Judge Blocks Los Angeles Mayor from School Control
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A judge has struck down a law that would've given the mayor of Los Angeles partial control over the nation's second largest school district. The ruling comes just days before the transfer of power in L.A. was to take effect.
NPR's Carrie Khan reports.
CARRIE KHAN: It's not often that you see L.A.'s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa looking grim. But after the judge's ruling yesterday, the mayor was clearly disappointed by the court's rebuke. He however vowed to fight on.
Mr. ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Mayor, Los Angeles): We're picking ourselves up today. We're dusting ourselves off. I promise you, we will not be deterred.
KHAN: This summer the California legislature gave Villaraigosa the power to control three of the city's poorest performing high schools and the schools that feed into them. He also was given hiring power over the district's superintendent.
But in striking down the state law yesterday, Judge Dzintra Janavs said it not only violated the city charter and the state constitution, but it would've given the mayor unprecedented power. Villaraigosa said he will appeal hopefully directly to the state Supreme Court.
Mr. VILLARAIGOSA: I believe we have the law on our side. I believe that we have the constitution on our side. More than that, I believe that we have the people on our side.
Unidentified Woman: Great, great, great. Incredible. Victory for the kids.
KHAN: But the people gathered at the school board's district headquarters were clearly not on his side and definitely not glum. Especially Rosa Mendoza(ph). She has three kids in L.A. Unified schools and was the lead plaintiff in the district's suit against the state.
Ms. ROSE MENDOZA: (Spanish spoken)
KHAN: She says the mayor has enough responsibilities to tackle in the city without taking on the schools too.
Congresswoman Diane Watson, a former board member, agrees. She says she's tried to get the mayor to focus on making the streets safer and creating jobs, not micromanaging the 700,000 student district.
Representative DIANE WATSON (Democrat, California): I asked him, I said, don't supplant the authority of the board, support it. And in supporting that if you will give us the help from the home to the schools, we'll take care of the schools.
KHAN: Relations between the school board and the mayor have been bad since Villaraigosa took office and vowed to gain control of the schools as his counterparts in New York, Boston and Chicago have done. They got worse after Villaraigosa got the state legislature to give him partial control. The school board then sued, and in a not-so-subtle shot at the mayor, went ahead and hired a superintendent while Villaraigosa was out of the country.
Yesterday, School Board President Marlene Cantor extended an olive branch.
Ms. MARLENE CANTOR (President, Board of Education): On behalf, again, of the Board of Education, the superintendent and all of us, our commitment to partner with the mayor of Los Angeles and all the elected officials and community members in the district to provide the very best education possible for all of our students.
KHAN: But back at City Hall, Villaraigosa said it was the school board who should come over to his side.
Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Join our reform effort. We can't let another school day or academic term go by. We can't continue to fail these children. We can't accept these dismal dropout rates. We need once and for all to bring the entire community of Los Angeles together to face up to our biggest challenge.
KHAN: Villaraigosa says he'll not only continue the court fight but also take his case to city voters. He's hoping to get candidates that back his plan elected to the school board this March when four of the district's seven seats are up for grabs.
Carrie Khan, NPR News.
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