Jon Coupal- Columnist
is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with
offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go
to Coupal index]
LAUSD Scandals Seem Like Old News
Experts in dreadful management…
[Jon Coupal] 3/17/05
to San Ysidro, and even beyond the borders of California, the
Los Angeles Unified School District is the undisputed poster
child of badly run school districts. To many, the district
has become synonymous with its eight-year slow torture effort
to build the nation's most expensive high school on an abandoned
and toxic oil field. But most local observers know that it
has a much longer history of dreadful management.
This is why, when an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative
Analyst's office revealed that the school district faces an unfunded
$5 billion liability to provide full medical coverage to retired
employees and their families, this outrageous news was met by
a collective yawn. After all, if you are mugged on your way to
work, it is a traumatizing experience, but if you are mugged
every day, the routine of pulling out your wallet to fork over
your cash becomes mundane.
The LAUSD is the nation's
largest school district geographically, is second in enrollment,
and has a budget greater than 20 of
our 50 states. The LAUSD's size gives it major clout in the California
education "industry." It is the tail that wags the
dog. This is why administrators in other school districts roll
their eyes at the mention of the LAUSD. They know that their
work is made more difficult because of the negative image inflicted
on public education by the Los Angeles district.
The LAUSD is so large, unwieldy and hidebound that it is impervious
to outside stimuli. Parents have difficulty in communicating
with the school board because each of the seven board members
has about 600,000 constituents. School board meetings are held
during the day at hours inconvenient to most parents, and they
are held downtown -- meaning transportation can be difficult
-- in a fortress-like environment. (Probably better to repel
Complaints by parents and local politicians fall on deaf ears.
School board elections are held at odd times when there is little
voter turnout. This allows the teachers union, whose members
have the most at stake, to mobilize supporters and elect their
hand-picked candidates. A few years ago, when then Los Angeles
mayor Richard Riordan put money behind a slate of non-union candidates
who were elected, the bureaucracy sat on its hands and waited.
Sure enough, after the next election the union-sponsored candidates
were back in charge and nothing had changed.
Good top administrators are hired to be replaced by bad administrators,
to be replaced by mediocre administrators. Regardless of their
quality, the results are the same.
So it is not surprising that news of an unfunded retirement
benefit obligation -- that could reach $11 billion under a worst-case
scenario -- is shrugged off by school board and union officials.
Given the LAUSD's structure, it is unremarkable that the warning
that liabilities this large threaten the district's ability to
operate in the future is ignored.
Maybe school officials are comforted by the knowledge that the
district has been able to successfully pry $10 billion in bond
money from local taxpayers over the last eight years. Perhaps
they feel secure knowing that a large percentage of this bond
money, which was approved by voters for capital improvements,
has instead -- according the district's own auditors -- gone
to payroll and consultants.
One LAUSD official
who has broken the mold, at least on this issue, is chief operating
officer Tim Buresh. He has been warning
that the school board's "live for today" approach could
lead to disaster. "In the corporate world, I'd go to jail
for this" he said. "Corporations could never do this.
L.A. has a Cadillac free-benefits system and we haven't put any
money away to pay for it."
Buresh is right, of
course, but we're dealing with the LAUSD where being right
is no defense. The penalty for pointing out
that this obese emperor has no clothes is likely to be "off
with his head." We hope that the truthful Mr. Buresh has
his resume in order. CRO
is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association