one year left on his contract, out of town.
If that happens, they will be free to replace him with one of
their own.

And we all know how that turned out last time.

• smf notes: LAUSD’s newly announced efforts to
improve attendance while cutting funding for
attendance counselors (see 4LAKids, last week) may
spark interest in goings-on in Orange County — where
the grand jury is investigating school districts for
violating the law in attendance policy.

LA TIMES: Three districts violate state education
code by not tracking chronic truants, report says. Use
of attendance review boards is urged.

By Jennifer Mena - Times Staff Writer

June 4, 2004 - The Orange County Grand Jury
accused three school districts Thursday of violating
state education code by failing to identify habitual
truants and concluded that truancy was a rampant,
countywide problem.

One of the report's investigators, Alan Friedman, said
some children missed 30 school days each year.

The report quotes Huntington Beach Union High
School District officials as viewing its truancies as "out
of control."

Despite Santa Ana Unified School District officials'
insistence to the grand jury that truancy is controlled,
the report says the district had more chronic truants in
the 2002-03 school year — 1,284 among about 61,000
students — than any other district. District officials did
not return repeated calls for comment.

The problem is exacerbated, Friedman said, because
some districts neither identify nor track habitual
truants — a necessary strategy, he said, in addressing
the problem. The county's 27 school districts also
record and handle their truancy problems differently,
making it difficult to assess the gravity of the problem.

The grand jury specifically criticized the Cypress,
Fullerton Joint Union High School and Saddleback
Valley Unified districts for not identifying and tracking
their chronic truants. But the districts' superintendents
said they are addressing the problem.

Education code requires that after a fourth unexplained
absence by students a district label them habitual
truants, Friedman said. "By not designating them
habitual truants, you do not invoke the additional
interventions that can take place," he said.

In the worst cases, the county Probation Department
can place a truant on a school-attendance contract and
the district attorney can file charges against a parent.

The report recommended the use of school attendance
review boards, which deal with truants and their

Several districts without such boards were cited for
not reporting truancy properly, an allegation that
district officials deny.

George Giokaris, superintendent of the 16,400-student
Fullerton Joint Union district, said: "We are not
violating the education code. We may not use the term
'habitual truants,' but in all cases where students have
had the requisite number of absences, we are doing our
job and following through with parents and students."
Daily attendance is 97.2%, up 1.2% since the
1999-2000 school year, he said.

The report recommended that county schools Supt.
William M. Habermehl urge districts to participate in
the county's Student Attendance Board system even if
they did not have their own boards.

The report also suggested that districts help fund
anti-truancy programs run by the Probation
Department and the district attorney's office.

• smf notes: Education policy – national, state and
district – is focused on preparing students for
university. Yet only 25% of high school graduates go
on to graduate from a four year college. And that
doesn’t take into account the students who don’t
graduate high school!

Lofty goals, well meant — but many question whether
this universal focus on a college prep curriculum
setting the bar too high? Are we forcing students to
drop out?

And — as the following article points out, we seem to
be doing a poor job of preparing many students for
college to boot!

• LA Times – June 3, 2004: Only 23% of youths in a
study completed the necessary courses required for
admission to the state universities.

By Duke Helfand — Times Staff Writer

California's high schools are doing a poor job of
graduating their students and preparing them for the
demands of college, an education policy organization
asserts in a report being released today.

The Education Trust-West found that only 23% of
students who were ninth-graders in 1999 completed all
of the necessary college prep classes by graduation last
year to gain admission to the University of California
and California State University systems.

Many schools didn't offer enough of those classes, and
some students were denied the opportunity to take
them, the report said.

The Oakland-based group also estimated that 70% of
ninth-graders in 1999 finished high school four years
later, a figure confirmed by state education officials.

The Education Trust-West did not delve into dropout
rates, which are nearly impossible to pin down because
the state does not keep track of individual students
who come and go from campuses. Many students take
more than four years to finish or gain alternative

"We've got to jump start our focus on high schools,"
said Russlynn Ali, executive director of the Education
Trust-West. "We are still by and large giving out 20th
century diplomas for a 21st century economy."

Educators widely acknowledged the shortcomings of
the state's high schools, particularly among
overcrowded campuses in poor communities that serve
mostly minority students and have disproportionate
numbers of inexperienced teachers.

But some school district administrators took issue with
the report, saying that college prep classes such as
algebra are in fact offered throughout their school

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, Deputy
Supt. Merle Price called the report "a snapshot that
doesn't account for the gaps that kids have coming into
high school."

He pointed out that nearly one-third of the system's
180,000 high school students are still learning English.
Some of these students need extra time to finish high
school and are unable to keep up with the challenging
college prep curriculum, he said.

Still, Price said, the district had redoubled efforts to
address flagging high school academic performance by
expanding English instruction for those still learning
the language.

Educators and lawmakers in Sacramento also have
tried to craft solutions for improving high school
achievement but with mixed results.

An initiative by state schools chief Jack O'Connell and
state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) to require
the college prep curriculum for all California high
school students fizzled in the Legislature this year amid
concerns about allowing the UC and Cal State systems
to effectively define the high school curriculum.

The so-called A-G curriculum would have required 15
courses distributed among such areas as English, math,
science, history and foreign languages.

"We know this is a long haul," O'Connell said. "But I
am absolutely convinced that this is the right direction
for our students — to be prepared for careers and

The Education Trust-West also renewed its call for all
students to take the college prep curriculum, saying
students rise to the occasion and improve when
schools maintain high expectations.

The group pointed to school districts such as San Jose
Unified, where it said a relatively high percentage —
47% — of last year's graduates who were
ninth-graders in 1999 completed the advanced

"High school is not too late to provide students with
the skills they need to pass this curriculum," Ali said.

View the Ed Trust-West Report: "Are California's High Schools Ready for the 21st Century?"

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
- Live on KLCS/Channel 58 and @ the Boardroom at
333 S. Beaudry.

@ THAT SAME MEETING: Program Environmental Impact Report for New School Construction Program

The LAUSD has prepared a Program Environmental Impact Report (Program EIR) that provides a general analysis of the environmental aspects of Phase II and future phases of the New School Construction Program. The Program EIR was prepared in compliance with the California Environmental Equality Act (CEQA).

Please join us at this public meeting where the LAUSD Board of Education will consider the certification of the Program EIR.

1:00 p.m.
LAUSD Board of Education
333 S. Beaudry Avenue
Board Room
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Contact: Bill Piazza (213-241-3199)


Central Region High School #13 (Glassell Park/Taylor Yards)

Phase II Presentation of Preferred Site
Local District E

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

6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Irving Middle School
3010 Estara Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90065

Community Organizer: Fernando Chavarria

• WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9th, 2004

South Region High School #4

Phase II Site Selection Update
Local District K

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

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

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Del Amo Elementary School
21228 Water Street
Carson, CA 90745

Community Organizer: Tony Arias

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


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

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

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

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

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

This is good stuff! —smf

Get CHOOSING EXCELLENCE from your local library, bookstore - or order it by clicking here.

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

Contact your school board member

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