Sunday, October 26, 2014

Muratsuchi's Missed Opportunities for Education Reform

Responding to the disturbing, unethical pay package which now-fired superintendent Jose Fernandez was taking (including a $1 million no interest loan), Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi authored a bill which would limit salaries to school district superintendents.

Muratsuchi did nothing for our schools

For a man who trumpets his support for local schools, why did he approve Governor Brown's Local Control Funding Formula, which is depriving South Bay Schools of much-needed funding?

Hermosa Beach City School District is one of the highest performing school districts in the state, and now they get the lease amount of per-pupil funding. Torrance Unified will have to wait until 2020 until the district funding returns to 2007 levels. However, district leaders have stated repeatedly that even then, the district was drastically underfunded. Residents in Palos Verdes expressed outrage that in spite of supporting Prop 30, their schools are getting less money, yet the state legislature wants to extend those taxes indefinitely.

Why are strong districts in the South Bay getting less money? Al Muratsuchi did not deliver on his promise to fund our schools and spare them from the cost-cutting and spend-thrift failures of Sacramento.

Republican challenger David Hadley has pressed another issue in connection with local control: granting the cities of Lomita and Gardena the authority to establish their own school districts free from Los Angeles Unified.

This measure is a brilliant move, politically as well as economically and morally.

There is no issue which drives civic-minded minority communities than access to a quality education. Gardena High School has struggled with high dropout rates. In 2011, a student brought a gun on campus, which discharged and wounded students. The dysfunction in Los Angeles Unified has hindered local leaders from helping their schools in the area.

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Lomita is safe and welcoming community, yet wealthy families choose to downsize and live in Torrance because they do not want their children going to LA Schools. Granting the cities of Gardena and Lomita the opportunities to found their own school districts would ensure more accountability from local leaders. Families looking for a welcoming community will consider Lomita because many couples look for good schools when relocating.

Why hasn't Assemblyman Muratsuchi pressed this issue? Wiseburn School District leaders and parents worked tirelessly for years to break away from Centinela Valley Union High School District. Depite lawsuits and environmental reports, local activists persevered. Independent superintendent Donald Brann worked with lawmakers in Sacramento as well as bureaucrats in Los Angeles County Office of Education to bring more students into the district from underserved communities. This district had closed the achievement gap between white and minority students, yet lawmakers were not paying attention. While Centinela Valley was spending millions on lawsuits and administrative perks, Wiseburn continued to serve students and help them excel.

Following a voting initiative 2013, 91% of Wiseburn residents voted to break away from Centinela Valley and form their own unified school district. Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento helped push these reforms through the legislature to the Governor's desk. Assemblyman Muratsuchi certainly could have done something to get the process started for Lomita and Gardena.

Yet he did nothing.

The South Bay needs representatives who will work as hard as Wiseburn residents to help Lomita and Gardena form their own school districts. Muratsuchi's claims of working across the aisle for the South Bay is hollow rhetoric, especially when residents face the grim prospects of moving to expensive neighborhoods or suffering in poorly-administered LAUSD schools.

The South Bay deserves better, real education reforms.

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