Sunday, June 18, 2006



- by Michael R. Blood, Associated Press Political Writer/from the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, June 15, 2006 - Los Angeles (AP) - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's ambitious plan to take control of the Los Angeles Unified School District — the centerpiece of his mayoralty — is in danger of collapsing in the Legislature where Democrats are deeply divided over its reach and impact on teachers.

The future of the takeover proposal is so shaky that Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a close friend of the mayor, warned him in a phone call Thursday that it could fall apart unless Villaraigosa makes a lobbying trip to Sacramento next week to personally pressure legislators and interest groups. Democrats hold a majority in both chambers.

"It's not dead but it's in trouble," Nunez said in an interview. The mayor "is not a threat to the teachers. ... He simply wants to close the achievement gap."

Villaraigosa's office confirmed the call and said a trip to the Capitol was being scheduled for Monday. He will meet with legislators, unions and business leaders with a stake in the outcome, his office said.

The mayor "has known all along that reforming the public schools would be an uphill battle," said a spokeswoman, Janelle Erickson. "He wants to force a debate that makes it impossible for people to say no to reform."

Villaraigosa has anchored his mayoralty to his proposed takeover of the 730,000-student system — the second-largest in the nation — which includes Los Angeles and more than two dozen smaller, suburban cities.

In April, Villaraigosa called on the Legislature to largely strip power from the troubled district and shift much of it to his office, a proposal that is loosely modeled on mayoral takeovers in Chicago, Boston and New York City.

If approved by lawmakers, it would negate the possibility of sending the issue to voters, where the outcome would be far from assured.

The mayor's blueprint would wrest control from an elected school board, establishing a council of mayors to oversee the schools. Los Angeles is by far the largest city in the district, and its mayor would essentially be in charge of the council.

Critics call the mayor's proposal a power grab, and it has strained his relationships with district officials and the teachers union. Villaraigosa has said he expects his proposal to result in a political war over school control.

"It's not a surprise it's in trouble — it's not a good idea," said Barbara Kerr, head of the 335,000-member California Teachers Association. "There are many things we can do for our students, but mayoral control is not one of them.

"If you take control of the schools farther away from the community and the parents, that will make it more difficult all the way around," Kerr said. "We see it as another entanglement — it's like another sideshow — instead of concentrating on the classroom and the teachers and the things that they need."

The perilous status of the school plan made clear that the mayor had been outflanked by the teachers, long a powerful force in Sacramento politics.

LAUSD board President Marlene Canter said she had been in Sacramento about once a week meeting with legislators and aides.

"I've been talking about the fact LAUSD is on the move, and when the trajectory is going up you don't risk anything on behalf of kids," Canter said.



by Harrison Sheppard, Sacramento Bureau, LA Daily News

SACRAMENTO - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to take over the LAUSD is in danger of collapsing under an aggressive onslaught of lobbying by powerful union and school board opponents.

Even though final legislation has not yet been introduced to lawmakers, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles, said Thursday that he was so concerned that he called the mayor and urged him to return to Sacramento soon to prop up the effort.

While Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker, has visited Sacramento several times in the past year to lobby for the legislation, Nuñez said the teachers unions and Los Angeles Unified School District board members have been more effective in reaching Democratic members of the education committee.

"He's the best salesman we've got on this," Nuñez said. "The other side is working this pretty hard. I want the mayor to be successful and I want our schools to be successful."

Nuñez said he supports the bill but has not been able to spend much time lobbying for it because he has been occupied with budget negotiations and the primary election earlier this month. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also supports the mayor's plan, saying he would sign the bill if sent to him.

Villaraigosa's staff quickly put together a trip Monday, when the mayor is expected to meet with Nuñez and other key lawmakers. But Villaraigosa said he wasn't surprised the effort has been difficult.

"We've always said this was going to be an uphill battle," Villaraigosa said in a telephone interview. "There are strong forces defending the status quo. And I strongly believe the status quo is just not good enough."

Villaraigosa's proposal, contained in legislation authored by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, calls for creating a Council of Mayors to replace the current school board in overseeing the district.

The council would be comprised of all the mayors in the district, with the most power granted to Los Angeles based on its biggest share of the district's student population.

The mayors would hire the district superintendent, who would be granted increased powers to oversee the LAUSD's day-to-day operations. The school board would continue to exist, but in a diminished capacity.

Romero submitted a draft of her legislation to the state Legislative Counsel's Office, but it has yet to come back to the Legislature in its official language. So lawmakers who form opinions now are doing so based on what they are being told by the two sides before they have a chance to read the details for themselves.

Some key members of the Education Committee said they have not yet heard from the mayor.

Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Vista, vice chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, said he has not made up his mind yet, but has had "substantial contact" with opponents of the effort. He said he has not heard from the mayor.

The California Teachers Association, which opposes the bill, is considered one of the most influential political groups in the state, as a big contributor of money and personnel to many Democratic campaigns. United Teachers Los Angeles is affiliated with the CTA.

CTA President Barbara Kerr said even though it is a Los Angeles issue, the group has gotten members from throughout the state involved in expressing opposition.

"We've been saying for almost a year now that mayoral control is not the way to go," Kerr said. "The mayor has his heart in the right place and he needs to work with the teachers. He needs to work together to make some real change. Mayoral control is not the real change."

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, said she believes the bill is still far from the 41 votes it would need to get out of the Assembly.

Goldberg opposes the bill because she believes it is premature, and said the mayor should work more on fully detailing his plan and explaining it to the public.

And she said the issue should be decided locally, not by legislators from all over the state.

"I'm not that anxious to have someone from Fresno or Kern County or Riverside making a decision about how the schools will be governed in Los Angeles," Goldberg said.

School board President Marlene Canter said she has been traveling to Sacramento once a week for the past seven weeks to meet with lawmakers to express the board's opposition to legislation.

The argument she has made to lawmakers is that the district is already improving without a reorganization, as test scores and other measures of achievement rise.

"I've been up there really on behalf of making sure that the legislators were fully briefed on how come I and others keep saying LAUSD is a district on the move," Canter said. "And to substantiate the progress we have made in the last six years with a reform superintendent, Roy Romer, not only in the area of construction but in the area of instruction."


TENSION BUILDS BETWEEN L.A. MAYOR, ANGELIDES: Villaraigosa declines to endorse the candidate, who's refused to back takeover of school district.

By Michael Finnegan, LA Times Staff Writer

June 17, 2006 - Tension between Antonio Villaraigosa and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides surfaced Friday as the Los Angeles mayor declined to say whether he backed his own party's candidate to unseat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The rift between two of California's top Democrats became clear just after they appeared with Magic Johnson to celebrate the opening of a Starbucks on Crenshaw Boulevard.

Minutes after Villaraigosa's tepid remarks on his candidacy, Angelides refused to take a stand on Villaraigosa's plan to take over the Los Angeles public schools.

The dual snubs were part of a broad conflict between the two Democrats.

Villaraigosa is torn between party loyalty and the potential rewards offered by his new alliance with the Republican governor. He plans to campaign with Schwarzenegger for bond measures on the November ballot that could offer Los Angeles billions of dollars for schools, housing and traffic relief. And the governor would decide where much of that bounty went.

There is also a matter of personal ambition: Villaraigosa is widely seen as a top Democratic candidate for governor in 2010 — provided that Angelides loses.

For Angelides, support from Villaraigosa, a major political star, is crucial, especially in Southern California. But the mayor's top priority is his school takeover plan. And it should come as no surprise that Angelides is distancing himself from that: The effort's No. 1 opponent, the California Teachers Assn., has spent more than $1 million promoting Angelides for governor.

With that backdrop, the mayor was less than enthusiastic when asked outside Starbucks whether he supported his party's nominee for governor.

"I'm a Democrat, as you all know, but I've not made any endorsements at this time," Villaraigosa told a media cluster as Angelides waited nearby for the camera crews and reporters to turn his way.

With his school plan in jeopardy, thanks largely to the clout of the teachers union in the Legislature, Villaraigosa plans to lobby for the proposal Monday in Sacramento. That, he said, is a higher priority than announcing support for Angelides.

"At some point, I would campaign for him, should I endorse him," Villaraigosa said. "Right now, I've got to focus on this issue."

As he walked to his SUV, Villaraigosa said he had asked Angelides to back his school proposal — to no avail. "I think right now he's probably focused on his campaign, just like I'm focused on mine," the mayor said.

Angelides described his refusal to take a position on the schools issue as a matter of principle. "That's a decision for the local community to make," he said, echoing remarks he made during his primary campaign.

Angelides also brushed off speculation that Villaraigosa's potential interest in a 2010 race for governor might lead him to prefer a Schwarzenegger win.

"Oh, nooo — no, no," Angelides said. "Antonio Villaraigosa and I have shared values. We know that this governor's cut schools, turned his back on kids who need healthcare, and that together, we can do much better for California."

If Angelides wins the November election, he will be the party's presumed favorite for a second term, most likely forcing Villaraigosa and other Democrats with an eye on the job to wait until 2014 to run.

The intra-party split comes as Angelides is trying to rally every major California Democrat behind his candidacy. Apart from Villaraigosa, he has been successful. His rival in the primary, state Controller Steve Westly, endorsed Angelides the morning after the election last week — and called the treasurer "brilliant."

On Monday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, another potential candidate for governor, threw his support behind Angelides and campaigned with him at a North Beach health clinic. Newsom, highly popular in his city, has also offered to gather every Bay Area Democratic official in a room to urge them to work for Angelides' election.

Newsom's unabashed support only underscored the unusual nature of Villaraigosa's reticence. Nearly all of California's other top Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, supported Angelides during the primary.

This week, the candidate hired a campaign media consultant, Bill Carrick, who produced television ads against Villaraigosa for former Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn in 2001 and 2005. Angelides did not support Villaraigosa in those campaigns, but party leaders who know both men played down talk of any political grudge as the source of the current chill.

"I don't believe he would hold that against Angelides," Los Angeles County Democratic Chairman Eric Bauman said of the mayor.

For Schwarzenegger, the clash among Democrats is good news, particularly given the mayor's iconic status among many Latinos, a crucial constituency in the race. The governor has endorsed the schools plan.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger applauds Mayor Villaraigosa's courage in fighting for the children of Los Angeles to give them a hand up at a better future by reforming the public school system," said Steve Schmidt, manager of Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign. "It is disappointing to see, once again, Phil Angelides' lack of political courage to put the kids first, to put the teachers first and to support Mayor Villaraigosa's very important proposal."

State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), co-chairman of the Angelides campaign and a close friend of Villaraigosa, said it was just a matter of time before the mayor endorsed the candidate.

Angelides said he and Villaraigosa would be "getting together in the next few days" to talk things over.

"Look," Angelides said, "we're going to have a very united Democratic Party. The mayor's a friend of mine."

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