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Local Groups to LA Unified Board: Let Schools Decide Spending

Michael Janofsky | September 30, 2013

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LCFFA broad coalition of more than 40 community and advocacy groups is jumping into LA Unified’s prolonged spending debate, urging the board to allow individual schools, rather than centralized administrators, to decide how to spend the billions of dollars coming into the district from Gov. Jerry Brown‘s Local Control Funding Formula program.

Organized by the United Way under the acronym CLASS — Communities for Los Angeles School Success — the coalition sent a letter Friday to board President Richard Vladovic, with copies to his six colleagues, urging him to seek input from teachers, administrators and students and to give them more control over spending priorities.

“Our hope is that the final adopted budgets will truly empower local communities to make decisions that meet their needs,” said the letter, a copy of which was given to LA School Report.

The coalition, which includes the Los Angeles Urban League, Teach Plus, Alliance for a Better Community and Educators4Excellence, expressed particular concern for underserved students, those whom the LCFF initiative was designed to help most — English learners, children from foster homes and students from low-income families.

Ryan Smith of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and one of the organizers of the coalition, said that Vladovic has so far ignored efforts by CLASS to discuss local concerns and spending plans.

“It’s important for us that the district listen to community groups and adopt what they have to say,” said in an interview with LA School Report. “If not, then we have a problem.”

The letter was sent in advance of the board’s meeting tomorrow, when the agenda includes two items that bear directly on setting priorities for how the LCFF money will be spent. The state requires each district to put its three-year plan into effect July 1 of next year.

The first is Superintendent John Deasy’s three-year budget proposal, which is back for board consideration after several postponements. Deasy’s preference is to close the district’s $350 million deficit, raise salaries of current LA Unified employees and allow individual schools to make their own decision on the money they get.

A competing plan, favored by the teachers union, is reflected in a resolution from member Steve Zimmer, who wants to rehire teachers and restore programs that were eliminated by the recent recession. Zimmer’s resolution says nothing explicit about allowing schools to make their own spending decisions.

Both proposals say the public should weigh in, and Deasy’s includes a schedule for five meetings around the district next week for parents, teachers and community leaders to offer their ideas on spending priorities.

That, alone, suggests the board will delay a vote on the budget again.

The meetings in Deasy’s plan, Smith said, were at least step in the right direction. But he expressed a need for more consultation with community groups, given the disparate needs in such a large district, the second-biggest in the nation.

Smith also said his concerns over whether Vladovic was open to community participation led to wonder  “if Vladovic would even attend the meeting in his own district.”

“That tells me we haven’t been vocal enough in helping the school board members understand the value of input from the community,” Smith said, adding that CLASS would endorse no spending plan until community the board embraced community feedback into the spending plan.

While the letter asks Vladovic for a meeting “in the coming weeks,” Smith said in the interview if the board president does not indicate “within a week or so” a willingness to consider community needs, the CLASS groups would take further action.

“If we fail to hear from him,” Smith said, “that gives us the first piece of data how much he really cares.”


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