Dr. V’s prescription for a healthy school district
Mike Szymanski | January 13, 2017
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He doesn’t have all the answers, but Richard Vladovic, fondly referred to as “Dr. V,” said he believes he has some of the answers.
This month Vladovic celebrates 50 years in education, serving as a teacher, many times as principal, a superintendent and now as an LA Unified school board member since 2007.
He says there is much he would still like to see accomplished, like making the school district fiscally solvent, shortening the time students are designated English learners and helping failing schools without spending more money. But some of his ideas are already being quietly initiated.
In the past, when Vladovic became a principal or a district superintendent, he had to pass an exam that tested him on all the procedures of the school district.
“I had to pass a rigorous test and worked in study groups and learned about administrative things that I wasn’t familiar with, and they don’t do that anymore,” Vladovic said. “We are paying so much for legal fees, about half a billion dollars, and a lot of that is for mistakes because people didn’t follow policies.”
Under Vladovic’s urging, Superintendent Michelle King and lead attorney David Holmquist are producing a “HELP book” for the district called the Handbook of Emergency Legal Procedures that covers topics like student walkouts, freedom of the press issues and reporting child abuse. Vladovic wants the superintendent to make the handbook available to every administrator and hopes she brings back the tests for future administrators.
“We had a book like that when I first joined the district and we should have it again,” Vladovic said. “And it should be at every administrator’s desk.”
LONG-TERM ENGLISH LEARNERS
Vladovic remains passionate about shortening the length of time a student is designated as an English learner, because he said it will help the student graduate and get to college.
“It’s well known that if you are designated an English learner for more than five years, it’s less likely that student will graduate,” Vladovic said. “So we need to be more rigorous in getting these students out of those classes and provide continued support for them once they are proficient in English.”
Students with English learner designations are not taking the A-G classes that are required for graduation, and that also hurts their college chances, Vladovic said. “We need to figure out how they can get more core classes in their native language and accelerate the efforts.”
Vladovic also believes that a significant percent of EL students are misclassified as special education students just because they don’t understand English.
Vladovic said the lifetime health benefits promised to LA Unified retirees must be reevaluated, especially for new employees, and the district should provide only one overall health care plan.
“We need to start looking at health benefits in a different way. I know this is unpopular, and I am only speaking for myself.”
He pointed out that health care under Anthem Blue Cross costs about three times the premium for Kaiser Permanente and that offering only one plan would be cheaper for the district. The district’s liability for future health care is approaching $13 billion, according to past financial reports.
“We may also have to consider the employees paying into the plan and the district matching it, or something like that,” said Vladovic, who is often involved in the labor negotiations for the district.
“I know it will be unpopular, but it is what we might have to do,” he said. “I have been at the negotiating table with labor and management and know it’s a tough discussion. We have to honor what we have promised. I want to see health benefits for retirees taken care of, and I’ll continue with that process as long as I am on the board.”
Another constant drum Vladovic has beaten while on the board is lobbying for the full amount of money state and federal governments owe the district for the mandated services LA Unified provides.
For example, he noted that the district spends $750 million more for required special education services than it receives. “We need to get back our fair share, and with declining enrollment, it will only get worse.”
Vladovic said the one-time funding that Gov. Jerry Brown recently paid the district is not enough. “You can’t buy salary positions with that one-time money,” he said.
“It’s a mistake to just throw money at the schools and think that will solve the problems; it won’t.” He pointed out that low-performing schools have depended on regular bailouts in the past and when the money dries up, so do the programs that initially help the schools.
He proposed that all grants worth more than $1 million get approved by the board because “large grants are setting a policy, and we should have a say in that to see if we can keep the program going after the grant runs out,” Vladovic said.
“You have a situation where schools are going from ‘awful’ to ‘awful, awful’ and it is happening all the time,” he said. “We must put a stop to it.”