Wednesday, March 07, 2007


by Richard J. Riordan

Opinion in LA Daily News

Can you imagine a more shameful figure than our schools' 50 percent dropout rate?

Unfortunately, there is one - and that's the alarmingly low percentage of registered voters who cast their ballots in the last L.A. school board election, a mere 19 percent.

smf adds: Seven percent voted on Tuesday! The election was decided (where it was decided) by a very small collective yawn.


March 5, 2007 - When surveyed, people in Los Angeles and across the nation identify education as their top public-policy concern - as they should.

After all, education has a direct impact on our economy, our crime rate and our homeless rate - virtually all of our city's greatest social challenges. And right now, Los Angeles public schools are in a crisis; despite the almost $8 billion annual district budget, 50 percent of Los Angeles public-school students are dropping out before graduation.

Can you imagine a more shameful figure than our schools' 50 percent dropout rate?

Unfortunately, there is one - and that's the alarmingly low percentage of registered voters who cast their ballots in the last L.A. school board election, a mere 19 percent.

If we truly value our children and our democracy, then we need to change our behavior, and fast.

Four of the seven Los Angeles school board seats are up for election Tuesday, and I urge every Angeleno to go to the polls to express his or her concern for our next generation. Our public officials need to be held accountable.

With more than 700,000 children attending Los Angeles public schools, I believe it is our moral obligation to vote. This is not a partisan issue. Nor is this an issue that only affects the parents of public-school students. It affects every one of us.

The wealthy families that currently pay a "double-tax" in the form of their children's private school tuitions have reason to go to the polls.

The employers who cannot find a quality, literate work force have reason to go to the polls.

Those afraid to leave their homes at night in fear of gangs - gangs whose recruitment efforts prey on high school dropouts - have reason to go the polls.

Keep in mind that your vote in a school board race has a far greater impact than it would in a national or gubernatorial election. In fact, in the 2006 race for school board member Jose Huizar's vacant seat, less than 25,000 people voted. This means that less than 25,000 people made a decision that would affect all 3.2 million Angelenos.

What should we look for in ideal candidates? Without a doubt, the three most critical attributes are a commitment to always placing children first, a will for change and a proven track record.

We cannot afford to have people in office who are representing adults rather than children. With so much money poured into school board elections by the unions, this becomes a real and ongoing concern.

We must vote for school board leaders who will demand and deliver reform, individuals who feel outraged by the status quo in our schools.

The only way we, as voters, can actually know whether this year's candidates have the capacity to deliver on their reform promises is to look at their track records.

Regardless of whether you support Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's mayoral takeover legislation, you must surely agree with its premise. We need real accountability in our school system.

Until we have the mayor to hold accountable, as residents of Boston, New York City and Chicago do, then we must take that extra step and show up to vote in off-year elections. We must pay careful attention to our school board members and to these critical races.

Our city's voter apathy is particularly shameful in light of the extreme sacrifices that have been made at home and abroad securing an individual's right to vote. Democracy is a privilege. Let's make it work. Only by doing so will we have the chance to make our public schools work, too.

Richard J. Riordan, counsel with the law firm of Bingham McCutchen LLP, is former mayor of Los Angeles and former California secretary of education.


Mayor Riordan and I haven’t agreed on much recently. PTA has sued to block Mayor Villaraigosa’s school takeover which Riordan supports with varying enthusiasm - I certainly don’t buy Riordan’s “until we have the mayor to hold accountable” for LAUSD hogwash.

But Tuesday’s election had only a 7% turnout and I do agree with him on his identification of the problem here: Low voter turnout/apathy/whatever …in (I quote) “off-year elections”.

Here’s what I propose, and maybe it’s something we can all work on together: Parents, teachers, voters, taxpayers; valley folk and city folk; current and past mayors.

LA’s City Charter calls for municipal and school board elects to fall when the do – in March and May of odd numbered years in off-year elections. Let’s change that to the dates of the primaries and general elections for national and statewide elections in even numbered years. When congressmen, assembly members, senators and the governor and president are on the ballot!

This will save the taxpayer’s money and the voter’s time — and make our visits to polling places more meaningful. Who knows, more people might actually vote in fewer elections!

Scott Folsom, president
Los Angeles Tenth District PTA


Alex Walker said...

Scott, you don't get it.

The political machines, both the "inner-city" Democrats and Republican "Angry White Men" depend on high levels of apathy.

Richard Riordan is full of beans. If he and his high-powered, super-rich Republican cronies really wanted "reform" they'd be willing to get their hands dirty and come around my neighborhood to fight for it.

All they do is write out checks and spew a lot of Rush Limbaugh - style "talk show" trash.

Alex Walker said...

Check out my commentary posted on:

California Greening