By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In Carson, the teachers union, rather than the school district, took on and defeated the breakup attempt last November. This outcome was then cited by school-district hierarchy as an endorsement of its reform agenda.
The Valley breakup drive never even got as far as the voting booth. In December, the state Board of Education unanimously denied a breakup election that, if successful, would have severed the San Fernando Valley from LAUSD and split the Valley into two school districts. State board members agreed with L.A. Unified that the plan did not conform with legal requirements. The state officials also were impressed with Superintendent Roy Romer and the improving scores of L.A. students on standardized tests.
It had to be especially galling for management at the Daily News to see plaudits going to Romer, its favorite whipping boy. Romer also has been the official most responsible for resurrecting the expensive Belmont Learning Complex project downtown, which the Daily News has used all its editorial resources to oppose.
”The fact that test scores have consistently improved in the last two years doesn‘t make for exciting reading,“ said school-board president Caprice Young, who defends district progress without staking a position on district breakup. ”We have 50 groundbreakings for new schools scheduled between now and November.“
Should L.A. Unified falter, however, the state board could, theoretically, interpret its legal mandate differently, or state legislators could simply change the rules.
In one respect, L.A. Unified offers an alternative still-evolving paradigm to secession. The district recently reorganized itself into 11 ”mini“ districts headed by local superintendents. The idea was to bring senior management physically and structurally closer to schools -- to oversee reforms and react quickly to problems. The L.A. City Council is pondering something of this sort with a proposal for a borough system, like New York City’s. The idea is to offer more responsive, more local government without taking a sledgehammer to L.A. itself. But more local government is, in fact, more government and can easily result in more expensive government, as L.A. Unified has learned.
All told, board member David Tokofsky is ambivalent about a breakup. ”The advantages of staying together are political clout in terms of getting resources, and the economy of scale,“ said Tokofsky. ”But the bigger the beast, the bigger the trough. People can feed off you tremendously if you are not adept at your mission. Instructional issues also can go either way.“
Young sounded a similar theme on the broader issue of secession. ”If people would just focus on getting the job done rather than who has the power. How do we make better schools? How do we help the homeless? How do we improve the business climate?“
But no reform or success is likely to satisfy the staunchest secessionists. They simply want to run the show, or at least to have the show run from the Valley, whether the subject is schools or street sweeping. The outcome could be an improvement on Los Angeles, or L.A. Unified, but it‘s not likely to be confused with the mythic Camelot, unless we’re talking about what happened after Lancelot and Guinevere strayed. A Valley city or school district would still confront the same foreboding challenges and parochial interests, as was made clear this month by Galpin Ford owner Boeckmann, a leader in the drives to break up the city and school district.
Boeckmann didn‘t let his enthusiasm for better schools stand in the way of recent profiteering. In May 2000, Boeckmann paid $9.4 million to snap up a closed drive-in theater that the school district had long been trying to acquire for a middle school to ease overcrowding. Boeckmann’s intervention -- he wanted the property to store excess car inventory -- delayed the project for a full two years, which is most of a child‘s middle-school education. His move also pushed up the price of the property, because he paid $1 million more for the land than the previous buyer had two years earlier.
This month, L.A. Unified announced that it would pay Boeckmann $12.9 million for the 14.4-acre site. That’s a net profit of $3.5 million or 37 percent in two years for Boeckmann. The deal includes Boeckmann getting ownership of a maintenance and operations yard owned by L.A. Unified.
Camelot Unified is one thing, but business is still business.
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