Power struggle gaining strength

first_imgThe mayor’s timeline, meanwhile, would have the Legislature approving measures for an election in May 2007 asking voters to let city governments take control of the LAUSD. If voters approved the plan, the takeover would occur by July 1, 2007. Board President Marlene Canter said Villaraigosa will have “a role of some sort” in the selection process, but the board has not yet determined the extent. “It would be much better if we were in a city where the mayor was cooperating with the school district because politics is never in the best interest of the kids,” Canter said. Board member Julie Korenstein takes a pessimistic view of the possibility of collaboration with the mayor. “How can you be on the same page when he’s not asking us anything and is doing something in total opposition to what we think is best for our kids?” said Korenstein, who has been vocal in her opposition to the mayor’s takeover attempt. “We could have done a lot of things together, but that was not his objective. This type of attitude and destructive behavior, I’ve never seen before in 19 years on the board.” But Abel criticized LAUSD, saying the survey is a weak effort to bring the public into the selection process. “The school board has the legal authority and political responsibility to go about picking a successor. But what’s happening politically is they’ve circled the wagons and are running this as if it’s their school system and not the public’s school system.” Villaraigosa maintains he would welcome a role in the recruiting process, but he is working steadfastly on getting his legislation approved. Spokeswoman Janelle Erickson said the mayor has not developed an alternate plan should his legislation fail. “He hopes that he will be successful on his reform proposal and he, along with the council of mayors, will be choosing the next superintendent,” Erickson said. Romer said it would be premature and inappropriate for him to comment on the search for his replacement and whether the process should involve the mayor. He said his successor faces the challenges of completing a $19 billion construction program in the next five years, improving academic instruction and continuing to improve test scores. It took eight months for the board to hire Romer, a former Colorado governor and Democratic Party chairman with no education experience. With uncertainty facing the district, there is some question whether the board will be able to hire his successor in the next six months. The board’s options include asking Romer to stay until his contract expires in June 2007 – which he says he would consider, if asked – or appointing an interim superintendent. A third option is to give the job to someone who has been aggressively campaigning behind the scenes. Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a former school board and City Council member, is said to be very interested in the post. But Romer and the board that hired him predict the upheaval in the Los Angeles district will not deter qualified candidates from applying. “It’s one of the toughest jobs in the nation, and people are attracted to these types of jobs,” Romer said. “It’s like people who want to climb the highest mountain.” Board member David Tokofsky said the district has been contacted by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, as well as superintendents from around the country, inquiring about the job. Former Mayor Richard Riordan, who helped get four reform members elected to the school board in 1999, said he supports the mayor’s plan to appoint the superintendent because it increases accountability. Riordan believes the board should hire a superintendent from outside the district – a strong, highly skilled candidate who could be kept in the job if Villaraigosa succeeds in his takeover efforts. “We don’t want the (teachers) union to have control over the superintendent,” he said. “You have to have somebody who puts children first, hires strong people around them as top people in the administration, and somebody who knows how to manage and delegate power to principals and teachers.” Even as district and city officials wrestle for control over public schools in Los Angeles, civic leaders are working to shape the future of the district. The California Community Foundation – a philanthropic organization that funds local nonprofit groups – took out a full-page ad in the March 30 Los Angeles Times, detailing its five priorities for a new superintendent: preparing students for jobs and careers; educating the most vulnerable; training teachers; streamlining bureacracy; and providing accountable leadership. Among the ad’s sponsors was billionaire Eli Broad, who was instrumental in the selection of Romer as superintendent. The nonprofit group placed the ad to “refocus public attention on the superintendent selection process,” said Linda Wong, director of civic engagement for the foundation. “At the time, there was this ongoing tug of war between the school board and the Mayor’s Office, principally over the issue of the mayor’s proposed takeover of the school district,” Wong said. “Regardless of what happens with mayoral takeover, the superintendent will play a critical role in moving the district to improving academic achievement for all of our students.” Karen Denne, spokeswoman for Broad, said he is not involved in the current superintendent search and agreed to support the ad only because “he believes we need a first-rate superintendent in L.A.” State records show that last Wednesday, Broad contributed $6,600 to the re-election campaign of Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who introduced an unsuccessful bill in July that would have given the mayor authority to appoint seven school board members and the superintendent if the district met certain conditions of “educational failure.” Tokofsky is among those who believe the district will be able to hire a top-notch superintendent despite uncertainty. He recalled the impressive slate of candidates attracted in 1999 during the tumultuous reign of then-Superintendent Ruben Zacarias, including Romer, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark. “To those who have recently tuned into this, it seems like chaos, but … those of us who have been there during the `decapitation’ of Zacarias (and) the breakup legislation of the San Fernando Valley, as well as the Riordan revolution, … know that the ship sails on amid the storms and the rough waters,” Tokofsky said. “It’s an educational politics earthquake. The first tremors are clearly 6 or 7 on the Richter scale, but whether or not the mayor’s backroom staff and the Broad allies have a magnitude-9 earthquake coming forward, we don’t know.” [email protected] (818) 713-3722 THE SURVEY SAYS To take the Los Angeles Unified survey on the new superintendent, see www.lausd.net/survey. Input must be submitted by May 19.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventBut education leaders fear the opposing visions will result in chaos and discourage highly qualified candidates from even applying to succeed Romer, 77, who has said he wants to leave this fall. “The communities, cities and metropolises that act with one voice, one clear vision, one clear direction, stand a much better chance to get the most talented and skilled professionals to lead their public school system,” said David Abel, chairman of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, a civic advocacy organization that promotes a 21st century vision for California’s urban school districts. “What talented professional would want to put their hat in the ring when there’s so much uncertainty?” The LAUSD board plans to submit the surveys to a recruiting firm that will use the results to craft a job description. The board’s tentative timeline includes advertising the position by the end of May, accepting applications through July and hiring a superintendent in October. The expected departure this fall of Superintendent Roy Romer has complicated the debate over the future of the Los Angeles Unified School District, with the board seeking public input on who should replace him and the mayor lobbying for the power to decide. The school board is surveying at least 15,000 community leaders, district staff members and parents to determine the skills and qualities desired in Romer’s successor. But these efforts contrast sharply with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposal to control the school district, rendering the elected school board virtually impotent. Even locking in the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the mayor is aggressively pushing legislation that would give him the power to appoint an education czar to head the nation’s second-largest school district. last_img