- LA Superintendent Austin Beutner
In the days leading up to the strike by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teachers, Board Member Nick Melvoin told parents that the teachers just wanted to “get it out of the system for a day or two” and then they would “settle on pretty much same terms that they started with.” What Melvoin did not anticipate was that hundreds of thousands of parents would keep their students out of the classroom and that many would walk the rain-soaked picket lines in solidarity with their teachers. As a result, the teachers won many of their demands that were centered on improving educational outcomes for the children of Los Angeles.
One of the outcomes of the strike is that in coming years funding will be provided to ensure that libraries will be open in all secondary schools within the LAUSD and will be staffed with a librarian. Elementary schools were not included in the agreement because they are staffed with library aides who are represented by a different union. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner was, therefore, able to hatch a plan that forced elementary principals to choose between libraries and other vital services. This meant that some elementary schools would see their libraries closed in the next school year.
Reacting to complaints of parents who understood the importance of libraries, Board Members Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna introduced the “Providing Quality Elementary School Libraries” resolution. Under their proposal, “the Superintendent [was directed] to provide a library aide to every elementary school with a library.” Additionally, the district would “centrally fund the salary and benefits for the library aide as a separate line item in elementary schools’ budget” and these funds would be “restricted and non-flexible.”
Unfortunately, the passage of this plan was uncertain, especially with the blockage of an appointment to the board seat vacated by Ref Rodriguez by the board members backed by the charter school industry. Superintendent Beutner argued that promoting local control meant that principals should have the choice to shut down their school’s library. He told the Los Angeles Times that local school communities rather than the central bureaucracy [should] make decisions on what will best serve their students as if libraries were not an essential part of the school mission.
The possibility of the measure passing increased substantially when Jackie Goldberg won the District 5 Board Seat with a margin that gave her a powerful mandate. Rather than face a public rebuke of his plan, Beutner relented and announced that he had found enough funding to keep the libraries open in the next school year. Schmerelson and McKenna pulled the item from consideration.
In his remarks announcing his agreement to pull the resolution, McKenna acknowledged the “advocacy that has come from the audience [in the boardroom] and from the people who are not here.” The stakeholders of the district found their voice during last winter’s strike and once again it has yielded results. We must now hold the Superintendent’s feet to the fire to ensure that he keeps his word. Our children are depending on it.
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.