Bee uncritical, SCUSD loves lawyers

The Sacramento Bee forgoes arena ‘reality check’ duties; the Sacramento City Unified School District spends on lawyers not students

What’s the old cliché? A big lie is more easily believed than a small one. Something like that. It came immediately to mind when the mayor and company unveiled yet another stupendous economic impact for the new Sacramento Kings arena, this one claiming the facility will bring $11.5 billion in economic activity to Sacramento. See SN&R’s long-ass cover story from last week, “Ultimate Kings arena number crunch,” for an explanation of why these sorts of economic impact numbers are basically phony. Or just stick with the Neil deMause’s more succinct explanation over at “Kings arena boosters think numbers are just things you make up because they look pretty.”

The Sacramento Bee has been largely uncritical in its reporting on such claims. When the $11.5 billion number came out last week, it could only manage that “many academic economists also dismiss such studies.”

A while back, a worker Bee lectured Bites on the importance of “objectivity.” But when the objective truth is something like, “The mayor’s new economic impact study is bullshit,” Team Scoopy gets all relative on us, pawning off reality-check duties to “project critics” or “many” economists.

You don’t have to dig too far into the archives to find a feistier, less-cheerleadery Bee. Look up the 2002 editorial from Bee deputy editorial page editor Mark Paul, who methodically picked apart a similar—though actually somewhat less outrageous—economic-impact report, in support of an earlier Heather Fargo-era arena scheme.

“The result is almost always some impressive number that a sports team owner or a politician can use to justify a public subsidy.” And it’s always misleading, Paul explained. That much hasn’t changed, even if the Bee has.

A couple weeks back, Bites introduced Ali Cooper candidate for the Sacramento City Council’s fighting 5th District seat. Cooper’s candidacy is something of a reaction to the Wal-Mart-strong-mayor-Kings-at-any-cost crew that is running City Hall now. Looking citywide, Bites wonders if there isn’t a bit of an insurgency brewing. Former Sacramento Fire Chief Julius Cherry, running in the 7th District, has made his campaign slogan, “I’m not the Mayor’s favorite candidate…but I’d like to be yours.” Bites laughed out loud reading that. It’s like a funny, cheesy pickup line. And it might work.

The Sacramento City Unified School District is spending $12.54 per student on music programs, according to a handy table put out by SCUSD’s chief budget officer this month. The district is spending just $9.63 per student on instructional materials—not counting what teachers spend out of their own pockets.

Compare those to the whopping $41.05 per student that the district is spending on legal counsel. Yes, we spend three times more of our local education dollars on lawyers than we do on music teachers.

Why so much? Well, much like Walter White, the district needs an awful lot of legal help. Need to squash a public-records request or break the teachers’ union? Better call Lozano Smith, the outside firm that cleans up many of the SCUSD’s legal messes, and causes a few as well.

For example, Lozano Smith is hiding documents related to school closures that SN&R has been trying get for the better part of a year. In fact, it has a reputation for stonewalling public-records requests, according to lawyers from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

That’s not the only reputation it has. In 2005, the firm was sanctioned by a U.S. District Court judge for lying, in a case in Calaveras County. While ordering every attorney at Lozano Smith to go through additional ethics training, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger questioned whether “a culture of misrepresentation and deception” existed at the firm.

So nice to know that more of Bites’ tax dollars are going to Lozano Smith than, say, Gifted and Talented Education ($13.03 per student) programs, or Family and Community Engagement ($18.81), or something called Academic Achievement ($2.56).

Lozano Smith showcased some of its fine work for SCUSD earlier this month at a presentation in San Diego called, “Breaking the Seniority Barrier in Teacher Layoffs.” There, the firm presented SCUSD as a model of how to get around union contracts. The district, with Lozano Smith’s expert advice, has figured out ways to push out veteran teachers (who tend to be a little too opinionated) at certain schools and replace them with more compliant newer teachers. The guest speakers at Lozano’s event were none other than SCUSD Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and his school-board ally Darrel Woo. The district naturally got sued for the practice, and partially lost, though Lozano Smith got paid the same.