We Talked To LAUSD Officials About The Budget, Grades, And Summer School

A padlocked entrance to Lockwood Avenue Elementary, an L.A. Unified School District campus in East Hollywood, on April 1, 2020. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC)

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Over a month into the campus closures and distance learning — which will last through the summer — the nation's second largest school district is still working to provide devices, hotspots, and meals to students who need them.

This week, L.A. Unified opened up about how much these and other efforts related to the coronavirus crisis are estimated to cost the district: almost $390 million.

LAUSD has identified funding sources to cover $191 million, but has yet to figure out how to cover the remainder of almost $200 million in expenses.

Three district officials — Superintendent Austin Beutner, Chief Academic Officer Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, and Chief of Special Education, Equity and Access Anthony Aguilar — joined our newsroom's public affairs show AirTalk to talk about how the district is serving students remotely, and how the district is planning to pay for those adaptations.

"If we think it's appropriate for students to be connected, and have an opportunity to learn in this new normal, or this new abnormal — which I do believe — then we have to fund it," Beutner said. "And the state has to fund it adequately and appropriately."

Here are some other takeaways from the conversation (you can listen the the full hour, which aired on our radio station KPCC 89.3 FM, above).

ON THE BUDGET

KPCC AirTalk host Larry Mantle: What happens down the road if you end up with a heavily unbalanced budget - you don't get the reimbursement for the food costs you're looking for from the feds, you don't get the state back-filling for all these additional expenditures in tech and [personal protective equipment] and all these other things you've taken on, teacher retraining, all these new expenses? What do you do?

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner:

Well, let's start with the converse: why we have to do it. We're teaching students. We're giving them the path out of poverty with a great education. So anyone who thinks the funding won't be there or can't be there, I say the flip side: so what is it we would tell to young boys and girls today, our elementary school students? 'You don't deserve a chance to learn to read? You don't deserve a chance to become proficient in math skills and build that critical thinking which will give you a path to a better life?' I don't think that's acceptable, so it's not dollars and cents. It's what is right for the students, and we're going to have to have a hard conversation about how we make that a priority.

ON EDUCATORS AS 'FIRST RESPONDERS'

Beutner:

It's interesting to note: people talk of first responders and I think those on the front lines, serving patients and hospitals now, and police, and firefighters are always on the front lines. So are educators, because they're giving children an opportunity, and we can't short that opportunity, and I don't know what we would say to the boys and girls a year from now or 10 years from now. The cost to them would be incalculable, as what the cost to society if we don't do the right thing for students ... Our teachers are doing extraordinary things. You know, extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary efforts sometimes.

ON THE DISTRICT'S GRADING POLICY AND SUMMER SCHOOL

Chief Academic Officer Alison Yoshimoto-Towery responded to concerns that some students may ease up on their studies because LAUSD has said grades will not drop below their March grades and no students will fail:

A 'D' [grade] is also 'not proficient,' like a fail is, and although we give credit for a D, we know that students who get C's or better are more likely to succeed. So our focus is really going to be on learning, on ensuring that students are ready for the next grade, for the next course that they need to take. And irrespective of their grade, students who get D's, we're going to encourage them to go to summer school. We would enroll them in summer school, follow up with the calls to make sure that they get there.

ON SERVING STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Mantle: We're hearing frustration from parents - why is my child, who requires occupational therapy or speech therapy - why are they not getting that online over video? So what are the reasons for that?

Chief of Special Education, Equity and Access Anthony Aguilar:

We wanted to make sure that the connectivity issues, the device issues, making sure that that was an option for all of our families, and to be able to do that. To be able to move to and transition to more of that kind of live video is something that, again, we're learning right now. It's an opportunity I think we can build on and start moving towards being able to provide it. But, you know, again, it's important to assess the needs of our families and students at the time.

Mantle: So when do you think that the families are going to be up and running with video?

Aguilar:

We're hoping to be done with device distribution by the end of May. But again, maintaining and keeping our service providers in tune with our families, connecting with them to see if that is a way we can actually provide that service, if the students are willing to and the families are willing to, then we can engage in something like that.