Fight brewing against mayor

first_img “We’re going to probably do some P.R. work on putting forth a more positive image in making sure the public understands all the good things we’re doing,” he said. “We’re doing a lot better than we’re getting credit for and that’s our fault for not putting out the positive things that we do.” The bottom line is the district needs to respond to the “damaging misinformation” put out by Villaraigosa, said board member Julie Korenstein, who stormed out of a luncheon last week during the mayor’s speech when he cited a 50 percent dropout rate based on a Harvard University study. She said the rate is 22 percent. “I don’t think the district has ever done a good job on getting the information out – we’re building schools like crazy, our elementary students are doing exemplary work – but no one has really gotten out the information, and that allows others to make up their own facts,” Korenstein said. “My concern is that the district has to respond, and respond much more quickly. It’s long overdue.” Board members said they were not opposed to change; they just wanted to hear from Villaraigosa about his plan for reform and to work together to improve schools. Board President Marlene Canter said she has yet to meet with the mayor despite two weeks of requesting a meeting. Villaraigosa’s press secretary, Janelle Erickson, said the mayor has made it clear he wants to work with parents, teachers and administrators to reform Los Angeles’ schools. “Mayor Villaraigosa is making the case for public accountability and mayoral responsibility,” she said. District officials have said the leanly staffed communications department of seven with a budget of $862,000 is unable to take on anything more than its day-to-day tasks. “Right now we are looking together as a board and a district to develop more effective ways to tell our story,” Canter said. “The facts have got to get out.” Even the existing resources are not being used properly to tout the district’s successes, Tokofsky said. “A million-dollar communications unit and the facts – good, bad, ugly or beautiful – are not being put out to respond to the city terrorista,” he said, referring to the mayor. The district is already taking small steps to bolster its arsenal against the mayor. On Tuesday, the union, school board and Romer announced tentative contract agreements, which include nonsalary issues – establishing a joint task force to explore, analyze and recommend class-size reduction, particularly at the lowest-performing schools, and creating a task force on K-12 assessments with the object of helping teachers meet student academic needs and improving teaching and learning in the classroom. But what puts the Los Angeles Unified School District at a disadvantage right now is its lack of communications resources, some analysts say. Relative to the size of the district, its communications staff pales compared with those of other districts or large institutions, said Darry Sragow, who has run all the district’s bond campaigns, including the $4 billion construction bond approved by voters Nov. 8 – bringing to nearly $20 billion the public investment in new and modernized schools. Even though there are enormous improvements in the district, that work is not being conveyed to the public. “For a $13 billion agency with 727,000 students, 87,000 employees and that many parents, to be spending $800,000 on communications is absurd. You need to be spending in the millions of dollars,” said Sragow, an attorney and longtime political strategist. “Some institutions are scared of putting resources into communication because they’re afraid they’re going to be criticized for taking tax money to promote themselves. “But the truth is that a public agency that has the responsibility for educating our children that doesn’t communicate what’s going on is doing the community a gross disservice.” Sragow, who has been consulting with the district in an unofficial capacity since the bond passed, said if he continues helping while the district is the center of attention, his role may become formalized. It wouldn’t be the first time the district has used consultants to deal with tricky public relations problems. In fact, days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his support for an effort to break up the LAUSD, Romer quietly created a nonprofit organization that has raised nearly $150,000 to tout the district’s accomplishments and counter criticism by then-mayoral challenger Bob Hertzberg that the district was too large and inefficient. Rather than worry about public relations, the district should focus on improving the district, former Assembly speaker Hertzberg said. “The best thing in public policy is just do the work,” he said. “Their image problem is not an image problem, it’s a competency problem.” Nobody should lose sight of the real goal – educating students, Canter said. “I have the total same sense of urgency that the mayor has. The status quo is unacceptable,” she said. “This is not about politics. It’s about children.” Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Gearing up for a prolonged fight with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over control of public schools, Los Angeles Unified officials say they’ll launch a public relations offensive to cast the often maligned district in a more favorable light. So far, Superintendent Roy Romer and other top district officials have not reacted to Villaraigosa’s stepped-up pledges to wrest control of the nation’s second-largest district from the seven-member school board, which except for a brief period has been dominated by candidates backed by and closely linked to unions. But behind the scenes, board members have urged Romer to spin the district’s achievements more aggressively. “One of the things we hired Roy Romer for was his political and communication acumen, and he needs to come up with that,” board member David Tokofsky said. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals “It’s inadequate for him to just tell everybody we’re building schools, elementary test scores are going up and we’re breaking schools into small learning communities. Those three tenors cannot sing anymore.” Romer was out of town for the holiday weekend and could not be reached for comment. As Villaraigosa’s takeover talk toughens, the battle lines are forming quickly. The teachers union and district officials are putting aside years of bickering and hostility to present a “unified front” against the popular and charismatic Villaraigosa, who wants the authority to appoint school board members. Options the district will consider to defend from a mayoral takeover include improving in-house communications staff or hiring outside consultants, board members said. The board will be taking a “serious” look at making internal changes to improve the district’s communications to the public, board member Jon Lauritzen said. last_img read more