It started as a story in The Times…
Sources say school board is scheduled to discuss buying out contract of superintendent, who has handed over most authority to Ramon C. Cortines.
By Howard Blume and Jason Song | From the Los Angeles Times
…played out as a strange piece of light Machiavellian political theater…
The panel met in closed session on the schools chief, who is facing increasing pressure to resign. The absence of board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte complicated the deliberations.
By David Zahniser and Howard Blume | LA TIMES
… descended, through chaos, into farce…
Schools chief is defiant as board’s only black member denounces effort to remove superintendent
By Howard Blume, Jason Song and David Zahniser | LA Times Staff writers
December 3, 2008 - Embattled Los Angeles Schools Supt. David L. Brewer vowed Tuesday to stay on the job amid an abortive attempt to force him to resign as head of the nation's second-largest school system.
Brewer, a retired Navy rear admiral midway through a four-year contract, said nothing would change in his approach to the job.
"You will not see any difference in my behavior up until the last minute of the last day that I'm in this job," he said in an interview with The Times. "After 35 years in the Navy and working in life and death situations . . . you learn to basically compartmentalize."
Early this year, Brewer addressed criticism of his administration by bringing in veteran retired Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to manage day-to-day operations. That move was widely viewed as a positive. It failed, however, to repair critics' perceptions that Brewer's management skills are not equal to the task of navigating the Los Angeles Unified School District's politics and funding crisis.
Board of Education President Monica Garcia attempted to lead an effort to dislodge Brewer but it began to fall apart Monday when she failed to persuade a key board member to show up at the meeting.
Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte was attending a previously planned, weeklong meeting of the California School Boards Assn. in San Diego. Despite Garcia's entreaties, LaMotte declined to return.
Garcia and her allies were reluctant to act against Brewer, who is black, without LaMotte, the board's only African American member.
Garcia tried to reach LaMotte in person and even dashed to Union Station in an attempt to catch her before she boarded a 2 p.m. train Monday, an aide to Garcia said. The panting aide, running in high heels ahead of Garcia, reached the platform just as the train doors closed.
In an e-mail, LaMotte said she later received a "dastardly request" to return Monday "via train or chauffeured car."
The request came from Garcia, who also called other board members to alert them of a discussion about the superintendent's future. Board member Richard Vladovic, who is sick with pneumonia, struggled out of bed to make the meeting at Garcia's behest.
LaMotte judged the entire last-minute notification as questionable. She has long been suspicious of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his attempts to influence the school district through his alliance with Garcia and other board members he helped to elect.
"The futile attempt to have me do an immediate turnaround upon my arrival here was a disingenuous and unconscionable coverup to exclude me from this strategically and externally motivated plan," LaMotte wrote.
Villaraigosa would not comment.
LaMotte also apparently worked the phones. By 6:30 p.m. Monday, a rhetorical firestorm was erupting. One principal reported that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) asked her "to spread the word that there is a 'surprise' motion to be made tomorrow to ask Supt. Brewer to step down" while LaMotte was out of town.
In a widely distributed e-mail, the principal also talked of a campaign to flood board members and the mayor with e-mails and calls of protest.
Waters did not respond to a request for an interview.
Not all board members were thrilled by the unfolding events.
"I was distressed by the process," said board member Marlene Canter. "There are seven board members, and a conversation of this magnitude needed to take place with all board members" and not, she added, in such a hasty manner.
On Monday, Garcia tried to do what her office characterized as "outreach to civic leaders" to alert them of "an important issue" in the school district. Those on the list of more than 30 calls included elected officials and business leaders, including key members of the African American community.
Using a script approved by the district's lawyer, she told them that "there was going to be a discussion about the future of the district and the role of the superintendent," according to Garcia's office. Garcia's phone-banking began about 2 p.m., after aides said she had spoken with Brewer.
City Councilman Bernard C. Parks told The Times that, when his call arrived, he questioned Garcia about why Brewer was being asked to leave.
"She said 'It's an exempt position, so we don't have to have cause,' " Parks said. "I said, 'Is there a reason?' And she said, 'If you're asking me for a reason, it's that he's not moving fast enough.' "
Parks said he noted that district test scores have been improving and that Brewer inherited serious problems, such as a payroll fiasco, that were not of his making.
"I was shocked," Parks said. "It's just bizarre."
Parks has his own experience as a black civic leader forced out of a high-profile job. Former Mayor James K. Hahn declined to offer Parks a second term as police chief, a move that cost Hahn key support from black voters. Many of those voters switched to Villaraigosa, who defeated Hahn.
Villaraigosa is facing reelection in the spring, and Brewer's departure could be tied to the mayor. Villaraigosa's fundraising was instrumental to the election of the board majority that is apparently disenchanted with Brewer. Villaraigosa is said to be displeased with Brewer's performance as well.
By late Monday, Garcia realized that LaMotte wasn't budging.
Just before Tuesday's private meeting ended, Garcia asked Brewer and other staff members to leave, with the exception of the district's top lawyer, according to those present. Garcia then said that given LaMotte's absence, the item that she'd been planning to discuss would be postponed.
The board could take the matter up again at its closed-session meeting next Tuesday.
By George B. Sánchez, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
December 3 -- An attempt to oust Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent David Brewer III midway through his four-year contract hit a snag Tuesday when the board president, seeking his dismissal, failed to gather all seven members at a hastily planned session.
News of the closed-door meeting surprised and irritated some board members, including one who charged that board outsiders, such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Mayor Richard Riordan, were behind plans to dismiss Brewer.
The superintendent's fate has been put on hold until next week, but it was unclear how the board might proceed. A simple majority could remove Brewer.
Talk of Brewer's possible dismissal has been circulating for months, but there was nothing substantive until school board President Mónica García informed her colleagues by phone Monday afternoon that his tenure would be discussed as part of Tuesday's regular meeting. Garc a did not return newspaper calls for comment.
LAUSD board member Marguerite LaMotte, who like Brewer is African-American, was in San Diego representing the district at the California School Boards Association conference. She fired off an angry e-mail to her board colleagues, accusing them of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act - the state's decades-old sunshine law - and conspiring behind her back to get rid of Brewer.
The board's decision to take up the issue in her absence was "a disingenuous and unconscionable cover-up to exclude me from this strategically and externally motivated plan," LaMotte wrote.
She refused to leave the conference to attend the meeting.
Brewer, who signed a four-year contract worth $1.5 million in 2006, has been criticized by many for failing to take charge of the nation's second-most-populous school district.
While his supporters point to improved test scores since he became superintendent, his critics say those improvements are not the result of any action by Brewer, whom they accuse of taking a back seat on major decisions.
A retired Navy admiral, Brewer was hired by the previous school board though he had no education experience. His arrival was greeted with skepticism from A.J. Duffy, the teachers union president, and disappointment from Villaraigosa, who has no official role in appointing the superintendent.
Though Brewer lately has been praised for meeting with state legislators to fight cuts to the education budget, his tenure has been marred by accusations of ineffectiveness. Critics say rather than step up to the challenge, Brewer simply responded to the complaints by hiring Senior Deputy Superintendent Ramon Cortines, at about $250,000 a year, to do the day-to-day managing of the district.
The action against Brewer is premature and inappropriate, said board member Marlene Canter, who was board president when the district hired Brewer.
"I never felt we should have had the meeting today," Canter said.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she was relieved the school board took no action Tuesday. Perry said this might give everyone involved time to step back and have a more open dialogue.
"I had just read that test scores were generally in an upward trend," Perry said.
Board member Yolie Flores Aguilar said she and her colleagues must consider buying out Brewer's contract.
"If he stays on, we pay," she said. "If not, is it worth the cost? Maybe that's the right decision to make."
Flores Aguilar expressed disappointment with Brewer over the dropout rate, teacher quality, elementary student reading rates and exclusion of parents as stakeholders. Canter said Brewer arrived with an extraordinary vision that he has been slow to achieve.
Board members said that for the past several weeks, they heard rumors of outsiders calling for Brewer's removal. But Flores Aguilar and Canter said they had never been contacted by Villaraigosa, Riordan or philanthropist Eli Broad.
Riordan said Tuesday that he had been aware of plans to force out the superintendent as well.
"I think he is a well-meaning person, but he has been unable to get the job done," said the former mayor.
He said Brewer should be leading district reforms, setting the tone and empowering principals to improve their campuses.
Canter said any outsiders attempting to influence the board should stick to their own responsibilities.
"There are seven of us that do this job," she said. "Anybody else doesn't understand the full complexities of this job."
…as the critics, pundits and the peanut gallery soon joined the fray:
KCRW WHICH WAY L..?
TUE DEC 2, 2008 - 7-8PM on KCRW 89.9FM
Host: Warren Olney
- Connie Rice: Co-Director, Advancement Project in Los Angeles
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Nationally syndicated columnist, radio host, civil rights activist and author
- A.J. Duffy: President, United Teachers Los Angeles
Written by Kenneth Miller, Managing Editor | LOS ANGELES SENTINEL
KPCC RADIO NEWS | December 5, 2008 8:04 PM
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson | Daily News Op-Ed