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Broad Attacks Mayor's Plan for Schools

Philanthropist says Villaraigosa's compromise with the teachers unions would muddy the lines of authority in the district.

July 15, 2006|Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writers

Philanthropist Eli Broad, one of the city's most influential civic figures, has told Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that he opposes the mayor's current plan to wrest control of the Los Angeles school system.

Broad, a longtime ally of the mayor, criticized Villaraigosa for striking a deal with teachers unions that he believes would muddle lines of authority in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

After months of urging a complete takeover of the district, Villaraigosa struck a compromise last month with United Teachers Los Angeles and the California Teachers Assn. that would allow him to share power with the elected school board and the appointed superintendent.

Legislation to put those changes into effect passed its first hurdle last month, when the Senate Education Committee endorsed AB 1381 despite legislators' reservations that it would bypass local voters and possibly touch off power struggles with the school district.

Broad made it clear that he was unhappy with the bill, saying in a letter to Villaraigosa that "true mayor control of the Los Angeles Unified School District is vital for the future of our city."

"It is regrettable that you did not want to wage a campaign for true mayoral control, but rather saw fit to negotiate with UTLA and CTA," Broad wrote in a letter dated June 30.

"I regret that I cannot support, in its present form, the bill that was passed by the Senate Education Committee" last month, Broad wrote. "If significant changes are not made, we may be better off having the bill fail."

Moreover, Broad said that the superintendent must have complete control over the hiring and firing of principals and that teacher contracts should be negotiated outside the "union-controlled school board."

Broad could not be reached for comment Friday.

A Villaraigosa spokesman defended the legislation, saying it "represents the best chance for fundamental reform of our schools."

But the mayor's chief of staff, Robin Kramer, said that Villaraigosa continues to entertain suggestions from business leaders, union officials, parent representatives and others who want a say over the new governance structure. The mayor and Broad have not discussed the letter, Kramer said.

In a short written response, Villaraigosa said he looked forward to discussing Broad's concerns.

"The creation of public policy is always a process in which hearing myriad views is healthy and important," Kramer said. "We welcome all these suggestions. We welcome even those with which we don't agree. We'll consider them all in a thoughtful way."

Broad, who runs a foundation on education reform and has given money to independently run charter schools, was a strong supporter of unsuccessful state legislation last year to give the mayor the power to appoint the school board and hire the superintendent.

Villaraigosa has made his takeover of the Los Angeles schools a centerpiece of his year-old administration.

He pulled back from his initial position and settled for a lesser role after the teachers unions threatened to torpedo his plans.

Villaraigosa's staff is working to amend the legislation in hopes of gaining the votes needed for passage.

The latest version would give a "council of mayors," made up of the 27 cities served by L.A. Unified, veto power over hiring and firing a superintendent. Villaraigosa, because of his dominant stake on the council, would have the ultimate authority over the superintendent selection.

The school board would continue to have final say over the selection and dismissal of principals and would retain sign-off authority over the district's multibillion-dollar budget.

The superintendent, meanwhile, would gain greater control over how to spend district funds.

Villaraigosa's takeover plan has powerful supporters, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), who co-wrote the legislation.

But Villaraigosa's plans have prompted questions from other leaders, particularly those in the business community, about the wisdom of putting the district in so many hands.

"It looks unmanageable," said one business leader who like others spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting Villaraigosa. "It's not doable under the mayor's structure."

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