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L.A. Unified moves forward on corporate sponsors, earlier school year

December 14, 2010 |  9:19 pm

The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education moved forward Tuesday on two initiatives that generated controversy: a policy to attract corporate sponsors and an earlier start to the school year.

“I’m uncomfortable with this,” said board member Steve Zimmer, who said he cast his vote supporting sponsorships in the wake of state budget cuts because “the public is not funding public education in California.”

Under the approved rules, the district superintendent could ink agreements up to $500,000, with school board approval required for larger amounts. Sponsors would not be able to sell or market specific products to children; instead they would have “branding” opportunities.

Examples could include signs on scoreboards or naming rights to auditoriums or athletic fields or a brand name on a drum purchased with a corporate donation.

“Let me tell you this is all advertising,” L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said, adding, “we’re not going to put advertising where it offends.”

He added that efforts would be made to share the money generated by sponsorships equitably among schools.

One estimate put potential annual revenue at $18 million, but Cortines cautioned that expectation might be overly optimistic. The district already was able to preserve some sports programs with a fundraising effort that netted about $1.5 million.

 “We’re asking for help from our corporate community,” said school board president Monica Garcia. “We’re trying to get help.”

On the other controversial item, the board approved 6 to 1 an earlier academic calendar. Instead of starting after Labor Day, the official start of the school year will be Aug. 15. The main advantage is for high schools, which will be able to finish first semester before the winter break.

“It’s a logical break in the school year,” said Principal Diane Klewitz of Verdugo Hills High in the San Fernando Valley.

Some schools moved to the new calendar this year.

Critics, however, have complained about students attending school during a hotter part of the summer.

Board member Richard Vladovic applauded the academic benefit but said too few parents knew about the change. They should have been included in the decision-making process, he said. For that reason, he voted no.

He and board member Zimmer proposed waiting one more year before going with the early start. The teachers union took that position as well.

But Cortines said a delay would result in increased transportation costs -- because the district would be split between schools that have adopted the new schedule and those that haven’t.

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-- Howard Blume

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