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Details of Schools Takeover Emerge

Times Staff Writers

As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pursues control of the Los Angeles school system, his advisors are considering wide-ranging changes that could gut the central bureaucracy, sell the district’s headquarters, keep students in class until 5 p.m. and extend the academic year to 10 1/2 months.

Those details and dozens of others are contained in a draft district takeover proposal, obtained by The Times, that Villaraigosa’s office has circulated to interested parties outside City Hall.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Robin Kramer, emphasized that Villaraigosa had not yet reviewed any of several drafts under consideration, which she described as a tentative collection of ideas that would probably change before he unveils a plan in the coming weeks.

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Villaraigosa has made a takeover of the Los Angeles Unified School District one of his top priorities since becoming mayor in July. He has yet to reveal many details about how he would wrest control from the district’s elected school board or run the nation’s second-largest public school system, which has 727,000 students.

Next week, Villaraigosa is expected to offer a broad outline of his vision for governing the district during his first State of the City speech.

The mayor’s advisors declined to elaborate on the 43-page proposal titled “Taking Back Our Schools -- Improving Opportunities for the Children and Families of Los Angeles.”

In a meeting with Times editors and reporters Wednesday, Villaraigosa also would not discuss his takeover plans but said he was “undeterred and absolutely committed” to his initiative -- one that has provoked the ire of the district’s elected school board and teachers union, the mayor’s longtime ally.

“It’s going to be an absolute war here,” he said. “They’re going to go nuts when [we] do it. I think we’ve got a shot at it. I’m going to use my capital.”

The proposal outlines an ambitious spate of ideas for running the school district and offers a window on the direction of Villaraigosa’s administration, if not the mayor himself.

And it lays out a timeline and strategy for clearing the way for a takeover. State legislation would be introduced as early as next month to help make a takeover possible, with a change in district governance anticipated by July 2007.

Several of the proposals mirror those already undertaken in other cities, including New York City, Chicago and Boston, where the mayors have brought their school districts under city control.

For months, a team fronted by Kramer and two other Villaraigosa aides, Marcus Castain and Tom Saenz, has studied those models in their effort to put together a takeover plan for Los Angeles. Castain worked on education issues for the Broad Foundation; Saenz is a lawyer and member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

Among the provocative recommendations is one to sell the school district’s large central office building -- paring the central staff from 3,100 to 100. The savings would be used to raise teachers’ salaries, according to the April 4 draft.

“Nothing will be as symbolic as the move to sell off the downtown headquarters and move into a dramatically smaller facility,” the draft said. “Current central staff will be relocated ... or downsized.”

The draft also cites the need for increased funding to schools and indicates the possible need for a local bond measure that would increase taxes.

Another proposal calls for a $200-million fundraising effort to supplement state and local school funding.

The draft also suggests that teachers’ pay be tied not to seniority but to the amount of responsibilities assumed by instructors, a move that would probably be met with resistance from the powerful Los Angeles teachers union.

The draft proposal envisions allowing teachers and administrators at each school to negotiate work rules that govern such things as how teachers are evaluated, another possible point of contention. Currently, those issues are written into the contract negotiated for all teachers by their union.

Union officials are expected to present their own reform package next week in advance of the mayor’s speech.

Smaller, autonomous schools of 500 or fewer students would be created on existing campuses as well as those under construction. School sites would enjoy greater authority over budgets, controlling over 90% of district resources, according to the draft document.

It also suggests the extended school day and year, moves that would require many teachers and administrators to work year-round.

The mayor would appoint a chief executive officer to oversee the district -- which could be renamed the Los Angeles Department of Education, Youth and Families, the draft said. And a cadre of 70 to 80 local superintendents selected by the chief executive would each oversee 10 to 20 schools.

The proposal also suggests a “painful and controversial” process of reorganizing poorly performing schools that have consistently missed federal testing benchmarks with new staff and potentially even new names. These campuses “have failed their communities,” the draft said, “and these communities deserve a fresh start.”

Charter schools, independently run but publicly funded, would stand to benefit. Under the draft proposal, a private philanthropy effort would aim to raise $50 million to increase the number of charter campuses in the district to 160 by 2012.

District Supt. Roy Romer said he had not seen the proposal and sent a letter to Villaraigosa on Wednesday asking for details and urging collaboration.

“I think, frankly, the mayor would benefit in his thinking if he sat down with us who run this district and deal with the issues that crop up on a daily basis,” he said.

Romer and school board members have grown increasingly frustrated in recent months over what they say are Villaraigosa’s inaccurate characterizations that the district is failing and that its officials are unwilling to make reforms.

Kramer, Villaraigosa’s top aide, downplayed the significance of the draft, saying it was premature to view it as the mayor’s takeover plan. “This is a fragment of the many strategies and ideas that our office has been soliciting,” she said, adding that the intent is “to put together a thoughtful, responsible school reform plan that puts kids at the center and learning at the heart. But we are not there yet.”


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