The last thing I ever expected to write was an endorsement for a candidate for the Board of Education for Los Angeles Unified School District. To me, the district was a lost cause, to the point where we had the opportunity to move our kids to a neighboring district and jumped at it.
So it is all the more odd that I find myself endorsing Nick Melvoin for LAUSD’s Board for District 4, considering I no longer even have a direct vested interest in LAUSD.
The reason I’m endorsing Melvoin, though, is because I care about the future of education in Los Angeles. For the first time ever, we have a candidate who has the experience and understanding to begin actual reform of the sprawling disaster that is LAUSD. If he can accomplish even a few of the things we discussed, it will provide a potential blueprint for success in school districts across the country.
What I like about Melvoin is he has a holistic approach to the problems facing the district. Unlike many Board members and candidates, Melvoin has actually been in the trenches. He taught at Markham Middle School, in the heart of poverty-stricken Watts, and experienced exactly why LAUSD is an educational nightmare. The school received tons of federal funding because of the poverty of the neighborhood, but Melvoin was disgusted at how this money was wasted, and used improperly. Two-thirds of the teachers had to be laid off – that’s how inefficient the funds were used. This experience comes on top of having been at Harvard as an undergrad, and then earning both a Masters in Urban Education and a law degree.
One of Melvoin’s primary goals is to return control to local schools and communities. Within a district as sprawling as LAUSD, centralized decision-making is a farce, just as much as it is when the federal government meddles in state and local issues. Melvoin says that the lessons from charter schools are clear: decisions made closer to the school, from within that school’s community, is better for kids.
Melvoin points out that there has been a 22% increase in bureacuracy over last five years in LAUSD. Centralized mandates need be abolished, and slashing this massive and needless bureaucracy will also save the district money.
Melvoin wants to overhaul human resources, with new strategies for recruitment and to reform the ridiculous tenure system in LAUSD. Melvoin agrees that granting lifetime tenure after eighteen months does not help kids, and that policy needs to go. He wants to see an end to “last-in-first-out” layoff policies that results in jaded and cynical lifers teaching our kids instead of hungry and motivated younger educators.
Melvoin also thinks the current binary evaluation tools are obsolete and harm kids. 99% of educators receive passing grades and yet only 27% of LAUSD kids are proficient in math. New evaluative tools need to be put in place.
As for recruitment, Melvoin supports financial incentives to get solid teachers in harder-to-staff schools.
This dovetails into issues regarding financial solvency. Unlike other candidates, who seem to have no problem with spending money on useless bureaucrats and ignoring $13.6 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, Melvoin has great ideas on how to address budgetary issues.
Yes, he thinks LAUSD teachers need to be paid more, as the average salary is below the state average. However, rather than exacerbate the pension liability problem, Melvoin favors different retirement options for new hires, such as 401(k) plans, so teachers can fund retirement themselves. In addition, he sees plenty of opportunity for the district’s Cadillac health plan to extend its solvency by having teachers contribute co-pays, just like virtually every other health insurance plan in the country. These ideas will also help offset higher up-front salaries.
I was surprised to discover that both former Mayor Richard Riordan and a major Republican PAC support Melvoin’s push for free Pre-K and preschool. Nothing is free, of course, but Melvoin believes the funding can be found through the elimination of many of LAUSD’s foolish current expenditures, such as the $1 billion iPad debacle, and bountiful sexual abuse settlements from teachers who should have been fired ages ago. There’s also HeadStart money available. Melvoin believes that early education like this will save money down the line, especially reducing the number of high school dropouts. I’m not completely sold on this concept, but willing to give it a try because I agree with his other ideas.
Melvoin is also an advocate of schools working with parents to foster better home environments. Without infringing on parental rights or becoming gadflies, Melvoin thinks that helping strung-out parents working multiple jobs by offering guidance about communicating with kids effectively, training and encouraging parents to turn off the TV and interact more with their kids, does more good than harm. There’s a fine line to walk here, but as a frequent writer on parenting, I’ve seen this work to great effect, and parents are grateful for guidance in most cases.
While I disagree with Melvoin on broader issues – he’s opposed to vouchers – I agree that things like vouchers would ideally become unnecessary if our public school systems are reformed from within to the point that their standards rise substantially. For now, vouchers seem like a good idea until such reform is truly successful.
However, I very much support Melvoin’s push toward de-centralized decision-making, and returning power to local schools and families. Let schools and parents work together as charter and magnet schools to find what works best for their individual communities.
I heartily endorse Nick Melvoin for LAUSD School Board. He’s a fresh young voice with plenty of good ideas. Incumbent Steve Zimmer certainly hasn’t fostered any worthwhile change in his eight years at LAUSD. He literally said, “This election is about losing kids to the charter movement”.
Losing kids? Zimmer’s love for the status-quo is obsolete and a proven failure.
Let’s give a new and motivated candidate a chance.