Opposition to Management Shakeup In L.A. Grows
Groups representing African-Americans and Hispanics in Los Angeles rallied last week behind Superintendent Ruben Zacarias and denounced the appointment of a chief executive officer to take over many of his duties.
The state's Latino Legislative Caucus, the Black Legislative Caucus, and prominent Latino civil rights groups, among others, are asking the Los Angeles school board to nullify its appointment of Howard B. Miller, a lawyer and real estate developer who served on the school board in the late 1970s.
Mr. Miller was named to the new position of CEO earlier this month. Though he reports to Superintendent Zacarias, Mr. Miller was given broad control over the operations of the 700,000-student district.
"We're demanding that the board rescind their offer and give Dr. Zacarias the same authority over the district as before," said Alicia Maldonado, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The school board created the position in a closed meeting Oct. 12 on a 4-2 vote, with one abstention. ("L.A. Board Names CEO With Broad Powers," Oct. 20, 1999.)
Closed Meeting Criticized
It is the closed nature of that meeting that led MALDEF and other groups to characterize the board decision as illegal.
MALDEF has threatened a lawsuit, saying the school board violated California's open-meetings law. The group has given the school board 30 days to meet its demands.
School board president Genethia Hayes told reporters last week that the school board would hold a public hearing on Mr. Miller's appointment Oct 28.
She did not return calls for comment last week, but she told the Los Angeles Times: "Howard Miller is here to stay as CEO.
"We don't need a public hearing on a personnel appointment," she told the newspaper.
Despite widespread criticism of Mr. Zacarias and other officials over the district's handling of a $200 million school project that may never open because of environmental and other concerns, support for the 70-year-old superintendent remains strong among many minority residents and elected officials.
"Dr. Zacarias is a hero in the Latino community," said Antonio Gonzalez, the president of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles.
He noted that some 70 percent of the district's students are Hispanic. "Any decision related to his ouster--and this was really a coup--must include input from the Latino community," Mr. Gonzalez said.
Mr. Zacarias could not be reached for comment last week.
Vol. 19, Issue 9, Page 3