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Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas On the Resolution of the Teacher Strike

“I am very pleased that both parties persisted through hours of negotiation to reach an agreement and settle this strike. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of students returning to school to resume their education. Many of them – particularly those preparing for Advanced Placement exams, scholar-athletes who could not practice or compete during the strike, and those with learning disabilities – will face challenges in trying to compensate for learning losses incurred during this disruption. It is my hope that, in the future, the district and union will involve their partners – most notably the State, the County, the City, and the private/philanthropic sector – in identifying and exploring resources that may be available to prevent another strike. For example, the County was able to help last week in locating funding for healthcare professionals on elementary school campuses, satisfying one of the longstanding issues on which all stakeholders agreed.”

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Transforming Communities with the Empowerment Congress

At the 27th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit on Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Weekend, about 1,200 people came to bear witness and celebrate the many ways that civic engagement can profoundly transform communities for the better.

Held at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) in Willowbrook for the first time ever, the Summit featured speeches from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, founder of the Empowerment Congress; as well as U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan, whose congressional district includes Willowbrook; and Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass, president of the California State Association of Counties.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“Dr. King stands as a global giant, one who stirred our souls and sparked our conscience to not only dream big for ourselves but to act boldly to ensure a better tomorrow,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “By continuing to be steadfast in our efforts to spur not just change but transformative change, we will succeed in building communities of opportunity for all Angelenos.”

“The beauty of the Empowerment Congress is that it is a vehicle from which people can directly and consistently participate in their government,” Rep. Bass added. “For years, members of the Empowerment Congress have stuck with the hard work of representing the conflicting interests in our community and working together to help our community. If this body existed around the nation, Americans everywhere would understand their responsibility to participate beyond the voting booth. I’m honored to be a part of this.”

Quattrosound performs at the 27th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“To produce lasting positive change in a community, its residents must first recognize their strength and power,” Rep. Barragan said. “Thanks to the grassroots leadership of the Empowerment Congress and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, more families in the Watts-Willowbrook area are being empowered to develop solutions to our most pressing issues and leading change through action. I am glad to see this year’s Empowerment Congress convening hosted in my Congressional District and look forward to the positive results it produces.”

The next generation of transformation is on its way to Willowbrook.  Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The theme of the Summit was Transforming Communities, and the plenary session showcased how the Empowerment Congress has supported community transformation over the years, including advocating for the rebirth of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, ramping up innovative solutions to homelessness, promoting workforce development in the bioscience industry, and calling for more diversity in the creative economy.

The Summit also featured five interactive workshops and a bus tour of Willowbrook, a community that once reeled from civil unrest but has since been transformed in recent years by unprecedented development that includes the sprawling Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus, Metro’s Rosa Parks Station, Magic Johnson Park, and CDU.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and CDU President Dr. David Carlisle at the 27th Empowerment Congress Summit. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

CDU President and CEO Dr. David Carlisle said, “As a community-founded educational institution located in an under-resourced area, we recognize the importance of formally organized civic engagement as a means of effective positive change.  It was a similar dynamic that led to the creation of CDU in the wake of the Watts Revolt over five decades ago.  We look forward to working with Empowerment Congress leadership and all participants to transform South LA and communities like it.”

Since 1992, the Empowerment Congress has worked to educate, engage and empower individuals and communities to take control of their futures. A precursor to neighborhood councils, it is a dynamic partnership among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and community leaders within the diverse communities of LA County’s Second Supervisorial District.

A selection of videos shown at the plenary session are available below:

Board Approves Millions in Aid for LAUSD

Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Amid a continuing teacher strike, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis that would identify millions in Los Angeles County funds that could be directed to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to enhance healthcare for students.

“Among the concerns raised by teachers is the need for more support services for students and, with this motion, we are doing what we can to be helpful,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, a former high school teacher himself. “LA County has sufficient resources and this is part of fulfilling our mandate to provide medical services to the most vulnerable.”

A Wellness Center at Manual Arts High School

The motion seeks to build on the infrastructure and resources that LA County already provides LAUSD, which includes dozens of school-based health centers, as well as mental health clinicians, crisis intervention training for teachers, and counseling for families. LA County is also currently working to build dozens of wellbeing centers in high schools to support teenage students’ social and emotional wellness and sexual health.

Specifically, the motion instructed the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to identify up to $10 million in potential funding to enhance mental health and wellbeing at LAUSD schools. The amount would make it possible to fund a healthcare professional on every elementary school campus five days a week. Research has shown that the sooner children experiencing trauma or distress can access professional treatment and support, the higher their likelihood to succeed academically and develop resilience and effective coping mechanisms.

“The mental health and wellbeing of our kids, schools, and neighborhoods must always be front and center,” DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin said. “We empower our future by identifying and addressing needs early and broadly through services at our school platforms. We are currently invested in a strong partnership with LAUSD, and this motion takes our commitment to a whole new level.”

The motion also instructed the County’s Departments of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health (DPH) to, within 30 days, identify strategies for supporting LAUSD in its efforts to hire school nurses and other health professionals.

LA County Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin and Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer testify in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“As a former high school principal, I know the importance of ensuring a healthy environment in our schools and DPH stands strongly in support of LAUSD,” DPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “Teachers, nurses, counselors, and parents all play a vital role in supporting our children and helping them become all they can be.”

LA County Office of Education (LACOE) Superintendent Debra Duardo, who recently assigned a team of fiscal experts to look into LAUSD’s worsening financial situation, said, “LACOE has long recognized that we cannot allow the unmet mental health needs of children and youth to stand in the way of their access to a great education.”

“As we continue to work with LAUSD on fiscal and operational health, we are encouraged by the leadership of Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis in recognizing the compelling need for funding for mental health services,” she added. “We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to ensure that every District in the County is equipped to support the social-emotional and mental health needs of our youth.”

Courtney Powers with the Community Clinic Association of LA County, which represents several operators of school-based health centers, also supported the motion. She said, “Our health centers are places of trust in the community and schools are too, so this is a terrific opportunity to expand reach to students and families in need.”

“When the physical, emotional and psychological needs of children are met, we all benefit from their ability to focus on learning,” said Michael Green, LA County Regional Director for SEIU Local 721. “If, through this investment, we increase the wellness and learning ability of a child, then we are making a positive change for their future, and the future of our community.”

 

A Strike Teaches the Wrong Lesson to Our Kids

Op-Ed

By Mark Ridley-Thomas, Diane Watson, Steven Bradford Curren Price

As public servants – some of us are former educators as well – we have learned valuable lessons about the classroom:

First and foremost, teachers are truly unsung heroes who make a real difference every day by enabling and empowering students to achieve their dreams.

Second, teachers are underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated while facing daunting challenges. Nowhere is this more evident than the Los Angeles Unified School District, where nearly two-thirds of students struggle to read, write and speak English fluently.

Third, teachers and students alike cannot perform at their peak efficiency when classroom sizes are too big.

The union leaders representing Los Angeles Unified teachers would have us believe that the solution to these problems is waging a strike that would disrupt the lives of so many students and their families.

Today, more than 400,000 students who live in poverty, 60,000 special needs children and 20,000 homeless kids rely on LAUSD for essential services, including serving 1 million meals a day.

Since taking office in 2014, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl has repeatedly threatened to instigate a strike against LAUSD. Caputo-Pearl has now put a strike ahead of the well-being of our children.

We see no reason for a strike and implore Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA leaders to rethink their approach at the bargaining table by putting the needs of students first

A strike won’t resolve the many pressing issues confronting the nation’s second largest school district.

A strike won’t provide the infusion of funds needed to avert the looming insolvency of Los Angeles Unified.

A strike won’t get UTLA all of their demands.

The facts are clear: Los Angeles Unified is on the brink of financial disaster. Independent experts who have inspected the district’s books have confirmed that the $1.8 billion reserve is a mirage. Indeed, all of the reserve money is earmarked to be spent within two years.

With a deficit projected to surpass $400 million in the upcoming fiscal year, the district may become obligated to spend more outside the classroom than inside.

That means the current “surplus” won’t save LAUSD from having to declare bankruptcy and be taken over by the state or broken up into separate districts if the LAUSD is forced to make further economic concessions to resolve a strike.

We’re already seeing this scenario play out in the Sacramento City school system, where public school leaders say they will run out of cash by the end of this year.

California school districts receive state funding based largely on attendance. In Los Angeles Unified, enrollment has declined precipitously, to 500,000 students today from a peak of 700,000 in the 1990s.

Already, California ranks near the bottom with states such as Mississippi and Alabama in funding levels for K-12 education. By comparison, New York City, the nation’s largest school district, provides more than $20,000 per pupil while LAUSD provides $15,000 per student.

Amid this bleak financial picture, most people agree on the priorities moving forward for Los Angeles Unified students and families.

• Teachers make incredible personal sacrifices to help their students succeed and they should be paid more. Both sides have agreed to a 6 percent salary increase recommended by a neutral Fact Finder.

• Smaller class sizes and more teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians are needed to make our schools better.

• A renewed focus on the classroom begins with recruiting and retaining talented educators.

We urge leaders for LAUSD and UTLA to put aside their differences and put the needs of children first. That starts with negotiating a fair settlement in good faith to avoid a strike and working together to demand more federal, state and local funding for our schools.

Los Angeles County’s economy is the 17th largest in the world. An insolvent school district sends a very bad message and weakens our economic strength. It is incumbent upon all of us to find a way so that future generations of Angelenos are empowered to lead our industries and to live in thriving communities.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the Second District, and former schoolteacher; Diane Watson is a former Congressmember and LAUSD Boardmember; Steven Bradford is a State Senator representing the 35th District; Curren Price is a Los Angeles City Councilmember representing the Ninth District, and community college instructor.

 This article is republished with permission from the Southern California News Group.

Making Rehabilitation a Priority in Jails

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility and Mira Loma Jail Proposals

“While making unprecedented strides in safely diverting youth and adults from the justice system, Los Angeles County remains committed to ensuring those already in custody receive more humane treatment. There is urgency in replacing outdated jails, but we must be confident that any plan to do so prioritizes rehabilitation, healing, and family connections.This is particularly important for the growing number of incarcerated women, many of whom have histories of trauma.”