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LA City Council honors former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer for accomplishments as school superintendent

Author: Ernest Luning - December 25, 2017 - Updated: December 25, 2017

Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, center, thanks the Los Angeles City Council on Dec. 13, 2017, for an honor recognizing his work as superintendent of the LA Unified School District in the early 2000s. (LA City Council video screengrab)Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, center, thanks the Los Angeles City Council on Dec. 13, 2017, for an honor recognizing his work as superintendent of the LA Unified School District in the early 2000s. (LA City Council video screengrab)

The Los Angeles City Council recently honored former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer for his contributions to education in the city, where he served as superintendent of the LA Unified School District for six years in the early 2000s.

“Every day you drive to work, every day you go home, every day you go to an event, you see this work — 131 brand new schools built in the city of Los Angeles,” said Council President Herb Wessen Jr. “You see them everywhere.”

Wesson, whose terms as speaker of the California State Assembly overlapped with Romer’s tenure a superintendent, was among a parade of officials who lauded Romer’s determination, vision and accomplishments at a Dec. 13 city council meeting.

“I was over 70, I was unemployed, I needed a job. Having served 12 years as Colorado’s governor, you’ve got to look hard to find a better job than that,” a smiling Romer, 89, told the crowd that packed council chambers. He added, “I have 22 grandchildren. There is no higher value in my system than to enable a person to learn and to grow and to be all they can be. I didn’t work harder all my life than the six years, seven years I spent here.”

When Romer ran the district — the second-largest in the country — from 2000 to 2006 after serving three terms as governor, he spearheaded what turned out to be a $20 billion school construction project, building 131 new schools in an over-crowded district that didn’t have room for 150,000 students when he took over. At the time, it was the largest public works project in the country.

“Not only was the governor committed and dedicated — there are so many people committed and dedicated — but he understood the system, and he understood politics,” Wesson said. “I think that’s what made him so successful. He understood what to push what button when. If you really think about it — 131 schools in about six years — that is an unbelievable accomplishment.”

Romer’s legacy isn’t just bricks and mortar, said the school board’s president, Mónica García, who worked with Romer when he was superintendent. From graduation rates to literacy rates, she said, Romer’s leadership turned the district around.

“We’ve changed lives together,” García said. “You are the superintendent who told adults to do their jobs and who held out the vision — listen to community, work with people and don’t be afraid to change the world. More kids read and write, more kids go to school. They’re absolutely not afraid to work hard, stand up and do their best for the universe.”

Addressing the meeting, Romer said the “important story” was “making government work for people,” particularly at a time when the country appears to be having trouble making that happen.

“We simply did one thing,” he said. “We made government work for people in one of their most crucial areas. We need to learn this lesson in Washington. We need to turn this thing back to where government is really serving people, not identifying which clan they belong to. … The message this morning to the nation is we can make government work if we simply get on the job, say what’s the task, do it honest, do it right. I’m glad to have been a part of that.”

Vivian Ekchian, the district’s acting superintendent, called Romer “a courageous role model for every leader in this city.”

Noting she was briefly Romer’s chief of staff, Ekchian continued: “You’ve left us many years ago, but we still think about you every day as we have to make difficult decisions. I still think, ‘What would Gov. Romer do in this situation?’ and it gives me the courage, it gives me the right understanding what to do next.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.