School plans favored by teacher organizations and their supporters won a surprising victory Tuesday, February 23rd when the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education gave them control over the lion’s share of 30 school campuses targeted for education reform.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines made his recommendations to the board following a week of voting by parents and teachers that ended February 9th to choose who voters saw as the best equipped to control what the district calls “failing schools” and new schools that are slated to come on line in the near future.
The board voted to turn 22 of the schools over to teachers.
“We are pleased that the school board has recognized the hard work of teachers and parents, as well as the academic merit of the local plans,” A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said after the vote. “Given an even playing field which clearly favored charter schools, everyone put on an amazing effort and should be proud of their work on behalf of their students, their schools and their community.”
Duffy’s comments reflect the continued animosity that was sparked during the weeks leading up to the school board’s vote between his organization and charter operators. Following an August decision by the school board to enact the Public School Choice Initiative, the plan that would allow traditional schools as well as charter organizations to compete for the underperforming school as well as new institutions, LAUSD held an election this month to determine which school plans were the preferred options.
Plans favored by teachers and their supporters won the advisory vote overwhelmingly. But Cortines, in a letter to district employees a week before the board voted, cautioned that the advisory vote would be only one factor that he would consider when he made his suggestions to the school board.
“I am using the advisory votes as another data point when considering my recommendations, and the quality of the plan and applicants will be my primary focus,” the superintendent wrote.
Green Dot Charter Schools Chief Executive Officer Marco Petruzzi hoped the board would disregard the advisory vote due to what he claimed was “a ton of evidence” that showed UTLA had engaged in electioneering.
“How could you consider it?” he asked. “It means absolutely nothing.”
Cortines angered UTLA, the district’s largest teachers union, by including in his recommendation on February 19th the consideration to allow some outside operators the opportunity to control at least some of the new schools.
“Unfortunately, the superintendent disregarded the parent mandates by recommending plans submitted by some outside operators,” UTLA said in a statement after Cortines’ announcement. “The stated purpose of the Public School Choice motion was that parents must have a ‘choice’ over who operates district schools.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa injected himself into the school reform initiative again on the day of the vote, essentially lobbying the board to allow more charter operators a chance to run at the new schools.
“Our charter partners who participated in this process include some of the best operators in the country,” the mayor said in a statement. “Other communities are begging these operators to open schools in their districts, yet the district may give them a paltry number of schools, which would be a terrible blow to reform and would give credence to those critics who say this is a system trying to protect the failed status quo.”
Villaraigosa, an ally of LAUSD Board President Yolie Flores, who led the push for the school choice initiative, campaigned for the reform plan backed by Flores last summer, including a stop in Venice.
Charter school operators, who accused UTLA of misrepresenting their position on education to many parent groups, will be given the opportunity to run four schools, and Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools will oversee three. Green Dot, which has a high school in Venice and is attempting to create a middle school in the Mar Vista area, was not given control over any of the existing schools.