American Voices LAUSD Writers and Writing

Sandra’s Burning Mothers


How do you make a change in a school district?
(Other than blowing up the district headquarters on Beaudry street some night, which would be wrong, likely not all that effective, and would also land one in federal prison.)

Sandra Tsing Loh thinks that mothers are the answer—at least a big part of it. If enough Los Angeles mothers get sufficiently pissed off and turn sufficiently activist, change is gonna come, damnit.

It has to.

To make her point—and to encourage the LA moms-with-school-age-children to rise up and get cracking—she talks about the issue on her KPCC radio segments. She’s written a book about the topic. Followed by a one woman show. She also organizes mom rallies, mom lobbying treks to Sacramento, and she helps at her kids’ school.

Now Sandra has written a new play about the issue called The Burning Momologues, which debuted this past Sunday night in a packed house full of mostly women at the Coronet Theater

It’s sort of like the Vagina Monologues, she said
at the beginning of the show. “Except that we’re talking about what happens when you actually USE your vagina.”

The show was indeed structured much like Eve Ensler’s popular play, with various actors reading …well….monologues all thematically related to the perilous job of mothering (or fathering), and the mayhem that can occur when moms and their kids collide with the sorry world that is Los Angeles public education.

Reading the parts of the burning moms (and a couple of dads), there were such actors as my beautiful and talented pal, Wendie Malick, John C. Reilly (a man of impressively unruly hair and excellently deadpan delivery), and the very funny, Margo Gomez.

The Burning Momologues turned out to be a very funny, very smart show that, if all goes well, Sandra intends to tweak and take to other cities to be performed by local actors (a la The Vagina Monologes), as well as repeating it in LA.

(I will let you know when there are firm dates.)

Before the show began, newly-crowned California poet laureate Carol Muske Dukes sang (rather than recited) an ode to the burning moms, which she had composed for the occasion to the tune of “Frank Mills” from the musical Hair, a show that Dukes confessed she performed in many decades ago in Paris. At least she understudied for one of the parts, but she assured those of us in the audience that she definitely got to take off her clothes on stage in front of Paris audiences, once upon a time.

(Judging by the clapping and whooping, the moms in the audience, myself included, found this news of past theatrical clothes-doffing to be extremely cheering.)

“The Burning Moms,” said Sandra, “are a guerrilla squad of L.A. public school mothers outraged by both continual California education budget cuts (the eighth largest global economy, California is 48th out of 50 states in per-pupil public school funding) and, on the other hand, the sheer bureaucratic waste of the LAUSD ($79 million this year alone has been budgeted for ‘consultants’). Meanwhile, it’s California’s children who are being squeezed — the only group that has no lobby. Most days it feels like only the Burning Moms’ burnt snickerdoodles are keeping our children in PE, art, music, etc.”

Sandra further expanded on her theme in an LA Times Op Ed on Tuesday of this week, just before Ray Cortines was appointed to replace the departing David Brewer as LAUSD superintendant. She suggested that the better choice for LAUSD Sup might be a Pit Bull PTA mom:

PTA moms are the very opposite of the $500,000-golden-parachute bureaucrats Brewer has come to represent. PTA moms draw no salary. We work nights, weekends, holidays. We bring our kids’ schools new resources every day — whatever we can load into our minivans. (Binders, colored pencils, toilet paper, snacks, basketball hoops and musical instruments are but some of the items I’ve seen moms deliver.)


My L.A. public school mom friend — and Oprah Angel Award winner — Rebecca Constantino is the founder of Access Books, a 10-year-old non-profit that brings 10,000 new and almost new books to each of the many needy LAUSD elementaries requesting them. Thanks to a web of volunteers and private donations, the books come absolutely free.

The only obstacle? LAUSD Central Library Services. It has capped Access Books donations to a maximum of 300 books a school (some with more than 1,000 students) because of an LAUSD cataloging cost of $18 a book!

Call me hormonal (what I actually call myself is a “Burning Mom”), but I believe the district’s director of Instructional Media Services should be fired — today! That would save taxpayers $119,724.84 a year, according to an L.A. Daily news website that allows you to check the salary of any LAUSD employee.


And then there’s the union problem. Even a chipper, resourceful PTA mom will have her hands full dealing with A.J. Duffy’s teachers union. Consider this sad tale.

Two years ago, the school my children attend was lucky enough to receive a VH1 “Save the Music” gift of 36 string instruments, the only requirement being once-a-week musical instruction. Not only could our Title I school not come up with $10,000 a year for an LAUSD teacher, there weren’t any available. Fortunately, a professional musician parent was thrilled to step in to volunteer. However, according to union rules, we could not call that person a “teacher” or “instructor” and technically could not bring the person into the classroom — we’d potentially be denying a teacher a job.

If you haven’t seen the pattern yet, ask yourself this: Whose needs are held hostage in every case? That’s right — the children’s….

(Read the rest, as there’s lots more, all distressingly true.)

Go Burning Moms! Go Sandra!


(NOTE: The above photo is courtesy of my new iPhone, which is the snazziest of all possible gadgets, but probably not what you ideally want when taking snapshots in low light from a distance. HOWEVER….since my fabulous son—AKA the person who made me a mom—just surprised me with this amazing and addictive item for my birthday last weekend [seriously, the apps alone are the coolest things ever], I could not resist using it. So sue me.)


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