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LAUSD tries to make it easier for charter families to address the school board

Mike Szymanski | September 12, 2016

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Waiting to speak about a Green Dot charter school.

Charter families have lined up at dawn in biting cold winds holding babies. They’ve sweated it out for hours standing around ice chests or taking turns under canopies. They’ve waited hours—sometimes nearly a full a day—to get into an LA Unified school board meeting. Then, they wait hours more just to be heard.

School Board President Steve Zimmer is out to change that, especially since next week’s school board meeting on Sept. 20 is expected to have many items involving charter schools.

“First and foremost, I want folks to know that we are committed to changing that so they will not be waiting all day and not know when their items will come up before the board,” Zimmer said at the last board meeting. “We are actively trying to get better on this.”

It’s an idea that will help all speakers on any topic who come to address the LA Unified meetings, but it will specifically help charter school families. Many of the agenda items that draw the most speakers involve charter renewals or questions about charter schools that the school board oversees. Parents, teachers and students come to sign up to speak to the school board.

The once-a-month marathon-length school board meetings typically go from 9 a.m. for closed session personnel items until well past 9 p.m. Zimmer promised the public and his fellow school board members that when he was elected as president for the second year he would try to fix the long waits by the public.

“When charter items are being heard, having folks wait all day is not something we want to continue,” Zimmer said.

During the open section of their Closed Session meeting on Aug. 23, other school board members weighed in on rectifying the situation about 54 minutes into the meeting. Board member Monica Ratliff considered making a motion or resolution to come up with a solution.

“I feel like we talked about it, but I do not feel like it’s moving forward and I’m concerned that it’s not happening,” Ratliff said.

Zimmer assured Ratliff and the other board members that the request would be followed. Board member Monica Garcia suggested that the district’s Charter School Office also help notify the schools on the agenda.

“There should also be some trust that when you say something is going to happen, that it actually happens at that time,” Garcia said.

Jason Mandell of the California Charter Schools Association said he welcomes the new procedures planned by the school board because the long waits have resulted in complaints and frustration for the charter school families. He said he has been notified of a “time certain” for charter school issues for the next meeting. And although his group would prefer an entirely separate meeting for charter issues, this is a step in the right direction, he said.

“Anything is better than it was before, and overall we are happy because it is easier for families, teachers and school leaders to speak to the school board without having to wait eight to 10 hours,” Mandell said.

Board secretariat Jefferson Crain said emails will be sent to 1,600 people who receive school board news that will indicate specific times for agenda items, most likely after 6 p.m. to make it easier for working parents and teachers.

“Despite past efforts and speaking directly to some people, they still chose to come at 6 in the morning,” Crain said. “We do not want to have a separate meeting for specific types of issues.”

Superintendent Michelle King said her office would conduct a survey to get some input into how to best solve the long lines and waiting issues.

Zimmer said, “We want to make the best way for people to be heard. I want the maximum amount of people to speak and don’t want folks here late into the evening.”

He added, “Clearly the way we did it last year is not something we want to continue.”

The next regular board meeting is set for Sept. 20 with closed session items discussed at 9 a.m. The open session is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the School Board Auditorium at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. Charter school items will have a “time certain” starting at 6 p.m., and the order of business will be posted on Sept. 14.

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