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“The Big Money”

December 17, 2010

Continuing on the topic of money, LA history teacher Charles Olynyk talks about the effects of budget cuts, how district funds are spent, and the sometimes unsavory ways school and district leaders find to make up the shortfall.

The Big Money(Originally posted at Remember Fremont)

Today is Thursday, December 16, 2010 and Day 171 PF. It was a day of frustrations. The blood is still by the elevator on the third floor of the R Building, which you would think would have gotten cleaned up by now, but it goes to show what happens as more and more classified staff are moved about or positions cut. According to an L.A. Times article by Rick Rojas, dated December 1, more than 6,000 district employees have, since June, either lost their jobs or been shifted to new ones, being reclassified in the process, which means cuts in pay and in hours. It always seems to happen around the holidays, too.

Maybe they think people will just get used to it.

That is the philosophy Superintendent Ramon Cortines and the LAUSD School Board have adopted in other matters, such as beginning the traditional school year earlier. A November L.A. Times article mentioned the pros and cons of starting the traditional school year by August 15. It was interesting that one of the pros mentioned last school year was the idea of more time to prepare for the California Standards Tests, but we know that now to be false. Too bad they didn’t check the state Education Code, which specifies the tests must take place 85% of the way through the school year, which means we can start as early as we want, but those tests are still coming at the same RELATIVE time of the SCHOOL YEAR. All that can be said about this ingenious move is that it will put kids in classrooms with often limited air conditioning (I referred to my A/C unit as the Mont as my asthmatic A/C) and will short-change District employees of three  weeks of summer break.

And so, with the clarity of vision that is the hallmark of LAUSD, the School Board moved ahead on December 14 to change the start of the traditional school year to August 15 by a vote of 6 to 1, Richard Vladovic voting no, only because too few parents knew about the change.

Of course, that didn’t stop what happened at Fremont, even with the collection of over 700 parent and community member signatures who opposed the move, all the while Dr. George McKenna III declared widespread support for the actions of Superintendent Cortines and the rest of his scurvy crew of cut-throats.

“The parents will get used to it,” is what the excuse will be. Do it around the holidays and no effective resistance gets mounted. As my teaching partner put it, “Everyone goes home, spends time with family and friends, can’t do anything about it until February, and then it’s a done deal.”

He’s right, of course. It echoes a Ukrainian proverb, “A man can get used even to hanging.

It won’t matter if it is wrong for the kids. It won’t matter if the chance for hotter days will be much greater and more often. It won’t matter if in the first 300 District emails ran 2-to-1 against. Just like with the Fremont situation, the District will rely upon what they hope will be a silent majority. If you do something like this around the holidays, the entire world shuts down, then comes back to a transformed LAUSD landscape.

It will save money to have the entire District on the same schedule, the same schedule that the faculty of the eighteen campuses already using it were WILLING to try. Never mind the cost of running air conditioning (if available) more.

A word on A/C. When I came to Fremont from Edison Junior High/Middle School On July 5, 1994, there was no A/C. There were, however, and still are, big freakin’ metal grates on the windows of the main building, except on the north side where the previous O-Zone was located (which gave me a great view of the sunrise reflecting off the towers downtown). That meant the sun hit those grates and what followed in our classes what I called, having read “Catch-22” too many times, the Impressive Fainting Ceremony. My girls fainted with impressive regularity. Fans in the windows did nothing. I took to taking my kids out on the quad to have class under the trees.

But if we all suffer together, it will save the District money.

After all, money is what the District is all about.

In early July, leasing director (I did not even imagine such a position or title existed) for LAUSD Scott Graham described school districts as “falling all over themselves” to earn thousands of dollars a day renting campuses as locations for movies, TV shows and commercials. After all, Torrance High showed up (get it?) in “90210” (according to the article I saved—never saw an episode), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (watched some), and “Medium” (never saw it—I’m a rare kind of guy). University High appeared in “Valentine’s Day” earlier this year, 2003’s “Bruce Almighty,” and “Drillbit Taylor”.The same article mentioned the shift in emphasis of the Disney Channel and MTV to scripted programs featuring kids in school. Roosevelt High had its own parking south of the R Building and along Mott Street as some L.A. based crime show was filmed there either late October or early November. I’m sure someone can tell me what that

So it should come as no surprise that the School Board, those same folks who brought you a shorter, unpaid summer and an earlier school year, voted Tuesday to allow “corporate branding” in order to raise revenue.

While these new corporate sponsors the District would whore out for (should I have used a more politically correct word like prostitute?) would not be able “to sell market specific products to children”, but their “branding” opportunities (makes our kids—and us—sound like cattle, eh?) could involve a sign on a scoreboard or re-naming an auditorium or athletic field with a storied past, steeped in tradition. How about a brand name on a drum purchased with corporate money?

Those of us who attended the East L.A. Classic this year remember the jerseys donated by Nike, which put the Rough Riders in black-and-gold jerseys (for those who don’t know, our colors are red, gold, and sometimes blue). A BIG STINK ensued because Roosevelt, which had accepted the donation from Nike, played the game in colors other than their own.

But fear not. According to Superintendent Ramon Cortines, “Let me tell you, this is all advertising… We’re not going to put advertising where it offends.”

Yeah, right. Jim Garza, the principal of El Segundo High, which appeared in 1955’s “The Blackboard Jungle” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” had the school’s palm trees removed in order for the school to appear less “Southern California” and hence be more marketable for backdrops. Uni High students and teachers complained about the crew blocking access to classes and the distraction, but did get paid $90,000 for the trouble.

In an interesting sidebar, today the Gear Up program on campus managed to disrupt every 10th and 11th Grade class by having special assemblies about the importance of going to college, featuring Mr. Mariah Carrey—I mean Nick Cannon—who dropped out of college to pursue his music career. Aside from the biting humor of having a college drop out tell kids about the importance  of college, while telling them he dropped out to follow said career AND toss out copies of his CDs, members of his entourage (he has an entourage?) forcibly prevented a faculty member from using a faculty restroom until he talked to something like five people, one of whom explained that he had gone to college…

The excuse made by Board member Steve Zimmer? “The public is not funding public education in California.” No, because of documentaries like “Waiting For Superman”: and because Oprah fetes her heroes of education to the mindless Oprah-ites (who are far more widespread than can be imagined—God, I’m depressed), because we’ve been led to believe by the Billionaire Boys Club that the corporate model and supply-and-demand are good for education, the public is drinking the Kool-aid and buys (wow, is that an appropriate word) the idea that charters are good.

So of course I am shocked that someone who served as a principal of a charter school pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $1.4 million between 2008 and 2009.

But just because one works at a charter does not make one automatically a thief. And LAUSD has had its own share of financial woes and questions as unanswerable as a Zen koan. That’s a question for which there is no true answer, such as “Show me your true face before you were born.” That can sound a little like the old saw about, “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” Or, to quote “Catch-22” again (I have no idea why it’s in my head—“Well maybe it is just the time of year…Or maybe it’s the time of man…”) “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?”

Here’s one that is unanswerable: an administrator who was in charge of the budget for a few years at Fremont got moved and her desktop computer got seized. What happened to the audit?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. markfriedman1 permalink
    December 20, 2010 12:13 am

    Your last question, “what happened to the audit?” deserves to be repeated over and over again, throughout many, many districts in this country. Well written piece that hits the nail on the head. Keep em coming.

  2. December 21, 2010 8:16 am

    I agree: the earlier start is difficult because of the heat. I have an old, asbestos-insulated classroom with a full wall of windows and no air conditioning. Even with fans and crafty cross-breeze setups, the temperature gets above 90 and stays there well after heat waves ends. It’s not a pleasant environment for four and five year olds.

    Next year, California will start moving forward the Kindergarten birthdate requirement, since many four year olds aren’t ready for the Kindergarten the state mandates (very academic, likely play-limited). Moving the school year start forward means that there will still be young four year olds enrolled, though. It seems counter-productive.

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