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School board approves plan to open up schools to outsiders

August 25, 2009 |  6:29 pm

The Los Angeles Board of Education voted today to open up 250 schools, including 50 new multimillion-dollar campuses, to outside charter operators and others. The move came after a nearly four-hour debate on a 6-1 vote, with board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte opposing.

Under the proposal by board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, nonprofit charter groups and the mayor's group that oversees 11 schools could compete for the chance to run these schools. Ultimately, it will be up to Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to select the winning bid for these campuses.

The debate was heated at times -- with at least one person calling for a recall of Flores Aguilar. Others accused the board of acting out of political ambition and not on behalf  of the students in the nation's second-largest school district. Cortines said he supported the proposal because "for too long we have protected the status quo."

Labor unions were especially opposed to the plan, with teachers union head A.J. Duffy saying the district needs to be collaborative if it wants to reform schools.

Board members strongly defended their positions. Flores Aguilar said she found "no sense of urgency" to improve schools during her two years on the board and that she believed her colleagues needed to be the "leaders and reformers that we were elected to be."

Earlier in the day, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke outside district headquarters before a crowd of at least 2,000 charter school parents and supporters. Most wore light blue shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “My Child, My Choice.”

“We’re here today to stand up for our children,” Villaraigosa told a cheering crowd while standing with about 25 students called up to appear with him. He stood under a banner proclaiming a “Parent Revolution,” which is the name of a parent-organizing campaign supported by leading charter school companies.

Outside the meeting room, waiting to get in, were both supporters and opponents of the resolution, written by Flores Aguilar. Labor unions, especially United Teachers Los Angeles, have opposed the measure, which Villaraigosa addressed in remarks that lasted about seven minutes.

“I am pro-union but I am pro-parent as well,” the mayor said. “If workers have rights, then parents ought to have rights too.” He added: “This school board understands that parents are going to have a voice.”

Baldwin Hills parent Ennis Cooper and his wife took the day off from work to attend the rally.

“We are here to support parents’ ability to make choices,” Cooper said.

The crowd outside also included many opponents of the measure, which has been expanded to include persistently low-performing schools. About 200 schools could be affected, although the district already has the authority under federal law to restructure such schools.

“There’s no question schools need change,” said first-grade teacher Melissa Wiley, who also opposes the resolution. “But local control is the real issue. UTLA has been asking for it all along.”

-- Howard Blume and Jason Song

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