The Los Angeles Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that will allow outside groups to run up to a third of all district campuses, including 50 new multimillion-dollar campuses coming on line and more than 200 underperforming schools.
Facing a sharply divided crowd of hundreds of parents, teachers and school workers, the school board held a lengthy and at times heated debate before voting 6-1 to approve the proposal that takes effect in fall 2010.
Authored by board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, the proposal was debated for weeks and advocated by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and charter operators like Green Dot, groups that could eventually compete to run district schools under the new plan.
The plan also drew strong opposition from labor leaders who threatened to take legal action to block the deal, which they called a scheme to break up the unions and privatize public education in Los Angeles.
The plan essentially lets parents and community members have a much bigger say in whether their school should be a magnet, pilot, charter or traditional campus.
Celebrating the approval of the plan, Los Angeles Unified School Board President Monica Garcia said it was a "proud day" for the district. Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who will oversee the plan, urged supporters and opponents to move past their differences.
"For too long we have protected the status quo ... even when we knew things weren't working," he said. "We must work together ... to ensure all students achieve their dreams."
Cortines, who has 60 days to come back to the board with a final plan on implementing the proposal, promised parents, teachers and community groups that they would all take part in the decision making.
Still, disappointed union leaders promised to fight the plan, which they fear could open the way for hundreds of nonunion positions in the public school system.
"These school board members have given up their responsibility to fix public education," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
"Because they can't control their own bureaucrats they are giving the shop away ... it makes no sense."
Duffy said the teachers union would be looking at legal action against the district if new schools, under the plan, failed to adhere to existing commitments with union teachers.
Duffy also said the union would be looking at whether it was legal for the school district to allow new schools, which have been paid for by voter-approved bond measures to relieve overcrowding, to be taken over by private operators.
Jackie Goldberg, a former school board member and local politician who helped author three of the four LAUSD construction bonds, echoed the sentiments of the teachers union.
Goldberg also blasted the plan, calling it the latest attempt at ending public education in Los Angeles.
"They tried school vouchers, they tried breaking up the district," Goldberg said. "To take 50 brand new schools and give them away is not only wrong, I think it's illegal. ... This is just another nail in the coffin of public education."
Opponents also say the plan does not ensure that the district's union employees will continue to have access to the jobs at the more than 250 schools.
In an effort to bring unions to the table, board member Nury Martinez made a change to the plan that sets up a task force between labor and charter leaders, as well as members of the business community, to look at staffing options for schools created under the new proposal.
Maria Elena Durazo, treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, will be on the task force. She urged charter schools, who under state law are not required to hire union workers, to consider taking on more union staff.
"Why would charters not want to provide good jobs in this city?" Durazo asked. "Why is that a contradiction to good public education."
Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said he also signed on to be part of the task force and denied the claim that charters are opposed to unionizing their campuses.
"We have always been open to that discussion, before this and long after this discussion," Wallace said.
Still, Wallace also said that ultimately charter schools could not be forced to include union workers in their schools.
"I will be at the table to represent the diverse voice of the charter school community," Wallace said.
The only dissenting vote came from board member Margueritte LaMotte, who chided her colleagues for approving a plan that she said "abdicated" the job she was elected to do.
"We were told by legislators already that it was unlawful to give away any part of our schools," La Motte said.