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A Duo of Difficult Decisions

By Aaron Blevins, 3/22/2012

LAUSD Plans Cuts, Changes Rules on Abuse Reporting

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The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education addressed two contentious and emotional issues last week, when they followed through on issuing more than 11,000 reduction-in-force (RIF) notices and made policy changes to address to sexual abuses within LAUSD schools.

Teachers and students from Hancock Park Elementary School held a demonstration called “This Budget Blows!” to protest proposed cuts. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

According to a statement, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said 11,713 preliminary RIF notices had been sent out, though the budget deficit had dropped unexpectedly. He said the layoff notices actually represent 6,700 full-time positions.

“As a result of higher-than-expected state revenues, primarily from the lottery, restoration of state transportation funding and lower-than expected benefit costs, the LAUSD budget deficit has dropped from $557 million to $390 million,” Deasy said. “That is a bit of good news, however, many of these assumptions are still dependent on the governor’s May revise.”

The news spurred a statewide protest of the California budget dubbed, “This Budget Blows!” At Hancock Park Elementary School, students, parents and teachers walked the school’s front sidewalk, holding signs and blowing bubbles. The school has 33 teachers, approximately 100 staff members and 850 students.

Deborah Glass, a third and fourth grade teacher at Hancock Park Elementary, was among 14 teachers at the school to receive RIF notices. She said the state and district is balancing their budgets on the backs of students and teachers.

“They don’t know the devastation this does to a school community,” Glass said. “It’s a family, and the family is torn apart.”

She said the timeline for learning whether she actually be laid off is difficult. Glass said the final determination will be made in May, when other schools have likely made decisions on new hires.

Furthermore, Glass said the cuts upset the students, increase class sizes and demand more from the teachers. Despite those obstacles, the district and state also require teachers to be accountable for their students’ test scores, she said.

“We end up being victimized,” Glass said. “And it really is ‘victimized’ in many ways. …They want quality education, and they cut from the bottom. The waste in this district is legendary.”

However, she said it was reassuring to see her students, parents and colleagues taking a stand for her job.

“It’s wonderful,” Glass said.

Potential budget cuts also prompted United Adult Students to hold a rally outside LAUSD’s downtown headquarters during last week’s meeting. However, according to district spokesperson Monica Carazo, no adult education cuts were made. Hundreds attended the protest.

Last week, the board of education also approved two resolutions to protect children in the classroom, following the arrests of a handful of teachers charged with sexually abusing children. The first changed state law so that employees who engage in illegal acts can be dismissed faster. The second sought internal policy changes to make it easier to identify, remove and prosecute employees who sexually or physically abuse children.

Board member Steve Zimmer, 4th District, said the policies will be helpful in protecting students inside LAUSD schools, though they could learn more information that requires additional changes.

“These are the most significant things we had to do right now,” Zimmer said.

Though no cases of abuse have been alleged in District 4, he said the district is geared toward protecting children, and that none of the board members are running from responsibility.

“We’re crystal clear and unequivocal. …I think the superintendent and the board are laser-focused on this,” Zimmer added. “We’re urgent about any changes that need to take place.”

At the school level, teachers and administrators have been doing additional professional development to deter, detect and report instances of abuse. Hancock Park Elementary School principal Ashley Parker said the training was for all staff, including custodial staff members and aides.

“Really, it was a really comprehensive review of all the factors,” Parker said, adding that the training sessions totaled six to eight hours on top of the district’s annual requirements.

Though no instances of abuse have been reported at the school, she said more communication has occurred between administrators and parents as a result. However, Parker is confident in her team.

“I feel like I have an alert, well-trained staff,” she said. “Our parents should feel confident their children are safe here.”

 

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