Civic, Business Groups Oppose School Takeover
Resistance to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed takeover of the Los Angeles public school system is gaining momentum as business, civic and parent groups declare their opposition.
The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., one of the San Fernando Valley’s leading business groups, announced Tuesday that it opposes the legislative compromise Villaraigosa struck with teachers unions in Sacramento, saying the deal would deny local voters a direct say over the fate of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The Independent Cities Assn., which represents Los Angeles and most of the other 27 cities served by the school district, registered its protest last weekend.
It cited, among other things, concerns about Villaraigosa’s controlling vote on a “council of mayors” that would oversee the school district.
The California State PTA also gave a thumbs down to the mayor’s plan last weekend, questioning whether the proposed division of power among the mayor, superintendent and elected school board would adequately serve parents already bewildered by L.A. Unified’s mammoth bureaucracy.
“Even the people who are advocating for the bill have trouble explaining exactly who is accountable for what,” said Pam Brady, the state PTA’s president-elect. “It’s just confusing.”
The mounting opposition builds on concerns raised recently by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, who told Villaraigosa in a letter that he opposed the effort because it would not truly empower the mayor to run the schools.
The concerns from different quarters come at a delicate time for Villaraigosa, who is trying to drum up support for his school legislation by lobbying local business groups and parent organizations as well as lawmakers in Sacramento.
Tonight, Villaraigosa plans to hold the first of four local town hall meetings to sell his district takeover plan to parents.
Villaraigosa’s aides insisted that his vision for L.A. Unified enjoys the support of a growing constituency. On Tuesday, his staff released the names of several groups and individuals they said have endorsed the school initiative, including the Youth Policy Institute, Green Dot Public Schools, the Service Employees International Union and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
“From state leaders to local parent groups, Mayor Villaraigosa is assembling a broad coalition of support for his proposal to reform our public schools,” said spokeswoman Janelle Erickson. “The mayor’s education reform proposal continues to gain support because people are recognizing it as a historic opportunity to fundamentally reform our schools by strengthening accountability and empowering parents and educators.”
The head of the county labor federation said Villaraigosa’s plan offers the true promise of a quality education for the children of Los Angeles’ working-class families, those most affected by the public school system.
“The effort to improve public education for all our children can only be achieved by forging a broad alliance of organized labor, community members, elected leaders, parents and other civic-minded leaders,” said Maria Elena Durazo, the federation’s executive secretary-treasurer. “We believe that [this plan] embodies the essential elements of fundamental reform and partnership and is a strong step in the right direction.”
Still, Villaraigosa’s aides have been scrambling in recent days to amend the school takeover legislation, AB 1381, to satisfy state lawmakers and win their support when they return from recess in early August.
It is unclear what effect the opposition of community and business groups will have on the legislation, in part because of Villaraigosa’s powerful allies in Sacramento, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), who co-wrote the bill, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has pledged to sign it.
The measure passed through the Senate Education Committee last month and now faces votes in the Senate Appropriations Committee and full Senate.
One lawmaker said it is likely to win the support of the Democratic majority in part because of goodwill toward Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker.
“It’s juiced up and it’s happening,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the lower house’s Education Committee.
Goldberg said she hasn’t decided yet whether to support the bill and hopes to hold at least one informational hearing in Los Angeles.
In the coming weeks, Villaraigosa will have to fight on two fronts, one in Los Angeles, the other in Sacramento.
Several local civic groups, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, are watching the unfolding debate as they ponder their own positions.
The Valley organization’s directors said Tuesday that they doubted that Villaraigosa’s plan would lead to an increased role for the mayor or a path toward breakup of the district, the two viable options in its view.
“There is no evidence that this plan has been thought through,” said Bob Scott, the Valley group’s chairman. “This seems to make everything more complicated rather than simpler.”
Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.
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