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MAYOR STRIKES DEAL FOR PARTIAL TAKEOVER OF LAUSD, BUT ... WILL IT HELP THE KIDS?

Byline: HARRISON SHEPPARD Sacramento Bureau

Abandoning a bid for full control of Los Angeles public schools, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cut a deal with the teachers unions Wednesday that would give him greater say but falls short of the reform he had sought for the nation's second-largest school district.

Struck after two days of intensive, closed-door negotiations at the Capitol, the proposed legislation strips the school board of much of its authority while expanding the superintendent's power.

At the same time, it gives Villaraigosa and mayors of other cities in the Los Angeles Unified School District veto power over selecting a superintendent and direct authority over improving the lowest-performing schools. It also would give each school more control over its own curriculum and other campus issues.

``I said from the beginning this wasn't about mayoral control,'' Villaraigosa said. ``This was about accountability. This was about a partnership.''

But while full details of the plan remain unclear, it was immediately blasted by LAUSD board members and Superintendent Roy Romer. Some parent groups said the deal smacked of political wrangling that would just add bureaucracy, further diffuse accountability and have few benefits for the district's 727,000 students.

School board members and Romer also criticized Villaraigosa for excluding them and the public from the talks and crafting the deal.

The plan is ``a lot of rhetoric,'' Romer said. ``I was quite surprised -- all of these people saying they were all for this when not one of them had it in writing before them. This bill is not yet written.''

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately expressed support for the plan and said he would sign a bill sent to his desk. The plan does not call for a vote by Los Angeles residents.

Although Villaraigosa didn't get everything he wanted, striking a deal -- any deal -- was seen as a political victory for the mayor, who has closely linked his fortunes with improving the schools.

``It was important to him to get something in writing, not only in terms of his political career, but in terms of being able to come home without looking like he had been defeated,'' said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California.

His toughest negotiations were with the California Teachers Association and United Teachers Los Angeles.

The CTA is seen as one of the most powerful groups in Sacramento, frequently exercising its power with millions of dollars in campaign contributions and providing thousands of volunteers for campaigns.

Talks with those two groups stretched late into the night Tuesday, finally resulting in the compromise proposal that is expected to be authored Friday by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.

Ultimately, the final plan bore some similarities to a district-reform proposal put forward earlier this year by UTLA.

``We were opposed to mayoral takeover, but we were always in favor of partnerships that involve the mayor, parents, teachers, community groups, business and industry and other critical partners inside and outside the district,'' the UTLA president, A.J. Duffy, said.

Villaraigosa's original plan called for creating a council of mayors that would take over most responsibilities from the school board and for increasing the superintendent's power.

The compromise proposal calls for creating two new organizations that would have limited power over parts of the district and share authority with the school board and superintendent.

One new organization, a council of mayors, would have veto power over the selection and contract terms of a superintendent. This council would also have input, but no vote, on the district budget.

It would include the mayors of all cities within the LAUSD, with greater weight given to Los Angeles because it makes up most of the district.

The other new organization would directly oversee the district's 36 lowest-performing schools. Called the mayor's community partnership for school excellence, it would include the mayor, teachers, parents, other community residents and a representative of the superintendent. It would take over the authority that the superintendent and school board now have over three clusters of the lowest-performing schools.

The proposal also calls for giving the superintendent greater control over day-to-day activities and decisions, with a slightly reduced role for the school board.

For example, according to Villaraigosa's aides, the superintendent would no longer have to submit most service and consulting contracts valued at $25,000 or more to the school board for approval.

Collective-bargaining agreements with employee unions, however, would continue to go through the same approval process, involving the superintendent and school board.

The proposed legislation would sunset in six years, meaning the Legislature would have an option to renew it then or let the district revert back to its current structure.

The proposal has support from Democratic leaders in the Legislature, including Nunez; Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer, D-Glendale; and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.

But the mayor and Nunez will now have to round up support of other legislators from both parties, and some have expressed skepticism about the plan as well as concern that the issue is being decided in Sacramento, not Los Angeles.

State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, who supports breaking up the district, said the proposal adds more layers of management without increasing accountability.

He said he also prefers a solution with voter approval, because voters' children are attending the schools.

``This compromise leaves parents in my district with even less input and just adds more confusion as to who is ultimately accountable to them and their children,'' Runner said in a written statement.

``The proposed compromise doesn't just rearrange the deck chairs; it adds new deck chairs and then rearranges them, providing no real accountability.''

Scott Folsom, president of the Los Angeles 10th District Parent, Teacher, Student Association, said he was disappointed that parents didn't play a role in the negotiations.

And he believes the decision should be made by the people of Los Angeles, not state legislators.

``My real concern here is that this is a deal that was struck in Sacramento by union guys and city officials and legislators, without having any parents from the LAUSD ever involved in the discussion,'' Folsom said. ``No citizens, no taxpayers, no guys on the street.''

Staff Writers Naush Boghossian and Rick Orlov contributed to this report.

harrison.sheppard(at)dailynews.com

(916) 446-6723

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Highlights of the LAUSD legislation
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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