Pilot Schools – The New Autonomy

This is a great article by LA School Report, breaking down of the types of new autonomy models the district is dishing up. Look for more schools to follow in these footsteps as they try to staunch the flow of charter startups and conversions.

Some of the benefits of these new models of autonomy are the “thin contract” or “elect to work” contract hashed out between LAUSD and the teachers union, UTLA, requiring teachers to attend training, put in more hours, and face the possibility of being fired if they don’t pan out. Also included are varying amounts of school-site autonomy over things like budget, curriculum, and other governance issues.

http://laschoolreport.com/autonomy-models-a-real-utla-lausd-compromise/

12 new pilot schools were approved at the last school board meeting, and more go before the board next month.

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The Conversion Charter…Trending Now

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

With 6 LAUSD neighborhood schools converting to affiliated charter status last year and 25 more schools converting this year, we ask, is it contagious? A sign of the times?

 Why would your perfectly good neighborhood school convert to affiliated charter status anyway, you ask?

It all comes down to the 3 Fs. Flexibility, Freedom…and Funding.

An affiliated charter is a unique sort of “charter lite” or hybrid model that was created in LAUSD to pacify all parties. While this type of charter doesn’t have the full autonomy an independent charter school has, they do have increased autonomy from the traditional district model.

A typcial LAUSD neighborhood school that converts to an affiliated charter school can keep its existing campus and facilities -no fighting for space or co-locations via Prop 39. They also keep their attendance area -maintaining the feel of a neighborhood school with priority enrollment given to area residents. The UTLA teacher contract and District-paid union positions stay in tact -but with it so does tenure and seniority-based bumping rights. The school gains some limited freedoms from the district – and the feeling of semi-autonomy. Most importantly the school once converted can apply to the state for a block charter grant -direct funds based on enrollment numbers, which can make up some of the budget shortfalls the school sustained as a non-charter.

While still overseen by LAUSD, an affiliated charter creates its own site-based governance system typically made up of parents, staff, and administration, so the decision-making body of the school resides on campus, not downtown. The school also gains flexibility in curricular focus, textbook selection, selecting programs and materials, as well as freedom in deciding how to allocate, manage and spend the funds that come unrestricted from the state.

The district still oversees and controls many policies in an affiliated charter, and when lateral budget cuts are made – when a staff position or program is reduced or eliminate districtwide – affiliated charters are affected. When the district decides to change the calendar and implement “Early Start,” or makes changes to the bell schedule, or the number of instructional days, class size ratios, or changes to the graduation A-G requirements – affiliated charters are affected. So ultimately, it’s a compromise. The District maintains some control, the unions maintain their contracts, and the school site gains some autonomy without going full-out independent charter.

There is money involved, surely, particularly important for schools that have fallen just below the now higher Title 1 (poverty level) school threshold. In fact, the majority of the schools that have converted one by one (or seven by sixteen) to affiliated charter, are schools that have lost their Title 1 status, meaning they have lost their additional federal funding. The loss in federal funds, in additional to the continued onslaught of yearly state and district budget cuts, has been devastating.

For an elementary school in LAUSD, already 48th in the country in per-pupil spending, the Title 1 funding loss can amount to $80-150,000 annually from a school’s operating budget. For a secondary school such as the highly-lauded LACES, the loss from their budget this year was $460,000. For Millikan Middle School, the loss was about $600,000. You can see the kind of fiscal pressure a school is under, and why that charter block grant, not to mention the thought of gaining some autonomy, starts to look not only attractive, but necessary for survival.

Read some commentary on it from School Board member Tamar Galatzan HERE. And KPCC takes a look at the issues HERE.

But what does this mean in terms of trends where predominantly high-performing motivated middle class schools capable of self-governance are converting to charter 25 – 30 at a time? What does it mean for the rest of the district’s schools, where high staff turnover, low parent participation, and unmotivated communities do not, or can not, advocate for their schools?

In California we have more students enrolled in charter schools than anywhere else in the nation. Ten years from now, will the majority of our schools be charters? Will the District be bankrupt? Will we (the people, the policy-makers) make public education a priority, an undeniable human right, a necessary investment in our collective futures, or will it become an obsolete novelty gone the way of social security and pension plans?

In updating my color-coded Valley Elementary school map with all the recent charter conversions, there is a clear green line. The charter line. Schools south of the Ventura Freeway in the foothills, in North Hills, and Granada Hills, see the most conversions. Make no mistake, they’re also the areas with the highest property values.

GoMamaGuide’s Valley Elementary Schools Map.

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Want to use this article? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
 
Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2012 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved. 

Budget Cut Season Again…Are We Outraged or Immune?

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

Full disclosure: I struggled to write an article for this month’s newsletter because despite the difficulties inherent in public schools, I like to think anyway, that I inspire parents to be part of the solution.

But when I looked at the latest edu-news feeds, I’ve got to be honest with you, even I found it hard to stay upbeat. Or write anything. And deeply question what I’m doing going out there talking up the public school options. (Not one but three teachers fired this week for sexual misconduct, more ongoing budget woes, another shortened school year, more layoffs, class size increases, and more taxes on the horizon.) Please. Where’s the good news for chrissakes!

Regardless of what you believe about magnets or charters or neighborhood schools, they’re all facing difficulties in this financial-politico landscape. (Is that a word?) Our schools have sustained an onslaught of consecutive cuts for the past 5-6 years. Now we’re at risk for another round of cuts.

But just as I was sinking lower into despondency, it occurred to me, hey, it’s February. We’ve seen this cycle before:

The District presents the worst-case scenario, blames the State, urges us to write the Governor and our members of Congress.

Then the union blasts back with outrage, proposes a rally and/or walk-out, accuses the District of mishandling funds and urges parents to write/call/fax the Superintendent and our school board members.

The Congress is in a budgetary stalemate between the Democrats wanting to increase taxes and the Republicans wanting to cut spending.

We the parents, after writing the Governor, our Congress members, the Superintendent, and our School Board (or some electronic version thereof) and driving across town in rush hour traffic to attend some “very important” meeting about “school reform” only to find no meaningful answers whatsoever, watch our principal break down in front of us at the thought of more devastating cuts, so we scurry to make lemonade out of lemons and we do the best we can.

Didn’t we go through this last year? And the year before? And the year before that? Did any of those letters, or phone calls, or meetings, or lobbying trips up to Sacramento have any impact?

Excuse me if I sound less than outraged and more like meh. Tired of it.

Our kids are already in the system. This year. Not beginning next year, or the year after, or next decade when things could turn around. We have to make the most of it.

Strapping on our hard hats we pack their lunches and their backpacks, oversee homework, get them out the door every day and deposit them at school hoping for the best. Hoping the sky won’t fall in on them, at least not this year.

Journeying down this path is like living with an alcoholic who inevitably comes home from a bender, broke, raging at the top of his lungs, waking up the kids, slinging punches having spent all the rent and grocery money. It’s total dysfunction. Why do we continually put up with this?

When will we say, “enough!”

So for those who don’t know, the District scenario goes like this:

With one hand they present the worst-case scenario – no, not the magnets, not the arts, not 50 kids in a classroom! – get everybody all up in arms, then with the other hand slip in some slimy compromise that by comparison somehow seems more palatable, like some shady wheeler-dealer with a thick accent, “For you my friend, I give good price.”

Oh look, a parcel tax.

More furlough days.

Less instructional days. 

Excuse me if I sound cynical, it’s just that I’ve been a few rounds on this carousel. I’m not a psychic but I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict the May outcome in advance:

Threatened:  Class size increase 30:1 in K-3, +3 in 4th and 5th (currently 24:1 K-3, 32-36:1 4-5th)
Actual:  26:1 in K-3, +1 in 4th-5th

Threatened: 5400 Certificated/2600 Classified RIFs
Actual: 1800 total RIFs

Threatened: all transpo buses including magnets and special needs in 2013
Actual: bus routes consolidated, must live minimum 6 miles from school campus (currently 3 mi)

Threatened: 100% of Elementary Arts Funding
Actual: 50% of Elementary Arts Funding – resulting in shorter arts cycles

Threatened: LA parcel tax
Actual: Parcel tax will fail. More cuts will be inevitable. 

The bigger question is how do we stop this insanity. Where does it end??!! These are OUR schools, OUR children, OUR future. They deserve better and we must demand it from all parties.

As I sit and write this on Superbowl Sunday, where millions are being spent on advertising moments, and millions are watching the game with their snacks and beer, it occurs to me that we  – as a city, state, nation – are not broke. We just spend our dollars on other priorities. So when is the priority going to be our collective children? And more importantly, what are we going to do about it!

I know things have to fall apart before they can be rebuilt. I know you get what you focus on, so if all we focus on is the doom and gloom, then surprise, we get doom and gloom and feel powerless to come up with creative solutions. I also know that as long as we give our power away to those in charge, they will continue to take advantage and be self-serving.

I also know that within each one of us, no matter what our age or socio-economic status, lives a spark of something unique and powerful. We each come here with our little (or not so little) light, with our unique gifts to bear. And as we gather together, united, we are mighty, full of potential, and yes, unstoppable.

I can’t help but believe that in the big picture, the old byzantine structures are crumbling in order to make way for something new to rise up through the ashes. And although I can’t quite see it, and it’s challenging from this vantage point, I know in my bones that it’s coming.

Parents, keep your kids close. Gather ’round your classrooms, your schools, your communities and together we will weather this storm. This is the time for critical thinking and creative problem-solving. It’s the time for teamwork and collaboration…the very same attributes many schools aspire to cultivate in their mission statements.

Now is the time to put those attributes to use.


Want to use this article? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2012 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.