Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines is considering eliminating half of the district’s eight local district offices in a cost-cutting measure that could potentially save the district approximately $12 million.
Cortines created the mini-districts in 2008 as acting LAUSD superintendent ostensibly to give parents and teachers greater access at a local level to the nation’s second largest school district.
“There is no way to avoid cuts,” Cortines said during a budget meeting last month with the school board regarding the district’s dismal fiscal future.
“We have less state and federal money and fewer students. The district has to adjust.”
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, thinks that shutting some local district offices is a good idea.
“They should close all of them,” he asserted. “They could bring in selected people from various mini-districts and centralize things at Beaudry (LAUSD’s downtown administrative offices).”
Michelle King, superintendent of Local District 3, which includes schools in Westchester, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Playa del Rey and Venice, feels that schools would lose an important component of the administrative process of education if district offices were closed.
“I understand that we’re in a time of budget difficulties, but I feel very passionate about the support that (local district offices) provide to our schools,” King said.
Kelly Kane, whose two children attend Westport Heights Elementary School in Westchester, believes that many of the functions that rest with the local districts could be folded into the governance councils at the Westchester schools that are involved in a breakaway from LAUSD.
“I think that Michelle King is the best thing that has happened at Local District 3,” said Kane, who helped lead the fight for local control in Westchester schools. “However, the way that autonomy is supposed to work is that all of the responsibilities for our schools should be based within the family of schools.
“For us, Local District 3 would be redundant.”
Five of the seven Westchester schools have voted to join the iDesign Division, an entity at LAUSD created by former Superintendent David Brewer to accelerate student achievement working with what are known as “network partners.”
These schools have their own hiring committees and governance councils and are being trained by Loyola Marymount University (LMU), a network partner, on budgeting and administrative issues.
Westchester High School, Orville Wright Middle School, Cowan, Westport Heights and Kentwood elementary schools also belong to LMU’s Family of Schools, which works with iDesign officials to facilitate the transition to autonomy.
LAUSD spokeswoman Lydia Ramos said that to date, no definite plans have been made regarding closing half of the mini-districts.
“Superintendent Cortines has not discussed regional or labor outlines regarding going down from eight to four regional centers in a definitive manner,” she said. “It’s still a very new concept.”
Duffy says that the district should work with the teachers union to facilitate increased control at the local level.
“These mini-districts have become more command and control than anything else,” he said.
He believes that in addition to saving money by consolidating employees at LAUSD’s downtown headquarters, the district could also save on the buildings that it is leasing.
“There could be a tremendous amount of money saved on leases of the buildings that the district doesn’t own,” Duffy claimed. “There would be plenty of space to reconstitute into smaller areas.”
King believes that there are intrinsic as well as concrete reasons why local districts are beneficial to the individual schools, their teachers, students and administrators.
“What is not understood is that schools often need crisis intervention, technical and budgetary support that we can provide quicker than (LAUSD headquarters) can,” she said.
Westchester High School Principal Bruce Mims doesn’t think that consolidating local district offices will harm any of the school’s ongoing efforts to improve its academic performance.
“Will it have some impact? Yes,” Mims acknowledged. “But it won’t change much of what is happening on the ground here at the high school.”
The principal noted that the possible elimination of a local district office serving Westchester and surrounding areas was at the administrative level, where the issues that King mentioned — crisis intervention, in particular — can be helpful.
King, who says that she also supports the autonomy movement, points to a situation at Cowan Avenue Elementary where Local District 3 recently intervened to help defuse a controversy that she said had the potential for very harmful consequences.
A group of parents who are at odds with the teaching methods of a fourth-grade teacher at Cowan have complained to the school’s principal, Richard DaSylveira. Some of the parents were not satisfied with DaSylveira’s response and took their complaints to King, who addressed the group late last month.
“This is a good example of what we as a local district office can do to quickly take charge of an incident like this,” the superintendent of Local District 3 stated. “The principal, the parents and the administration welcomed some assistance with the problem and we were able to respond with a level of personalization, because we know the teachers and many of the parents.”
Kane, who is on Westport Heights’ governing board, says that under a policy of increased local control, an empowered school should be able to handle these types of potentially difficult situations.
“That’s where the school’s governance council, made up of parents, teachers, community members and administrators come in to play,” she said.
Duffy thinks that having fewer local LAUSD offices is a foregone conclusion.
“I think that it’s clear that’s going to happen,” said the UTLA president. “What remains to be seen is who leaves and who stays.”
The district must submit a budget to the Los Angeles County Office of Education by Tuesday, December 8th, when Cortines is expected to make his official proposal regarding the possibility of reducing the number of local districts.
LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, who represents the schools in Local District 3, did not return phone calls for comment.