IN WHAT MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT have been an accident of timing, the Los Angeles Unified School District has produced an outside audit of itself -- just as others are calling for an outside audit. The review of the district's operations, though, leaves out as much as it addresses.
The 300-page report repeats familiar mantras about district accomplishments and failures. Test scores in the elementary schools are up. School construction is going well. But school leaders are remote and put too much power and personnel in the main office. The district is resistant to change and tends to engage in turf wars. Principals spend more time on business minutiae than on instructional matters. Teachers and staff aren't accountable, unions hold too much sway, and parents don't have enough input.
Despite its length, the review is short on specifics. Which departments are more interested in protecting their own turf rather than serving the best interests of children? Exactly what have they done, and what was the harm? In what ways are union contracts hampering schools?
Supt. Roy Romer said that even if the report doesn't give details, he knows how isolated decision-making can create problems. For example, he said, the food service department's attempts to cut costs resulted in a change in lunch schedules that allowed too many students to mill about at the same time, making it harder for them to get meals and increasing the chances for misbehavior.
But an audit of any public entity has at least two audiences: the agency's managers and the public itself. Audits are supposed to lay bare the otherwise unknowable and provide the public with a yardstick for measuring progress. If details about the problems aren't provided, then it's hard to know whether the problems are being solved.
For the public, already frustrated by the district's mysterious workings and opaque budget, the report's vague wording throws an irksome veil over school operations. Yes, the district deserves applause for its progress so far. It should also be commended for requesting the review, which was conducted by an organization representing the nation's largest urban school districts.
Yet there's still plenty of room for an outside audit to reveal the full picture of the district's successes and stumbles. City Controller Laura Chick has offered to do the job. All she needs is the cooperation and resources necessary to make it happen.