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L.A. Pact Would Offer Contract, Hiring Flexibility

Certain schools in Los Angeles would gain new freedom to hire teachers in their building, to avoid certain district directives, and to waive parts of the teachers' contract under a new agreement brokered by the district and its local teachers' union.

The terms are set out in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Superintendent John Deasy and United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher, but it must still be ratified by the district's teaching force. The vote is scheduled to occur in early December.

The two men appeared at a joint press conference coinciding with a school board meeting yesterday to announce the news.

"Teachers and parents are uniquely qualified to have a relationship with their school," Deasy said.

Added Fletcher: "Promising beginnings are a good thing."

The MOU is the fruit of several months of negotiation between the district and UTLA. Both parties appear to have won several shifts in policy that they've been seeking.

For instance, participating schools could implement a staffing policy to ensure that no teacher or principal would be force-placed. Instead, a "personnel team" at each school, composed of the principal, teachers, union chapter chair, and parents, would have to agree on whether or not to accept such a teacher. This kind of "mutual consent" staffing has gained ground in other urban locations, and has been widely sought by administrators.

But the agreement would, for its three-year duration, end the ability of charter-management organizations and outside operators to bid to run low-performing schools under L.A.'s Public School Choice program. The UTLA has bitterly opposed that policy, going so far as to successfully organize teachers to form cooperatives to run such schools.

Among other district and union policies that schools would be permitted to waive without seeking approval from either party:

• Interim and benchmark assessments, which have long been criticized by teachers;
• Work rules, including school schedules and hours, subject to state and district minimums;
• Curriculum choices, again subject to minimum parameters; and
• Professional development and teacher-assignment policies.

The changes would appear to continue a recent trend toward decentralization in the nation's second-largest school district. It would presumably provide even more control to the school site councils that increasingly exercise control over how discretionary school funds, and even some federal funding, are currently spent. You can read more about that movement in a story of mine from a few years back.

The district and UTLA still have to work through other contractual issues, including the development of a new teacher-evaluation system and whether student achievement will be included in such a system.

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