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One stubborn school board

October 06, 2006

THE BATTLE OVER WHO SHOULD RUN the Los Angeles schools has been bruising. Even so -- and even though Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to gain more oversight over the district, now law, still faces a court challenge -- the battered school board needs to set aside its hostility and give the mayor a real role in the selection of a new superintendent.

The board is under no legal obligation to include the mayor in its deliberations. The law giving him and his council of mayors veto power over the board's choice, if it survives the anticipated legal challenge, doesn't take effect for a few months. But he can be a powerful partner and ally, if the right superintendent is in place. A wise board would consult with any mayor over its choice of a superintendent, even without the pressure of a law increasing mayoral control over the district.

Villaraigosa hasn't exactly made it easy for the board to work with him. He took matters too far too fast last week by complaining about his lack of involvement in the selection process, even though it was still in the hands of the selection committee and no board members knew who the applicants were. Board President Marlene Canter correctly noted that, last week, the mayor knew as much as the board -- and that applicants were rightfully expecting confidentiality.

But Canter's comment implied that the board would seek out the mayor's opinion on the candidates. That hasn't happened, even though the selection committee handed in the finalists' names Tuesday and board members already are interviewing them. The board's first offer can only be described as a slap at Villaraigosa, giving him simply a chance to meet the board's choice before the public does.

Another suggestion was that the mayor could interview all the candidates, but only if he publicly supported the board's final choice. This hardly qualifies as meaningful consultation -- nor is it very realistic. Putting up a dummy show of support would prevent Villaraigosa from being the voice of candor he promised he would be on education. It's an offer he couldn't possibly accept.

The board, long criticized for its micromanagement and hoarding of power, should be using the hiring of a superintendent to begin a new era, one with less politics and more willingness to share decision-making. Its insistence on business as usual is perhaps the saddest aspect of this drama -- and the best argument for more mayoral involvement in the schools.

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