Written by Odysseus Bostick - THE BOSTIC REPORT in LA CityWatch | http://bit.ly/1jCOx4D
13 May 2014 :: If the Los Angeles Unified School District were a used car, parents would be reading the fine print of California’s historic lemon law by the end of first grade.
The second largest school district in the nation is not the most well oiled machine, to put it kindly. It’s a labyrinthine of administrative fiefdoms whose goal seems to be to operate in an absolute vacuum and often at odds with other administrative arms.
Kids? Nowhere to be seen.
The school district is an organism, but it works less like an octopus and more like a virus. Power struggles appear to be constant and efforts as a parent to incite positive change against the bureaucratic quagmire reminds me of old comic books I read as a kid where the Japanese samurai warrior must commit an act of seppuku to ensure his master’s honor.
Standing in line to wait for five or six hours outside the district’s downtown headquarters where they hold school board meetings feels like ritualistic suicide. Only in this case, your master is not some local shogun. This is about your six year old’s education – something far more important than any power struggle in 15th century Japan.
Waiting in a line all day on a Tuesday afternoon to get a coveted speaker card is a mental journey, taking you through emotional swings of anger, resentment, bewilderment, and more all in the name of fighting a budget cut to our miniscule arts curriculum or some asinine program change dreamed up in a fit of a political gerrymandering.
Our biggest problem in LA Unified is that too much money is spent on administrative efforts off campus and those expenditures are mired in bureaucratic silos of opaque missions. Working completely out of sight of parents and kids, these administrators and project managers have migrated away from the purpose of a school district – educating children – and fallen into political and personal traps.
We’ve got competing armies of bureaucrats holding an ungodly number of meetings in various administrative buildings scattered throughout the district just to discuss previous meetings or meetings to be held in the future. No one knows for certain who makes the decisions or how the hierarchy of power works.
The natural digression, therefore, is towards administrative power struggles. The tactics of one fiefdom must be honed far in advance of a meeting to be held with some other fiefdom in order to execute the bureaucratic win that must happen in order to protect the budget for the shogun. It’s a lot like some Monty Python sketch where the absurdist humor is meant to underscore the pointlessness of unrestricted layers of “management”.
Only it is the nation’s second largest school district and our kids are treated more like vehicles to secure state funding than human beings receiving a the public good that is our educational system.
Look at the way LAUSD deals with food. Literally, not figuratively, but I have literally taught in schools where we make every kid stand in a line to punch their unique student identification numbers into a computer in order to receive a lunch that they throw directly into the trash a few steps away from the line. Strike that, the trashcan is actually part of the line. It is, by design, the culmination of the line. This system is not the exception. It is the system.
Why do we teach our children to value food so little? Because it is a product of administrative choices driven by the fact that funding is tied to lunches served. Not lunches eaten or nutrition taught, but food handed out. Essentially, school budget choices like this are administrative choices made far from campus that focus more on revenue streams and less on learning or providing value to the child.
Lunches served represent school funding, in part, because that is how our state and federal governments design lunch funding. There’s not a lot we can do about this at the district level.
But, we handcuff ourselves to the whims of this system when more money gets trapped in the administrative costs off campus than in the classrooms on campus.
We hold power there. A drastic restructuring must happen to restore parent faith in our local school system. Currently, there are about 6,000 administrators working off campus in LAUSD. They are a mix of managers, various nonspecific administrators, and nefariously ambiguous off campus positions whose purpose is to… do what?
Do we really need 6,000 administrators off campus? What are they doing for us? They aren’t designing the district’s math curriculum. They aren’t writing textbooks or creating computer software to increase learning. More poignantly, do we parents see this dynamic as currently successful? Rather than pose the question of whether the current dynamic adds value, let’s just get rash here.
Like a public offering to the Gods, cut at least a thousand off-campus administrator jobs and then reallocate that money back into the schools. Teachers are about to demand more pay. We should be paid more and the district should hire more teachers to alleviate the student to teacher ratio to some number humanly possible. Do we seriously think that a high school classroom should have 42 kids?
Wouldn’t money be better spent on nurses and counselors? Couldn’t we extend the school day to 4:30 in order to provide an extra 90 minutes each day for arts, music, and PE in an era of hyper-testing?
Reform, refine, and reinvigorate our “after school” education programs to become part of the school day focused on targeting the whole child. Let’s invest in the 3:00 - 4:30 time slot as part of the school day, but treat it as an entirely separate educational opportunity from the day’s instruction. We can target the growth of the whole child after school hours in a way that builds cultural awareness, personal responsibility, and academic confidence. This will lead to better performance in the classroom during the content academics of the day.
We don’t even really have to get rid of every one of those 1,000 bureaucrats, just recalibrate their job focus. Instead of paying for someone to sit at a cubicle downtown, have them coordinate the construction of a robust network of learning gardens on one campus to increase community and a sense of personal responsibility in each child.
Better than having a team of administrators squirreled away in some West LA administrative building doing their administrating of something or other, put them in an office on campus where parents can keep a better watch on their efforts to create a culinary arts programs that builds skills to support better nutrition habits.
Take the teams of lawyers roaming the halls of Beaudry and have them on campus overseeing a martial arts program (Karate, Tai Chi, Yoga) to develop self-discipline and confidence in our kids.
My point is simply that we should stop the ritualistic monetization of school administration and recalibrate our focus back to the campus. Get people out of their cubicles and start spending money on people who work alongside the kids. Get more eyes on campus and you cut down on teachers abusing their students.
As it stands, we’ve got 6,000 people whose careers are almost completely removed from the school day. Invest more of these people’s time on campus where they can be personally informed and can affect the day-to-day success of the students.
First, let’s start a blue ribbon commission to study ideas like these. I kid.
(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)