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CALIFORNIA : Mayor, union vie for 4 schools : Jefferson High is among the campuses that Villaraigosa and teachers backed by the UTLA have bid to run.

November 17, 2009|Howard Blume

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and groups of teachers backed by the Los Angeles teachers union will compete for control of four campuses, including Jefferson High School, as part of a groundbreaking reform initiative.

The impending face-off emerged Monday as groups inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District scrambled to meet a 5 p.m. deadline for applications to run 30 district schools. In separate news conferences, the union and the mayor lauded their own education records as they marked a milestone in the widely watched reform effort.

After filing "letters of intent" for their targeted schools, the bidders, including charter school operators, now have until Jan. 11 to develop full-fledged proposals.

Backers say the school-control plan, approved in August, will spur rapid progress at 18 new and 12 low-performing campuses in the nation's second-largest school district.

In 2005, Jefferson High, in the Central-Alameda area south of downtown, was the setting for racially tinged brawls involving black and Latino students. In the wake of the unrest, Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, pushed unsuccessfully to have his charter school organization take over Jefferson. Green Dot later opted to open charter schools near Jefferson instead.

Jefferson has become notably calmer in recent years, but academic growth has remained sluggish and the dropout rate high. The new principal, Michael Taft, was handpicked by L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who has said he was impressed by Taft's success at a small academy that is part of the Jefferson campus.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, the nonprofit overseen by Villaraigosa, took over management of 10 schools in July 2008 and gained control of another, a new high school, this fall. On Monday, the mayor made the case that his nonprofit deserves more campuses by saying that his schools, all historically low-performing, had demonstrated more progress than either L.A. Unified or the state's schools as a whole.

Such comparisons have annoyed Cortines, who will choose among the competing applications. He has characterized the performance of the mayor's schools as mixed. For its part, the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has repeatedly called on Villaraigosa to replace his school management team with more inclusive administrators.

Besides Jefferson, Villaraigosa's partnership said it would seek control of Carver Middle School in South Park, Griffith Joyner Elementary in Watts and a new elementary school south of downtown. The idea is to nurture a feeder pattern for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, officials said.

The proposal from Jefferson's teachers, meanwhile, involves building on the school's incremental progress, said social studies teacher Nicolle Fefferman. The plan is to make courses more rigorous and the school's small academies more autonomous and responsible for individual students.

The Jefferson group, which includes parents, students and administrators, also wants to expand the school's ties to organizations such as the city's Museum of Contemporary Art, which offers internships to Jefferson students.

A final list of all bids was not available Monday, but union leaders said teachers were planning to vie for every available school, which would put them in competition with charter-school operators.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently managed and exempt from the district's union contracts, as well as from some state and district regulations. Some Jefferson teachers have persistently criticized charter schools, and the message has stuck with some students, including student body President Rosa Hernandez, who said she aspired to become a teacher but not at a Green Dot school.

Green Dot was the only charter to bid for Jefferson, but Chief Executive Marco Petruzzi said his nonprofit has no takeover plans but seeks to work collaboratively with either the mayor or Jefferson's teachers.

Another charter group, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, plans to seek control of Burbank Middle School in Highland Park, according to the California Charter Schools Assn., which compiled information on charter bids. Another organization, ICEF Public Schools, submitted a bid for Hillcrest Drive Elementary in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. For the most part, however, charter operators bid for the new schools.

No charter signaled interest in East L.A.'s Garfield High, the subject of earlier contention among community factions. But the adjacent Montebello Unified School District did submit a surprise entry for Garfield.

Montebello's staff would be eager to team up with Garfield's faculty but could not provide funding for the effort, Associate Supt. Art Revueltas said.

Instead of a run at Garfield, several charters chose instead to bid for five small high schools at the neighboring, soon-to-open Esteban Torres campus. That move sets up a potential legal battle over whether charters can hire their own faculties or whether Garfield teachers have the right, under the district's union contract, to follow former Garfield students who are transferred to the new schools.

At his news conference, Villaraigosa, surrounded by charter operators and allied community groups, declined to dwell on the likely turbulence ahead. Instead, he chose to praise competition and invite all comers.

"Everybody's got to be welcome and step up to the plate," he said. "Hold all of us accountable."

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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