Thursday, September 30, 2010

CELEBRITIES AND CANDIDATES COME TOGETHER FOR ARTS EDCATION: Jack Black, Ben McKenzie, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Taylor Dayne, Wil-Dog Abers and others joined the two candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Assemblymember Tom Torlakson and Larry Aceves, at a forum to discuss the future of arts education in California

CNBC/The California Alliance for Arts Education |

LOS ANGELES, Sep 30, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The California Alliance for Arts Education and the Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County presented "Education, Creativity and California's Future" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Wednesday September 29th.

<< Actor Jack Black and 24th Street Theatre artistic director Debbie Devine

The forum featured celebrities including Jack Black, Ben McKenzie and others discussing arts education and asking questions of the two candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Assemblymember Tom Torlakson and Larry Aceves.

The goal of the forum was to discuss the plight and promise of arts education in California public schools.

Jack Black was introduced by his former teacher, Debbie Devine, Artistic Director for the 24th Street Theatre. Black spoke about the importance of arts education in his life remarking, "My life was quickly swirling around the toilet bowl about to be flushed.... I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't met Deb Devine, my first drama teacher, who inspired me and for the first time gave me a reason to really love going to school. (She) opened my mind and soul to an exciting world of literature and communication."

He continued, "Because it's theater ... I never thought of it as straight up education, I thought of it as an incredibly exciting, fun experience, and all of sudden I knew all these new things and had this incredible education."

Laurie Schell, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, said, "Every one of the panelists that appeared today is a former student of the arts and is now a working professional artist. This forum is a great opportunity to shine a spotlight, literally, on the role arts education plays in developing well rounded, creative individuals who can become actors and musicians but who more often become engineers, teachers, parents, Internet entrepreneurs or business leaders."

Schell went on to say, "We are grateful that both candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Torlakson and Aceves, made a commitment today to maintaining a central role for the arts in California's education system. And lest they forget, the Alliance and our partners will be here on November 3rd, the day after the election, to make sure that commitment is kept."

Both candidates expressed their support for arts education.

Assemblymember Tom Torlakson said, "I'm here because I do believe, like you, that we can turn things around and bring back that well-rounded experience, to create well-rounded graduates who have the opportunity to explore their talents in many dimensions."

Larry Aceves, a former school Superintendent said, "The arts are not an add-on that you cut, the arts are part of how children learn. The problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity are not an extra, they are how children learn."

"Students need to have access to all subjects so they can find out what they are passionate about and pursue it, because it's going to be hard work whatever you choose, but if you don't love it, it's going to be really hard work," said Ben McKenzie, star of "Southland" and former star of "The O.C."

He continued, "[We need to] keep arts education as a core part of any child's education, as opposed to some kind of supplemental extra curricular thing that we can cut at whim."

Legendary Motown writer/producer Lamont Dozier said, "We all know that if you help nurture a passion for the arts in kids, it'll keep them off the street and give them something to dream about and reach for."

Actor, director and musician Malcolm Jamal Warner said, "People are coming together and trying to make sure that the next Superintendent of Public Instruction really understands how strong we all feel about the importance of arts education."

In addition to the California Alliance for Arts Education and the Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County the forum sponsors and partners included: California State PTA, Ovation, The Boeing Company, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), Yamaha, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and NBC Universal.

Attendees included: LARRY ACEVES: Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction TOM TORLAKSON: Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction JACK BLACK: Actor and musician, star of "School of Rock" and Tenacious D WIL-DOG ABERS: Bassist, Ozomatli LITA ALBUQUERQUE: Painter, sculptor, installation and environmental artist TAYLOR DAYNE: Singer and Songwriter LAMONT DOZIER: Grammy and Academy Award winning songwriter and producer, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriter's Hall of Famer BEN MCKENZIE: Actor, star of TV's "Southland" and former star of "The O.C." MALCOLM JAMAL WARNER: Actor, director and musician, former star of "The Cosby Show"

The California Alliance for Arts Education is in its fourth decade of building a brighter future for our state by making the arts a core part of every child's education. It works to ensure that the six-million pre K-12 public school children in California have access to quality, standards-based classes in dance, music, theatre and visual arts. They accomplish this by influencing state policy, by building a statewide network of local coalitions, and by inspiring public advocacy. The California Alliance for Arts Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that does not engage in electoral activities.

FROM CHINATOWN TO CHINA: Learning world languages in L.A. schools


By Jacquie Levy | The South Los Angeles Report | USC Annenberg School for Communication |

imageThursday, Sept. 30, 2010 -- Seated in a folding chair in the middle of Chinatown’s historic West Plaza, seven-year-old Aidan Garner’s short legs dangled his little feet above the ground as a concentrated expression washed over his face. He dipped a calligraphy brush almost as long as his whole arm into a bowl of black paint, and meticulously copied a series of connected lines from the paper beside him onto the newspaper in front of him. As an American-born, second-grade student, Garner had just done something that most American adults will never be able to do: he had written the Mandarin Chinese character for ‘moon cake’. As his mother looked proudly over his shoulder smiling, Garner declared, “I’m writing Chinese, it’s fun and easy!”

On that particular Saturday evening in Chinatown, the smell of Chinese food was especially strong and the clamor of voices was exceedingly loud. A diverse crowd of all ages and ethnicities from all over Los Angeles came to experience the 72nd annual Chinese celebration of the new autumn harvest moon, known as the Mid Town Moon Festival. While there were lots of exciting, kid-friendly activities like performances by Shaolin warriors and contortionists, Chinese cooking demonstrations, zodiac face painting, craft tables and ping-pong contests, many children were drawn to a more subdued activity: the Mandarin calligraphy workshop hosted by the UCLA Confucius Institute.

A young volunteer at the station who referred to himself as "the white guy who speaks Chinese," enticed curious children and adults with the simple question, “Wanna give it a try?” Intrigued by the challenge, participants sat down at the U-shaped setup of folding tables that was scattered with newspapers, paint, and pictures of Chinese words commonly associated with the Moon Festival. George Yu, the Executive Director of Chinatown’s Business Improvement District, watched his 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth Yu and her 12-year-old friend Felicia Hano receive some personal Mandarin instruction from Qin Huang, a petite and expressive Confucius Institute volunteer, who also teaches Mandarin at a local middle school.

The scene mentally transported Yu to his younger days in Taiwan. “It’s important for them to be exposed to this," he said. "I still remember this vividly, trying to do calligraphy in Taiwan.”

Yu moved to the United States when he was very little with what he described as “strict marching orders to assimilate as quickly as possible.” With little to no practice speaking Chinese since then, he said the extent of what he can do with his language now is order food from a Chinese restaurant.

Yu expressed concern that schools overseas have become much more competitive than they are here in America. This perception is echoed by the UCLA Confucius Institute whose website states that only 31 percent of American elementary schools report teaching a foreign language, while there are 200 million students in China taking English courses. For this reason, Yu said that any exposure kids can get to other languages, whether at school or at a festival in Chinatown, is important in keeping them competitive in an increasingly global workforce.

Exposure to Chinese language and culture is exactly what the Director of UCLA’s Confucius Institute, Susan Jain, looks to achieve from the institute’s participation in events like the Mid Town Moon Festival.

“It’s my way of doing propaganda. We need people to understand this country. Knowledge is power,” said Jain who has kids of her own, “I want to tell my kids about China and tell them we can’t just shut the door and say oh they’re a bad country.”

To spread this message, the Confucius Institute has focused on establishing Mandarin language programs in K-12 schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their efforts have been aided by the federal government’s “strategic defense languages” initiative, created after the September 11th terrorist attacks to fund language programs in Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, and Korean. Jain said that these language skills will become invaluable to students as more and more industry and government jobs begin to require knowledge of Chinese and other Asian languages. The Confucius Institute is trying to get these programs started as early as possible in a child’s academic life.

“If they start when they’re five years old, they can pick up languages just like that, and their Chinese accents are beautiful,” said Jain who also explained the benefit of using language to teach science, math, art and music. “The calligraphy is fun for students because it incorporates art with language. It’s not boring, it’s a game, and they don’t realize they’re learning.”

Back in the classroom at Foshay Learning Center on South Harvard Boulevard and 37th Street, Qin Huang’s students call her Ms. Qin Qin (pronounced Chin Chin). Huang helps her students remember her name by joking that right now she has a double chin, but as she continues to get older and wiser, she might have a triple chin.

When Huang moved to America from Suzhou, China last year to attend California’s State University at Los Angeles, she got involved with a new program launched by the UCLA Confucius Institute called the “Mandarin Teaching Scholars Program”. The venture was created to offer fellowship support for people enrolled in teacher credential programs, in an effort to get more Mandarin teachers accredited and into LAUSD classrooms. In return for the scholarship support, Mandarin Teaching Fellows like Huang volunteer to teach up to 20 hours a week in a local school. After volunteering in Foshay’s elementary school last year, the learning center hired her on full time this year to pilot a Mandarin program in their Middle School.

Jain was impressed with what Huang had accomplished with the students at Foshay in only one year, “It’s amazing what she’s done with the kids.”

Broadway Elementary School on Lincoln Boulevard and Broadway Street, is another LAUSD school that adopted the Institute’s Mandarin Immersion program. After their first year with the program, Broadway reported that their Academic Performance Index (a measurement of academic performance and progress of individual schools in California) shot up over 107 points to 855 on a scale of 1000 points. Jain said that there is reason to believe this unusual achievement could be at least partially a result of the Mandarin instruction that challenges students to think in a completely different way.

Huang saw mixed reactions from her students at Foshay when she first started the program, “Some kids absolutely fall in love with it right away, some think it’s really weird.” But the kids eventually all warm up to the idea of learning Chinese as they start moving around, singing songs and playing games. Huang said learning a language is all about communication, so she prefers teaching the language interactively versus simply reading and writing or saying and repeating words.

One phrase you won’t hear in her classroom is ‘foreign language’. Huang said that she forbids her students from referring to languages like Mandarin, Arabic, and Farsi as ‘foreign’ because it’s a hurtful term.

“It makes people not want to touch it, it sounds scary,” said Huang. So instead, her students use the phrase “world language” in reference to Mandarin and other Asian languages. This is all part of her yearlong goal in the classroom to change the kids’ mindsets about these world languages and cultures, while expanding their horizons to different global opportunities.

You will often hear her telling her students, “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s different.” And by the end of the school year, the kids start using this phrase too. Huang said, “I want my students to know that the Chinese culture, just like other Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, aren’t good or bad, they’re just different from their own, and that’s no reason to bomb them just because we don’t understand them.”


Relatives, colleagues and students remember Rigoberto Ruelas, a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, as a dedicated educator who made a difference in many lives.

By Alexandra Zavis and Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times |


Rigoberto Ruelas' mother, Rita, takes part in a candlelight vigil in honor of her son, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School who committed suicide. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / September 29, 2010)

Photos: Vigil and memorial Mass for teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Photos: Vigil and memorial Mass for teacher Rigoberto Ruelas

September 30, 2010 - Hundreds of people filled a church near South Los Angeles and spilled out into the streets for an emotional Mass on Wednesday celebrating the life of a popular fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School who committed suicide in the Angeles National Forest.

Tearful relatives, colleagues and students remembered Rigoberto Ruelas as a dedicated educator, who steered children away from gangs, helped them overcome academic difficulties and inspired them to aim for college.

"He wasn't just a teacher to me, he was a second father," said 13-year-old Karla Gonzalez, who broke down and sobbed when she took her turn at the microphone. She said Ruelas helped her learn English when she arrived from Mexico and bought her books to read. "I will always be grateful to him," she said.

Many of those at Presentation Catholic Church in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood expressed anger at The Times for posting on the Internet the rating he received in a database. The Los Angeles teachers' union has said that it learned from Ruelas' family that he was depressed about his score when he disappeared last week. His body was found Sunday in a ravine in the Big Tujunga Canyon area, about 100 feet below a bridge.

Using a system known as "value-added" methodology, the newspaper analyzed seven years of student test scores in English and math to determine how much students' performance improved under about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. Based on The Times' findings, Ruelas was rated "average" in his ability to raise students' English scores and "less effective" in his ability to raise math scores. Overall, he was rated slightly "less effective" than his peers.

Ruelas' brother, Alejandro, told "AirTalk" on KPCC 89.3 FM on Wednesday that it was unfair of The Times to post the information. "He's not a mayor," he said. "He's not the president. He's not a public worker."

But when asked by radio host Larry Mantle what his brother had said about the scores, Ruelas indicated that was not the kind of subject Rigoberto discussed. "I don't know if he felt he didn't want to burden anybody," said Alejandro Ruelas, who has declined to speak to The Times.

He said he was unaware of any personal problems in his brother's life. Asked whether he believed that Ruelas took his life out of frustration with the scores, he said the family was still gathering information from his colleagues.

"The little feedback that we are getting right now is that that school wasn't the healthiest place to be working," Ruelas said. "The people who are supposed to be helping them as far as administrators, principals are using this kind of scores also to bully and harass."

Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval said Monday that he gave little credence to the method used by The Times and had not discussed ratings with his staff.

"Numbers come and go," Robert Lopez, a former Miramonte principal, said at Wednesday's memorial Mass. "I have a completely different impression of what value-added means. It means coming in early and opening up the door, allowing students to come in for help when they need it."

Ruelas' mother, Rita, spoke for the family when she offered impassioned thanks to all those who attended the service. "He was your son, he was your brother," she said. "He was there with you for all of those years."

Many then walked to the nearby school for a candlelight vigil in front of an improvised memorial wall decorated with handwritten messages, drawings, flowers and balloons.

A funeral Mass will be held Tuesday at St. Emydius Catholic Church in Lynwood.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010



Sep 29, 2010

OAKLAND, CA—No two places in the state are alike in terms of the condition of their children, according to the 2010 California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being, an online research and advocacy tool released today. Created by Children Now, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to giving all children the opportunity to reach their full potential, the Scorecard measures the core components of child well-being across California’s 58 counties and provides a visual fingerprint for each county’s results. The uniqueness of each fingerprint is clearly evident.

Example: County Fingerprints of Child Well-Being

Twenty-six data indicators of child well-being comprise each county’s fingerprint. The color values of the indicators—red (bottom third), yellow (middle third), and green (top third)—are determined by each county’s performance relative to the state’s other counties. Additionally, county fingerprints and performances on every indicator are grouped by county population density and per capita income in order to promote the discovery of best practices in serving children’s needs. For example, on the indicator “Children who are in a healthy weight zone” Lassen (76%) and Siskiyou (75%) counties are significantly leading other low-income, rural counties, with Colusa (61%) and Imperial (61%) counties falling behind.

“The disparities presented in the Scorecard beg the question, ‘What are the top-performing counties doing differently?’” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “While we need to look there for proven solutions that can be leveraged in other places, we also must recognize the underlying factors may be very different from place to place.”

The Scorecard provides complete, individual county profiles that include current measures, trend data, and breakdowns by race/ethnicity for every indicator. Indicators cover children’s health, education and safety, providing a comprehensive picture of children’s interrelated developmental needs.

“We hope the local aspect of the Scorecard engages more people in solving the issues affecting children,” Lempert added. “If we make enough noise together, we can force our leaders to act on the fact that starting with children is the only way to develop sustainable solutions to the issues we’re all facing today.”


The 26 Indicators:

  1. Children who report "very good" to "excellent" health status
  2. Children who have health insurance
  3. Children who see a dentist regularly
  4. Newborns who are breastfed exclusively while in the hospital
  5. Children who have asthma that does not require an Emergency Room visit
  6. Middle and high school students who are not at risk for depression
  7. Children who are in a healthy weight zone
  8. Children who live within walking distance to a park, playground or open space
  9. Schools that have a school nurse or health center
  10. Adolescents who feel connected to an adult
  11. Elementary and middle school students who are supervised by an adult after school
  12. Elementary and middle school students who feel safe in their school
  13. High school students who feel safe and have not been victimized at school
  14. Children who are safe on and around roads
  15. Children who have no report of maltreatment within six months of an initial report
  16. Adolescents who are substance-free
  17. Children and youth who are safe from homicide
  18. Youth who are arrested but not for violent crimes
  19. Women who receive prenatal care by the end of the first trimester
  20. Young children who are read to often
  21. 3- and 4-year-olds who are enrolled in preschool
  22. Children who are not truant
  23. Children who feel connected to their school
  24. 4th-graders who meet or exceed state standards in English Language Arts
  25. 8th-graders who are enrolled in Algebra
  26. 10th-graders who pass the English portion of the California High School Exit Exam

2010 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being

Sep 29, 2010

The new 2010 California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being measures 26 core components of child well-being across California’s 58 counties and provides a visual fingerprint for each county’s results, showing no two places are alike in terms of the condition of their children. To support the discovery of best practices among similar counties, the Scorecard groups data for every indicator by county population density and per capita income. An accompanying online discussion group encourages knowledge sharing.

Launch the 2010 Scorecard

To help you get started, view How to Read the Scorecard.

Printable Downloads:
Complete Data Tables | Notes and Sources


Children Now LA County Child Well-Being Scorecard


Child care providers, charter operators, afterschool programs and public educators to implore decision makers in Sacramento to pass a state budget immediately

Para Los Niños/LA County Child Care Coordinating Council Press Release

September 28, 2010:  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

                                                                                     (213) 4813517
Cell (310) 7381376

WHO: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Para Los Niños President/CEO Gisselle Acevedo, Child care providers, charter school operators, after‐school programs, public educators and parents

WHAT: Press conference to implore immediate action on State Budget

WHEN: 1:30 p.m.Thursday, September 30

WHERE: Para Los Niños Family Learning Complex 1617 E. 7th Street (east of Alameda St.), Los Angeles, 90021

WHY: Because of the State Budget crisis, educational programs throughout California are owed millions of dollars by the State. Many are being forced to close their doors; others are imposing layoffs, salary cuts, and program reductions. Children are left without services, parents must forgo work to stay at home, small businesses are closing, and jobs are being lost.

Approaching the 100th day without a State Budget in place, and the day following a massive rally and protest in Northern California, Los Angeles educational leaders will on Thursday urge the Governor and Legislature to end the stand‐off and approve a Budget that will protect young children, students and their families.

For over 30 years, Para Los Niños has been leading the way in creating collaborative communities dedicated to improving the education, mental and physical health, safety, and economic wellbeing of children and families in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.

Para Los Niños aims to close the achievement gap experienced by lowincome children by providing educational services for children 014 and their families through early childhood programs, and charter elementary and middle schools. Comprehensive social support and mental health service systems are coupled with education in order to address the holistic needs of children and their families and break down barriers to academic success. For more information visit

Para Los Niños

500 Lucas Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90017

213.250.4800 phone

213.250.4900 fax


By Courtland Milloy - Washington Post Staff Writer |

Sunday, September 26, 2010; 10:24 PM  -- Listening to D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, I noticed a familiar refrain. She readily accepts credit for success while always attributing failure to the shortcomings of others.

"People are uncomfortable when you change what is currently in place," Rhee told host David Gregory. He had noted that Mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary two weeks ago in part because of "tremendous pushback" against Rhee's brand of school reform. "A lot of what you heard was 'we fired teachers,' " Rhee told him. "We just wanted to remove ineffective teachers."

In other words, she was trying to say, D.C. residents who pushed back were just uncomfortable with change and would rather have ineffective teachers in the classroom.

Such distortion is nothing new for Rhee. In fact, lots of young, hard-charging reformers in all fields find it easier to blame their clients rather than take responsibility for failures. The stakeholders really didn't want to change, they claim. The problem with owning up to a mistake is that it might cause the reformer's superhuman facade to crumble, revealing some emotionally vulnerable, in-over-her-head inner child.

Did you see that shaken look on Rhee's face after her meeting last week with presumptive Mayor-elect Vincent Gray? Asked by reporters what they had discussed, Gray replied: philosophy.

As D.C. Council chairman, Gray often tried to get Rhee to reflect on how her approach to school reform was being perceived in different parts of the city. Were her policies and strategies being clearly expressed? Was she open to feedback from residents who might have a better idea?

Rhee never answered. And as long as Fenty had her back, she reveled in her disrespect for Gray.

"That's not how my brain works," she told one interviewer. "I don't spend a ton of time thinking about the what-ifs. I'm a much better thinker when it's, 'Here's the situation, now what?' "

Now what indeed? Fenty is out. And with Rhee's supporters wanting her to stay, Gray's request can no longer be ignored with impunity: Schools chancellor, critique thyself.

Almost from the day Rhee arrived in 2007, everything she touched involving numbers became suspect: the amount of money in the school budget and how it was being spent, the number of teachers being hired and fired and why, the number of schools that were closed and their locations, the accuracy and meaning of her heavily marketed student test scores.

Does anybody really know what Rhee has done? Even for her strongest supporters on the D.C. Council, getting Rhee to come clean has been like pulling teeth.

"I need you to be a better communicator," Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) once told Rhee at a hearing. "I need more respect and understanding directed toward the chairman, and I don't know how many more times we can have this discussion."

Adding insult to injury, Rhee carried her disdain for openness and honesty into the national spotlight - burnishing her image as a reformer by mischaracterizing those who opposed her methods.

"I think part of the problem in public education to date has been that we all have to feel good; let's not ruffle too many feathers," Rhee told a group of bigwigs gathered at the Newseum recently for the premiere of the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,' " which features her as a hero.

What Rhee didn't say is that she has gone all out to make residents who live in the wealthier, predominantly white parts of the city feel good. And if their feathers got ruffled and needed smoothing, she went so far as to visit their homes for coffee klatches and pep talks.

So what happens when black residents on the other side of town start waving their hands - don't forget about us; we'd like to feel good, too? Rhee holds them up for ridicule. School reform is not "warm and fuzzy," she says.

As she told Gregory: "It takes courageous political leadership to make the tough decisions. You need to prioritize and have a singular focus."

Rhee has certainly focused a lot on reforming schools in the District's more well-to-do and rapidly gentrifying neighbor-hoods. If you thought her priority was supposed to be educating poor black children, you were wrong.

Admit it. Learn from it. Don't make the same mistake twice.


Columnist: D.C. Mayor Fenty/Chancellor Rhee Left Black Voters, Parents and Students Behind

NPR Morning Edition |

Listen to the Story | 7 min 49 sec

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September 29, 2010 -- Earlier this month, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his re-election bid to Council Chairman Vincent Gray. Courtland Milloy, a columnist for The Washington Post, talks to Steve Inskeep about what Milloy calls a "populist revolt" against Fenty and his schools chancellor, Rhee


Hotline for stress readied by LAUSD

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

Did news reports drive LAUSD teacher to suicide?

DAILY NEWS PODCAST with Ken Jeffries

  • Listen to Ken Jeffries interview teachers' union President A.J. Duffy on the apparent suicide of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. by clicking the play button above or downloading this MP3.
  • September 28, 2010  --  Following the apparent suicide of a veteran South Gate teacher, Los Angeles Unified officials said Monday that they plan to expedite a crisis hotline for employees who might be facing stress at work.

    The hotline would specifically handle calls from employees distraught over looming layoffs, drastic budget cuts and a controversial Los Angeles Times database, which was released last month and ranked teachers as "effective" and "ineffective" based largely on student test scores.

    <<The body of Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. was found Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, at the foot of a remote forest bridge in what appears to be a suicide. (Photo from South Gate Police Department)

    LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he hopes to set up the crisis hotline, which he said was in the works prior to the teacher's death, within a few weeks.

    "I personally met about a month ago with various staff to set up a hotline to help


    employees cope with stress...," Cortines said. "The system would be set up so employees could call both anonymously and directly to ask for assistance."

    The schools chief said the hotline would also provide suicide counseling.

    Authorities said Monday that they believe Miramonte Elementary school teacher Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, jumped to his death from a bridge in the Big Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest sometime over the past week. Friends of the 14-year teacher said he had grown increasingly depressed over his "ineffective" rating on a controversial L.A. Times database.

    They told several local media outlets over the weekend that Ruelas was despondent and had lost weight.

    District officials said they could not comment on what caused Ruelas' death, but some expressed serious concerns about rising anxiety levels in recent weeks.

    "I have never seen more stressed or more distraught employees in 18 years at LAUSD ... teachers and employees feel that their whole life work and passion is being called into question," said LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer.

    "There is a dominant narrative that holds teachers and school employees solely responsible for the problems in the public education system."

    As teachers across the Southland mourned Ruelas, many said the teacher's untimely death "could have been predicted."

    Linda Gordon, a San Fernando Valley area chair for the teachers union, United Teacher's Los Angeles, said pressure among teachers has been mounting as momentum for school reform has gained steam locally and nationally.

    Gordon said many teachers feel that much of the conversation has become about individual teachers, rather than reforming a broken system.

    For many teachers those feelings grew after the Times released its controversial database, which used a "value-added" method of analyzing test scores to rate the effectiveness of some 6,000 elementary teachers. The value-added process compares a student's test score with his or her performance on previous tests.

    Teachers who were ranked as "ineffective" saw the label as a "scarlet letter," Gordon said.

    "As a teacher, your job becomes your life ... to tell someone whose taught for 15 years that they are a failure is a very serious thing," she said.

    "Teachers have tried to put up a good face on this issue ... but internally a lot of us are torn up about it," said Erica Jones, a fourth-grade teacher at Arminta Elementary in North Hollywood.

    "People are questioning if they are in the right field, they are questioning what they have done to help a child or hurt a child ... when you are having that internal conversation all the time and then you turn on the news or go to a movie and it's also thrown in your face your morale gets really down."

    Teachers union leaders, who have staged protests and called for a boycott of the L.A. Times, on Monday urged the newspaper to take down their database, which they've called "reckless and destructive".

    "At this point it seems clear that the posting of these test scores played a part in this," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

    "To what extent we just don't know ... but we knew when these scores got posted that harm could come from it."

    The Times extended its condolences to Ruelas' family in a brief written statement Monday and noted that the death was under investigation.

    "The Times published the database, which is based on seven years of state test scores in the LAUSD schools, because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves," wrote Nancy Sullivan, acting as a spokeswoman for the newspaper.

    Cortines did not say he would be taking any action to have the newspaper remove the database.

    "My priority is not to take this database off a web site, my priority is that students, teachers and staff are well taken care of during this time of grief," Cortines said.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.


    LA School District Has Hotline For Stressed-Out Employees? Teacher Suicide Prompts Crisis Counseling

    by Deborah Dennert | |

    September 29, 2010 04:14 AM EDT -- Did the ineffective rating articles published by the Los Angeles Times prompt Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. to commit suicide? This year is an all-time high for levels of stress for teachers working in LAUSD.  Today a crisis hotline was announced that will be available for all LAUSD employees.

    According to LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines the hotline has been in the works for over a month now.  He is hoping that it will begin in a few weeks.

    LAUSD HQ/”The Puzzle Palace” – Good thinking ….delivered late? >>

    What are these added stresses that the teachers have?  According to the Daily News employees are "distraught over looming layoffs, drastic budget cuts and a controversial Los Angeles Times database, which was released last month and ranked teachers as 'effective' and 'ineffective' based largely on student test scores."

    Teachers might be asking themselves: Am I going to be laid-off? Will they cut my pay? Am I going to be accountable for the performance of my students? Added to the stress is also, 'Will the Los Angeles Times publish more rating articles?'
    All of these things might make some employees face the stresses in a negative way. Rigoberto Ruelas Jr's suicide might be because of these stresses.

    Teachers union leaders have called for a boycott of the L.A. times, urging the newspaper to take down their database.

    So, what is the answer?  If this hotline had been discussed prior to Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. committing suicide, then they obviously saw the need to for it and recognized that the teachers are showing higher-than-usual amounts of stress.

    If we think of schools as a business and their goal is to educate the children. Are they doing their job of teaching adequately if the children are failing and falling behind?

    What do you think? Should the teachers be accountable for their students' test scores?

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010


    from Google News |

    Calif. governor, lawmakers cancel budget meeting

    The Associated Press - Don Thompson – ‎28 Sept

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders abruptly canceled their scheduled budget talks Tuesday, hours after Schwarzenegger's ...

    No meeting by California leaders on budget plan

    Reuters - Jim Christie - ‎28 Sept

    SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - California's leaders will not meet on Tuesday as planned to hammer out details of a state budget ...

    Pension talks holding up state budget, says Schwarzenegger spokesman

    Los Angeles Times (blog) - ‎28 Sept

    Democrats' unwillingness to change state employee pension benefits is delaying a vote on the state budget, according to a spokesman for Gov. ...

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    Broad, Riordan and Baxter donate $700,000 to help stabilize the operator of 15 schools in mostly low-income minority L.A. neighborhoods.   Deficit was $2 million, October payroll was in doubt.


    Isaiah Phillips picks up his daughter, Sarah, 4, from ICEF’s View Park Elementary School. (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los Angeles Times / September 27, 2010)

    By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

    September 28, 2010 -- A group of the city's leading philanthropists, including billionaire Eli Broad and former mayor Richard Riordan, rallied Monday to save ICEF Public Schools, one of the nation's largest and most successful charter school companies, which was teetering on financial insolvency.

    ICEF, which operates 15 schools in low-income minority neighborhoods of Los Angeles, was virtually out of cash, unlikely to meet its Oct. 1 payroll. The nonprofit faced a $2-million deficit in the current budget year as well as substantial long-term debt.

    The collapse of ICEF would have been a blow to the charter movement and to the 4,500 students and several hundred employees of an organization whose results have impressed many observers. Charters are independently run public schools that are free from many regulations that govern traditional schools.

    ICEF representatives and others said the group's budget problems were caused by insufficient reserves; an overly ambitious expansion — 11 new schools in three years — that resulted in costly debt; and a reluctance to make cuts affecting students. These factors were exacerbated by the recession, which sharply reduced state funding to schools, and this year's late state budget, which has delayed payments to schools.

    The rescue plan that emerged Monday was less disruptive than one under discussion as recently as Sunday. That plan would have broken up ICEF, distributed schools and students among other charter schools and forced out founder Mike Piscal.

    Instead, Piscal will remain to oversee academic programs. But he'll now report to new part-time chief executive Caprice Young, a former L.A. school board president who became a national force in the charter movement as head of the California Charter Schools Assn.

    "I'm thrilled that our supporters came through when we needed them," Piscal said. "We were considered too good to fail."

    Riordan becomes chairman of the ICEF board. The new vice chairman is Carl Cohn, a former schools superintendent in Long Beach and San Diego.

    Riordan is contributing $100,000; Broad $500,000, and philanthropist Frank Baxter $100,000—jump-starting a short-term $3-million campaign to stabilize ICEF. All are longtime supporters of charters and frequent critics of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

    ICEF had tried to limit cuts to arts and athletic programs, but it did close one school and consolidate two others. And teachers are reporting belt-tightening at school sites. In an interview, one said that her students lack sufficient textbooks and that staff also was recently cautioned not to photocopy from the texts because of a paper shortage.

    A teacher in another school said that instructors there were ordered to cover additional classes during former planning periods to cut down on staffing needs and that class sizes have increased substantially over several years. The teachers asked not to be named out of concerns for their jobs.

    Academically, ICEF schools have generally delivered higher test scores than most nearby traditional schools, in some cases closing the achievement gap that separates black and Latino students from their white and Asian counterparts. About 71% of ICEF's African American elementary students scored at the "proficient" level or better on standardized tests, matching the performance of white students statewide and surpassing African American students statewide by 28 percentile points.

    From its inception, ICEF's clientele was almost exclusively African American in a region where the overwhelming majority of other public school students are Latino. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of Latino students have been enrolling.

    Other charters also have faced financial struggles. Green Dot Public Schools shut down its Animo Justice high school at the close of the school year.

    Green Dot chief executive Marco Petruzzi said his organization has used reserves and loans to tide it over until the state provides money owed to schools, but he noted that, unlike school districts, charters lack ready access to low-interest short-term loans.

    A.J. DUFFY SHOULD RESIGN IN WAKE OF RUELAS SUICIDE: UTLA chief, not the L.A. Times, is the rot in Southern California school wars

    By Jill Stewart, OP-ED in the INFORMER, an LA Weekly blog |


    << DUFFY: Does A.J. stand for ‘a joke’?

    ​Mon., Sep. 27 2010 @ 1:53PM -- Pipsqueak United Teachers Los Angeles chief A.J. Duffy, who has turned the L.A. teachers union into a national laughingstock and encouraged this region's teachers to think like infantile whiners, should resign after trying to blame the Los Angeles Times for the tragic suicide of South Gate teacher Rigoberto Ruelas.

    Duffy is perhaps the lowest of the low among teachers union leaders fighting reform in the United States today.

    Duffy played a key role in California's loss in the Race to the Top competition for reform money, with President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan both appalled at how L.A. teachers and Duffy conduct themselves.

    He fights the firing of abusive and incompetent teachers, he fights charter schools, he fights the embarrassing clinging to lifelong tenure -- still being granted to green teachers after just two years. Sick! But the real reason Duffy should resign now:

    Before decent, smart School Board member Marlene Canter left the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, she tried to bring forth a discussion to at least fire the truly egregious teachers.

    You know, the LAUSD teachers who have committed sexual abuse and other abuse against children?

    See, it is impossible right now to fire any LAUSD teachers. It can't be done.

    They have to practically be on their way to prison, in order to be fired in real time. Otherwise, it takes about seven to ten years to fire a single teacher, as the Weekly and the L.A. Times have both reported.

    Thanks to A.J. Duffy and his ilk, currently, most of these awful people are kept on, at full pay, in their homes or in a "rubber room" away from children, while they cost all of us about $500,000 or so in legal fees, not to mention fat paychecks and big mounting pensions.

    But A.J. Duffy and School Board President Monica Garcia and the cowering school board members stopped the gutsy Marlene Canter cold.

    Canter's reform idea vanished behind closed doors.

    And A.J. Duffy did something equally evil:

    Years ago, Duffy had the chance to make sure all teachers got the very same classroom score information and warnings that we all read in the recent L.A. Times blockbuster series on teachers who can't teach, producing kids who fail.

    Teachers deserved long ago to get that classroom test score data. Duffy knew it was there, in the computers.

    Duffy should have led that reform.

    Teachers should have gotten the wake-up call saying "Hey, your kids are falling way behind every year, but the rest of the kids in classes on the same hallway are doing fine so that means YOU are doing something wrong."

    But A.J. Duffy likes to keep teachers infantile, whining and in the dark.

    So listen, you pipsqueak, anti-reform, craven, do-nothing, sad-sack: if anyone should be blamed for a suicide, which is truly, truly absurd, is it you, A. J. Duffy.

    And it is so, so, so sad to learn that the wimpy LAUSD Superintendent, Ramon Cortines, is suggesting to KNX and others today that he, Cortines, is not going to demand the L.A. Times un-publish the list of 6,000 teachers and their classroom test scores.

    Instead, Cortines suggested to KNX, the public must be the ones to demand the list of teachers and the classroom scores be un-published.

    God almighty, Cortines, the LA. Times is not your problem. And we don't live in Russia where it's best to keep the public in the dark.

    The absurd, ossified, anti-child atmosphere in which grown-ups cannot be told they are failing, and cannot publicly discuss how to change their profession, is your problem, Cortines. Not the newspaper's problem.

    Be a man and fix it, Cortines. Don't wallow in it.

    Your problem is personified in A.J. Duffy, pipsqueak in body and mind.


    Rigoberto Ruelas, a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary in South L.A., was hailed as a caring teacher who tutored students on weekends and after school and encouraged them to go to college.


    Students, teachers and parents set up a memorial for teacher Rigoberto Ruelas in front of Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times, Mark Boster / September 28, 2010)

    By Alexandra Zavis and Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times |

    September 28, 2010 -- As a teacher in an impoverished, gang-ridden area of South Los Angeles, Rigoberto Ruelas always reached out to the toughest kids. He would tutor them on weekends and after school, visit their homes, encourage them to aim high and go to college.

    The fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School was so passionate about his mission that, school authorities say, he had near perfect attendance in 14 years on the job.

    So when Ruelas, 39, failed to show up for work last week, his colleagues instantly began to worry. And their worst fears were confirmed Sunday morning. In the Big Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest, a search-and-rescue team with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department discovered Ruelas' body in a ravine about 100 feet below a nearby bridge.

    The Los Angeles County Coroner determined he had committed suicide.

    FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article included a headline and caption that said Miramonte Elementary School was in South Gate. The school is in South Los Angeles.

    Ruelas' death stunned Miramonte students, teachers and parents. Many left hand-written notes, flowers, candles and white balloons at an impromptu memorial. By evening, dozens gathered to light candles, sing Spanish-language hymns and recite the Rosary. Ruelas' family, too, came to the school and slowly walked along the memorial wall, thanking parents and reading the messages.

    Ruelas did not leave a suicide note, authorities said, and it remained unclear why he took his life.

    Teachers union President A.J. Duffy said his staff was told by Ruelas' family that the teacher was depressed about his score on a teacher-rating database posted by The Times on its website. The newspaper analyzed seven years of student test scores in English and math to determine how much students' performance improved under about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. Based on The Times' findings, Ruelas was rated "average" in his ability to raise students' English scores and "less effective" in his ability to raise math scores. Overall, he was rated slightly "less effective" than his peers.

    "Despite The Times' analysis, and all other measures, this was a really good teacher," said Duffy, who called on the newspaper to take down the database. Many parents also asked that Ruelas' page on The Times' website be taken down.

    Ruelas' brother, Alejandro Ruelas, told The Times that the family is boycotting the newspaper and would not comment.

    The Times said it extends "our sympathy to his family, students, friends and colleagues," Nancy Sullivan, Times vice-president of communications, said in a statement. The newspaper published the database, she said, "because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves."

    Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval described Ruelas, a South Gate native, as a caring teacher who loved the outdoors. For the teachers and staff, he organized volleyball games at the beach, hiking trips and bonfires, said Carmen Jimenez, 24, a Miramonte nurse assistant.

    "He was a very happy individual," Sandoval said. "He grew up in this community and he felt a desire and need to help this community."

    Andromeda Palma, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, stopped by after school to leave a balloon at the memorial. She said she used to struggle at math, but he taught her to succeed and not to give up.

    "He told me it is not about where you are from but if you don't go to school you are nothing in this world," she said with tears in her eyes. "Now I am doing real good because of him."

    Sandoval said like all teachers, Ruelas apparently felt pressure to perform well. "Things that were happening in the district, budget cuts, testing, seem to put us all under the microscope," Sandoval said.

    Many staff members saw Ruelas at a school celebration on Friday, Sept. 17. While some said he seemed normal, others said he was distracted and upset.

    "He wasn't smiling like he always smiled," said Maria Jimenez, a school aide. "Other parents noticed it too and were asking what was wrong."

    Crisis counselors were on campus to help students or teachers who sought help. District Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, along with union and school leaders, met with teachers and staff early Monday, and about 100 parents turned out later for an emotional meeting with school officials.

    "Mr. Ruelas was a passionate and caring teacher, who put his students first," Cortines said in a statement. "He made a difference in the lives of so many in his classroom, and by staying after the bell rang to tutor students."

    A community memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Presentation Catholic Church in Los Angeles.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Obama on Today Show: LONGER SCHOOL YEAR + WORST PERFORMING TEACHERS HAVE “GOT TO GO” -- 'Money without reform' won't fix US education system

    AP Top News at 11:35 a.m. EDT|

    9/27 - WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama started the school week Monday with a call for a longer school year, and said the worst-performing teachers have "got to go" if they don't improve quickly. Bemoaning America's decreasing global educational competitiveness, Obama sought in a nationally broadcast interview to reinvigorate his education agenda. At the same time, the president acknowledged that many poor schools don't have the money they need and he defended federal aid for them. But Obama also said that money alone won't fix the problems in public schools, saying higher standards must be set and achieved by students and teachers alike.


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    By Melissa Pamer - Staff Writer – Daily Breeze |

    09/25/2010  -- After four years at her beloved but crowded Wilmington Middle School, Principal Veronica Aragon found herself with a new assignment last month at a decidedly different kind of campus.

    There are no desks, no books and no teachers. And instead of students, Aragon's school is crawling with nearly 200 construction workers.

    That's because she is the interim principal of a Los Angeles Unified campus that is still being built.

    Officially known as South Region High School No. 4, the nearly $181 million campus is set to take in about 1,800 students from Carson and Banning high schools.

    Located in Long Beach, just over the Carson border and next to Dominguez Park, the new school will open in September 2011.

    Interim Principal Veronica Aragon, left, LAUSD Senior Construction Engineer Ed Khachatourian, center, and Local District 8 Superintendent Michael Romero, right, look over construction of the athletic facilities at the new South Region High School No. 4 in Long Beach. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

    Construction began about two years ago.

    This week, on a tour of the busy construction site, Aragon was wowed by the school's massive multipurpose room, bright library and tidy computer-server room.

    image Looking at the principal's private office, which was filled with natural light, Aragon joked, "Hopefully I really get the job!"

    This fall, Aragon is leading a team of teachers, parents and local residents who are drafting a plan to keep the school under the aegis of LAUSD.

    The campus is up for bid by outside operators under the district's closely watched, year-old Public School Choice process. Three charter school groups have signaled their desire to run the campus.

    Local district officials say Aragon's team has an advantage over the competition.

    "We know the needs of the community like the back of our hand," said Michael Romero, superintendent of Gardena-based Local District 8. "There's a great sense of energy and a sense of passion with this work."

    Romero is overseeing Aragon's work with the design team. Their plan must be submitted to the district by Dec. 1, and the Board of Education will later vote on which group gets to control the school.

    Other potential bidders include ICEF Public Schools, which runs 15 charter campuses, mostly in South Los Angeles; Magnolia Schools, operator of a charter middle school in Carson and 12 other schools in Southern California; and MATTIE Academy School of Change, run by a group that operated a short-lived charter in Long Beach. A teacher from a downtown Los Angeles school has also submitted a letter of intent to apply for the school.

    Last year, when Gardena High and San Pedro High went through Public School Choice, they were among three schools - out of a total of 30 - that received no outside bidders.

    With the new Carson-area school, it's easy to see why charter management organizations are interested. The four-story campus, which looks a bit more

    A worker uses a lift to work on the ceiling of what will be the library at the under construction South Region High School No. 4 in Long Beach. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

    like an office structure than a high school, will house 67 classrooms. The giant multipurpose room looks set to host grand dramatic productions, and the turf football field and bleachers are expected to be completed in coming weeks.

    "It's a beautiful school," said LAUSD project manager Ed Khachatourian with obvious pride.

    It will be just the second campus to be completed in the South Bay under LAUSD's massive $20 billion new-school construction program.

    In Khachatourian's construction trailer at the dusty site, a digital clock counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the school will open.

    Aragon, who was widely praised as the leader of Wilmington Middle School, learned at the end of the last school year that she would be interim principal of the campus. She said she worried initially about the uncertainty - not knowing if LAUSD would retain control of the school and if she would end up having a job at the campus next year.

    But planning a new secondary school from the ground up - without all the "fumbling" that educational reforms can encounter at existing schools - has been a welcome challenge, she said.

    "Everything's a clean slate. We can start with the highest expectations," Aragon said.

    She has been doing research on programs at other schools, looking particularly at project-based learning models and collaboration.

    The new school is designed with the district's "small learning communities" initiative in mind. The campus will be physically divided into four themed academies - color-coded red, blue, green and gold - helping to make the academic setting more intimate and welcoming.

    Aragon and her team, which began weekly Monday afternoon meetings this month, are considering a ninth-grade academy similar to one instituted this year by troubled Gardena High.

    They're dreaming about academic achievements that far outpace most LAUSD public schools in the South Bay.

    "We're going to set a 100 percent graduation rate here. That's what we're shooting for. That's very ambitious for any public high school," Romero said.

    Teachers who want to transfer to the new school will be selected based on seniority, per the district contract with United Teachers Los Angeles.

    So Aragon is trying to make very clear - before the school is deluged with transfer requests - that expectations of instructors will be high. The design team wants teachers who embrace collaborative learning, and those who want to learn from each other.

    Alma Shahabi, an 11-year teaching veteran of Carson High who is on the design team, said there is a lot of buzz among her colleagues about who will end up at the campus. The team, she said, wants to attract "like-minded educators" who think seriously about the commitment to a new school.

    "Part of it will be: I have the seniority to go, but do I believe in the curriculum and the instructional philosophy there?" Shahabi said.

    For parents of children at neighboring Dominguez Elementary School, the biggest change will be the chance to send their child to what will truly be a neighborhood school.

    Students at the Carson elementary school currently feed into Banning High School, nearly 5 miles away in Wilmington.

    "We have a lot of parents that are very concerned about the high school. They want it to be a good school, and that their children from this area are able to go to the school," said Nancy Duenez, a design team member and mother of two children at Dominguez Elementary and one at Carnegie Middle School.

    She wants to ensure the new campus is imbued with Carson pride. The district, she said, could do a better job of engaging local residents and parents in planning the still-unnamed school. And community members, Duenez said, could stand to pay closer attention to the new campus.

    "Everybody can be on the same page and make sure we work together," she said.

    Shahabi, who works as an intervention and testing coordinator at Carson, said the chance to "set the tone" for the school and draw up plans from scratch is "every educator's dream."

    "I think the community deserves this," Shahabi said.



    In a tweet on Sunday 4LAKids misidentified Mr. Ruelas as ‘Robert Ruelas’, an error for which we apologize to Mr. Ruelas family, friends, colleagues and students.


    Did Rigoberto Ruelas, Missing Educator Found Dead, Commit Suicide Over L.A. Times' Controversial Teacher Ratings? Union Tells Times To Take Down The Evaluations

    By Dennis Romero, LA Weekly Blog | ruelas.png

    Mon., Sep. 27 2010 @ 6:04AM​ - TV news reports over the weekend painted Rigoberto Ruelas as a dedicated elementary school teacher whose students celebrated his impact even after they had moved up the public-school ladder.

    The 39-year-old hiker from South Gate went missing last week after he phoned in for a substitute to take over his duties at Miramonte Elementary School Monday and Tuesday. Now television reports indicate he might have been distraught over his lackluster showing at the Los Angeles Times' controversial teacher ratings site.

    Ruelas was found dead in the Angeles National Forest Sunday morning, and his Toyota SUV was nearby, according to reports. It appeared he might have jumped off a bridge that spanned a 100-foot-deep ravine.

    The Times database had Ruelas as "Less effective than average overall," "Less effective than average in math," and "Average in English."

    Ruelas taught for 13 years and, according to family members, had perfect attendance in recent years.

    The Times ratings drew the ire of the L.A. teachers' union, which protested outside the paper's headquarters.

    On Sunday, the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, issued a statement demanding that the paper "take the so-called 'teacher effectiveness' scores off their website and cease and desist from publishing any further scores for individual teachers now or in the future.''

    Media critics have weighed in on both sides, with Slate's Jack Shafer supporting the paper's decision to air the dirty laundry, and LA Observed's Bill Boyarsky, a former top news editor at the paper, stating that the paper should have better explained the "value-added" system of analyzing teacher performance, which is prone to at least some amount of error.

    Interestingly, the Times' own story on Ruelas' death doesn't mention that he might have been distraught as a result of his showing in the paper's database.

    Teacher's body found in Angeles National Forest

    LA Times from Associated Press |

    Rigoberto Ruelas September 26, 2010 |  7:23 pm - A Southern California elementary school teacher missing for a week has been found dead at the bottom of a bridge in the Angeles National Forest.

    The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in a news release that a search-and-rescue team was on training exercises Sunday near Big Tujunga Canyon when they found an abandoned vehicle connected to 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas.

    They searched the area and found Ruelas' body 100 feet below a nearby bridge.

    Ruelas was a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Gate. He had arranged to have a substitute teacher Monday and Tuesday, but didn't show up for work Wednesday.

    Los Angeles County coroner's officials reached by phone said they have not determined a cause of death.

    Photo: South Gate Police Department

    Los Angeles Teacher Ratings

    Rigoberto Ruelas

    A 5th grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary in 2009


    SoCal teacher found dead in forest; suicide suspected

    LA Newspaper Group | [Daily News/Daily Breeze] From wire service reports |

    09/27/2010 06:51:44 AM PDT - A South Gate elementary school was in mourning today because one of its teachers was found dead in the Angeles National Forest of an apparent suicide, possibly because he had scored low on a disputed teacher rating report made public online.

    Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, was last seen last Sunday dropping off a present for his sister's birthday, according to the South Gate Police Department.

    Ruelas' body was found just before 9 a.m. Sunday in the forest, said Deputy Jeff Gordon of the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau.

    Friends, coworkers, students and parents gathered outside the school Sunday night at a makeshift memorial, and crisis counselors were to be at the school this morning.

    "He went above and beyond teaching these kids," one unidentified man told KCAL9.

    "He was a really awesome teacher," a girl said.

    "He seemed very concerned," a woman said about Ruelas' reaction to scoring low on a teacher rating report recently made public by the Los Angeles Times on its website. "He looked a lot thinner than before."

    Ruelas notified the school he would need a substitute teacher assigned for his classes on Monday and Tuesday, but he did not show up to work on Wednesday and had not called in, police said. His family reported him missing that day.

    The official cause of death has not been released, but the sheriff's department reported that his body was found about 100 feet below a bridge where his car was found, and the coroner's office told news outlets that it appeared Ruelas had committed suicide.

    Family members told news outlets that Ruelas had been upset about scoring low on a teacher rating report made public by The Times.

    South Gate police Officer Tony Mendez also told KCAL9 that Ruelas had been upset over a report in The Times ranking Los Angeles Unified teachers based on their students' progress on California standardized tests, and that Ruelas' rating had been less than average.

    Parent-teacher conferences last week had left Ruelas especially upset, Mendez told the TV station.

    United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy called the publication of the list of teacher ratings "despicable," and the union -- which had opposed publication of the list -- issued a statement calling on The Times to remove it from its website.

    "UTLA is appalled at the L.A. Times," Duffy told KCAL. "We predicted there would be problems. This teacher was a great teacher by all accounts -- loved by students, parents, and respected by his colleagues.

    "I will be reaching out to Superintendent (Ramon) Cortines and Deputy Superintendent (John) Deasy to join forces to implore the L.A. Times to take the names of individual teachers and test scores off the website and cease and desist from publishing any in the future."

    UTLA extended its condolences to Ruelas' family, friends and colleagues and noted he was a fifth grade teacher, "beloved by his students," and had taught at the school since 1997.

    The Times released a statement late Sunday:

    "We understand that the sheriff's department is currently investigating Mr. Ruelas' death. We extend our sympathy to his family."


    Hundreds knock on doors of dropouts

    By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

    09/24/2010 07:38:38 PM PDT - Shielding her eyes from the blazing sun, Kim Courtney walked up to the black iron door and crossed her fingers that - this time - a student would answer her knock.

    But no one came to the door and the high school counselor had to leave a letter urging the student - a dropout from Los Angeles Unified - or his parents to contact the district. Undaunted, Courtney prepared to visit the next student on her list.

    "We need to make every effort to get these kids back," she said.

    "A lot of the time we may not find them, but we connect with their family or their neighbors and they tell them we've been here. It helps put pressure."

    Courtney and hundreds of other educators Friday joined city workers and community volunteers for Student Recovery Day, an effort to persuade LAUSD dropouts to return to school.

    "It is extremely important that we respect our students enough to come to their homes and ask them to come back," Deputy Superintendent John Deasy said in between visits to homes in South Los Angeles.

    According to the district, just 52 percent of all ninth-graders who enroll in high school will graduate four years later.

    Since it was launched last October, Student Recovery Day has re-enrolled 415 students - just a fraction of the total dropouts. District officials could not say how many students were contacted or re-enrolled on Friday.

    Still, school board member Steve Zimmer said each student rescued by the program he created represents a victory.

    "All of this is about creating an absolute sea change in how we address the dropout issue and how we value all students," said Zimmer, who was a high school counselor before he was elected to the school board in 2009.

    "We have to own up to the fact that one of the reasons so many students have left is because in the past there was the perception that we didn't want them or didn't notice they were gone."

    Students were far from forgotten Friday as volunteers visited hundreds of homes across the district, including those in neighborhoods served by San Fernando, Sylmar and North Hollywood high schools.

    Volunteers also contacted local businesses frequented by students and asked them to post fliers with messages encouraging teens to return to class.

    Chronically truant students were even given a pass from law enforcement, who agreed to not ticket students who were found on the streets and instead to take them back to their local campus to re-enroll.

    Some volunteers arrived at a home only to find that the student had moved out of the area, or even the country, without notifying the district.

    Others learned that parents had enrolled their children in alternative schools, like Alicia Blas, whose son is attending a local charter school rather than North Hollywood High.

    Still, Blas was pleasantly surprised at the district's outreach effort.

    "This is definitely better than the automated calls they usually do" when students miss class, Blas said. "It's impressive to see so many people coming door-to-door to try and reach one kid."


    Volunteers expect to re-enroll hundreds of high school dropouts in Los Angeles

    Corey Moore | KPCC |

    Listen (MP3) Download

    Corey Moore/KPCC

    A break between classes at Venice High School. Volunteers gathered there for "Student Recovery Day."


    Corey Moore/KPCC

    LAPD Officer Heidi Llanes and volunteer Antonio Washington discuss plans for "Student Recovery Day."

    Sept 27, 2010 6:50 a.m. | Starting today, L.A. Unified school officials expect hundreds of truants will return to class. That’s because last week they went looking for them.

    One 19-year-old student couldn’t stop beaming as she returned to Venice High School to re-enroll. The young lady, who preferred not to give her name, is five credits shy of graduating. Last school year, she got pregnant. After her son was born in April, she dropped out of Venice High.

    “After I gave birth, you couldn’t go back to school for six weeks,” she said. “And that was really close to my graduation time. So I was just home most of the time, so I didn’t get to pass one of my classes.”

    That class is government. And today, the young student who enjoyed playing varsity basketball for Venice High is back in school, ready to finish. Her return to class started with a knock at her door about a mile way from the school. She lives at the Mar Vista Gardens Housing Project in southwestern Los Angeles.

    School district counselor Steve Blustajn paid a visit to the young mother’s home. Her brother lives there, too. He also dropped out of high school. Blustajn got them both to come back. Just one of a few successful visits he and others have made.

    “Some of the parents were home. And their student or their child was home and we’d ask why are they out of school,” said Blustajn. “And for various reasons, we’d ask them to come back. Some had more severe issues than others and we were all able to deal with the issues they had as far as bringing them back.”

    More than a thousand volunteers across L.A. canvassed the neighborhoods, alleys and businesses – just about anywhere they knew dropouts hang out. On Friday, they convinced dozens of students to re-enroll without punishment for behavior problems or missing school.

    Thirty-three-year-old volunteer Antonio Washington was eager to give his time. A former dropout himself, he got his GED – and now he works as a mentor to young people in Los Angeles.

    “It’s a great way of giving back, so I think if they would have had this when I was in school, I probably wouldn’t have dropped out,” said Washington. “Even though I’m successful now and made a man of myself, I just think that it’s a good way to start now.”

    As part of last Friday’s “Student Recovery Day,” Washington talked to restaurants, stores and other businesses in Venice and asked them if they’d be willing to report truants. They said they would.

    The effort, organized for a third time, is the brainchild of school board member Steve Zimmer. He says most dropouts would rather be in school.

    “A number of the cases I dealt with today directly had to deal with our economic crisis,” Zimmer said. “Not ‘I don’t care about school.’ Not ‘I don’t care about my son or daughter’s education.’ But ‘I gotta work three or four jobs and I can’t be involved in the way I need to be or want to be.’”

    After visiting 400 families, Zimmer and other volunteers at Venice High were able to re-enroll dozens of dropouts.

    And that young mom, who’s only five credits away from graduation, is glad she’s back. She wants a career in criminal justice and is determined to get it.

    “It’s gonna be much, much harder but I’ll get through it because it’s just life,” she emphasized. “You go through obstacles that you need to get through and when you get through them, you get through them.”

    About a quarter of L.A.’s high school students don’t graduate. But with this young mom and a few hundred more dropouts expected back in class today, the stats just got a little better

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    CITY OF AIRHEADS: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System

    Mayor mirrors Detroit's disastrous choice

    By Patrick Range McDonald  | LA Weekly |

    Thursday, Sep 16 2010 -- As a student at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz, Noel Alumit, who would go on to write the critically acclaimed novel Letters to Montgomery Clift, often headed straight for the public library when school got out. A member of the speech team, Alumit loved conducting research — but he had a much more important, and personal, need for the city library.

    Angry librarians and library lovers protest Villaraigosa's unprecedented fiscal attack on the L.A. library system. Richard J. Riordan Central Library
    PHOTO BY TED SOQUI: Angry librarians and library lovers protest Villaraigosa's unprecedented fiscal attack on the L.A. library system. PHOTO BY TED SOQUI: Richard J. Riordan Central Library

    "I found Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay, by Arnie Kantrowitz" sitting on a shelf, Alumit says. He was 15, the child of Filipino immigrants, and secretly trying to come to terms with being gay. "I would go to the library and read a section of it, then come back another day and start where I left off. There was no way I could bring it home." The book became an important part of his development. "It was," he says, "the first time I ever read a book like that."

    And, Alumit remembers, "The thing about libraries was that it was a place to get information for free."

    Today, students in Los Angeles are still venturing to public libraries — and in huge numbers. A recent survey by the Los Angeles Public Library system shows that 90,000 young people, or 15,000 students a day, visit one of the city's 73 libraries every week. With most LAUSD schools starting up this week, libraries soon will be packed.

    Many public library systems — the five biggies are Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles — have faced an ugly two years of recession-spawned budget cuts and trimmed hours. Yet political leaders who control the purse strings for the biggest cities fought and saved their libraries from severe harm.

    The city that has not done that is Los Angeles.

    Here, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa executed an unprecedented, and punishing, raid on the libraries. Last spring he convinced the City Council to close the city's central and eight regional libraries on Sundays, then slashed $22 million from the 2010-11 budget and closed all 73 libraries on Mondays beginning July 19. Library officials say as many as 15,000 youths — plus an untold number of adults — have been turned away every closed day this summer.

    Unlike the angry City Council in New York, which successfully fought a large library budget cut proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti and 4th District City Councilman Tom LaBonge, chairman of the council's Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, quickly caved on Villaraigosa's proposed 2010 budget, of which the library cuts were a part.

    Then, joining Garcetti and LaBonge, who claim that every bit of fat had been cut citywide, forcing them to shutter libraries, the council voted 10-3 to approve the mayor's budget. Voting yes were Garcetti, LaBonge, Ed Reyes, Paul Krekorian, Paul Koretz, Bernard Parks, Jan Perry, Herb Wesson, Bill Rosendahl and Greig Smith. Only Richard Alarcon, Janice Hahn and Jose Huizar voted no. (Dennis Zine and Tony Cardenas were absent.)

    The cuts are radical, and unlike anything seen in a big U.S. city in this recession. Los Angeles now joins the dying city of Detroit as the only significant U.S. municipality to close down its entire library system twice weekly — a choice Detroit leaders made during the early-1980s recession, and from which its cultural core seems never to have recovered.

    L.A. Weekly also has determined, after surveying 20 of America's largest cities, that only Los Angeles has chosen to close its central library for two days a week. A handful of cities — Dallas, San Diego, Nashville and Houston — are closing their central libraries one day each week to meet their budgets but stopped well short of closing twice weekly a facility that all metropolises consider to be a cultural jewel.

    Pausing uncomfortably over the situation in L.A., IndianapolisMarion County Public Library CEO Laura Bramble says her city's political leaders made certain all of its libraries remain open daily despite the deep fiscal crunch. As for L.A., she says, "We're going to have to decide our priorities as a society."

    Sara Ring, a Los Feliz freelance writer who takes her 18-month-old son to the children's area of her local library because it's a safe, free place to play, is more direct: "L.A. is known as a city of airheads. Then we go and cut the library budget. It doesn't send a great message to the rest of the country."

    Erika Caswell, a librarian at the Washington Irving Branch in Mid-City, calls the action by the council and mayor "a travesty," and refers to the situation over the summer as awful. She says, "Mondays were our busiest day. It's so crazy now, because the library hasn't been open for two days, and everyone comes rushing in on Tuesday."

    One ominous result, already, in rougher neighborhoods of Los Angeles: "Kids don't have anywhere to go after school" on Mondays, Caswell says.

    Elyse Barrere, a librarian in Atwater Village, is haunted by what's unfolding in South Central Los Angeles, where she once worked, at the Vernon branch. There, hundreds of Latino and black students typically sought a quiet homework haven after school. "I just keep thinking about those kids," she says. "The library was a neutral territory where the gangs didn't really come in. It makes me worry about them. It could be a very bad situation."

    Barrere has sharp words for Villaraigosa, remembering how he grinned for the cameras at openings of new city libraries — all of them funded by L.A. voters long before he took office: "The mayor should know better!"

    Library officials estimate that so far, thousands of low-income, mostly minority young people who rely on city libraries have been shut out. Now, with most LAUSD schools starting class this week, teachers are assigning homework to hundreds of thousands of students, many of whom don't have the necessary Internet access. The problems will become acute.

    Perhaps worse than that, Villaraigosa, Garcetti, LaBonge and other council members insist they'd already cut all the fat from the city budget and had no choice. In that claim, they aren't being straight.

    In truth, the City Council barely quibbled over $18.5 million it handed to Villaraigosa this year for his richly endowed and experimental GRYD, the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. (It gets millions more in grants and private money.) And in 2010, Villaraigosa will spend $7.7 million on his personal staff salaries, nearly enough to reopen all 73 city libraries on Mondays.

    GRYD is a still-unproven new program beset by troubles and secrecy. According to a recent audit by City Controller Wendy Greuel, nobody knows if GRYD is working. One of the key problems is that Villaraigosa's team has failed to create a way to accurately judge whether GRYD keeps anyone out of gangs. A two-month investigation by journalist Matthew Fleischer at the L.A. Justice Report found that "the mayor and the City Council's confidence in GRYD's central programs isn't grounded in quantifiable facts."

    Moreover, there's no evidence that the Summer Night Lights program, which keeps dangerous parks lit late at night to encourage recreation — and which is touted by the mayor as a GRYD gang-prevention program — is really reducing gang membership or crime.

    GRYD's $18.5 million publicly funded price-tag is sky-high.

    Last year, according to the Mayor's Office, 2,702 at-risk 10- to 15-year-olds were enrolled in GRYD prevention services, which spends about $12 million in public funds annually, and 825 older youths were enrolled in GRYD intervention services, which spends about $6 million in taxpayer money yearly.

    By the Weekly's calculations, Los Angeles taxpayers are shelling out $5,245 for each at-risk youth enrolled in GRYD. Reopening the 64 branch libraries on Mondays and the nine big libraries on Sundays and Mondays would cost just $10 million, according to Peter Persic, the library system's public relations and marketing director. With Los Angeles libraries serving up to 15,000 children daily, that works out to a cost to taxpayers of just $6.40** per child annually — probably to greater effect.

    But GRYD wasn't the only noncrucial service showered with riches this year — even as the City Council and Villaraigosa claimed every ounce of excess had been cut and libraries had to be shuttered.

    Villaraigosa has expanded his personal staff to a record 206 people, including 12 "deputy mayors." By comparison, Mayor James Hahn employed 121 staffers, and Richard Riordan had 114. Villaraigosa's excesses have spilled over to Reyes, Krekorian, Zine, LaBonge, Koretz, Cardenas, Alarcon, Parks, Perry, Wesson, Rosendahl, Smith, Garcetti, Huizar and Hahn. This year, the 15 council members will spend $19.6 million on personal staffs totaling about 285 people. The 491 personal staff for Villaraigosa and the council is more than the 469 employees on the White House Office staff.

    L.A.'s parents and librarians seem to understand something that Villaraigosa and the City Council don't grasp: Public libraries have long been the best magnets for pulling in at-risk children.

    Sherice Norris, a teacher and member of the Watts Neighborhood Council, lives with her husband and five children not far from the Watts Branch Library. Her kids all have library cards. Many in Watts still don't own computers, so children and parents use the library for Internet access. "That Monday is real crucial because you have [school] assignments from that day that need to be done," Norris says. "In the lower-income areas with high crime, libraries are a safe haven for kids. ... It's going to hit the community hard."

    This is almost certainly not what Angelenos wanted from municipal belt-tightening. In 1998, 17 years after Detroit closed its libraries two days a week, L.A. voters overwhelmingly approved a $178.3 million bond measure that has helped build one of the largest and most modern public library systems in the U.S.

    Now, critics say, Villaraigosa and the City Council have turned their backs on that progress.

    Riordan, who was mayor in 1998, and for whom the towering downtown landmark Richard J. Riordan Central Library is named, sees the closures as a moral issue. "Every child has a God-given right to compete in this society," he says, "and to use tools to help them." With free computers, Internet access and librarian-sponsored homework assistance, Los Angeles libraries, in Riordan's eyes, are among society's essential tools.

    Echoing Riordan, Librarians' Guild President Roy Stone can barely contain his disgust at what has unfolded this summer, and what is expected to unfold for years to come: bleak, dark libraries in each of L.A.'s communities every Sunday and Monday. "Villaraigosa's lack of leadership has been a disaster for the city," Stone says. "These cuts are going to take generations to recover from."

    Martin Gomez, who heads the Los Angeles Public Library system as city librarian, has worked at public libraries across the country, including a stint in Brooklyn. He says L.A., with its large, poorly educated immigrant population and high unemployment, faces challenges unlike any city in the nation.

    "L.A. has such an educational need," Gomez explains. "The educational needs of its citizens, whether they are formal students in public or private school, or they are people who are engaged in lifelong learning or kind of retraining themselves because they're out of jobs or putting job applications in ... the public library has a role, a very significant role, in helping the community become better educated."

    Some Angelenos may think Gomez is simply defending an outdated, soon-to-be-extinct institution, with its jammed bookshelves of hardcover books and packed archives of magazines and newspapers. They would be wrong.

    Reflecting the effects of the recession, visits to Los Angeles public libraries jumped from 16 million in 2007 to 16.6 million in 2008 and 17 million in 2009. In a city of 4 million, there's a major demand not just for free books to read but for free wireless and Internet access.

    Riordan, who has floated the idea of a volunteer program to help with staffing shortages, says with some frustration: "I want to get a lot of people to march on City Hall, and I'll join them, and ask the [city fathers], 'What are you doing to this city?' "

    One answer to Riordan's question might be that Los Angeles City Hall's bureaucracy, and the political leaders who run it, are not merely clinging to expensive pet projects like GRYD and excesses like their vast personal staffs. They are also proving unable to collect the basic monies owed to city coffers.

    In July, City Controller Greuel revealed that the city has not created a centralized billing process — after years and years of talking about it — and managed to collect only 53 percent of its bills in fiscal year 2008-09, losing $260.4 million that year.

    "L.A.'s elected officials ignore fundamentally challenged [city] departments," says Paul Hatfield, a city budget expert who's treasurer of Neighborhood Council Valley Village. "They have no desire to face reality. Now it's caught up with them. They can't avoid it anymore."

    The 73 libraries needed only a relative pittance this year — just $8 million — to remain open on Mondays, for example. But no council member, including the six up for re-election next March — Krekorian, LaBonge, Cardenas, Parks, Wesson and Huizar — has a plan to fix a bill-collection system officials have long known is largely inoperable. Krekorian can be forgiven as a council newcomer, but the rest have been on alert for much longer.

    In 2007, then-Controller Laura Chick warned that hundreds of millions of dollars had been lost. Recently, the council finally approved a plan for collecting a fraction of that — about $2 million in unpaid ambulance bills per year. A broader plan to collect $274 million in other unpaid bills over six years was never approved.

    Press aides for Villaraigosa and Garcetti maintain a firm public relations line to explain how Los Angeles earned its new black eye as the only big U.S. city to shutter its library system twice weekly in response to the recession: "The mayor was trying to do what needed to be done to keep the city solvent," says Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton.

    Garcetti's spokesman, Yusef Robb, says: "The council moved heaven and earth to keep the libraries open five days a week. ... Tough choices were made."

    Librarians' Guild President Stone, who represents some 350 library workers, doesn't buy any of this. Stone says Villaraigosa is "unconcerned" about the library system. He also feels that Garcetti, Budget and Finance Committee members Bernard Parks, Greig Smith and Bill Rosendahl, and the other 12 council members are "browbeaten by the mayor."

    Stone says of the City Council: "They did nothing. Zero."

    A look at the 2010-11 budget approved by the City Council shows that the mayor's library cuts sailed through unaltered. Nothing remotely like that occurred in New York, Chicago or Boston, where budget fights waged by concerned mayors or vibrant city councils restored substantial amounts of library funding.

    But Los Angeles does not have what most people would call a "vibrant" city government. An eye-opening report by the think tank Center for Governmental Studies this year revealed that 14 council members — Reyes, Zine, LaBonge, Koretz, Cardenas, Alarcon, Parks, Perry, Wesson, Rosendahl, Smith, Garcetti, Huizar and Hahn — voted unanimously 99.993 percent of the time in nearly 1,854 votes studied in 2009. (Krekorian is too new to be part of the study.)

    Now, the group Los Angeles Clean Sweep, led by former Los Angeles Daily News Editor Ron Kaye, is planning to field grassroots candidates in the March 2011 primary to take on the unanimous voting bloc that controls the City Council and takes almost all of its important cues from the mayor.

    Fed-up taxpayers like Jason Reynolds of Atwater Village might be open to listening to Clean Sweep. A music-industry consultant with a house payment and a 4-year-old son, Reynolds is very unhappy about the Monday closure of the library where his boy loved the now-canceled free art classes. "I don't believe for a second they couldn't find the money," he says of the Los Angeles City Council.

    On a recent Monday afternoon, Haley Hill, a freelance graphic artist, and Eric Carlson, an English-language tutor, stand outside the Edendale Branch Library on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, across from the Brite Spot diner. The Silver Lake residents are in their 20s and visit the library often. "I get all of my movies from the library," says Carlson, who lives on a tight budget. He uses the free Internet access to prepare his students' lessons since he doesn't own a computer.

    When they walked to the Edendale branch, neither realized that Los Angeles' public libraries — which already started closing on Sundays last April — had shut down on Mondays for the foreseeable future. They were angry and perplexed when they came upon the locked doors.

    "It's really shitty because it's something that affects so many people in the area," says Hill, who often sees lots of children in the library. "They always cut the most important things."

    It's not only Angelenos who are using libraries more than ever. Library systems across the nation are seeing spikes in use. "Americans are visiting libraries in gigantic numbers," says New York Public Library President Paul LeClerc, who oversees one of the most renowned systems in the world. "The more libraries that are open, the more people will use them."

    LeClerc points to a study published in March by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, "Opportunity for All," which found 169 million visits by Americans to a public library in 2009 — 77 million to get free access to the Internet. People ages 11 to 18 are the among most active Internet users at libraries, about 11.8 million of them.

    Many are teenagers doing homework, the study finds. And 61 percent of young people between 14 and 24 who live below the federal poverty line are using library computers and the Internet for educational purposes. "They don't have the money to pay for that access," LeClerc says.

    In February, Villaraigosa held a press conference at the Silver Lake Branch Library, telling journalists the grim news that funding for city libraries was on the chopping block. Then-KABC news reporter Michael Linder taped the mayor as saying: "We no longer have the revenues to be able to support the level of services that we provide."

    He then declared, "No big city in the country has a library system compared to ours."

    That's true now but not in the boastful, positive way he asserted.

    Stone says members of the Library Commission — most of them political appointees of Villaraigosa's — were far too quick to go along with his cuts. "We couldn't get anybody to push back," Stone says of the five-member commission. "We tried to tell them what was happening, but they didn't listen."

    In an interview with the Weekly, Library Commission President Tyree Wieder, a former president of Los Angeles Valley College, insists: "It was necessary due to [the city's] financial situation. They looked at it very, very hard.

    "The City Council members and the mayor were in a very tough situation," and she even insists that Villaraigosa and the City Council in no way targeted the Los Angeles Public Library system.

    "They picked on the smallest kid on the block," scoffs Neighborhood Council Valley Village member Hatfield, upon hearing Wieder's strained denial. "They're more afraid of neighborhood councils than the library union."

    Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, says, "They're attacking the low-hanging fruit, as opposed to having a plan. They knew the [librarians] didn't have the people to put the screws to the mayor and the City Council."

    During his fiscal raid on the libraries, Villaraigosa proposed a $75.9 million general fund subsidy for the libraries, which the City Council approved. That was the exact amount Villaraigosa was legally required to submit due to a City Charter mandate — not a penny more. That amount, combined with the $6.8 million the libraries generate through fees and fines, created an $82.7 million operating budget.

    The City Council then agreed with Villaraigosa's proposal to force the library system to reimburse the city's general fund for its overhead and utilities costs of $22 million, taking it out of the $82.7 million operating budget.

    No other city agency except the Department of Recreation and Parks has to cough up that kind of overhead reimbursement.

    The highly controversial practice — in essence, an internal tax on one department singled out for punishment, even as several other departments' staffers were being given substantial raises — began in 2008-09. This year, the same Villaraigosa scheme left the libraries an operating budget of $60.7 million, a devastating cut that forced city libraries to survive on $1.7 million less they got back in 2002-03 — when fewer libraries existed and thus fewer librarians were needed.

    Sherice Norris, the teacher and mother in Watts, had trusted the mayor and City Council to do the right thing during the budget debates, but upon learning that only the city libraries and Recreation and Parks are being forced to pay the general fund back for their utilities and overhead costs, she grows angry. "I didn't know [city elected leaders] were going to stoop that low," she says.

    "We need to make the City Council and mayor accountable for what they've been doing," Norris says. "We need to stand up and fight."

    The 28 percent library staff cut hit this year even as Villaraigosa and City Council members — the highest-paid mayor, and the highest-paid City Council, in the U.S. — touted their own, exceedingly modest, voluntary salary cuts. While making sure to point that out to the press, they eliminated a record 328 full-time library positions, including 94 librarians and 190 clerical staff who check out, sort and shelve books. With such a major, sudden staff shortage, L.A. libraries had to close twice weekly instead of once a week, and reduce their remaining hours.

    And if that weren't enough, the libraries were forced to reduce book-purchasing funds to a paltry $6.8 million per year.

    During the 2001-02 recession, outgoing Mayor Riordan ensured that the libraries spent $16.8 million on books, about $4.50 per resident. Riordan has personally spent millions of dollars on an Eastside foundation that teaches adults to read and write English; he keeps a personal library of some 40,000 books, and for years led a book club with Michael York and Alan Alda. He's a big reader.

    Villaraigosa, by contrast, spends many of his nights out on the town, is not a big reader even of the policy papers a mayor typically is expected to understand, and doesn't seek out the quiet studiousness of libraries.

    In a city of 4 million people, Los Angeles' book expenditures have plunged to $1.70 per citizen under Villaraigosa — not enough to buy the Sunday New York Times.

    Gomez, the city librarian, tells the Weekly, "It's been the most challenging year of my career. We have gone through a lot of significant changes. Not only in the reduction of hours but also our shrinking of the workforce. So it's been a lot to deal with."

    Appointed by Villaraigosa in June 2009, Gomez, a passionate public library advocate with extensive experience, grew up in Compton, graduated from UCLA and began his 30-year career in the San Diego Public Library system. He remains optimistic that L.A. libraries will still act as the "people's university," where immigrants learn English, unemployed people search for jobs on the Internet and students get the homework help they need.

    But he has to have the staff for that, and his workforce has been reduced from 1,156 full-time positions to 828. Asked by the Weekly if the mayor and City Council really worked "very, very hard," as Library Commission President Wieder puts it, to avoid these deep cuts, Gomez avoids the question.

    "I want to believe that we're first in line when restoration comes," Gomez says. "I hope the community will let their elected officials know how important the library is."

    Like neighborhood activists Hatfield and Handal, former Daily News Editor Kaye, whose political action committee, L.A. Clean Sweep, plans to financially support candidates to run against council incumbents Krekorian, LaBonge, Cardenas, Parks, Wesson and Huizar next year, says it's clear that Villaraigosa targeted the public libraries and the Department of Recreation and Parks.

    "It's a fact they hit these departments harder than other departments," Kaye declares.

    And when city tax revenues do finally pick up, many City Hall observers believe that money will not be initially directed to libraries but to Villaraigosa's political obsessions: the police and fire departments.

    Complicating things for the libraries, and Angelenos who have been shut out of them, is the fact that city budget experts, including 8th District City Councilman Bernard Parks and City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, say Los Angeles probably won't see an economic turnaround for two or three more years, perhaps longer.

    In other big U.S. cities, cooler heads prevailed this year. Far more modest cuts were made to the rest of the nation's significant municipal library systems. Deep cuts made no sense to the political leadership in Chicago, for example, where the libraries got an operating budget of $97 million — 93 percent from the city and 7 percent from the state.

    In 2009, Chicago's budget was $104.8 million. This year's funding represents a drop of only $7.8 million, with three libraries, including its central library, open seven days a week and 71 of its 74 libraries open six days.

    Stating the obvious, Chicago Public Library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer says, "Mayor Richard Daley and our City Council really understand how important our libraries are for the community."

    In New York, Mayor Bloomberg planned a major, $38 million budget cut for the New York Public Library, which operates on $254 million a year and oversees the world-famous main library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, among other libraries.

    But unlike in Los Angeles, the New York City Council fought Bloomberg spiritedly, restoring $28 million to the budget. As a result, all New York Public Library branches are open six days, with the main library open every day. "We had enormous support from the City Council," says NYPL President LeClerc.

    In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino restored more than $900,000 this year, when the state of Massachusetts cut library funding. "It showed libraries were important to him," says Boston Library spokeswoman Gina Perille. With 27 libraries, including a central library in Copley Square, Boston's system operates with $41.1 million. All branches are open six days a week, and the city's beloved central library remains open every day. Perille says Boston has no intention of closing libraries on additional days — especially not during the school year.

    Cindy Mediavilla, an expert on the history of public libraries in California, notes that during the Great Depression, libraries were packed with out-of-work citizens. With L.A. mired in stubborn, double-digit unemployment, Mediavilla says, it's "rather shortsighted to not fund libraries during these dark times. People need access to computers to apply for jobs."

    Sari Feldman, former president of the Public Library Association and executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library system in Ohio, says the assault by city fathers on the library budget in L.A. is a prime example of how some elected officials "don't understand the services we provide every day. Working-class people and people out of work are the ones hardest hit by the cuts to libraries."

    Critics call it a slash-and-burn tactic with no eye for the future. "They don't look far ahead when they budget," says Hatfield, of the mayor and council, "and when they don't look far ahead, they can't get ahead of the budgetary problems" — some of which they created.

    Adds Clean Sweep's Kaye: "It reflects the values of City Hall in not caring about the general public‚ who don't have an advocate at City Hall."

    A few years ago, Erica Silverman, a writer of children's books, decided she wanted to be a city librarian. "I've spent my whole life in libraries," she says. She went to school, made the grades and eventually got a job at the Edendale Branch Library in Echo Park, where screenwriters, students, English-language learners, seniors and others gather to learn or hang out in a friendly environment off the streets.

    "I think libraries can be taken for granted because they do what they do quietly," Silverman says. She wonders if Mayor Villaraigosa, City Council President Garcetti and the rest of the City Council truly understand how a public library's numerous services help a community to enrich itself, especially in poor neighborhoods. "Access to information is important to a democracy," she says.

    But firsthand experience also has taught her that open, easily accessible libraries create not just better cities and better cultures but better humans.

    "I have interactions all the time with people," Silverman says. "I see kids' eyes light up when they find a book. I know we're creating lifelong readers."

    ** Corrected from earlier version which stated the cost to reopen libraries as 65 cents per child.