L.A. Schools’ Superintendent Attempts a Coup

The secrecy has got to stop.”
- LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson

In a clear case of insubordination, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner has ignored a request for copies of contracts that the District had signed for four months. On at least one occasion, Beutner publicly promised to turn over these “confidential contracts” to Board Member Scott Schmerelson but did not do so until last week. “The consultants’ work was not disclosed”.

To make matters worse, it appears that information about the contracts, which “total $3 million so far”, was selectively released to other Board Members. Schmerelson noted at yesterday’s Board meeting that he is “sure that certain offices receive more information than others”, which eliminates any notion that the information was somehow unavailable. The lack of disclosure was willful and a clear attempt to keep information away from an elected Board Member who is, by definition, Beutner’s boss. In the private sector, this would be a fireable offense. It should be no different in the public sector.

In discussing Schmerelson’s “Reimagining Open Government Based on Transparency, Accountability, and Oversight” resolution, no direct reason was given for lack of candor by the Superintendent. However, Board President Monica Garcia did complain in passing about the past handling of “sensitive information” by some Board members. This may be a reference to Schmerelson’s public recounting of what happened behind the scenes when Beutner was hired last spring. Apparently, Garcia is not a fan of transparency or accountability as she was the only vote against the resolution.

The contracts cover consulting work done in conjunction with Beutner’s plans to “reimagine” the District, a project that will affect every LAUSD student. The Superintendent clearly wants to make sure that the public, or certain Board Members, do not have a say in the crafting of this proposal. Instead, an organization representing wealthy “philanthropists” is a co-signer on the contracts, giving them full control over the work product. Not coincidentally, this includes Eli Broad who made the maximum campaign donation allowed by law to Schmerelson’s opponent in his last election. Broad’s foundation also authored a plan to expand charter schools so they represented half the students in the LAUSD, a plan that would surely bankrupt the District.

This is not the first time that the LAUSD has gone down the path of turning over control to those with deep pockets and a goal of destroying public education. Under Superintendent Deasy, Eli Broad and other privatizers gained control of the hiring process for key members of the senior staff in exchange for paying their salaries. Deasy also “pulled together the L.A. Fund for Education, whose board included Beutner.” This allowed donors to give money to the District while ensuring that the appropriate strings were attached so that they could influence policies like the widely criticized Breakfast in the Classroom. This lack of public accountability eventually resulted in the iPad debacle, an FBI raid and Deasy’s forced departure.

At last count, 19,843 people had signed a petition calling for Beutner’s resignation based on the circumstances of his hiring and his mishandling of the teachers’ strike. The case against the Superintendent is only strengthened by his attempt to keep information from an elected Board Member. It is time for the Board to fulfill the promise of transparency and accountability and begin a public discussion about Beutner’s job performance. While this appointed bureaucrat’s attempt to usurp a representative elected by the people has been stopped, he should not be given the opportunity to try again.

Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.