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Los Angeles Unified School District

Los Angeles Unified School District is the largest urban school district in the country. With over 740,000 students, 693 schools and 35,000 full time equivalent teachers, their budget exceeds $5.8 billion. As a result everything is bigger for this school district. School board members can raise over a $250,000 while running unopposed or attempt misrepresent their credentials in order to get elected. Even the simple election of the Board president has its drama. Being so big making LAUSD a target and the newly elected Mayor wanted to appoint Board members. But then again, may not.

By November, 2005, Mayor Villaraigosa had once again decided that Los Angeles Unified needs to be accountable to the Mayor. Similar moves occurred in Chicago and New York while the National Council of Mayors issued their own report on the role of Mayors and local education. In 2006, an editors from Harvard Educational Review discuss the impact of mayoral takeovers as introduction to five essays on the topic.

In December, the school district had to respond to a request to allow the City to audit the district as well as public records request of prior audits.

However, other cities that are included under the umbrella of LAUSD have their concerns. In February, 2006, the mayor announced formation of a political committee to support an election on school district governance, while legislation is introduced to break up LAUSD. Of course, stacking a board overseeing the breakup might help.

As the current Superintendent indicated a desire to leave, the selection process gets murky when the Mayor indicates a desire to play a part in the selection process. Of course being the largest school district in the country is bound to attract the interest of many individuals, including politicans.

In March, 2006, the LA Mayor provided additional details of how his office could oversee LA schools. Those additional details took form in a report that circulated outside of City Hall a week before the formal press conference on April 19th. The day before the Mayor formal proposal, two state legislators and a coalition of community-based organizations led by the teachers union presented their separate educational reform, both advocating breaking up the district. The Mayor critics reacted to the proposal and the state legislators had mixed reactions to the proposal.

By late June it was apparent that the Mayor's plan to have the Legislature pass legislation favoring his proposal was not going to pass. After two days of intense negotiations, a compromise was reached that established mayoral control over the selection of superintendent and some yet to be defined control over the District budget. The California School Boards Assocation voiced their opposition to the compromise proposal via a news release. A subsequent Los Angeles article covered the initial reaction of classroom teachers to provisions regarding local control. Two days later the initial details regarding local control were removed from the propsal.

Developments from July to December, 2006 are tracked here.

Unopposed, School Board Leader Still Raises Funds

L.A. Unified's Jose Huizar collects more than $330,000, much of it from the building trades

By Cara Mia DiMassa, Los Angeles Times, February 22,2005

Los Angeles Board of Education President Jose Huizar has raised more than $330,000 for his reelection, much of it from construction-related companies and individuals involved in the school district's massive school building program.

Huizar, who spent about $194,000 on his first election in 2001, is running unopposed next month, as are two other school board members.

But unlike his colleagues, Huizar — who is considered a rising political star with ambitions of running for higher office — continued to raise money after his only opponent dropped out. Three weeks after that candidate withdrew, a fundraiser for Huizar with mostly construction- related companies netted nearly $50,000, city records show.

Additionally, Huizar's largest campaign contributor last year was the teachers union, which gave him $32,500.

Huizar, who initially referred comments about contributions to his campaign manager but later agreed to an interview, said he wanted to build a broad coalition of supporters — rather than rely on any one group for funds — particularly because his district boundaries had been changed since he took office. Huizar's district stretches from Boyle Heights to Mid-Wilshire and also includes Chinatown, Koreatown and the Pico-Union area.

"I feel very confident and comfortable with the way we have gone about fundraising," Huizar said. "I was going to run a campaign regardless of whether I had an opponent or not. I needed to communicate with my new district…. [I wanted] to introduce myself and say: 'Here I am, your new board member; hold me accountable.' "

John Shallman, Huizar's campaign manager, said the board president prepared a "vigorous campaign" because of redistricting but also because previous board members had been targeted for defeat.

Shallman, who also manages former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg's campaign for mayor, said he saw no problem in Huizar's support from the building industry. The Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a $14-billion school construction program to relieve overcrowding.

"I don't think it's inappropriate at all for an industry that sees building schools as a good thing to support a guy who agrees with them," he said.

Campaign rules for the school district's seven board positions fall under state law, and as a result, there are no limits on the amount of money that candidates can raise. Nor are there rules about the types of companies that can give money to school board candidates.

In some instances, state law allows candidates to transfer money from one election account to another. The Los Angeles Ethics Commission says it has never issued a formal judgment on whether money from a school board race could be transferred to city races, which have strict finance rules.

Huizar, 35, has said that he has been approached in recent months by supporters asking him about his next political move. But Shallman said Huizar "does not want to be perceived as someone who wants to bank money for future runs."

When Huizar took over the presidency of the school board in 2003, he was seen as a consensus candidate between two competing factions. United Teachers Los Angeles and the Coalition for Kids, a campaign committee backed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire Eli Broad, had spent millions of dollars in the previous two elections trying to win support for their handpicked candidates.

Huizar has received backing from both factions. Though the Coalition for Kids is no longer active, Broad gave Huizar $5,000 in 2004.

The teachers union has a history of supporting candidates who share its philosophy on how to reform education — and who vote accordingly, said UTLA President John Perez. The union endorsed Huizar in this and his previous campaign.

When the union pledged $25,000 to Huizar for a November fundraiser, it chose the sum because the board president had opposition, Perez said. But after that opponent — Manuel Aldana Jr. — withdrew, the teachers union decided to honor its promise.

"In politics, as in real life, your word is your bond," Perez said. When Aldana dropped out, he said, "we felt morally obligated to do what we said we were going to do. We made a commitment…. We're [Huizar's] biggest contributor because there happened to be an opponent at the time. If he had had no opponent, we wouldn't have made the contribution."

The two other school board members running for reelection March 8 — Marlene Canter and Julie Korenstein — stopped raising money after they realized that they were unopposed, though each received some contributions late in the year. Shallman is running both campaigns.

Canter, who funded much of her last campaign with personal money, raised about $75,000 in 2004. Korenstein raised about $85,000 last year, mostly from individual contributions and unions.

"It's very nice not having to go out there and beg for money," said Korenstein, who is routinely backed by the teachers union.

Huizar's decision not to cancel fundraisers after he became the sole candidate is troubling, said Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies.

"Why would anybody in the world want to give money to a candidate who is unopposed?" he said. "It's not a campaign contribution. It's a government access payment."

An analysis of city Ethics Commission reports shows that Huizar received at least $114,000 from architects, engineers, construction companies and others involved in the building trades. Many of those donors were frequent political contributors, but others were making their first forays into campaign financing.

The contributions ranged from $10,000 from Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott — a law firm that has helped the district negotiate eminent-domain issues for its school building program — to $100 from JCE Structural Engineering Group, which is working on a number of school projects.

Nadel Architects, which holds a $4.6-million contract with the district and is designing two schools in Huizar's district, gave $4,500. "We contribute like most other firms in the city here," said Gregory Serrao, a Nadel executive vice president. "Jose is the president of the school board. And he's a pretty important person."

Steve Pellegren, vice president of Bernards Bros., said that his construction firm typically did not donate to political candidates and that it did not make its $5,000 donation to Huizar to curry favor. Bernards Bros. has $86.2 million in district contracts to build schools in South Gate and North Hollywood; it put up a Van Nuys middle school that opened last fall.

Pellegren said he believed that board members were detached from awarding contracts and that they had "zero influence" over the management of building projects.

After the school board approves a specific building project, it is left up to the district's facilities division to administer the contract bidding process. District guidelines call for contracts to be awarded to the lowest qualified bidder. But after contracts are signed by the facilities chief, they eventually are ratified by the board.

School board members are briefed regularly by the facilities division on the status of building projects in their districts.

About $43,000 of Huizar's political contributions last year came from construction firms that did not have contracts with the district. And it is those companies, Stern and other critics say, that have the most to gain from their donations to the school board president, even when his reelection is a lock.

"It's completely a business decision," Stern said. "It gains them access and favor, and ultimately a contract."

Shallman said Huizar's donations slowed after the first of the year. In the first three weeks of January — the last dates for which records are available — the board president collected $1,500 from the Southern California Pipe Trades union.

But, Shallman said, money is still trickling in. "There's nothing more gratifying," he said, "than for Jose to walk into a school and have a teacher or parent give him a $25 check."


After Scramble, Canter Elected to Lead School Board

L.A. Unified's Jose Huizar collects more than $330,000, much of it from the building trades

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, July 6,2005

The Los Angeles Board of Education selected Marlene Canter as its president Tuesday after last-minute, behind-the scenes maneuvering that involved the new leader of the teachers union.

Canter, who beat Jon Lauritzen for the position, was elected 5-1 by the seven-member board. Lauritzen abstained, and Marguerite LaMotte dissented. Canter voted for herself.

The vote occurred quickly, with no public discussion, but came after a lengthy delay as outgoing board president Jose Huizar spearheaded an attempt to persuade Lauritzen to step aside.

"It was a three-hour scramble in an attempt to get a 7-0 vote — to find unity," Huizar said. "But Jon decided to press ahead and take the vote nonetheless."

Huizar said he sought the help of A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Duffy, the recently elected chief of the powerful teachers union, said he called Lauritzen to relay a compromise at the urging of board members. He declined to elaborate.

Union leaders supported Lauritzen in his election four years ago and have repeatedly weighed in on the selection of board presidents. This year, Duffy said the union would remain neutral.

Board members and district staff members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Lauritzen was asked to abandon his push for the presidency in exchange for promises that Canter would support him in a future run for the position.

Lauritzen expressed frustration as he waited for the meeting to begin. "There are still negotiations going on. I'm disappointed that it has come down to this."

Canter's election comes at a time when L.A. Unified is under scrutiny from inside and outside the district. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was sworn into office last week, has said repeatedly that he will push for a larger role in how the traditionally independent district is run. In addition, the City Council has created a commission to explore the governance of the district.

Canter said she welcomed the interest of the mayor and City Council, but added that she expected the board to have an equal voice in the discussion.

"There is a very big civic dialogue going on right now about our schools, and I want to represent a strong voice of the board in that discussion," Canter said. "I do not want people to write it off as, 'Nothing is working and therefore the board is not working.' … I want everyone to know as they step into this how complex and difficult it is. Governance is not the only issue."

As board president, Canter will also play a leading role in setting the agenda for the second-largest public school system in the country, which serves about 745,000 students and operates on a more than $6.5-billion annual budget. Along with running the unwieldy meetings, the president decides when the board votes on issues and attempts to find middle ground on contentious matters.

One of those issues is likely to be whether the board will allow Supt. Roy Romer to remain through the end of his contract, which expires in 2007. Because of a compromise when the contract was extended a year ago, the board must decide by October whether to keep Romer on or remove him next year.

Canter, who is widely seen as a strong supporter of Romer, said she "believes it is in the best interest of the district for the superintendent to remain until the end of his contract." She emphasized that the board had not yet discussed the matter, but said removing Romer early would disrupt the district's ongoing, multibillion-dollar school construction project.

First elected to the board in 2001, Canter was reelected this year when she ran unopposed. Since joining the board, she has led efforts to increase the number of credentialed teachers and to ban the sale of soft drinks and junk food on campuses.


Greater oversight of LAUSD?

Villaraigosa wants to appoint board members, have accountability

By Lisa Mascaro, Los Angeles Daily news, June 18, 2005

Honing his educational policy, Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa said Friday he should have the ultimate responsibility for student performance and should be authorized to appoint school board members.

Speaking at a state Senate panel convened to discuss the role of big-city mayors in overseeing public schools, Villaraigosa echoed remarks made by outgoing Mayor James Hahn, former Mayor Richard Riordan and former mayoral challenger Robert Hertzberg.

"I do believe that the mayor of the city of Los Angeles should have ultimate responsibility for the school system," said Villaraigosa, who takes office July 1.

"You don't do it just by changing the law. You do it by creating a bond of trust and collaboration. You do it by ensuring that the parents and teachers are empowered and have a choice in their school district.

"Ultimately, I believe that the mayor should be able to appoint all of the school board members, should be held accountable for improvement in achievement and the quality of instruction in the schools," he said. "I believe you do that, though, in a partnership.

"I am not looking for more power ... I'm looking for accountability. I'm looking for a transformation in how we make decisions."

But Los Angeles' powerful teachers union, which helped elect a majority of the school board, decried the suggestion, saying having the mayor appoint the seven board members -- who are currently elected by voters -- is no guarantee of better schools.

"We believe it's best for society for people to elect their representatives at all levels," said John Perez, outgoing president of United Teachers Los Angeles, drawing cheers from some of the nearly 100 people gathered.

The union gave Villaraigosa massive support during the recent mayoral campaign, but disagrees with Villaraigosa on this issue.

"Nothing inherent to mayoral control leads necessarily to better schools."

The panel was convened downtown by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Urban School Governance and has been gathering public input on the issue.

Many of those speaking deplored the poor state of Los Angeles public schools -- in particular the dismal dropout rate that sees only half the freshmen making it to graduation day.

In the recent mayoral campaign, education became a pivotal issue -- first, when Hertzberg championed breaking up the massive LAUSD, and later as Hahn and Villaraigosa touted education reform during the runoff campaign.

Hahn told the board that, he too, believed the mayor needs to eventually appoint all the school board members.

"Whether or not I had any control over the schools, let me tell you, I was being held accountable for them," he said. "If I'm going to be held accountable, I need to have a say in what's going on."

Romero asked Hertzberg what he meant when he urged the panel to "be bold."

"At minimum, have the mayor make all the appointments. Do it as quickly as you can. Hold them accountable. Throw them out of office if they fail," Hertzberg said. "It's that simple."

Los Angeles Unified School District's board President Jose Huizar said the conversation about board accountability is "long overdue."

"The district has been allowed by the voting public to get to this point," he said. "It's been a shadow government for too long and it's time that we looked at the district thoroughly, independently."

This spring, Alex Padilla, City Council member and Jose Huizar, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, persuaded the council to form a 30-member commission to study the governance of the district.

The commission will be sworn in July 6th and begin meeting later in July.

"The education piece of it is personal with this council," Padilla said. "A lot of us are products of the Los Angeles public school system and now we're in position to do something about its problems."


Mayor Urged to Take a Stand on L.A. Unified Takeover Bill

Sen. Gloria Romero's legislation would allow Villaraigosa to control the school district. But since the election, he has argued for more time

By Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2005

State Sen. Gloria Romero implored Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a letter Tuesday to state clearly whether he supports her bill to allow him to take over the public school system.

"Mr. Mayor, I respectfully request an answer," Romero (D-Los Angeles) wrote. "Where do you stand on the bill? Time is of the essence."

During the mayoral campaign, Villaraigosa said the mayor should have "ultimate control and oversight" over the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But Villaraigosa has since argued that he needs time to build broad support for the idea.

When asked about the letter Tuesday, Villaraigosa spokesman Joe Ramallo would not say whether the mayor supported Romero's bill, but said Romero introduced it prematurely.

Ramallo issued a statement from the mayor's office that reiterated Villaraigosa's stance.

"For any school reform to take root, experience has shown that consensus needs to be developed at the local level," the statement said. "That trust will take time to develop."

After his election, Villaraigosa testified before Romero's Senate Select Committee on Urban School Governance in mid-June, saying the mayor of Los Angeles should "be able to appoint all school board members, and be held accountable for improvement in achievement and the quality of instruction in the schools."

Two weeks after Villaraigosa's inauguration on July 1, Romero introduced SB 767, which would give the mayor the power to appoint a majority of school board members.

But Villaraigosa reacted coolly to the legislation, and the fate of Romero's bill is now uncertain.

Because it was introduced after the deadline for new legislation, the bill must receive a waiver from the Senate Rules Committee.

The Senate would then have to approve the waiver before the bill can be taken up in the Education Committee.

Rules committee staffers Tuesday said the waiver has not been scheduled for a vote. Romero spokeswoman Nicole Winger said she could not comment on the bill's chances.

In the meantime, Villaraigosa has appointed a 30-member advisory council to look for other ways to improve a district struggling with racial violence, low test scores and high dropout rates.

The mayor's short-term strategy prompted some tart language from Romero.

"We cannot wait for another blue-ribbon commission to confirm what we already know: LAUSD is in an educational meltdown," she wrote. "The time to act is now.

"We have an opportunity to begin to transform the culture of the LAUSD for the sake of our children," she continued, "and for the sake of the future of California."

United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union, is the staunchest opponent of the takeover. It and the state teachers union spent more than $920,000 to back the mayor's election effort. Earlier this month, president A.J. Duffy said the union would never be comfortable with a mayoral takeover.

Duffy wrote to Romero on Aug. 9 to oppose the bill.

"While we are concerned about the problems that face Los Angeles schools, this bill does not deal with educational solutions but with governance," he said.

Duffy also argued that other big cities that have tried the strategy — New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland — "have not solved these complex problems. They have only shifted to a mayor-appointed board."


Mayor Blasts L.A. School Board

In a speech to a business group, Villaraigosa reiterates his desire to take control of district

By Joel Rubin and Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2005

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa assailed the Los Angeles school board Thursday, saying it stands in the way of reform and oversees a bureaucracy that is "failing" its students.

The harsh critique during a speech in the San Fernando Valley led a school board member to walk out in protest.

Julie Korenstein, a 19-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, left her seat at a front-row table as the mayor neared the end of his address to about 400 local business leaders.

"It is very difficult to be attacked like that and not be able to respond," Korenstein said.

Villaraigosa defended his comments and reiterated his intention to take control of the troubled district, which is run by an elected seven-member board. "I'm making the case for why we need accountability and mayoral control of our schools," he said.

Korenstein said she was angered by the mayor's description of the district leadership as being opposed to reform. She also took exception to his assertion — based on a controversial study — that roughly half of the district's students do not graduate on time. District officials say the graduation rate is higher.

No other board members were at the United Chambers of Commerce luncheon, at a hotel in Woodland Hills.

The mayor saved his tough talk until the end of his speech.

"It was very nice and cordial at first," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who attended. "But then he started talking about education. He didn't hold back any punches."

Zine sat at the same table as Korenstein. "I didn't see smoke coming out of her ears, but she was certainly perturbed," he said.

Korenstein described the mayor's comments as "very negative and mean-spirited."

Thursday's speech marked the second time this week that Villaraigosa has taken to task the board and the district's 40,000-person bureaucracy.

At a gathering of business leaders Tuesday, he made a similar speech.

Board members and Supt. Roy Romer have bristled at the criticism by Villaraigosa and others, such as state Sen. Gloria Romero, saying the district has made strides in academic performance despite serving 727,000 students, many of them poor and with limited English skills.

Romer and the board have made improvements in the last five years. An overhaul of the elementary-grade curriculum has led to significant gains on state test scores, and the district has opened about 50 new schools as part of an ongoing construction and repair initiative.

The district has struggled, however, to raise achievement in its aging middle and high schools, where enrollments often exceed 2,500 students.

At 27 of the district's comprehensive high schools, for example, fewer than a quarter of the students showed proficiency on state English exams.

A spate of racially motivated melees at Jefferson High School last spring led Villaraigosa to intensify his criticism of the district.

The mayor has said he intends to take control of the school district before his first term ends in 2009.


Mayor Talks Tough to Push School Takeover

Villaraigosa accuses officials of obstructing reform. Some are taken aback by the rhetoric

By Joel Rubin and Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2005

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has begun selling his plan to seize control of the ailing Los Angeles Unified School District with strident language that is worrying and confusing the city's education leaders.

In three speeches and an interview last week, he accused the teachers union and the school board of standing in the way of crucial reform.

"I have been an absolute supporter of L.A. public schools, but I have come to the conclusion that there is no way to reform these schools without taking on the status quo," Villaraigosa told The Times. "I am not looking to alienate anyone, but I am going to make the case for public accountability … right now, no one's accountable."

Villaraigosa has set an ambitious agenda as mayor, but the school takeover may be his most daring gambit, throwing him into the treacherous thicket of education politics.

His strong rhetoric has electrified some audiences. But it has also left school board members and district officials in a tricky position. On the one hand, they are frustrated by what they say are the mayor's unfair and untruthful characterizations of the district; on the other, they don't want to appear defensive or antagonistic toward him.

"I think the mayor's entire conversation is based on an assumption that the district is moving in the wrong direction," said school board President Marlene Canter. "And that is flat-out wrong."

Recently, Villaraigosa's team has begun developing a takeover strategy for the nation's second-largest school district. They are studying how other big-city mayors, including Richard Daley in Chicago and Michael Bloomberg in New York, took control. But so far mayoral aides have offered few, if any, specifics on a takeover plan.

The mayor has been unapologetic about his ramped-up rhetoric yet he continues to insist that "consensus" is key to success. Those apparently mixed messages are leaving some of his supporters confused.

Many acknowledge that Villaraigosa — a former organizer for the city teachers union and speaker of the state Assembly — is a master negotiator. But they also wonder if he should be risking a fight fraught with deep political implications.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered a costly loss this month when he took on the powerful California Teachers Assn. and others in labor with his special election propositions.

"The teachers union is an incredible force to be reckoned with," said Darry Sragow, a political strategist who recently ran the district's successful $4-billion school bond campaign. "To a significant degree, teachers at a statewide level are responsible for bringing down a popular governor. Now, the difference with our mayor is he was one of them … so maybe he's decided they'll cut him more slack."

Former Mayor Richard Riordan, a longtime proponent of a takeover, said he hoped Villaraigosa could keep everyone at the table.

"I'm an optimist," Riordan said. "Antonio is a great lover of the unions and loved by the union members. And I think he could make some sort of compromise."

During his election campaign, when many voters were citing education reform as a top priority, Villaraigosa said he would support mayoral control of Los Angeles Unified. But the issue has been a persistent frustration for the new mayor.

He has never wavered in his support of the idea, but he has been criticized for moving too slowly. Soon after his swearing-in, the mayor refused to back a state Senate bill that would have given him the power to hire the superintendent and replace the seven elected board members.

Villaraigosa argued that the bill was unconstitutional, but he also said he needed time to do what he does best — that is, subtly cajole and persuade his opponents until they relent.

In the meantime, Villaraigosa convened his own panel of education experts. In public, the mayor praised the group's recommendations, which addressed such issues as safe routes to school. But Villaraigosa found them underwhelming, said sources close to the mayor.

Carolyn Webb de Macias, the mayor's senior advisor, is refining those ideas. Mayoral counsel Thomas Saenz is heading the effort to draft a takeover plan. Among the proposals: that the mayor appoint only some of the board members.

Any plan would probably require the approval of the state Legislature, local voters and possibly the City Council, Saenz said.

The takeovers in Chicago and New York have yielded mixed results. The Illinois Legislature gave Daley control of public schools in 1995, a few years after then-Education Secretary William Bennett had called them the worst in the nation.

Daley won authority to appoint the school board and hire the superintendent and other top officials. He helped raise money for schools and eased labor unrest. Although the schools posted academic gains, their largely impoverished students still remain below national norms.

Bloomberg persuaded the state Legislature to give him broader powers over the nation's largest school system in 2002. That included authority to abolish the school board in favor of an advisory panel and to turn the school system into a city department.

Education experts have said it is too soon to tell whether New York City's schools will fare better in the long term. Reading scores have remained generally flat, while math scores are rising, a trend that began before Bloomberg took over.

Villaraigosa said in an interview that he isn't trying to pick a fight with the unions or the school board, but he acknowledged that a fight could be inevitable. He anticipates a costly local ballot campaign to persuade voters to give him control.

He said he wants to enact a plan before the end of his first term. But the opposition appears formidable.

In a poll of 700 L.A. voters conducted in July for the California Teachers Assn. — an opponent of the idea — 55% opposed mayoral control of schools. And 70% said school board members should be elected.

In Sacramento, Villaraigosa has a strong ally in Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuρez (D-Los Angeles), who said he would help pass a takeover bill.

"If the mayor says, 'This is important to me,' I'm going to roll up my sleeves and I'm going to deliver it for him,' " he said.

It's questionable, however, whether even the Democratic-controlled Legislature would approve such a bill. Lawmakers would risk the wrath of the state teachers union. The local union, United Teachers Los Angeles, also remains adamantly against a takeover.

"A school board elected by the people is vitally important," said UTLA President A.J. Duffy. "It's important for the teachers union to support candidates for the school board that we feel will be good for public education."

Neither Duffy nor Barbara Kerr, president of the CTA, would comment on the mayor's recent remarks.

Schools Supt. Roy Romer, typically outspoken on district issues, has remained neutral. Taking a position, he said, would undermine his ability to work with the school board.

Romer and Canter said that in order to counter the mayor's attacks, the district needs to devise a public relations strategy to tout its successes.

They are quick to point out that the district has raised test scores at a faster rate than the state. And an ambitious construction program has opened nearly 50 campuses, with more than 100 others planned.

The district continues to struggle, however, to raise graduation rates and boost performance at many of its crowded middle and high schools.

A number of skeptics, including Canter and Duffy, say Villaraigosa hasn't recently met with them to discuss his plans. The mayor's office said those meetings could still happen.

Veteran board member Julie Korenstein, who stormed out of one of the mayor's speeches, said Villaraigosa's "offensive" language risks alienating all seven members of the panel.

"He's going about this in a way that is making him a lot of enemies along the way," she said.


School Takeover Plan: Too Big an Assignment?

Villaraigosa will have to convince smaller cities in L.A. Unified that they won't be ceding power

By Joel Rubin and Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2005

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was elected to represent Los Angeles, but he is trying to seize control of a public school system that sprawls far beyond the city limits. That geographical fact is complicating the mayor's takeover ambitions, raising legal hurdles and worrying small-city officials who fear ceding power to Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second-largest in the nation, encompassing 710 square miles. The district's boundaries are so convoluted that the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters and L.A. Unified disagree on whether they include 27 or 29 other municipalities. (They agree that the district serves two dozen unincorporated parts of the county.)

Voters in the outlying areas, who the registrar says total more than 249,000, have a say in selecting representatives on the seven-member school board. But they cannot vote for L.A.'s mayor.

Their children add up. One in five students — 146,706 — live outside the city of Los Angeles, according to district figures.

Small cities have historically felt overshadowed by Los Angeles' presence in the district and now wonder if a takeover would make things worse.

"Why would we take all of our opportunity to have a voice and give it to someone else to our own exclusion?" said West Hollywood City Councilman Jeff Prang. "I just think there's an incredible lack of attention by anyone to consider what happens to these … other cities."

Prang and other officials are trying to be heard in the debate. In September, Prang persuaded his colleagues to vote unanimously for a resolution decreeing that West Hollywood "does not support any reforms that diminish the independence or representation of independent cities." He has been urging other leaders to adopt similar resolutions.

Meanwhile, school board President Marlene Canter said she expects to meet before Christmas with officials from the outlying cities to discuss mayoral control.

A number of small-city officials say a mayoral takeover could prompt them to try to leave L.A. Unified for good. Villaraigosa's office is also open to the possibility of a district breakup if it would help the mayor improve the educational experience for students within Los Angeles.

"When you look at governance reform, everything is up for grabs," said mayoral counsel Thomas Saenz, who is heading Villaraigosa's takeover effort. "The current configuration of the district is not a given — that it would survive that way forever — at all. And that's not news, because some of these municipalities have toyed with the possibility of seceding from LAUSD in the past."

Saenz said Villaraigosa plans to take the small cities' concerns into account, and he noted that his office has only begun to study the takeover options. But Prang and others said they would remain nervous until they saw a detailed plan.

Villaraigosa has yet to unveil specifics as to how he plans to wrest control from the elected school board, if at all. Nor has he said how he plans to reform the district's massive bureaucracy.

In recent weeks, however, he has repeatedly chided the school board and the teachers union for resisting reforms and said that a takeover would be the best way to boost student achievement and graduation rates.

A takeover of Los Angeles' schools would be much more complicated than in other large cities, such as New York and Chicago, where the mayors have control of the school districts. In those cities, the district and the city boundaries are the same.

Some of the reform models Saenz describes would give L.A.'s mayor the ability to appoint most members of the school board while allowing a smaller number of other board members to be chosen either by elected leaders or voters in the smaller cities.

Some small-city officials, such as Councilman George Cole of Bell, say they are open to a new role for the L.A. mayor in education — as long as they are still properly represented.

Historically, Cole said, small cities like Bell have worried that Los Angeles receives a disproportionate share of money and school projects.

"I mean, they still for the most part refer to 'L.A. city schools,' " said Cole, who noted that he is a Villaraigosa supporter. "That's a huge mentality there. Our communities outside the district, especially southeast cities, have been neglected, and that's a mild term."

Carson Mayor Jim Dear — a part-time teacher at an L.A. Unified middle school — said he wanted to sit down with Villaraigosa before making up his mind. But for now, he said, he has "strong concerns" that a mayoral takeover would diminish Carson residents' say in district matters.

Dear noted that some Carson residents unsuccessfully tried, through a ballot measure, to secede from L.A. Unified in 2001. That sentiment could gain strength if a mayoral takeover makes people feel short-changed, he said.

"This idea of the mayor of Los Angeles virtually governing, through his appointments, the entire L.A. Unified School District would most likely cause a lot of people in the non-city-of-L.A. areas of L.A. Unified to consider secession," he said.

The district's peculiar borders have remained largely unchanged since 1961, when Los Angeles Unified was formed from the melding of a high school district and what was called the city school district. When the city was incorporated in 1870, the school district had the same boundaries. Over the years, outlying school systems were annexed to the city and high school districts.

Today's preliminary discussions of a breakup amplify a defining tension in a sprawling region that has long struggled with the proper size of its local governments. The school district in particular has survived numerous calls for a breakup. The latest was issued by mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg in last March's election. After he lost in the first round of voting, the two remaining candidates, Villaraigosa and former Mayor James K. Hahn, focused instead on the idea of greater mayoral oversight.

Los Angeles is not the first California city to address its school district's governance structure.

In 2000, Oakland voters approved an amendment to the City Charter that gave Mayor Jerry Brown the authority to appoint three additional members to the elected seven-person school board.

Brown said he has counseled Villaraigosa against a similar plan, saying that without control of a majority of the board, he never had enough power to make significant changes.

In Los Angeles, taking control of the district would probably require more than just a charter change, Saenz said.

To ensure that voters outside the city are not disenfranchised, Saenz believes it also will be necessary to pass state legislation allowing a takeover. That approach, he said, would technically give those voters a say in the process, because they have the power to choose their representatives in Sacramento. Saenz believes this dual city-state strategy may also be wise because the state Constitution is vague about whether the city or the state has the ultimate power to change the district's governance structure.

Prang would rather see a way for non-L.A. residents to vote on some kind of referendum. "If they're going to put something before L.A. voters, it'd [also] have to go to all the residents who are part of the school district," he said.

Small-city leaders say secession is not their only option if they disagree with a mayoral takeover plan. They can always sue.

"It's always an option," Prang said. "If you get totally run over, we're going to fight the best we can to make sure the people of West Hollywood get a fair deal."


2 Sides Clash Over Audit of Schools

L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer says the scrutiny could harm the district. The mayor and City Controller Laura Chick disagree, push ahead

By Steve Hymon, Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2005

Officials from two giant bureaucracies clashed on Tuesday in a dispute over whether the Los Angeles Unified School District will invite an audit by City Controller Laura Chick.

In dueling afternoon news conferences, the mayor argued the necessity of the audit, and the schools superintendent said the audit could actually harm the district.

By the end of the day, after a City Council debate and two news conferences, it remained unclear what the scope of the audit might be. Chick earlier said it probably would not include the school construction program or what happens in the classroom.

But no one — with the city or school district — pointed to any particular program or arm of the district that was wasting money.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argued that the audit was necessary because fixing L.A. Unified was the central policy issue facing the city.

Less than two hours later, Supt. Roy Romer offered a sometimes fierce counterattack while suggesting that Villaraigosa, Chick and the City Council were playing politics by insisting on a report that wasn't necessary.

"There is a lot of rhetoric in this town right now that this is a failing district and that we need to do something like an audit to get it back on track," Romer said.

He added: "This is not a failing district," and he cited rising student test scores and the building boom of more than 100 new facilities.

Romer also argued that such an audit could cost the school district $800,000, and, if not conducted well, could jeopardize the district's healthy bond rating, which is key to financing school construction.

The school district and city government have long been kept separate by the City Charter. But one of the primary themes of Villaraigosa's campaign last spring was fixing L.A. Unified, which employs about 80,000 people and is the nation's second-largest school district, after New York City's.

Soon after taking office, Villaraigosa formed a panel to study school reform. Then, earlier this month, Chick — a close ally of Villaraigosa — called a news conference to announce that she wanted to audit the district.

Chick's audits of both the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports served as fodder for Villaraigosa's campaign against incumbent Mayor James K. Hahn.

On Tuesday morning, the council unanimously passed a symbolic resolution supporting an audit. Earlier in the day, Romer had faxed each council member a three-page letter that raised questions about the audit.

"We are concerned when a new audit is proposed by press conferences, blast e-mails and public appearances," Romer wrote. "Whatever the intention of those conducting this campaign, our approach will be one of careful, cautious and considered reflection regarding whether our audits can be improved."

At his news conference, Romer said he learned of Chick's audit when she called him on the morning of Dec. 1 to say that in 30 minutes she was going to call a news conference to announce her proposed audit.

Chick disagreed with that version of events. She said that she called Romer and other school officials at 9:15 a.m. to tell them she was releasing a letter calling for an audit that day.

She said that Romer cut the conversation short and said he would consider her offer.

Later in the day, Chick punched back. "They don't want me in there," she said. "They are afraid of what I'm going to find and say — and more importantly, they're afraid of the attention my audit will get because I'll take it to the people."

At least eight members of the council attended the city news conference and four school board members joined Romer.

In a long debate in the morning, the council quizzed Chick. Three members — Council President Alex Padilla, Tony Cardenas and Ed Reyes — asked whether an audit would ultimately benefit students.

"I read Romer's letter, and he's telling us that we have audits ad nauseam," Reyes said. "So what are we doing here — is it going to be a report on a report?"

But all three voted for the resolution.

One councilman who has been an ardent supporter of an audit — and the mayor — was Jose Huizar, who recently left the school board after being elected to replace Villaraigosa on the council. He argued that the district needs more transparency.

Marlene Canter, president of the school board, said the board would soon consider the proposed audit.

Earlier, the mayor was asked what he would do if thwarted by the school board. He said that his answer would come after the first of the year, but that he could turn to the state Assembly to authorize an audit.


City Controller Uses Public Records Law in Attempt to Obtain L.A. Unified Reports

Laura Chick says she made the request as a precursor to an audit of the school district

By Steve Hymon, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2005

The Los Angeles controller took the rare step Tuesday of requesting dozens of school district reports through the state public records law.

In a letter to schools Supt. Roy Romer, City Controller Laura Chick asked for copies of all "audits, reports and studies" of the district over the last five years by state and federal agencies, as well as by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

She also asked for all school district responses to those reports to see if any suggestions made were implemented.

Glenn Gritzner, special assistant to Romer, said that Chick had reached the "aim" part of "ready, aim and fire" in her attempt to perform an audit of the district. The district was "happy" to give Chick the reports, he said. "We look forward to hearing back."

Gritzner also said that he was not sure how such an audit would help improve the problems of the district, such as the dropout rate.

School board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte echoed those remarks.

"It's a public records act, so she's entitled to see it," LaMotte said. "But to this day I haven't seen a plan" from Chick "to improve … student achievement."

The public records law Chick invoked is most often used by journalists, watch-dog groups and individuals to get government documents. It is used less often by government itself.

Chick has become locked in an increasingly heated battle with the district since she suggested auditing it earlier this month.

Romer and school board members have argued that the district is subject to enough scrutiny.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has also been pursuing one of his campaign promises to take over the district, which by law is separate from city government. Chick has long been one of Villaraigosa's key allies.

In an interview, Chick said that she made the request as a precursor to an audit and to see what the district has learned from earlier reports.

"I have been asking individual school board members and Supt. Romer what are the things that you still don't have your arms around that you need to know and I haven't been particularly getting answers," Chick said.

District officials recently gave The Times more than two dozen audits and reports, conducted since the early 1990s and covering a range of issues.

The thousands of pages, said Roger Rasmussen, district budget director, are a sampling of the frequent auditing done by the district's inspector general and Independent Analysis Unit, private firms and government agencies.

Rasmussen noted a 1993 review done by the accounting firm Arthur Andersen that included about 300 recommendations for improvements. The district has implemented about 200 of those, he wrote in a memo to Romer.

Over the last month, Chick has said little about what part of the district she intended to audit.

On Tuesday, Chick explained the reasoning behind her audit and what it might include.

"If I did an audit of the LAUSD, the world would know about it and it would not sit on a shelf collecting dust," Chick said.

Chick, 61, served on the City Council from 1993 to 2001 and earned a reputation as a strong voice for her district. In 2001, she became controller and began performing audits — large and small — of city agencies, which earned her publicity.

Most recently, for example, she released an audit of the city parking lots at Olvera Street.

She also tackled more complex issues in the city treasurer's office and the Planning and Recreation and Parks departments.

But the school district's budget is greater than the city's — $6.8 billion to $6 billion.

Chick said she would not scrutinize the entire system, but she offered several areas of interest.

She previously has said she would not look at academics or the construction program.

Audit areas might include:

  • Examining how the district plans to equip the 100-plus new facilities it is building or planning to construct.
  • Tracking administrative spending to see if it is robbing dollars from the classroom.
  • Looking at the processes to make sure adequate resources get to the classroom.

Chick argued that the district's performance demanded that something be done and drew on her experience on the council.

"I was a council member for the West Valley, which borders the Las Virgenes" Unified School District, Chick said. "Talk about a migration — I used to think of myself standing at the boundary saying, 'Stop, I'm not going to let you go.' I know it was predominantly driven by schools."

Disappointed in the performance of then-Mayor James K. Hahn, Chick considered a run at mayor this year. She chose to back Villaraigosa.

Chick recently said that she won't run for state auditor but has not ruled out a run for another office one day, including mayor.

She said that she's not asking to audit the schools to garner publicity.

There are huge masses of people in Los Angeles "who don't have a choice — they are sending their kids to schools and they are failing," Chick said. "What will happen to those kids? We have a dead end for the children of our poor families."

Gritzner defended the school district.

"Through all this rhetoric we're just trying to do better," he said. "It's a tough message. We fully understand how dramatic the challenges are, and I don't think anybody says we aren't acknowledging them."


Mayor seeks say on selection of Romer successor

By Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Daily News, February 14, 2006

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday he wants to have a say in the selection of a new LAUSD superintendent after word surfaced embattled incumbent Roy Romer would be willing to step down before his contract expires. Romer told board members last month that he would leave his $250,000 a year post as soon as they found a replacement, according to district officials. His contract doesn't expire until June 2007.

But his offer is likely to set off intense campaigning and infighting as unions, parent advocates and even millionaires push their own candidate.

Already Villaraigosa, who has vowed to put the issue of mayoral control on the 2007 or 2008 state ballot, said that he is looking for a reform-minded candidate who will push the issue of a school dropout rate and further raise achievement scores.

"My hope is that whoever is the next superintendent is going to be a partner with the city of Los Angeles," he said.

Romer, who is facing mounting criticism for the school district's poor academic record and takeover bid by Villaraigosa, showed a decided change of direction after earlier assurances that he would serve out his contract.

He was on vacation and not available for comment, but district spokeswoman Stephanie Brady said the 77-year-old administrator's decision was "personal" and was no secret within the district. Romer has offered to work as long as the district would like him to and until a replacement is securely in place.

For months, the board has been planning the costly and lengthy superintendent selection process in closed-door meetings, said Marlene Canter, board president. And Romer's offer merely came up amid these talks to help ease the transition, she said. It was not in response to pressure by Villaraigosa who had recently begun meeting with Romer over the high dropout rate and school governance. And it would allow the district to stop paying Romer's salary when he stops working.

"Our focus right now is finding a bold, reform-minded superintendent with great leadership skills to stand on the shoulders of Roy Romer's (legacy)," Canter said.

But the move could provide an opening for Villaraigosa, said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs.

"It is still going to be a big fight. Most of the major competing interest groups, the unions, the board are allied against what the mayor wants. The wild card will be the parents groups," Regalado said.

The board must still find a head hunting firm before it can begin a lengthy process of public hearings.

"Who the district hires will be a key of how we move in the future," said A.J. Duffy, union president for the districts 48,000 teachers and health workers.

"I have the utmost respect for Romer. He presided over the district for five years while test scores have gone up dramatically, in some cases higher than the state average and he will have have presided over the building of 160 schools by 2012."


Top Schools Job May Be a Tough Sell

A contentious board, bossy union and mayor with takeover plans. Who will want the post?

By Mitchell Landsberg and Tanya Caldwell, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2006

Wanted: superintendent to take over troubled school district, second-largest in nation. Must be willing to work long hours with squabbling school board and union officials who think the superintendent works for them. But may wind up working for ambitious mayor, in which case all bets are off.

It might need a little polishing, but that is one possible version — a jaundiced one, perhaps — of the pitch that the Los Angeles Unified School District will make to prospective successors to departing Supt. Roy Romer, who announced last week that he does not intend to complete the 16 months remaining in his contract.

No cakewalk in ordinary times, the job of the next superintendent could have a new layer of complexity in the form of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wants to take control of the school district and will almost certainly influence the selection process.

"The mayor doing what he's doing right now is probably going to complicate things," school board member Julie Korenstein said Monday. "It's not a real positive thing for a new superintendent to come in and take over when the mayor is bad-mouthing the district."

"On the pessimistic side," said board member David Tokofsky, "why would anybody want this headache?"

Still, Tokofsky and others said they believed the job may be more attractive now than it was six years ago, largely because Romer has made strides toward fixing some of the district's most nagging problems. Under Romer, the standardized test scores of elementary school students have shown substantial improvement, and the district has embarked on a massive school construction project that will eventually add 160 schools and should significantly relieve crowding.

"I have reason to believe that because of the work that Roy Romer has done here, and his national status, people have been watching this district and … are looking to this job to be their next job," said school board President Marlene Canter. "They want to stand on his shoulders."

But there has been far less progress toward improving academic achievement at the middle and high school level, and Romer's successor will be expected to change that. Also, the superintendent has clashed with some members of the board and has said he felt somewhat constricted by the teachers union.

Still, Canter said she had already received several phone calls from potential candidates. She would not name them.

Romer, the former governor of Colorado, was hired in 2000 after a six-month search in which several of the most promising candidates backed out at the last minute. Romer was hired in part because he was the only one of five favored candidates who wanted the job, which was widely viewed as Sisyphean.

He took over from an interim superintendent, Ramon Cortines, brought in after the highly politicized ouster of Supt. Ruben Zacarias. Job security was not considered one of the perks of the position — Zacarias was the fourth superintendent of L.A. Unified in just 10 years.

And the job didn't come with a lot of bragging rights: The district was widely perceived as Exhibit A in the case against large urban school districts.

"When Romer came, everything needed to be done," said Ira Krinsky, director of career services at UCLA's Educational Leadership Program and a senior consultant with the executive search firm of Korn/Ferry International. Today, he said, "I think it is a much more attractive job."

Romer told the board recently that he wanted to leave the post by this fall, about nine months before his contract expires in June 2007. He said he intended to stay until a successor was hired.

John de Beck, a member of the San Diego Board of Education who has participated in hiring several superintendents over 16 years, said he didn't think the specter of mayoral control would deter many candidates. The challenge of running such a large district should be a sufficient lure, he said.

"Superintendents are not easy to come by," De Beck said. But, "when somebody says that there's a superintendent position available in Los Angeles, I think people are going to come out of the woodwork to take it."

Tokofsky said the board was close to hiring the executive search firm of Hamilton Rabinovitz Alschuler Inc., which conducted the recruiting campaign that led to Romer's hiring.

Korenstein said the board hoped to have a new superintendent in place by the beginning of next school year, providing it finds enough candidates to interview this summer. However, both Canter and Tokofsky said they thought the process would take longer. Canter said she had been told to allow about nine months for the recruiting process, which she expected would begin sometime in March.

Before any candidates are interviewed, she said, there would be a period of community input to discuss the qualities that a new superintendent should possess and the priorities he or she would face. Despite the rift between Villaraigosa and the school board, Canter said the mayor could play a key role in that process, as well as other stages in the recruitment.

"I think the mayor can be incredibly helpful in all the things we're doing," she said. "When you have a mayor who's interested in education, it makes it better for the city."

In a recent interview, Villaraigosa said he hoped to play a part in the selection of a new superintendent.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union, said Villaraigosa should be asked to submit recommendations but have no role in the ultimate selection.

Duffy said the board alone should select the next superintendent on the basis of two principles:

"One, who's best for the kids, and two, who can carry on the legacy that was started with Roy in terms of collaborating and working together with me as president of UTLA…. If they follow through with those two tenets, then the future bodes very well for public education in Los Angeles," he said.

Board member Jon Lauritzen said it may be easier for the district to look internally for its next leader, because those within the district would be well-versed in the politics surrounding the selection process.

In a nod to the racial and ethnic rivalries that dominated the selection process in previous years, Lauritzen said the biggest challenge for school board members may be to find the person who best reflects the city's various constituencies.

So far, no names have emerged publicly of potential candidates for superintendent, but Tokofsky said he had an idea.

"Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger will be available in November," he said. "He doesn't have to live in a hotel in Sacramento for that job."


Panel Formed for Schools Takeover Bid

Villaraigosa establishes the committee to raise funds for an election on the issue. He says gaining control of L.A. Unified is his top goal as mayor

By Steve Hymon, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2006

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has taken a key step toward assuming control of the schools by forming a fundraising committee to support an election on school district governance, according to an attorney hired by the mayor.

The Mayor's Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability allows Villaraigosa to raise money for either a local or state election. The formation of the committee was reported to the state attorney general's office earlier this month.

In a statement, Villaraigosa said: "Reforming our public schools is the central challenge facing Los Angeles. I am committed to meeting this challenge and exploring all potential pathways to reform. The purpose of this committee is to support that work."

Villaraigosa has said repeatedly in recent weeks that gaining control of the Los Angeles Unified School District is his No. 1 priority, because he believes the schools are failing children.

The mayor also recently said he intends to accomplish his takeover within two years, or by early 2008. Officials working for Villaraigosa said that first, two things would probably need to happen: a change in state law by legislators and a Los Angeles City Charter change by voters who live within L.A. Unified's boundaries. The district includes all or part of about two dozen cities in addition to L.A.

The next regular citywide election is scheduled for March 2007, when seven City Council seats will be up for grabs. It is also still possible for a special election to be called to coincide with this November's state and federal balloting.

School board members could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment because they were in closed session at their weekly meeting.

"The mayor wants to make it known that he's proceeding in his efforts to advance his policy goals," said Stephen Kaufman, an attorney who works for Villaraigosa on political campaigns. "Creating a committee is the first step to advancing the goals either by legislation or through the ballot."


Richman proposes LAUSD breakup

Bill to give mayor, others more control

By Naush Boghossian, Los Angeles Daily News, February 17, 2006

The battle over how to improve Los Angeles' public schools heated up Thursday as Assemblyman Keith Richman introduced legislation to break up the district and give broader control to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the mayors of other cities that are part of the LAUSD.

The legislation proposes splitting the 727,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District into more than a dozen smaller districts, with the breakup overseen by a nine-member commission of mayors from the 27 cities that the district serves, the state superintendent of public instruction and university professors.

"I think L.A. Unified is a failing school district. It's a district that has a dropout rate of somewhere between 30 (percent) and 50 percent with little argument that minorities are dropping out at a rate of 50 percent and no improvement in the middle or high schools in test scores," said Richman, R-Granada Hills.

"We need to do a better job. The district bureaucracy is a behemoth and unresponsive and not accountable to parents or the community. If in fact we're going to bring more accountability to the district, it requires breaking it up into smaller districts."

Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, proposed the same legislation Thursday in the Senate.

Richman proposes that any California district with more than 500,000 students be broken up by July 2010 into several school districts, each with an annual enrollment of no more than 50,000 students.

The bill will have its first hearing in policy committee sometime before an April 28 legislative deadline.

Villaraigosa - who is developing his own plan to take over the school district - declined to comment on Richman's plan Thursday, saying he hadn't had an opportunity to review it.

In December when Richman initially proposed it, Villaraigosa said he welcomed the proposal, saying it was worth studying.

Richman said that while mayoral takeover could potentially bring more accountability to the district, his proposal would be more effective.

"I think, ultimately, even if the mayor were to take over the district, it does not bring the level of accountability that smaller districts would bring," Richman said.

Superintendent Roy Romer could not be reached for comment Thursday, but when Richman announced in December that he would introduce the measure, Romer said that talk of breaking up the district was premature.

Romer questioned the impact on the LAUSD's $19 billion construction program - the largest public works program in the nation, which is expected to be completed by 2012.

Richman's proposal would prohibit the LAUSD from entering into any contracts that extend into 2010, which would affect long-term facilities contracts and business contracts, he said.

Richman maintained that his proposal would not impact the program because it would give smaller districts the flexibility to work together on issues like purchasing, transportation and facilities.

He also said his plan would call for the district's property, facilities and obligations to be equitably divided.

Richman is the second lawmaker in recent months to propose legislative action to revamp governance of the district.

State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, introduced a bill in July that would have given the mayor authority to appoint seven school board members and the superintendent if the district met certain conditions of "educational failure."

That measure was killed after state officials deemed it unconstitutional and Villaraigosa opposed it.

Romero recently introduced legislation that would fund a study to determine how mayoral control of school districts has worked in other cities. (Note: The 2006 Conference of Mayors issued a report: Mayoral Leadership & Involvement In Education).



Goldberg to head LAUSD?

Ex-educator most talked about for job

By Naush Boghossian, Los Angeles Daily News, February 17, 2006

With Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Roy Romer nearing retirement, the game has begun to find his replacement, and the name bandied about town the loudest and most consistently: Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg. The former school board and City Council member remains coy on the topic, but sources say she has been campaigning hard for months - even before Romer announced his intended early departure - to head up the second-largest school district in the nation.

"It's not something I really want to do. However, depending on who they're looking at and whether or not somebody thinks that I could be useful, I won't say I won't work on the inside," said Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who will be term-limited out of the Assembly in December.

"I'm not interested in the job. I'm not ready to throw my hat in the barrel at this time. I'm not subtle. If I wanted the job, I'd be out there saying I want the job."

An often controversial public figure, Goldberg acknowledged she has been talking about education issues with business, education and political leaders in town, which may have fueled the rumors.

Others in the running include a variety of current and former Los Angeles Unified administrators, although Romer won't step down until the fall.

But it's the liberal Goldberg who's generating the most reaction. Because of her long and close links to United Teachers Los Angeles, many local leaders believe the job is hers if she wants it because of support of the teachers union. Her nephew David Goldberg was recently elected into the UTLA leadership.

It is her close ties to the union that is the biggest concern of her critics should she become superintendent.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a longtime champion of reforming the LAUSD and a supporter of a mayoral takeover of the school district, avoided criticism of Goldberg but stressed the need for the next superintendent to be a strong administrator - experience that the assemblywoman lacks.

"I get along with Jackie very well, although we often disagree with each other," Riordan said. "I think the district needs a superintendent that can put accountability up and down the line from the parents to teachers to principals."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who for months has bashed the district as "failing" and is working to take control of it, said Monday that he wants to be involved in selecting Romer's successor.

"Jackie Goldberg is a former teacher and school board member and she has a great deal of experience for the job," said Villaraigosa, who held the Hollywood Assembly seat now occupied by Goldberg until 2002.

"I'd like to see an agent for change, someone who will look to ensure lowering the dropout rate, improving scores, empowering parents and teachers and cutting bureaucracy."

UTLA clout?

A.J. Duffy, president of UTLA, said the union is not pushing a candidate behind the scenes for the position. He added that the idea that the union has any clout in choosing the next superintendent and the perception that it has three board members in its pocket - Julie Korenstein, Jon Lauritzen and Marguerite LaMotte - is completely inaccurate.

"These folks do not belong to us and there are times where they do not represent our views; but when we endorse and support and give money, we believe we're endorsing people who believe in public education and are the keys to reform," Duffy said.

In fact, Duffy said Goldberg getting the job was "highly unlikely," and he believes the next superintendent will be Latino.

"I think that the board and the public may lean that way since it makes sense when a huge preponderance of our kids are Latino," he said. "It makes sense, but again, I would hope that the district would go for the most qualified person."

Board member David Tokofsky believes that with her educational and political background, Goldberg could easily be a finalist.

"Jackie's resume, experience and political network would immediately make her in the final 10, unless of course Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are submitting their resumes if their wives will let them," he said. "She's a Sacramento 'Survivor,' she's an L.A. 'Idol' and maybe she'll be 'Dancing with the Stars.' This superintendent's show is going to be the best reality television show."

Ed Burke, chief of staff for Lauritzen, who's in the hospital recovering from surgery, said Goldberg had the qualities of a good superintendent.

"She's not a bad choice at all. Certainly she has the background. She was on the school board, she's been in education all her life, she was on the City Council so she can certainly work with those people; she was in the Legislature and she has a passion for education," Burke said. "I don't have a vote, but I certainly would put her high on the list. A lot of the people here have positive feelings about her."

Romer, who has 16 months remaining on his contract, announced last week that he would like to leave by fall but would stay until a replacement was found.

The former governor of Colorado and head of the Democratic National Committee came on board in June 2000, taking on a job few wanted to get near.

Romer legacy

But he established a significant legacy by driving the passage of four school construction bond measures and a $19 billion construction program to build 160 schools. He has also been credited with turning around decades of failure and beginning to improve student test scores.

The board is scheduled today to appoint Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler Inc. to conduct a nationwide search for the next superintendent. But, already a "usual suspects" list of names is emerging:

LAUSD Chief Instructional Officer of Secondary Instruction Bob Collins, who was recently up for the superintendent position for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas.

LAUSD Chief Operating Officer Dan Isaacs.

Former LAUSD local district superintendent and current West Covina Unified Superintendent Liliam Castillo.

Former LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Maria Ott.

Former LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Maria Casillas, who now heads the nonprofit Families in Schools.

Former mayor of San Antonio, and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros.

Other names being thrown about include LAUSD local district Superintendent Richard Alonzo; former local district Superintendent Judy Burton; former U.S. secretary of education and Houston school district Superintendent Rod Paige; and Carlos Garcia, who departed in July 2005 as superintendent of the Clark County School District.

"This is an important part of the process. Early on you want to think out of the box and raise the names of all the people that might be good for the job," said Caprice Young, who heads the state charter school association and who had served on the school board when it selected Romer as superintendent.

The board needs to determine its vision and find the best person to carry out that vision, said Young.

"There always are names that get floated throughout the process, but the most important thing is for the board to seriously think about what they need in a superintendent to make their visions for the district actually happen," she said. "The biggest frustrations board members have is to pass a policy only to have it implemented badly or not implemented at all."

Goldberg said she hopes whoever succeeds Romer will have a less top-down management style.

"Romer was great in that he got certain things moving again - he got schools built, he focused at least on the elementary level on academics, which was sorely needed," Goldberg said. "I don't agree with all of his methods, I think he was way too top-down, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for the things he's done."


Board move raises concern

Maneuver made to shift control

By Naush Boghossian, Los Angeles Daily News, March 7, 2006

The county Board of Education - whose president is a chief architect of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to take over Los Angeles Unified - is quietly maneuvering to assume the duties of an elected committee in charge of reviewing school district reorganizations.

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, which appoints education board members, was set to discuss the plan today but has put it off for two weeks. Supervisors were to consider asking the state Board of Education to transfer the duties of the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization - an elected body - to its panel of appointees.

According to the Board of Supervisors' resolution, the transfer would increase efficiency and reduce costs, but no savings is specified.

But some education officials worry that the plan to put decisions impacting local school districts in the hands of an appointed body is politically motivated and would bolster Villaraigosa's effort to reorganize LAUSD.

"This seems under the radar," said Jo Ann Yee, senior director for urban affairs for the California School Boards Association. "One has to wonder what the motivations behind this are."

With Villaraigosa's chief counsel, Thomas Saenz, heading up the county board of education, the move has raised eyebrows.

"Somebody's playing cat and mouse," LAUSD board member David Tokofsky said.

"Whatever the motive is, it doesn't bode well for public discussion and publicly elected officials to take things and make them the authority of an unelected body when issues of school district borders either on breakup or consolidation are among the most passionate issues the populace ever has.

"Making this a nonpublic discussion in a nonelected body because of some alleged cost misses the real cost of losing a bit of democracy," he said.

Neither Villaraigosa nor Saenz could be reached for comment.

The 11-member Committee on School District Organization reviews proposals for school district reorganizations and recommends to the state Board of Education whether to unify or create new districts. The state panel, not the committee, makes the final decision on district reorganizations.

In 2000, for instance, the committee recommended against a plan that would have asked voters to break up the LAUSD and create two San Fernando Valley districts.

Sophia Waugh, vice president of the seven-member Los Angeles County Board of Education, said she opposes the move to shift the committee's duties to the board.

"What we have in place right now is working so well and they're very effective, a body elected by peers to serve on the committee," she said. "Why make that change unless it wasn't working well. The system is working as it is now."


Arellano Quits LAUSD Race

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2006

Christopher Arellano, the beleaguered Los Angeles school board candidate who lied about his background, said Tuesday he is withdrawing from the June runoff election because his missteps have become the major issue of the campaign.

Arellano said in an interview that he reached his decision after being urged to bow out by leaders of the city's powerful teachers union, which backed him and financed his campaign, and other supporters, including City Councilman Eric Garcetti and state Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles).

"I have decided it is just better to drop out. It is best for myself and my supporters," Arellano said.

"The race has now changed into questions about me, my past and the things I have done. If I stayed in, that would have continued and that's not why I wanted to run."

A political novice, Arellano, 33, became a front-runner in the special election when he won the backing of the teachers union, for which he works.

He portrayed himself as having had a troubled youth, describing his adolescence as "dysfunctional," and said he dropped out of school at 14.

Supporters praised him for turning his life around, saying he was an example to at-risk students.

His campaign unraveled, however, after Arellano falsely said he had completed two master's degrees at USC, and reports surfaced that he had twice been convicted of shoplifting during the 1990s.

Supporters largely dismissed the criminal charges as youthful indiscretions, but Arellano's failure to complete his graduate work — despite saying he did so in campaign mailers — angered many.

After spending $200,000 the union contributed to his campaign, Arellano placed only a distant second in the March 7 election, narrowly forcing a runoff against Monica Garcia.

"I'm glad he made this decision," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "I think it's the right one given the political realities and the revelations that surfaced. And it takes UTLA out of that difficult situation."


L.A. Mayor Details Plan for Schools

Villaraigosa would keep an elected board -- but in a lesser role -- and hold the power to appoint superintendent and other top educators

By Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2006

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday outlined his most detailed plan yet for taking control of the Los Angeles schools, saying that he would keep the elected Board of Education but in a reduced role and appoint the superintendent and other top district leaders.

Villaraigosa, continuing his steady criticism of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said mayoral oversight would bring public accountability to a system lacking a "sense of urgency" or a "culture of reform."

"I don't see, frankly, right now the kind of leadership in that school district that is really engaged in reforms and making the bold decisions we need to get results," Villaraigosa said at a City Hall news conference. "What we have isn't working, pure and simple."

Villaraigosa's comments drew a sharp rebuke from the school board's longest-serving member, Julie Korenstein.

"What I want to hear from [Villaraigosa] is why he thinks this will help improve our schools?" she said. "I don't have a clue why he thinks it would make things better if he could appoint the superintendent and senior staff. Is the city run that well? Isn't it running a large deficit? I don't get it at all."

Villaraigosa offered the fresh details of his takeover plans on the eve of a trip to New York City, where he hopes to study how Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won control of the nation's largest school system.

Villaraigosa will spend Monday and Tuesday visiting schools and meeting with Bloomberg and his lieutenants, labor leaders, business executives and others.

He also expressed interest in visiting other cities where the mayors have had a hand in the schools, including Chicago, Cleveland and Boston.

"There are many in Los Angeles who think that bold change won't work," Villaraigosa said. "New York is showing us that we can do it."

Bloomberg won control of New York City's schools nearly four years ago after he persuaded the state Legislature that he could rein in the bureaucracy and improve academics in the system of 1.1 million students.

A state law replaced the city's elected Board of Education with an advisory panel, allowing the mayor to appoint the majority of its members.

Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, named his own schools chancellor, former federal prosecutor Joel I. Klein. The two reorganized the school system, trimming the bureaucracy, and introduced new reading and math programs, and ended the practice of allowing many failing students to advance through the grades.

Critics accuse Bloomberg and Klein of pressing their agenda while ignoring the concerns of teachers, administrators and parents.

Villaraigosa envisions a hybrid of the New York model: He said he would keep the elected school board intact — but in a lesser capacity that has yet to be defined — to give voters a say in the schools and to avoid legal snags that could arise from appointing some board members.

As with Bloomberg in New York, he would appoint the district chief and his advisors. He said his team would redirect money and other resources to schools, and give parents and teachers a greater say over school budgets, creating what he called a "culture of excellence."

He said the ultimate goal would be to reduce the school district's dropout rate, which Los Angeles Unified officials have pegged at 33%, and improve test scores throughout the system — including high schools, where scores have not budged for several years.

School Board President Marlene Canter put a positive face on Villaraigosa's nascent plans, saying she hoped that the mayor's call for an elected school board would clear the way for more collaboration.

"I hope this is a step toward putting politics behind us," she said, adding that she was "thrilled that he's recognized the reality that elected school boards represent the people."

But Canter also dismissed as impractical the mayor's plan to take some authority away from the school board, indicating that it could trigger power struggles that would do little to advance the cause of education.

Another of California's largest school systems, Oakland Unified, has struggled with this delicate balance of power.

In 2000, Oakland voters approved an amendment to the City Charter that gave Mayor Jerry Brown the authority to appoint only a few additional members to the elected school board.

Without Brown in control over a majority of the board, little got done as elected members squared off against his appointees.

Brown said he has counseled Villaraigosa against a similar plan, saying that unless he has complete control, he won't have enough power to make significant changes.

The head of the Los Angeles teachers union said that any power-sharing structure could ultimately backfire in a school district in which the needs of children and billions of dollars are at stake.

"If I had a problem at a school that I needed to work on, would I go to the local school board elected person? Or would I go to the mayor?" asked A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "As a citizen, and a consumer of public education, I'm confused already."


Details of Schools Takeover Emerge

Villaraigosa would keep an elected board -- but in a lesser role -- and hold the power to appoint superintendent and other top educators

By Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2006

As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pursues control of the Los Angeles school system, his advisors are considering wide-ranging changes that could gut the central bureaucracy, sell the district's headquarters, keep students in class until 5 p.m. and extend the academic year to 10 1/2 months.

Those details and dozens of others are contained in a draft district takeover proposal, obtained by The Times, that Villaraigosa's office has circulated to interested parties outside City Hall.

The mayor's chief of staff, Robin Kramer, emphasized that Villaraigosa had not yet reviewed any of several drafts under consideration, which she described as a tentative collection of ideas that would probably change before he unveils a plan in the coming weeks.

Villaraigosa has made a takeover of the Los Angeles Unified School District one of his top priorities since becoming mayor in July. He has yet to reveal many details about how he would wrest control from the district's elected school board or run the nation's second-largest public school system, which has 727,000 students.

Next week, Villaraigosa is expected to offer a broad outline of his vision for governing the district during his first State of the City speech.

The mayor's advisors declined to elaborate on the 43-page proposal titled "Taking Back Our Schools — Improving Opportunities for the Children and Families of Los Angeles."

In a meeting with Times editors and reporters Wednesday, Villaraigosa also would not discuss his takeover plans but said he was "undeterred and absolutely committed" to his initiative — one that has provoked the ire of the district's elected school board and teachers union, the mayor's longtime ally.

"It's going to be an absolute war here," he said. "They're going to go nuts when [we] do it. I think we've got a shot at it. I'm going to use my capital."

The proposal outlines an ambitious spate of ideas for running the school district and offers a window on the direction of Villaraigosa's administration, if not the mayor himself.

And it lays out a timeline and strategy for clearing the way for a takeover. State legislation would be introduced as early as next month to help make a takeover possible, with a change in district governance anticipated by July 2007.

Several of the proposals mirror those already undertaken in other cities, including New York City, Chicago and Boston, where the mayors have brought their school districts under city control.

For months, a team fronted by Kramer and two other Villaraigosa aides, Marcus Castain and Tom Saenz, has studied those models in their effort to put together a takeover plan for Los Angeles. Castain worked on education issues for the Broad Foundation; Saenz is a lawyer and member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

Among the provocative recommendations is one to sell the school district's large central office building — paring the central staff from 3,100 to 100. The savings would be used to raise teachers' salaries, according to the April 4 draft.

"Nothing will be as symbolic as the move to sell off the downtown headquarters and move into a dramatically smaller facility," the draft said. "Current central staff will be relocated … or downsized."

The draft also cites the need for increased funding to schools and indicates the possible need for a local bond measure that would increase taxes.

Another proposal calls for a $200-million fundraising effort to supplement state and local school funding.

The draft also suggests that teachers' pay be tied not to seniority but to the amount of responsibilities assumed by instructors, a move that would probably be met with resistance from the powerful Los Angeles teachers union.

The draft proposal envisions allowing teachers and administrators at each school to negotiate work rules that govern such things as how teachers are evaluated, another possible point of contention. Currently, those issues are written into the contract negotiated for all teachers by their union.

Union officials are expected to present their own reform package next week in advance of the mayor's speech.

Smaller, autonomous schools of 500 or fewer students would be created on existing campuses as well as those under construction. School sites would enjoy greater authority over budgets, controlling over 90% of district resources, according to the draft document.

It also suggests the extended school day and year, moves that would require many teachers and administrators to work year-round.

The mayor would appoint a chief executive officer to oversee the district — which could be renamed the Los Angeles Department of Education, Youth and Families, the draft said. And a cadre of 70 to 80 local superintendents selected by the chief executive would each oversee 10 to 20 schools.

The proposal also suggests a "painful and controversial" process of reorganizing poorly performing schools that have consistently missed federal testing benchmarks with new staff and potentially even new names. These campuses "have failed their communities," the draft said, "and these communities deserve a fresh start."

Charter schools, independently run but publicly funded, would stand to benefit. Under the draft proposal, a private philanthropy effort would aim to raise $50 million to increase the number of charter campuses in the district to 160 by 2012.

District Supt. Roy Romer said he had not seen the proposal and sent a letter to Villaraigosa on Wednesday asking for details and urging collaboration.

"I think, frankly, the mayor would benefit in his thinking if he sat down with us who run this district and deal with the issues that crop up on a daily basis," he said.

Romer and school board members have grown increasingly frustrated in recent months over what they say are Villaraigosa's inaccurate characterizations that the district is failing and that its officials are unwilling to make reforms.

Kramer, Villaraigosa's top aide, downplayed the significance of the draft, saying it was premature to view it as the mayor's takeover plan. "This is a fragment of the many strategies and ideas that our office has been soliciting," she said, adding that the intent is "to put together a thoughtful, responsible school reform plan that puts kids at the center and learning at the heart. But we are not there yet."


More plans for LAUSD in the works

Legislators, union add their voices

By Naush Boghossian, Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2006

Attempting to seize the initiative from the city's mayor, two state legislators and a coalition of community-based organizations led by the teachers union made separate educational reform pushes Monday, both advocating breaking up the district.

During a news conference, Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, and Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge, touted their plan to split the 727,000-student district into districts of no more than 50,000 students each by 2010.

They claimed their breakup proposal would be the best way to achieve accountability and save a "failing" district with a high dropout rate.

"The mayor's going in the opposite direction of what we're trying to do. We're trying to decentralize ... and the mayor is trying to centralize education in Los Angeles," Runner said. "I don't care how many times you want to reorganize ... The only way you create a community-oriented school system is to empower parents, families and voters."

A draft version of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan revealed a push to break up the 700-square-mile LAUSD into 80 mini-districts, limit schools to 500 students, extend the school day to 5 p.m. and the school year to 10 1/2 months.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said at an afternoon news conference that their plan is the only one created by a grass-roots coalition and calls for collaboration with all the stakeholders: the school district, mayor, teachers and families.

The union-led plan suggests increasing autonomy at school sites, eliminating the eight local districts, expanding the school board and making seats full-time positions, reducing class size and allowing teachers a greater role in reshaping the curriculum, Duffy said.

District officials said while they agree with most of the plan's ideas, they believe a managed standards-based curriculum has proved to produce the greatest achievements.

School board member David Tokofsky questioned whether any of the plans would improve student learning. "There are so many plans out there that it's starting to give the word 'plan' a bad name. Not since the last days of the Soviet Union have there been so many plans and so little yield," Tokofsky said. "What matters is the classroom teachers, the quality of the teacher and how much training and support you give that teacher, and so far most of these plans are focusing on governance, bloated bureaucrats and other sound bites rather than my kid's teacher."

The mayor met with Duffy for two hours Saturday to discuss the union plan.

While Duffy declined to comment specifically on the mayor's plan, which he has not seen, he maintained that for now, the union opposes mayoral takeover because it doesn't appear to produce any appreciable benefits.


Mayor's School Takeover Would Bypass Local Voters

Villaraigosa plans to ask legislators for control. He would lead a council that approves the budget and decides the superintendent's fate

By Duke Helfand and Steve Hymon, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2006

Finally showing his hand after months of deliberation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Tuesday that he would ask the Legislature to give him overwhelming authority to run the city's embattled public schools.

Villaraigosa unveiled his takeover strategy in his first State of the City address, during which he called for a "council of mayors" to oversee the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, second-largest in the nation.

That council — including leaders from the 26 smaller cities served by L.A. Unified and a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — would hire the superintendent and approve the district's multibillion-dollar budget.

But Villaraigosa would retain the reins of power because council votes would be in proportion to the member cities' population and Los Angeles is bigger by far than all the others combined.

The elected Los Angeles Board of Education would not be disbanded but would be relegated to advocating for parents, ruling on student discipline and preparing annual reports on the effectiveness of schools.

The mayor launched his ambitious and politically perilous campaign from the gym of a gleaming new charter school in South Los Angeles.

By offering a program that depends on approval by state legislators rather than local voters, he shifted the contours of the debate from a ballot fight in Los Angeles to a struggle in Sacramento.

The outcome already promises to define Villaraigosa's tenure as he increasingly stakes his reputation on a determination to reform and improve the school system. Moreover, the fight over the schools places him at odds with his traditional allies in organized labor.

"I believe we need to wake up and shake up the bureaucracy at LAUSD," Villaraigosa told an audience of city officials, educators, labor leaders and students in a 30-minute speech.

The address, interrupted by applause 49 times, was also broadcast live over local television just before the nightly newscasts.

"The buck needs to stop at the top," he added. "Voters need to be able to hire and fire one person accountable to parents, teachers and taxpayers, a leader who is ultimately responsible for systemwide performance."

Los Angeles School Board President Marlene Canter dismissed the mayor's call for a new governing scheme, saying that it would deprive voters of any meaningful right to select the district's leadership.

"The last time I checked," she said, "this country was still a democracy."

Villaraigosa showed a willingness to have his plan reviewed. Mayoral control would have to be reauthorized by the Legislature in six years.

The crux of that reform, he said, rests squarely on his efforts to improve the public schools, an issue that has dominated his administration since he took office nine months ago.

Villaraigosa's announcement made it clear that he intends to move not only aggressively but also quickly, as he said he hopes the Legislature would begin discussion on his proposal as early as next week.

Some officials from smaller cities served by L.A. Unified voiced their support for the proposed council of mayors.

George Cole, who has served five one-year terms as mayor of the southeast-area city of Bell, said Los Angeles deserves a greater voice because of its size.

But Cole, who is now a councilman, emphasized the need for Villaraigosa to listen to smaller cities such as Bell, with a population of 40,000, roughly one-hundredth the size of Los Angeles.

"It shouldn't be one-sided," Cole said. "I've known Villaraigosa for a long time. He's a real consensus-builder. That's the kind of leader he is. But he is not always going to be the mayor."

While Villaraigosa outlined the broad strokes of his legislative assault, he also filled in the finer details of the changes he would want to see in the school district.

He would give the superintendent greater operational control over the district and "trim the fat" of the bureaucracy to raise teachers' pay and move more money to classrooms.

He also would lengthen the school day and year, and pay teachers extra for the additional work time.

And building on reforms that have shown promise in other school districts with mayoral control, such as New York City, Villaraigosa would launch a new leadership academy for principals, place parent coordinators at all schools and expand the number of charter schools — campuses that are freed from many local and state regulations in exchange for agreements to raise students' achievement.

Students would be required to wear uniforms.

"I believe we need to replace the culture of low expectations with a culture of accountability and respect," he said.

But Villaraigosa, aware of the anxiety that his remarks might provoke, sought to reassure teachers of their central role in a newly constituted school system. Indeed, Villaraigosa reminded teachers that the union gave him a job and "a calling," and that his wife is a public school teacher.

"I know this proposal will raise some concern and spark some controversy," he said. "Change is never comfortable. I believe that any serious effort to improve our schools begins and ends with you."

In an effort to calm teachers even before his address, Villaraigosa met over the weekend with leaders of the Los Angeles and California teachers unions to preview his plans and seek common ground.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy called the meeting constructive but said he still had many concerns.

"The sticking point is mayoral control versus mayoral participation," Duffy said. "We agreed to continue the dialogue. We need to continue to talk to one another."

Business leaders in Los Angeles also urged the mayor to tread carefully as he charts the takeover.

"We urge the mayor, the school district and the unions to commit to a collaborative process and begin authentically working together," the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

But Villaraigosa remained undaunted. He said the decision to give his speech at the Accelerated School — a college-like charter school that he called a "temple of high expectations" — underscored his desire to improve the lives of young people, and by extension, the city.

The school and its impoverished location in the heart of South Los Angeles offered a picture of "both our feats and our failures."

He hailed the school's two founders — teachers who went door to door, seeking students for their dream campus.

"Angelenos, I intend to follow their example," Villaraigosa said. "I intend to walk door to door myself to fight for fundamental reform in our schools."


Critics Fear Plan Gives Mayor Too Much Power

By J. Michael Kennedy and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2006

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's call for a dramatic change in how local schools are governed received a largely harsh reception Tuesday as critics questioned whether the plan would give him too much power, and even supporters warned of significant political opposition.

A number of smaller cities within the 727,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District also viewed the proposal skeptically, saying they would have too little say in district matters.

And those who praised the mayor's plan said implementing it would be a tough battle. Former Mayor Richard Riordan said the changes would improve education but predicted there would be "blood on the floor" before it was all over.

In his first State of the City speech, Villaraigosa called for schools to be governed by a council of mayors, whose members would be proportionally represented under the new system, while the school board would be reduced to a secondary role, including hearing disciplinary and transfer appeals and acting as a conduit for parents' concerns.

Among the mayor's sharpest critics Tuesday was Los Angeles School Board President Marlene Canter, who said frustration has been simmering among school board members for months as Villaraigosa repeatedly portrayed them as obstacles to reform.

"When you look at the things he says he wants to do, I agree with many of them," Canter said. "The differences we have are over the methodology we want to use to get there. My method is based on cooperation and collaboration and his is based on politics and power."

She said the mayor's seizing power of the school district would not improve students' performance.

"Changes in governance are not the answer," she said. "To me, it is staying steady and staying with what's working. The trajectory [of the district] is in the right direction. It's going up. I've always said that I agree that it's not enough and it's not fast enough, but you don't risk what's working."

Under Villaraigosa's proposal, more than two dozen smaller cities and unincorporated areas within the district would have a voice in how the school district is run.

But it would make the Los Angeles mayor the dominant power by far and the person accountable for the board's actions.

The common reaction Tuesday night was that the mayor would have too much power. A number of the district's cities participated in a conference call Tuesday morning with the mayor's office, and the proposal clearly hit a sore spot with some.

"The city of Los Angeles would have 80% of the vote all the time," said West Hollywood City Councilman Jeff Prang, who along with other city officials, fears a takeover could make things worse. "We still would never really have a voice."

Carson Mayor Jim Dear, who also participated in the conference call, concurred.

"The way it's structured now, it would be virtually a board that wouldn't have any power," Dear said. "It would be more like an advisory committee — nothing more."

Dear said L.A.'s mayor "would have virtual control over the whole thing. I say 'No' to that."

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy, who represents the district's 48,000 teachers, repeated the union's vehement opposition to Villaraigosa's push for control of the nation's second-largest school district.

"We feel it's not the way to go," he said. "We don't see the appreciable gains in other districts across the country that justify [mayoral control]. We keep saying to the mayor, 'Be our partner.' "

The union recently released a reform plan it developed with parents and others.

Duffy questioned whether a change in state law alone is enough to hand Villaraigosa control of the district, as the mayor contends. Union lawyers, he said, had advised him that voters in the district would also have to approve a change in power.

Regardless, Duffy said the union was preparing to launch its considerable lobbying forces in the state Legislature as lawmakers prepare to consider the mayor's proposal.

"We're gonna go upstate and talk to our friends, talk to others, jaw with people," he said. "And try our best to convince them that our partnership plan is the right one."

L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer said he welcomed the mayor's ideas, but said his board would have to look closely at the proposals.

"In terms of reform, we need to hear anything that is workable that we haven't tried yet or put on the table," he said. "In regards to governance, it's a more complicated issue that my board will have to think about and we'll see what the reaction is."

Councilman Alex Padilla, who is also studying the district's governance, said he wanted to see more before passing judgment.

"I'm eager to see something in writing and some more specifics," he said. "Like I've been saying all along, a lot of what he has said about helping the school district can be implemented without state legislation."

The mayor's call for better crime prevention at schools and student uniforms are two such measures, Padilla said.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who represents part of South L.A., said he was pleased to hear the mayor's ideas for school reform.

"The school issue for me and the people I represent comes down to a bottom line, which is that the current situation is unacceptable," he said. "I think you have to explore it. You can't keep going down the current path and losing generation after generation of children."

Like Canter, board member David Tokofsky rejected the mayor's call for legislation that would give Villaraigosa control of the district and minimize the role of the school board.

"Rearranging the distribution of power doesn't solve anything," Tokofsky said. "We are a republic with checks and balances, that apply even to the most charismatic of our leaders."


L.A. Schools Plan Splits Capitol

Governor backs mayor's takeover proposal, which faces a battle from teachers unions, some legislators and other cities in district

By Jordan Rau and Nancy Vogel, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2006

SACRAMENTO — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to take control of the city's public school system faces substantial resistance in the California Legislature, where it must overcome opposition from Republicans and lobbying by powerful teachers unions and other municipalities to win the necessary approval.

Villaraigosa's proposal was endorsed Wednesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said, "This is exactly the kind of thing that ought to be done."

Although the Legislature's Democratic leaders said they were eager to have lawmakers evaluate it, they would not make a commitment to the version the mayor has designed. His plan would create a "council of mayors" that Los Angeles' leader would in effect control.

"We're going to do everything we can to come up with a reasonable bill that could be something that could move the mayor's agenda and the students of Los Angeles forward," Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said.

The conflicting responses — support from a Republican governor for an initiative advanced by Los Angeles' liberal Democratic mayor, and reservations from the mayor's customary union allies — reflect the complex politics surrounding Villaraigosa's takeover proposal and foreshadow a potentially contentious debate in the Capitol.

The measure — outlined in the mayor's State of the City address Tuesday — faces a variety of political and legal obstacles. A similar proposal last year died in the state Senate, done in amid strong labor opposition as well as a lack of support by Villaraigosa, who objected to some details and preferred to devise his own version.

There was disagreement Wednesday about whether Villaraigosa's plan could be approved by a majority of legislators or whether it would take a change in the state Constitution, which would require a supermajority of the Legislature and a popular vote within the district. Scott P. Plotkin, the executive director of the California School Boards Assn., predicted that if a measure passes, it would be tied up in court challenges for years.

The teachers unions, which hold great sway in Sacramento, said they would work aggressively to block Villaraigosa's plan. Democratic legislators are particularly sensitive to union views in election years such as this one because many rely heavily on campaign support from teachers. However, it is not yet clear how much effort the unions will devote to this fight given their other political goals, which include unseating Schwarzenegger this fall.

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said his union, which represents the district's 48,000 teachers, would "talk to every legislator that will listen to us" about opposing Villaraigosa's plan. The California Teachers Assn., which represents educators throughout the state, will also oppose the measure.

"We do not support mayoral control in any shape or form," said the association's president, Barbara Kerr. "I know Antonio's heart is in the right place, he has great ideas, but I'd rather concentrate on doing good things for students than on a bureaucratic law."

Villaraigosa's proposal received a sympathetic reception from some powerful legislators. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuρez (D-Los Angeles), a close ally and former lobbyist for the school district, said the mayor deserved credit for tackling "a humongous problem" and said the proposal "will get the consideration it deserves."

Perata noted that the schools in his home city of Oakland ended up in receivership after the mayor was unable to secure control.

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who had chastised Villaraigosa for not backing her takeover proposal last year, praised his new effort.

"Of course, there's going to be massive opposition, undoubtedly, but we are up here to do big things," she said. "I think we have the muscle, I know we have the will."

But it may be a hard sell to many legislators.

"If there are problems, I don't know you solve them by taking the power away from the democratically elected board," Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said.

The chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), a former teacher, called mayoral control undemocratic and an oversimplification that would not fix the district's fundamental problem: its lack of money.

She also said she feared the district would be whipsawed by changing philosophies every time a new mayor was elected.

There are 26 municipalities besides Los Angeles that are part of the district, and leaders of some cities are already objecting to the mayor's plan because it would give him 80% of the "council of mayors" votes apportioned by population.

Republican legislators have proposed dividing the district, the nation's second-largest, into smaller units and are unlikely to back the proposal.

"I think that local districts that can be accountable and responsible to parents and the community are a better way to go," said Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). He said that the mayor's plan and his own bill to break up the district "have an uphill battle."

Because Republicans are the minority party in the Legislature, their votes may not matter if the proposal only needs a majority vote to pass, as its backers assert.

However, Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster) said that Villaraigosa's proposal "is undermining the authority of the school board, and that in essence may require constitutional change," which necessitates support of two-thirds of the Legislature and a public vote.

Opponents noted that Article IX of California's Constitution states: "No school or college or any other part of the public school system shall be, directly or indirectly, transferred from the public school system or placed under the jurisdiction of any authority other than one included within the public school system."

"You've got a lot of folks up here who have pretty strong commitments to the status quo of L.A. Unified," Runner said. "Somewhere along the line we're going to have to go back to the people of L.A. Unified, and say: 'What is it that you guys want?' "

The electorate's answer could depend on the mayor's ability to sell his vision. In last year's effort to defeat the Senate bill, a California Teachers Assn. pollster surveyed 700 city voters. A summary of the results submitted to the Legislature said that 68% favored the Board of Education running the schools, while 23% preferred the mayor.

The Legislature's senior education advisors believe that the mayor's plan does not require a change in the Constitution because it would preserve the elected Los Angeles Board of Education, though it would be stripped of much of its current power to run the schools.

At a stop in Chinatown on Wednesday, Villaraigosa defended his choice to seek a change in the law by the Legislature rather than put a vote to residents.

"As I see it, these are the people who were duly elected just like the City Council was duly elected," he said. "We have far-reaching decisions all the time without an affirmation in terms of a vote of the people. They vote for their elected leadership who then vote on public policy issues."


CSBA Response to Announce Compromise for Oversight of LAUSD

Press Release, CSBA Webstite, June 21, 2006

The California School Boards Association is deeply concerned by the proposal announced today by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District. While the mayor and his team reached agreements this week with teacher unions in Sacramento, it's interesting that the "partnership" did not include individuals directly responsible for running the Los Angeles schools - the governance team of LAUSD.

While the mayor claims to be transcending politics and putting children first, his proposals would weaken, not strengthen the democratic process of school governance. Parents and voters have a greater impact and voice through locally elected school board members who are accountable to them and empowered to affect change.

The back-room deal arrived at this week appears to strip the school board of its constitutional authority to oversee the district's annual budget, set all policies for its local schools, and make personnel decisions regarding its superintendent. And, the mayor's proposal, while specific to Los Angeles, sets a dangerous precedent for similar takeover attempts in school districts across the state. Furthermore, even if this proposal moves forward, it is guaranteed to be tied up in the courts because constitutional issues will need to be resolved.

The mayor's proposal would shift control from the school board to the superintendent, and the superintendent would be selected by the mayor - thus ultimately giving the mayor the keys to the schoolhouse door. Ironically, this proposal brings back elements of the highly controversial AB 2160 (Goldberg, D - Los Angeles) and would subject critical district decisions (e.g., establishing curriculum, setting instructional policy, and making personnel decisions) to collective bargaining. That legislation was soundly defeated by the Legislature in 2002, and every major newspaper in the state editorialized against it.

CSBA supports mayoral collaboration with school boards, and in fact we encourage the Los Angeles mayor to help the local schools by focusing on municipal issues such as homelessness, health care, crime and affordable housing so that our schoolchildren can thrive in their environments.

We challenge the assumptions behind the effort to shift decisions about schools from the elected school board to City Hall. The LAUSD board is committed to addressing the needs of all of its students. The district has made dramatic improvements academically and is fiscally sound, despite assertions to the contrary. Everyone agrees there is more work to be done but the mayor's proposals will damage the reforms already in place and disrupt the board's game plan for continuous improvement in the future.


Deal Puts Mayor on Verge of Major School Control

Villaraigosa, teachers unions agree on a plan to give him power but not the sole authority he sought. Lawmakers may consider bill next week

By Nancy Vogel, Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2006

SACRAMENTO — After tough negotiations with two forceful teachers unions, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa struck an agreement Wednesday that would give him significant sway over Los Angeles' troubled public schools but fall short of the total takeover he had sought.

Under a compromise expected to be drafted by Friday and considered by the Legislature next week, Villaraigosa would effectively gain veto power over the selection of the superintendent, and that official would assume most budget and contracting authority now handled by the elected Board of Education, the mayor's aides said.

Teachers and principals, meanwhile, would have new authority to shape classroom instruction, loosening the district's reins on how best to teach — a change the union has vociferously sought for years.

The current seven-member Los Angeles Unified School District board, which the mayor has accused of micro-management, would lose virtually all of its authority to oversee billions of dollars in contracts and make line-by-line changes in the district's $7.4-billion operating budget.

District officials attacked the agreement as a late-night, back-room deal that would harm the district, and they discussed the possibility of litigation.

Through one provision, Villaraigosa would oversee three low-performing Los Angeles high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed them. All authority the superintendent and board now wield over those schools would be transferred to the mayor, according to one of the mayor's aides.

Such changes, Villaraigosa and others argue, are long overdue in a district plagued by lower-than-average achievement levels and high dropout rates. A report this week by a nonpartisan education group estimated that less than half of L.A. Unified students graduate on time, an assertion that district leaders disputed.

"This could be a historic chance if we do the right thing," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "It's a framework for hard work that needs to happen to make real, lasting change."

At Villaraigosa's request, the proposed legislation includes a six-year "sunset" provision and assessment — meaning the Legislature would have the ability to make other changes if student performance did not improve.

"I didn't run to be king of Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said. "I want to be mayor and a consensus builder. And we're going to use these broad powers to innovate, to create the kind of environment that really can be an incubator for great ideas and success."

He said repeatedly that the proposed legislation is not about mayoral control but instead about public accountability. But the compromise would effectively give Villaraigosa final say over selection of the next superintendent.

The legislation would allow the school board to pick a superintendent — the board is currently seeking a replacement for retiring Supt. Roy Romer — but a council of mayors from the cities that the district serves would have veto power over the choice. And because 80% of L.A. Unified's 727,000 students live in Los Angeles, Villaraigosa would be the dominant voice on the council.

District officials quickly condemned the mayor's deal with the unions as a power grab that would undermine an urban system that has recently shown marked progress in raising student achievement levels and building new schools to ease overcrowding.

The district's top lawyer, Kevin Reed, said he and other school officials were already talking about possible lawsuits.

Reed questioned whether a superintendent hired by the council of mayors would have a conflict of interest when making decisions on such issues as where to locate new schools.

"Will it be on a block where the city might want to put big-box retail for the tax revenue?" Reed asked.

He also called it troubling that union officials apparently sought from Villaraigosa the same thing they had been seeking in recent contact negotiations: greater control by teachers over instructional methods.

"It doesn't exactly smack of good faith when they hit the bargaining table," Reed said.

At a midday news conference hastily arranged on a sweltering elementary school playground, board members erupted with anger and frustration, saying they had been kept in the dark about Wednesday's compromise. They rebuked the mayor and teachers union officials for cutting a deal that ignored the board, parent groups and several other unions that represent district employees.

"I wouldn't have expected anything else from our mayor, who thinks he is the education guru," said Julie Korenstein, who has served on the board 19 years and has close ties to UTLA. "The mayor who sends his children to private schools because he thinks private schools are better than public schools. A mayor who has never taught a day in his life. A mayor who … has made a decision that somehow with his hand he will bless the children of L.A. Unified and make all the changes…. Somehow he has this grandiose plan that we have never seen."

Romer raised concerns about any proposal under which the new superintendent would have to answer to multiple bosses.

"Every day that he goes to work, he's going to think, 'Who is the person or group to whom I report?' Who's going to be the person in control? Those are very serious questions…. We ought not do this by instantaneous press conference in Sacramento," Romer said.

Mike Kirst, a Stanford University education professor who has written extensively about mayoral control of schools across the country, echoed Romer's concerns.

He said the new superintendent could easily get caught between the board and the mayor, triggering power struggles.

"If different groups have different power, it's not clear who's in charge," Kirst said. "It could set up a lot of conflict."

Villaraigosa acknowledged that the broad outline unveiled at the Capitol after a long night of negotiating was vague. He said he made many concessions to the teachers unions. But he voiced determination to be what he says Los Angeles schools desperately need: a leader around whom parents, students, teachers and other interest groups can coalesce to cut a high dropout rate and improve chronically low student achievement.

"Sometimes I get a knot in my throat when I go to schools, some of the low-performing schools in the city," said Villaraigosa, who has made gaining control of the district the top priority of his year-old administration. "Because in the eyes of these kids, I see myself. I see a young kid that dropped out of high school, a kid that people gave up on. I believe that we can't give up on these kids. I believe we have to have higher expectations."

Villaraigosa failed to gain the sort of near-absolute control over the city's school district that the mayors of New York and Chicago hold over theirs. He toured New York schools earlier this year and patterned much of his takeover proposal on the reforms promoted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Parent Scott Folsom, a PTSA leader in L.A. Unified, said at a Los Angeles news conference that he and other district parents had also visited New York to study mayoral control and came away dismayed by what they had seen, particularly how parents were treated.

"Mayoral control has not worked well in the cities in which it has been tried," he said, adding that New York City parents "have been kicked to the curb."

But a union leader said the agreement with Villaraigosa would bring positive change and could lead to more freedom for teachers, not only in Los Angeles but also across the country.

"I think it's a very big deal for us," said Joshua Pechthalt, an American Federation of Teachers vice president assigned to UTLA. "The trend in public education over the last 10 years or so has been more 'top down' mandates…. The overall thrust has been to tie teachers' hands and impose a one-size-fits-all approach to education."

By striking a deal with the California Teachers Assn., a major financial backer of Democratic campaigns throughout the state, Villaraigosa probably cleared a major hurdle to getting the school legislation through the Democratic-dominated Legislature. The leaders of the Senate and Assembly have vowed their support, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday called the deal "exactly what needs to be done," saying he looks forward to signing the measure into law.

The bill's coauthors will be two Los Angeles Democrats, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuρez and Sen. Gloria Romero.

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), a former teacher and chairwoman of the lower house's Education Committee, opposed Villaraigosa's original plan. She had called it "undemocratic," warning that it would do nothing to bring the additional money the district needs to address overcrowding. But in a surprising turnabout, she praised the compromise struck Wednesday.

"There are things in here that I think very much could get through this Legislature, including my committee with my support," she said.

"Right now I'm very optimistic that they're going to write something that I can support," Goldberg said. "But I do need to see it. How do you share power among a school board, a superintendent and a mayor?"

Assemblyman Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) said, "I can't see a reason not to support it."

"I'll say to parents in my upper-middle-class district: We have to care about what happens to every kid in this state," said Wyland, vice chairman of the Education Committee. "If there's a student who drops out at the end of 10th grade, we've invested perhaps $100,000 in that student. And if that student doesn't have the competencies to get a decent job and contribute to the state and become a good citizen, we not only pay for it, we lose."

Villaraigosa had staked his political reputation on gaining substantial reforms in the school district. Although he fell short of winning full authority, the deal he brokered scored him big political points with legislators and with organized labor, which is his most ardent backer and source of campaign support.

"I would say this is a good solution for L.A.," said CTA President Barbara Kerr. "It's a good solution for the mayor and the kids."


Times staff writers Steve Hymon, Michelle Keller, Joe Mathews and Jeffrey L. Rabin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

In mayor's words

Antonio Villaraigosa declared his support for gaining control of the Los Angeles Unified School District in April 2005, while he was campaigning against the incumbent mayor, James K. Hahn. Here is a sampling of Villaraigosa's remarks on the matter:

April 17, 2005: Villaraigosa said the mayor should have "ultimate control and oversight" over the district, adding that "what we have now is not working. What we have now just isn't acceptable in terms of the kinds of achievement we're looking for."

June 17, 2005: "I am not looking for more power. I just got elected to a great job and have plenty of that. I'm looking for accountability."

July 15, 2005: "We have to build trust and confidence around this idea of mayoral control. I'm going to work first to build that trust and confidence."

November 2005: "I am not looking to alienate anyone, but I am going to make the case for public accountability."

April 12, 2006: "It's going to be an absolute war here. They're going to go nuts when [we] do it. I think we've got a shot at it. I'm going to use my capital."

Tuesday: "I won't accept a resolution that doesn't give the mayor some responsibility for our schools, that doesn't include the city as a collaborator and as a partner on behalf of parents, teachers and kids."

Source: Times research


Hopes and reality

Here is how Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fared in Sacramento with his efforts to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District:

What Villaraigosa wanted

Make the mayor responsible for schools.

What Villaraigosa got

He would share power with the superintendent, the school board and a council of mayors.


What Villaraigosa wanted

Create a council of mayors that includes the other cities in the district and approves the district budget and hires the superintendent.

What Villaraigosa got

The council of mayors would review the budget and could veto the board's selection for superintendent.


What Villaraigosa wanted

Strip the elected school board of most of its powers and make it an advisory body that focuses on parent concerns.

What Villaraigosa got

The superintendent would get broader operational and contracting control, but the board would still set policy. Teachers would get more say in curriculum.


What Villaraigosa wanted

Strengthen the charter schools movement.

What Villaraigosa got

He would assume sole control of some of the district's worst schools.


Sources: Mayor's office, legislative leaders involved in the negotiations



'We will look back one day and say this was a significant and historic piece of legislation that altered the academic abilities and achievement of the children for Los Angeles.'

Sen. Gloria Romero

(D-Los Angeles)


'This deal came together because the mayor and the [teachers] union decided to write an agreement. And I think there are more participants in L.A. than the mayor and the union that need to speak on this matter before it's done.'

Roy Romer

L.A. Unified superintendent


'Villaraigosa's heart is with those kids. There's politics involved in anything we do, but the main thing here is he wants to make a difference for these kids.'

Barbara Kerr

president of the California Teachers Assn.

'Mr. Mayor ... what are your grandiose plans for curing all the ills you profess? … Are you going to experiment with 727,000 lives so you can be the next governor of California?'

Julie Korenstein

longtime member of the L.A. Unified board


'Mayor Villaraigosa stepped up with bold leadership to reform the system and proposes a plan that has the mayor becoming accountable to the LAUSD students and their parents. As leaders, we must do all we can to see that our children can achieve their dreams.'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger


'We're asking you, Mr. Mayor, come talk to us. Let's not go behind closed doors and make deals.'

Cheryl Razor

parent of a student in L.A. Unified


Villaraigosa's Plan For L.A. Unified Faces Opposition in Classrooms

Some teachers back the proposal, but many say more local autonomy could undo recent gains

By Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2006

The teachers of Cahuenga Elementary near downtown Los Angeles had a message Thursday for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: No thank you.

In South Los Angeles, staffers at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary shook their heads in disbelief.

But in more affluent Hancock Park, teachers at 3rd Street Elementary gave the mayor a thumbs-up for injecting himself into the schools.

Villaraigosa's elaborate plan to take control of the Los Angeles Unified School District grabbed the attention of rank-and-file teachers Thursday, the day after it was announced. While some applauded it, many disagreed with him — and their own union leadership.

In close consultation with teachers unions, the mayor agreed this week as part of a sweeping reform plan to let schools choose their own instructional methods and effectively do away with top-down centralized programs.

Villaraigosa said this week that his plan, which the Legislature is expected to consider soon, would spawn "the kind of environment that really can be an incubator for great ideas and success."

United Teachers Los Angeles has long chafed under what it considers overly rigid mandates from the district's top officials, and the union has wanted more leeway for teachers to decide what works best at their schools.

But teachers and principals at several L.A. Unified campuses said the mayor's proposal could ravage districtwide reading and math programs that they say have brought continuity to thousands of classrooms and helped drive up standardized test scores over the last six years.

Uniformity is important, the educators said, because 28% of the district's 727,000 students leave L.A. Unified schools at least once during a school year, with many of them going to other district campuses. Requiring schools to use the same programs enables students who move to keep up with lessons, the educators said.

"We need to put the children first," Cahuenga Elementary teacher Grace Blanc said. "I think the consistency is what the children need."

Such resistance to Villaraigosa's plan echoed warnings by school district leaders this week about what they perceived as a threat to the district's progress and revealed deep divisions between some classroom teachers and their union leaders, who forged the agreement with the mayor.

The skepticism extended to administrators, some of whom argued that their schools have flexibility despite the district's mandates.

"We have to be very careful when it comes to our kids being affected by adult decisions," said King Elementary Principal David Bell, a 16-year district veteran. "I don't like it when our children are used."

Villaraigosa's top attorney, Thomas Saenz, said the mayor wants to give campuses freedom to innovate and says they could continue to use their existing programs if they deemed that best for their students. Schools would be required to show progress and abide by state curriculum guidelines.

But Saenz also said the school board and the superintendent would continue to play a role in overseeing instruction and curriculum. Details are still being worked out.

"This is not a situation where there will be completely unguided, unfettered authority for anyone at the local school site to make decisions," he said.

The roots of the current conflict over school-site authority stem from a change in policy by the Board of Education in 2000.

To accommodate student mobility and help growing numbers of inexperienced teachers, the board adopted a rigidly structured reading program — Open Court — for nearly all district elementary schools.

Open Court combined direct, systematic phonics lessons in the early grades with literature as children matured. It came with thick guides that told instructors what to teach and when. The school district hired reading coaches to coordinate lessons and guide new teachers, and introduced "pacing plans" to literally keep teachers on the same page on the same day. Students' progress was checked every six weeks.

Many teachers initially resisted, saying that they felt like test-prep automatons stripped of their classroom creativity. But test scores rose at many schools, particularly those serving large numbers of students for whom English is a second language.

The teachers union's long-standing complaints about the top-down dictums played a pivotal role in the legislative deal the union negotiated with Villaraigosa. Union President A.J. Duffy said that allowing schools to determine curriculum was a "critical piece" of the reform puzzle.

On Thursday, Duffy said his union was not trying to eliminate Open Court but to modify its use so that teachers have more flexibility. "This idea of one size fitting all, we do not agree with," Duffy said.

But Supt. Roy Romer said the district should stay the course.

"If you take away from the district the ability to have any districtwide policy on curriculum, you have taken the foundation out from beneath all the reform we have made," Romer said Wednesday. "That is a very serious issue and it is one that will turn back the progress we have made."

Some educational researchers say that school-site authority works under certain conditions.

UCLA education professor Jeannie Oakes recently completed a review of research comparing top-down models to teacher-driven ones. She found that school-level control can lead to strong gains in learning if local curricular decisions are accompanied by rigorous teacher training and collaboration. The combination is particularly important — and difficult — in L.A. Unified, where schools suffer from high teacher turnover and struggle with tight budgets.

"Simply having school-site control does not itself guarantee anything," Oakes said. "But if it is used to really engage teachers, it can lead to really remarkable improvements that are not occurring with more tightly prescriptive models."

At 3rd Street Elementary, teachers, administrators and parents said they were eager to embrace the decentralized plan Villaraigosa has put forward.

The high-performing school serves many children from affluent families. Teachers said they needed freedom from the district's strict mandates to incorporate more challenging material.

"Each school is different. Each has different needs," Principal Suzie Oh said. "We are the ones in the trenches all the time and know what our students need rather than this one-size-fits-all approach."

Other L.A. Unified schools say they would seek a middle ground, much the way they have in the past.

Cahuenga Elementary, for example, has readily embraced Open Court even as the school has pursued novel language immersion programs in which some children learn Spanish or Korean in addition to their English lessons.

"People say you don't have freedom," said Principal Lloyd Houske. "I say you don't have freedom if you don't have the nerve to do something."

But Houske and other educators praised the district for implementing a single reading program. He and others worry about hundreds of schools pursuing their own methods and materials, reducing a mammoth but coordinated instructional approach to chaos.

"I'm concerned that we'll go back to a system that is not coherent, changing the program every two years, changing the assessments every two years," said Principal Beth Bythrow of Multnomah Elementary in El Sereno.

"If you look at elementary schools, we have made a lot of progress. That's because for the longest period of time, we've done the same thing."

Villaraigosa's hopes for getting a bill through the Legislature before its July 8 break appeared to dim Thursday.

Assuming negotiators finalize the language in time, the bill would be one of about 60 to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

L.A. Unified legislation would also probably have to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee prior to a vote by the Senate, then it would face a vote of the Assembly before it could be signed by the governor.


New LAUSD draft reduces schools' role

By Harrison Sheppard, Los Angeles Daily News, June 23, 2006

SACRAMENTO - A proposal to grant local schools wide authority in determining their own curriculum and textbooks was removed from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's school-takeover legislation released Friday, but the mayor's aides insisted he is still committed to the idea of greater local control. The Los Angeles Mayor's Office and school board members also clashed over how the proposed legislation might affect the district's current search for a new superintendent, which is expected to be complete before the bill would become law, if it were approved.

The Mayor's Office suggested that the board delay hiring a replacement for Superintendent Roy Romer or at least seek the mayor's approval, but board members said they have no intent of slowing down the process.

The initial draft of the mayor's bill called for committees of teachers and principals at every school to make decisions on what instructional materials and curriculum are used at those schools, within state standards.

The new draft, however, removes those provisions, and instead says the superintendent and board will select curriculum and instructional materials, but make sure that teachers "have an authentic and central role."

Aides to the mayor and teachers union officials described the change as a minor one, insisting the final bill will have a significantly greater amount of local control over curriculum and other issues.

"This is a section that is going to be going through some changes in the future, but what will ultimately be there by agreement is greater authority at the local school site - the mayor's long-standing support for decentralization to the greatest degree possible," said Thomas Saenz, the mayor's counsel.

California Teachers Association officials said they didn't object to the change, describing it as more in line with the original agreement with the mayor reached earlier this week.

LAUSD general counsel Kevin Reed said the mayor's approach of trying to put more instructional control at the local level will hurt some of the progress the district has made with more unified decision-making in the past few years.

Decisions over textbooks and curriculum, he said, are already made in part by committees of teachers, but generally apply to the entire district for the sake of consistency.

"It would rip out the very heart of the machine that we believe drove such significant advancements in student achievement over the last six years," Reed said.

At the same time, the Mayor's Office and school board members clashed over whether the board should consider the mayor's opinion in choosing a new superintendent, even though the proposed legislation has not been approved.

Saenz suggested that the board should consider the mayor's views in its current search for a replacement for Romer, who plans to retire this fall.

If the mayor's bill is approved, it would likely not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2007.

One key provision of the bill is to create a council of mayors that would have veto authority over the hiring of a superintendent. But if a replacement is hired this fall prior to the creation of the council, it would likely be several years before the council could exercise that authority, depending on how long Romer's replacement stays in office.

Saenz said if the board rushes to choose a superintendent, and particularly if it chooses one that Villaraigosa and the council of mayors oppose, "that would be a disservice to the students of the district."

"There are a number of ways of making the decision today and the future governance compatible," Saenz said. "One is by waiting for the decision until after Jan. 1. The other is ensuring the candidate that is selected enjoys the support of - and therefore would survive a ratification vote of - the council of mayors."

Under the proposed legislation, the council of mayors on its own would not have the ability to fire a superintendent. Still, Saenz added that "if the board was to choose before January a superintendent that the mayor believes is not capable of leading the district in the direction it needs to be led, he would certainly take steps to seek that person's removal."

But school board members, who oppose the mayor's plan, said they have no intention of slowing down the search process or letting the mayor interfere.

"It's not an option," said school board President Marlene Canter. "You never put politics before kids."

Canter, who has been a frequent visitor to Sacramento in the past two months, said she plans to return to the Capitol on Monday to lobby against the mayor's plan, along with Romer and board member Jon Lauritzen.

The legislation, authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuρez, D-Los Angeles, is expected to come up for its first hearing Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.

The version of the bill released Friday includes some of the following provisions:

A council of mayors will be created consisting of the mayors of all cities within the district, with votes weighted on their cities' populations. The council will also include the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The council will have the ability to ratify or veto the hiring, firing and contract terms of the superintendent, as voted initially by the school board.

Staff members would no longer be assigned to individual school board members. Instead, members would rely on the district's central administrative staff and staffers assigned to assist the board as a whole.

The state Legislative Analyst shall evaluate the overall program within three years.

The bill will sunset on Jan. 1, 2013, unless renewed by the Legislature.


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