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L.A. Unified board OKs new parent center at Miramonte Elementary

The Board of Education approves the $143,535 project to relocate and update the center at the school, which was beset by misconduct charges against two teachers this year.

April 11, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Third- graders at Miramonte Elementary School jump rope. The school is getting a new, high-tech parent center.
Third- graders at Miramonte Elementary School jump rope. The school is… (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

Miramonte Elementary, the school beset this year by misconduct charges against two teachers, will have a new center next fall for parents to take classes and hold meetings.

The $143,535 project to relocate and update the center won unanimous approval Tuesday from the Los Angeles Board of Education. The upgrade at Miramonte, which is in unincorporated Florence-Firestone, is part of a $20-million districtwide plan authorized last year.

Miramonte burst into the news in February with the arrest of Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct, including allegations that he photographed blindfolded students being spoon fed his semen.

A second teacher, Martin Springer, was later arrested on unrelated lewd conduct charges and has pleaded not guilty. Days later, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy decided to replace the school's entire staff at an estimated cost of $5.7 million, saying teachers and other employees would be allowed to return next year when all investigations are complete.

The Miramonte parent center was originally scheduled with a later group of projects but was accelerated as part of measures taken to assist that community and restore public confidence. The timing also makes sense because the school is being reorganized next year, officials said. A new nearby campus will allow Miramonte to abandon a year-round schedule that was adopted to cope with overcrowding.

"There's going to be huge shuffling of classrooms and administrative rooms," said Nadia Funn, a development specialist with the district's parent-services branch.

Parents now use three poorly equipped bungalows on the edge of the playground, Funn said. The new location, in the main building near the school entrance, will have computers, wireless Internet access, printers, an independent phone line, new furniture and a children's play area.

The new center will allow the neighborhood's low-income parents online access that they don't have at home. The center also will provide parent training and space for meetings.

The project will not pay for big-screen TVs and refrigerators, which were included in parent centers at schools overseen by the nonprofit controlled by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Those features were paid for with donations solicited by the mayor's team.

The district projects are funded through voter-approved school bonds, and rules limit what the money can be used for, Funn said.

In a public hearing, two Miramonte parents thanked the school board for approving the project.

School board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte offered them some advice.

"It's not going to stop dirty-thinking people from coming on our staff," LaMotte told them. "You just have to be in your schools, in there with your teachers, know what's going on."

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