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Briefs: Debate tournament date debated, Weiss out of recall danger, Governor signs Iran divestment bill

October 18, 2007 | 8:00 pm

Debate Tourney Date Still Debated

The Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have turned up pressure on the California High School Speech Association (CHSSA) to reschedule the 2008 statewide debate tournament, currently slated for the first night of Passover.

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution last Friday asking CHSSA to rectify the scheduling snafu, which places the culminating competition of the debate team year on family seder night.

Additionally, the office in charge of secondary education at LAUSD has been in conversation with CHSSA, saying if all Jewish students cannot be included, LAUSD will host an alternative debate tournament.

CHSSA president Sharon Prefontaine said that her organization, an independent nonprofit, is still discussing these latest developments, and has no comment on them right now.

Earlier this month, CHSSA posted a statement on its website acknowledging the scheduling conflict but saying it is too late to change the April 18-20 event, a date that was approved by the board, including many Jewish members, two years ago. The tournament is attended by more than 800 students, plus parents and coaches. Santa Clara University and nearby hotels have been booked for a year. CHSSA rejected proposals at its Sept. 15 board meeting to investigate rescheduling the tournament.

Maintaining that it's not too late, Jewish groups and several powerful organizations in Northern and Southern California have coalesced to mobilize support for a date change.

LAUSD stepped into the conflict after a coalition of Jewish groups led by The Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council alerted them to the conflict.

"We try to make a concrete effort in L.A. Unified to provide equity of access for all of our students. It's a benchmark of what we are about, so we're very sensitive to it," said Francine Eisenrod, director of special projects at LAUSD.

Eisenrod spoke with Prefontaine about entertaining other options, but Prefontaine told her the topic would not be taken up again until CHSSA's next meeting in January.

Eisenrod is working on a letter, to be signed by Robert Collins, LAUSD's chief instructional officer for secondary education, that will offer to help CHSSA resolve the issue and will inform CHSSA that LAUSD will host an alternative tournament in the spring if no resolution is reached.

L.A. City Council president Eric Garcetti and City Councilmembers Wendy Greul and Jan Perry co-sponsored the Oct. 12 resolution.

At that meeting, Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's Pacific Southwest Region, told members that their vote in favor of the resolution would send a message to CHSSA that the community at large supports a date change.

Perry asked her colleagues to support the resolution, saying, "This is about making sure that all young people have a level playing field and about respecting each other's religious practices, beliefs and observances." Garcetti said that logistical issues should be able to be overcome.

"Just as scheduling something on Christmas or another notable holiday would not be on the schedule, we believe this should not be," Garcetti said.

For a link to a video of the city council session, go to "Item 53" at http://lacity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2188 or http://lacity.org/cdvideo_wm.htm, (Oct. 12 meeting, item 53).

-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Weiss Recall Effort Collapses

The effort to recall Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss collapsed this week when, days before the filing deadline, campaign organizers conceded they could not collect the 23,000 signatures needed to initiate a recall election.

"Therefore," committee member Kevin Singer wrote Monday in a letter to the city clerk, "the Committee to Recall Jack Weiss would like to take the honorable course of action and save the citizens and taxpayers of the city of Los Angeles the cost and expense of counting and verifying the signatures."

The campaign began six months ago in response to purportedly increasing traffic on the Westside and developer influence at City Hall. The committee's Web site, www.recalljackweiss.com featured a grinning Weiss sporting a cartoon hardhat with a dollar sign on it and holding a sign that stated: "Expect heavy traffic congestion and delays!! I'm making lots of deals that are going to add to your gridlock."

Weiss, who plans to run for city attorney in 2009, represents a broad swath from Century City to Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, but the recall effort was rooted in the Century City area. The councilman has not spoken publicly about the recall effort, and declined to on Tuesday. His political strategist, Larry Levine, said the outcome was expected.

"This was really a few angry people who went off on a tangent," Levine said. "We monitored it, took the pulse of it, made sure it wasn't spreading. Remember, when Jack got re-elected last year, he got 72 percent of the vote."

-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Schwarzenegger Signs Iran Divestment Bill Into law

On Oct. 14, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill prohibiting California's state pension funds from investing in companies doing business in Iran.

"At a time when the world is desperate for leadership, the governor has proven that courageous leaders can make a difference in fighting evil," said freshman Assembly member Joel Anderson, who authored the bill.

Also known as AB 221, the law will require the pension funds of the California Public Employees Retirement (CalPERS) and the State Teachers Retirement (CalSTRS) -- together valued at nearly $400 billion and funded by taxpayers -- to divest an estimated $24 billion from nearly 300 companies that do business with Iran. Local Jewish leaders praised the passage of the bill that puts economic pressure on Iran, which is believed to have been developing a nuclear weapons program over the last few years.

"The passage of AB 221 sends a critical message to Americans and to the world that regimes of terror such as Iran's will not receive the support of hard-earned retirement dollars from our state's employees. We hope that other states will follow suit," said John R. Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Last September, Schwarzenegger signed two similar bills prohibiting the state's pension funds from investing in companies with active business in Sudan and indemnified the University of California from liability that might result from its divestments from Sudan.

-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Remembering Begin

Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin was remembered last week as a proud nationalist and modest leader, whose principles are still relevant to Israel today.

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