Thursday, May 18, 2006

SF vs. LA - Mayoral School District Takeover politics

This week's LA Weekly features a fascinating piece on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's efforts to take over the LA schools from control by their democratically elected Board of Education.

As Billionaire Eli Broad, Richard Riordan, and other conservative and big business forces pushed for years for Mayoral takeovers of democratically elected school boards in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and other urban districts, LA has been the recent focus since the Mayor stunned his parent, teacher and progressive allies with his takeover plans this year.
Villaraigosa made a mayoral takeover of the Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation’s second-largest school system — his No. 1 policy initiative. And the opponent in the campaign is no longer Hahn, but L.A. Unified and the powerful teachers’ unions — which strongly oppose mayoral control. City Controller and Villaraigosa aide-de-camp Laura Chick, so effective in her blowtorching of Hahn during the last campaign, has already spent months turning the flame on L.A. Unified administrators, priming them for Villaraigosa’s attack. The sharp criticism has already caused Superintendent Roy Romer to accuse Villaraigosa of “trashing the district” to further his political agenda.
I like how the the Weekly delves into Mayor Antonio's background as a former union and teacher organizer with UTLA [United Teachers of LA] and the current conflict with UTLA and CTA [CA Teachers Asscociation]. But the political intrigue with mayoral campaigning, sound bites, and ongoing shenanigans in Sacramento to push legislation make for the most useful parts of the feature.
Villaraigosa came to the issue of municipal takeover almost by accident, embracing the concept late in the mayoral campaign as he and Hahn were competing to see who could be tougher on education. Yet as a former teachers’-union organizer, he seems almost uniquely qualified to lead such a campaign, the type who could pull a Nixon in China — a phrase he has used to describe himself. Bewildered teachers’ union leaders have offered no angry challenges to his plan, voicing instead a mixture of confusion and disappointment in the man they consider an ally.
Lastly, LA wonks are now looking at San Francisco for some solutions to LAUSD's school funding crisis. Mayor Antonio and his staff are now looking at providing more local resources for Sports, Libraries, Arts and Music programs for their schools San Francisco style! Though our Mayor often tries to take credit for it, our SF $60 million/year local school support initiative was crafted by progressive Mission District Supervisor Tom Ammiano [and his former legislative aide Brad Benson and policy advocate Hunter Cutting] along with school board members like me Mark Sanchez and Jill Wynns, and championed by dozens of grassroots parent, teacher and education groups and passed overwhelmingly by San Francisco voters in November 2003.
District officials repeatedly argue that Los Angeles should model itself after San Francisco, by providing a greater level of city funds to pay for children’s programs, arts activities and school safety. In Los Angeles, the school board held a special hearing to receive testimony from San Francisco city officials, who recently beefed up funding for children, but no one from the media covered the event.
We'll keep our eyes on Mayor Antonio and his efforts to ram through his takeover bill in Sacramento to wrestle control from the LA Board of Education. But luckily there appears to be little support for Mayoral takeovers in San Francisco, a City with a rich history of sometimes wild, but fairly democratic elections. The SF electorate has also tended to support broad electoral reforms like district elections, public financing and instant runoff and choice voting to improve democracy in our City.

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