Current Events

In California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Loses His Bid To Take Over The Public School System

Opponents to AB 1381 win in court with the decision of Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs, who found the entire bill defective and ordered public officials -- including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- to refrain from enforcing the law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The law, Janavs said in her ruling, "makes drastic changes in local governance of the (Los Angeles Unified School District), giving the mayor a role that is unprecedented in California." She cited a 1946 constitutional amendment that removed municipal authority over school districts, reflecting "the people's determination to separate municipal functions from school functions due to the variety of conflicts that arise between their respective interests." Are you reading this, New York City Mayor Bloomberg? Isn't your take-over of the New York City public school system similarly in trouble? What about the poor returns of Mayoral control in Chicago?

L.A. Mayor Loses in Court: New Law Boosting His Power Over Schools is Overturned By Judge.
The Sacramento Bee, December 22, 2006

Dec. 22--Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa suffered a stinging legal -- and potentially political -- defeat Thursday when a state judge ruled a law giving him substantial jurisdiction over city schools is unconstitutional.

The former Assembly speaker, often mentioned as a front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010, expended plenty of political capital and made lots of enemies among the education establishment to win passage of Assembly Bill 1381.

At a news conference, Villaraigosa said he had instructed lawyers for the city to appeal the ruling. The mayor said he would ask the California Supreme Court to hear the appeal directly.

"We will not be set back," Villaraigosa said. "We refuse to be deterred by the forces of the status quo."

Opinions from the state legislative counsel, among others, had predicted that elements of the bill would be ruled unconstitutional, as did the school board in its court challenge.

But the popular mayor, who has vowed to make educational reforms a hallmark of his administration, said the new law was needed to improve academic performance in the troubled district.

Villaraigosa's attorneys argued the Legislature has broad powers under the California Constitution to designate authority over school systems.

But Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs found the entire bill defective and ordered public officials -- including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- to refrain from enforcing the law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

The law, Janavs said in her ruling, "makes drastic changes in local governance of the (Los Angeles Unified School District), giving the mayor a role that is unprecedented in California."

She cited a 1946 constitutional amendment that removed municipal authority over school districts, reflecting "the people's determination to separate municipal functions from school functions due to the variety of conflicts that arise between their respective interests."

In a prepared statement, Schwarzenegger said he "strongly" supported Villaraigosa's efforts because "the current system is failing so many of our students."

"That's why I applaud the mayor for his desire to bring accountability to L.A. public schools, so we can move test scores up and dropout rates down," the Republican governor said. "I join the mayor's appeal of this ruling."

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who as a close ally of Villaraigosa ushered the bill through the Legislature, called the ruling "disappointing."

"Legal hairsplitting has prevailed over the interests of children," Nunez, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement.

But the California School Boards Association hailed the court ruling.

"The ruling confirms what the Legislature's own lawyer told the Legislature before it passed AB 1381 and it was signed by the governor," said Dick Hamilton, director of the association's Education and Legal Alliance.

The legislation empowered the mayor to ratify the hiring and firing of future superintendents through a Council of Mayors. It also gave him direct authority over three low-performing high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them.

Allan Hoffenblum, a former political consultant who publishes the California Target Book, which handicaps political races, said the ruling puts Villaraigosa in a tricky political position.

"I don't think it is going to do him any short-term damage," Hoffenblum said. "The question is, where does he go from here? It would be wise for him to have a vote of the people."


Highlights of LAUSD court decision

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to wrest control of the Los Angeles Unified School District flouted the state constitution and would have given him “a role that is unprecedented in California,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs wrote in rejecting every element of the takeover plan.

Assembly Bill 1381, the bill that emerged from the Legislature after vigorous arm-twisting by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and other allies of the mayor in Sacramento, “makes drastic changes in the local governance of LAUSD,” Janavs wrote. The LAUSD parents who, along with the district’s own legal counsel and CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance sued to stop AB 1381 from taking effect, demonstrated “a ‘total and fatal conflict’ with the constitution.”

CSBA, the district, parents and other advocates of local control of schools—aided by grassroots opposition from Californians throughout the state who contacted their legislators— waged an effective lobbying campaign to weaken the powers granted to Villaraigosa in the final bill. Instead of total control of the district going to the mayor, much of the authority would have gone to the district superintendent, and the mayor would have had to share his power in a “partnership” with representatives of the other 27 cities and unincorporated areas of the county that comprise the district.

That partnership would have had direct control of three clusters of schools in a “demonstration project” with as many as 80,000 students—making it, in effect, the fourth-largest school district in the state. Judge Janavs was especially concerned that the demonstration project would disenfranchise residents of the district and usurp the authority of the entire district’s duly elected school board members.

“AB 1381 affects the fundamental voting rights of the voters residing within the LAUSD and particularly within the areas covered by the Mayor’s partnership,” Janavs wrote. The law “completely deprives the LAUSD governing board of any ability to control or influence the actions or decisions of the partnership, whose only elected partner is the mayor.”

Other highlights of the decision:

While the LAUSD faces numerous demographic challenges, LAUSD’s test scores have risen in recent years at a rate of 150 percent of the state average and LAUSD is fourth in the state in the percentage of schools that met or exceeded their Academic Performance Index.
AB 1381 is a “special law” that solely addresses organization of LAUSD and singles out LAUSD for separate treatment without articulating any rational classification scheme.
Broad delegation to the mayor’s partnership, including nongovernmental persons, is not a “reasonable grant of power with adequate safeguards.” Court finds that AB 1381 contains no meaningful guidelines for approval of the partnership in the first place and no adequate safeguards or oversight by the county superintendent, LAUSD or state once it is approved.
Voters of Los Angeles chose to have LAUSD governed by an elected school board. AB 1381 violates the Los Angeles city charter and (state) constitution by substantially interfering with the governing authority of the elected LAUSD Board of Education.
Legislation or the mayor could not provide any explanation as to how the fundamental changes in AB 1381 will actually achieve the legislation’s stated objective or why other reforms would not more directly address these objectives without intruding so greatly into local municipal affairs. Respondents appear to acknowledge that AB 1381 is merely an “experiment” whose benefits are “unknown.”

Related link:
Read the decision

AB 1381 Litigation

But Mayor Villaraigosa is not giving up:

Mayor charts LAUSD course Appeal, election part of strategy
BY NAUSH BOGHOSSIAN,Staff Writer, LA Daily News
Article Last Updated:12/23/2006 12:11:39 AM PST

His legal defeat just a day old, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa began his next line of attack Friday to gain partial control of L.A.'s school district, filing an appeal to a judge's ruling against his takeover proposal and beginning his campaign to get the people he wants on the school board.
Besides the appeal, the mayor's attorneys asked a judge to stay the Thursday decision that ruled state Assembly Bill 1381 unconstitutional. The bill would have gone into effect Jan. 1.

But it's Villaraigosa's vow to return to the battleground he knows best — politics — by backing his own slate of candidates for the Los Angeles Unified School District board election in March that will continue to give him significant leverage over the district if an appeal fails but his candidates prevail.

With four of seven seats up for grabs, Villaraigosa is in a position to win a majority vote on the board, which means his reform effort could still become a reality, one way or another, said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

"Even if the mayor loses, in some way he probably will still win if he gets majority support on the school board, which is very likely," Regalado said. "... What the school board doesn't want is to create an enemy in the mayor, who's a force in statewide politics and is going to higher places.

"If he wins a majority on the board, the board will be bending over backwards to try to create some role for the mayor, though it's too soon to tell what that role will be."

In addition to filing an appeal Friday with the state District Court of Appeal asking for an expedited hearing, legal advisers to the mayor were also considering a request to the state Supreme Court to take up the matter directly.

Appeal process

In the best-case scenario, Thomas Saenz, chief counsel for the mayor, said the appellate justices could hear arguments in January or February. The appeal has been in the works for several days in what Saenz described as "an abundance of caution" in preparing for a decision against the mayor.

Saenz said he also will be asking Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs — who made the Thursday ruling on the grounds that AB 1381 violated the state constitution, the City Charter and voter rights — to allow the law to go into effect Jan. 1 as the appeals go forward.

The appeal, the school board election and marketing are all part of Villaraigosa's offensive, he said.

"Our strategy has to be this — we've got to move through the courts, we've got to take this to the ballot box, we've got to continue to win the public opinion about education reform," he said. "... We want fundamental reform, but we can't be afraid to move along one step at a time."

Meanwhile Friday, both supporters and opponents of the mayor agreed on one truth: AB 1381 opened the dialogue for reforming the behemoth LAUSD.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, announced that he will introduce legislation in early January to break up the district into smaller, more accountable and manageable ones.

"I sincerely applaud the mayor in his recognition that LAUSD must be reformed, but I do not feel that mayoral control affords parents and local communities the necessary accountability over their children's education," Smyth said. "Now that the courts have ruled AB 1381 unconstitutional, we must take the momentum generated and put together a viable plan that passes constitutional muster and provides parents and students of Los Angeles the best education possible."

Other leaders, including United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy, said they will not be deterred by the judge's ruling in their push to bring dramatic reforms to the district.

Duffy said his plan is to bring all the interests together, including the school board, the superintendent, the mayor and the union, to determine how to move forward.

Placing low-performing schools into clusters so they could be better monitored has been an idea Duffy has been championing for a year. He said this is something he will continue to pursue, but on a smaller scale than the mayor's plan. He said he will also look to support candidates for the school board who back the idea of greater local control over budget and curriculum at school sites.

"The only relevant issue here is getting all of the people involved to determine what school reform should be about, irrespective of control," Duffy said.

Brewer to push ideas

Superintendent David Brewer III said Friday that he's going to push his "transformation initiatives," and that many of his ideas are in line with Villaraigosa's. And regardless of AB 1381, he will continue to hold quarterly meetings with the mayors of all 27 cities the LAUSD serves.

"Politics is always going to be there, but regardless of politics, in the final analysis, we usually get it right," Brewer said. "The process has already started. Change is coming. I will not accept the status quo, and the board knows that."

Prior to the court ruling, Villaraigosa had repeatedly urged the district to drop its lawsuit challenging AB 1381 to prevent a prolonged legal battle that would get in the way of reform.

Now, others are calling for the mayor to end his effort to assume partial control of the schools.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, released a statement Friday calling the judge's ruling that AB 1381 is unconstitutional a "victory for educational integrity."

"A Villaraigosa school takeover would have been risky, chaotic and ultimately open the schools to contentious political control," he said. "Mayor Villaraigosa should scrap plans to appeal the decision and put an end to his failed and flawed effort to control the schools and do what he was elected and paid to do, namely, improve the quality of life in L.A. That is more than a full-time job."

When the ruling was announced Thursday, Monica Garcia, the sole Villaraigosa supporter on the school board, said she'd like to see the district still move to create the three clusters of lowest-performing schools Villaraigosa had proposed to oversee.

Public understanding

The key is to make members of the public understand that it's important who they choose to serve on the school board, since the decisions they make have consequences to the communities, she said.

If the district does not commit to an action plan for change, partnership and transparency, leadership for reform can come from the school board, she said.

"I think there are going to be candidates that challenge the existing system," Garcia said, specifically citing Yolie Flores Aguilar, who's running for the open seat that will be vacated by incumbent David Tokofsky. "The current board or the board after March 6, 2007, will have a strong voice in whether or not we engage in (clusters and) ... partnerships with City Hall and the business communities like we haven't seen.

"The question is, Are we bold ... or are we patient?"

Staff Writer Rick Orlov contributed to this report. Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722

In Chicago, Mayoral candidate Dorothy Brown attacked Mayor Daley’s record on education, saying that student achievement was still lagging far behind and that his policies had contributed to “educational apartheid” in the city’s schools.

She called his educational reforms “a great P.R. campaign” with more style than substance. Indeed, Chicago schools remain at the bottom of the nation in terms of their NAEP scores after more than 10 years of Mayoral control.

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