“If America is a melting pot then somebody forgot to tell the inhabitants of Los Angeles.” — Film Critic ALISTAIR Harkness in his REVIEW of “Crash”
EDITORIAL IN LOS ANGELES WAVE
12 Dec 2008 -- From the moment a faction controlled by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa seized control of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, the conventional wisdom has been that LAUSD Supt. David Brewer’s days as the district’s chief executive were numbered.
This being L.A., the issue was, from the beginning, viewed through a racial prism, because the school board’s leader, a Latina, led the charge to remove Brewer, who is African-American. Race even played a role in bringing this drama to its climax: LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia first attempted to engineer his ouster last week; however, apparently afraid of how things would look, pulled back the effort when the board’s only Black member, Marguerite LaMotte, would not return from a previously scheduled trip to take part in a show trial — one in which everyone involved knew a verdict had already been rendered.
The only thing left was the posturing. So the blur of activity that resulted in Tuesday’s board decision to buy out Brewer’s contract, to the tune of an estimated $500,000, was really just the coda to a distracting melodrama that has finally played itself out.
Most reasonable parties understand that Brewer’s ouster was less about race, and more about who will ultimately control the LAUSD — officially or not. Like Garcia, Brewer’s expected temporary replacement, Deputy Superintendent Ramon Cortines, is a close ally of Villaraigosa — whose legislative bid to take control of the city’s schools was deemed unconstitutional by a state appeals court last year.
By taking out Brewer, who was selected by a former school board majority hostile to Villaraigosa’s dream of expanding his political portfolio, the mayor moves a step closer to pulling all the strings on an ineffective board that is far too eager to abdicate its core responsibilities. All to appease an ambitious mayor who has not yet proven himself capable of improving student achievement.
Especially in times like this, when the state of urban education is in serious crisis, school superintendents in big cities across the United States tend to come and go.
But even with all racial considerations aside, it seems particularly unfair to place the de facto blame for LAUSD’s failing schools on Brewer’s head by orchestrating his departure halfway into a four-year contract. In terms of test scores, the single factor that is currently — and perhaps unfortunately — in vogue as to measuring student achievement, Brewer has shown marked improvement during his brief tenure. He also won plaudits for placing an emphasis on Black student achievement — a high-profile effort that gave rise to suspicions that race did indeed play a part in his unpopularity with the school board.
This is why the racial suspicions persist, which Brewer has done little to dispel. And the community is reacting: On the day this editorial is published, a group of the city’s African-American leaders will hold a press conference responding to Brewer’s exit.
During it, they plan to demand substantial representation on a selection committee that will help choose a new permanent superintendent, and the formation of a task force to address the specific needs of Black students. According to an announcement about Thursday’s event at Dorsey High School, this would also include “a strategic plan for African-American students with a focus on Black males who make up approximately 274 gangs in 17 cities and five unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County.”
Fine, the school board didn’t want to give the former Navy admiral more time to build on his successes. As long as they understand that it is going to take one hell of a soldier to guide LAUSD through a political morass that has grown thornier due to the hasty — and costly — actions of this week.