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Promote Education Over Image

April 14, 1992

A high school senior has to take on the duties of a band teacher. Students often have to clean school restrooms because custodial services have been cut back. Science teachers are forced to cancel experiments because they can no longer afford chemicals. A sewing teacher is reduced to begging for donated fabric. With money for replacement of school supplies diminishing, many teachers no longer allow students to take books home; information for homework is sent home on photocopied sheets--if the teacher remembers to stash away enough copy paper.

These are just a few of the real-life examples cited by Times staff writer Sandy Banks earlier this year in a Los Angeles Times Magazine examination of hard times at one Los Angeles public school, Grant High in Van Nuys.

Contrast that picture of making do amid chronic shortage with the $250,000 that Los Angeles Unified School District administrators chose to spend during the last year for, of all things, public relations and an opinion poll.

Now, $250,000 in the district's annual budget of $4 billion is not a huge amount. But spending a quarter of a million dollars to combat the district's negative image among the public begs the question of why the image is negative to begin with.

Do district officials really need to pay a pollster $158,000 to tell them that a school construction bond issue might have trouble passing muster with voters because the district suffers from a "negative image . . . and . . . strong concerns expressed by voters about its direction, policies and administrative efficiency " (emphasis added)?

The district already has its own $1-million-a year communications division, which has 12 full-time employees, including a director who makes more than $93,000 a year. But apparently the district needed even more professional public relations help, so it hired a firm to help coach and instruct Supt. Bill Anton and board President Warren Furutani on, as Furutani put it, "getting our message out . . . we haven't been very good at it."

On that, we agree. And we might suggest that a far better way to get the district's educational message out would be to spend its money on educational programs--for the students.

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