Parents at a Westchester elementary school are upset about the second delay of an election on whether or not to join the Innovation Division (iDivision) of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and are rallying to arrange a vote before the end of the school year.
Loyola Village Elementary School was slated to vote April 23rd to decide if it wanted to seek autonomy within the school district, but the election was postponed. That caused several parent advocates to collect signatures from both parents and educators at Loyola Village demanding that the vote be held this month.
“This should have never happened,” said Kelly Kane, president of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation. “Everyone is up in arms about this ongoing plan to get everyone disillusioned about autonomy.”
In an e-mail sent to various L.A. Unified officials, Sandy Menotti, the Parent-Teacher Association president at Loyola Village, requested the opportunity for teachers and parents to cast their ballots as soon as possible. Menotti and others have collected signatures to buttress their case.
One of the reasons for the delay in the vote is apparently that the school has two “location codes,” which in turn classify Loyola Village as two different schools. The elementary school has a magnet school, as does Orville Wright Middle School.
“However, we are considered by LAUSD and by the State of California as one school,” Menotti noted in her e-mail. “As evidenced by the attached signatures, we, the parents, teachers and community members of Loyola Village Elementary are united in our belief that Loyola Village, should be allowed to vote to decide whether or not our school may enter into Los Angeles Unified School District’s Innovation Division.”
Kane, whose Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation has been instrumental in the drive to allow Westchester schools to achieve autonomy within L.A. Unified, was upset that A.J. Duffy, who heads United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), has been in discussions with teachers at the school about delaying the vote because the district considers Loyola Village to be two schools, and that he had not met with the parents.
“This is an absolute plan to try and divert the real possibility of joining the iDivision and giving the stakeholders in Westchester the opportunity to determine their own future,” Kane alleged.
“Today [April 29th] a petition signed by 23 of our teachers was sent to A.J. Duffy, president of UTLA, in support of a vote,” Menotti’s e-mail said. “We therefore demand that our school’s Innovation Division vote which was scheduled for April 23, 2008 be rescheduled to take place no later than May 7, 2008.”
Duffy acknowledged that there have been some schools with magnet programs that have voted as one school and others, like Orville Wright, which voted separately.
“Our answer to that is that two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said.
Duffy feels that what is taking place at Loyola Village is one of the complications with the way that autonomy within the district is currently structured.
“This is the problem that you have when you’re building a car while driving it at the same time,” said the union president.
The principal at Loyola Village, Melinda Goodall, like quite a few of the parents and teachers, was dismayed that the school has not had the opportunity to vote, as five other Westchester schools have.
“I was very surprised and disappointed that the vote had been postponed,” Goodall told The Argonaut. “I am hoping that UTLA and the iDivision can come up with a solution [for this problem].”
For his part, Duffy stated that he was “definitely opposed to having a vote this year” at Loyola Village. He attributed much of the growing tension around the delayed vote to what he termed “parental interference with UTLA activities.”
According to United Teachers officials, several of the parents have threatened to pull their children out of Loyola Village if the school did not vote to join the iDivision.
“To me, that is a bad way to go into a collaborative partnership,” Duffy said.
The Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation’s Kane denied that any parents had made threats and pressed for a vote this year.
“The parents and teachers — together — of Loyola Village have taken complete ownership of their own school,” Kane wrote in a letter to United Teachers. “The teachers willingly started their own petition ñ NOT because of any threats. Indeed, BECAUSE you and LAUSD decided NOT to LET them vote. There is nothing mandated down from the top except the decision NOT to vote. It appears that they are not only ready to vote but want to do so.”
Duffy said that he had brokered a deal with the Innovation Division that would permit both Loyola Village schools to vote separately.
“The district then broke the agreement that I had made with the iDivision,” Duffy alleged.
Kathi Littman and Greg Vallone of the iDivision had not returned phone calls for comment at Argonaut press time.
Duffy was steadfast in his position of not holding a vote at Loyola Village this school year and said that he would be holding meetings with teachers, parents and representatives from Loyola Marymount University, which is partnering with the Westchester schools in the autonomy venture.
The union president also dismissed accusations that United Teachers was actively seeking to prevent a vote from taking place for any reasons other than those that he mentioned.
“[UTLA] helped to create the iDivision,” Duffy noted. “The idea that I would want to kill it is preposterous, and I want to assure everyone that we are in favor of this.”
Drew Furedi, executive director of the Family of Schools at LMU, views the situation at Loyola Village somewhat differently.
“One of my concerns is that there is the perception that the school is not being allowed to vote,” he said. “My understanding is that it is more of a matter of people getting comfortable with what they are voting for.”
Kane feels that there is momentum going into the summer with five schools moving toward establishing local control of their schools and delaying a yes or no vote on autonomy is not beneficial to the students, teachers or parents.
“Waiting until next year or summer is not only counterproductive, [it] goes against the very idea of what iDivision is meant to be,” the foundation president asserted.
“I made a promise to our teachers that they will not be harmed if they choose to join iDivision,” Duffy said. “Many of the parents have been their own worst enemy in this process, and many don’t seem to know that they have an ally in me.”
LMU’s Furedi hopes that all parties keep their eye on what he calls the big picture, which is creating the best possible learning environment for the students of Westchester.
“I think that the best way to precede now is with a measured, careful and thoughtful understanding of how to move forward, working in a collaborative manner with all stakeholders,” Furedi recommended.
Orville Wright Middle School and its magnet school; Kentwood, Westport Heights and Cowan Avenue elementary schools; and Westchester High School have all voted to join the iDivision.
Calls to Marlene Canter, the L.A. Unified board member who represents Westchester, had not been returned at Argonaut press time.