By Martin M. Cooper Guest Columnist Over a pear and walnut salad at Paul’s in Tarzana a friend asked me, “Why should the business community care about whether the LAUSD is broken up?” “We shouldn’t,” I replied, “except that we’re parents as well as businesspeople, children represent the work force of the future, and we’re probably wasting dozens of millions of dollars a year that could be put to better use.” It is a law of nature that the larger the institution, company, or country, the greater the waste. That’s why there’s greater efficiency in almost any well-run Valley entrepreneurial business than there is in General Motors, and why Switzerland (or fill in the name of any small European nation) is more efficient than the U.S. If there’s anything the Los Angeles Unified School District isn’t, it’s unified or efficient. The waste in the District is astronomical from supplies to manpower. A school bus was dispatched to a North Valley elementary school once with nothing aboard to be delivered but a roll of masking tape that was on back order (that occurrence never made either the media or any LAUSD audit). Money is allocated to schools in a peculiar fashion. For example, a school may have money for supplies but needs equipment, or the other way around, but funds may not be used for what is needed only for what is allocated, despite the need. This year’s LAUSD budget is $13,166,864,970 I wonder how much of it is being spent efficiently. Where are the teachers? With more than 725,000 students, the LAUSD is the largest in the state and the second largest in the nation. There are 1,131 schools in the District. As of November 2005, there were 37,026 regular teachers out of a total of 77,754 LAUSD employees. That means that fewer than half of the District’s employees actually teach and how do we all feel about that? And then there are the antagonists, the union in one corner and the District in the other. There is no doubt that the teachers’ union, UTLA, is heavy-handed and a bit disingenuous when they say that they only care about the kids. It’s equally true that the administration is laden with nonproductive administrators and programming specialists. (The phrase, “A pox on both their houses,” springs to mind.) I have a lot of respect for Superintendent Roy Romer, a hard-working executive who is dealing with a Hydra-headed monster out of control. I’d have a lot more respect if he was a little less defensive and a little more willing to admit that he heads a dysfunctional bureaucracy. (Note to self: not that there aren’t other dysfunctional bureaucracies in this town.) Our City Controller, Laura Chick, spoke at VICA’s Board of Director’s meeting last week. She reminded those in attendance that she had proposed conducting an independent audit of the District, an offer that was rebuffed out of hand. She shared the fact that there have been numerous audits of individual programs, but not one of the overall District. She also pointed out that there has been no published follow-up to the audits an analysis of specific actions taken in response to audit’s recommendations. Looking for details Mayor Villaraigosa’s clarion call to break up the LAUSD resonates with a lot of people, but it’s a bit like Valley succession; we haven’t heard all of his details yet. Laura Chick is like many of us, admitting that she is waiting to “hear the specifics of the Mayor’s plan before endorsing it.” On April 18, the Superintendent announced that the District has approved an independent audit conducted by Education Resource Strategies. The LAUSD website reads: “The performance audit will examine the potential for reductions in non-school expenditures, identify other potential savings or efficiencies in the operation of the District and propose long-range strategies for controlling costs so that more resources can be directed to classroom instruction.” This most recent performance review audit will cost the District approximately $324,000. I have two members of my own family who each spent more than 20 years working for the School District. I stand second to none in my ability to recount horror stories of money wasted; politically correct but educationally disastrous decisions; administrators, teachers and other staff not even close to qualified to educate our children; and an environment so dangerous it makes the classroom in the film “Blackboard Jungle” seem like an idyllic “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” And here’s a quote guaranteed to scare the life out of any parent, from the UCLA Health Services Research Center: “The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is comprised of 722,000 students, many of whom are at increased risk for exposure to violence and other traumatic events due to increasing community violence and poverty.” Great, where can I sign my kids up for an environment like that? The bottom line is that the LAUSD is much too large to be managed properly, particularly by people who have no business experience. While education must be the District’s primary focus, managerial types with business experience should be running the management side of this behemoth. In reality, the District is a big business as well as an educational institution; people who have been promoted to the top have gotten there through promotions, starting out as teachers and never knowing anything else. I love the clich & #233;, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, for those of you who don’t realize it, the LAUSD is broke, and school’s still out whether our peripatetic Mayor can fix it. But I’m willing to let him give it a try. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” United Negro College Fund slogan Martin Cooper is Chairman of Cooper Beavers, Inc., marketing and communications. He is Immediate Past Chairman of VICA and Past President of the Public Relations Society of America-Los Angeles Chapter and the Encino Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at email@example.com.
School’s Out on Mayor’s Plan for LAUSD