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
WEEKLY: Have there been other problems with getting schools built?
CORTINES:I feel like the school district has thumbed its nose at all sorts of applications it should be making. The district has been an arrogant collaborator in looking at communities. I believe a school district should be looking at the quality of life in a community. A school district should be looking at how the building can be used beyond the teaching of children. When I went to San Francisco [as superintendent of schools], we got the first bond issue in nine years passed. It passed because of the senior citizens. I went to them and helped them understand how new facilities would be of value to them, made clear that they could also use the facilities in various ways. So I'm going to move L.A. Unified to be more collaborative. In the next three months, I think you will see some signs of that process. I think city politicians will believe that the school district is in a more collaborative kind of mode. The system has always looked just at building large high ã schools, and I don't think there is the land in L.A. to build large high schools any more. Belmont is the focus now, but the issue of space is all over the system. We cannot convert all of the middle schools to high schools and all of the elementary to middle schools and build primary centers. We cannot afford to. There are some where it is natural, and it could be done. But I think King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science and Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School are perfect examples of how you can provide the best kind of facility. They're high-tech on smaller pieces of land. I think we should be doing more of those. For example, at Belmont I'd like to take the academies out of the main school and place them in spaces that are small.
WEEKLY: Given the space difficulties in the district, why wouldn't you let the state's toxic agency complete its review of the Belmont site, and come up with a detailed breakdown of the advantages and drawbacks of finishing that project?
CORTINES:I don't know that I've stopped that, so don't ask me. Ask Howard Miller [LAUSD's chief operating officer]. I have not said no to anything. Now remember, the board did say no. So the big issue right now is to find seats for the Belmont students in a realistic time. Let me just tell you how difficult that has been in this district. Jefferson High School was promised bungalows almost six months ago. They were to arrive in December, and then they were to arrive in January. They still haven't gotten there. I've said to the person now in charge, "I want a realistic time line for when they can be up, and let me tell you, I don't want to hear later that the buildings didn't get there by that date, or you're out of here." There has not been any urgency. Our staff doesn't get it. They've gotten it now. And there may be some more changes. But what I'm looking for now is the best expert -- who doesn't have political ties, if that's possible -- to bring in for the next six months or so to deal with the facilities issues.
WEEKLY: And is Belmont really something we should just walk away from?
CORTINES:Well, I put my name on the memo [written by Howard Miller, and recommending that the project be abandoned as a school but considered for other district purposes], and I'm not going to take my name off it. You know, though, that from the day I arrived I said Belmont should be finished. I guess what was so frustrating for me is that you can find evidence on one side about how dangerous it is, and evidence on the other side about how it's okay to go ahead if you mitigate certain things. In the end, I made the decision on a judgment call, because I did not see that we were going to get Belmont as a usable site for students in the next five years. I am not against a resolution that says that the school district and the city will collaboratively work to find the best uses for Belmont. That leaves in my mind the possibility that someday there could be a school there. But that doesn't deal with the immediate issue of getting seats for those children. I am hopeful about the progress that we're making on being able to build a school on the Ambassador Hotel site. In the end, the board's decision on Belmont was good, from the standpoint that now everybody is willing to work collaboratively to help find seats for the Belmont children.
WEEKLY: Has it been difficult working with this school board?
CORTINES:Let me tell you, I don't get caught up in boards. I respect the role of the democratic process and the role of the board, right or wrong. I've told people in other cities that if they don't like the school board, vote them out. But don't complain about them. Remember, the board voted against me on Belmont. I asked for 60 more days. Did you see me get upset? Did you see me flip them off, or put my thumb in my mouth and go in the corner and pout? I will fight for what I believe until they take the vote, and once they take the vote, it is my responsibility to carry it out or walk out. They are the policymakers. Now, there are blurry lines, as you're working together. I defend my point of view very strongly, but once the board has voted -- and you can look at my history -- I carry it out as if it were my own.