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LAUSD students need more localized decision-making

By Marilyn Koziatek

We are facing a learning and budget crisis that will require Los Angeles Unified to innovate and fundamentally change the way it delivers instruction and ensure students are learning.

We cannot continue to prop up a broken status quo that has left behind too many students, in particular Black and brown students, for far too long.

We must use this moment as an opportunity to bring together students, parents, teachers and administrators to transform public education with students’ success in college and career as our north star.

But the downtown education bureaucracy is doing just the opposite — papering over the old problems and finding temporary solutions using the same smoke and mirrors which haven’t worked in the past.

Today, the LAUSD Board of Education will vote on a budget for the coming year.

The state government is facing a deficit and has told school districts that they should expect at least an 8-10% cut in their main source of funding; for LAUSD, that’s about $750 million.

We have been told that the school district wouldn’t be able to serve its mission if the state and federal governments do not step up and change their financial contributions.

But the solution so far is to use regular budget tricks — to take the savings that each individual school had prudently saved for teaching staff, programs, and curriculum and instead direct it to fund a bloated downtown bureaucracy. Each school and community are best suited to understand the needs of their students and stakeholders, but the downtown education bureaucracy wants to penalize schools that plan well and save for a rainy day.

We need to transform LAUSD into a system of schools with local control in budgeting decisions, not downtown control.

Local schools are doing the best they can under these uniquely challenging circumstances. I know, because my sons attend our neighborhood LAUSD elementary school. Their teachers are professionals who have worked valiantly to teach groups of youngsters on new platforms at a distance. My hope is that every kid in LAUSD could have the high-quality experience that my children are receiving. But I know that’s not the case.

LAUSD needs to be more responsive to the unique needs of each school community and student population; we all know that the incredible diversity of our region is one of its strengths and teachers need to be supported to differentiate their instruction to meet those diverse needs.

Unfortunately, the downtown education establishment negotiated with the leadership of the teachers’ union a temporary agreement that is one-size-fits-all and undermines students’ ability to learn and under-appreciates teachers’ commitment to high expectations for themselves and their students. It’s a bad deal for students across this diverse school district.

In this time of crisis and change, teachers could use the support of professional development to learn new strategies to educate their students. But, the agreement limits professional development to no longer than one hour each week, which would take the place of any faculty or departmental meetings. This deprives teachers of the ability to learn new strategies for distance learning and withdraws the time for them to collaborate with and learn from each other as professionals.

There are schools and teachers that are doing really well and we should use them as models and share those best practices across the district, so that teaching professionals and communities can adapt them to their students’ needs.

The next union agreement must allow for frequent professional development, collaboration amongst teachers, and learning from the best educators on how to improve student learning amidst these extraordinary circumstances. And as bureaucrats and the union begin negotiations related to the upcoming school year’s blended instruction, parents and educators must come together to demand better for our students’ futures.

These learning and budget crises in education are not going to end as social distancing relaxes. We need to innovate and fundamentally transform our school district into a system of schools where local control allows for smarter budgeting and professional development to meet the needs of students. Marilyn Koziatek is a candidate to represent District 3 on the Los Angeles Unified school board.

The LAUSD holds a “Virtual” board meeting May 19. Very limited seating was available to members of the public due to social distancing set in place for the coronavirus pandemic.


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