Candidates for Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel talk on… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)
Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel ventured into school district politics Tuesday, lending support to noncontroversial actions and mostly taking a respite from their recent sniping in the Los Angeles mayoral contest.
A week before voters go to the polls, Greuel addressed the Los Angeles Unified School District board in favor of a program that provides students breakfast in classrooms and for discontinuing a policy of suspending students for "willful defiance."
The school board, as expected, approved both items. It voted unanimously to continue the breakfast program for about 210,000 students in 288 schools, despite complaints from some teachers that teaching time is lost and classrooms can be left a mess. The board voted 5 to 2 to end automatic suspensions for "defiance."
Taking up a cause championed by Garcetti, a city councilman, the school board also averted the closure of a school for aviation mechanics at Van Nuys Airport by approving a $1-a-year lease for the campus.
The North Valley Occupational Center-Aviation Center will remain open under an agreement with Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of Van Nuys, one of the largest general aviation facilities in the nation.
The school had trained hundreds of aircraft mechanice over the last 35 years but could no longer afford monthly rent of more than $14,000. In addition to the $1-a-year lease, the school board agreed to pay Los Angeles World Airports $69,278 in back rent for a hangar with adjoining classrooms and workshops.
Garcetti pushed for the arrangement, saying the training program for students 17 to 65 is critical in a city straining to hold on to middle-class jobs. The longer-term gain is worth the city foresaking some rent money, he said.
“Sure we’d like to have that for our bottom line," Garcetti said. "But what’s more important for our bottom line as a city is a trained workforce.”
Garcetti held out the program as an example of how he would work as mayor to protect jobs. He said he would support job training and placement centers like the one he helped create at Los Angeles City College. The college helps train new nurses for local hospitals, which were going outside the area to recruit new employees.
Greuel addressed the school board Tuesday afternoon in support of the breakfast program.
"I like to say we can't have a world-class city without a world-class education system," she said. "But we can't have a great classroom when our students go hungry. In Los Angeles every day, we have thousands of families facing very tough financial decisions."
She said the concerns about lost class time and cleanup could be worked out. "For far too long, we let adult issues get in the way of kid issues," Greuel said. "Today, I call on you to support a project that is working; not to make the mistake again to decide what is best for adults instead of what is best for children."
Following the lead of others, Greuel also argued that suspension of some defiant students was too harsh a penalty. “The district is in a crisis," she said, "and one of the things we want to do is keep kids in school, so they can read and write at grade level and stop the truancy issues and dropping out of schools.”
The board agreed and approved the plan to eliminate mandatory suspensions.
The positions taken Tuesday did little to distinguish the candidates on education. Greuel and Garcetti were in agreement on the aviation school, school breakfasts and suspensions.
Times staff writer Dan Weikel contributed to this report.
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