MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA should be pleased with himself. He is about to acquire a say in the management of the Los Angeles Unified School District, a political win almost as clean as his plan is convoluted. If only his supporters were as pleased with his proposal as he is.
When Villaraigosa first said he would make mayoral control a priority, more than a year ago, a lot of establishment figures gave him credit for rising above politics to take on a thankless task. Now many of them acknowledge privately that this compromise is an unwieldy mess, yet they refrain from speaking out against it for fear of crossing the mayor.
The dominoes started falling soon after Villaraigosa reached an accord in June with his friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends-again, the California Teachers Assn. and United Teachers Los Angeles. They hated his initial proposal for clear lines of authority and accountability over the schools, with the buck stopping at the mayor's desk. So they negotiated an alternative in June that manages to dilute, rather than strengthen, accountability by giving everyone a say in running our schools.
What's remarkable is how quickly the initial proponents of strong mayoral control have fallen in line. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, for instance, first applauded Villaraigosa's push for assuming responsibility over education. Once Villaraigosa made his costly peace with the unions, then-President Russell "Rusty" Hammer rightly said in his weekly newsletter that "the current proposal is not at all what the mayor first discussed, and what we know is required -- a fundamental overhaul." Indeed, he went on to write, "it seems to fall short of that, and some question whether it may be even worse than what we currently have."