Defining issue for mayor

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“If things at the school district go well, he’ll take the credit, and he would deserve it,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior scholar in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California. “If things go badly, it offers ammunition to people who want to challenge him. “He has taken a gamble; there’s no doubt about that.” But while Villaraigosa has shown he can build consensus, it remains less than clear whether he will be able to hold things together to get the legislation passed and implemented. An irate school board, which would face a significantly reduced role under the plan, is aggressively opposing the legislation. Parent groups, not consulted during negotiations, feel shunned. Six unions representing district workers other than teachers say they don’t support the plan. Although United Teachers Los Angeles leaders negotiated the deal, many teachers already have begun sending the union opposition petitions. And after a year of study, a special panel on LAUSD governance announced the opinion that any district changes should be put to a public vote. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has gambled his political career in a bold bid to take charge of Los Angeles public schools, promising to lower the dropout rate and sharply improve student achievement. This week lawmakers will begin to debate school-takeover legislation giving form to the deal Villaraigosa cut with the teachers unions last week. The measure could get fast-track treatment in Sacramento even though, back in Los Angeles, it remains mired in controversy and a cloud of confusion. The proposal provides a framework for reform, but there are few details on how it would be implemented and no information on how it would boost student achievement or lower the district’s high dropout rate. And dozens of vocal critics already have emerged to oppose the legislation, even while Villaraigosa stakes his reputation on being able to convince constituents that he can turn around the Los Angeles Unified School District. There also are 27 other mayors of cities LAUSD serves who have hesitated indicating support for mayoral takeover. Some wonder whether the legislation will really help the 727,000 students and 858 schools in the district. “That’s the million-dollar question,” said San Fernando Mayor Nury Martinez. “No matter what approach we take toward trying to reform education, the number one thing we need to focus on is that we have a mechanism to assure we hold people accountable. I don’t know that this plan ensures that kids become successful, that they’re graduating.” Martinez said she plans to talk with parents and teachers in her city before deciding whether to support Villaraigosa’s plan. Even lawmakers in Sacramento appear undecided. Thomas Saenz, the mayor’s chief counsel, said much of the confusion and concern can be attributed to the unexpectedness of the deal. “Sometimes people react without knowing the details and act in a resistant way,” he said. “But after finding out the details and what’s involved, many of them will come to support this. “We’re just getting information out about this proposal and why it makes sense, and people will come to understand this is the best way of significantly affecting the education of students positively in LAUSD.” Experts in mayoral takeover of schools say there must be a clear line of authority for a plan to succeed. And, while the negotiated legislation is a far cry from Villaraigosa’s proposed complete control of the district, they note it does give him greater influence. Under the legislation, Villaraigosa would retain 80 percent of the vote in hiring a superintendent and in ratifying the superintendent’s contract. Along with a council of mayors from other cities, he also would have input on the budget, as well as direct control over 36 of the district’s lowest-performing schools. “I think there are new opportunities even though it’s not as clear as complete mayoral control. But still there’s enough there that if the mayor is creative, he can strategically use some of his informal influence,” said Kenneth Wong, an Annenberg professor in education policy at Brown University. “It looks like this legislation has created enough of a formal role for the mayor to the extent he can extend a lot of informal influence on the school district, and the budgetary process is a case in point,” said Wong, who co-authored a study that found school districts run by mayors do better academically. Exercising informal influence, the mayor could use his city post as leverage to gain more state and federal aid for schools, Wong said. “I think that will give the mayor and superintendent a lot more leverage to really move resources to target the lowest-performing schools,” Wong said. Villaraigosa has honed his skill at using influence, which could ultimately place him in the pivotal authority role. “This particular mayor knows how to use informal influence in the most powerful way,” Saenz said. “Under this legislation, the first chance to review and comment on the budget belongs to the mayor. If you’re a superintendent who’s smart and the mayor is the first to review and comment on the budget, who are you going to consult with when you’re putting the budget together?” Still, because the legislation remains vague – and also seeks formal authority for other city mayors, a superintendent, a school board and teachers – some experts are skeptical it can succeed. “The lesson is to take it all or nothing and not get caught in between,” said Michael Kirst, professor of education and business administration at Stanford University. “Here, power is in four places – up to the mayor, down to schools, sideways to other mayors … , but it’s not clear who’s in charge, and the risk is that everybody and nobody is in charge.” But UTLA President A.J. Duffy expressed confidence in the mayor’s ability to pull off a coup. “I believe that he understands every aspect of the risk, and that says to me – and should say to everyone else – that this man of considerable charm, charisma and ability is going to move heaven and earth to make this work, particularly in respect to the pilot districts in the neediest areas of the city.” [email protected] (818) 713-3722160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more