Slashing L.A. Unified bureaucracy may be tougher than it seems

first_img“It’s possible to move the huge aircraft carrier, but it’s tough to change course,” said Bob Stern, director of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “And it takes a long time with a concerted effort to work with the superintendent, the board and the union.” Nobody denies that the ratio of administrators to teachers is higher now than it was six years ago at the 708,000-student district. The Bureau of State Audits found nonschool positions grew 12 percent from 1999 to 2005, with most added to the division overseeing a $19.2 billion building program. Salaries and benefits for support-services employees increased 44 percent in the same period, even as salaries and benefits for school-services workers rose just 26 percent. Los Angeles Unified’s bloated bureaucracy, long decried by the mayor and teachers’ union, has now become a key issue for the district’s new superintendent and a hot-button topic in the school board race. Superintendent David Brewer III has vowed to cut inefficiencies at the Los Angeles Unified School District after a scathing audit found the nation’s second-largest district is disorganized, lacks financial controls and suffers from a “pervasive” lack of accountability. With just a week before the election, school board candidates Jon Lauritzen and Tamar Galatzan have waded into the debate on how to pare the massive bureaucracy. By all accounts, any changes face challenges – including navigating a range of competing and powerful interests. But LAUSD General Counsel Kevin Reed said many nonschool positions are paid for with capital funds that cannot be used to pay for teachers. And he said increased costs reflect growth in facilities, information technology, school police, inspector general and other departments. Emphasis on schools Still, efforts to change the situation are complicated. Four years ago, when LAUSD was divided into local districts, Lauritzen fought to reduce their number from 11 to four. But after lengthy negotiations he was able to cut only three districts. “The board member has to try to accomplish the possible, and the leader in that is the superintendent,” said Lauritzen Chief of Staff Ed Burke. “Although the goal is to cut the bureaucracy, implementing it becomes very difficult because you have to convince other board members and the superintendent to put it in effect.” Lauritzen believes schools should be given more autonomy to reduce the need for districtwide staff, Burke said. “The emphasis should be on the schools to make sure they have the resources, and not create more people downtown to help the schools,” he said. Galatzan says schools should have more control of their own funds and said she would ask City Controller Laura Chick to oversee an audit of all contracts, the downtown administration and all nonschool staff. To ensure Valley schools are getting their fair share, Galatzan advocates performance contracts for local district superintendents and senior staff downtown. She also said many management functions can be consolidated. “Tamar is part of a reform slate, and it means you’re going to go in fighting the bureaucracy from Day One,” said Galatzan campaign manager Mike Trujillo. “You now have a board going in seven different directions.” 10 percent staff cut Deputy Mayor Ray Cortines, education adviser to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said the recently released audit is an important step in identifying how to streamline the district. The audit said superintendents of the eight local districts within the LAUSD had not been given the authority, responsibility and resources to accomplish their goals. It also noted a lack of benchmarks to measure program effectiveness and no consequences for noncompliance with administrative directives. Cortines said he believes the district can cut at least 10 percent of its central staff and redirect the savings to schools. Cortines also said the mayor would like to encourage the superintendent to eliminate nonessential positions that don’t serve the classrooms and schools and don’t provide local services. “I think the superintendent has taken the first right step, and now we have to see what he does with it,” Cortines said. “He is going to have to make some tough decisions. If local district office personnel don’t have the authority and the responsibility, eliminate them and save millions.” Brewer said he will seek to empower local district superintendents and move people out of the central office. Positions will be cut, but details won’t be available until the second phase of the audit is completed. That phase, which will cost more than $1 million, is expected to be completed early this fall and focus on instruction, operation and finance. If the audit finds programs aren’t working, Brewer said he’ll eliminate them. “I don’t believe in setting arbitrary targets. It could be less (than 10 percent); it could be more,” Brewer said of possible cuts. “What drives that decision is analysis. “We will find out how much we can save, and when you look at the overall budget, and not only in central, we may be able to find savings throughout the system.” `Tough, tough battle’ Brewer is expected to unveil some immediate changes in June when he releases a five-year strategic plan. He also already has announced plans to appoint a transformation team – including a chief academic officer and chief professional learning officer – to restructure business operations and develop a comprehensive instructional plan. But Stern, with the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said Brewer has a difficult road ahead. “It’s always tough changing the bureaucracy. I wish him luck but it’s a tough, tough battle to do it,” he said. “People hate change, but change is important.” That change could come if Galatzan and mayoral-backed candidate Ed Vladovic prevail in the May 15 election, giving Villaraigosa majority support on the school board. Philanthropist billionaire Eli Broad, who has contributed more than $25,000 to the campaigns, including Galatzan’s, said reform can come with board members who support the mayor’s agenda. “I think it’ll be helpful to get four members on the school board that are prepared to work with the mayor on education reform,” he said. But the real question will be how a reform slate will translate into consistent, strong action to break up the bureaucracy, said Michael Kirst, a professor of education and business administration at Stanford University. “Assuming the (audit) is true, some kind of drastic overhaul of the bureaucracy is desirable,” Kirst said. naush.boghossian @dailynews.com (818) 713-3722 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img