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Compromise Reached on L.A. School Takeover Plan

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reached a compromise Wednesday with legislative leaders and teachers unions that would give him some authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District without handing him the outright control he had sought.

The deal, which follows two days of intense negotiations in the capital, gives the superintendent of the nation's second largest school district more power over personnel, business operations, budgeting and other areas. It also gives Villaraigosa a "central role" in selecting that superintendent.

The deal, however, does not spell out who will be in control of the troubled district's budget, which essentially sets its educational priorities.

Villaraigosa said his plan was about accountability, not mayoral control. He called Wednesday's agreement an historic partnership that will benefit Los Angeles students. v "I didn't run to be king of Los Angeles," he said during a Capitol news conference. "I want to be mayor and a consensus builder."

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who helped broker the deal, said the compromise strikes a good balance between the governing authority of the school board and the authority of the mayor. It gives Villaraigosa a say on selecting a superintendent, he said, while allowing the board power to direct student achievement.

"This is a great win for the mayor, but it's also a win for the teachers," Nunez said. "Most of all, it is a win or the students of L.A. Unified."

The compromise is supported by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, a combination union affiliated with both the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association.

Villaraigosa anchored his mayoralty to his proposed takeover of the 730,000-student system, which includes schools in Los Angeles and more than two dozen smaller, suburban cities.

In a proposal loosely modeled on mayoral takeovers in Chicago, Boston and New York City, Villaraigosa in April called on the Legislature to largely strip power from the district and shift much of it to his office.

The mayor's original plan called for creating a council that would be comprised of mayors from all the cities within the sprawling district. The council was designed to have control over selecting a superintendent and adopting the district's annual budget.

Voting power on the mayor's council would have been weighed by population, essentially giving Villaraigosa control of the group.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, the council of mayors would be created and have "a role in the selection and the final ratification of the superintendent," but it was not immediately clear how extensive that role would be. The council also would be responsible for "reviewing" the budget, but it was not clear what final budgeting authority it would have.

The mayor's original plan also would have relegated the school board to tasks such as issuing school accountability report cards, conducting an annual survey of parents and making recommendations to the council.

The compromise, however, "preserves the essential powers of the school board" by allowing it to focus on student achievement.

The plan also calls for establishing a partnership with parents, educators and community leaders that will allow the mayor to oversee 36 of the district's lowest-performing schools.

The bill to implement the agreement, to be carried by Nunez in the Assembly and Sen. Gloria Romera, D-Los Angeles, in the Senate was not yet available.

Critics had called Villaraigosa's proposal a power grab, and it has strained his relationships with district officials and the teachers union. Leading Democrats told him his plan was in trouble, prompting this week's lobbying trip to Sacramento.

Teachers also wanted to change the way the district operates but sought partnership, not mayoral control, said A.J. Duffy of United Teachers Los Angeles.

"This plan builds on the core beliefs that we share and involves everything we know that works for kids, such as local control and parental involvement," he said. "It will be built from the bottom up, not the top down."

The agreement contains a provision allowing the plan to be extended after six years once it is evaluated.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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