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New L.A. Unified board chief takes office, lists major goals

Monica Garcia unveils an eight-part plan that would focus on hiking graduation rates.

July 04, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Monica Garcia took over as president of the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday, an event that followed the swearing-in of three new board members -- setting in motion a sweeping reform agenda amid celebration from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and rumblings from other quarters.

Garcia, 39, joined the board just last year, but she is the senior member of the new majority bloc, which is closely associated with Villaraigosa. Some members of the board disclosed that her selection had been worked out behind the scenes. The board presidency comes with extra staff and a bully pulpit.

Outgoing President Marlene Canter was part of the prior board majority that had thwarted Villaraigosa's school-intervention plan in court.

During a midday meeting at Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, Canter herself jumped in to nominate Garcia, even before the item came up, as if to demonstrate that she was ready to put political battles in the past. The vote was 7 to 0.

Acceptance speech at the ready, Garcia spoke of a "new social compact" that would "represent the demand for academic achievement, educational equity, responsibility, accountability and transparency."

Unveiled for a meeting next Tuesday were eight deeply detailed Garcia-sponsored motions that, if approved, would constitute strict marching orders for Supt. David L. Brewer.

The motions seek a "comprehensive report within 30 days which defines the key metrics for measuring district performance," and 60 days is the time frame for specifics about shrinking crowded schools districtwide. An extensive recruitment and training effort for all classes of employees would be due Oct. 1.

Brewer would have 120 days to analyze parent involvement and develop needed improvements, 120 days for a plan to get all students to graduate, 150 days for a principal leadership program, and six months to refashion instruction for English learners.

The message underlying the announcement of the motions was "the urgency the new board was bringing," Garcia said in a later interview. It was also "a communication with the superintendent that our role is to govern and his role is to implement, and the intent to focus the work on increasing graduation rates -- that's the big one."

Brewer, who signed a four-year contract last fall, politely resisted being hemmed in: "The spirit of all those resolutions are good, but we also have to understand that there is policy and there is execution, and we have to be very careful we don't cross those lines." He added, "We will be submitting some amendments."

One motion dealt with fixing the district's new but malfunctioning payroll system. The wording had been mostly worked out by incoming board member Richard Vladovic, but he couldn't write the motion himself in advance of his swearing-in.

That formality was taken care of in front of 700 district officials, bused-in parents and students, community leaders, friends and family at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

During the ceremony in the second-floor lobby, many eyes were on City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Villaraigosa, both facing their own personal and work-related issues.

Delgadillo, under fire for, among other things, allegedly exerting undue influence on his staff, had been invited to swear in Tamar Galatzan, a deputy city attorney.

The prescribed role of Villaraigosa, who is dealing with a messy marital breakup, was to swear in Yolie Flores Aguilar. She took center stage after a mariachi band of district students performed a spirited "Viva Mexico."

"We can't help but feel the hope in the air today," the mayor said. "Today we swear in a new commitment on the part of everyone in Los Angeles to make the schools the best they can be." He also referred to the six women on the seven-member panel: "I'm very proud we have a new woman majority on this board. That's a good thing."

After the last swearing-in, Villaraigosa briskly walked out a door onto the outdoor balcony, disappeared around the corner and soon reemerged in a far section of the same lobby, where he held a news conference about his just-disclosed affair.

The mayor's participation with L.A. Unified remains under discussion with district officials, community groups and teachers union leaders, who could torpedo an objectionable proposal.

So far, the mayor's staff has met with groups in areas served by Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights and Crenshaw High in South Los Angeles, which is represented by board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte.

LaMotte was also sworn in Tuesday. She won a second term by overcoming allies of the mayor.

In an interview, she classified Villaraigosa's opposition as "a personal betrayal" and said, "We already have a plan for Crenshaw." But she also said she would consider any proposal that could help students.

Another cautionary note came from United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy. He said he would not discuss reforms that would weaken teacher job security without evidence that L.A. Unified would cede real control to teachers and parents at school sites.

Whatever campuses the mayor focuses on, that effort will be just a small piece of the puzzle, said City Councilman Jose Huizar, a Villaraigosa ally and former school board member who attended the meeting.

"The real changes are going to come from the members of this school board, and the test will be whether they're able to make long-lasting changes," Huizar said.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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