Monday, May 24, 2010

Los Angeles Unified School District Reform

The system is broken, and when something is broken, it needs to be fixed.  Fixing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) won't be easy, but it can be done.  To do this, we need sweeping changes in the way the district is run, and in the people who work for the district.

First, we need to balance the budget.  LAUSD has operated for many years without the needed funds, and the money that comes in is often spent badly.  This is the second largest school district in America for the number of students, yet it has a high school drop-out rate of over 25%.  More than one quarter of the young people attending schools in the district never finish, which severely limits their potential for jobs in the future.  This also reduces their earnings potential, which manifests itself in their ability to pay taxes.  Drop-outs hurt all of us.

To start reforming this mess the district needs additional money.  The mortgage meltdown has reduced the amount of money that all school districts receive, and LAUSD is no exception.  In order to help alleviate this shortage, we need to charge tuition for all students.  This amount can be nominal; $100 per student per year.  This would give the district nearly $70 million additional dollars.  Note that this money comes with certain restrictions; first, the state is not allowed to reduce money to the school based on the tuition money.  This wouldn't alleviate the problems, but merely transfer a small part of the financial burden.

Second, the tuition money is paid directly to the school where the student attends and not to the district.  Third, the money is controlled by the teachers in each school, and only by the teachers.  The administration and parents do not have any say in how the money is spent.  Lastly, the money cannot be used to pay any salaries.  It can only be used for those things that the school needs, either as a whole or in individual classrooms.
Next, we need to limit the amount of money being spent, and much of the money is being spent on salaries.  We need to cap the salary of the Superintendent of School at $100,000 annually, and cap all other salaries at $80,000.  This includes over-time and bonuses.  Benefits for all employees will be the same, and will be limited to medical, dental and vision insurance, paid holidays and paid vacation with the following restrictions:

Insurance premiums (medical, dental and vision) shall be paid 60% by the district and 40% by the employee.  Spouse and dependents can be added to the policy and will be paid 40% by the district and 60% by the employee.  Any other insurance (life, AD&D, etc.) will be paid 100% by the employee.

Holidays will be based on the Federal list of holidays (not the state list).  Any other days off will be unpaid.  

Vacation will be paid at the rate of three weeks per year.  Upon completion of ten years of service, the employee's vacation time will increase to four weeks per year.  Four weeks is the maximum for any employee.

These changes will save the district millions of dollars annually.

Next, the students must be encouraged to participate and work better.  This can only come partially from the classroom, but must also come from home.  In order to do this, all parents of students attending school in the district will be required to provide 10 hours of service to the school (not the district, but the individual school) per year.  This 10 hours is per student, so a parent with five children in school will contribute 50 hours of volunteer time per year. 

Additionally, any child who arrives at school unwashed, unfed or in any way unkept, or who has not completed the required homework assigned will be immediately sent to the principal's office.  The principal will contact both parents (as is applicable) and those parents must report to the school within two hours to explain the condition of their child.  Failure to appear will result in an arrest warrant being served, and the parents will immediately be taken into custody and will be fined $500 per parent.  At this time they will also face charges of violation of the school code resulting in a maximum fine of $1,000 and 100 hours of community service.

Finally, any changes made to balance the budget in the forms of reduction of salaries or services may only have 25% of the total coming from classrooms and teachers.  The remainder must come from the administration, either of the school in question or the district as a whole. 

These changes are radical, but they would result in a better school district.  They would allow the teachers the financial resources to teach properly, while eliminating the constant threat of cutting teaching jobs while administrators run amok.  They would increase the role of parents in the education of their children and lower the drop-out rate, while ensuring that all children are performing at their best.

These changes are sorely needed at the LAUSD, but will never happen by the current school board.  In order to really change the district, we need an initiative placed on the ballot so the people of this city can vote on it.  Only then will we see our district improve.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Proposition 17

By now you've probably heard the ads for Prop 17 that state that there is a "flaw in the law" that allows you to have a discount on your auto insurance, but only with your current carrier.  The ads state that passage of Prop 17 will allow you take this discount to any insurance company, and on the surface that sounds good.  It's not the entire truth.

Currently, if you have had bodily injury liability coverage your insurance company MAY offer you a discount.  They don't have to.  You can only use that discount with the carrier you are currently using.  The term used in the current law is Persistency of Coverage.  Persistency exists even if there is a lapse of coverage of up to two years while serving in the military, or 90 days in the last five years for any other reason.

Prop 17 would change the law to allow the discount with any insurer, not just the current insurer.  Note that it doesn't guarantee you a discount, it only says the insurance company MAY offer it.  By that argument, an insurance company could just as easily reduce the premiums if they wanted to.  What really changes is the persistency period.  Service in the military is still a valid reason for lapse of coverage, but the 90 days in the last five years for any other reason will be changed to "90 days in the last five years for any reason other than nonpayment of premium."  In other words, anyone whose coverage has lapsed because they weren't able to pay premiums for three months will lose the discount.  In short, the insurance companies get to raise their rates.

In a time when unemployment is at an all-time high and people are trying to pay their mortgages and put food on the table, it doesn't seem fair to allow an insurance company to raise their rates.  That's what Prop 17 does.  It was sponsored by Mercury Insurance Company as a change to Prop 103 that was passed in 1988.  Mercury is spending millions on this campaign, knowing that no grass roots organization has the financial means to stop them.  

This is where you come in.  First, send this email to your friends in California.  Even if they don't vote, they probably know people who do.  Get the word out on what this initiative really is.

Second, if you are able to donate to get this message out, go to and make a donation.  

Lastly, if you need additional information, you can read the entire text of the Proposition in the California Statewide Direct Primary Election, Tuesday, June 8, 2010 Official Voter Information Guide that came from the Secretary of State's office.  The text begins on page 76.  If you didn't receive this document in the mail, you can also read it here: