Saturday, February 23, 2008


4LAKids: Sun, Feb 24, 2008
In This Issue:
CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS WITH HIGH DROPOUT RATES LISTED: A UC Santa Barbara study shows 25 sites, many are charter campuses, account for a fifth of dropouts
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
4LAKids Anthology: right, wrong, never indifferent.
4LAKidsNews: the news that didn't fit.
To wrap oneself around the challenges of growing up - or parenting a child - or teaching - in LA in the first decade of the twenty-first century there are lots of walls that must be broken through. In LAUSD there are the silos of compartmentalization; Local District Two teachers share little contact with Local District Four teachers. And Local District Eight? …I daresay there are many that would be surprised to learn that San Pedro is part of the City of LA and LAUSD!

The elementary folks don't talk to the secondary folks, the food service folks don't talk to finance – and payroll is obviously disconnected from IT. There is a struggle to align the reform initiatives: Small Learning Communities, A-G, CTE, High Priority Schools, Dropout Prevention, Parent Involvement, I-divison, Charter Schools. None of these are outcomes; they are all merely directions - hopefully forward. "College Prepared and College Ready" is just another buzzword compliant neologism that describes a hypothetical goal. As in: "No Child Left Behind". Even Improved Student Achievement isn't the destination — the goal is-and-must-be Future Generations Building a Better Future…and you never get there!

Decisions are made by Superintendent Level folks – folks remote in time and location from classroom instruction. And all of this of course is ammo for the break-up-the-school-district folks; but it's not an issue of size, it's an issue of communication. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

And it isn't just LAUSD. It's this huge city we live in and the greater megalopolis it’s a part of — and the relationship between the neighborhood + the school, the region + the local district, the cities + the school district; the state + the nation. It's about the connections and lack-thereof between education + health + public safety – with children caught in the middle …and their parents mis-or-underinformed.

All the things I just wrote of: education, public health and safety are all paid for more-or- less by the state government because they control the purse strings thorough taxes or federal outlays — for everything from schoolbooks to bridge repair to fire trucks. And in the current budgetary situation and the governor's proffered solutions every one of those things will be cut ten per cent.

ON THURSDAY I flew up to Sacramento to gather with the California State PTA leadership and discuss things legislative. Mostly we talked about the budget and the impact of education, healthcare and social welfare cuts on kids. That's what The Lege and The Gov are discussing too …there just isn't much else on anyone's agenda up there! There's a bill here and an initiative there about Small Schools and Career Ed – and a promising return to Driver's Ed in high school. But without money – the mother's milk of politics – the discussion is all about the lack of money.

Make no mistake: the Teachers are energized about the budget, the Admininistators and Superintendents and School Boardmembers are energized. Parents are energized too – and will be more so in the weeks ahead. Our special interests are not our jobs and careers – our special interests are our children and that's the message we must bring forward. Something's gotta give – and it won't be us because our kids have the most to lose!

ALSO ON THURSDAY the Legislative Analyst changed the numbers: the deficit is no longer $14 Billion, it's $16 billion. If the governor says it takes a 10% cut (and x borrowing) to fix $14 billion, does it take (I knew two years of Algebra I would come in handy!) 11.42 % plus x+y borrowing to fix $16 billion?

It's a trick question – it takes raising taxes to fix them both. Not 'fees', not the yacht tax, not Indian gaming or the lottery; those are the things we talk about while we don't talk about raising taxes. First the car tax; then split the rolls and periodically reassess business property. Prop 13 can continue to protect homeowners; it doesn't need to protect oil companies and supermarket chains and shopping mall operators.

But it also takes facing facts. The Golden State is already bankrupt; we are 46th in the nation in per pupil spending. Or we were …in good times with a growing economy. Before the cuts already done and the cuts to come. That's moral bankruptcy. That's failure to invest in the future.

THURSDAY the Daily News broke with the story of the tax implications of the LAUSD payroll debacle; the follow up editorial - posted online Thursday predictably called for district breakup.

ALSO THURSDAY and closer to home all hell broke lose in my neighborhood. Around noon right near a local elementary school a carload of adult gang members shot and killed another adult gang member who was standing holding the hand of his two year old.

Read that back to yourself:
• Noon.
• Near a school.
• Two year old in hand.

The Times continues in their description saying that witnesses saw what happened and returned fire.

• Witnesses returned fire.
• Noon.
• Near a school.

A car chase with police ensued. More shots were fired. A gang member from the shooters' car brandished an AK-47 and was shot dead by police; three other guys ran and got away – this all adjacent to a second elementary school and middle school. All three schools locked down while the manhunt continued – eventually the second and third – but not the fourth shooters were apprehended.

All this gunplay happened near schools with kids in them; three schools were locked down. In broad daylight, beginning with kids presumably at lunch on playgrounds – all protected by those lovely "Safe School Zone" signs.

Glassell and Cypress Parks – where all this took place – are pleasant working and middle class neighborhoods with homes and yards and hard working folks raising families —struggling to make ends meet. Kids going to school, API growing, multiplication tables learned, homework forgotten, living the American Dream — the flagpole with the Old Glory and the MIA/POW flag in the pocket park. When The Times printed the map in the paper of these goings-on I could find where I live on it; my family travels those streets every day, to work, shopping, to school.

The victims this time may be gang members – but the real victims are my neighbors – and your neighbors — the good people who live with this sort of violence everyday.

The name for what gangs do in LA is "Terrorism"; reports 5,728 gang related homicides in LA in the 21 years between 1985 - 2006.

When I was growing up we 'ducked and covered' in school to save ourselves from nuclear annihilation. The children in those three schools Thursday – "low to the floor, keep away from the windows" – and the two year old – came closer to annihilation from stray 9 millimeter and 7.62 rounds than we ever did.

If this is the new Americana, the Norman Rockwell Four Freedoms include the right to be safe; I think that's nonnegotiable. Kids need to be safe at school and at home and going to-and-from school. That's not asking too much.

ALSO THURSDAY …and far more mundane, the UTLA election returned the current leadership to office. Duffy got 59% of the vote, a solid majority…that's 59% of the 21% who voted – 12% of the eligible voters. Democracy is not pretty, but when folks don't participate whatever good looks it has wane quickly.

I like Duffy; I have nothing against UTLA – but the union contract is usually (or perhaps: unusually) the overarching governing and policy setting authority of this school district – and 21% participation in the process is unacceptable.

Onward nonetheless —smf

LA Times: MAYHEM CRIPPLES BIG AREA: Thousands stranded, schools locked down as notorious group battles the LAPD after a drive-by killing.

by Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

2/21/2008 - Massive payroll glitches that left Los Angeles Unified teachers under- or overpaid last year are creating a new nightmare as thousands of year-end tax forms also have been found to be inaccurate, district and union officials said Wednesday.

While LAUSD officials had promised that payroll problems would not affect teachers' year-end W2 tax forms, at least 3,400 have been identified as incorrect with less than two months remaining before the April 15 tax deadline.

And thousands more December pay stubs - which are usually used to verify annual income figures - now are not matching up with W2 figures, leaving many teachers concerned about possible errors.

"People have struggled all year long, and we are quite frustrated with the district," said Chuck Vaughn, a teacher at Farmdale Elementary School in El Sereno. "Now it's time for taxes, and it becomes a very serious issue."

District officials said that of the 3,400 incorrect W2s, at least 700 were because of incorrect taxation of employee medical benefits.

Other mistakes have been attributed to payment errors that have occurred since the February launch of the district's new computerized payroll system.

David Holmquist, LAUSD's chief operating officer, said that while the district is working hard to correct the errors, it is also pleased that only about 2percent of the forms have been found to have errors.

Holmquist said the district also has contacted most of
the employees who have received incorrect tax forms and will begin sending corrected forms by the end of the week.

Holmquist also said a 30-person team has been set up to address district employees' concerns over their tax forms. He said the district so far has received 451 inquiries out of the 120,000 tax forms that were sent out.

"We understand that there are all different flavors of issues out there because of what we have been through, but we want to talk to any employees who are having issues and we want to resolve these issues," Holmquist said.

Holmquist also said letters and memos were sent to district employees last month informing them that their pay stubs and W2s would not match up. Teachers were urged instead to use their W2s as their official end-of-year document.


But for teachers like Cheryl Ortega at Logan Street Elementary School in Echo Park, the previous months' glitches with the district's payroll system - in which she was consistently overpaid - have left her wary.

"Why would you believe anything they say? I was told the payroll problems were fixed, and my February paycheck still isn't right," she said. "I got overpaid again."

Ortega said that when the figures in her W2 form didn't match her year-to-date pay-stub figures, she decided to hire an accountant to audit her finances - at her own expense.

"Why should I pay my accountant more money and take time off of work to fix these problems? I already work full time," she said. "This is very de-energizing."

The teachers union has hosted several meetings this week for teachers and school representatives to ask Internal Revenue Service and Franchise Tax Board officials questions about how to file their taxes when they disagreed with their employer's W2 figures.

David Goldberg, treasurer for United Teachers Los Angeles, said that after a year of struggling with incorrect paychecks - or no paychecks at all - teachers are on edge this tax season.

"This year there is a hypersensitivity, which is completely rational after you have gone through one of the worst computer breakdowns in California history," Goldberg said. "It's completely rational for people to be skeptical."

About 100 people attended the two union sessions, but Goldberg also said the district has moved quickly on most of the W2 concerns.

At least 700 district employees whose year-end tax forms had incorrect medical-benefit deductions already have been contacted by the district, he said.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy said that after a disastrous payroll year, the union was braced for "the good, the bad, and the ugly" this tax season.

All things considered, he said, the issues teachers are now facing are minimal.

"The fact that only 100 people showed up at both our meetings is an anecdotal indicator that, for the most part, the W2s have been accurate," he said.

Still, Duffy said many teachers continue to complain to the union about their inability to get an appointment with the district staff to review their tax forms.

"Even though we believe these forms are accurate, there are lingering questions that people have, or in some cases it's just clarification of procedure," he said. "The district has improved its payroll process, but it is still not responsive in responding to these concerns."

But district officials said the tax team does not have a backlog of appointments and that employees should be able to get prompt attention.

LAUSD board member Tamar Galatzan said she understands employees' frustrations dealing with the payroll system.

Galatzan, who represents schools in the San Fernando Valley, said if teachers and other district staffers are not getting help from the district, they should reach out to board members.

"Hopefully this is the last big hump to go over to deal with this payroll crisis," Galatzan said.


At the UTLA meetings, IRS officials reassured teachers they would be able to write letters of explanation if they thought their W2 forms were inaccurate, and that teachers would be able to pay taxes based on what they believed to be their correct annual income.

Employees also can seek an extension to file, although any taxes that are owed still have to be paid April 15.

Still, many teachers say they feel like they are being penalized for a payroll mess that even the district's financial gurus have been unable to figure out.

Sandy Keaton, a district audiologist, said all of her paychecks last year did not properly deduct funds for a medical-benefits program she had signed up for.

While she was able to get her wages garnished to cover the cost of the benefits, her paychecks for the year are wrong.

And she said the system's new pay stubs are so confusing she doesn't know how to begin trying to check whether the figures in her W2 are correct.

"I am trying to work backwards now to see if this W2 is correct. If I can't understand my pay stub, how can I figure out if my W2 is right?"

Daily News Editorial

02/21/2008 - If there were any lingering doubt that the LAUSD had become irreparably broken, the mess with teachers' tax forms ought to put it to rest.

It's just the latest nightmare in the stupendously disastrous payroll debacle that has cost the Los Angeles Unified School District more than $100million - more than the payroll system cost to purchase - so far to "fix."

Or, more accurately, it has cost the taxpayers this money and denied 700,000 kids the education they need and deserve.

Considering the mess with tax forms, it may take even more money to "fix" again in time to meet the April filing deadline.

This situation should have been anticipated by LAUSD payroll officials, or at least the high-paid consultants who are getting rich on the district's incompetence.

The payroll system caused thousands of teachers to go unpaid or receive incorrect pay for months during the past year while the new payroll system was created. It was bound as well to have problems computing the year-end pay of teachers. And so it did.

The W2 forms of more than 3,400 teachers have so far been found to be inaccurate. A total of 120,000 forms were sent out, and who knows how many teachers have just filed them away for a future date with Turbo Tax and haven't assessed whether the totals might be incorrect.

The ongoing payroll problems do more than suggest that the LAUSD is structurally broken; it screams it.

There's a behemoth bureaucracy engaged in trying to keep its organizational chaos in check to prevent such debacles.

There's a school board without any sort of vision for the failing.

And there's a financial black hole where hundreds of millions of dollars meant for education simply disappear because of mismanagement.

It's time for the public to revisit that idea once again. The relentless exodus of LAUSD students to charter schools shows this is, in essence, already happening. But allowing it to linger in a slow death is unconscionably unfair to the kids who remain behind.

If the system is broken, why not make breakup complete before it does any more harm?

by Patrick McGreevy and Howard Blume | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

February 22, 2008 - SACRAMENTO — The incoming leader of the state Senate said Thursday that he wants to overhaul California's programs for reducing the number of high school dropouts, calling it a top legislative priority.

Under existing requirements, Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles would be allowed to take more than two centuries to bring its graduation rate up to 82.9%, which is the current state standard, said Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Steinberg, who will take over as Senate president pro tem in November, has drafted a bill that would reset the bar for schools in California to boost the number of students who make it to graduation.

"We think 250 years is slightly too long," he said. "It's unacceptable. The current goal, to put it charitably, is not nearly ambitious enough."

The idea of setting higher graduation goals is supported by many education experts, including state Education Secretary David Long.

"There has to be that perfect balance between raising the bar and making it achievable, because school districts have a lot of other things on their plates," Long said.

However, Delaine Eastin, a former state superintendent of public instruction, said the Legislature would have to come up with more money to help schools increase their graduation rates, adding that after-school and preschool programs are important elements.

"They are going to have to make some investment. It's not easy, and it's not free," she said.

Los Angeles Board of Education President Monica Garcia also supports Steinberg's goal. "I appreciate the urgency in this bill," she said. "For too long our graduation rates have not been acceptable. I see this bill as about accelerating the pace of change."

Garcia faulted the state for failing to adequately fund schools, leaving the Los Angeles Unified School District with crowded classrooms and year-round calendars that she said ultimately affect graduation rates. Proposed state budget cuts also will do substantial additional damage, she said.

"Schools are always being asked to do more with less. That has to stop," Garcia said.

Acknowledging that money is tight this year, Steinberg said that changing the standards now will create the foundation for faster improvement in future years when money is more available.

Under state rules set up to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools must either meet a graduation-rate goal or improve by 0.1 percentage point per year to avoid sanctions.

The 2007 graduation rate target is 82.9%. State education officials said they intended all along to install a more rigorous system once the state adopted a reliable data system.

Crenshaw High had a 56.9% graduation rate in the 2005-06 school year, the last for which figures were available. L.A. Unified had a rate of 63.9% that year.

As it is, Crenshaw's rate has been heading in the wrong direction: It declined over the previous two years. The district's graduation rate also dropped last year.

Steinberg, a former educator, plans to introduce legislation today that would set the graduation rate goal at 90%.

If that goal is not met, a school with Crenshaw's performance could comply by raising its graduation rate 3.3 percentage points in two years.

If schools fail to meet standards, the state can take sanctions against the schools, ranging from sending in assistance teams to closing the campus entirely.

When Crenshaw parent Glenn Windom first learned of the school's high number of dropouts, "I was angry. It was horrible," she said.

Because there is widespread skepticism about the accuracy of the graduation rates now reported to the state, (Steinberg and Eastin, among others, believe the rates are inflated) the senator's bill would make enforcement of the new standards contingent on the state's devising a more accurate method of reporting the rates. That might not happen until 2011.

Still, the new legislation is welcome for building on past reforms addressing the graduation rate, said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project and an education professor at UCLA.

Without attention to graduation rates, he said, the state's accountability system "rewards schools that push out kids with low scores."

CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS WITH HIGH DROPOUT RATES LISTED: A UC Santa Barbara study shows 25 sites, many are charter campuses, account for a fifth of dropouts

by Mitchell Landsberg | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 21, 2008 - Just 25 of California's 2,462 high schools account for more than a fifth of the state's dropouts, with the problem heavily concentrated in charter and alternative schools, according to a study being released today by UC Santa Barbara.

However, a UCSB researcher said it wasn't clear whether the schools were responsible for the problem or were simply the recipients of a disproportionate share of troubled students. And some educators and school advocates criticized the report -- either for relying on questionable data or for releasing potentially explosive statistics without context.

The report, issued as part of the California Dropout Research Project, used readily available state data to compile a list of every high school in the state ranked by the number of students listed as dropouts last year.

It showed that, of the 10 schools that reported the highest numbers of dropouts, only one was a traditional, comprehensive high school -- and the principal of that school said it ranked so high because of a data error. The rest were alternative schools, most of them charters and all specializing in education for high-risk students who couldn't make it in conventional schools.

Russell Rumberger, a professor of education at UC Santa Barbara and director of the dropout project, said Wednesday that the report wasn't intended to answer questions about why the schools had so many dropouts but rather to give educators a snapshot they could use to map out future research.

"Is the school doing a bad job, or are the kids at risk anyway no matter what setting they're in?" Rumberger asked in a conference call with reporters. Either way, he said, the value of the study is in telling the public, "This is where we should be concerned."

Rumberger stressed that he wasn't judging the individual schools at the top of the list, but added, "If that many kids are dropping out, it's unlikely that you're doing a good job."

That comment angered Buzz Breedlove, director of John Muir Charter School, a Sacramento-based organization that operates programs for at-risk students at 43 locations throughout California. It was No. 1 on the UC Santa Barbara list, with 1,856 dropouts -- more students than are enrolled at the school.

"To reconfigure numbers and come up with a dropout rate of 149%, which on its face is ludicrous, doesn't suggest to me that very much thought went into these numbers," said Breedlove, a former nonpartisan policy analyst for the California Legislature.

More than half a dozen of the schools on the list had dropout rates over 100% because enrollment is based on the number of students attending classes on a single day in October, but alternative schools typically have students arriving and leaving throughout the year.

According to Breedlove, the typical John Muir student is 19, has already dropped out of school two or three times and has completed only 75 of the required 210 credits for high school graduation. The school serves students who are enrolled in several organizations, including the California Conservation Corps.

"I would submit to you that one reason that our students drop out the way they do is that, absent our program, they wouldn't be in school at all," Breedlove said. "They would be terminal dropouts."

Much the same story came from the No. 2 school on the list, SIATech (School for Integrated Academics and Technologies), a San Diego-based alternative charter with seven campuses. SIATech works with the Job Corps to reclaim students who have already dropped out.

Spokeswoman Linda Leigh said a high dropout rate "is one of the pitfalls of trying to recover students who are really high-risk individuals."

The only conventional, comprehensive school among the top 10 was Madera High North in the San Joaquin Valley, listed at No. 9 with 539 dropouts. But the school's principal, Ron Pisk, said that figure was wrong, the result of a coding glitch that occurred when the Madera Unified School District recently switched data systems.

"It's absolutely driving us crazy," he said. "I've been losing sleep over this." The true figure, he said, is about half what is listed in the report.

Four of the schools in the top 10 are charters run by the same couple, John and Joan Hall. Their nonprofit charter, Options for Youth, has campuses ranked sixth, seventh and eighth, and their for-profit charter, Opportunities for Learning, was ranked third. The schools, which allow students to work independently, were the subject of a Times article in 2006 that found they had a poor record of keeping students until graduation.

A spokesman for the organization, Stevan Allen, issued a statement saying it was "not at all surprising that schools specializing in dropout recovery have a high number of dropouts -- just as obesity clinics have higher incidences of diabetes and heart disease among their patients. By definition, we are dealing with a population highly inclined to drop out."

He estimated that the true dropout rate at the four schools ranges from 15% to 35%, rather than the 42% to 49% shown in the report.

Gary Larson, a spokesman for the California Charter Schools Assn., also criticized the UC Santa Barbara report and said it could be interpreted as painting charter schools -- particularly those that specialize in educating troubled youth -- in a bad light.

Charters are independently run but publicly funded campuses that are free from many state and local regulations in exchange for boosting achievement.

Daria Hall, assistant director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to improving education, complained in an e-mail that the report was based on "state-reported dropout figures that are wildly inaccurate."

As an example, she said that John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, ranked No. 16 in the report, has an official dropout rate of 9%, yet it has more than 1,900 students entering as freshmen but fewer than 500 enrolled as seniors.

"Unless almost 70% of the entering class transferred out, and no one transferred in, this school loses more than 9% of its students to dropout," Hall wrote.

Rumberger, the dropout project director, said the data were accurate but conceded that the state's method of calculating dropouts leaves a great deal to be desired.

"I don't think the data are flawed," he said. "I think the data give an incomplete picture."

►IN FAIRNESS OR CONFUSION - The statistics quoted in this report give Crenshaw High School, (singled out by Senator Steinberg above) a Dropout Rate of 6.5%; Steinberg says the Graduation Rate is 56.9%. Apples and oranges.
•The Dropout Rate is the percentage of students who drop out in a single year.
•The Graduation Rate is the percentage of 9th graders who graduate four years later.
All these statistics miscount things like kids who leave but continue their education elsewhere (including those who go to charters or move to another school, school district or state, kids who turn 18 and go to community college, take five years to graduate, etc.) The state is supposed to be developing a program to actually track individual students, but the system implementation is running late due to software problems - and the governor quietly eliminated the funding in the budget. Why fix it when you can complain about it? - smf

▲Link to the Report and Data

by Victoria Kim and Janet Wilson | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

February 22, 2008 - Susan Hartley knows exactly where the now-shuttered Hallmark meat plant is: The high-walled compound sits just six blocks from her office. But until 143 million pounds of beef from the company were recalled this week, the Chino Valley Unified School District food director had no idea some of the beef served in her cafeterias came from the old dairy cows slaughtered just around the corner.

Officials at Chino and other school districts around the country have little clue where the food supplied through the National School Lunch Program comes from. After this week's largest-ever recall of beef -- nearly 50 million pounds of which went to schools nationwide -- officials are nervous about the quality of the U.S. Department of Agriculture food that they have no choice but to trust.

"Schools are really held hostage," said Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District, which spent five years weaning itself from the subsidized-food system that daily serves free or reduced-price lunches to 30 million low-income children. "They offer you pennies per child, . . and you are forced to spend those pennies on frozen products that subsidize the farmers, the meatpackers and meat producers."

USDA officials say that the health risks posed by the recalled beef are "very, very remote" and that good quality beef is served through the school lunch program.

Janet Riley, spokeswoman with the American Meat Institute, said there was no evidence the meat from the Chino plant was unsafe and disputed assertions that ground beef sold to schools though the federal program was unsafe or of inferior quality. "That is patently false," Riley said.

"We feed a lot of children, so I don't expect my children to eat filet mignon during lunch, and they'd rather have a hamburger anyway," she said. "We're obviously feeding a lot of children subsidized lunches, so we're trying to make sure we do that in a cost-effective, safe manner."

Half of the food served by the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country, comes from the USDA program, which buys in bulk from lowest-bid processors. Critics say the system attracts large-scale industrial operations that are likely to cut corners to provide cheap beef.

"Those by design are not producing high-quality products. It's all about efficiency," said Moira Beery, a program manager with Occidental College who works with Los Angeles area schools to get them to use better quality, local produce.

Hallmark/Westland Meat in Chino bought cheap dairy cows and processed most of them into ground beef, which does not get a USDA grade and tends to be the catchall for scraps and less lucrative cuts of meat.

Chino has one of the largest concentrations of dairy cattle in the U.S., with 250,000 on about 100 farms. After three to five years, when a cow is no longer producing milk, it is sold to a slaughterhouse like Hallmark.

Truck drivers supplying cattle to Hallmark often said that the sickly dairy cows used there would be rejected at most other slaughterhouses, an animal-rights activist who worked undercover said in an interview with The Times.

Video footage released last month by the Humane Society showed workers using electric prods, forklifts and high-pressure hoses to force weak and sick cattle to their feet so they could be slaughtered. Cattle that cannot walk are banned from human food out of concerns of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.

Authorities said Thursday that 20 million pounds of the suspect beef that went to schools had been consumed, 15 million pounds were on hold and 15 million pounds were still being traced. The USDA will take action against Westland to try to get it to pay the cost of the national recall, officials said.

Kenneth Clayton, associate administrator for the Agricultural Marketing Service, the USDA arm that administers the lunch program, said meat suppliers have to meet stringent standards. Carcasses need to be rinsed in acid, treated with steam and tested for bacteria at three stages: as carcass, as chunks of meat and during the grinding process. About 10 suppliers of ground beef who meet these criteria compete for contracts with the school lunch program.

But Beery said that means "we've come to accept that our food system requires things like acid-washing meat. . . . I don't think that is the food that we want to be serving our kids," Beery said.

Schools receive about 17 cents worth of commodities and $2.47 in cash per free lunch served. After labor and distribution costs, roughly a dollar is spent on purchasing food for a students' lunch, advocates say.

The USDA paid $1.48 to $1.55 per pound of ground beef, similar to the average wholesale price of lean ground beef.

Food services directors at the state's largest school districts in the state said they had believed USDA commodities to be of good quality.

"We do rely upon the USDA much like consumers do when they go to the supermarket, so it is disconcerting that this could occur," said Chris Eftychiou, spokesman for the Long Beach Unified District, the second-largest school district in the state.

Concerned about nutrition, Berkeley Unified officials decided about five years ago to scrap their heavy dependence on the frozen beef patties, plastic-wrapped cheese and other longtime staples of cafeteria school lunches. They now make lunch from scratch every day for all children who want it in the 9,000-student district. That includes the 37% who qualify for subsidized school lunches.

"We don't serve a scrap of federal school program commodities on our menus," said Coplan. "Most of that food is full of fat, full of cholesterol. . . . Our concern is childhood diabetes and obesity."

There are now salad bars at every public school, and fresh juice and trail mix bars have replaced soda and candy bars; pizza made with organically grown whole-wheat flour and as many locally grown products as possible has replaced the once ubiquitous hamburgers and pepperoni pizza as the school lunch favorite.

The district had to supplement its federal lunch funds with $1 million from its annual budget of about $100 million.

Chino officials said they don't see how they could afford the Berkeley approach in a district where nearly half of the 33,000 students qualify for a federally funded school lunch.

But state and federal inspectors have also looked askance at the program, saying they could not certify fresh salad ingredients as safe, for instance. Frozen meat and other commodities are regularly tested and are far easier to certify as safe, they told the local district.

A study published in 1996 in Johns Hopkins University's Epidemiological Reviews exploring how deadly Escherichia coli might enter the U.S. food supply found that "when the product was finally . . . made into hamburgers, it was nearly impossible to say which cattle, or even how many, went into the patties."

The researchers found that a single lot of beef at a large commercial meat packer came from as many as 11 sources in four states. In another case, they found that meat possibly tied to a large, 1993 E. coli outbreak in the West came from as many as 443 animals, which had come from six states through five slaughterhouses.

In Chino, school district officials this week were filling in the order sheet for next year's USDA commodities and crossing their fingers.

"I hope this is just one place. I hope it's not everywhere. I hope the others all follow the guidelines," district spokeswoman Julie Gobin said.

▲ 4LAKIDS 2¢: LAUSD has approximately 11,000 cases of beef and products made from beef with the dreaded USDA vendor code EST336 from Hallmark in it's recalled inventory, each case weighing ten to twenty pounds depending on what it is. All this product will be incinerated and the costs of the recall and destruction paid for by the feds. The meat itself comes to the school district for free - it will probably be replaced. There is no firm word yet as to whether the USDA or the meatpacker will reimburse the district for the cost of preparing and processing the meat (forming into patties or incorporating into products for sale. - smf

by Dr. Joe Harrop | Red Bluff CA Daily News

February 23, 2008 - There has been a lot of public education news recently, both in Red Bluff and elsewhere. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, David Brooks touted a serious national effort on education. In France, a country with ambivalent feelings about its relations with Jewish people since at least the Dreyfus Affair over a century ago, our new ally, Nicolas Sarkosy, proposed a revision of the Holocaust Education programs amidst great controversy.

The California Dropout Research Project proclaimed the statewide dropout rate in 2005-2006 was 3.5 percent, a figure far lower than that most would have estimated.

Meanwhile, in the Red Bluff Daily News, Jennifer Stillwell, a sophomore at Red Bluff High School opined that the California High School Exit Exam, CAHSEE, was really, well, "cheesy." And lastly, the local high school board took the first steps toward becoming more involved in football play calling.

Public education is the essence of politics, whether you consider the high school exit exam, football issues, or the No Child Left Behind program. The oft quoted, but seldom read Greek, Aristotle said - I use a paraphrase by Lawrence Cremin on this - that it is impossible to talk about education apart from a conception of the good life; since people will always differ about what consists of the good life, they will differ in regard to education, and therefore, education falls squarely within the domain of politics.

In assessing the state of our nation in its January-February issue, The Atlantic Monthly featured an article by Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress, titled "First Kill All the School Boards." We all remember what Mark Twain said about school boards: "First God created idiots. That was for practice. Then He created school boards."

Both Brooks and Miller would want to have a stronger federal role in education, with high standards and more local flexibility in providing education. Miller would like a national education system; he claims that in many other countries this is the way it is done, and then he points out that continuing to spend the large amounts we do on education and having mediocre results when compared to other countries is unrealistic.

Mark Tucker of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce asks this question: "If we have the second-most expensive K-12 system of all those measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but consistently perform between the middle and bottom of the pack, should we examine the systems of countries that spend less and get better results?"

Miller emphasizes that school boards spend too much time on micro-management and personnel decisions and not enough on establishing standards and maintaining accountability. He would do away with local control.

The United States has a very diverse population; its geography is vast; it has a history of immigration from Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Each wave of immigration was met with a breakwater to lessen the impact of that wave; the "Irish need not apply" signs all over Boston at one time is only one example. Eventually the melting pot of opportunity created the American stew that we celebrate with pride.

We rely on a unique form of government to hold all of us together, and it requires an active and informed electorate. To maintain our republic, provide continuity, and assure balance, it is important we have as much in common as possible. A core curriculum in our public education system can provide that. A common understanding of who we are, where we came from, and what our aspirations are helps keep the ship of state from veering too far off its course. However, establishing just what knowledge we should hold in common becomes very political.

I have a copy of the 1893 California Education Code; it is 140 pages including the title page, the table of contents, the code, an index, and a list of the current county superintendents of schools. Belle Miller held that position in Tehama County in 1893. The current version of the education code states that it is a permissive code; however, the index is far thicker than the 1893 volume. In fact there are over 100,000 numbered sections to the code!

The CAHSEE is clearly not a real exit exam; it is a minimal standard. Ms. Stillwell is correct to state that for motivated, competent students it is almost a waste of time. When I was in high school, and yes there were high schools in those days, many of our students dropped out at 16, when they could legally leave school. Now we require education until completion of the 12th grade or age 18.

In our schools, we pride ourselves on the myriad of programs we provide to keep students in school, and Red Bluff High has ample reason for pride in its programs. It has done an outstanding job to work with a large spectrum of students. (4LAKids adds: API 690, down 7 points from the previous year, percent of students scoring Proficient or Above: 53.5% - roughly equivalent to Taft High School) )

In California, we have an extensive community college system that provides second chance opportunity to students who did not do well in high school. While this is very good, other countries have more efficient systems that provide vocational education to those who do not qualify for a more academic program; decisions about who goes to which program is made an a far earlier age than a self-selection process permits.

With the growth of service sector jobs, the aging of our population, the globalization of trade, and the decline of manufacturing in our economy, our schools need to prepare students for a world different world from that my generation was prepared to face. Some of the basic skills and knowledge are the same, but some will be different; high standards for both academic and vocational classes will produce both a well-informed electorate and skilled employees.

The debate over local control versus a larger more unified system will play out in op-ed pieces, academic arenas, and newspapers. It will be fueled by decisions made by those in local control.


About the author: Dr. Joe Harrop is a retired educator with over 30 years of service to the North State.


EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Monday Feb 25, 2008
Ceremony starts at 10:00 a.m.
Valley Region Elementary School #7
7650 N. Ben Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91605

Tuesday Feb 26, 2008
CENTRAL L.A. NEW LEARNING CENTER #1 (Ambassador): Construction Update Meeting
6:00 p.m.
Berendo Middle School
1157 S. Berendo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90006

Tuesday Feb 26, 2008
VALLEY REGION SPAN K-8 #2: Pre-Design Meeting
6:30 p.m.
Germain Elementary School - Auditorium
20730 Germain St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311

Wednesday Feb 27, 2008
Ceremony starts at 10:00 a.m.
Valley Region Elementary School #9
6900 N. Calhoun Ave.
Van Nuys, CA 91405

Wednesday Feb 27, 2008
GRATTS NEW PRIMARY CENTER: Pre-Construction Meeting
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Gratts Elementary School
309 Lucas Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Thursday Feb 28, 2008
CENTRAL REGION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL #20: Site Selection Update Meeting
6 p.m.
Virgil Middle School - Auditorium
152 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Thursday Feb 28, 2008
SOUTH REGION MIDDLE SCHOOL #3: Presentation of Recommended Preferred Site
6:00 p.m.
Walnut Park Elementary School
2642 Olive St.
Huntington Park, CA 90255

Thursday Feb 28, 2008
VALLEY REGION BLYTHE ES ADDITION: CEQA Scoping and Schematic Design Meeting
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Blythe Elementary School - Auditorium
18730 Blythe St.
Reseda, CA 91335

*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.
• FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. 4LAKids makes such material available in an effort to advance understanding of education issues vital to parents, teachers, students and community members in a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chart(er)ing the course.

4LAKids: Sun, Feb 17 '08 President's Day Weekend
In This Issue:
David v. Lisa | Dust-Up: L.A. SCHOOLS REVISITED
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.
TUESDAY the Board of Education in closed session settled the lawsuit with the charter schools, committing to share school facilities with charters — even if it means forcing teachers to share classrooms, a sorry state of affairs called "traveling teachers."

To be fair, no one is suggesting that schools or teachers actually share classrooms between district schools and charters - at least not yet – but I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that forcing teachers to share classrooms is bad educationall policy - and like year round calendars, not enough classrooms or facilities, seats or textbooks; and forcing students to be bused out of their neighborhood ("traveling students?") is a indicator of overcrowding.

The settlement is based on a test case lawsuit called Ridgecrest Charter School v. Sierra Sands School District - where a state chartered school sued the local district for facilities under Prop 39. Even though the charter prevailed it never exercised its option. And to see how well this precedent setting charter has performed see this:

ON THURSDAY City Controller Laura Chick released her report and audit of the city's anti gang efforts. Its conclusions echo the findings of the Connie Rice authored Advancement Project study of last year: The city is not doing enough and there is little or no coordination and/or accountability on what little they are doing.

• The city is a monster bureaucracy (alike the school district only more so!); this is the second of two studies saying the same thing.
• Studies are either ignored or followed up on.
• Chick's report makes concrete suggestions and suggests a time line:
- A follow up report on progress-made in six months.
- Two years to get stuff up and running or declare a bureaucratic impasse.

The report follows as Ms. Rice led; it calls for current money to be spent wisely — and it identifies $19 million in unspent-but-earmarked Community Redevelopment Agency funds to start with. It puts the mayor in charge and accountable - and indeed the mayor is probably the right guy.

FROM THE INTRO: "Since it is widely known that gangs do not respect artificially set municipal or governmental boundaries, the City of Los Angeles’ gang problem is really a regional problem shared with Los Angeles County, Los Angeles Unified School District and numerous other cities and school districts in the area. As such, the best solutions to the problem would be with regional partnerships and not limited to those undertaken solely by City government within its city limits."

Controller Chick's press conference set the tone, she stood shoulder to shoulder in unity with Mayor Villaraigosa, Chief Bratton, Sheriff Baca, City Councilperson Hahn, the City Attorney, Ms. Rice, representatives from the governor's office and various city and county agencies. Spectacularly absent were representatives from the school district: no superintendent, no school board members, no senior staff. Absent without a note.

FRIDAY the legislature in Sacramento dodged the issue and half-heartedly followed the governor's lead in cutting the budget. They decimated education and public health outlays for this year, wrung their hands over worse-to-come next year – and using a bit of fiscal smoke and mirrors plus a fair amount of borrowing solved nothing. State PTA President Pam Brady warned that the governor's -proposed budget cuts to education and children's health were unacceptable and that if implemented could mark the beginning the end of public education in the state. 4LAKids hopes she's wrong — but this unexceptional lege has accepted the unacceptable. They are committed to undereducating the schoolchildren of California …and because they're borrowing the money to do it – are asking the kids to pay the bill.


• The Daily Breeze on charging non-profits to operate youth after school programs: LAUSD SAYS IT'S PAY FOR PLAY TIME
• The Downtown News: AMBASSADOR SCHOOLS COST SOARS TO $566 Million
• and 3 articles from the LA Business Journal Real Estate Quarterly on the LAUSD BUILDING PROGRAM.

MEMBERS OF UTLA: There's an election on for the leadership and future direction of your union. Please get informed and vote. Model behavior, the children and their parents are watching!

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! - smf


by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 13, 2008 -- More Los Angeles campuses will have to make room for charter schools, even if some teachers are forced to give up their classrooms and become roving instructors, under a litigation settlement approved by the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday.

The agreement requires the school district to inventory all properties and work directly with charter schools to find space on or off campus. Charter advocates say finding and paying for facilities is their No. 1 challenge.

The settlement signals "new cooperation" toward serving all students -- whether they attend a charter or a traditional school, supporters said.

"We share the pain of overcrowding equally," said Caprice Young, president of the California Charter Schools Assn., a party to both suits. "We in the charter school movement recognize that the Los Angeles Unified School District has a space crunch, and we all have to work together to create great facilities for all kids."

Agreeing to the possibility of roving instructors, called "traveling teachers," was perhaps the major -- and most controversial -- concession by the school district. Because of classroom shortages, these teachers move from room to room with cartloads of materials throughout the day, an intensely unpopular assignment.

The school district could provide no figures on how many teachers travel, but their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years with the construction of new schools and declining enrollment.

Two lawsuits were filed in May under a state law that calls for public school campuses to be "shared fairly." Charters are independently run public schools freed from many provisions that govern other schools, including adherence to union contracts and district curriculum.

The school board approved the settlement by a 4-3 vote after a closed session.

Board member Richard Vladovic dissented, recalling the time he "traveled" as a middle school teacher early in his career. "I couldn't spend the time I wanted to focus on my lessons and on meeting with students and counseling them," Vladovic said. "I felt my students got cheated." He also worried that traditional schools would lack needed space and flexibility to improve their schools.

Before the litigation, the two sides had been split on facilities, especially with L.A. Unified dealing with its own classroom seat crunch. Currently, 143 district schools operate on a year-round schedule, and 42 have a shortened school year. Even after the district completes a $12.6-billion school construction program, adding about 165,000 seats, officials say some schools will remain overcrowded.

At newly constructed district schools, officials have rarely considered charter school needs, except in rare cases when seats are left over. And no existing school was to be significantly hindered by a charter. Moreover, the review of available space was partly an honors system, with principals disclosing whether or not they could house a charter school.

Over the last decade, charter schools have operated out of churches, high-rises, warehouses and portables slapped down in parking lots. They are supposed to model academic innovation, but officials also saw another benefit.

"Charters could go into storefronts," said board member Julie Korenstein, who voted against the settlement. "They were increasing space so our [traditional] schools would become less overcrowded. Putting them back on our campuses does just the reverse."

L.A. Unified now oversees 125 charter schools with 47,000 students, more charters than any school system in the nation. About a dozen are in district-owned facilities. These include three of the 10 small high schools operated by Green Dot Public Schools, which filed the lawsuits along with PUC Schools, six charter parents and the charter association.

"In other cities, people offer facilities if we come," said Green Dot founder Steve Barr. "We should be looking at this strategically -- together."

The settlement aims at that goal, substituting a five-year plan for a cumbersome, almost ad hoc process that gives charter schools little advance notice on availability, and then guarantees space for only one year. The agreement, which leaves many details to the future, relies much on good faith.

Negotiators for the charter schools said they made numerous concessions and that the terms of the agreement do not represent their view of state law. Board member Yolie Flores Aguilar said the settlement protects "our schools from staying on or going back to [year-round schedules], making sure we don't bus kids out of their neighborhood or put students back in portables."

Charter advocates said they expected the agreement to open up many more new and existing campuses to charter schools, which is precisely what critics worry about.

"This is the kind of thing that makes everyone in the school business crazy," said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn. Charter schools are "the interlopers here. They land from outer space, get kids to sign up and now they say, 'We want special accommodations made for us.' "

The agreement still needs the formal approval of other parties to the suit, including parents and the boards of the charter schools.

by Harrison Sheppard, LA Daily News Sacramento Bureau

Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to share space on its campuses with charter schools, settling a lawsuit by charter groups that said the district was violating state law.

Charter school organizations sued the district last year, claiming that it was refusing to follow Proposition 39, which requires school districts to provide appropriate space on their campuses for recognized charters.

Settlement talks over the past six months resulted in an agreement under which the district agreed to provide space, with several exceptions.

"The settlement ensures the school districts will provide facilities to all of the schools that request facilities," said Caprice Young, president of the California Charter Schools Association and a former LAUSD board president.

Two separate lawsuits were filed last year by the association and by Green Dot Public Schools and Partnerships to Uplift Communities and parents.

Under the settlement, charter groups agreed to not seek space on campuses already considered overcrowded. They also will not seek space on a campus if it could force the relocation or closure of early childhood education programs.

But the teachers union said it is unhappy with the agreement, claiming it violates labor laws and that sharing space will cause tensions and disruptions on campuses.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said he was appalled that the union was not consulted. "We find in these situations, the charter schools take no responsibility for what their students do," Duffy said. "All the blame for graffiti or dirty bathrooms or fights is always on the kids from the regular school. And that's not acceptable."

He added that the union views the agreement as a change in working conditions for teachers, meaning it should be subject to negotiation in the collective-bargaining agreement. Without that process, he believes it could violate state labor law.

The union may seek legal action to overturn the agreement, he said. The group also is looking to form a coalition with other teachers unions throughout the state to work on legislation to "level the playing field" between charter schools and regular public schools.

But LAUSD general counsel Kevin Reed said Duffy was "grasping at straws." A year ago, he said, the union went to court challenging a district plan to offer space to a charter on a middle school campus.

"It took us exactly one court hearing to have that case thrown out of court," Reed said. The agreement itself, Reed said, simply represents an affirmation by the district to follow state law.

Proposition 39, though, remains "a huge challenge for L.A. Unified" because of the decades of overcrowding faced by many of the district's schools.

The state has offered inadequate assistance to districts to help prepare their facilities for charters, he said. "We're struggling to find balance between treating charter students fairly and ensuring that district students are not unfairly burdened by the steps taken to find facilities that work for charter schools," Reed said.

by Rick Orlov and Rachel Uranga, LA Daily News Staff Writers

2/14/08 -- Amid broad criticism that Los Angeles' efforts to combat gangs are haphazard and ineffective, City Controller Laura Chick is unveiling a wide-ranging blueprint to bring together dozens of piecemeal city programs and hold them accountable under a new office directed by the mayor.

The audit, set to be released today, comes a year after civil-rights attorney Connie Rice outlined broad problems in the city's efforts and estimated that gang crime is costing taxpayers more than $2 billion a year.

Key among Chick's more than 100 recommendations is coordination of the region's resources - from city parks and police efforts to school programs and a new Anti-Gang Office.

"The city must immediately establish a new strategy that presents a single voice, possesses the authority and responsibility to lead and coordinate the city's efforts and can be held accountable for success and failure," Chick said in the 157-page audit.

"This is all about accountability."

Rice praised the audit and said it offers concrete solutions to boost the effectiveness of city programs even as the number of gangs has risen over the past quarter-century to 700 with a total of 40,000 members.

"I think what we have now is a second opinion, confirming the original diagnosis that the city has to consolidate its gang program under the accountability of the current gang czar," she said.

"There has to be rigorous accounting and evaluation that doesn't exist now. We can't let the turf wars and political consideration get in the way of ending the youth-gang homicide epidemic. We still do have an epidemic."

Chick said she is prepared to counter arguments from the City Council and any reluctance to transfer authority to the Mayor's Office.

"What I would say is if not now, when? We have a system that is completely dysfunctional and costing us millions of dollars each year and countless numbers of lives," Chick said.

While Chick did not put a price tag on gang crime, she said the city currently spends more than $160 million a year to combat gangs with enforcement, intervention and prevention efforts.

Chick said no new money should be allocated to the efforts, but that $19 million should be redirected to new neighborhood action programs under the direction of a new Anti-Gang Office that would be run by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The office would be responsible for overseeing all programs now carried out by the Los Angeles Police Department, City Attorney's Office, Community Development Department, Recreation and Parks and Children, Youth and Their Families.

"The city can accomplish more with the resources it has if it strategically and organizationally focuses these resources," Chick said.

Once the new structure is in place, Chick said she would back proposals by Councilwoman Janice Hahn and others to seek a new tax that would fund anti-gang efforts.

Villaraigosa said he agreed with Chick's recommendations.

"I fully embrace the controller's report and am committed to working with our partners on the City Council to implement the kind of coordination and accountability necessary for success," he said.

"We cannot be afraid of change when too many of our kids and communities are living with unacceptable levels of violence."

Chick said the Anti-Gang Office would include divisions to deal with suppression, intervention, prevention, assessment, evaluation and administrative services to coordinate state and federal grants.

Last year, Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton launched their own attack on gangs, creating a list of the worst in the city and a "Most Wanted List" that has led to the arrest and prosecution of several gang members. Villaraigosa also brought in Jeff Carr to head up anti-gang efforts.

Since then, the city has seen dramatic drops in gang-related crimes - 5 percent in the Valley last year and 4 percent citywide. Gang homicides fell 26.5 percent - from to 294 in 2006 to 216 last year.

That trend is continuing this year, officials said, with gang crime and homicides each down 20 percent in the wake of increased cooperation among gang interventionists and boosted presence of LAPD officers in gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Chick said the new Anti-Gang Office would develop criteria to determine the effectiveness of all programs, using measures such as reduction in gang crimes, higher school attendance levels, community participation and increased employment.

As part of assessing effectiveness, Chick recommended new bids within six months by all anti-gang service agencies, noting that the L.A. Bridges program has not been re-evaluated in 10 years.

"This situation not only creates a sense of entitlement among service providers, but also diminishes the effectiveness of program evaluation and accountability," she said.

Chick said she plans to seek the support of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, the county Board of Supervisors, business groups, neighborhood councils and other groups to get the City Council to implement her proposal.

She said the plan would not block efforts under way to deal with specific problems or efforts in various communities, including eight "gang reduction zones" already identified by the mayor.

But she said many of the efforts are disjointed and need to be coordinated, and much of the effort in the gang reduction zones so far has revolved around police and suppression while more work is needed on prevention and intervention.

But Councilman Tony Cárdenas, who chairs the City Council's ad hoc Committee on Gangs, said Chick's proposal might be premature.

"Before we create an Anti-Gang Office in the Mayor's Office, we need to prove where it belongs," Cárdenas said. "This, to me, is politics, and politics have driven funding and intervention for close to 30 years and our streets are not safe for our children."

Chick countered Cárdenas' comments, saying it is an example of the council trying to maintain control of gang programs that have failed.

"We are long overdue to change the way things are done around here," Chick said. "This is the most important work I've done in my seven years as controller and I am completely committed to seeing this implemented."


By Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 14, 2008 -- Even as Los Angeles leaders pledge to combat gang violence, a dysfunctional city bureaucracy is spending millions of dollars on unproven programs and is failing to coordinate with schools, law enforcement and social agencies, according to a report set for release today.

Produced by City Controller Laura Chick, the report assails the city for taking a hodgepodge approach to youth and gang services. The city scatters oversight across more than a dozen departments that duplicate efforts and award contracts to antigang programs without establishing goals or objectives, the report says.

At a press conference this morning, Chick will call for a bureaucratic shake-up at City Hall that she admits could be politically difficult to execute.

The controller urges the city to place everything under a single entity in the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who would have the authority and visibility to bring about change while bearing direct responsibility for progress.

Such a move could reduce the City Council's influence over how programs are managed and which communities receive attention.

In the report, made available Wednesday, Chick did not call for new spending but for the city to redirect $19 million doled out by the Community Development Department.

And she called and for the city to work more closely with the school district, Sheriff's Department and other agencies.

Report Abstract (29 pp)


• "School kids did not cause this crisis. Cutting public education in the middle of the school year is going to be disruptive, and devastating in some communities." - California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittleman

• "It is kind of pathetic. At what point is someone going to say, 'We have a problem and we have to deal with it'?" - Christopher Thornberg, a partner at Beacon Economics

• "Today's action means doctors will simply stop seeing [poor] patients." - Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley)



By Harrison Sheppard and Steve Geissinger
San José Mercury News Sacramento Bureau
Article Launched: 02/16/2008 01:35:26 AM PST

16-Feb-08 - SACRAMENTO - In a prelude of even harsher cuts to come, lawmakers Friday chopped more than $2 billion from state programs, with schools, social services and health care providers that serve the poor taking the biggest hits.

Combined with making other cuts, borrowing, deferring payments and postponing cost-of-living adjustments to welfare families and the elderly and disabled, the state has covered a $3.7 billion deficit in the current fiscal year and has slashed almost half of the $14.5 billion deficit the state is facing through the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Or not. The state's independent budget analyst is releasing a report next week that - judging by the latest revenue estimates from the state controller - will likely show that the $14.5 billion deficit was actually underestimated.

If that's so, it would only add to what is already going to be an especially painful process for lawmakers to send a balanced budget to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by June 30, when this fiscal year ends.

"If these cuts were serious, then the cuts coming our way in June and the summer are going to be devastating," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, following the conclusion of the emergency session called by Schwarzenegger.

One of the biggest cuts authorized Friday was a 10 percent reduction in state reimbursements to Medi-Cal providers, starting July 1, which will save about $544 million in 2008-09.

Not only will doctors and hospitals receive less money, but there is also concern that fewer doctors will accept Medi-Cal patients.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, called the decision "devastating."

"There are literally millions of people," Wright said, "who will have a harder time getting the care that they need."

Other cuts authorized by the Legislature included:

• Cutting education funding by about $500 million. But legislators insisted those cuts would be less painful because they are coming out of education funds that have remained unspent during the current and prior years. In any event, it's still money schools were expecting to receive.

"School kids did not cause this crisis," California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittleman said in a statement. "Cutting public education in the middle of the school year is going to be disruptive, and devastating in some communities."

• Postponing the filling of 60 new judge positions, for a savings of $22 million this year and $54 million next year.

• Delaying nearly $5 billion in payments to local governments and the State Teachers Retirement System, and deferring cost-of-living adjustments for payments to the elderly and disabled, as well as some welfare recipients.

Those delays create savings only in the current year, however, and are seen more as a way to deal with the state's cash-flow problem this year than as a longer-term budget solution.

Núñez and other Democrats were especially disappointed Friday because, while there was bipartisan support to pass the cuts, Republican lawmakers in the Assembly voted down a proposal to close a loophole in the so-called "yacht tax," which allows people who buy yachts or planes to store them out of state for three months to avoid state use taxes.

Assembly Republican Leader Michael Villines of Fresno said the GOP plans to hold firm against all tax increases, believing they ultimately hurt the economy and are therefore counterproductive.

"We have to discuss new ways to do the budget that are not tax increases," Villines said.

That doesn't bode well for Democrats' insistence that "new revenues" - presumably, tax and fee increases - must be part of the eventual budget solution.

Tax increases must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote, so some Republican support is necessary. Friday, there was some Republican support for closing the loophole, and it even passed in the Senate, but it fell short in the Assembly.

Núñez is expected to bring a similar yacht-tax bill back up for a vote again next week.

Most of the cuts authorized Friday were for programs in the current, 2007-08 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Approved as urgency measures, they take effect as soon as Schwarzenegger signs them, which he has said he will do today.

"The Legislature should be commended for working together - both Republicans and Democrats - to make difficult decisions and take this first step toward fixing our state budget," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.

In addition to the cuts, the state this week borrowed an additional $3.3 billion that was authorized by a bond measure approved by voters in 2004 to help balance the budget that year.

The cuts approved Friday also will carry over into the full 2008-09 year. In total, lawmakers conclude they now have to address a remaining shortfall of about $7.4 billion in next year's budget - but they are also aware that number will rise if revenues are indeed below projections.

The Legislature avoided one potentially thorny issue Friday by not proposing a cut to the state prison system. Schwarzenegger has proposed granting the early release of 22,000 non-violent prisoners who are within 20 months of parole to save money.

Republicans, however, adamantly opposed the idea and it was clear, said Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, who chairs the Assembly budget committee, that there would not be two-thirds support for such a bill.

The issue, however, is almost sure to come up during the future budget discussions, as will the governor's pitch to close dozens of state parks in the next fiscal year.

But Friday's decisions certainly were not without controversy - or the money-shifting that critics have described as shell-game gimmicks.

A successful lawsuit filed by transit advocates could have forced the state to take $400 million it shifted from transportation to the general fund and give it back to transportation.

But legislative budget analysts found what they believe is a legal way to shift the money. They intend to use the money for school bus transportation, which is funded in the education budget. They will then cut that same amount of money from the education budget.

Transit advocates called it a "deliberate end-run around the court's decision."

'Rather than work with us to implement the judge's decision, it looks like the governor and the Legislature have instead decided to thumb their noses at the court," said Joshua Shaw, executive director of the California Transit Association and primary plaintiff in the suit.

But Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said it was clear from the judge's ruling that such a shifting of funds was "legal and proper."



from The Associated Press
02/15/2008 - Here are some of the actions taken Friday by the California Legislature to begin to address a $14.5 billion deficit:

• Cut $167.6 million from the budgets of various departments and state agencies.
• Delayed $1.1 billion in payments to public schools from July to September, but exempted some school districts that would be so short of funding they would qualify for an emergency appropriation from the state.
• Adopted a 10 percent cut in payments to doctors and other health care providers who serve patients in Medi-Cal, a health care program for the poor.
• Delayed cost-of-living increases for welfare families and elderly and disabled poor until Oct. 1.
• Cut school spending by $506 million.
• Reduced funding for regional centers, which provide services for people with developmental disabilities.
• Deferred gasoline tax payments to cities and counties for April through August until September.
• Delayed appointment of 60 new judges.
• Delayed payment of state support for the teachers' retirement fund until November.

The Senate also approved a bill that attempts to prevent wealthy Californians from avoiding the sales tax when they buy cars, planes or boats out of state, but it was blocked by Republicans in the Assembly. Assembly Democrats said they would try again next week to pass the measure.
Source: Assembly Budget Committee



By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 16, 2008 -- SACRAMENTO -- The Legislature passed a package of emergency budget measures Friday, which lawmakers touted as swift, responsible bipartisan action that averts a cash crisis and erases nearly half the state's $14.5-billion deficit.

But their move would not actually reduce spending on that scale; rather, it would push most of the red ink forward with accounting maneuvers and borrowing.

The lawmakers' measures would put taxpayers on the hook for more debt and would, at best, allow the state to hobble through the next few months, said budget experts outside the Capitol. What are the legislators waiting for? some asked. With the state in its worst financial shape in years, the emergency actions amount to little more than nibbling around the margins.

"Yet again, they are dodging and weaving and hoping . . . they don't have to make any tough decisions," said Christopher Thornberg, a partner at Beacon Economics, a consulting and research firm in Los Angeles. "It is kind of pathetic. At what point is someone going to say, 'We have a problem and we have to deal with it'?"

Some of what lawmakers did would help close the state's budget gap. But the savings would amount to only $2 billion over the next year and a half. Most of the cuts made to achieve those savings would affect schools and doctors who treat the poor.

Despite previous assertions by lawmakers and the governor that they had cut up the state's credit cards for good, the package approved Friday also included $3.3 billion in borrowing authorized by voters years ago to deal with an earlier deficit but never undertaken.

The difficulty of making even $2 billion in cuts partly explains why lawmakers fell back on deferrals, delays, transfers and other accounting shifts to keep the state afloat.

The cuts, which the governor is expected to sign into law today, mean that school districts would have to forgo $506 million that was given to them in the current year's budget, a move lawmakers said would not affect classroom instruction, though educators have disputed that. And reimbursement rates for doctors who provide healthcare to the poor under the state's Medi-Cal program would drop by 10%.

Some of the same legislators who have argued passionately in favor of balancing the budget entirely through spending cuts -- as opposed to tax hikes -- couldn't bring themselves to vote for cutting subsidies to doctors.

"Today's action means doctors will simply stop seeing [poor] patients," said Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), an anti-tax crusader who suggested that healthcare cuts were disproportionately large.

A reduction measure that failed was aimed at buyers of yachts, airplanes and luxury recreational vehicles. The state Senate passed a bill to close a loophole that allows many of those buyers to avoid paying sales tax by keeping their new vessels out of state for 90 days.

Assembly Republicans, calling the measure a tax hike, blocked it. Legislative budget analysts estimated that eliminating the loophole would raise $26 million.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) called on Republicans to join the effort to "close this 'sloophole' once and for all." He said he would put the measure to another vote in the Assembly early next week.

Most of this week's budget moves would not create lasting savings. They involve either borrowing or doing such things as delaying payments for various programs into the next budget year. These actions may give the appearance that part of the deficit has been eliminated, but the payments aren't canceled. They are simply made later.

"A lot of this stuff is shell games," said Ryan Ratcliff, an economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast. "We are just sort of pushing obligations around to create an accounting statement that looks nice but does not really change the reality of the deficit."

Ratcliff said lawmakers are exhibiting their usual reluctance to take substantial action until after the governor releases his revised budget plan in May. "We've got hard choices to make, but it appears we are not going to make them now," he said.

Delay could prove costly.

With the deficit so large, the Capitol's partisan divide so deep and three of the Legislature's four leaders now lame ducks, few in the capital expect an agreement on how to eliminate the rest of the deficit by the July 1 deadline for enacting a new budget.

If there is no budget deep into August, as occurred last year, the state will be unable to sell billions of dollars in short-term bonds that finance officials are planning to use to keep from running out of money. Such bonds are routinely sold to "even out" the state's cash flow; they provide funds to cover the cost of programs early in the fiscal year and are repaid when tax revenue surges in the spring.

But the bonds cannot be sold without a budget in place. The alternative is a costly bridge loan from investment bankers.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer warned in a letter to lawmakers recently that such a move would probably be frowned on by credit-rating agencies and could trigger a downgrade.

A downgrade would increase the amount of interest the state must pay on its borrowing. Lockyer said that could cost taxpayers as much as $128 million in fiscal 2008-09 and $319 million more the next year.

Taxpayers won't need to wait to assume more debt, however. The $3.3 billion in borrowing in Friday's package would add two years to the repayment schedule for the debt that voters approved in 2004.

Schwarzenegger had promised never again to borrow to balance the budget. But his administration argues that it is appropriate for him to use what remains of the 2004 package.

Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, in Palo Alto, said the $3.3 billion in borrowing might have been justified as part of an overall plan that included spending reductions and new revenues that would close the budget gap.

"But so far they are using it just to kick the problem down the road," he said.


David v. Lisa | Dust-Up: L.A. SCHOOLS REVISITED
All last week, Reason Foundation's Lisa Snell debated former L.A. Board of Education member David Tokofsky on the LA Times Dust-Up online Dust-Up blog.

February 11, 2008 -- Does the Los Angeles Unified School District provide enough choices for its customers? How can the district make it as easy as possible for students to exit failing schools and attend successful schools?

February 12, 2008 -- How would you assess the union’s current leadership, and what should its role be in improving Los Angeles schools?

February 13, 2008 -- Are school vouchers a reform that could save poor students, or a crackpot idea that’s also dangerous for public education?

February 14, 2008 -- L.A. Unified students perform well in elementary school; so why is the district’s dropout rate so high? Should we be concerned about a high dropout rate, or does attrition of unmotivated students help motivated students?

February 15, 2008 -- Troubled Crenshaw and Westchester high schools have taken more control over their campuses from the district. If they succeed, and if more schools become charters (like Locke High School), would that suggest L.A. Unified could be better off broken up?

Dust-Up: L.A. SCHOOLS REVISITED (Feb. 11-15, 2008)

The Times' Howard Blume writes the Homeroom blog;

It somehow escaped CNN, but United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers union, held the second of three candidate forums [last] Thursday night at union headquarters in the Wilshire district. There [was] also another forum on Monday at White Middle School in Carson.

The election has ramifications far beyond the union because UTLA, with more than 40,000 members, is a major local political player. And its members are inevitably at the center of any school-improvement effort.

Ballots, mailed to teachers, will be retrieved from the postal service on Feb. 21.

Those who can’t get enough can read candidate statements and watch candidate videos at There’s an election tab in the upper left-hand corner.

So what did the candidates for president have to say?

The incumbent is A.J. Duffy, a longtime union activist who surprised many when he unseated predecessor John Perez.

One challenger is Becki Robinson, a longtime union officer who could be a long shot because of her self-funded, low-budget campaign. She lost a hard-fought campaign for president to Perez. These days, Robinson helps run district programs that take place outside of school hours. And she’s the union rep for UTLA members who work in the district’s downtown headquarters.

Robinson challenged Duffy’s record on some high-profile matters. Her criticisms were frequently echoed by fellow challenger and longtime union officer Linda Guthrie.

Among their issues: Duffy supported school board candidate Christopher Arellano without a complete background check. The media later uncovered that Arellano, a UTLA staff member, had a criminal record and had exaggerated his education credentials. Arellano was trounced on election day after the union had spent more than $200,000 in his behalf.

The challengers also fault Duffy for the union leadership’s support of Assembly Bill 1381, which would have given Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa substantial authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District. The union membership belatedly voted to oppose the bill, which became law but was overturned by the courts.

Critics blame Duffy, too, for allowing Locke High to fall under the control of a private charter school organization and for losing control of the Los Angeles school board, which no longer has a majority of candidates elected to office primarily by the union.

Finally, the challengers said Duffy and his leadership team could have done more to help union members after the school system’s new payroll system malfunctioned on a grand scale.

Duffy defended his record, saying that members have received far more in raises during his term than during that of his predecessor. Health benefits also have been maintained, he added. And he singles out union agitation and pressure as a key factor in getting the district to resolve payroll issues.

Guthrie, currently the vice president for secondary schools, also has a long record of union service, including on negotiating teams under three union presidents. She talked of how, many years ago, she signed up members while carrying her 6-month-old baby.

She accused Duffy of exaggerating his record, taking credit for things accomplished by many, and fudging the facts.

A fourth candidate, Barbara Eisen-Herman, did not attend.


EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Tuesday Feb 19, 2008
6:00 p.m.
Coughlin Elementary School - Auditorium
11035 Borden Avenue
Pacoima, CA 91331

• Wednesday Feb 20, 2008
10 am
LAUSD Board Room
333 Beaudry Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017

• Wednesday Feb 20, 2008
Ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m.
El Camino Real High School
5440 Valley Circle Blvd.
Woodland Hills, CA 91367

• Wednesday Feb 20, 2008
SOUTH REGION MIDDLE SCHOOL #2: Pre-Construction Community Meeting
6:00 p.m.
Escutia Primary Center
Multi-purpose Room
6401 Bear Ave.
Bell, CA 90201

• Wednesday Feb 20, 2008
VALLEY REGION SPAN K-8 #1: CEQA Scoping and Schematic Design Meeting
6:30 p.m.
Olive Vista Middle School - Auditorium
14600 Tyler Street
Sylmar, CA 91342

• Thursday Feb 21, 2008
EAST LOS ANGELES HIGH SCHOOL #1: Construction Update Community Meeting
6:00 p.m.
Utah Elementary School
255 Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Los Angeles, CA 90033

• Thursday Feb 21, 2008
6:30 p.m.
Canoga Park Elementary School
7438 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Canoga Park, CA 91303

*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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