Mayor Villaraigosa Shares Control of the Los Angeles Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

Last month, I wrote in an article about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposing a legislative bill to take control of the Los Angeles schools (see Los Angeles Schools Strongly Opposed to Takeover by Mayor Villaraigosa).  Reform Bill 1381 passed the state legislature at the end of August, with some changes.

Villaraigosa, who portrayed himself as the one person who could make a success of the Los Angeles schools system, instead must share control of the school system with the Los Angeles schools board and the Council of Mayors. The mayor did, however, receive direct control of three low-performing high schools and their feeder elementary and middle schools.

The final reform bill makes running the Los Angeles schools much more complex for everyone concerned. First, there is a logistical problem with Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles schools board in two separate locations, making decision making a longer, more drawn out process. The role of teachers in deciding curriculum now is uncertain, and many believe the mayor’s plan may impede new school construction, considered a successful endeavor by the Los Angeles schools board. The bill’s language is confusing, already causing conflicting interpretations.

There also is a question on the legality of the bill, which is expected to face an immediate legal challenge. The Los Angeles schools board, which was adamantly opposed to the bill, already has discussed a lawsuit, claiming that the bill violates the requirement in the state constitution that schools remain within the educational system.  The opinion of the legislature’s counsel is that the Los Angeles schools board has a case, but Villaraigosa believes it will survive a challenge.

Ever the politician, the mayor now is looking to foster cooperation with teachers, parents and the Los Angeles schools board, but he may find this difficult. He leveled blistering criticism at the school board and its members over the past year.  Even Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) criticized Villaraigosa during a hearing by the Assembly Education Committee, which she chairs, stating that she was disappointed that he did not have the same dialogue with the Los Angeles schools board as he did with the teachers’ unions.

Villaraigosa continues to promote the passage of the bill as an opportunity for parents, educators, the Council of Mayors, the cities and himself to partnership for the betterment of the Los Angeles schools. Though no clear specifics have even been given by the mayor on how he will proceed, he remarked that the new power-sharing arrangement will reshape and invigorate a “lethargic bureaucracy that has underserved generations of students”. He further stated that success depends on his leadership and the contributions of his Los Angeles schools partners.