MAYOR'S ALLY BEGINS NEW ROLE ON SCHOOL BOARD: Monica Garcia Brings Dissent To A Group That Was Unified Against A Villaraigosa Takeover.
By Joel Rubin, Times Staff Writer
Garcia, who was overwhelmingly elected last month to fill a vacancy on the seven-member board, was sworn in during a brief morning ceremony.
A close ally of Villaraigosa, Garcia is certain to complicate the dynamics on the board. For months, the often fractious board has united in its efforts to fend off Villaraigosa, who is trying to wrest away much of the board's authority.
In an interview this week, Garcia said that she supports proposed state legislation written by the mayor, the state's powerful teachers unions and allied lawmakers. The bill would reshuffle the district's power structure, including effectively giving the mayor veto power over the board's selection of the district superintendent.
Last week, Garcia sent a letter to some members of the state Senate Education Committee urging them to support the bill. "The existing governance structure has poorly served our local communities," she wrote.
And in her first comments as a board member, Garcia repeated her often-used statement. "We have to embrace change," she declared, in her usual booming voice. "We can absolutely do better by our children."
Villaraigosa lost what could've been critical support this week when the mayors of six cities with about 60,000 students attending the Los Angeles Unified School District came out against the proposed legislation — Assembly Bill 1381. In a strongly worded letter to their representatives in the state Assembly and Senate, the six mayors said Villaraigosa's plan would create a "diffused and confusing oversight structure" that would leave residents of their cities, all in southeast
The bill calls for the mayors from the 27 cities within the district to vote on the hiring and firing of the superintendent. But because 80% of L.A. Unified's 727,000 students live in
In a statement, Villaraigosa said he does not view the mayors' opposition as a setback. He acknowledged that, if the bill passes, he would have greater say in the selection of the superintendent but that he "recognizes that reforming our schools will require a partnership between schools and communities and will work to build consensus around the selection of the superintendent."
School board members have fought against the mayor's challenges to their authority, angrily rejecting accusations by Villaraigosa and his supporters that they are opposed to reform. They point to a successful overhaul of teaching in elementary grades and the district's massive school construction project as evidence.
Marlene Canter, who was selected unanimously Thursday to a second year as board president, acknowledged that Garcia's presence could confound the board's stance against the mayor's efforts to have some control over the nation's second-largest school system. "We have become really close over the last six months as we've united in opposition to the bill," Canter said. "I assume this is going to create some internal tensions that we'll have to deal with."
In recent weeks, the board has met in closed session frequently to strategize about how to counter the mayor's campaign, as well as to discuss its search for a replacement for outgoing Supt. Roy Romer.
In an interview, Garcia vowed to uphold the confidentiality rules board members must adhere to under the state's Ralph M. Brown Act, but indicated that she plans to maintain close ties to the mayor.
"I'm interested in him being part of this process," she said, referring to the superintendent search. "I have to because I see him as part of the solution."
Board members, including Garcia, all sounded positive tones Thursday, saying they were hopeful the schism over control of the district would not bleed into discussion of policy decisions facing the board.
Indeed, Garcia, 38, waded right into district matters. She joined union officials and members of the grass-roots group Acorn at low-performing
More pressing to Garcia, perhaps, is the board's controversial decision last year to require students, starting with the freshman class of 2012, to complete a rigorous course of college-prep classes to graduate.
As an aide to Jose Huizar, who was a school board member before joining the City Council, Garcia was instrumental in the initiative and has said she will now push strongly to implement teacher training programs and increase resources to ensure students are prepared for the requirement.
Also on Thursday, parents from throughout the district gathered to unveil the Los Angeles Parents Union. Steve Barr, founder of one of the city's leading charter school operations, formed the group in an attempt to offer parents a voice in the debate over reforming the district.
"Nothing big will happen in this city until you start organizing the parents," he said.
A call for smaller schools is the main platform of the group, Barr said. Using as a model his independently run Green Dot charter schools, Barr said the group will lobby for such things as campuses with no more than 500 students and increased freedom for teachers and principals to make decisions.
Times staff writer Michelle Keller contributed to this report.
LAUSD PARENTS DEMAND CHANGES:
By Alison Hewitt, Copley News Service | Daily Breeze
They were led by Steve Barr, founder of the charter school system known as Green Dot Public Schools, who said the union will not attempt to build more charter schools, but will use the lessons learned in charter schools to work for change within the LAUSD.
"There are a lot of parents (at the meeting) who are in communities that are coming to Green Dot and asking them to open charter schools in their neighborhood out of desperation," Barr said. "What we're saying to them is, 'Hey, forget opening charter schools in your neighborhoods. Let's organize and take over the existing schools and demand that all schools have the same values as our charter schools.' "
At Thursday's meeting, most of the parents in the audience also stood to make statements.
"There are lots of good teachers in the district but there are more bad teachers," said one Spanish-speaking mother, who addressed the group through a translator. "But we can't hold teachers accountable because they are so well protected by their union ... so we need a union to help us, too."
But Barr emphasized that the aim was to unite the parents, not to attack teachers or take over the school board -- although he added that if the school board does not support the parents union, he believes the parents have the clout to replace board members.
"If people get in the way, we may have to replace them," he added. "When there's only 10,000 to 20,000 votes in a school district board election and you're organizing parents by the thousands, they're going to have a say."
The union's goals include keeping all LAUSD schools to 500 or less students, making sure every student can go to college by requiring college prep courses and increasing school-based control of budgets and hiring and firing.
The new union hopes to make progress by getting involved in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's effort to increase mayoral control of the schools, Barr said, and a mayoral spokesman agreed there is significant overlap in their goals.
"The tenets that they laid out, like the small schools -- the mayor has for a long time supported the idea of small learning communities and increased local control," spokesman Nathan James said.
A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, applauded the parents for organizing.
"Anybody who interjects themselves into the discussion about quality education helps advance the debate, and that's good," Duffy said.
And while he added that he's not a "fan" of charter schools, Duffy nevertheless said that charters have provided many good lessons about how to run good schools.
In the coming weeks, the Los Angeles Parents Union plans to hold "teach-ins" and "coffee talks" in communities all over LAUSD to explain its goals to more parents and recruit more community members into the union, explained Green Dot associate Ryan Smith.
"What I'm asking each of you to do is to organize your neighbors," Smith told parents. "We'll have a lot of people who've seen small schools work come to talk about how we can do this in our communities. ... Let's make sure we all mobilize together."
UTLA CASH RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT ENDORSEMENTS: Groups took donations, backed LAUSD overhaul
By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News
Parents' and community groups that have backed UTLA's school reform vision have received thousands of dollars from the teachers' union, officials acknowledged Wednesday - a disclosure that raises questions about the organizations' independence.
Community Coalition, Inner City Struggle, CARECEN, Families in Schools, One L.A.-IAF have received more than $40,000 in donations since October 2005 - some, just days after they publicly endorsed the union's proposal for reforming the Los Angeles Unified School District.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the union has contributed regularly to some of the groups over the past few years but vehemently denied it had "bought" the groups' support.
"We donate to organizations whose philosophy matches ours and all of these organizations are parent community groups that believe, as we do, that the bureaucracy is out of control and that teachers and parents are natural allies and ought to be partners in crafting a reasonable and sensible education program for students," Duffy said.
"It's ludicrous to think that community groups like ACORN, One L.A., Community Coalition and CARECEN can be bought by anyone.
"Those are community groups with great integrity who are constantly fighting for the rights of parents and students," he said.
After months of being at odds on the issue of mayoral control of LAUSD, the UTLA and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brokered a deal at the end of June to overhaul Los Angeles Unified - a plan that would give greater control to local school sites and the mayor more authority over district operations.
Several groups subsequently came out in support of UTLA, including The Say YES to Children Network _ which organized a protest Jan. 26 at LAUSD's headquarters criticizing the district for spending money on public relations rather than in the classroom.
Documents show that the group received $5,000 from UTLA in April.
Los Angeles Unified school board member David Tokofsky said the contributions call into question the groups' rationale for supporting the plan. He also used the disclosure of the donations to blast critics who have questioned the district's campaign to retain the status quo.
"To criticize the school district for putting a little investment into government relations and communications during a very heated piece of legislation, when nobody tried to deceive anybody about what that was - this borders at best on disingenuous and at worst doesn't maximize the real abilities of these organizations," Tokofsky said.
But the disclosure of the donations should be useful information to the public in weighing the positions taken by individuals and organizations, said Raphael Sonenshein, political science professor at
"I would expect that people on both sides of this debate are going to pull out individuals and groups who are within their political family who may appear to have independent positions to take but may not be as independent as they appear," he said.
"This is a `let the buyer beware,' and the advantage of what the media can do is help clarify who are the main players in the debate, the satellites, and who are the genuinely independent voices."
Since Duffy took over as UTLA president, the union has tried to expand its donations and interaction with community groups, said Joel Jordan, director of special projects at UTLA.
But One L.A. officials said the $20,000 represents the payment of the union's annual membership dues. The group also received $25,000 from UTLA in 2004-05.
"We're not promoting UTLA's agenda. We're representing the community of people in our neighborhoods, and with this particular issue, the parents and families in the Los Angeles Unified school system," said Yvonee Mariajimenez, a One L.A. leader in the
CANTER RE-ELECTED AS
"I call upon all leaders, including every board member, to remember that we are role models for our children," Canter said. "Partnerships don't need to be legislated, but I am committed to building relationships across this district, to ensure that our children have the very finest education."
Last month, Canter was named Los Angeles Business Journal's "Female Executive of the Year" for her leadership on the school board.
Canter's fellow board members noted she is serving as president during a trying time, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pushes the Legislature to revamp the way the nation's second-largest school district is governed.
"This past year has not been easy, and next year may be even harder,” board member Mike Lansing told Canter, "but you've been a force to keeping us together and moving on the path forward."
Board member Jon Lauritzen echoed
"You've stood up to the plate and done the job above and beyond what has been asked of you," Lauritzen told Canter, who said she is up to the challenge.
"I am confident that whatever happens in the political arena, my colleagues and I will remain focused on our first, most important job -- creating the best, forward-thinking education policy we can, to ensure that LAUSD becomes the best urban district in the nation," Canter said.
Board presidents are responsible for conducting all regular board meetings. The president also names committee members and chairs special sessions to take action on matters that must be heard before the next scheduled board meeting.
The president's voting power is equal to that of fellow board members.
Canter started her career in education more than 30 years ago as a special education teacher at Alta Loma Elementary. She later co-founded Canter and Associates, a teacher-training company, which was sold to Sylvan Learning Centers in 1998.
Canter was elected to the board in 2001 and to a second term four years later. She authored the ban on soda and junk food in schools and headed a plan to improve the quality of teachers hired.