Friday, June 27, 2008


Educating LA’s Kids By Doug Epperhart | LA CityWatch


  • Democracy is nourished by education.
  • Neighborhood councils can affect education.
  • Neighborhood councils help themselves by helping their schools.
  • Los Angeles Friday, June 27, 2008 - Antonio Villaraigosa ran for mayor promising to fix L.A. schools. Rebuffed by the courts, he was forced to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District the old-fashioned way—by electing his own school board. Now he has his own man at the helm—former deputy mayor (and past LAUSD superintendent) Ramon Cortines.

    Mayors in New York and Chicago took charge of failing schools with good, if not great, results. In others places, like Tampa, Florida, city officials had better luck by breaking up districts into manageable pieces. It remains to be seen how Villaraigosa’s influence—or interference—will affect the 50 percent or more of LAUSD’s students who never make it to graduation.

    During the six months Cortines served as interim superintendent in 2000, he proposed a major restructuring of the school district. His plan to eliminate a few hundred administrators and move several hundred more out of headquarters and into schools was the best I’ve ever seen. A copy of that proposal has been gathering dust on a shelf in my office for eight years.

    Recently, I heard Cortines on the radio talking about the need to spend dollars at the schools, not downtown. Good luck.

    LAUSD spends twice as much money and employs twice as many people as the city of Los Angeles. It is a bureaucratic machine that makes the city look like a model of efficiency.

    Where do neighborhood councils fit into the school picture? Officially, they don’t.

    Is there anything councils can do to influence our failing public schools? Absolutely.

    For neighborhood councils, it’s a matter of “think globally, act locally.”

    As the Coastal San Pedro council was gearing up for certification in 2001, I visited four of the five principals who led the elementary schools in our area. (The fifth refused to talk to me. Probably afraid she’d learn something about the community.)

    I did this because the toughest group for neighborhood councils to reach is parents. They’re often among the newest residents in the neighborhood and they usually have the least time to get involved in community activities.

    Yet, families with children are impacted by issues like traffic, housing, public safety, and taxes—the very quality-of-life concerns neighborhood councils deal with the most.

    The best way for councils to reach working parents is to understand that kids at neighborhood schools are our future. Work with your local schools. Talk to principals. Talk to teachers. Talk to parents. Talk to students. They’ll tell you what they need.

    As a result of conversations with principals in 2001, the Coastal San Pedro council voted to purchase playground equipment at 15th Street School. This was the first-ever neighborhood council expenditure. Since then, schools have benefited as councils throughout the city have provided funds for everything from library books to service awards for outstanding students.

    This year, the three San Pedro councils came together to fund after-school clubs for students at Dana Middle School. These groups offer art instruction, foreign language lessons, a basketball team, and more that they don’t get during the school day.

    The clubs were established by a handful of parents a couple of years ago. They saw the need and ran the program on a shoestring budget. Money provided by the neighborhood councils will allow the clubs to expand and serve more kids.

    Two weeks ago, a counselor at the school told me they’ve noticed a real difference in the attitudes—and grades—of students involved in the clubs.

    Democracy is nourished by education. Neighborhood councils can affect education. Neighborhood councils help themselves by helping their schools.

    (Doug Epperhart is a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council governing board. He is a writer and a publisher and a contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at

    CityWatch - An insider look at City Hall - NCs Can Change Schools: Think Globally, Act Locally

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