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How Anti-Racist Demands Are Captured By Privateers

Outflanking CTA

The death of George Floyd in custody of the Minneapolis City Police has roiled our nation. There can be no tolerance of murder, which is all the more abominable at the hands of authority. As citizens everywhere rise – and continue to rise – to protest injustice, and we collectively contemplate systemic and institutional racism, prejudice and bias, our school community reflects these politics and the raising of consciousness in microcosm.

On the last day of its fiscal year, the nation’s largest school district with a democratically elected school board (LAUSD BOE) voted to decimate its school police department (LASPD).

But What Happened?

During the first of what became two sequential meetings focused on LASPD, the school board debated three policy resolutions (from 8:12.45m) examining and limiting LASPD operations. The board failed to muster majority agreement on any directive, and their prerogative was preempted by the Superintendent’s personally selected Task Force on School Safety (@8:09 and Fig. 2 below). Then the following week in an end-run around their inability to set policy, the board effected a change they were unable to agree on theoretically, by simply voting to eliminate operating funds to LASPD.

Figure 1:  Superintendent Beutner’s hand-picked task force on student safety. Austin Beutner was selected in a controversial process by a previous board that had majority of school privateers.

Figure 1: Superintendent Beutner’s hand-picked task force on student safety. Austin Beutner was selected in a controversial process by a previous board that had majority of school privateers.

This is high drama played out on many scales. Over the course of successive weeks, iteratively between years, and in sway to long-term, sotto voce, surreptitiously-driven political agendas.

The top layer plays out in the course of two marathon board sessions on successive weeks, the first on 6/23/20 amassing nearly 11 hours of video; the second, captured in twopieces on 6/30/20, adjourned its 12 hour session at 10:38pm. Exhausting septuagenarian, nursing mother, and the zoom-saturated alike, these meetings stretched from 9am til way past everyone’s bedtime.

The long hours bookended a spectrum of testimony from the impassioned to dispassionate, advocating everything from radical disruption to unalloyed gratitude. Dozens followed dozens, of political activists, parents, students, teachers, administrators, community organizers, labor union representatives and organizers, school-site officers, psychiatric social workers (PSW) and attendance counselors (PSA); and more too, representing the intersection of these and many other constituencies.

But board rules allow for no questioning of public commenters (unlike invited presenters). There was no debate or discussion or fact-checking or follow-up with the hundreds of anecdotes detailing criminality to heroism. The twists and turns left many angry and with unanswered questions, in part because there’s a difference between listening and asking stakeholders what is needed.

Activists have long voiced generalized concerns of a militarized and intimidating presence on campus.

So what started – and deadlocked – as an ideological argument, concluded finally in camouflage. The matter of school policing was coerced into passage by being an amendment to the colossal, $14.3b school budget (Fig. 1 below) which was required by law to be approved by midnight on 6/30/20, one week after the stalemated policy discussion.

Longer-term context

Activists have long voiced generalized concerns of a militarized and intimidating presence on campus. The statewide teacher’s union, CA Teachers Association (CTA), among others has driven a well-articulated, movement to “relentlessly advocate for restorative justice philosophy and practices in our public schools and the funding necessary to make these programs effective.”

In 2013 the BOE passed a School Climate Bill of Rights mandating “positive behavior intervention and support”, Restorative Justice approaches and “guidelines regarding the roles and responsibilities of School Police Officers on campus.”

A highlight of this drive came last year when a coalition of civil rights, education and social justice groups {ACLU of SoCal, Public Counsel, the Youth Justice Coalition; United Teachers of Los Angeles, Students Deserve and “several charter school networks”; and Black Lives Matter-LA and White People 4 Black Lives} dating from at least 2014 called Students Not Suspects (SNS), successfully advocated for eliminating LAUSD’s policy of school wanding. Conducted by school administrators rather than school police, the 1993 initiative following the wake of two fatal school shootings had nevertheless come to be seen as “punitive and a barrier to the social-justice lens that many schools have been adopting”. Foreshadowing this year’s showdown, the policy correction was introduced by board member García, and objected to along generally analogous ideological lines by the same three former principal-boardmembers: McKenna, Schemerelson and Vladovic. Also presaging this year’s scrimmage, the teacher from a classroom shooting in 2018 opined last year, that it was “shortsighted to sunset a policy without knowing what the new safety measure will be.” Last year Superintendent Beutner was directed “to come up with a different plan to keep students safe;” this year he was forced to that table.

So last year’s disciplinary duel was highly politicized, with wide understanding that “timing of the policy flip [was] in part a reflection of a changing school board that has faced issues of new leadership, a board member’s money laundering scandal, threats of a financial breakdown, a teachers’ strike, declining enrollment and a constant battle between charter and traditional schools.”

And while this year’s discipline debate recapitulated some of last year’s ideological context of education “reform” (that “constant battle between charter and traditional schools” around the role and regulation of capital in school systems), there is an important twist to its intense advocacy. Beyond the spark provided through BLM protests, an explicit strategy to cultivate optical legitimacy was delineated in March 2019 by Ben Austin, one-time charter school strategist, godfather of CA’s parent trigger law, and progenitor of the “Kids First” political lobby.

In this email uncovered by Michael Kohlaas, Austin contrives cynically mechanical ways for educational privateers and charter school advocates to “outflank CTA [CA Teacher’s Association] from the left.” These include:

  • “communicate vigorously with reporters who perpetuate the framing of our opponents (e.g., SpeakUp.org),
  • create coalitions between reform educators and progressive causes, from gun safety to health care to immigrant rights to bilingual education to police misconduct to reproductive rights (2020’s June BOE melee being a case in point);
  • build bridges in minority communities including funding for Black and Latino civil rights and community groups (ibid);
  • be a source of earned media [publicity gained through editorial influence] via social media, op-eds, podcasts, radio/tv appearances, etc.;
  • provide a California-focused center of intellectual and policy thought on these issues that result in earned and paid media (e.g. Randy Weingarten’s NYT Sunday paid ad);
  • be aggressive in fighting UTLA/CTA on wedge issues such as teacher quality; honor legislators who support kids first policy….”

This year’s funding shift does move toward policies recommended by the ACLU in 2018 in a report based on data from 2006-2016 that decries the “unconscionable” imbalance of “Cops And No Counselors.”

But the manner of this defunding, politically manipulated by privatization interests, also resulted in complete disregard of the Framework for Safe and Successful Schools (by the National Association of School Psychologists, American School Counselor Association, School Social Work Association of America, et. al.) referenced by the ACLU. From the BOE there was no coherent policy statement; the board’s actions undermined its Superintendent’s (@40:02).

There is nothing necessarily mutually exclusive about evaluating local policing practices and needs, increasing support of student’s socioemotional needs, and assuring campus safety. The board’s rejection of a substitute budgetary amendment that would have appropriated the same socioemotional supports from the Superintendent’s budget preferentially over LASPD’s, belies any claim of motivation for “Kids First” over, say, politics. It is political theater that pits these necessities against one another. So what did the policy debate actually spurn?

The Policy Resolutions

At hand were two very distinct issues, which over the course of the two BOE meetings became thoroughly-entwined: (1) collective punishment and the generality of how or whether our public school system should fund a dedicated, centralized constabulary; and (2) the priorities reflected by that which we do fund.

The course of these meetings traced an arc toward the high-minded pretense of the second from raw anger in the first.

And the entanglement started from the first board meeting where three resolutions spanned the gamut from complete defunding to objective scrutiny of reality, potential failings and redress. Three separate policy resolutions were presented from three board members representative of at least three distinct political stances: (i) austerity and the privatization of public monies (Monica Garcia), (ii) left- and labor, secular-humanist activism (Jackie Goldberg) and (iii) pragmatic, good-governance, Black tough-love (George McKenna).

Accordingly Ms. Garcia’s resolution called for wholly capturing LASPD funds for the exclusive use of her constituency’s empowering device, the School Equity Needs Index (SENI). By engineering the distribution of education funds through a weighted formula, the ideological interests of a public-private, ‘privatizing sector’ are furthered at the expense of the public’s.

Ms. Goldberg’s resolution commanded a specific set of procedural strictures for the LASPD (e.g., anti-bias training, marijuana leniency, off-campus operations, amended dress code, control and restraint procedures, etc.) in response to particular complaints of the generalized Black experience suffered at the hands of police at-large. Addressing a history of oppression was integral to the language of her resolution. With a nod to Ms. Garcia’s defunding modus operandi, a specific budgetary cut of $20m was figured by eliminating overtime and currently vacant LASPD positions. Reclaimed funds were vested not in a partisan political construct, but expressly to social services at schools with the highest concentration of Black students, by resourcing “supports” to “social workers, college counselors, nurses or campus aides” there.

Dr. McKenna’s resolution made no explicit demands shy of a task force carefully constructed for representation of all the testifying special interests from activists to the aggrieved to students and schools’ work force including classroom and academic personnel, managers and supervisors. His storied experience, exhaustively explained and eloquently recounted @ 8:36.54 and @ 9:50.30 urged careful construction of and instruction to an objective task force, strictly time-limited and strictly not-temporizing.

And before these resolutions were deliberated, LAUSD’s Superintendent himself serving at the behest of the same special privatizing interests underlying Ms. Garcia’s movements, convened a task force composed of his chosen deciders and his own special interests (Fig. 1; the Superintendent is not popularly elected but appointed by the elected school board of a previous incarnation reflecting privatization interests).

All three resolutions failed to pass by majority board vote, temporarily relegating the mattering of Black Lives exclusively to the control of Superintendent Beutner’s privately composed and personally tasked, investigatory body.

And that is where the matter should have died by parliamentary procedure. But the matter went to an overtime round masquerading as a budgetary interest.

The budgetary context

Because a budget is indeed a moral document, and because the budget was forced by state law to be acted upon by midnight of the following week’s board meeting, the ordinary scheduling of which had been upended by the SARS2 emergency, the matter of school police and its funding was re-animated by coupling it to LAUSD’s mandatory budget vote as an amendment. This effectively achieved the budget-cutting resolutions but without the policy statement.

In a compromise with her usual ideological adversaries, Ms. Goldberg was persuaded to adopt funding reductions at an even higher level ($25m) than originally conceded ($20m) to Mr. Melvoin’s duplicity at the first meeting, wherein he voted against her resolution even after teasing support for it contingent on including funding cuts. So Ms. Goldberg’s support for defunding was carefully ratcheted up until she finally joined Ms. Garcia’s zeal in exchange for securing and tightening specification on three out of four of her resolution’s original beneficiaries. The reincarnation which passed:

  • drops nurses as originally specified,
  • substitutes the more generalized “counselors” for specialized (and incidental) “college counselors” and
  • details that social workers specifically be PSWs.

These newly hired “supportive” professionals will be funded directly – and expressly – from $25m of LASPD’s budget, repurposed to “support African-American achievement.” In addition:

  • School police will fall back off-campus and out of uniform;
  • replacements may not be contracted from other police departments.
  • The Superintendent is to establish “working alternatives” to policing specifically through GRYD providers.

“GRYD” is a controversial public-private partnership of “community-based organizations” (CBO) funded and managed out of the LA City’s Mayor’s office. Its origin story orbits the playing field of former-Mayor Villaraigosa’s school reform efforts and LA’s bruising relationship with school privatization. From this perspective García’s budget amendment is simply an ideological lateral substitution, replacing SENI with GRYD, comparable leviathans of that public-private juggernaut which Monica García seeks to invigorate.

Any principled morality position on spending as reflective of moral priorities (point #2 above), was belied by rejection of the substitute budgetary amendment utilizing Superintendent special funds rather than LASPD’s for realizing additional socio-emotional support. That alternative was rejected by the board majority, unequivocal in their expression that funds be cut expressly from LASPD’s approx. $70m budget, even while considering the distribution of an LAUSD budget nearly three orders of magnitude larger. The board was definitive, if closely split: any shaving of monies elsewhere from the $14.3 billion dollar budget (Fig. 2) was unsuitable.

Figure 2:  A contrast of the upcoming LAUSD budget with last year’s by change in its large overall funds: the General Fund ($8.2b) composed of restricted and unrestricted monies (in blue) and Other allied, supportive funds (in yellow).

Figure 2: A contrast of the upcoming LAUSD budget with last year’s by change in its large overall funds: the General Fund ($8.2b) composed of restricted and unrestricted monies (in blue) and Other allied, supportive funds (in yellow).

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What Is LASPD’s Task?

Thus, though substantially similar resolutions were each rejected just seven days earlier, this policy matter rebranded as budgetary amendment was permitted to pass. Even while an alternative amendment reimagining funding from the Superintendent was rejected for want of the retributive component of defunding. Even while contract incompatibilities cast uncertainty on the amendment’s validity. Even while, in fact, the amendment itself was never seconded! Can an LAUSD school operate on a campus where the host institution contracts with specifically disallowed law enforcement? Does LAUSD dictate independent charter school’s security decisions? Is a private unarmed security contractor OK? And what’s a “safety aide”?

Permitting fiscal policy be held hostage to political expression meant that BOE president Vladovic failed in securing appropriate presentation of the proposal’s financial and practical implications (just as he never clarified the consequence of mutually incompatible resolutions during the previous BOE meeting).

It was left to the Deputy Superintendent and former CFO Meg Reilly, to call upon then-LASPD Chief of Police Chamberlin late in the evening, sometime after 9pm (@8:57), to delineate the impact of cutting LASPD’s budget by 35% (Table 1) – and its corollary illustration of what it is that our school police actually do do. The police chief resigned as a matter of principle shortly after adoption of the punishing budget.

LASPD’s budget for 2019-20 appears in Table 1. Well over 2/3 of the budget is for salaries; night watchmen comprise 3%

 Table 1: LASPD 2019-20 Budget itemization

Table 1: LASPD 2019-20 Budget itemization

The total of departmental and central office operations is listed as $72.5m but depending on budget reporting source, it may be between 32%-38% of the proposed 2020-21 budget. This represents just 0.9% of LAUSD’s 2020-21 General Fund and 0.5% of its total budget overall (see Fig. 1 above). The concern of dissenting board members was that cutting more than 1/3 of the budget would necessarily destroy the department’s infrastructure. More than 2/3 of LASPD’s budget is currently allocated to middle and high schools (Fig. 3). More than 80% of the department’s officers are non-White. This is not a school department inappropriately focused on the littlest children; it is not a school department unreflective of the community.

Figure 3:   Relative distribution of LASPD budget by locale of operations and by officer’s race. From LASPD Overview of 062220 (not the proposed 2020-21 budget).

Figure 3: Relative distribution of LASPD budget by locale of operations and by officer’s race. From LASPD Overview of 062220 (not the proposed 2020-21 budget).

In considering potential impacts to the LASPD budget, Chief Chamberlain reviews LASPD’s ordinary course of daily, normal programs @8:57 (Fig. 4).

Figure 4:  Programs and services conducted by LASPD

Figure 4: Programs and services conducted by LASPD

Due in part to staffing challenges, 39 open vacancies will not be hired and the overtime expenditures that had covered for these empty positions will be eliminated. Staffing, including dispatch, will be limited to school hours, approximately 7:30a-4p, with no weekend or nighttime support, including for adult school, athletic events and afterschool programs. The attractive nuisance of school property and assets, including millions of dollars’ worth of devices on summer hiatus, will be left unsecured. The amendment disallows capacity to extend current multi-million dollar contracts for Covid-related security, if it were to replace current policework.

Especially troubling is the effect on precisely that about LASPD which the department is urged to enhance: its trauma-informed operations. The present programs listed above will be impacted as the infrastructure of the department must be shifted to protect core duties. Although public comment was rife with generalized complaints about policing and police in other departments, our own school police, summarizes Dr. McKenna “have done nothing to embarrass us or themselves”. And every single board member was at pains to note this exemplary behavior. The incident report (Table 2) reflects a complaint rate of 0.009% – 10 from a field of over 115K calls for service.

Table 2:  Incident report of LASPD calls annually, 2017-20. The school year 2019-20 is curtailed by the shuttering of all LAUSD campuses on March 13, 2020 due to Covid.

Table 2: Incident report of LASPD calls annually, 2017-20. The school year 2019-20 is curtailed by the shuttering of all LAUSD campuses on March 13, 2020 due to Covid.

And yet 65 officers will already have received their 60d unemployment notice during a pandemic, for the sins of others, in service of reimagining a department largely as it appears already, and who are yet prepared to work as partners to realize “reconciliation” where necessary.

This is not just a gratuitous hewing to political outcry, it is cruel and shortsighted, Trumpian in its wishful belief that should the Superintendent’s task force determine these personnel constitute, let’s just say, an efficient and effective use of taxpayer money, they might simply be hired back. Consider, however, that the Trump administration’s policy of disregard for professionals and professionalism has not served us well at the CDC. Releasing scientists on the expectation of simply recalling them in an emergency has left the country unprotected from pandemic; by analogy given the special training and commitment of LASP (see Fig. 5), it seems at best risky to expect to blithely reconstitute a police force so well-regarded and well trained in the matter of children specifically.

Figure 5:  Specialized training of LASPD in safeguarding a school community. Calling 911 will summon officers without this specialty.

Figure 5: Specialized training of LASPD in safeguarding a school community. Calling 911 will summon officers without this specialty.

Because the real question and irony is: Who ya gonna call instead? Even while the LASPD are nearly universally lauded for their institutional child-centric comportment, it is precisely the substitute forces of LA’s hyper-aggressive Police and Sheriff’s Departments, that expressly are not.

At what unfathomable expense, literally and emotionally, are we out of the frying pan and into the fire? The loss of protection, like any hot commodity, is hard to replace.

Table 3 details the crimes that in fact LASPD investigated over the past three school years, including this last, Covid-foreshortened one. 627 violent crimes (defined by the LATimes to include “homicides, assaults with deadly weapons (ADW), robberies, batteries, shots fired and rape”) were experienced by those characterized below.

Table 3:  School community status, age, race and gender of crime victims assisted by LASPD in 2019-20.

Table 3: School community status, age, race and gender of crime victims assisted by LASPD in 2019-20.

If this is not a huge proportion of LASPD’s incident calls (<1% in contrast with LAPD’s <8%, described recently by the LAT as curiously few), their absolute number is alarming for the vulnerability of victims and the circumscribed circumstances of a school community where close proximity increases risk.

LASPD responds to threats of cyber-crime and mass shootings, bullying and bombs. The ideation that is not uncommon among youths occurs in the context of our society’s “extreme violence”, as abhored by Dr. McKenna (but earlier) in an amazing run @9:50.30. A spectrum of child-centric and “hand-picked”, specially trained, trauma-informed professionals is required for these particularly modern dangers. That mandates those trained to counter violence, in conjunction with those enabled to focus on gentler styles.

Just like the distribution of the professionals assembled to address children’s diverse experiences, the way we choose to spend fixed dollars reflects relative priorities: if not this, then that. It is true that money spent on police is money not spent elsewhere. So where instead among LAUSD’s $14.3b budget might $25m more effectively be employed? Conversely from where might LASPD’s 0.8% be more efficiently culled?

LAUSD’s Spending Priorities

When Governor Brown instituted a funding formula for schools under more direct control of local education agencies (aka Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF), local CBOs super-charged the plan of equity funding within our own District via their own privately engineered “Student Equity Needs Index”. The prerogative of controlling a newly unrestricted and enlarged General Fund (aqua region in Fig. 2, above) has important potential for reflecting local social priorities politically. When we consider redistributing money from the LASPD this is central to the matter of equity: if school police funds indeed disproportionately follow Black youth, then could these funds be more equitably distributed elsewhere?

Table 3 is a composite of LAUSD funds from the Superintendent’s Final Budget over the past three years directed toward “Targeted Youth” (TSP), a functional label expanded to include not just those eligible for “free-and-reduced-price-meals” but also now foster and homeless youth, and English language learners. These TSP comprise a fraction of the General Funds (GF), 14% of the total $8.2b GF budget, and 21% of the unrestricted $5.3b GF in 2020-21.

 Table 3: Expenditures for targeted youth between 2019-2021 from the unrestricted General Fund. Colored line items detail programs with allocations that vary appreciably through time.

Table 3: Expenditures for targeted youth between 2019-2021 from the unrestricted General Fund. Colored line items detail programs with allocations that vary appreciably through time.

This list records the graphical representation in Fig.s 6, 7 and 8 of LAUSD’s priorities as reflected in the large chunk of its spending on kids. It is not by any means all of its spending but it is a snapshot of spending priorities within the large, unrestricted fund devised to enable schools to better respond to their specific priorities. The graph records a suggestion of priorities shifting with the political winds of a new superintendent. The graph records a suggestion of relative priorities among our spending on kids, and critically, how resources may have shifted in response to current conditions. For example, funds for “School Climate and Restorative Justice” dropped almost $9m – more than 80% – between 2018 and 2019 following the death of Superintendent King in 2018. Even while TSP funds overall grew tremendously, increasing more than half a billion dollars, by 92%, across these three years.

In fact, the programs that have most decreased while LCFF has been growing, are in general those which school police detractors have been advocating as substitutes for policing. There may be additional sources of socio-emotional supports within the Superintendent’s budget than those listed in Table 3 for TSP. But the suggestion that funds have been waning precisely from within LCFF, intended specifically to be reflecting local spending priorities, should be a focus of the conversation about underfunding – not to mention additionally funding – alternative policing. Such a funding deficit would be suggestive of true underlying change. An actual study of these logistics (not to mention an actual conversation about student’s real, lived experiences) ought not to be short-changed.

Two additional declining programs are “A-G Dropout Prevention” and “Health and Student Supports”. The program for “Standard English Learner” has also decreased though its diminishment may be less directly of interest to BLM activists. Even the “Foster Youth Achievement Program” while only cut a little, certainly doesn’t reflect the overall gain in LCFF. This is where the advance in equity should be addressed, in funding that reflects this as a priority.

During this time increased money for counselors has mostly gone to secondary school counselors. Preschool has been augmented but at the May budget revision its future was threatened by Covid. With the final budget presentation and suggestion that the state’s funding may not be appreciably diminished after all, perhaps these important programs may be safer again.

Funding for librarians though a priority of the UTLA strike, has not been reflected in sustained increases. Nursing “services” have grown even while funds to nurses in HS have slipped.

Figure 6 is an overview of the specific programs, enabling a true relative comparison between budgets. But because there is an order of magnitude difference between specifically named funds and the catch-all construct, SENI, a transformed log scale in Figure 7 better reveals the specific funds as they range between years. To diminish the “noise” of unchanging funds (flat lines) and to hint where resources might relatively safely be discovered even while better representing the values we wish to uphold, some of the “flat” lines have been removed in Figure 8.

Figure 6:  Absolute comparison of TSP allocation, 2018-2020

Figure 6: Absolute comparison of TSP allocation, 2018-2020

Figure 7:  Contrast of TSP Funds between 2018 – 2020. A log transformation enables the programs to be distinguished but not simply compared directly; the relative trend can be contrasted (but change is “flattened” with distance from the origin – use Figure 6 for more accurate direct comparisons).

Figure 7: Contrast of TSP Funds between 2018 – 2020. A log transformation enables the programs to be distinguished but not simply compared directly; the relative trend can be contrasted (but change is “flattened” with distance from the origin – use Figure 6 for more accurate direct comparisons).

Figure 8:  Emphasis of the program funding depicted in Figure 7 that has most changed between years. Programs with little change have been suppressed for clarity.

Figure 8: Emphasis of the program funding depicted in Figure 7 that has most changed between years. Programs with little change have been suppressed for clarity.

The SENI index is a program fund that is constitutive, not specific. It is not a specific program to support, it is expression of a political ideology (e.g., austerity; “robbing Peter to pay Paul”), and its manifestation is political power. It is designed to bring more money to the constituency that is most in need. But how and who defines the parameters maximized, matters.

That serious gouge in LASPD’s budget does reflect a physical representation of changing mores. But the way to sustain targeted improvement is to understand and control the distribution of monies reflecting constituencies of privilege. And what better time to gauge true vs. underlying effect than during a pandemic when students are physically distant. Core functions of cyber security and property oversight can be sustained without disruption while scrutinizing concerns of collateral damage and inappropriate assignment of socio-emotional services.

The search for money should examine more of the $14.3b budget, 92% of which is seemingly not devoted to programs directly supporting targeted students. Are there not parts of this behemoth budget to chisel with no blow-back on targeted students at all?

The effect of last month’s budgetary board action was perfectly described by the LA Times’ editorial staff here. LAUSD has a “sacred trust”, as former board president Zimmer would say, to protect the children remanded to their custody by parents. There is also a trust to be maintained as a major community employer. The State is not the only entity underfunding our kids, this budget reflects proportionally few funds in direct service to the core mission of Education. Security cannot be maintained by shooting yourself in the foot.

sara-roos

Sara Roos
The Los Angeles Education Examiner