Betty Pleasant’s Soulvine
The Wave Newspaper
December 11, 2008

THE RUSH TO REMOVE What happened to LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer wasn’t so much racist as it was a naked power play on the part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who never liked Brewer from jump street. He never liked him because he wasn’t his. This wasn’t the first time an ambitious Los Angeles mayor orchestrated the ouster of the superintendent of schools: Mayor Richard Riordan commanded then-school board President Genethia Hayes to get rid of Superintendent Ruben Zacarias in 1999 and now nine years later, Villaraigosa’s handmaiden, school board President Monica Garcia, carried out her assignment to do the same to Brewer, with Villaraigosa’s toxic water-carrier, former Councilman Richard Alatorre, aiding and abetting the whole mess. (Remember the firing of Franklin White as the CEO of the MTA in 1995? Remind you of anything you see today?)

The school board names have changed, but the purported issues remain the same the need to improve the quality of education dispensed by the Los Angeles Unified School District. That’s what Riordan, Hayes, et al. said then, and that’s what Villaraigosa, Garcia, Alatorre, et al. are saying now.

But the real issue is power. Brewer had the misfortune of being hired by a school board which was in a bitter fight with Villaraigosa over who would run the school district � the board or the mayor so the mayor did what politicians do best: He politicized the school district, bought himself a school board and assumed the power over everyone except Brewer. Villaraigosa wanted very much to oust Brewer, but he couldn’t.

Until recently, the mayor had a potential formidable rival to his bid for re-election in the form of former Police Commission President Rick Caruso. Villaraigosa had to have known that if he caused Brewer’s removal, he would trigger an instant replay of what happened to former Mayor James Hahn when he fired then-Police Chief Bernard Parks. Black people would elect Caruso, just like Black people elected Villaraigosa.

But, Caruso decided not to run for mayor, thus freeing Villaraigosa to rid himself of Brewer with little concern about a racial backlash, since he has no viable competition in his re-election race. Well, absent a nice big backlash, the only thing for those of us to do who are uncomfortable about what happened this week is to vigorous repudiate assertions that Brewer hasn’t done anything during his two years as school superintendent, as the data begs to differ.

According to LAUSD’s own reports, the academic performance of the district’s elementary school pupils was noticeably improving during the six years Roy Romer served as superintendent, but middle and high school students struggled. That is where Brewer put his emphasis and it showed, as API scores rose 74 points in the middle schools and 62 points in the high schools under Brewer. Nearly 70 elementary schools made gains of 40 or more points on the API last year, with 122nd Street School making the greatest progress 70 points. Jefferson High School made the greatest improvement among high schools with a 60-point gain, and Dorsey also showed strong improvement with a 30-point increase. Standardized test scores went up in the double digits at every level last year, as the district’s overall progress outpaced every other public school district in California.

Brewer’s detractors admit these successes, but they say Brewer had nothing to do with them. Nonsense! He’s the head of the joint! It’s his tenure, his leadership and all that that entails. That’s like saying when the nation’s economy starts to improve, President Barack Obama will have had nothing to do with it!

In Brewer’s two years on the job, he has dealt with round after round of devastating budget cuts, which caused LAUSD to lose $800 million this year, a total that would easily result in school closures in other districts. Yet, no LAUSD school has closed; no teachers have been sent home, no children have been put on the street. The district eliminated 650 positions at its Beaudry headquarters and managed to keep the cuts out of the classroom. When it comes to leadership, this ought to count for something.

But I reiterate, Brewer’s ouster is not about his job performance, his management style or the academic performance of the students. It’s about that old bugaboo: political power. Therefore, I wholeheartedly agree with Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s proposal to seek a change in the City Charter allowing the superintendent of schools to be elected by the people rather than being hired by the board of education and manipulated by the mayor.

THIS AND THAT Trina Williams, the distaff member of the Inglewood School Board majority, called to tell me I was as wrong as two left shoes when I reported last week that she and her two buddies Arnold Butler and Johnny Young had voted to remove Carol Raines-Brown as president of the board. Hey, that’s what I was told! Williams said Raines-Brown is still president and she allowed as how proper procedures must be followed to remove her from the presidency. I couldn’t help but to respond: You people have never let proper procedures keep you from doing anything before! Raines-Brown called me a couple of weeks before Williams and told me herself that her hold on the board presidency was tenuous as the majority was plotting to remove her. According to Williams, they haven’t done it yet.

Former Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally has been named director of the new Urban Health Institute at Drew University of Medicine and Science. The mission of the institute is advocacy policy and research to improve health inequities, particularly childhood obesity, diabetes, cancer, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and heart disease and other persistent health problems that plague poor and underserved communities. Also at Drew, the university’s board of trustees is contemplating transferring its oversight of the Head Start program to another organization, just as it did with its alcohol, drugs and domestic violence programs earlier this year. The transference of Head Start would be an outgrowth of Drew’s move to refocus on its original core medical teaching and researching mission and would be accomplished in the same seamless manner as the transference of its other programs in September, officials said.

Dymally and the Rev. Eric Lee, SCLC’s executive director, joined more than 250 mostly Northern California elected officials and community leaders as signatories to a letter sent to SEIU calling on national union officers to resolve their dispute with the members of the United Healthcare Workers-West peacefully and without taking over the 150,000-member California-based union as it has threatened. I have to see what this is all about.

An online poll was taken shortly before the election last month to determine who men in America regarded as the most influential man of 2008. The lifestyle Web site asked men to decide who most impacted the way they behave, buy and think. Their choice: Barack Obama was No. 1. Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain was No. 10 on the top 10 list, which also included Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, No. 2; Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer, No. 3; Robert Downey Jr., actor, No. 4; Stephen Colbert, political TV commentator, No.5; Gordon Ramsay, celebrity chef, No. 6; Christian Bale, actor, No. 7; Rob Kay, video game designer, No. 8; and Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer player, No. 9. I know Christian Bale is Batman, but I never heard of numbers 8 and 9.