In view of the recent news regarding the fallout from the LAUSD’s ill-conceived iPad program, you would think the board incumbents facing run-off elections on May 19 might have mentioned the developments in their social media posts.
A check of the Facebook pages of Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic, as of Friday afternoon, found them full of rainbows and unicorns. Bennett Kaysar did not mention anything about iPads either (although there was a reference by a reader), but he was squarely and consistently against the program from the start. He owes no one an explanation for the fiasco.
Facebook posts of smiling children and celebrations help archive students’ experiences. That’s fine, but they should also inform the constituents of significant events affecting the school system.
So why is it incumbents fail to present a complete picture, one which acknowledges the failures along with the successes?
Of course, that is a rhetorical question. Nevertheless, neglecting to share important news, whether good or bad, indicates a lack of accountability, and that is a characteristic shared by Galatzan and Vladovic.
It was bad enough the iPad deal attracted an investigation by the FBI for possible criminal violations; now the SEC is evaluating it. There are enough questions regarding whether the use of bond proceeds to pay for the i-Pads and software met the disclosure requirements for the investors, an area regulated by the SEC for any public offering. It is a very technical issue, but it revolves around the definition of technology applications with respect to the bond covenants.
Too bad there will not be an investigation addressing what the voters thought they were getting when they approved a string of school construction bonds last decade, well before the advent of the iPad. That’s as contentious as the SEC issue, and even more relevant, in my opinion, since there was a $40-billion construction and modernization backlog when the i-Pad program was forced through.
I will not venture a guess what the SEC will decide. The LAUSD’s attorneys did not have a problem, but they are hardly independent.
Regardless of the outcome from the SEC review, most who voted for the bonds probably would not have considered individual iPads as a facility improvement, at least not without thorough public scrutiny and an auditable plan with measurable benchmarks. The curriculum piece of the purchase, in particular, is at odds with any reasonable definition of a capital asset. As it is, iPads have a life much shorter than the assets such bonds would ordinarily finance and can easily “walk away” when distributed to a mobile population. It is pretty difficult to walk away with a building.
Many today now think of it as a classic scam similar to what former Mayor Villaraigosa pulled with the trash fee that was supposed to fund 1,000 new police officers back in 2006. Only 366 were hired. The rest went for ancillary public safety costs. He was chastised for it by then City Controller Laura Chick.
In the end, the iPad program was launched on a whim; a hell of a way to commit a billion-plus dollars. Obviously, with the exception of Bennett Kaysar, the board knows little about fundamental fiduciary responsibilities. It is worse when those responsible do not publicly acknowledge major errors in judgment.
Most of the iPad supporters eventually acknowledged the program was off the rails and voted to slow it down.
Vladovic, Galatzan and others also supported John Deasy’s decision to implement MISIS, the costly student database that crashed and burned. They ignored emphatic concerns from Bennett Kaysar of the potential for failure. To make matters worse, they insisted on pushing forward with the system even after discovering problems consistent with Kaysar’s predictions. Ramon Cortines, Deasy’s replacement, estimates the cost of fixing the mess at around $100 million.
According to an article by Howard Blume in the LA Times, Galatzan’s reaction to the MISIS crisis was, “But it might take us a little longer than we had expected or hoped to get there.”
Not a word of concern about the cost. No acknowledgement of the warnings. Is that her idea of accountability?
Lydia Gutierrez may have a slight lead over Vladovic based on an internal poll, so take it with a grain of salt. The incumbent garnered 42.6% of the vote in the primary, only 5 points in front of Gutierrez. A close contest is expected.
Both she and Vladovic have some degree of controversy surrounding them. Gutierrez is viewed as a social conservative by some. Vladovic accused her of being against mandatory vaccinations, but she insists that is untrue. Her stated position is that caution be used if there is a reason to believe there could be an allergic reaction. That appears to leave wiggle room in favor of the voluntary route, but it does not appear to be as extreme as her opponent would like the voters to think. (Personally, I am in favor of mandatory vaccinations, but I suppose there may be rare exceptions based on sound medical advice, which does not include input from Jenny McCarthy).
Vladovic has admitted to anger management issues for which he has sought professional treatment. He was also accused of sexual harassment. The details of the LAUSD investigation into these charges were not made public due to attorney-client privilege.
Guiterrez has an otherwise clean set of credentials as far as her role as a teacher and education professional. She is also bi-lingual and active in the education sector. She also served in her local Neighborhood Council. Whether any of her social conservatism would affect her ability to serve the students in the LAUSD, or even if she would have the leverage to influence policy with respect to any of her views, is debatable and probably unlikely.
I am not endorsing either of these candidates – between Vladovic’s poor management and personal judgment, and some uncertainty as to whether Guiterrez’ social conservatism might influence policy, it is a tough choice the voters of District 7 face. However, they should not be afraid to make a change if they believe it is in the overall best interests of the students.
The key to Galatzan’s bid for re-election is whether her opponent, Scott Schmerelson, can rally the supporters for the candidates who finished out of the money in the primary for District 3. If he can, he stands an excellent chance of unseating her.
Schmerelson is a career educator with 35 years as a teacher, counselor and principal. Galatzan was part of Villaraigosa’s LAUSD reform slate that did not live up to expectations. She has never served as a teacher.
Voters should give Schmerelson a shot in view of Galatzan’s inability to comprehend the importance of evaluating major financial commitments. Her reckless approach to approving projects is draining money from the classrooms.
Bennett Kaysar is in for a fight, too. I hope the voters of District 5 re-elect him. He appears to be the only LAUSD board member with critical thinking skills.
In their hearts, all of the candidates truly care about the students, but it is the mind that converts the care into effective action. Some minds are just not suited to the task.