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
Now, with Cortines back at LAUSD, the mayor has gained much of the influence over the district that he failed to grab when he sponsored a school district takeover law, approved by his allies in the state legislature, which was later tossed out by the California courts as unconstitutional.
Mike Lansing, a former school board member who was on the board when it voted to hire Brewer, sees it differently, dismissing the “Machiavellian thoughts” behind the hiring of both Brewer and Cortines.
“I think Ray is a good addition, and the two of them are a good team,” Lansing says. “If everybody gives them a chance, it is the best-case scenario.”
The mayor’s people say much the same thing. “The mayor believes that there couldn’t be a better time for Ray to take a leadership role at the school district,” mayoral spokeswoman Emma Soichet says, crediting Cortines’ “leadership” while running the mayor’s Partnership for L.A. Schools with creating “a real sense of urgency around transforming our public schools.”
But as the Weekly and others have reported, under Cortines, the partnership’s reform effort remained vague and heavy on previously tried ideas.
MEANWHILE, BREWER HIMSELF HAS continued to stumble. Criticisms against him include the district’s inability to improve poor scores on state aptitude tests among middle-school students; the disastrous teacher-payroll debacle, which Brewer failed for months to fix; and the district’s questionable spending, such as $175 million on consultants.
Lansing, who spent several years on the board and was regarded as a straight shooter, notes that many of Brewer’s biggest problems were inherited, including the new computerized, $95 million payroll system that accidentally overpaid and underpaid teachers for more than nine months.
On June 20, the Daily News called for Brewer to resign, describing him as “utterly unable” to oversee the bureaucracy. But some of Brewer’s detractors say he will not be forced out anytime soon. Regalado contends that, even if Villaraigosa privately wants his allies on the school board to oust Brewer, he is far more worried about losing the black voting bloc in the March mayoral elections, which could happen if Villaraigosa is seen as having engineered the ouster of a black civic leader, like Brewer. Jumping into the potentially ugly racial fray, the NAACP somewhat pointedly named Brewer one of its “Men of Valor” at an awards ceremony just this month.
“He doesn’t want to appear to be ousting an incumbent African-American anywhere, even one who is not doing a very good job of administering a school district,” Regalado claims.
Under this fairly widely held theory of Los Angeles racial politics, Villaraigosa wants to avoid the racial payback scenario that brought down former Mayor James Hahn. Incumbent Hahn lost to Villaraigosa after alienating black voters — who had been a key part of Hahn’s voter base — when he refused to renew the contract of former Police Chief Bernard Parks.
At this point, most LAUSD watchers seem to feel it’s unlikely that the school board will come up with the money required to buy out Brewer’s contract. Hiring Cortines may have been a compromise between Brewer and the board, providing a way to create a dignified exit for Brewer at some future date. Whether that happens sooner or later, Cortines promises he is “here for the long haul.”