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
2:25 PM PST, December 2, 2008
The Los Angeles Board of Education met in closed session this morning, but did not take action on the fate of schools Supt. David L. Brewer, who faces increasing pressure to step down midway through a four-year contract.
Although board members and sources close to them suggested that the votes were there to dismiss Brewer, a complication arose with the absence of board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. LaMotte is representing the Los Angeles Unified School District in San Diego at a weeklong meeting of the California School Boards Assn., and she reportedly declined to return to deliberate Brewer's future.LaMotte is the board's only African American member, and officials were reluctant to act against Brewer, who also is black, without LaMotte in the room. LaMotte's trip to San Diego -- a two- to three-hour drive from Los Angeles -- had been scheduled some time ago.
Early this year, Brewer addressed criticism of his administration by bringing in veteran retired superintendent Ramon C. Cortines to manage day-to-day operations. That move is widely viewed inside and outside the district as a positive. It has failed, however, to repair critics' perceptions that Brewer's own management skills are not equal to the task of managing the tortured politics and current funding crisis in the nation's second-largest school system.
The situation entails some political risk for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who would inevitably be associated with dismissing Brewer. Board members crucial to the vote were elected with funds that the mayor raised. And board President Monica Garcia is an especially close ally of the mayor; it is unlikely she would act without the mayor's full knowledge and tacit approval, political observers said.
LaMotte, on the other hand, defeated a challenger supported by the mayor's allies. And part of her winning strategy was to accuse the mayor of trying to disenfranchise the black community by imposing his will on schools that serve the black community.
Already, there have been efforts to minimize backlash, and there is some evidence that such efforts are not an unqualified success.
Monday night, Garcia personally called to offer a heads-up to black City Council members Jan Perry (leaving a message), Herb Wesson and Bernard Parks.
Perry said she tried twice unsuccessfully to call Garcia back, but found out about Brewer from another city official.
"I am shocked that they are at this point, particularly since test scores have been reported to be on the rise," Perry said. "It appears he has been on the right track in a system that is byzantine and complex to anyone, especially an outsider."
Parks this morning said 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 also 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 don't know anybody who can be brought in from the outside and deliver miraculous results in two years," Parks said. "So I was shocked. 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 Los Angeles police chief, a move that cost Hahn key support from black voters. Many of those voters switched to Villaraigosa, who defeated Hahn.
Now Villaraigosa is facing reelection in the spring. And although he doesn't want to alienate black voters, he, unlike Hahn, is not facing a well-funded opponent.
Zahniser and Blume are Times staff writers