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Throwing Good Money After Poor Education

We should get some answers before giving more to the L.A. school district.

May 25, 2002|ROGER LEWIS | Roger Lewis retired from Lucent Technologies. He lives in Encino.

With the Los Angeles Unified School District board publicly agonizing over how to balance its budget, perhaps this is the time to ask what some would consider a stupid question: Is more money really needed to operate quality schools?

What is the money to be spent for anyway? To give Supt. Roy Romer a job? (I guess Enron's CEO wasn't the first to say he didn't know what was going on.)

To give principals jobs? So that they can stand out on the campus with whistles and two-way radios, avoiding the pressing questions that teaching and office staff may be asking?

To give teachers jobs? Well, here we're getting close to what I would think is the reason for the schools' existence: to provide an environment where teachers and their students can interact in a way that will promote wholesome growth and development of the students.

But just as a company in the business world can lose its focus on its customers or clients, will the LAUSD escape a similar fate because the community continues to pour money into a sick enterprise?

How many private schools spend less per student yet are justifiably proud of what they are accomplishing?

Will the LAUSD continue because the community doesn't have the will to challenge the effectiveness of the ethno-politico apparatus whose members seem more interested in building careers in politics?

Perhaps it's time to start with some zero-based budgeting for the school system. If every line item in both the operating and capital budgets was subjected to the scrutiny of the question, "How is this going to assist the ongoing process of learning in the classrooms?" one might indeed be amazed at the vastness of what could be eliminated.

From Romer on down, it should be asked: What are you doing to remove obstacles to learning in the classroom? Have you appointed competent people to look at these situations, to provide specific and concrete recommendations and to ensure that these are implemented? Are people being held accountable?

Of principals it could be asked: Did you know that you're not just running a branch of the DMV?

Being retired from the corporate world, I thought I might be able to make a useful contribution to society by working part-time as a substitute teacher.

I went to one school recently where the faculty moved around in a dream world reminiscent of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Does the principal have any responsibility for faculty attitudes and morale?

At another school, the regular teacher had left a video to be shown to all his classes that day. When I asked some of the students why they weren't interested in watching the video, I was told that they had already seen it three times. It was a lesson plan that the teacher trotted out each time he was going to be gone.

Perhaps the question we should all be asking ourselves is this: Do we as a community have the will to make critical changes in the LAUSD, or do we just need a Dr. Jack Kevorkian to put it out of its misery?

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