Published Online: August 30, 2006

Calif. Lawmakers Grant L.A. Mayor Partial Control Over School System

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa yesterday won final approval from California lawmakers to take partial control over his city’s sprawling school system. The plan would give him considerable sway over the hiring of the superintendent, but falls short of the strong mayoral control in cities like New York City and Chicago.

Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Glendale, left, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, watch as the votes are posted on Nunez's measure, to give Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa greater control over the Los Angeles Unified School District, during the Assemby session held at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006.
—Rich Pedroncelli/AP

The quasi-takeover of the nation’s second-largest school district, packaged as state legislation that bypasses local voters, also would give the mayor direct authority over a cluster of low-performing schools. The mayor has relentlessly cited the district’s high school dropout rate—a figure he believes is as high as 50 percent—as a moral imperative to reform the 727,000-student district.

“Make no mistake, this is a milestone that comes but once in a generation,” Mayor Villaraigosa said in a written statement issued late on Aug. 29. “We have brought parents, teachers, and community leaders together around the idea that we can and must do better for our children.”

In a 42-20 vote, the state Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, backed the mayor’s reform plan. It now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said he will sign the measure. The state Senate had approved the bill on Aug. 28, in a 23-14 vote.

Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District, who battled to defeat the bill, will likely challenge the measure’s constitutionality—particularly the provision that gives the mayor direct control over three of the city’s worst high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed them.

‘Not a Failing District’

Superintendent Roy Romer, who is preparing to step down in September after six years, fought hard against the plan and used his last chance to plead with lawmakers on Aug. 29 to reject the mayor’s proposal.

Mr. Romer, who served three terms as Colorado governor before accepting the Los Angeles job in 2000, reminded lawmakers that test scores in the district had risen steadily during his tenure and that an historic, $19 billion construction program to build 150 new schools was being well managed.

“That’s not a failing district,” Mr. Romer told members of the Assembly’s education committee. “Why do you want to yank the rug out from under us now?”

Mayor Villaraigosa, a Democrat who has spent much of his first year in office campaigning for reform in his city’s schools, would share much of his authority with a council of mayors representing the 26 other cities that lie within the boundaries of the district. His plan empowers the superintendent to manage most of the contracting, budgeting, and hiring in the district, while keeping the elected school board responsible for collective bargaining, a concession the mayor offered to win support from teacher unions.

The mayor and his supporters scheduled a celebration of the bill’s victory in the legislature for Aug. 30 at a south Los Angeles charter high school.

Vol. 26

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