School & District Management

L.A. Mayor Seen as Poised to Get His Way on Schools

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 29, 2006 3 min read

After months of political wrangling and a pitched battle with school officials, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to assume partial control over the nation’s second-largest school district was on the verge of final approval by California lawmakers last week.

Mr. Villaraigosa’s plan—packaged as state legislation that bypasses local voters—had passed two key committees in the state Senate, despite an expensive and passionate lobbying effort by district officials to defeat it. Late last week, the measure was waiting for a vote by the full Senate, before it would move on for a vote in the Assembly.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has said for months that he would sign the measure.

“This is going to be a huge step forward for Los Angeles and its schools,” said Steve Barr, the founder and chief executive of Green Dot Public Schools, which operates five charter high schools in Los Angeles and is opening five more this fall.

“It’s not perfect, and I would have preferred total mayor control, but this is a guy who can put talent together to create some models that will work across the district, instead of just one little school there and one little school here,” Mr. Barr said of the mayor.

The mayor, a Democrat who took office in July 2005, has staked his first term on improving schools in the Los Angeles Unified district. He has cited independent studies that put the district’s high school graduation rate at no better than 50 percent as his moral imperative for shaking up the system. District officials dispute the figures.

If successful in having the legislation enacted, Mayor Villaraigosa would have the final say over the hiring and firing of the superintendent for the 727,000-student district. He would share that decision, in part, with a council of mayors representing the 26 other cities that lie within its boundaries. He also would be in charge of running a cluster of the lowest-performing schools, creating a special district within the district.

But Mr. Villaraigosa’s authority would be more limited than that of his counterparts in Boston, Chicago, and New York City, where the mayors appoint board members and play a larger role in deciding how their cities’ schools operate.

Limiting Board’s Power

Under his quasi-takeover approach, the seven-member, elected school board would continue to negotiate teacher contracts, but would be stripped of many of its other responsibilities, such as line-by-line budget approval.

Albeit vaguely, the bill also calls for giving teachers a role in choosing curriculum, a concession that the mayor accepted to help eliminate opposition from United Teachers Los Angeles and its statewide counterpart, the California Teachers Association, which is an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Mr. Villaraigosa has managed to assuage other opponents too, but the school district’s leaders have remained steadfastly opposed.

Superintendent Roy Romer and Marlene Canter, the president of the school board, have mounted a campaign to convince lawmakers that the mayor’s plan is built on the false premise that the Los Angeles Unified School District is failing.

“We are an easy dog to kick,” Ms. Canter has said.

Both have repeatedly cited the district’s steady gains in elementary students’ standardized-test scores, especially in reading, and data showing that Los Angeles students are improving at a faster rate than their counterparts across the state. They’ve also touted the district’s enormous construction program, which has built dozens of new schools, and, when complete, will bring more than 150 new campuses to the district.

That $19 billion program could be compromised by the mayor’s plan, Mr. Romer told state lawmakers last month during a Senate committee hearing.

But lawmakers in Sacramento, most of whom are Democrats and allies of the mayor from his days in the state Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, have largely supported his plans.

The bill’s likely success makes parents like Angel Zobel-Rodriguez, who has two children enrolled in Los Angeles Unified schools, very nervous. Ms. Zobel-Rodriguez lives in San Fernando and cannot vote in Los Angeles’ mayoral elections. She says parents in her neighborhood seem fairly evenly divided over Mr. Villaraigosa’s bid to exert control.

“What happens when he leaves and if this great experiment peters out?” said Ms. Zobel-Rodriguez, whose children attend schools outside her neighborhood.

“I am not going to say that LAUSD doesn’t need reform, but this is being rammed down our throats by a man that I didn’t vote for,” she said. “I resent that he is telling me that none of the district is working, when I know that’s not the case.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as L.A. Mayor Seen as Poised to Get His Way on Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
Family Engagement for Student Success With Dr. Karen Mapp
Register for this free webinar to learn how to empower and engage families for student success featuring Karen L. Mapp.
Content provided by Panorama Education & PowerMyLearning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

[2021-2022] Founding Middle School Academic Dean
New York, NY, US
DREAM Charter School
Hiring Bilingual and Special Education Teachers NOW!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
DevOps Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
User Experience Analyst
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

School & District Management One District's COVID-19 Journey: A Year of Upheaval and Unexpected Insights
The Everett, Wash., school district was among the first in the nation shuttered by the pandemic. Educators and parents share and reflect.
9 min read
School & District Management The Key to School-Based COVID-19 Testing: Cooperation of Parents and Communities
As schools launch broad testing to track cases of COVID-19, the success of their efforts relies on addressing the concerns of all concerned.
7 min read
Katie Ramirez, left, watches as her mother, Claudia Campos, swabs the mouth of her sister, Hailey, for a COVID-19 test at a testing site in Los Angeles on Dec. 9, 2020.
Katie Ramirez, left, watches as her mother, Claudia Campos, swabs the mouth of her sister, Hailey, for a COVID-19 test at a testing site in Los Angeles.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School & District Management Interactive A Year of COVID-19: What It Looked Like for Schools
This timeline offers a look at how a full year of living and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.
Education Week Staff
13 min read
Elementary 1 teacher Melissa Vozar sits outside of Suder Elementary in Chicago to teach a virtual class on Jan. 11, 2021. The Chicago Teachers Union said that its members voted to defy an order to return to the classroom before they are vaccinated against the coronavirus, setting up a showdown with district officials who have said such a move would amount to an illegal strike.
Elementary 1 teacher Melissa Vozar sits outside of Suder Elementary in Chicago to teach a virtual class on Jan. 11, 2021. The Chicago Teachers Union said that its members voted to defy an order to return to the classroom before they are vaccinated against the coronavirus, setting up a showdown with district officials who have said such a move would amount to an illegal strike.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
School & District Management Most Principals, District Leaders Predict Their Schools Will Be Fully In-Person This Fall
EdWeek Research Center surveys track the growing trend to get more students back in school buildings as soon as possible.
5 min read
Assistant Principal Janette Van Gelderen, left, welcomes students at Newhall Elementary in Santa Clarita, Calif on Feb. 25, 2021. California's public schools could get $6.6 billion from the state Legislature if they return to in-person instruction by the end of March, according to a new agreement announced Monday, March 1, 2021, between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's legislative leaders.
Assistant Principal Janette Van Gelderen, left, welcomes students at Newhall Elementary in Santa Clarita, Calif., last month. California's public schools could get $6.6 billion from the state if they return to in-person instruction by the end of March.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP