President, Board of EducationOrganization:
Los Angeles Unified School DistrictBorn:
Los Angeles, 1965Education:
Bachelor's degree in history from Yale University and a master's degree in public administration from USC.Career Turning Points:
Serving as intern at age 15 to then California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa; leaving the administration of former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan in 1997.Hobby:
Reading to her two young children.Most Admired Person:
Lives in Studio City with husband Mark Dierking and their two children, ages 5 and 2. Dierking is an aide to City Councilman Alex Padilla.Impatient with the pace of changes at LAUSD, new school board president Caprice Young is pushing for faster decisions and greater authority at the district's local level
Caprice Young joined the L.A. Unified School District board two years ago as one of former Mayor Richard Riordan's reform candidates. At the time, the school district was in crisis: student test scores were falling, classrooms were getting more overcrowded by the month and the district was consumed by the Belmont Learning Complex scandal. Young and the other reform board members, led by board president Genethia Hayes moved quickly, firing then-superintendent Ruben Zacarias, stopping construction on the Belmont center and revamping the troubled facilities division. Last year, the board hired former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer to replace Zacarias.
But earlier this month, Young unexpectedly challenged Hayes for the presidency of the school board and won with the support of two newly-elected board members. Now, the 35-year-old mother of two prospective LAUSD students faces the challenge of keeping the district from breaking up and building up to 100 new schools.
All this for a part-time job. Young, who worked for the Riordan administration as assistant deputy mayor for information is now with PeopleLink, a Santa Monica-based company creating on-line communities, where she is managing director of consulting services.Question:
Why did you run for president of the board?
Answer: I have a real desire to accelerate the reforms that our board began two years ago. I also wanted to reach out to the two new reformers that had just been elected. It's also very unusual for a board president to serve more than a couple years, and Genethia (Hayes) had served two years.
Q: So the reforms the district had already begun weren't going fast enough for you?
A: Yes, I guess I could be rightly accused of being a little impatient with the pace of reform. I wanted to see a stronger focus on pushing accountability and authority out to the local districts.
Q: The state auditor just came out with a report saying that the board's move to decentralize the district by setting up 11 mini-districts has failed to reduce the number of positions at headquarters and has not given the mini-districts the promised authority over finances and instruction. What is your reaction to criticism that you are just adding layers of bureaucracy?
A: This decentralization has only just been implemented over the course of the last year, so in a lot of areas, I believe it's too early to pass judgment. In fact, in this budget that we just adopted July 1, we cut the central office and mini-district budget by $30 million. The claims that you've heard about growing bureaucracy are completely unwarranted.
That said, we do face significant challenges in making the local districts work. There is this unbelievable magnetic pull that comes from the central offices. School principals right now don't have control over things like maintenance projects on their campuses.
Q: So how do you get this type of reform?
A: A big part of this is just streamlining the business practices. We need to make sure that this school district runs well. Part of the reason this district is perceived as such a horrible bureaucracy is that many of the internal systems are broken.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: Well let's just take one area: hiring teachers. It takes a very long time to hire a teacher. For some teachers it goes very smoothly. For others it can take months. That needs to be fixed.
Our accounts payable process is in dire need of repair. There are vendors that we take months to pay. That simply can't be allowed to continue.
Q: What is your opinion of new L.A. Mayor James Hahn and the new leadership on the City Council?
A: I'm thrilled with the new leadership, especially with the new makeup of the City Council. These are really talented individuals who care deeply about Los Angeles. I think the new mayor is going to put real energy behind creating after-school programs and working really closely with us on this. There are lots of other things they can help us with, such as improving safety around school sites and helping us clear any hurdles in getting our new school sites actually converted into new schools.
Q: You have quite the political household, with your school district post, your husband's job as a senior aide to Councilman Alex Padilla and now his stated intention to run for Joel Wachs' seat on the council. Did you plan it this way?
A: No we didn't. The original plan was that I would make the money and he would be the public servant. Now we're both public servants and soon we may both be elected officials. What I tell people is that we're not alone in having multiple jobs; it's just that ours happen to be in the public sphere.
Q: Do the two of you ever disagree about politics?
A: I tend to be a little more conservative than he is. I'm not sure why that is. I have profound distaste for inefficiency. I tend to get very upset whenever I see money being wasted. He does too, but I'm much more vocal about it.
Q: You also have a "day job" at an Internet company called PeopleLink and are raising two young children. How do you manage?
A: I'm extraordinarily disciplined about my time. When I'm with PeopleLink, I'm at PeopleLink and when I'm at the school district, I'm with kids. And when I'm with my family, I'm with my family.
But it's a struggle. When I first ran for office, I said, "No, this shouldn't be a full-time job. Maybe I was wrong about that. From the trustee aspects of this job, I think being part-time is an advantage. But I also represent more than 750,000 people and there are more than a dozen elected officials with districts that overlap mine. So there's a lot that I need to do.
Q: There was a widespread perception that when the board stopped the Belmont Learning Center project nearly two years ago, that was the last we would hear about it. But the option to complete the campus is still being considered. Why?
A: It is different now. Belmont is not dominating the board discussion. We've taken the lessons of Belmont and applied them to our facilities program. We've put in place strong professional management, strong financial controls.
Most importantly, we're addressing environmental concerns up front. In each of the 82 sites we've identified for new schools, we've already completed or are now doing Phase I environmental audits to determine the extent of pollution and the scope of cleanup needed, before school building starts.
Superintendent Romer has requested proposals from companies or organizations or individuals who believe they can build Belmont and make it safe.
Q: When that RFP process was announced, it was very controversial. You had been opposed to continuing with Belmont. Have you had a change of heart?
A: It took a long time for Superintendent Romer to convince me to allow it to go forward. I still don't see any convincing evidence that the site can be made safe. But the argument he made was: "Let's let everyone put their cards on the table. If they can't make it safe, or they can't make it safe cost-effectively, let's sell it."
Q: And if Belmont is not finished, where's the new school for the area going to be?
A: Right here at 450 North Grand. We're moving out of this building next spring to make way for demolition in preparation for a new school right here. (The headquarters will be moving to an office tower at 333 South Beaudry Street.)
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