Thursday, May 17, 2007

My Article In CityWatch On The Neighborhood Councils And The New School Board!

View from Here - Schooling the School Board
Mayor’s picks kick butt. What does it have to do with NCs?

Tuesday, the Mayor's candidates for the Los Angeles School Board, Tamar Galatzan and Richard A. Vladovic, kicked butt and won landslide elections. They now join previously elected reformers, Monica Garcia and Yolie Flores Aguilar, in a four to three majority on the board. Now, what should the Neighborhood Councils expect from this new board in protecting both our neighborhoods and our students?

First, the new board should immediately reinstate chronically under-performing Locke High School's Principal Frank Wells who was suspended from for committing the ultimate LAUSD crime - putting his students ahead of the interests of the teacher's union and the LAUSD bureaucracy. For this, the School Board and Superintendent Brewer had him physically removed from the campus in a police action. Objective: to intimidate anyone who might think about opposing them.

What was the Principal’s crime? After most of teacher's signed a petition to have the Locke High School become a cluster of Green Dot Charter Schools, the LAUSD claimed one or more unnamed teachers obtained signatures during class time – even though the teachers strongly denied this to the LA Times. But this was still used as the pretense to physically remove the principal from school grounds and suspend him from his position.

This is the first time an existing school will become chartered which means the money allocated for Locke will now go straight to the school from the State and not to the LAUSD bureaucrats. In addition, the teachers will be able to teach unencumbered by the endless restrictions imposed by the union.

Brewer and the school board are afraid that if a chartered Locke High is successful, other parents and teachers will team up and secede from the LAUSD's bureaucracy and union rules until every school in the LAUSD could take advantage of the state law that allows them to secede from both the union and from the LAUSD's paper pushers.

A public apology needs to be issued to Wells and it might be good karma to appease the Gods of Education by offering up an union rep or LAUSD functionary to Reggie the Alligator to demonstrate proper contrition, though the rules about feeding animals toxic substances might render that… problematic .

Next, the new board needs to immediately place a time-out on all new school projects challenged by the affected neighborhoods. The board needs to re-study demographic trends to determine if there is a future need for these schools and, if so, if the proposed site is the most appropriate site. This is relevant since the numbers of students in the LAUSD peaked at close to 747,000 in 2003 and has steadily declined since then to 708,000 – a loss of almost 40,000 students. However, in addition, many thousands of those still enrolled have fled to charter schools in leased spaces, freeing up thousands of seats in regular schools. A point that has gone unmentioned in the debate. And both trends are only increasing.

Among the sites that should be stopped on day one are the infamous Site A elementary school in Echo Park – which is destroying an entire neighborhood even though the nearest elementary school has lost 500 students in recent years; the proposed Elementary School 14 in Van Nuys--which wipes out blocks of single family homes and the condemning of the old Granada Hills Community Hospital for a high school, which would preclude any other hospital from ever opening in that under-served area.

One of the problems with the LAUSD is that single family homes and low income housing are seen as low hanging fruit as opposed to condemning industrial or commercial properties that might allow for mixed-used projects that would not displace more residents but would allow for mixed uses that could help amortized the costs of the school.

This does not mean that the new board won't – or shouldn't – build most of these schools. But the district's real needs should be determined as quickly as possible though an unbiased look at the facts in open forums. And, it needs to be done as quickly as possible, unless the facts clearly indicate a rethinking of available options for any of the sites.

The school board needs to pass a resolution to declare their commitment to reopen all five closed LAUSD schools as charter schools, and to then work to find ways to accomplish that goal. The savings from not building unneeded schools might pay for those projects.

Finally, the LAUSD needs to develop relationships with the broadest possible groups of stakeholders in each neighborhood – and in Los Angeles. That means Neighborhood Councils. There needs to be a series of regional meetings with all the NC'S (and other community groups) in each area to tell them how their schools measure up to other schools, what after-hours community uses are in these schools and what schools might, and schools will, be built.

Unfortunately, until now, as with thousands of others– you may have never once been contacted by the school board about what they are doing in and to your neighborhood. And that is one of the first things the new School Board needs to change. Neighborhood Councils should demand it. (Brady Westwater is Chair of the LA NC Congress. He is also a writer and frequent contributor to CityWatch.)

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