Racial Politics and the LAUSD

African-American leaders thwart efforts to oust Superintendent Brewer

Willie Williams, Ruben Zacarias, Bernard Parks and, now, Admiral David Brewer -- when it came time for them to leave high public office, race became the No. 1 issue.

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It speaks a lot about the state of the Los Angeles -- the nation's most racially diverse city where a fusion culture of black, brown, Asian and white is being born among young people -- that the color of a person's skin takes precedence over the value of their public service.

The nation has elected an African-American president by an overwhelming margin but LA still struggles with racial politics.

Brewer, who honed his management skills in the bureaucracy of the U.S. Navy, got the job as Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District despite a lack of any experience in education.

The theory was that after a Latino educator who never got his arms around LAUSD's bureaucratic mess and a white former governor of Colorado who proved himself to be a master builder of schools, it was time for an African-American administrator.

Within a year, it was clear the theory was faulty. Brewer wobbled in the face of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's failed attempt to take control of the nation's second largest school district and seemed to be swallowed up by the immensity of the task of reforming a 700,000-student school system that had wallowed in failure for more than two decades.

The city's ruling elite tried to ease him out but Brewer resisted, finally succumbing to pressure to turn over most of his responsibilities to the mayor's education point man Ray Cortines, himself a former LAUSD superintendent.

Finally, this week the heavy guns were brought out to force Brewer to take a buyout on the last two years of his $300,000 a year contract plus nearly $100,000 more for living expenses.

And that's when race became the issue.

The mayor, fearing the kind of backlash in the African-American community that badly damaged Mayor James Hahn when he refused to renew Parks' contract as Police Chief, has kept his mouth shut about the situation.

But sensitivity to race runs so high that School Board President Monica Garcia spent Monday trying to do what her staff described as "outreach to civic leaders" to alert them of "an important issue" that the board intended to take up in closed session on Tuesday, according to the LA Times.

She called more than 30 elected officials and business leaders, including key African American community leaders. And she tried without success to convince the board's lone black member, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, to come back from an educational program in San Diego.

LaMotte refused and told the Times in an email that she had gotten a "dastardly request" to return Monday "via train or chauffeured car."

"The futile attempt to have me do an immediate turnaround upon my arrival here was a disingenuous and unconscionable coverup to exclude me from this strategically and externally motivated plan," LaMotte wrote.

LaMotte did find time to mobilize opposition and a principal reported that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) asked her "to spread the word that there is a 'surprise' motion to be made tomorrow to ask Supt. Brewer to step down."

Garcia's calls also seemed to have inflame the situation, at least among black leaders like Councilman Parks who described his conversation with the school board president as "bizarre."

"She said 'It's an exempt position, so we don't have to have cause,' " Parks told the Times. "I said, 'Is there a reason?' And she said, 'If you're asking me for a reason, it's that he's not moving fast enough.' "

The result is Garcia and others out to push Brewer out backed down and did not take up the issue at Tuesday's meeting, putting it off for at least a week.

So now there is another full-fledged war like the one that dragged on for months when Zacarias was forced out as superintendent.

The only certainty is that it will cost the cash-strapped LAUSD a lot of money one way or another and attention will be diverted from how to reduce the dropout rate and teach kids the skills they need to make their way through life.

As for Brewer, he's non-plussed as usual.

"You will not see any difference in my behavior up until the last minute of the last day that I'm in this job," he said in an interview with The Times. "After 35 years in the Navy and working in life and death situations... you learn to basically compartmentalize."

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