Working off a template inspired by Mayor Richard Daley in
As it turns out,
Though Villaraigosa wanted ultimate authority over the nation's second-largest school system, a new
Critics use another word. As one adversarial board official put it, Villaraigosa's initiative is a "mess."
The school board sued Oct. 10 to overturn Villaraigosa's control, saying it violates a 1946 amendment to the state constitution separating school systems from municipal control.
Days later, the board selected a new superintendent with no experience running schools - and without input from the mayor, who happened to be on a trade mission an ocean away, in
Apparently stuck with the new schools chief, Villaraigosa said he was "disappointed."
Despite the setbacks, mayoral aides insist the reforms can work in
While mayoral takeovers are viewed by some experts as a positive way to restore accountability if not boost achievement in big-city districts,
Others say Villaraigosa could have secured more authority if he had offered more of a grand plan.
"I think he should have spent his first year in office selling a vision of what the system could be - small autonomous schools, organize parents, give a lot of money and better work conditions to teachers, high expectations for kids," said mayoral ally Steve Barr, CEO and founder of Green Dot charter schools, a network of 10 college prep schools.
The new law, which the
Across the country,
While Los Angeles' state test scores have been rising, only 31 percent of students are proficient or better in math and only 30 percent are at such levels in English. Those figures compare with statewide averages of 40 percent for math and 42 percent for English.
While the new law doesn't directly make Villaraigosa the sole, explicit person to credit or blame for reform, "in a practical sense, yes, the mayor has assumed the mantle of responsibility and the people will expect him to deliver," said Thomas Saenz, counsel to the mayor. "We have a lot of work to do, but we've got a good start."
Not so, responded Kevin Reed, general counsel for the
The district, the principals union, the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, and the California School Boards Association are suing Villaraigosa, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the state board of education to stop the new law.
"What the mayor got in this bill is not the system in
Some of Los Angeles' ongoing problems will sound familiar to Chicagoans who have seen almost two decades of reform, including the 1995 Illinois law giving Daley outright control.
"A culture of passive resistance" exists among faculty and central office officials who believe that "if you didn't like the reform agenda, all you had to do was lie low for two years and the agenda would change," Saenz said.
"There are some employees of the district who probably should have left the district a long time ago and will probably be driven out by this change," he added.
Mayoral ally Barr said that many employees in board headquarters hold patronage jobs and the central office suffers what Barr called a "bunker mentality" with attitudes such as "How dare someone say we need to change?"
But school board officials aren't convinced that data show more mayoral control equates to better achievement, board general counsel Reed said. What matters is "a strong, cooperative relationship" between the board and the superintendent, he said.
When asked about the board's relationship with the mayor, Reed hesitated and laughed: "Hmmm, how would I describe the relationship? Sensitive.
"I'm just trying to find a word that I wouldn't mind seeing in print," he said.
There are some big differences between the new
SCHOOL CONTROL: Hands down, Daley and his schools team yield enormous power in holding every school accountable, with a range of sanctions at their disposal including closing schools. In