State Plan to Transfer L.A. School Management Powers to Mayor Rejected by Judge

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A Los Angeles judge has thrown out a new state law that was to transfer substantial management authority of the sprawling city school system to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ruling that the legislation violates California's constitution.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra I. Janavs wrote in a 20-page decision that the mayor's plan violates several provisions of the state constitution by shifting, in part, "management and control of the 708,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District to entities and authorities...that are not part of the public school system."

In her Dec. 21 ruling, Judge Janavs ordered public officials "to refrain from enforcing or implementing" any part of the new law, which was approved by state lawmakers last summer after a long and contentious debate. She called the legislation “drastic” and a change that would give the mayor “a role that is unprecedented in California.”

The ruling—which the mayor and his allies vowed immediately to appeal—came just ten days before the new law was set to take effect. Mr. Villaraigosa said his legal team could seek an expedited hearing before the California Supreme Court.

“I promise you, we will not be deterred,” Mr. Villaraigosa said in a written statement. “We intend to fight for your futures. We refuse to be defeated by the forces of the status quo.”

School Board Elated

Members of the elected Los Angeles Unified school board were elated by the ruling—which supported their argument that the mayor’s takeover plan from the beginning was unconstitutional.

Under the now-overturned law, Mr. Villaraigosa was to have assumed control over a cluster of three low-performing high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them. He had already begun hiring a team to oversee the so-called “mayor’s schools,” and had brought in more than $2 million in private funding to help develop reform strategies for the effort.

The mayor also was to have shared authority over the rest of the school district—including the veto power over the hiring and firing of the superintendent—with a council of mayors representing the 26 other cities that lie within the boundaries of the school district.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Board of Education president Marlene Canter, left, reacts Dec. 21 to a judge's ruling striking down a state law that would have granted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa partial control of the nation's second-largest school district. Board member Marguerite P. Lamotte is at right.
—Damian Dovarganes/AP

Vol. 26, Issue 18

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