Bill Boyarsky
 
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October 21, 2009

Another school question for the mayor

One of the many questions Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s school plan leaves unanswered is whether all students will be allowed to attend their neighborhood schools.

The LAUSD board has approved Villaraigosa’s plan to turn over 250 campuses, including 50 new ones—to charter school organizations and other groups that can meet district qualifications. Charter schools and others run by outsiders are financed by the districts but run their campuses independently.

Many of the campuses, and most of the new ones, are in poor areas where students have been packed into old, overcrowded schools for many years. These neighborhoods supported recent bond issues that financed the new schools.

Å friend who knows the poor schools told me that many people are afraid charter school operators will require new students to apply for admission to the schools built with bond issue funds. Neighborhood kids who don’t speak English well or suffer from other learning disabilities might not be accepted. That’s because the charter folks might want to cherry pick the most promising students.

I discussed this recently with new board member Steve Zimmer, who reluctantly voted for the mayor’s plan. “You should be able to go to your neighborhood school,” he said. “If that’s your school, you shouldn’t have to fill out an application.” Neighborhood youngsters should be admitted even “if you have special needs.”

The guidelines from Superintendent Ramon Cortines seem a bit vague on this point. He has told prospective private operators of the new schools that all their proposals “must indicate and, if necessary, receive a waiver (for charters) to guarantee that the school will enroll the requisite number of students from the impacted campuses that the new school is intended to relieve, and that students coming from the attendance areas of the designated, overcrowded schools will be served first and foremost. “

But the details of how students will be admitted are will be worked out by Cortines and his staff, with recommendations given to parents, teachers and others. If past conduct is any indication, the staff process will be opaque. There are so many levels to Cortines’ process and so many people involved that it will be hard to follow. The danger is that well-connected charter school operators could figure out a way to allow them to pick the best and brightest.

The neighborhood people helped pay for those schools. In school bond campaigns, LAUSD and its supporters gave them lists of planned projects would by school and by region so that parents, families and other school supporters would know what would be done with the money from the bonds, Now the neighborhood people deserve to reap the benefits of the bonds they helped pass.


October 11, 2009

Will the new Ambassador school campus honor RFK?

With mariachis playing and children singing “This Land Is Your Land,” the opening of the new school complex on the old Ambassador Hotel site was perfect except for one terrible mistake—the name.

“Central Los Angeles Learning Center # 1” sounds like something they’d call a school in the old Soviet Union. Where was the name of the man who inspired the construction of the six schools in the complex, Robert F. Kennedy? Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador in June 1968 just after he won the California presidential primary. More than that, the New York senator stood for what these schools should accomplish. Why wasn’t the campus named for him?

When the project was developed, it was understood the campus would bear his name, especially after attempts to save the Ambassador as a landmark failed.

Before the opening day festivities began Saturday, I put this question to Monica Garcia, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board.

Will the completed complex be named for RFK? “I think, yes, “ she said. “That is the name that is coming up and it is a beautiful thing, the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.”

She said the board will vote on the name at its November meeting. I hope the vote is fast and unanimous. I hope there’s not a hang up, as so often happens at the school board. “Central Los Angeles Learning Center #1” does not evoke hope. Robert F. Kennedy does.

He would be an inspiration to the students in classes from kindergarten through 12th grade. They and their families are people Kennedy spoke for during his brief presidential campaign. They are mostly Latino and poor, living in one of America’s most crowded communities. Kennedy’s story and his words, along with the education the schools will offer, would provide an upward path toward attainment of the American dream. There is no better monument to RFK than that.

October 9, 2009

The real villains of the Station fire

The flames of the Station fire will be blamed for the floods that may follow in the denuded San Gabriel Mountains. But let’s place the blame where it belongs, on land development, acquiescent local officials, and a tax structure that subsidizes hillside building.

I was interested to read the Los Angeles Times story on the U.S. Geological Survey’s warning that winter rains may produce huge mudslides and floods in communities just below the San Gabriel Mountain areas hit by the huge blaze.

In 2004, fellow journalist Emmett Berg and I studied this area for the Center for Governmental Studies and wrote a report entitled “Losing Ground: How Taxpayer Subsidies and Balkanized Governance Prop Up Homebuilding in Wildfire and Flood Zones.” We did it after major loss of life and homes in the 2003 wildfires and floods.

Since there was no big fire or flood in 2004, our report was pretty well ignored, as we had predicted: “When fires and floods kill people and destroy residential areas, the disasters bring out heavy television news broadcast and print media coverage. But once the danger has past, the media, always in search of something new, shows little interest in examining systemic or policy-based causes. Those involved in dry and fire-free year discussions of potential danger are treated like Henny Penny, warning the sky is falling.”

Our report showed how taxpayers all over Los Angeles County—from rich to poor—subsidize the high cost of fire protection for subdivisions built on the edge of Angeles National Forest and just below it. In addition, we reported how state forest fire personnel, financed by state revenues are now “suburban firefighters, battling house by house to save homes in suburban areas.”

These subdivisions shouldn’t have been built. But now they are there, let local homeowners and government pay for firefighting costs in areas around and below the forest. Why should working people in Pico Rivera pay for firefighting in affluent and high-risk neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills?

And why should a number of city councils influenced by developers make land use decisions on subdivisions that have regional impact? We proposed regional governing bodies to deal with issues such as land use and taxation.

These are issues for policy wonks. But nobody pays attention to them or their warnings. All the attention is on images of tankers and ground crews fighting fires or homeowners fleeing from mud and rocks roaring down their narrow hillside streets.

Land development continues, regardless of the cost. It is the story of L.A., now and for all time.


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