In reporting on Racy Film Sets, KNBC found that the LAUSD is a “school system lacking oversight,” that obtaining information from the District requires “fighting for access to public records” and exceptions will be made to a policy prohibiting the disruption of “any school instructional program…in exchange for additional donations.” For readers of the Parental Engagement blog, these stories are not new. My campaign for LAUSD School Board was based on bringing accountability to the District. The Office of the General Counsel has blocked or stonewalled my attempts to gather information about the forced departure of David Binkle and Disruptive Parent Letters. Blogs about the California Charter Schools Association and Eli Broad have shown how they have been able to spread their resources, either through campaign spending or in restricted donations to the District, to take control of the LAUSD. KNBC: welcome to the party. Where have you been?
With the exception of the obligatory candidate introduction articles and a series of thinly veiled propaganda pieces by the LA School Report, the local media devoted little coverage to the School Board election earlier this year, especially in District 3. The District serves 640,000 students and has a $7.8 billion budget, but television coverage of the election for those who represent the public was non-existent. Ethics complaints against Tamar Galatzan, a Los Angeles City Attorney, were neither investigated nor followed up on by the traditional press, perhaps because of a lack of independence. After all, former Los Angeles Daily News Reporter Barbara Jones went directly from covering Galatzan for the Los Angeles Daily News to becoming her Chief of Staff. When Galatzan lost her reelection bid, Jones remained employed by the District as one of the LAUSD’s five Public Information Officers. Is it surprising that her alleged role in Galatzan’s campaign while serving in her official capacity has not been reported on in the press, even though an complaint was filed with the District?
The last time the Los Angeles press paid any sustained attention to the LAUSD was during the resignation of John Deasy. Unfortunately, this coverage was more focused on the drama surrounding the event than the cause. They were largely absent as the former Superintendent spent $1.3 billion of construction funds on his iPad program and launched MiSiS before it was adequately tested. They have repeated this mistake with their lack of coverage of the current Board’s blind support of Ramon Cortines, the District’s current former Superintendent. Board President Steve Zimmer praises him for taking the reins from Deasy, calling it “one of the most incredible acts of public service I have ever seen,” while ignoring the harm that Cortines has brought to the district, including the continued use of teacher jail, a sexual harassment lawsuit and the un-firing of a lawyer who blamed a 14 year old victim for her abuse. The television images of the testy Superintendent refusing to answer questions, hiding behind a previously unannounced Inspector General’s report and having reporter Jenna Susko thrown out of a public event may have surprised those used to Cortines’ carefully crafted public image as a frail looking, easy going gentleman, but those who had read Scot Graham’s legal filing may have been forewarned.
Not surprisingly, the LA School Report (LASR) has taken the position that KNBC should back off on its investigation, even questioning the organization’s journalistic integrity while the online “news site” allowed the same reporter to write an editorial and news stories on the same subject. While I agree that KNBC was wrong to imply that the LAUSD’s approval of a film permit suggests that they approved of the subject matter in the film, the story is important because the District had an obligation to make sure that any filming being done on LAUSD facilities did not affect the student’s learning experience or put them in danger. The LASR dismisses the inappropriate pictures taken of Birmingham students because the school is an independent charter, ignoring the fact that the facility is owned by the LAUSD and the District has a responsibility to make sure that charter schools follow the law. While Cortines said that the KNBC reporter had “no evidence” that “sexually-explicit material [is] being filmed at schools,” her report detailed a pornographic film shoot at Alexander Hamilton High School. If the District was unaware of this production, how did they ensure that students were not on the campus for any extra-curricular activities during this time? KNBC also found that “crews have caused thousands of dollars in damage, were ‘rude and frequently used profanities,’ blocked doors to offices, disrupted the bell schedule with an ‘explosion’ for a CBS crime drama series, and even left athletic teams unable to practice.” How can the LASR possibly come to the conclusion that “this shouldn’t be one” of the issues that the LAUSD has “to answer for?”
In an example of LAUSD overreaction, the District suspended all filming activities within the district, throwing away millions of dollars in revenue along with the bathwater. Just a day later, Cortines reversed course and “said he will allow several projects in the works to move forward.” A more reasonable response would have been to sit down with the KNBC reporter to answer her questions. This give and take would have allowed District officials to better understand the issues so that they could tighten oversight while still receiving the revenue. This result would be an improvement in the educational experience of students and proof of the power of investigative journalism.