$ince everything Educational is really all about Business these days, let’s consider this analogy. Let’s say “Lily” is a consultant who earns her living organizing conferences for organizations. These are big affairs and they cost a lot of money to run, and a lot of money flows through her books as a result. If she pleases her client she gets to manage all that money and do her job; if she fails to please the client she loses their business. In the course of retaining her clients’ favor, there may be certain costs she must assume. But failing to assume these costs will result in losing the client, a self-defeating action. It is therefore essentially her job to assume these costs; it is the cost of doing business.

Though this is a fairly familiar and straight-forward business scenario, its analogy within the educational world seemed to stymy our current LAUSD Superintendent, Dr John “numbers guy” Deasy, at the special budgetary school board hearing on Tuesday last. Self-professed “recovering skool-bored member“, David Tokofsky, highlighted a plight that several parents spoke to at the meeting. He suggested that if a LAUSD district school grew so impoverished by fickle funding cuts that fiscal deprivation compelled them to break from LAUSD by “turning charter”, the district’s policy of fiddling with its title I funding threshold so as to exclude a handful of schools for the sake of ‘one-two million’ dollars would lose the district ‘fifty millions of dollars’ in the long run, essentially a ‘penny-wise, pound-foolish’ policy.

To do her job right, “Lily” would spend that 2mil in defense of the 50mil: no question about it. It would be her mandate, the cost of doing business. It should be our school’s governor’s too.

All of which is to say, there is a cost of doing business, even in the educational world. It involves pleasing the “clients” of this model, the students on one level; schools on another. Schools need to be funded and they cannot perform their mission without adequate funds. When the cost of doing business is abdicated, and schools are neglected, students leave school; likewise schools can leave the LAUSD system.

And while the loss of schools to a charter system might appear nominally to conform with Dr Deasy’s privatization agenda, it simultaneously starves the public system he was supposed to have been hired to shepherd. Worse, it amounts to dereliction of duty. In playing games with the meager title I funds vital to the existence of several high-performing schools, Dr Deasy flirts with insubordination. Deasy is charged with orchestrating excellence in our public schools; stubbornly gerrymandering policies to undermine it is duplicitous in the extreme.

Title I funds have been a budgetary casualty for some while now, but the concern for educational excellence this treachery belies has been as well.

If the school administration were really interested in best practices in education, it would scrutinize the best performing institutions among its network. Instead its fiscal policy effectively punishes schools for performing well. As a school improves, naturally it attracts the attention of families from around the district seeking such excellence. Families especially concerned with academic excellence are, by definition, concerned with supporting academics and so grows a positive feedback loop of sustenance, including relative wealth. And embedded therein lies the poison pill of false institutional support. As increased average income follows improving academics, institutional support is withdrawn, thereby simultaneously undermining the institution and its advances in excellence: a policy invoking Catch-22 rather than validation.

The jeopardy to LAUSD’s viability in flat-out enrollment numbers is one of many threats charters pose to a unified system of schooling. Another is the administrative sleight-of-hand that permits so-called “public” charter schools to operate with rules that are different from, and more advantageous than, those to which district schools must conform.

In particular is the issue of class size. While classroom size allowances for co-locating charters are calculated on a basis of 25 students per teacher, the reality of class size for district schools is routinely nearly double that. Because this class size metric is such a strong surrogate for “teaching excellence” in parents’ minds at the very least, though quite likely also in reality, for the district to permit this disparity in offerings between its two competing forms of “public” schools, is to build in a constitutional attractiveness for one form of schooling, at the expense of the other. Almost by definition, then, parents will flock from district public schools and into “quasi-public” charter schools.

So class sizes permitted to remain low in charter schools, and forced to grow ever higher in district schools, is an institutional policy favoring charters at the expense of district schools. And this, too, is a deliberate policy championed by the superintendent of our schools, who is hired by our elected school board members.

Which begs the question: who is in charge here, who is hiring whom? Is the tail wagging the dog or will those we elected to the job of representing our interests on the LAUSD school board assume responsibility for the wagging of their own tail?

Support District Schools Equitably: Lower Class Sizes Now!