Looking for a Few Good Volunteers...

Walk onto many campuses across Los Angeles, and you will see parent volunteers bustling about, making copies, assisting in the classroom, opening car doors at drop off, writing grants or chaperoning field trips. On some campuses, parent volunteers joke that they put in more hours than a full-time job.

But how do we, as a school district, make volunteering easy and affordable enough to allow everybody to participate, while ensuring that we protect our children?

As a parent, School Board Member, and prosecutor, I know that we must balance the safety and security of our kids with the tremendous opportunities we have to harness the talented and energetic parents who want to contribute at our schools.

LAUSD believes "families are our partners," and one of the District's top goals is "parent and community engagement."

But whether due to budget cuts or increased security concerns, in recent years, it has become more expensive and more difficult to volunteer on our campuses.

In the past, parents were able to get fingerprinted at Youth Services satellite sites throughout the District, and the District's volunteer bulletin offered a list of clinics where interested parents could go to get a free tuberculosis test.

Now, volunteers must drive up to 35 miles to Beaudry, LAUSD's downtown office, to get the fingerprinting test that costs $56. Those who do choose to apply can wait up to three weeks after their application has been certified and submitted before receiving an official volunteer identification badge issued by the LAUSD Parent Community Services Branch (PCSB).

When I am out in the community, parents ask me what I can do to make it easier for them to volunteer.

I recognize the benefits of volunteering and have seen the results at my own children's school.

Having parents assist in the classroom (especially with larger class sizes) lets teachers offer individualized attention to students. Allowing volunteers to help on campus gives interested parents a way to support the school, and builds strong ties between school, home and community. Volunteers can also serve as powerful role models for kids, teaching them how they can give back to their own communities in the future.

And research shows that parent involvement is associated with higher student achievement.

And yet, slowly we have made it harder to volunteer on our campuses.

I also worry that these small changes become a barrier to lower income families who might not have the time to drive 35 miles to downtown, or the $56 to get fingerprinted. The PTA or Booster Club can pay for their tests -- but do they?

Eighty percent of LAUSD students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced price meals (Title I). Don't we want to empower parents who care just as much about their kids, but may not be able to take a day off from work to get fingerprinted?

As we head into the new school year, not making cuts for the first time in five years, I would like to consider changes to our volunteer policy that make it as easy as possible for every talented, energetic parent who wants to contribute to do so, while protecting the safety of our children.

To that end, I have introduced a resolution, "Increasing Parent Engagement Through District Volunteer Programs," which will be co-sponsored by Board Vice President Steve Zimmer and Board Member Monica Garcia. The School Board will vote on the resolution on Sept. 10.

This resolution seeks to make it easier to volunteer. In writing this we spoke with principals, parents, the Parent, Community, Student Services Branch, as well as nursing services, employee relations and the Los Angeles School Police Department. We brainstormed ideas that would be easy and affordable to implement, without compromising the safety of our students and schools.

This is what we came up with: to put together a list of LAUSD Wellness Centers and community clinics in every District that will offer TB screenings for little or no cost, to create an online volunteer application system this school year that would make it easy for parents to sign up (and lessen the burden on overworked staff), to better communicate about the District's volunteer programs, and finally, to organize a one-stop-shop "Volunteer Day" every year in every Educational Service Center, where prospective volunteers can get fingerprinted, TB tested, checked on Megan's list, and fill out the online application all in one place at one time.

To all the parents, grandparents, and community members who volunteer, thank you. To all of you who have wanted to volunteer, but have experienced barriers, I hope this resolution will make it easier for you to get involved at your local schools.