Wednesday, June 30, 2010


by Howard Blume | LA Times LA Now blog

June 30, 2010 |  2:27 pm | The payroll system used by the nation's second-largest school district remains at risk of collapse because of a lack of follow through after an earlier, much-publicized payroll debacle, a grand jury has concluded.

The L.A. County Grand Jury annual report, released Wednesday, took aim at the malfunctioning payment system launched in January 2007 in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Thousands of employees were overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. The underpayments and other glitches caused distress for thousands; the district has attempted to recoup nearly $60 million from about 35,000 employees. Early this year, the district was still in pursuit of more than $9 million.

The grand jury investigation traveled well-worn ground in examining what went wrong, noting inadequate employee training and the lack of a sufficient trial run to work out glitches.

But it also made new findings about future hazards. The report noted that three internal district audits in the wake of the crisis listed 47 recommendations -- most of which officials accepted as correct. Yet no formal follow-up has occurred to make sure that employees acted successfully on these recommendations.

In addition, district technical staff said tight finances and a reluctance to integrate more new technology have delayed the introduction of the final portion of the payroll system.

The district's own technical staff indicated that on "a scale of one to ten with … ten being a disaster, LAUSD is currently at eight on the scale of exposure," according to the report.

The risks of a system collapse could result in an inability to replenish stock in the food warehouse or to receive, process and deliver supplies to schools. In addition, the district could lose crucial financial data or forfeit funding for failing to file mandated reports.

Completing the payroll system could take up to 36 months and cost $25 million to $30 million, and "personnel required to perform this task are not currently available," the report concluded. The lack of qualified expertise is a result of layoffs and the severing of ties with payroll consultants.

A spokesperson for the school district said officials would have no immediate comment because key senior staff were either on vacation or were forced to take a furlough day as part of ongoing budget cuts.

the entire civil grand jury report is  recommended – available at: pp.57-63


Report released 30 June 2010


the entire report is highly recommended – available at: pp.57-63


The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been the subject of numerous reviews and newspaper articles concerning the implementation of System Applications and Products (SAP), a purchased software system. In 2003, LAUSD Board of Education (BOE) adopted the Enterprise Resource Planning initiative to replace the District’s existing system that supported payroll, time reporting, financial, human resources and supply-chain. The previous existing system was called Integrated Financial Systems (IFS). SAP is a worldwide business system used successfully in many applications.

However, in the new system, there have also been notable failures of implementation.The LAUSD payroll system supported approximately seventy-five thousand employees in classified, certificated and semi-monthly positions. The Annual Payroll in FY2009 for LAUSD was approximately $4.9 Billion. The prior systems were outdated, did not communicate with each other and were not supported by vendors.

IFS required excessive duplication of work with significant manual processing. In 2005 the BOE authorized the purchase of SAP and the use of Deloitte Consulting for the integration and implementation. SAP became part of the total systems supporting the schools. LAUSD called the new system Business Tools for Schools (BTS).

BTS consisted of three Releases:

1. Release I would include Finance (General Ledger, Funds Management, Budget Development, etc.) and be completed by July 2006.

2. Release II would go live in January 2007 and encompass Payroll and Human Resources plus other employee related modules.

3. Release III was to be implemented by the fall of 2007 and include primarily Accounts Payable and other related modules. Due to the significant issues with the Release II Payroll Implementation, Release III was delayed to a future date .

The failure of the Release II Payroll process had been well publicized and resulted in an overpayment to approximately 35,000 employees of $60 million. The primary overpayment event occurred in June 2007 when approximately 23,000 employees were overpaid nearly $25 million. In late 2009, approximately $9 million in overpayments was still owed to LAUSD by 2,400 employees. Collection activities continue. Underpayments to certain LAUSD employees were resolved.

The payroll problem resulted in ballooning the projected cost of BTS from $95 million to between $120 million and $150 million. This may or may not include additional internal support costs for administering the corrective actions and Release III Accounts Payable Implementation.

The 2009-2010 Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) investigated the corrective action process and resulting impact of this major failure of the Release II Payroll Implementation. The CGJ encountered difficulties in receiving meaningful documents and responses from LAUSD. Following several failed attempts over a five-month period and the threat of a subpoena for information, LAUSD produced the documents the CGJ determined to be useful and relevant.

After holding follow-up meetings with LAUSD, the CGJ determined that LAUSD made a number of costly efforts to correct the problems and collect the overpaid amounts from employees. The CGJ made recommendations in the following areas:

• The ongoing major issues with the BTS payroll process as identified in audits from the Inspector General of LAUSD

• The lack of follow-up from the Inspector General on major audit issues

• The delay in the implementation of Release III Accounts Payable that has resulted in significant exposure to a major catastrophe from the legacy system supporting accounts payable and related modules

• The use of lessons learned in the Release III Accounts Payable implementation

• The exposure to LAUSD from further budget reductions in the Information Technology staff supporting legacy systems

• The absence of an Information Technology Steering Committee

• The absence of key management oversight and proper training processes in the Release II Payroll Implementation


As a result of the investigation of the Business Tools for Schools implementation for Payroll for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and related issues, the 2009-2010 Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) made the following recommendations:

1. LAUSD should implement an emergency plan for the support of Integrated Financial Systems (IFS), the current operating system for accounts payable.

2. LAUSD should review alternative methods to support IFS activities in case of a major failure.

3. LAUSD should review any considerations to reduce current staff within Information Technology Group (ITG) supporting IFS and review the impact of bumping from future budget reductions on this portion of ITG.

4. LAUSD should proceed with a definitive Plan to implement Release III, Accounts Payable and related modules of Business Tools for Schools (BTS) as soon as possible with appropriate oversight, planning, timing and cost estimates.

5. LAUSD should review and ensure the lessons learned from Release II implementation be actively followed in Release III implementation.

6. LAUSD should ensure proper training processes be completed for all people involved prior to the implementation of Release III Accounts Payable of BTS.

7. LAUSD should ensure proper management oversight of normal control reports during the implementation of Release III Account Payable.

8. LAUSD should designate appropriate internal upper level management to actively participate in an Information Technology Steering Committee. This group would oversee the decisions, costs, and progress on all ITG projects. This group would also be responsible for responding to audits involving LAUSD system’s projects as well as follow-up to audit recommendations. This group would possibly include the Chief Technology Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Operating Officer, the head of Educational Activities and a member of the LAUSD Board of Education (BOE).

9. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) should review any audit with significant findings within a six-month period for compliance and response. The CGJ recommends that OIG should specifically review the four audits previously performed on the payroll system.


  • 14 districts in the state are classified as in especially dire condition, including Lynwood USD in L.A. County.

  • 160 school systems are at risk - including LAUSD, Burbank, Culver City, Glendale, Inglewood, Montebello, Norwalk-La Mirada, Pomona, Santa Monica-Malibu & South Pasadena.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

June 30, 2010 - An increasing number of California school districts are edging closer to financial insolvency, state officials reported Tuesday.

One immediate effect has been teacher layoffs — probably in the thousands, although neither state officials nor the California Teachers Assn. have final numbers.

Since the beginning of 2010, the number of school systems that may be "unable to meet future financial obligations" has increased by 38%, according to the state Department of Education.

"Schools on this list are now forced to make terrible decisions to cut programs and services that students need or face bankruptcy," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

Of the state's 1,077 school districts, 14 are classified as in especially dire condition. They are unlikely to avoid bankruptcy based on their current approved budgets. L.A. County has one such system, the Lynwood Unified School District, officials said. Other districts in this category include Hayward Unified in Alameda County, Vallejo City Unified in Solano County and Natomas Unified in Sacramento County.

An additional 160 school systems have a "qualified" financial outlook, meaning that they are at risk although probably not in danger of immediate bankruptcy. L.A. County districts in that situation include L.A. Unified, Burbank Unified, Culver City Unified, Glendale Unified, Inglewood Unified, Montebello Unified, Norwalk- La Mirada Unified, Pomona Unified, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified and South Pasadena Unified.

About 26,000 teachers were notified in March that they might be laid off, according to data collected by the California Teachers Assn. At least 9,000 of those notices have been rescinded so far. Last year also brought teacher layoffs, leading to a decline of about 15,000 in the union's membership. The state has about 300,000 teachers.

Non-teaching employees also have been hit hard. Thousands have lost jobs in Los Angeles Unified alone. Many of those still working have experienced pay cuts, while students have to deal with larger classes, a shorter school year and decreased services.

The education portion of the current budget proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could result in additional layoffs, although other sectors of governments have faced even steeper cuts.

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Officials are looking at possible cost-sharing with school districts that could save some of the programs, set to close for budgetary reasons and displace hundreds of students.

By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

June 30, 2010 -- Several alternative education programs that were set to close and displace hundreds of students Wednesday may be able to reopen under a plan being considered by Los Angeles County education officials.

The news came at a meeting Tuesday of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who were considering a proposal to keep the schools open for at least 30 days.

That plan was delayed for two weeks to allow time for Los Angeles County Office of Education officials to work out arrangements with local school districts to share the costs of operating the programs.

County Superintendent Darline P. Robles told the supervisors that several districts were prepared to sign agreements to share program costs for at least one year at three schools that enroll about 120 students. Those programs could remain open, Robles said.

But the fate of other programs — and hundreds of students — remains in doubt.

About 22 community day schools and independent study programs that serve nearly 700 juvenile offenders on probation, students who have been expelled, pregnant teens, new parents and others who can't return to traditional schools, were scheduled to hold their last day of classes Wednesday. County education officials cited state budget cuts and low enrollment for the closures.

County education officials are hoping that other school districts, which have students attending the alternative programs, will help foot the bill — estimated at more than $1 million — to keep many of those sites operating for another year.

If not, the county education office would have to transfer money from its reserves to fund the programs. The county Board of Education will consider that action at its July 6 meeting, Robles said.

Several school districts operate their own alternative and independent study programs and want to take back students who were in the county programs, Robles said.

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ramon C. Cortines spoke with Robles on Monday but has not received information he requested on the number of L.A. Unified students enrolled in county alternative programs, said spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry.

Separately, county education officials are looking at the legality of rehiring on a temporary basis teachers who are being laid off because of the school closures.

Under the education code, those teachers could claim that they have been reemployed and must be kept on for a year, which might impede efforts to reopen the schools even temporarily.

Supervisors, meanwhile, expressed concern that if the schools close, the potential exists for hundreds of students to return to their past problems. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked that the Department of Probation be included in planning.

"We need to be attentive to the issue of recidivism and be clear as to what the consequences might very well be," Ridley-Thomas said.

Robles said the education office is doing all it can to find other options for the students.

"Students are not going to be thrown out on the streets, that's No. 1," Robles said after the meeting. "They are going to be served."

Students and teachers who attended the meeting to support continuing the alternative programs said they were pleased that some schools appeared likely to stay open but expressed concern that the outcome for all the programs remained unresolved.

"I'm happy the supervisors are listening, but so much is still up in the air," said Rudy Spivery, a teacher at the Downey Community Day School, who will be out of a job Thursday. "I think the county Office of Education should be looking at the big picture and cutting from the top instead of from the field, from students and teachers. These kids' futures, souls and health are in jeopardy."

Mark Lewis, president of the Los Angeles County Education Assn., which represents the teachers, said temporary contracts would have to be reviewed by attorneys but that teachers are willing to do whatever it takes to give students time to find suitable alternatives.

"We're willing to talk about three-month contracts, whatever is allowable under the law," Lewis said.

MEALS PROGRAMS OFFER HUNGRY STUDENTS A BREAK DURING SUMMER: L.A. Unified expects to serve nearly 5 million meals this summer, nearly 10 times the number of last year, for children who rely on subsidized meals when school is in session. + additional coverage

By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times


Children at Los Angeles Elementary School take part in the free summer lunch program. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times / June 29, 2010)

June 30, 2010 -- When María Elena García rushes off to work at a Mexican restaurant, she takes comfort in knowing that her two children, ages 12 and 16, will get a healthy lunch at school.

But now that school is out, she worries about what they will eat.

"I know it is nothing good," said the MacArthur Park mother. "We don't have good food at home."

The summer months can be some of the most difficult for families that rely on federally subsidized school meals to provide an important part of their nutritional needs.

Now, many California school districts have eliminated summer programs in response to state financial cuts to education, reducing the times and places that needy students can receive free breakfasts, lunches and snacks.

Participation in federal summer meals programs for low-income children dropped 10% in California last year, despite an increase in eligibility due to the recession, according to a new report by California Food Policy Advocates.

A total of 481,339 California children received free meals at schools, parks, recreation centers and other sites in July 2009, more than 60,000 fewer than the previous year, the report said. That is just 21% of the number who receive subsidized meals during the school year.

"While legislators recognize that summer school cuts remove valuable academic enrichment, very few policy makers consider the nutritional impact of summer school reductions, which directly jeopardize the health and academic success of 1.9 million low-income students" who received free or reduced-price meals during the school year, said Matthew Sharp, a senior advocate at California Food Policy Advocates.

Participation in summer nutrition programs varied considerably between counties. In San Diego County, it increased 84% last summer, and in Los Angeles County it fell 27%, according to the report.

Officials at Los Angeles Unified Schools District, the state's largest, have again canceled summer school classes at elementary and middle schools this year. Only credit-recovery courses in core requirements will be offered at high schools.

But officials have set up alternative feeding and enrichment programs, said David Binkle, the district's deputy director of food services. By next week, free meals will be offered at 260 district schools, compared with 95 last July, he said. All children ages 1 to 18 may participate, regardless of whether they attend school.

At Los Angeles Elementary School in Harvard Heights, about 100 eager children lined up Tuesday to collect lunch trays after a morning of dance and exercise. On the menu: hamburgers on whole-wheat buns, baked potato wedges, orange slices and milk.

"It's greasy but it's delicious," pronounced 9-year-old Samantha Linares.

Samantha's mother gave her cereal and a peach for breakfast. But for some of her friends, the lunch was their first meal of the day.

"We should thank them," Samantha said somberly. "Otherwise we would be starving all day."

District officials expect to serve nearly 5 million meals this summer, nearly 10 times the number of last year, Binkle said. They have put up banners, placed ads on radio and television, and sent letters to parents to publicize the meal sites.

Other government agencies and nonprofits are also stepping in to help reach more children. The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks will be offering lunches and snacks at 106 sites. California food pantries and other community organizations have also registered to provide subsidized meals.

Garcia's son, 16-year-old Kevin Gonzalez, said his parents never needed to send their children to summer school before. When the economy was better, his father, a painter, would take the family on holiday to Mexico. But these days, neither of his parents can get enough work.

Kevin said he will be attending remedial classes this summer, but his mother has not found a program for his 12-year-old sister, Ruby Gonzalez.

"There is always food at school," Kevin said. "It is not always good food. But it's always there. You don't have to go out looking for it. We miss that in the summer."

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FIXING SCHOOL STAFFING: With teacher layoffs disproportionately hurting lower-performing schools, SB 1285 would help solve the problem by prohibiting such layoffs from exceeding the average for their district.

Los Angeles Times Editorial

June 30, 2010 -- Even in good times, teachers with little experience have a hard job at low-achieving schools with disadvantaged students. They don't get paid much, and the students are more challenging to teach. And these aren't good times. Job insecurity is a serious problem. Teachers are laid off in order of seniority, so the newest teachers lose their jobs first.

The situation is even harder on students. Because low-performing schools tend to be staffed by newer teachers, students don't get the benefit of experienced instructors — and then they lose more of their teachers during layoffs. Markham Middle School, newly staffed under the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, lost close to half its teachers to the layoffs last year, and well into the school year was unable to fill several of those jobs because of the district's byzantine rehiring rules and because many of the more experienced teachers who had been laid off preferred to remain jobless rather than work there. After the American Civil Liberties Union sued, a judge ruled that, at least for now, no more teachers could be laid off at Markham or several similarly affected schools.

A bill by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) outlines a workable and fair solution to some of the underlying problems: Layoffs at the state's lowest-performing schools could not exceed the average for their district. If Los Angeles Unified had to lay off 10% of its teachers, for example, no more than 10% of Markham's teachers could be laid off. Within each school, though, layoffs would still be based on seniority.

The bill, SB 1285, which will be heard Wednesday by the Assembly Education Committee, has run up against expected opposition from the California Teachers Assn., which wants seniority rules to remain intact, but also more surprising objections from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders at L.A. Unified who prefer to end seniority-based staffing. They want layoffs to be based on teachers' performance, with the least effective teachers losing their jobs.

We would agree, within limits, if the timing weren't so off. L.A. Unified is just beginning the task of creating meaningful teacher evaluations after years of virtually ignoring them. It will take a long time to flesh out and implement those plans; the recession is now.

The bill also has a side benefit: Moderately experienced teachers would have more job security at the affected schools, and might opt to transfer to those schools in order to protect themselves. That would help draw veteran teachers to schools that have historically had a hard time attracting or keeping them. Even if that doesn't come to pass, the bill would even out the layoff rules to prevent the hardest staffing hits from falling on the shoulders of the poorest students.


By The Associated Press from Edweek

June 28, 2010 | Alameda, Calif. -- To help protect their schools from California's unrelenting budget crisis, some communities are voting to pay more property taxes to preserve teacher jobs, smaller class sizes and electives such as art and music.

So far this year, more than 20 districts have held elections for school parcel taxes, which are levied on individual parcels of property, and at least 16 have approved them. More districts are trying to place such measures on the ballot later this year.

But the tax measures, which require a two-thirds majority to pass, are mostly winning approval in smaller, wealthier districts, according to education experts, raising worries about growing inequality between schools in rich and poor communities.

"It's a story of widening disparity," said John Rogers, who heads the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. "Across the state, the pain is felt everywhere, but because of the unequal distribution of wealth, some areas are able to respond."

Some California lawmakers and education advocates are pushing legislation that would lower the percentage of the vote needed to pass a school parcel tax to 55 percent.

The two-thirds threshold was just out of reach for Alameda, a San Francisco Bay area city that failed to pass a school parcel tax Tuesday even though nearly 66 percent of voters approved it.

Hundreds of volunteers staffed phone banks and knocked on doors to campaign for Measure E, which would have given the city some of California's highest school taxes, with homeowners paying $659 annually. But it was fiercely opposed by commercial property owners who would pay up to $9,500 per parcel each year.

"Measure E won. It just didn't pass," said John Knox White, a parent with two children in Alameda schools. "Where else do we say that one-third of voters should have veto power over a huge majority? That's not representative democracy."

Now the 9,500-student school district is moving ahead with a plan to increase class sizes, cut adult education, eliminate its gifted student program, shorten the school year and lay off dozens of teachers and guidance counselors. Several neighborhood schools could be closed next year.

"The kind of impact it's going to have on students and incoming students is going to be immense," said Maya Robles-Wong, an incoming senior at Alameda High School. "I'm more worried for my sister and future generations of Alameda High School students."

Robles-Wong and Alameda Unified School District are among the plaintiffs in a high-profile lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's school finance system. They allege the system leads to unequal learning opportunities and doesn't provide enough money for students to meet the state's rigorous academic standards.

Education advocates, meanwhile, are urging Congress to provide another round of emergency money for schools, warning that up to 300,000 teachers could lose their jobs as federal stimulus funds dry up.

"I'm desperately worried about the loss of teacher jobs as we go into the fall," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told teachers at a meeting in Marin County Friday. "We have to take action now."

By voting to raise local property taxes at the district level, some locales are reversing a 30-year-old trend in which states took the more prominent role in education funding, said Kim Rueben, an economist with the Urban Center's Tax Policy Center. But Rueben also noted the resulting disparity: "Some places will be more able to pass these taxes than others."

Between 2001 and June 2009, 83 of California's 980 school districts approved parcel taxes, but most of those districts have less than 10,000 students and serve fewer low-income children than the average district, according to Edsource, an education research group.

The wealthy Bay Area suburb of Piedmont, which has some of California's top public schools, has passed parcel taxes seven times in the past 25 years, including two last year. Homeowners in the 2,550-student district pay more than $2,000 in school parcel taxes each year.

By contrast, Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest with nearly 700,000 students, failed to pass a modest $100 per parcel tax in June. The district is laying off thousands of teachers and other school employees as it grapples with a massive budget deficit.

Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction, wants to reduce the threshold to pass school parcel taxes from 66.7 percent to 55 percent, which would allow more communities to secure extra money for schools and reduce inequality among districts.

"We should provide the mechanism for districts to have a legitimate shot" at passing school parcel taxes, O'Connell said. "Think about how many school districts don't even try to pass a parcel tax because they don't think they can get the two-thirds vote."

But taxpayer advocates say there should be a high bar to raise property taxes, especially at a time when many homeowners are struggling financially.

"The two-thirds threshold forces the proponents of the tax make a good argument about why the tax is needed," said David Kline, a spokesman for the California Taxpayers Association. "It gives more protection to the homeowners who will ultimately be paying a higher property tax for many years to come."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


By Rick Orlov and C.J. Lin, Staff Writers | Los Angeles Daily News

30 June 2010 - Thousands of government workers throughout Los Angeles could begin losing their jobs this week with the start of the new fiscal year, even as officials make last-minute bids to save positions through further service cuts, tax hikes and union concessions.

Up to 4,300 jobs could be cut next fiscal year from local government agencies, including the city, county and schools, if officials and unions fail to reach deals to slash spending.

Los Angeles Unified School District alone could shed up to 2,500 jobs this year, although that number is expected to fluctuate through the fall as officials negotiate with unions and monitor the state revenue picture.

Among those who have already fallen victim to the district's budget woes is Steve Nairin, who was a fifth-grade teacher at San Jose Elementary School in Mission Hills last year.

Nairin received a pink slip in March, but has been offered a long-term substitute position at another local school.

The father of three boys, each younger than 5 years old, said having a temporary job is better than nothing, but his pay will be less than half of what he made as a full-time teacher.

"There are big-time concerns," Nairin said. "My wife is not working and I have three young boys at home. My concern is being able to make ends meet for them."

Workers throughout the region are facing similar anxieties.

At the Los Angeles city level, officials and union leaders were engaged in

last-minute negotiations Tuesday to try to avoid the immediate layoff of 372 city workers starting Thursday.
A hard line

Several City Council members – led by Richard Alarcón and Paul Koretz – were fighting to delay the layoffs until October, hoping enough revenue will come in later to city coffers to save their jobs.

But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several other council members drew a hard line to go ahead with the layoffs to show the unions how serious the issue is and extract concessions in the current contract.

In adopting its $6.07 billion budget for 2010-11, the Los Angeles City Council said the city will need to lay off at least 761 workers – and possibly 1,000 more, depending on revenue from the lease of city-owned garages.

The city has said it needs to get $51 million in concessions to avert immediate layoffs and another $57 million by the end of the year to keep the additional 1,000 workers.

Councilman Dennis Zine, one of the members of the Executive Employee Relations Committee that is involved with the negotiations, said the issue is complicated because unions last year agreed to forego raises to prevent layoffs.

"There is a cost to the city if we lay off workers," Zine said. "Last year, they agreed to pass on raises if there were no layoffs. If we lay off these workers we have to pay those raises."

More than 300 workers at the city's public libraries have already been laid off even as the City Council on Tuesday ordered a ballot measure drafted for a $39 parcel tax to fund libraries.

The budget cuts are also forcing libraries to close a second day each week - Mondays - beginning July 18. Opening hours have been shortened on remaining days.

Some librarians across the city have been wearing pink slips with the names of coworkers who had been laid off until the union could send them black armbands.

"It's just very sad," said West Hills resident Doris Lichter, whose children go to the Woodland Hills branch several times a week. "The educational portion of everything is being cut."

A total of 828 workers are left to staff the city's libraries after 328 were laid off this month based on seniority.

Carmen Nigro, who curated the science and technology section at Central Library, was one of them.

"I hate to see it just gutted and desecrated," Nigro said. "There's a lot of harm being done in terms of service to the community."

Although Nigro had worked as a part-time messenger clerk at the Sherman Oaks branch since 2005, she didn't become a full-time employee until September 2008. She was one of the hundreds whose last day on the job was June 17 although she had worked in the system for five years.

'Too early to predict'

Los Angeles County, which employs more than 100,000 people, is not planning any layoffs at this time, as officials look at savings through other methods, including a target of saving $115 million through a joint labor-management effort.

But officials are still concerned about the possibility that the state could withhold even more money from the county as lawmakers look to close a $19 billion budget shortfall. The county estimates it could lose up to an additional $1.25 billion once the state budget is approved.

"We are still very concerned about the budgetary actions the state might take," said county Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brence Culp. "And whenever we know what those are we'll have to respond accordingly, but it's too early to predict the outcome of those actions yet."

The Los Angeles County Office of Education, a state-funded public agency that is associated with but not part of the county government system, will see some reductions. On Thursday, LACOE is expected to eliminate about 70 of 397 positions, including teaching posts, in its Division of Alternative Education. The division runs community day schools and other alternative schools throughout the county.

Deals made to save jobs

LAUSD, facing a deficit of about $640 million for the 2010-11 school year, is looking at laying off 682 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians and about 1,800 nonteaching employees such as janitors and office workers.

But that is an improvement from the 6,300 jobs that the district was considering cutting earlier this year, and officials say the current figure could continue to change before the start of the school year.

To save jobs, the district struck a deal with local unions that called for 12 furlough days – and a shorter school calendar – over the next two years, restoring about 2,000 positions.

The district saved additional jobs and programs through increases in attendance, spending cuts and some additional state funding.

For example, originally district officials expected to cut elementary arts and music programs in half but scaled back the cut to only a third. Also, the number of schools that will be closed dropped from 11 to 3.

Anne Young-Havens, LAUSD's interim deputy personnel director, said exactly which workers will lose their jobs is still unclear. Part of the problem is that while some jobs have been eliminated, some have been bought back by local schools during their local budgeting process.

Young-Havens also said that the district is still negotiating with employee unions, and those negotiations could also result in additional jobs being saved or spared.

Staff Writers Connie Llanos and Troy Anderson contributed to this report.

THOUSANDS OF ABBY SUNDERLANDS IN OUR MIDST: Countless kids are forced to navigate neighborhoods as fearsome as 20-foot waves to get to school, who are sailing solo in their pursuit of excellence + ●● smf

And no one races to their rescue when trouble hits.


Karin Klein | Op-Ed in the L.A. Times

June 29, 2010 -- A brave teenager came to mind the other day. She is a 15-year-old girl who had served time for drugs and robbery, and had decided to shed her past and do well in school. But the streets were a constant danger. She told me, in her gentle voice, how afraid she was to leave Locke High School every day because of the gangs that prowled off campus. Her family had worked out a plan for her: Go to a relative's house nearby until her brother could pick her up and take her home.

Paradoxically, I thought of this girl, and other teenagers I met during a year of covering Locke, because of Abby Sunderland, the bold 16-year-old who plied the ocean, got herself into a sea of trouble and then was rescued as the world watched and fretted. Child experts and adventuring spirits took vehement positions on whether Abby was the offspring of a reckless and publicity-seeking family or a heroine who pointed out the error in our common wisdom that children should be inoculated against every hazard. But the stories of the Locke teenagers give us a third way to look at this: Abby Shmabby.

Oh, sure, I appreciate her fearlessness, or ability to overcome fear. At the same time, I despair of the foolishness that sends a young person out to sea alone knowing that the timing of her departure will bring her to the south Indian Ocean at a particularly treacherous time.

But mostly, I wonder about the nature of actions that grab our collective attention, and those that go ignored.

Dangerous as it is to attempt a solo circumnavigation of the globe, thousands of teenagers here in Southern California have their own extraordinary tales of grit. They conquer their fears and losses, and muster the determination and maturity to navigate neighborhoods as fearsome as 20-foot waves to get to school. They stick with their studies even when they're sailing solo in their pursuit of excellence. And no one races to their rescue when trouble hits.

Say what you will about Abby's parents, they buoyed her with support of every kind. A super-safe boat with special watertight compartments, various emergency beacons, drysuit, you name it. They made sure she had oodles of coaching, family-taught skills and adult-led supervision so she could tackle those dangers. They were even prepared for the dangerous shoals of a possible reality show. And when Abby got in trouble on the seas, the world came to her rescue.

The world doesn't galvanize for that kind of rescue in neighborhoods where children have trouble getting to school safely because each block on the way is controlled by a different gang. They go to campuses that usually aren't set up for their success. Some have supportive families that try to guide them, but others don't. Some don't have families at all; more than 20% of Locke students are in the foster-care system. Many don't even get enough to eat. Yet some of them push themselves every day to go to school, to try for a better future.

I met a lot of kids like that at Locke.

One senior told me about how much he was looking forward to attending George Washington University, where he'd been accepted after racking up an impressive list of Advanced Placement courses. Reaching that lofty place took years of planning that included plotting a safe route to school, past the different gang factions.

Then there was the girl who showed up every day even though she was preoccupied with fears about her home life. Her only relative was a grandmother who was well into her 80s and beginning to ail; she worried constantly about what would happen if her grandmother died. One boy had parents who paid so little attention to his schooling that he had collected only eight of the 23 credits he was supposed to have by age 17. But then he re-committed himself to his studies and became a devotee of Chaucer.

And there was the young man who had missed so many classes, lured by his friends on the street, that by the middle of senior year, he was miles short of graduation. He dropped out, but changed his mind months later, returning to school the next fall and enrolling in online classes where students could study as hard and collect credits as quickly as they chose. He found he had a penchant for philosophy, put in extra time at school and earned his diploma well before the end of the school year.

Abby asked to take on her sailing obstacles; these kids didn't. With Abby reaching home and the hubbub about her — wunderkind or publicity junkie? — rising again, it's a good time to spare some attention for kids who don't have parents to underwrite their dreams. Not that I'm looking to denigrate the skills and moxie required to take on Abby's impressive outing. I just wish that we as a society were better at noticing and admiring the teenagers who pull off equally daunting and praiseworthy feats every day, in our midst.


Karin Klein is an editorial writer and member of the Times Editorial Board covering education, environment, religion and culture. She occasionally contributes columns to the op-ed page and Current. She is the 2006-07 winner of the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writers, under which she spent a year studying and writing about the first wave of children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, now that they have reached adulthood.
Klein was previously an assignment editor with The Times, and also has worked at the Orange County Register, San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee. She attended Wellesley College, did her graduate work in journalism at UC Berkeley, and is currently an adjunct professor of journalism at Chapman University in Orange. She lives in Laguna Beach, where she is a volunteer naturalist.


●● smf: The sub-headline characterization: “And no one races to their rescue when trouble hits” misses the whole point of educational reform ongoing  at Locke, in L.A. and across the nation. If anything we would-be rescuers are too-many, too-eager, too-urgent – stumbling over ourselves while admiring the clarity of our vision. Green Dot’s intervention at Locke – described in The Times editorial series “A Year at Locke” and in last week’s NY Times’ Locke High: School Is Turned Around, but $15 Million Cost Gives Pause confirms this.

This isn’t about reform or charters or the investment of huge amounts of money; this isn’t about business models or data or magic bullets. Nothing substitutes for concerned parents engaged in the process of their child’s education. Nothing substitutes for the one good teacher that gets it. No one replaces the administrator or the custodian or the nurse or the counselor that connects. Or the student who both gets it and goes for it – whether “it” is George Washington University, Chaucer, solo circumnavigation or a high school diploma.

Nothing substitutes for Heart.

Monday, June 28, 2010





by School boardmember Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte - from her monthly newsletter


n. pl. val·e·dic·to·ries

A closing or farewell statement or address, especially one delivered at graduation exercises.


Of, relating to, or expressing a valedictory.

- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

This June, more than 20,000 students will graduate from LAUSD schools.

Each will celebrate in his or her own way, along with teachers, family and friends. Some will feel a sense of relief, maybe as a result of a less than committed academic performance. Others will view this graduation as one milestone in preparation for the next. Some students reached this point despite unstable living conditions, financial hardships or the loss of a parent, guardian or sibling on whom they depended. And, many did so in a quiet, unassuming way.

TykiN One such student is Tyki Nelworth, [photo, right from LA Times] who despite homelessness, excelled in AP classes, participated in three sports, served as Student Body President, graduated with honors from Washington Preparatory High School and will attend the West Point Military Academy on scholarship this fall.

Tyki symbolizes the countless LAUSD students who refused to let life’s circumstances get in the way of high academic performance and the possibility of a college education. We should applaud and encourage all of the Tykis of this district who continue to overcome obstacles in pursuit of their goals.


Students, teachers and some county leaders are mounting a last-ditch effort to keep the schools open, at least temporarily. 'I don't think I have a place to go,' one student says.

By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

campus on the budget chopping block

Rudy Spivery teaches students at Downey Community Day School, which is scheduled to close because of L.A. County budget cuts. He's scheduled to be out of a job July 1, but he has focused most of his attention on his students’ plight. "This is morally wrong to me to put kids out like this," he said. "It’s a shock to the psyche and unfair.” (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times / June 26, 2010)

June 28, 2010 -- Nearly 700 students enrolled in specialized programs will be uprooted Wednesday if Los Angeles County education officials proceed with plans to close nearly two dozen alternative schools because of budget cuts.

Students, teachers and some county leaders are mounting a last-ditch effort to keep the schools open, at least temporarily.

"I don't think I have a place to go, to tell you the truth," said Gabriel during a break between classes at Downey Community Day School, one of those slated to close. Like many of the students, Gabriel had been in trouble, running with a gang and ditching classes at his regular school.

At the Downey school, his grades improved and he passed the mandatory California High School Exit Exam. He fears that all of the gains he made may be erased if the campus closes.

"It's hard for me to stay out of the streets," said Gabriel, who, like other students in the programs, can't be fully identified because of their status. "When I'm here, it takes my mind off things. If the school closes, I worry it might be a big fall for me."

Operated by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the community day schools and independent study programs serve juvenile offenders on probation, students who have been expelled, pregnant teens and new mothers and those who can't return to traditional schools for various reasons. Most of the schools operate year-round.

County officials said the alternative schools are closing because of low enrollment and financial constraints. The schools are $3.8 million in the red after state funding was reduced 20% for the 2009-10 fiscal year, said David Flores, director of the county's alternative education division.

The alternative programs also have been hurt because not as many students are being referred by school districts experiencing their own budget problems, Flores said.

"It's been multiple compounding issues that have hurt funding," Flores said. "In a perfect world, we would be opening new programs instead of closing them."

Currently, 53 of these schools operate throughout Los Angeles County and serve 1,683 students; 28 of them will remain open. The fate of three others has yet to be determined.

About 30 teachers will lose their jobs when the 22 schools close June 30, Flores said.

Officials are working to help students stay either in remaining alternative programs or in high schools or continuation schools in their home districts.

"We're reviewing every student's case to determine what's best," Flores said. "But our programs are not intended to keep kids for their whole high school education, but to help them get right and stop bad behaviors."

County officials said news of the program cuts caught them by surprise. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal at its meeting Tuesday to request that the schools remain open for at least 30 days. That motion, by Supervisor Don Knabe, urges the office of education to work with local districts to find a way to keep the schools open, including cost-sharing arrangements.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said she supports those efforts.

"We want to make sure that students are being accommodated," Molina said. "We appreciate there are funding issues, but many kids unfortunately need to attend these schools and we need to try to find a way to fund them and keep them intact."

Many students said they fear returning to volatile situations and huge classes that hinder learning. Others said that only the alternative programs offer the kind of individualized support they need to succeed.

Ana Karen came to Downey Community Day school in November after being expelled from a traditional school for selling drugs. Her teachers and classmates at Downey have become like family, and she said they have changed her attitude. She now aspires to attend nursing school.

"I don't think they would take me back at my other school," said Ana, 17. "If this school closes, I wasn't really thinking of going back to school. I'm thinking of dropping out."

Rudy Spivery, a teacher at the Downey school, is scheduled to be out of a job July 1, but he has focused most of his attention on his students' plight.

"This is morally wrong to me to put kids out like this," Spivery said. "It's a shock to the psyche and unfair."

Teachers said students do not have enough time to find and enroll in new schools. Many face an uncertain future back on the streets, squandering opportunities as well as taxing county law enforcement and welfare services, the instructors said.

At the Mission Independent Study Program in Pomona, most of the 16 students are teenage parents who also have jobs and can't attend regular classes, said teacher Pamela Wright. In the four years since it began, the program has had a 100% graduation rate and a 100% passing rate on the High School Exit Exam, Wright said.

She has presented a plan to Supt. Darline P. Robles to continue her program by taking on more students without a teaching assistant.

"My students and their parents are very fearful and very upset," Wright said. "I understand that we're in a budget crisis in California. I'm trying to present something that is solution-oriented."

The Los Angeles County Education Assn., which represent teachers, has proposed keeping the schools open for 90 days to allow county probation, mental health and welfare departments, community-based providers and others time to collaborate on a plan, said president Mark Lewis.

"Many of these students are going to fall through the cracks," Lewis said, "and the county as a whole is going to suffer."


Overcoming a few roadblocks during the first year, administrators and students of Central Los Angeles High School No. 9 School of Visual and Performing Arts remain optimistic.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times


Jessie Arnstein, as Peter Pan, right, at the nursery with Ashley Samudro, as Wendy, during rehearsal of "Peter Pan" at the new Central Los Angeles High School No.9 for the Visual and Performing Arts. The production concludes the school's first year. (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los Angeles Times / May 31, 2010)

June 27, 2010  -- The first musical at the $232-million arts high school downtown featured two very different Peter Pans, a veteran performer and a newcomer, who together exemplify the school's goal of both showcasing and developing talent.

Their performances at Central Los Angeles High School No. School of Visual and Performing Arts concluded an occasionally rocky but overall successful inaugural year for the school district's new performing arts campus.

Financial uncertainties persist and a top administrator is departing; the accreditation review took two attempts. The school's very mission — targeting students from nearby low-income neighborhoods — remains controversial, but has been embraced by the students and staff.

"We've got the whole spectrum of performers, whether just starting out or those people like me who've been performing their whole life," said 17-year-old junior Jessie Arnstein, the more experienced "Peter Pan" performer. "We all help each other to get better. It's actually really great, because we all learn from each other."

Her fellow "Peter Pan" performer— 15-year-old freshman Andio Manguray — had never previously sung in public. And unlike Jessie, he had no vocal training.

"You don't even know what was going on in my head," Andio said comparing himself to Jessie. "She had like 40 zillion musicals she's been in. She's an amazing singer and a great actress."

Both students were aware of the new arts school while it was still under construction. Jessie, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, was intrigued by the school's large steel tower off the Hollywood Freeway. Andio visited on a class field trip from Virgil Middle School. Both decided the new school was where they wanted to be.

The student population reflects the school's mission: Overall, about three-quarters of the students qualify for subsidized meals; 65% of the students are Latino; 12% African American; 12% white and 11% Asian. About 13% are learning English.

"Peter Pan" director and drama teacher William Goldyn moved to the new arts school after 17 years at Hollywood High School. He appreciates the arts focus, noting that a production meeting draws 12 skilled theater-arts teachers, such as technical director Danny McDermott.

"It was my idea to do 'Peter Pan,' " McDermott said. "It's technically the most difficult musical, and I wanted to show what I know the school could do."

The "Peter Pan" production included a massive cast, sword fights, giant illuminated flowers, sliding and elevating set pieces and, of course, actors flying on cables.

The new school started to face complications prior to its opening. Well-regarded, experienced outside candidates turned down or withdrew from the principal's job. Officials eventually chose two district administrators: Suzanne Blake to serve as principal and Rex Patton as executive director in charge of fundraising and coordination with arts and civic organizations.

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ramon C. Cortines recently transferred Patton to Mark Twain Middle School to develop a magnet program. Cortines said budget constraints could not sustain two top administrators as well as four assistant principals at the arts school.

The arts high school costs about 30% more to run, Patton estimated, and there is limited funding from the district for costumes, set design, bows, strings, instruments and lights on music stands, as well as the extra maintenance and supervision required to run the theater outside of school hours.

Support has come from many directions: Arts organizations downtown have provided workshops, master classes and free performances at the school. Fees from film shoots at the distinctive campus have brought in $350,000. But limited charitable donations, totaling around $27,000, suggest that the city's arts philanthropists have yet to embrace the school.

That might be fallout from the disappointment that billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad expressed when the school was left under district control. He, among others, had insisted that an outside, independent charter school organization would do a better job.

Calls for the district to relinquish control resurfaced after an initial visit in March by an accreditation team from the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges. Cortines quickly patched things over and arranged a second visit. This time, the result was a full three-year accreditation.

One problem was finding enough money to hire a large arts faculty, which meant that core academic teachers had to instruct as many as 240 students.

Blake said she successfully pushed for an increase in district funding for next year that should lower the number of students per teacher by 30 to 40.

The principal was beset by pockets of dissension that prompted the head of the district's teachers union to call for her dismissal. Other teachers assertively defended Blake as tireless and supportive.

"Here if I say I need fencing equipment, they find money so they can purchase 35 complete sets," said Greg Schiller, a science teacher who is also coveted for his theater expertise on stage combat.

Academically, students arrived from widely varying levels: Some talked early on of watered-down classes while others disagreed and noted, for example, that some juniors were already taking calculus.

"It's a challenge creating any new institution from scratch," said Mark Slavkin, former school board member and current vice president for education programs at the Music Center. "They surpassed my expectations for the first year."

The school system is trying to develop feeder arts programs in the earlier grades at area schools. But for now, most performers are beginners, which showed at the spirited year-end dance concert despite ingenious staging and thorough rehearsal.

"In four years you're going to be blown away," predicted regional district administrator Byron Maltez.

Districtwide, Los Angeles Unified already has a supply of theatrical standouts who can't get into the school, because 70% must come from the local attendance area.

At the new school, Andio proved to be a quick learner. Goldyn praised Andio's ability to capture Pan's kidlike essence. The student showed off his developing flair by handling two swords at once in a duel. Jessie helped with his stage blocking and harmonies. In one scene, her voice replaced his: She sang operatically from offstage as Peter taunted Captain Hook by pretending to be an alluring woman.

Jessie, too, had to grow as a performer. For the role, she had to overcome girlish mannerisms as well as a strained voice and a broken toe. Her family was impressed by her skill in carrying the show.

And 17 family members at Andio's first performance surged ahead of children wanting Peter Pan's autograph.

"They loved it," Andio said. "They didn't even know I could do these things."

YouTube: DOE MEETING WITH PARENTS: A Conversation with Parents about Parental Involvement and Education

Washington DC: May 26, 2010:
"A new era of cooperation with parents, students and families across the nation"


from by The Associated Press

28 JUNE 2010 - LOS ANGELES (AP) ― When state budget cuts imperiled city schools, a group of parents fought back by enlisting Hollywood stars to spread a message targeting one of their own, Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

The satirical video featuring actors Megan Fox and fiancee  Brian Austin Green [] highlights how funding shortfalls have killed jobs for librarians, nurses, translators, janitors and teachers.


While the video was filmed in the affluent hills above Hollywood where Green's son attends Wonderland Avenue Elementary School, the cuts are more deeply felt at an inner-city school like Markham Middle School.

Both schools have been highlighted as the Los Angeles Unified School District has grappled with $1.5 billion in budget cuts and nearly 3,000 teacher layoffs during the past two years.

But comparing the two schools shows a remarkably uneven impact, and just how much depends on factors ranging from income and parent involvement to teacher tenure.

The state's education funding crisis, now entering its third school year, only promises to widen the breech between the haves and have-nots in the nation's second-largest school district.

Nestled in leafy, secluded Laurel Canyon, Wonderland is more than just a top school in the city -- it's one of the best in the state.

In addition to the video that has been viewed more than one million times, Wonderland second graders were featured on CNN writing to Schwarzenegger to protest budget cuts.

Serving gang-plagued Watts and two of the city's largest housing projects, Markham is one of the city's lowest performers with test scores 34 percent below the acceptable mark.

The ACLU sued the school system this spring charging that Markham students weren't learning from substitutes who replaced laid-off teachers.

Schwarzenegger himself held up Markham as an example of how the teacher tenure system backfires because layoffs disproportionately strike younger teachers eager to work in the inner-city.

The two schools have been long divided by more than freeways.

The year before Tim Sullivan became Markham principal two years ago, 142 students were arrested around the 1,500-pupil campus.

The assistant principal went to prison for sexually abusing female students.

To keep kids safe on their way to school and maintain Markham free of gang graffiti, Sullivan decided to meet regularly with local gang leaders. "This isn't the place for the weak and fainthearted," said the 43-year-old principal.

A more basic problem was finding teachers.

Sullivan didn't get a single inquiry at district job fairs so he recruited recent graduates keen for the challenge at annual salaries averaging $45,000.

When budget cuts rolled around last year, Markham lost half its teaching staff -- 35 teachers -- because they hadn't reached tenure.

They were replaced by substitutes at a daily salary of $173 -- more than a fulltime probationary teacher earns, but without benefits.

In some cases, the subs served as little more than babysitters.

Several gave all students a C grade because they didn't have enough schoolwork to grade adequately, according to the ACLU lawsuit.

Another 34 teachers, including 10 long-term subs, got pink slips this year, spurring the ACLU's successful injunction to halt the layoffs.

"A high moral calling can only last so long before you feel like the butt of a joke," said English teacher Nicholas Melvoin, who was laid off last year but returned as a long-term substitute.

The layoffs have stripped the curriculum to basics, without electives.

Markham's plight drew the attention of Schwarzenegger, who used the school as backdrop to announce his support of tenure reform that would allow schools flexibility in layoffs.

Across town, Wonderland Principal Don Wilson's problems are far different.

A pile of resumes sits on his desk for a job opening next year.

Electives are not subject to district funding whims.

The school has full-time art, music and gym teachers, plus teaching assistants for each teacher, paid for by parents through the PTA's fundraising

nonprofit, which raises $350,000 a year.

Boosters have paid for elaborate playgrounds, cutting-edge equipment in classrooms, field trips and professional development for teachers.

But Wilson must work to keep that revenue flowing.

He spent a recent Saturday night in a tent on the playground to help raise $500 per child in a sleepover fundraiser.

"You become a developer," Wilson said. "That's a huge part of what I do here."

Parents are asked to contribute $700 a year per child and many donate more in cash and other initiatives such as buying mugs embossed with children's art work.

"Parents really value the public school opportunity because they're not paying the big tuition bill," said PTA President Terri Levy as she organized an appreciation event to provide breakfast, lunch and a car wash for each teacher.

Wilson knows he's fortunate, although he, too, has lost personnel and is down to having a nurse only one day per week at his 550-pupil school.

The principal, who spent much of his career in the sprawling city's more urban schools, said suburban and inner-city parents want the same for the children.

But Wonderland parents possess not only a huge amount of resources, including those to make the slickly produced video opposing cuts, they also have high expectations.

That's the key difference, Wilson said.

"They bring expectations as to what an education should be," he said. "At other schools, parents and teachers come with a limited vision of high expectations."

Markham's Sullivan doesn't begrudge more affluent schools in the district.

He does wish the system was more equitable. "Just give us an even playing field to show what we can really do," he said.


Shelby Grad -- Los Angeles Times

June 24, 2010 |  7:24 am -- A kindergarten graduation ceremony at a Victorville elementary school turned ugly Wednesday when several parents got into a fight, causing authorities to place the campus on lockdown.

The incident occurred at Puesta del Sol Elementary School, with officials saying a verbal altercation between two parents turned physical.

“According to witness statements, it appears a few parents went over to a field away from the actual ceremony to discuss something when the alleged fight broke out,” Karen Hunt, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Victorville station, told the Victorville Daily Press.

No arrests were made, and no one was hurt in the incident, but the school's principal sent a letter home to parents banning them from the campus.

"No parents will be allowed on campus for end of the year activities," said the letter, which was obtained by KCBS Channel 2. "We apologize for this, however we must maintain a closed campus to avoid further incidents." TAKE ACTION TO SHUT THE CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLE AND BRING FISCAL SANITY TO THE CALIFORNIA STATE BUDGET + CORPORATE WELFARE AND CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET DEFICIT

          "We're constantly being told that in these straitened times, we need to make hard choices. So where should our money go — to Warner Bros., to the membership of the Chamber of Commerce, or to the schools, the poor and the sick?"

-Michael Hiltzik | LA Times columnist San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting discusses Prop. 13 and what YOU can do make change. UC Berkeley, October 26, 2009.

Corporate welfare and California's budget deficit

by Michael Hiltzik | LA Times columnist

11:34 AM 6/18/2010 - I believe we can all agree on the root cause of the state's $20-billion budget gap.

It's welfare: all those millions of taxpayer dollars going to recipients who line up for their government handouts instead of competing in the marketplace on a level playing field like the rest of us, who don't pay their fair share of taxes and who get protected by a politically powerful lobby.

For all the hand-wringing by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about how there's almost nothing left to cut in the state budget except services to children, the aged and the destitute, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on handouts to business. That's despite the lack of evidence that some of these programs keep employers in the state, lure employers from out of state or are cost-effective in any general way.

The governor is asking the Legislature to take such draconian steps as eliminating CalWORKS, the state's principal family welfare program (serving 1.1 million children), and downsizing child care and mental health programs.

Meanwhile, corporate welfare programs such as tax breaks for some of our largest companies and "incentives" for our largest industries are to survive. To his credit, Schwarzenegger has proposed delaying some new corporate tax breaks.

The state budget is rife with industry goodies. For example, there's the Hollywood subsidy, currently pegged at $100 million a year in tax credits.

The rationale for this welfare program is to keep productions from fleeing to other states, taking California jobs with them. But you could go blind looking for an independent study, as opposed to studies funded by the state film commissions handing out the dough, showing that such programs produce more in overall benefits than they cost.

Quite the contrary — according to Governing magazine, New Mexico, which had aggressively courted producers with $40 million in tax rebates, concluded in 2008 that for every dollar it spent, it received 14.4 cents in return.

No one knows to what extent the production companies pocketing California's cash would have filmed here anyway. And the program is hardly aimed at companies on the financial edge — as my colleague Richard Verrier reported recently, $20 million is going to pictures being shot here this year by Warner Bros. The money isn't allocated according to need but on a first-come, first-served basis among qualified productions, the California Film Commission says. In other words, it's more a windfall for the nimblest applicants than a program targeted at productions most likely to leave without it.

The biggest state incentives are attached to enterprise zones, which cost as much as $500 million a year in forgone taxes. Businesses locating within any of 42 designated zones across the state can apply for tax credits and other bounties for hiring unemployed or low-income workers.

But there's a vigorous debate over whether the program increases employment. A study published last year by the Public Policy Institute of California found "no statistically significant effect on employment" from the program.

That hasn't moved its influential fans. The California Chamber of Commerce, which was last seen electioneering for Pacific Gas & Electric's Proposition 16, thinks enterprise zones are great.

For proof, it relies on two studies from 2006. It fails to mention that the author of one of them, the late Ted K. Bradshaw of UC Davis, had received funding for some of his work from the California Assn. of Enterprise Zones, which is a bit like my obtaining a character reference from my mother.

The chamber quotes Bradshaw as concluding that California's program is "probably the most successful in the nation." But it doesn't say he also found that two-thirds of the growth in the zones would have occurred anyway, or that no "definitive study" had been conducted to nail down the "impact of the zones on local economic development."

In other words, while we know that children have to eat and get medical care, we don't know for sure that businesses need the half-billion-dollar annual tax break they get from enterprise zones. So why is the former expendable and the latter a sacred cow?

As for the other 2006 study, it found that for households within enterprise zones, poverty rates were lower and incomes higher than in the rest of the state. But that measure applies to households within the zones, not employees of zone-based companies, which are by no means the same thing, according to Jed Kolko, an author of the critical Public Policy Institute of California survey.

The chief mechanism for corporate welfare in California is the tax system. Some industries whacked hard by other states are untouched by California — this is the only major oil-producing state that doesn't levy a severance tax on oil taken from the ground, even though such a tax could yield billions of dollars a year.

Despite this state's reputation for being tough on business, other states rely far more on business taxes than we do. According to a survey by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, California ranked 35th in terms of business' share of state and local taxes in 2007. (That is, in 33 other states and the District of Columbia, business carried a higher burden relative to individual taxpayers than in California.) Measured by business taxes as a percentage of gross state product, California ranked 32nd.

The business lobby loves to cite California's high corporate income tax rate as emblematic of our negative business climate, but that's cherry-picking — in this state the income tax ranks high as a percentage of total business taxation because the property tax is so low, accounting for a lower percentage of total taxation than in 44 other states.

None of this means that business incentives are necessarily bad or that some may not indeed promote job growth. But the budget disaster requires every program to be measured against competing priorities, and corporate welfare hasn't gotten enough scrutiny.

What could we do with all that money? The $100 million spent on Hollywood could maintain any of several Medi-Cal benefits the governor proposes to cut. The $500 million spent on enterprise zones could save half of CalWORKS, and $1 billion from a severance tax could save all of it, benefiting over a million children. Eliminate some of these questionable programs, and more could be spent on the schools and the universities.

We're constantly being told that in these straitened times, we need to make hard choices. So where should our money go — to Warner Bros., to the membership of the Chamber of Commerce, or to the schools, the poor and the sick?

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at, read past columns at, check out, and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

LEARNING TEAMS AND THE FUTURE OF TEACHING: “Learning is no longer preparation for the job, it is the job.”

Commentary By Tom Carroll & Hanna Doerr | | Vol. 36, Issue 29

June 28, 2010 --Learning is no longer preparation for the job, it is the job. In a world in which information expands exponentially, today’s students are active participants in an ever-expanding network of learning environments. They must learn to be knowledge navigators, seeking and finding information from multiple sources, evaluating it, making sense of it, and understanding how to collaborate with their peers to turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into action.

What does this mean for teachers? It means that they should be constantly learning with and from accomplished colleagues and experts in the field, modeling for their students the collaborative learning and knowledge construction that is at the core of 21st-century competencies.

Yet according to the most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher (2009)Requires Adobe 
Acrobat Reader, today’s teachers work alone—they spend an average of 93 percent of their time in school working in isolation from their colleagues, and they continue to work alone during their out-of-school hours of preparation and grading. Their day-to-day work is disconnected from the efforts of their colleagues, and their pullout professional development is fragmented and poorly aligned with their students’ learning needs.

This fragmentation prevents any substantial education reform from gaining traction, because teachers are not given the support they need to collectively build a coherent body of knowledge and practice to improve student achievement. Today’s new teachers are eager to work with their accomplished colleagues, but they find themselves working alone in self-contained classrooms where they are bound to the teaching practices of the past. Faced with a choice between working in the last century or the 21st century, they “vote with their feet”: The young people we are counting on to teach for the future are leaving our obsolete schools at an alarming rate.

It is time to change this picture. Today’s teachers want to team up to teach for the future. In survey after survey, teachers who are most satisfied with their careers and the contributions they are making to their students’ lives are more likely to work in schools with higher levels of professional collaboration.

To expand on these survey findings, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, with the support of the Pearson Foundation, has conducted an extensive review of research reports and practitioner case studies to document the specific learning-team principles and practices that improve teaching effectiveness and student achievement. Based on our findings, we have concluded that the nation has a pressing need, and an unprecedented opportunity to improve school performance by using learning teams to systematically induct new teachers into a collaborative learning culture—teams that embed continuous professional development into the day-to-day fabric of work in schools that are constantly evolving to meet the needs of 21st-century learners. This calls for a cultural shift in schools, a shift that is gaining momentum across the country.

NCTAF’s review identified six learning-team principles and practices that are most effective in improving teaching and student achievement, described in the report “Team Up for 21st Century Teaching and Learning.” While there is no magic formula, we found that highly effective learning teams have the following:

  • Shared Values and Goals. The team members have a common vision of student learning needs and a well-defined understanding of how their collective teaching capabilities can be orchestrated to meet those needs. They clearly identify a learning challenge around which the team can join forces to improve student achievement.
  • Collective Responsibility. Team members have appropriately differentiated responsibilities based on their experience and knowledge levels. They hold themselves mutually responsible for each other’s success, and they are collectively accountable for improving the achievement of every student served by the team.
  • Authentic Assessment. Team members hold themselves personally and professionally accountable by using assessments that give them real-time feedback on student learning and teaching effectiveness. These assessments are valuable to them—not because they are linked to high-stakes consequences, but because they are essential tools to improve the team’s teaching effectiveness, as measured by student learning gains.
  • Self-Directed Reflection. Highly effective learning teams establish a reflective feedback loop of goal-setting, planning, standards, and assessment that is driven by the learning needs of the students and the corresponding professional-development needs of the teachers.
  • Stable Settings. Highly effective learning teams do not function within dysfunctional schools, but they can transform low-performing schools into successful learning organizations if they are given dedicated time, space, resources, and leadership for their collaborative work. Even the best teachers in the world can’t turn around a low-performing school by working alone.
  • Strong Leadership Support. Highly effective learning teams are supported by school leaders who build a climate of openness and trust that empowers team members to make decisions on how to improve teaching effectiveness that are directly linked to student needs. This support must be balanced with appropriate, positive pressure to continuously increase school performance with improvements in teaching effectiveness that are explicitly linked to specific student learning needs.

Transforming American education is the rallying cry heard throughout the country today. The Obama administration has focused the nation’s vision for education in 2020 on two basic goals: assuring that every student is college- and career-ready, and closing the achievement gaps for low-income students and children of color.

NCTAF is answering this call by creating “learning studios” for teaching the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that are based on the documented effectiveness of these six principles. Similar to architectural-design studios, these STEM Learning Studios enable learning teams composed of digital-age teachers, tech-savvy youths, veteran educators, and skill-based volunteers to develop innovative responses to complex learning challenges. Learning studios improve student achievement, increase teaching effectiveness, and amplify the impact of community resources.

NCTAF developed its first such learning studios in two Maryland school districts, with a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in partnership with the Goddard Space Flight Center. We then launched a STEM Learning Studio expansion with the Albuquerque, N.M., public schools and Lockheed Martin/Sandia National Laboratories. Learning studios, we have found, keep veteran teachers engaged and improve novice teachers’ effectiveness by teaming them with industry and government professionals. The studios deploy volunteers in inquiry-based learning projects with teachers and students in a way that calls on their professional skills and experience. They work with students on authentic learning challenges, and work with teachers to help them model for their students the collaborative inquiry, knowledge construction, and innovation that are at the heart of 21st-century competencies.

This kind of teaching and learning represents ambitious goals. Making it happen will require changes that go beyond tinkering with today’s schools. If all we do is to give today’s students a better factory-era school, with stand-alone teachers who continue to deliver monolithic instruction in self-contained classrooms, the future is already over. It is time to team up to teach for the 21st century.

  • Tom Carroll is the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, in Washington.
  • Hanna Doerr is a program manager at the commission.


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