06/01/2010 08:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Memo to LAUSD: Before You Boycott Arizona, Stop Failing Our Kids

Let's say that you run a company that has only one mission and you systemically, over years, objectively fail in that mission. Customers hate you and your shoddy work. Your finances are crumbling and you can't fire enough employees fast enough to balance your budget. Your own workers think you're incompetent too.

So what do you do? Do you focus all your energy on fixing the core problem - better product, better customer satisfaction, improved financial situation - or do you manufacture a diversion to take attention away from the fact that you have repeatedly, systemically failed?

In other words, at a time of significant stress that represents an existential threat, do you unleash a smoke screen that will hide your nearing collapse? If you're running any kind of serious organization, for profit or non-profit, the answer is of course not.

You do not lose focus on your problem, you do not try to hide your failure - you work with all your energy to make things right.

You try to stop failing.

That is unless you're running the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

For decades, the LAUSD has failed generations of children and our society at large in its one mission: to educate, to prepare our kids for success in life and give them the evergreen gift of education.

The LAUSD barely graduates 50% of its students. In some particularly badly run schools, the graduation rate is considerably lower. It is estimated that only 10% of graduates actually make it into a four-year college.

Meanwhile, charter school operators in Los Angeles continue to deliver good, sometimes excellent results with the same kids, in the same poor neighborhoods. At GreenDot schools, for example, the graduation rate is over 90% and the percentage of kids that go to four year colleges also tops 90%. And charters do it while spending only 7% of each education dollar on administration vs. the 50% administrative overhead of LAUSD.

Charters' success makes for some very stark contrast with LAUSD's record of failure.

And then there is the corruption and incompetence. In April, one of the key LAUSD executives in charge of the district's school construction program was indicted for allegedly directing construction contracts to his own consulting company. The LAUSD Superintendent, Ramon Cortinez, was recently caught moonlighting - for a LAUSD contractor, Scholastic Inc. And it was also discovered that the LAUSD was paying some $200 millions of dollars in salaries to people that no longer worked for the district.

In short, the LAUSD is a failure at its core business of educating the next generation. It consumes billions of dollars in tax payer dollars but delivers ruined lives and weakens' the city's future by depriving it of a capable work force that can compete for this century's knowledge-based jobs.

So what to do? Fire the incompetents? Prosecute corruption? Focus on dramatically and quickly fixing the systemic problems? Work on keeping the LAUSD from falling into California State receivership because of looming economic collapse?


Better than actually educating the next generation of Angelinos - get involved in a national policy issue such as Arizona's anti-Latino immigration law.

Sure, you may ask, what does this LAUSD intervention in Arizona have to do with fixing this pathetically run, failing school system? Short answer: nothing.

But it does shine a revealing light on who heads the LAUSD. Monica Garcia, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's choice to run the LAUSD, is leading the charge to have the district boycott Arizona.

Garcia is the latest political crony to run LAUSD. She is part of a political machine that has slowly swallowed up much of Los Angeles' politics - with disastrous consequences for the future of the city.

While competence is apparently not required for the job, political loyalty and servile dedication to the teachers' union is top of the list. And in both counts, Garcia does a heckuva job, no doubt.

To the nearly 700,000 kids in LAUSD schools, thousands of parents and competent teachers seeking to educate them in spite of the ravenous corruption and titanic incompetence, however, this latest political act of boycotting Arizona is an insult.

Like the Los Angeles City Council's own "boycott" of Arizona - which of course did not include the 25% of the electricity LA buys from Arizona's power plants - the LAUSD "boycott" is another cynical attempt to suck-up to Latino voters angry with Arizona.

To the rest of the city, and our great state, the fact that the country's second largest school system is failing in its basic mission to educate kids, while teetering on the brink of financial collapse and plagued by ethical and legal investigations, this should be the final straw.

The LAUSD crisis has reached a tipping point. It is clear that the district itself has no capacity for self-reform. It is a decaying carcass and must be buried as soon as possible.

Whoever triumphs in the Governor's race come November, the new Governor of California must intervene in the LAUSD. This organization should be dismantled, A-Z, and replaced with a new system, new leaders and a total focus on education outcomes.

Simply put, California cannot afford to have another generation of its young people abandoned by the public education system that is supposed to be the guarantor of our prosperity and democracy.

It's time for the candidates for Governor to clearly spell out how they will restore our public education system - and thereby assure that California remains the nation's foremost innovation engine and at the leading edge of the national economy.