LAUSD flounders as superintendent rakes it in

A lot of public elementary schools in L.A. Unified, like the one in my neighborhood, are pretty good. But once middle and high school come into play, most people have three lousy choices:

Take whatever you get at the neighborhood public school.

Come up with the $25,000 for private school.

Or devote half your life to cracking the magnet school code.

My wife told me the other day that it's time to start playing that game. Before she completed the first sentence, I felt stabbing pains behind my eyeballs, but she had only begun the torture.

The way it works, she said, is that we have to start applying to magnet schools.

Say what?

Our daughter's perfectly happy at her neighborhood school.

We're supposed to apply to schools she's not likely to get into, she explained, because then "you get points if you're rejected." You work toward building up enough of them that by middle school you've got enough priority to get into the magnet you were aiming for all along.

She did not appear to be kidding.

"What if we apply and she gets accepted now, at one of the magnet schools we don't want her to go to yet?" I asked.

"I don't know," my wife said.

This is why people move to South Pasadena.

And it's why we don't have time for more of David Brewer's on-the-job training.

As for the race angle and reports that some local leaders would like to keep Brewer, an African American, where he is, I say that if the house is burning and children are at risk, you want experience at the fire hose, regardless of skin color.

Austin said he thought Brewer had good intentions. But, he noted, 90% of the district's students don't go to college and 50% don't graduate.

"It's an understatement to say the system is broken. And you need more than just little cuts in bureaucracy; you need to change the job of the bureaucracy."

Austin believes there's hope in the Green Dot model, which is now getting its most challenging test with its recent takeover of L.A. Unified's perennial disaster: Locke High School. It's way too soon to know if dividing the school into small campuses, and giving teachers more authority but requiring more accountability, will produce results.

But as it is, Austin said, there's little accountability in L.A. Unified. Brewer got a four-year contract and Dining Car perks with no performance standards, and although the vast majority of teachers are solid, getting rid of the lousy ones is mission impossible.

"It's all about politics and never about the kids," Austin said.

Brewer, if you ask me, doesn't deserve as much blame as do school board members who were gullible enough to be dazzled by a guy with laudable desire but no applicable credentials.

For future reference:

If a superintendent candidate comes in quoting the corporate management book "Good to Great," as Brewer did, suggest that he apply to run Nabisco, not a 700,000-child school district.

Of course, the perks probably wouldn't be nearly as good as they are at L.A. Unified.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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