By Bridget Johnson in the American Enterprise Institute blog | http://bit.ly/nZSYAw
September 19, 2011, 2:27 pm - The Democratic mayor of Los Angeles said today at AEI that the need to fix schools should rank above both the urge to slash spending and organized labor’s resistance to tough reforms.
Antonio Villaraigosa, who early in his career worked as an organizer for the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles, highlighted his battles with the union in tackling teacher quality, overcrowding, low student performance, and a nearly 30 percent four-year high school dropout rate in the 700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I probably terrorize them more than people on the right,” Villaraigosa said after noting that the union hadn’t budged a bit on reform initiatives during his six years in office. “I’m unabashedly pro-union but I’m pro-kid.”
The mayor said the “single most important issue facing cities and indeed the nation today” was raising a generation with the education and skills needed to compete in the new global economy.
“I am not anti-union but I do take umbrage with some of the issues they’ve gotten behind,” he said, adding that one of the biggest problems with teacher union contracts today is that “they’re too focused on rights and not responsibilities.”
“We need union contracts that provide us flexibility to innovate,” he said.
Villaraigosa said the tenure system is “broken” and seniority should not be the deciding factor in teacher assignments, salary, and the like. “Nobody has a job for life.”
He said a “middle ground” that gives greater weight to evaluations and results is needed, particularly as districts ask for more money and the public demands to see change attached to that spending.
“Our schools are starved for dollars and cents; our policies are starved for common sense,” the mayor said.
Villaraigosa said more Democrats need to challenge the powerful unions while Republicans should acknowledge that money is part of the answer. “I have no doubt that we all want the same thing here,” he said. “Our schools are badly broken.”
Villaraigosa was asked how the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which he is currently president, would reconcile budget cuts brewing in Washington with the need for education dollars. “If there’s a difference between the mayors and the members of Congress it’s that we have a real job,” he quipped, noting that they can’t afford to be “doctrinaire.”
He acknowledged that there is “sticker shock” when people see that the LAUSD has a $7 billion budget, but “I guarantee that the money we don’t spend on education right now is money we’ll spend later on food stamps, jail, unemployment benefits.”
“We need funding but we need reform and we need both right now,” he said.
He proudly touted that the LAUSD has more charter schools than any other district in the country and the “vast majority” of them are high performing.
At the conclusion of his address and audience questions, Villaraigosa was presented with the 2011 Champion for Charters award by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“Champion for Charters,” the mayor said as he looked at the award. “Champion for kids.”