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Byline: Jeff Horton, Eyewitness

WHAT happened in the 1999 school board elections? As with most historical events there are both simple and complicated answers to that question.

The simple answer is that the oligarchy of Los Angeles, speaking through Mayor Riordan and the Los Angeles Times, decided they wanted to take over the school board. To this end they anteed up a lot of money - over $2 million - and combined that with a relentless campaign of discrediting the public schools and all of those associated with them, especially the Board of Education.

The process of trashing the schools required our esteemed newspaper of record, The Times, to resolutely turn its back on reality, which is much too complex to fit into the publisher's simple-minded slogans about the public schools. In this endeavor it was of course egged on by the hysterical rantings of the Daily News. It was this ignoring of reality that even today led the Times to cover a massive reorganization of district resources to end social promotion in the news pages and opine in an editorial that the board is clearly dysfunctional. Do they ever look up words in the dictionary? Go figure.

In retrospect, the game plan was clear in my candidate interview with the Times. Although some day-to-day reporters were present, the key player was (then) publisher Mark Willes. It became obvious during the interview that his ivory-tower view of public education would not allow any discussion of facts or programs. Even though I doubt if he has even set foot in a public school for years, he had his opinion that the schools were a disaster, and that conclusion wasn't open for discussion. I could see his eyes glaze over when I spoke of reforms, of improvements, of obstacles - he simply wasn't interested. Candidates who repeated his mantra that the schools were a disaster could expect support; those who didn't could forget it. Nothing else mattered.

This is an arrogance only found in ruling elites. In my campaign their money canceled out eight years of grass-roots activity on my part, building a coalition of labor, ethnic communities, the gay community, parents and employees. The LA Weekly's craven pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding, this was no revolution. It more closely resembled a coup d'etat. And if anyone believes that a bunch of rich white businessmen who live outside of the city are going to be saviors of the masses of poor and working-class students who populate our schools, then I have a garden estate in Death Valley to sell you.

But you might ask: Aren't there serious problems in the schools? Isn't it good to draw attention to those problems? I would answer that of course there are problems but that trashing the whole system is not a way of solving problems. All that was accomplished by the mayor and the publisher and the rich guys was that the public lost even more confidence in the one institution that more than any other supports our democracy. Will this lead to vouchers? Maybe. Will it make it more difficult to launch reform efforts when educators and parents see that the massive efforts of the LEARN reform, the standards movement and class-size reduction have only resulted in a disastrous system in crisis, according to the power elite? Yes, it will. Make no mistake about it, serious damage has been done to our public schools by this coup d'etat.

Our final comment about the issue used to hammer home their negative and destructive message: namely, Belmont High School. I supported this project, and I continue to support it. There have been problems, but I believe that they have been blown way out of proportion by self-promoting headline chasers on and off of the board. The underlying opposition to spending this kind of money for these kinds of children was the factor that raised the real but manageable problems to the level of hysteria and hyperbole that has made this proud school's name a synonym for disaster. It is an ironic but fitting comment on the oligarchy's effort that it was built on discrediting the district's effort to build a school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, a neighborhood they only look down on from their towers across the freeway.

My final opinion is that the mayor and the Times and the oligarchy have done great damage to the schools of the children of Los Angeles. My life will go on to future achievements and satisfactions, but the cause of educational excellence in Los Angeles has been dealt a severe setback essentially because of the concentration of too much wealth and power in too few hands. ``Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.'' (The more things change, the more they stay the same. - Editor)



Photo: Jeff Horton, then president of the school board, at an April 1997 news conference discussing Proposition BB.
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Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 10, 1999

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