Monday, August 28, 2006

L.A. Schools

LAUSD Reform Legislation Approved by Senate, 23-14
By Nancy Vogel and Michael Muskal
Times Staff Writers

11:52 AM PDT, August 28, 2006

The state Senate today passed a bill that would give Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa some control over Los Angeles' public schools.

In a 23-14 vote, the Senate approved AB 1381, the compromise school reform measure. It now goes to the Assembly, where it is expected to pass despite strong opposition from Los Angeles Unified School District officials.

Four Democrats either voted no or abstained, which meant that Republican votes were needed to get the measure out of the Senate.

Two Democrats, Dean Florez of Shafter and Jackie Speier of Hillsborough voted against the bill.

Mike Machado (D-Linden) abstained because his wife is on a school board. Also abstaining was Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont).

Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) abstained but later asked to have her vote recorded as yes, changing the originally reported vote.

Two Republicans, Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield and George Runner of Lancaster voted yes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is up for election this year, has pledged to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The legislation strips the elected school board of much of its power while strengthening the school superintendent's authority.

It creates a council of mayors that would help run the district but it gives the mayor of Los Angeles, where most of the students reside, an overwhelming voice in the district's affairs because the council voting system is based on population.

Villaraigosa would also have direct control over three underperforming high schools and their feeder schools.

The compromise is far from the complete control and accountability that Villaraigosa had sought. But it does give the mayor standing in the debate over how to improve the schools.

Once signed, the bill is expected to go to the courts.

The LAUSD has retained a Sacramento law firm and some district officials have said they intend to sue.

"Thank God there is a judiciary branch," school board member David Tokofsky said recently.

Last week, the state's legislative counsel issued another analysis questioning the constitutionality of the bill.

"In our view," wrote the nonpartisan legislative counsel, Diane F. Boyer-Vine, "an amendment of the California Constitution would likely be necessary" because the mayor lacks "authority to operate and administer the schools of a school district."

It was the second similar opinion by Boyer-Vine.

The mayor's legal counsel, Thomas Saenz, said that he disagrees with Boyer-Vine's analysis and is confident that the bill is constitutional. The Legislature, he said, has the constitutional authority to transfer power over schools.

Kevin Reed, LAUSD general counsel, has been making arguments similar to Boyer-Vine's, especially about Villaraigosa's plan to personally take over a group of low-performing schools in a "demonstration project."

Times staff writer Mitchell Landsberg contributed to this report.
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