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The LAUSD's 2019 Report Card

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"The strike that nobody wanted is now behind us"

- Austin Beutner

When I predicted that the charter industry's recapturing of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board would bring a level of chaos not seen in the district since the days of the iPad debacle, the MiSiS Crisis and other John Deasy disasters, I had no idea how quickly this would occur. Within months of taking control, Board Member Ref Rodriguez, a former charter school operator, was under criminal indictment. Before he could be forced from office, he and his cohorts operated behind closed doors to hire Austin Beutner as the new Superintendent. The country's second-largest school district would be led by a man whose resume was filled with failures and lacked any professional experience in the field of education.

As 2019 began, the effects of this chaos were in full swing. Rodriguez was gone, but his cohorts had blocked the appointment of Jackie Goldberg as a temporary replacement, leaving one-seventh of the district unrepresented. The charter industry had also blocked a proposal to put a parcel tax on the general election ballot, depriving the district's students of needed funding. Their allies in the Los Angeles County Office of Education then threatened a takeover of the district based on manufactured warnings of impending economic doom. Beutner had botched negotiations with the teachers union and a strike was a near-certainty. Board Member Nick Melvoin seemed to relish this possibility, claiming that the teachers would strike for a couple of days to "get it out of their system" and then bow to the district's demands.

Beutner and the majority knew that if they were going to keep schools open without teachers in the classroom, then they would need adults to watch them. Without the time to vet volunteers properly, they changed the rules in the days leading to the strike so that these protections could be bypassed. The district also attempted to block special education teachers from joining the strike by claiming that they could not keep these children safe if the courts did not intervene. After losing their case, they announced that schools would remain open even if student safety was jeopardized.

Any hopes that the board members supported by the charter industry had that full classrooms would bring a quick end to the strike were quickly dashed. The vast majority of parents refused to send their children to schools without the teachers present and many joined them on the rain-soaked picket lines. The brand new Facebook group, Parents Supporting Teachers, rapidly grew to almost 25 thousand members. The district was forced to settle with an agreement that reduced class sizes, enacted a plan that will eventually return school nurses to all school sites and ensured that all secondary schools will have librarians.

It quickly became clear that the momentum of the strike would have lasting implications. Ignoring the false argument by the California Charter School Association that the resolution would close existing charter schools, the board asked Sacramento to place a moratorium on new charter schools. Melvoin was the only holdout. The charters were able to hold on to power for a little longer when Goldberg missed winning 50% of the vote in the primary election for the seat Rodriguez had vacated by the narrowest of margins. However, just a couple of months later, she overwhelmingly won the general election. Public school advocates were back in control of the LAUSD Board.

Unfortunately, much of the damage done when the charter proponents still held control was not wiped away that easily. The public showed their mistrust of a bureaucracy with a history of missteps and sent the flawed funding measure, Measure EE, down to defeat. Once again, public school students would pay the price for the mistakes of adults.

Sacramento also seemed to miss the message sent by parents during the strike and watered down a promising set of charter school reforms. Most significantly, the governor negotiated a compromise that eliminated a provision that would have prevented unelected county boards of education from overriding local school boards that rejected charter school petitions. This will allow schools like the North Valley Military Institute to continue operating on LAUSD school sites even after the Charter School Division provides a clear case why their charter should not be renewed.

The teachers' union, UTLA, continued to build on the momentum of the strike by continuing to apply pressure on behalf of the students of the district. Children with special education needs were at the forefront of "State of Denial," a report that they co-authored with the California Teachers' Association. This study confirmed that charter schools serve a lesser percentage of these students than their public school counterparts, especially in cases of moderate to severe disabilities. The result is a financial drain on the district as it struggles to provide these costly services.

As the year comes to a close, the district will no longer be under the oversight of the Independent Monitor under the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree. While this will remove a layer of protection that has existed for decades, it will also allow for a new conversation about how these services are provided. This is especially important for parents of children with the most severe needs who were often left out under the previous agreement.

As noted by the Los Angeles Times, "the last few months have been a period of 'relative calm'", but that stability may be jeopardized by the upcoming elections. Every one of the seats being contested is held by a public school supporter, meaning that a clean sweep is needed to hold control. Just one loss could mean a return to the chaos of the past.

Walking the picket line at Kennedy High School, a school that is heavily impacted by the fact that a nearby charter school serves less than the state average of children with special education needs.
Walking the picket line at Kennedy High School, a school that is heavily impacted by the fact that a nearby charter school serves less than the state average of children with special education needs.
(Image by Carl J Petersen)
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A quick flashback of the stories that I covered during the past year:

January

A Charter School Pawn

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Carl Petersen is a father of five, including two daughters who are on the autism spectrum. His involvement in education issues began when the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) refused to provide services that his daughters' teachers (more...)
 

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