LAUSD FILES SUIT CHALLENGING BILL HIKING MAYOR'S AUTHORITY.
Los Angeles Unified and a coalition of powerful groups filed suit Tuesday challenging the bill giving Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa partial control over the nation's second-largest school district -- a move that could tie up the measure past its Jan. 1 implementation date.
The 61-page suit challenging Assembly Bill 1381 had been expected since Sept. 18, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the legislation hammered out by Villaraigosa, the teachers union and the mayors of neighboring cities served by LAUSD.
``(AB 1381) creates a new governance structure for the Los Angeles Unified School District which is completely inconsistent with the constitutional... framework that governs the state's schools,'' the suit said.
``(It) eliminates the rights of LAUSD parents and voters to control the governance of their school district. It also dilutes and diminishes the voting rights of a substantial percentage of citizens within LAUSD, treats them differently than other citizens of the district, and impairs their right to elect the representatives of their choice.''
The suit was announced during a morning news conference attended by officials with Los Angeles Unified, the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, the California School Boards Association, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles and the district's two parent unions.
Later in the day, supporters of the bill -- including state Sen. Gloria Romero, and City Council members Jose Huizar and Wendy Greuel -- held their own news conference, where they called the lawsuit an ``unfortunate obstructionist action.'' They also criticized opponents for filing it when the mayor was on a two-week trade mission to Asia.
Villaraigosa's chief counsel, Tom Saenz, dismissed the argument that the bill violates the City Charter. He predicted it will stand up to legal scrutiny because of amendments made to it.
``The school board's penchant for micromanagement has led them to somehow believe that the charter would give in varying detail exactly what the mayor's permitted to do, but in fact the charter does what most constitutionalized documents do, they set out broad parameters of what the mayor can do,'' Saenz said.
Majority leader Romero also defended the bill and accused the district of filing suit to distract the mayor's attention from the board's search for a superintendent to replace Roy Romer, who is retiring.
``The Legislature would not pass a bill if we did not believe that it was constitutional, so in passing AB 1381 we heard the arguments ... we considered them, we rejected them,'' said Romero, a co-author of the bill. ``This is called licking your wounds.''
Romer said the district followed through on its threatened suit because it wanted a definitive decision, especially after the state's legislative counsel and the city's legislative analyst questioned its legality.
``Before we disrupt our current reform efforts in our school communities, we need to have these questions answered. Meanwhile, I fully intend to continue working with the mayor and his staff to improve our coordination and cooperation so that we better serve the students and families of this district,'' Romer said.
School board President Marlene Canter said she and her colleagues will move forward in establishing a partnership with the mayor, despite the lawsuit.
``Regardless of what happens in court, we are continuing to build our relationships with the mayor and his staff,'' Canter said.
The bill shifts control from the elected school board to an appointed superintendent, who can be hired and fired by a Council of Mayors, on which Villaraigosa holds majority power.
The law also gives individual schools greater control over their budgets and curriculum during a six-year trial period and grants Villaraigosa direct control over the district's three lowest-performing high schools and their feeder campuses.
The suit will be defended by the California Attorney General's Office. Spokesman Nathan Barankin said the office would file its arguments with the court in the next few weeks, but would have no comment until then.
Although a trial judge is likely to issue a verdict before the measure takes effect Jan. 1, both sides vowed to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, if necessary -- delaying its implementation indefinitely.
But Karl Manheim, a professor at Loyola Law School, said it's unlikely the case will be decided by the California Supreme Court.
``It's not apparent to me that there's anything in the constitution that would limit the Legislature's power to transfer some of the power from the school district to the mayors,'' said Manheim, who had not read the complaint.
``This disempowers the existing school board, but I don't think it's a serious injury. It has to disrupt the operation of the schools in some form to be granted the injunction.
``Conceivably this could reach the California Supreme Court by the end of the year, but I think that's unlikely.''
Manheim's opinion echoes that of Saenz, who said he's certain the law will be enacted Jan. 1, but the suit is distracting.
``This threatens to take attention away from the nascent citywide development of a collaborative partnership to address the critical needs of students,'' Saenz said.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, said the school district should already be fully cooperating with Villaraigosa in terms of giving him a say in the selection of a new superintendent.
``Right now the only thing they've done is skirt the issue,'' Nunez said. ``They've denied the mayor or the council of mayors an opportunity to participate in the selection of a new superintendent.''
But Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, said he thinks the lawsuit is appropriate because of questions raised by the state legislative counsel.
``If the mayor wants to take control of a school district, they need to go about it the right way,'' said Runner, who advocates breaking up LAUSD.
Litigants charged at the morning press conference at the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles offices that the mayor's takeover was a power grab.
U.S. Rep. Diane Watson joined the suit as a private citizen and a resident in LAUSD's borders.
``I am personally grieved with the passage of this bill, because it's unconstitutional. The constitution of the state of California gives the authority to the elected board of education to administer the school district,'' said Watson, D-Los Angeles.
The suit comes days after the school board rejected public appeals from the mayor to involve him in the search for Romer's replacement.
School district officials have said they could announce the new superintendent before Oct. 21, when the mayor is expected to return from Asia.
Runner said the district's actions in filing the suit and possibly announcing a new superintendent when the mayor is out of town smacked of gamesmanship.
``It does sound like a bit of gamesmanship,'' he said. ``But I think this whole process has been a bit of gamesmanship on both sides.''
Harrison Sheppard contributed to this report
A lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges the legality of Assembly Bill 1381 on the following grounds:
It violates provisions of the state Constitution, which creates a separation between the operation of the municipal government and the education system.
It violates the Los Angeles City Charter, which sets forth the duties of the mayor, but does not grant him authority over public schools.
It violates voting rights and disenfranchizes voters who don't live in Los Angeles and all those who voted for LAUSD board members.
Zella Knight holds a picture of her daughter, Anastassia Knight, 14, a freshman at Granada Hills High School, during the press conference about the lawsuit against the mayor's takeover of LAUSD on Tuesday.
Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
LAUSD LAWSUIT (see text)