LA mayor stumps for far-reaching schools reform

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The Los Angeles Unified school district is set to vote tomorrow on a measure that would transfer governance of about one-third of its schools to outside operators. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports that the plan’s main proponent, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is stumping for the plan until the eleventh hour.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: With L.A.’s city hall as a backdrop and nearly a dozen supporters and paid staffers behind him, Villaraigosa spoke about the urgent need to improve L.A. Unified.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: It’s time to do more than just defend existing failed government programs. It’s time to be passionate advocates for change.

Guzman-Lopez: The mayor failed three years ago to push through a state law that would grant him more decision-making power in the school district. He said he proposed this latest idea as a plan B. The district superintendent would monitor an application and vetting process that would allow groups and individuals to run 50 new L.A. Unified campuses and about 200 low-performing schools.

The proposal doesn’t guarantee labor union representation for teachers and other employees at these schools. That’s generated vigorous opposition from district unions, such as the California School Employees Association that represents 7,000 L.A. Unified clerical workers. Member Susan Gossman believes the schools are improving without new governance.

Susan Gossman: We are not about giving our schools away, we are not about privatizing public schools.

Guzman-Lopez: This new plan would only allow nonprofits to run the schools.

Veronica Melvyn of Alliance for a Better Community, a group that advocates for improved public education in Latino neighborhoods, agreed that innovation has led to better instruction in some schools.

Veronica Melvyn: But what we haven’t had is anyone from the district embracing this change. This change is happening at the tatters of the LAUSD school district and only because we’re fighting tooth and nail for it. The district has opposed our change and our efforts for change for too long.

Guzman-Lopez: As examples, Melvyn referred to charter schools and the 10 schools already under Mayor Villaraigosa’s governance. The mayor’s schools reported improvements in some English and math test scores released last week. Improvements at L.A. Unified schools were also spotty.

Lorna Ward, who lives in South L.A. and became involved in schools as a first time parent 30 years ago, said an overhaul is long overdue. But she said she but doesn’t like the way the school district and the mayor have presented this proposal.

Lorna Ward: I, as a community person, was not invited to any of the meetings, have friends that are part of the DAC and other parent groups that are in LAUSD...

Guzman-Lopez: And the mayor, she said, didn’t invite them to his town halls, either.

Half a dozen key allies of Mayor Villaraigosa hold the top decision-making posts at L.A. Unified. He didn’t mention their names when a reporter pressed him to assign blame for the school district’s failures. Those board members and the superintendent will lead the discussion about approving this far-reaching change in public school governance.