LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to adopt a controversial resolution that could turn a third of the schools in the nation’s second-largest school district over to private operators.
The proposal, which gives Superintendent Ramon Cortines 60 days to develop a plan, was approved 6-1 after a contentious four-hour public hearing and board debate.
Proposals will be accepted from private charter school operators, local communities and the mayor’s office for the operation of 50 new schools that will open over the next four years, as well as 200 existing schools that are chronic underperformers.
School board member Marguerite LaMotte cast the only dissenting vote.
“I haven’t seen any research-based study that says giving away schools improves academic achievement,” LaMotte said.
Other board members said in a district that has a 33 percent high school dropout rate, the time for radical change is past due.
“What is desperately needed is rapid, large scale student-centered reform,” said school board member Yoli Flores Aguilar, who introduced the resolution.
The LAUSD, which has more than 688,000 students, already boasts the highest number of charter schools of any school district in the country. About 150 of its 800 schools are run by nonprofit educational groups.
Until now, schools have been turned into charter operations largely through the efforts of parents and teachers on an ad hoc basis.
By inviting outsiders to submit proposals, the resolution gives the district more input over the selection of charters, implements more measures to monitor charter school performance and holds schools accountable for improving student achievement.
It also allows non-traditional groups to form partnerships with schools, following the lead of Chicago and New York school districts.
“This is increasing the diversity of educational providers,” said Priscilla Wohlstetter, director of University of Southern California’s Center for Educational Governance. “We don’t know who’s out there who would like to take over an underperforming school. It could be a museum, a medical provider, a social service agency.”
During the hearing, many parents spoke in favor of the school choice plan.
“It’s not acceptable. Our children deserve a better education. We cannot keep doing the same thing thinking we’ll get different results,” said Isabel Medina of East Los Angeles whose child attends Garfield High School, which has a 50 percent dropout rate.
The choice plan also drew the support of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry Commerce Association and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
School district unions opposed the plan, arguing that the district was giving away its schools.
“This is the beginning of the dismembering of L.A. Unified,” former school board member Jackie Goldberg said.
The resolution requires groups to maintain neighborhood demographics in their student bodies and to work with LAUSD unions. Teachers who work in charters are not covered by the district’s union, United Teachers Los Angeles.
“All the data says charter schools do not do better than public schools,” UTLA President A.J. Duffy said. “This is bureaucracy putting in a top-down plan which hasn’t worked before.”
The resolution also calls for the district to appoint a lead person to supervise the effort but seek foundation funding to pay for the employee’s salary.
Before the board voted, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa rallied a crowd of hundreds of parents and resolution in a bilingual chant of “We want change. We want choice. We’re going to win.”
Los Angeles mayors are not officials of the school district but Villaraigosa has pushed for charters at the so-called “mayor’s schools.”
A law that would have given him partial authority over the school system was knocked down in court in 2007. However, his nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools later won permission to manage seven schools with more than 30,000 students.
The 710-square-mile district serves Los Angeles, many neighboring cities and some unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. It is governed by the elected Board of Education.