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
Yet within hours, the small lobby was teeming with irate teachers eager to tell a different tale — of taking precious class time off work to straighten out what the district hasn’t. Radio stations abruptly dropped Brewer’s “big change” press coverage to run tape of educators vehemently contradicting his claims of a payroll fix — and making him out to be a liar.
Asked about Brewer’s rainbows-and-sunshine press conference, East L.A. teacher Ellen Montiel told the Weekly, “He’s clueless. The people who put this [payroll] program together don’t understand it. How can he ever understand it?”
Not long after that, on September 28, Brewer made a second questionable move, inadvertently revealing just how much of a political animal he is in a stinging “interoffice correspondence” he wrote to LAUSD board members, a copy of which was surreptitiously sent to UTLA four days later. In that memo, Brewer attacks California state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero — a woman with significant sway over the district’s funding — over her public hearing on the paycheck controversy. Calling the hearing a “scripted affair,” he slams Romero as “neither interested in the facts or what their responses entailed,” and rails, “In cases where it was pointed out that she had her facts wrong, the Senator briskly moved to another topic.”
Then Brewer gets to his real issue: He tells the board that the media paid Romero only “moderate” attention, provides a detailed list of press outlets that did and did not attend, and suggests some media talking points for board members. The talking points are filled with clichés such as: “I’m frustrated too. The transition did not go well and our folks who provided testimony yesterday made no excuses,” And, “Could we have handled it better? Sure. But hindsight is 20-20.”
The question of how effectively he spends his time came up yet again in September, when Brewer made two visits to Washington, D.C., testifying before Congress as an “expert” on the federal No Child Left Behind Act — yet saying nothing that had not already been noted ad infinitum by weightier educators. On his second trip to Washington, he and board members Garcia and Aguilar lobbied for changes in federal funding rules — in particular, a controversial bid to bring back “native language” testing, or tests in Spanish, another sign that Brewer is listening to those who oppose the past five years of promoting English, and English tests, for all kids.
Amid all of this political jockeying, his High Priority Schools plan — Brewer’s response to the mayor’s slams over the dropout rate — had finally been scheduled for a widely promoted unveiling at a “committee of the whole” board meeting on November 20. Educators citywide marked their calendars for the big day, as Brewer launched a very visible public-relations junket, appearing on KPCC public radio and granting other interviews.
Things went incredibly sour, however, when, just hours before his big unveiling, district staff sent out an e-mail at 5 p. m. on November 19, canceling the “committee of the whole” meeting and setting off an avalanche of gossip about the Admiral at district headquarters. According to LAUSD spokeswoman Binti Harvey, the reason was simple: Brewer, now on his seventh or eighth rewrite of the plan, wasn’t ready.
Board member Julie Korenstein believes Brewer’s now-pointless publicity tour was an example of his “wasting time.” A frustrated Korenstein, a board member for 20 years who is close to UTLA and represents the Valley, says, “I think he has the wrong advisers.”
Educators in the Valley are so squeamish about Brewer’s thus-far vague ideas that several schools flatly refused to be named in his list of 44 High Priority Schools — a vote of no confidence that eventually slashed the project to 34 schools. That represents only one-tenth of the district’s 300 or so most problematic schools.
Board member Galatzan, whose election to a seat representing the Valley was largely financed by Villaraigosa, says, “In the Valley, there are a lot of parents who feel middle schools and high schools aren’t safe and the education isn’t good.” She spoke to Brewer about it, and he said that while he was concerned with those bigger-picture problems, he was busy with his 34-schools plan. Galatzan says the two agreed to talk later about yet another plan, one more relevant to the Valley.
Unlike Brewer, superintendents Crew and Ackerman moved quickly in Miami and San Francisco to launch visible academic reforms, realizing that if they did not, the loudest voices — not necessarily the right ones — would fill the vacuum with plans of their own. Under Brewer, a power vacuum has plainly developed.
Now, sometimes-strident ethnic and economic lobbies — dominated by Latino and black advocacy groups — are demanding dollars and separate treatment.
The gaping power vacuum was apparent on October 23, when board member Marguerite LaMotte, who is black, pushed for a resolution to address academic and disciplinary problems among African-American students — the kind of separatist, color-based tendency resisted by former superintendents Ruben Zacarias, the first Latino to head the district, and Romer, both of whom saw it as the wrong direction for a district whose children speak more than 90 languages.