By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
With the mayor slipping into threat mode, it fell to state lawmakers to speak softly and brutalize the board of education, mouthing syrupy words of affection for a district whose governing structure they had just gutted.
“I support this bill because I love the L.A. Unified School District,” said state Senator Sheila Kuehl, before voting for a bill that was the legislative equivalent of hitting each of the seven school board members in the kneecaps with a baton.
The Los Angeles school board — disoriented by the inherently two-faced nature of the state Legislature and emasculated in the face of raw power — now finds itself with exactly two trump cards: a lawsuit challenging the bill’s constitutionality, and their upcoming hiring of the next superintendent.
In only four months, however, the new superintendent will be under the mayor’s thrall. And in March, the mayor will likely try to elect a new slate of board members — board members all too willing to drop the district’s lawsuit against the mayor.
In the face of the mayor’s juggernaut, one of the few moments of dissent came from Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who questioned whether the Villaraigosa-centric bill had fallen prey to a massive cult of personality. Florez — whose district includes Fresno, where another mayor hopes to pull the trigger on school reform — suggested this week that his colleagues were a bit too eager to bask in the mayor’s beatific glow.
Those were fighting words for state Senator Gloria Romero, who insisted the bill had nothing to do with personalities and everything to do with the three principals behind the bill — and their hunger for education. To bring her point home, Romero then went into the life histories of those three, um, personalities — herself, Núñez and the mayor, a one-time high-school dropout who, in a well-told story, went on to finish school.
“This is a speaker who grew up in Tijuana and shined shoes in a dream, an immigrant’s dream, that he too one day could have a better life,” said Romero, the bill’s author. “This is about my passion, growing up on the other side of the tracks, with a mother with a sixth-grade education who always conveyed to her daughter, me, that with education you can move forward. So it’s not about personalities.”
While some worried about the effect of Villaraigosa’s bill on school boards, Speier suggested that the bigger victim could end up being the state Legislature itself. “You know, the public thinks we don’t work too well either. Does that mean the solution is to put more power into the hands of the governor?” she asked.
Perhaps Speier knows something. After all, Villaraigosa hopes to win the governor’s race in 2010, once the seat is vacated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republican governor, who allied himself with the mayor on school reform, frequently complains of a meddling Legislature — a flaw that Villaraigosa could be well positioned to correct. And most importantly, Villaraigosa’s opposition researcher will need someone new to target once the mayor replaces four incumbent school board members next spring, the final chapter of the revolution at L.A. Unified.
There’s only one problem. Can somebody, anybody, please think up a catchier name for gubernatorial takeover?