The Best School Board Money Can Buy | Politics | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

The Best School Board Money Can Buy 

Reform is the reason, but there’s little rhyme to Riordan’s school slate

Wednesday, Apr 7 1999

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But in recent times, critics have accused the union of pushing the school board to overemphasize job security — i.e., protect bad teachers — and higher salaries.

Somehow these issues have slipped to the sidelines. The teachers union is not endorsing in the Young-Horton race, and only opposes Riordan in Lansing’s campaign to topple incumbent George Kiriyama, whose 7th District encompasses the southernmost portion of the school system, including San Pedro. Kiriyama, a retired adult-school principal, won his first term without the support of the teachers union, but he’s since locked arms with union leaders. From its perspective, the union is largely pleased with Kiriyama’s voting record; from Kiriyama’s standpoint, union support is mandatory to offset Riordan dollars.

Kiriyama’s challenger, like Caprice Young, is a Riordan-created candidate. Mike Lansing, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro, had no plans to run for the school board, and turned Riordan down twice. He felt obligated, he explained, to stick instead with the Boys and Girls Club, which is deep into a major fund-raising and expansion effort. He changed his mind after the club’s board of directors urged him to accept Riordan’s draft.

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Also like Young, Lansing, 42, was not previously involved much in school-district matters, although he was active in organizing youth programs in connection with the local L.A. City Council office. And he also has 17 years combined experience as a teacher and administrator at private schools.


All told, the Riordan ticket is a study in contradictions. The mayor opposes Horton, the staunchest supporter of a school-reform program the mayor helped launch. And although Riordan allies fault the school board for micromanaging the school system, he supports the board member (Tokofsky) who’s most often accused of micromanagement. Despite misgivings over the role of the teachers union, Riordan opposes the inveterate foe (Boudreaux) of the teachers union, a person of whom Riordan thought well enough in the past to appoint him to city commissions. And although Rior-dan has talked of throwing out the incumbents, his ticket includes one.

It’s tempting to cast these contradictions as more evidence of Riordan’s well-documented fumbling on school issues. This is the same mayor who needlessly alienated the school board by saying its members lacked the "mental equipment" to do the job, the same man who failed to win any authority over the school district through the recent rewriting of the city’s governing charter — a process he also spurred with his checkbook.

And yet his fund-raising has made a difference — and it could make the key difference. Moreover, the mayor has somehow settled on candidates who’ve won editorial endorsements from the right-leaning Daily News, the centrist L.A. Times and the left-of-center L.A. Weekly. For the moment, all the snickering about the city’s self-proclaimed education mayor has stopped.

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