A vote to push aside a key group that oversees school district breakups and boundary changes was postponed Monday after some critics said that a top advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was trying to secure greater influence for his boss.
A proposal to transfer power from a Los Angeles County panel on school district organization to the county Board of Education was to have been presented today by its author, county school board President Thomas Saenz. He is also legal counsel to Villaraigosa and part of the mayor's team looking at taking control over the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Over the last several days, Saenz's plan became a hot topic in school governance circles, because some viewed it as a way for Saenz to gain a measure of control over plans involving the future of the school district.
The mayor has said he wants control of the school system, which he has criticized for complacency, a reluctance to reform and an untenable dropout rate.
Saenz said he supported a delay of the proposal to give critics and others time to air their grievances.
"I understood there was opposition, and I wanted to facilitate that opposition being heard," Saenz said. "This has nothing to do whatsoever with mayoral accountability or my position working for the mayor. The impetus behind the motion is streamlining government."
The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, whose members are elected by school boards in the county, is a little-known panel that holds a considerable amount of power.
It reviews disputes over school district boundaries -- such as when a community wants to leave one district and join another -- and decides whether to allow the issue to go before voters and who can vote for it. The committee's decisions can be appealed to the state.
The mayor's plans to take over the school district have been short on specifics, leaving many questions about the role of the county board. Would the county Board of Education be more likely than the committee to vote for a breakup of the school district? Would county board members, such as Saenz, have to recuse themselves from votes related to Los Angeles schools?
Some questioned the timing and motivation behind Saenz's plan.
"I think the reasons for the proposal aren't transparent and one has to question whether perhaps the motivation for such a proposal is purely political," said Jo Ann Yee, senior director of urban affairs for the California School Boards Assn.
Sophia Waugh, vice president of the county Board of Education, said she believes that the members of the committee are better informed to make decisions about school districts.
"The part that really troubles me is that some issues that come to the committee involve the LAUSD," she said.
It remains unclear whether Saenz has the votes among his colleagues on the county Board of Education to win approval for his proposal. A vote is scheduled in two weeks.