Urban Education

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Turf War

Get this: Two top officials in one of the country's biggest cities have actually been fighting over who will get to inspect dirty or unsafe schools.

By now, flying barbs have given way to clenched-teeth smiles in Los Angeles. The City Council has given city, county, and school district leaders until mid-January to find a way to cooperate on school inspections.

"It was a bit of a political dust-up, but we're trying to move beyond that," said Matt Szabo, a spokesman for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. "We all have the best interests of parents and kids in schools in mind."

In November, Mr. Delgadillo proposed a pilot program that would use inspectors from the county health and city building and safety departments to mount surprise checks of dirty restrooms, unsanitary kitchens, and other unsafe conditions in five schools.

He said he had a "moral obligation" to clean up schools and would take "the first step" to set standards that were "clear" and "objective."

Superintendent of Schools Roy Romer noted that two years ago, he launched a comprehensive inspection program hailed as a model by local U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials. He accused Mr. Delgadillo of trying to gain political points by exploiting growing concern about school safety and cleanliness.

And off they went. The Los Angeles Times called on the two men to end their "shoving match" and suggested that "adults should be able to put kids ahead of egos."

Angelo Bellomo, the director of the Los Angeles Unified School District's office of environmental health and safety, said he was irked that Mr. Delgadillo cast himself as a leader on school safety and cleanliness, minimized what the district had done, and implied that it couldn't handle the job on its own.

A district team now inspects 14 areas, from peeling lead paint to earthquake safety, at all 900 schools in the 728,000-student district yearly. Prior to the program, inspectors responded only to trouble calls, Mr. Bellomo said.

Schools now are rated, and their scores posted online to hold them accountable for their conditions.

Mr. Szabo said the city attorney's program was in the works before the district's ratings came out, sparked by ongoing frustration with the conditions of many city schools.

— Gewertz

Vol. 23, Issue 16, Page 10

Published in Print: January 7, 2004, as Urban Education

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