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SCHOOLYARD FIGHT

L.A. Unified's new power grid

October 08, 2006|HOWARD BLUME

The next superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District will have new powers over contracts and construction, but will

face assorted power brokers jockeying for influence as of Jan. 1, when the law giving the mayor a say in school governance kicks in.

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The players: School board members

The history: They called the shots, but despite test-score improvements, critics faulted them for micromanaging and living in fear of the teachers union.

Power quotient: [down arrow]

The new deal: Lose power to the superintendent and an Antonio Villaraigosa-dominated council of mayors. But they'll approve collective bargaining and set policy.

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The players: Mayor

Antonio Villaraigosa

The history: L.A. mayor had no defined role in the school district.

Power quotient: [up arrow]

The new deal: Wins on legislation, but lacks undiluted authority over schools held by some other mayors and is hemmed in by term limits.

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The players: United Teachers

Los Angeles

The history: Dominated many school board elections and protected jobs without ever making L.A. Unified a teachers' paradise.

Power quotient: [up arrow]

The new deal: Dreams of campus control, but must contend with a diffuse power equation and a dissatisfied membership.

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The players: L.A. Unified

general counsel

The history:

Kevin Reed was central to the board's effort to battle the mayor in public forums and in court.

Power quotient: [down arrow]

The new deal: Might be job-hunting if Villaraigosa gets a new school board majority elected.

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The players: Mayor's

legal advisor

The history: Thomas Saenz is a longtime civil rights lawyer and the prime architect of Villaraigosa's schools legislation.

Power quotient: [up arrow]

The new deal: His plan got lawmakers' votes but faces a court test.

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The players: School district inspector general

The history: Jerry Thorton is the current internal watchdog, an anti-fraud, anti-waste role with occasional bite.

Power quotient: [up arrow]

The new deal: Gets better job security and a larger oversight role, but critics say it's no substitute for what's been lost by the elected school board.

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The players: Mayors of

smaller cities

The history: Felt powerless to do anything about schools.

Power quotient: [up arrow]

The new deal: Have a say in choosing a future superintendent and more. It's their turn to lead or micromanage.

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The players: Former Mayor

Richard Riordan

The history:

Upended the bureaucracy in 1999 by running a slate of school board candidates. His influence waned with his 2001 departure from office.

Power quotient: [neutral/horizontal arrows]

The new deal: A key Villaraigosa supporter; diminished but cagey, engaged and episodically effective. Ever willing to take on unions.

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The players: Philanthropist

Eli Broad

The history: A key funder of arts and education philanthropies; in 2000, was the driving force behind the recruitment of outgoing Supt. Roy Romer.

Power quotient: [down arrow]

The new deal: The longtime Villaraigosa supporter remains a player, but the mayor dismissed Broad's criticism that his education plan was too limiting.

--HOWARD BLUME

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