In December of 2001, the State Board of Education unanimously rejected a well-supported proposal for Los Angeles residents to vote on whether to decentralize the L.A. Unified School District. It was an unconscionable act, not to mention a clear reminder of the excessive bureaucracy in Sacramento.
Board President Reed Hastings opted to shift blame to the valiant Valley-based Finally Restoring Excellence in Education. Citing deficiencies in FREE's proposal to create two new school districts in the San Fernando Valley, Hastings insisted that the Board's decision was "based on how the proposal meets the criteria our elected legislators debated and enacted into law." Translation: 'Hey, it's not our problem.'
Legislative indifference, however, does not validate this feeble verdict. The Board is well aware of the enormity of LAUSD (37,000 teachers/administrators, over 700,000 students, and a budget of $8.4 billion), which has become unmanageable by most families' standards. Sadly, it has ignored the opportunity loss of countless students receiving a sub-par educational experience.
A major concern among Board members was that FREE's plan would be disruptive to the existing school system. That's precisely the point. Any truly innovative idea must shake the very fabric of our public education in order to instill accountability and self-sufficiency among individual schools. Even LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer said in a recent interview, "There's value in site-based management."
Indeed, the LAUSD has made some significant strides. Romer has done a marvelous job at tending to Los Angeles inner-city schools, which require his ongoing attention. But he and his staff simply do not have the time, energy, nor resources to make the same commitment to the San Fernando Valley.
When emotions subside among all parties, we discover that the real issue is not whether a break up is beneficial to the Valley and its contiguous areas. Rather, we must turn our attention to the will of our communities - a decision to discern for ourselves which direction is most prudent.
Los Angeles County residents, not the Sacramento bureaucrats, should determine the merits of decentralizing the LAUSD and vote accordingly.
Already, the State Board's intervention may have exponentially fueled the debate over Valley independence. And rightfully so. Anytime the voices of responsible citizens are stifled by the State Board, our public education then becomes victim to a perilous state of affairs.
We must send a stronger message to the State Board that the quality of public education will not be compromised for any political agenda.