In the mounting fight over who should run the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District, parents from other big cities are joining the fray.
Hundreds of parent activists from New York City and Chicago have signed and are circulating an open letter to Los Angeles parents, urging them to reject Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to take control of the 727,000-student district.
Mayoral control, they argue, has not delivered greater accountability and transparency in New York and Chicago. Even more troubling, they say, is that Los Angeles parents who feel disenfranchised now by the district’s bureaucracy and elected school board will be shut off entirely from the decisionmaking process if the mayor is in charge.
“The mayors of our cities and their appointees now feel empowered to ignore the priorities of parents, teachers, and other stakeholders in the system,” says the letter, which is dated June 1.
Leonie Haimson, a New York parent activist and the founder of Class Size Matters, wrote the letter with Julie Woestehoff, who heads Parents United for Responsible Education, an advocacy group in the 424,000-student Chicago district.
“We are the three largest districts in the country and share many of the same issues,” Ms. Haimson said in an interview. “Both New York and Chicago have a lot of lessons learned to share with Los Angeles about mayoral control, and the big one is that the mayor gets more power while leaving the public at large with little ability to give any input.”
A prime example, said Ms. Haimson: the cell phone ban in the 1.1 million-student New York district. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has refused to lift a controversial ban on such phones in schools, despite pleas from parents and rallies by members of the public urging him to do so.
Mr. Villaraigosa, a Democrat, is staking his first term as mayor on his plan to run the giant school system that educates children who live in Los Angeles and 26 other cities. He has proposed that he and a “council of mayors” be given authority to hire and fire the superintendent, control the budget, and adopt curricula. (“L.A. Mayor Seeks Role in District,” April 26, 2006.)
The mayor has been campaigning for his plan at the state Capitol in Sacramento, where lawmakers could vote on the matter later this summer.
A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week