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When the 2013-2014 school year kicks off on Aug. 13, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will begin a year of “stabilization,” board member Steve Zimmer, 4th District, said.
With a potentially longer school year and other changes being mulled for the 2014-2015 school year, the district is still benefitting from the passage of Prop. 30, which imposed a 1 to 3 percent tax on incomes of more than $250,000 for the next seven years. Zimmer said the measure kept the district from having layoffs for the first time in five years.
“That’s huge,” he said. “That’s a monumental change, and it’s all because of Proposition 30. …In my opinion, that’s quite a game-changer, and I’m very appreciative to the voters of California and particularly L.A. County.”
Zimmer also referenced the Local Control Funding Formula, which was included in the state’s budget. It strives to address California’s complex, costly and inequitably distributed school finance system, according to state documents.
With the funding formula and Prop. 30 funds, the district may be able to use extra money to pay off debt, restore programs and bring in additional staff members, Zimmer said.
“[Next school year] begins the investment,” he said, adding that there will be much debate on how to make those investments. Zimmer said the district may address class sizes, student-to-teacher ratios and conditions for teaching and learning.
Although the district is on more stable ground, there will be some changes this school year. Zimmer said the district will begin the transition to the Common Core State Standards this year. The standards use existing state standards as a foundation, and strive to offer young people the necessary skills for college and future employment. Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, and the state budget allocated $1.25 billion for district to prepare for the new standards, according to the California Teachers Association.
Additionally, the district will be piloting a new iPad program, beginning the implementation of a new testing system and expanding Breakfast in the Classroom, unless schools opt out, Zimmer said.
“Those are all very, very positive changes,” he added.
The district’s Board of Education will be under new leadership this school year. Richard Vladovic, 7th District, has taken over for Mónica García, 2nd District, as board president, and Zimmer will serve as vice president. He said the new board leadership could provide some excitement for those who follow “board drama.”
“I don’t think the change in board leadership in and of itself is going to affect lives on a daily basis,” Zimmer said, adding that he hopes the reorganization will enable the board to function “better.”
As vice president, he will be responsible for duties assigned by the president, representing the board in public when Vladovic is away and running the board’s Committee of the Whole, which meets monthly to address significant issues that are beyond regular board business.
“It will be addressing very significant things like the … deeper issues around the budget,” Zimmer added.
As for efforts to integrate more special education students into general education classrooms, he said the district will “certainly” be pushing for more integration, “as it should be.”
Zimmer said the Frances Blend School programming for visually-impaired students will not be scrapped during its merger with Van Ness Avenue Elementary School; it just won’t be as segregated. Though opponents of the move have argued to the contrary, he said the district is under a federal mandate to fully integrate students in the least restrictive environment possible.
The board member referenced his time at Marshall High School, and said the school’s program for students with visual handicaps fully integrated into the general education classroom. He said the students had classes to help them with Braille and specialized techniques, while also offering access to every opportunity that every high school student has.
“If Frances Blend and Van Ness can be together for music, arts [and] computer [classes], that’s a net positive as long as the Blend students are still receiving the same services and IEP (Individualized Education Program),” Zimmer added. “The program is in tact. It’s just not separate any more.”
He also mentioned the district’s A-G Implementation Initiative, which calls for students — beginning with the Class of 2016 — to complete a college preparatory curriculum to graduate. Students must pass a minimum of 30 semesters in seven subject areas with a grade of C or better to be eligible for CSU/UC admission.
According to a study by UCLA and others, 62 percent of students who began their freshman year in 2007 graduated from an LAUSD school four years later. Of those, 19 percent completed the A-G coursework. Latino and African-American students had lower graduation and A-G completion rates than Caucasian and Asian students. In 2011, less than 40 percent of the district’s English learners graduated in four years, and 7 percent completed the A-G courses.
According to the study, 73 percent of the district’s high school students are Latino and 10 percent are African-American, whereas Caucasian students were 8 percent of the high school population and Asian students were 4 percent.
“It’s a touchstone moment for public education in Los Angeles,” Zimmer said of the A-G implementation. “We can’t turn away from data. I am not a test score person, but I certainly use data and facts to inform my decisions as a policy maker and decision maker.”
Looking at the students who attend UC colleges, it is “disproportionately” not LAUSD students, he said. Zimmer said the district is in danger of a “public education Apartheid,” which will take major focus from the civic leadership of Los Angeles in general to overcome.
“Opportunity is very, very important,” he added. “We all believe that. But we’re also talking about outcomes at this point. We can’t shy away from outcomes. We have to change outcomes for the majority of students in this district.”
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