His successor now in place, Supt. David L. Brewer III will officially leave the Los Angeles Unified School District on Dec. 31. - Photo by Gary McCarthy
“Now you’re asking our Black kids to be subjected to the same racism that drove David Brewer out of office.”
BY LEILONI DE GRUY, Staff Writer LA Wave
Thursday, 18.DEC.08 -- Two days after the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted 5-2 to buy out the remaining two years on Supt. David Brewer III’s contract, Black leaders gathered on the steps of Dorsey High School to address the racial implications of Brewer’s ouster and what they view as a crisis in the quality of education offered to the city’s African-American students.
“Over the past few days there have been a lot of questions about the leadership over at LAUSD, particularly with David Brewer,” said Reginald Sawyer, president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference-L.A.’s board of directors. “A lot of African-American leaders are concerned about that and they’ve come together to discuss the matter of L.A. Unified, specifically our African-American students at LAUSD and the quality of education that they’re getting and hopefully what they’re going to get in the future as we move through this process of hopefully selecting a superintendent that is more sensitive to our needs and the needs of this school district.”
But SCLC-L.A. Executive Director Rev. Eric Lee was more interested in focusing on the needs of African-American students than on the furor surrounding Brewer’s forced departure.
“Superintendent Brewer’s resignation after only two years is an indicator of the continuing crisis in public education in Los Angeles,” said Lee. “Our focus is not on Superintendent Brewer or his resignation. Our focus is on the decades of failed education that has resulted in African-American students dropping out of school at a higher rate than every other ethnic group. Our focus is on the extremely wide achievement gap between African-American students and White and Asian student counterparts. Our focus is on the clearly evident disparities and quality of education between minority inner city schools and the wealthier, White suburban schools. Our focus is on changing the unequal educational system to one that provides an equal education to all of our children. Our focus is on stopping the flow of resources designated for improving the quality of education in inner-city schools where the [federal] funds are being used to support the core curriculum education in suburban schools.”
With this, African-American leaders and organizations, which include SCLC, Los Angeles Urban League, New Frontier Democrats and others, have asked the board to give them a role in charting the district’s future.
“First, we want to have a role in the selection process for the new superintendent by having a community representative on the selection committee. Second, we want the establishment of a task force, specifically for improving the quality of education for our black children,” said Lee. “And third, we want a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the school board to address these concerns and develop a strategic plan for the needs of the African-American students.”
At least some of those desires appeared to be undercut on Tuesday, when the LAUSD board gave Deputy Supt. Ramon Cortines a three-year contract to run LAUSD once Brewer steps down at the end of the year.
Above all, said Los Angeles Urban League President Blair Taylor, there needs to be “stability at the top. This district will now have had three superintendents in the last three years, is on a track to probably have four superintendents in four years and the problem is that we cannot identify an organization, either public or private, in the government section that can have four leaders in four years and be effective. That is just outside the realm of [being] reasonable.”
Dwight Bonds, executive director of the California Association of African-American Superintendents, has suggested that the number of Black superintendents is declining at an alarming rate. According to Bonds, five Black superintendents have lost their positions over an eight-week period, bringing the number from 23 in 2007 down to just 13 today.
Brewer was appointed superintendent two years ago after being chosen by a special committee to run the nation’s second-largest school district. Test scores in the underperforming district increased during his tenure, but Brewer was also criticized for what some saw as ineffectual leadership — particularly since the middle of this year, when he was widely perceived as having turned over most of his duties to Cortines.
One Brewer critic, Larry Aubry of Community Call to Action and Accountability, said, “I think there were some racial implications, I don’t have the information inside but I don’t doubt there is any question that there were racial implications because it’s been perceived as racially charged therefore it has those implications and you have to deal with those implications. But on the other hand I think that Brewer is an abomination. I think that Brewer was not doing his job. He came in here, he had this big euphoria. …The reasons [for his dismissal] were founded but the process was absolutely messed up.”
As for African-American students, Aubry accused Brewer of having “no vision, no connection. … Brewer didn’t even have a handle. Staff in Brewer’s own shop — high level, low level, teachers — all say the same thing substantially, which is that he’s not accessible, we don’t see him, we don’t know where he’s coming from after two years.”
According to Marguerite LaMotte, the only African-American currently on the LAUSD board, her “no vote [on the buyout] was based upon several tenets, including “potential racial discrimination that … has to be investigated.” She added that LAUSD data reveals that students have progressed under Brewer’s leadership, forcing her to question the board’s dissatisfaction with his work.
“As reported in most of the media, external forces continue to unfortunately be the driving force of this board,” said LaMotte. “This occurs to be the potential failure of focusing on what’s best for adults rather than focusing on what’s best for students and their families. While I am disillusioned by the antics and power tricks that resulted in the demise of Brewer’s superintendency of this district, as one elected to serve my constituency, especially the underperforming students … I shall continue to work hard.”
Longtime L.A. resident Jack Johnson said the board doesn’t “want to come straight to the point [and say] that a Black man was removed because the school district is of another race — primarily most of the students are another ethnicity — and that’s why he was released. He was clearly forced out, he had no intention, David Brewer was not looking to leave the [district], he was not looking to leave his superintendency, not at all. I think the pressure was on him such that he felt like ‘I can’t even do an effective job because the people I’m supposed to be working with are undermining me and going through the media to seek my ousting.’
“It clearly was racism and you know all the politicians across this city and all the Black leadership, self appointed, can claim all they want that this was nothing to do with that and we need to look forward,” Johnson said. “Well now you’re asking our Black kids to be subjected to the same racism that drove David Brewer out of office.”