Saenz has been meeting with education and legal experts across the country and said he hopes to have specific proposals ready within the next four months. “The key question is developing something that we can maintain over multiple years,” Saenz said. “It has to be a long-term change, one that can stand the test of time and will be given time to prove successful. “Once you make this massive reform, you need to give it a chance to work.” While emphasizing that mayoral control is key, Villaraigosa’s office also is studying whether to create smaller districts; expand or restructure the school board; or even eliminate the board altogether and have an elected superintendent. One of the key challenges to mayoral control with LAUSD – unlike in New York or Chicago, where school districts and cities have identical boundaries – is that Villaraigosa would need to win support from at least 26 other cities that the district serves. Some have already voiced opposition to Los Angeles control and floated the idea of creating districts of their own. “We know Los Angeles carries the big stick, but we just hope they remember our kids go to these schools as well,” said West Hollywood City Councilman Jeff Prang. “We just wanted to make sure we were not ignored in this debate,” said Prang, who introduced a resolution adopted by his council opposing a takeover by Los Angeles. Saenz has scheduled a meeting with Prang and officials from the other cities to bring them into the discussions. And experts note that if anyone may be able to unite such disparate interests, it may be Villaraigosa, who has already proven himself adept at negotiating compromises. Even before he took office in July, Villaraigosa brokered a deal in a contentious labor dispute between workers and major hotels in the city. Most recently, he convinced some of the most ardent opponents to modernization of Los Angeles International Airport to drop a decade-old lawsuit. Now, the mayor is encouraging discussion among LAUSD stakeholders – teachers and administrators, business groups and parents – to try to win them over to his plan for reform. Villaraigosa said he came to his position reluctantly. “I respect schools and teachers,” Villaraigosa said. “I worked for the teachers union. My wife is a teacher. But, if Los Angeles is to succeed as a world-class city, we need an education system that supports it. “I am not looking to reinvent the wheel, but we should look at the best practices of what is working in other schools.” While district officials and teachers say they appreciate the mayor’s broad efforts to improve education, they balk at talk of a mayoral takeover and express frustration at his public criticism. “This is not a failing district. We’re making great progress,” said Superintendent Roy Romer. “We would welcome ideas on reform, but I haven’t heard yet any specific ideas or programs they would change.” Romer cited the success of the $19 billion school construction program – the nation’s largest public works project – and students’ improving scores on standardized tests. That kind of improvement needs continued support, he said, like efforts to create small learning communities on high school campuses and increase academic rigor. “There’s radical improvement in the past five years in the performance of these schools. We must not lose that. We must continue that. “That doesn’t need overhaul,” Romer said. “We need to continue on the track we’re on.” A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the union opposes a mayoral takeover but would like to see more cooperation among its members, the district and the city to improve the quality of education. “I have said I’m looking for collaboration with the district, the mayor, the business community, to do the kinds of things necessary to improve education in Los Angeles,” said Duffy, who served on Villaraigosa’s council of education advisers and has suggested a variety of reforms. “Most teachers we talk to feel the same way: How does mayoral control help the classroom teacher? Show me the direct trajectory.” For Villaraigosa, taking on the 727,000-student district has become both a mission and a cornerstone of his administration’s plans for the city. Much of it is rooted in his own experience; he dropped out of a parochial school and, as he has described it, was given a second chance at Roosevelt High School. Even before he was elected, he was drawn into dealing with LAUSD problems, helping calm racial tensions among students at Jefferson and at Taft high schools. His inaugural gala became a $2 million fundraiser for the LA’s BEST after-school program and, in his inaugural speech, he created a council on education to look at ways the city could help the district immediately. Villaraigosa said he has come to believe that if Los Angeles is to succeed and prosper, it is the education system that is the key to decoding the city’s myriad problems. A successful school system, he has argued, creates a better-trained work force that will draw higher-paying jobs, which will result in broadening the middle class while reducing crime. And it’s schools like South Los Angeles’ Locke High that the mayor says he wants to address. Locke is a Program Improvement 5 school with a state performance test score of 488 – the goal for district schools is a score of 800. If a school does not improve after two years, the state could close it or take away some funds. Principal Franks Wells said the problem with LAUSD is that schools like his – with minimal parental involvement – get lost in the shuffle. “This is a community that doesn’t get a lot of powerhouse support and has a history of neglect. The governance of the district is very slow to respond to Locke issues because of the size, and there are no heavy hitters’ support,” Wells said last week during a campus visit by Villaraigosa. Last year, for the first time, the school got enough books so students could take them home. But now, the school is set to lose its last safety officer. “Whoever’s willing to step up to the plate to support kids, I’m for, who will meet the needs that will promote academic excellence and health and safety,” Wells said. Villaraigosa says mayoral control will be the linchpin to helping Locke and other schools like it. “Students, teachers and schools are struggling to succeed within a bureaucracy that doesn’t have a clear and consistent vision for improving student achievement, and Locke High School is no different,” Villaraigosa said. “Mayoral responsibility will provide consistent leadership and a clear vision that will bring the focus back to raising student achievement and directing the resources toward classrooms.” Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722 firstname.lastname@example.org 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s escalating campaign for control of Los Angeles’ public schools has fanned debate over LAUSD’s own reform efforts and whether they are sufficient to educate residents of a world-class city. During recent speeches in the San Fernando Valley and throughout the city, Villaraigosa has blasted the leaders of the nation’s second-largest school district, blaming them for lagging test scores and a dismal dropout rate and seeking public support for his efforts to overturn the status quo. But Los Angeles Unified and its powerful unions insist they are making significant progress, upgrading the district’s facilities and improving student achievement, and that mayoral control isn’t wanted or needed. The looming conflict sets the stage for reform, although some question whether the charismatic and popular mayor can overcome opposition by the coalition of educators. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals “It’s a smart issue to take on in many respects, even if there are land mines out there,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles. “Education is No. 1 or 2 on everybody’s list of concerns. “The danger comes if (Villaraigosa) is not able to make any changes. He is going to develop some powerful opposition to this from the unions and the school district, who are going to fight him all the way. “But, if he has even partial success at bringing about reform, he could turn out to be the winner.” Still, by all accounts, it will take years to make any changes in governing the Los Angeles Unified School District. Legislation would likely be needed, along with changes in the City Charter – action that would require voter approval. That means any shift couldn’t happen until 2007 – at the earliest. “I think the mayor’s timing is right if you are looking at this in terms of developing support over a long time period. Whatever happens is not going to happen overnight,” said Thomas Saenz, Villaraigosa’s legal counsel, who’s studying the ramifications of changing the district governance.