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Controversial Grant Approval Measure Passes, 4-3

Hillel Aron | December 11, 2012

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Richard Vladovic, right, was the key player in another tense board meeting

A controversial proposal written by Richard Vladovic to give the school board the authority to approve most grants over $1 million was approved 4-3 by the board today, following tense discussion and over the strenuous objections of Superintendent John Deasy.

Board member Vladovic argued that it is the school board’s job to set policy, and that some grants can change policy. “Every grantor has an agenda,” said Vladovic. “They superimpose an ideology on us.”

Superintendent Deasy, who was visibly unhappy with the proposal, said it would jeopardize many of the grants LAUSD applies for, a number of which are “fast turnaround” grants. “There’s no question we will miss out on many of them.”

The key vote swing vote cast by Steve Zimmer, who offered an amendment to raise the threshold to $1 million (from $750,000), and for the motion to only apply to “new, non-formula grants.” This was meant to exclude grants like Title I federal grants, which are given out to districts based on demographics, and was accepted by Vladovic and the proposal’s co-sponsors, Marguerite LaMotte and Bennett Kayser.

As usual, the board was deeply divided. The subtext for the discussion was a feeling, among certain board members and observers, that Deasy has too much control over the school board.

“Who is running the board?” shouted LaMotte. “Because it certainly isn’t the seven of us!” She also said that she and Deasy’s staff had an “inability to work together as a team.” “I don’t even know who your senior staff is!” she told the Superintendent, who muttered something unintelligible off-mic. It was the first major vote in a long time on which the Superintendent found himself on the losing end.

Members of the board seemed just as unhappy. When Zimmer said that he didn’t want the district to lose any money but still thought the proposal could work, Board member Tamar Galatzan replied, “It’s incredibly arrogant for you to say it won’t affect a grant proposal when the superintendent said it will.”

“We don’t have a dedicated grant staff,” added Galatzan. She argued that the people who write the grants have many other responsibilities, and don’t “have luxury of coming back to the board for guidance.”

Vladovic said that most school boards in the county have approval authority over large grants. “We aren’t going to lose grants,” he said, adding: “We may initially lose something that probably wasn’t good for us anyway.”
When Zimmer said, “I want superintendent and his team to come back with guidelines,” Deasy couldn’t help interjecting, “Not my guidelines– your guidelines.”

Deasy will now have to design the specific way to implement the board’s policy – that is, guidelines for which grants have to be voted on by the board

Technology or Salaries?

Earlier in the meeting, deputy Superintendent Jamie Aquino gave a presentation on expanding digital learning in the classroom, which contained a set of long-term goals including getting laptops, tablet computers and 3D printers into classrooms.

But things turned testy when Vladovic (clearly with a bee in his bonnet) wanted to know where the money would come from.

“I’m concerned with coming up with more than half a billion dollars,” he said. “I believe we need to restore the salaries of employees before we take on any of this.

“Are you saying we should raise salaries before we buy computers?” asked Board President Monica Garcia.

Vladovic then started yelling at Garcia: “I think salaries should be a priority!”

Galatzan asked Aquino for a proposal on how to fund the classroom devices. Presumably, the district would use bond money. Last month, the district bond committee rejected a proposal to use bond money to buy tablet computers for classrooms, although their vote was non-binding (See: Deasy’s Tablet Plan Blocked).

Angry parents

At another point during the lengthy meeting, dozens of angry parents showed up to speak out against a proposal to revise LAUSD’s Title I parent involvement policy. In their comments, the parents mostly spoke out against Maria Casillas, the head of School, Parent and Community Services, calling her a “bully” and accusing her of getting various parents thrown out of community meetings. The room became quite raucous, with parents standing up and shouting.

“These folks just to cause a disruption, to protest,” LAUSD associate general counsel Greg McNair to LA School Report.

Standing in the back of the room was Maria Casillas herself.

“I’m afraid of these guys,” she said. “They scratched my car up.”

Marguerite LaMotte shared the parents’ anger, and asked her colleagues to postpone the vote. The motion to postpone failed, 3-4, with Vladovic and Kayser joining LaMotte. The three of them abstained from voting for the motion itself, which then passed, 4-0.

In Other News

In far less divisive news, the school board unanimously passed a resolution “to improve the District’s food and nutrition policy.” (See the LAUSD press release here.)

The board also unanimously passed a non-binding resolution to  improve the dismissal process in California, which would have to be done by the State Legislature, aimed in particular at teachers who are found guilty of harming a child. (See the LAUSD press release here.) Senator Alex Padilla has a pending bill in Sacramento that would do just that (See: Teacher Dismissal Bill, Redux).

Previous posts: Live Updates From Board MeetingWith Zimmer Support, Board May Win Veto Power Over Grant ApplicationsBoard Restores 10 Days, Rejects Charter Proposal

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