By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
Mayor Villaraigosa is pushing for the district to overhaul its School Choice plan that allows nonprofits, teacher groups and charters to bid to run some of the district's newest or lowest-performing schools. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
6/25/2010 -- Dissatisfied with the pace of reform at local schools, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pleaded directly to Los Angeles Unified school board members Thursday to stop "biting at the edges" of reform and take bolder action.
Villaraigosa is pushing for the district to overhaul its School Choice plan that allows nonprofits, teacher groups and charters to bid to run some of the district's newest or lowest-performing schools.
The mayor, who helped elect a majority of the school board, said he was appealing directly to board members because Superintendent Ramon Cortines had "summarily dismissed" his recommendations.
"I think that, frankly, is just unacceptable," Villaraigosa said in a news conference.
In a letter dated June 8, Villaraigosa asked Cortines for changes to the School Choice plan that he believes would accelerate the pace of reform and potentially allow more outside groups to run district schools.
Among his proposals:
Treat all applicants the same, whether they are district employees or outside groups. Currently, outside groups have to fill out more paperwork to apply.
Place more weight on the academic track record of applicants.
If a school does not have enough adequate bidders, the district should overhaul the campus by firing all employees and forcing them to reapply for their jobs, a process known as reconstitution.
Last year, four schools received only one application each, from the district itself. Three of those were approved but "with reservations."
In a response letter dated June 18, Cortines thanked Villaraigosa for his suggestions but did not agree to make any changes.
On Thursday, Cortines said he felt he had responded adequately to the mayor's recommendations.
"He wrote me a letter and I responded," Cortines said.
"I thought he was trying to be helpful ... I thought this was a partnership ... I don't understand why I wouldn't be notified or invited."
A veteran educator, Cortines was the top education adviser to Villaraigosa before he was hired by the district, first as a senior deputy then as superintendent, with Villaraigosa's backing.
The mayor also supported a majority of the current school board members as part of a "reform" slate he pushed after his takeover of the school district was declared unconstitutional by the courts.
The School Choice plan pushed by school board members last year was supposed to represent a clear example of the district's new push to overhaul failing schools.
More than 200 applications were received for 12 existing campuses and 24 new schools during the plan's first round.
Villaraigosa advocated in favor of the plan - but it was met with resistance by district employee unions - and a group he created successfully obtained control over three schools.
But most schools remained under control of the school district and teacher collectives, while four campuses were awarded to charter school operators.
The final results of the process have led many to criticize the district and the board.
"When this vote came down ... it did not grant operation to nationally recognized school operators," said Steve Barr, founder of charter-school operator Green Dot, which was not approved for its bid under School Choice.
"Instead, it gave schools back to the teachers union because they have a great track record of running successful schools," he added sarcastically.
School board members who were reached Thursday said they were not contacted by Villaraigosa directly to discuss some of his suggested changes, but most said they appreciated his feedback.
"We welcome today's call by Mayor Villaraigosa and representatives of the charter and higher education communities to continually strive for reform, innovation, and excellence," said LAUSD school board President Monica Garcia in a written statement.
"But Public School Choice is a brand new effort, and after a strong start I expect it to continue to improve every year. We know there is much more work to be done."
Board member Steve Zimmer said he also valued the mayor's feedback but stressed that it was not the board's job to make decisions on process, but rather on policy.
Zimmer also said he did not agree with all of the mayor's suggestions.
"Just because we don't reconstitute or hand over a school to a charter doesn't mean we are accepting the status quo, and that is something I take offense to," Zimmer said.
Cortines also stressed that it was his job - and not the school board's - to decide how to implement its policy efforts.
The application process for the School Choice plan has already been opened up to applicants, who have until June 30 to submit letters of intent.
Still, the schools chief said he was still willing to hear suggestions from the board, if it was inclined to heed the mayor's pleas.
"I am just the CEO of this district, and if the board does not like the way I am operating things ... well, they have a choice," he said.
‘The mayor, who helped elect a majority of the school board, said he was appealing directly to board members because Superintendent Ramon Cortines had "summarily dismissed" his recommendations. ‘
●● smf's 2¢: My memory of the events and Mayor Tony’s differ.
- The superintendent – Mayor Tony’s guy – made recommendations based on lots of community input, his professional expertise and the democratic process.
- The Board of Ed – Tony’s hand selected board - democratically embraced some and rejected some. There were votes at schoolsites by stakeholders.
It was an ugly little process …but it was democracy in action.
What it wasn't was Tony’s will be done.
Coincidentally: This article on the Daily News website was accompanied by a link-to web ad for “Buying Tickets for Events”. What a concept!