The taxpaying public must wake up to the fact that public education truly is, as Los Angeles Schools Supt. Bill Anton put it, "a long-lasting solution . . . the one best chance we have" of solving society's problems.
As the recent civil upheaval demonstrates, Americans do respond to crisis. But unfortunately, many Americans must still be persuaded that there is a crisis. In one of its actions Monday, the Los Angeles Board of Education refused to rule out spending thousands more to pay outside public relations companies. PR work for the district, however well-intentioned, is far less important than retaining as many teachers as possible and holding down class sizes. By refusing to cut off this spending, the board lost an opportunity to take advantage of some free positive public relations.
The board is in dire need of friends--in Sacramento, in the voting public, in the media. Any effective public body understands the power of symbolism. Ironically, in its desire to keep its options open to hire outside consultants to help the district improve its image or pass more bond measures, the board lost its perspective on why it apparently needs so much image repair.
Helen Bernstein, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, put her finger on the problem: "If I wanted to convince someone this is a district in crisis, then I would cut all (nonessential) services before I cut teachers and support staff. . . . I'm not getting the message this is a district in crisis."
The sad thing is, this \o7 is\f7 a district in crisis, as is every major body in California that depends on public funding. The state budget shortfall is almost numbing. Cuts could include a $1.5-billion decrease in education funding, which could leave schools with less to spend next year than they had this year, despite surging enrollment. Los Angeles Unified schools could be in for cuts in the range of $400 million to $600 million next fiscal year.
All this is surely enough to make Anton, as he said, "sad, angry, frustrated and feeling betrayed."
All the more reason the board must be alert and astute in its advocacy of public education. The board members were neither when they failed to see that no outside public relations budget can be in the cards when teacher, security and maintenance layoffs loom.