FIRST PERSON-In the selection of Austin Beutner as the new Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) permanent superintendent last Tuesday, those against his choice found his biggest deficit to be his lack of a background in education.
But could this be his greatest asset in the job of turning around the district’s entrenched incestuous bureaucracy? Up until now LAUSD has enabled only those within the public education establishment to "succeed" as long as they did not find fault with anything they were asked to do by those above them in the corrupt LAUSD food chain.
Not surprisingly, Beutner's opponent for the superintendent position, Vivian Ekchian, could be “the poster girl” for this longstanding dysfunctional culture -- the “go along to get along” mentality that has LAUSD on the verge of bankruptcy both financially and educationally. Ekchian, who moved up to become acting LAUSD Superintendent, was in line to be considered for the top superintendent job. She never found a document on her desk for signature that she would not sign, even if she had no idea about its content. All she ever needed to know is that those above her wanted something done and she would do it. So, by the time Ekchian got to the Interim Superintendent position, she had no skills as an executive business person -- like questioning what she was being asked to do. The result? She became a rubber stamp for bad policies.
I know very little about Mr. Beutner, except that he is a very successful businessman with a background as an investment banker, deputy mayor of Los Angeles under Villaraigosa, and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. I would argue that while the purpose of LAUSD has been to educate allstudents, this mission has been impossible to realize due to the entrenched Ekchianesque bureaucracy's mismanagement carried out by those at LAUSD with only an education background and no skills to run one of the largest businesses in the City of Los Angeles, when measured by how many millions -- if not billions -- of dollars of goods and services it purchases.
Unlike his predecessors -- Ekchian, Cortines, Deasy, and the others who moved up the career ladder at LAUSD by escaping from the classroom -- Beutner is already successful and not a captive of the legal and business interests that have so distorted LAUSD’s business and educational policies for years in pursuit of lining their own pockets. Sadly, the LAUSD model of dysfunction in public education has become the rule and not the exception around this country. Our very existence as a democracy is threatened if LAUSD is not able to function educationally and as a well-run business under the tenure of Austin Beutner -- assuming that he is for real and not also in the pocket of Eli Broad & Co.
Remember, Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again with the expectaction of getting a different result. Well?
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles, observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second- generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.