The LAUSD Board Strikes Out

Resolved, That the LAUSD Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles opposes the Broad Foundation plan and all initiatives that present a strategy designed to serve some students and not all students

-Scott Schmerelson

When a leaked copy of Eli Broad’s Great Public Schools Now Initiative was published by the Los Angeles Times, the public was given insight into what the Ed “Reform” movement’s plans look like before they have been cleaned up by the marketing department. While students should be the reason for any education system to exist, in this document they were reduced to “market share” and tools for creating a system that will become “a model for all large cities to follow.” While claiming that this new model would be better for students, the initiative’s metrics were not set up to measure student achievement. Instead, they measured how well the program performed at increasing the size of the publicly financed, private school system with three stated “objectives: (1) to create 260 new high-quality charter schools, (2) to generate 130,000 high-quality charter seats, and (3) to reach 50 percent charter market share.”

As the Board member who was elected this year despite the political spending of “nearly $2.3 million from wealthy charter school advocates,” including Broad, Scott Schmerelson is uncorrupted from their influence and is, therefore, in the best position to lead the fight against this public school takeover. When his Excellent Public Education for Every Student was noticed at the Board meeting on November 10, it appeared to be the needed line in the sand that would force his fellow Board members to declare whether they supported schools that are truly public and accessible to all or the billionaires who seek to privatize our schools for their own advantage. This resolution strongly called out charter schools for being “unregulated” and pointed out that having the largest number of charter schools in the country creates “unnecessary competition for precious resources and divides students and communities.” It also directed “the Superintendent to analyze all external proposals targeting LAUSD” to determine their effect on District run schools. Most importantly, it specifically stated opposition to the Broad plan. After years of allowing the charters to operate without oversight and expand like cockroaches into our school communities, this resolution was poised to serve as a battle cry for the District’s defense. Unfortunately, this is not the resolution that the Board will vote on on Tuesday.

In the revised resolution, “unregulated” becomes the more timid “under-regulated.” The actual current budget deficits caused by declining enrollment and the conflict between public schools and co-located charters were ignored so that the word “threaten” could be added before “competition for precious resources” and “divide students and communities.” The Superintendent is no longer directed to “analyze all external proposals targeting LAUSD.” The District also does not go on record in opposition to the Broad plan.

In place of the direct fighting words that were the welcome change needed by the district, the updated document contains the well intentioned buzzwords that represent the status quo. Ignoring the fact that goals are meaningless in the continued absence of action, the expressions “improving achievement,” “a holistic approach to teaching and learning,” “accountable school leadership,” “leveling the playing field,” “equitably funded, sequential arts and music education,” “student safety,” “parent engagement,” “student and staff attendance” and “reducing our unacceptable dropout rate” are once again listed without accompanying plans to provide actual improvement. For a document that states that it covers “Every Student,” it neglects the most vulnerable special education students, who are ignored by the charter schools that will be boosted by the Broad plan, and others who are not on the college path as the district focuses on “college readiness.”

At this point, it is unclear who is at fault for the emasculation of this resolution. As is often the case, the LA School Report speculates that the changes were made with the goal of an unanimous vote, but this is likely wishful thinking on the part of a site that was created to push the ed “reform” agenda. As they point out, Ref Rodriguez, Monica Garcia and Richard Vladovic are “three Board members sympathetic to charters” and were elected with the funding of the Broad supported California Charter Schools Association. Surely Schmerelson knew that the fighting words contained in his first draft were certain to draw opposition from at least two of them, making unanimity impossible. This was not meant to be a kumbaya moment. He was looking for the Board to take a stand.

Tellingly, as of the writing of this article, no other Board member is listed as sponsoring this resolution. Did George McKenna forget that they were elected to the Board despite the opposition of Broad and his money? Are Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff fearful of retaliation by Broad in the 2017 elections? Is Richard Vladovic playing both sides as, for some reason, they both supported his reelection bid this year? As originally worded, this resolution was what the District needed. It is unfortunate that Schmerelson was left to fight the fight alone. Hopefully, the voters will remember this as the 2017 elections move closer to the horizon.