Bill Boyarsky
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January 28, 2012

Valley, Westside parents fight school cuts

A big parental revolt is shaping up in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside as federal budget cuts reach deep into the Los Angeles Unified School District.

At issue is the school board’s 6-1 vote in December to take federal poverty funds away from 23 schools, a number of them in middle class Valley and Westside neighborhoods. Nevertheless, they have student bodies that include substantial numbers of poor youngsters.

The funds are distributed to school districts under Title 1 of the federal school aid act, a program begun in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. They are designed to provide schools with additional funds to help students overcome obstacles from impoverished families and neighborhoods. The money pays for more teachers, counseling, instructional material and training for parents.

Washington has reduced Title 1 funding. In the past, with more Title 1 money, the Los Angeles district distributed its share to schools where at least 40 percent of the students are classified as living in poverty.

Now, with less money to allocate, the school board voted to raise the level to 50 percent. This means funds would be cut off to the 23 schools. “We have less Title 1 money to give out,” Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy told me. He said the district should “concentrate the funds in schools where there is the greatest concentration” of poverty.

The impact would be painful. Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume told how the decision would affect Superior Street Elementary in Chatsworth, where 43 per cent of the students are low income. The cut would deprive the school of $200,000 a year, which pays for an instructional coach, intervention teachers, teacher aides, a library aide and a clerical worker, who also acts as an informal nurse. The school’s academic level has risen. “We could not have made these gains without the support of this funding for these children,” said Principal Jerilyn Schubert. “I’m devastated,” said Schubert, “I just want to cry. I really do.”

At the Westside’s Los Angeles Center For Enriched Studies (LACES) Magnet, Principal Harold Boger said the school would lose $460,000, which pays two teachers, a counselor, a three-and-a-half day nurse, math intervention programs, a parents representative, two educational aides and choir assistance. One of my granddaughters is a student there, and through my daughter I have seen the extensive e-mail and organizing campaign being waged by the parents.

“Are the low-income children at LACES and the other affected schools somehow less deserving of intervention services, tutoring and after school programs than a student who attends a school a few blocks away with a slightly higher percentage of Title 1 student?” parent Elizabeth Dennehy wrote to school board member Steve Zimmer, who voted for the cut.

School board member Tamar Galatzan, the only board member to vote against the cuts, said the district, in allocating the money, doesn’t know what programs work. Before cutting, she said, “we need to know what programs are helping. Is it dropout prevention, is it Saturday classes, and is it smaller class size?”

At Galatzan’s town hall recently, many parents asked questions about the Title 1 funds. They had been alerted by calls from Galatzan’s office, and by protest organizers’ e-mails and letters.

An LAUSD source told me the matter still could come up again. Perhaps the protests are working.

January 20, 2012

Beutner challenges weak city ethics regulation

To some of us disillusioned alums of the weak and failing City Ethics Commission, mayoral candidate Austin Beutner is saying the right things.

In a piece in the Daily News, Beutner noted the weakness of the city’s incomprehensible ethics laws, and pointed out that any attempt to improve them must be approved by the City Council. In my five years on the commission, I watched the council, which hates the commission, kill any of our plans to strengthen the law. The council and the mayor must be pleased now that the commission barely receives any public notice.

I asked Beutner about his Daily News piece when he met with reporters after speaking to Town Hall Thursday. Would he favor going around the city council blockade?

“I would like to see the ethics commission truly empowered to put measures directly on the ballot,” he said. “Let’s take it directly to the voters.”

Since most voters, readers, viewers or Angelenos don’t care about ethics laws, I wouldn’t recommend Beutner make this a major part of his campaign. But the fact he tackled it at all is noteworthy--and indicative of serious tone he might bring to the mayoral campaign trail.

Beutner is a multi-millionaire retired investment banker who impressed former Mayor Richard Riordan and other old white guys who like to throw their weight around. They persuaded Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to put him on as a $1-a-year top deputy. Beutner supervised several departments, including the messy Department of Water and Power before leaving to seek the top job himself.

He’s the un-Villaraigosa, with a spare, matter-of-fact speaking style, showing none of the mayoral emotion that has captivated, appalled and annoyed us for so long. The somewhat slight and slender Beutner sounds like another ex Wall Streeter, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and he looks a bit like him too.

Some people say he is boring. Gene Maddaus wrote in the LA Weekly that Riordan fell asleep during Beutner’s Town Hall speech. “Hey, Beutner can have that effect on people,” Maddaus wrote.

But I stayed awake and enjoyed the way he dug into details. He was right about the miserable conditions at LAX and the MTA’s refusal to buy electric buses. In the Daily News, he wrote about the sad ethical conditions at city hall. He didn’t, however, connect ethics to the airport, although there is a connection. The food is lousy and the shops inadequate and overpriced because concessionaires—using campaign contributions and an influential gang of city hall lobbyists—call the shots with the council and mayor when it comes to the airport. Bad ethics produces bad food.

Even so I congratulate Beutner for taking on the ethics laws and the commission that administers them. When then City Controller Laura Chick, a great reformer, appointed me to the commission she told me to raise hell. I tried as but my friend Tim Rutten pointed out at the time, I was “treated like the drunken uncle at a Seder.”

Even more than anything I learned as a reporter, that experience taught me that it will take someone tough and smart to change the culture of city hall and shake up the intertwined politicians, lobbyists and campaign contributors who dominate it.

January 9, 2012

Zev blasts city hall

Although Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky didn’t shed much light on whether he will run for mayor, he gave a scathing and knowledgeable critique of L.A. city hall and indicated what he might do if he ran the place.

Of course, whether he would be a mayoral candidate in 2013 was the first question asked by designated questioner Dave Bryan of Channel 9 at a luncheon of the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum at the downtown Palm Monday.

The supervisor, a former city council member, drew an unusually large crowd to the forum luncheon, hosted by public affairs consultant Emma Schafer. Crowd size is important when discussing the forum, which is attended by people who, in one way or another, make their livings from government contracts and contacts. When this group figures a guest lacks clout, the crowd is small. Perceived clout equals a big turnout, and Yaroslavsky, as potentially strong mayoral candidate, got one.

“I will let you know in due course,” he said of his decision, adding that “it won’t be long…I’ll keep you posted.”

What was most interesting was the way he ripped apart city government on subjects ranging from redevelopment to potholes.

He said city streets are in bad shape compared to those maintained by the county in unincorporated areas, he said. He sarcastically compared the streets in East Los Angeles, run by the county, to those in neighboring Boyle Heights, in city territory. Boyle Heights streets are filled with potholes, a condition ranging from there to Wilshire and Sunset Boulevards, from the center and south of the city to the Westside. Yaroslavsky said the gap between East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights street maintenance is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Yaroslavsky blasted the city hall plan to float bonds for street repairs, saying there is plenty available money from various transportation programs. And he said there was no need for the city to furlough employees, Good management would have prevented it, as it did with the county. “Where did all the money go?” he asked. If he ever gets back to city government, Yaroslavsky said, he would find out.

The question is whether he wants to undertake the difficult task of returning to city hall and trying to get a straight answer to such questions.

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