Los Angeles Mayor Gains School Powers
LYNN NEARY, host:
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa now has greater control over the city's public school district. Yesterday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill shifting many administrative powers to the mayor. However, the measure does not give Villaraigosa complete control. He'll have to share authority with the school board, the superintendent and a council of mayors.
The school board loses power under the bill and members have said they will go to court to try and overturn the measure, which goes into effect in January.
NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN: Everyone who crammed into the children's reading room at L.A.'s downtown library yesterday seemed to get a personal thank you from Mayor Villaraigosa, even the only kid in the room.
Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Democrat, Los Angeles): Give her a big hand, everybody - Kayla(ph). Isn't she beautiful?
(Soundbite of applause)
Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: First grade student.
KAHN: Villaraigosa was hoping more students would be at his celebration, but school officials barred him from holding a press conference at a district site during school hours. Villaraigosa has been at odds with the L.A. Unified School Board since he campaigned for mayor, promising to reverse L.A.'s high dropout rate and relieve overcrowded schools.
Acknowledging the contentious relationship, Villaraigosa said he realizes he's only taken the first step.
Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: I think we all understand that no single piece of legislation is a panacea onto itself. While we know we won't get there overnight, or reach our goals in a single academic year, today is just the beginning.
KAHN: A rocky beginning. Villaraigosa had hoped to win clear control over the district's decision-making. Instead, he enlisted the state legislature's help and settled for shared authority with the school board and a newly formed council of mayors, 26 in all, one from each of the cities that feed into L.A.'s sprawling Unified School District. Villaraigosa also wanted more authority over the school superintendent; he'll have to share that power, too.
Yesterday, though, Villaraigosa easily shared the spotlight with the state's Republican governor, who in turn heaped on the praise.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): And I want to congratulate our great mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, for having the vision to keep his campaign promise to try to straighten out education.
(Soundbite of applause)
KAHN: Villaraigosa has officially endorsed Schwarzenegger's rival in the upcoming gubernatorial race. But by signing the Democrat-sponsored bill Schwarzenegger got another photo op with the state's leaning Latino officials, a point not lost on L.A. Unified School President Marlene Canter.
Ms. MARLENE CANTER (President, Los Angeles Unified School District): This has always been about politics and power and rhetoric.
KAHN: Canter says it's unfortunate that the school board has been blamed for all the district's shortcomings. She says the district will challenge the bill in the courts mainly because it's a flawed bill.
Ms. CANTOR: It also adds another layer of bureaucracy to a district that is constantly being criticized for being a bloated bureaucracy.
KAHN: But for parent Maria Leon(ph), who came to watch the governor sign the reform bill, she says she's tired of all the fighting. Leon has three children at three different L.A. unified schools and she says she's willing to try anything new.
Ms. MARIE LEON (Parent): (Speaking Foreign Language)
KAHN: She says, what's the worst that can happen, that we just end up where we are now.
If the bill survives legal challenges, the new reforms will be in place in L.A.'s schools for a trial six-year period.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.