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Beleaguered L.A. Schools

November 10, 1999

* Re "Board Buys Out Zacarias; Interim Chief Is Cortines," Nov. 5: Supt. Ruben Zacarias' $750,000 buyout, designated-Supt. Ramon Cortines' "willingness to engage in political brinksmanship," to quote your article, and the $200-million Belmont fiasco illustrate just some of the disastrous consequences of forgetting the only real rule that should govern every decision a school district makes: The classroom comes first.

Instead, the Zacarias deal has drained money that could hire 15 to 20 new teachers to teach approximately 400 students. Doubtless, the deal to bring Cortines in, well intended as it is, will cost hundreds of thousands more--thus depriving hundreds more children of classroom resources they deserve. And poisonously unfinished Belmont illuminates the same tragic flaw: the hubris of school officials who forget the classroom comes first.

The fall of the Los Angeles Unified School District is a tragedy that need not have happened. But tragedies also serve a classic purpose: They can teach us so we can reshape our lives. The new, well-meaning, reform-minded board could reshape the district by realizing that its future depends not on a single leader but on solutions that, at last, put the classroom first.

DOUGLAS LITTEN

Retired English Teacher

Woodland Hills

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* The citizens of Los Angeles are to be congratulated for their affluence and generosity! First, we spend $200 million on a school that probably can never be used. We are giving a $750,000 bonus to a guy who is being fired for doing a less than satisfactory job.

Now we are giving a pension larger than that given to any elected official anywhere in the U.S. to the widow of Sheriff Sherman Block (Nov. 5). Our generosity knows no bounds! Trouble is, our kids and our poor get zilch.

DON SHAW

Los Angeles

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