Thursday, February 28, 2008

8 hit in L.A. bus stop gunfire


A man shoots repeatedly into a crowd at Central and Vernon avenues, police say. Two people are critically wounded but are expected to survive.


Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times - In the background, police investigate the scene at Vernon and Central where eight people were shot.

by Victoria Kim, Jean-Paul Renaud and Richard Winton | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

February 28, 2008 - Five children and three adults were shot Wednesday afternoon by a gunman who opened fire at a busy South Los Angeles bus stop minutes after classes were dismissed at a nearby school.

image In a scene of chaos that authorities were still trying to piece together, witnesses described a gunman who seemingly appeared from nowhere and began spraying the crowd indiscriminately.

As bystanders dived to the ground, some adults swept up children from the path of gunfire.
Some witnesses told police the man had been on a bus and argued with someone after getting off. But others said he was already in the crowd. Police were investigating the possibility that the gunman had an intended target and caught others in a spray of bullets.

A 12-year-old girl, the most seriously wounded, was shot through the chest and was in stable condition at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles late Wednesday, officials said.

Tomasa Gutierrez, 32, had just gotten off a bus and was walking among dozens of students near Vernon and Central avenues when she heard a volley of shots. A girl in front of her collapsed in her arms, wounded.

She scooped up the girl and rushed her back to nearby George Washington Carver Middle School, Gutierrez said.

"It was a little girl," she said. "I had her in my arms until the paramedics came."

Guadalupe Olivos, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at the school, was crossing the intersection shortly after 3 p.m. when the gunfire exploded. "Everyone just dropped," the student said.

Investigators were unsure of the motive for the shooting and were still searching for the gunman Wednesday night.

Witnesses initially told police an African American man between 18 and 24 years old fired about 15 rounds from a semiautomatic handgun into the group of blacks and Latinos, many of whom were waiting for buses in front of a fast-food restaurant. Afterward, the gunman -- who police said was wearing a white T-shirt, blue pants and appeared to be about 5 feet 7 and 160 pounds -- calmly walked away.

"This [area has] a density of foot traffic like few places in the city. There were tons of people and tons of traffic around," said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz.

"It appears he was shooting indiscriminately into the crowd," LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith added. "It is not clear who he was shooting at."

In addition to the 12-year-old, four children ranging in age from 10 to 14 were grazed by bullets, as were a 49-year-old woman and two men, ages 48 and 68. Six victims remained hospitalized late Wednesday night, including three children.

Alejandro Montiel, a cashier at a Jack in the Box restaurant on Central Avenue, said a girl sitting at a window witnessed the shooting. She broke into tears and called police on her cellphone, he said.

Amir Khani, owner of a discount store next to the Jack in the Box, said he was unloading groceries from a van in front of the store when he heard the shooting. He said he looked up to see a man put a gun in his pants and flee the scene, heading north.
Another man ran through his store and out the back, he said, and at least one motorist had a window blown out by gunfire.

Khani, who has operated his store since 1989, said the shooting was not a surprise.
"These things, on this corner, happen all the time -- street fighting, gangbanging," he said. "We see a lot of things around here. It's not surprising, because it happens all the time."
He said neighbors had asked police for more patrols because there are three schools in the immediate area. He said between 2 and 5 p.m. the streets are bustling with students, and that is when most of the gang activity occurs.

Alex Pascual, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, said he was among a group of students who remained in the school cafeteria because officials initially thought there could be a gunman on campus. He saw a young girl "running to the school all bleeding," he said.

The bloodshed extended a string of unconnected mass shootings in recent weeks across Los Angeles and Orange counties. Though crime rates have generally declined in recent years, Wednesday's attack occurred in the LAPD's Newton Division, which has seen the number of shooting victims increase about 26% so far this year compared to last year.

There have been five homicides in the area so far this year, the same as last year. But most of those fatalities have been in recent weeks. Historically, the area is among the most violent areas of the city.

Gutierrez, who carried one girl to safety, said that the neighborhood was known for gang activity and that this was the second time there had been a shooting in the area.

"We fear for our lives here," she said.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Jaqueline Morataya, 9, said she and her mother were trying to find an older brother, Alexander, 13, a Carver student. A friend told them the boy had been eating with friends at the Jack in the Box near the intersection when the shooting began.
Diaz, the deputy police chief, said there were numerous witnesses.

"We are highly confident we will be able to identify and capture this guy," he said.
Wednesday's violence comes after a month of high-profile shootings that began Feb. 7 when SWAT Officer Randal Simmons was killed during a siege with a San Fernando Valley man who had killed his family members.

Less than a week later in Oxnard, a 15-year-old boy was shot by a classmate. In Northeast Los Angeles on Feb. 21, Avenues gang members got into a shootout with police that left two dead and paralyzed a large swath of the city for much of the day. Two days later a Yorba Linda man killed his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself.

Monday night, a Baldwin Park man allegedly killed his mother and two neighbors.
Times staff writers Paloma Esquivel and Rich Connell contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


smf notes: Despite the repeated assurances in the public hearings from the Schwarzenegger-appointed State Board of Ed that the proposed remedies for PI school districts are not punishments, sanctions or penalties - but rather "interventions" - we have this:

"Schwarzenegger has vowed to make California the first state in the nation to embrace the penalty aspect
of the law."

By Juliet Williams, ASSOCIATED PRESS - from the San Diego Union Tribune

February 27, 2008 – SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday recommended severe or moderate sanctions for nearly half the 97 California school districts that have persistently failed to make progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Those districts, responsible for educating nearly one-third of California's public school students, face sanctions for the first time under the federal law because they have failed to meet achievement goals for four years.

Schwarzenegger has vowed to make California the first state in the nation to embrace the penalty aspect of the law.

“Students who have persistently lagged behind have suffered too long, and they need our help right now,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement issued before a scheduled news conference at a Sacramento school.

By intervening, the state can receive up to $45 million in federal money to help turn the districts around, the governor's office said.

The proposal Schwarzenegger reached with Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell calls for teams of experts to intervene and devise ways to boost student achievement.

Seven school districts face the harshest sanctions, which eventually could include replacing administrators or a takeover by the state.

They are: Greenfield Union Elementary in Monterey County; Arvin Union Elementary and Fairfax Elementary in Kern County; West Fresno Elementary in Fresno County; Ravenswood City Elementary in San Mateo County; Keppel Union Elementary in Los Angeles County; and Coachella Valley Unified in Riverside County.

Coachella, a district in far southeastern California with a high migrant population, faces the harshest sanctions. O'Connell wants the Riverside County Office of Education to become trustee of the district and will recommend that action to the state Board of Education.

Schwarzenegger favors using the same approach for each of the seven school districts, which begins with a performance assessment.

Coachella Valley Unified Superintendent Foch “Tut” Pensis said he was disappointed in the possibility that his district would be appointed a trustee.

He said his students, who are nearly all poor, have made some progress in recent years, even if they haven't met the benchmarks of the federal law.

“I understood that we needed harsh sanctions, but putting a trustee here in a district that's continued to make progress – I don't think it's needed,” he said.

Coachella opened itself to harsher sanctions by accepting a $2 million grant in 2005 to improve instruction for English-learner students.

On the list are 96 failing school districts and the Orange County Office of Education, which has responsibility for running some schools.

The failing districts have been split into four groups under the plan – those facing severe, moderate, light and other action. For many, that will mean teams of education experts that will assess the districts' curriculum, testing, teacher quality and other issues.

They will then recommend action to the state Board of Education, which must approve Schwarzenegger's plan before it can take effect.

Those deemed to need only light assistance will get technical help with problem areas, such as English-learner students or students with disabilities.

Schwarzenegger's embrace of No Child Left Behind marks a departure from the state's opposition to the six-year-old law, said Russlyn Ali, director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based policy and research group and a member of the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence.

But she is worried about how the state will pay for and implement the interventions. That concern is magnified by a state budget deficit of $16 billion and Schwarzenegger's own proposal to cut $4 billion in education spending in the budget year that begins July 1.

“On the one hand, I think it is magnanimous that the state is saying to these districts, 'You do not have to shoulder this burden alone.' On the other, don't make false promises,” Ali said. “If you're telling them you're going to shoulder the burden of this, then bring it.”

Some other states have begun to take action against consistently underperforming school districts, but none has approached the task in such a comprehensive way or faced challenges on such a daunting scale.

The districts facing sanctions are collectively responsible for educating about a third of California's 6.3 million students, nearly half of whom are considered poor. About a quarter do not speak English fluently.

The federal law sets broad benchmarks but leaves it up to states to implement the law, and some are further ahead than others.

Unlike initiatives in other states, California would implement a sliding scale of intervention actions depending on how poorly the districts have performed.

The affected California districts have schools that have failed to meet their goals under the law for each of the past four years.

Many have been quick to note that they have made progress, particularly in educating subgroups of students such as English-learners or minorities. But that is not enough under No Child Left Behind, which sets ever-higher expectations each year.

“You could do tremendous work every single year, but it doesn't count for a single thing under this law. What message does that send?” said Sherry Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators.

The group has met with state leaders as they negotiated the intervention plan, but Griffith said she is worried the state will establish an accountability system around a federal law that could change when it is reauthorized by Congress.

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Education Committee have said they would put off rewriting the law until later this year.

In his State of the State address in January, Schwarzenegger said he would make California the first in the nation to embrace the authority it was given under the federal law “to turn these districts around.”

“No more waiting,” he said. “We must act on behalf of the children.”

In a visit last month to California, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings praised the governor's intervention plan for the 97 districts.

Schwarzenegger has focused on the plan as the state struggles with a budget deficit that largely derailed his proposed “year of education reform” and forced him to propose major cuts to education.

He also has recommended suspending Proposition 98, the landmark education funding law* voters approved in 1988. That has prompted a statewide opposition campaign by the powerful California Teachers Association and its allies.

*Actually, Prop 98 is a Constitutional Ammendment

LAUSD's LEADERSHIP PROBLEM: The mayor has a team to guide his schools initiative, so what's holding the district back?


February 27, 2008: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has lined up an impressive team of experts for his education initiative. At the Los Angeles Unified School District, in contrast, key positions on the senior management team remain unfilled nearly a year and a half after David L. Brewer was named superintendent.

This has become an embarrassment.

Villaraigosa just added a top administrator from the San Diego school system as the superintendent of instruction for a handful of schools the mayor will oversee. He already has in place the former president of the highly regarded Green Dot charter schools, and Ramon C. Cortines, a respected former superintendent of the L.A. public schools.

The district's hiring picture looks like this: Desperately seeking a chief deputy superintendent and associate superintendent of instruction. Head lawyer is leaving Friday. Controller and other management positions also available.

To be sure, Brewer has been mightily distracted over the last year by the still-messy payroll fiasco. But this is exactly what the L.A. schools cannot afford to do, lurch from one issue-of-the-moment to another. Brewer, who has no real background in public education, has been either unwilling or unable to forge connections with the people who could help him locate and woo smart deputies. Under his stewardship, the district still lacks a strategic plan or even a few swift, top priorities to propel it forward.

This isn't all Brewer's fault. The new board is highly politicized and overly inclined to impose its own biases on Brewer's hiring decisions. It has failed as much as anyone to articulate a new vision. It's not the same board that hired Brewer, which puts him in a weak position to stand up to his employers. Residual bad feeling among the district's old guard continues to color its interactions with the mayor's office, which tried but failed to win a governance role in the schools. At the same time that all of this is roiling at the management level, the district's giant central bureaucracy slowly churns on, as impenetrable and unaccountable as ever.

By this time, Brewer's failure to hire his senior team is itself a disincentive to possible candidates. Both the district and its chief look lethargic and inexpert. This is the conundrum that faces the L.A. public schools: To attract good leadership, it has to have good leadership.

Democrats’ K-12 Views Differ, Subtly


Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., shake hands at the end of the Democratic presidential debate in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 21. —LM Otero/AP

Clinton Often Chides NCLB; Obama Open to Vouchers?

By David J. Hoff and Alyson Klein, Education Week -

Vol. 27, Issue 25, Pages 1,21-22

Throughout the presidential campaign, the leading Democrats have been speaking from a similar script on education—until this month, when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois suggested that he could be persuaded to support private school vouchers.

“If there was any argument for vouchers, it was ‘Let’s see if the experiment works,’ ” Sen. Sen. Obama told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 13. “And if it does, whatever my preconception, you do what’s best for kids.”

That statement diverges from the stance of U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who rejected any private-school-choice proposals in her interview with the same editors the next day.

Although Sen. Obama’s campaign has since downplayed his voucher comments, the exchange suggests that the two remaining Democratic contenders have subtle but important differences in their approaches to federal education policy, whether the topic is expanding school choice, rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act, or experimenting with new forms of teacher pay.

Sen. Obama, for example, believes the first step to fixing the NCLB law would be to ensure it is adequately funded, according to his campaign Web site. He also proposes changing the law’s testing policies “to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner.”

Sen. Clinton, meanwhile, suggests that the law needs to be substantially rewritten by improving the quality of tests and by adding new measures to its accountability system, such as graduation rates and scores on formative assessments.

The differences may not appear big to the typical voter, but they reflect the experiences of two candidates who have both been involved in education improvement efforts during their careers.

As first lady in Arkansas, Sen. Clinton worked on education policy issues, helping the state set educational standards and establish a teacher qualifying exam in the 1980s, said Catherine Brown, the domestic-policy adviser for the senator’s presidential campaign. Sen. Clinton also worked on education and social-welfare issues as a board member of the Children’s Defense Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group that lobbies for child-welfare needs.


Sen. Obama had significant experience working in Chicago in the 1990s as a grassroots organizer and as the chairman of an effort supporting community-based school reforms financed by the Annenberg Foundation.

“They both bring a lot of knowledge to the table,” said Cynthia G. Brown, the director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with links to prominent Democrats. (She is not related to Sen. Clinton’s domestic-policy adviser.)

And either candidate might be able to highlight educational issues in the general-election campaign to help attract bipartisan support against U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican nominee. Although Sen. McCain hasn’t outlined a detailed education platform, he has called the NCLB law a “good beginning” on the campaign trail and has promoted private-school-voucher plans during his 25 years in Congress. ("McCain Emphasizes School Choice, Accountability, But Lacks Specifics," Feb. 20, 2008.)

“I expect education will give [Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton] an opportunity to make important statements on an issue that’s not partisan,” said Ms. Brown of the Center for American Progress.

Questions of Choice

In the lengthy presidential nominating process, which reaches what may be a critical day for the Democratic rivals in the Ohio and Texas primaries next week, education hasn’t been a front-burner issue for either party.

Although Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have proposed plans to expand access to preschool and to reduce college costs, those plans haven’t received much attention.

In televised debates early in the process, the two of them and the other Democratic hopefuls criticized the No Child Left Behind law, which is one of President Bush’s top domestic accomplishments. Sen. Clinton voted for the law in 2001, before Mr. Obama was in Congress. But the candidates’ proposals to fix the law haven’t been widely discussed in debates or in stump speeches.

While Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama differ over how to fix the law, the biggest potential difference on education emerged when the issue of private school choice came up while they campaigned before the Feb. 19 Wisconsin primary.

School choice is a significant issue in the state because Milwaukee is the site of the longest-running publicly financed private-school- voucher program in the nation.

In answering a question about his stand on private school choice during his meeting with editors of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sen. Obama started by saying that he was skeptical about private school choice and spent most of his time explaining why.

“My view has been that you are not going to generate the supply of high-quality schools to meet the demand,” he said, according to a video posted on the newspaper’s Web site. “Instead, what you’re going to get is a few schools that cream the kids that are easiest to teach,” leaving groups such as students in special education in the public schools.

As he concluded his remarks, Sen. Obama suggested, though, that he could change his mind if a longitudinal study demonstrated increases in student achievement. The suggestion was a notable departure from the blanket opposition to vouchers that is standard for Democratic presidential candidates.

Such opposition is also a core position for the nation’s teachers’ unions, which are closely allied with the Democratic Party. Sen. Clinton has been endorsed by the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers, while its Illinois and Chicago affiliates have been working for Sen. Obama.

The 3.2 million-member National Education Association has yet to make an endorsement, although Mr. Obama has the support of its Illinois affiliate. ("Teachers' Unions Take Own Path on Election," Jan. 30, 2008.)

In her meeting at the Milwaukee newspaper the day after its session with Sen. Obama, Sen. Clinton didn’t waver in her opposition to government support for private school choice.

“I still have doubts about the constitutionality of a voucher system,” she told the newspaper’s editors. The senator said that if a district or state created a private-school-choice program, it would be hard to deny vouchers “to certain applicants despite what might be very serious concerns about [a private school’s] curriculum or approach.”

As an example, she said that voucher laws could permit public money to be used to send a student to a white supremacist’s school or a “school of the jihad.”

In a 2002 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland voucher program, which, like Milwaukee’s, allows parents to use the publicly funded tuition aid at religious schools.

Some school choice advocates in Wisconsin said they were heartened by Sen. Obama’s comments.

“I was very pleased to see that he was open to the evidence,” said Susan Mitchell, the president of School Choice Wisconsin, a Milwaukee- based nonprofit that advocates and performs outreach on behalf of school choice programs, and a political Independent. “I thought it was quite refreshing that he would say whatever is best for the children is where I would be. … We’re accustomed to people saying ‘no way—no matter what you tell me about how it works, we’re not going there.’ ”

Later, in a statement provided to Education Week, Sen. Obama’s campaign emphasized that the senator’s comments to the Milwaukee paper did not signal he had changed his opposition to private school choice.

“Senator Obama has always been a critic of vouchers, and expressed his long-standing skepticism in that interview,” the statement said. It added that the candidate has always voted against voucher proposals.

NCLB in Focus

While private school choice may be part of the debate during the presidential campaign, it’s unlikely the issue would be a defining issue for either Democrat if he or she won the presidency. But the next president is almost certain to play a significant role in the future of the No Child Left Behind law, which Congress is working to reauthorize. If Congress doesn’t complete the reauthorization this year, as many observers expect, the next president would put his or her stamp on the law’s revisions.

Both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have criticized the law as requiring too much testing. Under NCLB, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act first adopted under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, states must test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and mathematics.

In several campaign stops on behalf of his wife, former President Bill Clinton has called the law a “train wreck” and placed some of the blame for it on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, who made a high-profile endorsement of Sen. Obama late last month.

In a campaign stop in Keene, N.H., late last year, Sen. Clinton gave a detailed explanation of how she would change the law’s testing requirements.

“It is treating everybody as a little test-taker … and a lot of the curriculum has been eliminated in favor of teaching to the tests,” she said, according to a video that has been posted on the YouTube Web site. Under the law, tests should be changed to provide “individualized accountability based on how [individual] students do,” she added.

Sen. Clinton also favors revising the law to add new measures for determining school success, such as scores on Advanced Placement tests, graduation rates, and the results of formative assessments, said Catherine Brown, her domestic- policy adviser.

Sen. Obama has similar ideas to improve assessments by basing accountability decisions on individual student progress and making test results more useful to teachers.

He proposes to give states money “to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, [and] present and defend their ideas,” according to a fact sheet on educational issues distributed by the campaign. “These assessments will provide immediate feedback … so that teachers can begin improving student learning right away.”

Merit Pay

Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have made somewhat different comments on teacher pay, but a close examination of their proposals suggests that both would support extra pay for teachers who take on additional responsibilities within their schools. And both say any proposals for alternative forms of compensation would have to be developed with and supported by unions and teachers.

In a speech to the NEA’s annual convention in July, Sen. Obama appeared to endorse the concept of merit pay based on teachers’ effectiveness, although he emphasized rewards and said the pay would not be tied to “an arbitrary test score.”

A bill he introduced in 2006 would have created a pilot project to evaluate teachers based in part on the test scores of their students.

Under his campaign proposal, teachers could earn extra pay for learning new skills, such as earning a degree in special education, or taking on leadership roles, including serving as mentors for new teachers, said Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University who is advising the Obama campaign.

Sen. Clinton has endorsed meritpay plans that reward all school employees based on improvements in student achievement in the entire school. Her idea is modeled after the plan negotiated by the New York City public schools and the United Federation of Teachers. That union, like its national counterpart, the AFT, has endorsed Sen. Clinton.

Sen. Clinton also supports additional pay for teachers who work in subjects with a shortage of teachers, such as science and math, and in hard-to-staff schools, according to Ms. Brown, her adviser.

Monday, February 18, 2008

JUDGEMENT DAY FOR L.A. TEACHER UNION OFFICIALS: Three years after dissidents took control, a vote will rate their performance.



Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
'PROGRESSIVE FORCE': A.J. Duffy with then-Superintendent Roy Romer in 2005. "I am notorious," the union chief says. "I drive people crazy. I want it done yesterday."

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 18, 2008 — The band of left-wing, dissident back-benchers that took over the city teachers union three years ago faces a verdict this week on its revolution. United Teachers Los Angeles is holding elections, the results of which will affect not only teachers but also school-reform efforts and city politics.

UTLA's members are the 48,000 teachers, nurses and school psychologists in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The union's endorsements and street troops help elect city and state politicians, and can carry the most weight in school board elections. And UTLA can impede or propel various efforts to improve the education of the 700,000 students in the nation's second-largest school system.

The union's record over three tumultuous years will give members much to ponder. It includes lost elections, protracted contract struggles, an explosion of mostly non-union charter schools, the response to a botched payroll system and a still-evolving power equation involving Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Much of the spotlight will fall on 64-year-old A.J. Duffy, the passionate, volatile union president who is seeking a second three-year term. But an entire leadership slate faces a rank-and-file referendum. On bread-and-butter issues, Duffy points to a cumulative 8.5% salary raise and to achieving slightly smaller class sizes while maintaining health benefits. More broadly, his team has championed the idea of individual schools governing themselves -- with teachers in a leading role. The concept plays to mixed reviews among school reform experts.

"We are the most progressive force in education," Duffy said.

His main challengers are a former union vice president, Becki Robinson, 60, and a current vice president, 56-year-old Linda Guthrie -- who, like Duffy, is fielding a slate of officers. Both challengers have high-level union leadership experience that predates Duffy's.

They rate Duffy's performance on standard contract issues as only fair, and fault him for "losing" Locke High School to a charter company and surrendering the school board to a majority endorsed by Villaraigosa. They also echo outside critics, who cast Duffy as frequently an obstacle, someone who can be obstreperous and rude, not to mention unwilling to embrace needed reforms.

"I am notorious," said Duffy, who also can be charming. "I drive people crazy. I want it done yesterday."

Teachers' mailed-in ballots will be collected and counted Thursday. Only 29% voted in the previous election.

Duffy unseated one-term incumbent John Perez, in close alliance with dissidents who had gradually built a following through their writings and activism. The leftward edge in a left-leaning union, this group had opposed many union initiatives as not sufficiently principled or progressive.

Perez said he found it particularly galling that during his tenure they argued against hard-won salary settlements that were among the highest in the county.

"For 20 years, they've been haranguing the membership, telling them that the union's weak, that it can't protect them," Perez said of the dissident group that Duffy later allied himself with. "For 20 years, they've said no to every effort to develop a union-brand charter school.

"And Duffy -- Duffy's always been one of those guys who took after the leadership no matter who it was."

And then Duffy became the leader, promptly walking into the storm of Villaraigosa's bid for control of L.A. Unified. UTLA opposed mayoral control, but Duffy later agreed to compromise legislation without going first to his membership -- a mistake, he said. His membership ultimately voted to oppose the legislation, and the courts threw it out.

The mayor's fallback was to elect allies to the school board, which again put him at odds with UTLA.

Until last year, the school board was controlled by candidates the union had endorsed, but it lost that majority to Villaraigosa in two stages. In 2006, the union spent at least $200,000 trying to elect UTLA staffer Christopher Arellano, but his campaign collapsed after revelations about a past criminal record and exaggerated academic credentials. Winner Monica Garcia sided uniformly with Villaraigosa.


Then last year, UTLA split two races with the mayor's allies, while sitting out two others won by his picks.

"Our strong suit was not in the political sphere," said Joshua Pechthalt, a union vice president, also running for reelection, who teamed his dissident faction with Duffy. Taking over UTLA "was a wake-up call in terms of how much more work needs to be done to organize our chapters and our teachers. And that is something you don't understand until you are sitting in the position and you have to move the project forward."

As in the dissident days, said Pechthalt, part of the job is putting up resistance. The union upended a plan to save money by combining classes midyear at schools where enrollment had fallen. Principals, parents and students didn't like this proposal either, but scrapping it added to district expenses.

So did winning health benefits for part-time cafeteria workers, which had UTLA's full support. In Duffy's view, every new dollar spent in the service of teachers, other school staff or students helps starve a spendthrift, largely superfluous central-office bureaucracy. UTLA and the district have yet to settle on salaries for the current school year; Duffy insists that he'll get teachers a raise.

Much of last year was dominated by the district's malfunctioning payroll system, which over- or underpaid thousands of teachers. Duffy's critics fault his response as either tepid or too combative.

The mantra of local control has become the union's answer to charter schools. And at a handful of schools, the district and union are working together to develop schools with "charter-like" freedoms over budget, hiring and curriculum.

"Even though Duffy came in huffing and puffing, he's at least respectful of the need for progress and trying to do things differently," said Janet Landon, a drama teacher at Wright Middle School in Westchester.

But that hasn't stopped 129 charter schools from opening within L.A. Unified territory. Nor could the union stop the school board from turning over Locke High in South Angeles to Green Dot Public Schools, a locally based charter school organization that is unionized, but not with UTLA.

In the campaign, Duffy and Guthrie, the vice president for secondary schools, have blamed each other for "losing Locke."

Green Dot founder Steve Barr said the focus instead should be on how to save Locke's struggling students.

It's all too little, too late for English teacher Tiffany Holm, 27, who left her job last fall at Belmont High.

"I was extremely burned out," said Holm, who, during her final semester, worked as a "traveling teacher," someone who moves with a cart from class to class, because she didn't have her own room. She has no issue with the union, but teaching became "a lot of stress and pressure with almost no support, while I'm trying to teach my class well."


School attendance falls and emotions rise in Roswell after a senior falls into the hands of immigration authorities.

Mark Wilson / Associated Press

DISENCHANTMENT: The illegal immigration debate roiled this eastern New Mexico city with the deportation of a pregnant high school senior. Her supporters wave signs along a downtown street. There were also protests in support of the action.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants had the right to attend public schools and that educators could not ask students whether they were in the country legally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy against entering campuses.

...but, to 4LAKids it appears that in Roswell a single policeman with with his own attitude about aliens does it his way.

by Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 18, 2008 ROSWELL, N.M. — This conservative city on the barren eastern plains of New Mexico long had been spared the acrimonious debates over illegal immigration that have racked so much of the Southwest.
That is, until December, when immigration enforcement entered the murky terrain of the local high school.

A school security officer stopped Karina Acosta, an 18-year-old pregnant Roswell High School senior, and discovered she was in the country illegally. He called federal immigration authorities, who swiftly deported her.

The district superintendent protested and the officer was removed from the school and transferred back to the city Police Department. About three dozen angry students and parents marched on police headquarters -- a notable event in a town not accustomed to controversy -- and were met by a handful of counterdemonstrators who backed the officer.

The schools suffered a sudden drop in attendance as students whose parents were in the country illegally kept them home. The local newspaper was peppered with angry letters to the editor denouncing illegal immigrants. And even two months later, unease permeates the community.

"What shocked me more than anything is what it did to this town," said Coreta Justus, one of Acosta's teachers. In the classroom, she said, "you can feel the difference vibrating from the students. I don't think they have those safety feelings anymore. School used to be a very safe place."

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants had the right to attend public schools and that educators could not ask students whether they were in the country legally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy against entering campuses.

But local police forces like Roswell's are increasingly being pressured to crack down on illegal immigrants.

"You have legislatures that say one thing, a Supreme Court that has ruled something else," said Scott Douglass, Roswell's interim police chief.

"The country's not giving really clear signals."
Douglass defended his officer, saying he was obligated to call immigration officials once he learned that Acosta was in the country illegally.
There have been cases elsewhere of local police arresting illegal immigrants at schools to be deported. Last year in Tucson, police were called to a high school because a ninth-grader was caught with marijuana. When the student's family arrived, they arrested the student, his mother and his brother and handed them over for deportation.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued the Albuquerque Police Department in 2005 after officers called the Border Patrol to a local high school. In a settlement last year, police agreed to stop asking residents about their immigration status.

"A school should be a safe haven, and any sort of law enforcement related to immigration status should be very, very limited," said Marisol Perez, an attorney with the Mexican American legal advocacy group. That conflicts with the widely held opinion that police should be free to ask suspects whether they are in the country legally, she noted.

Roswell, the home of the New Mexico Military Institute, is an island of motels, gas stations and modest houses. For decades, illegal immigrants have come here to work in the surrounding dairies and ranches, mixing with Latino families whose ancestors settled here before the land was part of the United States.

In the city, 44% of residents and 60% of students are Latino. Roswell is also home to a number of Border Patrol agents, and the agency has a training facility 40 miles to the south.

Karina Acosta came to Roswell from Mexico in 2004. Her teachers say that at first she felt alienated from other students and wanted to return to her home country, but slowly adjusted. Polite and industrious, she improved immensely in school and started working with her mother in a fast-food restaurant.

On Nov. 27, she was driving her friend Brenda Molina and Molina's brother to school. Stopping in a fire lane outside the neighboring middle school to drop off the brother, she caught the attention of Roswell police Officer Charlie Corn, Roswell High's safety officer.

According to Molina and a written account from Acosta's mother, Bertha, Corn pulled up behind Acosta in the high school parking lot. When Acosta admitted she didn't have a license, Corn asked her whether she was in the country legally. Corn told her to bring proof of legal residency the next day.

Acosta did not see Corn for several days. On Dec. 5, Corn ordered Acosta to his office and called immigration authorities on his cellphone. The immigration officials told him to hold her for deportation, according to Douglass, the police chief.

Acosta's mother said in her statement that she rushed to the school and Corn handed her his cellphone and told her to talk to the immigration official, but she declined.

Bertha Acosta could not be reached for comment; friends say she is terrified. Corn said he had been directed not to comment. Teachers and students complain that Corn frequently asked Latino students to prove they were in the country legally and got one other youth deported several years ago.

Corn's supporters say he has no racial biases and point out that his wife is Latina.

After news of the deportation broke, teachers say, parents refused to let illegal immigrant children go to school.

Some teachers may secretly approve of the deportation but don't realize how it affected students, said one of Acosta's teachers, Dolores Fresquez.

"My kids from Mexico are angry and hurt," Fresquez said. Supporters of the deportation "don't understand how many in this school are here illegally."

One of the counterdemonstrators at police headquarters Dec. 14 was Jack Satterfield, 53, whose youngest daughter goes to Roswell High School and deals with classes crowded by, he believes, illegal immigrants. A retired construction worker, he thinks Corn's action "was great. Our schools are so overpopulated. The majority of the people agreed with it."
City leaders are eager to put the incident behind them.

"This was a first-time occurrence and hopefully a last-time occurrence," City Councilman James Monteith said. "I have no ill thoughts about that man [Corn], and I feel terribly sorry for her."
But mutual distrust lingers. Latino activists say the problem extends beyond Acosta's deportation. Tales are rampant of Latinos pulled over by police for alleged traffic violations and questioned about their immigration status.
Adolfo Reyes, 38, a U.S. citizen, said that happened to him in December. Combined with the deportation, it has made him worry about what could happen to his children if they're stopped by authorities.

"We're concerned they're going to call [immigration] on our kids," Reyes said. "Our kids don't carry their birth certificates or IDs."
Douglass said the Police Department was still trying to determine when it was appropriate to ask residents about their immigration status.

"I've been trying to educate myself and hammer out a policy," Douglass said. The Acosta case has "muddied the spring pretty good, and it's hard to have any clear direction."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

LAUSD Eyes Hotel Boycott

San Fernando Valley Business Journal Online - San Fernando Valley California business news"


The Valley Industry & Commerce Association has raised concerns over a proposed boycott of hotels by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

On Feb. 12, a motion was introduced at the LAUSD board of education meeting that calls for the district to refrain from holding conferences, professional development seminars and related events at hotels in the Los Angeles International Airport area that are not unionized or do not pay workers a living wage.

This year alone the district has spent $185,123 on hotels, according to the Daily Breeze.

VICA membership has suggested that the district’s recent overtures to businesses for education partnerships may be undermined if the board voted for such a boycott.

The school district board votes on the proposal Feb. 26.

LAUSD says it's pay to play time

By Paul Clinton, Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

02/16/2008  - For the local youth groups that use the gyms and fields of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the free ride is over.

Soccer leagues, volleyball clubs and basketball groups that have had gratis access to LAUSD facilities from the Harbor Area to Carson will need to pony up beginning March 1.

smf notes: Though the Daily Breeze is rightfully South Bay-centric, the fees described will be applied districtwide.

The district will charge the groups fees to defray usage costs and raise revenue, officials said.

At a Thursday facilities committee meeting, the move gained the support of Richard Vladovic, the San Pedro-to-Watts representative on the LAUSD board.

Vladovic initially opposed the fees but changed his position after Sacramento lawmakers told the district it would need to cut $460 million from its 2008-09 budget.

"The reality of the times right now is we have to find a way to cut a half-billion dollars," said David Kooper, Vladovic's chief of staff.

Hundreds of nonprofit youth groups across LAUSD have begun bracing for the bills to use district facilities and athletic fields as the district launches the controversial "pay to play" program.

The revenue would offset annual facilities costs of $3.8 million.

Not surprisingly, the fees aren't being greeted warmly.

Albert Hannemann's Dig 4 Kids provides weekly tutoring, volleyball and fitness activities at Carson High for local middle and elementary school students.

"This is ridiculous," Hannemann said. "They're trying to make up shortfalls in other

areas, so they're going to charge nonprofits."

The group might have to pay more than $500 for its 10-week program.

The fees won't affect groups contracted by LAUSD to run after-

school programs at schools under the Beyond the Bell banner.

As one example, the district pays 30 Boys and Girls Clubs in the Los Angeles area about $6 million to provide programs.

Smaller local groups will be paying the fees. More than a half-dozen other South Bay area groups would be affected. Here's a short list:

Sharks Basketball and Raptors/Pistons Basketball at Dana Middle School in San Pedro.

Big for Kids, Blazers Girls Basketball and Force Soccer Club at Narbonne High School in Harbor City.

South Bay F.O.R. Junior Sports Association, based in Gardena.

Wilmington YMCA submitted an application to run a soccer league at Wilmington Middle School and might not be able to afford the fees, said Kathryn Friedman, who manages the issuance of the permits.

Most school districts in the South Bay already charge local groups to use gyms and fields.

"Schools can't afford to run themselves, let alone provide services for groups in the community," said Manhattan Beach school board President Amy Howorth. "If you've got volleyball teams in (your gym) every night pounding the court, there's going to be wear and tear."

In LAUSD, about 700 to 1,000 youth groups would be affected. The district hopes the fees will generate $2.1 million in revenue next year.

Under the LAUSD plan, groups will either be charged $10 an hour or $25.50 an hour, depending on whether they can show they serve LAUSD students. They also must pay a $5 daily charge and buy a $77.10 four-month permit.

Some groups are exempt, including the Boy and Girl Scouts and parent-teacher associations.


Staff writer Brandon Lowrey contributed to this article.


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

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

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

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


By Harrison Sheppard and Steve Geissinger

San José Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

Article Launched: 02/16/2008 01:35:26 AM PST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other cuts authorized by the Legislature included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


from The Associated Press

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

• Cut $167.6 million from the budgets of various departments and state agencies.

• Delayed $1.1 billion in payments to public schools from July to September, but exempted some school districts that would be so short of funding they would qualify for an emergency appropriation from the state.

• Adopted a 10 percent cut in payments to doctors and other health care providers who serve patients in Medi-Cal, a health care program for the poor.

• Delayed cost-of-living increases for welfare families and elderly and disabled poor until Oct. 1.

• Cut school spending by $506 million.

• Reduced funding for regional centers, which provide services for people with developmental disabilities.

• Deferred gasoline tax payments to cities and counties for April through August until September.

• Delayed appointment of 60 new judges.

• Delayed payment of state support for the teachers' retirement fund until November.

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


Source: Assembly Budget Committee



By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delay could prove costly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Managers Help Principals Balance Time

Education Week

Published Online: February 11, 2008

Published in Print: February 13, 2008

collection logo

by Christina A. Samuels | EdWeek

Stone Mountain, Ga.

Most principals probably hope that at least half their working day is spent in meaningful interactions with teachers and students.

But that’s not likely.

Investigators who shadowed principals for a week showed that a crush of managerial duties allowed them to spend only a third of their day—or less—on tasks that involved interaction with students and teachers. And often, the contact that did occur was too short and unfocused to lead to real instructional improvement.

A national project aimed at improving school leaders’ effectivenessRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader is seeking to change that situation by supporting the hiring of “school administration managers” in schools. Such administrators take over the managerial tasks that are important to a smooth-running school but have little to do directly with learning.

At the same time, the SAMs, as they are called, are asked to focus the principals’ attention on being good instructional coaches by keeping their schedules and actively directing the principals toward classroom work. Some of the principals are also receiving additional leadership training in constructive coaching techniques.

37 Districts

Launched with three schools in the 98,000-student Jefferson County, Ky., district, the foundation-backed initiative has now spread to more than 200 schools in 37 districts and seven states, with an eighth state set to join in July. A group of principals and SAMs gathered for the first time in this Atlanta suburb earlier this month to compare notes on their progress and to offer encouragement to districts considering the model, which has been called both transformative and challenging.

“I can’t imagine life without this,” said Kent Stock, the middle school principal of the 1,000-student Oak Ridge School in Marion, Iowa. His K-8 school has had a SAM since last March; she splits her time between working with him and with the school’s elementary principal, Dan Ludwig.

At the same time, Mr. Stock said, it was hard to let go of some of the managerial jobs that had once taken up most of his time. Though such tasks as reconciling time sheets for classified school personnel were tedious, they offered immediate satisfaction.

“You would work and say, OK, I’ve got that solved. But it wasn’t meaningful,” he said. Since a SAM came to the school, the proportion of time he spends on instructional matters has tripled, from an average of 12 percent of his day to 36 percent, and he’s hoping to see more improvement as the program continues.

For her part, Janelle Steichen, the Oak Ridge SAM, said she’s gratified to be helping the principals focus on student learning. “The staff and our community got on board really quickly,” said Ms. Steichen, a former teacher and an aspiring principal. Parents and teachers find her easy to reach, and she believes some issues, such as discipline, are diminished because the students see principals more often.

Katie Mulholland, the superintendent of the 6,300-student Linn-Mar school district, which includes Oak Ridge, said other principals in the district are “just waiting in line” for their chance to take part in the program.

“We want to change the whole concept of what it means to be a principal,” she said. “We already see the change in kids.”

Mark Shellinger, a former principal and the national SAMs expansion coordinator, said the initiative began in 2002 with a study of more than 20 principals in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Louisville. It is financed by the New York City-based Wallace Foundation, which underwrites coverage of leadership issues in Education Week.

5-Minute Increments

Changes Over Time

Phillip Poore, a principal in Louisville, Ky., has devoted an increasing amount of his workdays to instructional issues, as indicated by how he’s spent his time each November for four years.

SOURCE: Wallace Foundation

At the beginning of the process, trained observers kept track of principals’ tasks in five-minute increments. The results were eye-opening: Most of the principals guessed that they spent half their day, or more, on instruction. The average, though, was more like 30 percent, Mr. Shellinger said.

The principal’s job is “interrupt driven,” he noted. Instead of focusing on one task for an extended period, principals are expected to supervise lunch shifts, manage transportation, deal with parents, dole out discipline, handle budgets, and juggle a number of minor crises that may arise.

Many principals like that job description, he said, because the rewards are quick and praise is immediate. But the pressure on principals to take responsibility for academic achievement has intensified. Schools need more than a “fixer” at the helm, he believes.

With the support of the Jefferson County district and the foundation, three of the principals who were originally shadowed in the study each received a full-time school administration manager. The job description was based on the SAM position already in place in the 12,000-student Victor Elementary District in Victorville, Calif. That district has had SAMs since 1992, but had not tracked their effectiveness.

In just a year, the three Jefferson County principals with SAMs went through a time-tracking study again. They saw a dramatic increase in the time they spent in classrooms, which allowed them to do such tasks as teaching lessons or joining in classroom projects.

Phillip Poore, the principal of the Schaffner Traditional Elementary, was one of the first principals to receive a SAM when he was at the Cochran Elementary School. In his former school, the SAM was a full-time staff member. In his current placement, some of the SAM tasks have been added to an existing staff position.

In both Louisville schools, the SAM has done “a lot to help me keep my focus on instruction,” Mr. Poore said. That’s particularly important for him, he said, as a newly installed administrator. It’s also important to make the extra time that’s available to be with teachers and students worthwhile, Mr. Poore said. “Now that I know what my day is going to look like, I’ve got to make this count,” he said. “It has to really matter.”

Mr. Shellinger stressed that the point of the initiative is not simply to place a new administrative assistant in a school. “A lot of principals will look at this and say, ‘Oh, I have another person; my life will be nirvana.’ That’s not it at all,” he said. “It requires good communication and trust.”

Daily Records

The concept isn’t new, said Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. He said the challenge is in getting school boards to accept any extra expense, and in encouraging principals to let go of managerial tasks that are familiar.

Then and Now
Martha McCarthy, the principal of Mojave Vista
Elementary School in Victorville, Calif.,
describes the change in her practice after
working closely with a school administration manager, or SAM.

Shedding Old Habits
• Giving up my calendar
• Giving up my e-mails
• Giving up my cellphone during instructional day;
only two people are authorized to call me
• Giving up my computer
• Relying on executive secretary
• Delegating tasks to SAM

Learning New Routines
• Conducting classroom walk-throughs
• Leading student discussions
• Collecting data on classroom practices
• Offering feedback
• Coaching and evaluating teachers
• Providing staff development
• Fostering a collaborative culture

“Most principals have not been selected on a premise that they’re going to be great instructional leaders,” he said. “They’re picked because people think, yeah, they’re going to keep a lid on this place.”

In 2006, the program spread to several more districts in Kentucky, including Fayette County. In that 35,000-student system, seven principals have school administration managers. The principals in the SAMs program are undergoing additional training in effective coaching techniques.

“The whole SAM program is definitely cutting-edge leadership,” said Superintendent Stuart Silberman.

As the program has expanded, it has focused on a handful of components. Principals must have an in-depth analysis conducted on the way they’re spending their time. They must agree to meet daily with their SAM, and keep daily records of their tasks and the time they spend on them. Principals and SAMs also meet monthly with an outside coach, who works with both on ways to increase the time principals spend on instruction.

Mr. Shellinger is investigating whether school administration managers can be effective at the middle and high school levels. The schools are also adopting different models of managers, from hiring new personnel to adding tasks to a position that previously existed.

The Victor Elementary district in California has had several schools join the program so they can take a close look at the role of SAMs in improving principal effectiveness. “When we put the positions in place, we didn’t consider how to quantify the value and impact of the SAM, which is what this study has done so well,” said Janet S. Young, the assistant superintendent for personnel services.

Coverage of district-level improvement efforts is underwritten in part by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.



How would you assess the union’s current leadership, and what should its role be in improving Los Angeles schools? David Tokofsky and Lisa Snell debate.

Today, Tokofsky and Snell discuss how UTLA can lend itself to improving L.A. schools. Previously, they weighed options for students enrolled in low-performing campuses. Later in the week, they'll discuss vouchers, breaking up the school district and more.

So many bureaucratic distractions

By David Tokofsky

With all empathy for those who truly suffer with bipolar disorder, I find that my union for 12 years, United Teachers Los Angeles, may in fact have this difficult-to-treat psychological condition. Many, however, might want to classify the leaders of the nearly 50,000-member union as instead having O.D.D., or Opposition Disposition Disorder — every time their red t-shirts are in the news, they are protesting some government injustice or district boondoggle. A closer analysis may shrink the true disorder as either organizational manic depression or perhaps A.D.D. — what Garrison Keillor, the cultural anthropologist on National Public Radio, rightly identifies as Affection Deficit Disorder.

With all these potential afflictions, it is no wonder we cannot love our teachers organization as much as we love our individual classroom instructors.

Teachers generally rally behind UTLA when it is criticized because the union is in fact a very democratic body. Unfortunately, few members vote in officer elections. Yet no one prevents members from voting or participating. Not only is the union a highly democratic body, but UTLA also serves its members' needs fairly well. Its leadership enforces a lengthy contract rigorously and knowledgeably. UTLA fights for the delineated needs of its members by collectively bargaining with a district management that often cannot shape any coherent vision or define accountability, responsibility or good teaching. On these measures, the union earns a very good to excellent score.

As for truly assessing the silent majority of teachers' inner aspirations to change kids' lives, and putting that cause first, UTLA only from time to time advocates for the professional growth of its members. Too often, however, poorly planned or ideologically driven initiatives from mid-level bureaucrats in the Los Angeles Unified School District distract UTLA leaders. In those cases, the union criticizes the Los Angeles Board of Education or state rather than addressing the professional agenda of curriculum, instruction and assessment. Instead of hearing from all of its members through polling or customer demands and satisfaction, UTLA leaders often shape the debate themselves and win the salary and benefits agenda. Consequently, they don't often pay much attention to quality teaching, curriculum transformation and professional growth.

Granted, some past union presidents have seen success in this arena — namely, Helen Bernstein, Day Higuchi and John Perez. But ultimately, professional dignity is defined dominantly by dollars and salary without any parallel progress on change in the teaching profession.

Indeed, this is the bipolar problem facing all teachers' unions. It is caused ultimately by inadequate state funding and is exacerbated by local ineptitude. The problem is further fanned by salary victories from California's small pot of money compared to New York, Kentucky, Connecticut and other states. The current union leadership understands that it must not just fight district bureaucracy; it must also make the budget pie grow. Teachers unions in San Francisco, San Diego, Montebello and Santa Monica are moving forward by putting parcel taxes on their June ballots to replace funds cut by the distant state Legislature and governor. In L.A., the union leadership is only now moving slowly forward. It didn't previously because of several major distractions over the last few years, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed district takeover, ideological debates over charter schools and school board elections, which change the board's composition every two years.
It is enough to classify the system as manic-depressive. And while the leaders of UTLA and the district often engage in a co-dependant death dance, the two of us nonetheless do care more about our schools than the city government cares about its failings. Indeed, we hope more for improvement by schools and teachers unions than we do for cities cleaning up our parks.

Hopefully, UTLA will swing toward its less advocated pole of professionalism and balance itself without the electroshock of losing students and, consequently, teachers. Whether the district loses its students and families to charters or cheaper housing in other counties, declining enrollment means fewer teachers hired and dues paid to UTLA. We all wait for the union to embody the collective love we give our teachers, but that may be as impossible as bringing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama together.

David Tokofsky was an L.A. Board of Education member for 12 years. Before that, he taught social studies and Spanish at John Marshall High School for 12 years.

Move to a "thin contract" model

By Lisa Snell

The current UTLA leadership is too focused on more money for teachers and status quo reforms such as smaller class sizes and opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act. David, we should not be resistant to looking at other innovative labor models to improve student achievement in L.A. Unified.

The best way for the union to serve students in Los Angeles would be to get out of the way and stop subjecting schools to tedious rules that restrict decision-making at the school level.
The latest trend in public school labor relations is for teachers to trade more professionalism, money and flexibility for less bureaucratic rules that dictate every interaction between staff and management. Student achievement can improve when principals have more control over personnel and more decision-making power over day-to-day operations at the school.

We currently have several good models that offer a road map for changing the labor model for public education. Green Dot's charter school model, pilot schools within districts in Boston and Los Angeles, and entire districts like New York City's are pointing the way to a new labor model for public schools. The goal should be to liberate teachers by getting rid of prescriptive work rules, lock-step pay and automatic tenure rules in exchange for more pay and flexibility and more professional teaching opportunities.

In Los Angeles, Green Dot offers one new labor model. The contract for Green Dot teachers is 33 pages; L.A. Unified's is more than 300. The Green Dot contract doesn't dictate day-to-day operations like the number of minutes a teacher can work in a school day or the number of days in a school year. Instead, it calls for "a professional workday," where teachers are required to do what is necessary to help students succeed — including multiple roles that include advising students and maintaining contact with parents.

Green Dot teachers can choose guaranteed retirement benefits or higher salaries and a self-managed 401(k) plan. According to a Nov. 11 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, teachers have overwhelmingly chosen 401(k) plans. Green Dot's contract does not offer tenure or seniority preferences, yet a fourth-year Green Dot teacher makes $8,000 more a year than a member of the traditional Los Angeles teachers union.

The Green Dot contract allows teachers to be fired for "just cause," and employees can challenge termination through a grievance procedure. Green Dot pushes decision-making down to the school level with very few administrators involved. Despite the use of a "thin contract" at Green Dot, many L.A. Unified teachers are willing to work with fewer job guarantees in exchange for a more professional day and higher pay. This year, Green Dot had 1,300 applicants for 90 teaching positions.

Pilot schools within larger school districts have also negotiated modified union contracts that offer teachers and principals more flexibility. For example, both Boston pilot schools and the new Belmont zone of choice in Los Angeles operate on a three-page contract that is basically a memorandum of understanding negotiated between the district and the union. The contract language from the Boston teachers union, for example, explicitly exempts the pilot schools from union work rules, allowing each individual pilot school to set hours of operation, schedules and decide on employee roles and obligations that best meet the needs of individual schools. If these exemptions work for small numbers of schools within a district, why not expand the modified contract to cover all schools within a district?

New York offers the most significant example of how a larger union can move toward simpler and more rational contracts in exchange for higher pay and more job opportunities. While New York's contract is far from the Green Dot or pilot-school model, it demonstrates a larger union willing to move toward more local control over personnel and practices.

New York revitalized the way it hired teachers by adopting an "open market" system. New York ended "bumping" and "force placing," practices that forced principals to hire teachers even if they weren't qualified or a good fit for the school. Now, through a new "open market hiring system," more than 3,000 experienced teachers applied for open jobs and were selected directly by principals for vacancies across the district.
The New York Department of Education (DOE) also worked with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to actually change the contract to include more flexible work rules in exchange for higher pay. The contract allows DOE to recruit and retain the high-quality teachers that New York students need and increases teacher pay by 15%. In exchange, the contract also gives DOE the ability to create "Lead Teacher" positions with a $10,000 salary differential, giving principals a powerful new tool to recruit experienced, talented teachers to high-need schools.

The DOE and UFT also created a $15,000 housing incentive for experienced math, science and special-education teachers who agree to teach for at least three years in high-needs schools. The agreement provides struggling students an additional 150 minutes every week in small-group instruction so they get the help they need to catch up during the school year.

Teachers and students at L.A. Unified would benefit from more flexibility in work rules that may not always be in the best interest of the teacher or the student. Principals would benefit from more control over personnel and day-to-day decision-making. Everyone would benefit from a simpler contract that treats teachers more like professionals.

Lisa Snell is director of education and child welfare at the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.