YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The LAUSD blues

Elections for the school board and an amendment to the City Charter offer little hope for change in the district.

February 28, 2007

WITH FOUR OF the Los Angeles school board's seven seats up for grabs, next week's election could have been a moment of transformation for the plodding district and its many underperforming schools. Instead, it's another dispiriting reminder of how the system resists fundamental change.

Few of the candidates are especially noteworthy, and even the battle between Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (whose bid to assert more control over the schools is in legal limbo) and United Teachers Los Angeles (the most potent political force in school board races, and the one most resistant to education reform) is failing to generate much excitement. A proposed City Charter amendment, meanwhile, would further complicate an already convoluted relationship between the city and the school district.

Even if the mayor's plan to win partial control of the schools is approved by the courts, its effect would be uncertain. The plan complicates school governance rather than streamlining it, and it keeps the school board intact. Rather than a fresh start, this year's election plays more like a repeat of former Mayor Richard Riordan's effort to gain a say over district policy through the board. That bid did not bring about lasting reforms.

With this in mind, giving Villaraigosa his preferred majority on the board (he already has one ally in Monica Garcia) needn't be the overriding factor. The best members of the school board generally will be those who express a sense of urgency about reform and who understand that the board's time is better spent on policy than on micromanaging and speechifying.

District 1: Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte

LaMotte, the incumbent, hasn't exactly been a force for change. But her only challenger, Johnathan Williams, founder and co-director of the pioneering charter Accelerated School, is burdened with a considerable conflict of interest.

Ordinarily, Williams, who is considered an ally of the mayor and a more effective and enterprising school director than LaMotte was a principal, would be the more intriguing candidate. But the Accelerated School owes the school district more than $9 million for loans for the construction of a new campus, and last year it defaulted on its payments. Now is not the moment for Williams to serve on the school board. Recusing himself from loan discussions wouldn't be enough. As a board member, Williams would wield power over every staff member, including Supt. David L. Brewer, who might have to make decisions about Accelerated's payment schedule. It's enough to color Williams' relationships with administrators and his ability to make disinterested decisions.

That leaves LaMotte, a strong advocate for African American students who has been independent-minded despite her union backing. If she wins, she should view her second term as a chance to move beyond her usual ponderous pace and narrow interests to promote more sweeping and rapid educational advances.

District 3: Louis Pugliese

Incumbent Jon Lauritzen has spent far too much of his first term carrying UTLA's agenda, including his failed attempt to impose a moratorium on new charter schools. Villaraigosa's favorite for this seat, city prosecutor Tamar Galatzan, displays dismayingly little knowledge about the district and lacks a basic understanding of the appropriate role for the school board. She sees her legal expertise as one of her top qualifications for the job because she could ferret out problems in the district's many real estate contracts. That's the job of staff lawyers, not the school board.

Pugliese, an independent candidate, is the best choice, though without major funding, his chances are slim. A teacher and teaching instructor, he understands how well-intentioned mandates from the central office can become busywork in the classroom, and he voices a refreshing interest in clearing up bureaucratic floundering.

District 5: Yolie Flores Aguilar

Three-term board member David Tokofsky withdrew from the race, leaving the mayor's choice, Flores Aguilar, running against teacher Bennett Kayser. Flores Aguilar, chief executive of the county Children's Planning Council, shows a deep grasp of the district's strengths and shortcomings and has a compelling vision. She aims to move the board from its interminable conversations about contracts and other minutiae to pointed, policy-oriented discussions about how to mend the schools' weaknesses.

District 7: Richard Vladovic

Board member Mike Lansing, who has generally been a succinct and intelligent voice for reform, chose not to run. California Teachers Assn. organizer Jesus Escandon is short on needed expertise and a managerial sense of how a school board should operate.

Los Angeles Times Articles