Thursday, August 27, 2009


By BETTY PLEASANT, Contributing Editor | L.A. Wave

“It was clearly political,” former Superintendent Brewer said of the resolution. “Los Angeles is all about power and control and nothing about attaining the highest possible educational achievement of its students.”

Bottom Line: School ‘choice’ shaping up as L.A.’s next civil rights fight

Los Angeles school board member Marguerite LaMotte cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday against the Public School Choice resolution approved by the board. (Photo by Gary McCarthy)


Thursday 27 August - As expected, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa won the first round of the Rumble on Beaudry when the board of Los Angeles Unified School District voted Tuesday to effectively privatize the public school system.

Actually, Tuesday’s rumble was a three-card event as the school board tackled three highly controversial, viscerally charged issues that are pitting races against races, unions against bosses and property taxpayers against tax collectors ensconced in the temple of public office — all in the name of improving the quality of education delivered to LAUSD’s students.

This battle has been raging for six weeks and was precipitated by the John Ritter Elementary School’s Spanish-speaking only summer school, followed by the introduction of a school board resolution to give 50 brand new public schools to private operators, thus removing them from the control of the LAUSD, such as in the case with the Ritter School, and permitting Ritter School-type programming to spread throughout the district.

This thing has been boiling hot throughout the city. Sharp divides developed as African-Americans and Latinos met virtually around the clock in their respective communities on these issues. All Blacks and many Whites denounced the Ritter School situation; most Latinos and a handful of Blacks supported the “giveaway” resolution and all labor unions and most Whites opposed the handing off of public institutions to private entities — be they bona fide charter schools, politically connected private partnerships or anything else. For the record, the Ritter School is operated by Partnership for Los Angeles, an organization controlled by Villaraigosa.

In the ensuing weeks, sides switched back and forth, longtime allies fell out with one another, unusual Black folks were being called to the mayor’s office, side deals and threats were reportedly being made, every day you got a new name of someone you couldn’t trust, a myriad of amendments and changes to the resolutions were made, rejected, and made again and were still being made even as the board was taking its final vote.

After former school board and city council member Rita Walters and others spoke eloquently in support of the Ritter Resolution, the people won that first card when it was unanimously passed by the board. Formally called “A Resolution for Access and Equity for all Students in the School District,” the measure was authored by board members Marguerite LaMotte and Steven Zimmer and affirms the district’s insistence upon equity in all of its schools and establishes as policy a binding written agreement to that effect be included in every contract before any LAUSD school is given away to anybody.

The second card was a different story. Angry, raucous public comment went on for hours on the “giveaway” resolution, which was written by Villaraigosa-controlled board members Yolie Flores Aguilar, Monica Garcia and Richard Vladovic.

Public supporters of the resolution talked about how the schools are in such bad shape and how the quality of education being delivered is so low and how even though some improvement in the district’s schools have, indeed, been incremental over the past couple of years, the improvement is not occurring fast enough. They said bureaucracy-laden LAUSD does not operate with a sense of urgency when it comes to improving the quality of the education it delivers. The supporters said they wanted other entities to try their hand at educating the district’s students.

Opponents of the resolution attacked it on several fronts. They decried the fact that the resolution excluded the input and participation of long active parent groups, historic civil rights organizations, labor unions and other stakeholders in the operation of the public schools. They said the resolution, entitled, “Public School Choice: A New Way at LAUSD,” lacks accountability and they likened it to the catastrophic governmental deregulation of certain public utilities, cable TV businesses, public transportation and the banks.

Some opponents see the resolution as the catalyst that will cause us to fight the civil rights movement again, and former school board member and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg received a standing ovation when she angrily denounced the resolution as “a right-wing ploy to destroy urban schools.” Goldberg told the board members, “I know you’re not right-wing, but you’re carrying out their agenda.”

Goldberg said she participated in the creation of a quarter of a billion dollars in bond funds to build charter schools. “This resolution is a back-door attempt for them to get more.” She told the board: “If the charter schools have learned something you need to know, then you need to make it LAUSD policy. This resolution is the start of the destruction of the LAUSD.” In conclusion, she said: “You will be sued!”

She’s not the only one talking about suing the school board. Villaraigosa was stopped by the courts three years ago to the day when he first tried to take over the school district. Well aware that the mayor’s people on the board were prepared to vote in his favor again, the ACLU has been in meetings over the past few weeks with the African American Education Task Force about legal action to stop him again, and the labor unions went running to their lawyers after the board voted 6-1 to pass the resolution. LaMotte was the only dissenting vote.

Former School Superintendent David Brewer — the one responsible for the rise in student test scores and the decrease in school drop out rates — called me from Virginia Wednesday morning. Brewer, who was ousted by the mayor, had some unpleasant words to say about the passage of the resolution. “It was clearly political,” Brewer said. “Los Angeles is all about power and control and nothing about attaining the highest possible educational achievement of its students.”

Late in the afternoon — after all the protestors went home — the board turned to the third card on Tuesday’s fight. All of us who pay taxes lost that one. It dealt with the issuance of general obligation bonds under measures K, R and Y and it approved significant increases in our property taxes to pay for completion of 51 schools — the very schools the board just voted to give away!!

No, this ain’t over. This rumble has just begun.

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