Marathon Board Meeting Signals Changes to Come
Hillel Aron | June 19, 2013
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As anyone following us on Twitter knows all too well, Tuesday’s School Board meeting was a marathon session that lasted well into the night — much of it accompanied by the sound of protesters drumming on the street outside.
Among several key decisions the Board arrived at during the lengthy session were votes to award a $30 million contract to Apple, close a charter school that had dodged a district audit, and add some local regulations to the controversial parent trigger process (but not call for the law’s repeal).
The last meeting of the 2012-2013 school year, it also marked the final appearance of Nury Martinez, who left the Board after four years to run for City Council.
School Board President Monica Garcia presented Martinez with a giant bell, and Board held a bizarre mid-meeting reception in her honor that included a soft jazz band and chicken salad sandwiches.
By 9 pm, when the meeting finally ended, the Board had also approved its 2013-14 budget and begun a furious (and likely to be long-running) debate on how to spend future revenue increases.
If last month’s Board meeting represented a series of hard-fought victories for Superintendent John Deasy and his allies on the Board, last night’s meeting included a couple of losses, with a hint of more to come when the Board changes composition and leadership next month.
iPads for All
A Deasy proposal to equip tens of thousands of students with iPads passed unanimously despite lengthy discussion and no small amount of controversy leading up to the vote.
Addressing the Board, UTLA President Warren Fletcher called the plan “not fully baked,” saying that hiring more teachers and counselors should take priority over the technology plan, which aims to prepare students for the new state standardized tests, which must be taken on computers.
Board member Steve Zimmer worried that the tablet devices don’t come with keyboards, while Dr. Vladovic said that on a recent trip to Best Buy he found a better price.
Chief facilities executive Mark Hovatter explained that of the 13 bids received by the district for Phase I of its technology plan, which aims to put a tablet computer in the hands of every student and teacher by the end of 2014, only three were found to be acceptable.
The three finalists — Apple, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard — all went through what Hovatter called a “rigorous selection process” that included testing by students and teachers.
Not only did the iPad receive the highest rating, it was also the cheapest of any device, at $678 per unit – which includes the software, cases and a 3-year warranty. That price represents a discount for the district, since they are buying the tablets in bulk.
Zimmer called the vote “one of the most high-profile contracts this board will ever approve.”
Board member Bennett Kayser recused himself from the discussion and the vote because he owns Apple stock; Superintendent John Deasy and General Counsel David Holmquist left the room during the discussion because they too own Apple stock.
Students will be allowed to take the iPads home with them. Independent charter school students will be given iPads as well as district students.
There will be no new bidding process for the next phase of the technology plan. Apple will automatically be awarded the next contract unless the Board intervenes.
(For more see the LA Times)
Local Spending Plan Postponed
A resolution by Board member Tamar Galatzan, intended as a sort of mirror to Governor Brown’s new state education finance formula, was postponed.
The Galatzan proposal would do two seemingly contradictory things: set a minimum level of funding for each school site and also make sure schools with a higher concentration of low-income students, English language learners and foster kids receive a funding boost.
Deasy spoke in favor of the motion.
“We want a plan that is mindful of the tenets of the Local Control Funding Formula,” he said, referring to Brown’s new funding scheme. “I think of all the motions, this is likely to be the most important thing you decide.”
UTLA President Warren Fletcher was opposed to the targeting provisions in the proposal, however.
“Every school deserves a librarian, every school deserves a nurse,” he said. “The dollar-following-a-child model is something that causes us grave concern.”
“I’m just a little shocked,” responded Galatzan. “UTLA is opposed because they don’t trust schools to hire teachers.”
Board Member Marguerite LaMotte angrily denounced the idea of letting school sites decide how revenue is spent.
“The District knows what the schools need!” she said. “And I’m tired of monetizing children!”
It was hard to know what Lamotte meant by that last comment, since per-pupil spending is an engrained part of public education finance.
“If you want to pretend people in this building know everything, we’re doomed for failure,” said Galatzan.
Board member Zimmer said he was “hesitant to lock in strategies” for spending before final regulations from the State legislature are approved.
In the end, the Board voted 4-3 to postpone their decision on Galatzan’s resolution.
Money, Money, Money
The district’s $6.2 billion budget for 2013-14, drawn up by Superintendent John Deasy, was approved unanimously, after a number of public speakers pleaded with the Board to restore budget cuts.
A number of public commenters pleaded with the board to restore various programs, but there was little discussion from the Board members themselves, who are bound by law to pass a budget by July 1.
Despite more than $200 million in additional in funds, most restorations will have to wait at least another year.
The Board also approved two proposals directing Superintendent Deasy to draw up plans spend future revenue from Proposition 30 and Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula.
The first, a motion by Board President Garcia to explore the feasibility of lengthening the school year beyond 180 days, passed unanimously if not without some concerns being expressed.
The other motion, written by Board member Bennet Kayser, called on LAUSD to hire more teachers, counselors, librarians and other LAUSD employees, in line with the ratios that existed before the recession in 2007. It was approved 5-2, with Galatzan and Garcia voting no.
It is unlikely the District would be able to afford both resolutions. But Deasy will report back to the Board within 90 days with a few different options.
“We do need to have a balanced approach with extending the school year,” noted Board member Zimmer.
“If we did everything we say we’re going to do, it will take about 15 minutes for the County to step in and take us over, cause we don’t have the money for all these things,” said Board member Richard Vlaldovic.
“This resolution wasn’t meant to be a be-all-end-all,” agreed Board member Kayser. “We’re asking the Superintendent to make some proposals that are within the budget of Prop. 30 and Local Control Funding Formula.”
Board member Zimmer lashed out at the resolution’s critics, who include the LA Times editorial page, saying there was a “whisper campaign” to call the hiring of more employees as an “adult agenda.”
“The counselor-to-student ratio is 900 to 1,” said Zimmer. “That’s a civil rights issue.” He also pointed out that the popularity of charter schools is due in part to their smaller class sizes.
“If they weren’t sending us a message on class size, it wouldn’t be on the front of every charter school website,” he said.
Garcia said she wanted to support the resolution but was “not convinced that 2007-08” was the right year to set as a goal.
(For more see the Daily News)
Charter School Not Renewed
In one of the day’s more dramatic turns, the Board voted 6-1 to deny the renewal of Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory High School’s charter.
A large number of parents, students and school staff, many dressed in full Aztec regalia, showed up to demonstrate outside the meeting.
For hours leading up to the vote, furious drum beating could be heard inside the Board room. (When this reporter went outside to photograph them, he was recognized instantly by a woman with a megaphone; she screamed at the reporter, “Do your homework!”)
Superintendent Deasy’s office recommended the non-renewal after the school, which is run by the Charter operator Academia Semillas del Pueblo, failed to comply with an audit by the district’s Office of the Inspector General. According to the district, the school was also suffering from a structural deficit, as well as fluctuating test scores and attendance.
School board President Monica Garcia was the sole vote to give Semillas another 5 years, citing in part the fact that the school was trying something different — educating students about the indigenous culture of the Aztecs.
“I respectfully disagree with your team,” she said, addressing Superintendent Deasy. “There is an indigenous culture being celebrated.”
When Semillas’ elementary school’s charter came up last year for renewal, Deasy’s office also recommended its non-renewal. But the district voted 4-3 to override Deasy.
This time around, Board members Zimmer, Martinez and Vladovic all reversed their votes.
Regulations Coming for Parent Trigger Process
Based on a new resolution proposed by Board member Zimmer and passed by the Board, the District will seek to bring greater order and transparency to the process when parents gather signatures to reform or even take over a failing school under California’s “parent trigger” law.
A number of parents and teachers at the Board meeting spoke out against the law.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher called the current law “very, very bad” and said it was “built on the premise that the only way to reform a school is for one group of stakeholders to blame another group of stakeholders.”
Board member Zimmer’s resolution was aimed at added a few regulations to the process at the local level. It would provide public information about the process and independently verify signatures. It also would direct the district to lobby the State legislature to make changes to the law.
“There is very little that the School Board is actually able to control as the state law stands now,” Zimmer admitted. As the law is written, only parents that sign the trigger petition can, in the end, vote on the transformation model. Zimmer wants that changed. “It’s a basic democratic principle. If we believe in change, it’s gotta be for everyone.”
Even Board member Galatzan, who opposed the measure, admitted that “the parent trigger law is flawed… We need to ask [the state legislature] for guidance when we have evidence of fraud in the signature gathering, or misconduct.”
At one point during the debate, Deasy suggested that the Board might have an easier time if it called on the state to repeal the law rather than seeking fixes.
The Board initially voted to adopt Deasy’s recommendation, 4-3, with Kayser, Martinez, Galatzan, and Garcia in favor. However, it later reversed itself and passed the original Zimmer language 4-3 thanks to a change of vote by Board member Kayser.
(See also: The Daily News)
For even more quotes and tidbits from the proceedings, check our Twitter feed, complete with pictures and video.
Previous posts: Live Coverage: School Board Meeting; LA Times: Kayser Resolutions “Silly,” Make “No Sense”; Update: Controversy Awaits $30 Million iPad Vote; Board Preview: Budget, Parent Trigger, iPads