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
Riordan says he’s long considered the challenge how to sustain his vision of reform. “That’s something that’s been on our minds from the Day 1,” he said. “The whole thing, like anything, is to find the new leaders. Because there’s a large group of people who are behind us, who are part of this. But to ask young people to be leaders, ready to step in, is very important.”
“You never can give up,” he insisted. “We’ve made great reform in the school district in the last four years. And for some reason, this message never got across to the public.”
The message from United Teachers Los Angeles, in contrast, was loud and clear. UTLA, as seemingly immortal as the school district itself, isn’t going anywhere — which is one factor considered by Young when she recently called for a breakup of the nation’s second largest school system.
In this campaign, union leaders capitalized on the public’s high regard for individual teachers, while mobilizing their members against board members they tarred as “anti-teacher.”
UTLA President John Perez defended this branding, pointing to the precipitous rise in administrative salaries, the widespread use of costly consultants, a high-cost school-district headquarters and the board’s recent decision to offset a budget deficit by increasing class size. “What goes on in the classroom must be the focus of the district,” said Perez. “The classroom must be the last thing cut and not the first thing. Teachers and voters want to see someone on the board who has been in the classroom, someone who has the understanding that the classroom is the primary building block of education.”
Hayes and Young countered that they were not anti-teacher. The teachers’ raise they supported was all of 1 percent less than what the teachers had negotiated with Superintendent Romer. The current school-construction program will directly benefit teachers as well as students; previous boards, with any number of UTLA-backed members, had never got this program off the ground. The current board also has expanded and organized quality teacher training. And this board replaced a superintendent who was passively hostile to the teachers union with Romer, a pro-union Democrat. On most of these recent initiatives, the Riordan-backed board members and the UTLA-backed board members actually worked in concert.
There was a striking militancy to the union’s election politicking. Much like Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in starting the 1973 Yom Kippur War, union leaders seemed determined to prove their legitimacy by coming back with something that could be called a win. After demonstrating his warrior bona fides, Sadat followed up by making peace with Israel.
Superintendent Romer is game. The day after the election he regaled depressed senior staffers with stories of elections that he’d lost, recalled one of them. And he’s also met with Perez, who offered that “Of all the superintendents I’ve known here, he is the one I really believe when he says he’s interested in improving student achievement.” Now Perez has the chance to show his own skeptics that this election was about bettering the fate of children — and not just about controlling who sits on the Board of Education.Ben QuiÃ±ones contributed to this article.