Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mendoza v. California, Act 1.1: The Daily Breeze

Lawyer: Mayor's LAUSD role violates City Charter

December 16, 2006 - A law giving the mayor partial control of the Los Angeles Unified School District violates the City Charter and could lead to mayoral conflicts in decisions involving the city and the schools, an attorney for the district argued Friday.

"One is going to get short-changed," attorney Fredric D. Woocher said during the nonjury trial of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation.

The suit, filed Oct. 10 in Los Angeles Superior Court by a coalition of district parents, students, administrators and the League of Women Voters, maintains that the legislation is unconstitutional and infringes on the rights of voters.

But Assistant City Attorney Valerie L. Flores said the city has a vested interest in the education of its young people so they can become productive members of society.

The impact on a city's economy can be directly tied to school graduation rates, Flores said.

The plaintiffs want Judge Dzintra Janavs to overturn Assembly Bill 1381, which was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September and gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa some authority over the district, though far less than he originally wanted.

After several hours of arguments by attorneys, Janavs took the matter under submission and said she hoped to have a decision by Thursday.

LAUSD General Counsel Kevin S. Reed told Janavs that AB 1381 was passed despite the legislative counsel's conclusion that it was unconstitutional.

After the hearing, Reed told reporters he was pleased by the thorough nature of the judge's questions.

"What we wanted was our day in court, and we absolutely got our day in court," Reed said. "I think she wanted to hear all the issues."

LAUSD board member David Tokofsky, an opponent of the legislation, said after the hearing that he was struck by the frequent mention by the mayor's attorneys about their concern for the voters -- even though AB 1381 was never put on the ballot.

Tokofsky got into a brief verbal spat in the hallway outside the courtroom with Thomas Saenz, counsel to the mayor, over the way AB 1381 was handled in the Legislature

"I understand you're upset, David," Saenz said.

"I am upset," Tokofsky replied. "I have children in the district, Tom. Do you have children in the district?"

Tokofsky has announced he will not run for a fourth term.

During the hearing, Woocher said that if the Legislature has an interest in schools that "requires this intrusion," the legislation should be applied statewide.

State Deputy Attorney General Susan K. Leach, representing Schwarzenegger and state Controller Steve Westly, said AB 1381 is "not a takeover of the LAUSD, but is a statute aimed specifically at education reform in the LAUSD."

Villaraigosa, the state, Schwarzenegger, Westly and Los Angeles County schools Superintendent Darline Robles -- who oversees the county office of education, not the LAUSD -- are all defendants in the case, which mayoral aide Matt Szabo has called a "frivolous lawsuit and a desperate attempt to preserve the failed status quo."

AB 1381 shifts most of the decision-making authority from the seven-member LAUSD board to the district superintendent; creates a Council of Mayors, giving a significant role to Los Angeles' mayor in managing the nation's second-largest school district; and gives individual schools greater control over their budgets and curriculum during a six-year trial period.

The mayor also gets direct control over the district's three lowest-performing high schools and their feeder campuses.

Before the bill was signed, the school board voted 6-1 to challenge AB 1381's legality.

No comments: