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School board tardiness

The next time it starts a meeting on time might be the first. Sadly, this is all too common in local government.

October 28, 2006

LOS ANGELES SCHOOLS, as parents and students can tell you, can be strict in handing out tardy slips for late students. It's time they issue a few to the school board too. As with students, the tardy count should go on the board's permanent record. Then maybe board members would finally realize what teachers and kids already know: A proper education means everybody showing up promptly to get through the work of the day in the time allotted.

Instead, this last week, the week before and other times previously, the board has started its meeting a full hour late, while the couple of dozen people who had business to discuss fidgeted, checked their watches and asked the shrugging guards where the members were and when they might appear.

One of those waiting was a young woman who is studying to be a teacher. Her assignment for the day was to see how the school board operated. She learned an unwelcome lesson or two about how people in power don't always show the expected courtesy toward the public they are supposed to serve.

At the other end of the boardroom, a group of eight people who had come to make a presentation stirred restively. "We wolfed down our lunch to rush over here on time," one complained to a companion.

It's bad enough that, once started, the board drags through its business. Members seem to view many agenda items not as issues to resolve but opportunities to speechify -- one by one, each speech pretty much repeating the one before. "Time certains" -- agenda items that are supposed to occur at a specific time --should be renamed "time -- we'll sees." Sometimes they happen, sometimes they don't.

At a minimum, the start of the meeting should not be a "time -- we'll see."

When the meetings finally got under way, at least these last two weeks, no one offered an explanation or even an apology for the long wait. Manners, manners.

Not that the school board is the only government group guilty of discourteously wasting the time, and therefore the money, of the public and the people who come before them. Members of the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors are notoriously late to their own meetings.

It is, to quote a phrase used on many a wayward kindergartner, not OK. But especially not for the people whose job includes setting an example to the 700,000-plus students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Maybe now that the board has selected an ex-military man, David L. Brewer, to head the district, the members will hear a new wake-up call.

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