Monday, July 04, 2005

Villaraigosa on public schools

Speaking at a national teachers convention, Villaraigosa says more money is needed.

By Jessica Garrison
Times Staff Writer

July 4, 2005

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa returned to his teachers union roots Sunday, asking 9,000 educators from around the nation to join him in fighting for more money for public schools.

After a speech before the annual assembly of the National Education Assn., Villaraigosa, who once worked as an organizer for the city's teachers union, also reiterated a pledge to develop proposals to start fixing the troubled Los Angeles Unified School District by the fall.

"I'm committed to those public schools…. I know why America is great," said Villaraigosa, a one-time high school dropout who credits his public school counselor with helping him get back on track.

"Don't let anyone tell you that the effort will come cheap — that's ludicrous," he said. "That's snake oil."

The mayor, who was sworn in Friday, said during his inaugural address that reforming the city's schools will be "a central priority of my administration" and "is the central challenge facing Los Angeles" — even though the mayor has no direct control over the beleaguered school district.

During his address, Villaraigosa also announced that he would create a Council of Education Advisors that would immediately begin formulating plans to improve conditions in the city's schools, where recent studies have shown that fewer than half of students graduate from high school.

On Sunday, as teachers from throughout the nation surrounded him trying to shake his hand, Villaraigosa said he would name the advisors "very shortly." He said the group would include "teachers, parents and community leaders."

Some sources said that A.J. Duffy, the new president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the district's teachers union, would probably be one of those named.

"He recognizes that UTLA is a major player in this battle to fix what is going on in public schools," Duffy said of the city's new mayor, adding that any reform of the district must include a slimming of its "bloated bureaucracy."

"The money belongs at the school sites and in the classrooms," said the union president, moments after delivering a fiery address to the delegates.

"What I'm going after, and what I hope Antonio will become an ally [in], is to go after the bureaucratic mentality that exists at LAUSD," Duffy said.

The mayor said the group would differ from two other recently created school-reform commissions, one started by the City Council and the other by the school board. Villaraigosa said his council would not be looking at the question of governance, but rather at "what we do now" to produce immediate change.

Once again, Villaraigosa remained silent about a proposal he made last month to change laws to give him the power to appoint school board members who oversee the city's 740,000-student system.

Such a proposal, which Villaraigosa has stressed is one of many possible reforms, would put him at odds with the teachers unions, which are among his most ardent supporters.

During the mayoral campaign, United Teachers Los Angeles spent $185,000 on radio ads in support of him, and the California Teachers Assn. spent $500,000 on a television ad mocking his rival's education record.

"There's no single path, no quick fix," Villaraigosa said Sunday. "Most of us who are around our public schools know this is going to be an arduous journey."

The mayor also urged the 9,000 visiting teachers to spend "as much money as you can" during their stay in Los Angeles. The National Education Assn. estimates they will contribute $25 million to the local economy.
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