Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday formally endorsed a lawsuit that seeks to overturn job protections for California teachers that are among the most extensive in the nation.
Villaraigosa called the lawsuit “a case that really addresses the fundamental issue of our time.”
The litigation targets laws that regulate laying off, firing and granting tenure to teachers, asserting that, individually and collectively, these rules result in students having to endure serious harm from “grossly ineffective” instructors. The advocates want to lengthen the time it takes to earn tenure, speed up the dismissal process and lay off teachers, when necessary, based on merit rather than seniority.
As mayor, Villaraigosa involved himself deeply in the Los Angeles Unified School District as well as in debates over education reform. After he failed to win control of the school system, he sponsored a nonprofit that took over some of the city’s lowest-performing schools. On the issue of teacher quality, he insisted he could speak from experience.
“I was never able to get the highly effective teachers that other schools have” for his campuses, Villaraigosa said outside L.A. County Superior Court. The former mayor, who left office in July, said he accepts that family poverty affects student achievement and that schools need increased funding, but that improving overall teaching and removing the worst teachers are crucial parts of the equation for increasing academic achievement and reducing the dropout rate.
The current laws are being defended in court by the state, the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers. They assert that the challenged regulations are fair game for policy debate but that they are not unconstitutional. Strong job protections help attract and retain high-quality instructors, they added.
In an interview, Villaraigosa said he continues to help informally the group of schools he shepherded as mayor, by visiting campuses and raising money.
He also acknowledged playing a role in retaining L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who told district insiders in October that he intended to resign.
"I did more than just make phone calls,” said Villaraigosa with a smile. He declined to elaborate.
At a late October board meeting, after the intervention of Villaraigosa and others, Deasy renewed his commitment to staying. Also at that meeting, a censure motion against Board of Education President Richard Vladovic failed to get a public hearing. The motion, for alleged inappropriate behavior, died when longtime Villaraigosa ally Monica Garcia left the room rather than second a motion to bring the item forward for discussion.
Insiders have asserted that Villaraigosa helped broker an arrangement under which Deasy would receive strong board support and Vladovic — who had a rocky relationship with Deasy — would be spared a discussion about his alleged abusive treatment of district staff.
Villaraigosa made no public statements at the time but was active behind the scenes. Officials who did come forward, asking Deasy and the board to work through their differences, included current L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Since leaving office, Villaraigosa has taken on several business consulting jobs as well as accepting a position as a Harvard University visiting fellow and as a part-time professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy.