Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Give Mayors control of schools?

The California legislature has a long history of making decisions to improve schools without consulting teachers.
Here is the next proposal.,1,3399962.story?coll=la-news-learning
Measure Would Give Mayor Control of L.A. Schools

By Joel Rubin
Times Staff Writer

July 16, 2005

In the first serious move to overhaul control of the Los Angeles public schools, state Sen. Gloria Romero introduced a bill Friday that would empower the city's mayor to appoint members to an expanded Board of Education.

The legislation, modeled after districts in several large cities, would dramatically reshape governance of the nation's second-largest public school system. The mayor would be authorized to hire the superintendent and replace the seven elected board members as their current terms expire. The bill also would add two seats to represent areas of the district outside Los Angeles.

"We have to address the educational failures of this district," said Romero (D-Los Angeles). "At what point do we stop the bleeding and realize that the patients are our future?"

Romero's proposal, called the Mayoral Leadership to Improve Education in Los Angeles Act, is the latest volley in a running debate over who should oversee the 742,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District.

In April, the Los Angeles City Council formed a 30-member commission to explore governance reforms in the district. Soon afterward, the school board formed a similar commission.

And, after his election last month, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for the power to make board appointments.

Villaraigosa, however, reacted coolly to the proposed legislation Friday, suggesting that he intends to focus on the immediate fixes that he could make to improve student performance, although the mayor has no direct control over the schools.

"We have to build trust and confidence around this idea of mayoral control," he said, noting that he intends to appoint a panel of experts to advise him on how to improve the schools. "I'm going to work first to build that trust and confidence."

Romero said she did not consult Villaraigosa or his staff when drafting the legislation.

The bill's chance of quick passage appears slim. With lawmakers on break until mid-August, Romero acknowledged that it would be difficult for the Senate and Assembly to vote before the Legislature recesses in September for four months.

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), who is chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, expressed doubt about the wisdom of Romero's effort.

"It's premature to do something like this," Goldberg said. "Before I support any type of change, whether it's something radical like this or not, I'd like to see the [City Council] commission have a chance to meet and make some recommendations."

A.J. Duffy, the new president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents the district's teachers, echoed Goldberg.

"I have concerns about any discussion of a takeover at this point," he said, adding he was hopeful that he, Villaraigosa and the school board would be able to make progress. "We may be able to get things back on track before going down the legislative route."

State law mandates that the board members who oversee the Los Angeles Unified School District be elected from seven geographic districts that encompass Los Angeles and some or all of 28 other cities in the sprawling system.

The proposed legislation would rewrite the law to grant the mayor broad powers in appointing board members after designating the district an "academic failure" if it fails to meet certain criteria on dropout rates and standardized test scores.

Although the district has recently posted gains on test scores, it is unlikely that it could improve enough to meet the bill's criteria. The district would need to make a dramatic 42-point gain on state-mandated tests, meet stiff federal education standards for two consecutive years, and slash its dropout rate by thousands of students to avoid being declared an "academic failure."

The proposed bill would require the mayor to relinquish control of the board if the district met the criteria.

Nonetheless, some school board members expressed frustration and anger over the bill, and questioned why Romero has targeted only Los Angeles Unified.

"It's mean-spirited, it's a distraction and it's illiterate in terms of the federal and state requirements," board member David Tokofsky said.

Ninety-six other school districts in California currently fail to meet the state and federal benchmarks in Romero's bill, according to state education officials. Statewide dropout data were not immediately available.

But board member Jose Huizar, who helped form the City Council commission along with council President Alex Padilla, voiced support for Romero's proposal.

"I wholeheartedly agree that something needs to be done on improving accountability in the district," said Huizar, who is running for the City Council seat vacated by Villaraigosa. "This adds to the discussion and the debate that will occur."

Under Romero's proposal, the school board also would be expanded to nine members. Villaraigosa would name seven members representing Los Angeles, while a panel of officials from the county and the district's other cities would appoint the other two.

West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who said she hadn't read the bill, said she did not think that was enough seats for other cities. "At the end of the day," she said, "I like people being able to elect school board members."

More than 150,000 students, about 20% of the total, live outside Los Angeles' boundaries.

The bill could trigger a debate in Sacramento over whether mayoral control would lead to improvements. Mayors in other urban centers have had mixed results after assuming control of their cities' school systems.

Last fall, voters in Detroit abandoned their appointed school board and returned to a system of elected trustees. And Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown recently declared that his run at adding appointees to the seven-member elected board had been a failure. But in New York City, Chicago and Boston, school officials have said they thought mayoral control has brought improvements.

Timing also could complicate Romero's efforts. If she fails to usher her bill through the Legislature before the current legislative season ends, it could become a meaningless effort, said Christopher Cabaldon, president of EdVoice, an advocacy group that is sponsoring Romero's plan.

If lawmakers accept the bill next year and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs it into law, Villaraigosa will not be able to appoint board members until the following year.

By that time, Cabaldon said, it would be too late to replace the board members who are up for reelection in 2007.

"It needs to be enacted this year," he said. "Otherwise it will be impossible for the mayor to have authority over the district during his first term. If we're going to accomplish what the mayor indicated he wanted, it has to pass quickly."

Romero, for her part, shrugged off concerns over timing and dismissed Goldberg's criticism that she preempted the City Council commission.

"People can have all the commissions they want, but I want action," she said. "At the end of the day, you need some teeth to get anything done."


Note: How well have Mayors done at running police departments? How well have legislators done at adequately funding schools?
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