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Two dozen L.A. schools to lose federal funding

December 13, 2011 |  6:47 pm

In the face of declining federal funds, Los Angeles school officials stripped about two dozen campuses of aid that has been used to improve the academic achievement of low-income students.

The move, approved at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, was angrily opposed by school board member Tamar Galatzan. She represents the west San Fernando Valley, where eight schools are projected to lose the funding.

The students losing services are “just as deserving as students at other schools,” Galatzan said. Some schools facing sharp reductions are blocks from similar schools that will retain the extra aid. Galatzan also complained that the district has produced no data looking at how best to use the funds.

Districtwide, the affected campuses include Hamilton High, Westchester High, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, Palms Middle School and Millikan Middle School.

At Superior Street Elementary in Chatsworth the funds total $200,000 a year. That pays for an instructional coach, intervention teachers, teacher aides, a library aide and a clerical worker — who does double duty as an informal nurse because a nurse is available just one day a week.

The school’s academic achievement levels have surged in recent years to a top tier score of 912 on the state’s Academic Performance Index.

“We could not have made these gains without the support of this funding for these children,” said Principal Jerilyn Schubert.

At Superior Street, 43% of students are low-income. To receive the federal anti-poverty aid, called Title 1 funding, a school had to be 40% low-income. The board action Tuesday raises the cutoff to 50%; federal law stipulates the highest-priority schools as those where low-income families account for 75% of enrollment. Overall federal aid is likely to shrink about 3% to $328.2 million next year.

“There’s not enough money to go around, so I’ve got to get the most bang,” said board member Richard Vladovic, explaining his vote to reduce the number of schools getting the aid. “The minute you water that down, then we can’t help anyone. We’ve spread it now probably too thin.”

In the end, the other board members sided with Vladovic.

“I’m devastated,” said Schubert, the Superior Street principal, after the vote. “I just want to cry. I really do.”

The meeting was replete with grim financial news, including word that state midyear budget cuts would eliminate funding for school bus service. The district has no immediate plans to cease its already reduced busing operations. Instead, it’s filing legal action against the state and adding to next year’s budget deficit in the interim.

In addition, the school board approved a preliminary budget for next year that would eliminate the entire adult education division and most of the district’s career education program, officials said.

School board members asserted that they hoped to avoid all or most of the cutbacks before approving a binding budget months from now. Tuesday’s plan, filed to meet a county deadline, could not include cost savings outside of the district’s control, such as greater tax revenue or agreements with unions to cut wages.

A small parade of speakers protested the potential harm, including Maria A. Contreras, who is learning English in adult school so she can help her kindergarten daughter in school. "Thank you for this program," she said. "It helps me and my family's life."

--Howard Blume