MAYOR'S SCHOOL-TAKEOVER STRATEGY IGNITES FIRESTORM.
A draft outline of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's takeover strategy for the Los Angeles Unified School District touched off a political firestorm Thursday, with educators and analysts saying it lacks substance and could plunge the 727,000-student system into chaos.
The 43-page plan - dated April 2 and circulated among business and community leaders in recent days - lays out a massive restructuring that would break the 700-square-mile LAUSD into 80 mini-districts, limit schools to 500 students each and decentralize the downtown bureaucracy.
It also would demand accountability from the mayor, superintendent, parents and students, and it would extend the school day to 5 p.m. to make time for enrichment classes.
Villaraigosa distanced himself from the plan, saying the draft is not an official proposal but simply a series of suggestions on how the district could be changed.
"What we did was send out some ideas to a variety of stakeholders we've involved in the discussions," Villaraigosa said. "These are things we are putting on the table.
"Should we have Saturday classes? Should schools stay open later? Should we have a longer school year?
"These are all things to study."
Still, as details of "Taking Back Our Schools" surfaced, educators blasted it as an unrealistic hodgepodge of ideas with no cost estimates and few details on how they would be implemented.
"It's a Macedonian salad of ideas that we've seen over the last 15 years," said LAUSD board member David Tokofsky.
"To affect students' lives, ideas have to be more refined and prioritized. I think it's noble that they're collecting all of these ideas. But it will be the superintendent and board in open, public meetings, rather than (in a) back room, privately financed, ... that will assess costs, scarcity of resources and what matters most for students.
"(Villaraigosa) is right that the status quo is not acceptable. But he's not right to declare war."
The mayor bristled at criticism that his ambitious reform effort includes no clear plan of action.
"Where are their ideas? They have nothing new to present," Villaraigosa said. "I am trying to think out of the box and look at what is needed in the schools."
District officials - smarting from being left out of discussions - scrambled to get their hands on copies of the draft. Many said that if the mayor had included them in the process, he'd know that some of the ideas would be impossible to implement.
Superintendent Roy Romer, who complained that he and Villaraigosa had not had a serious conversation about reform for months, said he believed lack of understanding of the district's operation is displayed in the draft.
He cited the suggestion of selling the district's downtown headquarters and eliminating all but 100 administrative workers.
"Sure, you could sell it, make $50 million - but where do you perform the work that needs to be done in a district with 60,000 employees and more than 700,000 students?" Romer said.
"We have our computer system down here, our payroll, our bus system. If we sell this building, where do we put those operations?
"My concern - and that's why I've asked to meet with the mayor to discuss this - is that this shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what we do here. ... We are open to ideas, but we can't lose sight of what our primary goal is in educating these youngsters."
Portions of the plan also sparked a flurry of activity among different groups jockeying to sway public opinion before the mayor's State of the City speech Tuesday, when the school proposal is to be presented.
The district's parent-teacher associations, also outraged at not being consulted, scheduled a news conference for today to explain their vision.
"What I see of that is a combination of interesting and fuzzy thinking, but I don't see any parent input, and I know there hasn't been any parent input," said Scott Folsom, president of the Los Angeles 10th District Parent-Teacher-Student Association.
District PTSAs and PTAs represent tens of thousands of parents.
"We needed to have been at that table, so we're reaching out to him because we need to have that conversation," Folsom said.
Meanwhile, Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, and Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge, scheduled a Monday morning press conference to discuss their legislation to break up the sprawling LAUSD.
United Teachers Los Angeles had hoped to pre-empt the mayor's State of the City speech and had already planned a Monday press conference on its own reform plan.
"We constantly talked about and pushed for collaboration," UTLA President A.J. Duffy said. "It's unfortunate that we have not gotten it, but we are going to continue to push for collaboration."
District officials - many of whom had not yet seen the draft plan - accused the mayor of working in secret on a reform proposal.
"I feel that this approach that's being used is very cloak-and-dagger, very secretive," board President Marlene Canter said. "I don't like to have these conversations on important issues via the press. That's not the way to work together.
"This is about politics, not about kids. It's about a power grab, not about collaboration."
In a letter to the mayor, board member Marguerite LaMotte accused Villaraigosa of treating district officials as adversaries.
"The constituents of this community are now fully aware of the takeover plan and the motives which drive this plan," she wrote.
"Community members are also aware that the plan has little to do with what's in the best interest of children. It's all about the control of billions of dollars."
TAKING BACK OUR SCHOOLS
The draft plan for reforming Los Angeles Unified cites dozens of recommendations, including:
Legislation would be approved this summer, an election would be held in May 2007, and a change in governance would occur by July 1, 2007.
The LAUSD board would be reconstituted as an Assembly.
The mayor would appoint a district chief executive. Other management would include a chief instructional officer and a chief facilities executive.
Four general managers would each oversee 15-20 local superintendents who, in turn, would each supervise adistrict with 8,000 to 10,000 students in 10 to 20 schools.
Many schools would be given new leadership teams, new designs and possibly new names.
A tax increase would be likely. "Los Angeles taxpayers have proven that they are willing to tax themselves if they believe that the money will be well spent."
A Los Angeles Educational Fund would have a target of $200 million for its first five years and work to find grants and other new funding sources.
LAUSD would be "rebranded," possibly with "Los Angeles Department of Education, Youth and Families" as the new name.
Student uniforms would be required.
Mandatory curriculum would be developed for kindergarten through 12th grade and include arts, music, physical education, foreign languages and career education.
The school day could be expanded to 5 p.m. and include enrichment activities.
Move toward a 10 1/2-month school year.
Limit a school to 500 students at most, doubling the number of schools to 1,480.
Add more charter schools and raise $50 million to establish additional seats.
Require parents to sign contracts describing parent and school responsibilities.
Schools would develop and manage their own site-based budgets.
Develop a "career ladder" for teachers.
Sell LAUSD's headquarters at 333 South Beaudry Ave. Relocate central staff to schools or district offices or downsize.
Develop a new salary schedule for teachers with major pay raises based on movement into more challenging roles rather than on seniority and degrees earned.
TAKING BACK OUR SCHOOLS (see text)