Tuesday, June 27, 2006

To blog about kids.
That is the mission of The Underdog for Kids site.
It's about anything to do with children that pertains to daily life: where to go in town , where to travel, different folks stretching out a helping hand to mentor, bad kids, good kids, new programs in school – anything I can do to help the public understand the difficult circumstances that children face today.

Currently a newspaper columnist, I want to expand beyond writing about things to do with kids like visiting a museum or the zoo. I want to write about issues involving children I stumble onto every day.

As a parent volunteer at Los Angeles Unified School District campuses, I have many things to share with other parents about how their children try to cope in school. Believe me, things happen at all schools--they are like small cities, after all--that we should all be aware of, whether the school is public or private, in a wealthy community or one that is middle-class or poor. I invite you to add your experiences to this blog site.
Today's menu: Mayoral Takeover of Los Angeles Unified School District

Car pooling with the kids to their local middle school, I announced to them that the Los Angeles mayor forced his way in the door and was successfully paving his way to break in and takeover the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Their reaction:

“That’s it, I’m moving to San Diego,” announced a 13-year-old student whose father is heavily involved in Los Angeles city politics in our region.

My own son, who loves San Pedro where we live, immediately agreed that he wanted to move out of Los Angeles, too.

At first it surprised me, but when I thought about it, it became clear what was happening here. Both children have been subjected to watching their parents frustration over the years tackle one giant, unwielding, unforgiving, entrenched beaucracy: the city of Los Angeles.
I choke everytime I hear Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa bleat that the school district forces a “one glove fits all” attitude across the board and uses that as one of the many springboards to the reason why he should run the school district.

The powerful move, which only pushes his own politcal agenda (I believe he wants next to be California’s governor and then the first Hispanic president of the United States) makes my stomach churn after watching scores of troubles within the city – where I’ve seen mucho prominence of the “one glove fits all" atttitude.

It’s not the school district that’s driving me mad. I’m not entirely pleased with it and I can see a break up is truly necessary. However, everytime I’ve knocked at my kid’s school doors, they’ve let me in willingly to volunteer and I do so, every chance I get, so I can help not just my own son – but scores of Los Angeles kids.

Here are my questions that we all should be asking:

--Why has the mayor avoided the residents, the parents in particular, in this arrangement he’s creating up in Sacramento? Why does he think he should take away our rights – our rights as residents and citizens to vote – a right we used when we voted for the board members of our school district regions? Why should we give up those rights?

--Why is the fight not in Los Angeles where it belongs? Why, in fact, does this not get placed on a ballot measure so all of us can decide and have a vote. We all know why it’s not being done here. It would never pass.

--Why would any of us want the mayor to run our schools when he has yet to clean up his own backyard? There are hundreds of examples I can give where the city breaks down completely. Here are some:

--Our local city-run pool couldn’t even make change for patrons coming to the pool to swim laps, and were told to go to McDonald’s to get some…many times. (The city is too afraid employees will steal the money.) “What do you suggest we do?” a manager asked me. Geez, it’s not rocket science.

--Our local, city-run animal shelter couldn’t give change to a woman trying to adopt a dog and told her she get change herself. I just prayed she would come back so that the animal didn’t get put down instead.

--When I begged the city to remove a giant, city-planted ficus tree from in front of our house because it was throttling our sewer line, they refused because the tree helped protect the environment. Whatever trouble the tree was causing, city officials said, was our problem because it is a “privilege” for residents to tap into city sewer lines even if roots (city roots, I might add) are clogging them.

When the same tree fell from the weight of its branches, missing our house by a few inches, it took months for an aide from our councilwoman’s office to get the stump removed – and not without hitches. The first time the crews showed up, they left because neighbors were parked in the way. Then, the city came out and put up barriers but left them for weeks at a time to the point that the neighbors began parking there, anyway. After more calls, a city crewman showed up after driving down from East Los Angeles (40 miles away) – to do what? To put up barriers, which his boss "told him to do.” “You had to drive down here just for that?" I said. "As you can see, they're already here!” He was as chagrined as I was. I wonder how much the taxpayers paid that employee to waste his time.

With the tree now gone (God must have been on our side), I called the city to repair the sidewalk. The city tree roots lifting up so that my nickname for the incline is Skateboard Ridge. All the kids love running and skateboarding across it – an accident waiting to happen so we all can be sued. Again, I tried to go through the council office and talk to street services, but I was rebuffed with one man telling me in street services: “We’ll get to it in 15 years.”

I sat on the city’s Peck Park Advisory Board for eight years and watched the city promote employees who were yes-folks to their bosses and who climbed the ladder – and were completely incompetent obstructionists. The people who forged ahead to fight for the community were brutally battered by their bosses – to the point, they finally quit.

That pattern happens repeatedly.

I watched city officials tell advisory boards that they couldn’t do the things they wanted. It just would not work. It was just always easier for city employees to say “that can’t be done” then to actually get things done.

There are many stories to tell about problems with the city of Los Angeles. But I don't want to bore you with dozens and dozens of examples. And I know the school district is by far from perfect. But I just can't, for the life of me, understand the logic of one giant, inept bureaucracy taking over another that it calls inept -- when it is not without a few giant, ugly red blemishes of its own.

So this is my question to my mayor: How can a city that runs so poorly take over a school district? Could you, Mr. Mayor, please, please clean up your own backyard first? Then perhaps we can all believe in you.