Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn on Friday blamed city and school district bureaucrats for slowing progress on school construction and reiterated his pledge to help find new campuses for the bulging Los Angeles Unified School District.
New campuses, the mayor told a national conference of teachers, represent "the best way to make stronger communities."
Hahn was received cordially by the about 9,000 teachers union delegates attending the National Education Assn.'s six-day annual conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The warm reception was particularly notable because many in attendance supported Antonio Villaraigosa in the recent mayor's race.
The Los Angeles teachers union backed Villaraigosa and the California Teachers Assn. gave at least $250,000 to the state Democratic Party, which heavily promoted the candidacy of the former Assembly speaker. For a time, Villaraigosa also was on the state teachers union payroll.
On Friday, the national group's President Bob Chase said the teachers union has moved beyond the election. "It's obvious the mayor has a very strong commitment to public education," Chase said. "I think he understands what the issues are, and we look forward to working with him."
Like his predecessor Richard Riordan, Hahn has made education a big part of his agenda as he takes office, even though he has no formal power over Los Angeles schools. So far, Hahn has been careful to limit his interest to alleviating the district's over-strapped facilities and expanding after-school programs.
In a short address Friday, Hahn promised to develop "a new partnership" with the school district.
"You, better than I . . . understand the challenges of teaching in overcrowded classrooms in overcrowded schools," Hahn said. "Improving our public schools must include giving our teachers the tools and also the workplace where you can excel."
School district officials estimate that they need to build 85 schools in the next five years. The mayor told the gathering about a campaign visit he made in February to Hoover Elementary School, a campus built for 600 students that houses 2,500. Another 500 students, including kindergartners, are bused to other schools.
"That's wrong," Hahn said. "We must build these new schools because every child in our community ought to have the opportunity to be able to go to a neighborhood school."
The audience applauded several times as the mayor spoke. Afterward, several teachers said they were impressed with his message.
"If he truly follows through, then I think he will gain our support," said Lisa Marroquin, a high school science teacher in Downey. "Seeing is believing. Hopefully, he's committed to his word."
In a news conference after his speech, Hahn said he has not had a specific conversation yet with Supt. Roy Romer about helping the district build more schools. The mayor said the city could help school officials by locating city property that could be turned into campuses, or by helping build replacement housing if homes are torn down.
During the campaign, Hahn proposed that the city and the school district create a joint construction authority, an idea rejected by school officials as unnecessary and too bureaucratic. On Friday, Hahn said taking that approach would be "up to the school district."
Despite the critical need for new schools, Hahn said "bureaucracies" in the city government and the school district had blocked progress.
"The hang-up has been, I think . . . that nobody wanted to work together," he said. "They didn't want to share power, and there were turf battles. I think the relationship's going to change."
How, Hahn was asked, does he plan to get the often slow-turning wheels of local government moving?
Hahn smiled: "Well, it's nice being the mayor because people have to listen to you. When I was city attorney, I gave advice, but they didn't have to listen to it. So now I'll be able to get people on board."