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Eugene Turner, a demographer in Cal State Northridge’s Geography Department, says that beyond the five-year projections, however, “we’re not sure how people are going to respond to the economic climate, and net domestic migration has been negative for L.A. County for at least the last 10 years.”
Cortines has yet to address the huge costs LAUSD incurs by having district leaders devote so many administrative and management resources to a massive, contractor-friendly building campaign — while other key school issues languish.
When the school board selected outsider Brewer as superintendent in late 2006, many observers believed the board was sending a message that it was not going to focus solely on bricks and mortar in a district riddled with student-achievement problems. But under Brewer, the school board spent much of its time on contracts, not student achievement. Brewer was also taken by surprise by administrative catastrophes, such as the notorious payroll-processing crisis he inherited — but then made worse — and a less-publicized IT meltdown.
“I’m actually surprised (Cortines) allowed the district to fire Brewer,” Folsom says. “Cortines seemed content to work with Brewer behind the scenes, and Brewer worked Sacramento well.”
Unlike with longtime Superintendent Roy Romer, who enjoyed political gravitas as a former governor of Colorado, few might be expected to blink when Cortines barks at town hall appearances or on Internet podcasts. And that could spell trouble for his complicated plan to “decentralize” LAUSD amidst a budget war.
His plan is not only experimental, it is the opposite of the path chosen in New York and Washington, D.C., where bad, big urban districts are using centralized powers to reverse long declines in student achievement. Nor does Cortines offer a way to give individual schools more power, as with charters, balanced with the crucial power that charters have to fire principals and teachers who can’t handle it.
Cortines may also face an unreceptive State Board of Education, where the governor recently appointed Rae Belisle, a strong advocate of using research-based classroom reforms already working in other states, and who is no fan of fads that often speed through troubled urban school districts.
The UTLA is also not playing along. It made Cortines cry uncle the first time he proposed to notify teachers of layoffs, and has issued an even more urgent call to arms in the wake of last week’s raucous board meeting. The union brazenly has even asked for raises.
CFO Reilly sees Cortines’ frenetic pace of announcements and public appeals as positive, saying, “I think that the energy of Cortines does ignite a fire around here.”
The question is whether Cortines, the superintendent in a hurry, will continue issuing dire predictions while bending the moment to suit his decade-old decentralization agenda, or go with more basic goals in his second hundred days in the job.