LAUSD to Pay $150 M to Resolve Lawsuit

September 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay more than $150 million to 50 schools in primarily low-income areas to resolve a lawsuit accusing the district of misspending funds that should have been used to benefit “high-need” and English-learning students.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by a coalition of community groups that alleged the district had been misspending about $450 million annually that should have been earmarked toward campuses in primarily low-income communities.

“We are pleased to have reached to solution that will immediately improve the lives of students across the Los Angeles,” said Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, executive vice president of Community Coalition, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. “While this is a promising victory, it also serves as an important reminder that low-income communities of color remain overlooked in Los Angeles. The time for communities like South L.A. is now, and we must continue the fight for our kids and our future.”

The “settlement provides a tremendous opportunity to direct more resources to our highest-need students and schools,” said David Holmquist, general counsel for the LAUSD.

“The underlying litigation between the parties involved varying interpretations of a very complex statutory framework. With this settlement complete, the district is ready to move forward and continue to put kids first,” Holmquist said.

The 50 schools that will receive additional funding are primarily in South and East Los Angeles. The money is expected to support academic, social and emotional support services, drop-out prevention programs and parent-engagement efforts, according to the groups that filed the lawsuit.
 

LAUSD Board President and Cousin Charged With Campaign Fraud

September 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Ref Rodriguez, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, was charged today with conspiracy, perjury and other counts for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he listed on a campaign finance form in 2014.

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

He and his cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, who was also charged in the case, are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in downtown Los Angeles.

Rodriguez — who became president of the school board this summer — will be charged  with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez, 46, is also charged with 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

His cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, is charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

Prosecutors allege Rodriguez raised more than $50,000 during the first campaign reporting period that ended in December 2014 and that 25 donors  — most of whom were family members and friends — were allegedly paid back $24,250 by Rodriguez and Melendrez.

The donors’ names had been listed on a campaign finance report that was allegedly signed by Rodriguez under the penalty of perjury and submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which received a whistleblower complaint in March 2015 about Rodriguez’s fund-raising activities, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez and Melendrez were charged following an additional investigation by the District Attorney’s Office.

David Holmquist, attorney for the LAUSD, said the district is aware of the criminal charges.

L.A. Unified Grads Falling Short In College

August 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

In what’s being billed as the first extensive effort to track the college success of Los Angeles Unified School District graduates, a study released Wednesday found that about 70 percent of LAUSD grads enroll in a two- or four-year college, but only about 60 percent persist to a second year.

The study by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and Claremont Graduate University found that among graduates in the LAUSD class of 2008, only 25 percent actually earned a college degree within six years.

The report’s authors — who also tracked the college success of the classes of 2013 and 2014 — said the research points out the need for LAUSD students to be better prepared for higher education to ensure more graduates enroll in college, stay in college and earn a degree.

According to the report, fewer than one-third of 2014 LAUSD graduates had an A or B average, and only one-fourth who took the SAT or ACT scored above the national average.

“In LAUSD, graduates with at least a B average were five times more likely to complete a four-year degree than graduates with lower grades,” according to the report. “Because students’ academic performance in high school depends very heavily on the academic skills students have acquired earlier in their lives, improving students’ academic performance is not a task limited to high schools and their students.

“The responsibility for improving LAUSD students’ academic skills begins early in children’s lives and continues throughout their academic career, and should involve the entire school community as well as the families and other adults who work with students to ensure that they are prepared for their highest educational aspirations.”

The report’s authors said the district must work to ensure students complete their A-G course requirements with at least a C average, and ensure students and their families have a full understanding of the college-application and financial-aid-application processes.

“More than one in six LAUSD graduates who were academically eligible to attend a public four-year college did not enroll in any college in the year following high school graduation,” the study found.

“Another one in six of those eligible for four-year college enrolled in a two-year rather than a four-year college. These students completed their A-G course requirements and earned the combination of grades and SAT scores that made them eligible for a California State University, yet they did not enroll in a four-year college.”

Frances Gipson, LAUSD’s chief academic officer, said the reports recommendations are in line with district efforts to prepare students to succeed in college.

The report’s goals “serve as the framework for an array of strategies we are implementing to address the needs of students, families and schools,” Gipson said. “We are passionate about continuing our work to foster a college-going climate in our schools and to strengthen our college planning and academic supports as we provide more robust counseling services for our students.”

According to the report, 68 percent of LAUSD graduates in 2008 enrolled in a two-or four-year college, most of them in a two-year school. Only 59 percent of them persisted into a second year of college, and only 25 percent earned a degree within six year.

Among 2013 graduates, 68 percent enrolled in college, and 57 percent continued into a second year. For the class of 2014, 70 percent of LAUSD graduates enrolled in college.

“It will be important to continue to track these college-going outcomes in upcoming years to understand students’ successes and challenges as they progress through college, and to learn about how college outcomes change for future graduate cohorts,” said Thomas Jacobson, Luskin Master of Public Policy graduate and co-author of the report.

A companion study, based on a survey of LAUSD high school staffers and students and external service providers, found that counselors were burdened with overwhelming caseloads limiting their ability to work with students. More than 75 percent of counselors said they have the information available to assist students with college applications and financial-aid processes, but less than half said they have enough time to give students the help they need.
 

Students Head Back to School

August 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Many of them might have preferred to be visiting the beach Tuesday, but more than a half-million students instead headed back to class as the 2016-17 school year began for the nation’s second-largest school district.

“I am tremendously excited to begin a new school year,” Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King said Tuesday. “Today sets the tone for the work we do throughout the year to guide all students on the road to graduating ready for college, career and life.”

King joined dignitaries including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, members of the LAUSD board and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr. in visiting a variety of campuses and meeting with students and parents throughout the district, which covers 710 square miles and includes about 640,000 students.

“We are here to welcome every child— from the very youngest pre-kindergarten students to our graduating seniors — to a new year,” LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer said. “What we say and do for these students today and every day makes a difference in their lives, their communities and helps guide them on the pathway to achieving their dreams.”

District officials said there have not been any reports of problems with campus air-conditioning systems — a positive sign in light of a heat wave that’s expected to linger for a few more days.

King, who recently announced that the district had a 75 percent graduation rate for high school students in the class of 2016, will be pushing for an increase in that figure. She said the district is making an extra effort this year to help keep kids on track in their studies.

Specialized counselors will be assigned to “high-needs” high schools, while college and career counselors will be working with students at “struggling” middle schools. The district is also planning to provide additional resources to help English-learners — a group that represents almost one-third of the district’s students.

Parents, meanwhile, will have to ensure that their children are fully immunized before they’re allowed to attend classes. A state law that took effect in January eliminated the so-called personal-belief exemption to the vaccination requirement, so LAUSD students will have to show proof of immunizations against such diseases as polio, measles, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

The start of school also means more children on city streets in the mornings and afternoons, and Los Angeles police issued a warning to drivers to be extra cautious. The LAPD will be conducting a “traffic education and enforcement task force” at various campuses to drive home the point.

Police reminded motorists to:
— slow down, particularly in school zones;
— be alert for small children who sometimes cannot be easily seen from
behind the wheel; and
— come to a full stop when a school bus has its flashing red lights and
signal arm activated as it loads or unloads passengers.

Students in the nearby Montebello Unified School district return to school Thursday. District officials plan to be on hand to welcome students back.

Roosevelt High Slated for $137M In Facility Funds

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Unified School Board last week approved a $600 million investment in modernization projects at five District schools.

Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights will receive upwards of $137 million to construct new classrooms, gymnasium, auditorium and lunch shelter, according to the office of School Board Member Monica García.

The funds are aimed at large-scale modernization projects to support student learning, according to García.

“We love Boyle Heights and we stand with our students,” García told her fellow board members, urging them to approve the funding.

“We must repair and restore the campus that is the heartbeat of our community and honor the transformation that happens at Roosevelt High School.”

For years, Roosevelt was one of the district’s most overcrowded campuses — close to 5,000 students attending classes on year-round multi-track schedules at a campus built to accommodate 2,500 students.

The building of nearby Esteban Torres High School and the opening of several new charter schools has reduced overcrowding, but deteriorating and outdated infrastructure has continued to be an issue for the school, where over 90 percent of students quality for free or reduced-lunches, often considered in indicator of poverty.

At a recent town hall meeting at the campus, students called on LAUSD to include a Community Wellness Center in its upgrade and modernization plan.

Students said an on-campus health center would increase student attendance by making it possible for students to get the care they need without being forced to miss an entire day of classes for routine physicals, minor illnesses, injuries or dental appointments.

They also called on the district to open the facility to students’ families and the surrounding community.

Several students and community activists spoke during public comment, urging board members to approve funding for the upgrades.

“We hope to see Roosevelt and all schools in the Eastside equipped with support systems that meet our needs as students and community members,” said Brandy Vargas, a youth leader from Roosevelt.

“A comprehensive wellness center is needed,” Esthefanie Solano, Roosevelt alumni and organizer with InnerCity Struggle told the school board.

Increasing student performance will require “a comprehensive lens,” said Iliana Garcia, a community wellness organizer with Promesa Boyle Heights. “A wellness center will help increase student achievement.”

Also weighing in was Joan Sullivan, CEO for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which runs Roosevelt and several other LAUSD schools. “This decision to advance the modernization project at Roosevelt campus is a reinforcement of the board’s commitment to the long-term academic success of our students at Roosevelt High School and the Math, Science and Technology Magnet Academy,” said Sullivan. “We are grateful to Board Member García for her leadership in this effort and for her relentless pursuit in bringing a state-of-the-art facility to the Boyle Heights community.”

Local District East Superintendent Jose Huerta told board members he has personally experienced the positive impact modern facilities have on student achievement, calling Roosevelt’s modernization project “an investment in our students, our school, and our community.”

“The proposed enhancements will ensure that our students have an opportunity to engage in 21st century learning with the modern technology and facilities that they deserve,” Huerta said.

Next steps include planning, designing and construction with many meaningful forums for community input, according to García. The Roosevelt High School comprehensive modernization project is scheduled to be completed on or before the 100th year anniversary.

“We are grateful to Board Member García for her leadership in this effort and for her relentless pursuit in bringing a state-of-the-art facility to the Boyle Heights community,” Sullivan said.

Classrooms: Only Part of Student Success

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

There is a growing push in recent years to make public schools more than just the usual places of learning, but comprehensive resources centers where students and families can get help beyond the classroom and homework that can have a profound influence on whether a student performs well academically and socially.

But that wasn’t always been the case, according to Boyle Heights resident Raul Ruiz. He says 12 years ago when his son was diagnosed with autism he quickly realized schools in Los Angeles’ Eastside were doing a poor job of assisting special needs children and their families.

Our communities don’t have the resources that other affluent communities have, Ruiz told a group of about 100 people at Mendez High School in Boyle Heights last Thursday.

It’s been years since his son was diagnosed but Ruiz remains a dedicated advocate for more school-based services for students and the communities where they live. Last week he joined a group of educators, community organizations and other parents in search of innovative ways to improve educational outcomes at low-income, underperforming Eastside schools for the  “Community Schools in the Eastside” discussion organized by nonprofit InnerCity Struggle. The discussion was intended to provide more information about the community school concept and to get input on how to improve the system.

There is a growing body of evidence that a student’s academic success is often intimately tied to their home life, whether their family has enough nutritious food to eat, access to health care, a suitable place to live and sufficient wage earnings to pay for those things.

Local groups meet to discuss ways to open more “community schools” in eastside neighborhoods.

Local groups meet to discuss ways to open more “community schools” in eastside neighborhoods. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Community schools are public schools that partner with community organizations to try to serve the needs of a neighborhood. They focus on health and social services, youth and community development as well as academics, panelists said.

“Parents are the ones addressing the needs. For example, if their kids have asthma, we need to find the most information available to help them find services,” Laura Zavala, director of policy with InnerCity Struggle told EGP. “It starts with a conversation of where our schools are and what do students and parents need.”

Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest district in the country and enrolls 650,000 students — 74% are Latino. A 2014 study found that many LAUSD schools are failing to meet student needs, including keeping students from dropping out and graduating.

According to the Student Need Index, a report that ranks LAUSD schools with the highest-need to determine which schools should receive funds from the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)—a state policy that directs more money to schools with high drop out rates, large numbers of English Learners (EL), homeless or students in foster care —242 of the district’s schools are in need of greater resources.

Most of the schools identified are either on the Eastside or in South LA. They are likely to have three times as many English Learners, 3.5 times more students in foster care and more than three times as many students who are expelled or suspended, according to the report.

Groups like the Roosevelt High School-Partnership for LA Schools, Promesa Boyle Heights, SEIU Local 99 and the St John’s Well Child and Family Center, hope the data will spur more help for schools in Eastside neighborhoods.

Attendees at last week’s discussion cited low-cost health services, wellness centers, after school programs and green spaces among the various needs on the Eastside.

Several parents said it’s important for the community as a whole to learn how to access health, education and social services and they think it’s vital to engage younger generations in their community.

“We also need to include more young adults and students to advocate with us,” parent Irma Cervantes said.

There are currently three community high schools on the eastside: Esteban Torres, Mendez and Roosevelt.

Esteban Torres High School works with the Los Angeles Education Partnership (LAEP) and has a full time community school coordinator helping to identify the students’ highest needs for students, according to Lara Kain senior director with Transform Schools at LAEP.

“We also offer college and career services such as mock interviews, resume writing and job opportunities. We try to meet the needs of the students in a very holistic way,” Kain told EGP.

Ruiz said all schools today should operate this way. He said, years ago when his son was growing up, he would’ve loved specialized services like an afterschool autism club, therapy sessions to help him and his wife cope.

Wellness centers focus on the wellbeing of the community they serve. Depending on the location, some wellness centers offer exercise and nutrition classes, resources to fight obesity and diabetes, childcare, computers for job searching and resume review among other services.

The concerns of parents and the data fueled the opening of wellness centers at LAUSD schools like Garfield High School, Zavala said. On the Eastside, “there’s a high rate of asthma, there’s a high rate of contamination and research shows that students do better when they can concentrate more, when they are healthier,” she explained.

Ruiz said all public schools should be equipped with the resources needed to foster quality education for children from the moment they start kindergarten.

“[Our children] will lead healthy and productive lives and flourish as adults who can actively participate in their communities,” if we give them access to the right resources, said the proud parent of a now 11th grade Roosevelt student.

 

For more information about community schools, visit www.InnerCityStruggle.org.

Copyright © 2017 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·