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SOUTHEAST CITIES OFFERED SCHOOL SAY.

Byline: NAUSH BOGHOSSIAN Staff Writer

Seeking to appease critics of his legislation to reform Los Angeles Unified, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offered Thursday to grant neighboring southeast cities greater oversight of their local schools in his plan.

The revelation came hours before a hearing on Assembly Bill 1381, which would give Villaraigosa a significant role in running the nation's second-largest school district.

The 750-person capacity auditorium at Washington Irving Middle School in Glassell Park was packed with critics and supporters who turned out for the official Assembly Committee on Education hearing for the bill, which will be debated next month in Sacramento. Further amendments are expected to be announced early next week.

Villaraigosa proposed creating a fourth cluster of underperforming schools in the southeast part of the district that would be governed by a joint-powers board composed of the cities' officials.

Villaraigosa would have most of the authority over the three other proposed clusters of underperforming schools.

The offer, which could become an official amendment to the bill, was created to meet the concerns and interest of leaders in the southeast cities for greater local control over education in their jurisdiction, said Thomas Saenz, the mayor's chief counsel.

``The existing bill, even without this new proposal, gives all of the cities greater access to the district management and decision-making,'' Saenz said.

LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer saw the mayor's gesture as a sign of weakness, saying it was clear the mayor was desperately seeking the support of the southeast cities for his reform efforts.

``It seems to me this amendment was drawn simply to elicit their support, but the idea of the proliferation of separate districts within the district is a real problem,'' said Romer, alluding to the addition of the fourth cluster in South Gate.

``The total authority of the board and superintendent goes to the mayor. It just complicates the administration of the district. It's obvious the mayor and his staff are trying to draft things that appeal to more supporters.''

The hearing brought together all stakeholders in the reform effort including Villaraigosa, Romer, the bill's author, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, school board member Marlene Canter, parent group leaders and council members of cities served by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Villaraigosa said his reform plan would increase collaboration with parents, increase accountability, as well as give school sites greater control over curriculum, budget and instruction.

``It's about expanding reform, deepening it, accelerating it,'' Villaraigosa said. ``The current system is a top-down structure created in the 1960s and it's not working ... This legislation will give us the opportunity to create the kind of structured accountability essential to turning around our schools.''

Romer once again used charts to buck the criticism that the district is a failing one, but he reached out for greater collaboration with the mayor, particularly in choosing the next superintendent. He displayed student achievement data to show that over the past six years LAUSD schools have shown a greater rate of improvement than the average state school.

``It is working. In fact, it's spectacular,'' he said, citing their student performance improvements and a $19 billion construction program, the largest public-works project in the country.

``The bill has some real problems. It divides accountability. ... We don't need a bill that constitutionally divides the authority of this school district.''

The hearing also included a presentation by Maria Casillas, co-chairwoman of the blue-ribbon presidents' joint commission on LAUSD governance, detailing its findings after one year of research and expert testimony in considering a governance change at the LAUSD.

The commission's primary recommendations included greater local authority at school sites, but the group came up short of supporting a governance shift at the district that would put the mayor at its helm. Prior to the hearing, officials from more than two dozen other cities served by the LAUSD voiced their opinions of the bill.

W.H. ``Bill'' De Witt, vice mayor of the city of South Gate said he had not heard about the latest amendments. Without their support, it would send a signal to legislators that they are not happy with the bill.

``We feel in the southeast area that we've been shortchanged. We just don't want to get the short end of the shaft,'' De Witt said. ``We want to listen to him ... but certainly we're having some communication problems.''

But Saenz said neighboring city officials -- including those in the California Contract Cities Association and the Independent Cities Association who announced on Thursday their opposition to the bill -- would change their minds if they studied the new amendment because it would give them a greater voice in the district than they've ever had.

LAUSD chief counsel Kevin Reed said the move on the part of the mayor shows clearly that he's motivated by political gain rather than improving schools.

``To add these schools based on geography, regardless of their performance, indicates that this is about politics and nothing else,'' he said.

naushboghossian(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 28, 2006
Words:829
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