Signs of balkanization in L.A. Unified


A potentially disturbing new phenomenon has cropped up a couple of times at recent Los Angeles Unified school board meetings. It’s not about the usual reform advocates vs. the board members aligned with the teachers union. It’s about whether this an overarching seven-member body that sees to the needs of all students, or a gathering of individual representatives who want to rule over their own electoral districts.

It came up during the board’s discussion last week of the project to equip all students with iPads. The board majority generally favors some kind of technology program, but it has well-grounded doubts about how the iPad purchase has been rolled out by Supt. John Deasy so far. But Monica Garcia, Deasy’s most ardent supporter on the board, prefers to move ahead swiftly and proposed that if the other board members have doubts, they should go ahead with Phase 2 anyway and put the tablets in her district’s schools, because she has no concerns about them.

Garcia is certainly entitled to her viewpoint on the iPads either way, and to fight vociferously to convince the rest the board. But the board is supposed to be adopting policies that are best for the overall district and its students. If there are problems with doing a faster iPad roll-out, that’s true for the entire district, not just for six-sevenths of it. And if it’s important to buy several hundred thousand of them quickly, that also is true for the entire district, not just Garcia’s one-seventh slice.


A worse example came up several weeks ago. The board was discussing a new system to test school volunteers for tuberculosis. The screenings are a state health requirement. Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte had concerns about the proposal and said she didn’t want the volunteers in the schools she represents to use the new program, so the board voted to leave those schools out of it.

Again, the issue isn’t whether LaMotte’s or Garcia’s opinions were legitimate; they were. But board members, though they are expected to fight for their constituencies, are not the overlords of the schools in their respective areas. It’s the board’s job to make decisions for all students. Perhaps there could be an exception when a board member can convince the others that his or her district is significantly different and has different needs.

All board members are responsible to all the students. Disagreement should not devolve into the balkanization of L.A. Unified.


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