Battling Board Backs Bond

What a difference a day makes.

In 24 little hours, the L.A. school board journeyed last week from chaos to harmony; from nothing to a November ballot measure; from no new taxes to a bond measure that will ask voters to raise their property taxes for schools “one last time.”

If voters go for it, these local school bonds would be the fourth in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 1997, and would raise $3.985 billion to pay for new and repaired schools. Part of the money is needed to make up for the feverishly rising cost of school construction; the rest would fund a program that has expanded to some $15.2 billion, perhaps the nation’s largest ongoing public works project outside of Iraq.

About half of Southern California’s Jewish families send their children to public schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Those largely middle-class families should be seeing positive changes in their L.A. neighborhood schools. The bulk of current and future bond dollars, however, will address areas of greatest need, namely the overcrowded and dilapidated schools in heavily minority neighborhoods, such as East Los Angeles and South Los Angeles.

The person who made the difference last week between bonds and no bonds was Superintendent Roy Romer. The former three-term governor of Colorado knows a thing or two about behind-the-scenes politicking, and he needed all his wiles, before and after the school board’s July 27 meeting. That was to be the day for board members to put the bond measure on the ballot. The trustees needed to act before the end of July, officials said, to make the November ballot.

Instead, the board consensus crashed and burned.

The pivotal dispute arose over funding for charter schools. These are independently run campuses monitored but not controlled by L.A. Unified. Many parents and officials extol charter schools as the reform path of the future, but San Fernando Valley board members Julie Korenstein and Jon Lauritzen have their doubts. They didn’t like that Romer had increased funds for charter schools from $25 million to $70 million. In other words, money for charter schools rose from just over one-half of 1 percent to 1.8 percent of the bond.

Romer had reasons for making the change; mainly, he wanted the good will and campaign support of charter-school parents and advocates in the run-up to November. These advocates had lobbied him hard for more bond money, arguing that LAUSD was legally required to help charter schools find classroom space.

But Korenstein and Lauritzen were determined to knock charter funding down to $50 million. District sources say $50 million was the figure that some insiders judged as the minimum that would avoid a defection of charter supporters from the November bond. The trim was made at first, but then undone by a later transfer.

Through all the maneuvering, the 76-year-old Romer, on crutches from recent surgery on his right ankle, wore a weary, expressionless mask, but he had to be feeling slightly apoplectic. His carefully allocated pots of money — divided up just so — were being futzed with through a series of four-vote majorities. But he needed five votes to get the thing on the ballot, and his fifth vote was slipping away.

Korenstein already had alerted everyone that she needed to leave at 6 p.m., but when charter schools got their money back, she shaved off a few extra minutes and stormed out of the room, refusing to vote.

Board member Jose Huizar dashed out in her wake. Huizar is running for the East L.A. City Council seat vacated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and in an interview, Huizar indicated that he didn’t want to be the deciding vote. Lauritzen stayed in the room, but told The Journal afterwards that he was leaning toward a “no” vote. And Romer had never been counting on a “yes” from board member Marguerite LaMotte. In an interview, she talked of being “on the fence” at best.

In a matter of minutes, a possible 7-0 vote had collapsed to a likely 3-4.

Romer asked for the board meeting to be suspended till the next afternoon. He then went to work behind the scenes, while also making time to steel himself by having dinner and a glass of Pinot Grigiot with friends. He knew what he had to do: knock down the charter-school funding to bring Korenstein and Lauritzen back on board.

That’s exactly what happened. And even Huizar, the cautious council candidate, jumped on the bandwagon to make it 6-0. (The seventh board member, Marguerite LaMotte, didn’t attend the Wednesday meeting.)

If approved by voters, the bond would mostly pay for renovating existing schools and building new ones — costs for that have shot up to about $85,000 per seat. The price in property taxes will average about $27 for every $100,000 of assessed property value, on top of about $85 per $100,000 for the previous school bonds.

This bond demonstrates how ambitious the LAUSD construction program has become. Before this effort, the school district last opened a high school in 1971. This program envisions about 12 new high schools among 160 new campuses. And, at the end of this spending, said Romer and his staff, no more students would attend school on a year-round schedule, which shortens the school year by 17 days. And middle schools would have no more than 2,000 students.

Such goals were barely contemplated when voters passed the 1997 bond, which mostly fixed as many district schools as the money could get to. But that was before Romer arrived, and got going with his high cost, high benefit vision.

In getting this bond on the ballot, all three Jewish board members played central roles. For better or worse, Korenstein, who represents much of the San Fernando Valley, nearly torpedoed the entire bond over a relatively modest increase in charter-school funds.

David Tokofsky, whose district runs from Silver Lake to southeast L.A. County, successfully moved bond money around, but failed to get as much funding as he wanted to help construct future charter schools. Tokofsky works part time for a charter-school operator and speaks like a true believer. Charters aside, Tokofsky never wavered in supporting the new bond. He wanted to raise taxes even more, but failed to persuade a board majority to put an additional annual levy — $150 per parcel — on the ballot.

And then there was Westside board member Marlene Canter, recently installed as board of education president. She is generally Romer’s tightest ally. In her role as meeting chair, Canter presided, helplessly, as Romer’s five-vote bloc disintegrated. Then, the next day, she efficiently executed Romer’s plan to recapture the lost votes. Part of this strategy was siding with Korenstein to trim charter-school funding.

If Jewish voters are like other middle-class parents, there’s a solid chance they would want more help, not less, for charter schools. Romer is betting they’ll support the bond anyway, and the completion of his massive building program depends on it.



“Who knew?” If the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hasits way, that simple question will become as well-known a shorthandfor the Federation as “Got milk?” is for the California milk industryand “Just do it” is for Nike. The phrase will be the centerpiece ofthe organization’s new corporate ad campaign, which launches thismonth in this newspaper, on billboards and at corner bus shelters. Inthis case, the product is not milk or shoes; it is the Federationitself, as well as its United Jewish Fund (UJF).

The problem that the Los Angeles Federation and federations aroundthe country face, explained Brandy French, creative director in theFederation’s marketing and communications department, is that “nomatter how much we advertise, people have no idea what the Federationis and does.” In fact, when they’re asked, people often say, “Theyhelp Israel,” she explained. They also tend to get confused about thedifference between the Federation and the UJF; the UJF is theFederation’s fund-raising arm, helping to support 17 localbeneficiaries, two international agencies and six Federationdepartments.

In response to this challenge, the marketing and communicationsstaff, under the guidance of Director Joyce Sand and with the inputof a year-old committee chaired by Robert Gach, decided to launch acorporate ad campaign — with the Jewish-sounding (it helps to add alittle Yiddish inflection and a shrug) “Who knew?” as the answer to ahost of questions that explain the good works the Federationsupports.

“We’re saving the bubbies. 70,000 elderly Russian Jews. Who knew?”says one ad that pictures an elderly woman leaning on a cane. “Lastyear, our family violence program received 4,600 calls for help. Whoknew?” reads another that shows a young woman with a big bruise onone arm, clutching a teddy bear, her face buried on her knees.

Other ads will talk about services provided by SOVA, Bet TzedekLegal Services, Jewish Vocational Service, the Bureau of JewishEducation, Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services, and many more. Fewpeople know that these concerns receive financial help from theFederation. In fact, they are usually unaware that about 60 percentof donor dollars are spent locally, Gach said during a round-tablediscussion last week. “That’s the biggest ‘Who knew?'” French said.

The campaign is a distinct departure from past ones, partlybecause Los Angeles is “a different marketplace,” Gach said. Youngergivers — the ones the Federation most wants to reach — are lessmoved to donate to Jewish causes by Holocaust images or worries aboutIsrael’s survival. Instead, many want facts and figures about how themoney they give helps solve human problems.

The hope is that the new campaign will become a landmark for fundraising and run for years to come, Sand said. The marketing staffdoesn’t even mind if “Who knew?” becomes the punch line to jokes onlate-night talk shows — just as long as people remember it. With asmall budget (five figures), they’ll need all the help they can get.




Professionals of all ages and walks of life mingle at JewishFederation Networking Night at the Hollywood Palladium.

Federation ’98: 2

Networking Night


Challa-Palooza. Shmooz-a-Palooza. And, now, Biz-a-Palooza,otherwise known as Jewish Federation Networking Night. It will takeplace for the third time, at the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday, Jan.20. As many as 800 people, mostly Jewish professionals of all agesand walks of life, are expected to attend the event and to do someschmoozing with potential business contacts. That’s twice the numberthat showed up for the first Networking Night in late 1996.

Co-founders and co-chairs Alan Shuman and Fred Denitz areecstatic. The growth demonstrates the need for this type of eventwithin the Jewish community, said Denitz, a vice president and salesofficer with Bank of America and longtime friend of businessman andPalladium owner/ president Shuman. “We both saw the need for thedifferent divisions, regions, groups, agencies within the Federationto come together and network in a fun and not fund-raisingenvironment,” Denitz said.


Said Shuman: “There are so many Jewish people in Los Angeles thatdon’t know other Jewish businesspeople. I felt this would give themthe opportunity to meet people throughout every industry and to beable to do business with them.”

Networking Night brings together people from about 18 divisions ofthe Federation, including CPA’s and bankers, attorneys and fashiondesigners. They’re single, married, older, younger, Orthodox, Reformand everything in between. Non-Jews are also welcome, Denitz said.

The evening includes casino games and entertainment, includingmagicians and caricaturists. It will begin with cocktails at 6 p.m.,followed by a buffet dinner (under strict rabbinic supervision) at 7p.m., and raffle prizes at 10 p.m.

Guests will have opportunities to swap business cards and storiesin smaller groups of up to 30 people with assigned moderators.

Sponsors include Alder, Green & Hasson; Bank of America; SanliPastore and Hill Valuators; and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter &Hampton. Support is also being provided by Beshert and U.S. Kosher.

The Hollywood Palladium is located at 6215 Sunset Blvd. inHollywood. Secure parking is available for a $5 fee. Reservations aresuggested. To make them, call (213) 761-8210. The cost of the eveningevent is $50 per person, $60 at the door, if available. RuthStroud, Staff Writer

Federation Matters

The Day We All Came Together

By John R. Fishel

What do you get when you combine 3,000 Jews, 1,500 chairs, 500active volunteers, a 60-piece orchestra, a 30-voice choir and amenorah on Christmas Day? The answer? An extraordinarily successfulopening to the Los Angeles celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary.

Dawn came early on Dec. 25. By the time I arrived at the WestsidePavilion in West Los Angeles, scores of young adults in jeans andT-shirts were schlepping boxes of bagels, cartons of toys, and urnsof coffee. Tikkun L.A. had arrived again.

Co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC)and Access, the Jewish Federation’s young-adult program, the fourthannual Tikkun L.A. attracted 500 enthusiastic volunteers. (Organizershad to turn away another 300 would-be volunteers in the week before;by design, there were limited slots.)

Among the 27 locations citywide served by the volunteers was YouthFair Chance, a city-sponsored social-service program located in alow-rise downtown. The joy that filled the large multipurpose roomwas palpable, as small children engaged in craft activities, ateholiday cookies, and sang along to the boom box someone broughtalong. Volunteers helped the youngsters color pictures and make smallart pieces out of Popsicle sticks. One volunteer donned a costume inimitation of Lambchop, the children’s puppet, and walked around,creating smiles.

Such hands-on volunteerism that attracts twenty- andthirtysomethings is what will help create the leadership fortomorrow’s Jewish community. Obviously, a single program does not aleader make. Yet combine it with a year-round program of education,lectures and a healthy dose of social and social-action activities,and we are on the way.

If our community believes in tomorrow, then the support by thisFederation of Access or Hillel are the best investment we can make.It only takes financial resources to complement the human energy thatis out there.

While the Access volunteers were sharing their much-needed humanenergy throughout the city, another major Federation activity wasabout to get underway. More than 1,000 chairs were set up, a pianowas tuned, a riser and microphones were put in place at the WestsidePavilion, as preparations for the opening of the official “LosAngeles Celebrates Israel’s 50th Anniversary” began to take shape.Notwithstanding a few unforeseen crises, in
cluding the delivery ofthousands of still-frozen Chanukah latkes and a sudden overflowcrowd, there was anticipation in the air. By 2 p.m., a full hourbefore the event’s scheduled start, every seat was taken.

No doubt, the droves were lured by the powerful combination of theLos Angeles Jewish Symphony, the Valley Beth Shalom Choir and thepremière of an original orchestral piece based on the life ofthe late Yitzhak Rabin. Together with volunteerism and the commitmentto tikkun olam, another attribute of our marvelous Los Angeles Jewishcommunity was on display — its great basin of talented Jewishartists.

The large audience certainly reflected the diverse and complex LosAngeles Jewish community. Words of Hebrew, Farsi, Yiddish and Russianwere heard in the predominately American-born crowd. An elderly womanargued with a security guard over why she couldn’t sit in a”reserved” seat and rubbed shoulders with a 27-year-old Accessvolunteer returning from the Youth Fair Chance visit. A small IranianJewish child almost got her hand smashed when the timpani playerstruck a note on his drum while the little one rocked to the melodyof the music. With nary a chair in sight, people pushed and shoved,but manifested their joy of celebrating Chanukah together in recitingthe prayers while the lights of the menorah were kindled.

When the voices of more than 3,000 joined in singing the”Hatikvah,” it was easy to forget the communal disunity that we haveexperienced, and perhaps easier to forget that we often complainabout Los Angeles Jewry being overly assimilated, underaffiliated anddisconnected

Certainly, this Dec. 25, none of these communal generalizationswas apparent. Each of us could feel genuinely good about the Jewishpeople. On Dec. 25, the Jewish people joyously lived, our youngadults did their good works, we commemorated the triumph of ourpeople thousands of years ago, and we celebrated our bond to Israel.The Jewish Federation was, thanks to you, there to help tie it alltogether.

John R. Fishel is the executive vice president of the JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles.