Two lingering issues are expected to hold center stage at the LA Unified School Board meeting tomorrow – the vacant District 1 seat and the Phase 2 iPad release.
Now that the City Council has approved a June 3 election date to fill the seat left open by the death of Marguerite LaMotte, the board is contemplating what to do – if it can do anything – to provide her district a voice in policy until the election.
At a special meeting last week, the six members asked chief legal advisor, David Holmquist, to produce a list of options for District 1 representation. He is planning a presentation on what form that might take.
In an interview with LA School Report last week, he suggested that it might be possible to put someone in the chair but was uncertain how much power, if any, such a caretaker might have. And with an election scheduled, he deferred to the LA City Charter, which implicitly suggests that anyone occupying the seat would be prohibited from voting on matters before the board.
Steve Zimmer, the board member pushing hardest for District 1 having a voice on the board though the election, has vowed not to give up the fight. And it continues tomorrow with a motion to appoint an “interim representative” from March 10 to July 1, a span that precludes the appointment from running in the June 3 election.
He is also proposing that the Board create an ad-hoc committee to establish a process for identifying a nominee as interim representative and report back to the Board on Feb. 11. A nominee would be installed at a special board meeting a month later.
As Zimmer told LA School Report last week, “This issue of interim representation cannot not be addressed. I am rarely as adamant about something as I am about this. And I believe I am on solid ground.”
As for the iPads, a subject that never seems to go away, the board actually might vote to proceed with Phase 2 distribution – iPads to 38 schools, keyboards for every student with an iPad and laptops to seven high schools to test their effectiveness with older students.
The go-ahead could – maybe, possibly, fingers-crossed – pass inasmuch as the proposal represents a compromise in a long-debated issue that has already been slowed down by a year. The main argument for getting more devices out the door quickly is that computer-based tests are just ahead in a pilot program, and the district needs to assess the trial run before paper-and-pencil tests are phased out.
The argument against? Could be anything. Board members remain skeptical of the district’s overall deal with Apple, which could make the $115 million price tag for Phase 2 still seem a bit pricey. And members may want to await the results of the district’s survey to learn what prices other jurisdictions are paying.
In any case, it should be a lively debate.
The meeting agenda includes two other big-ticket items worth watching:
District staff is recommending that the board approve $7.8 billion in spending for school repairs and upgrades, with most of the money — $7 billion – coming from the Measure Q bond sale approved by voters in 2008 but not begun. The agenda item serves to outline broad categories on a priority list; the real food fights over what projects to fund come later in the year.
The board is also being asked to approve an application to compete for $3 million award for a “Next Gen Learning System,” which tailors learning to students’ individual needs and interests. It breaks down to $100,000 for each of 30 schools. A no brainer, right? Think again.
The money comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and there are some board members who view outside money from wealthy benefactors as poisonous to public education, no matter what good it might do.