Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / Polaris

Austin Beutner, Superintendent of LAUSD, speaks to the media during a press conference outside the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles on August 2020.

Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / Polaris

Austin Beutner, Superintendent of LAUSD, speaks to the media during a press conference outside the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles on August 2020.

Update at 1:00 p.m. to correct the estimated cost Los Angeles Unified will spend on Covid testing. Updated at 3:30 p.m. to determine LA can sue Unified Newsom over the plan.

After meeting top advisors to Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration on Monday, superintendents from two of California’s largest school districts said nothing has changed: their counties will not receive $ 2 billion in government funding to enroll until February 1 to oblige younger students to go back to school if infection rates drop after Covid.

Austin Beutner, Unified Superintendent of Los Angeles, said after the meeting that it was “not possible” to reach an agreement with workers’ unions on conditions for a safe return to face-to-face tuition in less than three weeks. On Tuesday, the district escalated in the direction of escalating the dispute and voted unanimously in a closed session to authorize Beutner to sue Newsom over the reopening plan.

During his January 8 state budget press conference, Governor Newsom was asked why he wouldn’t require school districts to return to school rather than encouraging them through financial incentives. Here is the question and his answer:

Q: In school districts where this collaboration has not proven to be a reality and in the city’s largest school districts it hasn’t. Is there a role for the state to take a heavier hand?

Newsom: We have had robust and energetic discussions not only with teachers’ unions but also as representatives of negotiating units across the spectrum. And we will continue to engage them and support the local superintendents in these efforts. But one thing I know and forgive me, I know it’s stale, it’s red, I’ve repeated it several times, but I think it’s important to repeat it in this context: there is an old African proverb that says that you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.

Basically, I believe that we have to do it in partnership if we want to successfully raise our most vulnerable children, if we want to successfully counteract learning losses, if we want to be successful as a state. This idea of ​​imposition, closed fist and open hand is an important distinction for me. This distinction is reflected in creating incentives for the type of behavior we want to see. I did not get the chance to speak to each of these superintendents (who sent a letter criticizing Newsom’s plan to return to school). We share the same goal for a safe reopening of personal education. However, our approach is not to act top-down and mandate. The aim is to create a collaborative framework with real incentives that allows resources to be allocated when people work to advance the cause of personal teaching.

“Right now people are huddled in Los Angeles,” said Beutner. “We do not believe that it is possible or even appropriate to have discussions with stakeholders about what the school might look like at a hypothetical future time.”

“The main idea that I can promote without a clear understanding of the safety concerns (return to school) is at the heart of the problem. The problem affects more than just the money, ”said Bob Nelson, Fresno’s Unified Superintendent.

Nelson and Beutner were among the seven suburbs’ superintendents who signed a seven-page letter on January 6th harshly criticizing Newsom’s strategy for safe schools for all to reopen schools. They expressed disappointment that Newsom had not discussed his proposal in advance and asked for a meeting to discuss it. The other superintendents are Cindy Marten, San Diego Unified; Jill Baker, Long Beach Unified; Vince Matthews, San Francisco Unified; Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Oakland Unified, and Jorge Aguilar, Sacramento City Unified.

Beutner and Nelson spoke to EdSource, but other superintendents were not immediately available for comment.

Newsom was absent, but Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos, Assistant Cabinet Secretary Ben Chida, and Brooks Allen, Executive Director of the State Board of Education, were among those who did.

Both Nelson and Beutner valued the dialogue: one called it “constructive”, the other “productive”. But they only left with a commitment to meet again soon – without agreeing to change aspects of the governor’s plan. Newsom and his advisors are still not interested in the superintendent’s primary demand: the state should set uniform safety standards for return to schools. With statewide standards, controversial negotiations with workers’ unions that have resulted in deadlocked talks or inconsistent standards between neighboring districts would shift to the state.

The government is unwilling to give mandates – no “Thou Shalts” – on the matter, Nelson said.

Newsom is encouraging districts to start a transition kindergarten through 2nd grade students from February 15 and from 3rd grade through 6th grade students from March 15. His schedule is based on studies that show that the youngest children are the least likely to spread or become infected with the virus; They are also the children who struggle the most with distance learning. First, the districts would have to submit a Covid safety plan to their education offices by February 1.

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Large neighborhoods oppose Governor Newsom’s school opening plan

Newsom hasn’t announced a plan for senior students. In addition to adhering to the schedule, they would have to agree to a strict Covid test requirement for students and employees as often as weekly. And they would have to come up with a health and safety plan that complies with Cal-OSHA rules and has been negotiated with the workers’ unions.

Immediately after the youngest students returned, the districts brought back other disadvantaged students in small groups: homeless and foster children, students with disabilities, and students with poor internet connections at home.

In return, districts would get funding for every student regardless of class – $ 450 to about $ 700 per student. The neighborhoods with a large proportion of low-income students would receive the upper range of funding.

The districts are demanding more funding. They argue that the state should pay the full cost of Covid testing, separate from the money they offer districts. Los Angeles Unified alone estimates it will spend $ 150 million on testing and has so far not reimbursed any of it, Beutner said. And there should be more funding for students with disabilities when they return to school.

However, the superintendents say the biggest obstacle is timing: they need to negotiate a security deal amid the highest Covid death toll across the state and an uncertain timeframe for teacher vaccinations. The seven districts, which are among the strongest teacher and staff unions in the state, had spent the fall negotiating when Covid infection rates were far lower than they are now, agreeing with little success what is “safe” and what protocols for them Apply to return to the classroom.

On this point, the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office agreed to a budget analysis published on Sunday.

“Given the short timeframe and the significant steps schools would have to take, we are concerned that the proposal to offer face-to-face tuition is unlikely to be feasible and could hinder the school district’s participation,” the LAO wrote.

The report suggested that lawmakers, who will have the final say on the $ 2 billion plan, consider changing the order of the return. Start a month in front of younger children with small groups of students who are having difficulty solving testing problems as many districts will have trouble expanding the tests, it said. Dozens of districts had already started doing this, usually with teachers volunteering to return, before nearly all schools closed to all students.

Disagreements on the purple level

According to Newsom’s plan, districts would have to agree to send students back once the county’s infection rate drops to 28 cases per 10,000 county’s residents. At this level, a district would be placed at the top of the “purple” tier – the most restrictive status under the state’s Covid classification system for reopening schools and businesses based on infection and heavy use rates.

Many districts, especially those in rural areas and more affluent suburban communities with fewer Covid cases, received exemptions even though they were in the purple category. In order to receive part of the 2 billion dollars, they would have to renegotiate agreements that they had made under more favorable terms in Covid.

Urban superintendents complain that tying funding to the 28-case rate is unfair: In Los Angeles, infection rates in Boyle Heights, southern Los Angeles, and Bell are many times higher and may not drag on for weeks or months 28 back. Fresno’s more than double the 28 cases, and the neighborhoods that need it most are being denied resources.

When it comes to the disproportionate impact of Covid on low-income, black and Latin American children, the governor’s plan makes it “proportionally worse,” Nelson said.

The challenge for the districts is that they have negotiated a phase of campus reopening once they hit the red or orange tiers with lower infection rates, which has been the state standard for returning to school. Your unions refuse to return to campus in the purple row.

Raising the minimum level of infection for reopening with no explanation, Beutner said, creates confusion. “It changes the foundation on which the trust of employees and families can be built,” said Beutner.

School districts should not be empowered to determine Covid health standards, he said. These decisions, such as requiring employees to have tuberculosis tests, must be made by the state.

“A clear and uniform standard will help every school district ultimately to open schools,” said Beutner. “Think Oakland and San Francisco, separated by the 10-minute drive over the bridge. So how could you open one group of schools and decide the other not just based on local interest groups that the conditions are not right? Whether it’s a school board, the superintendent, the work partner, or the community stakeholder, that wouldn’t make any sense. “

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