When Mayor Villaraigosa made a grab for control of school affairs channeling the approach of his Big Apple-counterpart, we Angelenos would up with clearly delineated and separate roles relegated to either side of the Harbor Freeway.  To the west along Beaudry the school board remains in charge of our schools, aided by an appointed superintendent of their “choosing”.  (Some salaries of the superintendent’s private circle were once and may yet be paid by private foundations, but the current status of such influence-peddling is hard to deduce).

Nevertheless we citizens retain, by-and-large, a seven-member elected board of directors mandated to address exclusively our education concerns, and issues relating to the pedagogy of our own children.

Meanwhile on the other side of the freeway, a 15-member elected city council retains control over LA’s remaining civil matters, the planning, the streets, the utilities, etc.  But for the past decade this power has been shared, slightly, downward and outward, through a broadly blanketing series of democratic Neighborhood Councils whose “participants are empowered to advocate directly for real change in their communities”.

Challenges to this structure are therefore very much of interest to members of the neighborhood councils.  And in particular, when public monies are not being invested wisely or as per their intention or are being managed inexpertly, these matters are very much of interest to members of our local Neighborhood Councils.

Last week saw the disbanding of our school board’s committee tasked with watching how the new Common Core utilizes technology, aka ipads.  Board member Mónica Ratliff in her position as the committee’s chair brought to light one long series of information replete with comedy and ineptitude from high level administrators.  But this is the locus of information regarding what is and is not going well with the largest public technology-buying project ever.  Disbanding the committee is tantamount to muzzling the core of information regarding spending on this massive project.

Our Neighborhood Councils as exemplars of democracy at the grass roots level, should be concerned about this threat to the free flow of information.  Without a place to address and receive answers, democracy cannot be sustained.

Last week saw the LA school board take the highly unusual step of overriding recommendations of their citizen/professionals-manned Bond Oversight Committee (BOC).  This appointed body of representatives from various city and LAUSD offices, parents and activists, civil rights and trades-construction professionals agreed there was much of concern regarding what they were being told about the ipad project, and they voted to limit its immediate scope.  But in a subsequent, bewildering — shocking, actually – power-grab, this carefully considered, democratically delegated scrutiny and summary of evidence by qualified citizens, was simply ignored by our elected education officials.

Such inappropriate disregard for democracy should concern the Neighborhood Councils deeply.  Without information, we cannot act properly as citizens of a democracy; when carefully considered information is adjudicated in a democratic fashion, it must not be disregarded without cause.

Formal involvement of our Neighborhood Councils was requested yesterday by the school superintendent Deasy at a city council Education and Neighborhoods committee meeting.  The superintendent and his allies from the Education Reform movement have long claimed grass roots parental involvement.  It is high time that our citizenry hear the actual experience of the actual students in their communities, subjected to policies that render their own schools bereft of: books, educational materials; clean classrooms and bathrooms; libraries or librarians; physical education; arts education – music, painting-drawing, drama, etc.; health professionals or counselors; even administrators or humble copy clerks.  These are necessary fixtures in a school system.  They are prerequisites to functionality, never mind success.  Housekeeping functionality must never be confused with secondary luxury, no matter how desirable it might be.  1:1 testing devices are an ephemeral, always-obsolete and always past-due technology “imperative”.  A fabulous idea if affordable, but no substitute for an actual education.

Our Neighborhood Council representatives have to understand that the true cost of this $1B taxpayer-construction-bond-funded initiative, parts of which are actually now censured by our democratic BOC, is genuine instruction of our children, in veritable classrooms, by flesh-and-blood teachers tasked with an educable number of young charges.  “Fifty” does not qualify as an educably-stocked classroom.  But until we understand that the cost of technology eclipses the cost of teaching, our citizens and citizenry will continue to be ignored.

And this is where our Neighborhood Councils come in.  Step up to the plate, Neighborhood Councilors!  Please pay attention to the ipad debacle and its promise to suck untold billions from our schools.  Please consider the human needs of all the children in your districts equitably, and get involved in this budgetary matter of public education which is indubitably, truly, indeed the great civil-rights issue of our times.