Mayor Strikes Deal with School District

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today unveiled what he called a "historic" partnership with the L.A. Unified School District that will give him control over a small group of campuses. The agreement follows the mayor's failure to wrest control over the entire public school district. Villaraigosa promised to make his chosen schools a model of reform in a district long plagued by low test scores and high drop out rates. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: In his inauguration speech on the south lawn of Los Angeles City Hall more than two years ago, Mayor Villaraigosa made a bold promise.

Antonio Villaraigosa: Reforming public schools is the central challenge facing Los Angeles. And it will be a central priority of my administration.

Stoltze: The mayor lost his bid to win control of the L.A. Unified School District. Now, the district is tentatively agreed to let the mayor oversee two of the district's lowest performing high schools, and the middle and elementary campuses that surround them.

Villaraigosa: What's historic about this, it's the first time that a school district anywhere in the country has come into this kind of partnership. Usually, its been trying to impose control from outside. We've seen that's not going to work in Los Angeles.

Stoltze: During a news conference at a Pico-Union middle school, the mayor promised much of what charter schools promise – more autonomy for principals and teachers to decide budgets and curriculum, and more parental involvement. He also said he'll provide something charters can't: city support. School Board member Marlene Canter – a sharp critic of Villaraigosa's initial takeover bid – praised the mayor.

Marlene Canter: I always said we didn't need legislation for a partnership and I am so happy to be standing here today at what's going to be an unbelievable opportunity to see how city and school districts really work together.

Joel Jordan: We're cautiously optimistic.

Stoltze: Joel Jordan is with United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents more than 40-thousand instructors.

Jordan: We do not want to commit ourselves to a process until we are clear that the rights of teachers are protected.

Stoltze: The mayor hasn't selected which schools he'll control. Under the agreement, most teachers and parents at selected campuses would have to consent. The school board would also have to sign off. Former school board member David Tokofsky lauded the effort, but he said it falls short.

David Tokofsky: The whole reason the mayor said he got involved in public education is that kids were falling through the cracks and dropping out, dropping out, dropping out. Well, if you look at the agreement it says nothing about all the kids who've fallen into various programs or dropped out.

Stoltze: At his news conference, the mayor paraded parents and students who supported the agreement. Herbert Romero stood in the back of the room with his 12-year-old son. He has five kids in the district. Romero said why not give the mayor a try at running some schools?

Herbert Romero: There's room for improvement. And I think that schools should be open to that. And I think that he should be given the opportunity like he is and then we can hold him to the fire after.

Schools Superintendent David Brewer: You can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results. This is just the beginning of a revolution in education in Los Angeles.

Stoltze: Key to that revolution, Villaraigosa said, will be spending more money on students to boost achievement and lower dropout rates. He promised to muster millions of dollars from private philanthropy to help the schools that fall under his control.