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.
smf: is it just me that has noticed this?: In the home delivery/print edition of The Times the headline and subhead of this story is as published above: Bid to oust Brewer, etc. In the internet/online version the headline and subhead are:
L.A. school board takes no action on fate of Supt. David Brewer
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.
I have noticed this tendency before. Is it the editorial policy of The Times to pull its punches online?
"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.