MAYOR, BREWER `JOINED AT THE HIP' PAIR ALL SMILES AFTER FIRST MEETING; VOW TO CUT DROPOUT RATE.
Emerging from their first face-to-face meeting Wednesday morning, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Unified's new superintendent vowed to put politics aside and unite in building world-class schools for the district's 708,000 students.
The mayor and Adm. David Brewer III, who spent more than an hour behind closed doors, said their first priority will be reducing the district's dropout rate.
``We couldn't have had a better meeting. ... We all need to get on the same boat and row in the same direction. ... We agree we're going to be teammates,'' Villaraigosa said.
``I couldn't be happier after sitting down with Superintendent Brewer. I think he's the right guy for the job and is committed to working with a partnership.''
But even as Brewer and Villaraigosa put on a collaborative display after months of acrimony that has roiled the LAUSD, political maneuvering and challenges remain.
A lawsuit challenging legislation that gives the mayor and superintendent more control over the district is scheduled to be heard in December.
Tension also remains with the school board, which has waged a highly public battle against the mayor's bid for control. That strain continued Wednesday when board President Marlene Canter was rebuffed in an attempt to sit in on the meeting between the mayor and Brewer.
And with four seats on the seven-member school board up for election in March, a fierce battle will likely be waged as both the mayor and school board vie to fill the posts with their supporters.
For now, however, Villaraigosa appeared to have set aside frustration that the school board rejected his pleas and appointed Brewer while the mayor was on a two-week trade mission in Asia.
The mayor said he and Brewer will meet once a week to discuss issues including the dropout rate, which is estimated at between 24percent and 50percent.
Brewer also sought to dispel any appearance of acrimony Wednesday. At one point, he put his arm around the mayor and said the two are now ``joined at the hip.''
Brewer -- who has not divulged his opinion on the governance change -- said he supported the mayor's efforts.
``We have the same vision, the same passion, and we're joined at the hip working as hard as we can to educate the children of greater Los Angeles. Period,'' he said. ``It was a mind meld.''
Villaraigosa said he would work with Brewer to select three clusters of schools that the mayor will directly oversee.
And Brewer said he embraced the partnership and called for the community to be involved in improving schools.
Canter said she knew the two had similar visions and would get along.
``I knew the mayor would be happy. ... I don't know what (Villaraigosa) was thinking, but I know what we were thinking ... we were looking for a transformer,'' Canter said.
But while Brewer and the mayor are scheduled to start sharing power Jan.1, Brewer has yet to forge a relationship with the powerful teachers union.
United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy said he has reached out to meet with Brewer but has not heard a response.
And questions remain about whether everyone is onboard with the governance changes.
The mayor is scheduled to meet today with at least 200 chapter leaders of high schools and their feeder schools that are being considered for direct mayoral oversight.
The three high schools will be chosen from a list of 19, including Monroe, Canoga Park, Grant, Polytechnic and Sylmar high schools in the San Fernando Valley.
Brewer has not been invited to that meeting, Duffy said.
``We want to hear the mayor's view and allay some of the concerns,'' Duffy said. ``We want to have a frank discussion ... that the law would give teachers and local school site people, including parents, more say in what goes on at their schools.''
The union rank and file also has been stirring with discord about the mayor's legislation, with more than half of the approximately 9,000 teachers voting to oppose the effort.
Meanwhile, with the school board election looming -- candidates must file by Nov. 11 -- and four seats up for grabs, interest among invested parties is high.
The results could solidify the board's opposition to mayoral governance or shift it to Villaraigosa's favor.
Monica Garcia, the only Villaraigosa ally on the school board, said she plans to be heavily involved in the election, particularly in David Tokofsky's district.
That district has the highest percentage of Latino voters, she said, and Tokofsky has been one of the harsher opponents to the mayor's school reform agenda.
``I'm going to be involved in supporting change agents. I expect that the election of March 2007 is absolutely a critical point in our organization,'' she said.
Tokofsky said he's still weighing whether to seek a fourth term.
In the meantime, he said he was not surprised that Brewer charmed the mayor.
``If they both came out smiling today, that's a testimony to Admiral Brewer's power,'' Tokofsky said.
Board member Julie Korenstein said she welcomes a mayor who partners with the district.
``If they can partner up and help the kids, why not?'' said Korenstein, who also has been vocally opposed to the mayor's efforts.
``Frankly, if Brewer and Villaraigosa can work together and come up with innovative ideas to help the kids, I'll applaud that,'' she said.
Analysts said Wednesday's appearance of unity between Brewer and Villaraigosa is a smart move -- as well as building support on the school board.
``You don't want to have to risk your ammunition until you need it. You don't know what form this is all going to take because the law's not taking effect until the first of the year and there is the question of the suit,'' said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior scholar in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California.
``What happens if the superintendent and mayor get out there and butter each other up, and there's nothing to butter each other up for? It's a smart strategy on the part of both men.''
(color) New LAUSD Superintendent Adm. David Brewer III and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vow on Wednesday to work together.
David Sprague/Staff Photographer