For more than 30 years each, Cheryl Smith-Vincent and Cheryl Ortega have shared a passion for teaching public school in Southern California. Smith-Vincent teaches third grade at Miles Avenue Elementary School in Huntington Park; before retiring, Ortega taught kindergarten at Logan Street Elementary School in Echo Park. Both women have been jolted by experiences with a little-known statewide policy that requires traditional public schools to share their facilities with charter schools. Ortega says she has seen charter-school children warned against greeting non-charter students who attend the same campus. Smith-Vincent reports that she and her students were pushed out of their classroom prior to a round of important student tests – just to accommodate a charter school that needed the space.
“It was extremely disruptive,” Smith-Vincent says of the incident.
The practice of housing a traditional public school and a charter school on the same campus is known as “co-location.” Charters are publicly funded yet independently operated,
Helicopters hover like hellish hogs
an infra-red shakedown.
We are the enemy, the face on the radio;
burnt petals cluttering the sidewalk.
We are daylight’s demise, dancing between
discord & distrust. All is bitter harvest,
betrayal and bewilderment;
all is seed for the fields of retreat:
bullets punctuate every poem.
Source: Trochemoche, published by Curbstone Press (1998).
Luis Rodrίguez has won numerous awards for his poetry, including the Poetry Center Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, and a Paterson Poetry Book Prize. He is best known for the 1993 memoir of gang life, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (paperback by Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster).
Judy West is a founding member and current president of Local 741 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME). She also works for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks as a recreation assistant and teaches “parent-and-me” classes. The department’s only fulltime employees are its directors and other administrators – assistants like West work halftime. Frying Pan News reporter Luke Dowling sat down with her to talk about the state of unions in Los Angeles.
Frying Pan News: Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be president of AFSCME Local 741.
Judy West: I was one of its organizers and was treasurer for a while, then became president. We had nothing before we organized. When a union rep came in and said, “We’ve been asked by different rec assistants to organize a union,” I said, “You got me!
For days before Thanksgiving, 2009, Santa Ana winds had been blowing up ash and dust from the massive Station Fire that recently burned north of Los Angeles. The scorching, high-pressure weather system seemed a suitable climate for L.A.’s financial meltdown as the city entered the third year of America’s recessionary slump. Inside City Hall on that Wednesday before the holiday, government representatives and members of the news media listened to the testimony of a man who was on his way to becoming one of Los Angeles’ most powerful figures. He was only 40, held no elective office and had started his job as the City Administrative Officer just three months before.
Yet on this Thanksgiving eve Miguel Santana held the rapt attention of the City Council and journalists as he delivered shocking news: Los Angeles faced an imminent shortfall of $98 million and, based on his projections, the city could be burdened by a $1 billion debt by 2013.
The ripples continue to spread from Frying Pan News reporter Gary Cohn’s piece on California’s enterprise zones, which were created in 1984 to help small businesses and create jobs by giving tax breaks to companies in the state’s economically depressed regions. Last Friday the Fresno Bee called for reform of the zones and today a Los Angeles Times editorial declared that nothing less than pulling the plug on the program would do.
The zones, said the Times, “were a well-intentioned experiment that was tried, failed and has been kept around too long. This is one experiment that should be ended, not merely mended.”
Cohn’s May 28 article appeared at the same time Governor Jerry Brown was maneuvering to reform the program out of existence. The Frying Pan News story emphasized that 61 percent of the enterprise program’s beneficiaries are companies with more than $1 billion in assets,