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Superintendent Austin Beutner Outlines Policy Priorities for L.A. Unified School District

Superintendent Austin Beutner Outlines Policy Priorities for L.A. Unified School District

Beutner commits to providing equity for the students in our schools, quality teachers in every classroom, transparency in our schools and all we do,
and a shared commitment to grow beyond the current limits of our financial resources.

LOS ANGELES (Sept. 13, 2018) – Today, Superintendent Austin Beutner shared his policy priorities for the Los Angeles Unified School District, including providing a great education for all students, particularly those most in need, supporting quality teachers in every classroom, inserting transparency into all that L.A. Unified does, and securing adequate resources for every school. 

Superintendent Austin Beutner speaking at a podium at RFK Community Schools in Los Angeles.  “This needs to be about making sure every student gets a great education, not arguing while students and families bear the brunt of the consequences,” said Beutner. “We need to be supporting the work of great teachers. We need to be transparent, not bargaining in secret. This is what a true progressive vision of public education looks like, not just for Los Angeles, not just for California, but for the entire country.”

While in the midst of negotiations with labor partners, the Superintendent spoke in front of teachers, principals, students and community members, and shared his approach to working together to get all of our students on a path to college or a 21st century career.

  1. Students most in need deserve great teachers and great schools. Low-income students, students of color, English Learners, LGBTQ youth, children who lack healthcare, students exposed to violence in their neighborhoods or homes, and students with special needs are being left behind at an alarming rate.  We are not doing enough to provide these students with a great education.
  2. The teacher quality every single student deserves. We need to make sure our teachers feel appreciated, are rewarded and, hopefully, are committed to a long career at Los Angeles Unified. Let’s develop and support good teachers.
  3. Transparency in all that we do. We need to be transparent with our students, families, and community about how their school is doing. We need to better track how resources are spent at individual schools, and at the district level. And our commitment to transparency must include contracts with our labor partners - we need less negotiations in secret and more conversations in public.
  4. We need adequate resources for every school. Success means having the resources we need to fully fund our schools and improve student achievement. We want smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and additional counselors, librarians and support staff in every school – but we will need more money to pay for it. We can only spend what we have.

Throughout the speech, the Superintendent called for action and partnership. “When it comes to helping students most in need, we should be working together, not fighting against each other,” said Beutner. “We need to go to Sacramento and demand that we receive adequate resources to educate children with higher needs.”

The Superintendent also explained that the teacher strikes across the country in the last year have been statewide, not local, and that’s because state legislatures control education funding. Ninety percent of the money that funds our schools comes from Sacramento. A strike against L.A. Unified does nothing to change funding for public education.

L.A. Unified has reached agreements with several labor partners, representing more than 60 percent of employees. Labor’s current demands would bankrupt the district. Budgets will be slashed, class sizes will rise, and decisions won’t be made in the best interest of our students and families. The Superintendent warned of the consequences.

“Los Angeles Unified is not too big to fail, and no one is coming to save us if we do,” said Beutner. “The impact will be profound and the people who will feel it the most will be the students who are depending on us to get this right.”

“All of this is going to take collaboration, a lot of hard work, and a great measure of courage,” said Beutner. “We need to summon the same courage and resilience that our students do every day.” 

The full text of Superintendent Beutner's speech can be read here.  

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FULL TEXT of SPEECH 

Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 - RFK Community Schools

Thank you for joining us in this conversation. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge the students and families here today. They remind us of the importance of our work. We’re all here in service to them.

In the past few months, students have shared their stories with me. Yesterday, I met with one young man, I’ll call him Sam, who’s faced much adversity – an abusive and incarcerated father, overcoming a learning difference, a placement in foster care, and taking responsibility for his younger siblings – and he comes to school every day and works hard so he can become an aeronautical engineer. His courage and resilience is inspiring.

Looking at the challenges we face in the world, we need the strength of our youth as much as ever.  As the namesake of this school, Robert Kennedy, once said, “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” As adults, it should be our job to lead, but as Mr. Kennedy said, it is often the youngest among us who can show us how to do it.

I have had the privilege of visiting dozens of schools and listening to hundreds of teachers, principals, students, families and community members talk about their passion and commitment to public education. Their desire is for every school to be a place of great teaching and learning, and that each of our students be on a path to college or a 21st century career. It’s up to us to make that happen.

We cannot do it without the talented, hardworking teachers and staff of Los Angeles Unified - great teachers who inspire their students and employees who ensure every child has access to a clean, safe and supportive learning environment.

We have challenges we face in our work. While California has led the country in providing livable wages, fair working conditions, clean and sustainable environment, marriage equality and healthcare, we are not living up to our values in public education. In a generation we have gone from leading the country in education funding to being near the bottom. We went from top of the chart student achievement to near the bottom. In the most simple terms, of 100 students who enter our high schools, 12 will drop out, 77 will graduate from high school, and only 12 will graduate from college – and that’s any college, two year, four year, or online.

The status quo is not good enough. Today, I would like to spell out the opportunities within our grasp.  We can provide equity for the students in our schools, quality teachers in every classroom, transparency in our schools and all we do, and a shared commitment to grow beyond the current limits of our financial resources.

 

First, students most in need deserve great teachers and great schools.

 

Low-income students, students of color, English Learners, LGBTQ youth, children who lack healthcare, students exposed to violence in their neighborhoods or homes, and students with special needs are being left behind at an alarming rate.  These students are not provided with the same opportunities as their peers in different neighborhoods and communities where families earn more money.

In some parts of our city that happen to be largely African American, students have to commute more than an hour each way to attend a program for highly gifted students. For  those who are still English language learners in 11th grade, only two percent are on grade level in math and five percent in English.   And if you’re a student already segregated from your peers because you’ve been identified as having a disability, less than two percent are able to read, write and do math on grade level.

We are not doing enough to provide these students with a great education.

 

To achieve this in schools in our communities most in need, we have to be able to hire, train and support those working with students in hard to staff schools differently. In addition, school leadership, climate and culture need to be right and appropriate for the community.

Part of the problem lies in Sacramento.  A funding system based on attendance, rather than enrollment, hurts the schools serving students most in need. This effect starts in Kindergarten. In Watts, the kindergarten population is chronically absent almost one quarter of the time, which means that those schools are getting less funding than a school might in Beverly Hills where chronic absenteeism is less than ten percent. We cannot allow poverty to be destiny.

We need to fix a funding system that is not equitable and penalizes the very students most in need.

I met a mother who is a high school student in Watts, and, together with the child’s father, is trying to juggle taking care of the child, working to provide for the family and school. As a consequence, neither has good attendance. We know at least part of the answer to this problem – it’s daycare. But the solution isn’t readily available to these two young adults trying to navigate the school, county welfare system and options for childcare.

We need to fix policies that are making it harder for parents to volunteer in their kids’ schools. In order to ensure the safety of our students, we carefully check the background of every adult who spends lots of time in our schools.  But a family member shouldn’t have to pay the state

$57 to volunteer at their child’s school.  They shouldn’t have to make an appointment and come downtown to be fingerprinted and fill out forms.  And they shouldn’t have to go through the extra step of getting a cashier’s check or money order so that they can pay.  This creates burdens on parents who have less time and less disposable income.

When it comes to helping students most in need, we should be working together, not fighting against each other. We need to go to Sacramento and demand that we receive adequate resources to educate children with higher needs.

 

Second, the teacher quality every single student deserves.

 

Our best teachers are literally changing lives.  We need to make sure they feel appreciated, are rewarded, and are committed to a long career at Los Angeles Unified.

The vast majority of our teachers work hard and are committed to their students – but they need more support. We need to pay our teachers more and provide coaching, professional development, and whatever is needed so that every teacher has the chance to develop and truly excel in their classrooms.  Good teachers want to teach alongside other good teachers.

The tenure system is a fundamental part of the teaching profession. We believe in that system and wish to protect it. As in any organization with large numbers of people, however, there will always be a few who are not up to the task. The reality is that a few people in the teaching profession are not helping students succeed. An ineffective teacher can cause students to lose more than a year of learning, which is setting students up for failure. Further, while more than 80 percent of effective teachers maintain standards for good attendance, more than 40 percent of ineffective teachers do not. We need a transparent, efficient, and fair process to manage ineffective teachers out. In the same way that we need to support teachers, we need to  support students and make sure that they have great teachers in their classrooms.

This is an issue that many school districts around the country are dealing with – but where it’s working best, labor partners and school districts have been able to agree on the objective and work together toward a solution.

Let’s develop and support good teachers.

 

Third, transparency in all that we do.

 

We need to be transparent with our students, families, and community about how their school is doing. We want to look at college readiness indicators, but we also want to look at student progress to recognize the unique needs of every student.

We need clear performance expectations for every school and our progress toward those goals should be reviewed, often. If schools don’t meet fair expectations, they should be held accountable, and if schools are doing a great job, we should help them serve more students.

Budgets are not just numbers on a page, they are an expression of our values.  We need to better track how resources are spent at individual schools, and at the district level.  For too long, decisions about funding and resources have been made in back rooms, behind closed doors, with not enough input from the community.

Our commitment to transparency must include contracts with our labor partners. It’s not acceptable that we are negotiating a 400+ page labor contract that the students and families most affected by it never see. The California Education Code is more than 2,500 pages.  There should be less negotiations in secret and more conversations in public.

 

Finally, we need adequate resources for every school.

 

Success means having the resources we need to fully fund our schools and improve student achievement. Our students deserve more from Los Angeles Unified. We are committed to putting money where it belongs, in classrooms – not in administration. But we also need more from Sacramento.

We want smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and additional counselors, librarians and support staff in every school – but we will need more money to pay for it. We can only spend what we have.

We’re facing a fiscal cliff. It’s not theoretical and it’s not debatable. If nothing changes, we are headed for insolvency in the next two to three years. If that happens, a fiscal advisor will be appointed by the state and we’ll no longer have local control over our schools. Budgets will be slashed, class sizes will rise, and decisions won’t be made in the best interest of our students and families.

Los Angeles Unified is not too big to fail, and no one is coming to save us if we do. The impact will be profound and the people who will feel it the most will be the students who are depending on us to get this right.

The teacher strikes across the country in the last year have been statewide, not local, and that’s because state legislatures control education funding. 90 percent of the money that funds our schools comes from Sacramento.  Instead of fighting each other, we should be fighting together to increase funding for our students.  $16,000 per pupil is simply not enough.

And, looking forward to 2020, which is our next opportunity to place school funding on the ballot, we should be working together to convince voters to increase support for public education.  That starts with demonstrating an ability to spend what we have sensibly and cost effectively. We need to build the case with families, communities and voters that public education matters - that the entire community will benefit from stronger schools and student success.

If we approach this moment trying to find answers only in wound-up rhetoric, that will just land us where we’ve already been.  And we will fail the students who are counting on us. This needs to be about making sure every student gets a great education, not arguing while students and families bear the brunt of the consequences. We need to be supporting the work of great teachers. We need to be transparent, not bargaining in secret. This is what a true progressive vision of public education looks like, not just for Los Angeles, not just for California but for the entire country.

All of this is going to take collaboration, a lot of hard work, and a great measure of courage. Bobby Kennedy called it a “predominance of courage over timidity,” and that about sums it up. We need to summon the same courage and resilience that Sam, the student I mentioned earlier, does every day.

We have lots of work to do and the kids are counting on us. Thank you.