Friday, June 23, 2006

Romer: Antonio sold out -- LAUSD deal gives too much power to unions

BY NAUSH BOGHOSSIAN, Staff Writer, LA Daily News


The powerful teachers union in the Los Angeles Unified School District would
get unprecedented control over what kids are taught and how schools are run
under a deal brokered by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to save his reform plan,
LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer charged Thursday.

Villaraigosa insisted he will take personal responsibility for L.A. schools,
but Romer - in his toughest remarks yet - said draft legislation shows the
mayor's deal would undercut gains in student achievement and send the
nation's second-largest district spiraling out of control.

"I'm concerned about the level of power the union would have. ... This turns
over massive tools of change to the union," Romer said.

"If passed, this bill would transfer that power to the union to control
curriculum at a site-based level. This is a very serious mistake and one the
mayor and unions bought off on because they're trying to serve each other's

The mayor's key education adviser defended the deal negotiated late Tuesday
behind closed doors with United Teachers Los Angeles and the California
Teachers Association, long one of the most powerful and biggest-spending
lobbying groups in Sacramento.

"Yes, this was a negotiation between the mayor and the teachers union, and
yes, as in most negotiations, each side gave up things that they wanted, but
there was no giving of additional power to the teachers union," said Thomas
Saenz, counsel to the mayor.

Despite the deal's being touted as a partnership, Saenz said the legislation
is structured to give Villaraigosa most of the control.

"People are missing the forest for the trees: Who's in charge is the mayor,"
Saenz said. "There's one person in charge of the system, and that's the

A final version of the proposed legislation was expected to be disclosed as
early as today.

A spokeperson for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, a co-author of the bill,
said significant changes to the draft were being worked on.

But the draft indicates a committee of teachers, the principal and other
staff at each school would select that school's instructional materials from
among materials approved by the state Board of Education.

The draft also states that the "school community is held accountable for the
achievement of the goals" in areas ranging from improving graduation rates
and reducing dropout rates to reducing achievement gaps.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy shied away from saying the union would get more
power under the legislation.

"It's more a paradigm shift of how we view governance, accountability and
how we view the relationship between those two entities and the ultimate
goal, which is to create an educational program that really does the job,"
Duffy said.

"What it's really about is our agenda for local control. That's the bottom
line, and we feel that the best decisions for kids are made at the local
schools by teachers, principals, parents and through community involvement."

The bill still faces hurdles in Sacramento, but analysts said that if it
passes, the influence of the union is certain to grow.

"This was a very bold move on the part of the teachers union and on the part
of the mayor. ... In my estimation it reflects increased clout among the
teachers with regard to the direction of the school district," said Kent
Wong, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Labor Center.

"This is an opportunity to see real change, and this move gives the mayor
more direct control and at the same time gives teachers and principals more
control over classroom instruction."

Others had a starker view.

"Where does the power lie? It doesn't lie with the board. It lies with the
union," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior scholar at
the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern

"The power the mayor would have is less than he wanted. It is clear that the
union once again illustrated that they are a political power and can
influence dramatically things that they care about - not only on a local
level, but in Sacramento, and it's clear the school board has lost quite a
bit of both authority and responsibility."

School board member David Tokofsky said it's unclear whether the deal makes
the union a greater power to be reckoned with.

"I've always known teachers are important and the union has been
influential, but I think it's been overstated that this is the monster that
controlled the school board," he said.

"We know that there is a lot of co-dependent behavior between the mayor and
the union, but I'm willing to hear how this changes the profession of
teaching and the results that kids can have."

Former school board member Roberta Weintraub said if there is no person
clearly in control, a strong organization can assume greater power.

"When you have a diffusion of control like that and you don't know who's the
boss, a strong, linear organization like UTLA can move into the breach, but
this thing is a long ways off from being a fait acompli," she said.

Ultimately, while critics have been buzzing that big promises must have been
made because the deal was made behind closed doors, the public shouldn't
rush to conclusions, said David Abel, chairman of New Schools Better
Neighborhoods, a civic advocacy organization for California's urban school

"The devil is in the details. We don't know, because it wasn't an open
process, what understandings were reached about the roles in implementing
the agreements, or what commitments will be made, or what kind of
superintendent will be selected," Abel said.

"You would assume that, given the language and arguments that were used over
the last couple of months (about mayoral takeover), ... for them all of a
sudden to reach an agreement involves more than what is written on the
original press release. But I don't think it's fair to judge that until we

"I think this is an ongoing, living, breathing reform effort."

But excluding district leaders from the legislation negotiations confirmed
union strength, Bebitch Jeffe said.

"It's basically acknowledging the obvious - that the teachers union is the
major player in education policy," Bebitch Jeffe said. "They're just cutting
out the frontman."

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