xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: On Townhall Meetings

Monday, August 17, 2009

On Townhall Meetings

Tonight was the fourth townhall meeting regarding the LAUSD New School Giveaway proposal, held at Hamilton HS on the Westside. We have to wonder if this is an exercise in futility as was the effort to retain the dozens of new teachers our school lost during the massive budget cuts that occurred at the end of the last school year.

At tonight's meeting, there were a scant 110 or so adults present. We would say 20% were parents, 50 % were teachers, 20% were charter school advocates, and 10% were District staff. The presentation revealed that aside from the 50 new schools that would be open to a new governance system, all PI 3+ would also be deemed "struggling" and subject to takeover by any of the following:

1. Charter school organizations
2. Pilot school programs
3. University affiliated programs (LMU Family of Schools, UCLA Community Schools)
4. Traditional schools

The LD3 Superintendent, Michelle King, said teachers would be welcome to submit proposals as well. This is interesting. While this may seem equitable, most outstanding teachers we know want to concentrate on their craft, not write business plans for a new charter. If by teachers she meant UTLA, then that is another story.

The gentleman who co-hosted the meeting made sure that questions from the audience were either asked at the microphone or written on an index card so that "[the people] can feel like they are being heard". The use of this language was quite revealing; let's not actually hear what the people are saying, let's just give them the impression we're listening. Yes, indeed.

There were no interruptions, boos, or shenanigans. The charter group proponents were from a group called Families That Can, yet most seemed not to be families, but teachers. They clapped loudly when one of their members spoke, and whenever anyone said anything in favor of the proposal. The speakers were evenly divided between anti-proposal people, pro-charter factions, and parents who are frustrated with LAUSD.

Key questions that stood out were: 1. Why was this townhall meeting held during summer vacation? 2. Why are we focusing on new schools when we haven't finished fixing the old ones? An older gentleman also pointed out that previous reforms had proponents laughing all the way to the bank. Who stands to profit from the privatization of public schools?

In the audience was Ramon Cortines, Marguerite LaMotte, and Steve Zimmer. The LA Academy contingent had a chance to speak to LaMotte and Zimmer and reiterated their concerns about privatizing public schools, including our own. We made it clear that above all, we are concerned that inner-city students with special needs are the ones being left behind by many charter schools. We know; our school is the one that takes them back when the charters reject them. The board members pointed out that the new language of the proposal guards against any exclusions based on such things as language, socioeconomic status and special education needs.

It was also pointed out that the Obama administration clearly wants to advance the charter school agenda. If Washington wants it to happen, and the little people believe they are wrong, are we powerless to stop them?

Naomi Klein's shock doctrine theory maintains that unpopular changes should be made when opponents are in a state of shock. As a district that has dealt with massive budget shortfalls, legions of layoffs, and three superintendents in three years, the proposal to privatize public education is inopportune, to say the least. Ideally, such a proposal would be planned, discussed, and successful models would be used as guides. But these meetings have the flavor of an already done deal, and the only discussion the district is having is with district people themselves. Parents are not aware or involved in this process as stated by a parent at the meeting tonight, who only happened upon it "due to the robo-call."

We will have to trust that the board members will do what is best for all students when it comes time to vote for or against the proposal. Until then, interested gluttons for punishment stakeholders should continue attending these meetings.

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