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Chick Offers to Oversee Audit of L.A. Unified

December 02, 2005|Patrick McGreevy and Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writers

City Controller Laura Chick proposed Thursday to oversee an audit of the Los Angeles school district management and operations, joining the mayor and other top city officials who have sought a role in reforming it.

Chick said her offer to supervise an audit already planned by the district is part of a broader involvement she hopes to have in education issues that will also probably see her auditors review city-funded services, such as after-school programs.

"There is not a single issue that I can think of that I care more about than helping to improve the level of public education in this city," Chick said. "It's been a huge problem for a very long time, and we all need to get impatient about fixing it."

Her offer was not immediately accepted or rejected by school officials, who said they were not ready to make a decision, but there was some resistance.

Chick is a close ally of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has proposed that he be given more control of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and her involvement in an audit would provide an inroad for city oversight of schools.

"Mayor Villaraigosa would welcome Controller Chick's partnership in reforming the L.A. school district," said the mayor's spokeswoman, Janelle Erickson.

The president of United Teachers Los Angeles, A.J. Duffy, who has repeatedly called for cuts to the district's administration, did not reject the idea.

"I am open to the idea of anyone coming in who is going to take a hard look at the bureaucracy of LAUSD," he said.

Duffy, who has strenuously opposed the idea of mayoral control of the school district, acknowledged that Villaraigosa could use any findings by Chick to bolster his argument for a takeover of the school district, but said he was not concerned.

"If it comes to pass that an audit, whoever performs it, found what we know is there -- a bloated bureaucracy," Duffy said, "I would hope that, instead of making politics out of it, the mayor would join me in bringing pressure to bear on the district to do what needs to be done."

Los Angeles Unified Supt. Roy Romer and school board President Marlene Canter said they also were not concerned that Villaraigosa might use a Chick audit as ammunition in a takeover bid, saying they trusted the controller's integrity. "I like the idea of having the city involved in a reform effort in a way that could be effective," Canter said.

Chick said "it's possible" her audit might look at whether school board members should continue to be elected or be appointed. "I'm not closed off to looking at anything," Chick said, but added, "In terms of this being connected to what Mayor Villaraigosa has been talking about, it is not. My purpose is not to do an audit that sets the stage for a mayoral takeover."

Chick stopped short of calling for her office to be given permanent auditing power over the schools.

The controller, who has a daughter who teaches in the Los Angeles school system, said she volunteered to oversee the audit after hearing that Romer and Duffy recently agreed to an audit of the district's administration. The audit is to be based on the findings -- due Dec. 12 -- of a sweeping, months-long examination of the district's operations by the independent Council of Great City Schools.

Having the district and union define the scope of that audit would raise questions with the public about its independence, Chick said in a letter to Romer, Canter and Duffy.

"As the independently elected controller for the city of Los Angeles, I am accountable directly to the people," Chick wrote.

Romer, Canter and Duffy said a plan was in place to choose an independent auditing firm.

Romer said he appreciated Chick's offer and praised her abilities, but he questioned whether she had the understanding of education issues that would be necessary.

"She has great skill as an auditor," he said. "But there may be a special focus we need."

Board member Mike Lansing asked whether Chick would be willing to criticize the city for what he said was its failure to effectively partner with the district on issues such as policing campuses.

"I would have to assume that she would use every resource in her arsenal," Lansing said. "But if she can't because she is an elected city official and her first priority is the city of Los Angeles and not the Los Angeles Unified School District, then we need to look outside for someone independent."

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