Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick on Tuesday reiterated her desire to lead a comprehensive audit of the public school system, this time flanked by six City Council members who urged district officials to let the city play a greater role in education reform.
The council members' interest in the audit is part of a new, heightened interest within City Hall in the health of the Los Angeles Unified School District, spurred in part by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's pledge to take over the schools before the end of his first term. Though Chick said her offer was separate from the takeover issue, her supporters echoed some of the mayor's language as they discussed the need for an "objective" audit.
"Our city will simply not work if we don't fix our schools," said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who added that she would introduce a motion next week urging the school district to approve a Chick-led audit.
Chick first proposed leading an audit Thursday. This week, she expressed frustration with the lukewarm response she'd received from school officials.
In a phone interview Tuesday, L.A. Unified board President Marlene Canter said she hadn't decided if she would support the idea. But Canter said she was concerned that a city audit could duplicate the efforts of another comprehensive investigation of the district to be released Monday by the independent Council of Great City Schools.
Chick "hasn't seen the scope of what we're offering," Canter said.
District officials' lack of enthusiasm for the audit triggered responses from City Council members ranging from friendly concern to angry frustration.
Councilman Tom LaBonge took a conciliatory tone, suggesting the audit was a chance for the district to get "a full physical."
Councilman Jack Weiss, however, followed his praise of the controller's previous audits with some stinging words for the district. Chick, he said, "is knocking on the door of the Los Angeles Unified School District and they don't want to let her in. What are they afraid of?"
Councilmen Eric Garcetti, Bill Rosendahl and Bernard C. Parks attended the news conference and spoke about the need to scrutinize the district's bureaucracy, structure and finances.
Education reform proved to be a key issue for many voters in the spring mayoral election. That has proved frustrating for city politicians, who have no control over the school district.
The audit issue gives Chick -- who is considering a run for state controller -- and council members a chance to weigh in on an issue that is traditionally beyond their scope, said Jaime Regalado, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
"I think politicians from all over have started understanding that, hey, this issue resonates very well," Regalado said.
Villaraigosa is closely allied with Chick. Last week, mayoral spokeswoman Janelle Erickson said the mayor would "welcome Chick's partnership" in reforming L.A. Unified.