City Government LAUSD

Four 4 Reform: Will the LA School Board Elections Make a Difference?

LAUSD Headquarters

The Los Angeles Unified School board races are finally over—with a fraction of the voters believing the runoff election mattered enough to come to the polls.
Two more candidates favored by Antonio-the-Mayor have won, bringing the Villraigosa-backed number on the seven-member board to four. Yesterday’s winners, Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic, who joined the previously elected, Yolie Flores Aguilar and Monica Garcia, are all theoretically reform-minded people.

The most significant defeat was handed to the Valley’s Jon Lauritzen, the candidate who got buckets full of money from the local teachers’ union, UTLA, (yet was outspent, with the mayor’s help, by Galatzan).

Okay, so we’ve got ourselves a new school board. But does it matter?

So many questions remain to be answered. Things like:

1. Will the Four for Reform give any actual power to the Mayor?
(Like, say, dominion over a “cluster” or three of schools, like he wanted and didn’t get with his Constitutionally-challenged school reform bill?)

2. Is that even a workable idea at this point?

3. Will they instead decide, screw the union’s objection to charters, and partner in some way with Green Dot’s successful charter school king, Steve Barr?

4. Or will they really throw all caution to the Santa Ana winds and go for both of the above?

5. And, last, can the new Fab Four manage to resist and defeat LAUSD’s Evil Bureaucratic Force-Field (EBFF) that has sucked the souls out of previous board members?

Question Number Five is, of course, the one that will determine the outcome of the other four.

(By the way, mad speculation about What It All Means may be found in the LA Times, the Daily News and the LA Weekly. For my money, the Weekly’s column by former LA Times blogger, Janine Kahn, has probably has the most interesting analysis of the three.)

Sure, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the ability of the district to reform itself (as I generally am).
Yet, the news has been SO bad for so long, that there seems to be a new sense of desperation in the air that might possibly, for the first time in years, bode well for real change. For instance….

…Superintendent (& Admiral) David Brewer wrote a kick-ass editorial
for the Times on Monday, in which he was candid about what’s wrong at the district including: “lack of accountability throughout the organization.”….a “vicious, failing cycle”… an “old way of trying to fix our ailing schools [that] will take longer than any of our lifetimes….” and more.

Similarly, when the Reform Four held a post victory Photo Op at 9th Street Elementary school in downtown LA, they talked about “urgency,” their “deep desire” to work with the charter community, a commitment to “streamline” the bureaucracy. And, along with Brewer, they said they would “seek out” partners, “and that includes the mayor.”

All good words.

Yet, the aforementioned LAUSD EBFF is a mighty power.

An emblematic example: Last week, after the majority of the 73 tenured teachers at failing and gang-ridden Locke High School voted bravely —and with the blessing of their principal, Frank Wells—to hand over Locke to Steve Barr and Green Dot for a “conversion” into 10 smaller charter schools, how did the district react to this completely legal maneuver? (A maneuver that is, FYI, completely in keeping with the No Child Left Behind mandates.) Did they applaud the teachers’ wonderfully pro-active move to improve the educational life of their students? Or did they wipe their collective brows with relief that someone else was going to “partner” in saving the chronically bottoming out school?

Nope. And nope. They fired the principal and escorted him off campus for supposedly “allowing” his teachers to “leave class” in order to sign and circulate the Green Dot petition. (An accusation that both the teachers and Wells say is preposterous.)

So much for partnership.

Like I said, the LAUSD EBFF is a mighty power.

Stay tuned. The complete foursome will be seated in July, and it’s at least bound to be interesting.


  • I hold out absolutely no hope whatsoever for public school systems to be successful in meeting its duties and parents’ expectations–ever, and no matter what they say will change. I’m happy to get to the bottom line so fast for you. Next problem?

  • Since Woody doesn’t believe in PUBLIC anything unless its a police department or a prison we can safely ignore the sage of Georgiaa on this matter. And any time he wants to see successful public schools I’ll be glad to take him down South (that is South of LA County) to se Newport Harbor or Irvine Public schools. Or Cerritos where the schools are a big reason for the property values.

    But back to LAUSD. Why should this round of “Mayor’s members” work any better for Antonio than the last time did for Riordan. The UTLA is going to be there and they can wait Villaraosa out. And remember what happened to Dick’s picks. Two were dumped at the next election. If Antonio wants some lasting say over the board he should do what the court suggested. Prepare an iniative for the ballot and campaign city-wide for the levers of power he needs. I’m not going to hold out much hope otherwise.

  • It’s hard not to be pessimistic about school reform anywhere… at any level. We seem to be continually locked into a Ready, Fire, Aim sequence. I can’t get to LAUSD’s documents to check my notions… [lost Adobe reader when I swapped out my hard drive – currently downloading – takes freakin’ forever on a phone modem]… so I’m shooting from the hip. If my speculation is correct, the organizational chart for the district would look like a rat’s nest. The feds have an interest in public education, the state has an interest in public education, and the locals have an interest as well. Where I live, every time the feds and the state issue a set of mandates (IDEA, NCLB, etc) another whole layer of bureaucracy gets shoved into the mix. I’m enough of a teacher still, to howl that never in my experience has another layer of bureaucratic nincompoops improved my life, or the lives of my students in the classroom. Never. I can’t help but wonder if LASUD’s biggest problem isn’t its sheer size. I assume the very tall building in your photograph houses the district’s administration. The sheer height of the building, and the number of offices it must hold, suggests to me that LASUD’s biggest problem is right on the block where it stands.

  • Good analyis, Celeste. The fact that 6% of the electorate turned out for this important vote is an alarming indicator of just how strong the EBFF is in alienating LAUSD’s stakeholders. The new board is going to have to do SOMETHING very tangible to at least create the impression of improvement. Without that much of an effort and a tangible result, the schools will soon be left with NO viable political constituency. Ive come 180 degrees on this in the last 10n years.. from opposing LAUSD break-up to advocating the use of TNT.

  • Size Matters
    Ask LAUSD if we should reduce class sizes – Answer Yes
    Ask LAUSD if we should reduce school sizes – Answer Yes
    Then ask if we should reduce the size of the school district — ??? long pause and stuttering…

    While espousing the virtues of small schools with a community atmosphere, our public school system has grown monstrously large school districts, expecially in poor urban areas.

    For decades, now, we have accepted the premise that a large city requires one mammoth school district whose boundaries coincide with those of city limits.
    In 1937, there were 119,001 school districts for 247,127 schools.
    In 1970, there were only 17,995 districts
    In 1997, there were only 14,841 districts.
    (National Center for Education Statistics)

    But, large public school systems suffers from penalties of scale – LAUSD is a prime example
    In many human endeavors, one large organization avoids the duplication of effort and administration that is present when 10 smaller organizations serve the same populace.
    Paradoxically, the larger a school district the more resources it devotes to non-essential activities and the less recourses to teaching.
    40% of Detroit’s district employees teach. (maybe similar to LAUSD)
    63% of Rhode Island district employees teach (12 small districts)

    See LAUSD non-essential offices — (all 39 pages)

    The average American public school district has six schools and approximately 3,600 students — for an average school size of 600 students. My school district has 4 high schools (in north Orange County) and two of the high schools are outstanding.

    In comparison, the Los Angeles Unified School District averages 1,039 students per school and approximately 741,000 students with 74,000 employers and 600+ schools.

    A 1989 study found “As specialization in staff grows, program offerings expand, and administrative personnel increase, problems of coordination and control also increase. And in large systems, time and energy are more likely to be shifted away from core service activities.”

    A second study in 1992 discovered that increasing school district size increases certain inputs to the production of education, but does not lead to higher output (student achievement).

    A 1990 study concluded that “school district size is the most significant factor in determining school size with consolidation/reorganization plans generally resulting in larger schools

    In other words, large school districts engage in “mission creep” In military circles, this refers to the practice of committing forces to achieve a limited objective, but finding it desirable to expand outward ostensibly to support the original objective. Often the “support” activities lose any connection to the original goal.

    In public education, mission creep is a common occurrence. Since children learn better when they are well-fed, the schools feed them. In the same way, schools provide transportation, counseling, childcare, health services, security, etc., every one of which may be very worthwhile and important activities. The problem? Soon these “support” functions require support of their own and before long the school district is no longer a school district, but a social services center. Education — the original mission — loses primacy.

    Lets stop making new/old studies and break this beast into 100 pieces. This one act would do more for education in LA than anything else

  • Please don’t tell me that the foreboding building featured in your graphic is the HQ of the Los Angeles public school system…

  • Yep, that’s the 29-story Beaudry Street headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Scary, huh?

    I’m afraid, in truth I feel as Marc does (and Pokey’s cited studies suggest) there’s nothing wrong with LAUSD that high explosives couldn’t cure.

    (Dear FBI, I really am speaking metaphorically. Honest.)

  • Hello all… That building is not just a nightmare to look at, but a terrifying maze once you enter. I have just begun working as an LAUSD teacher and my time at that building is enough to teach me that it is, in fact, a black hole. My biggest problem with both the bureaucracy of the District and UTLA is that each is incredibly reactive.

    Case in point with Locke. I cheered when I read the principal’s comments about the district’s inactivity and apathy a couple weeks ago. Once the teachers signed the petition, the LAUSD and UTLA bog kahunas were falling all over themselves to offer “plans.” Where the hell were these plans last semester? Last year? Last decade? Both bureaucracies claimed that teachers did not have enough information to make the best decision for themselves and students. B.S.. We who are in the trenches wrestle with the information everyday. It just makes me so indignant.

    By the way, Superintendent Brewer stopped by my classroom last week. It was a surprise visit. He is a charming man. My last comment to him- “Good luck, you are going to need it.”

  • Thanks, Ms. Feff. You confirm my fears. That high rise looks a little too close to some other “lairs” I’ve known, where not much good ever happens. And, in fact, some really scary stuff makes it’s way out.

  • Hi Ms. Feff,

    Your comments are a big help, since you’re the insider/expert on all this.

    Look at the newest post as it goes to exactly what you were talking about. Would love your opinion on that too.

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