Q&A: New LA School Board President talks new staff contracts, evaluating Carvalho
Will Callan | February 7, 2023
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After almost a lifetime in California politics — first as a student activist, then as an elected official — Jackie Goldberg has returned to a familiar seat of power.
Last month, by unanimous vote, the 78-year-old representative of Board District 5 was elected president of the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education. She last held the position in 1990, before moving on to stints in city and state politics and academia.
In an interview with LA School Report, Goldberg discussed both long-term and immediate difficulties facing the district, saying that negotiations with the unions representing LAUSD’s teachers and service workers would be resolved “in the next four to six weeks.” Her statements echo superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s recent promises of “a multi-year contract” that will “offset the pressure of inflation for all our workforce.”
Goldberg must also lead the board in deciding how to spend the district’s $14.3 billion operating budget in a way that addresses the emotional and academic impacts of the pandemic and prepares for a future of declining enrollment and swelling costs.
Goldberg spoke with LA School Report about these challenges, her goals for her one-year term as president, and her thoughts about superintendent Carvalho as he approaches one year on the job.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Are you confident that the budget you’re going to craft can accommodate demands from the labor unions? Let’s start with the service workers.
…I am absolutely confident that we will conclude successful negotiations with all our bargaining units [including UTLA and SEIU Local 99], in probably the next four to six weeks — without any strikes or work stoppages…
This board is very supportive of very good compensation packages because we know that the folks that have worked in our schools and in our offices have been through a lot of distress, and we want them to know that they are valuable to us and that they are the critical features of the district…There aren’t going to be any cuts to their benefits. That’s not where we’re looking. We need those people. The people at the schools are the only people who interact with children…
All of those folks make schools a place of learning and safety for children and young people, and we’re not going to do anything, if we can possibly avoid it, that would lead to anybody thinking of, first, not working for us any longer, second, not helping us recruit for our vacancies, and third, for feeling the need for a work stoppage.
One thing the teachers are asking for is smaller class sizes. In order to achieve that, you would need to hire more teachers.
We’ve held class sizes down this whole year, with schools [that] lost enrollment not losing teachers unless they lost significant enrollment. So class sizes are actually smaller than they’ve been in recent years…I don’t think we will need to hire people to continue that because, unfortunately, in the entire state of California and in Los Angeles Unified, enrollment is declining.
People are leaving because they can’t afford to live in the state. People are leaving because of immigration policies that have slowed immigration, which was a big part of our increase in population through the eighties and nineties and the beginning of 2000.
And also the birth rate in Los Angeles County is down considerably from what it has traditionally been. So all of those factors mean that we will have fewer students next year than we have this year…
Are you saying that natural demographic shifts will resolve that one point of tension between the district and the teacher’s union?
I doubt that it will ever resolve that point of contention. But I do think it will mean that the actual teaching experience for teachers in our system will be with significantly smaller class sizes than they have had when we were growing enrollment.
I want to ask about enrollment decline. What is the board doing to make attending LA schools more attractive?
It’s really done school by school, but we do a lot of things to make school more attractive. We have a very large sports program. We have a very large music program, and a growing music program. We have a very large arts program that is now beginning to grow again…We have festivals of cultural types all over the district. We have dual-language programs. We have programs with robotics. We have programs with STEM, we have programs with STEAM…
Are those making a dent in the enrollment decline?
I think so. We have a fairly significant number of schools in my board district with an increased enrollment this year. A lot of them in Southeast and South Gate. Huntington Park and Bell. Those schools are full and filling up. MACES Academy has a waitlist. Southeast Middle has a waitlist.
There are different efforts being done regionally. There are different efforts being done at individual schools. And there are different efforts that the board is paying for, like extended transportation after school so that more students can participate in after school fun activities.
We’re coming up on a year since superintendent Carvalho came to the district. How would you say he’s doing?
Well, I think he’s doing pretty well. He will get a formal evaluation sometime in early February. We have a process we’ve developed and board members have been asked to review some materials and to rate him on certain issues, and all of that will be gathered at a closed session sometime in February…But I would say he has done some very important things very quickly. Certainly getting us a strategic plan, which the district has not had for many years…And very quickly when he came in, he set up ways to get feedback and information from the public…as well as staff…
He certainly has taken up the issues that are most important to this board, which are the social-emotional crisis in many of our schools, with many of our students, and some of our teachers.
He also is pointing to real goals — specific, measurable goals in student achievement, and also how to support our personnel so they feel like this is the best place they ever wanted to work and to be able to help us recruit for still vacant positions…
What are some areas for improvement for the superintendent?
I’m really not able to say that I have any at this moment…what he is doing is taking a look at not just the present, but the history and the future of this district…I have never seen a superintendent take a backward look at everything that has been going on as a way to understand how to move forward.
It came out that [the cyberattack in September] started more than a month earlier than was disclosed by Carvalho…Is Carvalho trustworthy?
He’s trustworthy. He did what was necessary to protect this district. Making things public at a time earlier than he did would have endangered all of the efforts of the federal government, the state government, FBI, local police in trying to stop this.
We are one of the very few districts that has been hit hard by this stuff that paid no ransom and managed very carefully to also protect all our payroll, for example. We lost nobody. They got no payroll information with all the Social Security numbers, for example. They got none of it. In fact, the only Social Security numbers they got were from the original place they broke in, which was Facilities. And that was with a few contractors.
There was some student information. Not Social Security numbers, but things like birth dates that were accessed. Right?
Yes. There were other smaller things — none of which, however, could prevent us from opening the schools, running the schools, paying people on time and appropriately. So I would say, considering what a terrible mess — and we’re not done with it, by the way. We still, every day, every week, every month have a series of checks that are being done…
I know a lot of one-time funding is going towards academic recovery efforts and there were these two acceleration days over winter break. Only about 9% of students in the district showed up. Do you see that as a success?
But about 65% of the ones that showed up were exactly the kids we were looking for. And we learned a lot. We learned that elementary kids are less likely to go to get help at a school they don’t regularly attend.
We learned that we should count on about half the students showing up — we figured that it would be 75% [of students who signed up]. We predicted wrong. In other words, we learn. So how we do the next two [acceleration days] in spring will be better.
How else should the district be tackling academic recovery in order to attract the students who didn’t show up for acceleration days?
We’re going to probably accelerate the amount of after school on your own campus with your own teacher support. That’s something we’re looking into for the following year. Saying…let’s see if we can do it two or three days a week all year long.
So, extended after school programs.
Extended after school, Saturday programs, additional teacher assistants we hope to hire to put into the classroom, so there’s a lower adult-to-student ratio. That makes for a lot of extra help for kids who are struggling. I spent 17 years teaching in Compton. I’m well aware of what it takes to make movement with kids who are struggling in school.
What about recovery for students with disabilities?…I’ve heard from a lot of parents and advocates that during [individualized education plan] meetings, the team is not bringing up compensatory education…Is that acceptable?
I have no idea if what you’re saying is accurate or not. So, without knowing that I can’t answer that question.
What specifically can the district be doing for students with disabilities, who are going to need way more than just some extra after school time?
Well, the [individualized education plan] will determine their individual needs and the district will meet them. That’s our goal. We don’t have any subordinate goal to that. We don’t say we’re going to try or anything else. We’re going to meet them.
We had trouble meeting them [early in the pandemic] because, for example, all the kids that needed speech — most of the speech teachers went online. The parents didn’t want to do speech online. They wanted it in person, and we weren’t willing to require speech therapists to meet in students’ homes. So yes, they didn’t get it. You’re right. That was terrible. But it was a decision the parent made not to do that…
What we’re trying to do now is to overdose. So if [the students] were going to get [the services] once a week, we’re going to try to see if we can get it for them twice a week and things like that…
We’re going to try to figure out ways to deal with that loss, which has been extreme. No doubt.
How would you describe the district’s financial health?
Well, on the macro level, not good. On the micro level, fine.
On the macro level, we, every year, spend more than we receive. And the two areas which bust our budget, is special education — which is about a billion dollars from the general fund that should not have to come from the general fund — and are benefits paid to retirees. Both the healthcare benefits that we pay to retirees and pension benefits that we pay part of and that the employee pays part of. Both of those put us in a long-term situation of having to ultimately…not be able to do what we have done for many, many decades, which is to pay the existing bills and to keep putting off some of the things that we haven’t yet figured out how to rectify.