Thursday, March 17, 2011


By Diana L. Chapman

With the Los Angeles Unified School board lopping off more schools and handing seven public campuses over to charters on Tuesday, one can’t help but wonder what that spells out to teachers and parents.

The fact is this: as a parent, it terrifies me and reminds me it’s a sad day in L.A. I can only imagine how it feels to teachers, like another knife in the back.  Morale at LA Unified remains sober, gray and grim.

Amid horrendous budget cuts and another round of 5,000 pink slips going out to teachers and staff, the board showed it further couldn’t depend on its own employees and tapped outside operators for seven of 13 campuses placed under the “public school choice” option, meaning they were open to outside bidders.

Tuesday’s vote seems to reflect that board members have no faith in its own employees – going against the grain in many cases of their once highly-prized, outgoing Superintendent, Ramon Cortines, who recommend most of the schools be taken over by a new branch of LAUSD employees who competed with charters in the bidding process. Cortines leaves in April and will be replaced by John Deasy.

Only Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented the choice, who wondered why no one was listening to Cortines.

I wonder too.

My fear about going charter-happy (besides not keeping our own teachers)  is that we might cut off the limbs of our right and access to free public education for our children.  That is something to fear.

While thus far, LA Unified has only ushered charters in that are non-profit, lines can easily become blurred, especially as another movement  runs afoot across the nation to have charters run schools for profit, as Danny Weil, author of Charter School Movement, notes.

“LA Unified is headed for privatization and the best place to see this plan is New Orleans,” Weil e-mailed. “This is the plan put forth by Paul Hill and I cover this in my book on charters. Detroit is going this way, New Jersey, Ohio, all of Michigan and many more. Public education, its workers and its missions are now being decimated…”

Yes, every day I watch our schools be decimated, especially as the board continually takes out the chain-saw and buzzes away at staff morale. With so many in the district laid off – and thousands more to come – it seems only right to heavily consider Cortines suggestions.

Instead, the board dismissed much of his advice and once again showed its alignment with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has desperately tried to take over the district, and at last, it seems he’s done so.

Since the mayor’s city slips everyday closer to the edge of bankruptcy, I wish he’d just stay focused in his own yard. Instead, he seems to be telling the board what to do and his key ally, board president Monica Garcia, takes his cues.

The board did, however, allow the district to maintain a secondary new campus,  which cost about $181 million to build in Long Beach on the border of Carson, to remain within its realm.

The UTLA, the teacher’s union, released this angry statement, about Tuesday’s decision:

“Today, politics won over pedagogy,” the statement said. “The parents’ voice has been silenced and the true agenda of the School Board majority has been exposed. The School Board majority clearly was doing the bidding of the mayor and his billionaire allies who want to privatize public education.”

Tuesday, among some of the decisions, the board awarded Clay Middle School in Athens to Green Dot charters and Echo Park Elementary to Camino Nuevo charters, both against Cortines wishes.

I asked Board Member, Richard Vladovic who oversees the Harbor area and portions of South Los Angeles, why he made such a decision.

“I made the decisions I made because I believe that the groups I selected offered the kids the best opportunity to be successful, both internally and externally,” he said.  “I do this work for kids. We need to give them every opportunity to be successful and provide every bit of support that we can in order to make it happen.

“Yesterday’s decisions will alter the path for generations to come, both positively and negatively. I do not take the decisions lightly and the only special interests I take into consideration is kids. If I made a mistake yesterday, I made it on behalf of the kids.”

About 20,000 students, according to the Los Angeles Times, will now have their education turned over to charters.

Here’s another issue we need to fear. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are allowing the district to balloon even ridiculously bigger than it already is by awarding so many charters to take over Los Angeles schools. Those campuses will be harder to watch over, like an octopus with thousands of tentacles floating in every direction.

Already we know this: just like Los  Angeles Unified schools, charters can be good or bad. Case in point recently were Crescendo Charters, which achieved grand ratings and top test scores, making it one of the most sought after charters to attend.

It turned out to be one of those too good to be true cases.

Then Crescendo Director John Allen allegedly told his principals to open the standardized tests and have his teachers teach the answers on the test. The schools were caught only because several teachers blew the whistle.

While the board voted to close those schools – depending on whether the leadership staff involved is fired – it begs the question about what the hundreds of other campuses are doing.

Since the district has already shown how difficult it can be to manage its own campuses, how will it be able to give over site to charters, who already don’t have as stiff state regulations as regular public schools.

The answer is: it can’t.