Romer Seeks New Aid

May 04, 2005

Need cited for $3.9 billion LAUSD bond measure

By Jennifer Radcliffe, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Daily News

After nearly five years on the job, Superintendent Roy Romer said Tuesday that the Los Angeles Unified School District is only one-third of the way up the mountain and needs voter approval of roughly $3.9 billion in new bonds to reach the top.

The new bond measure would be the fourth submitted to voters and could come as early as November.

In addition, struggling high schools need restructuring and instruction needs to be beefed up across all grade levels, Romer told about 75 guests at his inaugural "State of the Schools" address.

"It's a climb -- a steep climb -- but we can make it," Romer said.

Flanked by American flags and wearing his trademark hiking boots, the former governor of Colorado told the crowd that he hoped his speech would help steer the debate on public schools, which has become central to the heated mayor's race.

While he called the debate healthy, Romer said he wants to make sure the politicians grasp the true challenges facing the nation's second largest school system.

"As long as we're going to be sharing interests, it's important to have good information," the 76-year-old schools chief said.

Both mayoral candidates -- incumbent James Hahn and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa -- were invited to attend, but Villaraigosa declined because of a conflicting, previously planned event in West Los Angeles with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who endorsed his campaign, officials said.

"It's not rhetoric to me," Hahn said, taking a swipe at his no-show challenger.

Standing in the library of a South Los Angeles High School that will open this summer, Romer highlighted the progress of the district's $14 billion building program, of which $3.6 billion has already been spent to build and improve schools. The remaining amount is scheduled to be spent through 2012.

"It is magnificent. This is a revolution," Romer said, adding that a fourth bond will be needed to complete the largest school construction program in U.S. history. "We need to finish it. Now's the time."

With school construction so far along, Romer said his attention is now squarely on improving academic performance at middle and high schools.

He's pushing schools to break into small learning communities -- thematic groups of 500 students -- as a way of creating more personalized and engaging schools.

But the LAUSD must figure out additional ways to improve classroom instruction. Teachers must be involved in developing those ideas, he said.

"In five years, I have been tremendously impressed (about) how much you can talk at the top of an organization and it doesn't get through the ranks," he said.

L.A. Unified leaders must also tackle other tough issues, like making sure campuses are safe and special education students are provided quality instruction. Schools must be made more inviting to parents, he said.

Romer will give a similar speech, addressing specific concerns of Valley schools, on Friday.

A.J. Duffy, president-elect of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he was encouraged that Romer included teacher involvement and reduced class sizes in his slew of solutions.

"As always, the devil is in the details," said Duffy, who takes office July 1.

He added that he's glad Romer highlighted the successes LAUSD elementary students have made on recent standardized tests.

"The bottom line for me is, I'm tired of politicians using public education as their scapegoat, their whipping boy, as their sound bite," he said. "Public education in LAUSD is getting better."

Board President Jose Huizar said that while Romer covered a lot of ground during the address, he was short on details.

"I'm very anxious to have a plan where we all know what the path is to make ourselves one of the top urban districts," he said. "I would have liked to see more specifics."

Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722

LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer delivered an inaugural "State of the Schools" address on Tuesday. Here are some of the issues he discussed:


Gains: LAUSD elementary students outpaced state gains on some standardized tests this year and improved their Academic Performance Index 178 points over five years.

Challenges: High school and middle school scores remain well below state averages. Major curriculum reforms, such as requiring all students to complete the college-prep courses, will be needed to improve performance.


Gains: When Romer took the job five years ago, the district needed an additional 200,000 seats to get students off buses and year-round calendars. Today, LAUSD is in the middle of a $14 billion construction program that will add 160 schools.

Challenges: An additional $3.8 billion in bond money will be needed to complete the final 25,000 seats, and Romer said he hopes to put the measure to a vote in November. Some critics have said the superintendent is too focused on building schools, and not concerned enough about the education happening inside of them.


Gains: Romer and the school board want middle and high schools to convert into thematic "small learning communities" over the next few years. He said smaller schools may help turnaround the LAUSD's self-reported four-year dropout rate of 33.5 percent last year was about 2 1/2 times the state average of 12.9 percent.

Challenges: Critics worry smaller campuses of 400 to 500 students will not address the problems of budget shortfalls, crowded schools and discipline and that teachers are being left out of the planning.

Link: Source article (Los Angeles Daily News)