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LAUSD board set to vote on who will operate 13 public schools

March 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Los Angeles Unified School District Board met Tuesday to decide who will run 13 campuses.

Parents camped out overnight at the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters for Tuesday's meeting as the board considers who will teach their children. Also Tuesday, thousands of schoolteachers began receiving layoff notices.

People were packed in the hearing room Tuesday afternoon, including parents, teachers and advocacy group representatives. Sixty were lined up to address the LAUSD School Board. At issue is what agency or company should run 13 LAUSD campuses.

There was also dismal news for teachers across the district.

Social studies teacher Louis Bonsteel is headed for the unemployment line. He is one of 4,000 LAUSD instructors who received RIF [Reduction In Force] notices Tuesday.

"I am a father of four children, and I have a small child at home that has special needs, and I've been teaching only for four years," said Bonsteel. "This is my second time being RIFFed, and it's quite stressful."

The district issued the notices planning for a worst-case-scenario budget. LAUSD will not have federal stimulus dollars next year and must operate with a deficit of $408 million.

Scarce funding has intensified competition among charter school organizations and parent-backed groups to take over several schools under the Public School Choice program. That initiative gives outside groups a chance to do what LAUSD has been unable to do: Turn around troubled schools.

In addition, 10 brand-new campuses are up for grabs.

Under the district's Public School Choice Program, the 10 new campuses and three existing low-performing schools will become charter schools, which will affect more than 20,000 students. Seven charter school organizations have applied for the jobs, and supporters said they are the best choice.

"The seven charter school operators we're talking about run some of the best public schools in the entire state," said Sierra Jenkins from the California Charter School Association. "They are literally closing the achievement gap in South Los Angeles."

But some of the people camping out overnight said there are better options for their kids.

"The school that I support was a group of teachers from the community who created the proposal," said parent Windy O'Malley. "They are not union people. They are not some big organization. They are teachers who believe in education and believe in our community."

"We were recognized as California Distinguished Schools, we received the Title I academic achievement award," said Ana Ponce, chief executive officer of Camino Nuevo High School.

The school board decides based in part on the recommendations by Superintendent Ramon Cortines. He reviewed 48 proposals for 13 schools. The process has produced some positive results.

"The past two years have resulted in some of the most innovative plans that the district has ever seen," said Cortines. "I also have seen a new surge of excitement in our school communities because of this process.

"I am disappointed that we are still seeing very little interest in our underachieving schools," said Cortines.

United Teachers Los Angeles calls the plan a public school giveaway.

"If a school is given away to an outside operator, it is given away," said union member Betty Forrester. "The district loses ADA. It loses union positions and work."

And that has outraged the union, since this comes as thousands of teachers are getting layoff notices.

United Teachers Los Angeles has criticized Cortines and the Public School Choice program. Releasing 13 schools to others means the district will lose teaching positions and $11 million that would be used to pay them.

"Any of them being given away would mean hundreds of teachers' jobs," said Betty Forester, United Teachers Los Angeles. "I don't know that we've added it up."

The teachers had hoped that the state legislature would put a tax measure on a voter ballot that would provide education funding. The deadline for the measure passed last week. A lobbying effort by the school board, teachers and the school district continues.

The school control issue debate continued into Tuesday evening.

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