Struggling L.A. students won’t get a longer school year but can seek help during vacation

L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho
L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho on Tuesday criticized the teachers union before the school board approved a revised plan for an expanded school year. The union had forced the district to change its original plan.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles parents who want their children to receive extra academic help can send them to school on the first two weekdays of winter and spring break, a revised learning plan that won teacher union support but also prompted Supt. Alberto Carvalho and several school board members to criticize the labor group.

The Board of Education approved the plan Tuesday after Carvalho described it as a “second-best” but still valuable option that had been forced on the district by United Teachers Los Angeles.

Attendance on the “accelerated” learning days will be optional for students, teachers, administrators and other employees. On these days, students will receive individual help and small-group instruction. Employees who participate will be paid for their time.


The district had originally announced the school year would be expanded by four days, from 180 to 184, with the extra learning days woven into the calendar at strategic points around mid-semester to enable struggling students to have an opportunity to do better in class.

In response, the union filed a labor complaint alleging that the district acted illegally by adding four additional days because such calendar changes are subject to negotiations. The union said funding would be better spent on strategies including “smaller class sizes, hiring more counselors, psychiatric social workers and school psychologists and investing in teacher development.”

The district also has invested in these strategies — even though union leaders judge the commitment to be insufficient.

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UTLA also called for its members to boycott the first acceleration day on Oct. 19.

Carvalho said the district negotiated the new plan with the union and put the original one aside for practical reasons: With few teachers expected, he had concerns about safely supervising students and providing meaningful instruction.

“Frankly, it is disheartening,” he continued. “And I want to tell the board that I sincerely apologize to you and the community for the fact that we tried to do something that was in the best interest of students.”

He also responded to union criticism that the original district plan was a waste of money and imposed illegally.


“The principles of equity would dictate that we need to give [students] more of what works, more of what we value,” Carvalho said. “And I may be wrong, but I value teaching. I value teaching by teachers in front of students. So if it’s good for the first 180 days, it cannot necessarily become bad, terrible, a stunt or a waste of money on the 181st day.”

Without naming UTLA, he added: “If anybody wants to claim a win or celebrate the win, because we were not able to, on these Wednesdays, bring kids to our schools ... count me out. Count me out. I will always show up for the kid because that was the right thing.”

Carvalho added that district could have communicated better, but that the union was not willing to negotiate over the acceleration days when the decision needed to be made in April, near the end of the prior school year.

The teachers union did not respond immediately to Carvalho’s remarks, but union leaders have said they were prepared to negotiate over the extra days, but the district imposed them on the grounds that they were optional.

The district set aside $122 million to pay for the four days as well as for three additional teacher training days just before the start of the school year. About two-thirds of district teachers attended those, officials said.

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The union and district are currently in negotiations over the entire contract, a process that also involves jockeying for positive public opinion.


Other employee unions had agreed to the original plan and one of these, Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union — representing teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians, among others — called on the district Tuesday to stick to it. But leaders of that union did not threaten a boycott.

The school board’s unanimous vote for the new plan followed a discussion that largely echoed the superintendent’s points.

“As is often the case, adult agendas got in the way of kids,” said board member Nick Melvoin. And in comparing the two unions, he added: “This is just year after year and incident after incident where bad behavior is rewarded and good behavior is ignored.”

Melvoin was not endorsed by the teachers union in either of his elections. The superintendent’s comments also received strong support from Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna, who were endorsed by the teachers union.

School board President Kelly Gonez, who, like other board members, had voted in April for the district’s original plan, said the situation was “very frustrating,” but “the urgency of the needs of our students require that we make difficult decisions that can cause discomfort in order to serve a greater good.”

The teachers union has endorsed Gonez in her bid to be reelected in November. She’s the only incumbent board member on the ballot.


Given the expected boycott, the Oct. 19 learning day “just isn’t feasible,” Gonez said. “It isn’t what our kids deserve.”