By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The citizens committee is a reasonably diverse group, though it leans in the direction of being white, male and rich. There is basically one way to get on this committee: You must be invited to join by attorney Harold Williams and retired Lockheed chairman Roy A. Anderson, the committee’s co-chairs. Nearly all the 26 members have been involved with LEARN or the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project, which has poured millions of dollars into L.A. schools. Besides Williams and Anderson, prominent participants include retired Times Mirror chairman Robert Erburu, Urban League president John Mack and L.A. Chamber of Commerce president Ezunial Burts, as well as Roos and Ouchi.
For Roos, Ouchi and several other members, the citizens committee represents their second bid to set the district agenda. Last summer, with Mayor Riordan, they tried and failed to organize a mayor’s task force on education. That effort fell apart in large measure over the mayor’s desire to link the task force directly to the school-board campaign by endorsing candidates. The mayor finally concluded that he could select and raise money for candidates on his own. The concept of a task force, meanwhile, passed to other hands, namely, those of retired executives Williams and Anderson, who took up the effort to organize the current citizens committee. Their group has declared that it will not endorse candidates collectively. Williams readily concedes, however, that the school-board election is not off the radar screen; the committee wanted to get its report out soon enough for it to become an issue in the campaign.
Williams added that most committee members have a history of volunteer involvement with L.A. Unified that has left them dissatisfied and frustrated. And it shows in the just-released committee report.
The school board receives the harshest criticism, for having too many "top" priorities and changing direction repeatedly, for protecting favored administrators, and for second-guessing and undermining the superintendent and his staff. "The board’s failure to stick to a single plan creates an administrative nightmare, marked by needless confusion and waste at every level . . . Unless it changes its way of operating, we have no reason to hope that new attempts to improve student achievement can succeed." Most of all, the committee accuses the school board of counterproductive micromanagement.
Many of the complaints could have come directly from topics Zacarias discussed with McKinsey. For example, district documents prepared by McKinsey float the idea of streamlining operations by ending the practice of having the school board approve relatively small expenditures, a notion that reappears in citizens-committee recommendations. The same goes for a suggestion to reduce the number of agenda items at board meetings. Moreover, some of the same research into the practices of other school districts is referenced both in school-district documents and in the citizens-committee report.
But Zacarias can’t take too much comfort in the report’s support for a strong superintendent. In one section, the Zacarias administration is lumped with the guilty parties. "While the LAUSD board of education and district management have endorsed the reform initiatives," the report reads, "the board’s culture and the district’s bureaucracy have repeatedly frustrated these initiatives."
Critics of the school district could argue that, at worst, McKinsey did nothing more than fight the good fight for school reform on separate fronts — inside and outside the district. But at least one veteran district insider, who requested anonymity, was not sold on the virtue of what had happened. "Given that McKinsey is a firm with an international reputation for keeping things confidential, I am stunned they would be in both places."