Tag Archives: David Brewer

Looking Beyond Funding In Education Reform

The fairly spectacular flameout of LAUSD superintendent Adm. David Brewer, hailed as a savior for the district just two years ago and now on the verge of being fired by the school board, could perhaps provide a valuable lesson to progressives about education policy.  Too often the focus is solely on finances – protecting education funding, fighting fee hikes at colleges and universities, spending X amount per classroom.  These are noble and important goals, but Brewer’s tenure shows the pitfalls of this focus at the expense of proper management and development, which is simply a disaster in Los Angeles, the state’s largest school district and one of the largest in the nation.  A lot of it has to do with internal politics.  Antonio Villaraigosa spent millions to put his acolytes on the school board, and Brewer was seen as a legacy of the past.  There was a Solomonic gesture to make everyone happy, and it made things worse.

Eventually, Brewer’s accumulated missteps — and his dismaying lack of prowess — led to an arrangement in which he ceded much of his authority while preserving the illusion of his leadership, a revision of his job description that avoided roiling the city’s ever-tenuous racial politics. Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines was hired in April to oversee academic matters for the district, while Brewer continued to preside over administrative matters such as payroll and construction; Brewer also acts as a public figurehead and attends the protracted board meetings. This is classic Los Angeles politics: Administrative and racial comity is achieved by paying two superintendent-level salaries for one complete superintendent-level package. It also typifies all that is wrong with L.A. Unified. The district protects administrators who fail rather than students whose futures depend on a solid education.

For his part, Brewer was overconfident about his ability to navigate the political shoals that lay ahead. Shortly after starting his job, he was confronted with an enormous payroll snafu, as a new computer system put in place by his predecessor repeatedly spat out inaccurate checks — for months, some teachers were overpaid, some paid not at all. Though Brewer tackled the problem competently, he also compounded it, first by trying to blame district employees for the mess and then by hiring expensive and ineffectual public relations consultants to spin a new image for the district.

On Which Way, LA last night, one guest reported that the Administrative newsletter had to be scaled back to a 10th-grade reading level because it was causing difficulties for the TEACHERS.  And there were a lot of horror stories about the composition of the district political architecture itself.  These are not all questions of finance, and many positive steps could be achieved for students without an appreciable amount of funding, or cutting back on needless public relations spending.  This CAP report about teacher tenure and high-poverty schools might be a good place to start.

I think we need to have a broader conversation about education policy than “protect our school money,” is all I’m saying.