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Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti lay sniping aside

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel chat before they square off in a debate at USC's Health Sciences Campus in April.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti ventured into school district politics Tuesday, lending support to non-controversial actions and mostly taking a respite from their recent sniping in the Los Angeles mayoral contest.

A week before voters go to the polls, Greuel addressed the Los Angeles Unified School District board, coming out in favor of a program that provides students breakfast in classrooms and for discontinuing a policy of suspending students for “willful defiance.”

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The school board, as expected, approved both items. It voted unanimously to continue the breakfast program for roughly 210,000 students in 288 schools, despite complaints from some teachers that teaching time is lost and classrooms can be left a mess. The board voted 5 to 2 to end automatic suspensions for “defiance.”

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Taking up a cause championed by Garcetti, a city councilman, the school board also averted the closure of a school for aviation mechanics at Van Nuys Airport by approving a dollar-a-year lease for the campus.

The North Valley Occupational Center-Aviation Center will remain open under an agreement with Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of Van Nuys Airport, one of the largest general aviation facilities in the United States.

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The school had trained hundreds of aircraft mechanics over the last 35 years but could no longer afford monthly rent of more than $14,000. In addition to the $1-a-year lease, the school board agreed to pay Los Angeles World Airports $69,278 in back rent for a hangar with adjoining classrooms and workshops.

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Garcetti pushed for the arrangement, saying the training program for students 17 to 65 is critical in a city straining to hold on to middle-class jobs. The longer-term gain is worth the city forsaking some rent money, he said.

“Sure we’d like to have that for our bottom line,” Garcetti said in an appearance at the aviation training hangar. “But what’s more important for our bottom line as a city is a trained workforce.”

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Garcetti held out the program as an example of how he would work as mayor to protect jobs. He said he would support job training and placement centers like the one he helped create at Los Angeles City College. The college helps prepare new nurses to work at local hospitals, which had been going outside the area to recruit new employees.

Greuel, the city controller, addressed the school board Tuesday afternoon in support of the breakfast program.

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“I like to say we can’t have a world-class city without a world-class education system,” she said. “But we can’t have a great classroom when our students go hungry. In Los Angeles every day, we have thousands of families facing very tough financial decisions.”

She said the concerns about lost class time and cleanup could be worked out. “For far too long, we let adult issues get in the way of kid issues,” Greuel said. “Today, I call on you to support a project that is working; not to make the mistake again to decide what is best for adults instead of what is best for children.”

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Following the lead of others, Greuel also argued that suspension of some defiant students was too harsh a penalty. “The district is in a crisis,” she said, “and one of the things we want to do is keep kids in school, so they can read and write at grade level and stop the truancy issues and dropping out of schools.”

The board had already signaled it would eliminate the mandatory suspensions and it went ahead with the change.

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The positions taken Tuesday did little to distinguish the candidates on education, though. Greuel and Garcetti were in agreement on the aviation school, classroom breakfasts and suspensions.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Garcetti gained the praise of a leading renters rights group, the Coalition for Economic Survival. In an email, the group criticized Greuel as a backer of property owners and praised Garcetti for defending low-income housing and renters. Greuel’s campaign responded by listing her long record of working against condo conversions, for renter’s assistance and in favor of low-income housing. Spokesman Dan Loeterman cited her work on housing issues for former Mayor Tom Bradley and former President Clinton.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Times staff writer Dan Weikel contributed to this report.


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