By Raul Samaniego
NORWALK – What’s going on with the Norwalk La Mirada Unified School District Board?
At a time when all eyes, and I mean all eyes, were focused on the honoring of a long time school district music teacher, members of the school board and the superintendent were quietly meeting with a real estate developer regarding not only the auditorium, but the entire nearly 40-acre site located at the intersection of Pioneer and Alondra boulevards.
However, we may never really know the true nature of that meeting for no outsiders were welcome at that Feb. 16 event held at the area now referred to as the “Excelsior property.”
Granted, at Monday’s board meeting, the seven board members accepted a revised proposal to place a “plaque,” somewhere in the auditorium where Mr. Lee A. Mitchell Jr. for over 40 years brought warmth through music participation by the youth of the district as well as surrounding communities.
Even at Tuesday’s Hutchinson Middle School’s music festival held at the esteemed auditorium, there sat a stoic Mr. Mitchell listening intently as the John Glenn High School Concert band played several tunes, including a not-so-known piece by the master, Sousa.
On the podium, a 1990 former student and graduate of the very same band, Frank Hinojos, waved his hands as he swayed to the music while his former band teacher sat observing his work.
But where were the board members?
While none were seen at the 6:15 p.m. performance, Mr. Mitchell walked through the doors of the auditorium with person after person walking up and saying hello.
Former students of John Glenn would approach and say, “I wasn’t a band member, but my child is now a music student.”
Music judge, Wayne Nelson, with the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association (SCSBOA) approached Mr. Mitchell offering his hand and welcoming his old friend to the music festival.
Hutchinson Middle School Band Director Craig Jordan shared with Mr. Mitchell that this was the “seventh year of the event.”
The schedule was full with 18 bands slated to perform over the two-day festival.
Again, where were the board members?
Were they that tired from voting 4-3 for a plaque for the man whom everyone seemed to recognize?
The original proposal from Board Member Darryl Adams called for the complete renaming of the semi-vacant auditorium to the “Lee Mitchell Performing Arts Center.”
What erupted through social media was a hard-pressed effort to not change the name at any costs.
At Monday’s meeting, I was surprised on several fronts. The level of adamant rejection from Board Vice President Chris Pflanzer of any recognition of this man’s contribution was appalling.
The absolute ignorance of Board Member Ana Valencia reiterating in her statement that Mr. Mitchell had only taught at Excelsior for two years was absurd.
As a writer, I had done everything but lead a special lecture course on the history and journey of Mr. Mitchell from the bayoneted fixed 101st Airborne troops of segregated Little Rock Arkansas schools, through the heartache of teaching during the Civil Rights and Vietnam era.
If I had heard one more, “while I don’t mean to disrespect Mr. Mitchell,” I would have pulled my hair out. Don’t they realize that by saying those words, they were doing just that?
In the end, it all came down to color. Mr. Mitchell is black. But that is not the color that was discussed Monday night. It was the color of money -- green.
The district has a good dilemma, with those nearly 40 acres of underdeveloped, unused land at the corners of Alondra and Pioneer boulevards.
That’s money in the bank. What would $100 million or more mean to the district coffers?
What about the other 40 or so acres in the general vicinity. Is the city licking its proverbial lips at the possibilities?
Can $1 billion in potential commercial and neighborhood real estate development be ignored?
Name change? It was never about the name change. It was about the color of money.