@THE GUSS REPORT-On any given day, the LAUSD is a trudging bureaucracy. But over the course of a year trying to get it to address a multitude of school safety issues in the wake of nationwide school shootings, including one this school year in LA, the risks to LA school kids is far worse: it is an agency paralyzed by fear of having its security problems exposed, rather than being an agency eager to proactively confront and fix them.
The LAUSD is paralyzed by being unable or, more accurately, unwilling to answer the simplest of questions, like the one I posed last week to Katrina Campbell and Shannon Haber, the District’s Chief Business and Compliance Counsel and Chief Communications Officer, respectively.
The question: Who is Andres Chait?
The answer isn’t at all difficult to obtain. His profile is readily available on Linked In as well as from the first person to answer the phone at the LAUSD headquarters. He is a longtime District administrator and former principal involved in, among other things, security issues and reporting.
But instead of simply providing his title, Campbell’s and Haber’s aide responded that they’re treating my inquiry as a public records act request and will advise whether and how long it will take to respond.
Ladies and gentlemen, aside from it being overtly wasteful to treat simple questions as PRAs, it is a more ominous sign that the District insularly suffocates transparency at the expense of safety.
The purpose of my question was not to find out Mr. Chait’s title, but to gauge the District’s fear factor in providing even the simplest, most readily available nuggets of information.
But there are real and deadly dangers that lurk, which are enabled by that fear factor.
The LAUSD has a wealth of security gaps which a future school shooter, whether a student or outsider, could exploit if he or she wishes to gain a strategic advantage on the magnitude of harm that could be inflicted. But over the course of a year, the District has comprehensively avoided fielding questions about those risks, what they would do about them, assuming they’re even aware of them. It is an agency running from accountability and transparency.
But the problems are not limited to school shooting risks. The District also refuses to field questions regarding the veracity of information in iStar, its incident reporting system.
When these and other questions were posed, David Holmquist, the District’s General Counsel responded dubiously:
- “no documents exist that were responsive to (your) requests”
- “you were also contacted by Katrina Campbell but you did not return her phone call”
- “you also make reference to contacting our office last week. We have no record of any contact by you”
Tough to reconcile that.
Why would Campbell have reached out to me had I not firstcontacted her? Why would I notrespond to her calling me back? Why would they research a records request unless I had submitted one?
These red herrings and shell games dangled from the top of the LAUSD may eventually cost school kids and teachers their lives.
The problem of school safety goes beyond the LAUSD. Earlier this year, I posed several of the same questions to Sheila Kuehl on her first day as Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. She publicly invited me to contact her office for responses, but when I did, it came back stunningly empty: “The supervisor does not want to comment.”
With the District’s elected officials and staff dodging security questions in favor of the dog and pony show it is presently putting on, the tough questions aren’t being answered, and the real risks remain. When the next school shooting or other safety incident causes a panicked breaking newsincident across Los Angeles media – which may be a matter of when,not if– the questions presently ignored by the District will become why didn’t you act to prevent this from happening in the first place?
They will not be able to say they weren’t warned.
Tangentially, if there is any doubt that the LAUSD is a whispering, secret society that protects its own before it protects LA school kids, think of the public drunkenness arrest a few weeks ago of troubled School Board member Dr. Ref Rodriguez at a Pasadena restaurant. Did nobody at the LAUSD know about it? Or, if they did, why was it kept out of the public eye? Why was nothing done about it?
Apply those questions to the next LA school shooting or other life and death incident.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at [email protected]. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.