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L.A. Unified to reassert control over Manual Arts High

October 6, 2011 |  6:30 am

Photo: Students artworks on the wall in the hallway by a classroom in session at Manual Arts High School. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles school officials are poised to retake substantial management control over Manual Arts High, which has been part of a high-profile reform effort led by an independent nonprofit, top officials confirmed Wednesday night.

The school has been beset by crowding and disorder in the first month of the school year, according to some staff members. The school has been managed by the locally based L.A.’s Promise, which has touted rises in test scores as evidence of the success of its work.

The apparent unruliness at Manual Arts also had caught the attention of the teachers union, which scheduled a news conference Thursday morning at the campus, which is south of downtown. Union leaders have been critical of L.A.’s Promise, but selected Manual Arts for their demonstration to point blame at the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The union wants to decry overcrowding and other problems that have resulted from budget cuts throughout the entire school system. Union leaders have accused the state’s largest school district of hoarding funds that could ease strained schools and also return many laid-off employees to work.

District officials have acknowledged the harm of budget cuts throughout the entire school system, but insist that they have been unavoidable. Separately, they concluded that problems at Manual Arts were about more than adjusting to reduced resources.

Among other developments, L.A.’s Promise moved Manual Arts this fall from a year-round schedule to a traditional September-June calendar. The benefit is a longer school year for students. The tradeoff has been an overcrowded campus.

L.A.’s Promise also recently forced out many veteran Manual Arts teachers, a move it described as positive and necessary, but one that engendered campus resentment.

The leaders of L.A.’s Promise have achieved notable political prominence within local education circles. Its longtime board chair, Megan Chernin, has agreed to head a massive districtwide fundraising effort. And elected L.A. school board members this year overruled then-Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to hand over Muir Middle School to L.A.’s Promise. The organization also manages West Adams Preparatory High School.

The interim head of L.A.’s Promise could not be reached Wednesday night.

News of the management restructuring leaked out during a downtown dinner put on by the local school administrators union. In public remarks, school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte praised L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy for "taking back" Manual Arts, said attendees, including Judith Perez, who heads the administrators union.

Deasy said it would be premature to comment. LaMotte declined to be interviewed. Other top officials confirmed that L.A. Unified would reassert key management responsibilities, but also said that L.A.’s Promise was not likely to be removed entirely.


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Students' artwork is on display outside a classroom at Manual Arts High School. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times