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ROMER: ANTONIO SOLD OUT LAUSD DEAL GIVES TOO MUCH POWER TO UNIONS.

Byline: NAUSH BOGHOSSIAN Staff Writer

The powerful teachers union in the Los Angeles Unified School District would get unprecedented control over what kids are taught and how schools are run under a deal brokered by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to save his reform plan, LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer charged Thursday.

Villaraigosa insisted he will take personal responsibility for L.A. schools, but Romer -- in his toughest remarks yet -- said draft legislation shows the mayor's deal would undercut gains in student achievement and send the nation's second-largest district spiraling out of control.

``I'm concerned about the level of power the union would have. ... This turns over massive tools of change to the union,'' Romer said.

``If passed, this bill would transfer that power to the union to control curriculum at a site-based level. This is a very serious mistake and one the mayor and unions bought off on because they're trying to serve each other's interests.''

The mayor's key education adviser defended the deal negotiated late Tuesday behind closed doors with United Teachers Los Angeles and the California Teachers Association, long one of the most powerful and biggest-spending lobbying groups in Sacramento.

``Yes, this was a negotiation between the mayor and the teachers union, and yes, as in most negotiations, each side gave up things that they wanted, but there was no giving of additional power to the teachers union,'' said Thomas Saenz, counsel to the mayor.

Despite the deal's being touted as a partnership, Saenz said the legislation is structured to give Villaraigosa most of the control.

``People are missing the forest for the trees: Who's in charge is the mayor,'' Saenz said. ``There's one person in charge of the system, and that's the mayor.''

A final version of the proposed legislation was expected to be disclosed as early as today.

A spokeperson for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a co-author of the bill, said significant changes to the draft were being worked on.

But the draft indicates a committee of teachers, the principal and other staff at each school would select that school's instructional materials from among materials approved by the state Board of Education.

The draft also states that the ``school community is held accountable for the achievement of the goals'' in areas ranging from improving graduation rates and reducing dropout rates to reducing achievement gaps.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy shied away from saying the union would get more power under the legislation.

``It's more a paradigm shift of how we view governance, accountability and how we view the relationship between those two entities and the ultimate goal, which is to create an educational program that really does the job,'' Duffy said.

``What it's really about is our agenda for local control. That's the bottom line, and we feel that the best decisions for kids are made at the local schools by teachers, principals, parents and through community involvement.''

The bill still faces hurdles in Sacramento, but analysts said that if it passes, the influence of the union is certain to grow.

``This was a very bold move on the part of the teachers union and on the part of the mayor. ... In my estimation it reflects increased clout among the teachers with regard to the direction of the school district,'' said Kent Wong, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Labor Center.

``This is an opportunity to see real change, and this move gives the mayor more direct control and at the same time gives teachers and principals more control over classroom instruction.''

Others had a starker view.

``Where does the power lie? It doesn't lie with the board. It lies with the union,'' said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior scholar at the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California.

``The power the mayor would have is less than he wanted. It is clear that the union once again illustrated that they are a political power and can influence dramatically things that they care about -- not only on a local level, but in Sacramento, and it's clear the school board has lost quite a bit of both authority and responsibility.''

School board member David Tokofsky said it's unclear whether the deal makes the union a greater power to be reckoned with.

``I've always known teachers are important and the union has been influential, but I think it's been overstated that this is the monster that controlled the school board,'' he said.

``We know that there is a lot of co-dependent behavior between the mayor and the union, but I'm willing to hear how this changes the profession of teaching and the results that kids can have.''

Former school board member Roberta Weintraub said if there is no person clearly in control, a strong organization can assume greater power.

``When you have a diffusion of control like that and you don't know who's the boss, a strong, linear organization like UTLA can move into the breach, but this thing is a long ways off from being a fait acompli,'' she said.

Ultimately, while critics have been buzzing that big promises must have been made because the deal was made behind closed doors, the public shouldn't rush to conclusions, said David Abel, chairman of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, a civic advocacy organization for California's urban school districts.

``The devil is in the details. We don't know, because it wasn't an open process, what understandings were reached about the roles in implementing the agreements, or what commitments will be made, or what kind of superintendent will be selected,'' Abel said.

``You would assume that, given the language and arguments that were used over the last couple of months (about mayoral takeover), ... for them all of a sudden to reach an agreement involves more than what is written on the original press release. But I don't think it's fair to judge that until we know.

``I think this is an ongoing, living, breathing reform effort.''

But excluding district leaders from the legislation negotiations confirmed union strength, Bebitch Jeffe said.

``It's basically acknowledging the obvious -- that the teachers union is the major player in education policy,'' Bebitch Jeffe said. ``They're just cutting out the frontman.''

naush.boghossian(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 23, 2006
Words:1038
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