By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
”I’m the first to admit I don‘t have a background in curriculum,“ said Riley, speaking to the Weekly’s editorial board. ”I‘m not an expert in curriculum. What I’m interested in is kids that are educated, that can read, write and do math and all the things that we expect from our schools. Educators love to spend hours debating, ‘Do we do Open Court? Do we do whole language?’ They always find some Ph.D. to defend their position. You can always find some guy who‘s gonna write why you should be using touchy-feely math and calculators. I think we need to look at what works and model our district after those successful programs.“
In contrast, his opponent, 14-year incumbent Julie Korenstein, understands the complexities, but the result, say critics, is that she’s cautious to a fault. Riley‘s eager to set himself apart from the 57-year-old Korenstein with take-charge positions, on finding desperately needed school sites, for example: ”People are going to lose homes. That’s leadership.“
In board District 4, which covers much of the Westside, Mayor Riordan has spurned both an experienced incumbent and an experienced challenger. Incumbent Valerie Fields, a longtime advocate of arts education, also was education adviser to Riordan‘s predecessor, Mayor Tom Bradley. Marlene Canter, the rejected challenger, is a former special-education teacher who built a multimillion-dollar teacher-training business. Her experience shows, for instance, in her nuanced comments on the school system’s Open Court curriculum.
”Open Court is an excellent reading program,“ noted Canter, who is 52. ”We just can‘t get lock-stepped into saying we are only using a single approach. We need to be open-minded enough to have supplemental help for children that particular program may not reach. There is not a reading program that is excellent for every child.“
Canter’s supporters include politically progressive businessman David Abel, a former appointee to the school-bonds oversight committee. ”Marlene Canter is fundamentally a person of maturity and character,“ said Abel. ”She is very knowledgeable about public schools and what goes on in them, and a refreshingly informed but independent voice.“ He added, ”There‘s clearly an adult running, and it isn’t the mayor‘s choice.“
The mayor’s choice is Matthew Rodman, who builds and rehabs strip malls in a third-generation family-owned business. ”The cool thing about Matthew Rodman,“ said Young, ”is that he‘s been active in the Explorer Scouts program for years and years as a volunteer, working with teenagers.“ Young also noted Rodman’s leadership roles in the Brentwood Homeowners Association and as a mayoral appointee to the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission.
Rodman and Young had been in some of the same graduate-level public-administration classes at USC. Late last year, said Young, ”He called me and asked me if I thought it was a good idea if he ran for school board. I said I thought it would be great.“
Rodman picks up the story: ”I received a call from the Mayor‘s Office just after I filed to run. I was asked if I could meet with him. The next day. It was in West L.A. somewhere. I don’t recall where. I had soup. It seemed like he was in a mode to make some decisions. I‘m not sure exactly how he found out I was running.“
Speaking to the Weekly’s editorial board, Rodman presented himself as the man for this moment: ”I was watching a school-board meeting on cable. My wife thinks I‘m a little crazy sometimes because I talk to the TV and try to explain to board members -- and of course they’re not hearing me -- what due diligence is. I was amazed that the board members didn‘t know what due diligence is when you go in and want to buy a piece of property. And I was equally amazed that the real estate people didn’t know how much things cost . . . That would be absolutely unacceptable in the private sector.
“We are in an absolute real estate crisis in this district. Building is what I do for a living.”
Fields responded by offering to forward Rodman‘s resume to the facilities division. “Being a board member is not about trying to do the job of the real estate administrators. It’s about setting policy and making good decisions.” She noted that during her term, the board has overseen an entire revamping of facilities personnel.
On education matters, Rodman said he wants schools run like successful small businesses, and cites independent charter schools, such as the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, as models: “Principals should be the CEOs of their school,” with 100 percent control of the budget. But when told that such charters also have control of curriculum -- which affects how schools use their budgets -- Rodman retreated. Choosing curriculum, he said, should be a function of the central office.
The Rodman endorsement has led to division in Riordan‘s camp. Riordan stalwart Eli Broad emphasizes that he’s supportive of both challengers. Broad also concedes that he agrees with incumbent Fields, who is 74 years old, on 90 percent of things. “I‘ve known Valerie forever,” he said. But “I’d just as soon go with new people who are younger and fresher, people who bring a different energy and don‘t bring reasons why you can’t do it.”
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