Southern California -- this just in

Category: Jerry Brown

California gets F grade from education advocacy group

Michelle Rhee listens to a community member during a meeting. Credit: Sarah L. Voisin / The Washington Post

California is sorely lacking when it comes to school reform, according to a rating of states issued by a high-profile education advocacy group.

California received an overall grade of F, ranking 41st nationally, from StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based group run by Michelle Rhee, whose outspoken views have polarized those who  share her focus on improving the nation’s schools.

Her group’s “report card” concentrates “singularly on the education policies in place in each of our states,” Rhee said in a statement. “And when we look solely at policy, it's clear that we have a long way to go toward improving our education system in America."

As with other rating systems, the results follow from the choice of parameters judged most important. California received its only high mark for being the birthplace of “parent trigger” laws, which allow parents, by petition, to replace the staff of a low-performing school and also to convert the campus to an independently operated charter school.

Among other recommendations, the report said California’s students would benefit from a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system that incorporates “student growth” as a significant factor.

Such “value-added” formulas attempt to measure a teacher’s impact on a student’s learning through standardized test scores that are adjusted for a student’s past performance and personal characteristics. Some experts and teacher unions are skeptical of the method, and those critics have had allies in Gov. Jerry Brown and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Rhee’s top-rated states are Louisiana and Florida; each earned a B-.

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Schools face more penalties as feds reject California waiver

Federal officials have rejected California’s request for exemption from rules that penalize low-performing schools and school districts, state officials announced Friday.

The state’s failure to win a “waiver” from the No Child Left Behind law was not entirely a surprise, but was still unwelcome news to officials.

“It is disappointing that our state’s request—which enjoyed such strong support from parents, teachers, administrators and education advocates across California — has apparently been rejected,” said state Supt. of Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement. “California made a good-faith effort to seek relief from requirements that even federal officials have acknowledged time and again are deeply flawed.”

Under federal rules, more than 6,000 California schools have been labeled as failing. In many cases, these schools are improving, sometimes rapidly. Besides enduring a stigma of failure, these schools must also set aside as much as 20% of their federal funds to transport students to “non-failing” schools and to set up tutoring services with outside vendors. The outside tutoring has been inconsistent and frequently ineffective, according to some experts.

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L.A. firefighters back decision to overturn parole for convicted arsonist

A local firefighters union on Tuesday cheered California Gov. Jerry Brown's decision to deny parole to a man convicted in a decades-old arson murder of a 34-year-old firefighter.

Mario Catanio of Van Nuys was convicted in 1983 of intentionally starting a fire at Cugee's Cafe in North Hollywood that killed Thomas G. Taylor and injured several other Los Angeles Fire Department personnel who responded to the blaze.

"Mario Catanio was convicted of murder and burglary and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for setting the fire that killed Taylor, who at the time had eight years with the LAFD," Capt. Frank Líma, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, said in a statement.

"While arsonist Catanio is now 71, he is still a danger to society today.  He has never said he's sorry, never apologized, and has never shown any remorse," said Líma, who added that Catanio will likely be up for parole again next year.

According to the "Indeterminate Sentence Parole Release Review" document posted on the union's website, Brown disagreed with the parole board's findings that: "Mr. Catanio is suitable for parole based on his remorse, insight, lack of disciplinary history, self-help programming and vocational upgrades, age, psychological report, and parole plans."

"I am concerned Mr. Catanio lacks a proper appreciation for the gravity of his actions," Brown wrote in the letter posted on the union's website, which was dated Dec. 14.

"I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Mr. Catanio is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence I have discussed shows why he currently poses a danger to society if released from prison," Brown wrote.

According to the document, restaurant owners Henry Martinez and Arlene Boyle hired Catanio for $2,500 to burn down their family restaurant so they could collect insurance money.

Firefighter Taylor responded to the blaze and died when he fell through the roof.


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L.A. Now Live: Gov. Jerry Brown treated for prostate cancer

Gov. Jerry Brown is receiving radiation treatment for early-stage prostate cancer, but is expected to maintain a full work schedule, his office announced.

The Times' Sacramento reporter, Michael Mishak, will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. to discuss the 74-year-old governor's diagnosis and treatment.

Mishak and staff writer Patrick McGreevy reported that Brown is undergoing "conventional radiotherapy."

"Fortunately, this is early-stage, localized prostate cancer," Dr. Eric Small, Brown's oncologist at UC San Francisco, said in the statement. "The prognosis is excellent, and there are not expected to be any significant side effects."

The governor's office said the treatment would be completed the week of Jan. 7, about the time Brown is expected to unveil his proposed budget and deliver his State of the State address.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran declined to provide details about when the governor was diagnosed, what form of radiotherapy he is receiving and the stage of his cancer.

"We have no further comment," Duran said.

This is the governor's second bout with cancer during his return engagement as California's chief executive. Last year he had a cancerous growth removed from the right side of his nose and some reconstructive surgery. He had been treated for the same type of cancer --  basal cell carcinoma -- in 2008, when he had a small spot removed near his right ear.


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Poll finds Californians remain worried about college costs

Every desk is taken in an Accounting 101 class at Orange Coast Community College in Costa Mesa in 2011. Credit:Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Californians are increasingly worried about the cost of attending public colleges and universities -- even after voters approved new measures that are supposed to help limit tuition hikes, a new poll has found.

The Public Policy Institute of California poll shows that 65% of adults think that overall affordability of California’s state higher education is a “big problem.” That has been on the rise in recent years, up from 52% in 2008, results showed.

Voters recently approved Proposition 30, which is supposed to help avoid funding cuts to higher education through additional sales and income tax revenue. But even with those funds, 64% of people who answered the post-election poll said that the state budget situation is a major problem for community colleges, Cal State and UC.

Californians were closely divided on the issue of whether the state government can plan for the future of higher education: 50% said they have some or a great deal of confidence in the state government’s ability to do so while 49% said they had very little or no confidence in it.


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Photo: Every desk is taken in an Accounting 101 class at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa in 2011. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Local police can decide whether to hold illegal immigrants, state attorney general says

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Tuesday told local law enforcement agencies that they were not obligated to comply with a controversial federal program launched in 2008 with the goal of deporting illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

It was Harris' first public assessment of Secure Communities, under which all arrestees' fingerprints are sent to federal immigration officials, who then may ask police departments to hold suspected illegal immigrants so deportation proceedings can begin.

While the intent may have been to improve public safety, Harris said that a review of data from March through June of this year showed that 28% of those targeted for deportation in California as a result were not criminals. Those numbers, she noted, changed little since Immigration and Customs Enforcement pledged a year earlier that the program would be reformed to better target the most serious criminals.

"Secure Communities has not held up to what it aspired to be," Harris said. The law enforcement bulletin she issued Tuesday stated that "immigration detainer requests are not mandatory, and each agency may make its own decision" about whether to honor them.

Some elected officials and local law enforcement agencies have complained that -- in addition to pulling in those arrested for minor offenses -- Secure Communities had made undocumented immigrants fearful of cooperating with police, even when they themselves were the victims.

On Tuesday, immigrant-rights advocates applauded Harris' announcement.

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L.A. Now Live: Discuss UC Berkeley chancellor pay raise

The UC Board of Regents on Tuesday approved a $50,000 -- or 11.4% -- pay raise to the incoming UC Berkeley chancellor despite strong opposition from California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Times higher education reporter Larry Gordon will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. to discuss the decision to pay Nicholas B. Dirks $486,000, which is more than the current campus head. The extra money will come from private donations, the regents said, and is $14,000 less than his current salary as a high-ranking administrator at Columbia University.

Brown, who is a regent, described Dirks as an excellent choice but said he would not vote for the salary given the austerities that the state and the 10-campus UC system still face. The university must look for more efficient ways to teach and operate and "the leaders have to demonstrate that they are also sacrificing," Brown said.

The $50,000 increase, even though it won't come from public coffers, "does not fit within the spirit of servant leadership that I think will be required over the next few years," the governor said.

Brown also cited voters' recent approval of his Proposition 30 tax increase, which spared UC from deep budget cuts. During the campaign for the measure, the governor said, he promised voters that he would "use their funds judiciously and with prudence."

Brown, who rarely attended regents meetings before the election, has since become a dramatic presence and voice against UC status quo. Since last summer, he has criticized raises for Cal State executives and suggested that all public colleges promote less expensive insiders instead of shopping for high-priced "hired guns" from across the country.

Besides noting that Dirks will take a pay cut from being Columbia's executive vice president and dean of its arts and sciences faculty, UC leaders said his UC Berkeley salary will be much lower than that of leaders at many other prestigious public and private universities.

"I try to get the very best person I can in this job to navigate the university through some very complicated times," UC system President Mark G. Yudof said.

Yudof said he and Brown do not see "exactly eye to eye" on Dirks' pay, but Yudof said he and the governor agree on nearly all other issues, including efforts to keep tuition from rising.

The regents first debated the issue privately Tuesday in a telephone conference call linking those in Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles. After the call went public, three regents voted against the pay increase — Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Charlene Zettel — and 11 others voted for it. All 14 voted to appoint Dirks.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a frequent UC critic, issued a statement suggesting that Dirks follow the example of Timothy P. White, who recently asked for a 10% pay cut from the salary paid his Cal State predecessor. Yee said he would reintroduce legislation to limit executive pay raises in public higher education.

When he starts at the 36,000-student UC Berkeley on June 1, Dirks will receive free campus housing, along with $121,700 in relocation fees paid out in installments over four years and other benefits.

New UC Berkeley chief to get pay raise despite Brown's opposition

Photo: New UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks. Credit: Associated PressDespite strong opposition from Gov. Jerry Brown, the UC regents on Tuesday gave the new chancellor of UC Berkeley a $50,000 -– or 11.4% -- pay raise over the current campus head and said the extra money would come from private donations, not state funds.

In all, new Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks will be paid $486,000, which officials said was about $14,000 less than his current salary as a high-ranking administrator at Columbia University.

Brown, who is a regent, said he thought Dirks was an excellent choice but said he could not vote for the salary given the austerities the state and the 10-campus UC system still face. The university must look for more efficient ways to teach and operate and “the leaders have to demonstrate that they are also sacrificing,” Brown said.

The $50,000 increase, even if it comes from non-state money, “does not fit within the spirit of the servant leadership that I think will be required over the next few years.”

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UC regents drop tuition hike proposal for graduate programs

Gov. Jerry Brown talks with the media following his attendance at the first meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees since the passage of Prop 30. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

At the request of Gov. Jerry Brown, the UC regents are at least temporarily shelving a proposal to raise tuition next year for more than 50 graduate and professional degree programs in such areas as business, dentistry, law and social work.

Brown is scheduled to attend the UC regents meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday in a kind of victory lap after voters approved his Proposition 30 tax measure last week. Observers said that it would have been politically  embarrassing for the governor –- whose campaign for Proposition 30 promised no tuitions hikes this year -– to face student protests about tuitions hikes next year.

The governor attended the Cal State Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday after successfully urging that board to postpone action on proposed tuition increases on some students designed to free up classroom space and encourage graduation.

Immediately after the Prop. 30 victory, UC officials dropped consideration of a possible 20%, or $2,400, mid-year tuition hike for all students. But until Tuesday afternoon, the separate measure remained on the agenda for the 56 graduate and professional school fee hikes for next year.

According to a UC statement released Tuesday, the governor asked for “additional time to allow him to develop a better understanding of the policies and methodology” of the graduate and professional school charges.

Under the plan, the so-called professional degree supplemental tuition would have increased in the range from 1.2% to 35%, depending on the campus and department. Most would have been 7% or under.

Those supplemental fees can be hefty and are in addition to the basic $12,192 tuition. For example, the proposal called for the supplemental fee at  UCLA’s graduate business program to be $28,052, an increase of $1,626 and the total tuition for that program would have been $40,244 a year.

The graduate nursing program at UC Irvine would have gone up to $10,440 for its supplemental fee, a $2,700 increase, and the total tuition would have been $22,632 under the plan.


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Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown talks with the media following his attendance at the first meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees since the passage of Prop 30. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

Brown says Prop. 30 not a panacea, thanks Cal State for support

Students walk on the campus of California State University Northridge in 2011.

Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday his tax hike measure wasn't a "panacea" to the state's budget problems and that more effort will be needed to manage the state's finances.

Speaking to the Cal State Board of Trustees, Brown thanked the board, students and faculty for helping to pass Proposition 30 in last week's election. The measure will raise the state sales tax a quarter-cent for four years and increase the income tax of the state's highest earners for seven years.

The trustees were scheduled to vote Tuesday on a series of proposed "incentive" fees aimed at boosting graduation rates and freeing classroom space. But the proposal was pulled before Tuesday's meeting.

Brown acknowledged those needs and told the board that "there are tough decisions ahead."

But he added: "Keeping down fees means keeping down costs. It also means we have to look for more revenues to invest in higher education."

He said Sacramento needs to "find ways to collaborate" and said he would look to "lower adversarial relationships."

Proposition 30, which will allow Cal State to reimburse students for a $249 tuition hike that went into effect this fall, was a vote of confidence in higher education and should signal an effort to find new ways to do business, Brown said.

"That means getting out of your comfort zone, whether trustees, faculty or students," he said.

In opening remarks, board Chairman A. Robert Linscheid said he removed the fee proposal from the agenda to study its consequences further, in light of Proposition 30 passing and after hearing objections from students and others.

"The mission is still important, to free up space for other students, but there may be other avenues to get to that goal," Linscheid said.

Many students and faculty criticized the proposal as a "punishment fee," contending it would create more obstacles for students and set up a hierarchy favoring those who could pay. Students had planned to protest the fee increases.

The proposed fees, which would have taken effect next fall, include:

--A per-unit supplement of $372 for "super seniors" who have accumulated 160 semester units.

--A $91 per-unit fee to repeat a class.

--A $182 per-unit fee for any course load of 18 units or more.


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Photo: Students walk on the campus of California State University Northridge in 2011. On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown thanked the Cal State board of trustees, students and faculty for their support in passing Proposition 30.  Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times


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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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