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Schools scramble to keep federal grants

Schools scramble to keep federal grants

Local officials are quickly revising some school reform plans to keep federal grants of up to $2 million per school this year for a group of campuses, including some overseen by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Problems arose when federal evaluators found that a small sampling of schools they visited in March had not carried out promised reforms or else had carried out plans with elements not eligible for funding. State reviewers then followed up to identify problems in more than 40 school systems, including Los Angeles Unified, Pomona Unified, Riverside Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino City Unified, San Diego Unified and San Francisco Unified.

The state Board of Education voted in July to delay funding if key issues were not addressed by the fall.

San Francisco Unified has had among the most pressing shortcomings to resolve. That district had committed to replacing at least half the teaching staff at several schools, but had failed to do so, according to state documents.

The issues in Los Angeles were comparatively minor, officials said. Gompers Middle School, for example, must remove “student incentives,” the use of money to reward students for improved academic performance through events such as parties or field trips. These incentives aren’t allowed under funding guidelines.

In several other respects, the reform efforts at Gompers, located in South Los Angeles, won praise from federal evaluators. Gompers is overseen by a nonprofit organization under the mayor’s control. One irony is that the Gompers principal, who was singled out for providing stability to a campus plagued by past teacher and administrative turnover, has since left the school.

The federal grant is worth $1.86 million to Gompers this year, crucial funding as most schools labor under sharp budget reductions. Nine schools in L.A. Unified are receiving these grants.

Other Los Angeles schools were singled out for not increasing instructional time for students. In some cases, the added learning time has, in fact, been provided, said Nader Delnavaz, the secondary programs administrative coordinator for L.A. Unified. For these schools the district needs to clarify what’s already taking place, he said.

Other regional school systems that must revise reform plans include ABC Unified, which includes schools in Artesia and Cerritos; Coachella Valley Unified; Fontana Unified; Moreno Valley Unified; and Palmdale Elementary.


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Principal Sonia Miller of Samuel Gompers Middle School talks with some students of Kenneth Aubrey, right, during her daily rounds in November 2009. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

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