Economy Homelessness LAUSD Social Justice Shorts

Social Justice Shorts



At 3 p.m. today, the UCLA School of Public Affairs’ Department of Social Welfare will present a poetry reading by three of the best poets of from the ongoing writing program at Homeboy Industries—Agustin Lizama, Robert Juarez and Hector Verdugo—whose work is published in the Homeboy Review. The reading will be at UCLA’s Moore Hall, room 100, 457 Portola Plaza and will be moderated by my fantastically talented novelist pal (and the founder of Homeboy Press) Leslie Schwartz.

If you’re anywhere around, just go. I’m stuck in front of the computer finishing a manuscript or I would assuredly be there. (I will, however, have a report on it later.)



A truly wonderful—and harrowing—Marketplace and American Radioworks series called Hard Times in Middletown, was broadcast on KPCC last night. The series visits ordinary Americans in Muncie, Indiana, and takes a look at how very hard things have become for decent people who are falling through the economic floorboards. Stephen Smith and Laurie Stern have done it right. They have spent nearly a year checking in on five different families. The result is an hour-long program that is an example of fine reporting and fine storytelling that paints an entirely human portrait of what is going on with many of our fellow Americans.

Here’s the opening of Smith and Stern’s rundown on their program: “For almost a century, Muncie, Indiana has been known as “Middletown,” the quintessential American community. But now, as the rust-belt city grapples with deepening recession, many residents are losing their hold on the middle class. Think of them as the brittle class, just one fragile rung above poverty on the economic ladder….”

The podcast may be accessed here.


Santee High School teacher Jose Del Barrio is one of those on Day 6
of the hunger strike that is being staged by dozens of dedicated LAUSD teachers in order to draw attention to what they believe is a budget mis-allocation as Ray Cortines and other district honchos try to figure out how to spend the drastically thinning district dollars.

I met DelBarrio when I was covering the actions of Santee’s dreadful then principal a year or two ago and was struck by his intelligence and dedication.

Yesterday on Twitter he wrote first:

Soooooo Hungry!

Then three hours later:

Hunger has gone away now, but headaches are back. I will try and teach tomorrow, but I am not sure if I can.

Today Jose is sipping water by the half-gallon and has posted an open letter from the fasting group that LAist has printed in its entirety. Here is one of the ‘graphs:

We urge you to spend whatever stimulus money is needed to stop any classsize increases and rescind all layoff notices to teachers. Beyond that,we urge you to abandon the impossible task of saving our schools by cutting our classrooms and we urge you to lead us in the struggle to findnew sources of funds so that our children are among the last to suffer under this economic crisis and not among the first.


In Sunday’s LA times, Christopher Hawthorne, the Times’ architecture critic,
wrote a very complete, very thoughtful, very smart and ultimately rather devastating review/contemplation/analytical essay about the design of the district’s controversial design monster, the eventual performing arts school that is now still known as Central Los Angeles Area High School #9. Just to remind you in case you’ve forgotten, the school, originally budgeted at $87 million to build, has come in with a final price tag of $232 million.

Here are the story’s last three ‘graphs. But, I promise, the whole thing is worth the read.

…For the most part, the district treated architecture not as a means of helping carve out humane classroom spaces under severe budget pressure but instead as a kind of extra or frill.

That led directly to the process that created the arts high school. Having failed to infuse most of its new campuses with innovative design of any sort, the LAUSD and its patrons moved to add capital-A architecture to the one on Grand Avenue. Cost overruns and other missteps then ratcheted up the price of the school to levels that have become politically embarrassing for district leadership.

But many of these conflicts and controversies were fated from the start — or at least from the moment that the district, having skimped on serious architecture in its other new schools, decided in this case to gorge on it.

(And in yet another life-is-strange moment, the architect who designed the building that we see looming above the 101 Freeway is, in all serious, named Wolf D. Prix. Yes, the Viennese architect is very gifted, and no it isn’t his fault that his name calls to mind the fact that he and his design wolfed down a gargantuan amount of money that our district couldn’t afford to have…um…wolfed. Also, at the risk of sounding protectionist, explain to me again why the district hired a Viennese firm to design this school—even if they do have an LA office?)

QUESTION: And while we’re on the subject of over-the-top school construction:
If the state is busily stealing borrowing money from every dedicated education fund it can find, why in the world can’t LAUSD similarly borrow from the construction bond money fund it is using to build schools that simply won’t matter if we don’t have an adequate number of teachers assigned to the damned things? Just curious?

Just remember, District Monstrosity #9 was originally budgeted at $87 million to build,
and came in, instead, at $232 million. Meanwhile the district just canceled all of its summer school and is slashing and burning other crucial programs with reckless abandon—all in order to deal with its $273-million deficit next year.

I leave you to contemplate those numbers, all in a row, for a minute…
…and then tell me what you think can and should be done.


  • Stop bashing public schools! the Arts high school has been attacked left and right, and this is so wrong!

    Of course this is one the Los Angeles Time’s favorite “sports” and so I am not surprised at all by this hit-piece by Hawthorne.

    First of all, this is a school that serves the entire Southland in an industry that serves this company town (i.e. Hollywood). Of course it should have a signature building, and the cost over-runs are vastly exaggerated by,

    yes, the Media (imagine).

    To keep attacking LAUSD is a part of the degeneration of public education in this State that is really embarrassing California in front of the whole World at this point,

    what gives??

  • Virginia, I have yet to hear it disputed that the school cost $232 million to build. If that’s wrong, show me where I can find the real cost.

    If it’s right—which until I hear otherwise I will assume that it is—this high school’s construction cost has totaled more than that of Disney Hall (Our Frank Gehry wonder cost $274 million to build). I’m sorry, but I think that’s just nuts.

    I would love for Los Angeles to have a wonderful Arts high school. But I would prefer that the money be put into great programs and great teachers—in short, things that will serve the kids. If Hollywood thinks they want a signature art school building, let them fork over the extra money to build the damned thing, and take the write off.

    I will always give the district credit when they succeed. If you read this blog regularly you will find that I am a strong supporter of innovative public education projects—like the Locke H.S. transformation, which was done in spite of the district, but it IS public education.

    But over-spending on this high-priced architectural gew-gaw is like buying diamond jewelry when you can’t afford to take your kids to the dentist.

    It’s not okay by any stretch of the imagination. And if saying so is part of the degeneration of public education, so be it.

  • First of all, LAUSD did not pay for this all (hence the loss of tax payer money has been greatly exaggerated), much of the money was donated money. Ramon Cortines said in a recent L.A. Times article:

    “”Everybody sees the opportunity to have this beautiful building at no cost, and they want it,” he said in an interview. ”

    Secondly, this was planned well before the depression hit, and now stands out glaringly – but why does THIS project take so much flack, instead of other, much greater developer nightmares.

    Thirdly, the school has been attacked for “not having many kids living nearby”. Come on!! Kids from all over the Southland attend this school.

    You are blaming LAUSD for money it didn’t spend, you are also adding to the not inconsiderable flack this project has been getting in our press, which is always hungry for public school “dirt”.

    Also, this school is a tribute to the Arts and students of the Arts. This needs the support of the City, not they outrageous flack, that comes at a time when public education needs our support more than ever.

    What I don’t understand, is why the Musuem of Tolerance hasn’t stepped in in LAUSD’s defense. They spent tax dollars destined for public education, in numbers far greater than the Arts high school. They received little flack (only from the Teacher’s union) yet have not risen to even make a public announcement in favor of LAUSD in this situation.

    This criticism they have been receiving is “over the top”.

  • And I am not a fan of Green Dot.

    The New Yorker publishes an article in support of corporate takeover of our schools?

    Green Dot is a Corporation. Haven’t we not had a big enough lesson yet,

    on the danger of corporate thinking when applied to government?

    Do we plan on wrecking our School system like we have wrecked our Banking system?

  • Celeste, I should add here that I have been investigating the behavior of the press in regards to public education in Southern California for 3 years, and so I am very attuned to the misinformation waves that have been issued from… who?

    But this site has a sound commitment to social justice and that is awesome,

    awesome site, Celeste!! much, much needed.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Virginia. (And sorry if I was snappish.)

    What you’ve been investigating sounds very worthy and interesting. I look forward to hearing more.

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