Hertzberg Laments LAUSD School Bond Measureís Shortcomings
June 22, 2006
Former Assembly Speaker and L.A. Mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg fears that money from a new school bond may not be well spent.
In the midst of a massive building campaign, funded largely by bond funds, the LAUSD approved another school bond measure for the November special election ballot. Despite the popularity of school bonds and L.A.ís dire need to serve its massive student population, this recent bond is not without its critics. California Assembly Speaker Emeritus and L.A. mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg sponsored one of the largest school bonds in state history and remains a vocal advocate for education. TPR was pleased to talk with him about L.A.ís next opportunity to fund new schools and the steps he believes are critical for truly serving L.A.ís students.
In July, the Los Angeles Unified School Board voted to ask voters in metropolitan Los Angeles to approve (the fourth in seven years) LAUSD facilities school bond, a $3.98 billion bond measure for the November special election ballot. As the stateís former Assembly Speaker and the author of the largest state school bond in the country, give us your perspective on the need and merits of this bond.
Let me answer your question personally, Iím now sitting in my office and looking at a picture on my wall; itís taken at about 4 oíclock in the morning and it says, ďProposition 1A School Bond Negotiating Team in 1998.Ē I remember how hard that negotiation effort was because it broke a legislative stalemate. For 16 years the housing industry was at loggerheads with school facilities interests; through leadership and hard work, common interest was found in those negotiating session in 1998 and as result three successful state school bonds totally $35 billion have passed. Also on my office wall is a framed copy of the bill AB 16. Itís stamped, ďPassed the Assembly in March 21, 2002, Passed the Senate April 4, 2002, Signed by the Governor on the 16th of April at 11:30.Ē The governorís signature on that tribute reads: ďBob, youíre simply the best. This is a historic measure. Youíre a mensch. Gray Davis.Ē And thereís an accompanying plaque that says, ď$25.3 billion for our kidsí schools.Ē
Our success over the last few years in winning the support of the public for needed new classrooms statewide, and in Los Angeles, is historic in significance. But both the public and I hoped for, and were promised more than just new classrooms. We expected that with the passage of the facilities bonds, schools would be sited and built as the joint use centers of their neighborhoods. That pre-K and after school programs, as well as adult education, libraries, health care access and recreation, would be programmed, by design, into each new school campus. That our schools would be more than just rain-free, educational factories. Our expectation was that the billions in bond proceeds would make it possible for school campuses to become safe learning centers of revitalized and healthy neighborhoods.
It is painful, therefore, to answer your question directly. I presently do not believe that LAUSD, the largest recipient of these new dollars, has invested its billions of facility dollars wisely. I am so disappointed because I think theyíre blowing it. Not blowing it by failing to build and modernize school facilities, but blowing it because LAUSD has failed to site, plan & build schools as small, neighborhood centered community schools.
I just read an article in the front page of the New York Times the other day documenting the success of small schools. Weíve seen throughout the country that community schools by design are the preferred model. LAUSD was not mentioned in the NY Times article, and for good reason.
LAUSDís facilities and real estate folks just drive, like a freight train, towards the goal of building seats, with little interest in incorporating what we know about how to site and design great community schools. So, yes, in response to your question, Iím happy that we are still continuing to investment in our public schools because itís everything Iím about. But Iím deeply, deeply disappointed in LAUSDís facilities plans and may oppose this bond measure in November. I havenít decided yet Ė I still hope they can fix it- that they will better prioritize their bond expenditure plans.
You are quoted after the passage statewide of the $25 billion school facilities bonds in 2002, as saying that there are two needs which must be addressed in the building of new schools. One is that most of our stateís schools were built just after World War II and we obviously need to modernize them and expand the number of seats so that students are able to go back to a two-semester calendar. The second, that we need a new model for our school facilities, one built upon a vision of joint use that directs that the bond proceeds be used for community-centered schools. Is the absence of the latter what concerns you most about LAUSDís fourth bond?
The areas that are failing in LAUSDís proposed bond reflect the history of resistance by the school district to learn in any meaningful way. Theyíve got a couple of examples they can try to point to, but those who have been trying to collaborate with the districtís bureaucracy know how difficult itís been to work with the LAUSD. There is no real energy, interest or aptitude on their part with respect to making schools the center of communities.
It is important to note that the only way our public education system is going to make it in the decades to come is if those who donít have kids in the school system continue to invest in public education. And the best way to secure continue support for such investment is to make the schools directly relevant to communities by putting the public, the community, back into our schools through joint use of the playgrounds, classrooms, libraries and the like. Thatís going to be the future backbone of the schools. Itís just so disappointing that the leadership at LAUSD just doesnít recognize it; that they are continuing to advance the same out-moded, campus as island, facilities plans.
You said in that same interview after the passage of the state bonds that you were most proud of the inclusion of $100 million, $50 million in each bond, dedicated to joint use planning and construction. LAUSD also included in one of its bonds joint use but has never used that money or leveraged the state money that you provided. What explains LAUSDís reluctance to engage with the community?
LAUSDís Community Engagement is just window dressing. Their goal is simply to build/create more seats. More seats without regard to the design and programming of the schools built and without regard to what we know about how children learn and the relationship to educational achievement of the health of the neighborhood in which the students live. Community schools across the country preform better than our factory-modeled schools; but collaboratively planning new schools with community input is obviously seen by LAUSD as too time consuming and expensive. Thus, LAUSD, unlike Chicagoís public school system, evidences no interest whatsoever in community schools.
What I would like to see in this next school bond Ė in the proposed new school bond on the November ballotĖ is very stringent standards requiring that not just a few dollars, not just a small percentage, but the vast majority of the money that comes out of the bond is part of a communities and schools program with very detailed obligations to work collaboratively with local governments and non- profits where the schools are located to co-locate government offices and community facilities with our schools. I want this collaboration to be mandatory. The state school bonds allocated $100 million for this purpose, but LAUSD has clearly thumbed their noses at the whole process with only a little window dressing to cover up their failures.
You have worked with MALDEF on equity issues and you co-chair with Nancy Riordan the effort for universal pre-K in L.A. County. Tie the two of those civic involvements together with this idea of schools being designed and built as neighborhood centered facilities that offer children and families opportunities for access to health care, recreation, adult education and pre-K. Whatís the nexus?
The nexus with universal preschool is that you want to co-locate these facilities, these community serving facilities, on our school campuses so that the parents and kids, some who are kids of kids, are in a safe environment which affords them practical access to an array of social services in support of good education. With respect to MALDEF, its mission, like mine, is about insuring that 1) our children and families have equal educational opportunity, and that 2) parents become involved in a much greater way in their childrenís education. This mission statement is the definition of a community school.
Elaborate on your leadership role in launching universal pre-K, LAUP, for LA County. Whatís the nexus between First 5 LAís support for LAUP and Universal pre-K for all four year olds in LA County with the LAUSDís facilities needs and the proposed school bond?
One of the great problems that we have with respect to achieving the promising goals of universal preschool is that weíve targeted areas, what we call ďhot zonesĒ, where we certainly have a lot of kids, but we donít have existing preschool facilities. The challenge facing L.A. Countyís start up effort: how, with limited dollars, do we both fund new pre-K seats and new pre-K educational programs. Obviously, if we could co-locate these pre-school facilities on the campuses of our new K-12 schools, that would just be fabulous. Co-location would meaningfully contribute to equalizing access to pre-k in areas where a lot of kids donít have preschool. And co-locations with K-12 facilities is consistent with siting and designing schools to serve as the center of community. No public policy, in my opinion, is more important to implement.
You offered in your primary campaign for Mayor of L.A. Ė and Mayor Villaraigosa has endorsed this agendaĖ that Los Angelesí Mayor ought to be more involved and responsible for our schools. (Mayor Daley in Chicago has said that creating community schools and extended learning time is one of his three core strategies to transform the Chicago public schools.) What can the City of Los Angeles do to support the education of its public school children?
I, as your readers know, wanted to break up the LAUSD. I just recently opined in the press that I strongly support state Senator Gloria Romeroís bill to give the Mayor of LA the power appoint school board members because are public schools are in crisis: 53 percent of our ninth graders do not graduateĖ itís actually more; the Harvard studyís almost 55 percent. I strongly believe that anchoring our schools in neighborhoods, making them smaller, and that having more grandmothers rather than cops on our campuses by design, works! Chicago, New York and even Providence, Rhode Islandís, success in doing so is compelling.
Perhaps San Diego also provides a model. Could you comment on the successful efforts by that cityís political and civic leadership to create a joint powers authority between the city and the school district to realize the goal of integrating public schools with their neighborhoods by co-locating classrooms with housing, with health care, with pre-K.
I would think that San Diegoís experience is of great value. Essentially youíve got to keep experimenting, and you learn. The collaborative master planning of that Cityís most blighted neighborhood, City Heights, has resulted in a dramatic revitalization of the neighborhood and the schools. Every time we do something, the next time we reinvent it, we learn from it, we improve it. The legislature accepted LAUSDís word in 1998 re their ability to build schools quick enough after the passage of the first state school bond. They failed to perform. There had to be a lawsuit and $750 million set aside to enable them to participate. In the second state bond we set aside funds for severely impacted school districts like LAUSD. Funds flowed to LAUSD as a result. Now weíre asked to support another bond issue. I believe it is fair to ask: what did we learn from how past bond funds have been invested and how do a better job of investing new bond dollars?
In the recent campaign for mayor of Los Angeles people across the board were supporting the idea of making schools the centers of communities. Well, how can I support a bond issue that does exactly the opposite; that just builds more warehouses? Certainly we need seats. I know that. But these are challenging times and we have to rise to the challenges, and the challenge means that weíre going to have to figure out a way to work collaboratively with municipal government; weíre going to have to figure out how to develop new school facilities that are small, community centered and serve as anchors to neighborhoods. Iím having such a problem with this bond measure because it fails to embrace this priority agenda. Itís the same old, same old, cookie cutter, grab the cash, pull the wool over the votersí eyes and not learn from your experiences.
Mayor Villaraigosa has picked up on many of the themes about educational reform and mayoral leadership you advanced in your bid for Mayor. Will Mayor Villaraigosa support LAUSD proposed bond measure?
I donít know specifically what position he has or hasnít taken on the bond as proposed. I know heís passionate about public education. Itís noteworthy that in his inaugural speech he endorsed building joint use, community centered schools. I have every confidence heís going to do it. I know itís important to him. Iíve had a number of private conversations with him and I know how passionate he is about education. And I know heís a supporter of New Schools Better Neighborhoods.
Bob, we know how supportive you are of public education. You made it a centerpiece of your campaign for Mayor. How difficult, as a result, is it for you to think about not supporting LAUSDís November school facilities bond?
Itís so painful I canít tell you. But Iím just tired of this same old, same old, and Iím tired of just going back to the voters and asking them to pass more money to just build more classroom seats. We know what we need to do. We know the future of education is schools as centers of communities.
Letís make this fourth bond reflect truly important educational and community values. We still have time to fix it on the ballot. I donít care what they say; you can reprint themóthereís time to get these ballots printed for the special election in November. What it is not appropriate to do is to ask the voters for more money when the bond isnít properly written.
Alternatively, even if the current bond passed, you could then pass a resolution, that would require a supermajority to amend, at the Board of Education that directs that the proceeds be used for community-centered schools.