AirTalk for January 11, 2012

LAUSD proposals aim to boost enrollment, erase attendance boundaries, raise cash

An empty classroom

BES Photos/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

A typical classroom.

The Los Angeles Unified school board endorsed a resolution yesterday requiring Superintendent John Deasy to devise a plan to boost enrollment by 5 percent over the next three years. In the same session, board President Monica Garcia introduced a motion asking the district to look at doing away with attendance boundaries so students could choose to attend any school in the district.

That proposal, which will be voted on next Tuesday, would push Superintendent Deasy to formulate a plan over the next three months to institute an open-enrollment policy within the district. Garcia said that open-enrollment within the whole district is optimal but unlikely, and she's mainly looking to Deasy to consider alternatives, especially in places with lower enrollment numbers and newly built schools.

"How do we create choice within the system we have, and how do boundaries either help us or create obstacles to achieve what we are wanting?" she asked. "We want a district of quality schools in every neighborhood."

LAUSD students currently have the option of choosing magnet schools, charters and district public schools not in their immediate neighborhood. "We want to explain to all the families in the district and in the area that we have good schools, come and be part of it," she said. "We used to tell people 'We don't have room for you,' we used to tell people 'We're not interested in changing.' That is not the LAUSD of today."

Deasy said that his main prerogative is giving parents opportunities that they've never had before. "I support parents having the right to as much choice as possible, and then having the right to go to the school which best serves them. I think that must include those who wish to remain in a neighborhood boundary," he said.

But there are numerous obstacles and when it comes to making the options clear, many parents say there's a lack of information and support. Pasadena, Long Beach and other large cities already have school choice with, critics argue, mixed results.

Board member Tamar Galatzan of LAUSD 3 expressed concerns about allowing district-wide open-enrollment. "We don't really have effective public transportation," she said. "To tell a child who lives in Wilmington that they can attend school in Chatsworth is nice, but there's no way to get them there."

Galatzan continued to say that if parents have the ability to enroll their children in better performing schools, she wonders how the LAUSD will make changes to schools that aren’t being chosen. Still, Galatzan said that Garcia’s proposal is "the right conversation to have at the right time."

"I think now, because of horrendous budget crisis that we are facing, we really have to rethink how we're going to deliver education to every student in this district," she said.

The proposal comes after the LAUSD and UTLA signed a new contract which allows schools to make important decisions on a site by site basis. "So if that's the first step, than the next step needs to be: How do we allow them to choose the program that's going to be the best match for their child," Galatzan said.

Deasy said that though talks have been preliminary thus far, he has discussed providing open-enrollment options for high schools, where transportation would be less of a problem. Should LAUSD be next? Would totally open-enrollment be better for parents and students?

Meanwhile, Superintendent Deasy has floated the idea of putting a parcel tax before voters on the November ballot to help raise money to deal with the district’s projected $543-million budget deficit for 2012-13. Would voters sign on to help cash-strapped schools?

Guests:

Monica Garcia, Board President, Los Angeles Unified School District 2

Dr. John Deasy, Superintendent of LAUSD

Tamar Galatzan, Board Member, Los Angeles Unified School District 3

Felicia Jones, Local Advocacy Specialist, Community Engagement & Advocacy, Families In Schools


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