Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mendoza v. California, Act 1.1: The Associated Press


The Associated Press

Dec. 16, 2006 - LOS ANGELES — A state law that gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa partial control of the nation's second-largest school district is unconstitutional, opponents argued in the first court hearing on the controversial reform measure.

Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs heard three hours of testimony Friday in a lawsuit seeing to permanently block the measure before it takes effect on Jan. 1. The judge took the case under submission and said she expected to issue a ruling next week.

Villaraigosa predicted the law would be upheld and would "allow us all to move past the lawsuit and begin implementing the reforms."

The Los Angeles Unified School District has about 727,000 students, some 1,130 schools in more than two dozen cities, and 78,000 employees. It is plagued with a dismal graduation rate and an astronomical dropout rate.

Assembly Bill 1381, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this fall, would shift some powers of the seven-member school board to the mayor, the district superintendent and a new council that includes more than two dozen local mayors. It also grants Villaraigosa direct control over more than three underperforming dozen schools serving as many as 80,000 students.

In court, an attorney representing the school district and other opponents argued that the law takes too much power away from the elected school board and violates the state Constitution and the city charter.

"At what point has the Legislature taken so much authority from the school board that it's no longer effectively governing?" Fredric Woocher asked.

Villaraigosa's attorneys argued that state lawmakers have broad control over school districts.

The judge questioned that argument and asked what would stop the state from putting anyone in charge of schools.

"Maybe we should get the police chief into a partnership and a council," she said.

Assistant City Attorney Valerie L. Flores argued that the law creates only a "minor intrusion" into the education system.

It "introduces the concept the LAUSD needs to coordinate with other officials to take a whole regional approach to educating students," Flores said.

The law is "not a takeover of the LAUSD, but is a statute aimed specifically at education reform in the LAUSD," argued state Deputy Attorney General Susan K. Leach, representing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Controller Steve Westly.

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