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District passes reform package

Times Staff Writer

The city’s new school board majority Tuesday pushed through its first wave of reform measures -- and fast.

As a result, the Los Angeles Unified School District has new initiatives aimed at measuring student performance, paying employees on time, decreasing the dropout rate, helping English learners, building smaller schools, recruiting new employees, training principals and increasing parent involvement.

For new board President Monica Garcia and her three allies -- who are backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- the meeting was nothing less than change on the march.

For some holdover board members, the proceedings were more like a forced drill, which combined welcome initiatives with redundant, repackaged ones. And they worried that parts of the agenda could tie the hands of top administrators or entail uncertain financial and legal ramifications.

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“I’m feeling the pressure,” holdover board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte said during the meeting. “Someone used the word ‘jamming.’ It’s not a very comfortable feeling.”

She voted against the “District Accountability” motion. LaMotte had no issue with its intent but found the language and deadlines too restrictive on Supt. David L. Brewer. That resolution alone listed more than 30 performance measures, including graduation rates, employee satisfaction surveys, student and teacher attendance and the number and rate of student suspensions. Under the motion, such data must be studied and addressed in short order.

Brewer has said he intends to use data to drive decisions; it remains to be seen how well the imposed requirements coincide with his own priorities.

LaMotte voted “no” just once, and that was the only nay. In essence, the entire board sanctioned the lofty goals of motions with such titles as “Diplomas for All,” “Hope on the Horizon” and “Leaders of Leaders.”

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Two of the most extended discussions pertained to matters not yet up for a vote: the future of Locke High School and, separately, proposed health benefits for part-time cafeteria workers.

The Locke faculty is divided over a proposal to become an independent charter school. Newly elected board member Richard Vladovic introduced a motion requiring an up-or-down vote in August on the charter petition.

On new benefits for cafeteria workers, Brewer said, “I am not prepared to take a $43-million cut this year,” referring to the cost.

One motion that passed had been pushed behind the scenes by organized labor, board and union sources said. It requires the district to fix its new, malfunctioning payroll system; officials insist they already are trying to do so.

The school district scored a victory related to the payroll debacle this week. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit by the teachers union over the payroll system. But the system itself still confuses, overpays and underpays employees -- spurring a Tuesday rally outside district headquarters organized by United Teachers Los Angeles.

That was the day’s most contentious note. In fact, at 3:25 p.m., Garcia ran out of things to do, so the board adjourned until it was time for an item scheduled for 4 p.m. It was a striking departure from meetings that frequently have kept parents, employees and community members waiting hours.

“We need a little discipline,” Garcia said during a break. “We need a little focus. We need expectations. I liked the conversation and sharing and exchange -- and that we started on time.”

Garcia drove not only the meeting but also the blitzkrieg of reform motions. In that endeavor she had assistance from the mayor’s office -- help that became obvious when mid-level district officials discovered that Villaraigosa’s office was listed as the author on the computerized draft files of her motions.

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The mayor’s staff offered input and “help in terms of research and support and feedback,” Garcia said.

A spokesman for Villaraigosa characterized the effort similarly. “These documents are a result of a collaborative effort led by school board President Garcia,” Matt Szabo said. “At her request, the office provided the board president with drafts she used as a launching point.”

The mayor had sought substantial control over L.A. Unified through legislation that was thrown out by the courts. He succeeded, however, in efforts to raise millions that helped elect board members allied to him.

howard.blume@latimes.com


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