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L.A. schools site packed for vote on allowing outside groups to run some schools

August 25, 2009 | 12:30 pm

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The scene today outside the downtown headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District is a bit chaotic, with hundreds of competing activists and traffic jams. At issue is today's vote on a plan that would allow outside groups to take control of 50 new campuses scheduled to open over the next four years. The proposal has been expanded to include more than 200 existing schools that have persistently failed to meet state and federal improvement targets. These schools could be shut down and converted to charter schools or turned over to outside groups.

The strategy sessions for today’s theater began before dawn. By 5 a.m., about 50 supporters of the proposal, wearing light-blue T-shirts emblazoned with “My Child, My Choice,” began lining up to be the first into the auditorium, where the school board is scheduled to deliberate over the measure at 2 p.m.

Right behind this contingent came a larger one, distinctive for its red T-shirts. The group is spearheaded by  United Teachers Los Angeles, the district's teachers union, which is leading opposition to the proposal,  authored by school board member Yolie Flores Aguilar.

An amendment supported by the union could give veto power over any school reform to parents, teachers and other bargaining units. This amendment was brought forward by newly elected Westside board member Steve Zimmer, who said his intention was for reforms to be inclusive and ultimately more effective.

Zimmer apparently has three votes as the debate is set to begin, but a fourth and deciding vote from the seven-member board seems unlikely.

As of now, it appears Flores Aguilar is more likely to claim a four-vote majority. She has two co-sponsors: Richard Vladovic and Monica Garcia, the board member most closely allied with Mayor Villaraigosa. The mayor supports the Flores Aguilar resolution. Villaraigosa was scheduled to speak at a noon rally for supporters outside the school district headquarters.

Flores Aguilar has two likely options for winning a four-member majority. West San Fernando Valley representative Tamar Galatzan is a probable "yes" vote for Flores Aguilar despite being pulled in different directions politically. Villaraigosa’s fund-raising helped pay for Galatzan’s election two years ago, but she and the mayor have been infrequent allies since then. To complicate matters, Galatzan’s also running for L.A. City Council, without the mayor’s endorsement.

Another possible "yes" vote for Flores Aguilar could come from Nury Martinez, newly elected from the eastern San Fernando Valley. She’s starting on Zimmer’s side — having seconded his amended version -- but could jump to Flores Aguilar provided that the union-endorsed Zimmer amendment fails.

The teachers union provided limited but pivotal support to get Martinez elected. Still, Martinez is thought to be closer to the unions representing non-teaching employees. And they’ve been offered some protection in the latest version of the Flores Aguilar resolution.

That amendment, hashed out over the last week, would designate L.A. Unified as the “default provider” for school support services including cafeteria, custodial, maintenance and security. This provision would preserve some union jobs at schools that transferred to charter operators, which are mostly non-union. The teachers union is notably excluded from this arrangement, in part because teachers have a tenure system and a complex contract that charter operators find objectionable.

But even for the non-teaching unions, the protections are limited. The charters or other outside operators would specify the number and types of jobs, and they could opt out of union-district contracts after an as-yet-unspecified period if district performance is inadequate.

-- Howard Blume

Caption: Light blue T-shirts are worn by supporters of a resolution to convert under-performing L.A. schools into charter schools or give them to outside groups to run. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

More photos . .  .

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