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Crazy-quilt democracy in action in Tuesday vote on L.A. Unified school reform

February 1, 2010 |  4:27 pm

Voters Tuesday will choose reform plans for 30 Los Angeles-area schools in an election like no other.

For one thing, the voting age could dip to 14. Undocumented residents are welcome. Some people will get multiple votes. Ballot stuffing is expected.

And did we mention that each contestant will actually be competing in seven simultaneous elections? And that the results could be meaningless?

Whoever said democracy is messy could have been thinking of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The subject of the election is singular: Groups inside and outside the school system are competing to run 12 persistently low-performing schools and 18 new campuses. The purpose of the balloting is for different voting blocs to select their favored bidder. Each bloc will be tallied separately, including parents, high school students and school employees.

Despite all the hoopla — and the complaints from all sides about the process and the actions of rivals — the election results could prove meaningless. It will be up to L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to make recommendations for each school, and the school board will make the final choice late this month.

Voters will include the parents of students in the schools that feed into a campus that is up for grabs. For example, elementary and middle school parents will get to vote on reform plans for Jefferson High if those students might ultimately attend Jefferson High. The parents of eighth-graders — those nearest to attending Jefferson — will be tallied separately from other feeder-school parents. And the parents of current Jefferson students will also be counted separately.

The same logic applies for Carver Middle School. Parents from feeder elementary schools will get a vote, with the parents of fifth-graders — those closest to middle school — tallied separately.

Parents get one vote per student. School employees who also are parents can vote as employees too.

In the end, in fact, anyone can vote. There are two kitchen-sink categories: “unverified parents” and “community.” Anyone can vote in these two categories in any of the 30 individual school elections.

The unverified parents and community categories are “not valid,” said Ruth Logan, co-chairwoman of election committee for the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. “I would not pay attention to them personally.”

The league is running the complex election for a fee of $50,000.

The L.A. teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has urged members to vote under “community" in as many elections as possible.

The union is acting out of concern about ballot stuffing by other entities, such as charter school supporters. Charter organizations are competing with groups of teachers for control of many schools. Charters are independently managed and exempt from some rules governing traditional schools, including union contracts.

The school district’s website has detailed information on election times and polling places for each school. Voters can cast ballots Saturday as well. An election hotline will operate through the end of the election, with information in English and Spanish, at (213) 368-1616.

-- Howard Blume

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