Monday, July 21, 2008


-- Howard Blume | LOS ANGELES TIMES


03:20 PM PT, Jul 21 2008 - As reported in The Times, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has joined the push for a new local school bond -- and wants $300 million of it for charter schools. That level of charter funding has resulted in resistance from some school board members and senior district staff, including L.A. Unified  Supt. David L. Brewer.

To smooth the path for the bond, Villaraigosa began suggesting a bond larger than the proposed $3.2 billion measure. That way, charters could receive $300 million without cutting into funds for other purposes.

Villaraigosa would not confirm this position, though he did say that he'd spent 10 hours on the phone over three days last week talking up the bond. His phone calls included a long conversation with Brewer.

Brewer said the talk lasted an hour, but, like Villaraigosa, he declined to recount details. Still, district and mayoral staff privately confirmed that Villaraigosa has supported sealing the deal by increasing the total bond dollars.

During a Friday news conference at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, Villaraigosa declined to answer reporters directly when they asked about the size of the bond issue. Most of the journalists on hand had not been covering the issue; they asked the question merely because they did not know the proposed amount, which has stood at $3.2 billion for weeks.

Instead of offering that number, Villaraigosa consistently refused to mention a figure. But at one point, he said, offhandedly, that the bond could range from $3.2 billion to $10 billion. His tone suggested that he was pulling both numbers out of thin air, but apparently that wasn't the case. A figure as high as $10 billion has been floated in negotiations, insiders said.

If the bond gets too pricey, the district could lose a talking point for the bond campaign to come. The proposed $3.2 billion amount can be raised without increasing the current tax rate for property owners. Instead, that money would be raised by keeping current tax rates in force for a longer period of time. (Absent the new bond, property tax rates would decline sooner -- as the existing bonds are paid off.)

But the debate isn't simply about money, which might explain the length of the conversation between Villaraigosa and Brewer. Members of Brewer's senior staff complain that investing too heavily in charter schools puts control of reform efforts too much outside their reach. Of course, that's precisely what charter school advocates say they want to do. Charters are independently managed public schools that are free from many regulations that govern traditional schools. Next year, L.A. Unified, the nation's second-largest school district, will have about 150 charter schools, the most in the nation.

Besides charters, the bond also would include money to repair and modernize existing schools, upgrade their safety systems and build traditional campuses.

The Friday event, called ostensibly to "announce" the bond, was put together hastily by the mayor's office and the staff of school board President Monica Garcia, who was the only one of seven board members who attended. Also on hand were Brewer (who made a point to get there on short notice); Caprice Young, head of the California Charter Schools Assn.; charter operator Steve Barr; and staff representatives of the Los Angeles Parents Union, a group closely associated with Barr.

Barr's Green Dot charter schools could benefit substantially from the bond, but he's also argued that creating effective small schools - -whether they're charters or not -- is crucial to improving student achievement.

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