In the state race that California voters are most uncertain about, the two schools superintendent candidates are neck-to-neck in the latest poll even while some of their educational philosophies are miles apart.
Political commentators frame the contest for the top schools job as one over the soul of California education, a close battle between self-described reformists and corporate executives backing challenger Marshall Tuck and the education establishment and labor unions supporting incumbent Tom Torlakson.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
The strength of Tuck's campaign surprised many who expected incumbent Torlakson would have an easy reelection. Then, in the summer, polls reported numbers that showed the race could be a real contest.
This week, new Field Poll data suggests the two candidates are effectively tied as they approach the final days of the campaign, each drawing 28 percent support from likely voters.
Deepa Fernandes / KPCC
File: Norwalk preschool teacher Stefanie Servin reads to her class as her district coach, Astrid Feist, observes and takes notes from the back of the classroom.
Los Angeles Unified's Interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines ordered a hiring freeze Wednesday, citing "significant deficits" for the next two school years, according to a memo obtained by KPCC.
"Although initiating a more stringent hiring freeze is not something that I wish to do, I feel that it is not only necessary but a prudent approach to an inevitable reality," Cortines said in the memo.
The freeze begins Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 30. The hiring freeze will not affect teachers and principals, but rather central and other staff.
"I will review the budgetary success of this freeze at the end of January, and will decide at that time if it should be continued," Cortines said in the memo.
L.A. Unified has more cash on hand than it has had for years: revenues increased $332 million in state funds from last school year.
Photo by Lexie Flickinger/Brad Flickinger via Flickr Creative Commons
File: A student uses an iPad at a school desk.
Los Angeles Unified school police say 80 new officers are needed to provide "safe passage" for students walking home from school with $500 iPads.
Safety concerns thwarted plans for students to take home tablets when 47 schools piloted the program last fall, but school officials say they have addressed the issues and plan to send students home with their iPads from select campuses in the next couple of weeks.
To prevent thefts, L.A. Unified iPads are tracked for recovery and are rendered unusable when reported stolen, making it difficult for the tablets to be resold.
Nonetheless, the idea of students walking between home and school with the costly devices has worried families.
"Parents are concerned it could be a target for criminals mugging the children, and taking the iPads away," said Scott Folsom, a PTA representative.
Jefferson High senior Jason Magaña and his parents are worried that L.A. Unified's troubled data system may hurt the 12th-grader's college prospects.
Jefferson High School senior Jason Magaña knew something was wrong on the first day of the school year. His class list for the semester included a graphic design class he’d already taken twice.
“I was pretty shocked because I needed an economics or government class to graduate high school and be eligible for college,” he said.
Jason is among hundreds of students who were assigned incorrect classes and then corralled into the school’s auditorium while counselors tried to find the right courses for the students, one pupil at a time.
Some would spend up to three weeks into the school year without the right classes.
“They were just being patient, but you could see frustration in their eyes,” he said.
Jason is named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in May challenging the district’s practice of assigning high schoolers to non-academic “home” and “service” periods when the schools lacked the needed academic classes.
Deepa Fernandes / KPCC
Long Beach City College President Eloy Oakley visits his campus Child Development Center preschool. He's a supporter of Mayor Robert Garcia's push to bring universal preschool to Long Beach.
Believing it's never too early to think about college, Long Beach public officials and educators plan to take their message to the earliest learners — preschoolers.
Their efforts to recruit the children sooner rather than later is part of a broader effort to provide preschool for every child. Among its champions is the new mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia, elected in July as the first Latino and gay mayor for the city.
Garcia is making universal preschool, especially for disadvantaged children, a priority of his administration. Drawing from his own background as a five-year-old immigrant from Peru who overcame the challenges of language and poverty through education, the mayor wants Long Beach to become a leader in extending preschool to all.
Universal preschool won't come easily or cheaply. Long Beach, with a population of almost half a million with one in five living below the federal poverty line, has waiting lists for state preschool and Head Start programs that run into the hundreds.