by Doug McIntyre, columnist | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/zlRdsD
1/28/2012 05:20:26 PM PST :: John Deasy is no pushover. Neither are the taxpayers of Los Angeles.
Put them together in one room and you have an explosive town hall meeting like last week's Daily News-sponsored "Thrilla in Woodland Hilla" at El Camino Real Charter High School featuring Los Angeles Unified school board member Tamar Galatzan on the under-card and Superintendent Deasy as the main event.
As referee for the evening I had a ringside seat - always risky, since I'm famous for my glass jaw. I was constantly on guard to block Galatzan's lightning-quick right hook and Deasy's devastating left jab. I was bobbing and weaving all night around haymakers coming from all directions as a conga line of teachers and taxpayers champed at the bit for a piece of Deasy, Galatzan and yours truly.
And who can blame them? If you're not angry you're not paying attention.
Last April, John Deasy took the superintendent's job with the knowledge he was inheriting a district in perpetual turmoil. The superintendent's job has been a revolving door, with superintendents coming and going like Yankee managers under George Steinbrenner. Along with them came promises of reforms - reforms that always seem to die on the vine. How many billions have been spent on school construction?
And now the new guy wants more - a $270 parcel tax.
At the town hall the early-ed and adult-ed teachers said, "YES!" to the taxes while retirees and homeowners drowning in upside-down mortgages said "NO!" Both sides were passionate. Both sides have a point.
The LAUSD is America's second largest school system and easily the most complex. Every virtue and vice humanity can produce is represented, including a depressingly high number of kids from homeless shelters or homes so dysfunctional Jerry Springer wouldn't touch them.
Many kids have to cross multiple gang territories just to get to school. Some join gangs for protection, others because they choose to be thugs.
Add to the mix special-needs students along with the gifted and just plain ol' ordinary kids and this vast sea of humanity is then funneled through a mishmash of traditional schools, charters, magnets and a splinter group of schools allegedly run by the mayor.
More than 100 languages are spoken in L.A.'s public schools. It's even possible English might be one of them.
How kids are supposed to learn integers and photosynthesis when they only speak Tagalog, Urdu or Farsi remains a mystery. How we get to e pluribus unum when we can't even speak to each other is barely a consideration.
We went for diversity but we got the tower of babble.
Board member Galatzan correctly worries about Title I mandates pulling money from middle-income schools, infuriating parents who feel their kids are being punished for NOT being poor. This is leading to an exodus of middle and upper-middle class students from LAUSD, in effect creating a public-school system segregated by economics.
With refreshing candor Superintendent Deasy dealt the cards faceup, predicting "catastrophic" (his word, not mine) cuts if Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget becomes law.
Yet, as great as all of these challenges are, the biggest challenge facing Deasy, Galatzan and anyone interested in restoring greatness to the LAUSD is healing the breach in trust between our leaders and the citizens who pay the bills.
After years of promises, Proposition 98, bond measure after bond measure and schemes like the lottery, we simply don't trust anything that comes from South Beaudry Avenue.
That's public education enemy #1.
Doug McIntyre's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org