Court rejects Villaraigosa’s plan for L.A. school district

first_imgCroskey wrote that the Legislature, which passed the Villaraigosa plan, cannot ignore the constitutional rights of citizens based on the belief the mayor can do a better job of running the schools. Villaraigosa said amending the state Constitution and the City Charter to reflect a change in school district governance could cost up to $40 million. “I can’t tell you that I have the wherewithal to raise that kind of money right now,” Villaraigosa said during a City Hall news conference. The mayor said his lawyers would review the court’s ruling before a decision is made on a possible appeal. “My first instinct would be to appeal it, and it may be that after reviewing the decision that it might not feasible, frankly,” Villaraigosa said. LOS ANGELES – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to assume partial control of the Los Angeles Unified School District was unanimously rejected Tuesday by a state appellate court panel that questioned its impact on voters’ rights. The three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal heard two hours of oral arguments from attorneys for the mayor and the board of education on April 2, with Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Parents Union attempting to convince the justices to overturn a judge’s Dec. 21 ruling that the law creating the mayor’s plan is unconstitutional. “The citizens of Los Angeles have the constitutional right to decide whether their school board is to be appointed or elected,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in the 44-page opinion. “If the citizens of Los Angeles choose to amend their charter to allow the mayor to appoint the members of the board, such amendment would indisputably be proper.” “But we’ll make that decision when we come to it,” he said. “Right now, I’d like to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. That would be my first inclination.” “We are in the educational reform business to stay. Nothing worth having is easy to obtain,” he said. The current majority on the Los Angeles Board of Education and attorneys for the school district hailed today’s ruling. “It’s great,” LAUSD attorney Fredric D. Woocher said. “It clearly supports our position and \ Janavs’ decision completely. I hope they get the message now and go in a different direction.” Woocher said the decision reinforces the position of the LAUSD that the schools should be governed by the school board and not an outside official like the mayor. Woocher said he doubts the state Supreme Court will agree to hear an appeal, in part because the appellate court panel that considered the case is very highly respected. During the April 2 appellate court hearing, the most pointed questions came from Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, who noted the legislation, AB 1381, is scheduled to expire in six years if eventually enacted into law. “There are only `X’ number of years to this scheme and then it’s all over,” Klein said. “Does that coincide with the two terms of the mayor?” Attorneys for the LAUSD argued that the mayor’s plan runs afoul of the Constitution and that the Legislature, by making it law, intended to give him powers beyond those he is granted in his elected job as the city’s chief executive. “It is unabashed that their purpose is to take away power and to give it to somebody else they think would do a better job at it,” Woocher said during the hearing. The Office of Legislative Counsel twice concluded that the bill was unconstitutional, Woocher said. AB 1381 – signed into law last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – would have shifted some of the decision-making authority from the seven-member board to the district’s superintendent. The law also would have created a Council of Mayors, giving a significant role to Los Angeles’ mayor in managing the nation’s second-largest school district, and granted individual schools greater control over their budgets and curriculum during a six-year trial period. The mayor and a Community Partnership for School Excellence also were to have been put in control of a “demonstration project” made up of the district’s three lowest-performing high schools and their feeder campuses. The LAUSD and a coalition of district parents, students, administrators and the League of Women voters filed suit Oct. 10 challenging the plan. In her questioning of the attorneys, Justice Klein asked whether Villaraigosa could have obtained some of the same goals by working within existing law and focusing on such areas as charter schools. “Speak to me about the right of the people to have a voice with the mayor sitting on top of the heap,” Klein asked attorneys for the mayor. Justice Patti S. Kitchings queried the mayor’s lawyers about whether giving Villaraigosa such powers is in conflict with findings by the city Charter Commission that the mayor does not have control of the schools. “This would be getting around the decision of the local Charter Commission, would it not?,” Kitchings asked. Croskey wanted to know whether the plan “undermines rights people have to elect that governing \ board. That right goes right out the window, doesn’t it?” But Daniel Collins, an attorney for Villaraigosa, argued “the votes of no one are being diluted.” He said the bill instead establishes a re-delegation of duties. School board President Marlene Canter said she was gratified but not surprised by the ruling. “I’ve always said we do not need legislation to partner together,” she said, adding that she wants to keep working with the mayor to improve the school system, which has been hurt by a high dropout rate and low test scores. The Associated Press contributed to this story. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img