Sunday, June 04, 2006

NYC to LA: Don't Let Villaraigosa Run LAUSD

from Mack Reed at LAVoice.Org

Look: the L.A. Unified School District is a mess - 53% dropout rate, low test scores, multi-million-dollar white-elephant school projects - but is it wise to back Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan for the city to take over?

Actually, no, it's a very bad idea.

So say activists in New York and Chicago's city-run school districts - who are warning warn that mayors tend to act like emperors, ignoring the needs of the peasants below while pushing their own personal agendas for reform ... POWER

They're circulating a petition among Chicago and NYC parents urging parents not to support Villaraigosa's takeover plan:

The letter contends that mayor-controlled school systems lack accountability.

"The mayors of our cities and their appointees now feel empowered to ignore the priorities of parents, teachers and other stakeholders in the system, and have imposed radical changes from above without reference to research, experience or conditions on the ground," states the letter. "This has resulted in more chaos, violence and worsening opportunities for many of our students."

Leonie Haimson, a New York parent activist, drafted the letter with Julie Woestehoff, head of Chicago-based Parents United for Responsible Education. The two are working to gather signatures from parents in both cities before delivering the letter to parent groups in Los Angeles.

Haimson, who runs the group Class Size Matters, said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent refusal to ease a ban on student cell phones, despite widespread insistence among parents, exemplified a need for more checks and balances.

"We just wanted to warn L.A. that mayoral control should not be added to the problems that we share," she said.

Solutions? There may be no one solution.

Charters and magnets have been popping up all over Los Angeles over the past 10 years - as if we could cure metastatic cancer of the entire LAUSD by transplanting a few healthy lymph nodes. For their pupils, they prove a wonderful alternative to the just-LAUSD schools.

But instead of helping cure the system, they just wind up siphoning off the students whose parents are engaged and/or wealthy enough in time, money and interest to bolster the still-small public budgets in the charters and magnets.

Green Dot Public Schools has opened five new charter high schools in L.A., and just got a $6-million grant to overhaul the horribly troubled Jefferson High.

But it's doubtful Green Dot can remake the entire school system and even if it could, do we want a private corporation running our public schools?

Seriously - I haven't seen a compelling argument yet for Villaraigosa taking over - or a more comprehensive solution. Somebody help me out here.

Reason #1 Why Antonio Wants to Be Mayor

comment by Unregistered on Jun 02, 2006

The District is in the middle of a $19 BILLION dollar rebuilding program. It's largest public building program since the TVA during depression.

That is a WHOLE lotta patronage to toss around to campaign donors.

Comment from smf/4LAKids: Posted on

I have been in communication with Leonie Haimson about her campaign – I certainly support it and her voice and passion and the good work Class Size Matters in doing in New York City. The move for Mayors to take over Public Schools is a national effort driven by multibillionaires and their political colleagues with an agenda – parents too need to unite nationally or our voices will be stifled in a flood of rhetoric and campaign contributions.

The parents in NYC and Chicago have seen first hand the impact of mayoral takeover of their school systems, as have the parents and students in Detroit – who organized, campaigned and broke out of yet another mayoral takeover.

The modus operadi of all these takeovers has been identical: Mayors have bypassed the local electorate and legislated themselves into control through their state legislatures.

And – to help the programs succeed in NYC, Chicago and Detroit the legislators infused extra money into the taken-over school districts.

Mayor Villaraigosa's campaign knows that no such a thing is possible in California – there is no political will (or cash) in Sacramento to infuse added state money into LAUSD – so he is proposing Mayoral Takeover on the Cheap! But – as a previous responder to this strand has pointed out: LAUSD on paper is cash rich with its $19 billion building program – and has a bond rating superior to that of the City of LA. LAUSD's operating budget is twice that of the City of LA. Laura Chick's complaining notwithstanding: LAUSD's budget is balanced; The City of LA's is not.

Thursday evening the mayor promised to raise $200 million from the private sector if he gains control. $200 million is 2% of the LAUSD annual budget – one week's operating cost!

· Could LAUSD spend its money more wisely? Could it be more accountable to parents? Yes it can and it must. I think the Board of Education is on notice that it must do so.

· Could LAUSD improve student performance? Yes it can and it has been; its performance increase outpaces all urban school districts in California – and the schools of New York, Chicago and Detroit after mayoral takeover.

· Could the Mayor of a city running a budget deficit help the District do better? Could the Controller who's overseen the City getting into the budget mess it finds itself in be helpful? You tell me – who's going to help whom to what?

· Is the status quo acceptable? No; no one has ever said it was.

Take a look at how well the Mayor is doing spending LAUSD's money at the Ramona High School Project:

· First the MTA (which the Mayor is chairman of) promised to pay all costs to replace the school in the path of the Gold Line Extension. MTA reneged on that deal (costs are escalating!) – that deal that met MTA's legal and fiduciary obligation under the law.

· Now the MTA Board has reneged on a second deal that would share costs because they want a better deal – they want LAUSD to absorb any future cost escalation.

· LAUSD does not need to replace the school. But MTA needs it out of the way. If you've ever built and remodeled anything you know that costs escalate. (MTA has been building stuff …they should know!) The escalation has taken place during MTA's intransigence. But the school district is left holding the bag because the poor MTA is over budget.

And there's the lawsuit between LAUSD and the Department of Water and Power over an alleged (and well documented) $900 million+ in overbilling. That's close enough to a billion to call a billion. The DWP is part of the City; on Thursday the mayor bragged that he's in charge of the DWP. Mayor Villaraigosa, friend of education, could take a role in settling the suit. Or he could take over LAUSD. Then the lawyers can argue that one city agency can't sue another.

Remember what the shadowy man in the parking garage said: "Follow the money."

- smf

- Scott Folsom edits the weekly newsletter and blog 4LAKids.

Comment by Robert CJ Parry on Jun 03, 2006

"Unregistered" blogs a good game and unsubstantively smears opponents of the mayor with a broad brush, but the sad fact is I don't know of anyone who trusts this mayor as far as they can throw a TV camera.

Mayor Tony comes across like a self-absorbed glory hound. Moreover, he admits to not being "a details" guy, but the problem with LAUD is not a matter of generalities, it is a gordian knot of details. It requires a details guy, like, say, Roy Romer, who has created miracles to achieve modest progress. It does not require a walking politcal commercial.

No comments: