The recent publicity centering around Hamilton High School's Jewish parents' disapproval of Proposition K -- the $3.35 billion school bond issue -- gave the impression that the Jewish community was against the proposition.
But Jewish activists are speaking up in defense of the measure, which will appear on the November ballot.
On Oct. 8., the American Jewish Committee (AJC) hosted a discussion with Roy Romer, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) superintendent, to express its support of the bond issue, which would fund repairs of aging classrooms and build new schools.
"Part of why this meeting happened is that we didn't want Romer and the community to think that Jews were against this issue," said Susann Bauman, a Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) member. Baumann, AJC members and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, among others, believe that to back the bond issue is to support public education.
While many Jewish parents at Hamilton High School fear that the bond issue's passage will spell the demise of school district's magnet programs, Romer assured the meeting's attendees of just the opposite. "The magnet programs are strong, and the thought [of dismantling them] has never occurred to me," the superintendent said. "I'd like to increase them over time."
Romer also expressed his disappointment in what he perceives to be an overreaction on the part of Hamilton parents who protested the school's loss of Jeff Kaufman assistant principal and director of the Academy of Music magnet at the school. "Parents supporting Kaufman wouldn't let go. To use these differences as a club to penalize the 749,000 kids [in the district] because 'I didn't get my way,' is not the way to do things," he said.
But, according to Bruce Phillips, a Jewish demographer and teacher at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, whose son attends Hamilton, Kaufman's transfer to a junior high school is just one part of the problem with the bond measure. Much of the issue, he said, is distrust of the district, and the memory of 1997's Proposition BB, which provided the district with $2.4 billion. Phillips accused the district of squandering $600 million of the sum.
"The reason I'm opposing this has to do with the credibility of the school district," Phillips said. "It has admitted that it misspent money with Proposition BB.
"As a very active parent at Hamilton pushing for educational reform, I've been lied to consistently, and I've had all kinds of manipulation," he said. "This school district is about self-preservation, as opposed to student achievement."
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a group that opposes the bond issue, said, "At some point, taxpayers have to realize when they're being played for suckers." Vosburgh said that the school district is showing they were unable to handle Proposition BB, and now they're coming forward for even more money. "There's something worse than having inadequate school facilities, and that's paying for inadequate school facilities and not receiving them."
In response to complaints about Proposition BB, Romer told the meeting that school repairs during that period were not priced accurately, but his administration is more experienced and on the ball. "We are really running a straight operation," he said. "There is no corruption. We have more competence in place."
Rabbi Marc Dworkin of Leo Baeck Temple and the PJA agreed. "Under Romer, LAUSD has improved its accountability in the community," he said, citing the rise in Stanford 9 test scores. "Continuing to look at every failure in our society, we'll never move ahead."
While pro-bond issue Jews appeared confident that Hamilton parents and other opposition within the community are in the minority, there is some unease about the fact that the complaints were made so publicly.
Dworkin believes that Proposition K is crucial for the Jewish community since the majority of the Jewish school-age children in the district attend public schools.
"This is a Jewish issue because our children go to public school, and society is so dependent on the quality education," Dworkin said. "If our children don't have a future, what do they have?"