by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got a clear mandate to manage seven Los Angeles schools as majority of parents and teachers opted for a partnership in education reform in a plebiscite held on Tuesday, December 11. The vote was conducted in seven high and intermediate schools in the LA Unified School District (LAUSD).
The result of the vote was announced by Villaraigosa at a press conference held at Markham Middle School in the Watts section of LA on Wednesday, December 12. “Today, we can truly say that the votes are in and the status quo is out,” the mayor declared. “Close to 90 percent of the parents of these communities said; yes to lower dropout rates, yes to higher student achievement and yes to safer campuses.”
“I grew up in these neighborhoods. I know these neighborhoods. I know that parents in these neighborhoods have the same right to have a quality education for their kids as any neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles,” the mayor said.
The schools that voted to join the non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools are Jordan, Roosevelt and Santee High Schools, and four middle schools, Hollenbeck, Stevenson, Markham and Gompers.
According to results released on Wednesday, about 86 percent of 1,800 parents and 69 percent of 797 teachers supported the mayor’s plan.
“If you look at the percentage of yes votes from the parents, it’s a clear mandate, and as far as I’m concerned, the faculties are also sending a clear message that they want change,” LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer said.
“Today we’re unleashing the power of LA to transform the schools. This was my vision, which I announced in June,” Brewer told Asian Journal. “These partners work for me and the Board of Education. These partners would basically replace the district superintendents in our system in these schools.”
Brewer explained that the plan would not transform the entire LAUSD into an Innovation Division. “What we want to do is to benchmark and replicate the best practices in these partnerships and apply those in the rest of the school district,” Brewer said.
He added that hiring and firing district superintendents and principals are still governed by the teacher’s union collective bargaining agreements and regulations.
To address the issue of safety, especially in gang-ridden neighborhoods, Brewer said that they would organize a Boys and Girls Club in the Markham campus to provide a safe haven for the students.
Schools not within the partnership need not fret. “We are going to work with them. Remember, the Innovation Division is there to create new ideas and new ways of doing business. We will benchmark ideas and new ways of doing business and replicate them throughout the system,” Brewer said.
Brewer said that he was elated that the mayor is one of their first network partners. The Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and the University of Southern California (USC) have also joined. The Los Angeles Area Urban League, and the Valley Foundation have pledged to support the plan as well.
Of the nearly 800 teachers who voted, 250 opposed the plan, according to United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President A.J. Duffy. “We will work out a fair and equitable process for any of these teachers who want to transfer to another school, so that this is not a punishment,” Duffy said.
Duffy added the plan promotes an idea that is backed by the teachers union: less-centralized control and greater autonomy at school sites. “It’s historic in its possibilities, in what it can bring in the future,” Duffy told journalists. “Someone said you may not need a school board in the future. Maybe not,” he said.
The result of the plebiscite was viewed as a political victory for Villaraigosa, even if it fell short of his original plan of overseeing the entire LAUSD schools.
Although it was approved overwhelmingly, critics contended that details of the mayor’s plan remain vague, especially the cost of implementation.
Dina Wright, a South Los Angeles resident, was more concerned with basic school needs, saying that education officials need to “get the schools together.”
“Bathrooms need to be cleaned; and the students need protection from unsafe surroundings,” Wright said. “If you can stop the mischief, I think that they can learn better.”