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California State Government June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Time to Set Things Straight in LAUSD

By Tony Strickland

Candidate for Controller; Republican Party

This information is provided by the candidate
Every parent in Los Angeles has a right to ask, "What's going on with our schools?"

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has a 22% dropout rate + some say it is as high as 50%. Students who do stay in school score in the bottom third on national standardized tests, and too many of those will never pass the exit exam. What do you expect, ask its defenders? It's a big district with big problems.

In fact, its very size may be part of the problem. LAUSD is big. Huge. Mammoth.

If Superintendent Romer wanted to meet with all of LAUSD's employees, Dodger Stadium would be too small. There are over 77,000 employees, making it the second largest employer in Los Angeles County. The district phone book is 39 pages long. And that doesn't include any schools! The senior staff organization chart includes 46 bureaucrats, all multiple levels removed from the classroom, including somebody for "Youth Relations" and another for "Student Integrated Services."

LAUSD is so large, it is segmented into eight sub-districts. Theoretically, an organization would benefit from savings based on scale, but LAUSD has proven to be the example that breaks the rule. The other unified school districts in California averaged $7,151 in spending per student in 2003; LAUSD spent $8,302. That's 16% more money per student for the worst education in the state.

I don't know how to run a school district. That's not my area of expertise, but I know this isn't the way.

The children of Los Angeles deserve better. Our communities deserve better. There are plenty of examples of good schools, and it is both simplistic and insulting to say it all comes down to dollars. It does not. It begins with a commitment at the top to place educational excellence first, to set an example for the thousands of dedicated teachers struggling daily against an incompetent, inefficient and broken system.

I applaud Mayor Villaraigosa's call for an independent audit and reforms to clean this broken system. But there is a bigger problem here. The school board can't be allowed to block these necessary steps. LAUSD's inadequacies have been apparent for a long time. Parents in Los Angeles shouldn't have to wait for a legislative solution that can be time-consuming to achieve.

We need action now.

The State Controller should launch an immediate audit of LAUSD. It's not the only example of waste in the state, but it may well be the most visible. The Controller is the State's chief financial officer. He has a duty to provide oversight, particularly on one of the largest public agencies in California, the second largest school district in the country. LAUSD has a budget of over $13 billion dollars, two-thirds of which comes from the state.

A thorough audit will account for the billions of dollars that have been spent over the past few years, identify programs that suffer from the most egregious waste, and create a blueprint for effective governance in the future. An audit will be instrumental in building a system that is responsive and successful.

I have a new-born baby girl. In 5 years she'll be ready for public school. It's easier to focus on a problem that affects us personally, but the inescapable fact is that we will all bear the social cost of failed schools. Taxpayers will support schools that work, but it is na´ve to expect support for a system that refuses to hold itself accountable.

It's time to audit LAUSD.

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