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Tuesday’s marathon School Board meeting included an ambitiously long agenda, simmering tensions among Board members, and no less than three different rallies going on outside the LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry Avenue throughout the day.
Though the exchanges never quite rose to the level of outright acrimony, there were some dramatic moments as the Board members and speakers debated the latest parent trigger petition and the consequences of changing the district’s school discipline policies.
In the end, the Board voted to end suspensions for “willful defiance,” a cause championed by Superintendent John Deasy and Board President Monica Garcia, and to approve the latest parent trigger petition at Weigand Elementary. The Board also voted — unanimously — to continue and expand the controversial Breakfast in the Classroom program.
After several weeks of having his leadership and policies pummeled by the teachers union, Deasy and his allies on the Board prevailed on pretty much every one of their priorities.
The two demonstrations – students in blue, teachers in red – took hardly any notice of each other
Out in the Street
In the morning, cafeteria workers represented by the SEIU Local 99 rallied in favor of Breakfast in the classroom.
But later in the day, two other rallies were held concurrently: one by students, and another by teachers.
The students, clad in bright blue shirts reading “Every Student Matters,” were there to support Garcia’s proposal to reform school discipline and, among other things, ban suspensions for “willful defiance” (refusing a teacher’s instructions or complying with adminstrators’ orders).
A crowd of teachers, roughly the same size but dressed in UTLA red, held their own rally a mere twenty feet away. Their demands included the hiring of more teachers and higher salaries.
“We haven’t had a raise in 7 years!” cried UTLA President Warren Fletcher, addressed the crowd from a giant stage erected in the middle of the street. “We will not let them pour millions of dollars down a rabbit hole! We will not go without a fight!”
Fletcher exited the stage to the Queen song, “We Will Rock You.”
School Board candidate Monica Ratliff was spotted at the UTLA rally by KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez.
Participants of the two rallies took barely any notice of each other.
Members of the SEIU local 99 celebrate after the vote
Classroom Breakfasts Approved Unanimously
As expected, the Board voted to keep the Breakfast in the Classroom program, which is set to expand over the next couple years.
There were two surprises, though: the vote was unanimous; even Maurgerite LaMotte and Bennett Kayser voted to keep the program.
“I understand the program has issues,” said Dr. Richard Vladovic. “We should add a half hour of instructional time… But in the meantime, our children cannot be pawns. They need to be fed.”
Board Member Steve Zimmer spoke passionately about the school district’s role in fighting hunger.
“We cannot pretend this is someone else’s problem,” he said. “This is not instead of education — this is education.”
And not a single public commenter argued for the program to be scrapped — including the UTLA’s Fletcher, who sat through most of the meeting in the audience.
After the vote, he said that his union, which voted overwhelmingly against Breakfast in the Classroom, simply wanted changes to be made.
“The majority of our members did say if issues of cleanliness and loss of instructional time could be addressed, we would have no objection,” said Fletcher. “What we said is that the program right now is having consequences.”
He blamed the program’s problems on the fact that UTLA had never been consulted on its implementation: “If the district engaged in basic good management, which is to say, talking to employees, talking to teachers, before implementing complex changes in the school day… we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”
Greuel speaking to reporters outside the meeting
Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel popped into the meeting to praise Breakfast in the Classroom and urge the Board to re-approve it.
“We cannot have great classrooms when students go hungry,” she said, although she allowed, “I understand the program may not be perfect.”
(See also: LA Times, Daily News, KPCC)
Superintendent Deasy presented a decidedly dour report on the district’s budget outlook, saying that he expects the district’s budget deficit to be $337.2 million even if Governor Jerry Brown’s local control funding formula is approved by the State Assembly.
And LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said the district faced a “structural deficit,” caused in part by declining enrollment and the growth of independent charter schools, that “is not sustainable over time.”
She added: “We are relying on one-time funds to support our enormous labor force and programs.”
Later, Kayser called for a special Board meeting to discuss the gloomy budget outlook and to hear from community members.
“I just think there’s too much on the line,” he said. “This is the main role of this body.”
Despite objections from Board Members Galatzan and Garcia that it was unnecessary, the motion passed 5-2. The meeting will be held on June 4 at 5 PM.
A number of budget items that Deasy had unilaterally placed
on the agenda for Board approval were all re-approved unanimously — including money for school police and for the district’s TV station, KLCS.
UTLA Area Chair Jose Lara spoke out against keeping the school police but not hiring any other positions:
“We’re increasing police and decreasing counselors and librarians? That makes no sense. If we have money for school police then we have money for counselors and social workers.”
Parent Revolution parents, before the vote
“In-District” Parent Trigger
The Board also voted 5-2 to approve a parent trigger petition signed by roughly 60% of parents at Weigand Elementary — but not before a tense debate.
Before the vote was taken, five different parents spoke out against the trigger, saying that parents and organizers had been lying to other parents in order to obtain signatures. Two others spoke in support.
“I am against the parent’s revolution because they have deceived a lot of parents,” said one parent during public comment. “They have obtained a lot of signatures by lying.”
These parents’ testimony left Board Members LaMotte and Kayser upset. LaMotte, strangely, suggested that Parent Revolution was the benefit of some sort of inside information.
“They always seem to know when something is happening at a school before the Board office knows,” she said. “How do they get the word first and we don’t know anything that’s going on?”
“I have no idea,” said Superintendent Deasy.
“I’m getting really angry over this,” she said. “I’m sick of the crooked stuff that goes on. Someone on our staff is talking to the parent revolution and we need to know who it is.”
Parent Revolution’s reply came over twitter:
Kayser went on to suggest that the parent trigger law needed to be revised to provide more guidelines on how to gather signatures. “This process is one that’s out of control and needs to be fixed,” he said.
After the vote, a defiant Ben Austin had this to say about the trigger’s retractors: “Anyone who whines against the parents of Weigand… They’re simply against parents having power.”
Weigand is the first in-district parent trigger, which means that parents were asking for the principal to be replaced and for various other reforms to be implemented, but not asking for teachers to be replaced or for the school to be taken away from LAUSD and given to an outside charter network.
Dozens of students spoke out in favor of Garcia’s proposal to reform school discipline, which is aimed at reducing the number of suspensions that the district hands out each year.
But Board members, at first, seemed inclined to vote it down, arguing that suspension was an important punishment for teachers to wield against unruly students.
“It’s called tough love!” said LaMotte. “There is no pass for disrespect.”
“If anyone stops anyone else from learning, that’s wrong,” said Dr. Vladovic.
But then, after both Deasy and Garcia passionately defended the measure, and blasted willful defiance suspensions as racist, Vladovic seemed to have a change of heart.
“I’ll give it a try if you’re that adamant,” he said to Garcia, adding that he would watch closely for any negative consequences it might have. “If it hurts kids from learning, I’ll be the first one to stop it.”
And so the motion passed, 5-2, with LaMotte and Tamar Galatzan voting no.