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District to Sue Over Schools Bill Constitutionality

The L.A. board wants legal clarification of the measure that gives the mayor shared authority.

September 06, 2006|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles school board Tuesday confirmed what it had long threatened: The district will file suit to overturn legislation giving Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa substantial authority over the city's schools.

The decision came one week after state lawmakers passed a bill that would create a power-sharing arrangement among the school board, Villaraigosa and a regional council of mayors. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the legislation by the end of the month.

The bill also would give Villaraigosa direct authority over three high schools -- as yet unnamed -- and their feeder elementary and middle schools. The mayor's office has requested information on six high schools, district sources said Tuesday. They are Crenshaw and Dorsey in South Los Angeles; Sylmar and Monroe in the San Fernando Valley; Belmont west of downtown; and Roosevelt in Boyle Heights.

News of the pending legal battle came more than two hours into a closed-door meeting of the school board. "Serious questions have been raised regarding the constitutionality of a number of the provisions," board President Marlene Canter said in a statement.

The board vote was 6 to 1. The recently elected Monica Garcia, a close ally of Villaraigosa, cast the only dissenting vote.

"It makes sense to avoid implementing changes that could later be declared unconstitutional," Canter said. "As a number of interested parties have urged, we will ask the courts to review this measure and to determine the constitutionality of these provisions as quickly as possible."

Canter was referring, in part, to letters of support from the president of the 10th District Parent Teacher Student Assn. -- the official parent organization for much of the school system -- and the union representing district administrators.

"The numerous constitutional and jurisdictional issues in this poorly crafted legislation cry out for judicial review as soon as possible," wrote Mike O'Sullivan, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

The teachers union, the school system's most powerful labor group, has backed the bill, along with other labor groups. "I'm disappointed," A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said of the district's decision to pursue litigation. "They're dragging this out. One way or the other, we're going to change the playing field as it pertains to education and the delivery of services to students, and they're just stalling the inevitable."

The mayor's office echoed that view. "It's unfortunate that the Los Angeles school board would choose to use taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit to obstruct reforming our public schools," said spokeswoman Janelle Erickson. "On this first day back to school, our children and parents deserve more. They deserve a school board who will join with Mayor Villaraigosa and the coalition of reformers committed to turning our public schools around."

Earlier in the day, Villaraigosa urged the board to "move on.... I'd like to see us come together and work together to implement this legislation."

Villaraigosa skipped a Tuesday tour of a new school, sending newly appointed Deputy Mayor Ramon C. Cortines in his place. In an interview, Cortines said that he understood the need for legal clarification, but hoped that litigation could be avoided.

Cortines, onetime interim superintendent of the district, added that he'd like to get moving on selecting the three clusters of schools that would be under the mayor's direct authority. The bill says the schools should be in different parts of the city.

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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