A troubling report card

by Andre Coleman, Pasadena Weekly, Feb 23, 2006

Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Percy Clark has been roundly criticized for everything from his seemingly tall tales regarding encounters with a snarling police dog in segregated Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement to claims that he played professional football to efforts to bring white, middle-class families back to the PUSD.

To his credit, the embattled 63-year-old superintendent has taken these criticisms like a grizzled prizefighter. Leading with a chin apparently impervious to damage, Clark continues to take hit after hit from not only other public officials but also a host of others, among them members of an Internet list serve that is devoted to talk about education-related issues, but recently has been abuzz with rumors about Clark’s pending exit from Pasadena.

Even while absorbing heavy blows, Clark has maintained publicly that good things lie ahead, or, in boxing parlance, things will surely turn around in the later rounds.

However, there doesn’t appear to be many cheering fans for this underdog, nor does there seem to be many more rounds left in what happens to be a real-life fight for his professional life as head of the PUSD.

As a matter of fact, many people want to see Clark knocked out, if not knocked out of the ring altogether when the seven-member Board of Education evaluates his performance as superintendent on Tuesday.

He knows he has critics. But, “I think we’ve made continuous growth,” Clark recently told another reporter. He did not return calls for this report.

In some areas, such as increased test scores at many area schools, that is true. But whatever growth there may have been during his nearly 5-year tenure at the helm of the district, other indicators of school progress are not encouraging, beginning with enrollment.

PUSD enrollment dropped from 22,309 to less than 21,000 students this year, forcing the district to cut jobs and eliminate school police. That lack of students – state funding is based on student attendance – led in part to a $6.5 million budget deficit that forced the school board to order the closure of Noyes, Allendale, Edison and Linda Vista elementary schools.

“There are people in the district holding their breath,” said a source close to the Clark employment controversy who asked not to be named. “There is a real disconnect with senior management. I think Clark’s future is very tenuous. There are people in the district who are ready to move forward because they think it will stabilize the district and establish partnerships with the city and new blood will be good for that.”

Clark’s supporters claim that his problems are not his own and cite declining enrollment in other districts as an indication that Pasadena Unified is only part of a statewide problem.

Many, however, disagree, among them members of the Pasadena City Council which recently began making noise about getting involved with management of the schools, prompting members of the school board to appear before the council to explain what’s been going on.

The heat appears to be having some effect, with Board President Ed Honowitz even agreeing to a management audit, something that school watchers have been demanding unsuccessfully for several years.

Currently, Clark earns nearly $200,000 per year, drives a car provided by the district and has his gasoline and other expenses paid. In addition, he earns an extra $20,000 as a bonus to his regular yearly pay.

Clark’s evaluation will be performed in a closed-door session that only the seven members of the board will attend. Neither Clark nor his assistant superintendents will be present.

On Tuesday, the board could decide that Clark’s contract should not be renewed after his term is up in July 2007 and use the next year to search for a replacement while Clark serves out the remainder of his contract. Clark could also opt for a generous buy out for the equivalent of 18 months worth of pay or the remainder of his contract, whichever amount is less.

According to Board member Bill Bibbiani, there are presently not enough votes to get rid of Clark, but he is certain Clark will not be receiving a contract extension either.

“I don’t know what prompted this evaluation,” Bibbiani said. “I thought we concluded it last November. I don’t know if the current topic is a re-opener on the leadership’s part or simply a means of expressing dissatisfaction, particularly with the school closure issue on the part of the board leadership. I feel that no extension is warranted at this time, but I don’t think the votes are there to end his contract.

“There is a lot to do in the next six or eight months given all the changes we approved. You don’t just fire a superintendent without realizing that many other staff changes follow immediately from such an action,” Bibbiani said.

Local school activist Rene Amy has been pressuring the district to put Clark’s buy out on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. However, board members are not obligated to discuss the matter in closed session or even bring it up at all.

According to some parents, Clark is not the only one that needs to be evaluated.

“I don’t think we should just look at Dr. Clark’s management skills,” said Catherine Anderson, who has four children in the district. “We should examine the entire board. I have heard board members claim they are in touch with how the community feels and I don’t think they are. The board held a number of community engagements and it was not what we expected or what we wanted. They closed the school my kids go to and they were hardly ever at the site.”

Clark’s announcement of school closures prompted residents of Altadena, which along with Sierra Madre comprises the remainder of the district, to begin discussions on secession from the PUSD.

“Definitely the school closures upset people and made it difficult for families up here to get their kids educated,” said Justin Chapman, an Altadena Town Council member and chair of the council’s Education Subcommittee. Chapman, a student at Pasadena City College, is also a regular contributor to the Weekly.

“They have to figure out the open enrollment and they have very few options. It has galvanized [Altadenans] certainly, but it’s deeper than that,” said Chapman.

“I did not favor closing schools then and I don’t favor closing them now,” said Bibbiani. “And I am concerned about the ones we did close.”

The Town Council’s Education Subcommittee met last Wednesday. It is expected that the entire council will vote in early March on whether to support the secession efforts.

A map of the boundaries of the proposed district has been submitted to the Los Angeles County Office of Education. After that is approved, supporters of the effort can begin collecting the 5,500 signatures need to move the issue forward to a feasibility study conducted by the county Department of Education.

“This is the culmination of years and years of frustration,” Chapman said.

Balancing power

Adam Schiff talks with the Weekly about upcoming elections, domestic spying, impeachment and what it’s going to take to bring our troops home from Iraq

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/23/2006

With President Bush’s popularity ratings plummeting and Republican leaders in Washington, DC, awash in scandal, corruption and war, Congress is now poised for historic party power shifts come the fall midterm elections.

With 33 seats open in the US Senate and 435 House of Representatives elections slated for Nov. 7, Democrats are hoping to make Bush more of a lame duck in his last two years in office than anything Vice President Dick Cheney might bring home for dinner.

In Pasadena, the 29th Congressional District has been represented by Democrat Adam Schiff, who replaced Republican former Judge Jim Rogan in 2000 and has held onto his seat for two terms.

A former federal prosecutor, Schiff, like all other members of Congress, faces re-election, first in the June 6 primary if another Democrat decides to run. So far, Bob McCloskey of Monterey Park is the only Democrat running in a field of candidates that includes Republican Bill Bodell of Glendale and Bill Paparian, a former Pasadena City Council member who was registered Independent, but is running as a Green Party candidate.

During his time in office, Schiff has been tough on issues related to law and order, as well as the war on terrorism, co-authoring portions of the PATRIOT Act and siding with keeping American troops in Iraq until that country stabilizes politically, a proposition bitterly opposed by a growing faction of his own party.

Nevertheless, Schiff has remained one of the Bush administration’s harshest critics, especially on domestic issues, and particularly on its handling of the war and its decision to conduct domestic spying on citizens without first acquiring warrants or court approval.

The Weekly sat down with Schiff in his Washington, DC, office recently to discuss such issues as congressional scandals, domestic spying, the country’s ever-widening political divisions and what it’s going to take to bring our troops home from Iraq.

Schiff also touched on the possibilities of impeaching Bush, a process which, ironically, his predecessor, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, led against President Clinton in 1998. Today, Schiff is a member of that powerful committee.

Pasadena Weekly: How has the culture of Washington changed because of recent scandals?

Adam Schiff: It’s probably too early to tell. There will definitely be reform packages introduced and parts of them will become law. The bigger question is whether there will be anything significant done to change the political environment and campaign finance reform. A lot of the proposals are pretty skin deep at this point.

Do you think the two-party system effectively checks itself, or do you think it would be more effective to introduce more parties to the game?

The problem isn’t with the two-party system so much as that when you have one-party rule every branch of government for too long it tends to become arrogant and corrupt. The Democratic Party was in the majority for 40 years and in 1994 the country decided they’d grown arrogant and corrupt. The GOP seems to have done that in 10. There’ll be a chance in November to change the majority, which is obviously what I’m hoping will take place.

Do you think the president’s excuse for not using the FISA court’s 72-hour loophole is justified?

I have found the administration’s case for avoiding the FISA court to be very unpersuasive, both as a legal matter and as a practical matter. The law is very clear and the congressional intent is very clear about conducting electronic eavesdropping. The authorization to use force against al Qaeda was neither at the time nor after the fact viewed by Congress as authorizing a run around FISA. So his legal arguments are very unpersuasive. His practical arguments are even weaker, and that is the administration’s claim that it was too cumbersome to go through FISA court, that the standard was too high to meet. The FISA court acts very quickly; it approves the vast, overwhelming majority of applications. (Please see a related column on page 9.)

If it’s determined that the president did break the law, would impeachment be considered and would you support that?

The impeachment the country went through with President Clinton was such a disastrous chapter in our national history; we have to be very circumspect about raising the prospect of going through that again. I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of what I hope will be a very thorough investigation of the NSA program and what the consequence should be, but I can say from having studied the law on the subject that the administration’s legal case is very weak.

What issues have you been working on in your home district?

A number of issues. We have what we call the Kids First initiative, which is a whole package of programs, outreach and legislation designed to try to support education, health care and safety for kids. We were successful this year in getting substantial funding for the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles for pediatric cancer research. I’m very proud of that. They’re doing some phenomenal work at the Core Proteomics Laboratory, which basically, through the use of technology, can now identify the proteins in a tumor in a child and develop a very specific therapy for that child and that tumor that gives it a much greater prospect of success with much less side effects. We hope to get to the point where cancer therapy is individualized, where even two children with the same cancer will have different treatments depending on the protein composition of the tumor. We’re also working on legislation this year to try to better protect the community from sex offenders using GPS technology for people that are on parole or probation. We’re working on the potential expansion of the Santa Monica Mountains recreation area to include parts of the rim of the valley, which go all the way through the Arroyo Seco, the Verdugos, San Gabriel Valley, and others. So we’re working on a panoply of initiatives that have a very strong focus on our kids.

Would you like to see the USA PATRIOT Act extended, revised or made permanent?

I’d like to see the PATRIOT Act extended. There are ways that the PATRIOT Act can be improved to better protect civil liberties and at the same time give the government all the tools it needs to ferret out those who would do us harm. I don’t want it to be repealed or go out of existence, but we can do a better job of striking a balance. Frankly, though, the NSA issue troubles me more than anything in the PATRIOT bill. The administration argued during the discussion about the PATRIOT bill that it did not need to amend FISA, didn’t need to lower the standard of the FISA Act, that it operated just fine as it was. Never disclosing, of course, to the vast majority of members that it was taking a position and by putting it into operation it didn’t need to go through the FISA court at all. That seems to me very troubling. They’re making precisely the opposite argument they made in open hearing. And of course, the whole debate over the PATRIOT Act when you think about it is pretty moot if the administration takes the position that none of this is really binding anyway. I also don’t accept the argument that somehow having a discussion in Congress about FISA undercuts the effort to track down/capture/kill/destroy al Qaeda. Al Qaeda doesn’t care whether the wiretap goes through the FISA court or not, but the American people care. As long as it can be done expeditiously it has no impact on our intelligence gathering. If the argument is being made that al Qaeda is somehow oblivious to the fact that we do electronic eavesdropping, then we’re kidding ourselves if we think they’re that unsophisticated.

When would you like to see the troops come home?

As soon as we see a situation in Iraq that’s stable and won’t disintegrate into civil war, when they have a government that is representative of the people, and that doesn’t become an even worse haven for terrorism. I hope we make enough progress in building up the Iraqi’s security forces where we start to see draw downs of our forces in the near future. This year will be a significant year of transition. I was just in Iraq in December and I have the most tremendous respect for our men and women in uniform. They’re doing everything we’re asking of them. There’s a lot more we could have done to have them better prepared for what they were to encounter, provide them with better equipment, armored vehicles, more body vests. But I’m hopeful that the government that emerges from the elections will include the Sunnis and will lay the foundation for us to be able to draw down our troops.

State of emergency

Crowds gathered on both coasts decry State of the Union ‘lies’

By Justin Chapman and Joe Piasecki, Pasadena Weekly, 2/2/2006

WASHINGTON, DC – As lawmakers gathered for a joint session of Congress to hear President Bush’s fifth State of the Union address Tuesday, about 500 people led by the activist group World Can’t Wait tried to "drown out Bush’s lies" outside the heavily fortified US Capitol Building.

Facing a nearly $400 billion deficit, a critical election year, growing criticism over his domestic spying program and increasing dissatisfaction with the War on Terror, Bush’s speech was met with not just skepticism but also cynicism by many – and not just protesters – who heard him speak.

At a restaurant less than a quarter-mile from the Capitol, diners were unimpressed.

"We’ve heard this speech five times now," said Nate Johnson, a Washington resident. "It was funny to watch what the Democrats and Republicans applaud for. Even that is politically motivated."

Some felt the issue of Iran was out of place in the speech, in which Bush pleaded for renewed support for the war in Iraq and called on Congress to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act.

"There are nuclear threats all over the world," said artist and self-described revolutionary Hawah, who teaches in DC-area schools. "Why not bring up Syria or North Korea or China? His motive seems ambiguous."

Perhaps that ambiguity explains why the president’s overall ratings now hover around 40 percent – the lowest approval ratings ever for a sitting wartime president.

In cities around the country, including Los Angeles, protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the administration.

Josh Collins, an English teacher from Glendale, said he brought some of his students to the World Can’t Wait-sponsored protest at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, outside the CNN Building in Hollywood.

"We’re reading Orwell’s ‘1984,’ and I brought some of the students here as opposed to [them] just hearing the doublespeak and Newspeak and all the crap of this regime," said Collins.

In fact, the LA demonstration attracted a generally much younger crowd than previous demonstrations.

"A lot of young people are very much aware of how serious the situation is and don’t believe it’s possible to wait until the Bush term expires because every day there’s a new action contrary to the interests of the people of the United States. Bush is not serving the common good," said longtime anti-war activist Blase Bonpane.

"The more I learn, the more to the left I become. It’s the war, it’s the torture – the policies all over the world. It’s how many innocent people are dying for nothing. We should get out of Iraq right now, and it’s amazing how many people feel the same way," said Anne Goldin, 24, of West Hollywood.

World Can’t Wait organizer Adam Grimes, a 29-year-old TV actor who’s appeared in such shows as "CSI Miami" and "The OC," said, "There’s nothing I believe in more than eliminating these guys from office."

Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild, who hosts a program on KPFK 90.7-FM, said the PATRIOT Act and government eavesdropping have nothing to do with making us safer. "It has to do with making the ruling elite safer from us and what we’re doing tonight," he said.

Mari Riddle of Pasadena turned her 50th birthday party last week at the Avenue 50 Studio art gallery in Highland Park into a fundraiser for World Can’t Wait’s print-ad campaign, which last month placed ads demanding "Bush Step Down" in The New York Times.

"We’re different from most of the other rallies, which chip away at Bush with a single cause of some sort. We’re saying we have to repudiate his entire agenda and force him out with all of it," Riddle said.

Back in Washington, peace activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed from the House gallery just before Bush’s address. She was wearing a shirt with an anti-war slogan, which she kept covered up until she sat down. After an ineffective warning, she was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, a misdemeanor.

Sheehan, who has considered a run for Democratic US Sen. Diane Feinstein’s seat in California, wants Bush not only impeached but also tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"During Bush’s speech, every time he says ‘terrorist,’ replace it with ‘me and my insane policies’ and it fits right in," she told the Weekly Tuesday in Washington.

Today, the Bush War Crimes Commission, initiated by Not in Our Name, is expected to announce "indictments" against the Bush administration at the National Press Club in Washington. Harry Belafonte and Michael Ratner will deliver the opening remarks.

Carl Kozlowski contributed to this report.