L.A. Schools Reform Plans Get Heat, but Not Support
A meeting of mostly Latino activists and parents favored some sort of drastic change for the Los Angeles Unified School District, but they did not give firm support for a particular reorganization or breakup plan.
A few speakers criticized the plan advocated by the group Finally Restoring Excellence in Education, or FREE, which wants the Valley to secede from the Los Angeles district and create two new ones.
In that proposal, Roscoe Boulevard would be the primary dividing line between a northern and southern district.
About 70 people, including two state senators, attended Saturday’s meeting at San Fernando High School. The event was organized by a coalition of mostly Latino community and political groups.
Speakers also discussed the mini-districts’ concept being pushed by school district Interim Supt. Ramon C. Cortines. He proposes trimming the district’s huge central office and moving decision-making for budget and instruction to 11 sub-districts, three of which would be in the San Fernando Valley.
At times the discussion grew heated.
During a question-and-answer session with FREE co-chair Stephanie Carter, San Fernando City Councilman Jose Hernandez said, “I’m opposed to the FREE plan, because I don’t trust you.”
Although Hernandez favors change, he said he opposed FREE because many of its members reportedly supported Proposition 187, a 1994 voter initiative that sought to deny public services to illegal immigrants and opposed bilingual education.
“I don’t believe those people are interested in the education of Chicano children,” Hernandez said.
Carter would not comment on the specific views of her group’s members, but said the important task is for people to agree on improving education.
“People agree on this issue more than on other issues,” she said. “There’s no reason not to come together on something.”
Parent Norma Ramirez, 41, of Arleta said she feared that neither the FREE plan nor Cortines’ proposal would break down school bureaucracy.
“If no problems are resolved, parents lose interest,” said Ramirez, who works as a volunteer at Canterbury Avenue Elementary School in Pacoima. “We need to educate mothers so they participate in the process and are informed.”
Parent Haim Linder, 46, of North Hollywood supports smaller districts but added, “I don’t see any plans to add schools and classrooms.”
The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, whose 11 members are elected by county school district boards, will release a preliminary feasibility study on the FREE breakup proposal April 5. The committee is scheduled to make a recommendation to the state Board of Education by June 7 on whether this Valley school district secession plan should be decided by voters.
In Cortines’ plan, the “semi-autonomous” sub-districts would include a superintendent and an estimated 50 to 75 schools.
The L.A. Unified’s board is scheduled to vote on that plan April 11. If approved, it would be implemented July 1.
“The whole point is to hold people more accountable for students’ success,” said Joe Rao, school district director of policy research and development.
Rao joked that, if the multi-district plan were approved but failed, he might switch allegiance.
“A year from now, if I see the same nonsense is going on, I will join her,” Rao said, laughing and pointing to Carter.
State Sen. Richard Polanco (D--Los Angeles) said a bill he introduced to evaluate the district’s reorganization plan would look at issues such as providing more fully credentialed teachers and increasing parent participation.
Smaller school districts would bring more money to African American and Latino communities, added state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D--Sylmar). Those groups tend to support education bonds, he said.
A second forum on education issues, sponsored by the same coalition, will be held April 22, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Valley College, 5800 Fulton Ave., Valley Glen.