Let Teachers Run A School? Yes!

Deal would let L.A. teachers create "pilot schools"

December 3, 2009

Local school officials and the teachers union have reached a tentative deal that would help groups of teachers bid for control of 30 campuses under a recently adopted school-reform plan.

The agreement, announced today, would allow the number of “pilot schools” in the Los Angeles Unified School District to increase from 10 to 30. Pilots are small schools where teachers, administrators and community members have broad latitude to establish the rules under which the school operates. Unlike charter schools, the pilots remain closely affiliated with the district, and employees retain their representation by district unions.

L.A. Unified officials have characterized the first group of 10 pilots as successful, and United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers union,  has also endorsed them. But plans to expand the pilots stalled in negotiations between the district and union. The issue of adding more job protections for teachers was one sticking point.

The hold-up had the potential to derail school faculties and the union on another front: the effort to take control of 12 struggling existing campuses and 18 new ones. In August, the board of education had approved a plan putting these schools up for bid by groups inside and outside the district.

L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has the authority to recommend bids, and he has indicated that he would be supportive of bids that incorporate pilot schools.
“Our pilot school model should be celebrated because it was developed by educators, parents and community members at our school sites,” Cortines said in a release.  “Working together, they have improved teaching and learning."

He had also indicated that without pilot schools as an internal-reform option, outside groups, especially charter schools, would have an added advantage in winning control of schools.

Charters operate independent of direct district control and are free from some rules that govern traditional schools, including adherence to L.A. Unified’s union contracts.

The pilot agreement includes concessions from both sides. The district agreed that the union would have the right to pay for up to 10 days of release time for any teachers conducting union business, said union president A.J. Duffy. But the union didn’t win the right to an arbitration hearing for teachers who had exhausted administrative appeals for resisting a transfer to another school.

Duffy said some thorny issues remained to work out, but these could be taken up in negotiations over the coming months.

The agreement still must be approved by the union’s governing body and by the school board.

-- Howard Blume

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