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Speaking out of turn

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA was feeling so confident Monday that he threatened to fire someone who hasn’t even been hired. Worse, he couldn’t fire that person even if he wanted to. The person is the next superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Villaraigosa’s threat, later recanted, offers

an early lesson about the weaknesses of his plan to assume some responsibility for the city’s schools.

The bill giving Villaraigosa a say in how the school district is run is sailing through the Legislature, and the governor is expected to sign it. But even if the bill survives the inevitable legal challenges, it doesn’t give Villaraigosa the power to fire anybody.

Even so, on Monday the mayor warned the school board that it had better not hire a superintendent without his approval. He “wouldn’t have a qualm in the world,” he said, “to fire that person.” Later in the day, Villaraigosa was eating political crow, talking instead about how he would use his consensus-building powers to build bridges with the board.

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He has his work cut out for him. The mayor has denigrated even the best accomplishments of the existing school district administration, going beyond the rhetoric required for a political battle.

And yet it’s in everyone’s interest, including the school board’s, to work together -- both before the legislation takes effect Jan. 1 and while the court battle rages. The board has a job to do; it ought to go ahead with hiring a replacement for departing Supt. Roy Romer. And though it’s not yet under any obligation to include the mayor in its hiring deliberations, it would be chaotic to pursue candidates who aren’t to Villaraigosa’s liking. Indeed, no desirable candidates are going to want to go near the job without assurances that the mayor approves of them.

Once the legislation goes into effect, after all, the new superintendent will have numerous masters under the muddled power-sharing agreement the mayor negotiated with teachers unions. Under the legislation, Villaraigosa -- assuming he has the backing of most of the other L.A. Unified mayors -- has the power to veto the board’s choice of superintendent.

But no, alas, the mayor can’t fire the person outright -- not under the flawed plan he himself put forth.

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