THE MAYOR AND THE ADMIRAL: L.A. SCHOOL BOARD INTO POWER, NOT INTO TEACHING KIDS.
THE Los Angeles Unified School District is like what Voltaire remarked of the Holy Roman Empire -- neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. L.A. Unified is unified only in its recalcitrance and immaturity. Should we have higher expectations of the Board of Education of the LAUSD than for the average junior high student? In a word, probably.
However, we should learn to live with disappointment.
From the start of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's efforts to bring order out of the chaos of the LAUSD, the board has acted in an offensively defensive manner, nixing any efforts at cooperation or consensus. Meanwhile, members have been threatening to use our money to take the mayor and the state Senate, Assembly and governor to court.
Is this about the education of our children or is it about power?
Both the board members' method of picking a new superintendent and their pick answer this question. This decision is about power -- their power -- and the kids be damned.
The timing of Romer's retirement and the picking of a new superintendent before the mayor could assert his veto authority were clearly intentional. The board was determined to make its pick without consultation or cooperation with Villaraigosa. This was a conscious effort to stick it to what is, in their view, the meddlesome mayor.
To the board, Villaraigosa is a problem to be vanquished, and not a partner in getting the best education for our kids.
In case anyone doubts that among the reasons for picking a military man was to stick it to Villaraigosa, board member Mike Lansing remarked with unbecoming glee that they had found someone who ``could go toe to toe with the mayor.''
Very mature and professional, Mike -- a promising start that promises nothing but trouble for our kids, power remaining with the board and bureaucracy, and the mayor frustrated at every turn.
Spokesmen for the board claim that the conflict with the mayor played no role in its timing. Is there anyone who believes this? And if the board is, uh, let's say, ``dissembling'' (it's so much nicer than ``lying'' and more accurate than ``misspoke''), given the legal doctrine of ``false in one, false in all,'' should we believe any of their claims?
Retired Navy Vice Adm. David Brewer III is clearly a good man with a distinguished military background. He is, however, free from being prejudiced by any information, tradition, experience or context. By picking someone not from the ``educational establishment,'' the board can claim that it is seeking fresh eyes and a new way of working with our immense district. This is nonsense.
Board members seem to have looked for someone with no experience in education and no experience working with unions -- from teachers to builders to service workers. Board members were looking for -- and have found -- someone who will not be able to get up to speed for a couple of years. He will not know how things actually work -- when they do work. Nor will he know why things don't work.
In that time, as Brewer is learning, the board and the bureaucracy will retain their perks and their power. And perhaps their most important power will be to manage Brewer's learning. The ability to interpret the information is where real power lies. As Brewer is learning what the board wants him to know, our kids will be stuck under the same regime that has so clearly failed them.
In going for a military man, instead of the model of former Colorado Gov. Romer, the board moves away from politics, which is the ``art of compromise,'' and toward one of top-down authority. The military model has worked so smoothly with postal workers, I'm sure we can all eagerly look forward to how well this will play with the teachers.
Personally, I don't know if giving power to the mayor is a good idea. It may be a bad idea in general, but with this particular mayor's experience, passion and charisma, it could work out -- if given a chance. But a chance is something that the board has no interest in giving, and power is something it has no desire to share. Sharing is one of those social skills that schools are supposed to teach. One might think that it would not be expecting too much for the board to model the desired behavior.
This may be a trifle obvious, but many in the business of education seem to have missed it: The business of education is educating our children. It is not about power or blame. It is about being grown-ups and putting the kids first.
The L.A. school board's process and priorities in making this ill-timed pick reveal for all to see that power, not education, is at the top of its agenda. What a waste of a good man in Brewer. What a missed opportunity for cooperation. What a shame for our children.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 22, 2006|
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