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L.A. Unified School District cancels bulk of summer school programs

The district's decision, part of a wave of state budget cutbacks, is expected to affect both course work and child care.

May 29, 2009|Seema Mehta and Jason Song

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced Thursday it is canceling the bulk of its summer school programs, the latest in a statewide wave of cutbacks expected to leave hundreds of thousands of students struggling for classes.

The reductions, which will force many parents to scramble for child care, are the most tangible effect of the multibillion-dollar state financial cuts to education. Community colleges also have announced summer program cancellations.

"We have said these cuts will be real, they'll be seen, and they'll be felt," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "For kids who want to take challenging courses, for kids who need basic courses in order to graduate, these choices will contribute toward the dropout rate and we will have a less competent workforce."

Officials from the Los Angeles school district, the state's largest, said that all summer school classes and most non-academic offerings such as playground and pool programs are being canceled at elementary and middle schools. About 225,000 students enroll in summer courses every year, according to the district.

This year, however, only credit-recovery courses in core requirements will be offered at high schools. Nearly 74,000 students are eligible to take those classes. The moves will save the district $34 million, although officials must cut almost $97 million more before July.

"We were hanging on to hope we could do summer school because it means a lot for all of us. It's pretty tragic that we can't," said Judy Elliott, the district's chief academic officer.

Many parents said they depend on summer offerings as both educational programs and child care. Besides making up required classes, some students take summer courses that didn't fit into their regular schedule. Others take classes to get ahead.

"We are in dire need of these programs," said Elizabeth Lugo, director of administration and development for Inner City Struggle, an East Los Angeles nonprofit that pushes for academic equality.

Lugo said she has been looking for L.A. Unified programs for her 5-year-old son and fears that there may not be any. "We don't have any family members that can take care of our kids for the whole day," she said.

When voters overwhelmingly rejected a package of state ballot measures last week, state legislators were left grappling with a $21.3-billion deficit. They are considering Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to cut $5.3 billion from public school districts and community colleges over the next 13 months. L.A. Unified will face up to a $273-million deficit next year.

Dr. Mitchell Wong, the father of two children at Warner Avenue Elementary, said he recognizes the district must make substantial cuts but called summer school invaluable for raising struggling students' skills.

"Data shows that students lose a lot of ground in terms of learning during the summer months. When they're off, summer school really helps to bridge that gap," said Wong, president of Act4Education, a group of parents trying to improve school performance in West Los Angeles.

"A lot of schools have such a long way to come getting kids up to basic standards of proficiency in math and language arts," he said.

"For kids already behind, summer school is one means to get them up to speed. For schools trying to turn around, summer school is an important component."

John Rogers, director of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, said such cuts will widen the opportunity gap between the poor and the affluent.

"Districts that have more resources will be the ones that will be offering some summer school program . . . and high school students with family wealth will take online" and private classes, he said. "That gives them a step up in California to competitive college eligibility."

According to a recent survey by the California State PTA, nearly 41% of parent-teacher organizations in the state report summer-school cuts.

Petaluma City Schools in Sonoma County provided summer school for about 2,000 K-12 students. But the day after the governor proposed the $5.3 billion in education cuts, the district eliminated it for all but special-education students and current seniors and juniors who are in jeopardy of not graduating. The move will save the district $300,000, Supt. Greta Viguie said.

The Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County cut its summer school offerings by roughly three-quarters, saving about $600,000. "In every area, we have waiting lists," said Ron Lebs, a deputy superintendent of the 51,000-student district. "The need is greater than the offering."

Community colleges are feeling the pinch as well, with the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District eliminating its second summer session. At one campus in East L.A., 10,000 students had already enrolled.

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