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District to Start Full-Day Kindergarten

Some schools will begin this summer, despite teachers' objections

March 24, 2004|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles teachers union lost an attempt to delay full-day kindergarten classes in the nation's second-largest school district when the board of education on Tuesday voted to phase in the popular program as early as this summer in some schools.

The Los Angeles Unified School District had committed itself in February to convert its current half-day kindergarten classes to full-day sessions over the next four years. But, because it cannot offer the reform to all schools at once, the board voted Tuesday to seek a waiver from state law requiring equitable treatment of all students within the district.

Representatives of United Teachers Los Angeles, while stressing that the union favored full-day kindergarten in concept, complained that the district was rushing things by attempting to begin the program by July 1 on campuses that have extra space and can meet other requirements.

Union members, including several current or former kindergarten teachers, questioned the fairness of offering full-day classes at some schools and not at others. The union said issues involving physical safety and restroom facilities for small children at many schools had not been settled. Teachers also stressed that kindergarten instructors usually help with each other's classes, which they said would not be possible if each had a full-day session.

In a letter to the district Monday, UTLA leaders threatened to file an unfair-labor practice complaint, based on the union's contention that the switch to full-day classes would violate the collective bargaining agreement. Supt. Roy Romer, however, told the board he did not believe the change would violate the agreement because kindergarten teachers already work a full day, although with two shifts of children.

UTLA spokesman Steve Weingarten said after the meeting that union leaders would decide their next step after a previously scheduled negotiating session on Thursday.

"Full-day kindergarten is important," Janette Gembitz, a kindergarten teacher at Bushnell Way Elementary School in Highland Park, said in urging the board to hold off for a year. "But I also think it is important to do it well."

Romer, however, urged the board to meet today's deadline for applying for the state waiver, saying the academic gains at other full-day programs and their popularity with parents made it important to keep moving forward.

"We can work it all out," he said, promising to meet with the teachers union and others to ensure as smooth and widespread a start as possible.

About 60% of all kindergartners nationwide attend full-day sessions, and studies have shown they learn faster and do better in school than their half-day counterparts.

Board members Julie Korenstein and Jon Lauritzen, whom UTLA helped elect, wanted to delay the move to full-day kindergarten, but, when it became clear that their colleagues wanted to proceed as soon as possible, Lauritzen joined the majority in its 6-0 vote to seek the state waiver. Korenstein abstained.

Among the most forceful full-day proponents was board member Marguerite LaMotte.

"I feel strongly that we need to move forward with this," LaMotte said, disagreeing with the union that helped elect her.

"Doing it right and doing it now are not mutually exclusive," said board member Marlene Canter.

Board member David Tokofsky, who also received election help from the union, spearheaded the drive for full-day kindergarten. "This is not just talking about the achievement gap, this is doing something about it," he said Tuesday.

Romer said the 11 local subdistricts in the district were surveying their campuses and should soon be able to provide him with lists of which schools could be converted this summer.

Measure R, the $3.87-billion facilities bond issue that voters approved earlier this month, earmarked $100 million for adding portable classrooms and other modifications for full-day kindergarten.

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