Jun 11, 2006, 9:38 PM
Very interesting article below. As an LAUSD alum of the 90s, I still remember going to schools on FOUR calendar tracks. 650 seniors graduated with me. Makeshift classrooms were built all over playing fields. All of that led to a $20-billion schoolbuilding spree that voters approved three times. Now....
There Goes the Enrollment (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-enroll11jun11,0,785496,print.story?coll=la-home-headlines)
High rents are changing the face of crowded L.A. neighborhoods. Schools are feeling the effects.
By Nancy Cleeland
Times Staff Writer
June 11, 2006
Public school enrollment is dropping fast in some of the most notoriously crowded neighborhoods of Los Angeles as soaring rents and property values displace low-income, mostly immigrant families.
"It's getting too expensive to live here. I hear that from parents all the time," clerk Mina Rocha said recently from her post at the front counter of Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Pico-Union, in the crook of the 10 and 110 freeways.
The school opened this year with 1,652 students, about 500 fewer than in 2002. Next year's student body will be smaller still. "We've lost a lot of kids, and not a lot are enrolling," Rocha said.
It's a story repeated at dozens of schools in the central city and the southeast San Fernando Valley, in neighborhoods long characterized by poverty and overcrowding and now changing rapidly.
School enrollment figures offer an early glimpse of demographic trends that won't show up in census data for several years. A Los Angeles Times analysis of those numbers, grouped by ZIP Codes, found an unmistakable pattern: Families with children are leaving the city's core.
Overall, kindergarten through fifth-grade enrollment in the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District dropped only modestly — by about 30,000, or less than 10% — since the fall of 2002. But half of that loss came from just 15 of the 118 ZIP Codes the district covers, all in neighborhoods once dominated by working-class immigrants.
The families began leaving a few years ago, as property values and rents soared. School administrators and housing advocates said residents of the restored homes or new luxury condominiums tend to have fewer or no children.
"Our ZIP Code is one of the last areas to get a big boost in the real estate market," said Jim Kennedy, principal of Pico-Union's Magnolia Elementary, which is losing about 75 students a year. "It's been a shock to the families."
The 90006 ZIP Code covers two square miles and five elementary schools, including Magnolia and Hobart. In the last two years, average rents there jumped by 60%, to $932 a month, according to RealFacts, a Novato-based real estate research firm. During the same two years, the combined elementary school enrollment dropped by 800 to 5,284.
A similar pattern of rising rents and declining school enrollment shows up in Westlake, Echo Park, Boyle Heights, South Los Angeles and pockets of the San Fernando Valley, including Pacoima and North Hollywood. It is the mirror image of what happened in the same neighborhoods a generation ago.
Populations swelled in the 1980s and 1990s as newly arrived immigrants squeezed into homes and apartments, sometimes one family to each bedroom. To absorb the influx of children, schools added portable classrooms, switched to staggered schedules so that schools could operate year round and resorted to busing some students to distant campuses.
Now, armed with $11.7 billion in voter-approved bond money, the district is addressing the long-standing problem by building 150 schools, including 65 for elementary grades. The schools are concentrated in the neighborhoods once most affected by population growth, the same neighborhoods now losing children in large numbers. The construction, which is expected to run through 2012, began in 2001, just as gentrification began.
"We've been surprised a little bit by the depth of the declines," acknowledged Edwin Van Ginkel, the district's senior development manager. "But it's not happening at such a pace that we believe it's going to affect our planning."
He noted that even after several years of enrollment declines, the neighborhoods losing students remain densely populated and still have the largest elementary enrollments in the district. "We've got 1,400 kids in schools built for half that number. If there's gentrification that allows that school to go down to 1,000 kids, it may not be such a bad thing," he said.
The district's construction program has played a part in the decline by leveling apartment buildings and homes at building sites. The first construction phase displaced 1,500 households. A second phase may do the same.
But the school system's role is minor compared to that of the private sector. Would-be homeowners and investors priced out of other Los Angeles markets have been buying and fixing up properties in these long-undervalued neighborhoods, many of which offer views of downtown and pockets of charming architecture. Old apartment buildings often are rehabbed for a more upscale market or demolished to make way for new construction.
Citywide, at least 7,000 rent-controlled units have been lost to demolition and condo conversion since the start of 2005, according to records kept by the Housing Department based on self-reporting by building owners. Housing advocates say the actual number of affordable units lost is far higher.
"We've now decided the entire city is gentrifying, with some super-gentrification zones," said Tai Glenn, head housing attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. "Our work used to focus on cleaning up slum conditions. Now it's all about evictions."
Larry Gross, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Economic Survival, which grew out of the movement for rent control in the 1970s, advocates a moratorium on conversions of rent-controlled apartments until the loss of affordable housing is addressed comprehensively. "If this is not curbed," he said, "we're looking at the face of Los Angeles changing forever. It's going to be a city of the wealthy."
For veteran Los Angeles teachers and administrators, the trend is a bracing departure from the norm. Lower enrollments bring the gift of more manageable playgrounds and even a spare room or two. But they also raise concerns for those being pushed out and for the long-term future of the schools.
"My whole career in the district, it's been grow, grow, grow," said Christopher Stehr, principal of Leo Politi Elementary in Pico-Union, which this year dipped below 1,000 students for the first time since 1997. The school is slated to go to a standard single-track calendar next year. "I never thought I'd be around to see this day," he said.
Tall, robust, with graying hair, Stehr donned a suit jacket to take a walk around his school's six-block enrollment area, a hodgepodge of boxy apartment buildings thrown up in the 1970s and '80s and grand Craftsman and Queen Anne homes built more than a century ago.
Multiple mailboxes and satellite antennas marked the houses converted to mini-apartment buildings. Work crews marked the ones being restored to single-family homes. Piles of abandoned furniture outside apartment buildings hinted at evictions.
Passing the large asphalt playground, where children in blue-and-white uniforms were at recess, Stehr said the population drop has made the campus more manageable. But it also means he will lose three teachers. And he worried about the families who were leaving. "Is it a good thing? That depends on why they're leaving and where they're ending up," he said.
The subject hit a nerve with mothers waiting outside Leo Politi's gates, all tenants protected by the city's rent-control law. Adopted in 1978, the law limits annual increases to 3% a year (up to 4% after this year) as long as the tenant stays in the unit. It also limits a landlord's ability to evict.
But the law doesn't apply to units built after 1978, and it can't prevent owners from taking units off the market, either to raze them or convert them to condos. In addition, housing advocates said many landlords tempted by the hot market have been illegally evicting tenants. Others are using state overcrowding laws to remove long-term tenants, sometimes arguing successfully in court that they should not be required to rent small units to families that are too large for them.
Without rent control, the mothers at Leo Politi said, they too would be gone.
"I looked around for a bigger place and it was impossible," said Manuela Cardoza, who shares a one-bedroom apartment with three daughters and her husband, a day laborer. The family has lived in the unit five years and pays $850 a month.
The same apartment might fetch $200 more today, said Cardoza, gathering up 4-year-old Brenda for the short walk home. "They were asking $1,200 for a two-bedroom in our building," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "It's very expensive."
The effect on campuses has been mixed. Schools can shrink too far, said Beth Harker, assistant principal at Hollywood's Cheremoya Elementary, where enrollment dropped from 435 students last year to 350 this year because of gentrification and school boundary changes. The school moved from three tracks to one. Even so, four classrooms sit empty.
Total enrollment could fall below 300 next year, which makes Harker a little nervous. "Small comes with its own challenges," she said. For example, grade levels must sometimes be combined and taught by a single teacher, which Cheremoya has not yet had to do. The smaller budget also means less money for school-wide extras, like art classes.
The school's enrollment area is large, reaching into the Hollywood Hills, but nearly all students come from a densely settled stretch of apartments and old homes south of Franklin Avenue. Some of the residences bear fresh coats of paint. One newly refurbished brick building advertises lofts for lease.
Many of those buildings once housed children who went to Cheremoya, Harker said. The school hasn't had the resources to track where their families headed when they left. Curious, she leafed through a stack of past students' files looking for records requests from other schools, the only sure way of knowing where a student transfers. She ticked off the names: Pacoima, Victorville, Orange County, Desert Hot Springs, Canyon Country, Riverside, Temecula, Whittier, Georgia, Florida.
More than half were open questions. "We have no idea where they're going," Harker said. "All we know is the numbers keep going down."
Jun 11, 2006, 11:08 PM
Two questions that must be answered by our leaders right now:
How to control soaring rents, without implementing draconian rent control measures.
How to encourage the development of low-income units for working class families, both for rent and for purchase.
Because right now the people who can afford to commute are the only one's that can afford to buy in the city core (with market rate condos/overpriced houses) and the people who can least afford to commute are being pushed out to the suburbs. If we don't do something to slow this trend now, we're going to see a tremendous strain placed on our state and local budgets as we will be forced to provide social services to a dispersed economically-challenged population. The new term is "suburban poor" and NONE, I mean absolutely none of our politicians understand the gravity of the problem and they definitely don't have solutions. For that matter, I don't know of many advocacy groups that have a solution.
I firmly believe we have to keep these working-class citizens in the city core. A good start would be a substantial increase in local subsidies for affordable housing, while decreasing the percentage of median housing cost and increasing the percentage of units needed to qualify for the subsidy, and a serious, immediate long overdue upgrade of our transportation system, to compliment the increased density and finally providing an adequate long-term solution to our traffic problem. We don't need 2-bedroom market-rate condos in L.A.! We need 2-bedroom $750 and 3-bedroom $900 medium density multi-family housing in good neighborhoods, with good schools and open space.
That said, I'd like to read more about these schools that are losing students. It could be a good thing, because a reduced student population usually lowers the student-to-teacher ratio, but apparently the LAUSD/California/federal formula requires our teachers to remain overworked, forcing principals to lay off teachers - completely outweighing any potential benefits of a smaller student body! :gaah:
We need to keep the teachers, keep the open classrooms, and at worst these school should add 6th grade to their campuses. Regarding the last point, a couple of years ago I saw a panel of some of the most prominent education experts in the country almost unanimously state that the biggest weakness in the American elementary school system is the middle schools. And that's completely understandable. We put so much focus on high school and K-3, but little on those grades in between. These years, which typically determine which path at-risk students take in life, seem to be neglected by our leaders.
Jun 12, 2006, 1:40 AM
This article hits some good points, but you have to keep in mind that we are starting to see the effects of our multibillion-dollar school-building program. Most of these schools are being built in the very areas this article describes -- central city, East Valley, etc.
I started to read this article and immediately knew the slant the author was going for. She didn't really hit on the school-building issue, which was slightly irresponsible in my opinion. This is just going to be used as more bait for the Kotkin camp as a call for more suburban housing.
That being said, there has to be some kind of solution for the affordable housing issue. Families shouldn't be forced to live in a one-bedroom apartment. We need better-paying jobs -- so that means we have to attract more industries here -- and we have to continue building more (dense) housing units.
Jun 12, 2006, 6:51 PM
But to create those better paying jobs and industries to come here, we need an educated workforce to make that happen and that is the bottom line. A very good example are many architecture/engineering firms are laying off workers and outsourcing the work to Asia because they are better educated AND they're cheaper and with the information superhighway called the Internet it makes these possiblities happen.
I feel than an apprentice style afterschool program for Middle and High school students to get them started and thinking about career choices and decisions.
Also the teachers should have a stronger role in implementing life-based education concepts such as saving money and balancing a checkbook. Many of them want to but they are strangled by District AND Sacramento bureaucracy that forces more standardized testing. This is the very reason why I don't like Villaraigosa's (oops I mean Riordan's) LAUSD takeover plans because it's just a power play that will rob the teachers, students and parents a voice into learning/education.
Jun 12, 2006, 7:24 PM
You're absolutely correct. There should be more trade-related training in our schools -- I think that's where a lot of our future lies.
We have the colleges that instruct in higher-level math, science, etc. I'm not sure of the statistics, but I think a lot of the people who graduate from those schools like UCLA and USC, among others, stay in the LA area.
So the kids who are going to our elementary, middle, and high schools need the basics as well as the things like managing credit and keeping track of credit scores, balancing a check book, using computer software, etc. It's really hard for employers to find people who are competent in basic computer software, for example.
Jun 12, 2006, 10:48 PM
My only concern with the schools is that they look very VERY similar to prison construction where there's a small ribbon of windows to let in natural light and ventilation and heavy cinderblock walls with that fuggly corrugated siding that looks better for moving vehicles than static buildings.
I know they had to keep costs down but that doesn't mean the schools had to look like prisons or maintenance yards that city operates. These schools could be designed with an interior atrium the functions as the active space for the campus that feeds off of everything else. Social, visual and functional by keeping the air inside at a relative temperature.
Jun 20, 2006, 7:06 AM
Here's a thread I started a while back at SSC.
Some photos of new LA Schools:
Jun 20, 2006, 8:10 PM
Every time I look at that last picture, I just think of the amount of money the city could be making by putting lids on the sunken portions of the downtown freeways and selling a portion of it to developers.
Aug 16, 2006, 3:35 AM
From the Los Angeles Times
School Debate Tests the Truth
Villaraigosa and L.A. Unified each employ sometimes misleading data in the takeover war.
By Howard Blume and Doug Smith
Times Staff Writers
August 15, 2006
In asserting his case for control over city schools, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has presented a selective and sometimes misleading case to prove that the Los Angeles Unified School District is a failing system.
Villaraigosa and his team have focused on data that present Los Angeles Unified in the worst possible way, almost entirely discounting that the school system is improving faster academically than many other school districts and compared to California as a whole.
At the same time, the school district, playing defense, has emphasized accomplishments while glossing over shortcomings, including an overall academic standing that is well below average. And the school system has perpetually resisted acknowledging the extent of its dropout problem, pointing to a state measure that its own analysts recognize as deeply flawed.
The state Legislature is scheduled to take up Villaraigosa-backed legislation this week that would give the mayor substantial authority over L.A. Unified. And both the school district and the mayor are trotting out data to bolster their positions.
The district cites its progress, while Villaraigosa says the district is failing.
But is it?
"It's indisputable that the district is moving in the right direction even though more needs to be done," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, who does not oppose mayoral control per se but who faults the Villaraigosa plan. When something appears to be working, "it's important to stay the course. You don't want to have a new education philosophy every other year."
At town hall meetings, press conferences and private meetings, Villaraigosa's team distributes handouts based on factual material and research, but his presentation is skewed.
Through the prism of the mayor's statistics, L.A. Unified looks like the worst of the worst by every measure, including the dropout rate, student achievement, rate of improvement and the achievement gap.
What's missing is context.
One mayoral handout deploring the very real achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students suggests that white third-graders outperform Latino and African American seventh-graders in reading. As the mayor's school reform campaign website, http://www.excellenceinlaschools.com puts it: "African American and Latino seventh-graders read below the level of white third-graders. This achievement gap is the civil rights issue of our time."
The claim is based on standardized test scores, and indeed Latino and black seventh-graders have lower raw scores than white third-graders. But the third-graders were being tested on third-grade material while the seventh-graders were being tested on more difficult seventh-grade material, so a lower score in seventh grade doesn't mean that a student can't read as well as a third-grader.
In an interview, the mayor, too, was misled by the graphic when asked to explain what it meant. He deferred to staff when the error was pointed out.
"I look to experts, and that's who these guys are," Villaraigosa said, gesturing to staff. "I trust them. I don't represent that I have that level of knowledge."
On another chart, the mayor shows how poorly the district's fourth-graders perform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress: 81% of fourth-graders are rated less than proficient in math and 86% are less than proficient in reading.
But California's measurement of progress is the Academic Performance Index or API, which is based on the state's academic standards. The API results, which appear nowhere in the mayor's handouts, tell a different story.
"There were tremendous increases in scores at the elementary level," said Pat McCabe, director of policy and evaluation for the California Department of Education. While acknowledging that Los Angeles "is below where you want to be," he noted, "L.A. Unified has moved up substantially, with much greater growth than at the statewide level. Los Angeles schools substantially outperformed schools that are similar to them in terms of a starting point."
Over the last six years, the percentage of district students judged proficient or better in state tests has not only improved at every grade level, it's rising faster than the state average. In fourth-grade reading, for example, the percentage of proficient L.A. Unified students rose 79%. The state increase was 42%. At the same time, the absolute percentage of proficient L.A. students was 34% in 2005; for the state, it was 47%.
Los Angeles middle and high schools also are improving faster than the statewide rate, but their overall achievement is lower than at the elementary level. The latest test results, officially released today, are not expected to change this overall picture.
Villaraigosa, echoing dissident academics, dismissed the importance of the performance index. He pointed out, correctly, that the API's weighted system assigns greater numerical value to schools that go from bad to better than from good to great.
As an indicator of progress, however, the state's API has some advantages over the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Villaraigosa's choice. The API is based on testing all students in all grades, every year, in a variety of subject areas. The national assessment tests a comparatively small sample of fourth- and eighth-graders, with a narrower scope of testing.
Like the mayor, the school district also presents data selectively. One district handout, for example, lists the API improvement of California districts from 1999 to 2005. Los Angeles Unified sits at the head of the class, better than Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco and the state as a whole. But a more complete picture would include a second bar, one that represents actual scores, which would show the district nearer the bottom.
L.A. Unified also has produced comparisons suggesting that the district holds its own or better against other large urban school systems when it comes to educating students with limited English and those living in poverty. This comparison applies to both California school systems with better reputations and the school districts of Chicago and New York City, which are cited as models of the positive effects of mayoral takeovers.
Villaraigosa waves away such documentation: "You're not going to get me there. I'm asking for mayoral oversight over Los Angeles, not New York or Chicago. I believe this district is failing to graduate enough of our children when they lose nearly half of them."
On this subject, Villaraigosa has found vulnerability. The mayor cites researchers who have concluded that the school district's actual dropout rate is about 50% rather than the official 24.2%.
In his documents and in person, Villaraigosa insinuates that the district is lying about its dropout rate. District officials agree with Villaraigosa that their computation method is flawed, but they say they report dropouts the same way as other school systems, using a nationally accepted definition.
A March 2004 dropout study by the Harvard University-based Civil Rights Project concluded that more than half of Los Angeles Unified's ninth-graders failed to graduate on time. Julie Mendoza, a contributing author to that study, insisted that the school system could produce a more accurate and more honest number if it wanted to.
"The district has the best data system in the state and one of the best in the country, and it doesn't use that information," said Mendoza, a Villaraigosa-appointed library commissioner who supports his reform plan.
Schools Supt. Roy Romer, who arrived in 2000, said he has dealt with the dropout problem by concentrating on elementary school students, starting in kindergarten. "I had a handle on the dropout issue. I took a particular approach where you really need to build the capacity of students to keep them in this system, a long-term approach."
That tack is consistent with the advice of many experts, who believe that given limited resources, results are better when reform efforts are focused on keeping younger students caught up rather than on rescuing older ones who've already fallen behind.
"Much of the emphasis in school reform, across the board, in the last few years has been to focus on elementary education," said Pete Goldschmidt, a senior researcher at the UCLA-based National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing.
"That's the key," he said. "You would hope that the improvements in elementary education trickle up to middle school and high school."
But that approach, even if it ultimately pays off, writes off older students and leaves an opening for critics.
Romer has come to understand this all too well: "When I saw the dropouts used as a hatchet on the district, I obviously went back quickly and began to do things that, in the short term, needed to be done."
Romer then ticked off a list of new initiatives intended to prevent dropouts, including expanded record keeping and counseling: "Should I have done that from Day One? Yes. If I could rerun the tape, I would have."
The district takes particular issue with the mayor for overlooking its booming school construction program, which O'Connell, the state schools superintendent, called unprecedented.
About 6 1/2 years ago, officials in the overcrowded school system had just canceled their two major construction projects because of mismanagement and environmental issues. And it looked as though the district had virtually no hope of future funding at the state or local level. Since then, however, district administrators and the school board have overseen a turnaround: 55 schools have opened and 100 are underway, part of a $19-billion program.
"The building program affects how we teach," said Romer, "and we have only one-third of that building program available to us. We are on a journey here. We are doing some very good things that are changing practice over time, changing it in a historic way."
During a City Hall interview, Villaraigosa became exasperated with repeated questions about data.
"Do you have kids?" he asks.
"I've got four beautiful ones. You don't send your kids to school to go from 'very below basic' to 'basic.' Is that improvement? Yes. But the object is for your kids to be 'proficient' and, for most of us, it's to be 'advanced.' I don't believe that's what this district has provided."
Aug 16, 2006, 10:02 AM
Every time I look at that last picture, I just think of the amount of money the city could be making by putting lids on the sunken portions of the downtown freeways and selling a portion of it to developers.
I still don't think the sale of land would justify the cost of "lidding" the freeways adequately for development.
Aug 16, 2006, 3:09 PM
Over the past few weeks I've been involved with several depositions from various LAUSD lawsuits. The effects of the school-building program are very pronounced, and neighborhood NIMBYs have been going for the "but enrollment is dropping at X rate at Y school!" slant.
For example, at Leo Politi, the common anti-school phrase is that the school has dipped below 1,000 for the first time in ten years -- so "we don't need a school now!" The school has dipped below that enrollment BECAUSE OF new school construction, not IN SPITE OF it. Even so, 1,000 students at an elementary school is a huge number to handle.
It's going to be interesting to see what the next few years will bring for LAUSD and classroom enrollment.
Aug 25, 2006, 3:04 PM
Asphalt is easy, green takes guts
By Bob Sipchen (Monday's column, June 19, 2006)
The Too Hot Tamale is surprisingly unbefuddled by the lesson we’re getting on bees, blossoms and bureaucracy. But then celebrity chef Mary Sue Milliken has her 8-year-old son in tow, and he attends a public school.
Readers whose children don’t will be exasperated by the saga of 24th Street Elementary School’s struggle to plant a garden.
Survivors of the Los Angeles Unified School District will be encouraged.
I find myself flip-flopping.
It’s hard to be too pessimistic after hearing kids shriek when dirty fingers encounter their first writhing worm. And who wouldn’t get all upbeat upon watching a boy named James plant his garlic bulb wrong-side-up just to see what happens?
The scene that really fires my enthusiasm, though, features a boy of 7 or 8. He spots a classmate preening atop a straw bale and — umphf! — blindsides him, sending both whooping into the fragrant wet mulch.
That, of course, is the kind of dangerous activity that helps keep projects like this from blooming in American schoolyards (and distinguishes vivacious children from hyperprotected zombie kids). But neurotic fretting is only one of the obstacles that almost thwarted all this goofballing among the artichokes and strawberries.
I could detail dozens of phone calls, meetings and e-mail exchanges in which a district representative told a garden advocate that something simple simply could not be accomplished. I won’t because I don’t want to bore you into a stupor. Also because Emily Green and the co-conspirators who defied the system’s culture of can’t do hope their success can be transplanted to other campuses, and have shifted to lovey-dovey talk of partnership with their school district allies.
The stretch of 24th Street where the school stands begins on a run-down corner of Western southwest of downtown. It extends through an enclave of beautifully maintained Craftsman homes, and many in this middle-class, largely African American neighborhood have joined the effort to help the largely Latino school they attended back when this area thrived — even though they won’t let their own kids attend the school, whose facilities and test scores plummeted along with the surrounding area’s economy.
For years, any effort to improve the school had been defeated by a politically connected principal who used the P.A. system to blather about such matters as her latest enema, teachers say. But she was gone by 2003, when the district’s facilities people came around with bond money and a districtwide plan to repave the vast expanses of asphalt that schools euphemistically call playgrounds.
Linda Slater, a second-grade teacher, called Green, a Times food and gardening writer who, although she had no children, had been volunteering (futilely) to start a garden at the school.
Now Green and Slater and other teachers yakked about how troubled they were by the sight of children running about on days when the sun-baked asphalt seemed capable of melting sneakers. They raged at the notion that it was OK for kids to play with only chain link separating them from the fumes and cacophony of the Santa Monica Freeway.
“I wanted to call Amnesty International,” says Green.
What struck these plant lovers as particularly cruel was the fact that many of the school’s 1,100 students have roots in the farmlands of Mexico or Modesto but live in over-packed apartment buildings where it’s easy to imagine that concrete is the Earth’s natural groundcover.
Why couldn’t the money earmarked for asphalt be spent to make part of that blacktop wasteland greener, they wondered? The district had a million reasons why that would be far too hard to do.
I don’t know Slater. I know Green. She’s a pain. A human battering ram. She seems to take twisted pleasure in discomfiting obstructionists.
When the district’s facilities people seemed to be dodging her, Green called Supt. Roy Romer’s office. No one called back. She called again. And again. And again. And again.
Meanwhile, she e-mailed people who she thought might be interested in helping children understand the biology of carrots and nutritional benefits of broccoli (and cc’ing the missives to the district).
“We did not go away,” Green says.
Chef Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame had been intrigued with the successful tasting garden chef Alice Waters had started at a Berkeley school. She took up the 24th Street cause.
As Silverton and others endorsed the idea, resistance within the L.A. Unified bureaucracy began breaking down.
I often encounter people on the verge of blubbering helplessly about some little common-sense change they couldn’t push past the LAUSD or teachers union.
This may be the first time, however, that I’ve heard ranters say they came to realize that even bureaucrats sometimes have legitimate reasons for resistance. Well-meaning community amateurs are always waltzing onto campuses with grandiose ideas, only to flake out and leave behind big messes.
Attitudes changed, Green says, when the conspirators presented the district with professional plans, demonstrating that “we weren’t stupid hippies.”
Some teachers still envisioned amputated limbs and skewered eyeballs should children actually be handed rakes and shovels. The conspirators talked the awfulizers down, and slowly the idea took root.
About a year ago, the group created the Garden School Foundation to pay for maintenance and materials, and Silverton’s La Brea Bakery began helping to support it by selling bread at a local farmers market.
Last year students, teachers, parents and neighbors turned out for a “big dig day,” creating a circular test garden in the school’s courtyard.
While Milliken, of “Cooking With Too Hot Tamales” cookbook fame, and the others in our group stand admiring this space, a young teacher who isn’t even working that day swings by to inquire about beets she wants her students to use to dye fabric. Other teachers tell me they’ve built the required curriculum into their garden time, teaching everything from the math of growth rates to the science of photosynthesis there amid the corn and sage.
I should admit now that my enthusiasm for this project is flavored by the taste of sorrel.
“It’s a zesty, lemony flavor,” declares Nick Tan, the part-time garden educator the foundation hired, as we hesitantly chew the leaves he’s just plucked.
Then Green leads us all to a swath of land alongside the freeway. Sirens wail. Exhaust wafts. But with big piles of dirt looming where there was once only cracked asphalt, we have no trouble imagining the urban Eden the district is already sculpting into the land: More than an acre of green, including a three-quarter-acre garden with shaded areas for families to join their children after school and a “woodland” the school’s students said they craved.
Canary Island pines will muffle the freeway. A native plant garden is also in the works, paid for in part by the $25,000 first prize the project received last month from the Garden Club of America.
Finally, the conspirators are now confident that the district will help them build a new teaching kitchen, where Silverton and others will supervise children as they turn what they’ve grown into meals. The hope is that their garden school will be a model for any campus that wants to become more pleasant.
Not all problems are solved. The conspirators would love to plant peach and plum trees, for instance.
But fruit trees attract bees, and just think of the tragedy that might befall a human child in proximity with a flying insect.
“Can’t do,” the district says.
And yet I’m pretty sure that someday I’ll return to the garden and find a Hot Tamale helping children make plum jam.
Aug 25, 2006, 3:08 PM
Los Angeles Teacher's Transfer Is Protested
Supporters say the popular union activist at Crenshaw High is being punished by the district for butting heads with the principal.
By Mitchell Landsberg
Times Staff Writer
August 25, 2006
A year ago, Crenshaw High School had a new principal and a mandate to dig itself out of a hole so deep it had lost its accreditation.
Principal Charles Didinger, who arrived with a reputation as a problem solver who worked well with teachers, got the school in South Los Angeles back in good standing within six months, but at a price: Months of wrangling with the teachers union left him frustrated and exhausted and contributed to his decision to take early retirement this summer.
On Thursday, in what some saw as an act of revenge, the Los Angeles Unified School District began proceedings to transfer a teachers union activist at Crenshaw who was among those butting heads with Didinger.
Furious union leaders organized a demonstration outside the hearing and promised to throw the full weight of their organization behind the teacher, Alex Caputo-Pearl, the chapter chairman at Crenshaw for United Teachers Los Angeles.
"The district had better pay attention, because we are not going to let this happen," union President A.J. Duffy said in an interview Wednesday. "We are going to rock the very foundations of this district if that is what is necessary to make it clear that they cannot target our leadership."
Caputo-Pearl, 37, and two UTLA officials spent a bit less than half an hour meeting with district officials at offices across the street from Hamilton High School. They emerged to chants from about 150 parents and teachers, most wearing red union T-shirts: "Hey hey, ho ho, attacks on Alex have got to go!"
"Let's be very clear," UTLA Vice President Linda Guthrie told the demonstrators. "If we, UTLA, allow them to take one of our chapter chairs, they'll take all of our chapter chairs…. So the gauntlet has been thrown down today."
District officials said they couldn't comment on specifics of the case because it involved a personnel matter. But they made clear that they considered Caputo-Pearl to be a disruptive influence at Crenshaw who probably played a role in Didinger's decision to leave.
Supt. Roy Romer said the district needed to ensure that there was "an effective, cohesive unit" at Crenshaw that works. He said the transfer was not "retaliation against any cause or individual."
"Look," he said, "the Crenshaw High School issue is a matter of accreditation."
Although the school's accreditation was restored in February by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, it was only for one year, which district officials say is tantamount to "probationary" status. It will be up for renewal next winter, and district officials hope to win at least a three-year accreditation. Full accreditation is for six years.
Caputo-Pearl and other teachers say the school lost accreditation only because district bureaucrats failed to send in a report on time. Didinger and top district officials countered that it was one of numerous reasons.
More substantively, they said, the school was cited for being insufficiently rigorous academically, having too many students out of class and improperly reporting the campus budget.
The clash at Crenshaw may be about accreditation, as Romer said, but it has many layers and touches some deep nerves in South Los Angeles.
There is the issue of race, which Caputo-Pearl tackled head-on Thursday, calling his transfer from the predominantly African American school "an attack on people of color." Although Caputo-Pearl is white, he was referring to the wider school community that he represents.
There is politics. The transfer comes as UTLA has sided with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his campaign to take partial control of the district. In return, the union would be given more of a voice in curriculum. Caputo-Pearl said he believes Romer is lashing out at him as payback before he leaves his job this fall.
"He, in his last couple of months, is trying to do some damage," Caputo-Pearl said in an interview before his hearing. Romer strongly denied that his anger at the union has anything to do with the teacher's case. But it is true that relations between the district and the union are strained.
Then there is this odd fact: Didinger, the outgoing Crenshaw principal, used to be Duffy's boss. Didinger was principal at Palms Middle School until last year; Duffy, now union chief, was a teacher.
"He was highly regarded as a principal who built collaboration," Duffy said. He added, however, that Palms — one of the highest-achieving middle schools in the city — "practically ran itself" and was a much easier place to administer than Crenshaw.
Caputo-Pearl said he "felt like the relationship we had was all right. Was it great? I didn't think it was great…. But I felt like it was respectful." He seemed surprised that Didinger would have seen him as a problem.
Didinger, 61, a lifelong swimmer and surfer, said he decided to retire in large part because he was told he needed surgery on an ear that had been damaged by frequent exposure to water. Still, he didn't deny that his problems with the faculty at Crenshaw played a role
"They did not trust anybody who was an administrator," he said. "You know, 'Give me this in writing,' or 'Give me that in writing.' I'd never dealt with this before. My word was always good enough…. It kind of wore me out."
In the end, the trouble that engulfed Didinger, and now Caputo-Pearl, may have its roots in misplaced expectations: a failure by each side to understand the history of the other.
Michael Kaplan, the union's chapter chairman at Palms, said of Didinger: "He's the best principal I've ever worked with." Teachers, he said, "just believe in him." But, he added, "At Palms, the administration and the teachers and the parents are all on the same page; we all want the same thing."
It was evident, he said, that at Crenshaw there was a history of mutual mistrust and acrimony.
Eunice Grigsby, a parent who helped start the Crenshaw Cougar Coalition, an organization of parents, teachers and students, said the school "had issues" with previous administrators who made oral promises they didn't keep. As a result, she said, it was natural that the union wanted things in writing.
Several teachers at Crenshaw gave Didinger high marks for improving academics at the school, and some described him as a collaborative principal who sought advice from his faculty.
And they praised Caputo-Pearl as a passionate, dedicated teacher who wanted only the best for his students and colleagues. He was so committed to Crenshaw, several noted, that he recently bought a house a short walk from the school.
"He made learning a fun thing for me," said Eric Redd, a 16-year-old student who spoke at the demonstration. "He's one of those great teachers."
Now, if the district has its way, he will teach at Emerson Middle School. Meanwhile, the new principal at Crenshaw will be Sheilah Sanders, who had been an assistant principal.
Union officials said district officials offered no evidence against Caputo-Pearl at the meeting Thursday but promised to send him a written form containing the reasons for his transfer. The union plans to continue fighting the transfer.
In a speech to supporters, Caputo-Pearl said: "I love Crenshaw. I want to be at Crenshaw. And at this minute, I am not at Crenshaw."
Aug 25, 2006, 3:37 PM
The Power Agenda
Written by DAVID ZAHNISER
Why does City Hall deny the truthabout Mayor V’s school plan?
This isn't about power, declared Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a few days before the state Senate was set to vote on legislation that would put him at the top of the organizational chart of the Los Angeles Unified School District. But if it isn’t, why can’t the mayor and his allies stop bringing it up?
For weeks, Villaraigosa deftly wielded his political talents, driving his public-school steamroller ever closer to the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican who promised to sign the bill to overhaul L.A. Unified sight unseen. Using a hefty arsenal of carrots and sticks, Villaraigosa got a reluctant Los Angeles City Council to fall in line, dangling before them the possibility of a third term in office. And in L.A. Unified’s southeast cities, he enticed recalcitrant mayors with the promise of their greater influence over the school district, from veto power over hiring decisions to site selection for new schools.
Yet as he edged closer to victory, Villaraigosa and his allies worked strenuously to downplay the behind-the-scenes horse trading and arm twisting. He pointedly brought up the P-word a week ago, telling the Senate Appropriations Committee that power had nothing to do with his desire to select the next superintendent — and run as many as 50 low-performing schools. Villaraigosa’s close ally, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, raised the issue as well, telling the committee minutes earlier that the mayor had many things in mind for the school district, but certainly not power. Not that.
Performing a victory lap a day later, Villaraigosa mentioned power yet again — arguing that it played no role in his public-education campaign, an apparatus funded by more than $1 million in contributions from Republican allies like Jerrold “Jerry” Perenchio, an executive at Univision, the Spanish-language station that broadcasts a weekly chat with Villaraigosa titled A Su Lado, or On Your Side in English.
“No matter what you hear, this bill is not about mayoral control, power or politics,” Villaraigosa told reporters at City Hall. “It’s about creating better schools for our kids.”
Yet officials at L.A. Unified — and even a couple of emboldened Democratic legislators — seemed to stray from the script crafted for them by Núñez and Senate President Don Perata, not to mention Schwarzenegger, who is running for reelection and received a pass for an entire summer from the most powerful Democrat in Southern California. Senator Deborah Ortiz blew the whistle the loudest, telling a filled-to-capacity chamber in Sacramento that she had misgivings about the bill but had been instructed by the Democratic leadership to vote for it anyway.
Ortiz bluntly called Villaraigosa’s bill an experiment, saying it creates a new bureaucracy, offers no suggestions on how to improve education and could be struck down in court. The Sacramento Democrat even hinted at the possibility that she could be punished if she votes no on the bill, known as Assembly Bill 1381.
“I understand you’re speaker of the Assembly, and that it’s a very important bill,” Ortiz advised Núñez. “I have some very important bills that I hope you will have an equally open mind about, as I move through the last two weeks of my career. But I have to be honest with you, I’m not convinced this is the solution. I’m prepared to vote for this, but there is a lot at risk.”
Senator Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, couldn’t avoid the topic either, but tried to put a friendly face on Villaraigosa’s push for increased mayoral oversight. “In the final analysis, this bill is about power and control,” said Murray, as he name-dropped his roommate experiences with Villaraigosa. “But power not for power’s sake, but power in terms of moving your program along.”
On its face, the mayor’s skillful use of power represents a desire for control. Villaraigosa has left little to chance in his battle with L.A. Unified, which may explain why he chartered three private buses to deliver parents and children to his own education town hall/rally for A.B. 1381 in Lincoln Heights. The moment it looked like U.S. Representative Maxine Waters was unhappy with his school campaign, Villaraigosa hustled over to South L.A., hitting six African-American churches on a single Sunday in an effort to corral his base.
Villaraigosa spent much of the past week trying to swap one P-word for another, telling reporters and policymakers alike that the L.A. Unified bill is about partnership, not power. Partnership, after all, has a warm, cuddly sound to it. But a bid for power? That just sounds crass. Even Villaraigosa’s efforts at teamwork didn’t sound all that collaborative. Only two weeks ago, Villaraigosa in-house counsel Thomas Saenz said that the mayor planned to team up with parents, community leaders and principals to improve 50 low-performing schools. Villaraigosa plans to do that, however, by personally selecting each of the parents, teachers and community representatives who will serve on the eight-member committees responsible for such improvements. So is that partnership? Or power?
L.A. Unified Superintendent Roy Romer, no stranger to hardball politics himself, made the cardinal mistake of calling the game for what it was, telling lawmakers publicly that he viewed passage of the bill as a done deal. Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, took umbrage at such an accusation — especially after Romer compared the bill to the Legislature’s disastrous attempt at electrical deregulation during the 1990s. “I wasn’t sure Governor Romer was here to convince us or insult us,” Florez huffed.
Romer offered an array of warnings about the bill, saying it could be a precursor to breakup, since different sections of L.A. Unified could be offered a chance to make their own hiring decisions. But Romer sounded like King Lear in Sacramento, railing over the district’s political misfortune as lawmakers looked away.
Reality briefly intruded on Villaraigosa’s march to Sacramento, forcing him to turn from his school campaign to an annoying municipal matter — a strike by the 7,500-member Engineers and Architects Union. The EAA supported the mayor during the 2005 election, spending $110,000 on radio advertisements and other campaign expenses, only to turn on him viciously once Villaraigosa refused to give them the same salary package as workers at the Department of Water and Power.
Yet despite all the hype surrounding Villaraigosa’s decision to cross a picket line, it was hard to view the EAA strike as serious drama. This was no MTA walkout, with bus drivers crippling the city’s ability to serve its citizens. These were building inspectors, city planners, tech-support workers and public-relations people. Sure they’re important. But will the voters rise up when a second-story home addition can’t get through plan check? Not likely.
Even as the mayor outmaneuvered the EAA, another seasoned pol flexed his considerable political clout. Former mayor Richard Riordan, a backer of Villaraigosa’s plan for L.A. Unified, worked behind the scenes to rewrite portions of the bill, worryings that a judge will strike down the provisions that give the mayor more power while preserving the language that strengthens the hand of the teachers union.
Villaraigosa spokeswoman Janelle Erickson pooh-poohed such efforts, offering a lulu to the Los Angeles Times. “We need to shift the focus away from legislative maneuvering and put it back in the classroom,” she told the newspaper.
The thing is, Villaraigosa’s bill is the naked result of legislative maneuvering, from a closed-door deal with the teachers union to billionaire Eli Broad’s telephone calls to Núñez last spring. That’s because Núñez and Villaraigosa insisted from the beginning that the neutering of the seven-member school board had to be decided in Sacramento — not Los Angeles, where voters spent the past century electing that board. But then, letting the voters make such an important decision would have meant giving up — how else to say it? — power.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 23 August 2006 )
Aug 25, 2006, 5:00 PM
You know, I've got to say it -- lately the LA Weekly has been taking a very biased, slanted turn against just about EVERYTHING. Political leanings aside, they're becoming another Daily News. And furthermore, it seems that every time I read an article that just makes little sense or is extremely biased, the David Zahniser name is behind it. What's going on?
Aug 25, 2006, 5:10 PM
Well to some respect some of the old LA Weekly Reporters moved to the LA Times. And David Z came from the Daily Breeze in their place. All he's looking for is a Pulitzer.
But most media outlets, including the Times have a bias or slant. Let's not forget the Times and the Pulitzer prize winning articles on King-Drew, and guess what solutions or resolve has come of them, NONE. The Times won their awards and haven't looked back.
That is why it's important to look at both and then decide.
Aug 25, 2006, 7:47 PM
Riordan Seeks Change in L.A. Schools Legislation
The former mayor backs Villaraigosa's bid but wants one clause taken out. It says that if the courts nullify part of the bill, the rest still stands.
By Howard Blume
Times Staff Writer
August 23, 2006
Richard Riordan, one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's key supporters in his bid to gain authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District, has apparently been having second thoughts and over the last week has been quietly pushing for a key change in the legislation.
Reached late Tuesday afternoon, Riordan, a former Los Angeles mayor himself, said he believed that the efforts to make the change — made along with former Gov. Pete Wilson and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, among others — had been successful.
The mayor's office, however, politely disagreed.
At issue is an obscure provision in the legislation — now pending before the state Senate — called a severability clause. This clause says that if part of the bill were found to be unconstitutional, the rest would nonetheless become law. Villaraigosa's legal advisor inserted the language precisely because portions of the bill might fall prey to legal challenges. Better to have part of the bill than none of it, went the reasoning.
But Riordan departed from that logic once he considered the insertion's practical effect.
He joined forces with Wilson, Broad and two key Republican state legislators — Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge and Sen. George Runner of Lancaster — to argue for removing the clause.
Of all these, only Riordan is on record as supporting the current legislation.
Their problem is that the "better" parts of the bill are most vulnerable to constitutional challenge. These are provisions that give Villaraigosa direct control over specific schools and partial authority over the district through a council of mayors. If these portions fell out, what was left would be a step backward, Riordan and others concluded.
So what would be left?
Remaining provisions would give teachers greater input into curriculum decisions, would possibly limit the district's ability to contract out, say, for janitorial services, to save money, and would leave behind a stronger superintendent paired with a weaker Board of Education.
These specifics have their supporters: Teachers have long touted the benefits of having more say over curriculum, and limits on outsourcing could preserve the jobs of district employees.
But critics counter that a stripped-down statute would strengthen employee unions at the expense of actual school reform. As Wilson put it: "That to me would be the worst of all worlds."
He reportedly contacted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or his top staff in recent days to lobby for removal of the clause. Riordan, in concert with Broad, his weekend house guest in Idaho, reportedly worked the mayor's staff.
Riordan and Wilson declined to confirm their specific efforts. Broad could not be reached.
If Villaraigosa acquiesced to Riordan on the severability clause, the mayor would solidify a high-profile backer's support, but there would also be a risk: If any part of the bill were successfully challenged in court, the entire legislation would be voided. As of Tuesday, Villaraigosa's team was apparently not ready to take that risk.
"We have not accepted that amendment," mayoral spokeswoman Janelle Erickson said.
"We need to shift the focus away from legislative maneuvering and put it back to the classroom," she added. "This is really the best chance at reforming the schools that Los Angeles has seen in decades, and we must not lose sight of that."
Aug 28, 2006, 4:32 PM
LA Times: Roy Romer (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-romer27aug27,0,658843.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail)
Adios, and good luck
The outgoing L.A. Unified superintendent leaves with best wishes, and reservations.
By Roy Romer
Roy Romer is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
August 27, 2006
I HAVE DONE many things in my life — sold tractors, owned a flight school, owned and operated a ski resort, climbed the Matterhorn, served as governor of Colorado for three terms and chaired the Democratic National Committee. So it's not surprising that many have asked why I wanted to take charge of the L.A. Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country. I certainly wrestled with the choice of retiring and spending my days exploring life through the eyes of my 18 grandchildren or embarking on yet another career.
One morning in early 2000, I visited Los Angeles to explore the superintendent's job and prepare for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, which was held in L.A. that year. I stopped at a restaurant for breakfast. It was then that I made up my mind.
As I approached the restaurant, I saw a dozen elementary school students climbing onto a school bus. They were being transported from their neighborhood to receive their education elsewhere. In those few minutes, it occurred to me that the best legacy I could leave my grandchildren was to demonstrate that, at age 71, I could still help improve the lives of others, especially children.
Later that summer, I accepted the job and committed myself to educating more than 700,000 children in a bursting-at-the-seams district whose academic achievement had flat-lined for decades. Yet I knew when I accepted the job it would require a unique set of skills — educational expertise, political acumen, willingness to think outside of the "educrat" box and, at times, stubborn persistence — that I was naive enough to think I possessed.
After six years of leading and always pushing change in the district, I can honestly attest that the superintendent's job has been the most difficult and rewarding job I have ever had. I say this after having spent decades helping advance education reform at both the state and national levels. As a Democratic governor, I convinced Colorado's Republican Legislature to dramatically increase education funding. I chaired the first National Education Goals Panel, a group created to implement President Clinton's vision of measuring academic outcomes through tests and agreed-upon standards.
Yet, despite serving in these capacities, as I learned more about the state of urban education, I was struck by something incredibly basic: Kids were simply not being taught to read, to think critically or to do basic math. For all the fancy academic talk about school reform and how to educate kids, we had lost sight of something as basic as "the three R's."
These revelations underlined the challenges I faced at the LAUSD and inspired me to push for an agenda to build a community of learners — students, teachers, administrators, school board members and, most important, myself. To accomplish this, we had to create the conditions for learning in and outside the classroom, and build our instructional capacity so we could teach the basics and create schools full of critical thinkers and learners.
As I envisioned this work, one phrase immediately came to mind: "first things first." So we focused on radically improving elementary education by emphasizing reading and math. Five strategies were used: teach to high standards, provide rigorous curriculum for all students, intensely train teachers and administrators, periodically measure results with an eye toward improving learning, and use data to continuously improve our instructional practices. These strategies are working and are making a remarkable difference, but they took time to produce results.
Going back to the basics required tough choices. When I became superintendent, I didn't know that the district hadn't built a complete high school in 30 years. I didn't know that it had lost much of its ability to teach even first-grade reading. I had — and still have — grand dreams of generations of beaming LAUSD students going off to Ivy League schools, diplomas in hand, years of rigorous and well-taught education behind them. I believe that the district can and will realize this dream if its reform efforts are not waylaid by politics.
People want silver bullets in education. But too often, those silver bullets just make bigger holes. The ill-advised and counterproductive legislation to give the mayor new authority in district affairs is a perfect example of this. It gives the teachers union even more power, blurs the lines of accountability and threatens to roll back the instructional reforms that have led to unprecedented gains in student achievement.
Because there is such widespread agreement about the LAUSD's problems, people assume that any dramatic change will be a solution. But I have learned that it takes hard work, tough choices and day-to-day perseverance in implementing reforms to improve education. You do not fix the dropout rate overnight. You do not fix it by just keeping ninth-graders in school, though that is obviously important. You fix the dropout rate by giving all kids a better foundation of learning long before they ever enter high school. You fix the dropout rate by giving kids the space they need to learn and by showing them that they are valuable enough to invest in. You fix the dropout rate by letting kids go to school in their own neighborhoods, where their parents can be involved and where they can work on their homework with their fellow students. You fix the dropout rate by teaching first-, second- and third-graders better. Yes, it takes much more than this, including reducing the student population at existing schools, which we're working very hard to accomplish. But without these foundations, other reform efforts will fail.
When I look back on my six years as superintendent, I am astounded at — and proud of — how far the district has come. In 2000, classrooms were tremendously overcrowded. Upward of 16,000 kids a day were forced to ride buses to and from school, up to an hour each way, because their neighborhood school was too full to accommodate them. Test scores — and the dropout rate — hadn't budged for decades.
Today, the academic performance of our elementary school students has gotten remarkably better, outpacing not only state averages but those of other urban school districts in California. And, six years later, we are beginning to see the fruits of that success in rising middle-school scores.
This year, we will have opened 60 schools, with 95 more to build. We have already gotten 3,200 kids off buses and into their neighborhood schools, and more will come off every year. As a result, future superintendents will have a strong foundation from which to launch the next generation of reforms, including seeing through implementation of our small learning-communities project, which will break up our large high schools into smaller, more personalized settings.
Although I'm justifiably proud of our successes, it is only natural to contemplate what could have been done differently. Superintendents are the public face of their school districts. But given the state of the LAUSD when I arrived, I had to spend a lot of time managing day-to-day operations to ensure that our reforms were implemented throughout the system. As a result, I did not spend as much time as I would have liked building relationships with the broader Los Angeles community. If I had, we would have more out-of-district advocates for the reforms we've implemented. I would also like to think that the current debate about the district would be better informed and better understood if I had reached out more.
I do not know what will happen if the legislation that the mayor is proposing passes in Sacramento. I started out with high hopes that the discussion about improving the LAUSD's performance would lead to changes that accelerated and deepened the reforms we've already made. I now fear that proposed changes threaten to make things much worse, and beyond just frustrating me, that saddens me.
However, no matter what happens in Sacramento, I believe this district will prosper because there are too many good people — teachers, parents, administrators, board members — committed to improving the lives of children.
So, as the majority of our 712,000 students head back to school, and as I prepare to enter the next chapter of my life, I remain convinced of a few things: In an age of globalization, outsourcing and cutting-edge technology, education is absolutely key for the future success of our society. Involved parents, committed teachers and creative principals will always make schools great, no matter who's in charge of the district. And if we continue to aggressively pursue the reforms we have begun, L.A. Unified will be one of the nation's best.
LA Times: Will a Bad Schools Bill Get Worse? (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-sacto28aug28,0,7568026.story?coll=la-news-comment-editorials)
Will a Bad Schools Bill Get Worse?
Last-minute Sacramento tweaks to mayoral takeover could remove the good parts and keep all the bad.
August 28, 2006
SUPPORTERS OF MAYOR Antonio Villaraigosa's flawed attempt to acquire a say in how Los Angeles schools are run tend to give one of two reasons. Either they're afraid of displeasing the politically powerful mayor and the Legislature's Democratic leadership or, though the bill falls far short of full mayoral control, supporters say it at least gives Villaraigosa a foot in the door.
Nothing can be done about the first argument except to exhort politicians to grow some backbone, which is a hardy perennial for editorial pages. As for the something-is-better-than-nothing claim, the problem with this something is that the mayor's bill, once his union allies were done editing it, blurs responsibility and muddles decision-making powers.
We've been through all that before. The more immediate problem with AB 1381 — as it heads toward probable passage and then an almost guaranteed legal challenge — is that its backers might never see the mayor run a cluster of schools or get to pick the superintendent. But they could be stuck in any event with the more regressive parts of the legislation that have nothing to do with mayoral involvement.
At issue is the bill's so-called severability clause, inserted by Villaraigosa's legal team. It spells out that, even if courts strike down parts of the legislation, the rest of it survives. The parts that haven't been found unconstitutional could still go forward.
Severability is rightly troubling many senators at this eleventh hour, given their concerns that the most positive elements of this tortured compromise are the most susceptible to a legal challenge. They want the severability provision removed, but that wouldn't go far enough because most bills are assumed to be separable into parts. The bill cries out for the insertion of a clause declaring that its provisions cannot be divided; the law must stand or fall all of one piece. But the mayor's team, which has brokered many deals to make this bill happen, has been unwilling to do that.
Challenges to the bill almost certainly will concern the mayor's role because the state Constitution is specific in separating the powers of school agencies from municipal governance. The mayor's lawyers have constructed a clever circumvention of that wording by placing the mayor's role under the county Department of Education. But it is a fragile legal premise that attempts to break new ground; there is no case law, no way to predict which way this will go in the courts. The Legislative Counsel, the independent legal advisor to the Legislature, thinks it is most likely unconstitutional.
Take out the mayoral involvement and what does the bill offer? A weakened school board that is even more beholden to its unions than the current one. Clashes of responsibility over who gets to decide where new schools will be built, which could delay the district's massive construction effort. Where a stronger administration is needed, the district gets instead a superintendent whose hands are tied over the hiring and firing of principals, adopting the most effective curriculum and requiring teacher training.
In considering AB 1381, state senators would be irresponsible to decide schoolchildren's fates based on political deals, and remiss in voting for a bill whose legal vulnerability could mean that, in the end, no one but the teachers union gets a better deal.
Aug 30, 2006, 5:22 PM
Legislators OK School Plan; Gov. Vows Approval
Assembly Waffles, Then Gives OK After Intense Lobbying
By Nancy Vogel
Times Staff Writer
August 30, 2006
SACRAMENTO — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bid for greater control over the Los Angeles Unified School District cleared the Legislature on Tuesday evening and headed for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who praised the mayor for "bold leadership."
"I ask the Legislature to immediately send this bill to my desk so I can sign this measure to give all LAUSD students the quality education they deserve to succeed," Schwarzenegger said in an unusually quick endorsement of legislation.
The bill embodying Villaraigosa's plan for more mayoral involvement in public schools passed the Assembly, its last legislative hurdle, on a 42-20 vote, with 17 members not voting.
The bill passed two hours after an initial vote attracted only 30 "ayes," well below the minimum 41 needed.
That early vote triggered frantic lobbying by Villaraigosa and the friends who wrote his legislation, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles).
"This is a big day," said Villaraigosa, who led the Assembly from 1998 to 2000 and is a potential Democratic candidate for governor. "I can tell you, I always knew this would be a tough battle. But the real work begins. The work of putting [together] the broad and comprehensive plan of turning around our schools, the work of building consensus in the city of Los Angeles and the schools to create a new partnership for education reform. I'm very heartened."
Romero described herself as "walking on clouds."
"To me, that vote that was delivered," she said, "it's a vote of hope and a belief that we can do better."
The bill, AB 1381, would shift budget and contracting authority from the seven-member board that sets policy for the Los Angeles Unified School District to the district superintendent.
The bill would also give the Los Angeles mayor and the mayors of the 26 other cities in the district the power to veto the school board's choice of superintendent. And it would give the Los Angeles mayor direct control over about 30 low-performing schools.
Villaraigosa, once a high school dropout, has said he sought the legislation to prevent micromanagement by the school board and to unite parents, teachers and civic leaders to reverse the district's high dropout rate and history of low academic performance. The mayor campaigned on education reform and negotiated the elements of the bill in closed-door meetings with teachers' unions.
District officials have fought hard against Villaraigosa's plan, arguing that it will add layers of bureaucracy, blur accountability and jeopardize the steady academic improvement L.A. Unified students have made in the last five years.
As they have on many days in recent months, Supt. Roy Romer and board President Marlene Canter spent Tuesday making their case to legislators.
After the bill passed the Assembly, district officials sounded a conciliatory note, saying that they would cooperate with Villaraigosa even though they disagreed with his legislation.
"We're going to have to join together and work together," said Romer, who is retiring from the district next month. "I think you've got to put personality aside. You've got to put past competition aside and say, 'Hey look, our job is to work cooperatively and collaborative to improve the education of children in Los Angeles.' "
But even as district officials offered to work with Villaraigosa, they were planning to meet in closed session Thursday to discuss a possible lawsuit to block the legislation.
The bill passed out of the state Senate on Monday on a 23-14 vote, with every Democrat from Los Angeles in support. Two Republican senators also voted for it.
Support was not so solid in the Assembly, where no Republicans voted for the bill and several Los Angeles-area Democrats abstained. They included Mark Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles, Carol Liu of La Cañada Flintridge and Paul Koretz of West Hollywood, who missed the vote due to illness.
Liu said the changes should have been made by a vote of L.A. Unified residents, not the Legislature.
Ridley-Thomas is on the district's search committee for a new superintendent and said he therefore wanted to avoid taking a public position on the bill.
The Assembly Democrats who initially abstained but then voted for the bill included Jerome Horton of Inglewood, who said he got "personal commitments" from Villaraigosa that the clusters of schools overseen by the mayor will not get more financial backing than other district schools.
"There is a lot in the bill that I think is unconstitutional," Horton said. "I think it goes to the court and I think it gets overturned. But to stimulate the debate about school reform — it serves to do that purpose."
Another Democrat who initially abstained and then voted "aye" was Gloria Negrete-McLeod of Chino, who said she was lobbied by Romero.
"I still have some problems" with the legislation, said Negrete-McLeod, whose district does not include L.A. Unified territory. "But she said that it's only for five years and so if it doesn't work, we'll see that it doesn't work."
Nuñez said that many members were nervous about the bill because it had gotten so much publicity, and many needed to be reassured that the provisions would apply only to L.A. Unified.
"It allows the superintendent the freedom to run the day-to-day operations of the school district without being hamstrung by a school board that oftentimes micromanages that school district," he said.
"These are school board members that have a larger staff than Assembly members and they hold back progress sometimes by getting involved in too much detail," he said.
Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) voted against the bill, as he had said he would, out of fear that the plan would diminish African American influence in the district.
Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) recused herself from voting for the bill on the Assembly floor and earlier in the day in the Assembly Education Committee, which she heads. She said she is a candidate to replace Romer and recused herself "out of an abundance of caution."
"I've checked — there is no legal conflict of interest," she said, "but I think there's an ethical conflict of interest in choosing between the two sides on this."
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.
Sep 16, 2006, 4:02 AM
New High School's Name Reflects a Love of Labor
L.A. Unified names a campus west of downtown in honor of the late union leader Miguel Contreras.
By Joe Mathews
Times Staff Writer
September 15, 2006
When Miguel Contreras arrived in Los Angeles in 1987 to fix the battle-scarred hotel employees union, the young national organizer worked out of the large two-story union hall at 4th and Bixel streets.
"We didn't know what to think of him," recalled Maria Elena Durazo, then a local organizer who was challenging union leadership. "I was suspicious of his real intentions."
It was in that hall west of downtown that he repaired Local 11 of the hotel workers union, making a special effort to reach out to Spanish-speaking workers. It was where he started the local career that made him chief of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor for a decade, and where he held meetings for political campaigns that tapped the energy of immigrant workers. There he also made his intentions clear to Durazo. They were married in December 1988.
And this afternoon, a new high school occupying the same corner will be formally named after Contreras, who died last year at age 52. The labor movement and its political allies — the mayor and majorities of the school board, City Council and area state legislators — have embraced the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex as their own and the school's opening as a milestone for unions in Los Angeles.
The county labor federation, a collection of more than 300 local unions that is now headed by Durazo, has made backpacks for students, distributed a DVD about Contreras and the labor movement and will offer union-sponsored apprenticeship programs.
On Wednesday, teachers at the school received a lesson plan put together by the federation. It includes suggestions for making the labor movement part of classes on world history, U.S. history, government and economics, as well as an exercise handout called "What Are Your Rights on the Job?" and an hourlong lesson with sentences such as "People in the labor movement around the country look to Los Angeles as a leader."
The $160-million campus, which opened last week, has space for 1,800 students and academies for social justice and business tourism.
"You name high schools after very important people," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), who was among those who pushed for the naming. "It's a point of pride to know that a high school is named after a labor leader who fought to improve the rights of working families and poor people in Los Angeles."
Contreras, the son of farmworkers, was raised in the Central Valley town of Dinuba and became a protégé of labor leader Cesar Chavez. As the top official of the county labor federation from 1996 until his death, he merged Latino activism, union clout and immigrant outreach into a potent force for winning elections and organizing workers. During his tenure, the ranks of workers represented by federation members grew by 125,000, to more than 800,000.
Shortly after his death, his successor, Martin Ludlow, asked school board President Marlene Canter about the possibility of putting Contreras' name on a school being built on the site of the hall, which was torn down after the union sold the building to the Los Angeles Unified School District. A competing group preferred to name the school for the late Rep. Edward R. Roybal.
"I really wanted to resolve this between the two groups," Canter said. "I didn't want to argue about the legacies of two great men."
But by early this year, there was a heated, behind-the-scenes contest between partisans of the two leaders. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which has its headquarters across the street, supported naming the campus for Roybal.
"There were two independent inspirations, both of which were worthy," said David Rattray, vice president of education and workforce development for the chamber, which obtained a grant to help the school and provided offices to school staff members.
The labor federation, which Durazo took over after Ludlow pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his use of labor resources in his own campaign for City Council, threw itself into a movement to name the school after Contreras. Letters poured in to the school district from unions, politicians and various community organizations. The school board chose Contreras in April, voting 5 to 0 with one abstention.
School board members say they want to name another school for Roybal and revisit the process for choosing school names.
"The process was truncated and unclear," said school board member David Tokofsky, who supported naming the school after Contreras, although he has one regret. "I think the funniest part is that it ended up being called the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex. It sounds like a disorder."
Today's ceremony, which brings together members of the school board and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who last month successfully managed to strip them of some of their power over the district, promises both intrigue and spectacle.
Durazo, for her part, says the school is a fitting tribute to someone who barely graduated from high school.
"He always looked out for young people," she said, recalling Contreras' early days with the farmworkers and his development of young political talent such as Nuñez.
She spoke this week from the same office in the labor federation's headquarters where Contreras worked, not far from the new school.
Durazo talked about her desire to revive his idea for a ballot initiative to pay for the books and school supplies of community college students. And she said she missed him not only as a wife but also as a labor leader; his strategic ability is irreplaceable, she said.
"This week is really a hard week. This week is very emotional," she said in discussing the school and her work. "I don't ever want to cut myself off from the best memories. This has got to be my thing, but I've gotta build off of what he did."
Dec 11, 2006, 11:47 AM
Learning to diversify
Private schools in the L.A. area, once enclaves of the rich and white, are slowly changing.
By Carla Rivera
Times Staff Writer
December 11, 2006
Each morning, an hourlong bus ride transports Maria Cortez from her home in a working-class neighborhood of North Hollywood to her second home on the lushly landscaped Brentwood campus of the Archer School for Girls, where she is a senior.
In North Hollywood, she lives in small apartment near busy Burbank Boulevard and shares one of two bedrooms with her 9-year-old brother. In Brentwood, she hangs out with the privileged daughters of celebrities and business moguls in a neighborhood of expansive lawns and expensive cars.
When she started at Archer in seventh grade, Maria was one of the first Latina students. Now 18, she sees a few more faces that resemble her own.
Despite their reputations as elitist enclaves of rich white kids, some independent schools, including Archer, are increasingly reaching out to girls like Maria as they attempt to transform their student bodies to reflect the world outside their doors.
Nationally, students of color made up 21% of all independent school students in 2005-06, up from 18% in 2000-01. At Archer, they make up 24% — 120 of its 500 students. About 20% of students at the school — where tuition tops $25,500 this year — receive financial aid.
But widespread change at independent schools remains elusive. Many schools talk about diversity but their financial commitment to it varies.
Because they are private institutions, they are under no government pressure to integrate, said Stephan Reeves, president of Montage Diversity Consultants, a Pennsylvania firm created by private school graduates of color who are helping independent schools reach their diversity goals.
"Independent schools are set up with trustee boards that wield decision-making and financial power and make it difficult to effect institutional change very quickly," said Reeves. "I think many schools want to make these decisions, but it's a slow process. When they start allocating real funds and not just a few hundred dollars to go to a recruiting fair, then we'll see some real changes."
Most private schools recruit minority students through word of mouth; outside consultants; national nonprofits, including A Better Chance and the I Have a Dream Foundation; and the National Assn. of Independent Schools, whose diversity team sponsors conferences and workshops.
"It's important, if we're going to provide education and balance to students' lives, that we give them a racially diverse experience on campus that reflects the world they're going to live in," said Roger Weaver, headmaster at Crossroads School in Santa Monica.
But many schools' representatives say they find it hard to overcome stereotypes or geographic isolation to attract minorities. At St. Matthew's Parish School, an Episcopal day school of 325 students in Pacific Palisades, the share of minority students rose to 18% from 10% a few years ago, but not without a host of challenges, acknowledged head of school Les Frost.
"In many respects, we're a neighborhood school, which is a very nice thing to be, but when it comes to ethnic and racial diversity, it's a huge challenge," noted Frost.
'A second home'
When the Archer School opened 10 years ago, it was especially hard to recruit Latinas, whose families frequently choose public schools or lower-cost church-affiliated schools. Maria transferred from a small North Hollywood Christian school with 75 students.
Administrators are acutely aware of the girls' broad spectrum of backgrounds. The school requires most students to take Archer school buses that travel to and from the Sunset Boulevard campus, in part so that girls aren't confronted with "the new BMW someone got for their 16th birthday," said Arlene Hogan, head of school.
Still, some of Maria's first experiences were painful. The seventh grade girls who whipped out $100 bills as readily as sticks of gum made her angry.
Now some of those same girls are her best friends. She sleeps over at their mansions and they reciprocate in the apartment she shares with her mother, father and younger brother.
"This feels like a second home to me now," she said, sitting in the school's garden courtyard on a recent chilly morning.
Maria is waiting to hear whether she's been accepted at UCLA, Loyola Marymount, UC Berkeley and several other colleges.
"It hasn't been easy," she said. "I struggled a lot. But it feels good to be here and feel safe."
The school recently received a $5-million anonymous pledge for financial aid, which it has committed to match and plans to use to increase opportunities for girls from diverse backgrounds, Hogan said.
'Learn to mingle'
The Cate School, a college prep boarding school in Carpinteria with tuition at more than $36,000, provides financial aid to low-income families but also to those who make as much as $200,000 for whom boarding school would otherwise be a stretch.
The student body of 265 went from 23% students of color in 2000 to 41% today. With a $2-million annual financial aid budget, 30% of Cate students receive full scholarships. Twenty-eight percent are international students. At Cate, diversity means not only racial minorities but also gay and lesbian students and staff and those of different religions and socioeconomic classes, said head of school Benjamin D. Williams IV.
Cate sophomore Edderic Ugaddan, 15, a Filipino American from New Jersey, said that seeing other Asians on campus was a deciding factor in choosing the school.
"At least I'll have some good friends, I thought," said Edderic, at a luncheon on a lawn of the bluff-top campus during a recent parent weekend.
Diversity was equally important for his father, Edgardo Ugaddan, an electrical engineer who worked in Saudi Arabia for years before moving to the U.S.
"One of the most important things for Edderic is that he'll learn to mingle with all types of people from different cultures, customs and histories," said Ugaddan.
Still, private school administrators struggle to provide a supportive environment and to integrate different cultures.
The Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs is a local group founded in 1984 that helps to place promising minority students at top-tier private schools. At a recent ceremony to honor seniors, parents and students spoke about the advantages of private schooling but also the culture shock.
One Asian father spoke of his discomfort in social settings when he seemed to be the "invisible man" to whom no one would speak unless he asked a question.
Alliance executive director Manasa Tangalin told the group about a call she received years ago from a parent who recounted how a classroom discussion about the welfare system in Rome led to the teacher's approaching the only black child, saying, "You must know something about that."
"One thing I encourage parents to do is know who to go to on campus if something is uncomfortable," Tangalin said.
Increasing faculty diversity is also a challenge for private schools. At Crossroads School, about 25% of faculty is nonwhite, said director of advancement Gennifer Yoshimaru. But it has been easier to attract students of color than teachers to the school, which is in a drive to boost student diversity at the 1,139-student school, now about 33%, to 40% by 2010.
"Many teachers of color want to return to their community to make a difference," said Yoshimaru. "But many of the schools in their communities are highly segregated, and I try to make the case that they're in a greater position to make an impact on racial harmony in a school that is struggling with a lot of diversity."
Archer School is one of the few where faculty diversity outpaces that of students; 32% of teachers are minorities.
Through the early rough patches at Archer, Maria was sustained by the encouragement of her parents, especially her mother, Ines Cortez.
Ines Cortez was one of nine children raised by a single mother in a small village of fewer than 1,000 people. She left school in sixth grade after her mother said she could afford to keep only her brother in school.
"I didn't blame my mother because I knew she had no choice," said Ines Cortez. "But that's why, as a mother now, education is so important to me."
When she was 17 and war broke out in El Salvador, Ines Cortez's mother agreed to send her to the U.S., a perilous monthlong journey guided by smugglers. She lived with an aunt who was housekeeper for a wealthy family and soon became a housekeeper herself. She learned about the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs through her employer, who also helped her to fill out the paperwork that led Maria to Archer.
On the same day Maria was accepted at Archer, the family — father Jose Cortez is a waiter — received loan approval for a house they had been saving to buy. Even though financial aid would pay for most of Maria's tuition, they knew that private school would entail numerous other fees and expenses. They let the house go.
Now, the Cortez's 9 year-old son, Mauricio, is a fourth-grader at the private Oakwood School in North Hollywood. Some of Cortez's friends have questioned why the family has sacrificed to put two children through private schools. But given rigorous academics, small classes, more individual attention than in public schools and vastly broadened horizons, both Ines and Maria agree they would not exchange the experience.
"Sometimes I feel it's me," said Ines Cortez, who became a naturalized citizen 10 years ago. "I tell Maria, the day you graduate from high school, I graduate from high school, the day you graduate from college, I graduate. That diploma is also my diploma."
Private school diversity
Some independents schools in Southern California are making inroads in increasing diversity. Here are numbers for some L.A.-area schools. Total Students
School enrollment of color Percent
Archer School for Girls, Brentwood 500 120 24%
Brentwood School, Brentwood 988 262 27%
Buckley School, Sherman Oaks 750 223 30%
Campbell Hall, North Hollywood 1,087 304 28%
Cate School, Carpinteria 265 108 41%
Crossroads School, Santa Monica 1,139 376 33%
Harvard-Westlake School, Los Angeles 1,600 560 35%
Marlborough School, Hancock Park 530 194 37%
Westridge School, Pasadena 510 212 42%
Windward School, Mar Vista 475 100 21%
Sources: The schools
Jan 18, 2007, 10:42 PM
Mayor posts his strategy for schools
Villaraigosa presents 52 recommendations for fixing L.A. Unified. Officials say the district has tried some ideas but lacks money to expand.
By Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin
Times Staff Writers
January 18, 2007
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a sweeping reform strategy for Los Angeles public schools Wednesday, calling for top-to-bottom changes that would include ending the practice of promoting failing students, requiring school uniforms and bringing in outsiders to help transform schools.
The education blueprint — drawing heavily from reform ideas already underway in Los Angeles and elsewhere — amounts to Villaraigosa's fall-back position if the courts rule against his efforts to gain a measure of control over the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In releasing the "Schoolhouse" policy framework at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, and supporting candidates in the March 6 school board elections, Villaraigosa is hedging his bets: He is seeking a prominent role in the school district through a friendly board majority that could promote his vision of more decentralized schools.
But the mayor — who called for greater collaboration among the city, the district, civic groups, labor organizations and others — did not formally consult the school district's top leadership in assembling his 52 policy recommendations, which are long on promise but short on details.
Only one school board member, Villaraigosa ally Monica Garcia, attended the gathering along with schools Supt. David L. Brewer. Board President Marlene Canter was out of town.
Villaraigosa's top education aides drew up the proposal by researching practices in L.A. Unified and other major urban school districts, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, and by culling ideas from local charter school operators that have shown success with poor and immigrant student populations.
The mayor's approach would require a massive infusion of money and expertise, both of which are in limited supply. And many of his proposals — including a call for smaller schools and a return from multitrack calendars to a traditional schedule — are being employed by L.A. Unified schools or campuses elsewhere, sometimes with mixed results.
Still, Villaraigosa characterized his Schoolhouse strategy as the best chance for improving a district facing myriad challenges, including crowded classrooms and large numbers of students living in poverty or learning English.
Addressing about 200 parents, teachers and others at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, Villaraigosa said his effort would produce results that are crucial to educational success.
"After over a year of debate, I think most of us agree that the issue is no longer whether we need fundamental change in our public schools. The question is how," Villaraigosa told the invited audience.
"These ideas didn't come from the mountaintop and they are not etched in stone," he added. "But I believe our Schoolhouse provides a framework for reform that the entire Los Angeles Unified School District should follow."
With several young students seated behind him, Villaraigosa spoke for about 15 minutes from a teleprompter, then took mostly polite questions. He drew applause several times but demurred when pressed for details.
Some school board members, who were briefed on the plan just hours before the meeting, cautiously greeted the initiative even as they questioned Villaraigosa's sincerity.
The school district is locked in a legal battle with Villaraigosa over a law that would give him substantial authority over the district — allowing him to pursue the very reforms outlined in his plan. That law was struck down by a Superior Court judge last month, and Villaraigosa has appealed directly to the California Supreme Court.
Canter, who was in New York on district business, reiterated her position that the mayor is not seeking to join with the district leaders for the good of the school system.
"I think it's misleading to the public when you have a mayor who talks about the urgency of partnership…. It would be nice if we could put this conversation aside and have a real partnership," she said.
Canter and Brewer said the district is not at a loss for new ideas — only the resources and strategies to expand reforms through a system that serves more than 700,000 students.
"Many of the initiatives are basically already being implemented," Brewer said in an interview. "The mayor needs to help me find more money for these initiatives."
Villaraigosa departed from the harsh language he has often used to characterize the district as a bloated bureaucracy that fails students. Instead, he struck an even tone in his remarks and in his blueprint, highlighting practices that have shown promise around the nation and acknowledging that L.A. Unified has already embraced many of these approaches, if on a limited basis.
Deputy Mayor Ramon C. Cortines, a former interim L.A. Unified superintendent and a chief architect of the mayor's proposals, said new guidance and energy would help spread promising practices that he found while visiting schools in the district and elsewhere.
"I have said that some of the best practices are in L.A. Unified. What I am suggesting is that we need to be consistent. There is not the accountability, the responsibility or the authority at the local level to carry out these kinds of things. If we are ever going to bring back the middle class in LAUSD, we are going to have to address these issues."
The 25-page policy paper breaks down the challenge of improving schools into six areas that need attention: high expectations, safe schools, empowered leadership, rigorous curriculum, family and community involvement, and more money to schools.
It says that teachers, principals and other school staff should be paid more and class sizes should be reduced — two goals that Villaraigosa believes could be met by streamlining central support operations and increasing daily student attendance, the basis for state education funding.
These ideas, and the framework in general, were greeted enthusiastically by union leaders from United Teachers Los Angeles.
The blueprint also calls for moving more money and resources away from the central administration to schools, and giving campuses greater authority over their resources — ideas that are drawn from the charter school movement and that have become increasingly popular in mainstream education circles in recent years.
Villaraigosa calls for changes that have shown mixed results in Los Angeles and other places, including an end to social promotion — moving failing students to the next grade level. Such an approach was tried in L.A. Unified eight years ago with second-graders and eighth-graders but was ended partly for lack of space. And taking a page from state and federal accountability programs, the mayor's plan could lead to the removal of employees at chronically underperforming schools.
The mayor's plan suggests that the school day be extended so struggling students can receive more help; that foreign languages, such as Spanish and Arabic, be taught as early as first grade; and that student mentor programs and preschool be expanded.
Villaraigosa intends to rally a broad swath of Los Angeles around the schools, inviting the involvement of organized labor, universities, cultural institutions and faith-based organizations. And he would lead an aggressive campaign to raise $200 million for the schools over five years from foundations, corporations and philanthropists.
The multi-pronged effort would start in several clusters of low-performing schools and then expand to every campus, the mayor's aides said.
That mirrors the approach advocated in the education law now winding through the courts. It would give Villaraigosa control over three high schools and the middle schools and elementary schools that feed them — amounting to as many as 80,000 students.
Feb 3, 2007, 12:30 AM
The Value of a Good School
Why your district matters, even if you don't have kids
By Jon Ann Steinmetz, Yahoo! Real Estate Editor
February 2, 2007
Any parent knows that school districts are important when buying a house, but even buyers who don't have kids should be aware of the effect that schools have on a property's purchase price and resale value.
In its 2006 survey of homebuyers and sellers, the National Association of Realtors found that 27 percent of buyers cited the quality of the school district as a factor influencing their choice of neighborhood, said Walter Molony, spokesman for the association. Another 19 percent cited convenience to schools as an influence.
For those with kids, the benefits of highly rated schools are obvious. For those without, the decision is more nuanced, said Sandy Kasik, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in San Jose, Calif. - one of the nation's most expensive housing markets.
"Someone without kids could be better assured of maintaining or increasing the value of their home if it is located in a better school district," she said. "However, they would likely be able to get more home for their money in a lesser school district. So it basically comes down to what is more important to the individual couple - lifestyle or money."
There's no hard data on how much a good school district might add to the price of a home, Molony said, but anecdotally, it can be significant.
Kasik gives an example of two houses of roughly the same size - about 1,250 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms - built by the same builder at about the same time in San Jose and neighboring Los Gatos, an upscale town that's highly desirable because of its schools. The houses sold nine months apart: the one in San Jose went for $720,000; while the one in Los Gatos fetched $845,000.
In the Midwest, Realtor Pam Sison estimates home prices in Bath, Ohio, run about 2 percent to 5 percent higher than those nearby in Cuyahoga Falls.
Coldwell Banker agent Chris Conklin, also in San Jose, is currently working with a couple on the school district dilemma. They have no children, and no plans for children, but have their hearts set on a house in Cupertino - home of Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard, and schools with a national reputation for excellence.
"I've been trying to get them to look elsewhere, pointing out that they would be paying a premium for a school district they won't be using," Conklin said. How much of a premium? One house they made an offer on ended up with 24 bids, and sold for $110,000 over the asking price.
"My clients say, well, we don't want to use the schools, but it helps for resale," Conklin said. "We are still looking!"
That kind of foresight could very well pay off, said Molony of the National Association of Realtors. "If you're in a situation where all things are equal, the house in the better school district might be easier to sell," he said. "It'd be a selling point, in other words."
Sep 24, 2007, 4:24 PM
From the Los Angeles Times
Schools still rise close to freeways
L.A. Unified continues to build near roads that spew pollution despite a state law and evidence of health hazards.
By Evelyn Larrubia
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 24, 2007
Despite a state law that seeks to prevent schools from being built near freeways and mounting evidence that road pollutants harm children's lungs, the Los Angeles Unified School District is in the process of adding seven new schools to the more than 70 already located close to highways.
Last year, more than 60,000 L.A. Unified students attended school within 500 feet of a freeway, records show.
A 2003 state law prohibits school districts from building campuses within 500 feet of a freeway, unless the district can mitigate the pollution or determines that space limitations are so severe that there are no other options. In Los Angeles, officials say their choices have become more and more limited.
As the district undertakes a $20-billion school construction and modernization program, officials have considered a number of sites close to freeways. The district is now building five schools on lots that are within 500 feet of them.
In the coming months, the Board of Education will decide whether to begin construction of two more: Central Region Middle School No. 9 at Euclid Avenue and 7th Street, near Interstate 10, and Central Region High School No. 15, at 2100 Marengo Street, adjacent to the 10 near the interchange with the 5 Freeway. Those campuses are in addition to the nine L.A. Unified charter and regular district schools that have opened near freeways since 1997.
As the construction program continues, the Board of Education could be facing more such decisions.
School board President Monica Garcia, in whose district both pending schools are located, said through a spokesman that she was concerned about children's health, but that she would support the new campuses if the district was able to mitigate the dangers.
Carlos Estrada owns a small market and restaurant across from Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where the district wants to build a high school. It could be a lucrative deal for Estrada, but he's not interested.
Estrada, who grew up in that East Los Angeles-area neighborhood, has nothing against new schools but said he has a big problem with the district building one on this particular site, roughly 90 feet from the 10 Freeway.
"I don't want to be one of those people who went ahead and sold the property because they want the money. My wife and I don't need the money," Estrada said. "I personally don't want a school that's going to harm the health of the children."
Scientists from both UCLA and USC have been studying the health effects of freeway contaminants in recent years and have found that they are significant. A report released in February said that children who live near freeways are more likely to suffer from decreased lung function than those who do not live near them.
One of the main culprits, researchers say, seems to be ultra-fine particles, noxious specks that are so light and tiny that they're hard to capture or filter.
"Ultra-fine particle numbers are highest on and around freeways and in experimental studies appear to have much higher levels of the damaging chemicals that are found to have health effects," said Andre Nel, chief of nanomedicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Southern California Particle Center.
A study by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment found increased asthma and bronchitis among San Francisco Bay Area children who attended schools near major thoroughfares.
The problem is not limited to Los Angeles. According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, 2.3% of California public schools -- about 170 -- are located within 500 feet of high-traffic roads, those that carry more than 50,000 vehicles per day.
The vast majority of the L.A. Unified schools situated within 500 feet of a freeway were constructed before 1977. In some cases, the freeways were built after the schools.
In the two decades that followed, the district built 24 schools, but did not build that close to freeways again until it embarked on its current bond-funded construction program.
Of the schools opened near freeways in the last 10 years, the first was the Watts Learning Center, a high-performing charter. That school opened on the site of a former church near the 110 and is one of five charters built within 500 feet of a freeway in the last decade.
During that time, the district itself has opened four schools that close: Hesby Oaks in Encino; Olympic Primary Center in downtown Los Angeles; West Adams Preparatory High School, just west of downtown; and the Bellevue Primary Center in Silver Lake.
"I think local schools are really, really important, and I believe in public schools," said Marsha Rose, 50, a state vocational rehabilitation counselor who lives near Hesby, a K-8 school. "But I think it's so important for them to have activities that are active and healthy, and I think it's really hard when they build it that close to the freeway."
Hesby was an older school that for several decades was used as administrative offices. In need of classrooms, the district decided to remodel and reopen it as a school. The interchange of the 101 and 405 freeways looms behind the play yard.
At a 2004 public meeting, Rose told district officials that she was worried about the health effects of freeway pollutants on children who would attend the school.
"They said they could override [the law] if there was a need for schools," said Rose, who does not have children. "But I think for the health of all of our children, if you have information, you need to deal with it."
A 2004 district assessment of the Hesby site predicted that at least one contaminant would be present at three times the limit and recommended upgrading the heating and ventilation systems to filter out pollutants. The district made the upgrade.
The assessment did not discuss ultra-fine particles, which cannot be filtered. But state law does not limit the presence of those particles. Nor does it explicitly require that districts address them in health evaluations, officials said.
In addition to the new schools already opened, the district is building five within 500 feet of freeways, campuses that were approved by the board between 2001 and 2006:
* Central Los Angeles High School No. 1 in Hollywood, adjacent to the 101 at the former site of the Metromedia Fox Studio.
* Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, replacing an old high school turned district headquarters at 450 N. Grand Ave. in downtown, off the 101.
* Vista Hermosa, formerly known as Belmont High School, in downtown, off the 110.
* East Valley Area New High School No. 1A and Valley Region Middle School No. 3, on Arleta Avenue, bordering the 170, in Sun Valley.
The district was not required to analyze the effects of air pollution from nearby freeways until the 2003 law took effect. For each of the schools under construction, the district concluded that air filtering would eliminate enough of the toxins to make the school safe for children.
That's partly because, as in the Hesby analysis, the district did not address the ultra-fine particles that researchers believe cause the most harm.
Angelo Bellomo, head of the district's Office of Environmental Health and Safety, which conducts the health studies, said recent scientific reports have prompted him to reassess how his office evaluates sites near freeways. Now, he said, all of the analyses discuss ultra-fine particles.
Because of this, he said, he recently instituted a buffer of at least 200 feet between schools and freeways. He arrived at that figure because a study showed that ultra-fine particles are most prevalent within the first 200 feet from a major roadway.
Bellomo's office's analyses of the two pending schools near freeways indicated that they both suffered from significant pollution and recommended three steps to mitigate damaging effects: air filtering, reduced outdoor activity when air quality is particularly bad and a 200-foot buffer from the freeway.
He concedes that even with those measures, children and school employees still would be exposed to more contaminants than they would otherwise.
He said that if the school board wants to build on the edge of a freeway anyway, it will have to find that the benefits outweigh the health risks.
"It would be very difficult to justify such a finding," Bellomo said. "We are trying to do a better job dissuading the real estate agents from even looking at properties that are close."
Jim Gauderman, the lead researcher on a series of USC studies that found increased asthma and decreased lung function in children who lived near freeways, said science has yet to pinpoint how close to a freeway is too close. But he found significant detrimental effects on children who lived up to 500 meters away -- slightly more than 1,600 feet.
He said air filters are no panacea. "They're not going to work on ultra-fine particles, and they're not going to work on gases," he said. "They're only going to work when the kid is inside. The minute the kid steps out or starts playing P.E. and breathing heavy, they're not going to be useful.
"It just makes sense that if you're going to have children spending a lot of time in a location and you know that location is polluted -- and I don't care if it's air, water or whatever -- that you would try to avoid that situation at any cost. Those kids are going to be there at four, five, seven years. That's a lot of time when you accumulate it."
The district has not addressed whether to protect the children and staff at the dozens of existing schools that are close to freeways. The schools are clustered in East Los Angeles and the northeast San Fernando Valley, areas with more than their share of both freeways and poverty.
Bellomo said his office is considering what to do about existing schools. The best solution, he said, is stricter regulation of freeway contaminants because it would protect not only the students but also the thousands of residents along those traffic corridors.
When Amalia Campos enrolled 5-year-old Claris Perez at West Vernon Elementary in South Los Angeles this summer, a form asked whether her daughter had any chronic health problems. "Asthma," she wrote.
Campos didn't know about the effects of freeway pollution. No one at the year-round school, which borders the 110 Freeway, told her about the studies, she said. But then, neither did the doctors who diagnosed and have treated Claris' asthma since she was 2. "They should let parents know about the risk," said Campos.
Claudia Garcia was standing outside the campus recently, waiting to pick up several children whom she cares for after school.
She had heard about the studies regarding the health effects of road toxins.
"The truth is, I wouldn't want my daughter going here because of that. I'd like to find her a better school," she said, looking down at Clara Hernandez, 3. "Maybe I'll move."
Sep 27, 2007, 5:17 PM
From the Los Angeles Times
Mayor's bid to control some schools gets $50-million gift
A South Bay real estate developer and his wife to give $50 million over a 10-year period.
By Duke Helfand and howard blume
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 27, 2007
A South Bay real estate developer and his wife announced Wednesday that they would donate $50 million to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's campaign to run a group of public schools in what is believed to be the largest private gift to the school system.
Richard and Melanie Lundquist plan to give $5 million a year over 10 years to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization established by Villaraigosa to oversee two high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them starting as soon as July 2008.
The money, and future donations, could prove a powerful incentive for schools to join the mayor's plans -- each school community must vote to opt in. His office has launched a sometimes rocky campaign to build support among teachers and parents, some of whom are leery because of antagonism spawned by his unsuccessful effort to gain direct control over the Los Angeles Unified School District through the Legislature.
The announcement, in the library of Gratts Elementary School near downtown, also provided Villaraigosa with a compelling kickoff to what he hopes will be a sweeping fundraising campaign, one in which Melanie Lundquist said she would play a leading role.
The Lundquists, who made their fortune in commercial real estate, said they have no business interests before the city or school district, and were motivated only by a desire to improve a system they each attended 40 years ago. He graduated from Narbonne High School in Harbor City; she attended Grant High in Van Nuys.
"This gift is given solely from the heart because we love children," Richard Lundquist said during a ceremony staged with 19 third-graders and a giant ceremonial check that he and his wife signed.
But the funds come with a condition: The schools must show progress on several fronts, including test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, safety, parent satisfaction and other measures still to be determined
"This money is going to be spent with great thought and conscience," Melanie Lundquist said. "It will flow as long as the performance is there."
The donated funds are expected mainly to benefit schools that enlist in the mayor's "partnership" plan. The schools have yet to be selected.
Villaraigosa said that schools in the partnership can likely expect expanded training for teachers and administrators, a renewed emphasis on pre-kindergarten services and additional after-school programs. Materials provided by his office cited other likely incentives, including bonuses for teachers who work in "hard-to-hire schools," increased instructional time and more college preparation programs.
The Lundquist gift alone won't go that far if spread among some 30,000 students who could be part of the Villaraigosa schools. A larger pool of money already is arriving at about 80 of the district's lowest-performing schools. These funds, as much as $1,000 per student for seven years, are part of a lawsuit settlement between the California Teachers Assn. and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A yet-to-be-named governing board, headed by Deputy Mayor Ramon C. Cortines, the mayor's top education advisor, will control the Lundquist money as well as oversee the partnership schools. Cortines and another Villaraigosa advisor said the board would likely include a teacher, parent, contributor and school district representative.
"I intend to consult with all," said Cortines, speaking about who would sit on the governing board and how it would work. "We need to model what we say: a partnership."
The donation is the Lundquists' latest for Villaraigosa's educational initiatives. Their El Segundo company, Continental Development Corp., gave $100,000 earlier this year to the mayor's successful campaign to elect three new school board members. Villaraigosa supported a slate of winning candidates that gave him a majority of allies on the seven-member Board of Education. In turn, they agreed to let him lead reform at the still-to-be selected schools.
Villaraigosa was joined at Wednesday's news conference by school board President Monica Garcia, a staunch loyalist, and L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer. The mayor presented the Lundquist gift as the largest private donation ever to the school district.
"I want to fire you up," Villaraigosa said at the event. "I want you to get excited. . . . I'm committed to raising a lot more money than this."
The mayor's reform initiative received a mixed response this week among parents elsewhere in the city.
A 10-member team from his office sought to explain his plan Tuesday to about 50 people at the All People's Christian Center south of downtown. One person in the audience, a teacher from nearby Santee High School, dismissed past reform efforts and questioned Villaraigosa's motives.
"For many years, we've been lied to," said social studies teacher Ron Gochez. "There are not even trash cans in this community. . . . This is all political," he added, referring to speculation that Villaraigosa may run for governor in 2010.
Marshall Tuck, a senior education aide to Villaraigosa, did his best to make the mayor's case, insisting that the challenge of education reform was, in fact, filled with political pitfalls.
"I disagree with what you say about the mayor," Tuck said. "We'll be very clear on what we can do and on what we can't do."
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