Sunday, July 29, 2007


4LAKids: Sunday, July 29, 2007
In This Issue:
AUDITS: RED INK, RED TAPE FOR LAUSD - State scrutiny costs millions
PARENTS STILL SEEK THE ELUSIVE 'RIGHT' SCHOOL: Parents scramble to claim seats for their children in magnet, charter and private programs.
SCHOOL CHOICE BACKERS IN LIMBO: Interdistrict transfer applicants hope for extension in budget bill.
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
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.
TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Go to the LA City Website ( and in the search box up there in the top left enter "Charter Amendment L Compensation Review Committee" and hit Enter.

Your result shouldn't be: Your search - "Charter Amendment L Compensation Review Committee" - did not match any documents. …but unfortunately will be!

Now try "Compensation Review Committee for the LAUSD Board of Education" – apparently the committee's real name. Same result.

Now if you're real persistent you can go to the City's MEETINGS & AGENDAS page – and if you know the date of the meeting (let's arbitrarily choose last Friday – voila! – there is something:

12:00PM COUNCIL: Compensation Review Committee Meeting, Special Meeting .

Kewl, we found 'em! The reference to COUNCIL is strange, as you read further you will see Compensation Review Committee for the LAUSD Board of Education neither reports to nor accounts to anyone. This is not a Compensation Review Committee …it is a Compensation Setting Committee!

But at least we know they met last Friday. A global Google search informs us they have met at least twice before, a Special Meeting on June 7 and another Special Meeting on June 29th. It's a committee where all the meetings are special! The committee always meets in a different place and here's the real good part: They don't seem to post minutes or include the names of the committee members or staff!

Skull and Bones' meetings are more open.

(While I'm being nit-picky here I should add the real legal name for the LAUSD Board is "The Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles".)

Dave Z (late of the LAWeekly and before that the Daily Breeze) in his LA Times article about the committee's shenanigans at Friday's meeting [L.A. SCHOOL BOARD GETS 73% PAY INCREASE - below] calls them an "obscure citizen's panel". With no public information I'd say that "obscure" rather under-defines the lack of transparency and/or accountability.

LET ME WISHY-WASHILY WEIGH IN HERE: I was opposed to Charter Amendment L, not because it proposed to raise board members salaries – I support that. I opposed the term limits provisions because I'm opposed to term limits on knee-jerk principle. And I really opposed the "campaign reform" part because it was hogwash masquerading as reform. I continue to believe a charter amendment shouldn't have multiple provisions voters can't choose between. One Superior Court judge in the Charter Amendment R case has ruled I'm right, another that I'm wrong. Courts of Appeals need to decide.

As you read on in Dave Z's piece you will see that Councilman Huizar isn't very happy with the committee's recommendation – a recommendation that a deputy city attorney says cannot be overturned by the council.

FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT, the bumpy ride becomes worse as the unintended consequences and unforeseen minefields proliferate. Huizar is the author and principal sponsor of Charter Amendment L that empaneled the committee …and another deputy city attorney is currently moonlighting as a school board member!

There's no politics of course. The committee chair is the governor's former chief of staff. And the parent member of the committee is a charter school parent at a school outside the purview or authority of the board of education. She argues that she doesn't want a higher salary to lure politicians looking to climb the political ladder: "That would turn this position into something like a political parking spot."

Councilman Huizar started as a school board member, as did Assemblyperson Goldberg. And Boardmember Galatzan, less than a month in office, is already mentioned as a city council candidate.

The reality is that the term limits provision of Councilman Huizar's charter amendment simply adds school board membership to the stepping stones of term-limited elective office.

And please notice how much of this discussion is about children.

Onward! – smf

▼PS: Buried in an LATimes piece Saturday about rising noodle prices in a city in China was this gem of a factoid: "[There is] is a global surge in food prices that is driving up the cost of such things as a latte at a Starbucks in L.A. and a tortilla in Mexico. Food prices worldwide have risen 23% in the last 18 months, according to the International Monetary Fund, partly because of soaring demand for corn to make ethanol.

"With farmers shifting to grow more corn, they are producing fewer soybeans and less wheat. That's pushed up prices of grains that feed livestock and poultry, lifting the price of meats, eggs and other goods. Milk in the U.S. costs 10% more than at the start of the year."

Food prices worldwide have risen 23% in the past 18 months – if that's not a negative global market indicator (..or about children) what is?

29 DAYS WITHOUT A BUDGET: more info about the Sacramento budget impasse than you can possibly stand!

►L.A. SCHOOL BOARD GETS 73% PAY INCREASE: A little-known compensation panel decides that only those who agree not to hold down other jobs will be entitled to it, however.

By David Zahniser, LA Times Staff Writer

July 28, 2007 - An obscure citizens panel voted Friday to hike the annual pay of Los Angeles Unified School District board members by 73%, increasing it from roughly $26,000 to nearly $46,000 — but only for board members who agree not to hold down other jobs.

The Charter Amendment L Compensation Review Committee rebuffed a last-minute request for a much bigger salary boost by Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who asked that school board members receive as much as $90,000 a year.

On a 5-1 vote, the committee said school board members — who oversee a system with more than 700,000 children and a $7-billion budget — should receive a sum commensurate with the salary of a newly hired L.A. Unified teacher.

"I think it's important for a school board member to understand the challenges of a starting teacher, and one of those challenges is living on that" salary, said committee member Patricia Clarey, an executive at Health Net and a former chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The little-known compensation panel was created in March, thanks to a ballot measure designed to overhaul the school district. Its decision cannot be appealed or reversed by the school board or the City Council, said Assistant City Atty. Valerie Flores.

Friday's vote provided the first major increase in school board compensation since 1984, when the state Legislature increased the monthly stipend from $1,000 to $2,000. Over the last three years, that sum has grown incrementally to $2,195 per month.

Huizar spokesman George Gonzalez said Friday that the councilman was unavailable for comment. But school board President Monica Garcia voiced disappointment in the decision, calling the new salary figure "a challenging number to live on."

"I've been on the record [saying] I think this is a full-time job," said Garcia, who predicted that she will be forced to find a job outside the district. "I would like it to be a higher number, a higher salary."

The vote also delivered a clear rebuke to Huizar, a former school board member who began the process of increasing school board pay two years ago.

In 2005, Huizar pushed for the creation of a 30-member citizens panel to study L.A. Unified's governing structure, which ultimately recommended that school board members receive full-time pay.

Four months ago, voters approved a Huizar-backed ballot measure that established the compensation panel. And Huizar told the compensation committee personally a few weeks ago that school board pay should fall in line with the salary of a school district administrator.

But committee members warned that a more dramatic leap in pay would risk a political firestorm and jeopardize support for a future school construction bond measure. Instead, the panel unanimously embraced a two-tier pay system that forces school board members to make a choice: work exclusively for the district or take another job and receive a lower stipend.

"Are you going to be a school board member who commits full time and does the job necessary, or are you working other jobs?" said committee member Debra Silbar, a parent at Topanga Charter Elementary School. "That could become a campaign issue, and I think that's very positive."

The committee's decision means that board members Yolie Flores Aguilar and Tamar Galatzan — two members of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's new school board majority, both of whom are employed — will see no increase in board pay.

By contrast, the board's retired or nonworking members — Garcia, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, Julie Korenstein, Marlene Canter and Richard Vladovic — will receive raises as long as they don't return to the work force.

Vladovic spokesman David Kooper said his boss may sacrifice the extra school district money so he can return to teaching part time.

And Galatzan, who earns $128,000 annually as a deputy city attorney, said she has no intention of giving up her job.

Friday's debate took place in front of just six people, four of them aides to Aguilar, Galatzan, Huizar and Villaraigosa. All but the Galatzan aide furiously typed text messages on their cellphones as the committee conducted its debate.

Minutes before the compensation committee voted, an aide to Huizar — who earns $171,648 annually as a councilman — submitted a letter recommending that the school board pay reach a range of $70,000 to $90,000.

But Silbar said the larger sum would lure politicians looking to climb the ladder. "That would turn this position into something like a political parking spot," she said.


from Associated Press

July 28, 2007 - ANGELES (AP) - LA school board members will get a 73% pay hike - but only if they don't have outside jobs.

A citizens panel yesterday voted to increase the pay to about $46,000 a year. That's still less than the 90,000 a year suggested by an LA city councilman.

The new two-tier pay system only gives pay hikes to board members who don't have other jobs. Two members who do won't get it.

School board President Monica Garcia says it is a full-time job to run a district with 700,000 students but she says the new salary is too small and will be hard to live on.

But the panel said the pay is about what a rookie teacher earns and it wanted school officials to understand the challenges of new instructors - including living on their wages.

AUDITS: RED INK, RED TAPE FOR LAUSD - State scrutiny costs millions
by Harrison Sheppard, Sacramento Bureau - LA Daily News

Wednesday, August 25, 2007 - SACRAMENTO - In the past five years, Los Angeles Unified School District officials have been forced to return all but a fraction of $62 million in state reimbursement funds because of flawed or incomplete applications.

Reviewing nine separate programs, auditors with the State Controller's Office ruled that out of the district's total claims it must return nearly $58 million to the state - or more than 90 percent.

Auditors cited a range of problems with the district's claims, including a lack of supporting documentation and failure to file paperwork on time.

But education experts said districts throughout California face similar problems, and frustrated LAUSD officials fault a complicated state reimbursement and auditing process.

"It's hugely inefficient," said Joseph Zeronian, the district's interim chief financial officer. "What do we want principals and teachers to be doing? We want them to be teaching kids to read and write (rather than filling out paperwork). The priorities are not where they should be."

Zeronian said it often takes more staff and effort to fill out paperwork for reimbursements of mandated costs - worth about $50 million to $70 million a year - than to develop the reports to receive roughly $3.5 billion in state revenue-limit funding.

"There have been several well-run districts that have basically thrown up their hands and said the system is broke," said Zeronian, who previously worked for the district from 2000 to 2003.

"What you're asking me about is not a unique situation to Los Angeles Unified. It's unfortunate."

But the state's largest district is by far its most-audited.

In the past five years, LAUSD has been audited more often than the next five-largest school districts combined, according to Controller's Office records.

LAUSD also has been forced to return more money than at least the next 11-largest school districts combined, according to records.

California's second-largest district, San Diego Unified, was the target of four mandated audits over the past five years - and actually was found to be eligible for additional money as a result of the audits.

The third- and fifth-largest, Long Beach and Sacramento, were not audited at all.

The fourth-largest, Fresno Unified, was subject to two reviews that disallowed about 56 percent of the $1.2 million the district had received for the audited programs.

"Part of it is the large size and dollar amounts," Garin Casaleggio, spokesman for State Controller John Chiang, said of the frequent LAUSD audits.

He could not say whether LAUSD faces any broader problems that may be causing it to fare worse than other school districts during audits.

But he said that LAUSD gets heightened scrutiny simply by being the biggest district.

"When it comes to deciding what audits are coming when, we do a risk assessment: How large is the school district, how much money are they claiming, is it a large amount?

"Have there been audit findings in the past that have worked negatively against the district? Have we uncovered problems in the past?"

The state audits focus on programs that have been required by the state Legislature. The state is supposed to pay school districts for the cost of those activities, but only after a lengthy application process.

The nine LAUSD audits have focused on state reimbursements for a range of activities including chemical removal from schools, police notification of campus crimes, and parent notification of education policies.

The most recent audit - the findings of which were uncontested by LAUSD - required the district to return all but $1 million of $46 million it had received for fulfilling requirements of the Pupil Promotion and Retention Program.

While that was the largest amount LAUSD has been ordered to return, it was consistent with a series of previous audits.

In an audit of an LAUSD graduation requirements program, records show the district sought $5.7 million in state reimbursements. Ultimately, the state allowed just $1.5 million of the claim. Auditors eventually disallowed even that amount.

In an audit of a law enforcement notification program, LAUSD claimed and received $1.6 million in state reimbursement - but auditors disallowed all but $70,000.

LAUSD is not alone in struggling with the state-mandated reimbursement process.

Any time legislators mandate new school requirements, districts must go through a lengthy process of filing "test claims" with the Commission on State Mandates to establish precedent for reimbursement.

The commission currently has a backlog of at least 35 test claims - some as old as 11 years.

Even after a test claim is established, districts must apply to the Controller's Office for reimbursement, which can take another two years.

And, too, the amounts the state awards for mandated reimbursements can fluctuate. Zeronian said the district got about $2.5 million in 2005-06, but then got $61 million in '06-07.

The state Legislature is not expected to allocate any money toward reimbursement funding in 2007-08.

Education experts throughout the state say the process is complex, with inconsistent or unclear rules.

"It causes huge problems for school districts and the state," said Brian Lewis, executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials. "It's not so much that it's complicated - it's that it's a moving target."

Chiang's office is currently working with state lawmakers, the Department of Finance and local school districts to try to improve the process.

"The controller thinks something needs to be done to shorten the mandate process," Casaleggio said.

"Schools have to perform the task as soon as the mandate is imposed, yet still have to wait many years before the commission adopts parameters and guidelines and a statewide cost estimate, and allows districts to be reimbursed for services they've been performing.

"When it comes to claiming the funds, we're always willing to work with schools."

smf pulls up the soapbox and foolishly chimes in: The District's internal audit procedures by the board, superintendent's office, inspector general, office of the chief financial officer and the bond oversight committee - and by the county office of ed - investigate error, malfeasance, bad (and best) practices and possible criminality. These processes save the District and taxpayer's money, correct error and sometimes uncover wrongdoing. Bad guys and gals have gone to jail.

The excess of outside audits generate reports, point fingers, make accusations and rarely prove anything. No recent outside audit from the city attorney, district attorney, city, county or state controllers or the legislature have turned up any wrongdoing that have sent anyone to jail - or saved any agency a sizable amount of money. The bottom line is that expenses have outpaced savings to a factor of huge.

LAUSD is the most investigated governmental entity in creation - but all those audits and the expense of responding to them costs the taxpayers and the schoolchildren more classroom money that ever was/ever will be/ever can be recovered. Auditors should focus their sharpened number two pencils and steely gaze on the money they are charged with auditing — fishing expeditions and oversight of "other peoples' money" must be curtailed.

To those who respond that a recent audit by the Department of Education resulted in the District maybe having to pay back some millions of dollars: that was a proper audit by the DofE of its own money. The questioned overpayment remains questioned because it resulted from different interpretations of ambiguous regulations. And LAUSD had always anticipated that the expenses might be questioned.

AUDIT INVESTIGATIONS ARE NOT WITHOUT SUCCESS: There is evidence of fiscal abuse that actually impacts education in Santa Ana and Val Verde

PARENTS STILL SEEK THE ELUSIVE 'RIGHT' SCHOOL: Parents scramble to claim seats for their children in magnet, charter and private programs.
by Howard Blume and Carla Rivera, LA Times Staff Writers

July 29, 2007 - When it comes to looking out for her children and grandchildren, Patricia Britt, a no-nonsense hospital nursing director, is nobody's fool. Yet here she is, in late July, beside herself because she hasn't yet settled on a school for her 8-year-old grandson Corey to attend in the fall.

Britt and her son, who are raising Corey together, gradually became dissatisfied with the private school that's putting a $400-a-month strain on the family budget. But they have concerns about the quality of the public schools close to their Hyde Park home. And schools that they do like, such as the View Park Preparatory charter school run by Inner City Education, have a discouragingly long waiting list.

"My son has been looking," Britt said. "He's getting kind of frustrated. It's almost to the 99th hour of making the decision."

No one knows exactly how many students are still without a school, but indicators show that the annual last-ditch scramble for a seat at a school of choice is in high gear:

• Some 28,217 students remain on waiting lists to get into Los Angeles Unified School District's prized magnet schools, which are special programs established to promote integration.

• Popular charter schools — free, public schools run independently of the school district — are mostly oversubscribed: The Inner City Education Foundation, which operates the View Park charter schools, pegs its waiting list at more than 5,000.

• The season for admission into popular private schools is long past, but parents are hoping to find an opening, perhaps at a school looking for a particular demographic to round out its student body.

So how does a parent get into this predicament? Some simply waited too long. Others have diligently researched and visited schools, applied on time but lost admission lotteries or discovered they lack sufficient "priority points" to gain admittance into magnet schools. Some have refused to give up on a private school slot.

By law, every child is ensured a spot in a public school. But for this mass of families, the neighborhood school typically is not the preferred choice.

The Los Angeles school district's magnet office tries to help. So does its open enrollment office. A call to a school — public or private — can uncover unexpected openings; informal parent networks also accumulate information. Parents often find that the local public school is better than first presumed, or has a special and worthy program within the larger campus that they can settle on.

Then there are parents who lie to get into a school, which can backfire if a school investigates.

"It was really difficult when my daughter didn't get a sibling permit" for an in-demand Westside school, said Kerry Allen. "Because I know families who used false addresses."

Other parents have worn out shoe leather, spent evenings poring over test scores and attended lotteries.

Debra, who lives in North Hollywood, visited seven public schools in recent months. Like other parents in limbo, Debra asked that her last name not be used, for fear that publicity could hurt her son's chances of getting into a school.

She had started at her neighborhood campus, where, she said she was told there was no advanced curriculum for her entering kindergartner, who can read.

So she turned elsewhere. Her son sits more than 100 deep on the waiting list at Sherman Oaks Elementary. At the Community Magnet, just west of the Bel-Air Country Club, he is so far down that "they said there's not really a chance."

She also filed a permit application at the newly refurbished Hesby Oaks in Encino. "They're so full they have a waiting list even for siblings."

The staff at Lanai Road Elementary in Encino said her son could probably enter its School for Advanced Studies, an accelerated program, but they wouldn't know for sure until after school starts.

Debra's other favored options, at this point, are two private schools; each would cost about $20,000 a year. She's not sure she can afford that on her husband's salary as a stuntman. She once ran a modeling agency but currently works part-time.

There's also a desperate back-up plan: Rent out the family's North Hollywood house and move to a Malibu trailer park to qualify for schools there. But the seller wants $400,000 for the trailer, and hookups are at least $2,000 more a month, she said.

Issues of race, the right academic program and safety, among other things, all play into the complex and personal decision behind school choice. Several Anglo parents expressed discomfort about neighborhood schools that are almost entirely Latino — L.A. Unified is 72.8% Latino. These same parents insisted they want diversity; to them, however, that means a core of children who look like their own.

But the summer search transcends Anglo angst. Minority parents also are looking for options.

There is a waiting list of more than 300 minority students who have signed up to be bused to the Westside or west San Fernando Valley. And, charter schools that have opened in working-class, black or Latino neighborhoods have been flooded with applications.

"We have a whole lot of issues in the African American community: What we face with young males — the gang issues," said Joanne Driver-Jordan, a respiratory therapist who lives in the Hyde Park area. "But education is a high priority in the list of priorities — not wanting your child to go to a school that is racially divided, where one race hates the other. And your child is trying to do academics in that setting?"

Driver-Jordan got in on the opening of View Park Prep, in Southwest Los Angeles, when her daughter was in third grade — she'll be a junior.

Her daughter previously was enrolled in private school, which remains the escape valve for many.

The most sought-after private schools have winter application deadlines and waiting lists.

At the Brentwood School, for example, lower school admission currently is only open to students from out of state.

There is slightly more flexibility for middle and upper school, said spokeswoman Shirley Blake.

And private schools can be choosy.

"Generally, if we're full in a grade level, we have to say no, but if we ascertain that someone is a really spectacular student, we'll always try to find room," said Steven Burnett, an administrator at Sierra Canyon in Chatsworth.

An increasingly popular — and often pricey — option is an educational consultant who has relationships with admissions directors and information about openings.

Consultant Lana Ayeroff Brody said many admissions officers seek specific characteristics — for example, a girl entering fourth grade or a minority boy for the ninth grade — to balance gender or improve ethnic or socio-economic diversity.

Gino Natalicchio's family recently moved to the region from Colorado and began calling private schools "from Palos Verdes to Marina del Rey."

"I didn't think we would find a space," said Natalicchio, a college professor. She's begun the enrollment process for her 11th-grade daughter at Vistamar in El Segundo.

Some magnets still have seats. There's space in the Law/Government Magnet at Monroe High in North Hills, for example.

Deliverance just arrived for Crizelda Rodriguez, who had been among 2,200 on the wait list at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, where her son will enter eighth grade and can remain through graduation.

"After five long years of anticipation," she said, "I was elated and relieved that my son finally got in…. I was actually worried sick that he may have to go to a 'regular' public high school."

After months of travails, Kerry Allen, who lives near Culver City, finally ended a winner after finding Westside schools for both her kindergarten daughter and middle school son.

Her son had been wait-listed at Emerson Middle and New West Charter — and he barely failed to qualify for the gifted magnet at Palms. Salvation came recently from a teacher who recommended him for a different accelerated program at Palms.

And Allen scored a "child-care permit" for her daughter at Mar Vista Elementary after looking into 12 other schools. Such permits are granted to working parents who rely on child care at or near a school. But the permit must be renewed every year and could be revoked if local students need the space.

Everyone will end up somewhere — happy or not.

Parent John Ayers is sticking with his Westside home school after exploring ways to "trade-up."

"Three years ago, before I started worrying about schools, I had a full head of hair," he said. "Our kids will survive; the question is: Will us parents survive?"



Thousands are still seeking the right school. Among their options:

► YOUR HOME SCHOOL: You can get in — no matter what, no matter when — except at schools where students are bused for overcrowding.
• Tip: Inquire if campus has a School for Advanced Studies.

►OPEN ENROLLMENT: Schools outside your neighborhood can let you in if there's space. This permit can't be taken away and also will work for brothers and sisters, as long as one sibling continuously attends the school.
• Tip: Call L.A. Unified's school-management services at (213) 241-6414 for help. And, within reason, keep calling schools of interest. Space can open up just after school starts.

► CHILD-CARE PERMIT: Allows working parents to enroll students based on child-care needs. Permit needs to be renewed each year, and there's no guarantee it will be.
• Tips: Line up documentation; be prepared to target more than one school.

► MAGNET SCHOOLS: Admission priority is based on points. Applicants get credit if neighborhood school is overcrowded, if that school is predominately minority and other factors. Since the underlying goal is integration, schools have to maintain certain percentages of white versus nonwhite students. For details:
• Tip: Call Student Integration Services at (213) 241-4177 about possible openings. Sometimes magnet coordinators at full schools know openings elsewhere. If your child is academically advanced, that could be a ticket into some programs for gifted students.
► CHARTER SCHOOLS: These independent public schools fill up by lottery.
• Tip: Space sometimes opens up during the school year, after last year's wait list has been retired. Reputable charter school groups also are opening new schools and signing up students or developing waiting lists. Contact:

► PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Expensive, choosy and the enrollment time has long passed for most, but….
• Tips: Keep in mind the different kinds — ranging from college prep to parochial to cultural. Seek advice from other parents and the schools themselves. Some church or temple schools welcome all faiths. Costs range wildly; some of the most expensive offer financial aid to improve diversity. Beyond the sticker price, remember building fees, books and fundraisers.

▲smf's 2¢: Some hoary but golden advice on the magnet "game" (no giggling you middle-schoolers – it's a legitimate SAT word you'll need soon enough!) :

…or Sandra Tsing Loh's most excellent Slightly Scandalously Informal Guide to Los Angeles Schools

• Gardena High is part of LAUSD's effort to help at-risk students get their high school diploma. Counselor Rochelle Morrison spent the last school term working with students on the verge of dropping out.

by Paul Clinton, Daily Breeze Staff Writer

Sunday, July 22, 2007 — Counselor Rochelle Morrison keeps three lists of names and each comes in a different color: emerald, salmon and tan.

Emerald names are eighth-graders who enrolled from a feeder middle school but didn’t show up for ninth grade.

Salmon names are “leavers,” or high school students who bail out between September and June.

And the tan list contains names of existing 10th- through 12th-graders at Gardena High School who didn’t return to high school in September. They’ve been deemed “no shows.”

Taken together, the lists of missing students represent the Los Angeles Unified School District’s most persistent and public problem: dropouts.

A UCLA-Harvard study in 2005 estimated the district’s dropout rate to be about 45 percent, which triggered an ongoing statewide debate on the calculation of graduation rates. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, at one time a troubled high school student himself, made raising graduation rates the centerpiece of his failed LAUSD takeover bid.

The district answered criticism by hiring 80 specialist counselors to find dropouts and bring them back to school.

“Counselors and social workers can play extremely important roles in helping students whose problems are often unnoticed or ignored in big schools with very limited resources,” said Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor who co-managed the 2005 study.

At Gardena High School in June, 409 12th-graders collected a diploma. But three-fifths of the class of 2007, or almost 650 students, had left the school between ninth and 12th grades.

That would put the school’s graduation rate, using the most pessimistic estimate, at 38 percent. But calculating a school’s graduation rate can be a tricky task.

The state’s Department of Education uses a federal formula to calculate graduation rates, by dividing the number of graduates in a given year by the sum of graduates plus the number of dropouts in that class since the ninth grade.

This method tends to overstate graduation rates because the state has not developed a system to track individual students.

Using this method, the school graduated 59 percent in 2006, 55 percent in 2005 and 61 percent in 2004, Principal Russ Thompson said.

The UCLA-Harvard study pegged the school’s graduation rate at 49 percent.

Such widely divergent numbers grow into endless wonkish debates, with defenders of the public schools saying the dropout problem is overhyped while the state and critics say the problem is actually worse than reported.

District officials argue that all students leaving LAUSD schools shouldn’t be labeled dropouts, because some are leaving for other school districts or private schools where they go on to graduate. Meanwhile, the state has acknowledged that some students who are labeled graduates shouldn’t be because their ultimate status is undetermined.

Whatever the “real” dropout rate, the abstract debate over it crystallizes into palpable human stories at a dense, urban high school like Gardena High.

Fractured families, gang involvement or other social pressures often drive a student’s decision to leave.

“When a student wants to drop out of school, it’s a very deep problem,” Thompson said. “And it’s complicated. It takes people who can work with the kids and parents to keep them in school.”

That’s where Morrison and the other counselors at Gardena High come in.

Morrison and Kisalyn Michael, who tracks the attendance patterns at the school, take a two-pronged approach.

First, identify students with spotty attendance who may be in danger of dropping out. Second, locate students who have left and try to bring them back to earn a diploma.

The latter, Morrison’s job, is arguably tougher, because students who have left are more resistant to returning, said Orfield, the UCLA professor.

“Getting kids back after they’ve already dropped out is, of course, a much harder assignment than addressing problems before they get that big,” he said.

The district hired 80 dropout prevention counselors using federal funding to pay the $96,000 a year in salary and benefits that each position costs the district. High schools are held accountable for improving their graduation rate as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Banning High, Carson High, Narbonne High, San Pedro High and Westchester High were also assigned dropout counselors, as were seven local middle schools.

Morrison, 43, who is part detective, part social worker, arrived at Gardena High with experience handling students who had fallen behind. The 19-year LAUSD veteran ran “Saturday School” intervention classes at Washington High School, whose notorious problems attracted widespread media attention, and she served as a dean at Foshay Learning Center.

To start, each counselor was presented with the three color-coded lists in September of students from the 2005-06 year. In February, Morrison was given updated lists of 181 dropouts, which included new names added this year.

Culling from the list of names, she searches the district’s database for any shred of information that will lead her to the missing student. Last-known address, emergency contact information, even neighbors can help her find the students. Morrison visits addresses listed on school contact forms and knocked on doors in the neighborhood hoping to learn the student’s whereabouts.

She has found students who had transferred to the Environmental Charter School in Hawthorne and the private Junipero Serra High School in Gardena.

When she finds students on the list who weren’t enrolled at another school, Morrison counsels them. Many fall short of the credits needed to graduate, but Morrison presents alternative tracks that allow them to earn a diploma by making up core subjects of English, mathematics, science and social studies and skipping electives.

“For a lot of the kids, their reality is different from everyone else’s,” Morrison said. “It’s fear of failure. They don’t think they can do well. And some just don’t want to put in the work to do it either. It’s easier to just say, ‘Whatever,’ than to do something.”

Under the alternative track, students with 170 credits in core subjects can earn a diploma — compared with the 240 credits necessary for graduates who complete all coursework. Passing the GED test can supplement a student with at least 150 credits.

Students on the lists usually make up failed classes at the Gardena Adult School to earn a diploma, often as they take a normal load at Gardena High.

In the 2006-07 year, about 320 high-school-age students completed 740 classes at the Gardena Adult School, a cluster of bungalow classrooms on the southwest corner of Gardena High.

By June, two potential dropouts on her lists, Bryant Santos and Devin Fernandez-David, had earned diplomas. Another 15 that she considers to have a good chance at graduating were making up summer classes. She was unable to locate 55 students of the original 181 names on the list.

That left about 110 students who have signed up for classes at the adult school, an unknown fraction of whom are not taking it seriously. The Libertarian think tank Reason says the cost of saving two students with an unknown impact on the other 179 is too high.

“I’m sure it makes a difference for those kids,” said Lisa Snell, director of education for Reason. “But in places with super high schools it would be cost prohibitive.”

But supporters say the dropout-prevention counselors have also brought more accountability to schools and started improving the district’s poor record-keeping.

“I think it’s a good way to have each school numerically accountable for their students,” said David Tokofsky, the former school board member who coordinated the program. “It was a noble effort on the school district’s side to try to confront this issue during the mayoral takeover when the mayor was screaming that every other kid was a dropout.”

Debra Duardo, the district’s director of dropout prevention and recovery, is contemplating changes to the program for the 2007-08 year, including potentially moving counselors around. Initially, they were placed at schools with the highest dropout rates.

“Some schools do a much better job at keeping records, so it’s an accurate count of their dropout rate,” Duardo said. “What we’re doing is we’re just looking deeper into the data we have and making sure we’re placing them at the schools that are most critical.”

▲LUDDITES TAKE ON DARWIN: Normally 4LAKids doesn't quote the inarticulate, grammar or spelling challenged – reserving those categories to ourselves. However, in the interest of unfairness, Max Plank (assuredly not the Max Planck who was the father of quantum physics) writes the Daily Breeze re: the above: "SOCAIL (sic) DARWINISM: This (sic) kids are losers. Quite (sic) wasting more money on them. The schools are there, the teachers are there, all they have to do is show up and learn. The sooner they drop out and wind up in prison the better. After all the world needs ditch diggers too."

SCHOOL CHOICE BACKERS IN LIMBO: Interdistrict transfer applicants hope for extension in budget bill.

by Susie Pakoua Vang | The Fresno Bee

07/26/07 - Susie Martinez cried after she received a letter two weeks ago from Delano Union School District.

Her three children were denied interdistrict transfers to attend Columbine Elementary, a high-performing school several miles northeast of the Tulare-Kern county border. Under state law, parents must get permission from their district of residence if they want their children to attend a school outside district boundaries.

"I started to cry," said Martinez of Delano. "I didn't know what to do."

But Martinez's children may still be able to attend Columbine if the Legislature extends the "school district of choice" law, which was set to expire this month. The state law allows -- within certain limits -- any child to cross district boundaries to attend a "school district of choice" without getting permission from the district of residence.

The school of choice bill, authored by Assembly Member Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, was inserted in the annual state budget bill, which the Assembly approved Friday.

However, state budget talks halted Friday as Senate Republicans blocked a $145 billion spending plan approved hours earlier by the Assembly. If passed by the Senate, the bill goes to the governor, who must sign it.

"We believe parental choice is extremely important," said Faith Conley, Huff's legislative director. "We're really happy there was bipartisan agreement on extending district of choice long enough to see if there are either positive or negative ramifications from the program."

The bill, which would extend district of choice to 2009, requires the state to collect data to determine how many districts of choice are offered in California. Eighteen schools taking advantage of the law have been identified, but Conley said there could be more.

Also, the bill would help legislators determine whether district of choice contributes to declining enrollment for districts of residence, such as Delano Union.

Earlier this year, Delano Union leaders said they began limiting the number of interdistrict transfers because the district had lost $1.4 million in state funding during the 2005-06 school year after students left to attend other districts. More than half of the estimated 210 Columbine students are transfers from Delano Union.

Martinez said she isn't concerned about Delano Union's financial troubles; her energy is focused on providing her children, ages 11, 7 and 6, the best education.

"This is a free country," she said. "We should have the choice to send our kids where we want."

She said she likes the close-knit community at Columbine.

"We're not only a school," she said, "we're family."

She adds that Columbine's smaller classes helped her daughter in math. Martinez said Columbine teachers worked one on one with her daughter.

Sometimes, teachers stayed after school on their own time to help.

"I'm not saying it's the school of the gods, but it's that one-on-one attention students get there," she said.

In May, Martinez and about 25 Columbine parents and children traveled four hours to the state Capitol to support the bill at an Assembly Appropriations Committee meeting.

Martinez said she is cautiously optimistic about the extension of district of choice. If the bill fails, that means her children would have to go to Delano Union schools -- campuses they've never attended.

Said Martinez: "It's like tearing them out of what they're used to."

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Tuesday Jul 31, 2007

6:00 p.m.
Ramona Opportunity High School
231 S. Alma Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90063

• Wednesday Aug 1, 2007

6:00 p.m.
Rosemont Avenue Elementary School Auditorium
421 N. Rosemont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

*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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