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
However, the money from the mayor‘s “Coalition for Kids” is controlled by Riordan, and it’s going to Rodman. For which Riordan made no apologies: “For the school board you need a person who‘s intelligent, focused and willing to change the governance of the school system. And also a person with the fire in the belly to get elected.” All his candidates, he said, meet these criteria.
In broad brush strokes, this school-board race is largely a battle between Riordan’s candidates and the teachers union, which has endorsed Korenstein and Fields. But to Occidental‘s Mitchell, the contest also is over governance style.
“In the Riley-Korenstein debate we have the clearest expression of two views of what a school board is,” said Mitchell. “In Korenstein, we see someone who is practicing the legislative model, in which members are elected to protect and advance the interests of their particular constituencies. With Riley, you have a more corporate model, in which the board sets an overall direction for the whole school district and holds management accountable for meeting the needs of the clients. This is a critical battle, a paradigm, the outcome of which is likely to shape the school district for the next decade.”
Mitchell favors the corporate formula, as does prominent Santa Monica attorney Virgil Roberts, another Riordan ally. “There’s a tendency, a strong motivation, when you have a problem, to jump in and fix it,” said Roberts. “If somebody calls you up, a constituent, and says, for example, ‘We’re about to lose our principal and please do something about it.‘” This approach, said Roberts, is the wrong one. Board members have to leave the work of the district to professional staff. The board’s job is to set goals, to evaluate progress and to hire or fire the superintendent.
Supporters of this view have even argued against raising school-board salaries higher than the current $24,000 a year; a low salary underscores that the job is meant to be part-time.
But this premise is not much of a campaign theme. Vote Rodman: He‘ll stay out of our schools. Vote Riley: He’ll work part time to help our kids.
And those are not the themes in play.
“The structure of this district is designed to fail,” said Riley. “You take seven people that are elected for part-time positions, give them one staff member and one secretary, and expect this $9 billion bureaucracy is going to start jumping. Are there any other elected officials in this state, at any level, that don‘t have staff?”
Rodman insisted, “It is my goal to visit every school every year. That is where you hear the tone and tenor of what is going on. You can’t staff out those sorts of things. My opponent doesn‘t visit schools like I visit schools.”
No, she doesn’t, in part because Fields ascribes to the mayor‘s hands-off notion as much as any board member now serving. Riordan had endorsed Fields, but withdrew his backing in January, after Fields supported larger raises for teachers than he did.
School-board President Genethia Hayes also disagreed with Fields on the size of the salary increase, but strongly supports her colleague nonetheless. “Nothing should rise and fall on one issue,” said Hayes. “Ninety percent of the time she’s been our fourth vote. She‘s been with us on nearly all the tough decisions.”
Hayes also shakes her head at the notion of preferring inexperience. “That logic escapes me. I think I’m better off for being strong and having an opinion. Just because you have a lot of experience doesn‘t mean you don’t understand the proper role of a policymaker.”
Not one of the current board members, including the Riordan endorsees, has stayed completely above the fray, a la the corporate model. The experienced Hayes, the novice Young and the hands-off Fields all voted to increase their annual discretionary funds from about $100,000 to about $200,000 apiece. Fields spends much of her money in grants to school sites. Young has hired a deputy to track school-construction projects. Hayes established a field office. Said Hayes: “You do have an obligation to make yourself available to the constituents who vote for you.”
Korenstein, by contrast, spends much of her discretionary money on a tutoring program. Though she‘s known for returning calls of parents’ groups, she forwards their concerns to staff. “Julie does it holding the staff responsible,” said fellow board member David Tokofsky. “In that respect, she‘s doing it more as they say you should do it than anyone else.”
If the Riordan slate wins, the only predictable outcome is that the influence of the teachers union would be eviscerated. The board would welcome three intelligent but rather blank slates. Caprice Young envisions fellow Young Turks who would share her impatience for progress.
Canter supporter David Abel is reluctantly meeting the mayor halfway. He supports Riley, because Riley is a personal friend whom he respects, but Abel remains critical of the process. “Spending $900,000 can elect Caprice Young, a former Riordan staffer, or anyone else of the mayor’s choosing,” said Abel. “It doesn‘t mean that these candidates come from the education-reform movement or have any allegiance to the broader community.