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‘Good Food’ guidelines on LA Unified board meeting table

Vanessa Romo | November 17, 2014

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LAUSD students eating lunchBoard Member Steve Zimmer has food on his mind.

When the LA Unified school board gathers again tomorrow, Zimmer will be seeking a detailed and comprehensive look at how the district spends more than a $100 million to buy food and deliver meals to students throughout the district.

He is proposing a wide ranging resolution to adopt “Good Food” purchasing guidelines that “can support a regional food system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible.”

“Of all the issues that I’ve brought to the board, this is in the top five,” Zimmer told LA School Report.

“It’s probably the first time that we will, with meaningful implications, say that we are going to hold ourselves to the highest standards for the ethical treatment of the people who work on the food chain from beginning to end, the humane treatment of animals, and the extent of the stomping of the environment that we do as a result of serving this many meals every day,” he said.

The district spends upwards of $120 million a year on feeding students. The board renews food procurement contracts every five years.

In 2012 the board adopted a resolution co-sponsored by Zimmer and former board member, Nury Martinez, establishing “Good Food” guidelines, but he says, at the time, “there wasn’t this imminent major procurement process. Now it’s game on. It’s where the rubber hits the road.”

Under the new guidelines the district would seek to negotiate with local, small to mid-sized agricultural and food processing operators, source from environmentally sustainable food producers that use little to no synthetic pesticides or hormones, pay employees a fair wage, and provide healthy and humane care for livestock.

“I expect it to be a pitched battle,” he said.

Zimmer’s food proposal is one of several highlights of a triple-header school board meeting tomorrow that will include a closed session bookended by open sessions.

Another controversial item backed by Zimmer and Board Member Bennet Kayser that is up for a vote Tuesday is their proposal to increase ethnic studies courses and raise them to the level of a graduation requirement.

While the measure has widespread support among many community groups, board member Tamar Galatzan says the district should take a more “moderate” approach in attempting an expansion.

In a commentary appearing in the LA Daily News today, she said the three-year timeline is too short because the district is still “working to figure out how many more teachers would have to be hired and trained, what kinds of classes would qualify for A-G and whether the three-year phase-in of the program might result in differing graduation requirements for students.”

Superintendent Ramon Cortines issued memo to the board, outlining the challenges involved in adding ethnic studies to the list of graduation requirements.  It states: “Ethnic Studies could not replace any of the [existing Social Studies/History or English] courses and so figuring out how and where Ethnic Studies would be approved/approvable is part of the formal processes and will take time and discussion.”

With so many core subject requirements, high school students are only eligible to take 25 elective credits. Adding Ethnic Studies to the list of core classes would reduce that to 20 and make it more difficult to enroll in higher level elective courses, such as foreign language.

The board will also consider the renewal of six charter schools as well as the approval of three new charters, all of them high schools. These are all likely to pass without much controversy, but the board can expect to hear an earful from parents of students at Magnolia Science Academy in Bell. The Charter School Division is recommending the denial of a five-year charter renewal application.

The school is one of eight campuses operated by Magnolia Public Schools, which is in a legal battle with the district after the district moved to shut down two of its schools for fiscal mismanagement. Those campuses remain open although the district contends the organization is insolvent.

Another school facing extinction is One Village Leadership Academy, which was planning to launch as a co-location campus in Boyle Heights next year. According to materials submitted in advance of tomorrow’s meeting, district staff “has determined that the petition proposes an unsound educational program [and] petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.”

Among the other items that will get a vote are two resolutions from board member Monica Ratliff seeking to increase student safety by reducing the cost of litigation.

Ratliff is calling for a report on litigation expenses, awards and settlements over the last five years arising out of child abuse accusations against district employees and in cases where criminal actions occur on school campuses. The idea, according to Ratliff, is to redirect these funds toward boosting school police or other security measures and adding a second adult to all classrooms.

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