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Mayor pushes school bonds

Villaraigosa works with charter advocates to get the $3.2-billion measure on the ballot.

July 19, 2008|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa teamed up with charter school advocates Friday in Boyle Heights to pressure school board members and district officials to put a multibillion-dollar school bond on the November ballot -- and to include at least $300 million for charter schools.

Though not present, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and former Mayor Richard Riordan have added their support -- and political weight -- to the anticipated bond, which would include more local dollars than ever for charters.

"Today we're putting the muscle behind the reform movement to break down our system into schools that work for all of our kids," Villaraigosa said at Roosevelt High School, defining such campuses as the "small, safe and independent community schools our students so desperately need here in the city."

The bond also would include money to repair and modernize existing schools, upgrade their safety systems and build traditional campuses.

The event's hasty scheduling -- even L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer had to adjust his schedule to attend -- was the latest strategic turn in a drama that has occurred mostly behind closed doors. Most of the jousting has been over how much money would go to charter schools, which are independently managed public schools free from some state regulations.

The charter community, led by former school board member Caprice Young, wanted no less than $300 million, or about 10% of the proposed $3.2-billion bond. But that level of support met with resistance from some board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The board was to vote on the bond at its Tuesday meeting, but late Friday, officials postponed the item until July 31. Five of the seven board members must approve placing the measure on the November ballot by Aug. 8.

Before the news conference, Young, who now heads the California Charter Schools Assn., said in an interview that she remained dissatisfied with how the dollars are divvied up.

Senior district administrators want to set aside $150 million for charters, according to a district report. Another $150 million would go to "educational partners to operate schools" that work within the system.

In other words, equal dollars would support reforms in district-controlled schools. The bond negotiations, in effect, have became another battlefront over who will control the path of reform in L.A. Unified.

Like Young, Broad, who funds reform efforts around the country, has concluded that charter schools are the best path in Los Angeles. In their view, the more removed they can make the L.A. Unified bureaucracy, the better. This goal also matches up with Broad's personal commitment to help fund new schools started by the more successful charter school organizations, which will need campuses.

Whatever emerges is also likely to help the 10 low-performing schools (none of them charters) now operating under the mayor's purview.

In private discussions, Young has sought an undiluted $300 million for charters.

At one point, she threatened to lead the charter community in an anti-bond campaign if it contained anything less.

But the goal Friday was simply to call for the bond, implicitly bring district officials in line and presage the campaign pitch to come. Villaraigosa said he spent 10 hours on the phone over the last three days with civic and labor leaders and district officials, including Brewer, to promote the bond and take part in negotiations.

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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