The Daily News of Los Angeles
August 5, 1997, Tuesday,
HEADLINE: STUDY WON'T FIX THE DYSFUNCTIONAL LAUSD; A PROJECT TO PLUMB LABOR REQUIREMENTS OF VALLEY INDUSTRY WILL CREATE JOBS - 5
BYLINE: Shirley Svorny
THE Los Angeles City Council just allocated $ 300,000 to an Employment Survey Project to be run by the Valley Economic Development Center (VEDC). This money will be used to study the labor supply needs of Valley businesses. The goal, as stated in a VEDC proposal, is to promote communication between the business and education communities. Businesses will make their needs known and educators will learn what the business community needs.
What a terrible waste of money. Everyone knows what businesses need. As a college professor, I hear it all the time. Businesses want graduates who can communicate (write and speak) and think (analyze). This translates to reading, writing and mathematics. Advanced firm-specific and job-specific skills are learned once someone is hired.
But heaven forbid we actually spend the money to attack the fundamental problem. Let's do one more study instead.
Kids in LAUSD schools don't have textbooks they can take home. Teachers have to rely on parents for classroom assistance. Inept teachers and principals are transferred within the system, rather than dismissed. Seniority rules bias teacher assignments so that the most needy schools have the hardest time getting good teachers. Good teachers get no greater pay than their less competent colleagues. Overhead gobbles up dollars, yet fresh paint seems to be a scarce commodity.
Those are the real problems.
I meet LAUSD graduates in the classes I teach at CSUN. Too many of them do not have basic writing and study skills. Droves of them fail to pass our entry-level math and reading exams. And this is the group that has gone on to college.
We don't need another study. Instead, we need fundamental reform to improve accountability in our grade schools and it wouldn't hurt if we made our local community and state colleges accountable for producing educated graduates as well.
I'd like to see a system of bonuses for administrators that would be withheld if graduates fail to pass basic exams in analysis and communication.
The $ 300,000 Employment Survey Project is lauded as a means to assess business needs so that we can then move on toward training individuals to fill those jobs. As an economist, I feel compelled to point out that we can't possibly think that we can target education in Los Angeles to meet the needs of local businesses, or that it is a good idea even if we could.
If the problem is access to qualified labor by local firms, we know what we need to do. Firms cannot attract qualified workers, from LAUSD or anywhere, if the city is not seen as a desirable place to settle down and raise a family. If Los Angeles had better schools, less crime and a better city infrastructure, there would be no problem in attracting trained workers to area firms.
The fundamental problem is living conditions; fixing that will fix the labor supply.
Through charter reform, the City Council has the power to propose changes to the governance of the public schools. What are they waiting for? Are they afraid that the teachers union will be mad? Or they could insist on accountability in the LAPD and other city service providers.
A simple thing the council could do to increase the demand for local labor would be to eliminate the business tax. They could put the $ 300,000 allocated to the Employment Survey Project together with all the other money they currently waste on economic development and make a good dent in the tax. We would be way ahead in both job
creation and tax revenue generation.
In contrast, the only jobs the Employment Survey Project will create are the five positions budgeted at VEDC.
Shirley Svorny is professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of the San Fernando Valley Economy at Cal State Northridge. She is an affiliated scholar at the Milken Institute for Job & Capital Formation.