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Pressing issues for LAUSD board: Teachers contract, graduation rates

Vanessa Romo | May 11, 2015

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LAUSD boardTomorrow’s LA Unified School Board meeting is shaping up to be loud and crowded as the seven members take the final step in approving a new contract with the teachers union and consider several plans to fix impending drop in graduation rates.

After years of working under an expired contract, UTLA members last week overwhelmingly approved a tentative agreement with the district that will lead to 10.4 percent raise for teachers over two years. More than 97 percent of union members, nearly 25,000, voted yes and once the board approves it, the new contract will bring teachers a boost in paychecks as early as next month.

The new deal is expected to cost the district about $633 million over three years, plus an additional $31.6 million for several labor groups with “me too” clauses, also over three years, as part of a budget that was already $140 million short, according to LA Unified officials.

But despite the victory that both sides are claiming in reaching a deal after such a long and contentious negotiations, UTLA is planning a rally outside the meeting to fight proposed program cuts and layoffs. Last month the district issued 609 layoff notices to a combination of teachers, counselors and psychologists, and several programs, including adult and early education, face severe cut backs.

Another group intent on demonstrating are supporters of a resolution — the Equity on A-G: Re-affirming Our Commitment to A-G Life Preparation for All — sponsored by Mónica García and Steve Zimmer.

The resolution is an effort to correct a situation the board created 10 years ago when it passed a new set of college-prep high school graduation requirements called A through G. While the original policy was designed to benefit all students by equalizing access to college-preparing courses, it has inadvertently created a ticking time bomb: Only a fraction of students are prepared to take the more rigorous courses by the time they reach high school, which means that by 2017, the first year the requirements will be fully implemented, the district expects to a sharp decline in the graduation rate.

The resolution calls on Superintendent Ramon Cortines to launch district-wide audit of the A through G implementation strategies, to create an intervention plan for those schools failing to ensure students are college eligible and to require an Individual Graduation Plan for all seniors.

A press release issued by the United Way, one of several community organizations backing the resolution, estimated 500 supporters will rally outside the board meeting.

Another resolution aimed at making students college and career ready is “Seek Greater Opportunities for Four Year Olds,” a plan to expand Transitional Kindergarten to include thousands of students losing access to specialized preschool services next year due to budget cuts.

Board members Mónica Ratliff and Bennett Kayser are behind the resolution, which targets children who would typically enroll in a program, School Readiness and Language Development Program (SRLDP), slated for elimination. It calls on Cortines to ask “that the Education Code and any other applicable laws be changed or clarified so as to allow the District to enroll in [Transitional Kindergarten] any child who will have his or her fifth birthday prior to September 1 of the immediately following school year.”

Proposed cuts to SRLDP have faced strong opposition especially after the district adopted resolutions in 2013 and 2014 that effectively call for boosting support for early education.

If passed, this latest plan would create a new pathway to serve the needs of many of the students who will not be able to attend SRLDP. Further, they contend Transitional Kindergarten may even be better for young children in need, as it provides a full day program as opposed to the half-day, Monday through Thursday schedule of the current SRLDP program.

Members will also consider two motions designed to help reverse years of declining enrollment. Zimmer and Ratliff are proposing to request that Cortines develop a “strategic plan for investments” that would identify programs that are currently growing enrollment and would include one, three and five benchmarks for reversing this trend and base it, in part, on programs within the district that are helping grow enrollment.

And George McKenna is introducing a plan that would enable high schools students to remain in school until age 22 to get their diploma, rather than drop out.

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