District's Size Called a Barrier

School: Grand jury says it prevents access to leaders of L.A. Unified.

The Los Angeles school system is too large to allow school communities access to the central leadership, a report to be released this week by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury concludes.

The report also contends that schools are overcrowded, teacher turnover is highest in poorly performing schools and the multitrack, year-round schedule appears to be associated with lower test scores.

Harvey M. Rose, an accountant retained by the grand jury, concludes that the reorganization of the district last year into 11 subdistricts seems to have resulted in a net increase in positions, rather than the decrease promised. It apparently raised district costs rather than lowered them, he says.

For its evaluation, the grand jury’s education committee visited 28 elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools and compared the district’s organization to those of other districts.

The panel, whose report broke little new ground, indicates that some of the district’s problems stem from its immensity.

It finds that “a district is most successful when it is a part of a well-defined community and its policymakers are close to that community,” and that “the more homogenous the district the greater the opportunities for the success of the educational mission.”

In contrast, it says, “the geographical area of the district creates a barrier that does not allow the board and/or superintendent to be readily available to a school or its community.”

Although that conclusion clearly offers ammunition to several grass-roots efforts to dismantle the 723,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, the report does not formally endorse a breakup.

Instead, it offers several mild recommendations, encouraging the district to study the year-round calendar and the teacher turnover problem.

The sharpest language in the report focuses on Jordan High School, where, the report said, conditions alarmed the committee.

“The committee observed that teachers’ appearance was not professional for a role model of children,” the report says. “In many cases, when we visited classrooms we weren’t able to differentiate the teachers from the volunteers and maintenance employees.”

Teachers complained to the committee about compensation, safety and problems resulting from Proposition 227, which eliminated most bilingual education.

“We saw a few examples of this problem, where classrooms were split and one teacher was teaching in English, while another teacher was teaching students in Spanish,” the report says.

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