In these last few minutes before the inevitable happens and Ramon C. Cortines is named David L. Brewer’s successor as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, here is a modest proposal: How about a PTA mother for the job?
PTA moms are the very opposite of the $500,000-golden-parachute bureaucrats Brewer has come to represent. PTA moms draw no salary. We work nights, weekends, holidays. We bring our kids’ schools new resources every day -- whatever we can load into our minivans. (Binders, colored pencils, toilet paper, snacks, basketball hoops and musical instruments are but some of the items I’ve seen moms deliver.)
We know not just how to make a dollar stretch but how to make no dollars stretch. (Look how handy we are with scrip, Chuck E. Cheese fundraisers, Vons give-back-to-school cards.) So thrifty are we, it shocks us when our snickerdoodle-baking world meets the LAUSD money-hosing world.
My L.A. public school mom friend -- and Oprah Angel Award winner -- Rebecca Constantino is the founder of Access Books, a 10-year-old non-profit that brings 10,000 new and almost new books to each of the many needy LAUSD elementaries requesting them. Thanks to a web of volunteers and private donations, the books come absolutely free.
The only obstacle? LAUSD Central Library Services. It has capped Access Books donations to a maximum of 300 books a school (some with more than 1,000 students) because of an LAUSD cataloging cost of $18 a book!
Call me hormonal (what I actually call myself is a “Burning Mom”), but I believe the district’s director of Instructional Media Services should be fired -- today! That would save taxpayers $119,724.84 a year, according to an L.A. Daily news website that allows you to check the salary of any LAUSD employee.
While we’re at it, let’s also right-size the budget by firing any LAUSD front office worker who is rude (do you, like me, suddenly see huge, huge savings?).
In this, the 21st century, even fast-food employees greet customers with “Hello! Welcome to McDonald’s, may I help you?” Walk into most LAUSD schools and you’re treated like a felon -- or more likely, ignored by the sour office drone who refuses to look up from her typing. Get to know us -- we are parents, we are taxpayers, we are your bosses. And if you’re at a loss for words, try this: “Hello! May I help you?” If you’re lucky, you won’t soon have to add: “Welcome to McDonald’s!”
And then there’s the union problem. Even a chipper, resourceful PTA mom will have her hands full dealing with A.J. Duffy’s teachers union. Consider this sad tale.
Two years ago, the school my children attend was lucky enough to receive a VH1 “Save the Music” gift of 36 string instruments, the only requirement being once-a-week musical instruction. Not only could our Title I school not come up with $10,000 a year for an LAUSD teacher, there weren’t any available. Fortunately, a professional musician parent was thrilled to step in to volunteer. However, according to union rules, we could not call that person a “teacher” or “instructor” and technically could not bring the person into the classroom -- we’d potentially be denying a teacher a job.
If you haven’t seen the pattern yet, ask yourself this: Whose needs are held hostage in every case? That’s right -- the children’s.
I think Brewer truly cared about the kids, but what he found is that a school district is not like the Navy. In the Navy, you assume excellence and accountability -- military personnel actually earn their stripes. Not so in the LAUSD.
So which PTA mom should we look to in our hour of need? Well, why not the pit bull with lipstick herself, Sarah Palin? I hear she’s available, and the LAUSD certainly has some bridges to nowhere that could use exploding.
Sure, this hair-trigger hockey mom might ban a book or two. But with Palin in the job, local schools would finally be front-page news. And the city might finally notice how children’s opportunities are being squandered by a nest of non-admirals saying, “The buck stops there.”