After months of bitter political wrangling and a legal battle, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District have agreed to work together to oversee a cluster of its lowest-performing schools.
The partnership between the mayor’s office and the nation’s second-largest school district, announced late last month, is a dramatic turnaround from six months ago, when school officials were fighting Mr. Villaraigosa over a state law that would have given him partial authority over the 708,000-student school system.
Two courts ruled that the law violated the state constitution, and Mr. Villaraigosa did not appeal those decisions to the California Supreme Court.
School board elections earlier this year gave Mr. Villaraigosa four allies on the seven-member board, creating a new opportunity for him to intervene in the school system.
Now, the former adversaries are pairing up to oversee the management of two failing high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them—clusters of schools that serve roughly 35,000 children.
‘An Effort to Rethink’
But the finer details of the arrangement, which schools would be selected, and how much say Mayor Villaraigosa and his education team will have over critical matters such as the schools’ budgets, hiring, and curriculum are still being hammered out, said Mónica García, the president of the Los Angeles school board and an ally of the mayor.
“This is really an effort to rethink how we deliver education to our children and to bring planning and an intensity of focus to instruction that we’ve already shown on construction,” Ms. García said, referring to the district’s $20 billion project to build 160 new schools.
“We haven’t worked out all the details yet because we want the communities in and around these schools to be actively engaged in shaping how this will work.”
Neither the mayor’s office nor the district have decided which schools will be included in the partnership, Ms. García said.
The Innovation Division for Educational Achievement—an entity created in June by LAUSD Superintendent David L. Brewer III to focus on improving struggling schools by working with outside groups and educators already in the district—will work with the mayor’s education team on shaping the details and approaching potential schools.
No schools will be selected for the partnership without the consent of faculty members, parents, and community members, said Ms. García.
“We know that we can’t expect systemic, substantive reform without it,” she said.
But the level of support that a school must show to join the partnership could be a matter of dispute. A.J. Duffy, the president of the 48,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles, said he would like to see either two-thirds of the tenured faculty at a school favor the move, or 60 percent of all tenured and nontenured faculty members.
“Teachers are not interested in exchanging one bureaucracy for another, and for this to work, you need a broad base of support among your teachers,” said Mr. Duffy, whose local is an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. “And they really have to work this out. … The mayor can’t take a shell of a plan to teachers and expect them to embrace it.”
Ms. García, however, said any threshold over a simple majority of the tenured faculty—the proportion required under state law to convert a regular public school into a charter school—would be unfair.
That very issue has been at play for several months at Locke Senior High School in the Watts section of Los Angeles, but may come to a resolution as early as this week. A majority of school board members are expected to vote in favor of allowing Locke to convert to a charter campus that would be operated by Green Dot Public Schools, one of the city’s most prominent charter school organizations.
A proposal to convert Locke Senior High into a Green Dot charter has roiled the district since May, when a majority of the tenured faculty at the troubled school signed a petition to support becoming a charter.
Within a few days, though, some teachers withdrew their signatures, prompting district administrators to rule that the charter petition was no longer valid. Some board members disagreed with that decision. (“L.A. District Faces Mounting Pressure Over High Schools,” July 18, 2007)
“I think the district has a lot to learn in terms of the pace of change here,” said Ms. García, who favors the charter conversion at Locke. “Teachers and community members have made it clear that they are waiting.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2007 edition of Education Week